I like to think that some of my readers are interested in what goes on behind, and beyond, games such as LOTRO, and I'd like to point those readers at a fascinating online essay by Edward Castranova, who teaches telecommunications at Indiana University. Entitled "An Exodus Recession", it's posted here, on Castranova's equally highly recommended blog, "Terra Nova: A Blog about Virtual Worlds". It's a relatively long text, so I'll just quote the opening paragraph:
"The economy continues to move slowly and economists seem as uncertain as ever about the causes and what to do. Months ago, I began to wonder – could this possibly be the first “exodus recession”? In my first book I sketched out the idea. Suppose economic activity moves from the real world into the virtual world. Human happiness is unaffected or even goes up, however, the goods that produce the happiness are now produced and consumed in a virtual environment rather than the real one. Measurements of economic activity, being all based in the real economy, would begin to show weakness. I argued that contemporary political and economic control systems do not tolerate much weakness, thus, there might well be some sort of crisis in the real world, for no good reason, simply because production and consumption was going “off the books” and into virtual environments. One term for this would be an "exodus recession" - an economic downturn caused by the movement of human attention and energy into virtual environments. Are we in an exodus recession right now?"
"The movement of human attention and energy into virtual environments" - ring any bells? Read the rest of the essay.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
I like to think that some of my readers are interested in what goes on behind, and beyond, games such as LOTRO, and I'd like to point those readers at a fascinating online essay by Edward Castranova, who teaches telecommunications at Indiana University. Entitled "An Exodus Recession", it's posted here, on Castranova's equally highly recommended blog, "Terra Nova: A Blog about Virtual Worlds". It's a relatively long text, so I'll just quote the opening paragraph:
Sunday, 5 December 2010
From the latest Turbine news release, this: "Radiance & its removal in Q1 – We’ve received a lot of feedback on Radiance gating since its introduction and are pleased to announce that Radiance gear will no longer be a requirement for any of our instances or raids. In fact, with the release of our Q1 update next year, we will be removing Radiance from the game entirely. It will not be present in the new Instance Cluster or Epic Book and will be removed from all current instances. You should get your first look at a Radiance-free LOTRO on Bullroarer in early February of next year."
You have to love corporate double-talk. A solid year's firestorm of complaint, grumbling, reasoned argument against, violent objection and outright abuse, reduced to a nicely bland "we’ve received a lot of feedback". I'll say you have... Corporations are like governments; they would rather die the death of a thousand cuts than ever, ever have to admit, in so many words, that they were wrong. Given sufficient outrage in the population, they may eventually take action ("we will be removing Radiance from the game entirely"), but god forbid they should admit to error.
Oh well, never mind. The main thing is that the issue has been conceded and that there is to be an unqualified retreat. I can't help wondering, though, what the actual mechanics of removing radiance will be. Obviously, the simplest way of dealing with it is just to remove that particular parameter from the game, so that armour no longer has a radiance rating. The problem with that approach, however, is that it will introduce a serious imbalance: the two rarest and hardest to acquire armour sets, Dar Narbugud and Barad Guldur, are notoriously poor in everything but radiance. Remove radiance, and at a stroke you will have completely devalued the game's most valuable assets. Perhaps the designers will compensate by increasing or adding stats to these items - but economic history teaches us that devaluation is never pain-free...
Monday, 29 November 2010
At the southernmost tip of Enedwaith, on the border between Lich Bluffs and the Mournshaws, lies an inaccessible castle. You can find your way to the enormous front gates, but no further. Inside the gate skeletons patrol. The architecture seems dwarven; four huge statues of oversized dwarven ancestor figures dominate the front courtyard. The structure is vast, even allowing for the fact that only the northern exposure can be seen. At the western edge of the outer wall is a small tented encampment, currently empty, and just beyond that a small gap in the rock face through which it is just possible to slip. This leads to a small, circumscribed area by the eastern wall with no other exit. Could the castle be the site of LOTRO's next major raid, apparently due early in the new year?
Sunday, 28 November 2010
If you are a European LOTRO player, and you haven't already done so, head straight for the Codemasters forum and sign this petition. Started two days ago by UK player CarolineP, it is a politely worded request to CM to give serious consideration to restoring hacked accounts, as other MMOs, includingBlizzard, already do. In her own words, "We recognise that this involves time & cost to yourselves. We would accept a reasonable charge being levied, as this would have the dual benefit of stopping frivolous claims too. We also accept that it would be reasonable to limit the frequency in which this allowed. Perhaps only once per membership year, or similar? But we most urgently ask you to change your policy, especially as the game becomes much bigger and F2P potentially opens up opportunities to scammers and other unpleasant type".
Apart from putting forward an eminently sensible proposal, one which perhaps is now more urgent than ever, this forum thread is probably unique in that it hasn't generated a single objection, rant, cynical comment or even debate: there is absolute player unanimity on this critical subject, which is of course as it should be.
And another first: within 24-hours, CM Community Relations Director Satine (someone, incidentally, who by dint of personality has done more than anyone to blunt some of CM's more egregious PR disasters in the past) had responded with a positive post: "As it happens we do have a new policy for hacked accounts which will be coming into effect soon. (Sorry to use the word "soon" but I know it should be before Christmas though it depends on if any critical problems arise before then). Hopefully it will make life a little easier for those that have been hacked. We'll give the details on what it entails once we're ready to launch it".
So there you have it. Community action can sometimes be beneficial. But don't let Satine's very welcome news put you off signing that petition!
Saturday, 6 November 2010
One of the issues which crop up in the design of virtual worlds is the degree of associated realism. Some early RPGs included the requirement to buy and consume "food" on a regular basis, otherwise characters would rapidly lose abilities and wither away. That was just about acceptable if a bit tedious, but imagine a RPG in which characters in the wild had to track down, kill, skin and roast animals on a daily basis just to keep going - it would be virtually unplayable (unless, of course, it happened to be specifically a survival simulation). Similarly, everyone is aware of, and ignores, the fact that severe injuries can take weeks to heal, that even a superficial wound can get infected and cause death in a matter of days, and that nobody ever wore plate mail on the march, let alone carried two or three spare sets in a backpack.
Which brings me to the latest (and very welcome) LOTRO update. The new chapters of the epic quest involve riding south into the new region of Enedwaith with the Dunedain with a view to eventually linking up with Aragorn. It's a nicely designed addition to the story of the One Ring, but very early on players find out that, disappointingly, they won't actually get the chance to ride stirrup by stirrup with the rangers; instead, they are invited to make their own way to the next staging point. Granted that soon enough the unfolding plot will require them to ride off at all sort of tangents on associated quests, an actual gallop, in company, over hill and dale for at least a few of the early stages would have been great fun. As it is, what will almost certainly happen is that players will mutter "sod it!" and port to the next convenient location.
The standard response to this and associated grumbles (for example, that fact that many instances can now be entered with the click off the keyboard) is "well, if you'd rather walk, go right ahead" - but the point is, if an alternative method of travel is available, even hardened RPGers will sooner or later give in and make use of it. The rest of us will do so without a second's thought, though we might feel vaguely dissatisfied about doing so.
The issue of scale in games like LOTRO is indeed a tricky one. Even scaled-down massively, game equivalents of the journey times suggested in Tolkien's narrative would be difficult (and certainly unpopular) to implement. On the other hand, I tend to agree with those who feel that the epic quality of the game's geography is compromised by the over-abundance of instant travel options. It's hard not to feel just a little uncomfortable when two or three jumps will take you from the far end of Forochel to the southernmost tip of Enedwaith. The designers had got the balance more or less right in Shadows of Angmar, which really did offer a sense of vastness, with some journeys (notably the perilous initial overland foray to the Rift of Nurz Gashu) being truly memorable. I can't help feeling that the game has now swung too far in the direction of instant gratification, most of all perhaps where travel is concerned.
Monday, 18 October 2010
A member of my kinship alerted us to this thread, which will repay study by anybody interested in the reality of the sausage factories behind the games we play. The meat of it consists of some very angry whistle-blowing by an about-to-be sidelined employee of Electronic Arts - touching on, amongst other things, the reasons behind the poor performances of Warhammer and Age of Conan, and some pessimistic predictions about SWTOR. I can't judge his criticism about specific individuals, but I do have some first-hand knowledge of the disasters which can follow on the takeover by a rich but badly-run company of an poor and efficient one, and a lot of what EA Louse (the original poster) has to say rings true.
On a slight tangent, while reading though the thread, I was struck by the following comment which may well have some relevance to the recent content slowdown in LOTRO. And no, I don't mean the F2P delay on the European side, which I'm still convinced is due to legal shenanigans, but to the shortage of serious new story content which tends to show through all the glitzy bells and whistles which will accompany the eventual arrival of F2P.
"Do you think they have enough story content to last months or a year? Even the non immersive, non cinematic content takes a long time to produce and just hours or days to play through for a dedicated player. It takes BW a few years to develop a high quality single player RPG and those rarely have more than a couple dozen hours worth of good storylines. [...]Voiced, well made story content just isn’t enough in an MMO and that kind of content is very slow and expensive to develop. Even a minor setback can slow the amount of story content being developed for the game to a crawl. The point is, that while the story content will be a good thing, the game won’t survive on it no matter how good it is. It is the bait to get people to try out the game for a month or two and get hooked by the normal MMO activities."
No doubt time will tell...
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
This, from the "News & Announcements" section of the Codemasters forum. Are you ready for it? Is the excitement proving unbearable? Are you jumping up and down with glee at the prospect of finally accessing some brand new material? Well, then...
There we go. Feeling better about things now?
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
As every reader of this blog surely knows, twenty long days have passed since F2P was due to launch in Europe, and we still seem no closer to a resolution. Codemasters is maintaining the kind of total, sweaty silence characteristic of a wounded WWII submarine lying in shallow waters with a couple of destroyers cutting capers just above it on the surface. Meanwhile, the forums are staggering under the weight of concerned, miserable or frantic players pleading, screaming, roaring, threatening or just plain doing their best to start a reasonable, sophisticated man-to-corporate-entity-type dialogue. That last gambit doesn't work, and I suspect it never will.
Why not? Well, I believe it's pretty clear by this time that there is no insurmountable technical problem stopping the launch. The basic code is obviously reasonably solid (OK, OK, I said reasonably, not perfectly), or otherwise the stateside servers would have collapsed. I also no longer think it can be a specifically Turbine-to-Codemasters transfer problem such as different accounting systems and their interface with the in-game shop, because that would have been fixed by now (unless the entire technical staff of CM is permanently on drugs, which I beg leave to doubt). Also, CM representatives, on their increasingly rare appearances on the forums, are limiting themselves to making gagging noises and jerking their heads back at the front office; translation, "I can't say a word about this or my employment prospects will do a China Syndrome".
What all this spells to my experienced and cynical mind is one word only: lawyers! I have no shred of evidence, of course, but the only reasonable explanation I can think of for this ongoing and open-ended delay, a delay with inevitably serious (maybe even disastrous) financial consequences over time for both CM and Turbine, is serious legal problems of some kind. Maybe it's between the two companies, or perhaps it's something to do with some unsuspected pitfall of European law; perhaps the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has decided it wants to levy purchase tax on in-game transactions, or else F2P contravenes some article of the European Union legislation on the free movement of goods and services. Perhaps. All I can say is that if this supposition is true, it could be bad news. Because geological time and the slow shifting of tectonic plates are as sheet lightning compared to the average speed of corporate lawyers...
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
In the days before the Mirkwood expansion, if you tried to swim across the Anduin from the western shore in Lothlórien, you could usually get to about a hundred meters or so from the eastern shore before a Felarrow orcish archer one-shotted you: "Aaargh! Glug!"... Some us would try and sneak past them, and a few players actually managed to set foot on the forbidden shore long before they were supposed to. Come the expansion, of course, those cany elves set up a water-taxi to get us across, and the Felarrows were redeployed in North Mirkwood.
A couple of days ago, feeling the need for some cooling exercise, I set of on a leisurely swim across the Anduin from the point on the western shore where the abandoned boat has been pulled up the bank. Imagine my surprise when, about halfway across, I suddenly and unconditionally died: "Aaargh! Glug!", and not a Felarrow in sight. Instant death by game designer fiat, and no option to withdraw. What the hell? I was swimming from friendly territory to recently reconquered (and fully explored) territory. Why the bolt from heaven? And if for some reason you musn't now swim across the Anduin at a point where you were once perfectly able to do so, what's wrong with a good old invisible wall, or a sudden rapid?
Personally, I suspect old-fashioned protectionism; this is clearly a move to restrict lawful trade and protect the Lothlórien river-crossing monopoly. Will the IMF please investigate?
Friday, 30 July 2010
Back in March, I had been wondering what the future of skirmish points was likely to be, and whether they would be worth anything in days to come. Now the latest Developer Diary has come up with a partial answer:
"Classic instances will use the Skirmish reward system with some modifications and additions. What does this all mean in plain English? Classic instances will use the Skirmish reward system. All normal item drops from monsters and bosses have been replaced by Skirmish marks. Any spaces, like Annúminas or Helegrod, that had barter systems in place have had their item drops and barter NPCs removed. However, have no fear – many of the unique items that could be acquired from all instances have been added to a new Skirmish camp vendor: the Classic vendor. New unique tokens are also awarded for Classic quests and Challenge mode. In addition, we’ve put Legendary Item jackpots on end bosses, and even small chances to drop Tomes that permanently increase your character’s base stats! To sum up, Classic instances will give you everything they did before, except now they share a unified reward system."
So skirmish points will not only continue to be with us, but are to acquire additional purchasing power. What this doesn't answer is my original question, namely whether Scrolls of Empowerment will continue to be available in exchange for SPs, and at what cost. This is more than a minor quibble, for one simple reason: for those of us at l.65, with characters almost fully maxed out in every possible way (since we've had little else to do for the last eight months!), the odds are that few of the rewards for Classic instances will be of much interest. Since the basic stat Tomes mentioned above are to be drops rather than purchasable rewards, Scrolls of Empowerment, hopefully usable on a new tier of Legendaries, still look like being the only really useful investment for an end-game player.
And isn't it about time we got a separate currency and reward item menu, if only to make some space in bags, chests and other storage modules?
Thursday, 10 June 2010
So, LOTRO is going Free to Play in the autumn. I can't say this came as a surprise; given how hard Turbine and Warner have been pushing F2P and micro-transactions in Dungeons & Dragons Online, it was pretty much inevitable they would hit LOTRO sooner or later. The big question is, how will this affect the core group of dedicated players? There have been some outraged responses on the forums, but to be honest, I'm inclined to see this as a positive development.
Why? Well, for one thing, there is the inescapable fact that for the last seven months, there has been a marked decline in the game which no amount of obfuscation can hide: on the one hand, the almost total lack of any new input since Mirkwood (I still refuse to take Vol.III/Book 1 in any way seriously), and on the other, the news that key Turbine developers were taken off LOTRO and put to work on other projects. It became obvious that LOTRO was being starved of funds, and risked dying a slow death by a thousand cuts. Something had to be done, and that something turns out to be going F2P.
Will this have a negative effect on existing players? Not in any way that I can see. Lifetime subscribers will acquire VIP status, and will continue to play free on a day-to-day basis. While it's not entirely clear how major new expansions will be paid for, that's hardly an issue: whether we buy major expansions, as we've done so far, or purchase them from the LOTRO store, really makes no difference. As for micro-transactions in actual items, I honestly don't think this will make the slightest difference to existing players, since apart from some starter kits of low-grade weapons and armour, the items available for sale will have no effect on performance. If the store goes on to do a booming business in summer hats and wet fish, it's no skin off my nose...
At least this way we will finally be getting new content. Reports from DDO players are almost entirely positive about the rejuvenating effect of going F2P, and apparently a respectable amount of new content has indeed been forthcoming. One possible downside which has been commented on has been the possible influx of "WoW-type mindless idiots", but this strikes me as a wild exaggeration. For one thing, basic F2P access will be strictly limited to certain areas, so that much of the time we wouldn't even see any of these rumoured barbarian hordes. For another, why would such players flock to LOTRO in the first place, rather that the Other Game itself? That said, I wouldn't be averse to making the RP servers in Europe (and in the States, if Turbine decide to set one up) VIP only.
What I am less happy about, though, is that this development clearly means we won't see any additional content until F2P is launched in the autumn (September? October?). It's going to be a long summer. Hope you all have a good time fighting your way up to the Lieutenant...
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
It's June 2nd today, exactly six months - half a year - since Siege of Mirkwood was released on December 1st. That's a long, long time to go without any updates (ignoring the ridiculous Oath of the Rangers which came out on March 1st), and with no word of anything to come other than vague mutterings about some announcement which might or might not be made at E3.
Inevitably, I haven't been spending much time ingame, other than to lead kinship raids into Barad Guldur twice a week (we are just getting to grips with the Lieutenant). Given that the BG raid is really all that's available for end-game players - of whom there's an awful lot by this time, less of course those who've left the game in sheer frustration - I've been wondering just why BG is still on a weekly reset. If it were reset twice weekly, as I seem to remember Nornúan used to be, we old-timers could at least get in a few extra cracks at doing something halfway interesting. It shouldn't take Turbine more than a few minutes worth of programming, is unlikely to cause offense to anybody, and might even reduce the overall volume of grumbling for a short while...
Thursday, 29 April 2010
With mounting worries about the LOTRO’s future after the Warner Bros buyout, allied to speculation about Turbine’s financial health (WB wouldn’t have bought it if it wasn’t profitable or it wouldn’t have been sold if it was in good health – take your pick!), there has been a marked tendency for observers, educated and otherwise, to ascribe the apparent decline in the game’s quality over the last year to the lifetime subscription experiment. While conceding the value of the original financial shot in the arm during LOTRO’s early days, the argument goes, we lifetime subscribers are now parasitic on the game, contributing nothing to development. Indeed, some forum posts have suggested, lifetime subscribers are largely responsible for the current doldrums. By the same token, many lifetimers moan that for these reasons, Turbine regards them as less that the dust on its feet, and completely fails to take their interests to heart – the not illogical implication here being that this particular group of players is more likely to be picky and demanding.
I say that’s rubbish. It’s true that lifetimers no longer pay a monthly subscription; on the other hand, this scenario completely ignores the crucial fact that lifetime subscribers actually represent a large and essentially captive pool of customers for paid expansions. Let me put it this way: say that a monthly subscriber, cheesed off by the paucity of content since Vol. III/Book 1 was released earlier this year, decides to cancel his subscription on 1 May. From this point on, both the lapsed subscriber and a lifetime subscriber are contributing the same amount to Turbine’s kitty, namely nothing. However, let’s be optimistic and say that on 1 November, Turbine release a wonderful new boxed expansion, with a new landmass and even (as long as we’re dreaming) a fully revised LI system, retailing for about 30 euros. My guess is that at that point, the vast majority of lifetime subscribers, even those who perhaps haven’t logged on since early summer, will fork out for the expansion – after all, the game hasn’t cost them anything for over half a year, and what’s more, there is little or no hassle involved. However, what are the chances that lapsed monthly subscribers will do the same, given that just buying the box won’t be enough – they’ll also have to go to the trouble and expense of re-subscribing?
Lifetime subscriptions may or may not have been a good thing for Turbine from an actuarial point of view; that depends very much on the specifics of the company’s financing and accounting. But I don’t believe that ongoing financial problems, if any, can be ascribed to the existence of lifetime subscribers; if we don’t pay for the swings, we pay for the roundabouts, and we mostly do so quite happily.
Friday, 23 April 2010
Sunday, 11 April 2010
A week or so ago, I posted a poll on the Codemasters forum asking people to say which of ten raids (including a raid-like instance) their current kinship had completed, the requirements being that all the bosses had been killed at least once, and that at least 80% of the participants belonged to the kinship. The raids included Ferndúr the Virulent, Master of Imlad Balchorth; Helegrod; Udunion the Rogmul; Bogbereth; The Rift of Nurz-Gashu; The Watcher in the Vile Maw; Nornúan the Turtle; Dar Narbugud; and Barad Gularan in both Easy and Hard modes. Despite the obvious methodological flaws (survey limited to forum readers, inadmissibility of PUGs, etc.), I was hoping to get some sense of both the difficulty and popularity of the LOTRO raids to date.
In practice, the biggest problem was that the relative inflexibility of the CM poll mechanics made it impossible to avoid multiple postings by different members of the same kinship; this means that absolute numbers cannot be trusted - for example, 34 people claimed that their kinship has completed Barad Guldur in easy mode, but does this mean that 34 separate European kinships have done so? It's obviously impossible to say. On the other hand, there should be little or no distortion due to boasting, since kinship names were not posted. It was also questioned whether the survey ought not to distinguish between raids completed on level, and those completed later (i.e., was a raid completed with l.50 or l.65 players?). My gut feeling here is that in general, even semi-serious raiding kinships would be most likely to complete a raid on or near level. In any case, over a period of about a week, 103 people took part in the poll. What follow are the results in some detail, running from the highest to the lowest completion rate.
1. Nornúan the Turtle: 96.12 %
With the highest success rate (only four kinships did not list him), Nornúan is also the easiest and quickest raid in the game, with an average completion time of under 5 minutes. Though technically a raid, in some ways it's a bit silly to compare Nornúan to, say, a raid like the Rift which, when done at level, can take a competent kinship two evenings to complete.
2. The Rift of Nurz-Gashu: 92.23 %
Everybody's favourite: difficult, demanding, well-designed, with good rewards. Not surprisingly, the second-highest completion rate, despite being vastly more demanding than the nominal first.
3. Bogbereth: 86.41 %
Another quick and simple raid, easily accessed, it was in fact designed as a "learner" raid and could be farmed by a much smaller group even at l.50.
4. The Watcher in the Vile Maw: 79.61 %
The first radiance-gated raid. Despite being quite easy of access and containing a single boss with no trash mobs, the exact tactics required are tricky, and many kinships struggled to learn the fight, particularly as the designers made several changes to the combat mechanics over time. The fact that even at this relatively late date, 20% of the kinships represented in the poll have not completed this raid is indicative of the problems raised by radiance gating.
5. Helegrod: 78.64 %
I was surprised to see Helegrod achieve this percentage, since almost every kinship would struggle to field a 24-man force over the two evenings necessary to complete this very, very long raid. My guess is that there has been some gentle cheating here, and that some of the raids were perhaps nowhere near 80% single-kinship participation.
6. Udunion the Rogmul: 78.64 %
Technically not a raid, but a very hard fight which required a fellowship to defeat several bosses before reaching Uduniuon. The relatively lower completion rate is almost certainly due to the difficulty of access; at level, reaching Barad Gularan was a feat in itself, and a wipe meant that the entire journey had to be repeated again.
7. Dar Narbugud: 73.79 %
The second radiance-gated raid, with the success rate dropping to just under three-quarters of the kinships polling. Most people dislike DN, with its heavy trash mob population and unimaginative graphic design.
8. Ferndúr the Virulent: 70.87 %
It's not surprising that Ferndur has the lowest completion rate of all the early raids, as many people don't even know of his existence; you only find out about him after competing a long string of quests. The raid is non-instanced, however, so you might just stumble across him if you travel far enough into Imlad Balchorth.
9. Barad Guldur (Easy Mode): 33.01 %
Barad Guldur is the third and most heavily gated raid; you cannot realistically even attempt it without +120 radiance, and the deeper into it you go, the more radiance you will need. There are only three bosses, but each needs to be defeated in both easy and hard modes, making it in effect two raids. The biggest obstacles to success in Barad Guldur are the nightmarish so-called trash mobs fights which precede each boss; not only are they difficult and time-consuming, but unless the boss is defeated, they reset in under an hour. This last and utterly inane detail makes learning a boss fight almost impossible, since you normally get no more than two chances before the lead-in fight resets and you have to spend anything up to another hour fighting your way back in order to try again. Frankly, very few kins other than hard-core raiding kinships can devote the enthusiasm and time necessary to overcome such handicaps, so it comes as no surprise to find the success rate crashing to 33%.
10. Barad Guldur (Hard Mode): 12.62 %
For hard mode, the completion rate drops again by two thirds from the easy mode rate. And remember, that's 12.62 % of what we can assume to be the moderately serious to hard-core group of raiding kinships, not of all the kinships on the server. Overall, I am prepared to guess that less than 2% of all kinships, and maybe 1% of all players, will ever complete Barad Guldur in hard mode. While that might be acceptable if it were due to a fiendishly designed and tricky raid, it is unacceptable as the result of a) the radiance gating system, and b) the glaring chicanery of trash mob fights which reset after almost every wipe.
Conclusion: While this admittedly rather superficial survey probably tells us nothing we didn't already suspect, it's still good to get confirmation. Using the information gathered, I plan to look into ways of hopefully performing a more elaborate and accurate survey, perhaps by means of questionaires addressed to kinship leaders or kinship raid officers.
Monday, 5 April 2010
In case it's not immediately obvious, the fragment of an ingame log, above, posted on Codemasters forum yesterday and immediately copied onto a number of private forums, refers to something which took place on the Laurelin server. The player identified as Denwyn was leading a fellowship in the Sammath Gul instance, where the rare Symbol of Celebrimbor dropped after the group successfully took down Gorothul. All six players rolled for the item, with the leader scoring a lowly 7; immediately after the roll, the leader assigned the item to himself and left the fellowship. In game parlance, to acquire loot items by fraud of any kind is to ninja them.
The player concerned, a Hunter once known as Deniro, promptly changed his name once again to "Alitis", arguing a certain amount of premeditation (whether he knows it or not, by the way, his new name is the Greek word for "thug"). Now, Codemasters have rules about naming and shaming which forbid the outing of bad player behaviour on their forums, which means that by the time you look for it, the thread may have been deleted. CM Gamemasters are also under strict instructions not to take any action over player v. player complaints of things like ninja looting. I can see where they are coming from, of course - to do otherwise would almost certainly lead to a flood of trivial or even malicious complaints, quickly swamping the system. However, it strikes me that in a few serious, well-documented cases, or those where the same player has consistently been reported for abusing the rules and/or disruptive behaviour, there is every justification for GM intervention leading to a partial or total ban. The proof is easily available in the form of game logs like the one above, and I believe there are catch-all rules about harassing and inappropriate activity which could certainly be made to cover blatant ninja looting. And it's in nobody's interest to have thugs running around ingame - not even, or perhaps particularly not even the publisher's.
Monday, 29 March 2010
Feeling mildly curious about whether Turbine had revealed anything about its future plans for LOTRO at PAX East, I just now did a Google search and came up with what looked like an interesting link to a site called The No News ("Where no news, is gaming news!"). What follows is the complete extent of the information provided:
Next we moved onto Turbine who are the creators of Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online. Something I didn't know was that they are actually from here in Boston and were pumped that their hometown was finally hosting the expo. He discussed the new content in LOTRO and D&D Online and were actually giving away free copies of LOTRO and I believe there were members of Turbine signing the copies they were giving away.
He (who he?) discussed the new content in LOTRO, did he? That's fascinating. And, umm.... could we, like, share same? No? Well, never mind, I'm really happy about your free signed copy.
Friday, 26 March 2010
Every form of barter currency appearing to date in LOTRO has turned out to be, in effect, non-transferable. Vile Coins, Rift-iron Coins, Battered Annuminas Armour, Marks of Triumph... Remember those? All water under the bridge by now, or just rubbish cluttering up chests. Medallions of Moria and Medallions of Lothlórien, collected with so much effort, are worth little or nothing to players currently at l.65.
Will we see the same thing happening with skirmish points? A lot of people will be upset if it does. By the end-game, unless you spend them on upgrading your soldier, the only really valuable item you can barter for skirmish points is the Scroll of Empowerment, which costs 1,950 SP and will upgrade a LI legacy by one tier - but, at the moment, it only works on l.65 LIs. Now a lot of players, myself included, have already upgraded as many legacies as we care to on our current LIs, and are simply collecting SPs in view of the inevitable next upgrade, or even the eventual appearence of First-Age LIs. We are assuming (gambling, if you prefer), that Scrolls of Empowerment suitable for the next lot of LIs, whatever they turn out to be, will still be available in exchange for our accumulated SPs. Should this prove not to be the case, we will find ourselves in the same position as holders of Imperial Russian government bonds the day after the Bolsheviks seized power...
On the other hand, if skirmish points continue to be valuable after the next upgrade, albeit perhaps hit by inflation (i.e., scrolls may have doubled in price), LOTRO will have taken the first welcome steps towards the goal of a reliable, long-term barter currency.
Sunday, 21 March 2010
Readers may remember that last week, I posted my belief that "it should be possible to come up with a reliable formula to indicate what the chances of any PUG completing a particular instance or raid will be". This Holy Grail of scientific LOTRO studies is now within the grasp of serious students and analysts thanks to the efforts of my esteemed colleague, Master Belegwe, to whom we owe the following remarkable formula and its explanation:
- C - the chance of success, expressed as a percentage
- R - the relevance of rewards from a given instance expressed as a percentage of the proportion of the group the reward is relevant to
- P - the number of players present
- G - the gating requirement, expressed as an integer, with each piece of required equipment equalling 1
- D - the difficulty of the instance expressed as an integer from a scale I created (The Belegwe Scale) with values ranging from 1 to 4, 1 being the easiest and 4 being the most difficult
- A - the age of the instance expressed as an integer with each month (rounding to the nearest month) equalling 1
- P(al) - the average level of all the players present expressed as an integer
- I(l) - the level of the instance expressed as an integer
- P(n) - the number of players present who have never been to the instance before expressed as an integer
- P(e) - the number of players present who have been to the instance before expressed as an integer
- K - the Kairos constant with a value of 9.0171
- C- this remains the same as above
- X - the product of the first set of curved brackets
- Y - the product of the second set of curved brackets
- Z - the age of the instance expressed as an integer
- K - the Kairos Constant
- Alpha - the product of the New Player equation
- Beta - the product of the Experienced Player equation
Saturday, 20 March 2010
The LOTRO economy is currently in the equivalent of a deep recession, at least in the sense that economic activity is virtually frozen. Why? Because most l.65 players are awash with money, and have nothing to spend it on. The one single item that players might still be willing to shell out for is the Symbol of Celebrimbor, the essential ingredient for the forging of l.65 Second-Age items. It doesn't come up often in the AH, and when it does, the asking price ranges from 60G to 150G - though I seriously doubt that it actually sells for much over a hundred. However, the drop rate in Sammath Gul is said to be improving, and more to the point, given the depressingly limited shelf life of LIs, many people are beginning to wonder whether investing that kind of money in a weapon which will almost certainly be superannuated two months or so down the road is a smart move. LOTRO's economic czar has clearly screwed things up here, if the entire economic model is teetering, so to speak, upon the demand for one single product (and a rapidly crumbling demand, at that).
Sunday, 14 March 2010
A PUG, or Pick-Up Group, is what you join if you are looking for company on a quest, instance or raid; in other words, a casual assemblage of players of varying degrees of skill and experience for the completion of a specific goal. A group of people who regularly quest together, even if they belong to different kinships, is therefore by definition not a PUG.
Obviously, you’re taking pot-luck in joining or starting a PUG; there are some seriously bad and/or annoying players out there, and you won’t usually know ahead of time. Prior familiarity aside, the only clues to ability will be a player’s kinship (assuming some knowledge of the relative standing of kinships) and a gear inspection (I would turn down anyone anonymous without a second’s thought). This last will at least tell you whether the player has the necessary basic equipment, and will give some idea of previous experience (they’re unlikely to be completely hopeless if they have, say, the DN +20 radiance leggings which drop from the Blind One).
Even if you end up with a competent group, it still won't be as effective as a well-honed kinship group, if only for the reason that members of a random PUG don’t share the crucial experience of having fought together and of knowing each other’s tricks and mannerisms. Inevitably, therefore, PUGs have a mixed reputation at best, and everybody has horror stories of PUGs they’ve joined in which healers thought they were tanks, hunters pulled everything in sight and leaders ran off with the loot…
In my experience, PUGs are most effective in the case of older instances which most good players will pretty much know by heart and for which they can slot into their roles almost automatically. On the other hand, given the much greater complexity of raids in general, I would normally steer clear of a PUG raid other than for purposes of scouting. The one exception is Helegrod, where the virtual impossibility of assembling 24 players from a single kinship makes a mixed group inevitable – but the rule here has tended to be that in each server, one or two freelance raid leaders emerge who enjoy organising Helegrod runs and, rather like raid leaders in the Ettenmoors, have become familiar with the ability of most applicants.
Though largely bereft of mathematical ability myself, I can’t help feeling that it should be possible to come up with a reliable formula to indicate what the chances of any PUG completing a particular instance or raid will be. The following parameters would have to be considered and balanced: how old the instance is (the older, the more likely it is that more players have experienced it); how many players are needed (the more, the higher the chance of including an incompetent player); the value of the rewards on an arbitrary scale (poor rewards attract fewer players); the relative difficulty, again on an arbitrary scale; and of course, gating requirements.
Given these parameters, I think it’s a virtual certainty that you would be wasting your time trying to run Barad Guldur, the latest 12-man raid, with a PUG. The gating and gear requirements are very high, the rewards are surprisingly poor, few kinships have completed it as yet (and their members are very unlikely to be joining PUGs), and the learning curve extremely steep. Six months from now, if you're really lucky, you may find a PUG that just happens to be made up of players with solid prior experience of BG. But for now, all you'll find is players who've been unlucky with their kinships, who are kinless, or who are just plain out of touch with reality; in any case, players with insufficient experience of what is a very difficult and unforgiving raid.
Friday, 12 March 2010
It hadn't really occurred to me before, but I was struck recently by a huge difference between the European (Codemasters) and Stateside (Turbine) forums: there is almost no discussion of tactics on the CM forums. Which is quite strange, when you come to think of it.
By far the most popular sub-forum on the Turbine forums is the one called "Instances and Raids". Though it shelters a certain amount of grumbling and nit-picking, it also includes a lot of careful and serious debate about the strategy and tactics of the principal raids. Currently, there are several well-established threads about the Barad Guldur 12-man raid; one of them, "BG Strategy - Gauntlet and Boss 1 (Durchest)" includes 133 posts, many providing either detailed tactical proposals or feedback on possible changes since the latest patch. For a characteristic example of a recent post, see the illustration, above.
There are no remotely similar threads on the CM forums, whether for Barad Guldur or any other raid. When I did an advanced, post-by-post search for "Dürchest"on CM, the only posts of any interest which turned up were under the Warden sub-forum. Admittedly, a substantial thread was started recently about increased resistances since Volume III which includes some useful feedback, but nothing much more.
I'm curious about why this should be. Obviously the fact that Codemasters don't provide a tactics and raids sub-forum is one factor, but that can hardly be more than contributory. Are European players less interested in end-content raiding and/or less determined (or, of course, obsessive)? Are they less prepared to share experiences, preferring to hoard what might be regarded as hard-earned information? Or is it simply a general lack of interest in debate and discussion of matters tactical?
Thursday, 4 March 2010
With apologies to Basil Fawlty, that was more or less how most of us felt after checking out the latest free LOTRO content, a.k.a. Volume III, Book 1: Oath of the Rangers. I'm not one of those players who hit l.65 twelve hours after Siege of Mirkwood came out, and I like to take my time over the epic quests and enjoy the plot. So I was seriously disappointed to find that it took me slightly less than four hours to complete all of Vol.III/Bk.1. That's right, all nine chapters. Including the new instance. After which - zilch. I had just exhausted the new content...
This was, without any doubt, the thinnest update ever from Turbine. Other than the aforementioned mini-book and instance, we get some new recipes, some cosmetic loot from the Rift instance, an upgrade on a class skill and very little else. I wouldn't mind too much - after all, there's still the very tricky Barad Guldur 12-man raid to be completed - if it wasn't for the fact that a brilliant opportunity was needlessly blown by the epic quest chain. The basic idea of revisiting different regions of Eriador for the purpose of recruiting Rangers to the Grey Company of the Dunedain, leading in each case to a quest or instance, was a clever one; unfortunately, in terms of plot and narrative design the quests themselves proved unbelievably lame and superficial, as though they had been cobbled together in a spare half-hour on the back of an envelope. The saddest part is that a couple of instances, like the Annuminas tombs in the illustration above, were graphically excellent - but all the hard work of the graphics team was gratuitously wasted by whoever was in charge of writing the story. Also completely wasted was the boss mob of the Rift instance, who could have proved a tough and tenacious opponent under different circumstances, but can here be knocked over by a hobbit granny wielding a feather duster. Report: "Must do better".
Saturday, 27 February 2010
You have fought you way into the evil Necromancer's castle of Dol Guldur, battled orcs and fouls spirits until you break into the vast hall of Gorothul, chief sorceror of Barad Guldur and sole possessor (when he remembers) of the priceless Symbol of Celebrimbor. Gorothul's voice is softly sinister, and he conjures up legions of spirits and animated corpses to destroy you, though the fact that he looks the spitting image of Ming the Merciless does give you pause for a second.
As you fight for your life (and a slim chance of acquiring the aforementioned Symbol of Celebrimbor, an artifact of immense value), you ears are battered by a steady beating sound. Glancing up for a second you see, through the dim glass of the vast windows rising up either side of the dread altar, two Nazgûl riding the great fell beasts whose flapping wings echo through the hall. When, with luck, Gorothul finally goes down to his just reward and you have discovered that once again the priceless Symbol of Celebrimbor has failed to drop, your attention may be caught by a strange discrepancy: while the fell beast seen through the south window is beating his wings energetically, rising and falling as he does, his fellow to the north is doing - well, nothing very much. He is in fact barely holding position right at the bottom of the window, listlessly twitching his wings now and again.
Is the second fell beast on strike? Tired from a long voyage to the Shire and back? Suffering from mange? The answer may well affect the whole outcome of the War of the Ring, and I for one really think we should be told...
Friday, 19 February 2010
Siege of Mirkwood has been out for some time now, but with the exception of a few hardcore raiding kinships in Europe and the States, the culminating 12-man Barad Guldur raid that came with it has yet to be cracked by most kins - or even seriously dented. Hard numbers are of course always impossible to come by, but I haven't just plucked this suggestion out of thin air. It's based on a number of facts: on first-hand knowledge about the how things stand with various kins on my server, on the frequency (or paucity) of mentions on GLFF, on the almost complete absence of extensive debate about the tactics of taking down anything but the first boss on any of the forums, on the fact that except for the odd member of the aforementioned handful of hardcore kins, you almost never catch sight of +30 armour, and of course on input from quite a large cross-section of active and competent players.
Of course, Barad Guldur is a tough and unforgiving raid, and that's pretty much as it should be. Nor is radiance that much of a problem these days; if you really want to raid, you can get +120 radiance from the three +15 and three +25 armour items, all of them available in exchange for medallions. All six items cost 120 Mirkwood medallions in total, which can be assembled in about a week or less - not too massive a grind. No, the main problem with BG appears to be the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet (as it's come to be known) is a running fight with Uruks, wargs and goblins all the way up the stairway which leads from the entrance of the tower to the room of Dûrchest, the first boss. It's a tricky fight, because adds are constantly arriving as you leapfrog your way up from one landing to another, and if you take too long, you get swamped by reinforcements. Personally, I think it's a brilliant test of raiders' ability to think on their feet, and I'm all for it, except that it's in the wrong place. In other words, it's a long fight, as hard to master as any boss fight and tougher than most - and it's still only a prequel.
Worse, much worse, is the fact that the whole thing resets entirely within a very short space of time; in fact, if you wipe on Dûrchest, you just about have enough time for one more attempt before it resets. This last bit is frankly idiotic; the fact that to take another crack at what is still only the first boss you have to run the Gauntlet again, no matter how good you've become at it, is a huge morale stripper. In fact, it may well be the main reason why, unless changes are made, Barad Guldur could end up being the most under-exploited raid since Helegrod. I don't think the Gauntlet should be removed, and I wouldn't want to see it go - though if asked in the planning stages, I would have suggested it be placed at the end rather than the beginning of the raid. But there's a simple, obvious solution which would be extremely easy to implement: treat the Gauntlet as another boss fight, and give it a lock: once you've run it successfully, that's the last you see of it till the next general reset. Here's hoping...
Saturday, 13 February 2010
I was about to write a post about the current state of Legendary Items, when my attention was grabbed by the fact that the "Tell the Community" feature on both the Turbine (Stateside) and Codemasters (Europe) forums are asking for players' views on, of all things, the Legendary Item System!
This feature of the forums isn't all that familiar, and some of the people who do know about it have sometimes been dismissive in the past; understandable, in a way, given the inanity of at least some of the questions. However, the point is that unlike unsolicited player comments in forums and blogs, the responses to questions posted in these threads are very specifically those which the developers and publishers want to receive - so the odds are that such responses will at least be read, and very likely taken into consideration where it counts.
The relevant questions here are:
1. You are given the opportunity to make two changes to the Legendary Item System. What are the two most important changes you would make? Please limit your answer to only two changes.
2. Name two things about the Legendary Item System you enjoy the most.
I would urge everybody who has ever complained loudly about the LI system to take advantage of this opportunity and make their views known. Needless to say, this involves thinking a little about the questions and coming up with succinct and intelligent answers; snappy comments along the lines of "The LI system stinks!" or two-thousand word rants are unlikely to make a big impression... I'll post my own response here in a day or two.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Illustrated above, Rochben gloves are perhaps the screwiest item drop in the current expansion, Siege of Mirkwood. They drop from the fourth and last boss of Sammath Gul, the fell spirit Demafaer, who is only accessible in hard mode; they give +25 radiance; and they are drop very often - perhaps as much as 40% of the time. And they only come in one flavour: Heavy.
Why are they weird? Well, first of all, they represent the one and only example in the game of a radiance item (and a major one at that) simply dropping as normal loot - every other item requires you to either kill a major raid boss and then win a 1:12 roll, or else gather a number of medallions. Rochben just drop, and by this time, they are being treated as vendor trash by many kinships. Secondly, there are no equivalent items anywhere in the game for medium and light armour wearers; the Dar Narbugud set gloves which are exchangeable for the Greater Elf-stone of Hand dropped by Zholuga have +20 radiance, and the Moria instance gloves only +15. Thirdly, they are the only teal radiance item in Siege of Mirkwood.
Were they left in by mistake after beta? Are they an example of whimsy on the part of the loot devs? Whatever, they're untidy. And unfair to all us non-heavy metal wearers...
Friday, 5 February 2010
OK, OK, I admit it. This post is definitely puerile, and almost certainly cartoonist, or blimpist, but I couldn’t resist it. I mean, isn’t that that Miss Piggy in a natty suit of plate armour, about to gallop off in all directions in search of Rangers?
On a marginally more serious note, have you noticed how often loading screen and announcement artwork falls far short of LOTRO’s usually very high standards? Think of the dreadful Rivendell loading screen, with its club-handed or fingerless Legolas (I’ve mentioned this before), or, worst of all, the hideous loading screen illustrating last autumn’s harvest festival, which included a number of ugly stick figures clustered around a festive table. Some of the worst appear to be the result of over-enlarging and distorting an ingame screenshot – the harvest festival one certainly did. Seems a shame…
Thursday, 4 February 2010
I've spent the last few weeks exploring Mirkwood, leveling up my main character, replacing old legendary items, collecting new ixp runes, acquiring the +25 radiance armour pieces, running skirmishes and pioneering the new Barad Guldur 12-man raid with my kinship. In other words, it's been busy, and in that time I've sampled pretty much everything that's available in Siege of Mirkwood. So? Personally, I think this has been the best expansion since before Mines of Moria - in fact, the best expansion since the one which brought us the Rift - and I believe it vindicates those of us who insisted that the game would eventually get its act together again.
First of all, the visual design is absolutely brilliant. The various regions of south Mirkwood are all different in interesting ways, both visually and in terms of content, but they all share a common eeriness. I was particularly impressed by the way that the woods are, well, murky... In other words, they're not pitch-black, causing you to keep walking off cliffs, but actually communicate the feeling that something could be lurking in the gloom just a few yards away from you - as, in fact, it probably is. Actually depicting gloom rather than darkness is no mean feat, graphically, so congratulations yet again to the landmass designers at Turbine.
The skirmishes are fun. They are quite fun to run solo, but they can be a real hoot in groups of six or more. The devs, wisely to my mind, effectively decided to make skirmishes largely irrelevant to a character's progress in the game, so that the skirmish marks you accumulate are largely employed in increasing your soldier's abilities. There are two exceptions to this rule. One is that skirmish marks can be exchanged for class quest items, some of them once extremely rare and valuable; I'm not entirely certain I approve of this, as it obviously tends to devalue wonderful old locations like Carn Dum, but I can also see how this could come as a relief to new players who may be having a hard time getting fellowships together for the tougher mid-level instances. The other exception, which some players may not have cottoned onto and which is a very good reason for high-level players to keep running instances, is that 1,950 skirmish points will buy you a Scroll of Empowerment with which you can upgrade any legacy on a l.65 legendary item by one tier. This makes it possible, and even feasible, to boost all your legacies to the maximum.
The three and six-man instances in Barad Guldur are well-designed and intelligently plotted, and have considerable replay value. They are also very different from one another, meaning they don't necessarily all appeal to the same player. The least popular appears to be the Dungeons instance, which involves a considerable amount of trickery and sneaking about, plus a hefty dose of luck, but it makes a good pendant to Sword Hall, a fast, purely combat-oriented instance. Judging by looking for fellowship requests, the six-man Sammath Gul instance is by far the most popular, partly of course because the major boss fight here is the game's only source of the rare Symbol of Celebrimbor, without which no Second-Age l.65 legendary can be crafted.
Ah, those legendaries again... Well, the facts are straightforward: to begin with, your old, much cherished l.60 First-Age weapon is pretty nearly useless, as in DPS terms it can be trumped by any new l.65 Third-Ager. So break it up, and dry your tears. Next, while Third-Age LIs are pretty easy to find or buy, Second-Agers no longer drop from anywhere and are now genuinely rare. They can only be crafted, and crafting requires the aforementioned Symbol of Celbrimbor, whose drop rate seems to be very roughly 1:10 - so even at this point in time, not many players have even one Second-Age l.65 item, let alone two. On the plus side, your chances of getting good legacies from the start have increased dramatically - it's still a gamble, but no longer a virtually hopeless one. More interestingly, you can now effect changes to your LIs yourself; Scrolls of Delving will increase an item by ten levels, to l.70, and as noted above, Scrolls of Empowerment will upgrade one tier. You can also choose to replace a single legacy with a new one which will increase a basic ability.
As for the new 12-man raid, I can confirm that it is difficult - very difficult for the average kinship and, I would say, not even worth trying with a PUG. This is not so much a matter of design trickery, just that even after you have learned the tactics (and there seems, mercifully, to be more than one ideal tactic for each fight), it calls for considerable precision, speed and accuracy - Barad Guldur is very unforgiving. Need I mention that in the first boss fight, every player death gives Dûrchest a 17.5% melee damage buff, and that after he reaches 130k morale, every death heals him for 190k morale?
Well, I've been taking a holiday from the blog, but not from the game. This was partly due to the need for a break of sorts, but also because with the new year, some weird bug wouldn't let me log into blogger.com at all, claiming that Firefox wasn't accepting cookies. It was one of those ridiculous computer standoffs, where the idiot machine claims that black is white, and refuses to listen to reason. Anyway, I finally gave in and did a whole lot of re-installing from scratch, so here we are again...