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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Turning it Up to 11 (or 9... or 17)

Typically, this blog revolves around my plots for galactic domination.


Today, I'm going to depart from that.

If that isn't your cup of tea... here is a lovely youtube video.  Please disregard the words after it.

Still here?

Last week, Pugnacious Priest had had a fantastic and thought-provoking post on bench warming. I was struck by one thought in particular:
A raid can still be done with less than 25 or less than 10 -  but never more.
Why not?

Or, to translate to a galaxy far far away, why do operations use the price-is-right rules?  8 or 16 players, but never more?

Every now and then, my guild ends up one or two short for a op.  No big deal, we each search our friends lists, find someone awesome, and get to hang with some other folks on the server. I'm actually a pretty big fan of pugging, so this works wonderfully.

We do this because we're a casual group: not everyone can make every operation. But over-recruiting sometimes leads to nights where too many players show up. Someone gets benched, which just isn't all that much fun, and can lead to drama from time to time.

But what if we could bring 9 players to the 8 man?

The difficulty could scale up (more HP, shorter enrage).  Maybe a few more piles o yuck thrown about.

The advantage: nobody gets benched.  Suppose you could run the 8 person ops with 8-10 players.  Now, if 11 or 12 show up... you're within pugging distance of a group of 16, or a few players split off and do some flashpoints.

I think this fits in with other features - like dual specs - that make operations (or raids) much easier for a casual guild. The game reduces the drama-points of organization, ensuring that guild activities keep going. (I'm also guessing that players are more likely to leave MMOs when their guilds collapse, so keeping guilds stable has to be a priority for devs.)

*Punishment was originally used to keep the local systems in line. While more effective than fear, it sapped whole parsecs of the will to live. Much like Jar-Jar.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The population numbers behind server status

All too often, I find myself pointing players to TorStatus to get a picture of what SWTOR's server population looks like.

Trouble is, knowing that a server is 'standard' (code 2) doesn't tell you much about the game experience. If a server can be 'standard' with 100-500 players, that is a different world than if the same code means 1000-3000 players online.

To settle this a little, I set up a monitoring program to alert me when a server changes its status as listed on When that happened, I would log onto the server and /who everyone within level brackets until I'd collected data on both the Republic and Empire sides. I did this just over 100 times.

From this, it looks like the cut-points for each server status are:
Light >> Standard:  500
Standard >> Heavy: 1500
Heavy >> Very Heavy:  2250-2500(?)
Very Heavy >> Full:  3000

There are a couple ways to use these cut-points to give context to the TorStatus numbers. For example, in April, servers were listed as 'light' 65% of the time. But players aren't evenly spread across the servers. While the highest population servers were 'light' under 30% of the time, the bottom 46 servers are listed as 'light' 90% of the time or more.  This means the bottom 46 servers spend 90% of the time with less than 500 players on both sides (combined).

As a side note: the average server status figures for the last 3 months (and a bit of May) are:

Average Server Status by Month
February March April May
1.49 1.38 1.29 1.19

The drop from February to May (a 20% decrease) closely matches the drop of subscriber numbers over the same period (from 1.7 to 1.3 million: a 25% decrease).

Note:  I'm doing some checks to examine whether those cut-points are stable over time, and do more to pin down the limits on the 'Very Heavy' status. That, combined with a few crazier statistical models, should help to put actual numbers to the server status figures.

10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots: Bugs

Going Commando started a lovely craze where each day we're supposed to post a screenshot (or two) with a given theme.

Or, at least, its such a good idea I couldn't pass it up.

Much like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, I like testing walls for weaknesses. I one day hope to break through them and find a nommable dev. This one (from EV, I think) gave a nice photo opportunity. I wish I had a screenshot from the hole in KP's walls that could be used to force pull others to their doom. Not that I ever did that to our guild's operative DPS after he ganked my alt...

I love keeping my camera zoomed miles away, so every now and again I find myself staring out into the depths of space.

This is from Coruscant, if I remember right.

It does bring up a pet peeve of mine. You know those sci-fi plot lines where someone can't interact with matter or turns into a ghost? (WARNING: that link goes to TV tropes, the death of all internet productivity.) Why can they walk upstairs?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beating a sliced horse

Slicing is back to normal!

The most recent patch notes (for 1.2.2) note:
Premium Slicing lockboxes now yield the correct amount of credits.
But there is no way I'm just going to take that note at face value. And neither are the forums - several threads are dedicated to discussing whether the patch corrected the issue. To help sort out the issue, I collected data on another 400 grade 5 and 6 missions since 1.2.2, and reran my earlier analysis.

As shown in the first plot, the average earnings of all missions have reverted to their pre-1.2 levels. Premium (green) lockboxes now properly earn more than their white counterparts:
Note: this doesn't mean that every single time a lockbox comes back, it'll have a profit. Most of the grade 5 rich missions I run are losses - they're only profitable because crits return blue boxes which are extremely lucrative, and more than make up the loss. In general, any particular slicing mission can be a loss: several missions in a row can lose credits. Its only in the long run that slicing earns credits.

[EDIT:  realized that some folks are curious about 340 mission discoveries post 1-2.  I haven't seen much, if anything, in the way of differences from my earlier post on the topic.]
Now hopefully they leave slicing missions alone for a while...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

That's no thread...

This week's feedback request is definitely a poll in disguise:
"What planet in the Star Wars universe do you want to see in Star Wars: The Old Republic that is not currently in the game?" (source)
Hmf... I want to see the breakdown of responses too!

I collected all the words used on the first 67 pages in response to the thread, and searched them for the just over 3600 planetary entries in the Star Wars universe listed on Wookiepedia. This gave approximately 1700 recognizable suggestions for planets from 670 different posters.*

Voting early and often, huh?

Here are the votes, as either a count of planetary mentions or weighted by the number of planets listed by a poster (ie, mentioning two planets gives each half a vote, three planets gives each a third... etc). I've also dropped planets that got less than three mentions (another 71 planets).

Be sure to click to enlarge!

I love that Kashyyyk is at the top of the list - the vertical element could really add a ton of fun to SWTOR questing. I'd love to play with a charge or updated MGGS to move through the trees. A jetpack to ease the concerns of heights and pvp would be pretty fun, too.

Old KOTOR favorites (?) seem to make it to the top of the list - like Dantooine or the aquatic planet Manaan. I have to confess, I'm not a huge fan of aquatic combat in MMOs: that also disqualifies the highly-ranked Naboo from selection. Ditto with Mon Calamari... which might win the contest for the most comic name on the list.

I'm a bit shocked that Dagobah didn't make it higher than #11. Training sequence daily quests? Lift a drowned fighter from the muck. Now jog through the bog while carrying a muppet. The cave alone would be a phenomenal flashpoint / daily quest.

Though, I'm a bit surprised that the devs polled the audience on this one. The SWTOR universe has so much awesome in it, I'd figure they'd just run with whatever idea geeked them the most.

*Just a simple search with some corrections for basic spelling mistakes (Kashyyyk has 3 ys) / abbreviations. While its possible to map "wroshyr trees" to Kashyyyk / account for feedback that looks like "meesa not a fan of Gungans"... I'm mostly interested in the infamy of a planet.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

LFG: How Many Make a Party?

In what I can only describe as fantastic news, it looks like a group finder is coming with patch 1.3 (via both the April 27th Q&A and earlier requests for feedback). Unfortunately, the initial release of the system seems limited to matchmaking within a single server (source).

But what about players on low-population servers?  Do they have the population to support a reasonable LFG system?

Ideally, Trion or Blizzard would hand me a large data set on player behavior, and I'd get to go to town analyzing segmentation in the MMO playerbase and its influence on the availability and fun of small-group content. Mmmm... happy data dreams...

Absent that, there is another way to get some insight on whether low-population servers in SWTOR can support a LFG system: SIMULATION!

The basic idea is simple: I wrote a program to generate test data given some assumptions about how players behave. I then ran that program thousands of times, with different assumptions about player behavior, to see how the results changed.

The 'Perfect' Balance
For example, suppose that SWTOR was a utopia - the holy trinity of roles was distributed perfectly across the lvl 50 playerbase: Tanks were 1/4 of the population, Healers were 1/4 of the population, and DPS were 1/2 the population. At regular intervals, one of these players (randomly chosen across the three roles) enters the que. Imagine further that players were perfectly patient, never ditching the que. Using this, I can set up 100 sample ques of 1000 players, and take a look at the average wait of each.
Egads! Wait times spiral off into infinity - and beyond!* As players enter the que at random, a surplus of players for a role develops, causing the wait times for players of that role to increase.

So impatience (or limited playtime) is a great thing for a LFG system.

Impatient Players
Now suppose that players are willing to wait patiently for some amount of time, and after their patience wears thin, they have a 20% chance of dropping the que for each extra minute they wait. LFG que waits dramatically decrease:
The surplus of players for a role gets evaporated by the que droppers.

But just how much (im)patience is needed for the shorter, more stable ques?
A little impatience goes a long way.  Even if players are willing to wait half an hour before they slowly start dropping, just that little bit of impatience lowers que times by about 10 minutes... and it does this without throwing too many players out of the que - 92% of players still get placed.

Distributing Time
So far I've assumed that players stroll in at even intervals. The population of a server doesn't look like that, though.
Server population peaks late at night, and disappears during the day (approximated by the plot on the left). The effect on the que is clear: que times shorten during peak hours - dropping to less than 5 minutes - shown by the smoothed averages in the top right plot.  Unfortunately, this comes at a cost: ques all but disappear during the day - only a handful of players get groups from 4am to noon (go to sleep!).

Tank Shortage
All of this leaves aside at least one crucial component of ques: tanks and healers tend to be rare.

To take a look at this, I'll run the same simulator, only I'll vary the percentage of tanks and healers from 1-25% (and all combinations).  For each of those 625 models, I'll look at the percentage of players queing that obtain groups, and look at the average wait time of DPS. I'll do this for a server of 500 players queing, 1000 players queing, and 10,000 players queing.  For ease of presentation, I'll assume that players are moderately impatient - waiting 15 minutes before they start dropping the que.
Moving from left to right across the facets, as the percentage of healers and tanks increases, wait times generally decrease, and the percentage of players getting groups increases (gasp!).

The most remarkable effect, though, is that just having a large pool of players to pull from keeps wait times down.  Regardless of the percentage of healers or tanks, wait times for a pool of 10k players stay around 10 minutes - about half that of the pool of 500 players.  Balancing the percentage of healers/tanks increases the percentage of groups that form.

Amazingly... if tanks are truly scarce, only 1 in 5 dps that que will get a group, which is absurdly low, so low that I wonder whether the tank shortage is smaller than most people suppose.

So can low-population servers support LFG?
Even on the lowest-population servers, LFG will help match players during peak play times

But on those servers, unless a large percentage of players are willing to play tanks/healers, wait times are likely to be lengthy, and a high percentage of players are likely to drop group in frustration.  (Expect some heavy forum QQ from those that do... but just remember that they're helping to keep wait times down for everyone else!)

As always, serve with a large heap o salt: there are a ton of variables I didn't model, or modeled pretty simplistically. If anyone knows a good source of data on players to help reduce some of that uncertainty... I'd love it.