Thursday, April 13, 2006

Another Layer of Complexity Reveals Itself

I was chatting with Skuggan/Konstig about our 'toons. He's got a lvl 60 priest, among several other lvl 60s, and I was playing my then lvl 49 warlock. Skug said he'd just created a new toon, a warlock, and was already at lvl 21. (That's so Skuggan; he's a machine!). He said he was really digging the 'lock. I complained about how hard it was to get my 'lock leveled these days, and he suggested I respec. He said he's spec'd his lock on total destruction. Mine is spec'd toward affliction and demonology, with the intent being to party with others in a particular role. He was right though, for soloing, this sort of sucked.

The next day I thought I'd try the respec. Now it is important to realize that respec'ing costs. The first time it's 1 G; thereafter it goes up in cost quickly. Also, I just had a bad feeling that I was about to foobar the toon. But did that stop me? Hell no.

So I respec'd for destruction. THen I tried to play Hallgrima against some stiff PVE in the Badlands. Oh look, two of the deadliest spells require soul shards! Ack. In no time I was out of shards. I found the destructo version really tough to play. I had no feel for it. I panicked and ran back to the warlock trainer to respec back to normal.

Feeling like a wuss, I decided I'd better consult the forums for some insights. To my great relief I found a thread dedicated to the topic: Warlock Talents 101. Okay...but...the configurations are quite variable and the arguments for each config. quite compelling, albeit a bit cryptic due to jargon I have not yet acquired. Clearly one problem I must solve is how I wish to play my toon. Am I going to be predominantly PVE, PVP, or what? Now I have just been introduced to PVP through a couple of raids and a couple of Battlegrounds (BG) experiences, which will be the subject of another post. I can see going into a PVP server. But for now, I think I"m mostly PVE in instance parties and solo.

I tried to go back to my old config., but ended up with more pts in destruction anyhow. I feel pretty comfortable playing it this way. I plan to respec more destructioni when I hit lvl 60. I am still trying to digest the Locks 101 and continually reread the threads after ingame experiences.

But the point of this posting is, as the title says, to share my consternation and admiration for yet another layer of complexity in the MMORPG that is WoW. This thing is an onion. And...the community seems to rise to the challenge and co-construct, share, and stockpile a good bit of thoughtful, practical and speculative knowledge.


The talent calculator is an interesting tool. YOu can not only mess with different configurations of points, but you can also create a persistent link to your array so that you can post it in the forums for comment.

And here's my current config, given my 40 points.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Saga of the Big Iron Fishing Pole: Some Forays into AH economics

This should probably be filed under the same category as those breathless weight loss ads, where the spokesperson extols the virtue of the miracle cure (only $39.95!) and then wraps it up by saying “I didn’t believe it until I tried it, but it really does work!”…

A couple of months ago, Scott, my network engineer who I infected with WoW, told me that he’d been searching on the Internet for ways to make money in WoW, and he’d stumbled across the surefire method – finding the Big Iron Fishing Pole, and then selling it at the Auction House. The BIFP, he told me, dropped only in one place in the entirety of the WoW world, and if you went and got one, then you could sell the pole, +20 to fishing, for 100g. I filed that away in my mind, mostly under medieval-urban legend.

Then Ken, my network technician who infected me with WoW, told me that he’d taken Scott’s story, and actually gone and done it – he’d found the BIFP, and he’d sold it for 100g. I refilled the story in my mind, mostly under fact, but with some future research needed.

Then Brudie helped me with the purchase of my mount, and he mentioned that he (actually, Datta, his druid) had farmed the BIFP with me in mind, and that the 40g he gave me was Datta’s gift to me – that Datta liked me. (This is a whole different discussion – one where avatars potentially have different opinions than their players. But I digress.) At this point, I decided I’d better go take a look for the BIFP.

Ken had told me where it was located – you have to loot the shellfish traps in the ocean to the west of Shadowprey Village in Desolace, and he told me that it had taken him an hour to get the pole to drop. I actually had only been to Desolace once before this, and it hadn’t been a terribly comprehensive look – Brudie and I were swimming down the coastline so that I could get to Feathermoon Village to get my Artisan Alchemist training. So I took the long journey from IF to Menethil to Auberdine to Stonetalon peaks, and then hiked it south into Desolace. I found Nijel’s Point in northern Desolace, got the FP, and then made the inn at Nijel’s Point my home. Crucially, I also remembered to pull five Elixirs of Water Breathing out of my bank account before I left IF.

Shadowprey Village sits on the southwestern coast of Desolace, and it’s Horde. Apparently there’s an FP there. For alliance, though, you have to hoof it across some nasty country before you reach the ocean, and you definitely don’t want to get to close to the village itself – the guards are 60s who are only too happy to whack you.

Once you’re in the water, though, it’s pretty straightforward – quaff a water-breathing potion, and then start swimming throughout the coastal shelf area, looking for the wooden shellfish traps. The area is patrolled by large lobsterish creatures – lvl 34 and 35s – but as a 43, they didn’t want much to do with me, unless I swam right into them; otherwise my aggro radius on them was sufficiently small that so long as I kept a look out for them, I didn’t end up fighting too often.

The first attempt I made, I got interrupted by a guildmate who wanted me to run Uldaman with him, and nice guy that I am, I abandoned the quest with about 15 minutes left on the potion timer. On the attempt the next day, however, I got the BIFP at the 20 minute mark. Ken had told me it had taken him an hour, so when it dropped, I was startled – I figured I was still quite a ways off. I hearthed back to Nijel’s Point right away, and mailed the BIFP to an alt, who posted it to the AH. The next day, there in the mail was the notification that the BIFP had sold for 100g. Eureka! Free money and world dominion was mine. I headed back to the ocean to pick up more free money.

As it turns out, Ken must have had bad luck – I got the next BIFP after another 20 minutes, and the same on the third and fourth trips. Whatever else could be said about the information being passed within the community, it appears that the drop rate had been seriously underestimated.

Even so, it turned out even I wasn’t maximizing my returns, because for the first four days, once the BIFP dropped, I’d hearth immediately, leaving some time on the water breathing potion unused. On the fifth day, I got the BIFP at about 15 minutes, and figured, WTF, I’ll keep going and use up the potion, and blam, got a second BIFP at minute 28. The same thing happened the next day – two in 30 minutes. I began to think that perhaps something was wrong – that I might be ready to give up my IRL day job in order to farm the Big Iron Fishing Pole.

Inventory and sales are two different things, though, and once I had six poles in stock, I figured I had enough to work with for a while, so I headed back to Stormwind to work the Auction House, and that’s when the real learning began.

As I said, the first BIFP sold for 100g, and when I listed it, there wasn’t another one on the block. When I got back to SW with my packs bulging with BIFPs, however, I found that someone else – Ourl - had one listed, for what seemed the ridiculously low price of 35g. When I saw that, two thoughts came to my mind. First, there wasn’t any way I could list one of my BIFPs for 100g with another one listed at 35g, and second, if the market really was willing to pay the 100g, Ourl was seriously undermaximizing his potential returns. So I purchased Ourl’s BIFP for 35g and immediately relisted it for the 100g the other pole had sold for. Clever, clever, clever, I thought.

Well, no. Turns out Ourl had two BIFPs in his/her satchel as well, and when he saw my pricing, he immediately posted his second pole – for 55g. Scoundrel – bollixing my carefully laid plans. With my pole now the high cost alternative, and no way for me to differentiate it from Ourl’s pole – honestly, I’d treated mine with loving care, cleaned it, wrapped it in oilskin cloth for the trip from Nijel’s Point to Stormwind – my auction expired after 24 hours, and I got the BIFP back.

Over the next week, I was in and out of the AH, working the market of the Big Iron Fishing Pole, watching the prices and posting my poles. What I learned was that the rules of the BIFP aren’t easily learned, and that the rules of peddling fishing poles, at least on microeconomic level, are considerably more complex than I expected.

First, when an item is rare, it’s actually easier to see wide variations of price than when it’s a commodity – Light Leather on the AH is pretty stable. I chalk this up to the stabilizing effect of always having the commodity on sale, and a generally self-correcting nature to the prices – if there are always 10 auctions for Light Leather, and they generally always are falling within a narrow zone around 60s, someone who comes on and lists a stack for 20g is unlikely to make a sale. On the other side, if someone comes on and decides to sell their stack for 30s, they’ll make a sale, but they won’t really move the price downward, they’ll just make less on their sale. So the price settles in.

On the BIFP, however, the scarcity works against a solid median price. At one point there were four BIFPs listed, and I was able to price mine as the second cheapest – at 47g – and made a sale. When my pole was the only one available and I attempted to maximize my return by pricing it at 75g, I was more vulnerable – one time I made a sale, another I was undercut and the auction expired. Over time, I suspect, the average price for a BIFP would probably be around 50 or 55 g, but the scatter plot of pricing and sales would be considerably more scattered than the narrow grouping of the commodity items.

It was about midway through the week that I began reading chapter 8 of Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds, and I have to say, it illuminated much of what I was learning with the BIFPs. It also became clear to me why, intentionally or otherwise, it was so important that the Big Iron Fishing Pole only be found in one place in the world, and why its existence really has the potential to undercut much that’s fun about WoW.

The BIFP is a white item. I have to believe that this is somewhat of a mistake – it’s not green, and it’s not BOE or BOP. It’s just a regular white item that happens to be +20 to fishing. It can be freely traded, and infinitely repaired, and it will continue to retain all of its original properties. It is, in every sense of the economic terminology, a durable good – and in fact, it’s what Castronova calls a “permable” good – unless a player chooses to destroy it, it exists in perpetuity.

This is a problem, because it is the degradation, or consumption, of items that leads to constant need, and by extension, leads to a vibrant trade economy. As Castronova puts it, “an economy based entirely on durable goods does not need as much production or trade as one based on consumables …. A durable good may depreciate, of course, and as it does so more rapidly, it becomes more like a consumable. By all means, there should be no good that never depreciate; these items would not be durables, they would be ‘permables’, quite rare on Earth but unfortunately ubiquitous in synthetic worlds. (p. 184)”

I don’t know how many players per realm there are – 10,000? 20,000? It’d take a significant amount of time to equip a lot of them with their own BIFP, but the thing is, with the permanence of the digital “permable good”, time doesn’t really matter – the poles will continue to exist forever. Sure, alts who own a BIFP will be impacted by player churn on the server, as some players who have the item stop playing without selling it, but gradually, inexorably, the number of BIFPs in the world will increase. The cost will stabilize and then fall. Sooner or later, a new pole – the Big Titanium Fishing Pole – that’s +40 will have to be introduced, or the rules on the BIFP will have to change that makes it BOE or BOP. Otherwise, sooner or later, the trade in BIFPs will come to a halt.

The experience also leads me to think about the potential negative impacts of information upon a game. Up ‘till now, I’ve generally thought that the knowledge that flows around the WoW community had no downside, but now I’m not so sure. I genuinely considered whether to include the exact location where the BIFP drops in this post – if I’m concerned that the information has a deleterious impact on the WoW economy, is it my responsibility to limit the damage – kind of like being vague about the exact location of a plant rediscovered after being thought extinct. I don’t know.

Now, this is all being taken to the extreme – there are far more likely examples of market instability, and problems created by the digital nature of the virtual world we’re playing in. That said, even the little playing with the system I’ve explored convinced me that there’s something to what Castronova’s saying, that designers have to be very, very cognizant of what choices they make, even on the most mundane of items. As he says, “To get any fun to happen at all, you need to have an active economy to begin with. The key to generating economic activity is trade.” Right now, I’m having fun, and making some gold, trading in this particular rare item, but I’m hesitant to do too much more with it. I don’t know if I’ll go back to harvest more once my seven poles have been sold - I remember the old bumper sticker that said “Think globally, act locally,” and think about the impact on WoW that a farmer of the BIFP could have in a small way on the game – it’s a small ripple, but one which hints at a tidal wave that could follow.

All in all, fascinating – I’m still being blown away by the complexity of the domain we’re playing in.

p.s. Ding, 45.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hurry up and slow down!

A conversation last week with the group has brought me great challenge today. Linda mentioned that your professions are a vital role in the WoW community and economy. This got me thinking, am I really missing out and too worried about level-grinding, more so than experiencing the game? Up until now, I have not even assigned myself a profession.

So I started to head back to my roots, Dolanaar. Going back to the place that once scared me now bores me and also opens my eyes. I have worked on the professions of skinning and leatherworking, which makes sense for being a hunter. I have started on this long, non-experience point (XP) earning journey to work on my profession as a commitment to being a member of WoW. Now that I have been running around, I have time to take a step back and observe my surroundings and others. One of the first things I noticed is the General Chat channel. When you are in Duskwood, it is barely used except for professional use. However, in this noob land, people use it for everything: conversation, selling, etc. I am sure many people do not know the appropriate ways to communicate, private chat, party chat, etc. The interesting thing is I am noticing it NOW, not before. Now that I am running through all of these places again, I am realizing how much I really missed out on. Take it slow, or get your mount ASAP?