That “streamers should pay” thing

I read over at TAGN about a controversy regarding comments by a developer that streamers should pay for the game services they play and/or for the rights to use the music they use to create their streams. As Wilhelm puts it in the post “I can think of no quicker way to put an end to video game streaming that trying to extract a license tax from streamers”. This made me immediately think of the struggles of many of the creative industries’ people that I know.

Making a comparison with the lot of actors, I know quite a few here in the UK, mostly depend on other income streams to live – according to one relatively recent newspaper article some 98% of them do not live off acting income alone. I imagine since the COVID pandemic started that’s even nearer 100% now. It’s a similar situation for other friends in other arts: poets, musicians, comic artists, etc. The vast majority of these talented folks cannot make a living out of what they love to do because the money isn’t there for the majority of them – some few stars get lifted up into a profitable stratospheric layer but that is nigh on impossible to achieve without powerful sponsors within the industry. To see a developer lashing out, in frustration or whatever other reason, at those lower down the earning ladder is pretty galling. He’s targetting the wrong people if he’s frustrated over the nightmarish state of monetisation in the gaming industry.

Although I had no intention to return to the topic of my last post on content trends, there is an overlap here. Streaming has been big for a few years now, and I suspect it is very slightly more likely to turn into some kind of regular income stream than blogging nowadays. I guess the earning potential is probably higher than the published tabletop rpg adventure writing that I’ve spent some time on over the last 12 months. That’s been a learning experience and enjoyable despite the many, many hours invested in it. But, if the DMs Guild platform or Wizards of the Coast were to change the terms to require me to pay up-front to use the D&D and Eberron intellectual properties, as opposed to the current 50% royalty cut on sales made, I’d immediately stop any future plans for further publications. I have no plans to become a MMO streamer, myself: I’m too used to a regular and comfortable salary to give that up for work that requires, I imagine, a lot more effort on self-promotion and marketing than it does actual creative work. Besides I hate the sound of my own voice and am not anywhere near comfortable enough with social media to make a success of it.

Just because it isn’t for me, however, I know enough creatives to sympathise greatly with their travails and just how stacked against the vast majority of them the monetisation of the gaming industry is. The idea that streamers should pay licenses to make their content, work that is basically ‘free’ promotional work for the companies and their games, strikes me as ridiculous. It is also typical of the manipulative language that surrounds the creative industries and just how exploitative these industries are of the creative people they depend upon. I’m only glad, as Wilhelm reports in his blog post, that industry leaders have so far distanced themselves from the opinions of this particular developer.

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Adapt, or don’t

A post by Bhagpuss discussing the mobile browsing compatability for his blog has reminded me of a topic I’ve thought of a few times recently: adaptation by content creators to the trends around them.

The Internet, and the array of technologies it hosts, are constantly changing. As an IT professional it is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting to deal with this on a regular basis. This spring/summer, which has been a particularly bizarre and challenging one work-wise, has caused even more change than normal. The pandemic meant finding new tools and platforms, advising on security and functionality issues relating to their use, and then training users to adopt them rapidly. We’ve adapted to widespread web-conferencing, shared files in the cloud, collaboration platforms and ramped up the number of tools relating to social media, while also increasing the extent of our use of existing accounts.

It’s quite the contrast with my private use of such platform: this blog hasn’t changed in any significant manner for many years. I started feeding new posts to Twitter some years ago to help promote the posts, but haven’t (if I’m honest) made that much of an effort to really adopt Twitter as a platform.

Thinking about redesigning this blog to better suit mobile phones hadn’t, as yet, occured to me – though it really should as it was a major topic in the company website redesign process two years ago. Other media come and go as the latest fad, although I’m not that ofay with what’s hot at the moment, I do get to talk to teenagers on occasion through work. When questioned about the company’s use of social media, there seems to be marked differences of opinion between young people only a few years different in age on which social media platforms are best for reachign them, or their favourite. So it is not even a case of “the new hotness”, but rather “the new hotness for some who bothered to adopt it or who were the platform’s target (age) audience”.

Maybe my company’s experiences is a rather niche example, and new platforms are mass adopted by a majority, but is it the right audience for this blog? Probably not in any case. So the question remains on whether I should consider adapting my MMORPG output to any new platforms? I’m not ready to start Twitch streaming any time soon – I’m no performer.

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Solo vs multiplayer in MMORPGs #WorldofWarcraft

So far in World of Warcraft retail, post-patch, we’ve mostly just been running gold emissary dailies – hardly a real test of the new class changes. I’ve also been ticking off some other pre-expansion items, notably unlocking the Vulpera allied race.

Doing this relatively long quest chain on my Horde main, two things came to mind. Firstly, Holy priest is still a pretty slow and boring experience despite the ever-changing game systems in World of Warcraft, some things never change. Secondly I very rarely play World of Warcraft solo.

Solo gaming in the MMORPG genre isn’t new to me at all. I’ve documented countless times on this blog about playing many different online games as a solo activity. Although the genre is named for its multiplayer aspect, there are other reasons for wanting to play these games solo – for instance their open-ended, ever-changing nature. Unlike offline RPGs, MMOs tend to have a much longer lifespan in terms of updates – so all the hours invested in character development have a longer payoff, I would argue.

Although I play World of Warcraft regularly, and have over much of the last 13 years, I have almost never played it solo. In general if I’m in game its to play with friends. Almost from the start there were other MMORPGs that I wanted to play, so when no friends were available online, I would inevitably occupy my solo gaming time in other virtual worlds.

It’s a bit of a weird imbalance, and it does mean I am much less likely to make any significant progress with crafting professions in WoW versus the equivalent in other games. For example I tend to balance my adventuring vs tradeskill time-investment in Everquest 2 around 60% v 40%, in contrast – my engagement in EQ2 has always been heavily solo-oriented and with a bigger focus on gathering and crafting. Likewise in Lord of the Rings Online, when I’ve been actively playing it, I have spent significant time on the interlocking crafting systems among my various alts.

Contemplating twinking a lowbie alt…

At times I am reminded of this lack of solo time spent in WoW, however. In WoW Classic the crafting professions all become pretty grindy as you level them up. That requires either a lot of money spent on the auction house, or a lot of gathering time to find all the materials in increasing amounts – blacksmithing is pretty greedy when it comes to steel and mithril in later tiers.

How many bars !!??

Furthermore, playing characters almost exclusively in dungeons is not the best way of making money, unless you are lucky with drops that can be sold on the auction house, if I wanted to make money on a character I’d have to get on with questing more seriously. So buying my progress in crafting professions isn’t really an option for this same lack of solo time investment. I should probably quest more in WoW Classic to build up the money across my characters and to allow for gathering of materials to finish off my crafting skill development, but then, that would again take away from the time available to play other games…

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Guns on Castrovel #Starfinder

The jungle-covered world of Castrovel has restrictions on most types of heavy-industry, with several powerful factions like the Green Faith and the Xenowardens lobbying to keep the planet’s extensive wilderness regions untouched by development and pollution. This beautiful planet has a troubled history, however, as only thirty years ago a millenia-long armed struggle between two of the sentient species (the lashunta and formians) came finally to an end. The legacy of this long story of conflict is that the various nations on Castrovel are highly militarised, yet ironically outside of their respective militaries, arms and armor are difficult to source.

There are relatively few arms merchants available to outsiders, unless visitors are well enough connected to find black-market traders or connect with one of the elusive smuggler networks. In Qabarat, the most cosmopolitan of Castrovel’s cities, two options are widely advertised on the local InfoSphere.

AbadarCorp Emporium

The hypermarket of AbadarCorp dominates an entire city block near to the main starport. It offers all manner of off-world goods for the cities shoppers, and has a well stocked range or arms and armor. All items are manufactured by Abadar subsidiaries off-world to the corporation’s reliable, if slightly average, standards.

Any important or well-known customers will likely encounter Merip, the arms emporium’s ysoki director of sales (male ysoki, slate grey fur and emerald eyes). He is a font of knowledge about weapons of all kinds: a real enthusiast with a gift for sales patter. As local director he is empowered to offer small discounts on bulk purchases.

Visitors to the arms emporium are encouraged to pay their respects to Abadar before leaving with their new purchases. The more ardent believers in the god of commerce’s benevolence do this to receive a blessing on their new weapons or armor before using them in battle, a small donations is usually made as part of their devotions at one of the private shrine-booths (all major currencies or even UPBs are accepted). Local conspiracy theorists might comment that the church is promoting ‘divine-inspired obsolesence’ in these products, there are even Holonet discussions showing ‘evidence’ that weapons purchased without a suitably large blessing mysteriously develop faults a day or two after the warranty expires…

Sehal’s Gunstore

This anacronistic store is squeezed into a narrow alleyway between the main fresh produce and household goods markets in Qabarat. The maze-like streets in this densest part of the city are home to many small trader shops. Sehal is a middle-aged female damaya lashunta with grey-brown skin and green eyes. She deals with customers in no-nonsense tones and an efficient manner.

Unlike AbadarCorp, Sehal’s shop deals mostly in customised and reconditioned arms. She has single-handedly grown the business based at first on repairing heirloom weapons; with the long militaristic traditions of the lashunta such items are usually handed down for generations. Sehal is an expert weapon-mechanic and has a surprisingly sophisticated arms lab out back.

More recently, she has managed to secure contracts to supply several notable organisations with non-lethal weapons, and has established supply lines with off-world manufacturers to meet the volumes required by these new orders. Expansion of her business may well be justified in the near future. To date, her small time operation has flown under the radar of the fiercly competitive AbadarCorp, but any expansion into military or corporate supply contracts is likely to draw the corporation’s attention.

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Here we go again

So, I had deliberately delayed my next post to today to be able to write about the new pre-patch system changes and some first impressions of WoW Retail’s brave new world. As it happens, I didn’t think to log in during work hours, I blame being stuck in work Zoom calls for over half the day.

When I started in the queue it said 179 minutes, now, an hour and a half later the wait time has gone up to the 244 minutes shown above. So it looks like I’ll not be seeing any level-squish stuff tonight. I’ll be in bed before that counts down to login.

At least I have other games I can pop into, I’ve done my Everquest Overseer missions, and also done an hour’s French revision while waiting. Some friends are in of course, they were able to log on before the evening rush in Europe. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même choseat least when it comes to the game system’s ever-changing, but the patch day blues being always the same. <sigh>

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Shadowlands levelling gameplay gaps

We’ll see soon enough what the new levelling experience in World of Warcraft is like. To me, many questions remain on how this will work out in the details. Any character, beyond the first that you level, can choose a single era of WoW retail to level through from 10 to 50: the Cataclysm revamped zones, Burning Crusade’s Draenor, Wrath of the Lich King, and so on. Husband and I have discussed a few alternatives on what to play through first, a full play through of Wrath of the Lich King or Mists of Pandaria are up there at the moment.

What should actually be included in this experience though? In more recent expansions there have been expansion-limited features that only have relevance for that era. Think the garrison of Warlords, the artifact weapons of Legion or the Heart of Azeroth from Battle for Azeroth. These features are dominant for a couple of years of gameplay, yet more recently they are retired or disabled. In our recent run through on our monk and death knight we’ve seen our garrison as though nothing had moved on. But on our limited play through of the Legion content, our artifact weapons lacked their abilities or progression systems.

This makes for a rather limited play experience, though as veterans we played through that expansion when it was live and know what we’re missing out on. With Shadowlands the same retirement of gameplay systems is coming to Battle for Azeroth: the Heart of Azeroth and the corruption system will be disabled. There are also content issues that may or may not be addressed by the new level squish – what happens to ‘level cap’ content releases that form important parts of the expansion’s narrative, but that will be skipped by most if not all players if they are inaccessible until level 50 – Suramar & Argus, or even older content like Tanaan Jungle or Firelands?

Suramar has so much content to enjoy

I’ll be glad to see the back of the corrupted gear, I never liked the idea of punishing characters for finding new gear – especially since it affected alts so much more unless you really set to the grind on the legendary cloak. I have to admit though that playing the whole of Battle for Azeroth with a useless Heart of Azeroth and no azerite gear, if that is what happens, will be rather strange.

So is there a solution to this? The story conceit, of our character taking a journey through time while levelling with Chromie as a guide, is a nice solution to the utterly tangled storylines of the game. Yet this conceit does not address the equally tangled gameplay experiences, or the gaps left by them, that players will face. Since I never touch betas for WoW expansions, I’m basing these thoughts on limited media coverage of what is coming. Based on how Blizzard have handled this (or failed to) in the past, and the obvious time-pressures that Shadowlands is under to release, I fear the gameplay gaps will be ignored. It is a shame as this will mean missing out on chunks of what made each expansion unique.

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Out of reach details

We recently played our first partial run through of the Zul Farrak dungeon in WoW Classic on this particular group. It’s been a while since we were there on our Alliance party. It was the entrance that I was struck by all the background details that we never get to see that close up in these instances. It’s both frustrating but also intriguing at the same time.

That set me in a particularly exploratory mood for the dungeon and we did rather a lot of jumping on things and trying to reach corners we would normally run past.

A few weeks ago this same group were still running Razerfen Downs, that place is chock full of details that cannot be reached – huts on walls suspended by beams, giant roots that look perfectly climbable but that you cannot ascend, etc.

Even outside of dungeons there is so much detail everywhere, it is always great to take a moment to poke around. I love looking inside buildings on the off-chance there will be an amusing detail or, very rarely, actually something with gameplay value lying around.

In the case of this two-story pirate dwelling in Tanaris, there’s a quest item to lead you upstairs anyway, but it’s an almost missable feature if you’re more focused on rampaging through the village looking for the pirates you need for other quests.

Exploration has its limits however, Classic’s dungeons are not ones to shield player characters from stupid actions. Forays into Blackrock Depths with our Alliance main team reminded me just how easy it would be in that labyrinthine place for my character to die in an unreachable place.

So exploration has its limits in Classic, at least if you want to avoid the repair bill. Trying to get to out of reach details in the game, and there are many, still can be a powerful motivation to try.

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A gathering I will go #EQ2

Days of Summer has come around again, I got caught up on the two weeks of quests available yesterday evening. This series of weekly tasks is handed out, as per usual, by the charming Hua Mein (panda-people) of Norrath.

As a change of theme, I’m not visiting exciting locations to collect memories this time, but rather I’m to gather ingredients for a feast in honour of our friend from previous years – Yun Zi. This new conceit for nostalgic meanderings did make me smile.

As a side-note, not all MMOs have nerfed drowning. Wiki reading can be hazzardous!

The first quest is set in Antonica, a large zone that I confess I know very poorly. I’m rather familiar with the layout but I’ve never quested through Antonica in any era of the game. Flying around there on occassion, for the plush dragon fights of the anniversary for instance, I’ve often thought I *really* need to get an alt going there. Since I had no clue where the items were, it was time to look up on the wiki.

With that done, I immediately returned to Sundered Frontier and handed in to take the week 2 quest. This time it is set in Darklight Woods, a zone I have quested through at least twice over the years. There’s something satisfying about understanding in-game clues, I knew the referenced locations. I have to admit I was, briefly, concerned the guards at Wanderlust Fair would be hostile to my Kelethin-resident provisioner. Perhaps that’s disabled for this quest, or I’m thinking in “WoW mode” about faction hostility.

Nothing to see here, just passing through…

As a bonus my warlock, well I think of him more as a provisioner because he never adventures, managed to learn the Translocate spell while at the seemingly inactive Wizard Spire in this zone. He’d never been anywhere to learn this spell that is available to all mage-archetype classes, but my disappointment that the spire had no portal, and that I’d have to fly back the other way to zone to somewhere with a working Spire turned into surprise that a portal trainer was stood by the steps. So this became the location of his first ever portal casting to return to the quest hand-in. Some unexpected excitement in very familiar surroundings!

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Shadowlands delay

It would be remiss of me to not mention the recently announced delay to the Shadowlands launch date. We now know the pre-patch arrives on 13 October. This latter detail is good to finally know, now I can plan some gaming priorities around when we will be looking at the new levelling experience. Our latest pair of characters, including my now brewmaster monk, has just started in Battle for Azeroth, another week and a bit will be plenty of time to get him to the cap.

The actual arrival of Shadowlands is anyone’s guess at this point. The delay may only be a few weeks for more balancing of the covenant abilities, soulbinds and conduits systems. I imagine much more of a delay than a month is unlikely, so perhaps as long as the 26 November, but it’s unlikely to be stretched that close to Christmas. The linked annoucement points the finger at the endgame as the reason for the delay, and not the overly complex (yet again) throw-away systems that are being introduced for this one expansion, before being abandoned as soon as we leave the Shadowlands. I would happily add my voice to the other bloggers and vloggers that are loudly telling Blizzard to back away from such systemic complexity in future. It would offer much more value for money to players if they devoted development time and resources to more frequenty and varied content creation, rather than constantly inventing new systems that then flop (e.g. Islands and Warfronts from BfA). Even the systems that proved popular are often abandoned (e.g. farming in Pandaria). This just feels like such a poor management direction to adhere to when the game has had lots of negative press and community feedback for years. Bugs and balance are more than enough to keep the system developers busy, don’t overload them every expansion with more features that are so short-lived!

I am excited to see the story development of Shadowlands. The four covenant teaser videos have done enough to get me interested in playing through the four zone storylines. The apparent return to a single set order for the zones, at least according to how the overall expansion story develops is something I’ll be watching carefully. The last two expansions gave us free-reign over which of the zones to do in whatever order. That gave some freedom and variety to leveling alts to try and stave off boredom with the content. It remains to be seen if the overarching story will be strong enough to keep me coming back with alts for repeat play-throughs. Warlords of Draenor had a pretty strong story to it, but I did tire of this quicker than the leveling zones in Legion (the more recent expansion that I played the most intensively by far).

I think I’ll be trying a Vulpera rogue for my first dip into the Chromie-related leveling experience. A possible first for me as I never managed to stick with rogue before, if the Shadowlands version of the class actually appeals that is. Beyond that, here’s hoping we hear soon about what extra is being done to bring Shadowlands to market.

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Even a jump can take you far

It all started with my usual propensity to jump on anything in a MMORPG that is in front of my character. That “because it is there” mentality, at least in a zero stakes game, really gets my Tauren druid in Classic to try to climb or jump up on things. It usually makes for interesting screenshot angles, and the odd unusual discovery.

In a recent run of Razerfen Downs with our Horde dungeoneers, it also led to some musings on the hidden advantages of certain World of Warcraft character races when it came to jumping. Very tall characters have the edge it seems, which is perfectly logical in one sense, but a vanishingly rare commodity in more modern games due to balancing.

Although I usually did jumping puzzles in Guild Wars 2 exactly once – I really dislike them with a passion – I never found it particularly harder on my diminuitive Asura versus the taller characters I created.Why I would like jumping around but not like jumping puzzles is a seemingly contrary thing, but the difference I believe is that this post is about free exploration. The fiendish and often long jumping puzzles in Guild Wars 2 and other games like Wildstar, were at least as much about competition as exploration I would contend. Competition isn’t my thing in gaming.

A fiendish jumping puzzle

I’ve always loved everything about the Tauren: their character models, their movement animations and emotes and they could play my two favourite WoW classes (druid and shaman). In Retail they can also play paladins for the full trifecta. The fact that they make excellent jumpers in Classic is an added bonus. I think it’s one of those “not how you remember it” things. I have vague memories of WoW being terrible for blocking off everything not on the path you should be walking on, especially indoors. But then I started playing in Burning Crusade and those dungeons were particularly linear…

Feather fall is your friend

This memory is no doubt clouded by my earlier years of WoW coinciding with when I started playing Dungeons & Dragons Online, a MMO that is polar opposite for freedom of movement compared to the early WoW content and game engine. In much more recent times WoW has played catch-up with a lot more movement abilities, and engineering or temporary zone-specific items. I am finding that at least in the more open Classic dungeons there is more freedom to explore than I first thought, even if the simple jump is the only tool available to me…

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