Making choices

I didn’t want to wait to do this post, since it’s an expansion of the previous one.  The first three points I discussed there all involved player choices in three of the major quest lines – the main quest, the civil war, and the Dark Brotherhood quests.

These cases marked the relatively rare point at which the player had a choice about how a questline would proceed (or, in the case of Paarthurnax, a side aspect of the main quest).  For most game quests, the choice is simply whether to go on with it or not.  There’s often a great deal of tactical choice of how to accomplish a quest, but not much in the way of real dilemmas.  Arguably, the choice to become a vampire or not in Dawnguard is one as well, as is the choice to become a werewolf or not in the Companions, but the Dawnguard one somehow just came across as a simple “Wanna be a vampire? Yes/No” and the Companions one just basically paused the questline where it lay if you didn’t decide to contract lycanthropy.

The main quest dilemma, of what to do about Paarthurnax, on the surface seems like a deep dilemma – do we kill this helpful, wise dragon for his history of terrible crimes in response to the demands of the Blades, or do we permit him to remain a hermit, accepting his help and more recent deeds as atonement?

Now, as an abstract moral dilemma, this is an interesting question, but in the game it comes off as something engineered to create a dilemma for a dilemma’s sake, especially since it’s a branch of the main quest and doesn’t really affect how you’ll proceed from there in regards to actually dealing with Alduin.  What’s worse is that that of the two factions involved, one of them has been nothing but helpful (if somewhat pompous and more than a little naïve), while the other has been at best obnoxious and condescending, and at worst possessed of a sense of entitlement to the character as a resource to accomplish their goals – right up to the character’s blood.  Worse, they just make the demand as an ultimatum, and won’t actually help do the deed.

Game mechanics don’t help a bit here either; the rewards for picking either side are pretty trivial and you can loot Sky Haven temple pretty thoroughly before reaching this point – and you can just steal anything that’s left.  With careful planning, you can get Esbern’s potion and recruit the three Blades before this quest initiates, and lose only the “Dragon Hunts” you get sent on.  Small potatoes, indeed.  In a sense, though, this is a bright spot in this sorry excuse for a dilemma because at least they didn’t get the player to kill Paarthurnax by Appeal to Powergaming.

Given the complete lack of consequences or incentives to choose the Blade’s side in the quest, it essentially becomes a non-dilemma – I don’t know anyone that actually chose to kill Paarthurnax for anything besides a desire to see what happened or how tough he was.  In my case, I simply modded the choice right out with a mod that allowed me to retain the allegiance of the Blades without killing Paaarthurnax, and never looked back, because finally telling Delphine and Esbern who was really in charge was vastly more satisfying than either of the original choices.  I’d also have been sorely tempted to just de-essential them via the console and dispose of their sorry asses at this point, or at least Delphine whom I was heartily sick of by this point on my first play-through.

I could really go on and on about the Blades’ entitled douchbaggery, but suffice to say that if you want to create a dilemma, this is not the way to do it.  While I praise the avoidance of leaving some mechanical treat to make killing Paarthurnax the obvious choice from a power standpoint, in every other respect this quest was a trainwreck, made all the worse by the Essential characteristic of Delphine and Esbern.  This could have been avoided by quite a few means – a third option, making the Blades act less like snotty fucknozzles, or making Paarthurnax represent some sort of real danger if left alive, but it wasn’t.

In contrast, there’s the Dark Brotherhood questline which presents 2 dilemmas: first, whether to proceed with it and butcher Grelod the Kind, and second, what to do once Astrid has you in the shack.

The first dilemma seems a bit outrageous – going and butchering an old lady in her orphanage, until we consider that no one regards it as a crime.  Granted, it’s in Riften, a hotbed of criminal activity, but the fact that this blatant slaughter of a helpless senior citizen goes totally unnoticed beyond occasional passing suspicion of the character is almost played for laughs – Grelong represents that terrible authority figure in so many kid’s stories , and the hilarity of this awful person meeting the wrong end of a greatsword has its place.  Either that, or Grelod is known to be way worse than we actually see, but that creates the question of why no one else has dealt with her, if her crimes against the children are so horrid that summary vigilante justice against her is approved of.  Constance pretty much tells us that this is a joke if she’s asked.  Another amusing bit of trivia is that Grelod, inexplicably, is a member of the NPC class lumberjack for skill determination… go figure.

The second one is elegant, mainly because unless you find out from out-of-game sources, or you pay close attention to dialogue, or just decide to experiment.  Astrid’s precise wording hints that you can kill her rather than the three prisoners.  From a roleplay standpoint, this isn’t much of a dilemma at all – go with what your character would do.  Mechanically, destroying the Dark Brotherhood is weaker – but still decently rewarding.  In fact, the dilemma is really more of a puzzle.. what options do I have to get out of this cabin?  It’s very well done, leaving the player a third option, but not making that option the obvious best choice, or even an obvious choice at all.  How this can be so well done, while the Paarthurnax dilemma is so bad is a mystery.

Finally, there’s the civil war.

The real problem with the civil war is that it’s almost too well done, and there is no obvious right choice, especially in hindsight.  Neither is stronger mechanically (other than that following the Imperial during the initial attack on Helgen gives you the slightly better family visit in Riverwood, due to access to smithing materials for free) and sympathy can swing both ways.

On the Imperial side, there’s the generally more egalitarian General Tulius who, once we get to know him a little, is a decent if crusty sort, and the Empire which is a fairly tolerant society, its putting up with Thalmor interference notwithstanding, as that can be chalked up more to Titus Mede’s political ineptitude than anything else.  In Whiterun, Balgruuf, a just and fair man, remains Jarl, and the new Jarl of Windhelm when Ulfric is defeated is even more just and fair.  We also avoid putting one of the Silver-bloods on the throne of Markath.

Siding with the Stormcloaks comes with the stronger initial recommendation of the Imperials trying to behead the player character under circumstances that are questionable, at best and outright tyrannical in their worst interpretation.  We avoid putting Maven Black-Briar (who competes with Delphine for insufferable) on the throne in Riften.  We get to rather more obviously stick in to the Thalmor (their plans to make Ulfric an unwitting pawn notwithstanding) and there’s the appeal to our real-world sensibilities that we’re fighting for religious freedom against a weird combination of Taliban Nazi Elves rather than caving in to them Mede-style.  I also like Galmar Stone-Fist better than Rikke, from a personal standpoint.

Mechanically almost meaningless (aside from some wonkiness here and there, such as doing Mephala’s quest after Whiterun has been taken by the Stormcloaks) but emotionally surprisingly compelling.. and with a perfectly viable third option of just not doing the civil war quest at all, this is a beautifully-executed game dilemma and incidentally adds additional factions to join – factions that don’t simply promote you to leader at the end, and which actually are mutually exclusive with each other.

The civil war also is one that requires a little deeper thought, especially on the Stormcloak side which initially seems like an obvious choice, but tends to appear less attractive after a first play-through.

For example, the racism of the Nords when you first enter Windhelm seems pretty despicable off the bat – until you carefully consider that the Dark Elves don’t want to help because “it’s not our fight!”  Isn’t it?  Why not?  You want to live in the place, but don’t want to fight for it?  One wonders if the Nords would have the same attitude if the Dark Elves were willing to fight alongside them, especially since Ulfric seems to extend the honor of “True Nord” to anyone willing to act like what he considers a true Nord, as does Galmar – even a high elf PC.  Or do the dark elves secretly favor the Imperials?  If so, why are they just sitting it out rather than moving to an Imperial-controlled area and maybe fighting for them?  The Nords are asses and the Dark Elves are mistreated.. but it’s not entirely clear that this is just pointless racism.

One doesn’t need to make Skyrim a philosophical exercise to enjoy the game – but doing so can greatly enhance the experience.  In TES VI we can hope for a lot more Dark Brotherhoods and Civil Wars, and hopefully no more Paarthurnaxes.

Elder Scrolls VI: Amalgamation

No, that isn’t the title of Elder Scrolls VI, and to my knowledge none has been announced – in fact, I don’t think the game has even been announced, even though Skyrim is approaching 3 years old.  Then again, I don’t think Skyrim had been announced yet in 2009, and it wasn’t even in full development until after Fallout 3 was released.

However, I’m sure there will be one sometime in the next 3 years, based on the longest gap (Daggerfall to Morrowind) in the series’ history.

That said, the elephant in the room for TES VI is ESO.  Up until now, the Elder Scrolls games have been about the main series games, with the side games being minor forays into other things, Battlespire probably being the most prominent of them.

ESO tends to distort that; It’s a huge game with at least as much overall series impact as Oblivion, and maybe more than even Skyrim, which made Elder Scrolls into a mass-market franchise.

So, with that in mind, what do we want to see in Elder Scrolls VI?

Well, here’s my laundry list.  I’ll discuss some of these in the detail they deserve in upcoming posts, but here’s the list.  I’ve grouped them mainly by subject, but not by importance as I haven’t totally made up my mind in that regard.

Lore:

Resolve the Civil War.  They may have painted themselves into a corner with this one, since in previous games there has been a canonical resolution to choices when the next game comes out, and it may be impossible to avoid pissing people off with this.  I don’t think a repeat of the Daggerfall “all endings happened simultaneously” will work a second time, nor will a resolution that obviates both choices.

Less significantly, an adequate resolution to the Paarthurnax dilemma.  This one I think is easier since there seems to be a certain consensus that Delphine and Esburn act like total shitlords about the entire thing.  I’ll address both these points in another post, for sure.  In fact, more choices in general would be nice rather than almost entirely linear questlines.

The choice made by the Dragonborn in regard to the Dark Brotherhood also needs to be resolved, but given how integral the Dark Brotherhood is to recent TES games and lore, the result of this is likely a foregone conclusion.  I don’t have a major problem with this, given that Titus Mede II is a nincompoop, so having him canonically assassinated doesn’t bother me much.  I’ll address this one as well.

Some hint as to the result of the Cidhna Mine escape and what happened with the Forsaken would also be nice, and of course there’s the result of Dawnguard, but I’m fairly sure that one is another foregone conclusion.

Also, more joinable factions in general are needed, and not by adding them in DLC.  In Morrowind you had the Fighter’s, Mage’s and Thieves Guild quests, plus the Morag Tong, the Imperial Legion, the Imperial Cult, Tribunal Temple, and three Houses.. and there was no joining them all.  Something like that is needed, including meaningful choices between them.

Gameplay

I’d like to see a retention of the present “3 attributes” scheme, rather than a return to the system of 8 attributes and then the 3 resource pool attributes on top of them.  Although I found a lot of the criticisms of this system in Oblivion to be overblown, they weren’t totally invalid, and it demonstrated the limits of this system.  The present system could use some refinement, but it’s more simply grasped, and lacks the pitfalls of the Oblivion system.

The skill system is fundamentally good, but needs some revisions.  Some of the skills, like Speech, were practically worthless, and worse it turned social challenges into a simple skill check rather than the minigame of Oblivion.  Stealth, on the other hand, was complete winsauce, especially combined with archery, as was the alchemy-enchanting nonsense.

Another improvement would be taking out a lot of the “tax” perks, such as Fists of Steel (really?) or the excessive numbers of perks needed to enhance Destruction damage across multiple elements, or the “matched set” armor perks.  I’d also rather not see any more of the “stack of 5” base perks, especially not with the massive bonuses given to some of them.  Something like Sneak had, with a strong first perk in the stack and small additional bonuses would be better, and only stacking 3 rather than 5 assuming the same leveling curve.

Finally, I’d like to see a more even distribution of total perks across skills and an avoidance of highly specialized skills like “pickpocket”.

Increase the number of magical effects available significantly.  A lot of cool effects have been lost since Morrowind and really need to re-appear.  More variety overall in magic would help immensely.  I’d like mysticism back, even at the expense of Restoration, which is a really narrow focus and hard to make as varied as the other schools.  I’d roll Restoration into mysticism.  Some people are likely to screech, but that’s how I feel.

Something a little more similar to the ESO control scheme would be nice, rather than the “hands” system of Skyrim.  I’d like something like, say, 4-6 hotkeys for weapon sets (rather than the 2 of ESO) and then 4-6 ability slots for each weapon set where you could put spells, items, or weapon abilities, like ESO.  No ultimates, though, please.  Noncombat sets could comprise some of the loadouts as well, so you might have a “Stealth” hotbar that contained a lockpick, an invisibility potion, a silence spell,  fortify carry weight spell, and a fortify pickpocket spell.

The crime system could use some additional work.  It’s far from bad, but it always strikes me as a bit weird that any crime can ultimately be cleared by just throwing money at it.  I wouldn’t mind something where murderers defeated in combat by the guards ended up on the scaffold or at the block with some options to escape in the meantime.. and failure means reload a save!

Combat

DODGE MECHANIC!  The double-click dodge of ESO is a must!  I find myself constantly missing it now.

Improved dual wielding, similar to ESO as well.

Destruction magic needs to be stronger than in Skyrim, or at least not be so ridiculously slow to level.

Smithing improvements should be far less drastic in their effect on the damage curve.

Bring back some classic weapon choices, especially spears.  Crossbows were a really strong point of Skyrim, especially how they felt different from bows, instead of just being funny-looking varients of the same thing.

More varied enemy AI would be really nice, including enemies that have appropriate perks and crafting-equivalent buffs, or pre-improved gear.  Enemies that have more varied builds with things like spellswords would be fantastic, as would stealthy enemies!

So, broadly, that’s what I’d like to see.  I tried to keep this broad, mainly because what I want for TES VI is not “fix Skyrim in these areas.”  It will be a new game with new technology and its own way of doing things, and we should look to it for that, not for a revision of Skyrim or ESO.

Dressing for Success

     Despite my fondness for the Elder Scrolls games, I was not into modding them until Skyrim came out.  Installing and managing mods seemed like far more effort than it was worth.  I never understood a lot of the complaints about Oblivion gameplay, and beat it – on several, varied characters – completely unmodded, more than once.  The same applied to Morrowind,  With Skyrim, however, I discovered the Nexus Mod Manager, a tool that made modding the game fantastically easy.

     I now have over 130 mods for Skyrim.  Of those, I am most fond of my collection of armor mods, followed closely by weapons, allowing me to customize my character’s look in new and different ways.  I especially like this because a lot of Skyrim’s vanilla armors are pretty bad.  Glass and dwarven armor, in particular, annoy me.  Glass armor looks like it should be heavy armor, and dwarven looks like you could hardly move in it.  Dragonbone is nothing to write home about, either, and I find the elven armor somewhat boring compared to that of prior games.  The other armors I generally like better, to varying degrees. 

     The other day I was browsing Nexus for mods, running across a few I liked, in particular a quicksilver retexture of Elven armor which makes a nice substitute for the notably absent Mithril material, and an Ivory retexture of glass as Ancient Falmer in a very attractive white-ish.  I also ran across a mod purporting to make the “impractical” female armors more practical.

     Now, ever since Daggerfall and Battlespire, which had some pretty stereotypically stripperific stuff for the women in them (Battlespire‘s profusuion of thongs for example) Elder Scrolls has, on the whole, kept the armor for the ladies pretty damn practical.  Off the top of my head, the only truly skimpy armors for women have been in Skyrim – the Ancient Nord armor which is inexplicably classed as Heavy, worn by Aela the Huntress, and the Forsworn Armor, which is equally skimpy for the males.

     I therefore knew things did not bode well when I clicked on that mod out of morbid curiosity.  It turned out that the author basically objected to female armor having visible breast shapes, and his mod essentially modified the armors to cover the shape, and make the overall appearance much more similar to that of the male armors.

     Now, Skyrim is a single-player game, so if that’s what you want, by all means play your game the way you want it.  The idea, however, that these armors are impractical is hilarious.  They might be fairly impractical (in some cases being made of material that clearly doesn’t exist in the real world) but not because they expose too much skin, and certainly not because they are shaped to the female form, which includes breasts.

     It has evidently never occurred to whoever wrote this thing that it might actually be comfortable for women to wear armor that is designed for their form, rather than some designed for a man.  No, apparently the mere appearance of boobs is “impractical” and needs to be modded away because clearly they are only there as fanservice to the men, not because women are actually shaped that way.

     While thankfully this is just an obscure mod amid the admittedly huge selection of mods that will make your female character or companion run around Skyrim armored primarily in her underwear, it’s symptomatic of the larger silliness pervading the game community lately.  Playing video games, especially RPGs, is all about becoming someone else, and living in a world other than the real world.  Even those games that are about real events tend to be that way; real combat is nowhere near as fun as it is to play Medal of Honor or Call of Duty.

     Furthermore, there is really nothing wrong with men, or for that matter women, wanting to see skimpy, impractical, sexy armor – some of the time.  And some of the time is, contrary to the distressed wailings of professional victims like Anita Sarkeesian, when sexy impractical armor appears.  Take WoW for example – yes, there’s skimpy silly outfits for women; there’s also quite practical, fully covering outfits.  The starting outfit for the Death Knight comes to mind (I liked that one so much that I tailored all my Death Knight armor back to this appearance) , as do any number of fairly boring sets of robes.  Other games may be almost all fanservice, but Elder Scrolls is not the only game with properly-dressed women.

     Now granted, scantily-clad men are less prevalent, but this is not “because SEXISM/MISOGENY/PATRIARCHY RARRR!!”  This is because A) gamers are mostly men B) men are mostly straight C) men are more visual in their sexuality than women are and D) women look for marks of status to the degree that they are visual.  Men like naked women; women like well-dressed men, or “men in uniform”.  Obviously none of this is universally true, but it’s pretty frequently true.

    Could we use more sexy armors for men?  Yes; I’d welcome that and not just in the name of equality – I’m bisexual, and although that comes with a pretty strong leaning towards women rather than men, I can definitely appreciate an attractive, sexy male.  I’m sure men with stronger same-sex attractions than I would agree.  There’s a shortage of male armor mods overall – sexy and otherwise.

     If you want more sexy male armors, or more male armor mods in general, get out there and make them.  It would be nice if game companies included more of this too.  What we don’t need, though, is people coming up with more ways to pretend that simple male sexual attraction “treats women as sex objects.”  This is a nonsense term that attempts to treat male sexuality as inherently boorish and inconsiderate (at best) so as to shame men into hiding it, and expressing it only when given permission by women.  While some men are boorish and inappropriate, policing video game armor is not going to stop this, nor (by the same token) is the pixelated female we’re fantasizing about likely to get her feelings hurt by the oogling of the guy at the computer.

     More importantly, the gaming world is a male space.  Women are welcome, and the more of them, the better, but the game world doesn’t need to change to accommodate women.  Women need to adjust themselves to the world of the gamer.  Lots of women do this.  What we don’t need, though, is more Anita Sarkeesians masquerading as gamers to find new sources of victimhood to fuel their political agenda.

Interception!!

It’s been over 6 months now since the interceptor changes, and I feel like there’s been enough real experience with them now to deal with the topic of the changes they experienced in Rubicon.  This was a hot topic for some time, but it’s dialed back to a slow simmer with occasional flare-ups when some nimrod has nothing better to do on the forums but whine that interceptors killed his ratting Tengu or run his gate camps too often.

It’s not that the topic is unworthy of discussion, but more than the topic tends to be hijacked by idiots who seem to think camping a gate with a bubble is automatic entitlement to kill anything that comes through it other than the cyno bait Rupture that’s going to hotdrop it, or who think  that because they are ratting out of titan bridge jump range somewhere in a rental Empire, that dropping a few “defensive bubbles” ought to be a foolproof method of getting into warp before anyone can catch their ratting Raven/T3/Carrier.

First, I want to get out there that personally I think bubbles are a shit mechanic, with the possible sole exception of Heavy Interdiction Cruiser (HIC) Bubbles.  Regular interdictors are marginally better than anchored bubbles.  They have the potential to not be a shit mechanic with some careful nerfing to the regular interdictor bubbles (namely, capacity to carry more of them) and anchored bubbles, but as of right now, they’re shit, placing a premium on expensive ships of a few narrow types (cloaky or nullified) to beat them when not travelling in areas you have a strong intel network for.  they are especially bad in places like null-to-low/high connection systems and other crowded areas like NPC null.  The Doril gate from Sendaya is camped so frequently that hotdropping the campers is a public service.

Therefore it should be no surprise that I consider the interdiction nullification change.  Not only is it a nerf to bubbles, but it also means that interdiction nullification is not a T3-only feature.  While I have no particular dislike of T3s, aside from the absurd durability of their buffer fits, I do think anything that provides alternatives to T3s is a good thing.

That said, interceptors require some consideration, because the class is not JUST interdiction nullification.  Roaming gangs of interceptors are a thing.  They don’t seem to be as much of a thing as they were 4-6 months ago, but that also might be a matter of BRAVE relocating from Barleguet to Sendaya and now to Catch and not having every bored lowsec pirate in the neighborhood coming around in interceptors looking for newbies to farm.

That brings up the weakness of claiming that interdiction nullification is the problem with interceptors – Barleguet and Sendaya are both lowsec systems.  There are no bubbles there.  Yet, the roaming gang of interceptors can do as much damage there as nullsec; maybe more since lowsec is not vast swathes of empty between possible targets.

No the problem with interceptors is not with their ability to evade bubbles, nor with the ability of 14 interceptors to swarm a Raven to death.  The problem is with the advantages of the interceptor in fights where numbers are more or less equal.

The interceptor is at the extreme limit of the advantages of small and fast, and because of EVE’s mechanics trying to balance ships across all sizes, things break down a bit with the interceptor.  Not all the way; the game is not broken, per se, but interceptors combine high speed with small signature radius to an extreme degree.  This really shows in the level of skill the interceptor pilot has trained; every level lowers the interceptor’s sig radius bloom from MWDing by 15%.  When you add in things like boosters, faction mods, and off grid links in some cases, interceptors can reach astounding speeds, while suffering much less penalty in terms of sig than other frigate-sized ships.

This means that all interceptors have a fairly large “zone of immunity” where it’s very hard indeed to hit them.  Outside of 10KM (edge of web range without faction webs or bonuses) and inside somewhere between 30 and 45km, interceptors enjoy a VERY high degree of protection from almost everything.

In these ranges, small short-range guns probably won’t reach at all, medium short-range guns will reach, but with a stretch to get out to the high 20KM ranges where interceptors like to fight.  Large short-range guns will generally reach, but suffer major issues of tracking and sig radius.

Long-range guns aren’t much better; almost all cannot track the interceptor effectively, even if they could track other small, fast targets like Imperial Navy Slicers.

Consider the example of BRAVE’s now-sidelined Pocket Rocket Thorax doctrine.  The Thorax has a 7.5% per level tracking bonus to the hull, and the Pocket Rocket used 250mm meta 4 railguns.  It included a tracking enhancer and a tracking computer with strips.  Hitting kiting Slicers was easily done’ hitting kiting interceptors nearly impossible.  Using 20mm Tech 2 guns with Javelin with have remedied this, but I have not had the chance to really experiment.  Still, that would mean a hull bonus, 2 tracking modules, a slightly smaller gun size AND a tracking bonus to ammo, just to hit with medium long guns.

Add a tracking disruptor to the interceptor, and you can basically forget about hitting it with any gun weapon system.  At longer ranges the interceptor might not get enough transversal to avoid being tracked, but at longer ranges it also can’t hold point.

Other weapons systems seem like they should fare better, but even light missiles suffer from extreme speed tanking of their explosion velocity.  Flare catalysts can help, but they aren’t that common, and the interceptor stays well out of web range for the most part.  Drones, even Warrior IIs, are mostly outrun.

Specialized ships can help, such as the Arazu or Lachesis, the Huginn, Rapier and anything else that can apply webs, scrams, or neuts farther out than normal, but these tend to be expensive and specialized ships.

Now, to be fair, gun interceptors run the risk of outrunning their own tracking too, and brawler interceptors like the Taranis and some Claw fits end up getting in web/scram range because they tend to apply scrams themselves rather than points, and possibly webs as well.

But that’s highlighted in the choice of interceptors – the most popular are the Crow and Malediction which avoid any problems with their own weapon system tracking or range, and which easily stay outside web/scram range of a target.

This means that an interceptor can essentially hold down a lot of targets indefinitely.  Often, these targets are ostensibly powerful combat ships.  While this isn’t automatically bad, the degree to which they can do it and the need for specialized options to have any chance at dealing with them pushes this over the limit of what’s acceptable.

Mynnna posted on her blog a few months back, an idea of taking bubble immunity from half the interceptors and giving them web/scram immunity instead.  While intriguing, this might actually make the problem even worse – stripping away counters to interceptors in lowsec. and any time a bubble is not available in null.  Worse, bubbles don’t slow the ship or make it easier to hit, so while it might not be able to warp off, it becomes harder still to hold it down and hit it, either to kill it or even just keep it in the bubble.

Right now, I would say any solution that alters all interceptors equally is not a good idea.  A solution should focus on bringing the worst offenders in line with the other six interceptors.  After that a better adjustment, if still necessary, can be better explored.  Still, if it’s a choice between having them as is and giving up bubble immunity, I’ll take “as is”.

The Drive-By Political

This is a brief item. One we’ve all experienced. Most of us have probably been guilty of it at some point.

Although I have my political views, and they are well-established ones, I don’t really want politics in my gaming. To the degree that I do, I’d rather address it here than take up my play time arguing with someone in local chat, or on corp comms. I care about politics, and I even like discussing it, and I have my hot issues.. but when I’m in the middle of slaughtering Withered Hand cultists in Al’Akir, that is not the time.

There is, however, a certain species of gamer that just cannot let their political issues go. Many of these people will just troll everyone in local chat with divisive statements on divisive issues.

The Drive-By political, on the other hand, does not. The drive-by political takes their political shit in places where political speech (including religious, and other political-like talk) is inappropriate, knowing that the community or the moderation will shut things down before any discussion or argument starts. The political comment is then left hanging, like an axiom.

Now, the actual effectiveness of this in persuading people may be limited, but it DOES tend to create an environment where the implication is that counter-comments are being stopped because, while the place generally agrees with whatever sentiment was expressed, no one wants to argue.

For example, the first person makes some comment about “people that don’t want to accept that high sec income is out of control are as out of touch with reality as global warming deniers.”

Aside from the obvious poisoning the well going on here, the moderation in most forums, or on most corp comms, will promptly shut this down. Everyone afterwards is left with the uncomfortable feeling that global warming is an accepted truth, and the conversation was shut down, in part, to stop disagreement with it.

This is exactly what the driveby political wants. Both their pet political issue and the game issue are then left with no meaningful discussion, but the comment lingers in the air.

..Or at least what someone else paid for

There is no end of people in the world with all kinds of reasons why someone else should pay for something for them, or at least why people should have access to various services, or even goods, regardless of means.  Liberals and ‘social justice’ crusaders of all types make campaigns for various entitlements a centerpiece of their political outlook.  While I usually disagree with them in terms of the degree, means, and amount they want to hand out, I don’t think they are entirely wrong.  Despite the protests of libertarians and other conservatives, there IS an entitlement to the means of others that is fundamental to a free society – the right to an attorney.  No one contests that defendants in court should be provided an attorney if they can’t afford their own, and that fundamental truth means that a just society has an obligation to provide at least some things to those that can’t obtain them themselves.  The question is what, and how much.  Liberals usually are at fault for wanting far, far too much free stuff, not for wanting any free stuff at all.

Regardless of how you feel on the politics of this, however, video games are a very hard sell as something that someone else is obligated to provide you for free.  Video games are a luxury item.  If you can play video games at all, or even complain that you can’t play them (as opposed to having to complain about more fundamental issues like not enough food, or being chased by angry men with machine guns) you are in the 1%, especially when we consider all of human history.

Yet whenever the subject of MMO business models comes up, there will inevitably be a few nimrods that forget this and complain that because they are a college student, or have medical problems, or live in a poorer country that subscription games are “unfair” to them because they can’t afford $15 a month.

Inevitably, people will reply to this by pointing out that $15 is not a lot of money in comparison to other entertainment, and that video games are a luxury, not a social entitlement.

The more clever free-to-play advocates will avoid this obvious trap, and tout the alleged benefits of free-to-play, presenting it as both more profitable than subscription and more ‘player-friendly’.

There’s some evidence for both claims.  Path of Exile, while not an MMO is doing reasonably well with it’s ‘ethical microtransaction’ model which, while (unintentionally) not as ethical as they think it is, certainly isn’t bad.  SWTOR is the poster child for a game recovering from massive subscription losses by going free-to-play, and Everquest has had new life breathed into it with the same system.  It should be the perfect system, right?  Everyone wins; the player chooses whether and how much to spend and the developer comes out ahead by increasing their playerbase.

There’s a trap in this reasoning, however – Path of Exile is, while a pretty good game for what it is, not an MMO, and games that are MMOs that start out FTP generally haven’t been very good ones, at a minimum being fairly low-tech like Runescape.  Others, like Everquest, are aging and trying to remain viable.. and succeeding, or so it appears.  Still others, like SWTOR, Age of Conan, LotRO, and RIFT are simply failing to compete with WoW on WoW’s terms because, why not just play WoW?

In arguments for free-to-play, especially those relating to ESO (despite it being out barely 3 months) there’s always a strong element of “this game is failing/dying” and “why don’t they admit failure?” and extensive complaints about bugs and content and balance and.. all the problems of a new MMO.  In threads about all those problems, people talk about it going free-to-play.

Free-to-play is strongly seen as a route for “failed” games, often even forgetting games that are simply old or were never expected to be high-quality games in the first place. 

This brings up an interesting question, though – if a game isn’t worth a subscription, why is it worth playing for free?

There might be a few reasons – maybe you just don’t play a lot, or just want it as an “alternate” game when your favorite is down for maintenance or something.

If you intend to play regularly though, why are you playing a game that is really that bad just because it’s free?  If you don’t actually enjoy playing it, who cares that it’s free?  Play something else – or develop an interest other than games in that spare time.

This comment, taken from a thread at Tamriel Foundry entitled “Why isn’tESO free to play yet?” is revealing:

At least with F2P you can experience some aspects of the game without financial commitment before making that decision. I know that I played DDO when it was P2P for about a year. It became pretty redundant at end-game and other games I really wanted to play pulled me away. I’ve gone back 4-5 times fora month plus each time because it’s free. I wouldn’t have done that if I had to pay each time.

The author is referring in the first sentence to how FTP lets players try out a game to see if they like it without committing financially.

This poster, not being terribly clever, however, tips his hand in the very next sentence:  He found the game good enough to play for a year, paid, then eventually quit because it was “redundant at the end.”  Is that what qualifies as “trying it out?”  Does he resent paying for that year and the enjoyment he got for that period because he didn’t like the end part?

It gets worse.  He goes back for 4-5 months at a time because its free.  It’s worth spending 4-5 months of gaming time on a redundant game simply because its free?  What for?  Why not do something else?

And he finishes up with “I wouldn’t do that if it wasn’t free”.  Ok, so then who cares?  Why does the company care about not having a freeloader for 4-5 months at a time?

I find it a little hard to believe that the game actually has anything wrong with it, other than being in a saturated market with too many competitors.  He played it for a year, and still comes back to it… but doesn’t want to pay, because it’s “redundant”.

The insidious aspect of this is that then, if some problem can identified with every game, why shouldn’t they all be free to play?  After all, we can find some reason why every game isn’t “worth it” with a little effort.  A few histrionics over bugs and growing pains are easy to conjure up.

And that is the real issue – the market is saturated with games all trying to “be WoW” (while EVE sits safely off in the corner frightening away players afraid of the consequences of loss it entails) and players all constantly harping on these games failures, real or imaginary, and skating from game to game like tourists.. but not if it costs them any money, because if they’re all free, why commit?

And this new game, this upstart, why is it not free to play?  How dare they have a subscription?  Why are they not letting me come and go as I please while someone else pays?

The question is, how sustainable is the FTP model, and for how many games?  How many “whales” are out there, and what will they pay for?  How long will they keep paying for it?  Referring back to Path of Exile’s model, they boast “5 million subscriptions and hundreds of thousands online” and offer – completely unnecessary to gameplay – hundred-dollar-plus vanity pets and thousand-dollar “packages” of which they’ve sold a “couple hundred” of the former and “half a million dollars” of the latter.

A little simple arithmetic tells us that this means out of 5 million accounts, only a few hundred have made these major purchases.

Yet these “whales” are what really fund FTP, and our intrepid DDO player above wants the “whale” to spend a few hundred dollars on a vanity pet so he can have free play in a game he obviously likes.

Now, this can work for some games, but it probably can’t work for all games all the time.  There are only so many “whales” with so much money for games to compete for.. and the whales ARE invested in one game, and much harder to pull in than that freeloaders, if they are already invested.

Finally, this method may not be as ethical or player-friendly as we think.  There is a real question of what’s going through the mind of a person who spends thousands of dollars on vanity pets in a video game.  In many cases, it’s rich people or dedicated fans with money to burn, but in others.. it isn’t.  Compulsive spending is a real thing, and I doubt very much that the makers of Path of Exile considered that when they started talking about how “ethical” their business model is.

Free-to-play isn’t all bad, and in many ways is a response to market forces.  But, when much of your market wants your product for free, it behooves one to question whether that’s really going to work in the long run.

You get what you pay for…

Or “there’s no free lunch”, or a number of other ways of expressing the same sentiment.  Most of us have learned this as children, and find out the hard way that it’s true as we get older.  It’s not an absolute.  Sometimes there’s a good deal.  Sometimes overpriced goods are of poor quality.  All of us have eaten at that one restraint that inexplicably charged way more than any place comparable, or bought the bargain bacon at the grocery store only to find it a mangled mess when we opened the package.

MMO players, however, seem impervious to this reasoning.  That may be because of the tendency of game companies to all charge the same $60 for the box and $15 a month for a subscription (at least, as long as they still have subscriptions, and not counting discounts for purchasing multiple months) but what you get for that money isn’t necessarily of the same quality.

Vanguard: Saga of Heros launched in 2007 as Brad McQuaid’s new masterpiece.  The game had, for its’ time, very beautiful high-end graphics, gameplay that used the successful WoW formula combined with slower leveling and more EQ-like difficulty, plus an innovative “diplomacy” system for non-combat gameplay and a fairly complex crafting system.  It had a wide variety of races and classes, and a large game world with plenty of room.

It also was a spectacular failure; heavily bug-ridden with much of that huge world empty, and graphics that were too demanding for most computers of the era.  Yet it charged the same price per month as its peers at the time.  Even if it weren’t buggy, it ran into the same problem as many later games – WoW was, and is, the king of the hill in terms of numbers of players, recent drops notwithstanding and one wonders why, if one is going to play WoW, why would one not just play WoW, which is well-developed at this point with few bugs, a large community, and tons of content?

Much of the MMO community wants WoW gameplay – class-based, formulaic gameplay that involved progression and betterment, with just a sprinkling of PVP that plays out in well-balanced pre-made scenarios.  Those who are a little braver can play on PVP servers.

EVE is the other elephant in the living room; a niche game (albeit a very large niche indeed) of players who like A) flying spaceships and B) gameplay that is not mainly about “progression”; the occasional The Mittani ALOD article about someone who “leveled up their missioning ship” notwithstanding.

Much is made of the supposed “greater profitability” of free-to-play gaming.. yet Blizzard and CCP both refuse to go this route.  Why?

In the case of EVE, the entire PLEX system handily prevents this.  PLEX sells for several dollars more than a month of subscription, and definitely more than a long-term sub on a per-month basis.  It beautifully combines the free-to-play and pay-to-play systems – everyone’s playtime is paid for by someone, but those who play enough, and well enough can buy their game time from someone with in-game currency.  Those who wish to pay the way of others to play get direct benefit, in the form of ISK, out of it, and can choose when and to what degree they participate.  Best of all, because PLEX can be destroyed, occasionally CCP gets a windfall when someone’s ship full of PLEX blows up and it doesn’t drop, and the player has no one to blame but himself, much as if it HAD dropped and was stolen.

It never makes sense to buy PLEX for your own use to extend your subscription.  If you pay real money to play, it’s cheaper to subscribe.  Using PLEX for an account only makes sense when purchased from another player, using ISK.

Despite EVE‘s problems and missteps with DUST 514 and the cancelled WoD MMO, players get continuous effort and support for EVE.  That effort may be poor, and often not what the players want, and too slow for their tastes, but in many cases “what the players want” isn’t a good idea anyhow, since at least 90% of player ideas are based on failing to appreciate the necessity of someone else’s playstyle to the game’s overall health.

World of Warcraft, on the other hand, uses a few free “on-ramps” to get people into the game, such as a “free to 20” trial, faster leveling for people teamed up with a friend they recruited, and insta-level 80s and 90s for returning players to avoid the grind before doing high-end content.  While it’s possible it will go FTP, WoW still had over 7.5 million subscribers last year.

Free-to-play games make their money either by giving players just enough to get them to buy a subscription (EQ2 used this method when it first came out, locking classes, and if I recall right races, behind a paywall) or from “whales”, who are players that spend much larger sums on the game than everyone else.  In both cases, the “free” game play is used to get players in, either in hopes that they’ll like the game enough to subscribe, or in hopes they’ll be one of the 0.5 to 6% of players that actually spend money in free-to-play games, assuming the same data holds true for MMOs that holds true for App Store game players.

Even if MMO players are MUCH more likely to spend some money in a model where the game uses a cash “shop” rather than the “get people to subscribe for access to everything” system, each player that DOES pay must, on average, spend MUCH more than a subscription per month just to break even.

Let’s say 20% of the playerbase, rather than 0.5 to 6%, spends.  With only 1 player in 5 spending, they must spend an average of $75 a month each for the company to break even with the same number of players all subscribing.

But, FTP brings in more players!  People try the games out because there’s no entry cost now, and so more of them spend!  If the playerbase triples, now each payer only has to spend $25 a month compared to what the game would have made under subscription.

Seems reasonable, right?  I mean, if $15 a month is pretty affordable (and it is) why not $25 a month, if you really like the game?

The question though, is how to get that $25 out of the player.

Various methods to do this have been tried, some with greater success than others.  The Diablo III auction house (yes, I know Diablo III is really buy-to-play, and is not an MMO) didn’t work out too well, and was abandoned.  Pay-to-win forumlas notoriously drive people away, feeling that they’ll be outspent by a few real-life-rich players.  Other games have used cosmetic and other non-gameplay upgrade items, or “convenience” items that reduce gameplay tedium without increasing power (mounts, for example) with much better success.  SWTOR was, at one point (and might still be; I don’t know) offering additional hotbars for its UI as paid items.

There’s also the method of giving out the base game free, and adding DLCs that add content for a premium.

Every one of these methods, however, runs into 2 problems, in varying degrees:  It takes money to develop the “for sale” items, features, or content, and at least some players are going to bitch about having to pay for it.

Remember that the appeal of free to play is that it relies on the player getting something for nothing.  The player wants as much game as possible for as little money as possible.  Therefore, the developer must strike a careful balance between putting so much of the game behind a paywall that players leave in disgust, feeling they’re being “milked” or “nickel and dimed”, and not selling enough stuff, so that they don’t make any more money.  They also must make sure the stuff they’re selling is stuff players actually want.  Finally, the need to develop more and more stuff to sell in the store can lead to the game world becoming a morass of silly vanity items and driving off otherwise-dedicated players who can only take so many people riding pink unicorns.

Up to this point, free-to-play, in the MMO world has been the method of low-quality games like Runescape, aging games like Everquest trying to keep going, and games like SWTOR that, well, failed at beating WoW.

While free-to-play makes sense for all these games, it most likely won’t totally replace subscription games, especially for titles that succeed early on.  EVE won’t go free-to-play as it already duplicates all the advantages of FTP with it’s PLEX system while avoiding most of the downsides (it has its own downsides, but they are unique to it and not in the purview of this post).  WoW won’t; it’s making a handy profit as it is, and for a good reason – people are invested in WoW.  They have lots of sunk costs in it already, in money and time, so they will keep coming back for the new thing.  With the ability to insta-level to 90, it has an even stronger incentive to return, rather than level up in a new game to experience the same basic gameplay.

New games, like ESO, wanting to do a subscription model need to be of high quality, and they need to not try to duplicate WoW, at least until it ages to the point that it’s just another competitor. 

ESO has accomplished the latter; it is not trying to duplicate WoW.  Whether it hass accomplished the former depends on who you listen to, but I caution everyone – malcontents and naysayers are always the loudest in any game community.  ESO is not without problems, but the problems are not what the naysayers claim they are.  The problem ESO does face, however, is a playerbase that badly wants free-to-play.. and that’s a topic for the next post.

A milestone passes – Everquest

Earlier this year, Everquest passed its 15th anniversary.  I would say I was remiss in not mentioning this already, but I hadn’t started blogging yet, so.. that’s my excuse.

In many ways the game that started it all (that might also go to Ultima Online), its amazing to me that Everquest is still alive and kicking, and even launched a 20th expansion in October of last year.  It didn’t go free-to-play until 2012, around it’s 13th anniversary, and not long before Star Wars: The Old Republic did, which was brand new at the time.  It actually went free-to-play after Everquest II did, and it has outlived its original designer, Brad McQuaid’s later game, Vanguard: Saga of Heros, a game of incredible potential and slipshod execution that was shut down earlier this year.

When I started playing Everquest in 1999, I was 23 years old, a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and just 2 weeks away from my first National Training Center rotation.  In fact, I had purchased the game and then decided it might be a good idea to wait until after the rotation to play, since I would be away for 4 weeks.  My resolution lasted all of 48 hours.  In the 2 weeks I had to play, I started 9 different characters, experimenting with each, and eventually settling on a Dark Elf Shadowknight.  I had inadvertently started out on the PVP server, Rallos Zek, and decided to stick with it.

PVP was rough back then; when you killed someone you could loot one piece off of them, and if you didn’t, someone else could.  Eventually they changed it so that weapons couldn’t be looted, and items inside bags could not either.  This lead to people “bagging” their gear as fast as they could under attack.  Some classes had massive advantages in PVP, so it was often better to do that than even try to fight.  The Shadowknight was not one of those classes, although it’s massive alpha strike of Harm Touch once an hour certainly could give an attacker pause.

Even without PVP, EQ was HARD.  Brad McQuaid had taken Gary Gygax’s advice to heart and kept the players very lean indeed.  Vanilla game gear was woefully underpowered; melee classes could not kill anything that would actually give experience solo after about level 30, and casters didn’t have an easy time of it either.  Death was common, and penalized hard; you lost serious experience with a death.  Clerics could resurrect you with some of that experience back, but clerics of sufficient level to do so were damn rare.  Worse, you had to run back to your corpse, now gearless, and get your stuff, unless someone else could drag it closer to you.  If your bind point was on the other side of the world, that could mean an hour run to get your stuff.  It was like getting podded in EVE, only there were no clone upgrades; you lost experience any time you were past level 6.  On the plus side, you only lost 1 piece of gear and then only on the PVP server though, if you got your corpse back.

There were high level monsters roaming low level zones, as anyone who inadvertently ran onto specter island or into a sand giant in the Ro zones could tell you, or got ambushed by the griffin East Commonlands, or a hill giant in the Karana zones.  People though the griffin was unkillable; in reality it was only a level 35 monster.  The cap was 50.

Nevertheless, I was hooked.. and I mean hooked.  I hardly did anything BUT play Everquest in my free time until I got married, and even since then I’ve played more hours than I should have.  I didn’t do the Army social scene, I played Everquest.  The moment I stepped out of Surefall Glade and into the wide world on my first character (a ranger; the shadowknight that I settled on was created a few days later) I knew I was playing the game I’d spent my whole childhood dreaming of.  There was this whole world to explore, more than I felt like I could ever explore

Kunark came out, and things got a lot easier as a melee player, as armor values and damage/delay ratios on the new weapons went from “absurd” to merely “too low”.  In retrospect, this meant the inevitable power creep had a buffer while the game was in its prime; in compensation monsters hit “Kunark hard”.  Still, you could survive fights now, solo.  Wonderful zones like The Overthere felt open and free to explore; they were huge.  There were zones like Skyfire that you just did not go into until you were ready, and a lot of people weren’t ready.

Velious came out, introducing a wonderful winter continent.  Many people consider it the best expansion of all time.  I almost agree; I liked Kunark just a little bit better.  Gear got better, and more interesting to acquire; the 3-way war between Dwarves, Giants, and Dragons made for a real storyline.  One of the best events ever, the defense of Thurgadin to get the final stage of an ever-improving ring, was one of the most fun events I’ve ever played in an MMO; vastly ahead of its time in terms of demanding player teamwork.  The one-time Wake the Sleeper event meant players could truly impact the game world and change it forever.

In December 2001, I left the active Army to move back to Ohio, and took another hiatus for 6 weeks due to a trip to Philadelphia for my sister’s wedding.  Luclin arrived just in time for this.  I was level 55 at the time, still 5 levels short of the level cap established in Kunark; I’d re-started as a ranger on Tribunal after getting frustrated with the game in early 2000 and quitting for 2 weeks.. before it pulled me right back in.

Luclin wasn’t up to the other expansions; it was big but.. it was alien, weird, and just didn’t pull people in the same way.  Some people considered it the worst expansion; I don’t know if it still holds that title; Gates of Discord later was worse in my view.  Luclin lacked the magic of Velious and Kunark somehow.

Planes of Power came next, at the time almost too quickly.  It bumped the level cap to 65; it added new zones well done in their themes; staples of fantasy like the elemental planes appeared.

Following that came Lost Dungeons of Norrath, and timed missions.  After fighting dragons and gods, this was a refreshing return to the fantasy dungeon crawl.  You could save up and earn points for loot rather than arguing about who got the drops.

By that time, I’d been through 3 guilds, 4 counting the one on the PVP server.  I was getting married.  Everquest was beginning to age; it was approaching its 5th birthday.  I had speculated it might not last more than 3 years in 1999; I was way off.  I’d skipped Asheron’s Call, Dark Age of Camelot, and EVE to stick with it.  It was still fun, but the magic was gone.

In winter of 2004, after the terrible Gates of Discord expansion, the near- disappearance of everyone over the summer, and the uninteresting Omens of War, I was anticipating EQ2.  Star Wars: Battlefront was out, and I could hardly tear myself away form it.  My EQ career was almost over.  When EQ2 came out, it took all of an hour for me to be enchanted; the new technology, graphics, sound, and variety of interesting abilities and the new world to explore captured me at once.

I played Everquest again in a fit of nostalgia in 2008 as I was leaving Iraq; Warhammer – Age of Reckoning put an end to that plus a revival of my on-off WoW career.  I played again when the Trakanon server came online.

You can go home again – in both cases, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane – but you can’t recapture childhood.  In many ways, you can’t get the same feeling ever again that your first MMO gave you.  EVE came close; it was my first space MMO and the vast galaxy gave me some of that back.  Everquest 2 did a little bit.  Elder Scrolls Online couldn’t; as much as I like the game it can’t reproduce the wonder of Everquest.  Much of that, I suspect, is my history with the Elder Scrolls franchise; I already know what’s out there in Tamriel.

Some days I miss my bachelor life and sitting in my apartment playing Everquest.  Life is good; better in many ways than it was then.  I’m not a Lieutenant any more; I’m a Major now, in the reserves.  I’m not a police academy trainee as I was right after getting back to Ohio; I have 12 years in law enforcement.  I’m not a bachelor, my family has grown into my wife and 4 daughters, the oldest of whom is in college (she’s adopted, for those wondering how that math works).

Life moves on, and our games and other activities move on, and you can’t go back in time.  Still, it’s comforting to see Everquest still rolling along.  It’s a lot like seeing an old steam locomotive pulling an excursion train.  She may be outclassed technologically, but she still has a lot to offer.

 

Keeping the sand in the box

MMOs today are broadly categorized as either “themepark” MMOs, where the primary player activity is going from developer-provided content to content, aiming for progression of their character, and sandbox MMOs where the primary content either is the other players, or at least is centered around exploring the environment and finding something to do.

Seeing as I am a fan of both EVE and The Elder Scrolls series, my fondness for the sandbox (Single-player sandbox games are different since there obviously are no other players to provide content) ought to be clear.  Elder Scrolls Online, contrary to the other games of its series and the expectations of many, leans heavily towards the themepark.  It is, however, not entirely a stranger to the sandbox with its strong PVP system, and highly flexible character creation and progression.

Elder Scrolls Online, however, has all the normal themepark restrictions on how you may conduct yourself towards other players, however.  In that regard, EVE very much stands alone.  You will find no Erotica 1s haunting the cities of Elder Scrolls Online.

One of the unique aspects of EVE is the degree of freedom it permits for players to mess up the day of other players.  Scamming, corp theft, and other dishonesty are permitted, in game.  This is the sort of in-game criminality that has to be punished by the community, because it isn’t against the EULA.  Other such conduct includes various things that will get you CONCORDed or gate gunned; the client will punish you.  CCP themselves, however, won’t.

While it’s possible to take this criminality too far and get punished by CCP for in-game actions (evading CONCORD, for example), the big emphasis of a company that allows this kind of mistreatment of one’s fellow players as part of the game it runs is on actions that take things outside the sandbox.

In this regard, the term sandBOX is remarkably accurate.  The players have the sand to play with, but once they go outside the box, they’re in uncharted territory.  While the sandbox isn’t specifically limited to the game client, and does include outside software and other tools used to facilitate gameplay, the sandbox IS limited, primarily by needing to be relevant to the play that does occur inside the client.

Trying to go outside this (for example, make real money) is a sure way to get into trouble – and that is where Erotica 1’s defenders fall afoul of the critical thinking they so rarely employ.

First, it must be kept firmly in mind that Erotica 1 posted the soundcloud of the Sokar incident, thereby eliminating any claim to privacy.  If one makes information public, one loses any legitimate complain that someone else acting on it is violating one’s privacy.

Second, we must keep in mind that the Bonus Room is the result of an ISK-doubling scam inside the game client.  It is inextricably connected – without the in-game scam, the bonus room wouldn’t exist.

Now, the ISK-doubling scam is, in itself, legitimate gameplay.  The bonus room purports to be so because, ostensibly, the player has a chance to win back their assets in spades.

This causes a problem for a number of Erotica defenders, however, because they insist that Erotica was banned for things that happened in a “private channel” (of whatever comunication software was used; I don’t recall at the moment.)

The problem is that the victim is lured into the bonus room by means of activities within the game client, is led to believe their actions in there will be compensated (if successfully completed) within the client, and the recording isn’t private once its posted for public consumption.

The privacy issue mainly is one of practicality – without public posting of the bonus room, it would be impossible for CCP to know this was taking place.  Theoretically, if CCP had been somehow listening in on the bonus room and learned of it through that means, there’s a potentially separate issue, but the fact is that the bonus room was never “private”.

Better yet, it’s obviously the result of game client actions (ISK doubling) and pretends to have potential rewards there at the end.  This ties it inextricably to CCPs product, and places it within their purview to regulate.  The “banned for private chatroom actions” argument holds no water.

Yet this argument is made shamelessly by Erotica 1 defenders, and worse, they will do so right along side people saying “but it’s supposed to be a sandbox!!”

What these people forget is the word “box”.  The bonus room takes the sand, and dumps it out of the box, creating the problem.  It’s still CCPs sand, but the players are trying to take it and play with it somewhere else – specifically, by creating real-world embarrassment and engaging in “tear harvesting” without any further potential in-game benefit to the scammer.

Just to be clear, all of these are serious problems by themselves.. it is not merely the combination of these issues that creates the problem, but each individually.  CCP does not permit even in-client pointless harassment over extended periods with no potential for gain or advantage; look up the rules on bumping.

Once Erotica has all of the “bonus room ” players assets, there’s no game-related point to furthering the scam.  It is solely done for the amusement of listening to them frusterate themselves trying to win the bonus room – which is impossible, as it has no win condition.  The player transmits ALL of their assets to Erotica, and then is led down a road paved with Sunk Costs.

This brings CCPs product into disrepute as an avenue for people with a schoolyard bully’s sense of what is entertaining (and they are bullies, even if not actually real criminals), and what puts it firmly outside the protection of “sandbox gameplay”.  It isn’t gameplay.  It’s presenting the victim with the illusion of gameplay to get them to make a fool of themselves.

Now, someone might wonder, what if it A) did have a win condition that was actually known in advance, consistent, and adhered to and B) were not “mandatory” (as in, the victim is lured in, in part due to having sent a large amount of ISK for doubling, then told they are a “lucky bonus room winner” – but they MUST participate to get back what they bet on the ISK doubling scheme).

That might strengthen the argument that it’s entirely voluntary, (and that’s for another time) but it still would run headlong into the problem of “what conceivable sandbox need is there for allowing people to make fools of themselves in real life for purposes of playing the game”?

One does not need “bonus rooms” to do ISK doubling.  It serves no purpose, and ISK doubling is plenty profitable by itself.  The simple fact of the matter is that while its connected to CCPs product, it isn’t “sandbox gameplay” – it’s using the sandbox to gain pleasure from the frustration of the victim in real life.

It’s common for bullies to exploit the rules and engage in pedantry to legitimize their bullying – but thankfully, CCP doesn’t have to tolerate it – and they didn’t.