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Breaking the echo-chamber: usability and data driven design

One thing that game companies have a lot of is data. They record tons of ‘big’ data using their various analytics. However, this only tells the company what people have done (where did they go? What did they click on? How often do they log in? How much money are we making?). This big analytics data says nothing about how people feel (Why did they do something? Did they enjoy what they did? What changes would make people happier?). The use of usability testing to generate data can help break up echo-chambers that are likely to form within companies or within feedback forums.

To understand the motivation of players and to understand the ‘why’ in player behavior, game companies need to do actual psychology testing of their game via surveys and lab testing. The New York Times recently ran an article on the importance of “small” data (titled “How not to drown in numbers”). In it, the article highlights the fact that Facebook not only measures clicks, but asks people “why?” via surveys.

With regards to video game companies, one that has been very successful in using ‘small’ data is Riot Games, who produce League of Legends. Part of the success driven by League of Legends comes from maximizing enjoyment via using user data to decide how to make future changes in the game. They pilot potential future game content with the help of psychologists. The most obvious use of data by Riot is their player behavior team that has significantly reduced negative player behavior in the game, which they continue to develop today. Their older GDC talk about how their ‘small’ data collection improved the game can be found here. Riot’s data collection taught us that it was possible to reduce negative player behavior, even if it wasn’t possible to completely eliminate negative behavior.

The interesting part of Riot is that they extended this value of data collection into every aspect of the game’s design. This includes surveys about the amount of money people were willing to pay for services, such as new skins (or what types of new skins players would want). If something appears in the game, it is likely a combination of designer’s ideas and people who tested the potential impacts of those ideas before they were implemented.

Riot’s approach differs significantly from companies who design primarily based on their own developer’s guts with little or no integration of surveys or other usability data. Usability testing can help to see whether or not people are having fun. There is no way to measure fun other than to actually interact with users via usability testing  (whether survey-based or observation of players). The best design is user-centered design, rather than trusting that other people will use a product in the way that designers intend. Design needs to care about usability and player experiences. For people interested in usability testing, Carol Barnum has a book titled “Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set… Test!” there are also plenty of other resources to learn about how to measure player behavior and enjoyment.

Regardless of the methods, ignoring the experiences of players can result in designing without knowing what users will do in the future, or how players feel.  While it is unlikely that any designer can make everyone happy all the time, understanding players’ thoughts, motivations, and goals can improve the design of games. User testing allows for understanding how people will react to things that are not yet released out in the wild. While tools like feedback forums are helpful, the use of actual targeted user testing and survey data gives much better samples and avoids the echo-chamber problem that can happen inside offices or discussion forums. Frustrating players by making them feel like their thoughts and feelings don’t matter ends up hurting companies. Interacting with users via actual experiments and surveys can help to make sure that data being used to inform game design in meaningful ways. In the rise of big data via analytics after the game’s release, we can’t forget the importance of measuring whether or not people are having fun now, or could be having MORE fun in the future. A little psychology driving user experience testing can go a long way in improving game design. I just wish more game companies invested in psychologists as a core part of their design teams.

Posted in Research on video games, Written By Lissanna

New 6.2 patch news!

Blizzard put the patch 6.2 content on the PTR last night. Thus, the WOW community has now had some time to digest the patch notes and the datamined content. There are a couple key points worth highlighting early on that aren’t necessarily as easy to see from the quest notes and datamined info.

The 6.2 patch has a ton of content. Following a small content patch in 6.1, all of the new real patch content for the entire expansion is being released all at once. They are opening an entire new end-game content zone (Tanaan Jungle), a raid dungeon, small 5-man group content, and the last legendary ring quests. It should be a really great and entertaining patch with something for everyone. This will be a huge patch with tons of things to do right when the patch launches. However, as this includes the end of the legendary ring quests, this is likely to be the last real raid tier of the expansion as predicted. It may be possible to see a 6.3 patch, but it looks much more like they put all their eggs in the 6.2 patch basket. This expansion feels more like two mini expansions rolled into one, rather than having content spread out over time across different patches.

Tanaan Jungle’s description pretty much guarantees that flying won’t come back. They have highlighted the content being more ‘open world’ questing, treasure puzzles, and rare spawns. This design is similar to the Timeless Isle except for one thing – Tanaan Jungle is a giant zone in the middle of the map. So, if you can’t fly in Tanaan Jungle, you can’t fly anywhere else, either. Tanaan Jungle is also going to be content that is gated by the garrison interactions, in that you can only unlock the TJ content if you have a level 3 garrison and construct your shipyard. So, if you love jumping puzzles in WOD so far and loved the Timeless Isle, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will love Tanaan Jungle. This also comes with a new batch of daily quests, so perhaps we can get a little more out of Tanaan Jungle than we did out of the Timeless Isle in terms of reasons to keep returning over time. If those things aren’t your cup of tea, I’m sure there will be plenty of garrison missions to help keep you entertained. The garrison will come with more follower missions, including being able to build ships and send ships out into battle.

Blizzard’s design team is removing more class-related utility. The patch notes come with the removal of two raid buffs: Hunters are losing aspect of the fox, and mages are losing amplify magic. These two raid buffs weren’t huge, but the mage’s amplify magic spell was a brand new spell we’ve only had for a couple months in the first place.

Will the legendary ring procs may provide much more significant raid utility? Shortly after posting about the legendary ring procs, the @warcraftdevs twitter posted that the datamined legendary ring procs were outdated. So, it’s possible that the internal testing hasn’t shown the bouncing raid utility buffs to be a good idea. This isn’t really surprising, but I’ll withhold judgement until we see the final procs. I would still expect to see multiple versions of the ring procs across beta if they are trying to do something other than just provide traditional bonuses.

Look at this pretty birdThere will be a lot more info coming in the next few months. However, the recolored dread raven bird mount that comes as the raid achievement reward next patch is really pretty. There are other fun toys & mounts coming next patch for all the collectors. There is plenty of stuff to look forward to in the next patch. Keep in mind that everything is subject to change this early in a patch cycle.

MMO-champion datamined picture of the dread raven bird mount.

Posted in Patch 6.2, Warlords of Draenor, Written By Lissanna
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Druid Selfies and outdated forms

The 6.1 patch came with a new Selfie camera, that allows you to take close-up pictures of your face. This is great for the new races that got face upgrades recently in Warlords. This Selfie camera does not work quite so well with some of the druid forms. Particularly problematic are the stumpy tree form arms that make the camera zoom close into your terrifying face. resto tree selfieMoonkin, instead, appear to have an invisible ‘selfie stick’ that allows the camera to zoom farther from your face. This mostly just hides the fact that moonkin doesn’t look so great close-up either. The camera still reminds me of why moonkin needs a new updated model. If moonkin looked better, I might consider playing moonkin more often. Buff moonkin shapeshift graphics, please! :)

Moonkin Selfie

You still, however, can take some pretty nice pictures with this new selfie camera even as a druid (even if you aren’t quite sure who is holding the camera, anyway).


Posted in Druid - General, Written By Lissanna
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Trading gold for game time is good for everyone

World of Warcraft posted more details today on their new system that would allow purchasing of game time tokens with real money, and then allowing people to buy those game time tokens with gold. Thus, you can basically buy gold with real money – with the caveat that you have to use Blizzard’s official system to do it. I believe that this is a very important thing for the game, and that it has more benefits than negatives. Keep in mind that this system is NOT yet implemented in the game.

Why people keep buying gold

Back in Vanilla, I met someone who told me that they bought gold from a gold seller for WOW. I told them it was against the rules, and they didn’t care. I told them that the gold was stolen from other accounts, and they didn’t care. I told them that they could get banned and they didn’t care. In fact, no amount of reasoning convinced that person that they were doing anything wrong. Blizzard has spent the last 10 years trying to beg people to behave. All that begging, banning, and admonishing hasn’t worked. People who want to buy gold with real money have always existed, and they’ve been willing to overlook the harm that this practice has caused to others. Due to the fact they can’t buy gold legitimately, they are willing to break the rules. Thus, Blizzard has hit the point that there is no way to beat the gold sellers, unless they beat them at their own game.

If you can’t beat them, join them?

After 10 years of trying everything under the sun to stop gold selling & buying, Blizzard has come up with a new solution. This new solution allows for trading gold for game time via the auction house. This new solution allows for people to buy game time tokens they can sell on the auction house for gold.

This solution, however, isn’t Blizzard’s first attempt. Their first trial run with gold -> real money transactions was in the form of a pet. You could buy the pet on their website for real money and sell the pet in the game for gold. However, because people only needed one pet (and many people just bought it and kept it), it didn’t do anything for helping support a healthy gold trading economy and didn’t impact real-money gold selling.

So, with their first attempt not hurting the game (but also not helping the game), this new system is meant to create a better system for undercutting the people who steal gold from your accounts.

How the game token works & avoiding scams

Note that this system is NOT yet active. Anyone currently claiming to have access to these tokens are scammers. 

Game Time for Gold

  • You will be able to buy the WOW tokens online directly from Blizzard with real money (They will NOT be available via other methods).
  • You can sell them on a special market on the auction house for gold (you can NOT sell them anywhere else besides the auction house. You can NOT trade them with people in the game at all. You can NOT give them to your friends.).
  • You can buy the tokens from the auction house with real gold (you can NOT buy them from anyone in trade chat).
  • When you buy the token from the auction house, you can redeem it for a month of game time (You can NOT resell the tokens, as they become soulbound. You can NOT sell the game tokens themselves for real money).
  • If your account is currently not active, you can buy the token for gold in the character select menu.
  • These market values are fixed at a certain amount by Blizzard, but long-term the trade value may have minor market fluctuations over time based on supply and demand. You can NOT “game” this system for profit.

What about the market impacts?

People are wondering what impacts this will have on the WOW economy. I believe the impacts will be largely temporary and minor – that is, for the first week or two, the market might fluctuate a little bit. While some people who are gold-poor now will have more gold, this only means that more people will be able to buy stuff. That is, this has the potential to take some of the gold from gold hoarders (who can now fund their game time via their gold stores) and redistribute that wealth amongst a greater number of people. Given that people have always “bought” gold (even if illegal),  the impacts of gold buying just meant that it gave a small group of people a large and unfair advantage (due to cheating). With this new system, it is likely that this advantage is now being evened out across the players as a whole, leading to potentially increased fairness. We might see AH prices tick up a bit for BOE gear items as more people suddenly have gold they want to spend on gear items. However, any market changes will eventually also settle down within a few weeks of the system going live, as the system dynamically adapts to change. Within a month of this going live, we won’t really notice market impacts. I’m all for trading a couple weeks of market instability for many years of reduced value for gold selling scams. I think the trade-off is more than worth it.

 In conclusion, this new market is beneficial to the game

Blizzard’s goal is to provide people with a safe, efficient way to buy gold with real money. Blizzard’s second goal is to prevent gold scam websites from profiting off of compromising our accounts. In both of these respects, I believe this system will work. We can’t ever 100% eliminate the scam websites, but we can greatly undercut their market by providing a system where you can buy gold in such a way that is legal and protected by Blizzard.

That is, when the new system goes active, there is never an incentive to buy gold from the scam websites because the scam websites come at a substantially higher risk to all involved. When you buy gold from scam websites, you risk having your WOW account permanently banned. When you buy gold directly from Blizzard, you have a guarantee that the transaction was legitimate. If you buy time tokens with your gold, you benefit by allowing people to have a legitimate system for purchasing gold. Thus, we protect our own game assets from being stolen via account hacking if we get everyone to use this system instead of scam websites. Lets make gold selling websites a historical relic by using this system. There is no reason for people to hack your account and steal your gold if we provide them with no market to make real-life money off those thefts.

Please note that you can’t trade these tokens in trade chat. You can only buy and sell them in the marketplace. Thus, anyone trying to sell game time tokens on other websites, in-game trade chat, or via other methods are all scams. Protect your gold, money, and time by waiting until this system is implemented and then using this new legitimate system. We all benefit by using this new system to protect ourselves from scams.

Posted in Farming, Warlords of Draenor, Written By Lissanna


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