Not Gree-dy Enough

I was really looking forward to the return of the Gree this past week. It has been something like half a year since they last showed up on Ilum, and Bioware added a considerable amount of items to their reputation rewards since then. More Gray Helix Components, please!

Sadly I couldn't work up nearly as much enthusiasm for the event once it actually started. I think in the end I had got two world boss kills under my belt, earned three more Gray Helix Components, and did a few rounds of dailies. Not a very impressive haul.

I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't end up playing more, though I suspect that a mix of reasons played into it.

First off, it remains noticeable how much less time I have to play since I started working full time. One evening I joined a pug that was trying to hunt down some world bosses, which was decent fun even though it involved a lot of milling around while people checked the different map instances for spawns, but after I had got my two kills I looked at the time, realised that a whole hour had passed and that I had to go to bed. It's sad that "inefficient gaming", as I like to think of it, is becoming a bit of a luxury to me right now.

Secondly, it didn't take me long to realise that - even though some new rewards had been added - the event was still the same as before. While I've accepted that all world events from now on are going to be repeatable, that doesn't change that personally I'm just not that interested in repeating them forever. The first time a new event comes out I'm super excited and binge myself on all its content, the second time I may happily finish up what I didn't get around to the first time, but after that it all starts to feel a bit meh, even if there are achievements to kill lots of droids and other players to be chased. Due to their unpredictable schedule, the Gree have done a better job at holding my interest than Bounty Contract Week, but it's still not quite enough.

And finally... I think this particular event may have just been jinxed for me. On the first day my pet tank and I went into the PvP area, we got killed immediately and he got super grumpy. Personally I just tend to shrug these things off, but he took it so badly at the time that it seriously impeded my enjoyment of the event for a while.

While hunting world bosses, my little pug group also ran into a Republic guild that had decided to randomly troll people with smooth moves such as taunting someone else's boss mid-fight and then dragging him away until he reset so they could steal the kill. This is the kind of thing that makes people clamour for shared tagging like other games have it, but I'm not that bothered about that - there is something to be said for the thrill of having to actually compete for some resources. I just don't like it when people fight dirty I suppose. Either way that was another thing that left me feeling a bit down on the event, realising that my already limited time had effectively been wasted that evening because of other people being jerks.

Let's hope that I'll have better luck with the rakghouls once they make their comeback. We all know they will...


Want a guild ship? Hope you got 50 million lying around

The latest reveal about the upcoming Galactic Strongholds expansion has been the price of guild ships. Apparently they'll cost fifty million credits each. I'm sure I'm not the only one whose jaw dropped a little at that piece of news, and I certainly don't consider myself poor in-game.

I was actually quite surprised to hear that my guild already has that much in the guild bank - I knew we had more than thirty million, but I didn't think it was quite that much. I'm sure that there are a fair few other guilds who do have the money to afford this as soon as the feature launches... but I have to admit that I'm a bit worried about the many more for whom I suspect this will be way out of reach. I'm guessing that any guild who is hoping to accumulate that amount of money needs to either be a raiding guild that sells a lot of crafting mats on the GTN, or have some generous benefactors among its membership that love making money and are willing to donate to the guild bank out of their own pockets.

The reason I'm concerned is that it's all very nice to have a goal to work towards as a guild... but these ships won't just be for show, they'll provide tangible benefits (though admittedly we have yet to see or find out how strong these are going to be), and giving such benefits to only the richest of guilds automatically makes it much harder for any guild that can't afford the same benefits to attract players.

Look at WoW and learn from its mistakes: they introduced a guild levelling system that provided you with perks as the guild levelled up back in Cataclysm, and have now decided to abolish it in the next expansion because, and I quote: "the nature of guild leveling and guild perks has shifted from being a reward for dedication and collective effort, to effectively being a penalty and barrier to entry for new guilds". I fear that this is only going to be worse in SWTOR when this barrier will consist of having to save up fifty million credits (which, let's be honest, is far from being small change for most players) to earn your guild any benefits at all.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any expensive perks that you can earn, possibly in the form of optional ship upgrades or something. But requiring fifty million credits to even get started seems pretty harsh to me.


Character Selection Surprises

Yesterday's patch brought with it an interesting little surprise. When you change character, the one you most recently logged out of shows up from a position that's much further zoomed out than the usual portrait view that just shows your character's face and most of their upper body.

However, when you then select another character it resets to your normal point of view, even if you go back to your original selection.

There's a thread on the forums about it that's already 13 pages long and in which it's suggested that it's a bug... but a lot of people are also saying that they kind of like the new view and how it lets them see more of their character and their ship.

My personal guess is that this is related to the display bug that's existed pretty much forever and which would show your character's portrait a bit further down the screen than expected when you relogged, making them look like they had shrunk. It looks like someone finally tried to fix this issue, but instead of truly fixing it, they caused... this. At least it looks less silly this way, even if the sudden change of perspective is still strange.


Another Achievement Ticked Off

This Saturday I finally got something that I've been after for a long time: the Avalanche Heavy Tank from EC NiM.

In my opinion it's still one of the cooler mounts in the game, and pretty much perfect for a trooper. Too bad it only gives you a 90% movement increase, but I'm never really in enough of a hurry for that to matter.

I think I've finally got everything I could possibly want from Explosive Conflict: all the achievements (including the "survived" ones), the Praxon mount from Kephess, the tank... well, I suppose I don't have the Praxon variety that drops on hardmode (because why do hardmode when you could do NiM instead and also get a shot at the tank) or the Qyzen Fess customisation. But I don't care nearly as much about any of those as I did about the tank.

Now to wait for Bioware to add some sort of amazing housing drop to Denova when Galactic Strongholds launches, giving us yet another reason to run this over two-year-old operation over and over again...


The Curious Case of SWTOR's Gold Sellers

In the comments of one of my recent posts, a commenter went a little off topic and brought up the subject of gold sellers. (I suppose that, strictly speaking, we should refer to them as "credit sellers" in this case, considering that gold isn't used as a currency in game, but gold seller is just such a well-established term... I'm sure everyone knows what we're talking about.) This is actually a subject that I've been meaning to talk about for ages, so this is as good an opportunity as any.

I always thought that the most interesting thing about gold sellers in SWTOR was that, at launch, they were practically non-existent. People didn't really talk about this much back then, I suppose because we were busy enough talking about which parts of the game we liked and which ones we didn't - why worry about the absence of minor nuisances we knew from other MMOs? Maybe we also thought that the technology had simply become advanced enough that gold sellers had finally been defeated for good. All I know is that it took several weeks (maybe even months, I'm not entirely sure) until I saw my first advert to buy credits. It wasn't in chat either, but someone had managed to sneak an in-game mail through the filters and was encouraging me to buy credits for real money that way. It was a memorable moment precisely because it made me realise that actually, until then, I hadn't even seen a single gold seller advertising anywhere. That was two years ago now.

It didn't really strike me just how remarkable that was until I followed the news surrounding the launches of ESO and Wildstar this year, both of which were apparently absolutely inundated with gold seller spam and hacking/botting issues (caused by gold sellers needing wares to sell). So clearly the technology isn't there yet, generally speaking. Bioware just happened to have some secret anti-gold seller sauce. Too bad they got little credit for it.

What's really sad though is that said secret sauce has started to fail in recent months. I don't look at general chat often enough to be able to say whether any gold sellers manage to spam it, and I'm certainly not being accosted in whispers or in-game mails... however, at pretty much any time of day, there's a character standing near the GTN who advertises a gold-selling website in both /say and /yell.

I've blanked out the URL in this screenshot, but most people have probably seen the site advertised at some point or another. It's quite annoying, and the sad thing is that Bioware doesn't seem to be very responsive when it comes to reports. I can right-click "report spam" all I want - the next day the exact same character is still standing there doing his thing. And by the time they finally remove him, the gold selling company has already run the next alt to the fleet. It's not like I expect an instant response (I work in customer service myself, I know how it is), but you'd think that silencing these guys would be a very straightforward task that doesn't require much investigation before you can at least mute the character to shut down his shenanigans. I suppose it doesn't help that the game doesn't use the placebo you commonly see in other MMOs, where reporting someone for spam automatically adds them to your ignore list as well, so even if customer service is slow to react, at least you don't have to see any more of the same spam.

I wonder if the inventor of the anti-gold selling spam secret sauce no longer works at Bioware?


Datacron Master At Last

I've written about my changing relationship with datacrons before. At launch and for the first couple of months thereafter I didn't care about them at all. When I built my first matrix cubes, I looked up which shards I needed and how to get them and that was it. It was only later, when I levelled alts with other people who liked picking up datacrons while levelling (most importantly my pet tank), that I was more or less forced to learn where most of them were located - and eventually it just seemed natural to pick them up on my own as well whenever I had the chance on a new alt.

As a result, most of my characters have most of the datacrons these days, barring some toons that were created a long time ago (before my change of heart) and for whom I couldn't be bothered to backtrack to get the missing datacrons yet. There was one exception that I didn't have on any character however: the Makeb datacrons.

Many months ago, my pet tank and I set aside an afternoon to get the endurance datacron on Makeb, and I don't remember how many hours we actually spent on trying to get it, but let's just say that we lost the will to live long before we actually achieved anything. To this day I remain impressed by how whoever's responsible for this particular piece of design could ever think that the way this datacron is set up was a good idea. I don't mind difficult jumps (even though I'm not good at them), and I don't even mind falling to my death every time I fail - provided that I can pick myself back up and try again with ease. What I do mind is being challenged by several difficult and deadly jumps that also require you to spend ten minutes running back to get back to where you were after every attempt.

The worst thing for me was that I would find myself actively regressing after a certain number of failed jumps. As I grew increasingly impatient during the long runs back (thinking, "I know how this bit works, I just want to get back to the tough part") I would mess up earlier and earlier until I couldn't even come close to matching my previous progress anymore. It was just an exercise in frustration. Pet Tank and I pretty much vowed to ourselves that we weren't going to ever bother trying again, and then never even looked at the presence datacron either, even though that one is laughably easy in comparison.

Until... last night, when a guildie spoke up after a social ops run, saying that he was going to go for the Makeb endurance datacron and invited us along with the intent turn it into a fun guild event where the more skilled could help out the jumping-impaired with pulls and the like. I wasn't thrilled, especially since it was late, but I also realised that multiple people actually offering to help me was a rare opportunity, boosting my chances of actually making it to the datacron to the highest they were ever going to get.

So we set out as a group of seven to start that long journey of jumps. We got split up pretty much immediately, with one or two people impatiently racing ahead as they already knew what to do while others lagged behind, unsure of where to go and afraid of falling to their deaths. I felt my frustration levels rise again almost right away, as I kept failing at the simplest of jumps even though I knew that I had been able to pull them off before. There was at least one occasion where I considered bowing out of the whole event as I was worried about getting too frustrated. But others died too, and the guildie who had initiated the whole thing as well as my Sage healing buddy from ops were remarkably patient when it came to running back to help us failures catch up again or assist with getting across a particularly tricky gap. And then, at last, the endurance datacron was in my sights and with no more difficult jumps left in the space between us. I could hardly believe it.

A guildie that got it at the same time had the Galactic Datacron Master achievement pop up for him, and I was told that I should be able to get the presence datacron that evening as well, since it was actually much easier to get. It was, and it didn't take long at all, so I got my achievement too.

The funny thing is that I have very mixed feelings about the whole experience now. Part of me feels that I never want to do it again and that I should be happy that I got the achievement at all and leave it at that. However, there's also a second voice that says: "Well, you got it once (admittedly with help), surely any subsequent tries can only be easier? You know you want to repeat the process until you've actually mastered it yourself and get the datacrons for your alts too (though admittedly maybe not in the immediate future)!" We shall see...


Listen to my guildie on TOROCast!

The latest episode of TOROCast (#205) is out, and I feel that I have to give it a bit of a plug... because it has one of my guildies in it! I am of course talking about their guest Macewindy. It was rather funny when he told me about having been invited to TOROCast due to his interim class rep position, and all I could think of was: "We have a class rep in the guild?" As he says on the show, he kind of came into the role accidentally.

They interviewed him about a lot of Gunslinger/Sniper stuff which I have no clue about, but I'm still chuffed about it. I know someone who's internet famous now!

I also got a good chuckle out of the first couple of minutes of the show, when Mace's introduction caused them to muse on deep subjects such as whether it means anything that the Expanded Universe and the European Union share initials.


Do you consider SWTOR "old"?

While reading about SWTOR on general gaming sites as of late, I've noticed a (to me) funny thing: I keep seeing people refer to it as "an older game". Seeing someone express that sentiment startles me every time - the game is only two and a half years old, for Christ's sake! I know this is the internet and internet years are different from real life years (probably more similar to dog years or something), but in an MMO two and a half years really aren't that long of a time. I'm pretty sure that the number of MMOs older than that is much larger than the number of those that have been released more recently.

"I don't look old, HK, do I?"

I'm thinking back to when WoW was two and a half years old and I can't even imagine anyone calling it old back then. Then again, WoW's popularity was still rising rapidly at that point. So maybe our perception of a game's age has less to do with how long it has been out than with how popular it is. Consider EVE Online, a game that is over eleven years old by now but experienced a lot of pretty steady growth during that time. I for one don't see anyone dismissing EVE as old.

However these days, with people's tendency to jump on the bandwagon of every new launch and then abandoning the game a couple of months later, the road to being considered old and forgotten is a fairly short one. Not to mention that many new MMOs see a lot of pre-launch hype these days, meaning that by the time the game actually gets released, it can feel as if you've already been engaged with it for several months or even years.

So is SWTOR not popular enough anymore? The truth is, it's hard to say. Back when the hype surrounding the game was at its peak, Bioware loved to throw around metrics about how many subscribers they had and how long the average player was playing per day. Ever since the free-to-play transition however, talking about metrics seems to have become a bit of a taboo around Austin. It's already a surprise when they dare to release information such as "Vanguards win more than half of their arena matches". In EA's quarterly financial report, SWTOR gets lumped in with other games and you can't really tell how well it's doing beyond a vague notion that it seems to be making some money for EA. Individuals can share observations about how their server is bustling or a ghost town, but as the saying goes, anecdotes are not data. Personally I think that there is still a decent amount of interest in the game though. If nothing else I thought it was telling that, back when Massively suffered its staff cuts, the SWTOR column was one of the ones to be thrown out, but has now actually been brought back. They wouldn't have done that if there wasn't still a healthy amount of interest in the game.

In my opinion one or two years after launch is actually a great time to get into a new MMO. By that point, the launch issues that every MMO experiences have been ironed out, and the game's system requirements don't seem nearly as steep as they were on release. It's probably cheaper than it was at launch (if it's not free to play anyway) and may even have had an expansion or two, offering players a considerable amount of content to play through. At the same time it shouldn't yet suffer from the problems that some of the genuinely older MMOs experience, such as a lack of low-level characters to interact with or systems bloat that makes it hard for new players to come to grips with the game.

When do you consider an MMO (or a PC game in general) "old"?


Hooked on Housing?

With the delay of Galactic Strongholds, many SWTOR players feel that the game is suffering from a bit of a content draught right now. I'm inclined to agree that it kind of feels that way when you consider the size of previous patches, but I can't really blame the devs when it's obvious that they are pouring all their resources into the next two large releases right now (housing and the as of yet unnamed story expansion). Not to mention that SWTOR is still pretty good about its content patch cycle compared to a lot of the competition.

Either way it was interesting to read today's developer update by Jesse Sky, giving us a sneak peek of Galactic Strongholds and hopefully rekindling some player interest in the process. There is some stuff in there about how you'll get your stronghold and how other people will be able to access it, but the biggest bit of news was that the system will be hook-based.

Unsurprisingly that immediately sent some people howling on the forums, especially after Eric Musco emphasised at the Vancouver Community Cantina that SWTOR's housing system would be "different and new". To be fair, it does seem different and new to me in so far as it tries to strike a balance between limiting players to what seems sensible (e.g. furniture going on the floor, wall decorations going on the walls) but still giving them as much freedom as possible at the same time. Anyway, haven't all the recent housing additions to MMOs been more or less freeform anyway? RIFT? Wildstar? Why should all games have to follow the same rules?

There are definitely advantages to having some limitations. I reckon that for every wannabe artist that feels let down by being unable to make things float in the air and hates being blocked from manually building a piano out of a hundred teacups, a system like this will win over at least one player who would've otherwise just dumped all their decorations on the floor and gone: "Screw this, I can't be bothered with meticulously placing all this crap in three dimensions." Honestly, I suspect that I'm more likely to fall into that latter category myself. Admittedly I've never played an MMO that had housing before, but I know that building in The Sims was always a bit of a chore for me when all I really wanted was a serviceable house to be able to actually play with my Sims.

So I'm on board with what they previewed so far. The only thing that worries me are the repeated comments about how the UI is just a placeholder as the system is still in alpha. Isn't this whole thing supposed to launch in a little over a month? I would've thought that a major new system like that would have to be in beta by now.