Friday, July 29, 2011

On War

I'm going to work through your comments eventually. Right now, however, I'd like to write a bit about war. More specifically, about the political war in the US.

Irrespective of your actual opinion about the debt ceiling discussion, you have to admit that the president is behaving very strangely.

1) He seems willing to make extraordinary concessions to the Tea Party that would most probably cost him the re-election.
2) He constantly talks to the public about it and gives poisoned praise to Mr. Boehner.
3) There are reasons to believe he sabotages any agreement. For example his sudden demand for $400 Billion more revenue just before they had an agreement.
4) His latest speech was highly harmful considering the actual negotiations. And it wasn't anything else!
5) "Don't call my bluff, Eric" - really ???

What the hell is going on here? Well, here's my personal opinion:
The president expertly and painfully anatomizes the Tea Party. And there's nothing they can do. Most probably they don't even see it coming.

Now, perhaps you think I have gone crazy, but look at what is actually happening! It is impossible to blame the president for not compromising enough. He successfully implemented the narrative that he would be willing to sacrifice all his party stands for to reach a deal!
And yet he does everything to sabotage a compromise. The speech this Monday .. what else did it do than sabotage? I mean, I agree with everything the president said, but the political effect of this is sabotage. And the president is not a newbie.

This is the guy who came out of nowhere and beat Hillary Clinton. He then was elected President in a landslide victory. He pushed a health care reform through and a financial reform. That is more than most presidents before him achieved - and he did it in the worst political climate .. ever?
He ordered the execution of Somali pirates in cold blood and succeeded. He ordered the expansion of one of the most powerful death-from-above programs in history in the AfPak border reagion. He ordered an attack on Libya completely circumventing Congress! Most prominently, he was shaking hands and smiling for months while preparing the execution of Osama Bin Laden at night. And he succeeded.

Some supporters think he should lead more. But that he did in the first two years (health care reform, financial reform and countless other reforms). What he does right now is using the momentum of his opponents to throw them flying through the air and on their backs. In fact, he is firing up their momentum. And, yes, this strike is going to be lethal.
Once he is re-elected, he will quietly complete his reforms (Congress blocked major parts of them).

Is he going to be successful this time? Well, I think his plan is working beyond his wildest dreams right now! And even though I mostly agree with the President's goals, I feel a shiver running over my back when I consider how effectively he eliminates his opposition.

On the debt ceiling: He will be the great Saviour when he finally cites the 14th amendment. But he will wait cold-blooded as ever for the perfect moment to do this.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Player Impact on Game Design

This is the first post in response to the comments posted here.

Syl encouraged me to blog on this:
- player power vs. dev power. how big should each be, what's the correct balance, when are they too high? Or: when is player impact still positive, when does it become negative / where should devs keep the ultimate say.

In my opinion player power, when it comes to the design process, is detrimental to the quality of the game. Optimally a MMORPG is designed by one or two masterminds. Two only if they can argue without offending each other - ever. No three-man constellation is ever stable and more masterminds mean too many bad compromises.

The masterminds need to have the entire game design (the big! picture) in their head at all times. They need to share a vision for the game that extends beyond "getting rich". They should be supported by a diverse council of at least five professionals who care enough to argue with them without having any authority / responsibility. The coucil should meet regularily and the masterminds should be required to defend their design decisions in front of the council.

The only way players should influence the game on a game design level is via professional community managers, whose job is to report the status of the community to the masterminds/council. When it comes to forums, I absolutely agree with Elder Game.

The feedback part of the community managers' task is twofold:
1) Gather the few brilliant posts on the forum, anonymize them, and pass them on. Passed on posts should be marked to incentivise thoughtful and concise posts.
2) Help with interpreting statistics.

Optimally, the players consider the developers to be 100% non-responding to player demands. Once players feel they can have an impact, they start to play the developers instead of playing the game. This is harmful for the game and - more importantly - it diminishes the players' fun.

Player impact should always be indirect; via the community managers or via statistics. It is very important that the masterminds know how to interpret statistics. If necessary they should be supported by a professional statistician.

Statistics should be used to refine and realize the original vision, not to increase the cash flow. The reason is that refining and realizing the original vision is the best approach to making lots of money. Whereas making lots of money as a goal, turns out to be bad at making lots of money. Obliquity.

I am not a supporter of Eve's CSM. It is a poor man's community management.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ask me

Some readers sent me emails and a few others commented on the last post that they would love me to write a bit more about MMO design again. Well, so would I. The problem is that I have only very abstract things to blog about. I don't play any MMORPG seriously for half a year now.

So, I decided to give you the chance to suggest topics. In the comments of this post you can leave questions and topic suggestions. Anything you want me to write about. There's no guarantee, obviously, but I'll try to write a post on what you suggest.

Make sure that you make the topic/question look interesting, please. Also, I have no desire to repeat some of the too frequent topics of the MMORPG blogosphere.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This makes sense to me

This makes sense to me; mostly. I don't buy the "we should spend more to reduce the deficit"-notion and I think the interviewers are too opinonated. But what is said by Mr. Stiglitz sounds mostly plausible to me.

But I'm sure there are some nobel prize winning economists, who say the opposite. If somebody got a link, I'd love to watch/read.

Interview starts at 13:00
The article in question.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Humanity is all about dualisms. Almost every activity has its own. In politics there is Left and Right. In MMORPGs there is Themepark vs Sandbox, game vs. world, casual vs. hardcore.

What's interesting is that there is a high correlation between themepark/game/casual and sandbox/world/hardcore. Without much reason. The same is true in politics. There is a high correlation between pro-nuclear energy, contra-abortion and small government. Without much reason it seems.

The reason is evolution. In the 10.000 tribes scenario I described a few days ago, the best way to solve complicated problems was try & error. That's why humans tend towards one side of a dualism and band together. The opinion becomes an ideology when people have a strong initial reaction towards something.

Remember that NYT article ?
Subsidize Vegetables
We could save billions in health care costs and make healthier food cheaper if we taxed nutritionally weak foods.

I'm not giving you the link, because I don't want you to read it. Fact is that most of you have a strong initial emotional reaction once you read this. Only after that initial emotional reaction will you start to try to find arguments for or against it.

In the 10.000 tribes scenario this is a powerful evolutionary mechanic. The tribe becomes ideological about the most important questions and eventually splits. Since the tribe must not split into too many parts, groups converge. Thus, the guy who believes in global warming suddenly also believes in higher taxes. What is important to realize is that this convergence is (mostly) arbitrary, completely subtle and unconscious.

Of course, nowadays we cannot realistically split, let alone wage planet-destroying world wars. So we need to compromise eternally. Modern societies are all about this eternal compromising.

If you want to reach beyond your "ape instincts" as the lovely ideologist Gevlon so fittingly calls it, you need to try to ignore the first initial reaction. You need to look at the arguments first and only then form your opinion. Of course, you will fail; you're human. All you can do is be aware of this effect.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Right and Left: Differences

Now, this might be a bit contentious. But here's my hypothesis.

The Right
The Right tries to achieve a god-given basic state, often described with 'freedom' and 'liberty'. It thinks that the less government there is, the better. But the point here is that this is not a conclusion. It is the thesis, or even the axiom. The Right may argue that 'free markets' are useful, but that is not why the Right desires them. The god-given basic state of humanity, the cowboy on his ranch, is the goal the Right wants to achieve.

Of course, the Right is often right (no pun intended), when it comes to the benefit of little government influence, the invisible hand and the pure power a free market can unleash when it comes to generation of wealth. But this just strengthens the arguement for the god-given state. It is not the reason for this desire.

The Left
The Left tries to achieve a human-created state. A state that allows everybody to live a life free of misery. They are willing to use any means necessary to achieve this. If big government is necessary, then so be it.

Of course, the Left knows that free markets are incredibly powerful at creation of wealth, and it often argues in favor of them. But free markets are just a tool the Left begrudgingly uses to increase the size of the cake it ultimately wants to redistribute.

Both are extreme ideologies, of course. The Failure of the Right often is that it doesn't want to create a society anybody actually would want to live in, but rather a visionary god-given state that in its truest form is probably not desirable for most people. The Failure of the Left is that it overestimates the human ability to govern itself and ignores harmful side effects of laws and centralization.

In todays NYT I found this:
Subsidize Vegetables
We could save billions in health care costs and make healthier food cheaper if we taxed nutritionally weak foods.

Now, this proposal is obviously on the left hand side of the political spectrum. The Right will disagree with this, and it will give all kinds of arguments. But the real reason the Right disagrees is that such a tax would remove the country from the god-given state.

The Left, on the other hand, welcomes such a proposal. It is always looking for easy ways to make life better. There might be negative side effects of such a new tax, but it's something the Left would have a look at before it would discard the proposal.

Giannis' comment

Giannis made an interesting comment earlier today. It's great to have a Greek actually share his opinion, I think. I'll get at the comment paragraph for paragraph.

Nils I just wanted to make clear that is not Greece that are saved but the big banks of europe and the whole Europe..because of what you said..
After Greece would be Portugal and then Spain and then Italy, it would start a domino of bankrupt..
I think both are saved. If all banks defaulted, Greece wouldn't be in good shape, either. In fact, there would probably be a civil war for power and food. If you think the current economic crisis is bad, what do you think it will be like when nobody can get any more money from the banks, and the money runs out, and the food runs out, because nobody has an incentive to import food anymore?

Although as Greek I want to inform you and your readers,in case they don't know, that Greek people have the lowest wages by far in europe..all the money greece is missing are stolen money from illegal business our politicians had with corporations.
Nobody questions that many Greek politicians, and bureaucrats are corrupt. But that's really the Greeks' fault. I can't do much about it when they elect the wrong guys again and again for decades.

In conclusion Greece has one of the lowest debts in Europe..Italy have a Debt almost ten times more than Greece. The reason they attacked Greece is that our politicians "wanted to be attacked" and they managed to succeed this with purpose.
Erm, you need to look at debt per GDP. It makes no sense to look at absolute debt. Italy is the third biggest economy of the Euro zone, of course they have more debt. They have more people and these people, on average, produce more valuable goods/services.Thus they have an easier time repaying the debt.

Germany, actually has a little more debt than Italy in absolute terms, but there are more Germans and on average they produce more valuable goods/services. Thus, Germany is probably not going to default anytime soon. Another reason is that, in a shared effort, Germany's parties put a paragraph into the constitution a few years ago that demands a balanced budget. And so far all parties seem very serious about it.

The reason is that if our people is fall to unemployment and hungry, they can do some things without having opposition..they want to sell greece in the 1/100 of the real price and to show us this as a solution to our problems..
I think that is a conspiracy theory of yours. I don't think it is possible to plan something like this, even if a majority of the politicians wanted to.

Nevermind, my purpose wasn't to offend you, if you watched the news you would see million greeks on the streets trying to throw away of the country the thiefs politicians. And the Eyrope know very well that they are thiefs, but as I said they do business with them, they sell submarines, airplanes, e.t.c.
I saw that and I symphatize. But what next? If the Greek people presented to the EU a new government + bureaucracy with new and trustworthy people that are not going to waste our money, the EU would love to help you with the revolution. I'd go on the streets for that here in Germany. The problem is that you don't have an alternative.

Let's assume you do a revolution and throw your politicians out of the country. .. Then what? Will the new politicians be better? Why?

Azuriel's comment

This is a wonderful comment by Azuriel.
I honestly don't get this "immersion" argument you are making. Having a backpack based on weight is less immersive than magic in the fantasy genre you love? You realize dragon's couldn't fly based on their weight and bone structure, right? It is almost as though you don't actually want to be playing a videogame at all - you want a simulation, not something designed to be entertaining and not cumbersome.

Maybe you should just take up hiking and camping IRL, eh?

In Fallout 3 and NV, even though it was not required, I got so into the narrative that I explored every single nook and cranny of every structure for usable items despite having more bullets/caps than I could ever actually use. Scavenging itself was fun, as was trying to steal everything in the house/shop without getting caught. It did not break immersion to me that I was lugging around 250 lbs of gear because of a little thing called "suspension of disbelief." If I could only carry maybe 2 gallons of water (16 lbs), two guns, a handful of ammo, etc, the literal gameplay would be boring and masochistic.

I mean, when was the last time you read a fantasy novel when they talked about the main character taking a shit? That presumably happens every 1-2 days in the story, but the author leaves it out. Immersion break, amirite? I just don't get how and why you draw lines when you do.

It is wonderful, because it so clearly shows the problem. When I read this comment my blood pressure raises by a few percent (maybe more) and I repeat this question in my head "How is it that he doesn't understand?".

But the first thing I have to accept is that Azuriel is actually serious. And he is not alone. During my MMORPG discussions I met hundreds of people 'like Azuriel'. It took me a long time before I accepted that they were not mocking me.

Of course, on this blog I explained a few dozen times already what I mean when I say immersion and credibility and consistency. But let's do it again.

First, I do not want a realistic game. Realistic games are boring. I already 'play' one in real life.
What I do want is a simulation of a fantasy world that employs good gameplay and occasionally compromises between gameplay, simulation and a few other things.

For example, shitting improves the simulation a tiny bit, adds nothing to gameplay and insults my good taste. I don't want it. Nor do I want 'realistic' death effects. They, too, would be good simulation, but I don't want to see enemies suffer while they bleed to death.

The most prominent fantasy world was designed by J. R. R. Tolkien. He spent many years of his life making sure that Middle Earth world was consistent. For example, some people could cast magic, but others couldn't. Teleporting wasn't possible.

Now, if you make a computer game in this fantasy world, I would like it to be as consistent as possible. I want magic to be in there, because that's part of Middle Earth. But I don't want teleports to be in there, because that's not consistent with the simulation.

Of course, you can decide to simulate a different fantasy world. In WoW lore there are lots of portals and, thus, teleporting via portal is ok from a simulation point of view. I think it's often wrong from a gameplay PoV, but that's off topic. What's not good is if I can teleport in WoW without actually using a portal. That's not even consistent with the World of Warcraft.

Now, sometimes there are good reasons why computer game simulations of a fantasy world cannot be consistent. For example, fire in middle earth is supposed to incinerate wood. But that's technically impossible to implement. Therefore, I don't complain about it. I sure wish that this technical limitation is some day overcome, but right now I just suspend disbelieve.

It's different when it comes to things like teleports or resilience or lots of other stuff that is not consistent with the simulation. Sometimes I agree that the gameplay is more important than the simulation - but sometimes I think that the potential gains in gameplay do not outweigh the loss of quality of the simulation. And quality of the simulation is what I need to immerse myself into the world.

And once again, because that is Psychochild's favourite argument :)
The fact that a simulation isn't perfect in the first place, is not a good argument to make it even worse.

At some level everybody values the simulation aspect, of course. Otherwise there would be no need for good graphics.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Not Understanding Frightens Me


I seriously disagree with President Obama when it comes to civil liberties. I do disagree when it comes to Afghanistan. I don't think the process of going to war with Libya was flattering.

However, the left wing blogs I read are on fire with what the President was offering the other side on a silver plate. So he is right: He is willing to take a lot of heat. In fact, should the Republicans have agreed, there's a good chance this compromise would have made him a one-term president. You know, he has no spine and stuff like that.

So, what is the Right thinking? Do they want to bluff until the very, very last minute? When is the very, very last minute?

Comparing this to EU politics is frustrating and funny at the same time. EU politics are difficult to understand, but everyone is willing to compromise. We just got a compromise that included 17 countries, the ECB and the IMF. Most of the leaders of these countries are taking a lot of heat over what they agreed to.
US politics, on the other hand, are trivial to understand. But the two parties are unable to compromise. And while I would very much like to appear bi-partisan, it is very, very hard to argue that the responsibility for that is with both parties.

So what will happen? Well, the US is not going to default anytime soon. If in doubt the president will argue along the 14th amendment, just like President Clinton already proposed.

The real problem is not this deficit talk. Should some rating agencies, let alone all of them, downgrade US debt, a lot of institutional investors will have to get out of US papers. That might very well start an avalanche. But it probably would not.

The real problem is that US is unable to compromise for the foreseeable future. Just like California, whole US is paralyzed. And borrowing 40 cent of every dollar is already the worst deficit in the developed world, by far. I argued before, in my parable, that the US interest rates will remain low for an extraordinary amount of time. And then, suddenly, they will spike into the sky. It will be swift, but the aftermath will not be painless.

The story becomes really twisted when you think of Euro bonds. The reason most investors bet on US papers is that there is no alternative. It's a ponzi scheme: Investors do not buy 15-year US papers, because they think that they will get back the money from the US, but because they think that other investors think, that other investors think (insert loop), that these papers can be sold to other investors.

Should the EU (have to) introduce Euro-bonds there will be a sudden alternative. The Euro is already 20% more expensive than it should be from a PPP point of view. It's a bit crazy, but the EU's strength could be the trigger for the US's sudden decline. And, of course, that decline would devastate the EU as well, and the rest of the world, including China. Add some Saudi vs Iran war with frightended Israel in the center of it and remember Pakistani nuclear weapons in terrorists' hands. I'm not a pessimist - I just like to think this chain reaction through ..

What will happen? Nothing during the next few months or years. Eventually, however, FED and ECB will start printing money like mad, because that is the only way out of this mess. The last time problems of that scale were solved with inflation, we got a world war. Not solving this with inflation isn't a solution, either. The only thing I can guarantee you is that we won't get a world war. We'd rather get a decade of economic decline, hunger, misery and civil wars.

Anyway, I should remain careful with predictions, because I still don't understand the Republicans' grand plan. I hope there is one ...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spending my Time

Not playing any MMORPG leaves a big hole in your time management. For a while I was able to fill it with all those things I've always wanted to do. Then I had lots of visits going on. Finally I watched Game of Thrones, but that was over in about 10 hours. Then I played Crysis 2. It took 12 hours. I don't even want to know how long it takes at easy difficulty.

And now, this morning, I was scanning through those games I have installed.

Fallout New Vegas. Mmh, the character control is terrible. Higher difficulties make the enemies immortal instead of the game more difficult. Very easy to optimize the fun out of it. I started it nonetheless.
I am in the doctor's house. He tells me all kinds of stuff. I try to take some of his things. He looks at me and .. nothing. I rob the entire fucking house. He doesn't care. Ragequit.

Mass Effect 2. This endless intro cannot be skipped. sigh. The gameplay is fun, but the story is so damn boring, because I already played through it !! Then I need to scan planets for metals. After 5 minutes I quit. If I could just play the game instead of following the 08-15 story and farming minerals I probably don't even need, it might be fun.

Minecraft. Lovely Minecraft. If only my creations had any meaning. If only the combat would be more than completely rudimentary. I think I'll wait for the next adventure patch.

Neverwinter Nights 2. Always trouble to get used to the interface again. But the character creation is so much fun. To read through all the gods and religions. I could do that forever. I do do that for forever! Then I start the game. Next I have to take that stupid dwarf with me. HEY! hello? I don't want him! I am perfectly able to beat every enemy on my own. At hardest difficulty. Sigh. I suck it up. Eventually I get more and more companions. Suddenly I have to leave some of them behind. Why? For gameplay reasons? Stupid game design! Oh, did I mention that I know the story?

Rift. puhhh.. see Wow.

Risen. That could be nice. I haven't played through the warrior part of the game yet. I bet it works the same way the mage story worked, but who knows? I remember those stupid portals in the end and how the last 20% of the game were so very terrible. But, hey, I might try Risen tomorrow.

Civilization V! Now that is a game. Just a game. I have played so many Civ V games by now that it's all a bit too boring, however. I already know that I will hate that slowing the game down will also slow my unit creation down. So, instead of being able to do more each era, I will have to press 'next turn' 30 times instead of 10 times in a row. Oh, and what is the automated micromanagement for? In the end, those enemies will either cheat me to death or I will destroy them. Civ V is good. But the AI is so damn terrible.

Starcraft II. I remember that stupid stupid story that was told even more stupidly. If I went multiplayer it would all be about execution and speed. But I would like to have fun watching my units and stuff. Speed and RTS doesn't work for me. And it's meaningless, anyway: a game ends and is forgotten after a few hours max.

Witcher 2. If I could only crawl through the few dungeons for more than a few minutes. But I would have to play through the story. Which I know from every perspective, because stupid me read through that little book that came with the box. How could I know that the entire story would be in there? Damn. Too story-focused to be re-playable anyway.

Two Worlds II. Now, last time I looked at it, I quit after I watched the character models. My main character looks to bad that I couldn't make myself play. Also, the story seemed too be so boring. Maybe I'll play it tomorrow.

World of Tanks. Oh no, I still have this on my computer? Tanks are boring. And driving around, firing at everything you see, only to be destroyed by gold ammunition or some tanks that don't even take damage and are 3x as fast? And for what?

World of Warcraft. Yeah, it's still installed. Let's imagine I resubscribed. I could run with my druid tank through daily dungeons until he is equipped. That would be a major time investment to get some +15% stats. Then what? Raiding, killing some sorry creatures, that are 100x as large as I am, in a scripted way? No thanks.
I could make a new char. I could try to read every quest and die of boredom while the mobs die from me looking at them. Or I could try to do only orange quests. What a grind to do meaningless orange quests that I couldn't care less about, because I am skipping the story! Even if I did this, I could then either die 1000x times in BGs while I farm my equip. Or I could wait 30 minutes for 20 minutes of LFD 'fun', and gain meaningless equip to .. raid. No thanks.

Dungeons of Dredmor. I bought it just recently on Steam. Let's try to ignore the graphics and immerse into the fantasy world ... ... what fantasy world? DoDr is just a joke. A big joke. Everything about it is sooo funny.
How can I immerse myself into a fantasy world that doesn't take itself seriously? How can I pray to survive the next mob if the mob is meant to be silly? 4.50 € wasted.

I did play two rounds of good old Windows Chess Titans. First I won, then I increased the difficulty and lost. Not that it meant anything to me.

I did a search for another good fantasy miniseries. Nothing.

Now I just ordered all ten "Malazan Book of the Fallen". I guess reading fantasy is what it has to be right now.

Saving Greece .. again

Yesterday evening all 17 Euro member states agreed upon a package to save Greece. And this package once again succeeded at buying time with money. My money. It is estimated that the Greece bailout will cost Germany up to 70 billions. Considering the population of about 80 mio (including all babies, ..) that's about 875 €, or $1261 for me. Add interest and receive pure fun.

Will it help? Well, yes, for a while. Apparently the euro members want to optimize governance in October. I guess that's something.

Actually, if somebody asked me how much I, personally, was willing to pay for the existence of the Euro, I'd probably name a 5 digit number, so the deal isn't all that bad. It's just that it doesn't attack the core problem. As long as some members of the union spend much more than they earn, I will have to give them money.

Greece needs to create institutions that are able to tax the rich. Right now they need to take the money from the middle class, because the rich can easily avoid paying. There are jokes about people who own yachts and earn some 20.000 € a year according to government records. I don't think that's all that funny; nor do the Greek people think so.

Right now it seems we go the easy way: Eurobonds. That, of course, solves the current crisis. Unfortunately, it also creates the mother of all moral hazards. If Greek politicians can spend my money without me having any effect on their elections, we are in for a lot of trouble.

Unfortunately, I would have a real problem electing a Greek politician, because he doesn't speak German. Well, I could communicate in English, if he could, but many Germans cannot. The fundamental problem of the European Union remain language barriers. Sadly nobody, certainly not the French, does something about this.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Crysis 2 and Game of Thrones

I've been watching Game of Thrones first season lately and played through Crysis 2 as Post Human Warrior, which is the hardest difficulty. I am not through yet, but my guess is that I am 99% through. A bug made my enemies disappear. Normally that would be a good thing. But since the endgame is scripted, this blocks me from entering the final spike.
My utter despise for heavily scripted content in combination with the bug, made me stop playing somehow.

Anyway, after reading Wolfshead's latest blog post, I decided to spend a few words on the same topic (again): Game of thrones as well as Crysis 2 have a very heavy focus on credibility. Actually, Crysis 2 at this difficulty is quite spectacular. I die as fast as I would expect to and so do my enemies. It's not like Fallout where moving the difficulty slider up means that every enemy survives a complete magazine of headshots.

The only thing you must not do in Crysis 2 is cloak and stealth through every mission. While that is the obvious thing to do, it is clearly not what the designers had in mind. Since this is one clear break with immersion I can live with it.
Within the scripted limits, I found Crysis 2 to be quite fun.

Game of Thrones is good. At least compared to other fantasy TV series. While the beginning is a bit swallow it gets better over time. The nudity and violence make sense, I feel. I do think that 10 episodes is not enough for the content, though. It would have been better for the series to display the same content in 15 or 20 episodes of the same length, I think.

Just like Crysis 2, Game of Thrones has a heavy focus on credibility. There are no extra powerful weapon effects, the shoulder items make sense. The 'heroes' die every now and then and even those who are spectacularly good at what they do (e.g. combat), fail at something else (e.g. illness).

If a fantasy MMORPG allowed me to play a character in the Game of Thrones world (including the graphical style), I'd be more than happy. I don't need the narrative for that. Let me and my fellow players create the story. Just add some external threats and reasons to fight among each other and see the human mind at work.

One thing I find fascinating is the role of distance. In real life I can reach the other end of the world within half a day of boredom. Frankfurt - Shanghai takes no more than 11 hours. How boring our little planet had become once we could fly!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Parable

Imagine you are on the Titanic. The most powerful vessel of your time. You're a rich guy and have lots of wealth with you. You intend to become even richer once you reach the end of the journey. Until then, however, you have a problem.

You are well connected with the captain and his crew. And so you know that this journey isn't as safe as most people think. In fact, the ship is actually flawed and the decision to take the more dangerous route might be a grave mistake.

The captain and his crew implore you to stay silent. They argue that if you told other people about the weaknesses of the design, a panic might break out. That very panic, they argue, would make it even more probable that something bad happens. For example, some passengers might want to leave the ship and jump on life boats. Since there are not enough life boats, the ship might list heavily.

So you stay silent, but curious. You ask other wealthy passengers. It turns out that everybody admits in private that there is a problem. But then everybody adds that any attempt to get off the boat would be a disaster as well. You are, literally, all in the same boat.

Now, things would be different if you knew that the ship is going to sink. In that case, you would save what little wealth you can and try to get into a life boat before anybody else can. Unfortunately, this is exactly what everybody else is thinking as well. In fact, everybody else is watching you. And you are watching everybody else. And everybody else is watching everybody else. Sometimes somebody makes a suspicious move towards the life boats, but the reasonable guy that you are, you always convince them to stay cool.

As a result, life on the Titanic is nice. Most people successfully repress the notion of any problem at all and enjoy themselves. Actually, it feels as if the subtle knowledge that this journey might be their last, makes life on the Titanic even more relaxed and fun.

Sometimes you wish that you weren't alone on the ocean. Being on a smaller ship, that stays in shallow waters, would allow you to jump the boat and cry for help. While this would make the ship sink much faster, a lot of passengers would start to cry at the sight of even modest problems. Perhaps that would allow the crew to take care of the problems in time? Perhaps all the passengers could work together?

One morning you hear the captain talk about another big ship that you might meet on the journey. The Olympic is a bit older, but otherwise very similar. Unfortunately, it has problems on its own. All the passengers on the Olympic are hopelessly divided, you hear. Even though as a whole the Olympic is much better off than the Titanic, the passengers talk about sinking all the time.
In fact, the Olympic behaves like a flotilla of smaller ships with only a weak common leadership. Passengers are jumping from ship to ship frequently and this already caused some of the smaller ships to be afloat only, because they receive help at pumping out water.

At the evening of the same day you confront the captain with what you heard. Privately, he tells you that you must never speak favorably about the Olympic. For, should the Olympic ever agree to one leader, most people on the Titanic would instantly try to get there. Which would make the Titanic sink for certain. Actually, this might also cause the Olympic to sink!

And then he tells you something you didn't know: There's the Gigantic. A powerful ship which is still under development. You might meet it eventually. However, the Gigantic doesn't allow any other passengers on board. And even if you are on board, they are said to imprison anybody who disagrees with the captain.

Considering your options you agree that the Titanic is your best bet; for now.


Before I made this blog I actually made another blog for a few months. It was mostly in German, and is thus useless to most of you. I just re-read the first blog entry I ever wrote and found it was in English. I decided to modify it a bit and copy/paste it here. It's not really about politics, but it is about everything politics is about.

One million years BC. Imagine 10,000 isolated communities on earth, each the home of up to 100 humans. Humanity evolved in this situation and therefore it is logical to assume that we, individually, evolved in a way that we intuitively maximise the probability of survival of humanity as a whole in this situation.

Maximising the probability of survival means adjusting risks. This is comparable to stock exchange markets. A high risk generally leads to higher expected returns in the long run, but also has a higher chance of total loss. In a 10,000 communities situation, the whole of humanity maximises the probability of survival if - and only if - the individual community takes greater risks than were sensible in a one-community situation. The total loss of one community every 1000 years, for example, is anything but dramatic if the higher risk leads to 5 addition communities during this time span. This explains the fact that the human mind ignores risks of low probability even if the consequences are dramatic..

Although the threat of a nuclear war, deadly viruses or even an asteroid hitting our planet have the potential to destroy our entire species, the human mind does not emotionally acknowledge them as dangerous. The probability is too low and evolution taught us to ignore low-probability risks, even if they could potentially destroy the entire community.
What has changed, of course, is the number of communities. With globalization advancing, many low-probability risks suddenly endanger all of humanity, as we are about to live in one single gobal community.

Almost no major milestone in human history ever was exspected. This applies to the fall of Rome, Martin Luther nailing 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, the economic crisis in 1929, the effect nuclear bombs would have on politics, the race to the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the World Trade Center and its consequences and even the current economic crisis. It also applies to the significance of electricity, telephones, cars, personal computers, the internet and mobile phones (click).

One major strength of our economic system is pluralism. We do not collect the smartest of our kind and ask them to think about how to create the future, but instead encourage everybody to open a business and try it out. In the past we did the same with political systems.
Humanity never was able to predict where itself was going. Whenever we tried - and several political systems did try - we miserably failed.

The inablity to predict almost any milestone in human evolution, combined with the inablity to intuitively judge risks in a globalized world, is essential to acknowledge!

It is this inability alone that warns humanity about the attempt to create a world with one goverment. The obvious benefits, like a decreased number of wars and more cultural understanding, are dwarfed by the unknown number of unknown low-probability risks that might cause the end of the world as we know it.

Independent of globalization, some risks apply to our entire species. If the human mind, that individually experiences no more than 100 years, wants to make a difference in the greater scheme of things, it has to venture beyond earth and distribute risks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dear Readers

Dear readers,

as you know I don't really have many MMO topics to blog about recently. The industry is just not producing the games I would like to play. This may change eventually, and I certainly hope so. Until then I will switch to a politics blog.

Unfortunately, the blog's name doesn't make much sense then; nor does it make a lot of sense to be listed in all kinds of MMO-blogrolls, when you write about non-MMO stuff.

I thought about two options. One is to create the "Nils' Politics Blog" and link it from here, because I certainly want to take a few readers with me. Blogging without readers is boring. The second option is change this blog into a blog about MMOs, politics and economics. I can change everything except for the URL to be "Nils' Blog".

To say this very clearly: I am not quitting MMO blogging. I am just having a break.

Anyway, what do you think I should do ?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On European Debt

[[Once again a political post]]

While the U.S. are involved in serious political fights right now, so is Europe. Interestingly, the European media cover the U.S. debt crisis only a bit, and the U.S. media almost completely ignore the European debt crisis.
What's also very interesting is that most articles in the U.S. say that Europe is clearly in decline right now. And most articles in Europe say that U.S. is clearly in decline right now.

Since quite some readers of this blog live in the U.S. I decided to make a post on the European situation. Of course, I'm just an interested non-professional. Remember that before you invest your retirement provisions. :)

Debt crises are only partly about facts; they are mostly about trust. In fact, trust is a fact. In 2010 the EU had a public debt of 85% and a running deficit of 6.4% of GDP. This is much, much better than the U.S., because EU revenue is 44% of GDP. Thus, only about 12% of the public spending is debt-financed, whereas 40% of U.S. public spending is debt-financed. Also, the EU has exported about 1.350 trillion € and imported 1.500 trillion € in 2010 which is way more balanced than in the U.S. (link)

Europe's problem is trust. And it is trust that makes the European crisis more dangerous than the U.S. crisis right now. Also, the European debt crisis is much more difficult to understand than the U.S. one - even for Europeans. But just like in the U.S. there are two basic positions. (Humanity is all about dualisms, isn't it?).

1) Just let the states go broke and save the banks when necessary.
2) Just introduce Euro-bonds so that all states pay for each other indefinitely.

Both positions are no solutions: they are ideologies.

If Europe allowed states to go broke, there is a high chance that the world would drown in flames for a decade and more as more and more banks and then nations needed to be saved while stopping the chain-reaction.
And for a nation to put the trust back into the banking system, it needs to be financially stable. Neither the U.S. nor the EU are anywhere financially stable enough to save a few hundred more banks right now.

On the other hand, while introduction of Euro-bonds would instantly solve the immediate problem, it would also bring along gigantic moral hazards. Greece could suddenly spend money that German tax-payers would need to pay - indefinitely. And the German taxpayers wouldn't be able to (de-)elect the Greece politicians that spend their money!
Moreover, while transfer of wealth is part of every nation, it requires an understanding of 'togetherness'; a common bond. The common bond is not sufficiently strong right now in Europe; mostly because we speak different languages and don't have visible political leaders.

What European and German leaders do right now is a middle course. A very dirty middle course! And I support that. If anything, you can blame politicians for not communicating their strategies to the constituency. But this very communication might actually make it harder or even impossible to go the middle course! Muddling through is what has to be done right now - unfortunately.

Europe will not fall apart due to this crisis. Just like the U.S. will not fall apart due to the tea party. Europe will eventually finish muddling through. Only then comes the really dangerous part! The European Union will have to become more resistant against debt crises. There are two ways to do that:

1) More integration: German taxpayers can elect the politicians that spend money in Greece and vice versa.
2) Separation: A northern EU and a southern EU.

I like (1) more. In the 21st century I want to be able to elect politicians that have global power. Unfortunately, (1) is also the less probable option. A lot depends on the next German and French elections! Major parts of the German opposition prefer (1) as well.

However, more likely is (2) and we can only hope that this process will be peaceful - especially in southern Europe that would suffer a drastic drop in wealth.

Of course, this is just the known unknown. Any revolution in China, war in the middle east (oil price shocks) or major terror attack can change the course of history and violently push us into the unknown unknown. It is going to become an interesting century! - just like the last one.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Losing vs. Winning

There's not a strong connection here to current MMORPGs, games and gamification. But enough of a connection to link it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Future is All Around Us

You know, politics should be as credible and consistent as possible and as little as necessary. Just like MMOs, it's not.
But since MMOs are still boring as hell, I'll just blog about whatever comes to my mind. Just consider real life a really stunning MMO until GW2 or so.

Also, I am in an adventurous mood right now, which is why I will predict three things.

1) Republicans will eventually offer a 90 day compromise. The president will reject it, arguing that things won't be easier in 90 days, but rather much harder, since the election is even nearer. He will then cite the 14th amendment and order Mr. Geithner to ignore congress. There will be a lot of crying going on. But since Republicans know very well that this is the best possible way out of the hole they dug, they will accept it.

2) Italy will not go broke. But my chancellor will continue giving my money away. In a few years a lot of anti-europe parties will be elected in EU countries. A few weeks after this has happened in France, four countries (Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Finland plus some smaller ones) will "declare independence" and create a "new euro zone". There will be some havoc in southern Europe, but no civil wars.

3) A few years later China goes up in fire and, as a consequence, so does the rest of the world.

Have a nice week ;)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Taxes and the Economy

[[This post is not about computer games]]

Reading US media and the lovely comments sections, there's something I don't get. About half of you people seem to think that raising taxes has a bad effect on the economy. Laffer curves and things like that. Now, I agree that 100% taxes is bad for the economy.

But for realistic tax rates, there's really not much of a relationship.
Want proof? Just have a look outside the US.

A Swedish web site or Wikipedia

Let's take Denmark as an example. They lead most lists by 'stealing' about 50% of their citizens' income a year. And here's the 2010 GDP: $56,147 per capita.

The US 'steal' 24% of their citizens' income each year. Their 2010 GDP: $47,284 per capita.

You can compare GDP in PPP terms to get less extreme results. But the truth is: I have a sister in the US and their standard of living is just the same we have in Germany. But here the taxes are a lot higher. I payed 50% in taxes and social security contributions last year.

Yet Germany's economy soars, matching annualized 6% last quarter. Unemployment has never been lower in re-united Germany than today.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Failure at what ?

Armadillo has made a post related to my recent series about death penalties. In the comments section I read something that I have read quite often already:

"Failure is enough of a penalty"

Actually, I agree. I just ask: Failure at what?

Failure to not die to the last blow? Let's rewind until before that blow.
Failure to not die during the last 10 seconds? Let's rewind the last 10 seconds.
Failure to not die to a mob? Let's reset the mob.
Failure to not die in one encounter? Let's reset the encounter.
Failure to not die in a dungeon? Let's reset the dungeon.
Failure to not die with while playing a fantasy character? Let's reset the character.
Failure to not die while playing a RPG? Let's reset until before you owned the game.
Failure to not die with a fantasy character while living real life? Let's send the death squad.

I think failure is not just enough of a penalty. I think failure is the penalty!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Abstract Games

Yesterday I stumbled upon this game. A wonderful combination of strategy, execution and some really nasty tricks on the designer's part. .. Careful, it's highly addictive.

Oh - and try to beat me ;)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Computer Games and Art #2

Thanks to everybody for that very nice discussion in the last post! For the record, I agree that the "loss is required for great art" hypothesis is not tenable. Suggestions, that have been given in the last post, to replace it with "conflict" or "change" are good. But they might also be a bit too obvious.

At least we all agree that great art induces great emotions. But let me ask you a few more questions:

1) Do you think that narratives are the only way for computer games to create great emotions?

2) Do you think that the dominant emotion induced by all computer games is that of "gain" / "achievement" / "fulfillment of dreams" ?

3) Are there any computer games that, in your opinion, are equal to art in other domains?

Before you answer that last question, refresh your taste of great art here and conclude it by putting your headphones on your ears, double the volume(!), darken the room and listen to this interpretation.

Computer Games are Art ?

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; -- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.

Art requires great emotions. Great emotions require loss. Loss is what all computer games try to avoid like the pest. I don't think it is impossible to make a computer game great art. But we aren't anywhere close.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Convenience Functionalities

Lately we had several heated debates on this blog about micro-transaction-based business models for MMORPGs. My main two arguments against were these:

1) The business models corrupt players and, more importantly, the company.
2) The business models damage the "immersion" and the consistency of the simulation aspect.

During the debates the advocates tried a lot of arguments to convince me. And I like that. I may not always react in an obviously grateful manner, but I wouldn't have a blog with enabled comments if I disliked controversial conversations.

Theoretically, at least, point (1) is easy to defuse. And when it comes to point (2) commenters asked what my opinion is on convenience items. I didn't respond to that immediately which is always a sign that it is a good point.

Let's imagine a WoW-like MMORPG with a leveling game. Does a +25% experience functionality, available for micro-transactions, harm immersion? Well, a bit, sure. But if the developers hid it from me that other players use it; does it harm immersion?

What I know is that my first reaction to this functionality is strongly negative. But it isn't all that easy to find a good reason. One reason might be that other players will inevitably start to talk about it. But since the WoW-like leveling is designed to be a single player experience, that's not that much of a problem really.

Of course, the pure theoretical knowledge that such a thing exists does harm immersion for me. Circumstances matter. But is that really the biggest problem?

After thinking about it really hard I arrived at a rather surprising conclusion: The biggest problem about convenience functionalities, that you can buy for micro-transactions, aren't the micro-transactions! The problem is that they exist in the first place.

Actually, I remember that I wanted to post about this for quite some months: To offer convenience to your players is a terrible, terrible mistake; even if it doesn't cost any €. The reason is that by adding such functionalities (like heirlooms), you send a very clear message to the players.
The message is: "This activity is not meant to be fun!".

Players react to "meant to be"-messages very clearly; especially if they are convincing. For example, telling your players that you don't really care that much about balance, is powerful. It can instantly cut the balance complains in half (no, they won't go away). On the other hand, telling your players that you want to make the perfectly balanced game, will get you into trouble.

Within limits, players subconsciously trust developers. That might not be obvious and I see some developers laughing back there, but it is the truth. It's similar to a politician approaching me and telling me that I am correct about all these problems with Greece, but they thought about it extensively and what they do now is the lesser evil. It is called leadership. It's what will happen when republicans eventually tell their constituency that a small tax increase for the rich was necessary for the greater good and isn't a harbinger of Armageddon.

Players can easily become upset if developers don't meet the goals they set themselves. But we are much more tolerant when it comes to declaring the developers' goals to be wrong.

More powerful than direct messages, however, are indirect messages. The reason is that they are obviously truthful.

If you want to make a new character in WoW, you are confronted with the following question: "Do you want to experience the stories during leveling, or do you want to get it over with as fast as possible".
That's, by the way, a good example for the fact that not every interesting decision is good for your game!

As if it wasn't already bad enough, what's especially harmful is that "getting it over with" costs something. This is what very effectively convinces players that it has to be more fun. (Which it is usually not, by the way.)

This is a problem for any convenience functionality. If players can acquire convenience that is not otherwise justified by, i.e. the simulation, they subconsciously conclude that the only reason for its existence is to remedy inconvenience. And that necessarily means that the developer considers the activity in question to be inconvenient.

This not only automatically motivates the question, why the developer wants them to suffer. 25% faster is not nearly fast enough if the activity is inconvenient! It also very effectively convinces the players that something is not fun, even though they might have had fun before they knew about the convenience functionality.

Summing up: Convenience functionalities very effectively convince players that your game is meant to be inconvenient. That should get you worried.