Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Future Farmers of Alderaan



Part Two of an ongoing series. Read the Introduction.

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So I guess the most important place to start is with the idea that, above and beyond any other considerations, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is a massively popular video game for your cell phone built on an inherently abusive business model. 
     
The game is made by EA Games, who got into trouble recently around the release of their Star Wars: Battlefield II game – well, “got into trouble” is putting it rather mildly. They fucked up the release of a video game so bad they got lawmakers involved. That’s an exceptionally bad day at work the likes of which I cannot even comprehend. I cry if the phone rings. They got into trouble because of these things called Loot Boxes that are apparently Gambling 4 Kidz, which makes complete sense as a business model if your business model includes getting laws passed specifically to ban your business model. 
    
OK, real talk: I have no idea what a Loot Box is because the last video game system I owned was a Wii. We bought it really late in the product cycle, when they were so cheap it was throwing away money not to get one, really. And we played it some – my ex loved Bully, and I fully believe that she would buy a new video game system tomorrow if they announced Bully 2. I tried to pick up Mario again but, just like when I was twelve my inability to pass the ice levels presents a serious obstacle to me ever achieving anything of value in my life. 
     
Now that we have established my complete ignorance about the world of contemporary video games allow me to explain the business model of Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes: it’s Gambling 4 Kidz.

It’s basically awful. I think it’s similar to how most of these kinds of games work. You have to collect things. You have to collect a lot of different things. This collection, or “farming,” is not something than follows my schedule. It’s like a real job that requires real consistency to work. Ooooorrrrrr you can pay for more crystals that buy you more chances to farm the gear you need. They don’t tell you what the odds are for these drops, either. You have to guess – some stuff, particularly at a lower rarity, drops at a rate pretty close to 1:1. The further up the tree you get, the more valuable the gear, the worse the odds. Of course, there’s no way to know because they keep all that stuff “under the hood.”
     
The reason why consistency is important goes back to the predatory business model, and the reason why I play this game at all: the developers do, to their credit, play completely fair. By which I mean that everything in the game is available without paying. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say there is nothing in the game that you absolutely positively have to pay money for.     
     
Are there things that you need to dig in for a long and boring stretch of farming to be able to get? Oh yeah. Are there things I don’t think I will probably be able to get still for years? Definitely. Wampa, I’m looking at your furry ass. 
     
Believe me, if you believe nothing else I say, that I have never paid so much as one thin dime on Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. Despite the fact that advancement is excruciatingly slow – it is consistent. Because I never pay, and indeed, because not paying is the entire point, I accept that I can’t miss a single day. I never have.
     
If all this seems abstract, an illustration: 
     
The most powerful character in the game is currently Commander Luke Skywalker – currently one of only two versions of Luke available, the other being Farmboy Luke. Commander Luke is wearing the togs he wore for the back half of Empire Strikes Back. The way to get Commander Luke (or “CLS”) was to have the five characters needed for the CLS challenge that only comes around every few months – the five characters being Farmboy Luke, Old Ben, R2-D2, Princess Leia, and Stormtrooper Han (Han dressed like a Stormtrooper, ‘natch). All five characters had to be at seven stars (“7*,” which is the full amount of stars) to qualify for the challenge. I should mention that R2 here was himself a character only available in a challenge – one that required Empire characters. I was able to score an R2 within twenty minutes of him being available because I already had a good Empire team. Of course, then it took months to get R2 geared up – as of this writing I still have to fill a couple gear slots to get R2 finished. The only thing my CLS needs, however, is to fill is one more Zeta ability, and then he’ll be finished. The only character I have completely “done” as of this writing is Grand Moff Tarkin, because he’s extraordinarily important for the Ships minigame – 
     
Alright, how much of that did you retain? It’s a lot.
     
So, CLS: a character so powerful he reshapes the metagame within hours of being released. In the first place it took me months to get him because Old Ben and Farmboy Luke are both extraordinarily boring characters who don’t really do much else but get you Commander Luke. But get them I had to. And then once I had Commander Luke I had to fill out his equipment, which – even given the fact that I rushed him to the top of every queue and spared no expense to get him up to gear as quickly as possible, still took months and months of careful and patient farming. 
     
But someone – more than one someone, lots of someone’s – had CLS up to 7* and fully geared at Level XII with all three of his Zeta abilities within the first day of his release. And while it would be theoretically possible to be able to plan ahead to outfit CLS completely within minutes of unlocking him with what you had on hand, it’s unlikely. Somewhere there are people dropping tens of thousands of dollars on pixels on a cell phone game, for – what? I’m not sure. I’ve never paid anything and I got the exact same dude, I just had to wait a while. 
     
So while on one level it’s a completely awful and predatory business model, it’s also one that seems like it could only thrive if there was a hard core of whales somewhere in Hollywood and / or Dubai doing intense amounts of cocaine while dropping 50K in an hour on some cellphone game they’ll probably forget about in a month. Are there people out there mortgaging their homes to level up CLS? I really don’t think so. I hope there aren’t. There probably are. But at a certain point the price of keeping up through sheer brute force cash infusions is going to weed out everyone but people who don’t look at their credit card receipts before they pay the bills. They’re the people who have subsidized the last two years and counting of my game experience – long may rich people spend their money unwisely. I’m poor, trans, and mentally ill: this is as close to public charity as I’m likely to get in Trump’s America.   
     
That’s my goal: to be the very best, like no one ever was. It may seem a modest goal but it’s a serious goal in my life to continue to play this game and, over the course of however long it lasts (praying of course that Disney doesn’t yank the license out of EA’s hands for their malfeasance before I can enact Full Socialism in a galaxy far, far away), keep getting better at beating rich people who don’t know how to spend their money. 
     
But it requires vigilant farming to do this. How like life: a lack of money can only be circumvented by maintaining strict and punishing self-discipline, which involves things like getting out of bed during daytime hours. I know that I’m the most vigilant farmer in my Guild because I’ve led in Raid Tickets and Guild Tokens since we started – by many thousands of points in both cases. (Those are farming stats – I know, fun!) I don’t know how many other people in my Guild are strictly Free-to-Play – “F2P” – but it doesn’t stop me being at the top of almost all the stats. 
     

Except for my team’s actual Arena performance, which is something we’re working on, but we’ll catch up with that by the by.


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Galaxy of Zeroes

2. Future Farmers of Alderaan
3. Of Mos Espa 

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