Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

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Magic and Planned Obsolescence, Revisited

Last week, I wrote an article about how Hearthstone’s copying of Magic’s strategy of obsoleting old cards will probably result in very good things for Hearthstone.  One of the things that I forgot to mention is that Magic, themselves are changing the rules.  They are SPEEDING UP the obsolescence pattern.  And players are thrilled.

Magic used to ship a core set, a big base set and 2 smaller sets every year, and only cards shipped in the last two years were usable.  For a long list of reasons, they are switching to only two-set blocks (a large set and a small set), and every year they will ship two blocks.  And here’s the important thing: they are moving from a 2 year obsolescence pattern to one that is 18 months.

However, what’s notable is that people are thrilled not just because of the addition of new cards, but the removal of old cards that had caused the game to stagnate.

Development was trying to tackle the metagame problem of Standard getting stale too quickly. This new rotation would shake things up a little but it wouldn’t have enough impact to solve the problem. You see, a metagame is more shaped by what leaves the environment than what enters.

Put another way, currently everyone who doesn’t play with a card named Siege Rhino hates the card named Siege Rhino.  It’s so dominant a card that the entire format warps around it – either you play it, or you have to play cards specifically to deal with it.  Before the format change, players who were sick of this 18-month old card would have to endure it until this Autumn.  People at my gaming store are dancing a jig that it will rotate out this April instead when we return to Innistrad.  Magic routinely has had trouble selling their spring sets – most people instead choose to play less until the ‘big set’ comes in the fall if they don’t like the current metagame.  Clearly, they are hoping this changes.

Meanwhile, another format called ‘modern’ is completely fucked.  And the new set released a card that created a new deck so powerful that 44% of all magic games in that format now run that particular deck.  People are talking about this like it’s the armageddon.

Now is the part of the show where we have to understand that, logically speaking, the decks that are coming out of the woodwork to beat Eldrazi will not always beat it, and the decks that Eldrazi already has a very healthy matchup against (like Burn for instance) will still lose to it. This places Eldrazi in very terrifying company, because it means that it’s one of the most powerful decks in Modern that can still beat the decks dedicated to stopping it.

Modern will likely only get fixed by banning something – a path they are generally loathe to do, but likely will have to do in order to stop the collapse of what is normally a very popular format.

As for Standard’s move to 18 months – one interesting part of this shift in business strategy is that Magic announced this… in 2014.  I.e. they announced it before the cards they were about to ship would shorten to have only an 18 month lifespan in standard, in case that affected anyone’s purchasing decision.  I only call this out because it underscores how the Wizards of the Coast team is, and has been for some time, one of the class acts of the game development industry.

(And while we’re at it, Mark Rosewater’s weekly column is perhaps the best game design column there is).

The Myth of Political Correctness

Political Correctness is the bugaboo of many an idiot.  It’s a term that’s been thrown around by idiots for a long time in order to raise the creeping concern that somewhere, crafty sneaky liberals were going to make you listen to their opinions!  After which, of course, you would be helpless to begin taking bonghits out of a VW van in between patchouli baths and tie-dye parties.

The people who raise the specter of political correctness are comedians.  Most recently, it includes comedians Jerry Seinfeld and John Cleese, both of whom I consider to be comedy legends, but both of whom have in these exchanges betrayed themselves as either morons of the highest order, or craven cowards.  Dearie me!  I told a joke that I knew was offensive to people, and some people were offended!  Can someone loan me some pearls?  For I must clutch them!

Meanwhile, Deadpool opened to a $132M opening weekend.  It was vulgar.  It was offensive.  It was a superhero movie with a pegging scene. It was also a wonderful, wonderful movie.  And I’m glad it was made.  And I’m also glad they made it with the R rating and ignored idiots like this schmuck.  The results were so good that they’re now talking about giving us a Wolverine that actually uses his claws. Which is awesome.

We’re just a few years away from no one being able to say ‘shit’ on television.  It was considered a big fucking deal when Newhart showed a married couple in bed.  Lenny Bruce was arrested for doing comedy 50 years ago – and now Seinfeld won’t play campuses because he might hear a couple boos.  Psycho was almost censored because it showed a flushing toilet.  Now we have the Saw franchise. NWA was arrested when they played ‘Fuck the Police’ in Detroit.   Today, law enforcement wouldn’t bat an eye at that concert.  Back in the day, Elvis Presley got in trouble for pelvic thrusting.  MTV is pretty much filled with the thrusting of pelvises – and so much more – well, in those rare instances they still show music videos.

Today, countless comedians dare to tackle ‘politically correct’ topics, such as Louis CK discussing why some words are considered bad.  Or Sarah Silverman, who makes rape jokes a core part of her act.  I’m sure that some people are offended by their acts.  Or Amy Schumer’s whole slut schtick.  Or, um, a lot of the Chapelle Show or Chris Rock’s standup act.    The trick is to not care.

I grew up listening to and loving Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks and Denis Leary. My friends also listened to Andrew Dice Clay – I didn’t care for him, but man did he sell a lot of CDs in my dorm. At no point did these guys think ‘no one should be offended by my humor’. Hell, they REVELLED in pushing those boundaries. If no one was offended, they would have thought they were doing it wrong.

Cut to the real world, modern day.  GTA V is the top video game ever made, not just in sales but in critical approval.  South Park and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia still command solid audiences for saying ‘fuck you’ to anyone offended by what they have to say.  The Game of Thrones gives no shits that a segment of their population wishes it was a little less of a rape-a-thon.  And Deadpool.  Fucking glorious Deadpool. Clearly, content creators who don’t want to toe the line of political correctness are doing whatever the fuck they want to do as artists, and are reaping huge benefits from it if they do it well.

But people are going to get the vapors because they posted something they knew was offensive to some on a message board, and some people were offended?  The truth is not that political correctness is problem – it’s not.  The truth is that these people are just as thin-skinned as the SJW demons they have imagined in their heads.

Planned Obsolescence Will Probably Save Hearthstone

This week, Blizzard announced a new mode of play in Hearthstone called ‘Standard’ play.  In this mode, you can only play with the most recent set of cards.  If you want to play with every card you’ve ever collected, you can play in Wild mode.  But it’s almost certain that Wild mode will get less supported as time passes – they’ve already announced their eSports will focus on the new Standard mode.

I’ve seen some amount of outrage over these changes, but in truth, this has happened before – in Magic: the Gathering.  Magic spent years trying to figure out how to add exciting new cards to the game before stumbling upon the same solution.  Why does it work?

It makes for a much more confined problem set for design.  Magic is 20 years old.  Magic also has a non-standard version of the game called Legacy where players can play whatever they want – with only a handful of exceptions.  Turn 1 kills in Legacy are routine.  Because when you can combine every card that ever was, you can combine them in extremely unpredictable ways.  It’s impossible for the design team to foresee every possible broken interaction, so an ever widening pool of cards forces designers to make safer, lamer cards.

Even when there was a small number of cards – back in the Ice Age/Homelands/Alliances era, designers were desperate to not creep up the power.  The result was releasing a whole bunch of cards that were worse than the cards you already had, which resulted in Wizards not selling many cards.  Why buy new cards if they aren’t better than the old cards?  But if you make them better than the old cards, then the whole game starts to warp in unusual ways.

It allows for Magic to fully reinvent itself.  Red in Magic will always be about fast decks.  What a ‘fast deck’ means, though, varies wildly from set to set.  They can try truly different game mechanics, and really reinvent the game, which helps keep the game interesting.

It allows for Magic to fix mistakes.   A couple of years ago, Wizards printed a card called Thragtusk.  This card was so broken powerful that many decks would splash a little green mana just to cast it.  Wizards now admits it was a mistake.  But there’s a simple remedy to them – they just let the card rotate out of standard after a year.  And there was much rejoicing – much as there will be rejoicing when Siege Rhino goes away this fall.

It makes the game approachable for new players.  Yeah, a top-tier Standard deck will still cost you a pretty penny – I frequently run decks that run a couple hundred dollars.  However, a single copy of the best magic card ever printed has an asking price of $6500.  That’s a steep price to get into Legacy (and a reason why most game shops who do Legacy tournaments allow you to have some number of proxy cards).  That’s a level of investment that’s going to spook anyone thinking about getting into the game.

It sells cards – and people love it.  Yes, it’s true.  Crassly, this is a philosophy that will sell more Hearthstone cards.  And crassly, the Hearthstone team is in it to make Blizzard money, largely so they will still get to have a job.  But here’s the thing that’s lost – this is a planned obsolescence model that works.  Magic players LOVE when a new set comes out.  The game is reinvented.  Annoying strategies stop working.  New, interesting combinations become possible.

The standard format that Hearthstone is copying is what rescued Magic.  And not only that, it’s the cornerstone of why Magic is now enjoying some of its broadest popularity of all time.  Blizzard ain’t dummies – they know what works, and anyone who loved Magic was pretty much expecting Blizzard to eventually come to the same conclusion.


RooshV Puts Me In the Uncomfortable Position of Agreeing With Greg Abbott

RooshV is a disgusting, sad sack of shit as a human being.  The founder of Return of Kings, almost inarguably one of the most despicable websites in the ‘manosphere‘.  Return of Kings is most notable for being so despicable that they reject the Mens Rights Activist label as not being despicably misogynistic enough.  They’re also the idiots who spearheaded the utterly failed “Star Wars as SJW Utopia” boycott and the Mad Max anti-feminism hysteria.

However, ignorant assholes are a dime a dozen on the Internet.  RooshV earns the prize of ‘man most deserving of getting his genetalia repeatedly caught in a 3-ring binder’ for going way beyond the realm of mere asshole – here he is saying that we should make rape legal if done on private property.  Apparently, he tried to pass off the article as satire.  Unconvincingly.  He also has a habit of writing ‘dating guides’ where he describes the best countries for raping passed out drunk women (and probably manipulates Amazon ratings to help sell them).  He also rates the countries by his DEFCOCK rating.

Completely normal male-female relations in a patriarchal society that believes in a binary gender system of man and woman. Homosexuality is persecuted. Casual sex is difficult (if not impossible).

Countries that have the best, most subservient women include Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.  On the other end of the scale, countries at DEFCOCK 1 having, and I shit you not, roaming mobs of witches.  No country is there yet, but America with its rampant feminism is close!  In short, he’s a piece of human-shaped smegma that has somehow acquired sentience.

Anyway, this fecal elemental was in the news recently for attempting to have RoK meetups simultaneously in 43 countries.  In a good sign that he knows that him and his followers are despicable human beings, he instructed them to use a code word to identify each other – in a public post on his blog, because RoK readers are not only misogynistic scumbags, they are apparently idiots as well.  This was apparently public enough that many politicians repudiated the meetups in their city, which led up to the one and only time I am likely to agree word-for-word with a statement from my very conservative governor.

“This pathetic group and their disgusting viewpoints are not welcome in Texas. I’ve spent much of my career protecting women from such vile and heinous acts, and it won’t be any different on my watch as Governor.”

At any rate, RooshV declared the meetups cancelled.  And while it’s good to know that broad and bipartisan outrage at least forced these bipedal cockroaches back under the refrigerator, it’s always useful to remember that these cancerous hobbits are just the most visible tip of an iceberg of rape denialism (defined as minimizing the pervasiveness of rape in modern culture) is still a big problem.  There are still, for example, vainglorious braggarts taunting women at rape rallies, for example, and morally bankrupt so-called feminists who attempt to minimize the prevalence of rape, especially campus rape, in order to keep landing lucrative Fox appearances even though these stats just keep getting reverified.  Sorry, rape apologists, but the stats make it clear that if the stats are off, it’s not by much, and that the incidences of false rape accusations are few and far between.

So anyway, congrats to the world at large at repudiating RooshV and his degenerate, pathetic worldview.  Just don’t forget to keep an eye on those who try to conceal their repulsiveness in a veneer of respectability.


PCs are Still the Most Successful Platform

Maybe the MMO isn’t quite dead yet.

Seriously, Are We Still Talking About Sad and Rabid Puppies?

Allum Bokhari of Breitbart claims that bookstores are purging their shelves of politically incorrect authors.

Allum Bokhari is full of shit.

Just like most Breitbart so-called journalists.

Criticism is Exactly What Freedom of Speech Was Meant to Protect

A reader of ZenOfDesign sent me this thread that he started on NeoGAF near the turn of the year.  I’ve found it an interesting topic to talk about, but haven’t had time to discuss it in detail.

I am very interested in creative processes and complex discussions around the creative freedom of artists as balanced against societal responsibility…. I have seen enlightening discussions amongst members around these subjects (the “butt-slap story” or “Quiet as embarrassing” being some of them). This is why I wanted to start this discussion around the role of the artist beyond his own creation as a “meta” topic.

– can [the Artist] do as he/she feels?
– should he/she be concerned by the social environment of his/her art?
– is he/she tacitly influenced by his surrounding status quo, so the idea of art of isolation is chimera?
– should he/she be entirely free but so are critics to point out the problematic aspects of the creation?

The answer is a big ol’ ball of wax to unwind, but in truth is fairly straightforward – at least to questions 1 and 4. Maybe I’ll take 2 and 3 later.

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Donald Trump Wins Endorsement from Bus Aficionado and Inethical Journalist

It’s so amusing when my two favorite train wrecks – GamerGate and the Republican Primary – manage to find a way to collide.  This week, Donald Trump earned a key endorsement.  Not, Sarah Palin –although that one is comedy gold.  This one:

That’s right, Mark Kern – a former game developer turned GamerGate zealot with a history of  noxious idiotic activity came out in support Donald Trump.  Because, you guessed it – Political Correctness!

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No, Gamers Are Not The New Religious Right

Dear Jef Rouner,

Yes, there are some real shitty people in the games playing audience.  I’ve been writing about them for the past two years in particular, and beyond.  I’ve been policing them in the games I built (MMOs) for even longer.

They are not the norm, as your article would suggest.  They are aberrations and accidents.  Many – even most – gamers are good, standup, quality people.  Some are trolls.  Some are awful trolls.  Some of these trolls become celebrities amongst those trolls, despite the fact that they rarely, if ever game.

The truth is, it only takes a handful of trolls to make things seem poisonous. As I’ve written before, people used to think that 10% of the population of UO was griefers.  It was closer to 0.1%.  Assholish behavior just rises in consciousness, and we tend to ignore people who are decent human beings.

So don’t call these people you refer to as ‘gamers’.  That’s a term for good people.  Go with ‘fuckwads’.

On the Matter of the Blue Checkmark

If you don’t know who Milo Yiannopoulos is, you should consider yourself lucky.  I admit, I was initially fooled by his cool, cultured accent when he interviewed me for his Podcast in the early days of the debacle that would be GamerGate.  In truth, he is the Liberace of Manufactured Outrage, a bullshit merchant of the highest order.  He is also, ironically, a professional victim, adept at getting himself in trouble by being a total asshole, and then hamming it up to get clicks.

Ironically, given that he’s an e-celeb for GamerGate, he’s also a deeply inethical journalist working for Breitbart, a magazine so unethical it makes the National Enquirer look like the Wall Street Journal.

He’s also a key reason why the game industry cancer known as #GamerGate ceased to meaningfully be about game journalism or, typically, even about games at all.  Not that it was much early on, but he’s a huge part of why it veered into sheer right-wing thin-skinned outrage politics. After spending years mocking gamers as weirdos in yellowing underpants, he became a convert when he realized that GamerGate was, in fact, populated significantly by exactly the sort of toxic idiots that buy into his broken philosophy.

That philosophy is just a war on ‘political correctness’.  Of course, in an attempt to rub his stink on it, he and a couple of his colleagues tried to reclaim the tired old premise of ‘political correctness’ and rename the cause ‘cultural libertarianism’, probably because they realized that a whole bunch of kids get high, read Ayn Rand in college and think they’re libertarian before they realize that, at its core, what passes for libertarianism this day is the simple promise to try to remain an asshole as frequently as possible at all time.

He said so much in an article just before the break, where he proudly boasts about being an asshole – you know, for FREEDOM.  One thing he boasts about is getting suspended by Twitter, which required breaking the terms of service – most likely for targeted and directed harassment, but given his behavior, there is so many good reasons it could have occurred.

Despite Milo’s boasting about how awesome this is, this quickly turned sour. Twitter has a checkmark that they grant to people who are recognized celebrities – probably because they grew tired of assholes fucking with other people by pretending to be Anne Hathaway. Well, Milo had one. I say ‘had’ because Twitter apparently has a policy of removing this blue tick from anyone who breaks their terms of service, probably in an attempt to dissuade so-called celebrities from abusing their status by encouraging their followers to harass other users of twitter. Which I stress, is definitely the case here.

Anyway, Twitter took his checkmark away. I have some exclusive footage of his response.

Seriously, he’s been having a tantrum about this for a week now.

Now, I don’t know that I agree with those who say that just taking a checkmark away is going to solve anything.  It’s much more likely that this is merely a warning shot, and a first step towards a banning if he keeps doing what he’s doing.  His issue is that while he has declared that he is going to do everything in his power to be an asshole (and again, BOASTING about getting kicked off of Twitter for his efforts), then that’s going to run against the philosophy of Twitter, who has realized that their platform sucks at dealing with harassment, and that people as high as the CEO is convinced this needs to change.  It doesn’t help that Milo has a habit of taunting the people his followers decide to torment.  A couple of people have provided more insight on this tantrum, but why bother.  It’s just a tantrum.  That doesn’t stop his colleagues at Breitbart from hysterically trying to link this tempest in a teacup to a drop in Twitter’s stock price.

The funny thing is the people who still cry censorship.  It’s almost as if these self-styled libertarians don’t realize that Twitter is both a private business as well as a private publishing platform.  They have no reason to allow an abusive megalomaniac abuse their other users, nor do they have to feel compelled to give them a microphone.  Milo has made it clear that his goal is to weaponize Twitter to encourage his followers to harass, badger and terrorize people who don’t share his worldview.  Unsurprisingly, Twitter is signaling that that’s not how they want their platform to be used and perceived.

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