The Botpocalypse … aka wasted talent and effort

So why don’t we talk a little about the whole botpocalypse and laws scripting.

It seems to be all the rage to drone on about this ad nausem and maybe it’ll bring me some traffic! 🙂 No, in seriousness I don’t want to talk much about it but what I would like to talk about is some of the issues that I feel motivate players to automate leveling.

For the record, I have written this article multiple times and deleted it avowing not to go on a tirade. I hope what follows is more well reasoned than my previous attempts.

First the idea that some people just hate leveling is entirely fine by me. Some hate pkill, mkill or any given aspect of the game and I am not one to tell anyone that they have to conform to any style of game play. This situation has long been addressed by paying someone else to do it for you. Hating leveling is a motivation for scripted leveling due to the profit it brings the leveler.

The profit found in leveling is accentuated by the fact that a number of the most popular leveling mobs give fairly decent gold return. Without surprising anyone at all I’ll point to Crab Guards, many of the mobs in Mithril Hall and almost all the mobs in Spectrum. I imagine the goal was for low level characters to be able to get some gold and buy some supplies while they adventure. If a leveler makes the effort to maximize their gold/experience gain in their mob selection the profit for leveling sharply increases.

So I’m sure at this point we can agree that the motivation for the leveler is quite clear. It is a service in demand that pays very, very well.

Why do people tend to hate leveling so much? It is simply because it is repetitive and tedious. Almost nothing you do while you level makes a whit of difference to your end product, no gear is worth keeping, no quest adds anything interesting to the avatar to be. More on this later.

Ultimately it is the demand from players though that drives the supply. So let’s touch on a few aspects of that.

Players desire to have multiple characters in order to participate in all the game’s content. It’s no accident that some classes are nearly useless at certain mobs. Nor is this undesirable. Why should every class be able to efficiently destroy every mob? I strongly agree that class balancing needs to be visited to make the classes more generally effective, however, I argue that if we blur the lines too much, we may as well simply have a single super class. I would suggest that not only is this particular motivation normal, but it’s even healthy. Try the game from different points of view.

Some players will desire multiples of the same class in order to be able to go out and gather area pops or kill particular mobiles repeatedly (farming) or to repeat other repetitive tasks such as brewing. Let’s take that sentence apart a bit.

In item farming, whether area pops or from mobiles, there are different motivations. Some items are farmed because the item is always useful, it’s consumable and needs to be harvested en masse. Other items are farmed because the item has a large level range and are particularly valued in lower levels. Things like the apples of life and the low level pops in Coral Depths come to mind though there are a tremendous amount of examples. Other items have variations that people are trying to overcome, whether it is micro-optimizing for the higher average damage Justice or trying to get devout scales from Justice.

Lets address the en masse farming, especially prevalent in area pops. This isn’t a conversation about whether farming is good or bad, I’m only acknowledging what is. There are a few main strategies being used to discourage farming that encourage people to have a mass of character. In the case of the multi-tinker ores they appear at reboot … so the strategy is to blanket the Realms with characters that can farm at 6am in multiple areas simultaneously. Or we can make the time random like the Skulk and encourage the same strategy with a trigger to log into the area each repop and check then log out. Or can we make it appear in random rooms and put some aggro mobs wandering about to make it a pain in the arse? Or we can set a mptag on the character to prevent them from gathering too many of the pops within a particular online connection time like apples of life … can you level a character to an apple farming level faster than the tag rots off? Can you farm apples on your tinkering gnomes and rotate through them to maximize the apples gathered without missing ip8 tinker times?

For mob farming the fact is that after so many kills it gets boring. Once you’ve developed a strategy that works well and are able to repeat it without fail then scripting makes sense … Now, if you’re already at this point and bored with the mob, why would you want to split the gear and increase your kill totals by taking someone else if you can use multiple characters – either directly by being ip+ or indirectly by killing for a while on one, then logging out and loading the next mirror image of that character in to overcome things like equipment damage or ridiculous numbers of heals and so on. I’m not even really pointing to mobs that you’d sell the gear from, this is stuff you’re trying to get for yourself. The rarer the item with the desirable properties is though the more the motivation to perfect this and sell the items. Or you can make the mob ip1 and keep the rare pop rate until people decide that a harder run with a better rate is more worthwhile. Why run Cato when it’s a lesser time investment to get a Veil of Divine Wrath than a Catastrophe for the same number of runners? Especially when it seems that Seth’s Fortress is a far smoother and more perfectible run than Cato’s randomness allows.

Builders have begun to address this issue … I’ll note the Shadowstalker and the barbarian neckwear: SS provides an item that is used to manufacture the neckwear in the alignment you desire, yet no comprehensive effort has been observed to revamp some of the older areas to keep them relevant, often the effort required to get a small improvement is simply not deemed worthwhile by many players… why get the Nevermore neckwear which is modestly better than devout scales when the scales are so much easier to get?

To briefly address the repeatable actions comment, at one point we had armies of clerics brewing heal potions en masse. This was very profitable since flasks were about 4k coins each and heals could be sold at 10k each. To remove the motivation for doing this empty flask prices were brought in line with the store bought heal prices. When all the profit went away, so did the motivation for these armies, but there are other player generated consumables that continue to encourage armies, at least some of which could be sold from shopkeepers and provide, if nothing else, a minor gold sink … of course zomg you can’t sell demonskin potions in Darkhaven rabble rabble hurp durp.

So up to this point I’ve provided some motivation for the armies … which is one of the causes of spam leveling. I think it’s fair to say that army owners don’t care at all about how the characters level, so long as they level. They’re interested in the end result only a character of appropriate level for their farming (note: not all farming needs to be done by avatars!) This is only a part of the demand … and I argue it’s not even the majority of the demand, but I wanted to try to provide a comprehensive overview of this issue.

Why does the AVERAGE player buy into and provide demand for leveling? The simplest explanation is the quest for better character bases. Re-rolling is linked here but I’m going to avoid that conversation for the moment – let’s say that for now, if you invest the time you can get the ——-> stats <——- you want, though perhaps for particularly hard to roll combinations you need to go to extreme measures including but not limited to distributed re-rolling (to avoid ip spoofing) or even directly to ip spoofing for re-rolling to actually pull it off (“perfect” based half orc or half ogre vampires anyone?). Of course that’s the easy part isn’t it? It’s the base after leveling that motivates people to keep trying for yet another character.

My experience is that the average gain per level needs only fluctuate a tiny amount to have a major impact on the avatar bases. Let’s think about a thief’s hit points since this is one of the prime examples. Per level your gain is 12-17 hit points meaning a theoretical range of 608-853 which averages to 731. Now … an average based thief is in the 720-730 range but an exceptional one is in the 750’s. To be fair I have heard of exceptionally few thieves in the 600s or the 800s. It is clear that leveling trends towards the midpoint by design.

If you average 14 hit points per gain you will get a character with a base around 700. If you average 15 it goes up to around 750. So it is also clear that it’s a very sensitive thing that any ham-fisted changes will unbalance things.

Next it is important to say that a 700 hp base thief is entirely playable, but to make those 50 hp up would be a substantial investment in glory or require a trade off in equipment. An example of such a trade off would be changing out 2 Collar of Abyssal Servitude for 2 scales of the alpha and omega. Of course, since people expect to see the 4 luck from CAS’ in the builds, the other thief equipment choices become restricted and the motivation for an 18 luck base is only increased. These options are really fallacies however and they have been espoused for so very long without a real justification that they are, in my opinion, absurdities. In both cases I can level a new character and see an immediate and often substantial gain. Every ounce of effort I put into overcoming a bad base with equipment or glory can be put on a better based character to keep the gap alive.

Let’s pause here and say that some of thing things that influence bases are not random. They are also not reported to you while you’re leveling but many of them are common knowledge. You have to max your con. As far as I know that’s the only officially listed in a help file advice you’ll find. Next is that you want to have good luck … statistic, not fortune … but … some claim that 19 luck seems to go better than 20, some say it doesn’t matter at all. You want to try to avoid having all the leveling spells on at once. Stoneheft’s said as much on channels that maxing your stats by equipment instead of the spells gives you a better chance. Does having sanctuary on penalize you? What other spells might cause a penalty? Is the Blessing of Thoric killing my low level hit point gains since I made efforts to get lots of level 2 con gear? Does killing the same mob too many times in a row bestow a penalty? Does wearing gear that is far below your level penalize you outside of making killing things harder? Does being ip+ globally hurt you? Are my guild bots killing my level gains? Having too many characters in the same room on the same ip hurts experience gain, but does it kill my hit point gains too? The only answer you get when you try to investigate these questions are “you do not have a sufficient sample size to be able to understand it”. So be it, we overcome randomness with high sampling. That’s science folks, no more magic hand wavy pretend statistics. We may still come to wrong conclusions because of an incomplete understanding but we’ll get much closer than we have before with data. With scripting most of the variables that we can control are held in check and even with laws scripting it is clear that ATTENDED scripting will continue as it always has.

Ok, so we’re almost getting ranty again. Time to change the channels. Whether you think the base on a character is important or not is irrelevant. Enough people do think so who create a demand for mass character creations.

*click* On this channel are a few ideas of how we can help tame the motivation side of the equation. If we want to alter behavior we can probably best achieve this by acknowledging the motivations and seeing if there are acceptable changes and yet still maintain some variability between characters and some “risk” element to leveling. Many games do not consider hit point bases as something that should be variable between characters, level playing field and all, that the player’s actions should earn them the advantages instead of some arbitrary factor. I happen to agree with that sentiment but it is not my decision to make on Realms and I will only mention it here in the event that someone who does make such decisions may consider it. It’s interesting to note that even if everyone’s bases were exactly the same that it would still be a monumental task to accumulate even the most popular collection of characters … a few mages, a couple clerics, a couple thieves, a few barbs, a warrior or two, a paladin, a nephandi, a fathomer maybe an auggie, a druid, a few rangers and a couple vamps … never mind a complete army that takes having coverage in most races and alignments into account.

Ok so let’s address some of the points I made earlier and while I am looking at this as a “big bad avatar” to borrow Loril’s turn of phrase, I will use my experience as a Newbie Councillor under Julie and Sarah back in the day to try to help flavor my solutions as being neutral or in favor of the one new player trying to make their character.

Reducing the motivation to level for other people can be achieved by making it less profitable. This will hit the golders who use mobs like crab guards but the solution is to level out the gold across pre-avatar mobs so that there is no great motivation to fixate on mobs that give both good experience and good gold. Why in the heck wouldn’t you hit crab guards while leveling except for competition? There are what? 17 of them at 100k gold each per repop? Well, duh. Toss in the eels and you can crack 2m per repop in an area that turns over rapidly. My argument here is not that the guards need to have their gold or experience downed but that it is the disparity between these guys and clearing out (let’s say) the entire area of Sentinel that puts pressure on Coral Depths and causes conflict between characters focused on the same area. I suggest that a comprehensive revamp of areas targeted towards levelers be done, with an analysis of things like xp per hour — the sorts of analysis that is now utterly common in all sorts of games (Diablo comes to mind). Players can start this analysis but only an immortal review by expert builders can give a true picture — and if done by immortals the analysis can be done by an automated script that looks at the area files themselves and applies knowledge about the experience gain formulas.

Ok. So that’s part of the project and it will help with the next point about the repetitiveness and tediousness of leveling. I would be able to go check out new areas without feeling penalized for it and while there will always, always, always be “optimal routes” you will have to invest time and effort to find them and your reward will be faster leveling. Many people will simple not expend that effort and will investigate areas more freely. The question “where is the best spot to level” will be asked, but will be less relevant. Right now there is a disparity between the right areas and the wrong areas that could result in a 100 hour difference between a new an experienced player creating a single character … and the new player probably won’t be happy with their character in the long time when they get told their base stinks (more on this later, since that’s an age old complaint!). So that’s a part of the tedious equation but the fact is that not everyone likes to explore and further that ultimately builders can only produce so many areas before “it’s all been done before”.

The second part of reducing the tedium can also be tied into some of the other comments I’ve made. Some experiments have been made with automated questing on Realms to varying degrees of success. Some of the quest provide a nifty leveling item, often owner tagged, or some amount of experience. Both of these are great rewards and nothing I’m about to suggest should take away from the continued growth of these quests though I suggest that they be a little more tied together so that achieving some of them eliminates others. The current quests are very hardly variable at all. There are a very limited number of permutations that once accounted for encourages automation. To utterly randomly generate such quests removes too much control from the builder and can introduce ridiculous combinations yet to build any substantial amount of quests by hand is a daunting task as well. The solution here is a permutation engine where a builder can provide sets of items to be permuted. Choosing 2 items from a set of 6 where the order is important and repetitions are not allowed produces 30 combinations. So … you can tell a character to go retrieve item 1, ah good you’ve got it, go get item 2 30 different ways with only a variety of 6 items … and if you set up your programs smartly so that the item is NOT a stock Realms item but can only be obtained by a mob that reads your mptags you can also vary the mob that people retrieve it from. If there are 3 potential mobs that these 6 items might come from then suddenly you have 90 potential quests. If you want to overcome enumeration you do it by overwhelming options. Math FTW. What sorts of rewards might make this level of questing worthwhile?? I would utterly ignore such a system that ONLY provided experience or a leveling item. Glory is inappropriate as a reward during leveling, perhaps. Why not have some of these quests trigger when a player has a sub-par hit point/mana/movement gain and allow them to make up some of the missed opportunity? Remedial leveling? Holey moley, better bases through interesting dynamic content instead of repetitive combat of the RNG. Will you have to work for it? Darn right you will! Will you be rewarded? Sure will! So uhm, how to prevent abuse of it? Well, maybe you lose the opportunity to regain the lost hit points (whatever) when you hit your next level? That is, you can’t simply blow through the levels as fast as you can and then go do a bunch of quests to make it up. You have to go level by level BUILDING YOUR CHARACTER … holy craphats Batman! Imagine also applying this to stats so that people could do remedial work on their stats and consider how this might help remove some of the reroll motivations.

I said earlier that nothing you gain while leveling is worth keeping at avatar. I stand by that. You could av and dt and not even feel a pinch because it’s a free recall. Now take what I’ve proposed about questing into account. Not every quest has to be for remediation … what if some of the quests helped you build up an item that was useful to you from level 2 to 50? When you hit avatar you actually had gear that was useful for joining in runs and going to earn more, better gear? What if after 49 levels at least one item was worth keeping even if you joined a great Guild that ran all the time and could GIVE you great gear? What might that item look like? Could it look different for EVERY PLAYER based on the choices they made? Is it a way to fix bases without actually adjusting the person’s base? A permanent object maybe? Certainly at least owner tagged … well… I hope you’re getting the idea here.

I make no comment on having a variety of characters or building an army. I think these are avatar issues that put pressure on the leveling problem but ultimately aren’t the cause. Likewise the farming issue is part of this demand but a thorough review of the areas can address a great deal of this and really, should be addressed separately but people should be aware that no matter what anti farming practice you put into place it can likely be circumvented by overwhelming numbers of characters.

Maybe the quest system idea is way too far out to get an immediate result. Let’s try something simple – remove the minimum gains from characters except as a penalty. It will not raise the maximum achievable bases but will modestly move the lower end towards the average and make some average a bit better. A string of 12’s and 13’s on these thieves is really discouraging and feels like a penalty for getting good gains otherwise … if I see a 17 I almost smell the 12’s coming as the algorithm tries to massage me back towards the average.

I’ve argued why I believe bases are one of the major motivating factors. You can feel free to disagree but the fact is enough people believe it to create a demand that is increasingly being capitalized on by the clever.

I also assert that though there is absolutely no intention on my part to suggest that every possible penalty towards level gains needs to be exposed to the Realms community so that we can optimize our leveling behavior, it is clear that whatever changes are made need to encourage the behaviors that give better results or to allow us to be aware of what is penalty and why is poor gain (simple example … have the mob in the Halls of Training tsk and you and tell you that the aura of magic surrounding you is so heavy that it is no wonder the fates can hardly reward you … or whatever … just to hint that wearing all leveling spells is bad).

Ok guys and gals, I’ve been typing for hours now and I’m sure you’re all sick of reading. I’m not telling anyone what to do. Maybe there are good reasons why a lot of this won’t work. I openly admit I might have my head up my ass on a ton of this stuff, but in a fairly straightforward way I’ve tried to present the problem as I see it and attempted to address both leveling and re-rolling together. I hope that we can have constructive discussions around this topic, I have no energy left for any whining however.

If you just want to piss and moan, go pound salt.  Don Quixote has left the building.

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