Thursday, October 31, 2013

Diaries of a Ganker, Part II - Landfall in Pandaria

I transferred my 85 rogue to Illidan because I was taken aback at the massive disparity between the Alliance and Horde as illustrated on the WoWProgress and US Server Population websites, and I wanted to experience first-hand what this felt like. I've always believed that ganking in WoW is a manageable and often overrated threat based on my own experience on Frostmourne and Garithos. I'm willing to concede that I may be wrong, because it was only recently that I found out that the Alliance outnumber the Horde on Frostmourne 2 to 1. If I can level a non-stealth toon from 1 to 90 on the most (or second most, depending on what stats you use) populated realm in the US and where the disparity between the Horde and Alliance is at its starkest (4500+ to 1, according to WoWProgress), then it will confirm to my own satisfaction that ganking in WoW is no impediment to attaining the power cap (i.e. currently at 90 with full Conquest gear) and thus fulfils the criteria for equal opportunity in asymmetrical worlds. Plus I like the idea of being vastly outnumbered and surrounded by a sea of enemies. It appeals to my role-playing sensibilities.

Ganking on Illidan

For now though, I am planning to level my 85 rogue to 90, gear her up in full Honor and then full Conquest, and embark on a ganking campaign while doing so. My goal is 1000 ganks, which is a completely arbitrary number I made up. I was originally going to transfer my feral druid, who is already 90 and in full Tyrannical, but the rogue was a better choice because having to level her from 85 to 90 will require me to engage in the world by questing. In either case I was always going to bring a stealth toon (I also considered taking my hunter) to offset the massive population balance I was expecting. Rogues can engage anyone on their own terms, and so the population doesn't even matter. Anytime things look grim, just Vanish, Cloak off any debuffs and wait for a better opportunity. Even if you have Bleeds on you, Vanish will still work for three seconds, which is more than enough time to Sprint away and escape. Couple that with Gouge, Blind and Kidney Shot, and a rogue has enough tools to control a fight so even if you can't win, you can still escape.

Another factor to my advantage is that I'm not interested in PvE content at all, which means I can be completely flexible as to how I level up my toon (levelling in dungeons is cheating, however, because it's not part of the world). In his post on Sacred Duty Theck complains about world PvP because it prevents him from enjoying the content on the Timeless Isle on Tichondrius. I'm not interested in the Timeless Isle, and I have no intention of gathering Timeless coins or killing the mobs/bosses on the island. The Timeless Isle's sole interest to me is the fact that it is a locus point around which Horde and Alliance gather around. In better OWPvP games locations have an intrinsic value because they either produce resources, or confer strategic benefits. In WoW one place is as good as another, and where the players congregate is where the gankers go, too.

I did set some ground rules for myself though:

i) No sitting duck stuff - I'm not going to attack anyone below 85. I was going to limit myself to equivalent levels, but there is still value in attacking players lower than you because it makes them call for help in the world and brings on the defenders of the faction to the area. Especially in Illidan where there will no shortage of Horde. Ratio of 4500+ to 1, remember?

ii) Limit ganks to three maximum. This might even be too much, because you pretty much know the quality of your opponent after the first engagement by the CDs they use (or misuse). I've ganked about 30 people now since transferring here the Monday before last, but I've only "camped" one person and killed them three times. The fights were close though, so perhaps that was a motivator to keep on fighting. Plus he was doing rude emotes. Bastard.

Tolerable Imbalances

I share Theck's outrage at the existing population imbalance on some of the WoW servers, and the fact that Blizzard have decided not to do anything about it at all. I have argued that asymmetry is fine in persistent worlds of equal opportunity, but it's clear that for both him and I we draw the line at such skewed faction asymmetry. It's completely ridiculous, it goes against the philosophy of equal opportunity, and in any MMO other than WoW which had higher OWPvP stakes it would be a game-breaker. If the upcoming TESO game allowed such disparities between the three factions in their upcoming Alliance versus Alliance gameplay, there would be a tremendous outcry, and rightfully so. But oddly enough because WoW OWPvP is so meaningless, the population imbalance doesn't actually stop you from getting to the power cap (90, with full Conquest gear). Some people might dispute this, but if I can level a non-stealth toon from 1 to 90 (a future project of mine) and get them fully capped out with Conquest on Illidan of all places, then you can bloody well do it anywhere. Levelling from 1 to 85 appears easy. The levelling zones are deserted. I made sure to visit these zones during US peak times to get a better idea of population distribution, and even during these times I was lucky to see more than 2-3 Horde in a single zone. I have yet to see a single Alliance player in the world in Illidan, but they are present in very small numbers in the capital cities. 85 to 90 would be a little more difficult because the population is a little more concentrated, but there are many places you can go in the world where you will be able to level in relative peace and quiet. Of course if you draw near population centres and/or major quest hubs your chances of getting ganked grow exponentially, but staying away from these places when you are heavily outnumbered is just common sense. So my preliminary conclusion based on my own observations is that the threat of being ganked is overstated, and is easily shaken off by simply being aware of your surroundings, moving off when threatened, being flexible about where you level, and/or taking a time out when you are being camped. It is not an impediment to attaining the power cap. It IS an impediment if you want to do world PvE content, but you do know that you are on a PvP server, right? Right?

Theck implicitly argues that he would not be complaining about world PvP if faction population were better balanced. I argue that even if population dynamics were more or less equal he would still find his PvE experience completely disrupted given the distribution of players on his server (he also alludes to this on his post). Almost two-thirds of the top 100 US Arena players in the 3v3 bracket (which is the tournament standard) reside in Tichondrius, and they are predominantly Horde. Ranked PvP in WoW is a team e-sport which requires good team mates you can "synergize" with in order to succeed, and therefore aspiring players (prior to cross-realm Arenas in 5.4) used to move to servers with high ranked players and high PvP populations.  Even if the Horde and the Alliance were roughly equal in size, the preponderance of PvPers on the Horde side would make it more than likely that disruptions on the Timeless Isle would continue unabated even if there was parity between faction population. This alludes back to points I have made in other posts, namely that asymmetry is a systemic part of open world PvP in persistent worlds. It's interesting to see where the limits of tolerance lie, and how it varies wildly from player to player. Seriously, though, if Theck's primary agenda is to enjoy the content on the Timeless Isle then he should transfer to a PvE server. I know he has his reason to stay, in which case I'm afraid that he is stuck in a quandary. Blizzard is not going to do anything because i) they make money from server transfers; and ii) OWPvP in WoW means nothing at all.

The Evils of Ganking

I finally realised why gankers are so hated in WoW, and it ties in again with the fact that world PvP is meaningless. Gankers are not fighting for resources, or trying to take or defend territory. It's not EVE, Darkfall or Planetside 2, where sovereignty, income and/or player-built structures are at stake. They're not doing it for Honor or for Conquest Points. In WoW, gankers are essentially doing it just to mess with you, and perhaps people react to that on a visceral level. The obvious counter-argument again is that if you dislike having your play-style interrupted in such a fashion then you shouldn't be on a PvP server. There are benefits to gankers. Gankers are a player-driven hazard which adds layers to the world. They encourage grouping and socialisation. I just wish that open world PvPers had something more to fight for than just fighting for its own sake in WoW. I have no illusions about what I am doing. I can write pages and pages of fluff as to why my rogue is fighting in Illidan, but when it comes down to it all I am doing is ganking and disrupting people as they go about their business. I have no external motivations for doing this, except for the fact that the enemy is Horde and I am Alliance. For this reason I made ground rules for myself because picking on lower levels seems akin to beating up little children, despite my standpoint that in PvP worlds all things are fair in love and war. Imagine an alternative scenario, however, like in DAOC (Dark Age of Camelot), where the enemy player is a scout and is trying to ascertain faction numbers in a town/keep. In this case I would have no compunctions about obliterating the scout regardless of how weak they were because I would have done it for strategic reasons. This type of scenario would appear to be more "morally" palatable because players can appreciate the reasons for why the lower level player was attacked. Soldiers can respect soldiers on opposing sides. Everyone despises thieves and murderers. Context is everything, and WoW OWPvP has very little. In the end though, it might be enough that you chose red, I chose blue, we both entered into this type of game of our own free will, therefore as per the rules of the game we will try to kill each other.

Incidentally that is why I am so excited about TESO. I'm hoping that the battle for Cyrodiil will become what null-sec is to EVE. It's still not going to be as good as EVE's null sec, because it artificially divides players into three factions rather than allow them to organically develop their own (there are upsides to this however). I can live with that though, because now the throne of Tamriel is at stake and our factions have something to fight for. How cool is that?!? CONTEXT, BABY! Plus it seems like that we are going to able to interact with members of the other factions to create temporary alliances and the like, which will be excellent. There will be player-owned keeps, with player-owned shops in the keeps. Finally, it's Elder Scrolls and I look forward to sharing my love of the Elder Scrolls universe with my gaming circle, who only came into computer games via WoW. I'm going to try to gently nudge them into rolling characters on the Ebonheart Alliance, but sadly it's not going to be up to me. I have a bad feeling that I'm going to end up as an alien-looking elf or a furry humanoid thing in the Altmer Dominion. Although, playing a drugged up Khajit assassin high on moon sugar and skooma might be interesting.

In the meantime, I'm going to go gank some Horde.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Diaries of a Ganker, Part I - The Horde Triumphant

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario.

Garrosh Hellscream is triumphant. King Varian Wrynn is dead, along with his son Anduin, both fallen in the siege of Ogrimmar. Jaina Proudmoore, dead. The Alliance expedition force, thrown into disorder by the death of their leaders, is unable to mount an organised defence against the horrors unleashed by Garrosh. The Horde which rose up against Hellscream are cowed into submission, and bend the knee. Vol'jin is executed as a traitor for his part in the Darkspear rebellion. Baine Bloodhoof, too honourable to kneel, is dead. Sylvanas, the ruthless pragmatist that she is, has no compunctions about turning on her allies and swearing allegiance to Garrosh once again. Lor'themar, horrified but unwilling to face the unstoppable Hellscream and Sylvanas both, also bends the knee. The most horrific fate is reserved for Thrall, whose shattered body adorns the topmost spike of Orgrimmar as a incontrovertible proof of Garrosh's ultimate victory.

With the fall of their leaders the Alliance flees back to Azeroth, but their respite is brief. Stormwind is reduced to ashes, decimated by the same weapon used to destroy Theramore. Ironforge holds out longer because of its impregnable walls, but is betrayed from within by the Dark Iron dwarves. The last bastions of freedom lie in the islands of the north, in Teldrassil and the Azuremyst Isle. Their days are also numbered, for the new Warchief will brook no dissent to his rule. Though the tattered remnants of the Alliance will fight bravely in the final battles, in the end they too, will fall to the Horde in time. Malfurion, Tyrande, Velen, Greymane and the Naaru O'ros all perish in the apocalyptic battles that follow, but not before they exact a bloody toll on the rampaging Horde. The Exodar, defended by O'ros against Garrosh's weapons of mass destruction, is taken in a bloody siege which lasts months. Teldrassil is also besieged, but as Garrosh orders mana bomb after mana bomb detonated against the Great Tree's branches and boughs it finally catches alight and burns, along with the final remnants of Alliance resistance.




A world where the Horde are triumphant. Where the only players you see are orcs, goblins, tauren, blood elves, trolls and the Forsaken. A world where Alliance players are non-existent, or where they hide, quivering, in the remaining safe zones of the world.

Can't imagine it? Look no further than the PvP server of Illidan then, where according to WoWProgress, 18,760 Horde outnumber a paltry four Alliance. FOUR. That's a ratio of 4,690 to 1. I heartily recommend reading Theck's post regarding population dynamics and unstable equilibrium on Sacred Duty. It's excellent. I also found another site called US Realm Population courtesy of GryphonHeart, which gives somewhat different numbers. According to this site, there are 204,032 Horde characters versus 13,853 Alliance on Illidan (giving a different ratio of almost 15 to 1). Pick whatever stat you like - WoWProgress only measures level 90s who have killed at least one boss in T15 content (or are in a guild which has killed at least one boss in T15 content), while US Realm Pop counts all characters. Whatever way you choose to cut it, this is a massive, massive imbalance.

I was completely shocked at the population disparities which existed between the two factions. I must have been quite naive, because I simply trusted Blizzard to balance the server population. I've been a big defender of gankers because my personal experience of levelling on Frostmourne told me that gankers were a manageable threat, and they added further layers to the virtual world. That was before I found out that Alliance outnumber the Horde two to one on Frostmourne (using WoWProgress stats). No wonder why there was always Alliance around to call for help. I have argued that asymmetry is part of persistent worlds, and that players will tolerate asymmetries as long as they believe they have equal opportunities at making it to the top. There is a limit to this tolerance however, and, seriously, this type of asymmetry is just plainly ridiculous. Why aren't people up in arms about this? Clearly the blogging community is pissed, but there's no sign of a kind of mass discontent which normally prompts companies to make hasty revisions.

My opinion is that people tolerate it because world PvP means nothing in WoW. People are fighting for nothing. They are just fighting for the sake of fighting. There is nothing at stake, and the death penalty is very light, especially compared to EVE (where you lose your ship) and Darkfall (where you drop all your stuff when you die). You don't get any rewards for fighting in world PvP - all you get are a few paltry points of Honor, and no Conquest at all. There are no incentives (except perhaps factional loyalty, which is a tenuous one at best) - as far as I can tell, open world PvP in WoW is just another type of player driven world hazard, one which players can voluntarily forego if they choose a PvE server. If the Horde and Alliance were actually fighting for something meaningful this kind of server imbalance would never be tolerated. At the moment the optimal way of earning PvP currency is by playing random BGs, Arenas and Rated BGs. If you could only earn Honor or Conquest points in open world PvP then you can bet your ass that all the PvPers who attacked Theck about his post on Reddit would also be screaming about the imbalance, because the losing side would not be able to grind as many points as the winners. In this scenario there is something at stake now, which means people suddenly become interested in equal access and opportunity.

Because world PvP in WoW means nothing, then people who like it will indulge in it, while others not so inclined will tolerate it to a point because the penalties are comparatively light (spirit rez and a short corpse run). Once they reach their limit, however, they will leave or transfer. Blizzard has done nothing to date, because it is a source of revenue for them - at $25 per transfer the revenue they generate must be in the millions over the years (40,000 transfers yields a million dollars at no extra cost to the company). Blizzard can rationalise their inaction by saying nothing is at stake here - PvP is voluntary (via server choice), and people can level safely in instanced dungeons, or grind their PvP currency in the balanced environments of Arenas and BGs. I've always thought that world PvP in WoW was bad because it means nothing. Looking at how Blizzard has decided to deal with this issue (i.e. do nothing) I've come to the conclusion that they know it too, but since they make money from it they choose not to do anything about it. Instead they have devoted their energies into creating a ladder PvP game which is separate from world proper as a sort of concession. Sorry guys, we know world PvP is meaningless and server population will become more and more unbalanced as people start transferring, but if you are interested in PvP you can play Arenas and Rated BGs in a ladder competition instead. We'll set aside instanced zones where you can fight, and we'll do our best to balance the game as best as we can in these instanced environments. You can measure yourself against the player pool, push rating, and we will award you accolades and titles commensurate with your achievements. If you are good enough we will also fly you to Shanghai and let you play for a significant amount of real world money. If this was their intent then I believe they have succeeded. I personally enjoy WoW ladder PvP, and that's the main reason why I still subscribe to WoW. There is no point mourning or wishing for better open world PvP, however. Blizzard has already written it off, so it is better to look elsewhere.

Open world PvP in WoW lost its lustre for me a long time ago, so much so that I packed up my toons on the PvP servers of Frostmourne and Garithos and consolidated them all on Thorium Brotherhood, which is of all things, a RP server. I didn't need to be on a PvP server to play Arenas and Rated BGs, and my family and friends were here, so it made sense to move. Given my renewed interest in "meaningful world PvP" I quit WoW for a few months and tried to subscribe to EVE and Darkfall. In both cases I was stymied by RL obstacles. As a resident of Japan I am required to subscribe to Nexon, a third party payment company based in Korea in order to play EVE. EVE has very kindly supplied a translation guide on how to go about completing the Nexon application (which is in Japanese). but this is something I am not willing to do, especially when the terms and conditions are in a foreign language. Darkfall won't allow me to play on their US server because they are releasing a localised version of their game in Japan and Korea "in the near future." If you are familiar at all with the Darkfall developmental cycle you would realise that "in the near future" could mean anything between three months and a year. I tried a few work-arounds - I tried to mask my IP address with a VPN and make it look like I was subscribing from North America. No luck. I asked my friends at home to subscribe in my name from Australia. Nope.

So, stonewalled on both fronts, I reactivated my WoW account and am slowly getting back into the ladder circuit with a vague goal of finally breaking the 2k barrier on either format. I'm really just waiting for TESO, Camelot UnchainedStar Citizen and WH40K: Eternal Crusade. These titles sound very promising, but given that TESO won't be released until next year, and the other three are not being released until 2015, I have need of something to occupy my time. Reading Theck's post, however, and imagining a world where the Alliance was gone and where the Horde roamed unchecked has rekindled my interest in roaming the wilds of Azeroth. I said earlier that people fight for nothing in WoW OWPvP. Perhaps a better way to articulate it is that in the absence of external incentives, people who fight bring their own reasons with them. Ego, validation, competitiveness, malice, loyalty to friends/factions/guilds, a sense of justice, a quixotic desire to rid the world of "evil" - who knows, only the individual can say. I can only speak for myself, but the idea of being one of the last few surviving members of the Alliance has set my mind ablaze. When computer games were a generation away and all our role playing was done with pen and paper, imagination was sufficient to tide us over. Ladder PvP is e-sports, with all that entails. World PvP should be about the world, and role-playing is inhabiting that world. And there is something wrong with a server which is overwhelmingly dominated by the Horde. Where the Alliance cowers in secret. This does not sit well with me as a person who has only ever played Alliance. A world so tamed and domesticated by the Horde that it is, for all intents and purposes, a PvE server.

Night Elf Remake by Astoroth on DeviantArt.

Azeroth was once home to dwarves, gnomes, humans, and night elves. It has given succour to the draenei, and given the bestial worgen a place where they were accepted and belong. To have these voices stilled forever is a crime beyond reckoning. The great cities of Stormwind and Ironforge are silent, smoking ruins. Everywhere the goblins, the blood elves, the trolls, the tauren, the Forsaken and the orcs. Drinking in our taverns. Living in our homes. Sleeping in our beds. Killing the ragged remnants of our people with impunity. 

have seen with my own eyes the silent pits underneath the eaves of Elwynn Forest. The twisted and broken bodies stacked like cordwood within. I have seen the smoke rising from the embers of Teldrassil, and wept tears of rage and sorrow as the fire consumed our homes. I have seen our ships burn on the water, and heard the cries of the damned as the icy seas claimed them for their own. I have held the shattered bodies of my friends and comrades in my arms, and watched their spirits depart, leaving empty husks in their wake. All that I hold dear in this world, gone.

Dear Goddess, grant me the strength to avenge the fallen. Guide my blade and let the enemies of our people taste bloody vengeance. And when I pass from this mortal realm. forgive my many trespasses and enfold me in your loving embrace so that I might join my brethren in the stars above. Grant my soul rest, my mind peace, and my heart succour, for I struggle, milady. I struggle, great Elune, to see the meaning behind this. How can this be allowed to pass? Why did not you not heed us? Where were you when we needed you most? Answer me, I pray.

No. Answer me now. I demand it. I would know the mind of the Goddess, who willingly stepped aside and watched her people die. For what reason did we worship you all these millennia, only to have you betray us now? Where is your divinity now? Your grace? Your godhead?


Mute to the last. I can tell you where your divinity lies. It lies at the bottom of the pit where Stormwind once stood. It lies rotting with the carcasses of the countless dead. It lies in the ashes of the great Tree. It lies in the abyss beneath the waves, along with my daughter, and any reason I have left to remain in this world.


Before I depart I make this promise. I will kill every Horde I see. I will set upon them in the shadows. I will make a mockery of their great numbers. I will give them cause to remember the kaldorei, even as our memory passes from this world. This I vow, as the last of my kind. By the Goddess - no. By the great Tree - by the Sentinels - by the memory of my daughter - the Horde shall pay.

I transferred my 85 night elf rogue to Illidan last Monday.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Quest for Meaningful World PvP, Part II - Asymmetry and Fairness in Persistent Worlds

Note: This post was originally a reply to a discussion on Hypercriticism. I have tried to clean it up and reorganize it so it makes better sense, but the argument is essentially the same. I have changed my views slightly thanks to engaging other bloggers like Doone and Milady, but this is ultimately a good thing.


My first post in this series made a crude typology outlining the differences between simple, ladder and world PvP. I would like to further develop this argument by discussing the issue of asymmetry and fairness in persistent worlds. For the sake of clarity, a few definitions are in order. I will be discussing PvP in the context of persistent virtual worlds as can be found in MMOs such as WoW, EVE Online, Planetside 2, Darkfall and DAOC. I am not discussing PvP found in balanced, controlled and instanced environments which reset once a match is concluded (i.e. league matches in League of Legends, Starcraft 2, and WoW Arena/Rated BGs). A key feature of world PvP is the persistence of the world, which has a number of implications for balance. I define asymmetry as the imbalance of power which exists between players in MMO worlds based on variables such as character level, player skill, gear, time invested, social-in game affiliations and so on.

Fairness is much more difficult to define, and varies in degrees from person to person. Perusing a dictionary gives me evenhandedness, free from bias; just; impartial. A cursory comparison of asymmetry and fairness immediately tells us these two terms appear incompatible. My question then becomes why rational, self-interested players would be willing to put up with glaring inequalities which characterize world PvP. I accept that there are many reasons to play world PvP, ranging from puerile ones like the desire to "pwn" "nooblets" to the desire to test oneself against constantly adapting human opposition. But the fact is, there is a sizeable number of intelligent, seemingly rational players who choose to make these seemingly toxic virtual worlds their home, and I would like to address why this is the case.

I am going to approach the problem of asymmetry and fairness by adopting the following approach. Firstly, I would like to argue that asymmetry is a systemic aspect of open world PvP, and in fact constitutes much of its appeal to its existing player base because it allows gameplay elements which cannot exist in balanced games. Secondly, I would argue that players are willing to tolerate asymmetrical encounters as long as they believe that equal opportunity exists in the world. Going back to the dictionary I saw a definition which resonated to me as a fan of open world PvP. Under informal was written "a fair go", which is an Australian colloquialism for equal opportunity. Could it be that fairness for people who play open world PvP doesn't lie in the uneven fights in the world, but rather in the equality of access to power?




I. ASYMMETRY IS A SYSTEMIC ASPECT OF WORLD PVP

The most common objection raised by non-PvPers is that world PvP isn't fair. Well, yeah. It isn't. Certainly not in the way traditional PvP games are. Consider the following examples:

a) A level 90 ganks a level 20 in WoW;

b) A player in PvP gear demolishes an equivalently skilled player wearing PvE gear;

c) A player in ilvl 541 PvE gear crushes a player wearing ilvl 493 PvP gear;

d) Four guys jump one player in Planetside 2;

e) An alliance in null sec EVE with 500 members moves into a system controlled by a small alliance of 50 members. The small alliance has no chance, and is forced to leave the system permanently;

f) A team of WoW Gladiators (top 0.5% of Arena players) meet an equivalent number of players in the open world and wipes the floor with them;

g) A player with a powerful army in Evony is driven out of the region because a player with a smaller army continually attacks his holdings whenever he is offline and unable to defend himself. The first player can only play 2-3 hours 2-3 times a week while the other has much more time at his disposal and can attack at this his/her discretion;

h) A player chances on another mining unawares in the world. The first players swigs a flask, eats some buff food, and attacks the enemy, getting the opener and killing them.

We could conceivably go on and on and cite more examples, but in each case the point is that power asymmetry exists everywhere in world PvP. Going back to the examples above these asymmetries are based on the following factors:

a) Level;

b) Gear differential based on specialised sets of gear;

c) Gear differential based on gear power levels;

d) and e) Number of players;

f) Skill;

g) Time available to play;

h) Readiness;

Almost all encounters in world PvP are unbalanced, and only a very small subset of encounters, in which the participants are equally matched in gear, skill and readiness, would be considered balanced. Asymmetry is a systemic feature of open world PvP. Keep in mind I am talking about persistent world PvP, not PvP that is fenced off in instanced settings like Arenas and Rated BGs. I can throw some factors off the top of my head which would also affect the fairness of most open world PvP games - duration of subscription, size of alliance/clan/corporation/guild, experience, faction/population balance, God-given talent, latency, hardware specs and time available for play. All these will impact the relative balance of any given world PvP game without even factoring in the mechanics or class balance.
 
Custer on being overwhelmed at Little Big Horn - "this is so unfair dude, I'm not playing this game no more."
 
 
I can visualize world PvP games in which every encounter has to be balanced, and once any encounter crosses a certain "fairness" threshold the game has to step in and impose restrictions. But if interactions were regulated in such a way in games it would completely alter the nature of the world PvP, and to a way that would not be to my taste. I wouldn't recognize that type of game as a world PvP game. Games like EVE, Darkfall, DAOC and Planetside 2 wouldn't exist, and if they did, they would be castrated, diluted versions of themselves. I would wager that the existing player base would desert the game in droves - the most common complaint players and prominent bloggers have in EVE Online is that the game is becoming too "easy". Poetic Stanzel, a prominent EVE blogger, recently quit EVE, and the reasons he cites is that CCP is "making it much safer, spending development resources to protect idiots. I want a game where players have to protect themselves. A game that forces players to play smart. A game where players cannot rely on the developer to protect them from their own laziness and ignorance." If you peruse blogs about EVE in the majority of cases any changes advocated by these writers are for less regulation, not more.

I would argue that it is important to regulate some aspects of gameplay - protecting new players is important, otherwise you basically kill your own game - but overregulation kills the very thing which makes world PvP interesting for many players. Let's consider some hypothetical solutions to the balance problem in open world games. Should an avatar be expected to walk up to you like Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride", help you up the cliff, then wait for you to catch your breath before engaging you in battle left-handed in order to give you a fighting chance? Is this what people truly expect in open world PvP? Should CFC, the dominant alliance in EVE, have left their capital ships at home during the Fountain War because TEST didn't have any and relied on their allies to provide them with cap support? Let's assume that the level differential in WoW didn't exist - everyone is 90 - and everyone was wearing the same type of gear. Would this finally be considered fair? What about if you get jumped by three or four people? Should they cap world PvP to one versus one duels and make people in excess in this number wait in line? What about 2k+ rated players (roughly top 5% of active PvPers and probably less than 1% of the overall WoW population)? Should they be banned from the general population because they represent overpowered threats to the population at large? Perhaps given handicaps when they walk around Azeroth? What about time zones? EVE, Darkfall and Evony campaigns are heavily influenced by time zones. Should players in these persistent worlds be immune to attack when they are offline? You could basically turtle up if you were faced with odds against your favor - just log off and you'd be safe.

As you can see, attempts to equalize encounters in world PvP leads to very artificial and unnatural scenarios, and destroys the essence of world PvP. Ultimately the fairness argument is just a smokescreen. The real issue is that simply put, people want to retain total control over their gameplay sessions, and I completely get that. They want safety. control and convenience. The argument that I don't do world PvP because I want to do my own thing in my own free time is the strongest and most irrefutable argument one can put forward against non-consensual PvP. But people who argue that they don't do world PvP because it's not balanced completely miss the point - they are looking for aspects of traditional balanced competition in an environment which is fundamentally asymmetrical in nature.


II. ASYMMETRY AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Why do rational, self-interested people tolerate seemingly imbalanced encounters which are the norm in world PvP? Clearly it's not to everyone's tastes - there are people who despise world PvP for exactly this reason, and I can't fault them for this. Regardless, people do it all the time - the empirical data is there in the form of subscribers who continually log in and play games like Darkfall, EVE Online, and Planetside 2. Fundamentally I believe people are willing to put up with asymmetry as long as they believe the world they inhabit is one of equal opportunity. Some people will endure asymmetry in their interactions because they think the advantages gained by those in power are attainable by them in the future. The American dream writ small. That's one of the reasons why we put up with inequities, injustices, and asymmetry in real life isn't it? Lassez-faire capitalism argues for minimum government and for letting the market sort itself out on its own. Similar principles are at work in world PvP I think. Yes, some people are richer and poorer than others. Some people have more power than others. But as long as players believe that the game offers equal opportunity, they will tolerate it. They accept the imbalances because they think they are smart enough, good enough or cunning enough to overcome these disadvantages and eventually become one of the elite. It becomes a point of pride with them. CCP Soundwave, the former lead designer of EVE Online (and who now works for Riot Games on League of Legends), summarized the enduring attraction of the game with this quote at EVE Fanfest 2013: "Players are not entitled to success, the pinnacle is coveted by many players, but many more will fail on the way."
 
Success or not, people would not play world PvP games if they believed that they didn't have an equal shot at making it to the pinnacle. Let's say that Blizzard came up with a misconceived scheme to reward long time subscribers in which players who joined the game in Vanilla can level up to 100, BC players can level to 95, Wrath to 90, Cata to 85, and new subscribers to 80. This is plainly ridiculous, and the net result would be that only Vanilla players would be left and everyone else would leave. Give everyone the same shot at making 100, though, and people will endure getting ganked and dogpiled because they believe that one day they will make it to the top.
 

Laurence J. Peter, author of The Peter Principle, also argued that "equal opportunity means everyone will have a fair chance at being incompetent." It's actually a real argument, based on the fact that in fair environments people will keep getting promoted until they reach a position above their abilities and stop there, thus leaving people in jobs they are no longer competent at doing. I included this quote because at first glance I thought it reflected the type of elitism that world PvP players sometimes display. The amount of scorn and derision poured on "idiots" (as per Poetic Stanziel) and "morons and slackers" (as per Gevlon) reflects a mindset commonly shared by players of open world games like EVE and Darkfall - namely the game offers equal opportunities at power, and it is only the incompetence of the bad players that is holding them back. 

 
A necessary corollary of equal opportunity is access. It's not enough that players have the capacity to hit maximum level. They must also have the means, or access, to do it. I don't believe ganking is "unfair" because it is "unbalanced." Ganking CAN be "unfair" if it blocks access to power and robs the other player of agency. To illustrate my point, consider the following. If you are a level 20 Alliance character you could conceivably level in Ashenvale, Duskwood, Hillsbrad  or the Wetlands (all 20-25 zones). If you wanted to level in 15-20 or 25-30 zones you could triple the number of zones available to you for leveling. That constitutes a significant amount of choice and real estate, and considerably reduces the odds of being ganked. Imagine then a variant of WoW in which only Ashenvale existed, and you could only level in this zone. Every ganker in Azeroth would flock to this location, and your chances of getting pummeled repeatedly increases dramatically. If high level players were allowed  to bottleneck lower level players this way it would be "unfair" - not because they were higher - but because they were denying players equal access. It would be bad game design. Equal opportunity would exist in name only (everyone can be 100) but it would remain substantively unfair (people can't get there). 
 
We have to be careful here though, because asymmetry doesn't necessarily mean the total removal of agency. It can. The fact that WoW has so many leveling zones, however, disperses the risk to lowbies, while keeping the potential for skirmishes intact. This is also the reason why EVE has highsec and lowsec zones - firstly, as a means of protecting new players, and secondly, as an avenue of retreat for alliances which have been driven out of null sec. Going back to the issue of agency, however, I never felt like a hapless victim in WoW, even when I was getting repeatedly stomped into the turf. I always felt like I had choices - I could level in a different spot; I could wait until the coast was clear; I could call on my mates; I could ask for help in general; I could sniff out the area before venturing forward; I could quest with other people. The crux of the matter remains that people want control over their time. It's not that the ganker has bound you, gagged you and stripped you of all your choices - rather, he/she has taken one choice away from you, namely your initial choice to come to this very spot, and do what you wanted to do, whether it was to quest, farm or whatever. Some people don't want to make other choices, and that is a fair call and they don't play world PvP as a result. As I said, the argument that I don't do non-consensual PvP because I want to control my gameplay in my own time is the best, most unassailable objection you can make. But it's not true that power asymmetry robs you of all agency. You still have choices, and the quality of the game will determine the breadth of these choices. Good games will give you alternative paths to power. Bad games will not. WoW, for me, gave me enough choices that I never felt like I was being stonewalled. I still think WoW world PvP is bad, but not because it never gave me enough options to avoid/mitigate ganking and attain maximum level.
 

FINAL THOUGHTS
 
Thomas Hobbes in a nutshell - all men are bastards and will fight to dominate each other if not kept in check by a government to keep them in line. In the same way, gankers and griefers will always exist in world PvP games unless kept in check by the developers of the game. In simulating a war, however, where "force and fraud are the two cardinal virtues" (Hobbes again) is it really a good thing to set artificial limits on what would otherwise be accurate depictions of human nature in a political vacuum?
 
 
I try never to forget that we are discussing games, but discussing this topic has opened my eyes and made me think about the reasons why we tolerate asymmetry in the real world. In thinking about this topic I couldn't help compare equality and access in games to real life parallels in the civil rights movement and women's suffrage. It made me read up about asymmetrical warfare, which is the military term for conflicts between belligerents of unequal size, and the type of tactics employed by guerillas and insurgents against overwhelmingly powerful enemies. I've also started re-reading political tracts which I merely endured when I was an undergraduate because of my interest in this topic. In the real world I would never condone asymmetries which I think are fine in virtual ones. That is the purpose of legitimate law and government - to mitigate between the powerful and the powerless and to preserve fundamental rights. Virtual worlds are a different story, however, and for me I like my virtual worlds on the harsh and unforgiving side. I'm not alone - there are thousands of players who like these type of games, and they constitute the existing player base of games like EVE Online, Darkfall, DAOC and Planetside 2. In my opinion, all is fair in love and war in persistent worlds AS LONG AS everyone has the same shot at making it to the top. It might seem harsh, but I will always defend a player's right in a world PvP game to attack you anytime, anywhere, especially when you aren't ready. The onus remains with the game designers to make sure that all players have an equal shot at making it to the top DESPITE the best efforts of gankers and griefers by providing multiple routes to power. Asymmetry is fine in persistent worlds of equal opportunity.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

WoW PvP Changes in Patch 5.4

With patch 5.4 just around the corner this might be an opportune time to review some of the upcoming changes to WoW PvP, as well as to briefly summarize the changes that have been implemented in PvP from 5.2 to the present. The information in this post should be correct at the time of writing, but please keep in mind that 5.4 is still in PTR and is liable to change at any time. I have also refrained from commenting on class balance changes, instead focusing on the overall changes that will impact all players in the next patch.


PvP Changes in 5.2 and 5.3

Here is a list of the changes that have occurred in patches 5.2 and 5.3:

5.2


  • Battleground normalization at lower brackets;
  • Conquest gear purchasable with Honor after 27k aggregate reached;
  • Conquest Points awarded for losing Rated BGs;
  • Removal of 2.2k T2 weapons.

5.3


  • Flag Running Damage Debuffs for DPS (20%) and Tank (50%) specs;
  • Bloody Dancing Steel/Spirit of Conquest PvP Enchants;
  • iLevel Caps in Arenas and Rated BGs;
  • Map Alterations (Dalaran Arena and EOTS starting zone);
  • New Arena (Shado-Pan Arena);
  • New Battleground (Deepwind Gorge);
  • PvP Power on gems reduced by 50%;
  • PvP Power Nerf - 265 increased to 400 for 1% extra damage;
  • Resilience Removed From PvP Items and made baseline.



Theodorius explodes in a ball of light after unleashing his Mega Super Duper Heal spell in a Rated BG. Actually, it was just my Guardian going out with a bang.




PvP Changes in 5.4


Abolition of Arena Teams

I like this change, although it makes me sad to bid a fond farewell to some of my long running Arena teams and their increasingly ridiculous names. Upsides include a true region wide competition - no more artificial distinctions between Battlegroups, and the associated elitism that goes on with it. Arena titles will become a much more prized achievement, because in effect you will be playing against everyone now. Gladiator no longer means the top 0.5% of the Battlegroup - it means the top 0.5% of the region. Whatever title players win at the end of this season reflects their standing against the whole of the region - US/Oceanic (these are combined), Europe, South America or China. Regardless of whatever title one gets - Gladiator (0.5%), Duelist (0.5-3%), Rival (3-10%) and Challenger (10-35%) - it is nice to know that this bell curve incorporates everyone in region and is a true reflection of where you are compared to everyone else.
 
On a related note, Blizzard's proposal for rating inflation in 5.2 was never implemented, probably because Blizzard was already tinkering with removing Arena teams altogether at this point and this change would have been redundant down the line. The issue that proposal was trying to address, however, has not gone away - namely, rating camping at high levels of the ladder, in which high rated players blitz rating in the early weeks and stay there for the remainder of the season. This leads me to think that either the blitzing has gone away since T2 weapons were removed, or that they might implement some kind of rating inflation in the future for personal ratings. Perhaps it has become a non-issue, and that a region wide competition will discourage high rating camping due to the increased competition for top spots.
 
 
Arena Time Limits

OK I admit that I have been an asshat in 2s games on a number of occasions. There have been times when I've lost my partner and rather than bowing out gracefully I have looked at the enemy DPS and said to myself, "This guy can't kill me." I would then proceed to run around and be a total tosser and play for a draw until the 45 (now 25) minute timer expired. Both teams would lose points, and I would have wasted both teams' time. But I did deny the opposition any points for winning. Ha!

Karma is a bitch however, and once I was on the receiving end of this type of treatment while grinding games I took a long hard look at myself and said, "This is immature behaviour unworthy of a grown adult." Actually, it was more like, "Dang! This sucks and it's wasting my time. Just quit dude, you're going to lose points regardless - you're just being spiteful! I would never do anything like that...oh, wait a minute..."

Suitably enlightened I learned to lose with a modicum of grace, and after Season 11 or thereabouts once my partner died I would bow out quickly. Usually. If the DPS was bad I might hang around for a couple of minutes just to prove a point (what can I say, I'm exceedingly shallow). I would tank the DPS's burst, then walk out into the open, wave farewell and quit as if to say, "Now look lads - you didn't beat me, OK? I am leaving on my own accord. I know, I know, it is a magnanimous gesture and you should /salute me or something for it. Come on now, just give me a wave or something... Come on... Look, I'm not leaving until you give me some kind of emote..."

Not sure why I bothered really, because if the enemy could talk they would say, "Good for you. mate, you have proven that you can keep your healer alive against a single DPS, which is how Blizzard has actually designed the current game. Now if you could keep your DPS partner alive you might actually get higher ratings...?" More likely thought they would just say, "Just f***ing quit you f***ing baddie, stop wasting our f***ing time you f***ing f***head."


This one screenshot tells you how this particular Arena game is going to end. The priest has gambled and lost by running out into the open to fear Theo. It was a bad gamble - his feral partner is not putting any pressure on Ratsac who is at full health, and Theo still has his trinket which he uses to break the CC. Ratsac is red and angry and bursting, and feral is below 50% health. Priest is out in the open, and Psychic Fear is now on CD. Theo's Repentance is off CD and ready. Priest now has 1.5 s (the time it takes to cast a Repentance) to cast something to top up his partner, because after that he will eat a Repentance, followed up by a Blinding Light. GG if the priest has no trinket, because this means a 14 s lockout. Even if he trinkets, Theo will stand on top of him and interrupt any cast over time spells. The only thing that can save his partner now is if he still has major defensive CDs like Barkskin, instant Healing Touch, Might of Ursoc or Survival Instincts off CD.

Anyway... not everyone has reached this exalted state of maturity I currently display, and so Blizzard has wisely enforced a 15 minute time limit on Arena matches. After 15 minutes a buff will be awarded to the team which i) has the most number of players remaining; or ii) has had the best kill attempt on an enemy player (i.e. reduced an opposition player's health the lowest). At first glance I thought this would be a moderately strong buff that would give a decent but not insurmountable advantage to the team which had fulfilled either of these two conditions, but when I went poking around the Internet to gauge the strength of the buff I found that it was not so much a buff as opposed to, in the words of Blizzard's lead PvP designer Holinka, a match ender. The Crowd Chose You buff gives you 1000% extra damage, decreases all damage taken by 100%, and allows you to see stealthed units. I don't know for certain if this version of the buff is the one that will become live, but as it stands the presence of this buff creates a hard (not soft) time limit of 15 minutes for Arena matches as once your team receives the buff you can no longer die and it's just a formality wiping up the opposition. I would have much preferred a moderately strong buff to ensure a result but also allow people the chance to claw a win back even if they failed to get the buff.
 
There are a number of implications for this. Firstly, healer/tank teams might become competitive if the healers involved can maintain high health pools until the 15 minute limit has been reached. This is not as easy as it sounds in PvP, where health is spiking crazily all the time, but it is possible. A healer or tank with 1000% damage buff will dispatch enemies with ease. On the flip side, healer teams shouldn't be able to put out that much burst in return, so in the end I believe this will be a non-issue.
 
The second implication is that I think this change favors super burst classes, especially mage and shadow priest teams which use the Deep Freeze/Devouring Plague combo. Mages especially line up their burst with their team mates when their Deep Freeze comes out, and fights with this class revolve around syncing your defensive CDs every 30 s or so when they try to Deep you down with their team mates. Syncing burst is what every Arena team worth their salt should be doing too, anyway, so perhaps this too, is a non-issue. It's just that some classes burst a little bit better than others, so they might be able to get better shots at getting the buff. This is not an issue where health pools are big enough to allow healers to recover, but if the game becomes all about who gets the health pools down the lowest, then naturally the better bursters receive the advantage.  
 
A third implication is that it could force healers to play less conservatively to keep health pools up as high as possible and to use major CDs earlier than they would have in earlier incarnations of the game. When all is said and done however, all this change means is that Arena games are 15 minutes long in 5.4 as opposed to 25 minutes (which is infinitely better than 45 minutes which was the time limit in Season 10). The strategy is just to land a kill and win within this time frame. It opens up a new strategy which in effect involves holding out for 15 minutes and winning the buff by keeping your health higher than the other team, but this is far riskier and takes much more work than the classic Arena strategy of well, erm, kill one of the other dudes. The classic strategy of syncing burst and CC to maintain pressure and force trinkets and CDs in order to eventually land kills will remain the mainstay of Arena gameplay in 5.4.
 
I'm still going to try holy paladin, resto druid and disc priest combo however. As I said, I'm exceedingly shallow.
 

Cross Realm Arenas and Connected Realms

This is huge. This is awesome. I have lost so many good Arena team mates when they left my realm for greener pastures. Luckily the tides of WoW development have brought cross realm Arenas to the barren wasteland that is the Thorium Brotherhood, and thanks to the Connected Realms there hopefully will be more players to pick fights with in world PvP. This is an amazing quality of life change for PvPers, and I applaud Blizzard for it. 


Increased CP Rewards for Random BGs

Anything which makes the acquisition of PvP gear easier is also another good quality of life change. I'm almost at the point where I would be happy if they gave PvP gear out for free to everyone, just completely even out the playing field, and let pure gameplay decide. People who still rely on gear differential to win matches are just sad, or simply not enlightened yet. On the lighter side, I couldn't help but laugh at some OQueue advertisements I saw recently (this is a social add-on which allows people to advertise and organise Rated BG teams cross-server) which stated, "No Skill No Vent No Skype No Minimum Rating needed - just play till we get the cap". As comical as this is, acquiring the cap is a necessary evil, and the real game doesn't actually start until people start playing for rating. Increasing the cap makes it fractionally easier to grind the necessary points each week, and so again, this is a good change.

 
Strand of the Ancient Changes

No more ramming, and only one Demolisher per spawn point, but bombs hit significantly harder. This is an effort to make this BG more about the players and less about the demos. The optimal strategy for this BG has always been grouping demos and attacking gates simultaneously. The biggest criticism of SOTA has been that your character becomes irrelevant - all the time you spent learning your class becomes secondary to using these vehicles correctly. To be fair, using your character to slow and focus down demos were crucial in defense , but this change pulls the gameplay back towards the characters and away from a Warcraft style Tonka truck demolition derby. Regardless, this doesn't affect Rated play as this BG is not part of the  rotation at this point, but perhaps Blizzard is looking to include it in a future date depending on how these changes pan out.


Final Thoughts

I think MoP has been a great expansion for WoW PvP to date. I have criticized WoW open world PvP as lacking luster and meaning in other posts, but the ladder competition remains robust, competitive and fairly well balanced. 5.4 will in all likelihood be the final patch for the MoP version of WoW PvP, and looking back it can be said that this expansion will be remembered for a host of quality of life changes for all PvPers. In MoP the competition became fairer (no more T2 weapons), broader (abolition of Arena teams and Battlegroups/cross realm Arena) and more accessible (resilience now baseline/easier HP and CP grinds).
 
For me personally warlocks will be my enduring memory of MoP. OP bastards. In all fairness warlock love was overdue, and locks should be thankful that they had such fervent and articulate advocates in Cynwise and Xelnath who were able to influence Blizzard design so dramatically. My best team mates have been warlocks, even before they were the dominant class of the expansion. In Season 10 I played hundreds of 45 minute games with my team mate Coronaxtra, and we used to win by gradually wearing down the opposition mana pool over the course of the game. I'm just sad that he quit before Season 11 started, because he would have had a ball with the new tools warlocks received in MoP. Locks in Season 11 have excellent burst, excellent CC and defensive CDs to rival tanking specs. I've tried to refrain from commenting on class balance, but I definitely think that locks were the PvP class of the expansion. Just my 2 cents.
 
Digression over - here's to a great and glorious Season 14 to end Mists of Pandaria!

Monday, July 29, 2013

CFC Victorious in the Largest Online Battle in MMO History

As stated in an earlier post I am a big fan of the player driven conflict and emergent story unfolding on EVE Online between the forces of CFC and TEST. Surfing through the forums and various blogs I got wind of a massive conflict building in 6VDT-H and tuned in to Mad Ani's Live Twitch stream. I went to bed as CFC forces began to muster in the system, and woke up to see the battle in full swing on the stream. For the next 4-5 hours I watched as CFC overwhelmed the TEST forces, who in the eyes of this neophyte appeared outnumbered and outgunned, but seemed determined to fight to the last ship. CFC has prevailed in the largest online battle in the history of EVE, and perhaps in the history of gaming. At its peak there were over 4000 players in the system, and this number stayed consistently in the high 3000s for most of the battle. This figure only reflects the number of players within the system during the battle - it did not count reinforcements or players waiting outside the system waiting to get into the fight. According to the EVE Battle Summary Doctor (dog-net.org), 5754 players took part in the battle, with CFC losing 283 ships and TEST 1349.

As a spectacle it left much to be desired - to the uninitiated it comprised of a bunch of orange dots surrounded by a swarm of angry red dots moving in super slow motion thanks to time dilation. I didn't watch the stream as much as I just left it to play out in the background, occasionally checking in to see if there were any changes to the distribution of the dots. Slowly but surely all the red dots began to disappear, and it became clear that this was an overwhelming CFC victory. The historical analogy that came to my mind was the US fleet steaming to Okinawa and the Japanese throwing their ragtag and makeshift kokusai squadrons (kamikazes) at them in a desperate but ultimately futile gesture. Gevlon from TEST stated that there were 1400 Test pilots in the system with more on the sidelines waiting to bridge in (but unable to due to the system cap), which presumably meant 2600 pilots for the CFC. He made the comment that CFC bridging in first was decisive, as it prevented TEST from ever engaging the CFC fleet on a one on one basis. This was borne out by my observation of the events - last night I watched the CFC fleet massing around the station, then woke up this morning to see TEST warp in fleet after fleet and get ground to dust. The CFC forces were prepared and organised and already in formation by the time TEST began their attack, and they repelled TEST's attacks fairly comfortably. When the battle was clearly lost TEST regrouped for one more final suicide charge, much to the surprise of CFC (an account written by Vily, a Megathron CFC FC can be found here) but not to those gallant folk at TEST, who had come here to make a statement - the battle for Fountain was lost, but they were going to make a stand anyway.

Mad Ani's live stream on Twitch.
TEST are pulling out of their staging area in Karan and relocating back to NOL in Delve. CFC has won the battle for Fountain. I feel sympathy for TEST - the last month has seen them deserted by their allies and ripped off from within by one of their own. Nonetheless that's the nature of the game, and they have to be given kudos for showing up in such numbers and going out the way they did. Whether or not EVE is your cup of tea this battle is a milestone in the history of MMOs. As for CFC, they appear well led, super organised and on top of the meta game. No one will probably know the full details of the behind the scene machinations, but the way the campaign was conducted seemed like a classic case of divide and conquer. They were surprised by the massive dogpile which greeted them when they first rolled into Fountain, but recovered well and were able to isolate TEST from their allies who stood with them in the opening battle of the Fountain War. At the beginning of the war TEST stood with Black Legion, Pandemic Legion and NC3 coalition, and it seemed like this would become the mother of all EVE wars. However since then so many things have occurred which favour the CFC that you start to wonder whether they are the luckiest coalition in this war, or perhaps the most adept at back room dealing. They secured their northern border by paying off the Black Legion. Black Legion then turned on Pandemic Legion by ambushing a fleet of super carriers with the help of an insider. The N3 coalition, by far the biggest equaliser in TEST's corner due to their powerful capital fleet, was distracted by another act of corporate espionage which led to S2N and Nulli Legio (members of N3) being disbanded and the theft of 250-400 billion ISK. N3 made an amazing recovery in recovering the vast majority of the lost systems within 24 hours, but was then forced to choose between two fronts this month as Solar Fleet (a.k.a. the Russians - I love how this game creates blocs along national lines) rumbled in from the east. In the end N3 withdrew their capital ships, and this proved decisive as system after system tumbled to the CFC advance. Finally there was also the theft of 130 billion ISK worth of logistics by a disgruntled TEST director only a few days ago, and all in all, all these things taken together represent a litany of woes for TEST. Whether or not CFC have had a hand in all these developments will remain a mystery I suppose, but it's important to note that while TEST and its allies have had their hands full during this whole war, CFC has remained solid, free from drama and quite formidable.

The war in Fountain has been an amazing spectacle, and for me it illustrates MMO world PvP at its best. Not the battles themselves as such, which quite frankly appeared slow and unresponsive and about as exciting as watching paint dry, but the meta-game elements which do much to influence the outcome of these battles before the factions come to grips with one another. I enjoy reading the blogs, keeping up to date with major developments, watching/listening to Mad Ani's stream, and looking at the changing map of New Eden. It's a great story too, and I applaud all the members of TEST for showing up and breaking records and showing everyone that MMORPGs are not always about winning. I was rooting for TEST chiefly because they were the underdogs, and because they were so badly outmanoeuvred in the meta-game, losing all their allies like dominoes to one crisis after another. Alas it was not to be, but the good thing is that it's not over - TEST will retreat and reorganise and hopefully come back stronger than ever. As a consolation to TEST some hours after the battle they were able to chance on a lax CFC Titan in 6VDT-H (calculated to command a price tag in excess of 120 billion ISK or $7600 US in real money terms in 2010) and destroy it, much to the astonishment of the folks watching the live stream at the time. While it probably won't equal the amount of ISK destroyed by CFC in today's battle, it will go a long way towards balancing the ledger, and also provide some cold comfort in the hearts of some embittered TEST pilots. I'm also looking forward to seeing the developments in null sec politics given that N3 in their State of the Coalition dated July 11 stated quite explicitly that the purpose of their coalition was to fight the CFC. The CFC remains the leading hegemony in null sec, and based on how clinically they won the battle for Fountain looks poised to maintain their dominance for a long time to come.