Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The end of Valencia farms

With the Valencia expansion various materials were released. Connecting them was expensive compared to old World materials: the work nodes cost 3 contribution points instead of one and the nodes are often separated by 3 point gateways from the nearest towns. This hints that these materials will be expensive due to how hard it is to get them.

Instead Fig, Star Anise, Elder Tree, Teff, Nutmeg and Pistachio are all on minimum price with the marketplace being full with them, while various old World materials (Fir, Birch, Cedar, Fleece) are pretty expensive. This makes no sense. The price of the materials should follow the CP cost of connecting them as there are no other differences between their farming. Getting potato next to Velia isn't harder for the player than getting Teff next to Sand Grain Bazaar. So why don't people abandon these expensive nodes and grab cheaper ones?

The answer lies in the social term "cool stuff". This is an emotional valuation of items ignoring any rational calculation. Something is "cool" because the "cool kids" say so. The new expansion is always "cool" as it gives new rewards. The fact that enchanting gear with black crystals have nothing to do with the farming nodes of Valencia does not affect the socials. This is called halo effect: different and logically uncorrelated traits of an entity have correlated results in the eyes of social people. If someone considers X pretty, he also thinks X is smart or kind or reliable. This is because of the quite one-dimensional "thinking" of inherited schemes of the social brain (I use to call them ape-subroutines): does X increase my reproduction chances or not? When a social person evaluates a job applicant or even a work node in a video game, he subconsciously ask "will associating with him/her/it will get me more offspring". If the answer is yes, then X is "cool" and the social hires the bad applicant, buys expensive designer clothes and put workers on a 3 CP Teff node.

The solution is always numerically evaluate the options excluding personal opinions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Is PLEX/WoW token a good idea?

WoW token and PLEX are common in modern MMOs, they allow one player to make purchases for another (who essentially plays for free) in return of some game currency. In BDO I can't buy pearls for game currency and this difference made me think that maybe Blizzard and CCP are wrong, and Daum/Pearl Abyss is right. Let me explain, by comparing 3 situations:

Please note that in all cases the whale and the developer have very similar input and output. They exchange subscription for game service, the whale pays some money and gets game currency while the dev gets some money and provides some extra service, either game access to the farmer or maintaining an item shop. In case of RMT they both get worse as the RMT-er can scam the buyer and more often than not "pays" the developer with account theft mess or credit card chargeback.

So why have the middle man? What does a free player brings to the table? In case of PvP-only games like World of Tanks or League of Legends he is the content: an underpowered punching bag. But in mostly-PvE MMOs he is just the fifth wheel, save for the low chance that he'll start paying one day (this can be channeled by a limited time free to try period). Actually having tokens costs money to the dev over having sub+item shop: there are PvE players who would subscribe the game if they had to, but instead they just buy tokens. The dev could have more money by having them subscribed and then sell the power of the token (the game currency) in the item shop .

I believe the tokens are just introduced to bribe the loud minority crying pay-to-win, by letting them buying their subscription with the power sold to the whales. However the "item shop is unfair and make (paying) players leave" idea is dead. There is clear evidence that paying players want to buy power and have no problem with it. A whale is not ashamed of being a whale, a game that has "pay to win" hype doesn't repel paying players. Sure, the "unlimited pay-to-win" scheme (when a $10000 payer is stronger than a $1000 payer) drives away the average buyers and probably not the best idea, but "true" free-to-play (where you can get all power for free) is dead.

I believe now that BDO is doing it right and my wish to make pearls available for sale is just me trying to freeload on the game (as I could easily buy all the peals with silver, being #1 wealth on EU Jordine). Daum/PA does the smart thing taking my $15/month and not letting me play for free, while taking the thousands of the whales who buy all the costumes and horse count resets and whatnot.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Are video games technical sports?

This is a screenshot of a page of the program I wrote for analyzing the monthly CFC killboard data. It's 320 lines long. It uses a self-made library to do most of the tasks, 1170 lines. The end of year analysis and other special tasks are separate programs of similar size, using the mentioned library. It's probably not the best code, my formal programming training was two decades ago, IT improved a lot. I am OK with local computing, but I couldn't write a single line of web application, so the data had to be fetched from he API into a text file by Hanura H'arasch, which is surely a bunch of more programming lines.

My question is: while writing this code, was I playing a video game? Do you consider my time spent on it as "gameplay?" Or even a broader term "entertainment"?

If not, what was it? Was it work? Then it must have some kind of product and there is none. I can't sell it, nor I can use it myself for anything outside of the game.

Was it science or training? I believe it was, as new knowledge was obtained: what CFC lost in that month and to whom. You can claim that it's worthless knowledge, but it's objectively knowledge anyway. The question is, is it OK for a video game to expect people doing science instead of gameplay? Please note that if something is possible in the game, it's necessary if you are competitive.

Sports are games, the outcome depends on player skill. Except for "technical sports" like Formula 1. Here the player skill is secondary to the building of the racing car. The real competitors are not drivers but constructors. Do you claim that video games are technical sports where the real competitors are third party tool developers and the players using the client are just racers? If so, then why are they paying money instead of being paid by the constructor teams? Does this make any sense in an entertainment activity?

The only way out of this mess if we conclude that allowing "constructors" to exist in a video game is a bad idea and game developers must not support or even tolerate the existence of third party tools.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tears over subscription

Black Desert Online reddit thread has the following top topics:

The official forums are sorted by last comment, so some useful topics are present on the top page, but I could find the following ones:

We can say that several players are upset (or trolling the upset ones). What horrible thing the devs do? Introduced a de facto subscription to the game. For $15/month you can buy a monthly buff that increase character and bank slots, weight limit, give various "beauty" stuff and decrease tax on the marketplace. Since the math is unclear to many people, I made a simple test inside the game and found that the tax moved to 15.5% from 35%:

Devs need salary. BDO isn't a web game made by a few guys who are happy to earn enough to pay rent and food from advertising. It's an MMO with huge World and graphics matching recent single player games. Someone has to pay for it. It seemed that they want to live on constant "quality of life" sells, but it has a problem. A latecomer must buy all of them at once to be competitive and after a few years this can be a one-time $1000 buy. Not the best way to get new players. If they give discounts later, people will simply not buy anything and wait for discounts. The only way out is limited time buffs. It's like a subscription: you pay to have access to it for $15/month.

Why not have formal subscription than? Because that's dead. Let me summarize it for BDO players: EVE Online used to be subscription, you simply couldn't log in without having a subscription paid with credit card, or an in game "gift card" called PLEX that you could sell for ingame money to other players, but someone had to buy it from the developer. The price was set by supply and demand, an average grinder could earn enough credits to buy one over 10 hours of grinding. So far, nothing surprising.

The interesting thing is that the EVE devs started to sell a cash shop item that allowed players to remove "experience points" from their character and then sell the package on the in-game marketplace. The buyer could use it to add the points to his own character, gaining skills. In EVE, you get these points automatically if you subscribe. The price of the package is once again set by the market. If many players extract their skills and few buy packages, the price is low, if many buys and few sells, the price is high. Well, the price is very high, one package sells for 2/3 price of the subscription. The fun thing is that the subscription gives 4x more points than a package over a month. But whales want them now and there aren't enough players to sell. If you did the math, you realize that one can now play EVE completely free (don't do it!), just by selling the points he gets in a month to buy a card.

This means that the players, not the devs decided that in-game power is more valuable than subscription and turned the game into a free-to-play + cash shop game. Players want power, not game access, that's the sad truth, so you can cry over "P2W" all day, the majority of the players want to buy power. So deal with it or simply stop playing video games. While the minority is filling the forums and reddit with tears, the majority fills the wallet of the developer, so they'll just keep introducing new power items. Or not, since with the value pack they can sell the same power item again and again every month.

I understand that paying for something that you imagined to get for free sucks. But I had very bad experience in EVE where I could play for free. As I didn't pay to the developers, they were free to not only ignore my interest, but flat out harass me. For them I was just a freeloader who can be abused for fun. In BDO I'm a paying customer and treated accordingly. When I was unhappy with the ghillie suit change, they returned the price in less than a day. The point is that you can only expect decent service if you pay for it.

PS: I used the free beauty feature "Marv's palette" to change the color of the absolutely ridiculous processing costume. I colored the black parts with light green, the white ones with dark green and the hair bow to the hair color to make it as invisible as possible:
The dress is still outright stupid (you shouldn't work with molten metal with any skin exposed, not even your face), but at least she doesn't look like a prostitute. I am really sad that there isn't even a niche market for decent looking costumes, I can't even buy one for money, while various stripper outfits are for sale. But I realize that this is what the majority wants and there is no point rageposting against sexism on the forums.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Protective tariff: Cooking honey for 525

Another wonderful example of the limited economy of Black Desert Online: Cooking Honey. This is a cooking material (go figure!) which is used in various recipes. It's gained by placing a worker in Alajandro farm.

The problem is that its price minimum is 525, making it one of the most expensive basic materials, beaten only by Acacia, Fir and Cedar, maybe Coal. On the other hand its market price would be much lower as its demand is very limited: a few cooks. Ergo, for 525 the supply is much higher than the demand, so the market is clogged with 85K cooking honey listed for 525K which will never sell.

It won't sell, because if you need cooking honey, you are much better off placing a worker on it, than buying it on the marketplace. So the market is limited to a handful of not too bright cooks. Those who produce it without being cooks are doing it wrong.

The result is anti-comparative advantage. Those who'd produce honey had comparative advantage in it (otherwise they wouldn't do it), while cooks probably don't (a specialized cook is better off spending his time leveling cooking than getting contribution points for workers). So they would be better off if the cook would buy the Honey for 150-200 market price than having to make it himself, while the producers would be better off selling Honey than just looking at an idle worker.

The minimum price of Honey can be considered a protective tariff placed by the "guild of cooks" in order to protect their own workers jobs. Thanks to the tariff, cooks should give a work to a worker in Alejandro farm as importing is too expensive. The loser of course is everyone else: the cook himself, the worker empire player and the worker of the latter who is now unemployed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The existence of game API is a proof that the dev is doing something nasty

Long story short: Valve got sued for supporting "skin gambling" on steam. "Skin gambling" is using in-game items as gambling chips and then selling them for real money. This is done to avoid the anti-gambling laws: if you open a casino where people win money, you get to jail if you don't follow the very strict rules. Gambling is completely prohibited in several areas. On the other hand if you gamble on non-existent chips, it's considered a game and ignored. So various criminals figured out that they can run a casino on the top of games and then RMT the winning. Needless to say, these casinos - among other bad things - are rigged.

Anyway, the lawsuit is against Valve because they allegedly enabled this criminal activity on its site and to avoid huge money to be paid and maybe some execs in cuffs for participating in organized crime (illegal gambling is typical maffia activity) they are kicking the gambling sites off Steam, denying them API usage. Ironically, the only site they didn't ban is the flat out RMT site that allows selling skins for real money.

This post isn't the Nth copy-pasting the same news and adding some commentary from the butt of the author. It's about the API system that made gambling site developers to access game data for the operation of their software. API is a formalized protocol for programmers to write their own code to access an IT system. Using automated code to access a web database has huge advantages over using the default web interface.

"Using automated code to get huge advantages" in a video game is called "cheating". Having a level playing field is crucial for a game, so it makes absolutely no sense to give advantage to those who are capable of coding a third party application over those who use the game client. Actually in most games writing a third party application to get advantage is called botting or hacking. Why does the developer of the game create such tools? The answer can't be anything else than what the plaintiff of the CSGO case claims: "deliberately allowing the creation of a market where players and third-parties trade weapon skins like casino chips." My point is that there is no fair reason for public API to exist for a game and its existence is an evidence of the developer supporting shady or outright illegal third parties.

I will closely follow the CSGO case and when (I've yet to see a commentary from a legal expert who doubts the outcome) Valve and the various skin gambling sites will be punished for their activity, I'll inform the proper authorities that CCP and IWI are doing just the same, so they should use the CSGO precedent and press charges. When a CCP representative on record told that IWI is doing RMT and not banned for it, he acknowledged that CCP was aware that the IWI gambling is done for monetary gain and decided to allow it. I have no idea about Iceland law, but if a US or EU court decides against them, they can be banned from doing trade in the US or EU, even if they can't be touched in Iceland. Such case the banks are forbidden to trade with them, so they can't sell PLEXes and subscriptions in the EU or US. I would strongly suggest CCP lawyers to look into the CSGO case and to prevent their fall by quickly banning all "casinos" (illegal gambling organizers) from accessing CCP services. I'd also shut down the API as a whole because Lenny and his criminal gang will just change name and IP to continue operating.

How could this "skin gambling" get this far? Because lawmakers and enforcers see video games as children's toys and didn't bother to look into them, despite they are multi-billion dollar businesses. Devs were financially motivated to look the other way, since skin gamblers were paying players after all. Players who saw the problem didn't want to attack the game they love (hint: and this is why you shouldn't post a "highly defamatory diatribe" about them). The mentioned lawsuit was started by parents of a minor (who probably wasted couple thousand dollars of dad's credit card). I think if Valve had the decency to keep children out of their gambling activity, they'd still be fine.

For those who had doubts that "knowing the right people in high places" can save someone from meritocracy, this shall be a valuable lesson: there are people in higher places than a video game community manager. Like ... judges.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

BDO: Calpheon timber crates guide

I wrote about my misfortune with crates, now I worked with them enough to write a proper guide.

Calpheon timber crate is a special trade item created by workers in a building with wood workbench. It needs 5 fir, 5 cedar and 5 birch plywoods with 1 black stone powder. It has no expiry and can be sold to any trade vendor. Due to distance bonus, it worth making it at one end of the map: Trent (one workbench in town, another in the next node) and sell at the other end: Ancado Inner Harbor. If you sell it for over 120%, you get over 140K for a crate:

First thing first: having high contribution points (level alts) is mandatory for this due to the long connection (you can also see some of my work nodes). If you don't want to have high CP, just forget crates.:

Second thing, transportation: you can't offline travel with trade packs. You can't reach Ancado on road with an AFK cart. However you can use the warehouse-transport feature! Send your crates from Trent to Epheria port (790 silver each) and from Epheria to Ancado (4100). Crates don't stack while transportation and you can't transport more than 100. A transport takes 2 hours but only a few clicks to send. So every time you come back from AFK, check the 3 locations and receive what arrived and send what's need to be sent. You can theoretically save 8 CP by skipping Epheria and transport on the Trent - Calpheon - Tarif - Altinova - Ancado Inner Harbor route but that occupies the transport system for 8 hours with 100 crates. And you'll make more. Just use Epheria! In Ancado there should be a permanent alt with a cart (just travel by ship and buy the cart in Valencia). The income should be converted to gold bars and sent to Altinova via warehouse transport.

Third thing, materials: while your worker empire can easily reach 3 birch, 3 fir and 2 cedar nodes (third is a bit expensive), that won't provide you enough materials, just about 30-40 crates worth a day. Having all those nodes and an alt locked just for 30-40 crates is a dumb waste. So you need to buy more wood. Fir and cedar sells around 600, Birch around 300. 8 needed for a plywood and 5 plywoods needed from each. That's 60K material cost. You should check the market often for new listings and buy lots of timber.

Fourth thing, processing: you must process all the timber into plywood. That's lot of processing since 1 plywood takes 20 seconds to make (4 processes of timber make 4*2.5 = 10 planks, 1 process makes 2.5 plywood, 5*10/2.5 = 20). So the plywoods of one crate needs 300 seconds aka 5 minutes of processing. For 200 crates a day, that's 1000 minutes or 17 hours a day processing. Follow the processing guide and if you don't want to process at least 10 hours a day (AFK of course), forget the crates. You can save lot of time by buying planks or plywoods directly when they are cheap enough. Important thing: don't forget the price of processing. Just because you process the timber, it's not free. You could process iron into steel or unsellable timber to plywoods to vendor. For example you can only vendor Ash timber for 70 each (560 for 8), but if you make plywood, you can sell for 2240. That's 1680 silver profit on a plywood that you will not make if you make crates. So for the 15 plywoods per crate you can estimate 25K processing cost. You don't have to process in Trent, you can process anywhere and use an alt to offline travel to Trent with the plywoods.

The material, processing and transport costs are around 90K. So your income is 40-50K per crate. What you have to do for it? Lock down your CP and log to the Ancado alt. He must be online for 10 minutes before using the trader NPC. Traders rarely offer 130% max price. If you or someone else sold crates recently, it's lower. Every % will cost you around 1K. I use to sell over 115%. If it's lower, I switch channels, which is more waiting and no guarantee that there will be better price. Even if you find 130%, after selling 60 crates, it will be below 115, forcing a jump and wait. While jump and wait is AFK, it's not long-time AFK, so you must be around the computer. Also, while your alt is waiting, your main is not processing, and you could make 70K in 10 minutes processing. Sure, you can process with your Ancado alt, but that means sending the materials and sending the products back and leveling processing on that alt. As a middle ground I send her Silver Azalea and she makes concentrated herbal juice and when enough are made, offline travel to Valencia and sell it. Before selling the crates, you must do a successful bargain minigame which is stupid, takes time and energy points!

So think about all these before jumping on crates! But if you do it right, that's another 10M a day with little clicking.