Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why I like Eq2 - Part 1 Crafting & Housing

Well, since I was planning on playing EQ2 right now, and the server appears down, I figured I'd lay out a few reasons why I like everquest better than I did WoW or LOTRO.

In terms of crafting, World of Warcraft is clearly on the bottom.  Essentially one does the whole long drag of crafting essentially to get to the end, and get the top-end bonus for raiding, and maxing out DPS/health etc...  Essentially most crafted items were useless before you could make them, and the entire crafting system seemed to be more or less a time suck.

In LOTRO, the crafting was much better than it was in WoW.  Items were generally useful when you could make them, at least if you worked at your crafting.  However, the random number generator (RNG) plays far to large a roll in whether you can create a reasonable item or not, and given this it becomes somewhat painful, and frankly not all that enjoyable or worthwhile to craft the top-end things as it is too time-consuming to even get to the point of making them successfully.

Everquest 2 has the best crafting system I have seen to date.  In fact, the best items at least low and mid-level pretty much all seem to be crafted.   Also, the spell system and the food is best crafted.  The crafting requires a bit of a mini-game in order to craft anything - so it isn't quite as silly as the AFK crafting that seems to permeate the other games is not possible (which may be a negative for some people, but it gives much more of a feel of accomplishment than in other games).  In fact, in large part because of the crafting system, the broker (i.e. Auction House) seems to thrive - even at early and mid levels.


  1. Everquest
  2. LOTRO
  3. WoW

The housing system in EQ2 is also fantastic.  There are many different houses you can buy, and each of them has some interesting unique features.  The number of things one can buy are astounding, and the number of things one can make is even larger.  This is the main reason why my wife likes the game, and my daughter, though too young to really play, really wants her own virtual house.  For examples of what people do with houses, check out  this forum thread.

LOTRO does an ok job, but the houses have a few downsides:  They are typically not as close to town as you really want them and they are not as interesting.  Add that to the fact that there are not nearly as many things you can make or buy for the house and it just does not quite do the trick.

WoW, of course,  does not have any player housing or guild housing at all.  Boo!!!!


  1. Everquest   
  2. LOTRO 
  3. WoW    

Monday, February 7, 2011

MMO Hopping

Over the past few years I have been playing multiple MMORPG games, and here I thought I would give a number of mostly random thoughts on those games that I have played as well as perhaps thoughts in general about the genre.

As a bit of history, I have played video games almost as far back as I can remember.  It was never something my parents encouraged - or even really liked - but it was something that appealed to me.  The fantasy realm, the sci-fi realm and the computer have always really spoken to me.  So, it was probably inevitable that I eventually fell into MMOs - however little the pricing model appealed to me initially.

Because of my lack of desire to commit to a monthly payment, I didn't get into the first wave of MMOs.  In fact, I ended up playing my first one by accident when I bought what I thought was a standard RPG from a store in the form of a box for GuildWars - Nightfall.

Once I installed it, and started playing it, I really came to like the in-depth game that I never really got from a standard RPG.  The areas were large, the quests were constant, and the game was always changing.  Admittedly I did very little from a multiplayer perspective, though I managed (through persuasion and more purchases) to get a group of my friends to play the game.  We even started a guild together - which never really grew much beyond the initial few of us.  I think we maybe had 10 players at our peak.  Nevertheless, we managed to get through most of the content of the 4 expansions of GuildWars, and quite enjoyed it.

At some point roughly 2 years ago, after finding myself more and more bored of GuildWars, and looking for an experience where there was more character growth, I started playing World of Warcraft (WoW).  I played WoW for about 18 months - got three characters to 80 (the max at the time) and managed to raid reasonably successfully not quite killing the Lich King.  I got my wife to play, and helped her get her character up to 80 as well, though she never raided.  The online thing is a very, very small part of her life.   I ran 2 different guilds in this time - and started to really enjoy, and probably be overconcerned with the online community.  After realizing that my life wasn't really cut out to have to deal with the weekly raiding schedule, nor was I interested in having to go through the agonizing grind of acquiring "the right gear" again as the Cataclysm expansion was coming out,  I decided to quit WoW.

I then kicked around a bit, spent quite a bit of time moving from New York to Virginia, and then took up Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).  LOTRO has a free-to-play (f2p) model, which has always reminded me what my friend Vinnie used to call the "Crack-dealer" pricing model.  Essentially you get to play, in a restricted way, forever.  However, the restrictions are such that you typically will have to spend money at some point to be able to - or to be easily able to - do what you want in game.  I played this for about 3 months, maybe a bit more, and I still kick around on there from time to time, however the wasn't really what I was looking for - it was too concerned with the J.R.R. Tolkien lore that it was based upon - at (to my mind) the expense of the game play.

I next found Everquest 2 (EQ2) extended, and Champions online.  Both of these games are f2p models but completely different games.  The Champions game, which admittedly I played only for about 2 days,  is frenetic, fast past, lots of action.  Not my style at all.  I like to roll along and enjoy the quests, enjoy the crafting, and the scenery and chat with people.  I found this very, very difficult in the Champions game.  However in the EQ2 game, I found a game that seems huge... giving me options without the massive restrictions of WoW.  A game with no "perfect" gear, and with so many classes (24) and races (21) that it is hard to imagine there being the same cookie-cutterism that I found in WoW.

Well, this post is probably long enough.  I should be posting my reviews - or if not reviews thoughts - about the various games in the near future.  I'll also post thoughts on the various gaming models, and other random MMO thoughts in the near future.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Trending Competitive Balance in Baseball

One of the things that I have spent quite a bit of time reading about (mainly on the internet) has been the issue of competitive balance in major league baseball.

On one side seem to be the Yankee and Red Sox apologists who seem to like to measure wins or to point out that small market teams do win the World Series or perhaps point out things about how well an organization like the Minnesota Twins does.

On the other side, there are those who seem to be Yankee haters (or perhaps Pittsburgh fans?) who like to point out how often the big market teams win, make the playoffs, grab the top free agents etc...

Here I am going to attempt to address this in a more rigorous, mathematical way. Of course, any rigor that I do offer is colored by the assumptions that I am making, so I will attempt to call out any assumptions that I do make.

Economic Power
The first, and perhaps most critical thing, to this entire post is an understanding of how I am measuring the economic power (perhaps buying power?) of a major league team. For the purposes of this study I consider the economic power of a team to be the sum of the salaries that it is paying in any year. I know that this does not consider things like player development costs, management salaries, players who are still under contract but not playing any longer, trades where cash or part of a player salary was involved etc... Nevertheless, it seems to present a fairly reasonable set of numbers to play with without having to delve into the (opaque) world of baseball teams' balance sheets, which are not public record in any case.

I think anyone reading this probably has a fairly good understanding of who in baseball can, or possibly does, spend money and this method seems to pass the sniff-test of the haves vs. have-nots in baseball (data for 2009):

Once I started examining the data I was astounded to see the actual salary growth in Baseball over the past 20 years (which is as far as my data goes).  For instance, take the Cleveland Indians, essentially the median from the 2009 salary list, and examine their player salaries for the past 20 years:

They have increased roughly by roughly 10 times!  Of course, we have to put that into perspective.  Using a lovely tool over at us inflation calculator we can check what that $9 million in 1989 would be in 2009:  The answer I get is ~ $15,734,732.  So even adjusting for inflation the salaries have gone up by more than 5x!

All that being said, I needed to find a way of looking at this in year-independent manner.  Clearly just adjusting for inflation isn't going to be the answer as the last 20 years of MLB have not been specifically linked to just inflation (nor really are they all that close).

My answer to this has been to look at the teams in MLB essentially in terms of their "Percent of the Pie".  This is a pretty simple way of looking at it, but it seems to allow nice calculations, and to give us all the answers we want in a manner that is in no way linked to the revenues of MLB as a whole.  The idea is essentially this:

  1. Sum the salaries of all the teams in MLB in a single year (total-salary)
  2. Divide a particular teams's salary (team-salary) by the total-salary
  3. Multiply by 100 (to get a percentage)
Of course, what I end up doing isn't quite this simple.  I ended up using a weighted average over the past 5 years (weights unscientifically chosen as 0.333, 0.666, 1, 1, 1) to attempt to smooth the data a bit so a single season of not spending, or a back-end weighted contract does not add unnecessary jitter to the graph.  Picking out four teams from each quartile of the salary range, we can see what the trends look like:

Of course, from that chart it isn't at all clear whether the top team (the Yankees) represent a trend in baseball or are merely an out-lier.  So, here is a graph of the top 4 teams from 2009:
Here it is clear that over the past 20 years the top four teams had been spending 4-5% of the total amount of salaries until approximately 2000 at which point the Yankees started outspending the next highest teams by 50%!

All this is well documented of course, and this isn't adding too much new to the discussion.  The real question is does this affect the competitive landscape of baseball?

Competitive Advantage
For the purposes of this post I'm going to discuss success in baseball (or at least competitive success) as making the playoffs.  I know that making the playoffs is not the only measure I could choose, so here I will detail a few other metrics that I might have chosen, explain why I think they are not all that great.  However before I do that I think it best if I say that making the playoffs is essentially the only goal that GM's in baseball are shooting for as far as I can tell.  If this wasn't true, if for example just winning games was the goal each year, we would not see the buyer/seller pattern that we see from GM's around the trading deadline; teams that have a reasonable (or even quasi-reasonable) chance of making the playoffs tend to try and acquire players, while teams that are out of the playoffs become sellers - essentially selling wins this year to attempt playoff runs in future years.

 In any event here are some other metrics I could have chosen, but chose not to:

  • Wins - wins in baseball are just not as hard to come by as in other sports.  The worst team in baseball usually wins around 58 games.  So, most metrics just studying wins always conclude that essentially anyone can win in baseball, and they are right!  That is due to the nature of the game.  It's why they play 162 games, it's why they have 7 game series etc...  Studying wins in baseball vs. wins in football or basketball is similar to studying wins in chess vs. wins in poker.  They are just not equatable, randomness plays a larger part in baseball than in many other sports.
  • World Series wins - for the similar reasons that wins are not very good, World Series wins are not great.  The randomness in the 7 game series in the playoffs can dominate in any single year.
  • Marginal Wins - Essentially wins over expected (58).  I like this statistic, but chose not to use it.  I don't have a good reason to use it, and perhaps will come back to it later.
My calculation for playoffs will be to sum the number of times that any particular team made the playoffs, and then divide by the number of years - essentially trying to find the percent chance that any team makes the playoffs in the 20 years of data that I have.  When I do this, and then graph it against that teams % of Salary that I presented earlier we get what I think is a pretty telling graph:

What this graph is showing is that money does buy trips to the playoffs.  Of course, money is not the only factor - it is certainly confounded with management skill and many other factors.  These two variables are fairly strongly correlated (r=0.671).

As you spend more money your chances of making the playoffs in any particular year (and certainly over in an aggregate of years) goes up.  Money is not the only factor, but spending money has a significant effect upon the ability of a team to succeed in major league baseball.  Any effort to state that winning and money do not significantly correlate in baseball is incorrect at worst and disingenuous at best.

Future Work
What is not clear is whether the money is an effect of winning (essentially winning produces money produces more winning) or winning is an effect of spending money.  More work would be needed to try and determine causation.