Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why We Play

In his weekly feature on Massively Player vs Everthing, Cameron Sorden talks about why we keep playing MMORPGs to the point of the addiction.

It seems so simple, so obvious. "Yes, of course it's good to take a break," you say, nodding along with me. "Just as soon as I get my Tier 9 Sword, Epic Firetruck, and Gleeful Gnome Pet, I'll do that. Though, I should really wait until my Tier 10 Sword and Mega-Epic Firetruck... and then help my guildies get theirs."

The big difference, he says, is that online games are social. And players keep playing to maintain social contacts, and also to maintain social position.

The thing about MMOGs is that we don't play them by ourselves. We play them with other people. Hang out in any kind of social space long enough, and you start to identify peers. Whether it's your guild, random people on your friends list, or just the familiar names in trade chat, your MMOG eventually feels like your third place. Like a corner bar, it's a place where you can go hang out and have fun with some familiar faces in a low-stress environment.

Unlike the corner bar, though, MMOGs focus very heavily on a strict track of progression and growth. If you duck out for a week, your character stays put, and everyone else keeps going. There's a very real competition in online games to "Keep up with the Joneses," even if you're always just chasing the Joneses around. Not only do you have the lure of your personal progression -- you also have the motivation to keep going "because everyone else is." Not quitting becomes a test of solidarity. Everyone keeps playing as much as they do (however much it is) because that's how much the people they see as their peers play.

The ability to mentor helps this quite a bit, but it isn't a cure-all. Often, I've seen people choose character classes based on, "what do we need?" They want to make a strong positive contribution to the welfare of the social group. And if they are successful, it accords them some status within that group. But that status won't be maintained if they stop playing. To some, that place of importance gives them a sense of responsibility to the other players who have helped them.

For example, when you log on, and guildies say, "Tolly, we're so glad you're here, we need you to mez for us in Maiden's Chamber" it's a powerful incentive to log in again.

Even if Zelda said to you, "Link, I'm glad you're back! I need you to save me and save the world!" every time you logged in, we know that there's not really a person there, but a scriptwriter. It isn't the same.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Group Game

Tipa writes about taking a break from the normal progression dungeon crawl her group does (in EQ, not EQ2) and doing an old-school camp in City of Mist.

On Nostalgia nights, we tend to crawl through dungeons. This was not the typical way of playing EverQuest. Usually you fought your way to someplace you liked, and you STAYED there. The puller would pull, the tank would grab the aggro, and everyone would pile on. But that sort of play has fallen out of fashion, and I believe EverQuest is still the only MMO that offers this sort of casual, extremely social, style of play.

I have long thought that all the things people count as bad points in EQ, are actually good points — if you are with the right sort of people. MMO devs were far too quick to blithely toss out what was good about EQ. And now people will never know, unless they play.

This sort of camp was necessary since mages and healers needed to be able to sit down to regain mana fast enough. You would push in to a spot you'd like, and you'd clear that area in such a way that the respawns would come at you one at a time, making them easier to manage. Then the puller would bring in a mob, the tank taunt it off, and you'd kill. If your power regen was good enough, the puller would drop off and bring up another mob, so there was no down time. Good times. This never happens in EQ2.

One of the main reasons is that no one needs to sit down or stand still to regen power. Another is that the pace was much faster in EQ2 than EQ1 at the time, though I think they've worked to make EQ a little quicker. Mobs die faster in EQ2 and we die faster when we mess up. And we get back in the game faster too.

Another reason is that there's no narrative there. "We went to the spot marked X and stayed there for 2 hours" isn't exactly a compelling story line. And it creates problems if someone else wants to hang out in spot X.

If you are with a group of people that you like, though, it could be great fun, a social event. Tea, sympathy, humor, and slaughter. Everything I like. The slower pace allows for more social interaction, which in this instance is a good thing.

Tipa goes on to tell of a great pickup group experience:

Sunday I was putting stuff in the guild bank with Brita, my 75 cleric, when I got a tell from a monk asking to help him on his final fight for his epic 2.0. Naturally, I said I’d be right there. The fight was on the aviak island in the Ocean of Tears. The fight is meant for two groups, but can be done with one. The group was made of people from between 70 and 80. One person didn’t get to the fight in time, so we did it with five — monk, cleric (me!), shaman, warrior, warrior.

He’s the fun bit, and why EQ is EQ.

Nobody was exactly sure what happened on the fight or what the mob would do, though they didn’t think there would be adds. And so we just started it off.

Turns out he had a short-range AE rampage and a single target fear+stun. But not a word was spoken about those. Everyone seamlessly adapted to a fight they were learning as they went on, and after awhile, we won without a single death (and mana was okay too).

High level EQ players are professionals. They have played in groups nearly their entire time, they know their jobs, they are adaptable and expert at their jobs.

I have had experiences like that, and I love it. It's why I'm an enchanter, so I can perform my brand of magic. In EQ, you can have a bad pull that looks like you're all going to die and then, 20 seconds later, all the mobs are sitting there staring blankly into space and you're happily slaughtering them. This works because

  • Everyone dies slower in EQ, so there's more time to do stuff

  • Enchanters in EQ1 can mez more, everyone understands it, and it's more important to the game. Nobody breaks mez any more.

I have had very good PUGs in EQ2, as well. These days, they have all been for instances. In fact, both my best PUG and worst PUG experience in EQ2 have been in Ruins of Kunark.

Instances in ROK offer some very unique challenges to groups, especially my favorite instance, Maiden's Chamber. There are four nameds in there that require group members to do something that is quite different than the usual "tank and spank". Bliithu teleports you and makes you deal with the threat of a group-wiping AE. Sandstorm has nasty adds, and a stoneskin that is also a serious damage shield. So you have to stop fighting him. The sisters are an encounter that requires everything to work, crowd control, dps, tanking, healing, for success. And Drusella requires that you turn dps off and on, on command, while the tank keeps aggro, even as the healers have to keep healing. Unusual challenges. I've met them with the best, and that is fun stuff.

One thing you don't see much of in EQ2 is something unexpected happening, though. The first time I went through MC, I was with a PUG that had called me in for mezzing. They knew how the encounters worked, and knew what they wanted me to do. I did it, we won. Very cool, but not the same as what Tipa was talking about.

My worst pickup group was in Chelsith. I don't remember how I got into it. But the tank couldn't hold aggro, and would pull right after the healer said "afk a sec". The group leader couldn't speak english. The scout would lead with his biggest hit and then die when he pulled aggro. Everyone broke mez, even the healer. Anyway, I stayed in the group for about an hour, just so I could remember what a really bad group was.

What was your best/worst pickup group?

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Video Games and Sex

This is a lecture by Daniel Floyd, a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, about sex in videogames. Apart from the highly sexualized character art, Everquest 2 stays away from the sorts of things he's talking about, but it still seems of interest.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cross Dressing FTW?

You've heard the idea the female toons get better treatment than male ones, right? You know, flutter your eyes and men will give you stuff?

Gender swapped online roleplaying was investigated in a recent article published in Cyberpsychology and Behavior. I ran across it at Shakespeare's Sister, who passed it on from Hoyden.

In short, the study looked at men who play women toons, and women who play men toons, why they did it, and what there experience was. If you read the study you will find, (and not to your great surprise, I'll bet)

  • Women did it to avoid sexual harrassment.

  • Both genders did it out of curiousity, and those switching to male toons discovered that they were treated differently.

One participant said he found that the female character "meant that male gamers treated him far better." One male (age 20) participant said,

If you play a chick and know what the usual nerd wants to read, you will get free items … which in turn I pass them to my other male characters … very simple. NerdBoobLoot.

Another participant, also male, said:

Because if you make your character a woman, men tend to treat you FAR better.

Of course, the women are saying, for example,

Mostly my characters are female, but I think I made my male character because I was tired of creepy guys hitting on my female characters. It's utterly ridiculous, very annoying, and not the reason why I play the game.

But what makes it into the abstract of the article? It says

and it is suggested that the online female persona has a number of positive social attributes in a male-oriented environment.

It doesn't mention the negative social aspects, or the notion that it wasn't just female appearance, but what they authors call "performativity". I think that refers to "If you know what [they] want to read..."

Kind of a disconnect there, don't you think?

Lauredhel, who wrote the post at Hoyden, goes on to say:

This brief, almost voyeuristic gender-swapping by virtual tourists seems to be hooking in to badly erroneous ideas of what it is like to be female online. What it is like to be constantly reminded of your status as a member of the sex class, to be evaluated, to be constantly subjected to covert and overt threats of sexual violence. I wonder how long the “better treatment” assessment would last if subjected to it all. the. time, in every aspect of life?
What happens to women online who don't make themselves sexually available, who don't conform to the patriarchal script? And to some who do, come to that; these experiences aren't constrained to only certain situations, and they aren't caused by women's behaviour. Women get shouted at—"Tits or GTFO!", they get mercilessly harassed, they get stalked, they receive rape and death threats. ...

One of the common responses is to say "put them on /ignore". There's a problem with that, though. Lauredhel, again:

One almost universal response to complaints about online harassment, threats, and simulated assaults? A simplistic, victim-blaming "I don't see the problem—just switch it off and get over it." Reactions to face-to-face harassment complaints and online complaints bear striking similarities. Are they different transgressions? Of course. Should women be forced to make a choice between withdrawing themselves from the online world or tolerating sexual harassment? That's just another way of saying "Tits or GTFO," and I strenuously disagree.

I'm with you on that. And I say that as someone with a longstanding interest in tits. In fact, I've made a thorough study of them. But I never got the idea that I owned them, or that their sole purpose for existence was my viewing enjoyment.

I'd like to consider the contempt of the one male respondent for the "typical nerd". I can't help it, I identify with nerds, I was one once. Ok, maybe that was 2500 of my 3000 years ago, but I was.

What the respondent did was play a female toon for phat giveaway l00t. I'll bet he initiated interactions with male toons, injected sexual overtones into the interaction , and begged for loot. Then he turns around and pours contempt on women AND the men (who he calls nerds) he's conned out of stuff. Just exactly who is deserving of contempt here? This is projection at its finest: "That's what I'd do if I had boobs, so obviously that's what women, the true owners of boobs do all the time."

This is what we call narcissism. The inappropriate behavior here is

  • Unsolicited and unwelcome sexual advances

  • Perpetrating a confidence game designed to shake loose in-game wealth.

  • Begging for generic wealth, which has no place in an online game.

A couple of times I've run into this in-game. A female toon, unknown to me, will start talking to me and playing up to me. My reaction at the time was more or less, "WTF?" Because that stuff just doesn't happen to me.

So here's a word of advice to all nerds. If a complete stranger starts flirting with you heavily, the probability is very high that YOU ARE BEING PLAYED, probably by a cross dresser. It isn't your good looks, because in game, EVERYONE looks that good. And it isn't your charm, because THEY HAVEN'T met you. (My apologies for the shouting, but I'm trying to be heard above the hormones.)

If you really want to see a female toon dance, just make one and make a macro that alternates between /flirt, /dance, and /shimmy. It'll be a lot cheaper.

If you're interested, here's the original post, and some further discussion.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Lucan Lowers the Boom is a site featuring videos from games, and it offers a free download of game video capture software. I think it captures audio too, though some of the videos at the site have added audio.

Anyway, I found this video of the audience you get with Lucan D'Lere as you are betraying from Freeport to Qeynos. The resolution is too low to read everything but you can thrill to Christopher Lee's voice.

Update: I mistakenly had Jeremy Irons as the voice behind Lucan, rather than Christopher Lee. That's what I get for doing it by ear.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Customer Service by Macro Bot

Have you ever felt that you were interacting with a macroed bot instead of a customer service rep?

Amber relates this story of trying to cancel her subscription to Matrix Online:

And so I called customer support, and after waiting for (if memory serves) a goddamned ice age, I spoke to a really nice woman. We’ll call her Trinity. Upon hearing my request to close my account, Trinity robotically professed her disappointment that the game hadn’t lived up to my expectations, and she was authorized to give me a free month of play if I would stay. No? Are you sure? How about a Lexus? Still no? Okay, but before I close your account, I need to ask you these eleventy million fucking questions. And so because Trinity was my only hope to “unplug,” I answered her questions over the next (if memory serves) Pleistocene era. And finally the deed was done.

The take-away here was that Trinity really could have given a shit if I stayed or went. She got paid her state mandated minimum wage either way. She had a script, and she followed it to the letter, because the call was undoubtedly recorded for “quality assurance.” And although the game was so fantastically awful that I don’t think even my wild imagination can conceive of a scenario of return, any customer on the fence would have definitely been pushed out of the yard after running that hellish gauntlet.

Who hasn't had that experience? The point being that the CSR's are being trained not to make the customer happy, but to follow the script. But Amber has found a company, Zappo, an online shoe-seller, that does things a different way. From the Harvard Business Publishing website we read:

But here’s what’s really interesting. It’s a hard job, answering phones and talking to customers for hours at a time. So when Zappos hires new employees, it provides a four-week training period that immerses them in the company’s strategy, culture, and obsession with customers. People get paid their full salary during this period.

After a week or so in this immersive experience, though, it’s time for what Zappos calls “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!

Why? Because if you’re willing to take the company up on the offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for.

Wouldn't that be wonderful to find in a MMORPG company? A company that thought of customer service as a priority rather than a cost that needs to be held as low as possible?

My best customer service experience (for my mundane human alter ego, that is) came with an airline. I was on a multi-leg flight to Detroit, with a plane change in Phoenix. No, that doesn't make sense when you're flying from the Bay Area, but there it is. There was no e-ticket, and I lost my paper ticket somehow on the layover. Rather than try and sort it out in the very limited time available, I pulled out my credit card and bought another ticket.

Then after we landed, I went to the airline counter, and waited for the rep, who was off dealing with something else, to come help me. As she walked up, I said, "I lost my ticket!"

Her reply was, "That sucks!!!". And immediately my mood lifted. I knew this was going to be ok. And it was. It turns out that a careful search of my briefcase found the old ticket and my money was refunded. Everything was fine.

No customer service script is EVER going to contain the words, "that sucks!" Nor could it capture the exact way in which she said it, both sympathetic and confident. I gave her my best shot, the worst news I had, and she just smiled at it, and said, "we're gonna fix this."

Amber wishes that MMO's would think of this.

So think about this the next time you start lamenting the churn rate in your CS “pit.” (Amber’s tip ‘o the day: If you have a customer support “pit,” ur doin it wrong.”) The same goes for community support people. They work hard for you, and you know they’re clawing at your door just to get a foot in, so you you know you you could get them to pay you if it were legal. Which is why many of them stick around just long enough to say they worked for your prestigious ass, and then they go and get jobs in the real world.

And if you’re going to tell me “it just won’t translate to our industry,” then I call bullshit. Because the way you’re doing it now doesn’t translate to your industry. If you can’t make the numbers work after trying to make the numbers work, then fine. But a shoe company figured out a creative solution to their customer service issues. Certainly a company that makes worlds can do better.

Me too.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Power Draining Down the Drain (Revisited)

A while back I wrote that power draining seemed to have been deprecated as a PvE strategy in EQ2. So I've got these spells that do power drains that are pretty much useless.

It seems the game devs agree with that assessment. In LU 45, they became more useful, in that damage was added to them. This seems like a good thing, though I'll want to have more experience with them to be sure. You see, all of my power-drains do something else, too. One has a big stun. Another stifles. And another regens power within my group.

There's another thing that this does, and I'll bet it really irritates the Illusionists that do PvP. It means that a mob that is mezzed can't be power drained with impunity, since damage will break the mez. I think it's still possible to mez and power drain, but it will take a lot longer, since you will have to wait for the recast timer on the big stun.

But this seems like a pretty decent accomodation to the situation that Illusionists found themselves in: I'm the king of power draining, but that does no good whatsoever. And it's a solution much to be preferred to the "how dare you not follow the script" changes they did to Bli'thuu.

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Volatile Times for Enchanters

Live Update 45 was a game-changer for both Coercers and Illusionists. I'll cover the changes to Coercers in another post, this one will stick to changes to Illusionists.

The biggest, most noteworthy change is to the skill at the bottom of the Intelligence line (which is available to all Enchanters). Previously, this passive ability granted a 25 percent bonus to base spell damage whenever the Enchanter was below 30 percent power. There is a similar ability in the Brawler AA's that grants greater mitigation and dps when the brawler is below 30 percent health.

Illusionists, and Coercers, too, are masters of power regen. With the passive buff, and the right power regen gear, an Illusionist would be able to sit below 30 percent power for an entire fight. I personally was able to do this for solo mobs and for heroic mobs where I didn't have some other responsibility, such as mezzing or keeping someone's power up. I couldn't sustain it long enough to fight a named, though, but with better gear I might have been able to. Twenty-five percent boost to spell damage is a big deal, and worth some effort.

Typically, I needed to use the sprint button to bleed away power. Interestingly enough, just keeping it up for the duration wouldn't make my power drop if I wasn't fighting, my non-combat regen was good enough to completely offset the ongoing penalty of sprint. But the initial cost of sprint was quite a bit bigger than the ongoing ticks, so I would sit there spamming the sprint button: sprint, cancel sprint, wait for recast, repeat until power below 30 percent. Since I have a fast mount, and the tradeskill epic run-speed boost, it was the only use I had for sprint.

Apparently, this is not what was intended with the skill. It was just meant to be a little boost when things got dicey. Oops!

The dev team has changed Volatile Magic to be always on, and grant a 15% boost to DPS. So, peak dps just got scaled back by about 10 percent. Not fun. However, there are only a very few illusionists that will be hurt by this on any encounter beyond the fastest, easiest encounters.

Here's what I mean. If an Illusionist must ever hit a power regen skill instead of a damage skill during a fight, that's going to drop dps accordingly, because the power regen skills do no damage. They don't trigger damage procs, either. So once you have to start banging on them, you're going to lose a fair bit of the benefit of VM. It's still going to be better than not doing it, but it might not be better than the 15 percent boost which VM now grants.

Personally, I found I could not sustain a full-bore dps effort starting at 30 percent power for more than about 20-25 seconds before I ran out of power. I'm not saying it's impossible to do better, there's a lot of really good power regen gear out there, especially for the raiders. So the high-level raiding illys took a hit.

However, last night, with the new changes, I achieved my personal best single-fight dps versus a level 85 named. So I can't say I'm disappointed.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Nagafen vs Vox

According to comments, this took place during a beta test of Deathtoll. A GM/developer showed up and thought it would be fun to summon Vox and Naggy and have them fight.

The comments to the video don't mention summoning of Nagafen, but he doesn't live in Deathtoll, which is the home of Tarinax, the undead dragon, and he doesn't look like that.

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