Showing newest 17 of 19 posts from September 2009. Show older posts
Showing newest 17 of 19 posts from September 2009. Show older posts

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How I almost started to care about the Harvest Festival

Fitz at Healer Trek gives the Harvest Festival an F grade. “Worst holiday in the game, no doubt about it. If you find a reason to care about Harvest Festival let me know why. I'd love to know.”

Well, as a matter of fact I almost started to like the event when I stumbled up it this weekend. I say “almost”, because in the end it was a fail. I’ll tell you the story.

The yellow exclamation mark
It all started where all our adventures in Azeroth begin, with a shiny yellow exclamation mark. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Dun Morogh, I had just come online and was about to take the usual quick jump from entrance of Ironforge down to the Brewfest camp for the daily booze party, when I noticed a new guy standing there, begging for my attention.

I consider myself pretty much well updated on what’s going on in game. The combination of excessive blog reading and regular browsing of wow.com and MMO-champion is usually enough to keep in touch. But this guy had slipped through the net. He was talking about some sort of harvest celebration and had a mission for me as well.

I draw the conclusion that this must be part of some sort of seasonal event, which probably gave some fancy fluff rewards, if nothing else another pet to my collection. But instead of following my instincts, looking up a “how-to” guide to complete the Harvest Festival in the most efficient way, I decided to do it differently this time. I would approach this the way I played WoW when I started in February 2007. I would follow my instincts and let the quest take me wherever it wanted to. I would explore the world rather than conquer it.

Of course there was a difference now to my first stumbling steps in Azeroth. I knew the world a little bit better. So the journey to this Uther’s Tomb in Western Plagueland was pretty straightforward.

As I was riding the gryphon, I checked out the achievement tab for the holidays. Even if I didn’t want to use any Internet guide for this event, I thought I could check out the achievements for it. That would give me an idea about where this adventure would bring me and didn’t feel like cheating. But I soon found out that there wasn’t any achievement at all for it. I decided to not be disappointed about it. It only meant that there was no tick-box stress luring on me. I could enjoy it as a casual, relaxed adventure.

Disappointed
Finding the tomb wasn’t hard, even without addons and guides. I had a vague memory of where it was situated, and it turned out that I was right. It was even included in the world map, so I shouldn’t have worried about it.

I approached the place, curious and a little bit excited. I had no idea about what would happen. Was there to be some phasing? Would I pick up the next quest in a long chain? Would a ghost appear and talk to me, maybe some cool voice acting performance? This could be anything!

I guess I don’t need to tell you that I was pretty disappointed when I did my clicking and the only difference I could notice was that the quest was completed. Oh well, there would surely be a nice follow-up once I got back to Ironforge to turn it in. The guy would have another mission for me, and so would the ghosts hanging around the place by the dinner table. Once I turned in this quest there would be a jungle of yellow exclamation marks for me. And I wouldn’t have a clue about what anyone of them meant. Oh joy!

Little did I know.

I received my 12 gold, a crap book and a “thank you”. No yellow mark. Maybe this was the kind of quest giver who wanted to hold a little speech and wander around doing a little piece of acting before he told me what he wanted. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing.

The food table
Then I turned around, looking at the ghost party, starting to click whatever I could, desperately hoping that there was something more I could do, now that I finally had come to my senses, using a “let’s see what this leads me to” mindset rather than a “let’s get over with this grind” mindset as I approached an in-game event.

Yeah, there was a firework vendor. But his assortment wasn’t impressive to be honest. And then there was this food on the table. I inspected it suspiciously. This was the kind of food that probably would have come handy when I was levelling my first character, provided that it wasn’t a mage, who brings his own. But for me – to be honest it was just another bag filler. The only fun thing about it was that the supply was a bit limited. If I took enough of fruit from the table, the plate would disappear. This amused me for a second, for some reason it tickled my sense of wardrobe role playing. I felt immersed as I wondered around, tasting all the goodies of the table.

And that was the end of my Harvest Festival experience.

Reasons to like it
Fitz gave the event an F-grade and considering my disappointment I’m not far from doing the same. However, there is one little reason to like this event that I would like to point out: the pleasure of change.

The longer I play WoW, the more I’ve come to appreciate anything that isn’t exactly the same from day to day. The Darkmoon Faire moving around. One day it’s there – the next it’s not. There is a point in those holiday events coming and going: it gives variety and a sense of the passing time.

For this reason, I even visited the Pirate day event in Booty Bay! I’m not a huge pirate fan myself and the fun of speaking as a pirate is beyond my sense of humour. The whole thing felt shallow and provided little content, most of all it appeared to be a lag party on the rooftop. But nevertheless – it was a change, a welcome break in the everyday life of Azeroth. Those things definitely helps to make the world come alive – especially if you choose to approach it from a casual, exploring, deliberately inefficient way rather than grinding them.

I almost started to care about the Harvest Festival. Given just a few follow-up quests and a little bit more of content, it could have been a little bit of fun.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Defying the Jante Law in the WoW Community

Have you ever heard about the Jante Law? Unless you're from one of the Nordic countries, I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't . If you're Scandinavian on the other hand, I bet you have.

It goes like this:

  • Don't think that you are special.
  • Don't think that you are of the same standing as us.
  • Don't think that you are smarter than us.
  • Don't fancy yourself as being better than us.
  • Don't think that you know more than us.
  • Don't think that you are more important than us.
  • Don't think that you are good at anything.
  • Don't laugh at us.
  • Don't think that anyone of us cares about you.
  • Don't think that you can teach us anything.


This "law" was created by the Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in the novel A fugitive crosses his tracks, which was written in the 30's. I hardly know anyone that has ever read the book and I think quite few of my fellow countrymen even know about the origins of the Jante law. But the law has gotten a life of its own and become a saying that is commonly referred to.

In the novel, the ten commands are used to describe the mentality in a small Danish town called Jante, where no one is anonymous and no one is allowed to stick out from the crowd.

However, I think that not only those who have lived in small communities can recognize those attitudes. And that why it has become so established. Starting at school, we are many who have relentlessly been picked upon as soon as we've dared to differ from the "normality" in any way - by excelling, or by daring to believe in ourselves. We learned to arrange ourselves into the line, aiming to reach the roof rather than the stars, so that no one would hold it against us.

I've always lived in the maybe somewhat naïve illusion that the American culture was different. I thought that rather than questioning and trying to pull down people who excel to Earth, you would encourage them and let yourself get inspired by their example. A sound and generous way of looking at success, with a mindset that "there's always room for more people on the top. If he can do it, I can as well".

Lately I've began to wonder though. I would have thought that the WoW community was pretty much influenced by the US approach to the world. After all, without any scientific evidence, I would argue that there are more US bloggers than European, and the visitor statistics for PPI tell the same story. Blizzcon are mostly held in US and all the WoW podcasts I know of are broadcasted from the other side of the ocean.

But how is the atmosphere? Look at some of the responses that Ixobelle has gotten from his Blizzard Crusade adventure. Look at some of the trolls frequenting Gevlon's inn. Look at the constant picking on Ensidia - regardless of if they succeed or don't succeed to be number 1, you can bet that there will be something to complain about. Look at the forums. Look at how Ghostcrawler finally has decided to shut up because he can't take any more of it.

No matter what crazy achievement, no matter what astounding performances players and bloggers and developers do, as soon as they dare to tell the WoW community about it, you can bet that the Jante Law will trigger and they'll get a cascade of criticism thrown in their face. Sure, there will be a few cheers and some applauses as well. But far too often they won't be heard because it's owerwritten by the loud voices crying: "fail, fail".

So what can we do about it? Well, I'm humble enough not to think that I can change the mentality of millions of WoW player. (Or maybe I've been too infected by the Jante Law, so I don't believe in my own capacity in that matter.)

But at least I can keep an eye on myself. I've got a choice. I don't need to join the villagers of Jante. I can encourage excellence whenever I see it. I can believe in the people who build this wonderful world - gamedesigners, bloggers, guild leaders and ordinary players. I can believe in myself.

The Jante Law will only rule us if we allow it to do so.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tickled Pink: Brewfest – Happy Hour or Horrible Hangover?

We’re halfway through the biggest booze holiday of the year, Brewfest. The inhabitants of Azeroth are gathering to swing their goblets. They’re running rams, engaging into bar fights and filling our bags with jugs, silly hats and all sorts of crap. Above all they’re more or less constantly drunk, pending on a scale between tipsy and smashed, depending on how long it was since they did their last achievement.

There has been a lot of enthusiasm for Brewfest in the blogosphere the last few days. Several bloggers have pointed it out as their favourite holiday event. There are cheers and happy cry-outs all over the place (with one exception).

Since The Pink Pigtail Inn is run as a virtual pub, you could expect the innkeeper and bartender to join the choir, praising this celebration to Bacchus, which definitely will increase the sales of this business considerably. But strangely enough our landlords don’t seem to be entirely pleased. Someone is grumbling in the corner.

Let’s hear what they have to say about it! It’s time for another Tickled Pink.

Larísa:

I remember the first time I got drunk in WoW. I was shocked when my character started to wobble. And also utterly fascinated. Such a simple mechanism and yet, it was so realistic!

However the entertainment value of this faded off pretty quickly. I guess it’s a bit like in real life. Our enthusiasm for getting drunk normally decreases as the years goes by. We don’t get excited about it anymore. Only tired.

This year is the first time that I participated in Brewfest. I never bothered about it on the two previous opportunities I had, since the all-year-round-achievement-dragon wasn’t available at that time.

And innkeeper as I am, I must admit that my feelings for this event are mixed.

On the positive side, I like the situation of the Alliance camp, right outside of Ironforge. I’ve always felt at home in the winter landscape of Don Morogh, and with all those dwarf connections, it fits in very well. I like the way they’ve set it up. The festive atmosphere, the little happenings, the wagons and salesmen, all those things give a feeling of what Darkmoon Faire could be like if it hadn’t been deserted by the developers. The boss fight in BRD gets quite repetitive, but the transport service to get there is very charming. It reminds me of a TV show from my childhood, John Blund (Sandmann in Germany), where a little gnome travelled the world in a space rocket.

The ram ride is OK. It’s nice to compete with yourself and see how many rounds you can get out of the given time. Still I can’t get out the idea of my head that I’m whipping the poor animal until he’s bleeding. I know it’s not what actually is happening, but it’s what my brain makes out of the animation and the sound effects.

But Brewfest isn’t just fun. As a matter of fact it has given me a bit of a hangover, and then I’m only half way through it. Not only because of the extremely grindy character of this event (how ironic isn’t it that you have to log in more or less every single day, playing like an addict to get your achievements done?) It also makes me feel a bit uncomfortable because of the shameless glorification of heavy drinking.

Read me right. I’m not an absolutist in real life, I’m not against drinking as such. Not at all, as long as it is moderate. I love to have a glass of wine or a jug of beer when I’m having a nice meal in company with friends.

On the other hand I also know about the negative sides of alcohol. I know more than I’d like to know, having a close relative who is an alcoholic. It’s painful and I assure you it’s not something I like to be reminded of, especially not in a game that I play to be entertained and escape reality.

I’m also a bit concerned about the young audience of WoW. All those kids who are playing – what kind of view on drinking will they get? The more you drink, the more achievements you get and you’d better get completely smashed to succeed? You don’t even get a hangover!

I’m not asking for Blizzard to cancel the whole event because of my concerns. They’ve already taken away a couple of quests from the players on the EU realms for political reasons, which I think is silly. Those quests weren’t any worse than anything else at Brewfest.

But perhaps it would be possible to make some smaller adjustments, so the event is pointing towards responsible drinking rather than get-smashed-drinking? Adding an appropriate hangover debuff after you’ve done your achievements could be a start.

Elnia:

Like Larisa, I too have some social concerns that Brewfest is not simply a festival of good cheer but disturbingly a festival that glorifies drinking to excess. Especially in a game that's rated for teens, and we know people even younger than teen play it, it does seem unfortunate. Yet I can't help but feel a little hypocritical. After all, the last time I looked at the statistics on my achievement panel it showed that I had killed more than 30000 virtual creatures. Maybe this simulated killing is killing to excess. Looked at more broadly, there are other aspects of the game that are excessive: bosses that stand three to four times taller than a night elf, grinding for a rare mount for three months, the whole motif that we puny little characters will defeat the Lich King and save the world from the Titans. There are elements to Warcraft that are exaggerated, cartoonish. From this broader perspective the drinking and drunkenness that goes on in Brewfest is in line with the overall character of the game.

I also find my worries about Brewfest inconsistent with my position regarding violence in the game in another respect. There is solid body of academic work that disproves the notion video game violence leads to violence outside the game. If I am persuaded by that research, then it seems improbable that simulated drinking would also have the out of game affects I fear.

Yet despite all my logical reasoning Brewfest bugs me; it does. I think Larisa hit on the key point of why it still bugs me. Both of us have had family members who have been touched by the curse of alcohol abuse. We know what that's like; we have experienced first hand the social, psychological, and physical trauma it causes. One doesn't think about alcohol the same way after staying up all night making sure a passed out relative doesn't choke on their own vomit. That isn't cool. Seeing my own character drunk hits too close to home; it brings up too many bad memories. Even the cool Om-pa-pa music can't remove the sour taste.

There are lines from the Tina Turner song "What's Love got to do with it" that go,
It's physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore
that it means more than that.

Sometimes being ignorant is a really difficult thing to do. Physically, logically, getting drunk in the game seems no more harmful than anything else about the game. Yet subjectively, intuitively, it means more than that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MBTI and WoW

Kae at Dreambound with the help of Nertok has been running a survey of the personality types of Warcraft players. The instrument they are using to measure personality type is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This attracted the Innkeeper's eye because she happens to know that her Bartender, when not spilling mead all over the customers, has a great deal of professional experience with MBTI and Jungian psychology. As all employees know, when your boss e-mails you and says, "it might be a good idea" this means "do it now or you're fired." But I don't mind the task because it will keep her distracted and not notice that the barkeep is into the goods (if you follow my (hic!) drift) and that this is the real reason yours truly spells tips as "tits".

Since it's tradition in the MBTI community to always reveal your type when talking about type, I'm an INTJ. This post assumes you know what those letters mean as it's beyond the limited space here to introduce the whole theory of the MBTI.

The first note I want to sound is a note of caution. The MBTI is an instrument and like all instruments it's only as useful as the competency of the person who wields it. A person's MBTI result is frequently an inaccurate description of their true personality type because responses to the questions are subject to cultural, social, and age-related influences. The MBTI should always be used as a starting point; not treated as a final answer. The single biggest confounding factor in any web based survey using the MBTI is the reality that there is no way to tell if the person is recording their genuine personality type; professional assistance is required.


Despite this caution about the accuracy of type identification, the results recorded by Kae and Nertok are for the most part what Jungian theory would predict. If you had asked me prior to reading the results who most role-playing gamers are I would have said the dominant type would be an INTJ. Certainly IN. Everything about on-line gaming screams INTJ for the same reason that this type dominates in research, academia, and the law. It's a quiet activity where individuals can use their analytical skills to create systems that push the boundaries of the possible. The concept of an ordered progression (gear levels, class levels) is what we mean by judging (J). That data is taken in and manipulated analytically (think Elitist Jerks) is what we mean by thinking (T). That this activity takes place in an imagined space is part of what we mean by intuition (N). That this activity takes place in a space of limited extroverted interaction is part of what is meant by introversion (I). The common remark that INTJs are the unusual combination of imagination (N) and reliability (J) is well illustrated by reputation grinds, dailies, dps rotations. Once they find something that strikes their imagination they just want to do it over and over again, sometimes well past the time that is healthy. Alexander the Great (ENTJ) raided Persia; Napoleon Bonaparte (ENTJ) raided Russia; INTJs raid Ulduar.

As this table shows, the overwhelming majority of the respondents are introverted or intuitive and of the top five types three are introverted intuitives. Interestingly, the top two introverted personality types are the INTP and the ISTP. Both of these types are actually dominant thinkers and secondarily intuitives. The two dominant intuitives are the INFJ and the INTJ. The poor representation of the INFJ and the middling representation of the INTJs suggest that Warcraft is less of a game for people with imagination than it is for people who think. With the lone exception of the INFP, all the top introverted types use thinking as their dominant or secondary function. This makes perfect sense if you consider that most of the community around the game is based upon sites that emphasizes the usefulness of data (Wowhead, Thottbot) or thinking through the possibilities in data. Elitist Jerks is a beautiful example of the INTP personality writ large.

To those who don't know much about how Jungian personality types work the popularity of the ENFJ might seem a real outlier. But ENFJ is the description of the extroverted type that is most interested in exploring the values of others in the world. They are the prototypical socials that Gevlon likes to deplore; the ones who want everyone to win; the ones who will sell their Runed Orb for 10g to help out the guy around the corner. I would also guess the type most likely to be casual players as Warcraft would be only one of the many activities they do. For reasons to complex to get into here, I would also suspect that they are almost entirely under age 30. ENFJ are also a very popular type in fields like career counseling and I suspect that their dominance in the results also comes from seeing the MBTI advertised. They are one of the extroverted types most interested in personality, although almost always another's personality and never their own.

One aspect of the data I found puzzling is the Feelers. Role playing gaming is intrinsically structured imagination; it's not a feeling activity at all. So while the absence of the ENFP is to be expected, the presence of a large number of INFP respondents is remarkable. The American cultural female stereotype is INFP. It's possible that many of these players are women brought into the game by their boyfriends to do the traditional female role of healing. There's some support for this in the fact the data shows that most of the feelers are in classes that have a healing role (Druid, Paladin, Shaman) and that feelers shy away from the classes known for tanking (Warriors, Death Knight). In other words, the feelers are not into the game as an end in itself but as a way to support their feelings about others. This theory is further buttressed by the almost complete lack of any sensing feelers in the game. It would be most illuminating to know where those INFPs came from and their sex. If they were American women then boyfriends is reasonable answer. If they are not, it's an interesting development warranting further research.

Kae's and Nertok results are right in line with what Jungian type theory would predict about who plays role-playing computer games: introverted intuitives and introverted thinkers. The top four types (baring the ENJF) are the INTP, INFP, ISTP, and INTJ all of which are either primary/secondary thinkers or primary/secondary intuitives. The results so far suggest that thinking types are dominate but a surprising large numbers of intuitive feelers, most likely drawn to the game in support of their feelings about others.
In particular, the involvement of the INFP in Warcraft is an area warranting future investigation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A homage to the Crusader Ixobelle

He doesn’t need to grind reputation with Bloodsail Buccaneers. He’s obviously a bit insane in the brain by birth. And that is exactly why I think he might succeed in his epic quest for the Holy Grail.

A couple of months ago Ixobelle left Japan with his mind set to one thing: to follow his heart and aim for a position in the game industry. Currently he’s storming the castle of Blizzard in Irvine, reporting about it on his blog.

Regardless of security guards, locked gates and other restrictions, Ixo has set his mind to get a foot inside. He has put up a sign across the street, trying to attract some attention from the employees. And he’s handing out a booklet containing the artwork and ideas for a dungeon that he’s created all on his own.

Employer POV
I’ve been on “the other side”, employing people, not in the game industry, but at a very popular NGO-alike organization, and I can imagine that it was a bit similar to the Blizzard case, even though the office was smaller.

To tell the truth we just hated “spontaneous applications” as the one from Ixobelle. If we wanted to hire people we did it in an organized manner, putting together an ad, letting the human resources people help us to do pick out the few plants among the abundance of weed.

People like Ixobelle, without a formal education and a background as a professional in the area we were looking for, wouldn’t stand a chance. If he just turned up at the office, we would politely tell him to sod off. And if he kept hanging around we’d call the police. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blizzard had the same approach. They want to be left alone. They don’t want to have their office stormed by hordes of fan boys who think they were born to become game designers.

However, Ixobelle isn’t just an ordinary fan boy. He hasn’t only got passion; he’s also got real artistic talent and a solid understanding of game construction. I’ve seen his portfolio booklet, since he was kind enough to send a pdf of it to me. And I tell you: he’s telling the truth. It’s bad ass looking. I can’t possibly see how anyone in his full senses could resist having a closer look at the creative mind behind it. The crucial point is to get it into the right hands, to make someone who has any kind of influence at least have a quick glance at it.

The American Dream
I’ve always had a week spot for the myth about the self made man. The US mantra: if you only try heard enough you can achieve anything. I agree about it. Sure there are exceptions, people who are born under extreme circumstances that their destiny is out of their hands, but most of us still have the freedom – and burden, since all this freedom actually can be a bit painful - to create our own destiny.

No matter if they’re clichés and lies – I can’t help loving those refrains from American TV series telling us that we can reach the stars. Does anyone remember Fame? “But fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. With sweat!” Or why not quote ST Enterprise:

I’m going where my heart will take me/I got faith to believe I can do anything/I got strength of the soul and no one’s gonna bend or break me/I can reach any star. I got faith. Faith of the heart.

As poetry regarded, it’s crap to tell the least, but I like the attitude. I really do.

Ixobelle. don’t know what’s most insane about this. His fearless attacks to the Blizzard headquarters or the fact that he’s publishing the full story at his blog. How brave isn’t that? I wouldn’t take the risk myself to be honest. I might go for the break-in mission, but I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone about it, in case I would fail. It would be too humiliating. I would rather go to my hamburger flipping job without having to sharing my disappointment with the world.

I’ll finish this post with a humble request:

Dear Blizzard employees, if anyone of you happens to read my blog (there might be one who does it, I actually do get regular hits from someone in Irvine. It could of course be just a coincidence, but you never know): PLEASE let Ixobelle in and have a look at his booklet. You won’t regret it.

Edit: Accordning to tha latest report, Ixo is facing some difficulties. But considering his energy and dedication I'm certain he'll be back to it soon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is there a cure for the diminishing returns of the MMO genre?

A bunch of new MMOs have recently been or are just about to be released. But there’s something missing in the reactions from the community according to Tobold’s post of yesterday.

The cheers aren’t convincing. The crazy “this-is-incredible-I’ve-never-ever-seen-such-a-freaking-awesome-game-before” atmosphere just doesn’t arrive. Well, there was an enthusiastic cry-out right after Blizzcon at the news about Cataclysm. A few of us Blizzard fanboys and -girls were jumping with joy at the thought of it. But even though it was inspiring, it wasn’t exactly revolutionary, was it?

Somehow, I get the impression that the MMO-concept, with all its potential to reach the stars, right now is stuck on the ground. The rocket makes noises, but for all the engineering and fuel that has been put into it, it just won’t take off.

Tobold asks: “What would it take for a game to break out of this circle of apathy and really get people excited?”

Diminishing returns
As a newcomer without any personal experience from any other MMO but WoW, I hesitate to comment on this topic. My knowledge of the genre and of computer gaming at all, MMO or not, is shallow and only recently acquired. So take it for what it is: a newbie perspective.

I think we’re dealing with the phenomena of diminishing returns. The longer you play an MMO, the more will it take to shake you up, and the quicker will the first rush of novelty wear off. And unfortunately this diminishing returns experience isn’t restricted to one game. If the patches and expansions in WoW don’t give you the kick they used to do, you can’t just switch to another MMO, expecting it to give you the same level of thrilled “exploring the unknown territory” as you got as a WoW virgin (if WoW was your first MMO experience).

Actually it came as a bit of a shock to me when I came to this insight after playing WoW for quite a while. In my innocence I had imagined that most things I encountered in WoW were unique for this game. The concept of questing, of levelling, the inventory management, the spellbook and actionbars, the gearing, the instancing, the way to fight monsters. I figured that all this stuff were Blizzard innovations and that the other MMO:s I heard of had other features that were completely different. I couldn’t imagine that those elements are around one way or another in any game – like the mandatory jumps and twists in figure skating. There are only ever so many you can choose between.

I’ve come to think that the activity of picking a MMO-fantasy game resembles to how you decide which breakfast cereals you buy from the supermarket. Some people prefer them with a lot of sweets or fruits in it, others want them to contain fibers. But in the end it’s all cereals. It’s not opion soup, it’s not New York Steak. A cereal is a cereal, a fantasy MMO is a fantasy MMO.

What may lie ahead
The question is: can you still break new grounds, regardless of this? Is it possible to develop a new MMO, which will give us the sense of wonder out of pure awesomeness?

Of course it is! If you ask me I would say that we’ve only seen the beginning of the MMO era. If you compare it to the development of the film industry, I believe that the MMOs of today are at the level of the Lumière brothers or possibly Charlie Chaplin. We have yet to see the equivalence of the sound movie or the colour movie, which will take the MMOs to a new level and make the present ones obsolete in comparison.

I don’t know what those inventions will look like. Being a Star Trek fan I can’t help fantasizing about holodeck characteristics. I dream about games where you’re absolutely immersed, transferred and locked out from the everyday world. I dream about endless possibilities, an abundance of scenarios. I dream about the day when we can use more senses than just our eyes and ears. I want to smell the virtual world, I want to taste the world, I want to feel the sensation of it to my skin (at least to some extent, tanking a monster might hurt a bit too much for my taste).

I want to explore strange new worlds. I want to encounter not only alien creatures, but real life human beings who I can love, hate and interact with. The presence of other players is the essence of what an MMO is about, what makes it different to a consol game. It what makes a visit to a theatre where anything can happen so much more interesting than watching a dvd on your own ever can be.

The need for creativity
Is there something in the line of my dreams in pipeline? Maybe. Who knows what’s going on in the most secret department of Blizzard, where their brightest brains are at work, forming the next generation of MMOs. I don’t expect them to deliver full scaled holodecks. But maybe they can come up with a tiny little step heading in the right direction?

Gaming companies need people who are efficient, professional and know how to make profit, that’s for sure. I agree with Tobold on this. But I think they also need some crazy visionaries, people who have the ability to think big, wild and daring thoughts, beyond the known boundaries. If all of them are rationalized away, we’ll end up with a number of MMO:s, each one a copy of WoW, no one adding anything essential new. And eventually it will be about as interesting as munching on a chewing gum that has lost its taste hours ago.

It’s up to the owners of Blizzard and other giants in the gaming industry to find a cure for the diminishing returns of the MMO experience. But it will require some investment. And the question is if the creative staff can find a way to make the economy accept the bill for it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blizzard makes an effort of gender neutrality

We never get tired of discussing gender issues in WoW, do we? More than once have I stated that I don’t see much of discrimination of women in the WoW community. I sincerely believe that we are and should be looked upon as players like anyone else. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because of this I’ve consciously avoided discussing gender perspectives too often and too lengthy, since I have a theory that we reinforce the prejudices and injustices there may be by constantly bringing them into light. Other bloggers have a different approach and they have my full respect.

The best post I’ve ever seen in this genre was the one by Sydera from the beginning of August this year, Archetypes of the female gamer revisited. She really sparked a debate with that one, and her replies to the objections some of the readers had are just as read worthy as the post in itself.

The most recent commentary in this field was at Righteous Orbs the other week, where Chasity pointed out how odd it is that the frog kissing in Grizzly Hills results in a princess appearing. Why not a prince, as the classic fairy tale says? Was this possibly because players are assumed to be male, and male players would feel uncomfortable kissing a guy, since they don’t want to appear gay?

I don’t deny that it’s pretty easy to spot stereotypical thinking in the design of the world as well as some of the quests in WoW. It’s there and it’s no more, no less than in real life. Sometimes it goes a little bit too far (anyone remember the playboy associating bunny quest at Easter?) but most of the time it doesn’t bother me. Hey, after all, I’m a complete sucker for The Lord of the Rings, and there you can really speak of and outdated view on men and women!

Quote of Gostcrawler
You could wonder if the people at Blizzard consciously think about and discuss gender issues. And as a matter of fact I think they do. Last week a sentence at MMO Champion caught my attention. It was a quote in a blue post, where Ghostcrawler answered some question about tanking:

He wrote:
“It only gets to be a problem, in our minds, if the OT is such a liability on single-tank fights that she gets swapped out for another rogue or whatever.”
Did you notice? It’s just one letter, one single little “s” that he has added, but yet it says so much. Ghostcrawler refers to the imagined offtank as a “she”, which actually shows that he has higher ambitions than I have in this field. I normally don’t bother even to write “he/she” when I’m writing about a non-determined gender in third person, I normally go for a “he”, it seems appropriate since I expect a majority of the players to be masculine after all.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ghostcrawler’s decision to label the tank as a “she” is deliberate. And actually I think it makes a difference in the long run. At a subconscious level, the way we speak about things affects the stereotypes – by reinforcing them or challenging them.

Maybe at some point in the future we will refer to tanks as “she”, as naturally as we now expect healers to be female. We’re not quite there yet. But one thing is clear: Blizzard definitely makes an effort.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A glimpse of the beautiful world hiding behind the addon boxes

Words, words, words. And even more words! That’s what you’ll find at the Pink Pigtail Inn. Since I started the blog so long time ago (1.5 years is like “forever” in terms of blogging), I’ve published only a handful of screenshots. I don’t have any decent picture editing program, but above all, I lack any spottable talent for composing and taking good pictures. So I’ve pretty much given up about the whole concept of showing the game through screenshots. When I paint a picture of what Azeroth looks like from my point of view, I use letters and words, rather then colours, pencils and brushes.

Because of my personal lack of graphical ambition, I tend to be a little bit of a snob in my way of looking at other WoW blogs. More than once have I expressed my annoyance with blogs that focus so much on providing pretty pictures that they resemble to a toy store one week before Christmas Eve. They makes my eyes hurt. I want ideas to chew on, not pointless decoration!

A picture blog
But the other day I ran into a blog that proved me all wrong about this. What I found was a blog that is the absolute opposite of my own: a blog without words, a blog consisting of screenshots and nothing else. And yet it said more about WoW, it told more stories than most WoW blogs ever manage to do. Some of you have probably already heard of it, others maybe not. Anyway: it’s called Postcards from Azeroth.

The title says exactly what it is about. The blog keeper Riorel, a player at The Shatar (EU), takes screenshots from all over Azeroth, gives them a layout following a set pattern, adds a few tags to make them searchable and post them this way. It’s straightforward, to say the least. One picture at a time. No explanation, no commenting. The picture speaks for itself. As I’m writing this he’s at 260-something pictures, and apparently still posting.

Some of the motives of those postcards are quite expected – well known views, which I imagine a souvenir shop in Dalaran would offer to visiting tourists, like pictures of the gates of Ironforge or an idol portrait of Illidan in The Black Temple.

But other perspectives are more unusual and they fascinate me even more. Riorel captures all sorts of views – NPCs as well as places, which we rush by regularly, too busy to stop and have a closer look. He points out all those things that we miss, because we wrongly think that we’re in a hurry to deliver a quest, join an instance group or make an errand at AH.

Hidden behind addon boxes
The thought that strikes me looking at his blog is that there’s a huge artistic effort put into this game that is a bit of a waste on me. Because of lag issues on my old pc, I’m used to always have the graphic settings at minimum, making the world into a bit of a blur, far from the detailed and clear postcards. Things have improved with my new machine, but I still suffer from having most of my screen covered by all sorts of addon boxes, such as Omen, Grid, X-pearl and Bartender. And as if this wasn’t enough, DBM, my scrolling combat text addon and another mage specific monitoring addon, keep popping up, showing huge messages covering the few empty spots there are left.

There is a beautiful world to see and experience behind all those control panels. We miss a lot when we’re letting our eyes focus on the threat monitor, the cast bar of the mob or the fire spot we’re supposed to move out of.

Admittedly, mid-raid probably isn’t the best moment to hide my UI with an Alt+z just to enjoy the view. But why not linger a few moments after the raid to really look at the place, instead of running like a maniac into the portal to Dalaran? Being a mage, I can teleport whenever I want to. So the hurry doesn’t make sense.

The Postcards from Azeroth give me a great reminder. There’s much more to WoW than just XP, loot and achievements. There’s a world to discover. Behind the addons. Beyond the words.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Should Guilds be Democracies?

Every RPG MMO I have ever played has a guild system hard-coded by the developers based upon a dictatorship. Call that dictator the guild owner, founder, manger, leader or whatever the fundamental truth is that is that the person is a dictator. He or she may be benevolent, may love delegating authority, may even allow democracy to flourish, but the fundamental truth is that there is only one guild owner and they can sell their guild to anyone they want for whatever reason they want at whatever price they want and no guild member can stop them. Much of the social trauma surrounding Warcraft guilds comes from players who worm their way into positions of authority in the guild, ninja the loot, and quit or where the guild owner really does sell the guild out from under the members, essentially exploiting their work.

A broader perspective reveals the anomalous nature of this developer imposed structure. Real world guilds even in America are run on a social democratic model; there is nothing dictatorial about the American Medical Association (doctor guild) or the American Bar Association (lawyer guild) or the American Association of University Professors (educational guild). Even the vast majority of corporations work on a democratic model of governance, at least among the owners (stockholders) of the firm. Outside of single owner small businesses, there are very few examples of social organizations run by an all powerful owner. The guild system in MMOs has more in common with the philosophies of people such as Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro than they have with modern Western sensibilities.


There certainly isn't any particular programming reason that guilds need to be dictatorships. While changing the programing at this stage in the game undoubtedly requires work, there is nothing in the code itself that prevents Blizzard from implementing a system where, for example, in order for someone to be kicked from the guild a majority of players active in the last week had to vote on the expulsion or where two-thirds of the guild members had to approval of the sale of a guild. It seems to me that guilds are designed as dictatorships more from a unreflected upon tradition than from any cogent deliberation.


Advantages to Democracy


One clear advantage to designing guilds as democratic entities is that it would shift the focus of social contention regarding guilds away from the chat channels and the forums and into the guild itself. If a member doesn't like the way they are being treated there is a tool within the guild to resolve those differences that doesn't depend on the whims of an owner. A member may still be bitter about having their guild sold out from under them but it seems like much less an injustice if two-thirds of their guild mates disagreed and voted to sell. Blizzard was having too much drama surrounding loot so they implemented a system of loot sharing. It seems rational that the solution to the drama surrounding guilds is a system of power sharing, namely democracy.


Another reason to force democracy on guilds is that it increases social cohesion. One of the theories is that drives developers to implement and enhance guilds is the theory that social grouping leads to greater loyalty which leads to sustained subscriptions and thus more profit. But as real world evidence shows, the social cohesion created by dictatorship is inherently artificial and disappears the moment that the central authority disappears. Developer supported democracy encourages organic social growth. Players feel empowered not only by their triumph over the fantasy environment created by the developers, they feel empowered by their contributions to the social unit (the guild) necessary to achieve that triumph. Guild democracy is the formal implementation and recognition of this second contribution.


A third reason for developers to support guild democracy is that it can form an educational experience that carries over into life beyond the game. In America voter participation in elections is often below the 50% level; experiencing democracy within the game can serve the boarder social goal of educating the young for civic engagement and reinforcing that value in older players. It seems contradictory for developers to state that they desire players to participate in a form of social grouping directly at odds with the larger cultural values in which the game exists.

Disadvantages to Democracy

One obvious difficulty with developer supported democracy is that it's an open question whether or not such a model can succeed in an environment where as a practical matter many of the voters (players) are much more transient than in the non-game world, a world where a player may not log on for weeks or months at a time. Rather than encouraging organic social growth, democracy may instead decease or even freeze the process of decision making necessary for the guilds, especially small guilds, to function. Many players are just not as committed to their fantasy game worlds as they are to other social milieu in which they operate.


Another possibility is that players will be discouraged from starting guilds because they are essentially putting time and effort into a social creation which, once created, they no longer have effective control. Most successful guilds are made up of members who do not know each other outside of Azeroth. Finding a group of players that work well together requires an effort that an entrepreneurial player may feel is only adequately compensated for by a model which gives them total control.


A third objection to developer supported democracy is that it eliminates a game play option. As it stands, while the underlying model is dictatorial there is no requirement that this model actually be implemented by the guild manager. If a guild owner chooses they can effectively devise systems to run their guild as democracies; many guilds do just that. Given the diverse range of cultures in which Warcraft is played, forcing players into a democratic model effectively limits their game play options and may cause some players to quit the game.


Cataclysm and Beyond


At Blizzcon 2009 Ghostcrawler made two notable statements about guilds. The first is that the developers believe that people have more fun playing in a guild. The second is that in order to encourage this fun they want to make it more difficult to switch guilds. Assuming that such reports are accurate and assuming that the development team is committed to implementing this approach, how might they go about doing so.


One obvious answer is to create a system of incentives for people to join guilds and and a system of penalties for people who leave guilds. People who join guilds would get benefits from the guild they can get nowhere else such as access to heirloom items for every gear slot. People would be discouraged from leaving guilds by the loss of those incentives or by the loss of anything material they may have contributed to the guild as well as the loss of the social communities they have built up. But this incentive system may crash into the reality that the actual gatekeepers that will determine who benefits from those incentives remains in the hands of a few players, necessarily so because of the fundamental dictatorial structure of the guild as designed by the developers.


Democracy offers an alternative approach. By hard coding guilds to run as democracies, Blizzard can reduce the social trauma surrounding guild decision making, increase the social cohesion of the group which simultaneous increases loyalty to the Blizzard brand and reduces guild turnover, and reinforce the value of democracy to the community at large. Blizzard may find that democracy is not only the greatest good for the greatest number, it's also more fun to more people.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why you shouldn’t let one man run the show

Niniel at Swiftmend wrote a sad post about the ending of his until now successful raiding guild. They had been raiding together since they were in greens in Karazhan, and now they were one of the top guilds of their realm.

But the other night, when they expected their GM to post a run list of the upcoming ToC raid, they got something else: a goodbye post, out of the blue. The guy who didn’t only run the guild, but also all of the raids, had suddenly decided to transfer to another realm to join a top raiding guild, free from the burdens of guild management.

And this didn’t only mean that this guild had lost one valued player. It meant the end of any serious raiding in this constellation, as the guild apparently was all depending on his leadership. To quote Niniel:

“He was so good at it and had full attendance that there were never any need for an alternate leader but this created our dependence on him. We never did raid with Teamspeak/Ventrilo so instead we got used to his macros and fast typing and it was the way we did things and we were damn good at it.”

A lesson to learn
I can’t help getting a bit wet in my eyes reading this post. The pain is real. He describes their emotional reactions spot on, and how they’re trying to handle it, sharing their thoughts, seeking comfort in excessive chocolate consumption. As a fellow gamer I understand them, but I also can see the difficulties they have explaining their upset feelings to their spouses. The best strategy is probably not even to try to explain, but to do as one guy: putting on “Marley & Me” at the video to get a reasonable cover for the sadness.

But apart from feeling sympathy, I also think that there’s a lesson to learn from the story. It's only natural that it seems to be very convenient to be gifted with such a dedicated and brilliant guild master and raid leader, who willingly takes care of everything. It’s tempting to let yourself be carried by his enthusiasm and energy. But it’s also highly risky.

Exactly this is what is likely to happen, sooner or later. There’s no chance in the world that this kind of person will last forever. Sooner or later he’s bound to leave the game. It may be for a server transfer, it may be for real life intervening in the form of changed economical circumstances, a divorce or illness. Or he may simply burn out, wanting to get away from it all as soon as possible.

Don’t put yourself into this kind of situation! This reminder is actually directed to guild masters/raid leaders as well as to officers or ordinary members. A one-man-show is a bad strategy, both for the show master himself and from the perspective of one of the foot soldiers.

The shared responsibility
I don’t deny that the ultimate responsibility and power over a guild is in the hands of a guild master. But if he cares the slightest about himself and about the future of the people who have invested so much time and effort into the guild, he should make sure that there are people who could take over in case he would have to leave, players who have been trained to lead raids, players who have the confidence and authority needed to take decisions for the guild on their own.

But it’s not just the responsibility of the guild master to see to that this situation doesn’t happen. It’s also up to the ordinary guild members. If you suspect that your guild could end up as described at Swiftmend, you should raise your voice. Make it clear that there are more players in the guild who would be willing to take their share of the burdens. Don’t take it for granted that this is obvious to him.

Some of those one-man-show leaders are blinded from their own success and just don’t see the danger right in front of them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why not offer true faction changes?

"If only there were true faction changes!”

The exclamation came from a guildie of mine as we were discussing the upcoming possibility to transform your character into an equivalent one on the horde side.

His suggestion was that a forsaken who didn’t like what the apothecaries did at Wrathgate should be able to jump to the Alliance side, as well as an orc “sick and tired of Garrosh whining and nerd raging like a lil kid”. For his own part he wouldn’t mind joining the horde as a human, since he really hated Wrynn.

What I had expected
I’m not quite as dedicated to lore as my guild mate is, so it’s not a huge motivator for me to play either on the alliance or the horde side. But still I find his idea attractive.

As a matter of fact, I had actually expected the faction changes to work exactly this way when I first heard about the concept. In my world, I would be able to join the horde as Larísa, the gnome.

Soon enough I realized the truth. The faction change isn’t about changing faction of your toon at all. It’s about killing your character, letting it crumble in front of your eyes, and then bring over the leftovers – the gear, the reputations and the achievements to a newly created character which starts at the max level. If I did this, the new character wouldn’t have anything to do with Larísa (apart from the name, if I managed to keep it). I couldn’t possibly think of it as a Larísa in disguise, who had transformed from a larvae to a butterfly. I would rather imagine it to be similar to buying a character at e-bay. They’re geared well enough, but there’s something missing: a solid background history, a lifetime of experiences, all those things which bring a character into life.

What I would suggest
Without considering the possible problems in programming and game design conflicts that may occur, I would like to see another design of faction changes: the possibility to keep your character as it is when it comes to race and looks, and only switching faction.

This shouldn’t be available to anyone who randomly gets the idea that this would be a fun thing to do. There is a point in keeping a certain distinction between the Horde and Alliance factions; if it messes up too much it will end up everything looking about the same, which is not what I desire. Because of this I would like to see it restricted, making it something you definitely would think about twice before trying.

You shouldn’t be able to buy it, not for 30$, not for 300$. The only way to get it would be to put in an insane amount of effort in game, something that made “insane in the membrane” look like a piece of cake.

Think about how you could switch between Aldor and Scryer once upon a time. A pink pigtail gnome who died to join the ranks of the Horde for whatever reason should be able to do so, but of course she would have to proof her reliability to gain the trust of the former enemies. Preferably it would take more than just turning in items (if you mention basilisk eyes to someone who’s switched faction in Shattrath they get something wild in their eyes). No, ideally, the faction transfer would contain a ton of questing, equivalent of the effort you make when you bring up a character from 1 to 80. This would make sense from a RP perspective, and it would also make you acquainted to the areas and lore of the opposite faction.

Pros and cons
I'm pretty certain there are some problems that would follow with my suggested faction change mechanism. Apart from the risk that it would become too popular, erasing the character and atmosphere of Horde vs Alliance, I can imagine that it especially would cause some trouble in PvP.

If you're a horde player who is used to look out for those annoying little pigtailed gnomes bouncing around in the battleground, I imagine it will be somewhat hard to get used to the idea that this little rat actually is a friend that you should heal rather than tear into pieces and stomping into the ground.. And the other way around: if I see a tauren going my way, my first idea is to try to kill him, my second is to flee the field, if he seems to be too much to me to fight. I would have to look twice - at a minimum - to realize that we're on the same side.

But there's also much to win from it. As mentioned before, it would allow us to keep our beloved characters, who we have invested so much time and effort and emotions into, even if we'd like to see "the other side". It would also give an interesting addition to the role playing, storytelling side of WoW. The story of the "traitor" who dares to cross traditional borders out of passion or personal believes is an old one and it presents a lot of potential conflicts that could be interesting to explore. Think of Mr Worf in Star Trek TNG and his struggles to deal with his klingon heritage!

Another good thing about a true faction change that it would offer players who've "been everywhere and done everything" a new challenge, a worthy achievement with a really cool reward. Who wouldn't want to be the first pink pigtailed gnome to become a Horde soldier, making everyone turn their heads in Orgrimmar? It would certainly be worth a reputation grind in a scale we've never seen before.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tickled Pink: Before the Cataclysm

Now that Cataclysm is official and the full extent of the sweeping changes are clear, many people are thinking about what they want to accomplish in the old world before it is radically changed. For some reason that remains mysterious to us these "to do" lists are known in the Warcraft community as bucket lists. So, what do you plan to before the moment of Cataclysm arrives. Is your bucket empty or full?

Elnia

Before it's too late has such awful connotations, as if the end of the world is tomorrow. The truth is that if prognostications are correct we have at least six months before the end of Azeroth as we know it. Personally, I feel fine.

There are indeed some activities I would like to get done before now and the next expansion but most of those things were on my to do list anyway. Unless Blizzard were to announce that Cataclysm were to come out at Christmas, I can't imagine there won't be enough time to fit it all in. The one aspect of this I do have mixed feelings about is the Horde.

Unlike Larisa, I do think there is value in seeing the game as story. As I have never played Horde, seeing the story and learning the lore from that aspect of the game does interest me. Yet I find it hard to justify learning all about the Horde and then seeing it wiped away so quickly. Since I know I'm interested in playing a Goblin, I think I'd rather wait until the expansion before going over to the opposition.

In general there are two aspects of the game that I am interested in right now: collecting titles and mounts. One achievement I probably will find time to do is Loremaster. I'm almost done with the quests in old Azeroth and have about 50% of the expansion quests done. Another title I will probably grind to get is Guardian of Cenarius. I've got most of it done and I've always felt a little guilty that as a Druid I don't have it.

The other aspect of the game I want to focus on is mounts. For example, I will probably go back to grinding the Barron Rivendare mount. I've tried about 40 times and never got it. In this regard, it would be nice to know what the exact changes are to the various zones so you would know what you needed to do ahead of time.

So yes, there are somethings I want to do before the next expansion. I just don't feel any pressure about it though. If I miss it I miss it. I've missed a lot of the game already.

Larisa

I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. All over the Blogosphere I’ve seen people making up all those lists of “things I have to do before Cataclysm”. People who turned their backs to Azeroth long time ago are suddenly returning to the game. I would expect them to do that, but not until the final “bridge” patch, which I suppose we can expect before the launch of Cataclysm at some point 2010. I was completely taken by surprise to see all those bloggers declaring that they would roll brand new alts to see the old content one last time before it’s gone.

What’s up with you guys? There’s a good reason why they’ve decided to remake some of the old vanilla zones. They’re obsolete in every way you can think of. The quest distribution sucks, with quest chains that I thought we agreed long time ago was a pain in the ass because of the heavy travel duty they involved. The environment and artwork is mostly plain and boring, especially the endless plains of Kalimdor makes my skin itch.

And the quests in themselves… Oh, dear. The amount of “collect 10 boar parts” quests is much higher than in the modern WotLK WoW. Do you really have to be reminded of this? I don’t get it. The only reason for rerolling before Cataclysm I can come up with is pure nostalgia. And since I wasn’t around at the original launch, I’m not a part of it. When I started to play, the gravity centre of the game had already moved on to Outlands.

I think the basic problem with the “bucket lists” is that they’re created from the assumption that WoW has an end, that it resembles to a book, with a number of scenes and chapters that you work your way through, until you’ve seen and done all and then put it aside.

If you see the game this way, it’s no wonder you get worried if you get the information that some pages will be ripped out of the book and replaced with others, so if you want to “read the whole thing” you’d better hurry up.

But speaking for myself, WoW isn’t a book and it isn’t a game like any else which you play your way through and then put aside. It’s a huge pile of sand which I make sandcastles of and it hasn’t got any beginning or end. It’s more like an activity, a state of mind, an alternative existence to pull it to the extreme. And from that perspective, levelling a character on the horde side, for taking one example, could as well be done after the Cataclysm launch. The game is too big to see and do everything anyway. I have to accept that I wasn’t around to raid Molten Core “in the old good time”, and frankly it doesn’t bother me the slightest.

Old readers of PPI may have some objections now. After all I’ve been guilty of making lists myself. A few months ago I listed “33 things I want to do before I quit WoW”. Out of curiosity I went back to check if any of those “things” would become impossible to do after the upcoming changes.

“Eat a delicious chocolate cake at a beautiful spot”. No problem with that one!

“Spend a silly night at the IF bridge with our realm clown Cacknoob.” Sure! I haven’t seen anything about changes of IF, but even if they’ll give it a facelift, I’m pretty sure he’ll find himself a spot. The show must go on.

“Play hide and seek in Stormwind”. Why not in Cataclysm? The worgen district they’ll add will only make it more fun.

As far as I know now, I can even tick off the questionable goal number 4 on my list: getting myself a Winterspring Frostsaber mount. There isn’t anything said about remaking Winterspring. (Although I’ll probably be wise to save that one until I’m ready to quit the game, since it will be so sickening boring that I’ll never want to see it again.)

To put it short: the only thing I want to do before Cataclysm hits is to keep enjoying WotLK at its full potential, not worrying too much about what is to come. I’ll throw my heart and soul into whatever challenge that is calling for my attention at the moment. Yes, there will be some content that will be erased from the game that I won’t have seen. So what? New content will arrive in its place, more than I’ll have time to see anyway.

WoW is most of all a state of mind. I refuse to transform it into nothing more than a tick list.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Darkmoon Faire should be more than a trinket shop

“Darkmoon Faire Cancelled”.

I stared at the headline at WoW.com in disbelief, until I realized I had gotten it wrong. It wasn’t the ingame faire, which was about to open in Elwynn Forest this week, that all of a sudden had shut the gates. The whole article was about some marketing event in Paris for the card game version of WoW. Nothing that concerned me.

Reasons to cancel
Still, I couldn’t help thinking about the consequences if the real Darkmoon Faire actually had been cancelled. My first thought was that they really would have good reasons to do it. After making the same route in Azeroth year after year, you could expect the poor crew to crave for a vacation, or maybe they just wanted to slip away to investigate new market opportunities. After all they have the whole Northrend continent to exploit! Another possibility was that the swine flue had started to spread in Azeroth. They could very well cancel it as a safety measure.

The most likely reason to shut down the business however would be lack of customers. This became apparent to me as decided to pay the faire a visit the other night. I don’t do this very often, once a year at the most, but I felt in a pensive mood after some wiping in Ulduar hardmodes, and thought that this could be a way to cheer me up a bit.

The sight I met was rather sad. The NPCs did their best to provide the right atmosphere – entertainment, wonders, amusing tricks that tickle your imagination. But how could they possibly succeed when the grounds were void of real people? Apart from some stray player who just rushed in to get over with their card-and-trinket-exchange-business, to instantly take off once it was done, I was on my own.

So what was a lonely gnome to do? For the first time ever, I spoke to every single character at the faire. And it became apparent to me how desperate this institution is for a facelift.

A huge part of the content of the market consists of the task to turn in obscure items in exchange for tickets, the Darkmoon Faire currency. Once you get enough of them, you can trade them for items. Some of those items were surely fine and useful in vanilla wow – I remember how I myself grinded harpies for hours and hours to get 50 vibrant feathers so I could trade them for a bag at the fair, strictly following the advice from Jame’s levelling guide. Today, with gold, gear and levelling xp overflowing Azeroth, it’s just a complete waste of time to do it. The only ones who bother about it are the crazy people who are heading for the “Insane in the Membrane” achievement. Ordinary players lack incentives to visit Darkmoon Faire. It's more or less a dead area; this content was deserted long time ago.

Fun things to do
In my investigations I managed to find a few fun things that you still can do at the faire. They didn't give me any huge laugh, bat at least some giggles, since I hadn't done those things before. Believe it or not, but it took me 2.5 years of playing before I let myself being launched by the cannon, taking the flight over Elwynn Forrest!

The reason for it puts me in a rather bad light, but I’ll share the story with you anyway:

The thing is that I was scared by the faire as a very young gnome. I remember how I hesitatingly approached the market, so long ago. At this point I was still clueless about most things in the game, I was obsessively afraid of clicking on unknown things, since thought they would have some permanent damaging effect on me. In spite of this, my curiosity took over and I managed to start one of the tonk controls. But at that point I didn’t know what it was about. What I saw on the screen was that my character got stuck and knocked unconscious. I couldn’t control her anymore and I was convinced that it was an evil trap, which was put there to teach gnomes who put their nose into things that didn’t concern them a lesson. I had no idea about how to get out of it, so I waited for it to wear off, which took 5 minutes. I swore never to try such a thing again and always kept a safety distance to the faire after that, never interacting more than necessary with it.

It wasn’t until this night that I realized that the trap I imagined actually was a tonk controller. How strange that I never even noticed the toy car before! But I guess it says something about the horror I felt, being “stuck”. Considering this, it's no wonder that I never dared to try the cannon launcher or talk a bit with the fortune teller about my future. Who knew what evil deeds they were planning to me?

A waste of a great idea
Last night I finally did all those things. They were pretty funk but they didn't last for long. I coudn't even prolonge the entertainment doing the quest for the Jubling pet, since I already had it.

I couldn’t help feeling a bit unfulfilled when I left the premises. Was this all there was? In the glorious age of phasing, of holiday events, of thrilling vehicle rides, of dailies and currency grinds for all sorts of vanity items, couldn’t they come up with something more than this?

The truth is that Darkmoon Faire has turned into a godforsaken place, a shadow of its former glory, which just is an annoying extra journey and waiting time to obtain epic trinkets. It’s probably only a matter of time before they open a filial store in Dalaran.

I think it’s sad since it's a waste of a great idea, which would fit nicely into the fantasy theme of Azeroth. Darkmoon Faire could be one of those changing, temporal events, which keep the game fun and makes the world come alive. It could increase our apetite for adventures.

But in it's current shape it's in desparate need for some attention and love from the developers. Yeah, they’ve added a few Northrend items to the assortment of the vendors of exotic goods, but that isn’t enough. Where is the entertainment for the modern inhabitants of Azeroth?

The question is: will they bother to rewamp together with everything else in Cataclysm? Or will the faire succumb in a natural disaster, never ever to be heard of again? Cancelled for good? I wouldn’t be surprised to be honest.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Tickling Ghost

My niece and I have a special relationship. Truth be told, she fell in love with me when she was six and we have been going steady ever since. I've always tried to set a good example for her because I know that the first cut is the deepest. I live a couple of hundred miles away but whenever she finds out I'm coming she goes, as my sister-in-law puts it, ga ga. I payed a surprise visit one time and she ran down the steps, flew into my arms and almost knocked me over so intense was her excitement. As she put it in her sweet childish voice, "Others are important but you're the most important."

My nickname for her is Mac-a-doodle-doo because whenever anything positive happens she crows like a rooster. When she was seven I discovered her happily jumping on her bed her arms wrapped around her chest; when I asked her why she said with disarming candor, "because I am in love with me." Even now in her tween years she loves me to tickle her and after an intense session she will brag in a breathless voice to anyone who will listen, "I almost got tickled to death."

Cataclysm

Since the official Blizzard announcement of the next expansion I've been thinking about memories and mementos. While each expansion has changed the game in some form there has been a core consistency, a basis for shared experience. Almost everyone that has played the game has quested in Barrens at some point, defeated Hogger. All druids felt the pain of 20 minutes runs to turn in quests in Darkshore. If they haven't, they still can. After Cataclysm we'll just have to shrug our shoulders and say "you had to be there" when we reminisce about the pain of leveling a Druid or what Barren's Chat meant to us.


This concept of the shared experience of the community is a central theme of the work of the Christian theologian St. Augustine. In his vision a marriage isn't required to be public, with witness, because people need an opportunity to gawk. Marriages are public because first and foremost they are a community artifact; marriage finds its social power precisely because it is an event that takes places within a community of believers. A marriage isn't valid because the priest pronounces it to be so, or because the two individuals pronounce it to be so, but because the whole community itself pronounces it to be so because everyone shared in its creation. A marriage is a story the community tells itself about the way life is and ought to be.

In this way there are in fact two Warcraft stories. There is the story in the game itself, the story of the Horde vs Alliance, the story of the Titans, the story of the fate of the world of Azeroth. Then there is the story the players tell themselves about that story; a story told in podcasts, in blog posts, in forums, in machinima. This second story is our marriage ceremony, our shared creation.

Gloves of Token Respect

In my family I'm the historian, the genealogist. I know who is married to whom; I can tell you who my third cousin is twice removed. One thing that you learn quickly in genealogy is the paucity of tangible evidence from the past. Often the only record of a past life is a tombstone or a record in the basement of a dusty church. My maternal grandfather loved to walk and one of my cherished mementos is antique pedometer that he wore, given to me by my grandmother shortly before she died of brain cancer when I was twelve. I still remember her head all wrapped up in a white turban to hide the affects of the radiation. It seems odd sometimes that I cherish the memory of that painful time but the fact of the matter is that I met my maternal grandmother just that one time and was grateful for it; all my other grandparents died before I was old enough to remember.


It's a sobering thought to realize that the only shared experience your grandchildren may have with you will center around a small memento. I have an original version of my 3rd great grandfather's birth certificate written in German that has been handed down in each generation. I have an antique clock made in 1880 owned by his second daughter. And that's it. My parents and their siblings had no interest in family history whatsoever and much of the lore and history was simply lost. I considered myself lucky indeed when I came across a tattered photo stuck in dilapidated trunk in the attic. One of the hardest emotional aspects to being a genealogist is admitting that you just don't know; the data just isn't there; the cataclysm that is decay came and wiped out the writing on the tombstone, the paper is too weathered to read. You learn to be thankful for the smallest token, a pair of gloves even, to which you can pay your respects.


The other difficult part about looking at the past is to see it realistically. As I talked more with my extended family I learned more about my grandfather and the news wasn't always positive. I see that pedometer in a different way now as an adult: it's was only a tool of man, a husband, a father and not the symbol of a god. I doubt that he ever dreamed in his life that the one thing a grandchild would cherish about his life was a set of rusted gears and levers bound to a rotting leather strap. If he could spring back to life as a ghost he might be angry or bemused about his intentions going so astray. In a similar vein, I doubt that the original developers of Warcraft had any intention of making the early levels of a druid such a pain; they probably cringed inside every time someone mentioned it; they are most likely delighted that the memories of such events will now fade away in time after the Cataclysm.

Spiritual Unrest

The difficult thing about the story is that we are always telling different stories about it; the shared experience of the community changes as the community changes. As old timers drop out there are few people to even remember what Barren's chat really felt like to participate in. The stories we tell ourselves about the story change even within our lifetime; what we think life is all about as teens is not always the same thing we think life is about at 40 or at 80.


Once, after a lengthy visit of about week, it was time for me to leave. Mac was distraught. As I was pulling away in my car she rushed out to the curb and stood their waving and waving goodbye as I disappeared down the road. I kept looking in my rear-view mirror and still she stood their waving until her mother came out and took her hand; then they both began to wave. They were still waving as I turned the first bend in the road.

As I drove down the road tears flooded my eyes. She cannot know, I think to myself, that it's just a ghost that's tickling her. That one day in a time beyond my time, a life beyond my life, a world beyond my world all I will be is a ghost. A tattered picture, a faded memory, a part of history. What token of myself, I wonder, will she hand to her own children as she tries to share with them her experience of my life. I cry so hard I have to pull off the interstate. As I blow my nose I think of the Highborne Lichlings of Azshara. I don't want to be that type of ghost. I don't want her hating me in her head when she's 40; I don't want to be a terror roaming the landscape of her heart. Dear God, I say between gasps, let me be a happy phantom, let me be a tickling ghost.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Some thoughts about Champagne marketing and my irrational bidding for a trinket

If you read Gevlon, you would think that undercutting is the normal way to make business and be successful on the market. It does make sense, doesn't it? It's the classic balance between demand and supply and the invisible hand that makes it work out to the best for everyone.

However this isn't the whole truth. There are actually brands that make a point out of exactly the opposite: they don't outbid each other by making things cheaper. They outbid each other on making them more expensive.

The Champagne example
I admit that the thought seems a bit strange at a first look, but the professor who presented it to me in a marketing course at the university was pretty convincing.

He gave us an example of a champagne brand, which had made "expensive" into their "unique selling point", the thing that would distinguish them from their competitors and make their offer attractive. Their strategy was to make sure that their brand always had the highest price on the market. Whenever someone else appeared, making a more expensive champagne, they raised the price of their own, to make sure they were on top. This worked remarkably well.

The price they set had absolutely nothing to do with the costs they had in producing the champagne or the quality of it. It was only, I tell you, ONLY about positioning. Their target group was people who were obsessed with the social ladder and wanted to connect to the people on top. They wanted to live and experience the dream by drinking the same champagne. The manufacturer actually didn't have to invest much in media costs, according to my teacher. Too much of advertising could have the opposite effect to what they wanted: an air of exclusivity.

Vanity shopping
It's easy to laugh at such a story, at the stupidity and the complete lack of rational thinking that some people display. How can they be so easily fooled?

But at the same time, if I look long and honest at myself, I can display tendencies to the impulses.

Before I make any confessions I want to make clear that I've never ever considered buying a chopper or any other kind of extremely expensive vanity item in WoW. I do buy some useless stuff just for the laugh of it, but it's limited to rather harmless costs, like a 40 g vanity pet at a vendor. It hasn't got mammoth proportions but on the other hand, it hasn't got the "most exclusive champagne" impact either. It's just for my own amusement.

However I'm not completely free from the influence of those "Ape subroutines", as Gevlon would label them.

I came to think about it the other night, after I just had won the dkp bidding for a new little toy, Reign of the Unliving, which dropped from Anub'arak in Trial of the Crusader as we killed him for the first time.

Considering how much dkp I paid for it, The Lost Jewel would have been a more appropriate name. I end up paying 151, which is on the top 10 list in the guild history and left me with a hole in my pocket. It will take me three or four weeks of raiding, maybe more if I can't attend every raid, before I can earn it back.

Was it worth it? Definitely: yes. But this statement isn't only based on reason. If I'm completely honest with myself it's also based on completely irrational psychological mechanisms, connected to the ones that the champagne company so shamelessly benefit from. I can almost hear Gevlon grumbling from his corner: "Shame on you Larisa, shame on you".

Reasons for bidding
Now, this item is far from useless. As a matter of fact it's quite the opposite. I had done some research and I knew it was a good thing for my class, possibly a best-in-slot-one, although Rawr told me something else, but I had my doubts about it. It seemed as if the theorycrafters weren't completely done with their thinking and calculations.

If my bidding on this item had been driven entirely by logic, I would have calculated on beforehand exactly how much dps increase it would give me, I would have given a certain dkp value for every extra dps unit, and would have adjusted my bidding according to this. Nothing more, nothing less. With the tier token prices falling, I could probably have gotten two pieces of those for the same price as I got this trinket within a couple of weeks. Maybe that would have kept me from going so high in my bidding.

But my decision to bid all the dkp I had wasn't just about rationality, it was as much about emotions and desires. I was under influence of the rush of a guild first kill and the fact that it was a RNG item (as opposed to the tier tokens which guaranteed will drop over and over). No one could say how long it would be before I saw it again. And as if that wasn't enough, the description of the effects of the item was intriguing: "You gain a Mote of Flame each time you cause a damaging spell critical strike. When you reach 3 Motes, they will release, firing a Pillar of Flame for 1741 to 2023 damage."

A Pillar of Flame! It would be coming out of the sky with regular intervals and it was "on equip", so I didn't have to do a thing to make it happen, just staying on my normal rotations. Isn't that anything a fire mage could wish for, in combination with the +150 spell damage that also came with it? I bid what I had, and so did the other casters, but it ended up in my pocket.

You bet I was happy! And this is where the Ape Subroutine Confession comes in: I actually think that the fact that I had spent such an insane amount of dkp on it made me appreciate this item even more. "Everyone else wanted it, people bid like insane, therefore I was lucky to get it!" It wouldn't have been the same thing if everyone else already had it and the price had been 15 dkp instead of 151, even though this clearly would have been a much better deal for me.

Our desire to be a winner
I can't but laugh at myself. I'm like a living example from the course literature of consumer behavior. Our need to feel that we've made a good deal is so strong that we'll do everything in our power to come out as "winners". No matter what the reality tells us, we'll tell ourselves that we took the right decision.

My final action to prove this to myself was to put on my new trinket and head straight to the dummies in IF. I was pleased when I looked at the following Recount report - its share of the total damage seemed to be considerable. The graphics was on the other hand a disappointing surprise. Or I should rather say: the lack of graphics. I stared and stared at the dummies but if failed to see any Pillar of Flame, except for in my imagination.

But I didn't dwell on this for long. After all I had become the owner of the probably most expensive trinket ever auctioned in our guild. I paid more for it than I did for the Skull of Gul'Dan I got from Illidan last autumn.

Rational or not, I sipped on my trinket and I enjoyed it, just as I would a glass of exclusive champagne. Being irrational sometimes isn't only a bad thing. It's a part of being human.

Friday, September 4, 2009

We make traces

More than once I have pondered upon the nature of blogging and of our online relationships. What kind of friendship do we have with our readers? Is the affection I feel and the warmth I experience while solving the if not world, at least Azerothian riddles over a pint for real, or is it just wishful thinking, a result of my imagination?

Once I asked myself if anyone will notice if I suddenly disappear from the game, if I die for real. The show must go on. We don't make any traces in the game (at least if we're not BRK or Phaelia). That's a fact. Or is it?

Yesterday I was reminded of that the words that we write, the thoughts we express and the feelings we share, maybe somehow sticks. I was browsing Warcraftbloggers (which works as a sort of feed reader to me, since I don't keep one of those myself) to check if there were any new interesting blogs incoming. And then I suddenly saw a familiar name: Chick GM was posting again. I couldn't believe my eyes!

For new members of the WoW blogosphere, who never have heard of Chick GM, I can tell you that Auzura, who runs it, was one of the brightest shining stars on the blogging sky until she suddenly, without any explanation, turned silent in October 2008. Until then she used to write about her experiences as a guild leader in a passionate, insightful, intelligent and very eloquent manner. She was a star, everyone could tell, from the very start of her blog. She only needed to write a few posts before she appeared on literally EVERY link list.

But one day she disappeared from the scene. And I had a dreadful feeling that it had to do with her health problems, which she had mentioned briefly, almost ashamed of sharing anything such private on this blog dedicated to leadership issues.

Now she has written a post. She's alive. She's playing WoW again, if only casual. And it seems that she may consider starting blogging again, although she hesitates since she doesn't run her own guild anymore and therefore doesn't think she hasn't authority to talk about those topics the way she did before.

Well, my message to Auzura is that she should stop worrying about that aspect. Seriously. If you have stories to tell, thoughts to share and if you have a passion and talent for writing, it doesn't matter if you're a raid leader of Ensidia or if you're levelling your first toon and just dinged 14 in the fields of Westfall. You can always reach out and find an audience. Trust yourself.

And my message to myself and other bloggers who from time to time wonder about if all those text walls we crit the readers with really matter, since they will be erased by the tide of time anyway is: yes it matters. I still remembered Chick GM after almost a year, I've been worrying about her - even if I doubt that she's ever heard about, even less visited this little inn. And I was glad to hear that she's been let out of hospital, it sounded hopeful.

We make traces. More than we dare to believe.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Is your guild healthy? Check your forums!

How healthy is your guild? One way to find out is to check your guild forum.

Is there a lively conversation going on, covering a wide array of topics? Do a majority of the guild members actively participate in those discussions? Can you rely on that people visit the forums if not daily, at least several times a week and that they'll keep themselves updated on essential information, such as guild policies and tactics for upcoming encounters?

In that case you've got a solid fundament for your internal communication. And that goes a long way if you want to maintain a strongly knitted and well functional guild, with a shared mindset and a common vision about where to go next.

On the other hand: if you have a guild forum where the posts are few and far between, if there are just a few voices that are ever heard, and some people don't even bother to visit it anymore, since they won't miss anything important anyway - well, then you could have a potential problem.

There are exceptions of course. Some guilds do fine without forums - for instance a very small guild of real life friends who have more or less the same gaming hour and will meet online anyway - or a huge and extremely casual/social guild, which basically isn't much of a guild, but rather an extra chat channel in game. But for an average raiding guild I think a well working guild forum is a must.

10 000 posts
The other day my own guild passed 10 000 posts on our internal forum. That's quite impressive after 15 months of existence. It will give an average of over 20 posts per day. And then I still know for sure that there are quite a few outdated posts that have been erased over time.

The posts of our current forum cover every thinkable aspect of the game. There are dead serious posts - deep going, detailed theory crafting discussions that would qualify for EJ, overviews of the tactics for the current bosses we're facing, combining the strategies we've picked up from others with our own experiences and special forums where tanks, healers, ranged and melee dps can discuss their special issues in depth.

Recently we started to not only post the WWS from the most recent raids, but also do an evaluation of it, boss by boss, not fearing to mention individuals, if they have problems they need to work on, as well as if they've excelled and deserve some recognition. It's actually exactly the kind of "rare" constructive discussion that Gevlon says hardly exists anywhere. Well if that is the case' we're the exception.

But we're not only dead serious. We have all sorts of silly threads as well, which is just as essential as the evaluations. They help to keep up the spirit and the fun in the guild. Those threads are like glue - it builds friendship, trust and a sense of belonging.

An example of this is the thread where people publish screenshots with highlights from the guild chat. I don't spy in the healing channel (following the discussions in the mage, ranged, raid and guild channel is enough). But this way I don't miss the sometimes pretty bizarre exchanges that take place there.

Another thread that currently is highly popular, although completely un-wow-related, is a guess-the-movie-thread, where we take turns publishing a photo from an unknown movie, letting people try to find out where it's from. The one who nails it will publish next. If nothing else we can have a laugh at the pretty bizarre taste for movies that some of us have.

Real life pictures
Of course we have a thread where we post pictures of how we look in real life. (NO, I won't post a picture of myself here at the inn. That secret remains within the guild. Join us and you'll get the chance to see it! We still have some dps spots open!)

But most of our topics are about WoW, not unexpectedly. There's a constant exchange of information and ideas about everything from UI:s to macros and the latest patchnotes. We also do a lot of administration and arrangements this way, such as announcing longer absences, organizing runs and other events outside of our ordinary 25 man raids, (which are handled by a special tool) and exchanging trade skill services with each other.

And whenever someone's computer messes up, you can be sure they'll get a ton of good advice if they post about their problems.

Apart from the public guild forum, our officers also have their own protected forums and I don't know what they're discussing there. But they always make sure to involve the guild in the development of the guild. We've had a system where guild applications are posted for everyone to comment on for a while now, and it works remarkably well.

The guild brain
To summarize it: if the raids are the beating heart of the guild, which pumps around the oxygen, the guild forum is the brain that keeps the whole organism running. Without the brain the other parts would soon malfunction, maybe even fall apart.

Adrenaline has hit 10 000 posts and as long as I see people keeping posting those posts of all kinds - useful, crazy, humorous, insightful, provoking, straight-forward, interesting, annoying, cleaver and teambuilding posts, I rest assured that we're at good health, steadily on our way to bravely explore new, unknown territories.

How about you? Does your guild forum display signs of health? And how do you keep it that way?