Greedy Goblin

Friday, March 24, 2017

Albion: transporting in PvP zones

So far it seems I'm staying in Albion Online. If you want to try it out, here is my referral link! Warning: The game is still in beta, so it can change. "Change" in video game development is a politically correct term for "nerfed to the ground to cater to paying morons and slackers". Continue on your own risk, don't blame me! The game currently looks the most fitting to the "player can make an impact on the game world" hope. This promotional video tells what the game is promised to be. Of course there is a chance that it will become a "get everything from running piss-easy instanced dungeons", but one can hope. Besides playing, I make myself useful reporting bugs and making suggestions.

So, after getting millions in days by buying and selling in the safe zone, I went more risky. Mostly because there isn't real risk, as the game is in beta and all progress will be wiped before release. So I figured out to do a transport run to the middle city of the royal continent. You see, the game World is huge and most land is free PvP, capturable zone. The southern continent is not:

The red dots are the starter towns. The green dots are the nearby cities. There the workshops are player owned and everyone else pays tax to the owners. You can travel between them in safety. The black dot on the other hand is Caerleon, a safe city in the middle of red zones. There are 4 zones: in blue you can't be attacked, in yellow you can be robbed from backpack items, in red you can be robbed of gear, in black the robber isn't even penalized. You guessed, the prices in Caerleon are pretty high. So I figured I bring some stuff from Lymhurst, the green dot on the right.

The plan was simple: I loaded the cheapest horse with materials which are cheap in the safe zones but expensive in Caerleon. If I die, I lose 30K. If I arrive, I make over 100K. It went spectacularly, I not only arrived, but did so by travelling trough hostiles. On the picture you can see the criminal character count, next to the mail reporting my first stupidly overpriced sell:
The trick: whenever I saw a baddie, I turned my horse towards him. He ran so fast into the woods as his sprint spell allowed him. How could he know that all I'm armed with are tier 2 armor, a harvesting sickle and 500 leather?! He had expensive gear to lose, he came to gank a miner or woodchopper, not to fight someone who seems to be looking for a fight!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Market UI without typing against mistakes

In every game the market UI is a long table full of numbers. You must scroll and find the one you want to accept. You can easily get lost between hundreds of 1-2 item orders. But the horrors start when you want to set up a new order. The new order interface is usually on a different window, so you first have to check the existing orders, memorize the price you want to make and type it into the proper window. A mistype can be very expensive. The more user unfriendly the interface is, the more people won't bother and just click "OK" on the first option, making traders very rich and them frustrated.

I saw worse and better implementations (Albion Online has outright horrible), but all of them are such multi-column tables that are several pages long. And all of them need lot of typing without mistype or you can lose a lot of currency with a click. Instead, I designed a market UI where you don't have to type at all (after you selected the item) and it's practically impossible to make a mistake. This is the buying verstion, which combines simple buy and setting up buy order:
  • The blue arrows are sell orders. Their position tells their price and their size tells their volume. You can click on any of them to select and then you get an information page and an option to buy that order. There is a clickable volume field where you can type how much you want to buy. All volume fields on the interface are the same. If you want to buy more than the order maximum the "Buy this" button greys out and the volume field turns red.
  • The red arrows are existing buy orders, you can click them for information too.
  • The huge, unselectable arrows on the two ends are showing the volume of offscale orders. The scale must be centered on the relevant field, otherwise it will be rendered unusable by a few extreme orders. However those arrows inform you that orders exists outside of the scale. If you are unhappy with the automatic scale, you can move it left and right with the side arrows on the bottom numerical scale or zoom in and out with the middle tools and with proper hotkeys.
  • The gray arrows are highest significant buy order and lowest significant sell order on nearby markets. The information upon selecting has location instead of issuer and no option to buy them
  • The dark blue arrow is your own sell order, if you select it, you have "Cancel order" instead of "Buy this".
  • The huge unselectable green arrow is the traded volume and price at the last day that informs you about the state of the market.
  • The red selection tool, marked by the green star is the cheapest instant buy element. Its left arm is on the cheapest sell order, the right arm moves automatically as you adjust the volume. You can do it by rolling the mouse wheel or clicking any volume field and typing if you insist. The selection tool enlarges enough to cover enough orders to buy the needed volume. Below the tool there is an information field where you can see the volume and the totals and a buy button to buy the selected items.
  • The black arrow is your possible buy order. Its size represent the volume, it's the same as every other volume fields. So when you roll the mouse, this arrow grows together with the cheapest instant buy selector. If you click anywhere, the arrow follows you, except it can't go higher than the right arm of the instant buy selector, as it would be stupid to set up a buy order that's more expensive than instant buy. If you click on any existing buy orders, your arrow jumps 1s above it. There is a field to set up exact price, it's needed when the market is empty so you can't move in relation of other order. You can finalize the buy order by clicking the button on its information field.
Selling items uses the same interface, except the selection tool is blue; it's above the slider and span over buy orders; its information field is above the tool, the button is blue and say "Sell". You have a possible sell order arrow above the slider with blue "Set up sell order" button and when you select a sell order, it jumps 1s below it. When you select a buy order, you get the option to sell to that order. Since buy and sell are different color and upside down, you can't mix them up.

You can't place wrong order by accident. The instant buy/sell selection tool gives a limit on one side, if you make mistake on the other side (try to sell 10x higher than you mean), it would visually be out of scale. If you'd input 10x higher volume, you'd get a huge arrow and huge selection tool, dominating the field.

I will offer this interface design to the Albion devs, but any game dev is free to use it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The shadow of BDO on Albion Online

As you might have heard, I'm testing Albion Online. Not "playing", since the game is beta, all progression was wiped on March 13 (I started on March 18) and more wipes are probable. While I see great potential in the game, I already see the shadow of Black Desert Online on it. Unlike most people think, Albion isn't like (somewhat) popular PvP games, it's more like the mock PvP BDO. Most importantly, it lacks the rock-paper-scissors aspect of the PvP games. Higher tier armor and weapons are simply better in all aspects. There is no trade-off between cheap, low damage but agile gears vs heavy hitting, slow and expensive ones. A T5 leatheris is faster, stronger, more armored and has more spells than a T4. Players already identify themselves with their gear tier, just look at the "looking for group" channel: "T5 healer needed for blue dungeon".

What does that mean? While low tier hilarity roams might happen, it won't be a viable tactic to fight. Players will focus on upgrades instead of fighting. In BDO, there is node and territory capture, but most people just flat out ignore it and there is no prestige in it. The prestige is in gear, and I expect the same in BDO. While several players will live in unsafe zones, they do so to farm and not to fight. They won't be expansive, won't be aggressive, they will only fight when forced, as fighting wastes precious time that could be spent farming more gear and more skillpoints.

I fear that most players will say "meh" about who owns what territory in the combat zones. Zone owning guilds will be assembled out of convenience, most players will quit under hardship and pick another Tn guild. Guilds want players to generate taxes, players want guilds for the guild fort and crafting island.

Let's add the most problematic BDO parallel: as every piece of gear can be purchased from the marketplace, more silver means more progression. Playing the market - like in every MMO where it exists - is stupidly overpowered. The servers are up for 8 days. There is a "silver looted" toplist, all silver enters the economy via killing humanoid mobs. The #10 looter (out of 38K players) made 1.6M, and I guess he farms a lot. I play for 3 days with zero previous game knowledge and spent lot of time exploring the game before starting trading. My profits are over 1.5M. Another very good reason to just say "meh" about owning territories. However, it seems devs are at least looking into my report on this. What a change!

Finally, there is "gold trading". You can buy gold for real money from the developers and spend it on premium account, which is mandatory for competitive play. You can trade gold for silver with players who wants to play for free. The current ratio is 110, so my precious 1.5M is about 13K gold. You can buy that money for $60. So probably the most "progressed" players will be wallet warriors. It is true that you can kill them and loot their gear, but only if they go anywhere near the PvP zones which they have no reason to since their gear comes from $. They might gank lowbies for a killboard, but avoid any kind of PvP where they can die. It is very possible that the PvP zones will be filled with "free" players who farm their heart out, transport there wares to the safe zones and sell for gold (via silver) to wallet warriors who stay there.

As you can see, these aren't painting a bright future. However "bright future" is a relative term, when BDO, the poster child of mock PvP gear-ugrading game is doing pretty well. So a "bit more relevant PvP than BDO" is actually an improvement.

It is also possible that some controversial group starts a crusade for land, creating a narrative when people fight them not for profit, just because they are mean.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Save the CHILDREN!!! ... and games

Can you imagine more casual activity than school sports teams? The participants are children, the coach is employed by the school, so surely wouldn't push the kids to something that would negatively affect studies and the audience - if any - are adoring parents.

Yet these games are organized by the original sports rules. The video game customs of "accessibility" and "casual nature" are totally absent. I mean could you imagine a kid telling the coach "cba 2 practice lol" and stay on the team? Or running around randomly saying "i play as i wanna xd"?! Or picking up his cell phone in the middle of a game and say "brb phone" to his teammates?! How about declaring blocking "griefing" in the spirit of "every player is a champion and can score"?! How about the field owner openly collecting money for "premium options" like sloped playfield, smaller goal field, plated boxing gloves, or "performance enchanting consumables"? How about the championship organizers rigging the games to cater to the teams who paid the most on cosmetic items (dresses, mascots, fireworks)?

While such ideas would be bizarre in a game for children, they are standard in video games. How come that the same people who play these video games would completely reject the same ideas in school sports? For the same reason why they don't want to let their kids smoke, drink and engage in irresponsible sex, despite they do all these things. It's called "responsible parenting". People want their kids be better than they are. They try to teach their ideals and not their flawed practices to their kids. This is why they would demand to fire the basketball coach for practices they reward game devs: because they know that "everyone is a champion", pay to win and playing unprepared are bad things. They allow themselves to "have some fun after a hard day's work", but want their kids to be prepared and play competitively in a fair game.

This allows a way to regulate this abomination that games turned into. The goal should not be to change the existing gaming practices, merely "SAVE THE CHILDREN" from them, demanding that such games be declared 18+. After all "adults" (people who somehow managed to not push their fingers into the electric socket for 18 years) can play the way they want to and have their own wages (hahaha) to pay to win. But kids should only access games which are fair, have no welfare handouts, no pay-to-win and clearly separate winning from losing. In the name of "SAVE THE CHILDREN", the non 18+ games could be demanded to be audited, so some third party checks the logs for rigging. After all no sane person could claim that a rigged P2W game where players get rewards for showing up is a place where children could learn anything useful.

This would create a protected niche for these games, since only these could be sold to the children who has access dad's credit card. This isn't a small niche, many children get games and subscription from their parents. Of course the "SAVE THE CHILDREN" battle cry is self-serving: I want to play the same kind of fair games that I recommend to children.

PS: talking about unfair features, Albion Online has a backward buy order system, that makes it easy to make accidental transactions for several digits less/more than you meant:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why games and devs must meet high moral standards

It's strange to read "moral" on this blog, so I must explain why I am so obsessed with rigging and improper dev behavior. In normal everyday life you can ignore how people behave because you are protected by laws. Just because you have a hunch that your car mechanic isn't the beacon of righteousness or you hear rumors that he hates your face, you can safely bring your car to him. He won't cut the break lines because that would be long time in jail for him. He won't even do sloppy work because you can sue him for damages. If your coworker is "toxic", you can go to HR and he gets counselled and after repeated incidents, fired. If your company fires you for no reason, they still have to pay you the severance fee written in your contract.

I could repeat it till the end of times, but the point is simple: people you encounter are forced by laws and contracts to not harm you. Except game devs. There are absolutely no laws against damaging you in games and the contracts you sign by accepting the EULA are clear: the company owns everything and you are entitled for absolutely nothing. For example in the recently purchased beta Albion Online, I must forfeit my right for refund before even trying it out for a minute:

People sign such unfair contracts, because games aren't essential, most people don't care much and would just say "meh, uninstall" if the game - for any reason - is unsatisfying. But this means that a dev is absolute God above your in-game self. He knows everything about your in-game activity, he can do anything he wants to your in-game self, and you can't do anything to him.

It is possible that in time, the video gaming equivalents of sporting laws and contracts will be implemented. If you cheat in a sport game, you can be sued for serious damages. Rigging games can get you jail. Independent third party organizations like WADA watch over fairness of games. In several sports you must have government license to be able to organize events. Try hold a boxing game without license and off you go to jail.

But for now, the only way to enter such relationship besides the casual "I can't care less what happens", is complete trust that the devs won't screw you for any reason. If you have reason to believe that they aren't entirely fair and benign, you must stay away as you are at their mercy if you enter their game. This is why I'm so paranoid before being invested into a game. I must be sure that the devs are morally above defrauding me, because the law won't stop them if they want to.

I'm fully aware that expecting high moral standards is ridiculous, just as Derek Smart (the guy who caught the $100M Star Citizen scam) said: "Game developers are just human beings who happen to make games for a living. If you want to hold us up to higher standards of conduct, then go ahead ...but don't be surprised if we don't uphold them." Tomorrow comes a post with a possible angle to legally address the problem.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekend minipost: ox on the run

Yep, I pre-purchased Albion Online. This was clearly a leap of faith as the game is not ready yet. But I failed to find any good published game with non-zero playerbase. So far Albion looks good, but of course I'm just in the beginning. There are very few items, so there aren't many niches. We'll see if I can make a fortune without gathering or killing mobs (bleh).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Weekend minipost: new hope

The much anticipated open World PvP game Crowfall seems to be closing to closed beta:

Since I realize how bad the current games became, I have to abandon my previous condition of no pre-released games. If Crowfall drags itself into closed beta, I'll pay and jump in.