To Buy or Not to Buy?

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon and We Rule as well. But not the Stephens family who firmly believes that no crisis should be addressed until the holidays when it’s too late resolve the situation to anyone’s satisfaction. Usually we wait until Christmas, but this year one sister and her daughters are headed to Africa meaning this all has to be resolved by this week.

Fortunately, ngmoco:) only released new items on Monday so I didn’t have much to write about. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to tell anybody so I waited until Friday to update charts that I could have finished on Tuesday.

Usually, family holiday crisis is perfect fodder for writing, but this time the fallout won’t end until well after the New Year and, depending on how the pieces fall, it could take another year before I can figure out how to make it funny. By then we will probably have moved onto to another game.

Still, there have been a couple of developments in We Rule worth commenting on this week, and by next week I hope to be back in full swing with more fun stuff to talk about.

Resurrecting old deals

This is the first time I completely missed the mark on predicting new product releases. I anticipated some kind of Thanksgiving oriented product, and ngmoco:) ignored the holiday altogether. I think the prediction was reasonable since they flooded the game with Halloween products of marginal value.

The Halloween-themed releases did put them in line with other games, such as Farmville and the eighty dozen Tap games (TapZoo, TapKitchen, TapCity, TapFish, etc. I didn’t bother to go back to check and see if I had the names exactly right; they’re mostly iPhone games anyway). And at least ngmoco:) didn’t put a countdown on special items the way other games do. But in spite of cornucopia houses and pilgrims’ huts in Farmville, We Rule stuck with Greek mythology.

This leaves Christmas a toss up. We could see a Yule Log, since that plays into the game’s original medieval theme, but how far the developers will go with the holidays remains to be seen. And the fact that ngmoco:) is now a Japanese company could also be an influencing factor. I’m not sure Jesus and Santa top the cultural charts in that part of the world.

They did, however, resurrect the fairy tree, unicorn’s meadow and broomstick hut. These have little commercial value anymore; there are better shops out at all levels with similar or better returns. But for L11 players, they do provide a decent payoff, and some of us have a sentimental attachment to one or more of them.

I was hoping the fairy trees would have fairies this time, but, no, the fairies are still hiding. A reader once promised to send a screenshot of a fairy. Hopefully they will send it soon.

If you love medieval magic, however, the fairy tree and unicorn’s meadow do help tie your kingdoms back to the roots of the game, and they do pay better than many of the older active shops. It wouldn’t hurt to decorate your kingdoms with one or more if you missed them the first time around.

What I am hoping is that this will become a trend, especially since We Farm brought back the aliens. It would be nice to know that if we need to remove an item, it will show back up once or twice a year should we change our minds later.

We Farm and We City grow up

We Farm and We City both added realms this week. We Farm seems to have gone off the deep end with their Safari mode, but We City is going international. This week they added some Japanese items, perhaps as an homage to their new owners.

Or under orders from their new owners.

If you’ve gotten bored and abandoned one or the other (as I had been tempted to) these moves might pique your interest. We City is also adding some high value items slowly but surely.

Mojo blowouts

I am posting this before the mojo sale ends hoping that a few of you will have a chance to read this in time.

I would never encourage players to buy or use mojo, but I will admit that I indulge. One of the main reasons I use mojo is to mature new properties fast so that I can have the return values to post online the day a shop becomes available. But, I will also admit that spending the money on mojo allows me to open more of the newer shops than I might otherwise.

I try to buy one shop with cash for every shop I buy with mojo, and, if I am flush with cash, I don’t use it for shops at all. And, if you’ve visited my kingdom, you know I buy diamond groves with mojo because that’s the only way you can buy them (again).

Still there are some mojo strategies you can follow.

Save your money and only buy mojo when it becomes available for a 25 percent discount (as opposed to the 20 percent discounts which they also offer). This usually happens once a month and never less often than every other month. Buy the 2000m cask if you can afford it, and the 800m flask if you can’t. These give you the most mojo for your hard dollar.

Only spend mojo when buildings and groves are also discounted. Unfortunately, ngmoco:) doesn’t always put both on sale at the same time. Most importantly, wait to plant diamonds until a 25 percent off sale. Because ngmoco:) can’t sell groves for 7.5m, they have to discount them by a full 30 percent.

This means that you can plant 14 groves for the price of 10. The savings increases because of the fractions involved. If you bought and spent 2000m you would be able to plant 285 groves, or 85 more than you would when the sales are gone.

I combined the 25% off mojo sale, plus the 25% off groves sale, to take advantage of a peculiar number. Reducing diamond groves by 25% forces them to round down to a 30% discount (from 10m to 7m). In essence this cuts the total real dollar cost of diamond groves by half, or from 5¢ for one grove to a fraction over 5¢ for two. This makes it more cost effective for me to replace a stack of ruby groves with a stack of diamonds, reducing the real dollar cost to replace 35 rubies from $1.75 to 91¢.

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Let’s put this back in a real dollar perspective, however. If you took advantage of the mojo sale, and waited for the building sale, you still spent $75 for those 285 groves. That’s a hell of a lot of money for a game.¢

Stacking mystery deepens

John Wagner, the publicist for ngmoco:) posted a comment on this site that nobody has been banned for life from We Rule. I think we should take him at his word. I did my best to verify that the player who claimed to be banned was actually banned. His kingdom was gone, but it is possible something else happened.

I’ve asked both the player and Wagner for further details, but since this week was a holiday, I doubt we will hear officially for a while. My advice: Stay within the limits I posted last week for now (or close to them) if you haven’t reached them already.

If you have passed them, don’t get honest like I did and remove them. At least not until you hear something official.

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Building your customer base

Let’s get the happy chit chit out of the way. We definitely seem to be on a three day a week product release cycle in We Rule. For the last two weeks ngmoco:) has released new items on Monday, Thursday and Friday. We also have a new level, 45, and a rounder castle to go with it (at almost a million coins).

According to the Mojo Farm, who have a much less tormented relationship with ngmoco:) than I, you will need almost ten million points to move to L45. Go for it, but be aware that ngmoco:) may be making it more and more difficult for newer players to get there than it was for those of us who have played longer.

The new citadel is still orange. I thought it might be gold, but Carol and I discussed it and both decided this was a stepping-stone citadel between L40 and L50. We decided the next citadel should be diamond. Perhaps when they finally unveil L50 we’ll also get a diamond cathedral for two million.

The developers have also been escalating the stakes. This week they released Olympus and the Chimera’s Temple, both of which have the two highest combined point payouts. Olympus blew the totals off the charts with 90cp per hour and the Chimera’s Temple follows with 75cp. The previous highs are in the 50s.

We have also seen some really weird shops. The Ferry of the Dead and Poseidon’s Fount both deliver high hourly combined totals, but in one hour. It hardly seems worth the effort. In fact, Poseidon’s Fount pays better when it’s idle than when it’s in use.

Who knows where this trend could lead? Certainly it forces players to keep spending on new buildings to stay competitive. What’s most interesting is the price inflation. The ratio of coins required to purchase versus mojo required to purchase is increasing rapidly.

The big ticket item when I first started playing, the dragon’s lair, sold for 100,000c or 50m. The next big ticket item, the jousting arena, also sold for 50m but the coin price increased to 150,000. Olympus and Chimera’s Temple still sell for 50m, but the coin price has leaped to 450,000 and 500,00c.

Both the original dragon and chimera were released as premium shops. The mojo price hasn’t changed, but the chimera is 400,000c more expensive.

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The coin price has increased 500 percent, while the mojo price remains the same. You do the math. The incentive is to clearly to buy with mojo where the purchase price has remained level.

In fact, when you think about it, the mojo purchase price has fallen significantly in terms of real dollars. The previous discount price for mojo had been 800 for $50, or 63¢ per mojo. This made the price of a premium item slightly more than three dollars.50.

Currently you can buy 2000m for $100 ($75 or $80 during sales). That brings the real cost down to a nickel per mojo at the non-discount price, or $2.50 per building—a 60¢ reduction. The numbers make it clear that ngmoco:) is building a subtle incentive to abandoning coin purchases and moving toward mojo.

Consider the real cost. If you add twenty new buildings a month to keep up with the competition, and you buy them with mojo, you could be spending upward of fifty dollars a month to do so. That’s four movie tickets and ten six-packs of cheap beer.

Or a week’s worth of groceries for one precious child.

But you need to invest in the best businesses available at your level to attract customers, and that brings me to today’s strategy tip.

Attracting customers

Kort22 wrote that he’s a L39 and still doesn’t have many customers. He wanted to know what advice I could give him to attract customers.

He already made his one move in the right direction by posting the question in the comments section and inviting readers to his kingdom. Nor is he (I’m assuming Kort is a masculine personna) alone. I frequently visit high level kingdoms with few customers, and I often see players slowly lose their customer base over time.

The player’s dilemma is not only attracting customers but keeping them. I found myself in the same position, but I started to address this much earlier. And while it’s never too late, the earlier you start building your customer base the better. Nor will I downplay the difficulty. Attracting and keeping customers is the most difficult challenge players face.

Not all players, but most.

Pure magic or luck

Carol started attracting customers right off the bat, and we never could figure out why she was more successful even though I put in so much more effort. And she remains just as popular even though I have the blog.

You just have to accept that some players attract more customers.

We have several theories, none of them provable, but they do come from our experience with promoting non-profits we’ve worked with in the past.

First, Carol chose the cuter name. Don’t laugh. Who would you be more attracted to for an impulse visit: Totalthinker or JennyManytoes?

Second, she had a cuter icon. She started with the pink kitten, and then we used the real Jenny’s face. I stayed with one of the generic icons for Godfinger for far too long. There’s something about pets for icons, they’re irresistible. One of my favorite players to visit is NYCaveDweller, partially because of the American Eskimo in her icon. He reminds us of our favorite dog Pooka, now long gone.

(Pooka was just like me. He always tried to find wiggle room in the rules. We trained him to do a down stay (lie flat on the floor with paws in front) and he never broke the position. What he would do, however, was ooch across the floor, on his belly, to wherever he wanted to be. And he would do it when we weren’t looking. How could you not love a dog like that.)

You don’t want to change your user name, but you should think long and hard about your player icon. I finally settled on variations of Bob Dobbs for all three kingdoms, not because people know who Bob is, but because the image is so iconic. And sales picked up.1

However, I will stick with cute as the standard. You can’t go wrong with puppies and kittens, maybe an endearing monkey if you can find one. But puppies and kittens are best.

Stock your kingdom with shops that give the highest return

I only shop with people who have shopped with me. That list is more than 100 names long so I have to rotate through it. I guarantee I would not start shopping from a kingdom that had low-paying shops if I didn’t already have a relationship with them.

Sorry, readers, but the sad news is that players who already have a customer base are not going to start buying from you if your best shop is the tavern or the inn. Yes, some players will cut you slack if you’re L16 because we want to help you get started. But if you’re L30 and your best shop is the cheese shop or the cobbler, we’re not coming back.

Which of the two kingdoms would you order from if you wanted to earn a higher return on coins or experience? Most players would rather order from Zimidar (the top kingdom), which is one of the reasons he’s ranked second. The bottom kingdom has a ruby citadel, so the player isn’t doing badly. But Zimidar’s kingdom is full.

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Suck it up, save the coins (or buy some mojo) and invest in the best shops available at your level. Not the most expensive, but the ones with the highest returns. Right now those would be Olympus, Chimera’s Temple and the Vineyards. Even if you add just two, you will start attracting customers because they hope to get the good shops on the return visit.

The shops that pay huge returns over a longer period of time are always the most popular. The shops that return in less than two days tend to take less orders, even if the hourly payout is better. People like to park their investments.

Throw in a couple of well-paying shops that are less popular, such as the red dragon, cartographer or apothecary and visitors will still probably place an order even if the best shops are taken.

If they return and see yet another high-return shop they didn’t see on the last visit, chances are even better they’ll return again.

Location, location

Don’t keep the old shops in your main kingdom and put the better shops in the new realms. A lot of players won’t make the jump if they don’t see the best shops right away. Sorry, but those are the cold hard facts.

You don’t have to clear out your main kingdom and keep all the best shops there, but that’s where you should install the first ones. Unlike me, you don’t have to plant shops just to find out what the return is. I try to have the numbers on each new shop posted by the end of that day and the Mojo Farm stays current too. Look for the best shops on the lists and buy them.

If players see a good shop in your main kingdom, even if it’s filled, they’re more likely to look for others in your additional realms. Even the top players don’t turn over their main kingdom overnight. So you can add more good shops in other realms as long as visitors see at least one in your main kingdom.

Here’s how I do it. If a new shop turns out to be the top earner, I put two in my main kingdom, even if something older has to go. If it pays in the top five or ten, I put at least one. Then I start adding more through my other realms as I earn the coins. If a shop stays full, I add another one immediately, and I continue to do so until one or two of them stop taking orders consistently.

In the past I’ve carried as many as fourteen red dragons, and I currently carry about that many vineyards. Now that the red dragons are starting to turn up empty, I will begin to replace them with new copies of Olympus or the Chimera’s temple.

Build loyalty

If you order from a player several times, chances are they will begin to order from you (if you have the best shops for your level). New players are desperate to find buyers so they are also good players to cultivate. If you find a kingdom at L30 or above with a lot of good empty shops, they also tend to return orders.

Keep track of who you order from, and—more importantly—who orders from you. If someone does order, you should return the order as soon as the kingdom is open, especially when that player is also trying to build their kingdom.

Screenshot the names of players who order before you accept. The name information often gets lost in later dialogues.

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When someone places an order take a screen shot of their name before you accept the order. This was the only way I could make sure I didn’t spell the players’ names wrong. You will discover that shop dialogues frequently truncate player names once the order is accepted so that opening dialogue is your best opportunity.

I kept a record of everyone who ordered from me and whether or not I had returned the order for several months. I only stopped when the log began to consume several hours of my day.

I kept a log of every customer and their order, and whether or not I had returned it, in Filemaker for the iPad. A spreadsheet or text file will work just as well.

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Players at my level are less likely to return orders quickly. Sadly, I’m just too busy to visit other kingdoms with the frequency I used to visit, and my list is now three time as long. I try to get back to work through my list of friends at least every two or three days. But I’m an exception and many players at the higher levels don’t return orders at all. So they are not the best customers to try to attract. Your main target is players who want your business too.

On the other hand, if I ordered from players more than three times and they still didn’t return the favor, I moved on. If they really want your business, they’ll give you theirs.

Keeps your shops open

Never ever order from shops if it will keep people from ordering with you. You can only have thirty orders in and out of your kingdom (give or take a couple). If you have ten shops and twenty five orders out, that’s five shops people can’t buy from.

As your shops multiply, you may want to stop ordering from your primary user id entirely (except for quests). Set up a second account with the same player icon and a number at the end of your current user name (e.g., leadbelly and leadbelly2). Keep it as simple as possible. I started with ttringer (totalthinker ringer) and it was nowhere near as successful as totalthinker2.

Advertise

When you return orders from your auxiliary kingdom(s), make sure to let people know they should order from your main kingdom. Roads or bushes are useful for writing messages. Keep the message simple. “Visit leadbelly” or “order from leadbelly” should do the trick.

Carol and I argue about this, but I don’t think it’s wise to add shops to your adjunct kingdom. Too many people simply order from those shops and don’t order from the main kingdom. I stuck a ship in one realm of totalthinker2 to simply decorate a lake and people kept ordering from that. I even put empty fields by the boat, but they still kept ordering. Don’t make your life harder.

On the other hand, Carol does allow people to order from her second kingdom and it’s reached L44. So there are arguments both ways.

Advertise anywhere you can. Post notes at Get Satisfaction letting players know you’re looking for customers. Write a review at the app store and leave your username so players can find you. Do a google search for other We Rule forums and post messages as well.

Just make sure other players know your We Rule username because your forum login can’t help them find you if it’s different.

Finally, you can even write a self-promoting ad in your username information box.

Play other games

I only started playing We Farm, We City and Godfinger because some of my customers invited me. I thought I would go ahead and shop from them in those games as well. I soon discovered I was bringing friends from We City and We Farm to my kingdom in We Rule.

The only way to get people to your shops is to let them know you’re out there and to let them know you have better deals than the players who don’t want to spend their coins on keeping their kingdoms up to date. You have to treat your kingdom like a business. I wouldn’t actually write a business plan, but if you have no experience with marketing do some research yourself and see if you can find new marketing tricks you can bring to your game.

Special Second Post: Stacking controversy continues

After my hopeful post on stacking a couple of weeks ago, ngmoco:) has decided to play hard ball with stackers. Yes, officially you can stack, but only within narrow guides. And now they don’t want building on building stacking either.

From what I can pick up on the grapevine, ngmoco:) is cracking down on grove and building stacking, albeit inconsistently. But the trend does seem to be there. One player, Albert70, was banned for life without warning. You can follow his thread in the Mojo Farm’s forums.

I don’t know what level he had attained, or how much stacked. Nor, so far as I can tell from following different forums, is there official information out there.

This is the information from Acehound’s comment in this blog. Evidently this comes from Joe Wagner at the ngmoco:) support desk.

“240 total groves in the main realm – regardless of type, combination or method of purchase.

196 total groves in directional realms – regardless of type, combination or method of purchase.

Sliding business on groves will not be tolerated.

Sliding business on business will not be tolerated. (my emphasis)

Although the game console allows you to purchase additional groves via different currency or alternate type of grove, it is up to each player to know the limit and play within it.”

I think ngmoco:) should write every player to announce this policy. I don’t understand why they aren’t willing to make an official communication. I get emails all the time about new quests and new buildings. It can’t be that hard to send an email explaining company policy on stacking.

Yes, there are supposed to be posts from players explaining the new conditions, but expecting players to spread the word hardly constitutes an official policy statement. And they seem to be inconsistent in their enforcement, as I discussed last week.

Most players don’t follow forums or blogs. Many aren’t even aware the posts exist. And even if they did, many couldn’t speak English.

We should have been informed of this policy before we made the mojo purchases to buy the diamonds (and in many cases rubies). I’m sorry, but this is the first case I have heard of where the seller demands an unconditional refund of the product from buyers without giving the money back.

I certainly understand why they would want to stop players from stacking twenty or thirty businesses together. I can even begrudge them the desire to avoid having a kingdom with a thousand rubies in every realm.

I think they are stepping over the line when they banish players for sliding one or two buildings together for aesthetic reasons.

I also suspect their lawyers would tell them they can’t tell players how to use items after they’ve purchased them through the game in good faith without attaching an official disclaimer prior to purchasing the mojo or the building. I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. But I have been involved in legal wrangling over similar circumstances involving other parties, and this is how I would interpret the situation.

Nor should they say it is up to each player to know the limit, when, in fact, it hasn’t been included in any disclaimers.

Here’s the bottom line, however. Suppose I cull 100 groves from one realm to get closer to the unofficial/official 192 ceiling. At 8m a grove that means I have just thrown away 800m in purchases (or the $50 package, assuming I bought at the discount).

That’s $50 I pissed away for groves I built in good faith. Let’s assume Acehound lost five hundred groves a realm in the purge and he bought the bulk of the groves with mojo. (I’m also assuming they left 196 groves rather than purging everything; otherwise he lost far more). That’s a thousand dollars he paid ngmoco:) to rent groves for a couple of months. Even if he bought one of every four groves with mojo, he still lost more than $200,

He’s being nice about it. He admits he took a short cut, and other players have played the game closer to the developer’s intention. The fact remains that it was an expensive short cut which he took in good faith.

And, yes, I do think that mojo makes it easier for players with the money to outperform poorer players. Stripping his groves isn’t going to make the game more equitable for players with less disposable income; it simply rips both the wealthier and the poorer players off.

But there you have it. You have to decide what you are willing to risk as a player.

The fine line between creative license and abuse

Sadly for defenders of the free market, there will always be people who can’t see the difference between creativity and abuse. And, as with any ethical question, there will always be examples that border on the ambiguous.

Conservatives hate regulations because they try to define a line where the ethical boundaries have been crossed. And, in their defense, a defined line will always create injustices both the people being regulated and those the regulations are intended to protect.

Unfortunately, without a defined line, someone will abuse the market or game at every opportunity. Almost everyone finds himself defending both ethical extremes at some point or other. For instance, those who want looser business regulations because it is better to allow a few businesses to abuse the market in order to protect the license and freedom of responsible businesses, would be perfectly willing to maintain capital punishment because they believe we can’t let the possible execution of innocents deter the certain execution of the guilty.

Fortunately, We Rule is a game and the creators have much more leeway to deal with situations where players discover solutions to the challenges of the game. To set such a precise number or threaten banishment for life (or mow down entire kingdoms of rubies) seems a little rigid.

Sliding one chimera’s temple slightly into another to break up the rigid symmetry of the grid seems like a good design choice. Should a player be banned for life for this?

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Should a player be banned for life for creating sight gags with buildings, like this boat crash? Or does a lifetime ban seem a little severe for expressing a sense of humor.

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Is a player who stacks six vineyards to create a wine condominium cheating, or is she experimenting with design? What if she builds a swimming pool from bridges, lakes and fences and places it behind the condo in the middle of a grove of trees? And then adds some tents and a gazebo for landscaping?

Too warm, too cold or just right? We can understand why stacking red dragons as tightly (as in the top example) might push the envelope too far. But I think it’s a shame that the example on the bottom would no longer be allowed. It completely changes the dynamic of positive and negative space without overpacking or making it difficult for players to select.

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How do we interpret her intent?

Is it fair to say a player with six buildings that he stacks so he can add a large lake with several ships is breaking the rules, when another player plants nothing but vineyards and groves from border to border, but doesn’t stack any of them? Or, in accordance with the standards, fills a ream with 192 stacked groves and wall-to-wall vineyards squeezed slightly together in the remaining space?

What if a player wants to stack 768 groves in one realm and none in the other three? Why force him or her to distribute them evenly?

It will be difficult to say determine when a player crosses a line, but I think, going forward we could establish rough guidelines rather than rigid rules followed by draconian punishment. Rather than placing a precise limit on the number of groves, especially since so many were placed before the uproar started, ngmoco:) might offer players the option of removing their groves, or accepting a reduction in their place on the leadership board. I would gladly move back a couple of hundred places to have more leeway with my design.

Why not simply set a limit on the number of productive groves a player can buy? Rather than locking them out of the ability to purchase a grove at a certain point, they could allow players to continue to stack but no longer earn experience points from the new groves.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot

What makes even less sense to me is that ngmoco:) has been encouraging players to use mojo to buy ruby and diamond groves with no indication that they will punish them if they go too far. But even if they don’t see the contradiction, isn’t the anti-stacking campaign going to financially undermine mojo sales?

Think about it. If I have a ceiling on groves I can purchase, and I can’t stack buildings, and I can’t expand into additional realms, what incentive do I have to buy mojo? I might as well just take my time and buy everything with coins. Sooner or later I’m going to end up in the same place as every other player who maxes his or her limits.

This is especially true since ngmoco:) still isn’t letting us inventory old purchases. Trust me, it is very hard to convince my readers they should be selling off older shops to invest in new ones (even with coin purchases which are financially painless). Why would they do so when they face a limit on what they can upgrade?

If however, they could slide a new building slightly into an older building’s space to make room for both, they might spend the mojo.

This brings me to a conclusion that seems really strange considering the fact that we’re playing a game.

We do have some power

I hate to say this at this stage, but it might be worth discussing a boycott on mojo purchases for a specified period of time.

I have already noticed some of the top players are bailing on the game, or cutting back their participation. I can’t help but think it’s the new unwritten rules that have encouraged their departures.

Why not make it clear to ngmoco:) and their overseas owners that banning players or forcing to sell off what they bought runs against their bottom line?

I don’t care if you oppose stacking or like it, ngmoco:) has made it clear that they are willing to change the rules of the game without telling players in advance, even when that means players will lose their investment. You may not like how players used that investment this time, but you may discover that the next time your innocent mistake will cost you money.

And we have to be honest. We Rule has become a big business. They are begging us to not only play and spend on We Rule, but countless other games too. The business tactics they take against these players in We Rule today, may become the business tactics they take with your game and your strategies tomorrow.

I’ve seen this happen before. Making an impression on a business takes teamwork. Carol and I have learned this over the years. She plays good cop, and I can play good cop or bad cop depending on the situation. In situations like these the best strategy is to combine the positive fan support of a site like the Mojo Farm and the threat of customer backlash from a second source.

So I’m throwing this out there. I will be scaling back my own stacking, but I want to see something back from the company because I put time, effort and money into the groves I’m about to start culling.

Nor was I upset when they locked me out of additional grove purchases—with coins. But it irritates the hell out of me I’m still allowed to buy them with mojo, which I paid for, in a gamble that they will overlook my stacking. Or that they expect me to take the initiative to search the blogs and forums to discover how much of a gamble that is, or to even become aware that it is a gamble at all.

And that is the ultimate gesture of cynicism and hypocrisy.

Beginning a discussion on the possibility of boycotting mojo (and Gro, and Zap and Awe) purchases for a week or two, or longer, is something we should consider. Hopefully the discussion will lead them to rethink their new approach to player relations.

If they continue to ban players for life, without warning, we should stop discussing. We should do it.

Power to the players.


1Do a word search on the web and send your hundred dollars. The invasion may be late, but it’s still coming.back

Abbreviation key:

  • c = coins
  • m = mojo
  • xp = experience points

The legitimate joys of stacking


Spoiler alert! Today’s blog will explore some of the reasons players might want to stack that have nothing to do with increasing revenues to their kingdoms. If you are seriously opposed to stacking and have no intention of changing your mind, you can stop reading when the post reaches the headline about stacking.

On the other hand, I long ago learned to never decide I would never change my mind because that decision was usually an indication that I needed to have my mind changed. Carol shared this bit of wisdom with me when we first started dating, although I found out later she never intended for it to apply to her.


Last week ngmoco:) definitely took a turn to the dark side with lava, scorched earth, demons and death. They’re probably working out their unresolved anger toward players who keep asking for them to do more with less mojo. They also made a move toward daily product releases by releasing new items on Monday, Thursday and Friday.

This was followed up with yet another release today, which caused me to rewrite the intro to the post and delay the post until this evening. Olympus made me rethink the whole dark side impulse (if only for a moment) because Cerberus and the death ferry are also elements from classical mythology.

Have the really run out of medieval ideas? Are we about to see them veer off into the nether realms of alien abduction like they did with We Farm? We’ll just have to see. Maybe this means they will release a sacrificial altar for turkeys in time for Thanksgiving.

Olympus seems to be part of their serious move toward price inflation, with an hourly payout of 52c and 38xp over 36 hours. This is a major leap, and is no doubt intended to lead to more mojo purchases so players can install several in their kingdoms. It also means red dragons may soon fall out of the top ten list for hourly returns.

The new ferry of death has an equally high hourly payout, but also may be just about the most useless object of commerce in the kingdom. The hourly payout is high, 60c and 20xp, which is also the total payout because it harvests in an hour. By the time your order sits in a player’s kingdom waiting for it to be accepted, and the time it takes them to remember to return the order, your average hourly take will probably be down to 10c or less.

It isn’t as bad as the baseball field in We Farm which turned over in three hours, and spoiled within three hours of that. I tested the ferry for spoilage and it will go four or five hours at least without spoiling. Then I got tired of checking in and released it.

Still, you will now get to tilt the kingdom toward your light or dark side, as you wish. Maybe they will now grant another common request for a building—the gothic cathedral—so we can add an inquisition (see, there are still plenty of medieval to renaissance connections out there).

Perhaps even more interesting is the addition of a second building that can be moved into inventory, the dark castle. As with the tower of light you have to pay real money. This actually makes more sense to me than ngmoco:)’s decision to continue to release buildings which can’t be moved into inventory.

They’ve proved they can do it. So why continue to do it the old way? I suppose it’s because players would complain if they had to pay cash for every new building. So fine. They’ve already done the dual mojo/coin release trick. Why don’t you release buildings for cash, mojo or coins. If you want to restrict the inventory capabilities to the cash purchases, you still haven’t locked out players from the buildings. We just have to pay for the ones we want to keep with inventory capabilities (like the unicorn’s meadow for me).

So, developers, now you have something else to brood about and take out on us with new releases.

The new featured items section

Beware of ordering from the new featured items section before you checked the regular buildings tabs. I had mistakenly noted that the demon caves and death ferry were only available with mojo because I (stupidly) assumed they would have included the versions you could pay for with coins if they had been made available.

I don’t think it was a conscious assumption, but it was stupid nonetheless. Carol realized this when she realized that Olympus was available at L30 and L38, but she couldn’t find the one with coins in the featured section.

So when you see a cool item (or at least cool to you) available in the features section but only for mojo, check he regular shop areas. You may find them available for coins.

The monkey king

Another retraction from last week’s retraction is the fact that the throne does come with a king. He didn’t show up when I planted my first throne until later and then Carol and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what building he came with. We decided the best thing to do would be to post the picture and ask readers if they knew who the monkey was.

It turns out, readers wrote in to tell me in response to my comment about the kingless throne. I never got the chance to ask. We Rule’s throne is a monkey king, which may be another way of ngmoco:)’s developers getting back at those of us who criticize them for not doing everything we could possibly ask.

The monkey king is an ancient Chinese myth who I know all about from the Hong Kong movies I used to watch before I discovered Bollywood. The Monkey King was Stephen Chow, a trickster who made buffoons of all the stuffy gods and Kung Fu fighters in the Chinese Odyssey movies. And now he’s in our kingdoms.

I wonder how our new queen took it when she found out who her parents had arranged for her to marry.

Carol and I were wondering who the monkey was and what building he came with. I was going to ask in this week’s column, but readers already told us. He’s the king, albeit a monkey king, who comes with the throne.

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Stacking is back

Last week I retracted my announcement that stacking was gone. It turns out there was another method I didn’t know which required the items you wanted to stack to already be installed. I’m assuming this is the method so many of the players who were very good at it used. That method is still in play.

In the meantime there have been rumors whirling around that ngmoco:) is stripping the stacks from kingdoms. I have no idea whether or not this is true. A little more than a week ago I would have told you that I do know that three of the top stackers no longer do so, but even that’s not true.

~King, the most notorious stacker and the source of most of the original controversy, seems to have resigned from the game entirely. Acehound, who moved into first place had removed all of his stacked groves, but he’s started to replace them. And I’m glad, because his were gorgeous.

This was the stacking scheme in Acehound’s kingdom before the upgrade. This is gone now, which is sad because this is gorgeous.

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This is one of his realms, post upgrade. The stacks are back, on a smaller scale, but the design is excellent. And we will be discussing design in a column very soon. It was his (now) constantly changing kingdom I showed in the blog last week.

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Players who want to know how to stack can access two different videos on YouTube to explain how. The videos aren’t as precise as they could be, and there are some wrinkles I’ve discovered that they left out, but the videos can get readers started. It actually took me a day or two to figure out how to really stack after I saw the them, but they definitely pointed me in the right direction.

You should also be aware that ngmoco:) is making a countermove by locking ruby groves that can be purchased with coins after a certain number have been planted. This is a trick they started with We Farm’s blueberry bushes and apple trees, but the threshold is much higher in We Rule. I probably had several hundred planted in my kingdom before the lock showed up, but suddenly, this weekend, it was there.

I know there are a lot of people opposed to stacking, and they have legitimate reasons. Most of the players in the top 25 reached that level by stacking their adjunct realms with several thousand ruby trees and packing their main kingdom with thirty copies of the highest returning building. It made for some ugly but profitable kingdoms. On the other hand, people can abuse any system no matter how well conceived.

Goëdel’s theorem is a metaphor for this principle. Goëdel basically proved that no logical system can be devised that won’t ultimately contradict itself.1 The same goes for games. Players find away to defeat the intent of rules, the officials change the rules, and the same players figure out how to circumvent those.

But We Rule is a game we pay for. More so now than we did last summer. Objects in our kingdoms are becoming increasingly obsolete as ngmoco:) releases more and more higher paying, more attractive and more popular items. The developers even added seasonal items, which we will feel compelled to replace as the season fades.

We Rule isn’t a social contract, like the US is. It’s a game. No, I would have to say it’s a commodity.

Now that I’ve played with it a lot more, I can honestly say I see a lot of good reasons for stacking, and I will share them here. And none of these have to do with making more money (although, we know that’s the most important one).

Making things fit

Here are some things that always irritated me in We Rule. Let’s say you wanted to run a river from one border to the opposite borders. You can try, but the river tiles don’t stretch from wall to wall. You will find a small gap that isn’t large enough for a river tile.

I know, you can fudge with a bridge or two to fill the gap(s). But it isn’t the same as a wall-to-wall river.

How about this one? The phoenix nest and jousting arena take an inordinate amount of space, including space that stretches beyond their visible boundaries. On top of that, the phoenix nest isn’t even centered right.

The solution? Stack the rivers. Or use stacking to bump another building right next to the edge of the arena.

You can use stacking to make items fit together. I was able to get this river to flow to the edge of the kingdom without fudging with bridges. I was also able to adjust the lower left shore of the lake to compliment the new farm pattern.

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Stacking let me expand a lava river to a fuller lava flow. I found this same trick in Acehound’s kingdom the next day.

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More creatures

Let’s say you really like demons, and red dragons and pegasi. Let’s say you want to fill your kingdom with flying creatures. You can stack their buildings to launch more into the skies.

The buildings don’t always stack exactly, so some combinations may work and others may make you decide not to stack. But it’s a great way to add more creatures without taking much more room in your kingdom.

You won’t always get good results by stacking. In fact, some of the compounds could be downright unattractive.

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The downside of stacking buildings this way is that you may not be able to collect money from all of them. In a couple of cases I unpacked a stacked series slightly. In others, such as the three pegasus springs I piled into a unicorn’s meadow, I’m quite content to not collect the money from all of them. I wanted winged horses.

I piled three different pegasus springs into a unicorn’s meadow. It’s impossible to collect the coins from two of them, but I get three cute flying horses.

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Fun design stunts

I think that, as more people learn to stack, we’re going to see more people trying to create visual gags and cool design effects. Instead of just stacking iron fences to create the illusion of a wall, players can stack the fences in front of dragons’ nests.

One of the most attractive stacking effects I’ve seen is to create groves from groves. The best example used to be in Acehound’s kingdom (which I showed above), but others are creating some fantastic groves too.

Vicariage created this stunning grove of groves. He probably can’t click on all the rubies to collect, but I’m sure that didn’t factor into his decision to build this intricate structure.

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I’ve already managed to crash two boats, grow groves from rivers and fuse the dark castle with the demon’s cave. It’s even fun to plant fountains, sundials and trees in the chateaus. It’s fun to tinker with effects, especially because you can just break the mistakes apart. Hopefully readers will spot more gags created with stacking for me to display or point you to in the future.

The first time I saw stacking, in fact, wasn’t to compress rubies. I don’t remember who the player was, but he had planted groves inside his jousting arenas. It was a great way to maximize space.

So when you see people stacking, don’t worry about the jerks who turned their kingdoms into cash cows. It’s just a game.2 Look to see some of the cooler tricks the more creative players have tried. You might even want to try a few yourself.


1Okay, this is a gross oversimplification, but this is a column about gaming, not philosophy and mathematics. We would have to discuss sets that do and not contain themselves and self-referential systems, things that I find interesting but no one I’ve met since grad school does. In fact, most of the people i knew in grad school liked to talk about stuff like this, but never really read it themselves.

Which is understandable if you’ve ever tried to read Goëdel, Wittgenstein or any of their contemporaries. back

2Save that anger for the real jerks who trash real communities to turn them into cash cows, as is happening to the wonderful old southern suburbs of Austin.back

Upgrade redux (and diamonds)

I’ve decided to go with more constant abbreviated references. In this column and the future I will be referring to coins, mojo and experience as:

  • c = coins
  • m = mojo
  • xp = experience points

You will probably have already noticed the addition of the Bizarro Tower of Light (aka the Dark Castle) since I posted this blog this morning. It really is the mirror of the Tower of Light (including installation cost) except it’s dark, comes with rubies instead of diamonds, and the coin and experience values are reversed. Get it? Because it’s evil you earn more money but less goodness (xp). If they really got their mythology right it would be twice as many coins but negative experience points (630c and -200xp).

Maybe if we put them in the same realm the witch and the angel will cancel each other out.

So will we see a head on battle between the light lady and the evil sorceress? Light lady’s been hiding since I installed the dark castle on the opposite end of my east realm. And the sorceress got a bigger picture on the splash screen introducing new objects.

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My real reason to add this is because any comments about the Tower of Light in today’s post also apply to the Dark Kingdom.

Oh, yes, and most of the houses (except orange) have slowed down from returning every fifteen minutes to every three hours. Just to keep you confused.

You may have experience some confusion about the recent upgrade to We Rule Quests, and I, for one, have unwittingly contributed to the confusion. In addition, ngmoco:) has—at least for now—realized players didn’t want quests so much as the ability to move and store objects, and the ability to pay for diamond trees with something other than mojo.

Here’s where I was wrong: you can stack, you will be able to buy diamonds with coins (for a while), the quests aren’t quite as stupid as I suggested, and you will be able to move objects between realms.

You may also have noticed that houses pay off every fifteen minutes now. This is good news for new players with few resources to earn investment coins. In addition, you can download other games for coins (not all of them may be free), so this will also help build your account.

So let’s start the retraction process.

I shouldn’t really call it retraction because the only item I was really wrong about was stacking. The other three had been true when I wrote them. I guess the loud complaints from disappointed players, who weren’t quite as pacified by the quests as ngmoco:) thought, finally got through.

Slightly cooler quests

Let’s start with quests. The rewards are improving. I’ve earned them all so far, but the only ones I really like are the thrones.

I take that back. I didn’t do rock, paper, scissors because I would have lost coins and experience points while three high-paying shops were tied up so I could could earn the equivalent of spare change in coins and experience points. In fact, even beginning players are better off ordering from the high value shops than the total return they will earn from the quest.

As I wrote before, however, the thrones are kind of cool. If ngmoco:) had thought to add a king to the throne like they did with the queen, the first throne would have been even cooler. So hopefully they’ll add the king later or allow us to conduct another quest for a throne with a king.

I haven’t changed my assessment of the quests themselves. They need to add newer and more high value purchases to the quests. It’s not worth it to me to reinstall a watchtower or a butcher shop so people can quest. But Carol still has some of the older stuff at JennyManytoes and its vassal kingdom ptsringer (don’t blame her for the name because I set it up and let her take over).

Stacking

Contrary to my previous announcement, you can stack. You just can’t stack while you’re installing items like you could before. This was a dicey proposition at best, usually allowing players to stack three items at once, and occasionally as many as six or seven. But that method is gone.

There’s so much to the stacking question that I’m going to hold off until next week to devote the entire blog to it. So I’ll drop that subject for now.

Storage

A number of players were disappointed when the ability to move objects wasn’t released with the official upgrade. To add to their anger, word got out of a a notice posted on the ngmoco:) support page:

“Due to technical limitations of We Rule at this time we are not planning to implement the ability to move items between realms. It may or may not be possible in the future. Thanks for your feedback and feature requests.”

It turns out this notice (in a tiny, tiny font size with light gray text) was posted last August, but word didn’t get out until after We Rule Quests arrived. Ironically, about the time word got out, the Tower of Light appeared. Once players built it, many discovered they could remove it and return it to inventory.

The catch, there’s always a catch, is that you can’t earn coins or buy mojo to purchase the new tower. You have to buy it for real dollars.

So we will be able to move and store objects. What we don’t know, and probably won’t know for a while, is whether or not ngmoco:) will go back to make all buildings moveable or whether this will be for special “pay for cash” buildings only. The fact the the mermaid isle can be purchased for coins or mojo but can’t be moved back into inventory makes it more likely that the option will be for cash items only.

The question now is whether ngmoco:) is making a move towards making all new buildings moveable and pay only, or will they be releasing both types of buildings. I don’t like either option, but since I liked the mermaids better than the tower, I would prefer the former.

Better yet, just release a five dollar version of We Rule where all our objects are movable, including the older ones. I would pay five dollars for that and it would give players the option.

What I really want to discuss is diamond groves, which became available for 100,000c on Thursday (along with diamond roads). For many players this may seem like a good thing, and I originally thought so. But now I’m not so sure.

Are diamond groves worth the investment?

You can now purchase diamond trees with coins. And ngmoco:) very reasonably settled on my original suggestion for a price, $100K in coins. This means they followed up on two thirds of my campaign for diamond trees—the ability to plant groves and (at least temporarily since they say the offer will be discontinued soon) the ability to purchase them for a $100K.

I hate to complain, but they missed the most important part of the suggestion, that if the price increases by ten times the price of rubies, so should the pay out. I originally suggested a reward of 1000 coins (c) and 850 xp every six hours.

Unfortunately, in spite of the high price in coins, the payout for diamond groves hasn’t increased and remains the same as before at 120c and 105xp.

I suggest you seriously think before you pay the coin price on diamonds. The return for the same 100,000c investment in ruby groves is 1000c and 850xp. which is substantial. The trade-off is in real estate. Ten ruby groves occupy ten times the space. So the payout for ten spaces is 1000c and 850xp for rubies verses 12000c and 105o0xp (about 2000 more for each).

But that’s comparing one diamond to one ruby. If you look at the total investment price, the payout difference for the same investment is 1000c and and 850xp every six hours for rubies verses 120 and 105 for diamonds.

For those of you who can afford the mojo, the decision is obvious, investing 10m for the diamond grove will pay off much better than than investing 8m for the rubies. I would even suggest replacing rubies with diamonds if you have real money to burn.1

I could run a Kindometrics analysis on the groves to tell you what the long term payout differences are, and I may even do so one of these days and add it to the analysis section. But I did run a quick calculation and it will take 208 days (harvesting every six hours), or almost seven months, for your diamond grove to start turning a profit. If you harvest three times a day you’re looking at more than nine months to return an investment for what will become a twenty percent increase on the return from a ruby grove.

Oh, what the hell. Let’s at least project investment and earnings over a year. And for a really dramatic comparison, lets compare the costs and earnings for one grove versus those for planting ten.

I ran a sample comparison of investment costs and profit for one and ten ruby and diamond groves. As you can see, even though the diamond grove is more profitable in the long run, it will take four years to recoup the money you would have lost by investing in a ruby grove.

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The numbers indicate that you will earn far more from the ruby grove than the diamond grove at least in the immediate, and even near long-term future. Why? Because the difference in earning (about 20,000c more per year) is lost in the difference in the increased investment cost. We’re talking more than four years for the diamond grove to pay off the difference in profits and start outproducing the ruby grove.

I’m basing these profit numbers on the assumption that you will harvest your groves three times a day because you don’t want to get up in the middle of the night to harvest every cycle. Even if you do four harvests a day, the numbers won’t change significantly, except to speed up the payoff by a year.

That’s assuming, of course, that you really want to spend the next three years harvesting diamonds every six hours.

Here’s another way to look at it. The mojo cost of a diamond is 25 percent more than the mojo cost of a ruby. The coin cost of a diamond grove is ten times the cost of a ruby, or a thousand percent more.

If you’re still playing in four years, however,2 those diamonds will really start to pay off.

Let it snow, let it snow

We didn’t get snow tiles like the bridge tiles, which was another priority on my upgrade wish list. But the diamond roads come close. When you cover the ground around buildings, they resemble glistening snow. It’s a pain to actually pave ground with diamond roads (or any roads for that matter) and then place and move buildings around on top of them. I can’t begin to describe how big a pain it is; you’ll just have to wait until you have to move six roads to select a building. But they are pretty.

Best of all, We Rule Quests now lets you drop roads and bridges beneath buildings (and partially beneath buildings) you already placed. In the past you had to lay the pavement and move the buildings on top.

I still want pure white square tiles, but these are close. I’ve already seen some great stuff. Happy decorating.

This is perhaps the best example of diamond decorating I’ve seen so far. Notice how he/she noticed those were diamonds spilling from the Tower of Light and has them pouring onto the ground? You’ll see more of this kingdom (and I’ll tell you who it is) next week.

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No, Virginia, there is no more We Rule

Most of you noticed this, but a couple of players have written so let me make it official: You have to upgrade to We Rule Quest. Any version of We Rule you might have on your iPad or iPhone has been crippled by ngmoco:). To the best of my knowledge this one wasn’t ngmoco:)’s decision, it was a consequence of Apple’s new interface guidelines.

By the way, did you know that “redux” isn’t pronounced to rhyme with “ducks”, but with “dew”? (It’s in the title, in case you’d forgotten). Actually, it’s French so the closest American pronunciation would be “ray-dyu” with something between the “uh” and “oo” sound. This isn’t going to help you play We Rule better but if you run into one of those pseudo-intellectual jerks who insist on correcting you and they just happen to say, “reduces,” you will have the perfect gotcha moment.

1Which most of us don’t. But with the new Congress those of you who can afford mojo will be able to afford a lot more of it before the 2012 elections, and those of us who can’t will probably not even have the money to contribute to our favorite candidates even more.back

2See footnote 1.back