Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What are SWTOR players searching for on Google?

Google is an absurdly cool source of data on just about everything, whether it is essential information on how to survive a velociraptor attack or stunning images of the night sky. But when I saw that a WoW blog - a wow blog - had used it to to uncover some nifty insights into players... well... its time to take purple lightning to the problem.*

This data is for all searches that include the word "SWTOR" that Google considers related to online gaming. Google normalizes this data, meaning that the highest search volume is assigned a value of 100, and all other data is re-scaled as a percentage of that value. In this data, the highest search volume was on release week, so the current value (37) means that the volume of current searches is 37% of release week's volume.

Talk about a learning curve.

Classy Questions
As above, this is the normalized search volume of searches for the phrases "SWTOR (class)", including variations on class names (sorcerer/sorc/lightning mistress). These volumes have been normalized to the peak search volume - searches for sorcerer a week after release.
Some of the search volume data makes a bit of sense. Sorcerers and Assassins (the most popular classes) are also among the most frequently googled. I choose to view this as being well informed - our storyline is, after all, about the pursuit of knowledge.  Well... that or a love of ghostbusters.

But Gunslingers as the most googled Republic class and second overall? [insert obligatory snark about figuring out which way to point the gun]

It is also interesting to note that the Empire classes aren't always the most searched for. In some cases - like the Powertech / Vanguard ACs, more searches are made for the Republic mirrors. Its curious that Vanguards - the least played class - are the 6th most googled.

Search Phrases
The final chart I took a look at was the search volume for the top searched phrases associated with SWTOR. Here, I grouped similar terms, so "builds / skill tree / talent tree / talentplaner" have all been grouped.  I also dropped comparisons to MMOs (for example, searches for "swtor MMO" were dropped).
I don't find it too surprising that PVP (even apart from PVP gear) comes out on top for SWTOR searches. It is an easily accessible and highly rewarding form of content that tends to attract players interested in gaining the advantage. Both pve and pvp have complex gear systems, and I've definitely googled the difference between gear sets more than a few times.

But gunslingers?

*Seriously, awesomeness at WoW Insider for a fun reason to play with Google Insight Data.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Slicing for Augments in 1.2

I just want to say one word to you.  Just one word.  Augments.

Despite data-nerding-out about lockboxes, they aren't my main source of profits with 1.2.

I've been selling augments on the GTN as fast as I can make them, and the profits are absurd. An augment that costs less than 20k credits to craft will easily sell for 60-100k on my server. I'm considering buying the legacy-unlocked neutral GTN...

With 1.2 augments are no longer obtained via slicing missions.  Instead, they are crafted by the following professions:
  • Armormechs: Aim, Cunning, Shield, and Absorb Augments.
  • Armstechs: Endurance, Surge, Critical, Accuracy, and Power Augments.
  • Synthweavers: Strength, Willpower, Defense, Alacrity, and Presence Augments.

Getting the Patterns
These patterns are only found with crits of 'Sliced Tech Parts' missions. 95% of the time, these will give to 1-2 schematics, though there is a 5% chance of no pattern on a crit (ht to GnatB on the forums for observing this first).

The patterns teach a premium (green) quality schematic.  RE'ing the premium items gives a 20% chance to research a prototype (blue) schematic; the blues have a 20% chance on RE to research a purple (artifact) schematic.

Gathering the Materials
In what follows, I'm going to focus on the top tier of augments (the 22s). While 25s are listed on Torhead, these do not appear to be in game.

In addition to some base components from the appropriate gathering profession (arch for synthweavers or scavenging for armor/armstechs), the blue augments require 4 Subelectronic Data Module and the purple augments require 4 Advanced Neural Augmentors.

The bottleneck for crafting the top-tier augments is the Augmentors.  At the moment, these can only be obtained via the 340 mission discovery 'A Test of Intelligence' or crits on the Grade 6 abundant missions Mysterious Funds / Devoted to Duty. I've listed the returns from each mission in the table below:

Blue (reg) Epic (reg) Blue (crit) Epic (crit)
A Test of Intelligence 8 4 10 5
Devoted to Duty 4 0 6 3
Mysterious Funds 4 0 6 3

After running just over 200 of these missions on companions with 10k affection, I'm getting a 20% crit rate.

Since the missions cost 1,780 credits to run, at a 20% crit rate and 3 purples per crit, that is about 1068 credits per purple material, or 4272 credits in slicing materials per purple augment made. Adding the cost of the vendor mats (1600 credits from vendor, 600 credits if gathered via a crewskill) and the AH price of the gathered components (around 500 -1500 per component), that puts each augment at around 9-17k credits to craft.

Given the prices on my server right now (60-100k), that is a phenomenal profit.

What is the catch?
There are two downsides to crafting augments.

The first is time. Each slicing mission takes just over an hour to run. That makes for 7 hours of slicing missions per augment. With only 2 tech parts missions available at any given time (3 with the discovery), this works best with several characters with slicing (or, selling in low volume).

The second downside is that players can recycle their augments, removing them from their gear for 22k credits. Eventually, this may serve to limit the demand for augments.

One more upside
In the near future, the market for augments is likely to grow. Right now, using custom gear with augment slots means losing set bonuses on Columi and Rakatta gear. As more characters acquire Campaign and Black Hole gear, there is no downside to picking up an augment slot for better stats, widening the market.

Happy credit hunting.

NOTE:  Take a look at the cost of the [Augmented] custom gear on the GTN - made via crit-crafting an orange item. At least on my server, even the lvl 11 oranges are going for 50-100k if they have an augment slot. (Another remarkable profit - since the items cost ~3-5k to craft each).

Crafting in 1.2: Update

I'm using the image because it is awesome.  Oh, and as a reminder that the event ends April 24th at 2AM CDT.

Stephen Reid has confirmed that the changes to slicing lockboxes in 1.2 were unintended.  Another update confirmed that they're working to correct the issue.  *Happy Dance*

Someone has successfully reverse engineered a Black Hole implant... and they're BOE!  I'm definitely using an alt to gather some Black Hole commendations and slowly build up a chance to get the pattern.

I've RE'd a campaign relic. It lists a 20% chance to research a schematic. No luck with the pattern yet, but the RE gave a Synthetic Energy Matrix. The crafted version is rumored to be BOE, but I've yet to see an image of it.  Now to go gather another 200 Daily Commendations.  #yeahright

RE'ing campaign gear (the shells) requires that it have an armoring in it - any armoring will do, including a level 10 armoring.

Birthright and Inheritance kits (legacy armor) can be found on crits of 340 mission discoveries! So far, I've seen them with Diplomacy, Slicing, and Treasure Hunting... but that is only because I haven't run any Investigation or Underworld Trading missions since the patch.

UPDATE:  Oh wow, I just got a Birthright item on a crit of a Grade 6 abundant mission. (My first after running 300 of them.) Woah.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Slicing Lockboxes Post 1.2

[EDIT 5/7/2012:  Patch 1.2.2 corrected this error. See the analysis here.]

Yup, it is time for another slicing post.

It looks like 1.2 had a few undocumented (maybe even unintended) changes to slicing.  Over on the forums, a few posters have been noticing some pretty dramatic losses and changes to the grade 5 and 6 missions - particularly the rich missions.

So I returned to my army of slicing alts, and collected data on 400 Grade 5 and 6 slicing lockbox missions with companions at 10k affection, and then compared those results to the data I'd collected before.
From the data, its fairly clear that patch 1.2 didn't change the earnings from Moderate missions.  They were profitable before the patch, and remain an excellent source of credits post-patch. Abundant missions had their returns reduced slightly.  The most striking change comes from the Rich Grade 5 missions - while still profitable overall, this is because a few high-earnings missions offset the losses from the majority of missions.

These curious results come from the double-RNG nature of slicing returns.

Each lockbox has two attributes that determine its average yield:  its level and color.  Grade 5 missions can return level 42, 44, 46, and 48 lockboxes.  Grade 6 missions always return level 50 lockboxes.

Before 1.2, green lockboxes returned an average of 160% of the credits of their white counterparts.  Since 1.2, green lockboxes are worth less than white ones - earning 80% of a white box on average.
Each yield of mission has a different color profile:
*Moderate missions return White lockboxes.
*Abundant missions return Green lockboxes on crits, and White otherwise.
*Rich missions return Blue lockboxes on crits, and Green otherwise.

This helps make sense of the original results. Because White lockboxes were unchanged, Moderate missions were unchanged.  Abundant missions were only slightly affected because they only return green lockboxes on crits (15-20% of the time). Meanwhile, Rich missions return green lockboxes on noncrits - now a generally a 1000 credit loss compared to the cost of the mission. They only remain profitable because blue boxes (average 6250 credit return) can offset those losses on a crit.

Overall: all slicing lockbox missions remain profitable in 1.2 (I'd definitely make and sell augments instead... but more on that later). Moderate and abundant missions now have higher earnings than rich-yield missions.

I do find it odd that they'd choose to deliberately target green lockboxes to nerf. Without understanding the reasoning, it feels more like a bug than an intentional change.

[EDIT:  caught math error and updated returns for green 42-48 lockboxes.]

Friday, April 13, 2012

Server Populations: What Difference a Day Makes?

In my last post on server populations, I noted that there was some support for the claims made by players on the forums pushing for server transfers. Low-population servers had very few players online, at levels that would make group-based activities exceptionally difficult. Recognizing this, the disproportionately large numbers of low-level characters on high-population servers hinted at players migrating to those servers.

But my data was fairly limited: just a slice of a handful of servers on one Friday night by /who-ing level ranges. As Shintar pointed out, there are reasons to wonder about whether Friday fits other nights.

So do the numbers hold up after looking at other nights?
Much like TorStatus, I've been collecting the server status of the SWTOR servers for a few months now. The above plot tracks the average server status for East- and West-coast servers for the past month. The shaded areas cover 'primetime' - 6:30 to 10pm within each timezone - and the black bars are the average server status across primetime.

Friday looks a bit like a weeknight, with similar numbers to Mon-Thurs. There are definitely fewer players than on Saturday / Sunday, where the evening playtime window is much wider. But from server status alone, it looks like a representative night.

But server status isn't population.

I re-collected the original data for the same servers, this time during primetime Tuesday. I'm primarily interested in three potential differences: (1) whether overall populations differ, (2) whether the population gap between high- and low-pop server differs, (3) whether the numbers of 50s differ.
Consistent with the server status data, the average population of a server varies remarkably little between the two nights (the colored vertical bars in the top left).

But the average masks striking differences between the two nights. On Tuesday, the higher population servers have relatively fewer players, while the medium population servers have relatively more players, slightly decreasing the gap between the servers. On Friday, the typical high-pop server had 4 players for every 1 on the average medium-pop server.  On Tuesday, this gap shrinks to 3:1.

Unfortunately, this trend doesn't extend to the lowest-population servers, whose small populations remain virtually unchanged - with on average 3:1 players between medium and low servers, and a 10:1 high to low player ratio.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reset of the operations lockout on Tuesday sees relatively more players on their 50s for medium and low pop servers. High population servers retain an abnormally high percentage of low-level characters, most likely due to rerolling players.

As someone on a medium-pop server, I find these numbers comforting. The increase of 50s and overall population between Tuesday and Friday closes the gap between medium and high population servers, something I view as essential for server health.

But there is small comfort here for players on low-pop servers. Hopefully the uptick in the numbers of 50s on Tuesday is enough to coordinate group activities at endgame. But the bottom 5 servers don't see the same increase in overall players as the medium population servers, and the number of 50s online is still dwarfed by every other server.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My First 1.2 Moments

I swear, 1.2 feels like I'm a kid on Christmas, with more to do that I really have time to cover.

Crafting changes
Like every hoarder out there, I re'd everything I'd stockpiled and started going on all my 340 mission discoveries. Turns out that the 340 slicing missions definitely give the purple mats to craft the new augments, so I'm glad I still have a stockpile of those.

So far, I've crit on one of the 340s - this gave me two augment patterns. My one crit on an abundant materials gathering mission has also given an augment pattern.  (You just know I'll be tracking this, right...)

UI Customization
Dulfy (who else?) has a fantastic guide to the UI customization settings. I hopped over to SithWarrior, browsed through their gallery of UI edits until I found a few I liked - or that I felt I could edit into a place where I'd use them.

I then copied the file XML files over to the GUI Profiles folder:
Where username is the name of my profile in Windows. NOTE:  the 'AppData' folder is hidden by default - you can either change that (see Dulfy's guide), or just change the 'USERNAME' part of the directory above, and paste that into the Folders window.

The Wonders of Toys!
Next up: I opened the legacy window (see the shield on the Menu bar), browsed over to the 'other' options, and went on a spending spree.

The Astromech droid sells some pretty awesome sensors to upgrade the ship droid's crafting (100k each)
  • +5 scav efficiency / + 5 cybertech crit
  • +5 arch efficiency / +5 synthweaving crit
  • +10 inv efficiency / +2 armstech crit
  • +10 biochem efficiency / +2 diplomacy crit
  • +10 artifice efficiency / +2 treasure crit
  • +10 armor efficiency / +2 underworld crit
The +5 crit options are pretty excellent - since they're percent bonuses - they grant a droid with 0 affection a crit rate equal to a companion with 10k affection and no bonus. (So the +2 crit options aren't worth it until the droid gets some more affection, if you've got a companion with 10k).

The rocket boots are completely worth it!  They last ages, work inside instances (well, BT at least), and are a really fun boost to movement. Downside: they dismiss the companion until the effect ends, which feels odd.

About that droid affection...
Before 1.2, I'd just as soon launch the droid into space as look at it.  But muzzled and with a bonus, we're chill now. On my female Inquisitor and Trooper, these were the results of giving gifts to the ship droid:

Courting Cultural Imperial Luxury Military Republic Technology Trophy Underworld Weapon
2V-R8 - Love Like Like - - Favorite - - -
C2-N2 - Love - Like - Like Favorite - - -
I went ahead and max'd one of my droids

I took a quick trip to the legacy vendors.
The Imperial legacy vendor is just outside the Craft and Trade Market on Dromund Kaas. (I hear the Republic one is on Coruscant in the Senate Commercial District.)  I grabbed the moddable belt and bracers for a heavy-armor alt.

Respec time!
Fortunately, I like shooting lightning bolts into faces, so I'm an sorc, and Kor has an amazing update of DPS specs for sorcs (and sages, our pebble-shooting brethren) in 1.2. I opted to go with the 1/12/28 spec... even though I'm certain the double-dip mechanic will be nerfed to the ground in the next week.

Custom Gear Time!
Sure, the set bonus stays with the shell on pre-1.2 gear sets. But - at most - I only need a 4-set bonus, so I crit-crafted a chest for myself on my synthweaver, and then used 'unify to chest' to get a lovely dark-lord look. I'll do some testing later on to see if its worthwhile to ditch the lackluster 4-set bonus in favor of some stats.

Combat log time!
Speaking of testing... there are a host of combat log parsing tools developed by the community. I ended up going with the Memories of Xendor parser (since it works as a desktop parser). SCLR looks solid, but had file permissions issues with my computer. I'll definitely be replicating Zoopercat's analysis of their accuracy later this week.

That was my afternoon in 1.2.
Completely awesome, a ton of fun, and some great inspiration to get back into the game for more than just a handful of endgame options.  Totally excited for my next round of play.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Galactic Census: SWTOR's population

The vastness of space, without some to experience it with, is transformed from something magical and awe-inspiring... into something empty and lonely.

The SWTOR forums are filled with complaint threads about dead servers and players rerolling to higher-pop servers in order to continue playing the game. (And begging for transfers / mergers... or even just LFG.) Because the forums can be a negative place, I'd assumed that most of these posts were written by players who just weren't having much fun in the game.

But I'm a data nerd, so I did some digging.

Unfortunately, there isn't great data on SWTOR server populations. TorStatus reports the average status of a server listed on the SWTOR site, but it isn't quite clear how that relates to the actual population, and it can't break apart the balance of players inside a server. (Plus, what counts as a 'Heavy' pop server could change over time, masking a loss of players.)

I created characters on 22 different servers during Friday primetime. I selected 5 servers that were high pop, 5 low-pop servers, and 12 servers in the middle. On each server, I recorded the number of characters within 5 level brackets (1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-49) and the number of level 50s.

Before I start, I want to caveat EVERYTHING in this post with the observation that this is just an initial sample of data. I've got much more planned as I explore this topic.
There are vast differences in the populations of servers. Just as an example, there were more Empire characters between level 11 and 20 on The Fatman server (420) than there were characters of both factions and all level ranges on Rwookrrorro, Thendys Noori, and Cho Mai combined (417). The smallest servers are empty places - averaging about 160 players total - compared to an average of well over 2000 players on the highest pop servers.

Even more startling is that the data suggests players are migrating to the high-pop servers.
The high population servers not only have more players, they also have more players rolling new characters. On most servers, approximately 1 in 3 of players online are level 50. On a top 10 server, that number shrinks to 1 in 5. High numbers of low level characters suggests a large number of either rerolling or new players on these severs.

To give a sense of what being on a low pop server is like, here are the chat logs from 2 minutes on Ord Mantel on the highest population server - Fatman - compared to 15 minutes on a low pop server.

This wouldn't be so alarming... except that participating in most endgame activities requires a large number of like-minded players. Even a simple Huttball match takes at least 16 players in the que. That is half to one-quarter of all the 50s online for the smallest server in my sample. A ranked WZ system on that server - or a 16-player world boss - is absurd.

Small numbers become even harder when there aren't socializing tools in-game. While cross-server LFG is typically blamed for undermining server communities, when the community on a server gets small enough, the absence of a LFG tool isolates those players even further, ironically turning an MMO into an isolating experience.

Worse still, imagine guild recruitment to replace someone in an operations group.

Again, a word of caution: this is just a snapshot of a few (mostly pvp) servers. Until I have more data (working on it) the findings here are more intended to be thought-provoking and give a little more context to ongoing discussions about the state of SWTOR.

That said, I really feel fortunate to be on a medium population server with a stable set of guildmates who remain interested in operations and endgame shenanigans. But for those who aren't, I hope Bioware resolves these issues... quickly.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Voice of the Player: Community Q&A

One of the more awesome ways that Bioware has chosen to interact with the SWTOR community is through the developer Q&As, where they solicit questions on a forum thread and then post responses. So far, there have been six of these: on Feb 10th, 17th, and the 24th, March 2nd, 16th, and the 23rd.

On March 30th and April 6th, instead of taking questions from the community, the devs answered questions they'd seen posed on the forums.

I think this change is really unfortunate - so I'm glad they'll return to the old format next week. The Q&A threads are a great way to take the pulse of the community. Just take a quick look at the words most frequently posted in each thread (as wordmaps)

I'm immediately struck by what I don't see - references to LFG don't make the wordlists (it peaks out at the 102nd most used word). Same with references to bugs, or topics related to bugs. Instead, the pattern that pops out at me is the rise of 'server' - typically as references to merges and transfers for the low-population realms.

A number of the discussion threads have mentioned the relative silence of the devs on same-gender romance options (sgra) - often claiming that it was the 'most asked question' in the Q&A threads.
Words related to SGRA are certainly frequently used in posts... but take a remarkable decline after the guild summit (March 5th) gave a clear indication that they were coming "this year". I think this is a really cool indication of how being clear and direct with an answer can ease community concerns (also, Daniel's handling of the question was brilliant.)

Meanwhile, questions about the legacy system have consistently increased... which isn't too surprising given that it is relatively untested on the PTS and that most of the information about the benefits from the system has come from third party sites.

I'm definitely going to keep working with the forum posts data... maybe explore the evolution of topics in a little more detail.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Companion Crit Crafting Bonuses

I detest seeing numbers I don't understand.

While I know that some companions have a critical crafting bonus, I began to wonder *exactly* how that bonus worked.

Per usual, google searches yielded contradiction, confusion, misinformation (lots of it), and speculation. I didn't find that satisfactory.

Clearing that up poses a bit of a problem. If the speculation is correct that a +2 crit bonus is an additional 2% crit... then that is an extremely small effect. And accurately capturing a small effect with statistics is tricky business.

To show this, I simulated the results of crafting batches of 200, 1000, 1500, and 2000 grey-difficulty items, evenly split across two companions with 10,000 affection (a baseline 20% crit rate). For comparison, one companion did not have a crafting bonus. The other was given either a 2%, a 5%, a 10% or a 20% critical bonus. I did this 1000 times for each possible combination.

Below, I've plotted the distribution of effect sizes that I found, and colored them by whether that effect was estimated to be statistically significant.

To have a reasonable chance of finding a small effect, it takes an absurd amount of crafting. Even after crafting 1500 items (750 on each companion), if a +2 crit bonus gives a 2% increase to the companion crit rate... I'd only have a 15% chance of finding an effect. (Note that there is an at minimum 5% chance of finding a significant result). Even worse: the estimate of that effect would be approximately 3 times the size of the true effect. To have even a 50% chance of finding any effect, I'd have to craft over 5000 items (at 45 seconds per item, that is just over 6 hours of continuous crafting).

Fortunately, there are two ways to improve my odds. First, if I use a companion with 0 affection, then it is easier to distinguish between the baseline chance of a crit (now only 15%) and the companion-specific bonus. Second, since larger effects are easier to find, it helps to focus on a companion with the larger +5 crit bonus. Taking advantage of these two changes improves my chance of finding an effect after crafting 1500 items to 71%.

I focused on two companions: Gault (10k affection, +2 crit biochem) and Jaesa (0 affection, +5 crit synthweaving). Each character had 400 skill in the corresponding profession. I crafted 750 items on each companion. As a baseline, I used companions without a critical bonus in the profession to craft 750 additional items. If +crit bonuses are truly percentage increases, then given the number of items I'm crafting, I should expect to see a bonus with Jaesa but not be able to distinguish Gault from the baseline.

That is exactly what I find. Because the effect is too small to capture with the sample I used, I don't find any effect with Gault (crit percent 20.3% with a baseline chance of 20%). Fortunately, I do find a bonus with Jaesa (crit percent 19.8% with a baseline chance of 15%). This combination of results suggests that the critical crafting bonuses are percentage increases to the companion's crit chance.

TLDR: The companion +crit crafting bonus is a percentage increase to their critical crafting chance.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reverse Engineering: Stacks or Singles?

Many sleen were harmed in the creation of this post.
One of the most persistent questions with reverse engineering is whether it is advantageous to reverse engineer biochem consumables as singles or as stacks.

Some insist that one at a time is the only way to go. Some claim that stacking in 5s is the magic number. Others that it doesn't matter. A few claim that any stack gives a significant benefit. Still more threads give several answers at once. And then there are the many many many many (I can keep going for a while) threads of general confusion.

The difficulty is that reverse engineering is pretty crazy random. Just about everyone has a story about that one schematic it took FOREVER to discover (looking at you, Endowment Nano-Optic Resolve System...), or the one they discovered instantly. Each schematic can only be discovered once, and it isn't clear whether different schematics have different discovery rates, so no one character can easily discover the general trend.

To get a handle on the problem someone would need to learn biochem, craft an item, reverse engineer it in varying stack sizes until a discovery was made, and then drop biochem. Repeatedly.

Which is clearly insane.

...awkward pause...

Over the past few days I learned biochem, crafted Compact Medpacks, reverse engineered them in varying stack sizes until a discovery was made, and then dropped biochem. I did this 75 times.* I used stack sizes of 1, 2, and 5 medpacks.

The results are below:

Stack Size: 1 2 5
REs per discovery: 5.17 2.57 1.53
Items per discovery 5.17 5.14 7.63
N 42 14 19

Larger stacks led to fewer stacks per discovery, but more items used. While it took just over 5 RE attempts of single stacks to discover a schematic, it took me only 1.5 RE attempts of stacks of 5 to get a discovery. The downside: using large stacks consumed more items - in stacks of 5, it took approximately 2.5 more items per discovery.**

The benefit to REing in stacks is that it saves time. The downside is that it'll take (on average) a couple more items to gain the discovery. In a stack, if one item grants a discovery, any items after that item are essentially wasted.

I'm pretty amused by this result. Whether in stacks or singles, it takes about the same time to gain a discovery. Any way you like it, that's an efficient way to learn it.

*Well, I did this 106 times... but apparently there is a bug (feature?) where if someone else crafts the Medpacks for you, there is no chance of a RE discovery. I found this out after ~1500 medpacks were crafted and RE'd. (insert angry grumble here)
** For the stat nerd crew: the differences in means here are statistically significant.