How to be a Scammer

| Sunday, March 30, 2014
Step one: Advertise to sell something.
Step two: Sell it.

I had some extra heavy junkboxes sitting around for a few years. Since they're a box, they can't go in the AH, so it's a matter of finding someone online that wants them. If you do find someone who wants them and can take many COD over time, it can be a nice boring few hundred gold an hour, depending on what price you get.

Again, I advertised at my usual 25g. Someone offered 20g, which I took. I traded them over and then cringed as I saw it, "so and so looted empty poison vial."

I'd been in the habit of unlocking all my boxes. I could, and did, get a Teebu's Blazing Longsword out of one, so it was a good habit. As long as I kept auto-loot off I could safely and quickly unlock and check them before mailing them off for turning in.

At first I thought he'd mistakenly opened it. Then another opened. I was off to do my pet battles, so I dropped group. Then he whispered me, saying that it is rude to scam people. I asked, "what scam?" Surely someone wouldn't be so stupid as to use a level 60 box as a way to loot gold for the achievement. Surely someone would know what they're buying. And if they don't, they can see that it is their own fault.

The last time something even remotely like this happened involved someone buying a sword for transmog, only for them to realize they couldn't actually use it. They told me this, in an "oops, I screwed up" kind of way. I offered to buy it back, since it's not as if it was damaged just by being traded. They kept it, maybe for an alt. No accusations of scamming.

I'd have even kept the same policy. If he'd said "these aren't what I thought they are", then I'd have bought back the unopened ones. Of course that's unprofitable, but I can see myself mistakenly buying something that is almost what I wanted and I'd rather play in a game, and live in a world, where people offer an undo button. And maybe a world where people don't immediately assume it's a scam when they make a mistake.

Alternative Incentives for Returning Players

| Saturday, March 29, 2014
Giving someone a reward is easy, but does it actually make any difference? I've analyzed all my data on new and returning characters in the top ten MMOs and found no effect. Note: I have absolutely no data. Since the traditional approach does not appear to be working, here are some alternatives.

Here's what changed
There are patch notes and maybe spell tips, but do those help? Of course not. If they did, then players would be all up ins that game.

Instead, give a narrative of what happened. Say which awesome abilities are gone, admit that the new ones aren't as good, and give a general idea of how the class is completely unrecognizable. To go along with this, check the most recent play time of more than ten minutes (that is just confused stumbling, like a drunk man with no light poles), and then say how things are different relative to then. Is your melee class now a spell caster? Does your spell caster use strength for some reason?

Bag Organizer
"What's all this shit in my bags?" Not only does the player not remember putting this stuff in there (reverse-hackers?), they have no idea if it is any good. You come back with three empty slots and end up rage-quitting immediately, or at best, spend two hours figuring it out, only to quit because your first new impression is that the game is a miserable mess of bag management.

To help, give returning players an automated analysis of the contents of their bags. What is the median sell price over the past month? Is this piece of gear better than something you'll get from the new content that drew you back in?

Here's how bad you are
Last time I played I was hot stuff. I was awesome and did cool stuff. Now I'm not sure what's going on. Rather than surprise players by leaving them to get horribly stomped in PvP and perhaps PvE as well, just bluntly inform them that on a scale of one to ten, their gear is now a zero. Then show them some options on fixing that, such as "go to noob island of free epics to get up to two" or "die a lot in absurdly unbalanced PvP to get to a four".

Your guild master was arrested for selling meth
Who hasn't come back to a disbanded guild? Or as GM of a guild that is inexplicably flagged as "kill on sight" due to some misdeeds in your absence? Give returning players some idea of what happened, whether that was a mass transfer, a mass quit because of the same expansion that made you leave, or the Rapture (nope, you're not in).

The Ancient
It's a title to indicate "I wasn't always this awful, give me a moment and I'll show you how good I can be. Or at least I will spend the entire run telling you how good I used to be, because let's face it, the years away due to a brief 'misunderstanding' the a mob boss did not make me a better gamer.

The End-Game Transition

| Thursday, March 20, 2014
Anyone who complains about an end-game transition is being stupid.

Part One: Inevitability

In any game with any sort of progress you're going to have a tendency toward an end-game. Either all measured progress stops or it changes in form. This is not necessarily by the design of the developers.

Consider a game such as Banished or Don't Starve. The initial game is a struggle to not die horribly. You try to get sustained heat or light and food. This means chopping trees, foraging, hunting, and hitting rocks. Eventually you've chopped so many trees, foraged and hunted, and hit so many rocks that you're not likely to die a horrible death at any given moment. You've stabilized your situation. Your people have shelter, they make enough babies that enough will grow up to make babies to sustain the baby-making cycle, and you generate enough surplus food that even if the houses are filled with babies you won't suffer from baby-induced starvation. Alternatively, you have enough trees and grass around to keep catching rabbits, your rock-based structures are set up, and you have enough non-renewable materials to last a very long time.

Now you're in the end-game. In a game that doesn't have one, but it does anyway.

Unless you do something actively stupid, such as switching all your farmers to the quarry, or going in caves naked with no torches, you're unlikely to die any time soon. With the basics taken care of you can focus even more on exploration and expansion. Now you can build another Market Economic Zone branching off from your original Capital Economic Zone, and eventually fill the entire map with housing and farms, altering their design to ensure the maximum number of non-starving people. The survival game has become a spreadsheet-based optimization game.

Part Two: Your Counter-Argument to Part One is Stupid

Part Three: By Which I Mean, Adding New Problems Isn't a Good Solution

Banished could figure out new problems to throw at you. Maybe you think you're such hot shit for having stone houses and locally-sourced plum brandy from a sustainable orchard. Well what about when the developer patches in alcoholism and makes the dead rise up and eat all your peppers? Now you have to divert your precious iron supply to swords rather than tools and your physician has to do something other than wait around for dirty nomads with their weird foreigner diseases. Bam, challenge returned! In a totally artificial and annoying manner.

At least for me, and my opinion is the best one, these sorts of games are about the struggle toward that stable point. You figure out the immediate crises (food), deal with those, work on the near-term problems (housing), figure those out, and amidst all of that work toward dealing with long-term issues such as not running out of tools next year. With that generally worked out, you create some guarantees for the future, such as a trading post, so that you can supplement your theoretically-limited supply of stone, iron, and coal, with pepper trades. Now you can survive forever. That's kinda neat.

If the game then added in a new type of problem, then I'd probably just get mad at it. I just built this town hall and now you're telling me I need to beautify the streets or get voted out? I'm the incorporeal dictator!

The game could add a decay mechanic, but how are you going to tune it? If the decay uses resources that can be unlimited, such as trees or rabbit corpses, then it's essentially just another long-term sustainability mechanic. I'll set up a few more traps and declare victory.

If the decay uses resources that aren't unlimited, then the game is essentially saying "this game is about survival and I am going to kill you, guaranteed." I don't mind the inevitability of death in a game, but can I at least go out with a bang rather than a whimper? Surely it is more fun to see that the end is coming and bravely stand against the onslaught of violent death than to mine the last rock and know that the next baby born will die shivering in the cold. Maybe that's just human nature, to want to face something that we can punch, such as Russians, rather than resource depletion.

Part Four: I Stop Writing Soon

A truly pure survival game sounds stupid to me. Survival is a limited thing. It is either a pointless struggle against the inevitable or a pointless struggle. I like it when a game has survival that can be overcome, and when it is, something can be built. In Banished I didn't just survive a winter, I also built a town that can survive many winters. Perhaps that is also a bit of human nature: while animals survive, humans build and develop. Even if the rules of the universe still call for survival, it is no longer at the front of our minds because we've built to insulate ourselves from it, with markets, laws, and literal insulation.

So I say to you, if you think "the end-game transition" is both bad and preventable, then you, sir or madam or other old-timey polite moniker for your identity, are an opponent of all human progress, and probably alien progress as well.

How your keybindings are killing you

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014
For years I've used ctrl as a modifier to get additional spells on my bars and ready to use. It's not so far away and with my pinky on it my normal keys were still readily accessible. It all seemed perfect. Then it struck me: I shouldn't be constantly twisting my hand to use common spells. I didn't have any symptoms of anything, but why push my luck? I'd never liked the two buttons on the side of my mouse, but I figured I'd give them a try.

Immediately that was two more readily accessible spells. That means two fewer spells that need ctrl to use. Most of my hand-twisting was gone. It felt good. It felt more relaxed and comfortable. It also felt smarter than destroying my left hand just because I didn't like two of my buttons.

I still use ctrl, but differently. First, it works well with the mouse buttons, since ctrl-mouse doesn't use the same hand, so my pinky moves down to the key but my other fingers aren't extended up to get at the numbers. Second, because I've effectively freed up four keys, I can save ctrl for things that aren't so frequently used.

I might even get one of those mice with a dozen buttons in various spots. They always seemed stupid to me, but perhaps not if they're going to be better for my hands.

Like Alexander, if he hadn't died in the field

| Thursday, March 13, 2014
Last post I wrote about my utter failure at domestic policy. Maybe violence in games is more common than anything else because it's so much easier. Destroying things can be a matter of simple brute force or cleverly identifying a weakness, but once it's done, it's done. It helps that games, and media in general, don't portray the mess that is left behind. It's fun to wave the flag at the top of the Reichstag, less fun to figure out what to do with millions of stained consciences and a rubble-based country.

I had to deal with that aftermath. My wars gave me land and that land gave me some wealth, but those wars also gave me a bad reputation and a larger army that took that wealth. Strangely, this was a more immediate crisis than any battle. I'd made huge military mistakes in the past, but worst case scenario I could just end the war. Failing on the domestic front could destroy my country now and in the future. Action had to be immediate and on a large scale, before it completely overwhelmed my economy and foreign relations.

I had to take aggressive action. As much as I could, I trimmed my army. I switched my one national idea to the national bank (reduces inflation). I centralized my government (less inflation, more taxation). I stopped starting wars of blatant aggression and instead guaranteed the independence of small nations, waiting for them to be attacked (the tribute and vassals were too valuable, and necessary for my budget). I invested in government and trade research. Eventually I managed to balance my budget for the year and even started bringing down inflation. War exhaustion went to zero and the rebellions died down. Since then I've closed most of the tech gap with my rivals, built a navy, and cut overall inflation by more than two thirds.

Despite my switch to a domestic focus, I did still wage a few, highly-successful wars. They took down Castille and Lithuania, two countries with a long history of attacking me.

Things were looking good. Rebellions we down, revenues were up, everything was looking good.

I saw opportunity in the east of Europe: vast empires with backward armies. I went for it and it worked like a breeze. I looked south and saw the powerful Ottomans. They looked backward too. They turned out to be close enough in technology that I couldn't just knock them out in a single battle. The war dragged on, but my slight technological edge and rapidly-growing army won the day. All seemed to be okay. I even had a strategy to take down some of Castille's friends so that I could, someday, directly confront them again.

Then came the endless wars. I didn't start these fights, not all of them, or even most of them. But they happened and I had to win them. My vast armies marched all across Europe fighting everyone from Hungary to Sweden and even out to Asia for a fight with Persia. Countries, big and small, declared war. Algiers, my supposed vassal and ally, not that I blame them for their actions, supported rebels that knocked out my stabilization forces in northern Africa. The southern force was occupied with endless rebels. That was the theme: endless rebellions. As the war weariness inched upward so did the revolt chance, breaking 30%, and resulting in multiple provinces lost, though most regained before it was too late. I ended up losing two provinces in northern Africa, though at least they defected to a vassal, so it's not a total income loss. A terrible, tiny African country declared war, and with my African armies in shambles, managed to take a few provinces.

Tax revenues plummeted, leading me to use minting to balance my budget. Thankfully, I have two masters of the mint, centralization, and my national idea to keep inflation from growing. Army spending has to stay high as I am fighting constant rebellions and expect that one of these days the Ottomans are going to want revenge. Meanwhile, I suspect Castille and Austria are waiting for their moment.

Yet it is not all bad. I have the armies needed to keep down revolts. I am at peace. I'm returning some annexed provinces to vassals as a way to reduce the areas of revolt. Inflation is slowly creeping down. Except for Austria, the Germanic areas are almost entirely vassals. My colonies in Africa are growing and Brittany saved the day with its own armies. I crushed Sweden and liberated Norway and Finland. Newly-liberated Georgia is not very friendly, but at least it means that Persia is divided. France is stable, without debt, and at technological parity with anyone.

If it were not an absolute monarchy, I can only imagine that it would all make for some excellent spin from government and opposition parties. In retrospect, I wish I'd kept the administrative republic, but, "L'etat c'est moi."

You can play your own story of utter incompetence

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I bought Europa Universalis III (not the new one) the other day. So far it's amazing (also, fun). The amount of choice is new to me.

In part, this comes from the game not pretending to be balanced in any normal sense. France is clearly the dominant power on the western European continent. But you can, if you want, play as Burgundy, France's smaller, weaker neighbor. I opted for Burgundy and then waged a long champaign to take control of France, so much so that I was able to declare myself to be France (that helped a lot with the French nationalist uprisings).

Yet, despite the "not balanced" nature of it, the game doesn't consist entirely of big AI nations devouring smaller ones. The diplomatic and domestic cost of a war of pure aggression is pretty steep, as I learned. In fact, things can go dramatically wrong for big countries. France was devoured by my upstart Burgundy. I won countless other wars and prizes, both large and small.

I probably sound like a pretty capable leader at this point. I mean, just look at me, making vassals of over a dozen small countries, gaining monopolies in over a half-dozen trading hubs, taking on everyone from the Ottoman Empire to Milan, and taking down the greatest power on the continent and then remaking it in my image. That's the thing: my image.

I had no idea how to actually run the country.

Before World War I the doctrine among the great powers that they should have an army large enough to fight any two other nations at once. I thought that sounded completely ridiculous. Surely that wouldn't be necessary, or even possible, since only at the trivial case of 0 can you assign values to y=2x and x=2y. Math says Europe was stupid.

Yet that is exactly what I did. I'd regularly check on the ledger to ensure that my army could beat anyone. It could. Yet I couldn't rely on my total, because I had rebels to put down, so I'd have half my army big enough to beat anyone, and the other half as the other half of an army that could beat anyone. Why did I dedicate so many forces to dealing with a handful of rebels? Because they weren't and handful of rebels.

For years I was essentially at war with my own people. Norman, Orleanais, and Breton nationalists were a constant problem. I almost wished I could have just killed all the Dutch, but they run a really great trading port. Throw in peasant uprisings and patriots from whatever war was going on and domestically I was facing a larger army than from the actual wars.

And then there were the wars. Sure, it made sense to unify France. But why was I constantly poking my head into the Germanic lands? A country here, a country there, and next thing I'm widely hated. The constant war also caused war exhaustion, which raises the risk of revolt.

Meanwhile my inflation was through the roof. I'd been messing with the treasury to pay for my absurdly oversized army and complete inability to create an annual budget. That didn't just reduce my research, but also caused inflation, which makes everything, including research, more expensive. I was killing two of my own birds with one stone.

I had even taken visible steps backward. To save on army costs I abandoned the defense of my Danish holdings. Those were eventually captured by rebels and returned to Denmark. I gave up on defending the small countries between me and Castille; I couldn't fight wars on their timetable anymore. Those small nations were captured and annexed. My holdings in North Africa were cut off due to my poor naval logistics, leading me to cede land to get a peace treaty rather than losing everything.

From the outside, newly-unified France-from-Burgundy (such a British name) was extremely powerful. It had won countless wars, made many vassals, and had an army so absurdly large that it could probably fight the entire continent to a stalemate. Internally that army was tied up with perpetual unrest. Its budget was an inflated mess. It was frequently borrowing to pay for wars that made the world hate it. This wasn't a country on the verge of collapse, but it was one facing stagnation and eventually, defeat.


| Monday, March 3, 2014
"Don't Starve," I told my citizens. "We love that game," they replied. I attempted to clarify, "No, I mean you should not starve." "We sure hope not!" They did.

Tech trees are a lie. They suggest, incorrectly, that if you have built Structure A that you are ready, and should, build structure B. More likely you should have built three of Structure A before even considering Structure B, so it's a tech pyramid. Banished does not tell this lie. It instead says nothing. It stands there, watching you, without any expression. You look at the game and ask, "Should  build this yet?" It does not reply.

So you figure it out yourself. You stumble through getting enough food. Your first town starves. You try again and try harder with the food. They freeze to death, homeless. Finally you get it all worked out, with food, housing, and firewood. Now things are rolling. Until your tools break.

Rather than building iron monuments to your greatness, which unfortunately do not exist, you instead create quarries and tools. Then someone gets crushed by a rock. Your aging population is not making enough children. Meanwhile the few are growing up uneducated. Productivity suffers. You find that food reserves are low because someone has stuffed ten thousand deer carcases in their house.

Much of the game is a juggling act, trying to get workers in the jobs needed to get the resources needed. Eventually you realize that you have a labor shortage. Everyone has a job. There's so little slack that even if you wanted to build another farm you can't. But without that farm will you have enough food to feed a larger population? The coats run out.

I'm at a point where my town is stable. It has plenty of diverse food, high health and happiness, and plenty of resources. I could turn up the game speed and leave it to itself until the quarry ran out. But that's boring. I'm trying to grow the town. That means trying to get more housing so people can make more families, but I need enough food for them, so I must have a surplus and that must be sustainable enough to hold up with dozens more useless children. Meanwhile the infrastructure needs a step up, with more firewood for all the homes, nearby markets, and before long, another school.

I've noticed that a strange patterns emerges, almost like a boom-bust economic cycle. There are recessions. Things slow down, waiting, just waiting, for enough resources for something to happen. This might mean more people or more stone, but even if I have a plan, it isn't possible, not yet. These are less severe as the town develops, as I get more workers into stable jobs like mining, rather than the cyclical farmer/laborer division. It all becomes more predictable and manageable.

But I know one of these days those nomads are going to bring a disease.

Understanding Understanding BitCoins

I have a shiny new game to write about, but until I'm horribly burnt out and hate it I can't really give a fair assessment. In the meantime, here's a brief I wrote about how comprehension of BitCoins works.

Understanding of BitCoins operates with a complex system, but here are a few concepts to know. Some people try to understand BitCoin and will spend a great deal of time and mental energy trying to work out complex mental patterns. All understanding is tracked in the BitCoin Comprehension Ledger, a list that everyone has of people who understand BitCoins. Two people can agree to talk about BitCoin, with one transferring their understanding to the other, as illustrated here, which is then witnessed and recorded by others in the Ledger. In this way the system can carefully regulate how many people understand it, thereby creating value through scarcity.

There is some risk that too many people will understand it. The inventor has assured everyone that they will work diligently to ensure a sufficiently confusing system in the long term. However, the system has been shaken by some large events such as the FBI's Silk Road action and something happening with MtGox. Spreading through media channels, these resulted in dozens of additional people understanding BitCoin and dramatically increasing the popularity of trying to do so.
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