Tuesday, December 4, 2012

[GW2] Crafting Cost

Crafting Costs: Even Scarier Behemoths
EDIT:  Update 1/2 - instead of using GW2wiz, take a look at ErrantQuest for crafting guides.  Much cheaper.  For cooking, Xanthic has a dynamic cooking guide (always chooses the cheapest route).

One of my favorite features in GW2 is the ability to level a new alt entirely via crafting.  Since each crafting discipline gives around 10 levels of experience, it is possible to level a character to 80 by advancing through each crafting profession. Leveling a new alt takes hours, not days.

In the early days of the game, this was fairly inexpensive. Alternating between crafting, story quests, and hunting down skill points, I was able to level 4 alts to level 80 for about a gold per crafting discipline. Recently, I've become interested in leveling another character via crafting, but wondered how crafting costs have changed since the early weeks.

To track the cost of crafting, I used crafting shopping lists from GW2 wiz and price data from GW2 spidy.

Here is the cost of each crafting discipline over the past few weeks:
Armorsmith, leatherworking, and tailoring have all dramatically increased in price over the past few weeks (and are much more expensive than I'd remembered!).  Breaking down each craft by materials cost, the culprit appears to be the fine (blue-quality) crafting materials:
While gatherable components (metal, leather, cloth) have held steady in cost, fine materials (scales, totems, blood,...) have risen at an alarming rate.

The rise in crafting costs is distributed fairly evenly across all tiers of materials, though Tier 5 goods have increased in price more rapidly than Tiers 1-4.
For the curious, over the past week, here are the average prices of leveling each crafting discipline:

armorsmith   artificer    huntsman     jeweler 
       7.80        8.69        9.30        7.59 
    leather      tailor weaponsmith 
       7.23        8.65       10.06 

This leaves cooking as the cheapest craft to level (estimated at 1g!), followed by leatherworking, jewelry  and armorsmithing.

Personally, it looks like I'll be leveling any new alts the old-fashioned way!

Monday, December 3, 2012

[GW2] Precursor Cost

I've hit "a Legendary wall".

Like many other players, I've hit the point where I'm interested in obtaining a legendary. Even my alts have exotic gear and ideal runes. What is left for the Tyrian with everything? A pistol that shoots fireworks.

Problem is, the cost of obtaining a legendary is rising faster than most players can obtain gold.

I tracked the cost of 6 legendary weapons over the past month, using price data from gw2spidy:
While I've been watching the price, the cost of obtaining a legendary has nearly doubled. Quip has risen from 300 gold (Nov 1) to over 600 gold (Dec 2). The legendary greatswords (Twilight and Sunrise) have risen in cost by over 400 gold over the same time period.* On average, the price of crafting a legendary has increased by 9 gold every day.

Even worse... with the Lost Shores patch, many of the items necessary to craft a legendary are also used to make Ascended gear (to gain agony resist in Fractals of the Mist). This has further increased the demand for those items... and therefore the price of a legendary. For example, the cost of obtaining Twilight has risen 19 gold per day since the Lost Shores patch, compared to 6.5 gold/day pre patch.

          before  after 
 bifrost  4.38    13.94 
 bolt     3.30    16.08 
 quip     8.35    10.17
 rogdort  9.89     9.58 
 sunrise  3.08    18.51
 twilight 6.48    18.99 

 In other words, with ascended gear driving up the demand for crafting materials, I need to make even more per day just to not lose progress.

What to do?

Purchasing items (instead of saving gold) is one way to reduce the problem of rampant inflation. (Its the gaming equivalent of hoarding goods.) But how much do I need to spend each day to make progress toward a legendary (instead of falling relatively behind)?

To check this, I simulated the results of perfectly predicting future prices and planning spending accordingly.

At 2 gold / day, I was an average of 272 days from each kind of legendary at the start of the month. At the end of a month of farming, I was 295 days from a legendary. At 3 gold / day, I only made 6 days of progress toward a legendary over the whole month.

Due to price inflation, players need to earn and spend at least 5 gold per day to make a month of progress after a month of farming.

Sad times indeed

The irony of this is that ascended gear was meant to "bridge the gap" between exotics and legendary items, providing intermediate-term progression goals for players dedicated to GW2.  Instead, its setting those players further back on long-term goals.

ArenaNet has promised changes to the process of making a legendary. Hopefully, they do more than just change the way precursors are obtained, and overhaul the entire system.

*And this rise is despite the drop in precursor cost around Nov 18 from the Lost Shores final event (with its chance to give a precursor from the final chest).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

[GW2] Precursor Gambling

I feel for this guy.

On its own, a random number generator is not fair, moral, or kind. It is just random.

Which is probably why RNG makes for such terrible gameplay.

Much of GW2's endgame* focuses on the hunt for cosmetic improvements - legendary items with no stat bonus, but unique skins / animations. To keep these items rare, the precursor weapons to legendary items are low-chance results from mystic forge gambling.

Using mystic forge gambling to obtain precursors is a controversial mechanic (at best). The forums drama has been fairly intenseFortunately, Arena Net heard the complaints and has some (unfortunately vague) plans to make obtaining a precursor both fun and legendary.
UPDATE [11/15]: So far, they haven't provided an alternative path to get a precursor, just 'slightly increased the drop rate'.  Booo.

But before the system is thrown into the dustbin of poor implementation, I wanted to take a moment and examine one reason why using RNG to gate progression is a terrible idea: the distribution of cost.

Luck and Cost

Some players get a precursor on their attempt... while others throw thousands of items into the forge with no result. I want to visualize that difference.

From the last post, I have a reasonable expectation that four rare items have a 20% chance of returning an exotic. I'm going to guess that this exotic has either a 1%, 1.3%, 2% or 4% chance of being a precursor. And I'll check three different ways of getting precursors:
  • Plan 1: crafting rares, selling all exotic outcomes until a precursor is found
  • Plan 2: crafting rares, reforging all non-precursor exotics
  • Plan 3: crafting exotics, reforging all non-precursor exotics
Under these conditions, here is the estimated (average) cost of mystic forge gambling (in gold), using greatswords as a baseline, broken down the the chance for an exotic to be the precursor.**

1% 1.3% 2% 4%
Plan 1: 210.83 150.80 101.67 51.83
Plan 2: 278.88 210.91 141.47 71.36 
Plan 3: 693.11 524.63 346.16 174.87

These averages are (generally) reasonable. Under these assumptions, even at a 1% chance, a precursor is around a 200g investment, making it expensive, but attainable.

There are two things to note.
  1. Crafting exotics to obtain a precursor is three times as expensive as crafting rares. This doesn't necessarily mean that using exotics to obtain precursors is a bad idea. They might have 3x the chance of yielding precursors - its just that nobody has the data to find out. Fortunately, in terms of puzzling out why luck is a bad way to gate progression, this doesn't matter, so I'll focus on plan 1 & 2 from this point on.
  2. Given the current price of precursors... either the precursors are much rarer than I've assumed, or using the mystic forge may be profitable even at current prices.***

Luck and Extreme Outcomes

Average cost isn't the issue. Its the distribution of cost that is the problem.

And that is where luck hurts players.

Here, I've simulated the results of 5000 players using plan 1 to obtain a precursor from the mystic forge, varying the chance that an exotic is a precursor. I've plotted how much the luckiest 10% of players pay for a precursor by gambling, the unluckiest 10%, and two measures of the average player (mean and median).
As precursors become harder to obtain (moving to the left), the average cost of creating a precursor for the unluckiest 10% of players grows exponentially. For example, if an exotic has a 1% chance to be a precursor from the mystic forge, the unluckiest 10% spend an average of just over 800 gold to get a precursor, compared to around 200g for the average player.

And that is the problem with RNG: extreme outcomes.

Extremes are great if you're lucky, but horrible for the person throwing gold away.

A simple fix would be to institute a progressively increasing drop chance once a threshold has been exceeded. Great way to fix the discouraging luck issue.

Legendary design

There are better ways to design legendary journeys.

Both Shadowmourne and the Fangs of the Father questlines were fun, and helped add to the status of the item forged. Shadowmourne's components: reforged weapon of the biggest evil in the world, hardened with the pure blood of an old god, drenched in the souls of the enemy, and decorated with fragments of the throne of evil.

Randomly throwing weapons at a genie just can't compete with that. (And the player-invented lore behind legendaries is a reflection of that.)

The problem with RNG is that players don't earn the item. Which cheapens it. And it cheapens the journey. Because there is no journey, just a slot machine. Imagine Arthur winning Excalibur at a casino. Not epic.

It isn't fun from moment to moment. Its preparing to have fun.

* Stuff-to-do at 80.
** The choice of greatswords here doesn't shape the cost much - while the TP cost of precursors varies wildly, most weapons have approximately the same crafting cost. I'm also assuming that exotics are sold to market in Plan 1 for 1g.
*** Of course, if they're rarer, then some of the cheaper precursors are tremendous losses.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

[GW2] Demystifying the Mystic Forge

As it turns out, the mystic forge is actually the genie Zommoros. Strange new lifeform? Time for the asura to get investigating.*

The mystic forge serves three purposes:
  1. Crafting via recipes. Placing specific combinations of items into the forge will yield a guaranteed result. This includes mystic weapons, some of the coolest exotic skins in-game, and legendaries. Unfortunately, Zommoros doesn't list recipes for the forge. They have to be discovered / looked-up on third-party websites (the wiki).
  2. Upgrades of materials. Common, fine, and rare crafting materials can be promoted into a smaller number of higher tier materials [source].
  3. Gambling. Placing four items into the mystic forge (of the same quality) will give one higher-level item, with chance to improve its rarity.
Fortunately, developer posts have noted that the mystic forge isn't affected by either diminishing returns or magic find. This makes examining these mechanics considerably easier.

I fed 2400 weapons into Zommoros to test out gambling, he gave me the data here.

Level Up!

Placing four items into the mystic forge will yield a higher-level item. How many levels higher?
On average**, the resulting items were 7 levels higher than the input items.

The forge seems to use average item level for determining upgrades. Four same-level (even identical items) had the same average level upgrade as four items of various levels, but the same average item level.

The pattern is the same regardless of input item rarity or level (usual stats-nerds tests applied).

Quality Nice.

Both comments on reddit and the GW2 wiki list a roughly 20% chance of upgrading rarity using the mystic forge. Sounds testable.
While four greens have an approximately 20% chance of yielding yellows, four blues have a 33% chance of yielding a green. (Usual stat nerd tests applied.) While they're included in the plot, since there are no yellow weapons below level 30, green weapons below level 20 have no observed chance of becoming yellow-quality weapons. I therefore excluded them from this analysis.

Take the increased chance of upgrades from blues with a grain of salt. While it is exceptionally unlikely I observed this difference from chance alone, most sources list the 20% upgrade rate as gospel.

Note: the drop-off in level 70+ greens is simply because I didn't record much data there. (Its expensive!)

A few notes on the mystic forge:

*Now 100% more ethical. Sorry Malomedies.
**Well, I should say, on median. I - very rarely - obtained dramatically higher level items (up to 50 levels higher than the inputs). I'm guessing these are bugs. The items have no vendor value, and are soulbound on acquire. It looks like the item level of the result was just miscoded. Therefore, I excluded these from the analysis. More data required =D.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

[GW2] Data Mining and Magic Find

I've been busy data mining in GW2.

This time, I was curious whether magic find affected the chance of getting gems from mining nodes.*

I've seen plenty of questions about magic find and gathering. I've seen speculation on the topic. I've seen assertions given (many assertions). But the wiki isn't much help. And I haven't seen evidence.

So I set about mining.

Every day for the past two weeks, I took each* of my level 80 characters around Tyria gathering orichalcum and any mithril along the way. All characters used orichalcum mining picks and had the guild gathering bonus. One character had 101% MF, the others only had the guild magic find bonus (10%). By the end, I gathered 1027 mithril and 1483 orichalcum.**

Data can be found here.

All told, I didn't see a difference in gems between different levels of magic find.

Node        MF     N    Gem Chance
Mithril     10%:  696   9.5% (1.1)
Mithril    101%:  331   9.4% (1.6)
Orichalcum  10%: 1065  12.0% (1.0)
Orichalcum 101%:  418  12.7% (1.6)

While orichalcum nodes have a higher chance of yielding gems than mithril nodes, I see no difference in the chance of getting gems between 10% MF and 101% MF. (For the stats-nerds, checked with a probit.)

Of course... this is a relatively small sample. So how likely is it that magic find affects the chance of getting gems from mining, but I just didn't notice it? (In stats-language, what is the power of the test, given expectations about the size of the effect being studied.)

To check this, I simulated the results of gathering between 70 to 4200 mining nodes (increments of 70), assuming that magic find works multiplicatively. For each simulation, I checked whether I found that magic find had an effect. (I also included differences between node types, and recorded those.)

From the plot, its clear that after around 1500 mining attempts I'm nearly certain to find an effect from magic find, if one exists. At about 2500 mining attempts (the data I've collected), assuming magic find works, I'd have less than a 1% chance of observing no effect.

TLDR: magic find doesn't affect the chance of getting gems while mining.

But, of course, I'll keep gathering data, and check back in if any results listed here change. Because science is the joy of revision.

Related links:
On this blog: MF doesn't affect bags.
From reddit: MF doesn't affect salvaging.
Dev: MF only works on kills.

* Horray for leveling via crafting. I love going from 10 to 70 in like 2 hours.
** Just to be safe, this data excludes any ruined ore / gems from ruined ore. Which is why neither total is divisible by 3.

Monday, October 15, 2012

[GW2] Basic Salvaging Mechanics

Many pants were lost in the creation of this post.
I love new MMOs.

Even the most basic systems have new mechanics to puzzle out.

Take salvaging (my current obsession): I've come to realize that there are so many features of salvaging I don't know a thing about. (And unfortunately the wiki isn't of much use.)

As a result, I've salvaged virtually everything I've looted, and recorded the results. This wasn't enough data, so I started buying hundreds of items from the trading post. This left me with a set of just over 4000 salvaged items (predominantly with Basic Kits).

Data can be found here.

How much swag can be salvaged?

The number of crafting materials I obtained from each item salvaged:
For everything except chests, light and medium armor give an average of two items when salvaged (chests give three). Heavy armor returns about half the items (one item for everything but chests, two from a chest). Two-handed weapons return more items than one handers, which give about the same as offhand weapons.

I don't find any evidence that the number of crafting items salvaged is influenced by
  • the level of the item (checked visually and via various stats-nerdsy negative binomial regressions)
  • the rarity of the item (only enough data to test white vs blue at the moment, checked visually and stats-nerdsy)

How good is the salvaged stuff?

Each tier of crafting material is salvageable from a range of just under 20 item levels.*
From the graph, its apparent that only some items have a chance to be salvaged into higher-tier crafting components. For example, while a level 18 item can be salvaged into either T1 or T2 crafting components, I've only ever seen lvl 20 items salvage into T2 crafting components.

The level ranges where I've noticed multiple possible tiers from salvaging are:
T1/T2: 13-19 
T2/T3: 27-33 
T3/T4: 43-49
T4/T5: 57-63
T5/T6: 73+   

Excluding T6 materials, I'm getting an approximately 17% chance of getting higher-tier crafting components from salvaging.** The T6 salvage rate seems closer to 10%. I need a bit more data to pin down the chance across tiers / within the level range for each tier.

Important note about salvaging kits: if the bonus percent chance of rarer components from salvaging kits refers to the tier of the crafting material, then using 'better' salvaging kits outside of these level ranges... is probably a waste. (Either the base chance of higher tiers is absurdly low, or it just isn't possible).

I don't find evidence that the tier of the crafting component salvaged is influenced by:
  • The rarity of the item salvaged. A level 24 item appears to salvage into T2 crafting materials regardless of whether it is blue or white quality. (The probability of salvaging a higher tier also appears approximately equal between the white / blue items.)
  • The slot of the item (armor / weapon / chest...). More data is needed before this is conclusive, though - I haven't observed some items salvage into the higher tier within some level ranges.

The Unprofitable Salvaging Blues.

As noted above, rarity doesn't change the number or tier of crafting items returned or give higher tier materials. As a result, it is often more cost effective to vendor blues and simply buy the desired crafting materials.

Overall, comparing the prices of crafting materials at 11 am on 10/14 to the value of vendoring the item, I lost an average of 7 copper per each blue salvaged, and gained just over 9 copper for each white salvaged (before the AH cut). Factoring in the AH cut, blues were a 12 copper loss to salvage, while whites were a 5 copper gain.
By item level, the level 70-80 blues were the biggest loss to salvage. Middle-level white items were the most profitable.

Next up:
With the basics sorted, the next step is to revisit looking at differences between types of salvaging kits.  Unfortunately, this post is getting a bit lengthy, so I'll save more on salvaging kits for a follow-up.

*This graph excludes items salvageable into iron ore, which is both a tier 2 component (as iron) and tier 3 component (refined into steel).
** This is using basic kits. If the chance is multiplicative, this suggests that the salvage rate without kit bonus is around 16%. But that is a topic for another post.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

[GW2] Clawswitz: Still Alive, Still Reckless

#3 on my list of places to not bring a hardcore character.
I'm something of a map completionist.

Even on my alts, if I start doing a zone, I want to finish all of it.

This has caused some problems with my attempts to take a character to level 80 without dying or crafting. Here, for example, is Clawswitz (the Cautious Cowering Charr) standing on top of a vista in Timberline Falls.

Some falls from this tower are perfectly safe, and land you in water. Others send the character to a painful death on the scaffolding below. But that wasn't a big deal. Neither was the champion krait witch at the top of the tower.

The problem was Krait Nimross - level 60 mobs with pull, bleed, immobilize, and knockback. They're strategically placed right at the top of the tower, along the one log you follow to the vista. I took one look, and wondered whether this would be the source of another hilarious death.


Fortunately, Clawswitz survived the vista... by waiting for everything to path away, and being thankful nobody else was around to pull mobs randomly. He's level 65, and very much alive.

Unfortunately, he's also neglected - recently, most of my time online is salvaging or dungeons on my guardian for gold. Hopefully I can find some time to push him the last few levels. (Ideally, time without my ISP dropping out on me randomly. It went down on Saturday while I was killing separatists with Clawswitz. The couple minutes until it came up were... awful.)

As far as hardcore challenges go, I'm not alone in the insanity - at least one other person is trying for 80 without dying or crafting. (The OP in that thread hit level 70 without dying - so doing it better than I am!)  A ranger hit 80 without dying (but some crafting). And a possibly-related youtube series has another ranger working toward 80. Of course, there are a couple skeptic threads on whether this is even possible.

Is it sick that part of me is wondering whether an ironman challenge is possible?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

[GW2] Small Salvaging Samples

After paying an absurd amount of attention to salvaging rags, something of a consensus has emerged from the official forums, gw2guru, youtube, and reddit on how salvaging kits work. (I'm calling it basic chance theory after Zoodokoo.)

As noted in the reddit thread, one way to account for the minuscule differences in gossamer returns between salvage kits is that instead of increasing the amount of gossamer, the kit modifiers multiplicatively increase the chance for getting gossamer.

So, supposing that gossamer has a base 11% chance of being salvaged from a rag, the chance of getting gossamer with each kit is:
Crude:      11% * 1.00 = 11.00%
Basic:      11% * 1.10 = 12.10%
Fine:       11% * 1.15 = 12.65%
Journeyman: 11% * 1.20 = 13.20%
Master:     11% * 1.25 = 13.75%

As I noted in the reddit thread, this would be entirely consistent with the data I've collected so far.

While it is great to have a theory to test (other than just "everything is consistent with a bug") there are two things that are troubling about this theory.

If the theory is correct, then most kits aren't worthwhile (NeckNeckNeck's observation).

Supposing gossamer is worth 3.5 silver (350 copper) and silk is worth around 20 copper. So getting 1 gossamer is a gain of about 320 copper. A 1% increase in the chance to salvage gossamer is worth about one hundredth that, or about 3.2 copper. Getting a 1% increase in the chance of getting gossamer compared to crude kits must cost less than 3.2 copper to be worthwhile.

Therefore, assuming the base chance of gossamer is 11%, it is only worthwhile to upgrade to basic kits (for rags).

The bigger trouble is that statistically verifying the theory is going to take absurd amounts of data. The effect sizes here are tiny. As I discussed elsewhere, statistically verifying a tiny effect is tricky business.
Here, I've simulated the results of 1000 different attempts at salvaging 2000 rags, split evenly between crude and mystic kits. For each attempt, I recorded the size of the effect that was estimated and whether it was statistically significant. Sadly, I only find a statistically significant effect 33% of the time. And when I do find an effect, its overestimated.

What does it take to get it right?
Looking at different combinations of kits and sample sizes, its only after 10k salvages, or using absurd amounts of black lion kits, that results can be found reliably and accurately.

I don't even want to think about how much gold that represents. (Dear ANet: can we get a Tyrian NSF going?)

I'm taking a different approach. I've started to collect data on everything I salvage. I'm hoping that I can see a clear pattern where `rare' means 'higher tier of materials'. Hopefully, I'll also find a kind of item with a fairly high chance of being salvaged into the higher tier. This will make for a larger difference between the kits, and therefore something easier to estimate.

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 5, 2012

[GW2] Salvaging Scraps: Which Kit to Use?

Apparently, science takes quite a few salvages (6k and counting...).

After opening 1000 bags to check whether they're affected by diminishing returns / magic find (spoiler: they aren't), I started wondering about salvaging. In particular, Lord Signis found evidence that "items may have their own rare salvage modifier value other than 1. (ie .52 from the item and .25 from the salvage kit means salvaging will yield rare materials 13% of the time) Further testing is needed."

Challenge accepted.

I bought 1500 rags from the trading post. Because I apparently have no desire to wear exotics. Ever.

To salvage the rags, I purchased 500 Crude, Basic, and Fine salvage kits. I recorded the number of silk and gossamer from each salvage, and appended this to Signis's data on 500 salvages with Mystic salvage kits.

For reference: Crude kits have no listed chance of giving rare items, a 10% chance for Basic kits, 15% for Fine kits, and 25% for Mystic kits.

Data can be found here.

As before, I see no effect from the anti-bot code. Salvage away without diminishing returns.
The expected number of silk / gossamer remains the same, whether on the first 100 salvages, or the last 100 salvages.

Visually, here is the average number of silk and gossamer from each salvage, by number of items salvaged:

The average gossamer yield from each kit was:
Crude: 8.6% (1.3%)
Basic: 13.0% (1.5%)
Fine: 12.8% (1.5%)
Mystic: 13.0% (1.5%)

(Standard errors in parenthesis.)

So, while crude kits had an 8.6% chance of gossamer, all other kits had a 13% chance.

While it is always possible that I was exceptionally unlucky with crude kits... it is exceptionally unlikely. The probability that I'd observe gossamer 8.6% of the time, when the true chance was 13%... is about 2%. So possible. But not likely.

This contrasts with the claims in this video of "100% certainty" that crude and mystic have identical salvage rates. Hopefully he'll be willing to share the data, and I can take a look at what is going on.

The crude kits leave me a little baffled. Without them, I'd say that gossamer had a 13% chance of being salvaged from a rag and that kits don't matter. With them... kits matter (at least on the choice of crude vs non-crude). But the rate doesn't match what is listed on the item. Hopefully I can salvage these results over the weekend. I've put in more orders for rags to check whether my crude data is just an unlucky draw, and started to collect other salvageable items to check those too.

TLDR: Salvaging rags with Basic, Fine and Mystic kits has a 13% chance of giving gossamer. Crude kits have an 8% chance. More testing required.

Update: I've done another 500 salvages with crude kits... still at about 8.7%. Now going to check other materials. I've decided to make it clearer that the I'm presenting standard errors of the means here, because otherwise I find +/- ambiguous / unfounded.

Monday, October 1, 2012

[GW2] Beautiful Square Peg, Tired Round Hole


Sometimes, reading some of the more negative reviews of GW2, I'm convinced the author and I are playing a different game. And its because we are.

"How you play the game can completely change the perception you get of it." The conditioning players have experienced in other MMOs often causes them to miss some of the most amazing bits of GW2. And the game isn't showing them another way to play.

Take combat.

Plenty of MMOs have conditioned players to believe that difficulty is defined by how complex the priority system / rotation is for the class. (Looking at you, feral cat John F* Madden.) MAX DPS is a solo endeavor. Learn a rotation. Do it well. And do it on every single boss. Ok, maybe coordinate some cooldowns from time to time.

So GW2 - where there isn't really a rotation - seems simple. Individual damage can be max'd by hitting 1. Sometimes 2. Keep up buffs. Dodge stuff that hits hard. Stay out of the fire. Standard MMO fare, but with easier button pushing.

But underneath that simplicity is a devilishly complex - and social - difficulty: coordinating combo fields and finishers.

For example, using a blast finisher in a fire field gives might to everyone in the area. So 8 blast finishers = 24 stacks of might (25 is the cap). Which is 720 power / condition damage. Which is about one-third to half of the total power/condition damage of someone stacking that stat. For everyone in the group.

Thing is, one person can't lay down the field and use 8 blast finishers quickly. That takes coordination. So difficulty is now social and coordinated, not individual.

You will literally be hitting the same buttons over and over again, brainlessly, and not only will you succeed, but you will actually perform at almost max efficiency.
Well, you could do that. But max efficiency? Not so much. While our guild initially thought explorables were a bit rough, learning to use these combos like the devs suggested made runs both easy and short. To be fair, since GW2 does next to nothing to teach players how to effectively use combo fields, its all too easy to dismiss combat as trivial. (I have to look them up.)

The same is true of the game world.

MMOs have conditioned players to expect that the UI will direct them where to go. No talking with NPCs to find hidden stuff. No clicking statues. Definitely no reading. Its a pretty fun way to play. But in GW2, its also a way to miss a ton of really fun stuff.

For me, it took the constant impending peril of death to make me realize GW2 is a little bit different.

I started to notice things, so I went back on my main.

Harathi Hinterlands has a statue. I'd learned from other statues that /kneel can yield buffs. Charr need no gods... but every cat loves its belly scratched.

So I light the candle, and kneel. Ghost pops up, tells a cool story, and directs me to start an event. Event is awesome! And just sitting there. Waiting for anyone ready to observe the world around them. (Cara Emm's video above does so much more to detail this.)

Its not just events. Its all those vendors I've been ignoring. Fleetze has a great post listing some fun and useful consumables found around the world. Summonable ranger pets for all. Instant vanish. Knockdowns. Fire fields. I'm probably going to lose half my gold porting to every vendor in the game and clicking the junk they have for sale, just to see if its actually useful. Oh goodness, did I just become a skritt?

For just for a little more willingness to explore, I've found so much more depth to the game.

Time for some sage quaggan advice:

ooooOOOOoooo Quaggan thinks you should smell the roses, maybe?  ooooOooOOOOooo

Friday, September 28, 2012

[GW2] Opening Bags: the Anti-Bot Code and MF

The Guild Wars 2 subreddit has been invaded by science, and I love it.

Recording the results of 500 rag salvages, Lord Signis found that salvaging items isn't affected by the anti-bot code. Marko did a similar setup, and found that salvaging isn't influenced by magic find.

This got me thinking: what about loot bags?

TL;DR: The loot obtained from opening bags isn't influenced by either magic find or the anti-bot farming code.

In order to obtain a desirable sample size, I grabbed 1000 Bags of Pinched Goods from the Trading Post.

Doing this has one significant drawback. I'm essentially assuming that loot is determined at the time I open the bag, not at the time the bag is generated. I'm really hopeful that ANet decided to save on storage space. [Further testing required... its something I'm working on.]

On the upside, It felt like Asuran Christmas. With fewer explosions.

  • The first set of 500 bags was opened with 0% MF after a day of opening no bags.
  • The second set of 500 bags was opened with 111% MF 24 hours later. (MF sources: 30 on jewelry, 53 on runes, 18 on gear, 10 from guild bonus)
  • I stood in the same place without moving on each run.
  • The bags were opened at 7pm EST 9/26 and 7pm EST 9/27.

Raw data can be accessed on this spreadsheet.

Each bag has a chance to contain a gathering tool (ex: axes, mining picks), a cooking item (butter, blueberries, blue meats), white crafting components (cloth/leather), or blue crafting components (claws, totems, etc).  In what follows, I'll break those categories down into gathering tools, white crafting materials, and blue crafting materials. I'll note whether the items are cooking components or not.

The Anti-bot Code.

The number of items contained within each bag does not decrease as more bags are opened.

For example, taking a look at the blue line in the center panel, across all 500 bags, if the bag contained butter, it averaged just under 4 butter.  This was as true for the first 100 bags as it was the last 500 bags. The order the bag was opened didn't change the amount of loot inside. [For the more stats-minded, the order the bags were opened was not statistically significant across several specifications of negative binomial regressions.]

The chance a bag contains a white vs blue item does not change as more bags are opened. Here, following Lord Signis, I'm taking a look at the change in the probability that an item contains a blue crafting material as the number of bags opens increases. While I had a run of good luck at the beginning, and a spot of rough luck around 250 bags, its fairly clear that the probability of a blue item hovers around 50%.

[Again for the more stats-minded, I confirmed this with a few specifications of probits of blue vs white on order with various controls.]

Based on the the first set of 500 bags, I didn't find any evidence that the anti-bot code changes the rewards from bag opening.

Magic find results. Here, I'm comparing the results of the first 500 bags (discussed above) to a second set of 500 bags I opened under identical conditions, 24 hours later, this time with 111% magic find.

Cooking Materials 0% Magic Find 111% Magic Find
Butter 317 324
Blue 16 18
White 24 23
Non-Cooking Materials 0% Magic Find 111% Magic Find
Blue 224 231
White 259 254

Not only is the difference between the two runs absurdly small, the difference isn't statistically significant. I only obtained seven additional non-crafting blues with 111% magic find - a 3% difference between the two samples, which is well within the margin of error (approximately +/- 4%).

Again, the punchline: the quality and amount of loot from bags isn't affected by either magic find or the anti-bot farming code.

Update: dev post - MF only works on kills.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

[GW2] The Culminating Point of Defeat

I've realized one very important thing in my never-dying challenge. My subconscious gamer is better at staying alive than I am.

In the back of my mind, I keep thinking that after setting myself a goal of hitting level 80 without dying (or crafting), it'd only be sensible to play defensively and cautiously.

I promptly ignore this voice.

Instead, I'm running around with a greatsword, offensive traits, mostly offensive utilities. No survivability on my gear. And a big helping of stupid.

This has led to some rather predictable results.

Clawswitz Sr. At level 10 I encountered a 5-pack of level 14 mobs (two ogres and their pets). Charging in, I remember thinking that "this is probably a bad idea". It was. They were being leashed, and so their health was increasing. I fled... straight into a destroyer. One poison bolt later, I was back to character creation. And I take forever at the character creation screen.

Clawswitz II died in Hoelbrak. At a vista. Just after getting there, I thought "maybe I should go down the safe way". And then, I jumped... to his death. Not the brightest idea.

Clawswitz III died doing the dolak capture quest in Wayfarer Foothills. Yes, the one where all you do is shoot nets. I hadn't seen skelk there before. When 6 popped up on a calf, I charged into attack. They roflstomped me.

After Clawswitz III, I finally decided to to be sensible about things.

Clawswitz IV is a defensive powerhouse. Traits, utilities, even gear. All defensive. Its amazing. Veterans can't even dent the health bar. Regen keeps him topped.

It is amazing to me that just changing traits and gear - while keeping the same weapon - makes for a completely different playstyle. My level 20 signet-build warrior has 95% crit. Touch a mob, it explodes. Pull several... I explode. Swap to defensive. The greatsword is now a glorified whittling knife.  But it doesn't matter. I'm virtually invincible.

And I love that about GW2.

I'm finally making real choices about survival vs offense. I can go defensive... but that makes any fight so much longer. Trait and utility choices can cover some weaknesses, but my character always has vulnerabilities. And nearly everyone makes different decisions about these tradeoffs... so there are a much wider range of gameplay choices / specs than I've experienced in any MMO.

But don't worry, I'll find something hilarious to die to any minute now...

Friday, September 21, 2012

[GW2] Clawswitz the Cautious Cowering Charr

I've become vaguely obsessed with death in GW2.

It all started with the the Experience Survivor achievement for the monthly. 100k experience without dying.

I kept looking at the bar. But it wouldn't move! I wasn't dying, but it wasn't moving, either. So I started tracking things. Experience since my last downed state. Experience since my last overflow. Moving zones.

I realized that moving zones / logging reset the counter. Silly bugs. Started a fresh zone, got my 100k. Phew.

But the lifetime survivor achievement... it isn't moving either. Could it be that I need 500k experience on a character that has never died? Only one way to find out...

This actually struck me as a fun way to play. Remember Cautious, the warrior who leveled to the cap in WoW without dying?  Or Neverdied, the frost mage with a snazzy video? Sounds excellent.

Enter Clawswitz (the Cautious Cowering Charr).

Normally, he'd be running into the fire. Sword in hand, he'd scream out his warcry and charge right into the mayhem.

Instead, I'm trying to get Clawswitz to 80 without dying. Ever.

Ground rules:
  • No deaths. Downed ok. Vengeancing from downed to come back to life, awesome.
  • No escort services. I could cheese this thing by getting my 80 friends in a group and tagging what they kill. That'd be lame.
  • No crafting. Stockpiling mats to just zap from 1-80 isn't quite the spirit of the challenge.
  • Anytime I run from a challenge, I need to fess up to it. So that fire elemental in Metrica Province? Admitting it right now: I didn't go near it.
Some stuff I've realized.
Going with melee wasn't exactly my wisest decision. Soloing a skill challenge with a greatsword is suicidal. Soloing it with my rifle is cake. This might be different if I stacked vitality instead of power... but nobody said charr had to think things through. I'm a bit unsure how warrior will work out - I'm jealous of thieves and the ability to flee combat right about now.

I'm not rushing with this. More of a fun side project for when I want a break from crushing opponents in WvW.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Starter 80 Gearing in GW2

At last, I hit 80 in GW2!

Of course, my gear was utterly terrible. My last ring upgrade was in the mid 50s (and I'm a jeweler!) and my weapons were from the early 70s (and I'm a huntsman!). I had several lvl 60 blues on.

After getting roflstomped by a few dungeons, I realized that this simply wouldn't do.

Gear Basics:
Armor comes in five different rarities: Fine (blue), Masterwork (green), Rare (yellow), Exotic (orange), and Legendary (purple). While exotics and legendaries have the same stats, each of the other tiers gives a stat boost.

But how big of an improvement? I used gw2db to build a set of medium armor with toughness, vitality, and power*:
Moving from fine to exotic gear is a 35% increase in stats on gear.

But characters come with 916 base stat points. This makes moving from fine to exotic gear only a 11% increase in total stats not accounting for traits. Accounting for traits (another 300 of a chosen stat) drops that to about a 9% increase.

In Guild Wars, gear matters, but not for much.

So where to get starter 80 gear?
Trading Post:  I've had a fair bit of luck getting a full set of Mastercraft (green) gear from the Trading Post for mere coppers above its vendor price. I grabbed a full set of gear with power/toughness/vitality for about 40 silver. [EDIT: if shopping for rares, the difference between lvl 79 and lvl 80 gear is only a couple defense, which is another way to save a bit at the TP.]

Crafters: I'm guessing crafters are the source of all that trading post gear. Once I got my huntsman to 400, I found out that I can craft green gear pretty cheaply. And rare/yellow gear isn't much more expensive to craft. I've been equipping guildmates with some pretty excellent weaponry since then.

I only just realized how important runes are on gear! For example, getting a set of six Superior Runes of the Undead is worth about 165 condition damage and 50 toughness. Tailors, leatherworkers, and armorsmiths can craft runes with other desired stats.

Where not to get starter gear
Prestige Gear: Early on, prestige gear was pretty cheap (bug!), so there are a some lingering threads on the internet about them. Nowadays, the cultural and prestige gear are comically expensive. Like over 1g per piece.

Karma/Dungeon Vendors: These are great pieces of gear to work towards, but it takes plenty of time for one upgrade. Karma gear runs 42k karma apiece. It'll take 4-5 exploreable runs for a single piece of dungeon armor. Getting a starter set first made that grind much easier.

*Some pieces with these 3 stats didn't exist, so I extrapolated their values based on comparable gear for ease of explanation. Adding that complexity doesn't alter the basic point that going from blue to exotic gear doesn't add much in the way of stats.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Curiosity Killed the Sith

Ok. The Curiosity Rover now has an open invitation to the Dark Council. "Interrogatingmartian rocks via laser fire? Deliberately targeting Coronation? You'll fit in just fine.

Alas, that isn't my posting topic.

In my last post, I noted that I was taking a couple weeks of vacation from the SWTOR news cycle. I was worried about my enthusiasm for the game... particulary given that my guildmates have been Eeyore to my Pooh. (At least, I hope I'm Pooh? I'll settle for Owl. Please don't let me be Rabbit.)

Well, I goofed on that. Ended up reading the news. D'oh.

So I've completely returned to the land of Telara. I'd been playing Rift on the side for a month. Now I'm swapping to it completely. (Its the season, I think - Honor's Code did a similar return to Azeroth.)

So. Much. To. Do!

Unsurprisingly - this is Rift, after all - a ridiculously large amount of content has been released since I left in December. Two raids, instant adventures, Conquest (a giant PVP deathzerg), a mobile ap (?!), a PVP revamp, fishing(!!!), mentoring, ... . I'm sure I missed stuff.

Oh so much to learn. So much gear to get. I'm psyched.

I've found a new high-pop home (yay Faeblight! horray for free server transfers!) and have a great guild. I've got myself back to raid-ready and am rolling in gear. Time for a new world of myths to bust.

Defiant aren't big on superstition.

PS: To those still serving on the Dark Council: can someone get Curiosity to cover my quota of Jedi killing while I'm gone? Jedi spawn like rabbits without regular culling. And even then, some come back. Which causes problems with the EPA over ghost storage. Messy.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Inquisition Roadshow

I've resolved to take a two-week break from reading gaming news. I'm hopeful that everything will be puppies, kittens and rainbows once I get back. (What is the Star Wars equivalent of that?  Wookies, Ewoks and Lightsabers? Hm, as a sith, I guess I should go for lightening, lightning and more lightning.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

[SWTOR]: F2P, A New Hope

Well, my feedreader just exploded like Alderaan.*

By now, I'm guessing most folks have seen the announcement that SWTOR is going Freemium and taken a look at the subscription vs free features of the game.

Not enough verbage?  Don't worry, the blogosphere has you covered. Inquisitor's Roadhouse, Sprinksville, SWTOR face, Moon Over Endor, SWTOR commando, Blessing of Kings, Hawtpants of the Old Republic, Fynralyl, Aggronaut.  (Who'd I miss? My reader is moving at Kessel-record-breaking speeds.)

Alright, now everyone use the force, turn off your targetting computers, and just say to yourself "I'm alright".**

At this point, its probably a great idea to mention what SWTOR's F2P announcement isn't:
  • The death of MMO gaming.
  • The death of subscription models.
  • TORpocalyse Now.
  • Evil incarnate.

What this is:
  • A good time to wish SWTOR well.
  • A ton of potential.

I've always viewed SWTOR as a first-rate RPG just finding its footing as an MMO. Setting up a persistent RPG story with regular continuations via patches and expansions seems to be the most promising selling point of SWTOR.

Problem is, most RPG gamers I know are skeptical of subscription models.  This keeps them out of the MMO market. If Bioware can now attract these players to the MMO market, they can escape from the mentality that the "mmo market is zero-sum". They can use their solid RPG - for a box price - to hook players on MMO elements - for a subscription. They'll have found a sustainable niche.

Obligatory EA hedge: don't get me wrong, they could blaster-to-the-foot this design in the details. They could nickel-and-dime the fun right out of it. They could market it to the wrong crowd. If they are shooting for an RPG crowd, they need better tutorials to adjust folks into MMO gaming.

Side note: I don't think this move is being made because they currently have between 500k-1m subscribers. Those numbers, if sustainable, would make everyone happy. I think they're doing it because they see a WoW expansion, Rift expansion, GW2,... and wonder what would happen to those numbers unless they do something big.

But the potential of this change... I find impressive.

EDIT:  MMO melting pot posts links to yet more posts on the topic.

* Video added for soothing effect.
** Optional step: at this point, find a Sith to shoot your ship droid. I'm happy to volunteer, so long as you aren't grouped with a smuggler.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Keep Calm and Game On

I love forums data. Its a great way to look at how players relate to the game. But I started to wonder... what do other MMO forums look like? I scraped the Aion, LOTRO, and Rift general forums, and charted post views and posting frequency over time. I threw in the Rift PvP forums and SWTOR PvP forums for good measure.* Dotted lines denote major content releases.**

In this context... SWTOR's launch looks stronger than Rift's (the SWTOR PvP forums have higher posting volume than the Rift General forums). While the SWTOR forums have seen a decline in volume, the fall-off is comparable to post-launch Rift - a game that is still going strong a year later. No, really. Play a game of Conquest. Its fun, massive, and has a flobbidy-gillion players.

In the F2P category, at least from posting volume, I'd say that SWTOR looks looks like it is in a completely different league than either Aion or LOTRO. Maybe, one day, the SWTOR forums will look like the F2P pack, but at least for the moment, it'd look pretty out of place.

Much of this just reaffirms the conventional wisdom about MMOs: judging by Rift and SWTOR a fair number of players leave the game after the first couple months. Its normal, natural, and probably healthy. Across all games, content updates reinvigorate the game, but generally don't create lasting upticks.

But if this is the general life-cycle of an MMO... the recent layoffs at Bioware-Austin are puzzling. (And my heart goes out to everyone affected.)

PS:  a second way to look at the data (personally I don't find it as interesting).
* I'd use the SWTOR general forums, but given how the forums are organized, I'd take about 2000x longer.
** I've never played LOTRO or Aion so I'm uncertain how many major releases I'm missing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Great Server Migration

Thought I'd share a visualization of how the SWTOR server migrations have shaped realm populations. Here I'm just taking a look at realm status (1 for light, 2 for medium) over time, by region and type. Short story: origin servers are ghost towns, destination servers are hopping (but that much was clear already).*

Slightly cooler story: even before the migrations, as far back as April, destination servers had higher populations than the other servers in their zone / type. There is one exception. Until just days before the migration, The Swiftsure averaged a higher population than The Bastion (which ultimately became the destination server for West Coast PvP servers). Makes me wonder why Bastion got destination status. Rounding errors between status and true population numbers? Server hardware?

I also went ahead and re-collected data on posting volume on the PvP forums. Activity - in both posts and views - is definitely down from earlier in the year. Curiously, while 1.2 saw a remarkable increase in activity on the pvp forums, the 1.3 release had almost no effect. It looks like a focus on the server migration drew posters away from the forums around the roll-out of that feature.**

*The gap in data from the start of April comes from my failure to backup a week's worth of data and then getting a drive failure.
**The white band around May 5th is a day of data I'm missing.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Measuring Gaming Value by Depth, not Time

I see a fair number of comments arguing that 'hours occupied' is the way to measure the value of a game:
A 2 hour long movie will cost you at least $3 at a cheap theater, at best that's $1.50/hour of entertainment. Most movies cost closer to $8 to go to and lots more if your poor judgement gets you to pay for overpriced snacks ($4+/hr of entertainment). I've played 250+ hrs of D3, maxed every class to lvl 60 and tried a little Inferno with each of them. For less than $0.24/hr of entertainment I'd be hard pressed to find a better deal. For me D3 was definitely worth it! (source)
Which is a sort of weird quantity-over-quality argument... akin to arguing that a long movie is better than a short one, simply because it occupies more time. Because 'The Wolfman' would magically become a better movie by making it longer.*

When I choose to be online, I'm opting to not be hiking outdoors, playing with data, hanging with friends, (insert other favorite activities here). My time is another scarce resource I invest in games.

I measure the value of a game in its depth - the ability to generate those quirky moments of surprise that make for lasting memories. Social games have a greater potential for depth, by adding a layer of player interaction to the game.

Years later, I can chat with friends from WoW and have a laugh. It isn't the boss kills we remember, or even the 'big guild achievements'. Its the random quirks. We joke about kiting world bosses to capitals, giant world pvp deathmatches, random "you heal?" whispers, odd pranks, endless travel times... All of us remember a half hour wait for one priest to return from afk before a boss fight (her name is still a curse). Whether good times or bad, I remember those moments fondly.*

Typing that, I can't help but smile. That is great value.

D3 - after about 100 hours /played - is pretty thin on those memories. On the whole, I look at D3... distastefully? I can't point to anything from my time in-game as epic, or ask "remember when...". D3 just didn't have enough depth in game mechanics to have those quirky bits of fun. The world was a bit too linear and unsurprising, and the game design was a bit too flat. Group size was too small for a good social dynamic.

That is poor value.

I could just as easily write the same paragraph about SWTOR. It is too linear, and the groups were a bit too small (at least for the crew I game with). What saved it was the depth. I remember killing guildmates via sorc pulls. Endlessly slaughtering infinitely respawning ship droids after one too many irksome 'conversations'. Dodging instant nukes hopping up walls in the trenches of Denova.

This parallels the recent ForceJunkies and Gamespy articles on content depth (via fluff). In an MMO environment where the raiding can't be the sole endgame for all players, games need depth - at launch - to keep a wider range of players excited about the game. Which is why I'm surprised D3 and SWTOR ended up selling themselves short - by launching without more of that content, the games were great on potential, but thin on value.

Which loops back to a better understanding of why good games occupy more time. The kernel of truth there is that additional content will take more time to work through. But in a great game, that content enriches what is already there.

* Worst. Movie. Ever.
**I'd be content to call this nostalgia... but I can do the same for Rift.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Customer Service Droids

Consider this post to be a little letter of support for a positively wonderful blogger.

Long story, well, still pretty long: Battlechicken recently posted some experience appealing a one-week ban from SWTOR for 'use of an unauthorized Third Party Program'. Trouble is: the email didn't mention which program is a violation of the TOS, so there is no way to understand what caused the ban / how to fix the problem. What is even worse: despite repeated calls / emails, customer service is just replying with automated responses.

Shame on you, CS droids.

Much like Screaming Monkeys, I hope someone at Bioware can stop and take a moment to look into the case, apologize to Battlechicken, and resolve the issue. They've got a great community of devs... so it'd be a shame for the automated bots in customer service to reflect poorly on that.

UPDATE:: Bioware contacted Battlechicken, apologized, and reinstated the account. It also looks like they're reevaluating their policies on how they contact players. Horray for positive change!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why so quiet?

So here is my problem.

I really do enjoy SWTOR... as part of a group. I currently lack a group.

I'm a TORtanic* survivor.

At the moment, my guild has wandered over to D3, so I'm giving the captains of privacy invasion Blizzard another shot. Oh, we still run our ops, and rock the weeklies. But the other six nights, voice chat is filled with the hilarity of giving hardcore characters a try, but dying to (short list) trees, lag, "omg lasers", "did you vendor your potions?"...

Good times.

I'll be back to SWTOR shortly. Jedi get all uppity without a culling. I'll confess that I'm slightly worried about the possibility of searching for another guild / server. But I'm hopeful that things at SWTOR will resume their previously scheduled awesomeness.

*Side note: for all the play "TORtanic" gets on blogs... there isn't enough volume to chart searches for the word on google insight. Searching for "SWTOR Dagobah" - a planet not even in the game - yields four times as many results (166k vs 42k). "SWTOR 1.3" gives over 10x as many results.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots: Environments

One day, I looked out my ship's windows, and I saw a fleet warp past.  It was magical, to see the fleet just meander across my view.

So I took to staring out every window. And then looking at the skies.

This video is my poor attempt to communicate a bit of the wonder I feel in those moments. I wandered across the galaxy with my characters, capturing video of some lovely in-game locations. I've combined those videos, speeding up the playback.

(Oh!  If anyone out there regularly does youtube videos, please comment, let me know what to do better. First time posting to youtube.  And sorry for doing the days out of order - I got all inspired and stuff.)


Music: Kopeika by (et).
Dune Sea (28x)
Imperial Fleet Lightside Vendor (28x)
Nar Shaddaa (8x)
Hutta (32x)
Coruscant (16x)
Voss (64x)
Corellia (8x)
Imperial Fleet Bankers (32x)
Tatooine Balloon (38x)
Explosive Conflict (8x)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Voice of the Player: the PVP Forums

Mos Ila: Honorable Mention, Hives of Scum and Villainy
The PVP forums may be the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the galaxy, but there are always a few holdout posts that I find helpful, or even inspiring.

What about the din, though?  Can something be learned from the countless threads of complaints, anecdotes turned into truths, and general hatefest?

I ran a program to download the approximately 32,000 threads posted to the PVP forums, taking the first page only.
Most threads are only active for a day before they no longer get replies (75%).  After a week of activity, only 5% of threads remain active. The median post gets around 5 replies and 240 views. There are a handful of notable outliers - including one post with around 330k views (a dev thread from Jan 18 that gave an update to Ilum's pvp).

Just from this activity, its immediately clear that 1.2 brought a dramatic increase in forum post volume. With the general renewed excitement over SWTOR with 1.2, this is a good indication that the volume of posts matches interest in the game. Posting is something that complements play time, not opposes it.

Class Warfare: calling down the nerfbat
What about the ever present cries for nerfs on the forums? Is the rise-to-power of sent/marauder reflected in forum posts? The stunlocking dominance of ops?

For this, I'm not going to do anything super fancy, just a simple search through the first 10 posts in each thread for mentions of each class (accounting for things like spelling mistakes, or clear references to a class via a popular spec, like 'concealment' matching to operative, or 'galactic overlord of awesomeness' to sorcerer.) I'll also combine the Empire and Republic advanced class mirrors, and reference them by their Empire names.
Looking at the percentage of threads that mention an advanced class, I'm actually astounded just how well that worked. The fights between operatives and sorcs, followed by the overwhelming numbers of sorcerers, until the rise of marauders with 1.2... its all reflected in the volume of mentions of each class on the PVP forums. In contrast: powertechs, snipers, and juggs are all but invisible.  Assassins have made a respectable rise, one that I'd expect to continue, given their impressive on-demand cooldowns and burst.

From this, I'd say forum chatter is a reasonable way to capture community awareness of issues.

Topical Applications
Next up: I sampled some of the other issues that players raised for discussion on the forums, looking mostly at pvp zones, exploits, and some quality of life issues. Again, for each category, I'm looking at word counts, accounting for things like misspellings and including related words.
The first plot nicely captures the rising attention given to Ilum, and its eventual irrelevance. Alderaan - the least innovative of the warzones - also gets the least attention.

Regarding bugs and exploits, mentions of bots and hacks are relatively infrequent - and steadily decreasing over time. Hopefully this is a reflection of the developers getting a better handle on the situation. Lag and bugs, however, remain persistent issues.

I'm glad to see that despite all the attention given to 'unsubbing' threads... they're rare. Like, people spend more time talking about powertechs rare. Premades and stunning, though - they're frequent issues.

But forum goers are weird!
For ages, developers have noted that players who post to the forums are 'different' and don't really represent MMO players in general. I think that makes intuitive sense.

But that only goes so far. Again I'll look at class balance. But this time, I'll divide posters into four groups, based on the number of posts each forum-goer made in my sample.

Post Groups 1 post 2-10 posts 11-100 posts 101 or more
Individuals 10,802 13,009 3,220 218
Posts Made 10,802 51,010 88,336 40,286
% of posts 5.7% 26.8% 43.9% 21.2%

Even though individuals who made 101+ posts are less than 1% of the population, they make over 20% of the posts in my data.
But those who post often are no different from those who post infrequently. Whether looking at those who make one post, or more than 101, the trend is still there. Each group is currently discussing marauders most frequently, was talking about sorcs before 1.2, and largely ignores the powertechs. It is definitely the case that the trend is smaller in the one-post group, but it is still there. 

Class balance concerns are relatively even across each group.

Forums: Windows into MMOs.

I'm pretty impressed with just how rich a source of information the forums can be (particularly given that this took... all of a couple hours to run, once I'd downloaded the data). 

But this was just what struck me while playing with the data. If you've got a pvp-forums related question, hit it up in the comments (or email) and I'll see what I can find.