I’m going down (down) in a blaze of glory

January 28, 2009

Well folks, this is it.  My last blog post.  When I started this thing back in December, I’m not sure what I intended it to be.  Kind of a personal journal.  I didn’t tell anybody about it, just kind of put it out there.

Then the Age of Blogging (AoB) came around at the beginning of the year.  I was writing mostly about WAR at the time, so I signed up.  I saw an immediate increase in traffic, which was cool, while at the same time I was getting kind of bored/frustrated with the whole blogging thing.  For those that haven’t tried it, it’s not as easy as it looks.  And I’m not even that good at it – how some of those guys/girls (see list at right) keep up such quality and quantity is beyond me. 

Fast forward to now.  I’ve got a new job that, while much better than my old one, is also demanding more of my time right now, a demand which doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon.  My playing of WAR and games in general has seen a sharp decline, and trying to write a blog a) without a lot of free time and b) without playing much of the game that it is loosely based on makes for a frustrating experience.

After I got a couple hits from AoB but was getting increasingly frustrated, I said to myself I would stick it out until I got 1,000 hits or 50 comments, whichever came first, just as a personal milestone.  I know that’s a pretty paltry sum for most of the other bloggers, but for me it’s a bunch.  Well, as of today I have flown past the 1,000 mark in a whirlwind of hits and comments.  People largely disagreed with my last post as evidenced by my comments section and this thread at the VN Boards.  Which is cool, it sparked a lot of conversation, even though a good bit of it devolved into general flames (hence the Bon Jovi reference – who got that?). 

For some numbers, prior to the last post going up I had 714 hits in total.  I was looking at making my goal sometime probably near the end of February, and I was kind of dreading it, to be honest.  My last post alone has since garnered 475  hits at the time of this writing (thanks to a couple influential links from Book of Grudges and Warhammer Vault), simultaneously sparking the flame bath and putting me to my goal.   Not bad for a throw away post written in about 20 minutes on a Monday night!

So this will be my last post on this blog for the forseeable future.  I’m still going to follow the other WAR bloggers and (hopefully) start playing WAR some more, but my motivation to keep writing about it has all but dried up.  I’m glad to have met my goal and achieved a sense of closure instead of just abandoning it.  Thanks to all of you who have visited, commented, and lent your support through AoB and otherwise, it is definitely appreciated.  I think WAR has a great community, and look forward to seeing what the future holds. 

But I won’t be writing about it.  Peace out.


Seven things I’d like to hear on 1/29

January 26, 2009

I gotta tell you, I am too pumped for the announcement(s?) coming our way in less than three days now.  Although it may not always sound like it on here, I am a big fan of WAR.    Big fan.  There’s a lot to like about it, in all aspects, and it has captured my imagination and attention in ways that no MMO before can claim.

Mythic’s PR department deserves a huge tip of the hat.  They were doing a great job even before the recent rash of blog mailings, but the packages sent to Keen and Graev and The Greenskin were pure strokes of genius.  (“Get to da choppa”?  That’s awesome!)  So much so that I think I’ll write about it some more another time.

But for all the great things that Mythic has done with this game, there are certainly areas to improve.  I get excited when I see room for improvement, combined with a company excited to do just that, which is what Mythic appears to be.  Needless to say, I am looking very much forward to 1/29.  Mark Jacobs has hinted there could be a roadmap laid out for the next several months.  With that in mind, if I heard any or several of the following things on Thursday, I would be one happy camper.

1.  “Slayers and Choppas are coming”

OK, so I started off easy.  Set achievable goals, I always say.  Only the most dense of us doubt the 2 careers will be introduced soon.  The Slayer class has really piqued my interest, so much so that I’m thinking of checking the Gotrex and Felix books out when I can find a time to go to the bookstore.  Of course I’ll also have to fit in time to read it between my game playing and re-reading of the Watchmen.

2.  “Witch Hunters and Witch Elves can now pick the locks of keep doors”

Of all the enhancements suggested to the keep taking part of the game, this is probably my favorite.  It is also, I would imagine, the easiest to implement.  Siege towers, wall-climbing, etc. would be great as well, but I think it would be awesome for Witch Elves/Hunters to be able to cloak their way through the defense and wreak havoc on ranged DPS on the wall before they can react. And it doesn’t seem like you’d have to move mountains, programming-wise, to get it to work.  A coordinated force of three or four WE/WH’s could turn the tide of a keep siege within moments.  Plus it gives them something to do on offense.

3.  “The Zone Domination system will be implemented immediately”

I’ve written at length about how I think the Zone Domination system will change the face of zone-locking and ORvR in general for the better.  I think it will help with mass coordination and realm pride, and I hope it will lead to more actual combat and fighting, rather than the endless musical keep-taking that seems to plague T4 right now.  I’m hoping on Thursday they announce this system is coming sooner (as in the next patch) rather than later.

4.  “We are getting rid of the gold-spamming emails”

Actually this seems to be getting better already, to be honest.  Nonetheless, a little reassurance never hurt anybody.  They did such a good job with the chat spammers that the onslaught of gold-selling mail was a bit of a shock to the system.

5.  “We are fixing the auction house interface”

Maybe not my biggest, but definitely my most consistent complaint since launch has been the sad state of affairs that is the auction house.  It’s not that it doesn’t technically work or items aren’t listed.  It’s that I can’t find those items without jumping through some pretty oppressive hoops.  Why, oh why, can I not search for a specific type of crafting item?  It simply cannot be that hard.  I refuse to believe that it is.  I know crafting is a small part of the game, but it’s important to me.  And this just frustrates me to the point of caring significantly less about the crafting systems.  Which is too bad, because, as I’ve written before, they definitely have some serious upside.  All I want to do is be able to search by crafting profession for specific types of items.  For example, I want to search for stabilizers for apothecary.  I know people generally don’t care that much about it, so I’ll stop typing about it now.  But still.  I’m of the belief (unsubstantiated of course) that once the AH gets cleaned up, the in-game economy will start to fall in line.

6.  “Siegecrafting will be a new crafting profession”

Just because I mentioned lockpicking as my first request for changes to keep sieges doesn’t mean I don’t like the other ideas that have been floating around out there.  Destructible walls and all that would be cool, but seems like a lot to implement if the levels weren’t originally designed for it.  What I think would be too sweet would be to set up siegecrafting as a skill.  No, it’s not my idea, and no, I don’t remember where I read it first, but I think it’s a great idea.  Think about it.  You could build siege towers, more powerful rams, , or catapults that could launch players over the side of the walls.  The  possibilities are vast and varied.  Put succinctly, I want Helm’s Deep.  And I want some more crafting beside talisman making and apothecary.  Siegecrafting, to me, would be perfect.

7.  “We have an expansion on the way, and here are some details”

Mythic has said they’re in the planning phase for the first major WAR expansion.  I want some details.  I don’t need a date.  I don’t even need a lot of information.  Just a little teaser.  Some grand idea to look forward to.  If some of the items mentioned above were part of it, that’d be cool.    (Honestly, the items listed above wouldn’t be right in an expansion, hopefully they would be coming out sooner than that…)

Like I said, I’m looking forward to Thursday.  Good work, Mythic PR!  Give somebody a raise!


Some quick notes

January 24, 2009

I’ve been busy at work and had other stuff going on this week (LOST is back, WOOT!) so I haven’t gotten too much WAR time, but I thought I’d throw a quick recap/update out there along with some random notes.

1.  My Archmage is sitting at 36 still.  Right at 50% through the level, I believe.   I did finally hit renown rank 33, so I can wear my 3 Annihilator pieces, which actually look pretty sweet.  I tell you though, I did some scenarios/PvE grinding the other night for a little over an hour, and even though it seemed like I was getting great XP, that damn bar just barely seems to budge.  Lucky for me, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that 40 is a foregone eventuality rather than a goal, so I don’t come away disappointed.

2.  While I only put a couple hours in the Archmage this week, my Bright Wizard got some good Guild Night action on Thursday night.  I’ve mentioned here before I had a bunch of real life friends join up recently, so we’ve formed a quaint little guild and are leveling up together.  Right now the highest of us is 22, the lowest 18, with me getting ready to ding 22.  I have to say – and this is no big revelation but I didn’t know how much difference it would really make – playing with people you actually know is so much better than having to get to know people in a new guild.  Maybe I’m just socially awkward and bad at making friends.  Especially in bigger guilds, it’s hard to make good friends when you don’t know anyone to begin with.  So I’ve been having a lot of fun with those guys.

3.  I’ve been getting strong urges to play other games recently, particularly strategy games.  It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down with a good RTS, so I was thinking about busting out some good games I probably didn’t play enough.  Sins of a Solar Empire, Company of Heroes, and Civ 4 come to mind immediately.  Plus, the Dawn of War II open beta starts next week, so I may get in on that as well.

4.  EVE Online has a kung-fu grip on my psyche.  I am going to try it, it’s only a matter of time.  Quite literally, as I don’t have the time to get started just yet.  I’ve actually downloaded the trial through Steam but not activated it yet.  I understand the character creation process is nothing to sneeze at, so I’m going to need a few hours to devote to in consecutively, which I haven’t had for a while.

5.  Me and the wife are getting ready to head back to the hometown for the weekend to hang out with some of my friends from college, which is always a good time (at least for me – she is decidedly less thrilled).  So another weekend will pass without much WAR going down, although I will try and get back on Sunday night.  What I will be playing though is a good amount of Rock Band, which should be hilariously fun with these guys.

Hopefully next week I’ll be able to dive headlong back in to Warhammer.  I do have a couple articles I’m thinking about doing as well, and I desperately need to update the blogroll for all the new bloggers and the ones I missed originally – a task I have been stubbornly putting off for too long.  Maybe I’ll do that Sunday night as well.


Taxing your loot

January 20, 2009

***WARNING – THIS ARTICLE IS GOING TO TALK ABOUT U.S. TAXES AND GAMES.  MOSTLY TAXES.  IT IS A WALL OF TEXT. CONSIDER YOURSELF INFORMED.  USE OF A TEN-KEY IS ENCOURAGED. ANY FURTHER READING OF THIS ARTICLE IS DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK.***

Via Massively, it has come to my attention that the IRS has released a publication to Congress that may one day affect our little hobby.  This publication is the yearly report by the National Taxpayer Advocate (Nina E. Olsen is her name).  For those that care, this person’s office is charged to:

“assist taxpayers in resolving problems with the Internal Revenue Service, identify areas in which taxpayers have problems in dealings with the Internal Revenue Service, to the extent possible, propose changes in the administrative practices of the Internal Revenue Service to mitigate those problems identified, and identify potential legislative changes which may be appropriate to mitigate such problems” (thanks, Wikipedia!).

Among other issues raised and discussed, this document highlights the 20 “most serious problems encountered by taxpayers”, one of which is as follows: “The IRS should proactively address emerging issues such as those arising from virtual worlds.”

Before I go further, a bit of background is in order. Only longtime readers of Schlotzky’s will remember that in RL, I am a tax accountant. That’s right, I’m in the upper nerd echelon. An accountant that enthusiastically plays video games, then writes about them on his video game blog. At any rate, tax being my career of choice, this document is right in my wheelhouse*.

So, what exactly do we have with this new document? In short, nothing really of substance, other than a recommendation that the IRS release some clear guidance as to how taxpayers should deal with income resulting from their activities in virtual worlds. In long form, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Let’s start off with an easy one. If you make actual, tangible real money from a virtual world, whether it be selling widgets in Second Life, selling your WAR account to another person, or exchanging your WoW gold for real money, you will most likely owe tax on the real world income. Pretty much anything you make money from, you owe tax on. Don’t believe me? Bribes received are taxable. Money acquired from theft is taxable. Just ask Al Capone.

Simply put, “income, broadly defined, is subject to tax”. The question then becomes if the money you are making from your MMO activity constitutes income. If you are making widgets in Second Life and selling them for Lindens that are easily converted to US$, then most likely the answer is yes.

What about though, when you pick up weapons or armor in an MMO that have a market value in the real world? Say you have a full set of Invader gear on multiple characters in your account, and say that you would be able to sell access to that account on ebay (regardless of rather that is allowed by the EULA, which it isn’t). Is the acquisition of that gear taxable each time you pick up a piece? Or is that income taxable only when you sell it on the open market? If you trade items with other players, are those trades then taxable in much the way a barter transaction would be in the real world?

To me, there are many problems with the arguments that would make virtual loot taxable in any form until sold for real world dollars. Typically, taxpayers will pay tax on any gain on the sale of assets, “gain” being the difference between the sale price over the amount of their basis in a piece of property, “basis” being typically the price they pay to acquire that property. Two problems appear just on that point. 1) The value of such loot at the time of acquisition would be nearly impossible to determine, considering the natural fluctuations of the game market, server differences, and the omnipotent power over the world of the developer (ie. if Mythic wanted to hand out Invader gear to newly rolled toons, the value of Invader set pieces would plummet). 2) How do you go about determining a player’s basis in such property? Conversion of value in game money to real-world money? Some sort of formula based on subscription fees paid over amount of time invested? The questions really are endless.

To get even more insane, are the developers responsible for withholding taxes of their players? Will you one day get a 1099 with your loot drop? And if so, at what threshhold is such reporting frivolous and overly burdensome on the taxpayer? $10? $1? Further than that, if you have been paying tax on the items you acquired when building up your character, are you then entitled to a huge taxable loss (and possible subsequent refund) if a game closes its doors, thereby making all your pixels worthless?

These are the kinds of questions that this document asks. And in the end, it seems to come on the side of making in-world transactions non-taxable, as the arguments on that side of the fence seem a lot more plausible than those to the contrary. When it comes down to it, all this report is recommending is for the IRS to issue guidance on the issue, one way or the other.

It seems pretty clear to me* that taxable income will be related only to real-world transactions (although that opens its own can of worms – Second Life’s $1 transactions say hello!). To try and tax in-world transactions would be not only nigh-impossible to track and enforce, but would be unduly burdensome on the developers.

**************************************************************************************

WOAH. Where am I? I blacked out there for a second. You’re still reading? Well, as a closing I’d like to add how surreal it is to see World of Warcraft referenced in an IRS document.

*Note that I am not an expert in this area, nor do I know much about it.  I do corporate taxes – what do I know?.  As such, any advice or comment contained in this article may not be used by any taxpayer, living or dead, in any country, state, province, city or locality, to avoid taxpayer penalties under any section of the Internal Revenue Code, or for any purpose other than entertainment. And maybe not even for that.   This is simply stream-of-consciousness rambling, most likely without merit.  Seriously, people – pay your taxes.  We all like roads.  I’ve also had a couple drinks tonight, so fair warning!  Disclaimers, FTW!


Mythic Layoffs Rumored

January 20, 2009

I found via this post on Joystiq that apparently not even our favorite developer is immune from the sickness that is our current economic situation. It has been rumored (though not confirmed – Joystiq cites unnamed sources) that a good chunk of Mythic’s QA and testing staff were laid off last Friday. My thoughts go out to those fine folks and their families, as well as those in the WAR blogging community that have been hit by hard times – I wish you all the best.

On a purely selfish note, I hope this setback does not affect the continued improvement of a game that has made some great strides in a few short months. (See, now I feel like a self-centered dick – admit it though, the thought crossed your mind too, right?)

But seriously, hopefully the rumors are just that and all is well.  But if they turn out to be accurate, best of luck to those former Mythic employees that now find themselves looking for opportunities to show their talents elsewhere. Your efforts on WAR are greatly appreciated.


Zone Domination, you can not come too fast

January 19, 2009

By now all of you are most likely aware of the impending change to the zone locking system, termed “zone domination” in the unofficial announcement video from Paul Barnett. According to Jeff Hickman (from the aforementioned PB video), this will be a “supplemental” way of capturing zone in which if one side can capture all the keeps and BOs in the zone and keep them defended, the zone will lock in their favor.

I don’t believe I’ve spoken at length on my opinion on the current zone locking system. Very succinctly, I think the inclusion of PQs and other quests in the Victory Point calculation is ridiculous and goes against the focus and strength of both the Realm War and Warhammer in general. Scenarios are also currently included, but I’m OK with that. It’s still RvR, so it makes sense that these individual battles (instanced as they may be) would make a difference on the overall war effort for each realm. That said, if scenarios were completely removed from the VP calculation, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

And now we have the new supplemental system, which will presumably discount scenarios, PQs, and whatever else non-RvR information gets considered under the current system, as long as all of the objectives and keeps in the zone are held by the same realm*. I think this is exactly what the doctor ordered for the current state of the game in T4, at least from what I’ve experienced.

Let me give an example, I finally logged back onto Ithica, my level 36 Archmage, on Saturday afternoon to see what was going down. I immediately saw we were attempting to lock Caledor, so I headed over. We owned both keeps and all BOs and were keeping the random Destro attack at bay. Once we beat the Destro attack back, most of our warband decided we needed to go grind some PQs to get some more VPs. Some others ran scenarios for the same reason. No matter what we did, we just couldn’t push it over the final hump. My Realm War mod had us as high as 94 VPs, but we never did quite cap it. Well, not surprisingly, Destro comes back and takes one of our keeps while we’re dicking around doing things that aren’t anywhere near the RvR area.

Now should we probably have kept a few people at the keep and known how much time we had to make it back? Yeah, we should have. And we took the keep right back after that. But the point is that we should never have been leaving that RvR area. And I think this new system will go a long way to fix that. One side will be pushing hard to take and keep all the objectives, while the other side will be desperately trying to take at least one back in order to keep the zone from locking. I can see the battles becoming much more dynamic, with possibly less zerging as large groups that would normally move together will now have to break apart to defend different objectives, or conversely, launch attacks on multiple fronts. The possibilities will really open up.

At least that’s what I hope happens. I can’t wait for the new system to go live, and I think it may just renew my interest in my main for the final push to 40, a lot of which I’d like to complete in RvR.

* Note there is a touch of speculation in this statement, as the specific details of the system have not yet been formally announced. Based on the video, this is how I and many others have inferred it would work.


Am I afraid of 40?

January 15, 2009

Lately my main’s progress in WAR has stalled. My Archmage, Ithica, is sitting in Sigmar’s Hammer at level 36, biding her time and presumably building up some massive rest XP. I’ve played her probably 2 or 3 hours in the last couple weeks. For some reason, the desire to grind out those last five levels just isn’t there. In fact, not only is the desire not there, but in its place is a feeling of dread associated with the remaining levels. Instead, I’ve been playing my Bright Wizard Didmund, who is now a shade below level 20 and doing quite well for himself, thank you very much. So what’s the deal? Why am I not more motivated to hit the exalted level of 40? I can see three possible explanations.

A. I love my new Bright Wizard because he sets things on fire.

I’ve been enjoying the change in play style from my Archmage – I have to admit, smoking fools is much easier and more viscerally rewarding as a BW. Setting shit on fire is just plain fun. I quite enjoy the AoE abilities as well – I love to see damage numbers ticking off above five or six Destro heads (thanks, Scrolling Combat Text!).  He’s no more or less squishy then Ithica, although his survivability is considerably lower without all the heals. Luckily, I’ve been leveling with a couple friends, which is another reason I’ve been enjoying my alt so much. I never had that luxury with my main, nor do I have it now as I face down the remaining levels (at least until they catch up, which is at least a month down the road).

B. I cannot bear the thought of grinding out five more levels.

At 36, I’m so close to the summit, yet it is still not within sight from where I stand. In fact, the hill seems damn near insurmountable. Obviously I know I’ll get there someday, I’m just having a severe motivation problem in the meantime.

C. I’m afraid I’m going to be disappointed when I hit 40.

This is probably the scariest of the three choices. To think that all this time has been invested building up a character (in fact several characters in various stages of the game) only to realize now that the endgame is not something that will sustain my interest for any amount of time. This is a very real fear to me. Do I enjoy open-RvR? Yes I do, without a doubt. But will I enjoy it in its current form in perpetuity? I don’t know that I will. I can only take the same keeps in the same manner so many times before it all gets a bit repetitive.  But Mythic has promised to improve upon this, and I believe them.  Hopefully with the new caps, fortress sieges will become more regular and lead to semi-regular city sieges, something I am definitely looking forward to.

So which is it – A, B, or C?

As much as I am enjoying the BW, healing is really more my style. All in all, I think the Archmage archetype fits me better. Although I reserve the right to change my mind as my BW continues to gain abilities, I think I generally have a more engaging experience with my Archmage. This is especially true in PVE, as the majority of group PVE play with the BW consists of hitting the same two or three buttons over and over without too much thought. So it can’t be A.

Despite some misgivings on how fresh the endgame will stay was time wears on, I am confident Mythic will make the changes necessary to keep the players interested.  They have been incredibly responsive and effective in improving the state of the game in the 4+ months since launch, and each of the changes made seem to have been for the better.  When you break the game down to its lowest level, fighting other players in WAR is just fun.  With that as their base, the exciting ideas Mythic can bring to the ORvR world is limited only by their imagination and whether the code will support them (not an unimportant limitation, as we’ve seen).

By process of elimination, that leaves option B.  And I think that’s the one.  (I’m definitely relieved it’s not C, if nothing else.)  I concentrated so much over the Holidays to level that I kind of burnt myself out on it.  The sight of that XP bar resetting at 0 was too much for me, and I fled to the comfort of my currently level-a-night alt character.  But I’ll be back.  At the core, I like my Archmage better.  I’m not totally scared off by the endgame, at least not yet.  I haven’t abandoned Ithica. We’re just on a break.  She is and will remain my main for the foreseeable future. I just need a little break, for some of the reasons listed above.  I’ll be back one day.

(Actually, the more I write about it, the more I want to log her back on…maybe I’ll just log her on for an hour and see what’s going on… Wow, that was a faster recovery than I thought!)