Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blizzard, won't you sell me a Honda Accord?

The auto business has been on my mind lately as I recently purchased a late model used car. As I buy a car once every ten years, I do a lot of research and prep work. Meanwhile, the news has been inundated with the latest gyration in GM and Chrysler’s decades long death throes, this time ensnaring US taxpayers. At first glance there doesn’t seem anything similar about making games and making cars; a look under the hood tells a different story.


One way to categorize personalities is to use the product life-cycle. There are individuals who have a preference for creation, those who prefer to maintain, and those who prefer to repair. US Secretary of Defense Roberts Gates recently articulated this approach when he said that President Obama didn’t keep him on from the Bush Administration to maintain the status quo but to continue fixing what Rumsfeld had broken. As he bluntly stated, “I don’t do maintenance.”

For 50 years the American auto industry has been based on a league between people who like to create (design autos) and people who like to repair (auto mechanics). This agreement between creators and repairers has a name in economics; it’s called planned obsolescence. If a car wears out and begins breaking down after three years/60000 miles (whichever comes first) it effectively amounts to a periodic redistribution of wealth from those who buy a car to those who produce it or repair it.

Since the fundamental purpose of a car is to get one from point A to point B, worn out or broken cars become nothing but expensive lawn ornaments. For most of the 20th century the average consumer in America’s interstate highway culture had the option to either pay a mechanic to fix the car or buy a new one once the warranty ran out. This was a great-set up if you had to have the latest hot wheel or if you enjoyed tinkering with the tappets, but it stunk for everyone else.


Japan killed Detroit by breaking up this conspiracy between creators and repairers. Producing reliable cars at competitive prices that lasted for 300,000 miles did exactly what Tokyo hoped: maintainers fell deeply in love. Truth is most Americans prefer never to see a mechanic and have no interest in buying a car every three years. They want to put oil and petrol in their car and the drive down the road safely. As soon as they were given a choice, these sad pandas abandoned American made cars and never looked back.

Japanese cars were derided as boring econoboxes by Detroit. Yet those cars sold and sold profitably. For both the 1980s and the 1990s Japanese cars accounted for every single car on the top ten lists of those decades most reliable vehicles. Apparently hassle free is something people want to buy. It’s a testament to the reputation that Japan has built that a Toyota or a Honda compact car sells on average for $2000 more per car than the exact same American model with the exact same features. In fact, there is this hilarious story from Russia where an eastern province is threatening to secede from the Federation because Putin banned the import of their beloved Japanese cars.


The MMO world inherited the business model of planned obsolescence from the single-player game. A publisher would create a game and then post a few patches to fix it on a bulletin board. As a technological fact there was no practical way to maintain a persistent game. Occasionally a publisher attempted to maintain a particular game franchise (e.g, Baldur’s Gate) but there was little that was persistent from game to game. This model of produce and patch is analogous to the effort between creators and repairers that ran the American auto industry for 50 years. The only significant difference is that with games the creators and repairers are one and the same group.

The explosion of the internet and the development of the MMO changed gaming in ways that have yet to be fully grasped. For the first time it became possible to create a persistent world. The key attribute of a persistent world is that it is a world that doesn’t needed to be expanded or fixed, only maintained. Most of the server down time in Warcraft comes not from expansions or from hotfixes but from Tuesday’s regularly scheduled maintenance. The same way that a Honda Fit will spend more time out of commission getting its oil changed and its tires rotated than it will because its broken down by the side of the road.

The sad part is that while Blizzard understands the technical need for maintenance it still doesn’t understand that maintainers are a market it can sell too. It’s still caught up in maintaining the Warcraft franchise instead of the Warcraft world. Biobreak hits the nail on the head when it says, “Blizzard has all but come out and told everyone that the 1-60 content — classic or “Vanilla” WoW — is an obsolete abomination to them, and they simply don’t want you to experience it…Now, as an ex-player, why should I care? It’s because nobody likes it when a cherished memory is cheapened, especially by the creator.” (emphasis added). In other words, Blizzard’s planned obsolescence is running straight into Biobreak’s desire to maintain his experiences and he don’t like it. Shocking. Now he knows how GM owners felt in 1980.

The Next Detroit?

Needless to say, the arguments against the maintainers are the same as they always were. Green Armadillo writes, “In a very real sense, constant progression for everyone - not merely players who got into the raiding circuit years ago - is the price we pay for the ability to experience the game worlds we get to play with.” In other words, if Detroit doesn’t make its cars obsolete every three years how on earth is it going to fund the creation of new cars that are necessary to develop new features and new styles. That logic was untrue in the 1980s and it’s untrue now.

The argument that planned obsolescence is necessary for continued progress is fallacious because it assumes that there is a never ending desire for novelty. My computer screen can only get so big and then it begins to hurt my neck. I do not want or need constant progression. I do not need it in my car and I don’t want it in my MMO. I have never even played a single Horde character, which is half the content of the game, because I can’t even keep up with the expansion cycle on Alliance. The early adaptors, the hard core players, may love each expansion or major patch because just like Pontiac it builds excitement. Pontiac is also defunct.

Produce then patch is a business model that failed Detroit and it is going to fail MMOs. Planned obsolescence is not the price I choose to pay, it’s the price I have to pay to be in a persistent game. Give me an MMO Honda and I will gladly take it. Give me a game where the effort I put in to get Ambassador is not flushed down the toilet six months later and I’ll buy it. If Honda can figure out how to make a car… and make a car profitably… that can persist for 20 years and 300,000 miles with only basic maintenance then game developers can do the same. There are no valid excuses.

I want to make clear that I am not predicting the death of Warcaft today, next year, five years from now. I believe those concerns are over-hyped. But the clear lesson from Detroit is that when given a realistic alternative, consumers reject the constant progression used to justify planned obsolescence. They did it with cars and they are going to do it with MMOs. If I were a young computer geek in college I wouldn’t bank on the planned obsolescence model funding my retirement, not unless I expected the government to bailout MMOs thirty years from now. Instead, I’d be busy building the gaming version of the Honda Accord.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Heaven and Hell

The raid bosses may be scripted, but the players aren’t, that’s for sure.

For a while our guild has been doing a sort of pendulum movement between failure and success, it’s been like Heaven and Hell, with a bit too much emphasis on the hell part to be honest.

This frustrating experience has shattered our self image quite a bit. We’ve always seen ourselves as a very good guild. We can’t compete for the top five positions on the server, but considering we’re just raiding three nights a week, with modest attendance requirements, we’ve been doing really, really well and we’ve always taken pride in our serious, at least half-pro approach to raiding.

Going backwards
This was until a couple of weeks ago, when our progress didn’t just halt, but even started to go backwards. The worst moment of humiliation was probably one night when we wiped several times on Kologarn, in a mess that looked worse than my work desk (and that is bad, trust me.). Our poor raid leader was so frustrated that he didn’t even come around to give a harsh speech. And I think that silence on vent was even worse than anything he could have said. The air was dense with frustration and disappointment.

Then our guild anniversary came, a blast for everyone. Maybe the break from the routine would help up a bit and make people get back on track? Disappointingly enough it didn’t. Last week we had some really bad wiping on General Vezax, far below our normal standard, which ended up in a prematurely ended raid night.

What was the problem? This was the same players who had killed him without too much effort a few weeks earlier, so it couldn’t really be about lack of knowledge of tactics or skill. It was rather an issue connected to mentality and focus, and the question was how to deal with it.

An intense discussion on our forums followed where we honestly and straightforwardly vented the situation and what to do about it. Not only the officers, but everyone participated. The question was: what’s up? What’s our problem? Do we really want to do this or have we for some reason lost a bit of our focus and interest in the game? Would we be better off taking a break from our 25 man raiding, reloading our batteries, getting our energy and focus back again? Were people getting burned out from running Ulduar 10 man in the offnights as well? Maybe we should take it a bit cooler with those optional offnight activities, making sure we’re in top shape for our 25-man raids?

The discussion ended up in the conclusion that we really did want to go on. And if people got a bit fed up with Ulduar, they should be mature and responsible enough to recognize the signs of burnout, sticking to our 25 man raids, which is the focus of our guild.

Raid resets
So came the new week and the raid instance reset.

The resets always make me think about the wonderful movie Groundhog Day, where the main character has gotten into some kind of time loop, living through the same day over and over again. After experiencing it enough many times he’s slowly starting to learn from it, seeing that the outcome and experience of the day will be quite different, depending on his decisions. The day may be scripted, but he isn’t.

Sometimes the raid resets feel like a nuisance. You’ve been working so hard the whole week to get to the end boss, and if you only could have gotten a couple of hours more, you’re sure you would have gotten him. Now it’s all in vain and you’re starting the long uphill struggle again.

But sometimes it’s the opposite, a blessing. It’s a fresh start. The disaster from the raid the week before is forgotten. It’s a new situation – yet another opportunity to get it right from the beginning.

And this week was one of those blessed moments. As we approached our vehicles to start the long climb, I could hear the Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe", which wakes up Bill Murray every day in that movie. “Here we go again” I thought. “I wonder how it will go”.

Back on track
And soon I knew. It was the same bosses, but it was all different. There were no silly mistakes. We were once again transformed into a raiding machine, efficiently making its way through Ulduar, oneshotting more or less every boss we encountered. We grabbed the chance to prove to ourselves that we deserve to be where we are progression wise. We came back from Hell and went straight to Heaven.

And this trend continued the next raid. The very same guild that wiped for hours on Vezax last week oneshotted him now without any problem whatsoever, with several minutes to spare on the enrage timer, which means that we’ll have an entire night at our hands dedicated for Yogg the next raid.

How come? I have no idea. The discussions on our forums following the defeats last week didn’t offer any rocket science solution, any new strategy or shortcut. We hadn’t kicked or benched any players due to poor performance.

But suddenly the focus was there that wasn’t before. If you ask me I think it’s all about what’s happening in our heads. To succeed in raiding you need to know basics about the gameplay, about your class, the strategies in encounter, raid mechanics and so on. But it can only take you so far. Without the right mentality and mindset you can still lose it all.

And that, my friends, is what makes raiding so fascinating to me. It’s not about “seeing the bosses”. They’re all there at YouTube to be seen for anyone who’s curious. It’s not about the epic drops. That’s just pixels and will be exchanged at next content patch anyway.

No, it’s about the never-ending learning of how to make a group perform at its full potential. Every raid reset gives us another chance to deal with it better than the one before.

And who knows, when we’ve done it perfectly maybe the raid won’t reset, but something else will come? At least in my imagination. A brand new day would dawn, just like in Groundhog Day. I wonder what it would bring to us.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A happy blogging tête-à-tête

A guild meeting must be an amazing experience. I’ve never been to a huge one myself, but I’ve met a few guildies on a couple of occasions during my WoW career, and even in the small format it was a blast.

It didn’t take many minutes for the initial nervousness to wear off and the friendship to take over. The bodies and faces didn’t exactly fit with the avatars I had grown accustomed to, but the voices were all familiar after all those late nights we had spent together online. I was among friends.

This week I experienced something that somehow resembled to this, even though it wasn’t a real life eye-to-eye meeting. This week I saw another blogger online. I chatted to him, I sent emote-hugs to him, I jumped around enthusiastically and was actually taken by surprise how happy I was, wagging my tail like a dog greeting his master.

A whisper in the night
It was just an ordinary night and I was poking around in Dalaran, pondering upon the issue if I should change my offspec to something less mana consuming to optimize it for General Vezax, when I suddenly got a whisper out from the blue. It came from a character called Ixobelle. Yes, THE Ixobelle - one of the icons of the mmo-blogging community, probably not as wellknown as BRK, Tobold or Phaelia, but just as brilliant. A blogger who combines creativity, passion, and excellent writing skills with deep knowledge about WoW and overall mmo-gaming. A blogger I and many with me look up to.

Since Ixobelle lives in Japan, soon moving back to the US, I had never imagined that I would communicate with him in any other way than through our slow exchange of thoughts in writing and commenting on each others blog posts. There is an ocean of physical distance and time difference between us, so I didn’t see it happening any more than I expect to ever see the green beard of Gnomeaggedon in any other manner than as a screenshot.

But little did I know. Suddenly Ixobelle was there – cheerful, chatty and full of energy and before I knew it he had thrown himself into a VoA pug, sending me humorous reports about his progress (or lack of progress, if you read his blog post about it).

It felt just as weird and fun as seeing guildies in real life. Even though bloggers evolve bonds of friendship over time, we’re generally spread over countless of realms all over the world. We’re like lighthouses blinking out messages to each other from a very far distance – over the Internet, but not in game. (Admittedly, I have two guildies who have blogs of their own, Kromus and Lerbic, but since I knew both of them as players before they became bloggers, it’s not the same thing).

Future adventures
I have no idea when I’ll see Ixobelle next. As a matter of fact I don’t expect it to happen too often, since the time certainly isn’t in our favour. When I’m raiding I’m usually coming online around 2.30 am his time, and when I’m not raiding, two or three hours later. It’s rather inconvenient, to say the least. Besides, he’s got characters to tend to on other servers as well.

But who knows, maybe we’ll be able join our forces in some pug during an offnight and then write about it? I think it could be quite interesting to see the same event described from different points of view, through the temperament and sunglasses of two different bloggers. And in one way we’ve already done it, haven’t we? This was the Larísa version of what happened during our first meeting and here's Ixobelle's take on it (including a screenshot which proves that it did happen.)

To be continued at some point!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Taking the mystery away from the game

Today I read the patch notes about the upcoming change of the world maps and something in me died a little.

Once upon a time WoW was a game that offered mysteries to be solved, adventures to be experienced. The world was there for us to explore and it was endless. Not so anymore. It’s like if the whole concept of questing is turned into something that requires as much brain activity as fishing.

I’ll quote the notes in case you haven’t seen it already:

Quest creatures and objects will now show on the player’s world map.
  • A skull graphic will be placed on the map in the general area where players can find creatures they must kill for a quest.
  • A skull graphic with red eyes will be placed on the map in the general area where creatures can be found that must be killed in order to collect quest objects.
  • A gear/cogwheel graphic will be placed on the map in the general area where players must loot quest objects found in the world.
  • A chat bubble graphic will be placed on the map in the general area where players must interact with a specific NPC for a quest.
  • A yellow question mark graphic will show on the map to provide the location of a NPC whose quest the player has completed.

The benefits
Now, before I’ll throw myself into my doubts about the change, I must admit that I’m a bit torn in my opinion. I can see why they do it. It’s a part of the ongoing mission to make levelling up a bit easier. Completely new players can more easily work their way through the more or less dead zones and reach the +70 zones where most players hang around. They don’t have to wander around for ages, annoyed and frustrated at quests that sometimes are pretty cryptic and poorly written.

And to players who have been around for a while it doesn’t change anything. They’re using Questhelper or Lightheaded anyway, which do about the same thing. Now those features are built into the game, which means they have an addon less to update and to put strain on their system.

So, OK, I too see the reason for it. And probably I deserve to be called a hypocrite, since I too use Lightheaded and TomTom to give me the coordinates and directions when I level my druid alt.

All this said I still want to vent a bit of the sadness I feel seeing this happening.

My sadness
What bothers me is that somehow the “being efficient and do things as quick as possible, ticking off things from your list” concept has completely overtaken the “experience, explore and lose yourself into a different world” idea.

I think back to my own first levelling experience, two and a half years ago. I started in TBC, at a point where there was already tons of information available to facilitate your questing at institutions such as Thottbot. But I was all new to gaming, I didn’t know anyone and I had no idea those tools existed. I played the game vanilla, the way it was presented to me, fumbling for quest objectives in complete darkness for my first levels. And how I enjoyed it!

A typical example of this was when I completed the quest Retrieval for Mauren, which is handed out by a guy standing close to the mage tower in Stormwind. There was something in the quest description that really kicked off my curiosity and imagination:

Travelers keep asking me about the Stonetalon Mountains. It seems to be a popular place for adventure--it doesn't matter if you're seeking wyvern, elementals, or you have business with the Venture Co.Within the Charred Vale, deep in Stonetalon, there used to be a species of basilisks whose scales, when ground to dust, made a wonderful reagent for some spells I've created.

If those basilisks still live, I would love to have a few of their scales.

Take your time, it is no rush, but I can pay well.

Off I went on a journey that seemed endless. Completing this single quest took me three nights – at least. I didn’t have flight points anywhere, I didn’t have any mount. I don’t remember how I finally got there, but I can vividly imagine that I didn’t find the shortest route. And my corpse runs were countless. All this for just a crappy wand as quest reward. I remember teleporting back to SW, turning in the quest and then wondering: was this all? And then I went back to questing in whatever area of Easter Kindom I was working on.

This was of course a waste of time and effort, measured in xp/hour efficiency, and I’d never ever consider doing it again on any on my alts. But was it fun? Absolutely! The world was endless and almost everything on the map was dimmed. I didn’t know where I was heading, I didn’t know where to go, what to do, and this gave a sort of immersion that I think is hard to obtain if there are skulls and crosses all over the map.

What’s next?
Probably I’m just a sad old lady, longing back for an era of youth and innocence that WoW lost long ago. I guess I want to protect the new clueless “Larisas” coming to the game today from getting too much information. I want to let them enjoy their first steps in the game the way I enjoyed them. But it’s a lost cause, since those players were quite rare when I started and hardly exist at all anymore.

WoW is aging quickly and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can walk down the memory lanes and mourn what’s lost and gone, but the development isn’t in our hands. If we want adventure and exploring we would probably be better off trying a new game.

Still I come to think of the brilliant prediction of the patchnotes 5.2 that Gevlon made a while ago:

    • "an "adventure guide" NPC was added to all starter zone who provide quest "kill 3 boars" for XP to level to 100
    • streamlining classes: the complicated rotation of the 2 spells/class introduced in 5.0 has been revised. Now every class have one spell "Ipawn" doing 50000 damage to all hostile cratures in 20 yards and heals 60000 damage for all friendlies in 20 yards up to 10 targets.
    • Reputation requirements for "awesome screenblocking flying whale" mount has been reduced to Whale Tamers friendly
    • New Whale Tamers daily quest introduced, providing 500 Rep for bringing a letter from Whale Tamer Jack to Whale Tamer Joe, both standing in the largest building.
    • Material requirements for ilvl 400 legendaries have been reduced to 10 dream cloth/dream skin/dream bar and 1 ultimate earth/fire/shadow/life"

I’m afraid that this isn’t just sarcasm. It’s exactly what’s going to happen. Changing the maps in 3.2 is just another brick in the wall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sparkles don’t come with tier gear

Sometimes I wonder if Blizzard has made a mistake putting the sparkles on the quest items. Probably many players would be better off if it was the characters that twinkled rather than the objects.

For some reason we seem to need it. We want to feel like stars. If not every single second, at least once in a while.

The urge to be special
This urge to be special, to be recognized, and identified, to be a name and not just someone in a faceless crowd seems to be an overall trend in society. Have you ever heard of a youngster who wants to become a system administrator or work at a grocery store when they grow up? Probably not. If you believe what they say, we’ll soon live in a land populated by pop stars and models.

But the longing for stardom and attention it’s not just childish dreams, something we’ll grow away from as time passes. I think you see it with adults as well. Take the act of blogging for instance. When you think about it, don’t we all step up on a soapbox, publicly displaying our thoughts and personalities, sticking out from the crowd? How come else that we upload our posts instead of letting them stay on our private hard disks?

We all want to sparkle. We all want to be Somebody rather than Nobody. And sometimes I can’t help thinking that this tendency is even stronger in Azeroth than in real life. If we fail to reach the Star status in real life, we can somehow compensate for it in the game.

Some people will immediately argue that it’s an illusion, that any kind of notion of being “special” in WoW is completely false and just pathetic, pulling out the “it’s just a game” argument. Yeah, I know. You’re sort of right. But if you achieve the same state of mind and somehow experience a boost of your self confidence, what’s the big harm in it?

So I don’t really condemn the need many players have to become noticed and feel special. However I keep coming back to the question: where do we get the sparkles from? How do we become stars in WoW? Who decides what is a star and on what criteria?

Star status from gear
There is a quite widespread idea in the community that Star status comes from rare shiny gear, at least if you’re reading the discussions about the upcoming changes to the badge system.

Mind you, some players are just fine with the changes, seeing it as a great opportunity to gear up alts and get good raiders who for some reason (like a temporary break) are behind the gear curve a chance to catch up smoothly.

But quite a few of the raiders, if not the majority, are displaying signs of frustration. They fear that their Ulduar gear will become trivialized in the same moment as the badge gear is released. Everyone will be wearing t8.5 pieces and there’s no way to tell how it was earned – by through hard work and effort taking out the keepers or by mindless farming of 5-man heroics.

They fear that they won’t sparkle as they used to. Will they be noticed and admired anymore? Or will they become as faceless and impersonal as any ST borg?

And now we have come to the point when I have to tell you the sad truth.

You weren’t very much noticed in the first place. At least not by me. You were faceless before the next patch and you’ll stay faceless after the next one, unless you do something about it.

Showing off in Dalaran
I can’t help laughing a bit when I read about how you enjoy walking around in Dalaran, showing off your shiny Ulduar gear and I shake my head in disbelief. Honestly, when I’m in the mage capital, I don’t pay much attention to you or to any other player whatsoever around me. I’m totally focused on doing the errands that need to be done, be it delivering a dailiy fishing quest or taking the portal to Wintergrasp, and then get out of the lag feast as soon as possible.

I definitely couldn’t be bothered to stop inspect anyone, neither for gear, nor for comparing achievements. I may notice a title above your head, if it’s one of the most exclusive and hard-to-obtain ones. But that’s about it.

What about your good looks then? Isn’t there any way to catch the attention of Larísa, at least if you move your butt to the less laggy Ironforge?

Well, if you think I’ll go “oohh” as I see your tier 8.5 outfit, you’re dead wrong. Most of the Northrend gear looks pretty much the same to me. I can’t tell one thing from the other.

To make me notice you, you would have to wear something that really sticks out, such a The Twin Blades of Azzinoth.

Once again I come think about our realm clown Cacknoob. He is quite a familiar sight to most Alliance EU Stormrage players, always standing on the bridge of IF in his X-52 Rocket helm. I don’t claim he’s a star (even though his guild is running a campaign for him to become president). But at least he has managed to build himself a trademark.

If you want to be remembered for your looks I suggest that you rather go for elegance or originality than for gear stats.

How to sparkle
To all of you who are desperate to sparkle and stand out from the crowd, no matter how, I send the following messages: forget abut the ordinary epics. You’ll never sparkle in it, no matter in what manner you have attained it.

There are other ways to shine.

  • You can shine by doing things for the community on your server, arranging guild pugs old world raids to get achievements, which you announce on your realm forums.
  • You can make yourself a name by making innovative and awesome guild events, such as the officers in our guild did. (We even got a post about our guild at http://www.wow.com/, isn’t that quite a bit more epic than showing off your 8.5 tier set?)
  • You can specialize deeply into some aspect of the game. Become The Autority of Lore and share your knowledge with anyone who’s interested. Take up the competition with the goblins of your realm and become The Master of AH. Find up some different way to play the game, such as those who have levelled to 80 without dying or without killing any creature or without wearing any gear and then tell the world about it.
  • You can start an awesome blog that will give Gevlon some competition for the subscribers.

But the best way to sparkle is probably the least spectacular and the one that takes most effort.

You can just work silently on becoming a reliable, easygoing and skilled player who is an asset to any guild and a dream member of any PUG arranged on your server. You can make your way into as many friends lists as possible.

It won’t happen over night, but trust me, slowly the word will spread and there will be sparkles around you, you’ll get whispers and greetings and invites.

And best of all: those sparkles are magic. They don’t get outdated at the next patch.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The post where Larísa goes nuts

I’m not known to be the kind of blogger who explodes into angry rants about the state of the game. I tend to take things pretty calmly, focusing on cultivating my garden, to quote Voltaire.

I generally see WoW from a bright side – trying to understand and accept the motives Blizzard have for their decisions in how to develop the game and run the show. Sometimes I’ve been blamed for being a fan boy. So be it. I’m a happy player who loves Azeroth, the community and almost everything around it.

But the other day I read a blog post which really brought me out of balance. I went nuts. I suppose I’m not as enraged as Ixobelle can get from time to time, but it’s not far from it.

The post that made me so angry is very well written in itself, but it was published on a blog that doesn’t get much attention, so I thought I should give it some link love and make a contribution to bring it out to the light.

The Rage of Larísa
It’s Jormundgard at Yggdrasil, who in the post “Don’t be tactical, you might get banned” tells the story about some guys who found a way how to kill Flame Leviathan on just four people and got banned for doing it. According to Blizzard this is an exploit.

I suggest now that you go and read the original post, where you’ll also get links to the full story including screenshots of dialogues with Blizzard representatives.

Have you read it? Fine. Now listen to the rage of Larísa: This is freaking unbelievable and I agree entirely with Jormundgard (even though I don’t quite see the parallel to the Martin Fury incident, which is a different story imo).

These guys haven’t made any exploit. They haven’t cheated; they haven’t used non-allowed addons or done anything illegal as far as I can see. All they have done is using their brains, solving the boss encounter riddle in a different way than the developers expected them to.

Their crime was that they didn’t do like 99 percent of the players who are too lazy or dumb to try to find out a solution of their own, instead of mindlessly doing exactly the same thing as everyone else does. They turned their back to the Tankspot mantra. They did it their own way. And for this they should be punished? Hey, no! If anything they should be praised! Why not award them with an achievement:

“You’ve got brains!” - Defeat a raid boss without using a strategy suggested by Wowwiki, Tankspot or Bosskiller. And why not an "Einstein" title to go with it?

The alternative
But let’s say that Blizzard has right in one aspect. Let’s say that strategy makes the boss encounter too easy and it not be the experience Blizzard had intended it to be. I can understand that they don’t want FL to be 4-man-farmed in the future by people who didn’t come up with this strategy for themselves, but just picked up the idea as it was spread on the Internet. They have reasons to stop the followers.

Even so, this isn't how they should deal with the problem. I know Blizzard has every right in the world to do whatever they want (as stated in the terms that we accept every time they apply a new patch). It’s their game, they are the gods. But still: I think they’re lazy and doing it all wrong in this case.

They didn’t need to ban those players. They could have made adjustments in the encounter making it impossible to do it this way. No one could argue about that. They guys who did a cleaver thing would have had their fun and got screenshots and public recognition for being so smart. There would be no further easy-mode downing. No harm would be done. Everyone happy, possibly with the exception for some lazy developers at Blizzard who didn’t want to be bothered with putting in some extra work in that encounter.

Blizzard chose to ban the smart guys. They don’t want us to think. They want us to click on the buttons that DBM and Tankspot tell us we should click. They want us to spend hours and hours travelling to cities all over the world, over and over again, to eat candy, see elders or as now honour fires. They want us to collect tier 8.5 gear by doing 5-man instances that we outgeared months ago. What does this say about how they look on the players? How stupid do they want us to be? Are they in conspiracy with the Cable TV distributors, thinking we're spending too much of our attention on WoW when we could watch TV at the same time if the game just didn't requite any kind of brain activity?

This is “just a game” (sorry Elnia :)). But I’m afraid the story also tells us something about the world. Where are we heading?

I’m seriously concerned.

And mad.

My pink pigtails are glowing. Can you see it?

Technical issues

If you can read this post you’re not the one I’m trying to reach. Does this sound cryptic?

The thing is that it seems as if my old domain address http://pinkpigtailinn.blogspot.com doesn’t work. It used to redirect visitors to pinkpigtailinn.com, but not so any longer. I don’t know if this is a temporary issue or a permanent change of things. And no matter what it is – I have no idea what to do about it. So I just want to get out the word: please change your bookmarks and links to PPI to the new domain address, or my voice will be lost in the eternal sea of Internet.

But how could I get in touch with the ones who need to know it and tell them that their virtual pub hasn't closed, just moved? I have no idea.

Proper posts are incoming later this week. Don’t lose hope!

Cheers from your innkeeper

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rastaman Vibration

I love reggae music. Actually, I love all the music from the Caribbean islands whether it is merengue, reggae, or steel drum music. Unfortunately, people often mistake the culture surrounding the music with the music itself. I sometimes joke that the most common lyric in reggae is “murder”. Only it’s not a joke. People want to think that the music is all about young black men with dreadlocks smoking dope and doing the limbo into the setting sun. Actually, the music is mostly about violence at the hands of white folk. It’s not coincidence that two of Bob Marley’s most famous songs are “I Shot the Sheriff ” and “Buffalo Soldiers.” Reggae musicians sometimes like to say the music is positive music for positive people. They mean being positive in the face of suffering, like the stories from the Bible the lyrics frequently invoke; they do not mean some hippy Nirvana commune.

They Say It’s Murder

While I don’t seek to propagate violence I am not a peacenik either, I think that point of view is naïve. The truth is that man is killer; it’s what he does, it’s how he lives. This reality is the backdrop to all we do. It’s an important point to remember.

One of the greatest myths of our time is that the way to peace is through interaction, particularly commercial interaction. But once the novelty has worn off, familiarity often leads to contempt rather than admiration. In fact the desire for contact and trade has been responsible for some of the greatest crimes (intentional or not) of our historical period. The first settlements in modern America (such as Jamestown) were founded on trade. And this trade lead to the decimation of the native population of the Americas through smallpox, to which their immune systems could not adapt. Indeed, much of the modern panic about diseases such as swine flu and Elboa is panic precisely because of the interconnectedness of the modern world. One of the reasons the black plague wasn’t as devastating as it could have been was due to the primitive transportation systems that limited it’s spread. In more obvious terms, African people where brought to the Americas precisely because of the slave trade. The reality is that while commerce may mean prosperity for some it frequently means destruction and even death for many others. Reggae music is intimately in touch with this reality.

A River in Egypt

I sometimes think that people who play Warcraft are in denial about what they are doing. We get caught up in the cuteness of our new Druid cat forms and forget that the Druid cat is a melee DPS monster designed for killing. The person who said that the Auction House was just a form of PvP is spot on. And in PvP somebody dies. It may indeed only be a virtual death but it is a death nonetheless.

It’s easy to admire the fact that Gevlon topped out the wealth o’ meter but the truth of the matter is that such wealth was built upon death. Not just the death of millions of virtual monsters that dropped loot but also the outright murder of the time of thousands of players who could have been doing something other than farming if they had gotten better prices on the Auction House. It’s a cogent argument that the “Morons and Slackers” killed their own time and Gelvon simply took advantage of it, but that’s only the difference between a tiger and a vulture. Both feast on death.

One Love

After my post The Good People of Azeroth went live someone sent me a link that lead me to a post from a few years ago about morality in Warcraft. The point of that post was that the morality of Warcraft lies not in the game design but in the social interactions of the players themselves. I agree. But I deliberately did not make that point in my post because I wanted to concentrate on the design of the game itself. The game is not designed to be a morality play (at least for us players). The fact that we choose to make something more out of the game than what the game was designed for does not change the reality of the design. That’s an important fact to remember.

In some ways what our minds do is the exact opposite of an oyster and a pearl. Instead of hiding a thing of great beauty under a plain gray shell we put lipstick on a pig. We employ ourselves with picking pretty flowers, mining rich nodes, crafting great jewels. We collect amazing mounts, curious pets, enchanted items. We help the orphans, get gifts from Santa, and have a jolly time getting drunk during Autumn. Yet behind this veil is one thing and one thing only: war. Vicious, brutal war. That’s an important fact to remember.

It’s an important fact to remember for the same reason that it’s important to remember that despite the groovy beat of reggae it’s music about suffering, oppression. It’s easy to get the wrong perspective on what’s happening if we buy in to the hype and marketing surrounding the product itself. Commerce and capitalism don’t lead to peace; they lead to war. The heart of the World of Warcraft isn’t picking herbs, going to gaming conventions, and collecting pets; it’s war. The Rastaman Vibration isn’t only the triumphant twang of the bedspring; it’s the shaking of the flesh being flayed by the whip, the pulsating heart tattooed by an Uzi.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How to make an unforgettable guild anniversary

Are you lucky enough to be in a guild which in the position to celebrate anniversaries? Then you’re in a minority. According to a study by the Daedalus project 64 percent of the players have been in their guild one year or less.

Considering how it looks in the forums and guild recruitment channel I’d say that the real figures are much worse than that. Many guilds seem to be more or less glorified PUGs, surviving for a couple of weeks or months at the best.

But there are exceptions and my guild is one of those. The other day we celebrated that it was one year since Adrenaline was born. And what a celebration it was! I’ve actually never seen anything like it. In this rather lengthy post I thought I should write something useful for once, sharing the concept in case some other guild would like to try it out.

So: I proudly present you The Adrenaline Anniversary Scavenger Hunt of 2009! This is how to make it.

What it was all about
The officers had been very secretive about the whole arrangement; although it was apparent they had been planning it for weeks. All we knew was that we were supposed to sign up in time as we do for any normal raid, with the difference that there was a spot for everyone.

To begin with we were told to head for the Temple of Storms, where we lined up at the top circle. The officers handed out wrapped packages, one for each of us. At a given moment we were told to open them. It turned out that they contained shirts of different colours, which we were supposed to put on. Looking for other players with the same colour we formed 3-man teams. Every team had a vent channel of their own at their disposal for the night.

Next thing that happened was that we were provided with a web link and asked to check it out. At the page we found five “clues” in the form of poems. If we figured out the meaning of them, each one would lead us to a “quest giver”, standing some unknown spot in Azeroth. Those quest givers where in fact guild officers, using their secret alts. They acted very nicely in character, both in says and emotes. And they also gave us different sorts of tasks, most of them about getting certain objects. When we turned them in we got keywords in return.

When we had learned all the words we whispered them to a named officer. He gave us another riddle leading to his position. On finding him we were given another clue to lead us to the last quest giver of the night (our bald gnome guild leader, which explains some of the lines in the clue).

The team that first reached him was the winning team of the night. Once this was settled, the general hunt was off and the whole guild joined at the meeting point in Crystal Forest (since Dalaran had turned out to be too laggy). The winners were given a final quest where they were to compete with each other. The one who collected the requested items and was first to return was the winner of the night.

While they were gone the rest of us kept dancing, playing with all sorts of vanity gear (finally a good reason for filling your bank slots with that kind of crap) and generally having a nice time. We were definitely in a festive mood.

On returning the winners were generously rewarded, standing in Moonstone spotlights: frostweave bags for the members of the winning team and a rare pet for the guy that won the whole competition. Some “fun” awards were also handed to teams that had excelled in different ways, such as committing suicide in order to find a graveyard or being completely clueless and renounce of sense of direction.

A few fireworks and some music on vent completed the night.

The rules we followed

To make the event fun and give all teams the same chance to win, some rules were given. The officers kept an eye on us, sneaking into our vent channels silently listening to what was going on, having a laugh at our struggles. As far as I can tell no one broke against this code of conduct:
  • Quests must be done by the entire group. You may split up to collect items but you must all be present at both collection and turn in of your task at each checkpoint.
  • You must not communicate with other groups.
  • There will be no use of 2nd accounts.
  • All quests must be completed to progress (you cannot simply get lucky by guessing keywords).
  • Certain class abilities will be banned as it is impossible to balance teams around them:
    Mage Portals
    Warlock Summons and "Gate" ability
    Paladin Crusader
    Pathfinding Talent
    Deathknight Unholy Presence and On a Pale Horse Talent
    Aspect of the Pack/Cheetah (which can effect certain “vehicular” mounts)
    Astral Recall or items of similar effect
  • Flying mounts can be used in zones that permit them.
  • You may use the internet and should watch for clues in /say and various emotes along the way.
  • Hint - A pen and paper is probably a good idea to have handy and you will need some bag space, so come prepared
  • Once in your groups and away, please nominate a group leader to hand in any quest items/be vocal for the group.
  • If you are asked to find a BoP item for a specific quest, when turning it in it is enough to simply place it in the “will not be traded” section of the trade window so that the person at the checkpoint can check it.
  • You must turn Cartographer off for the duration please.
The manuscript
If you’d like to do something like this on your own, you could of course create new clues and quests. But if you don’t want to put all that work in it, feel free to get inspiration from the ones that Adrenaline used as posted below. I’ve connected each clue with the quest that was given out at the secret spot. Mind you, since we didn’t get the quests until at the arrival at the quest giver, the riddles were harder to us to solve than they are when you’re reading them in this form.

Clue 1:
I heard about Nooble gnome
searching for a home.
Beyond the mushrooms,
not far from Ogre paradise
he found it
and rested in peace.

Quest 1:
zzZZzzzzz....?I was asleep and still feel sleepy. Can you please bring me some [black coffee] to feel awake. Andsomething hot to eat, [ravager dog] is my favorite food lately. Do not think you can find coffee herein town, but it should be in the city.

Clue 2:
From the lion's pride now ride
To seek the Naked Bride
Within the pool of tears she cried!
She's hidden well unless
You make the proper guess
And spot her nonetheless!
Speed now and do not wait
To aid her in her fate
Or it will be too late!
Cross country through the wooden halls
until you hear her desperate calls:
She's waiting where the mirror falls.

Quest 2:
Help Deedlit get her wedding dress back! And while you're at it, organize some more things for the wedding:
-1 Dark Green Wedding Hanbok
-1 Wedding Gift wrapped in RedRibboned Wrapping Paper.
-1 Witness who will bystand the wedding ceremony. This person can be any random player who is not a member of the guild.

Return to Deedlit with all 3 items to complete the quest and receive your reward.

Clue 3:
You'll find her in her element,
Surrounded by death and decay.
In a land of the Myconid she is found,
In a location where they thrive.
Amongst the Brutes of the Portal lands.

Quest 3:
Go to UB and get me:
- 1 Sanguine Hibiscus
- 5 fish scales
- 1 glowcap

Clue 4:
If things are looking difficult and bleak,
it is my knowledge you need to seek.
Find me in a rainy and solemn woodenland,
watching the falling of hourglass sand.
Standing in the cold wind has made me stiff,
comes from standing on one of the 2 tallest cliffs.
In Kalimdor, find me on the top of one of the twins
where I'm serving my days and repenting my sins.“

Quest 4:
So, yah useless scum found me, I ain't be partin with me words that easily! If yah want me words show me an egg from dah annoyin hippogryph birdies.. Oh and Im real hungry, bring mesome bean soup, this place just aint smelling right.

Clue 5:
„It was a horrible journey through the middle of nowhere. Animals of all kind attacking me on the sandy roads. Crocodiles, tigers and spiders wanted to eat me raw.
I met a man, his name was Mister Biggs. I asked him where I could find a warm place to dry and rest. He sent me to this direction, a "dry" place he said... On my way there I almost drowned in the deep waters. But I made it, I have found a small place to rest. The only thing missing is the warmth, and it takes forever to dry my clothes too! Find me and bring me a bottle of Moonshine! Then create a campfire to warm my hands and unfreeze my lips so I can talk to you.“

Quest 5:
Do me a few favours, as reward you will get a code word that can be used for your further journey:

My shoes are so soaked and my feet so cold, could you please go inside and find me a new pair of boots, any boots will do as long as they are dry. Boots always come with a matching purse, I have heard that the oozes drop a fine oozebag that can match any pair of boots.

My last request is to bring me 20 mageweave cloth, found inside the walls of this Temple, so I can knit my own blanket to keep myself warm for the rest of my journey. Go now and return to me asap with my requests!

Clue to the hidden officer:
To continue on your quest you need but to find me. I am in the forests of the nocturnal elves, north of the border to a vale ashen. At a place where a master is said to have killed an elder.

Clue to the final quest giver:
Leaders come in many guises,
different colours, different sizes.
Bald yours is and to find him, well,
you need to seek where Magi dwell.
A challenge awaits the quickest team,
a final chance for us to deem
a valiant winner, flying high.
Find me monkeys, in the Crystalsong

The last challenge:
"Well done you three, you made it this far as a team, now you become individuals out to claim the top prize. You shall now be involved in a flat race against your teamamtes to collect 5 itemsand return them to me here at Antonidas' Memorial.

I shall shortly pass you a list of items to collect for me. Please wait until I give you the signal to start""- A set of Worn Mag'hari Gauntlets from Bartleby Armorfist at Valgarde in Howling Fjord
- A Zweihander from Scabbard at Ebon Watch in Zul'Drak
- A Gnomeregan Doublet from Broxel Goldgrasp at the Argent Tournament
- A Winterfin Clam from Borean Tundra
- A Blackbone Wand from Dalormi at Wyrmrest Temple inDragonblight”

Concluding thoughts
The officers had obviously spent an insane amount of time and effort in creating this event for us. Still they admitted afterwards that they were slightly nervous about the outcome. How would this guild of dedicated (a nicer word for addicted) raiders receive a very social, casual and lighthearted event like this? Would some players be pissed off that we “wasted” one of our raiding nights, a night when we probably would have had another shot at Yogg-Saron? There wasn’t much reward in it – no dkp, no badges, no tier pieces. How much did people care?

But it didn’t take long before it was clear that they needn't have worried. We loved every single second of this magic night.

How come? Well, apart from some very special first kills, many raid nights mix up in a sort of blur when you think back at them. We certainly enjoy most of them, but it’s hard to tell one from each other after a while. This on the other hand was one of those nights that glue the guild together, one of those shared experiences we’ll remember and talk about for long.

Do I need to tell you that we have huge expectations on our upcoming second anniversary?

Edit: For a more personal account about what those events looked like, have a look at the commented photo album that one of our officers put together. My group unfortunately never made it to this very quest giver before the hunt was over, in case you're wondering why you don't see much of Larísa there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

If WoW was like Sims…

Sims has entered our home, on my initiative.

No, I haven’t considered changing games all of a sudden. It’s rather the opposite. I had this cunning plan that if my teenage girl played it on her own computer, she’d be less likely to complain about me occupying the WoW machine, which happens to have the best internet connection available in the house.

So I bought the game, she installed it and I watched over her shoulder as she started to create her characters.

I watched and watched and as time passed I grew more and more impatient. The task seemed endless. My skin started to itch and my toes were tapping nervously as she thoroughly screened through dozens of different sorts of shoes. And then she needed some eyeliner of the right colour to match. This was followed by hairstyles, sleeping garments, accessories, a never-ending list of multiple-choice boxes, one after each other.

When will she finish the setup procedure and start playing the game? I have no idea. As far as I know of she’s still making her way through a wardrobe, which would make Paris Hilton a happy girl.

If you look at it from the bright side, she can surely play her new game without any competition from her mother. All those choices are effectively putting me off from trying it even once. I certainly have enough of choices to make in my everyday life. The very thought of having to make up my mind about thousands of irrelevant details in the game makes me uneasy.

Real life choices
In real life I do my best to avoid some of the strains that come with freedom of choice. For instance I don’t spend a minute more in clothing stores than I have to. I’m mostly dressed in black, even though my girls frown upon it, telling me it’s dull. And I’ve had the same kind of hair cut for at least 15 years. It probably sounds extremely boring, but it’s easy, and that’s why I love it.

Similarly I refuse to respond to dozens of telephone, cable TV and electricity providers who keep trying to interest me for their offers. I don’t care. I don’t want to compare prices, I don’t want to be a clever goblin, looking for the best bargain right now and then changing every second month.

“Go away”, I respond whenever they call me. “I’m happy to stay with my current provider and pay a little bit more than needed because I don’t want to waste my energy, effort and precious time on informing myself and making those choices. You may think I’m a loser, but I’m fine with it. Just go away!”

In-game choices
I guess my exhaustion of real life choices is somehow connected to my reluctance to decide things about the looks of my character in game.

I remember looking at the screen as I decided about the looks of Larísa. One earring, two earrings or no earring at all? How should I know? The hair colour and style was a no-brainer of course, but the rest was just a pain to decide. And yet the choices were rather limited in comparison to Sims.

In the past WoW players have been asking for more possibilities to vary their characters, making them special. Some of their prayers have been heard and nowadays you’re free to pop by the hairdresser whenever you feel like it or making changes that go further, trading your name and sex if you’re prepared to pay for it.

I’m glad those people can get that what they want, but I’m also glad that Blizzard has chosen to keep the character creation rather limited. I really wouldn’t want to have it another way.

A little bit of vanity
Don’t I ever try out the paper doll aspect of WoW, putting on useless vanity gear just to see how it looks? Well, I do, occasionally.

Last time it happened was last week, when I was just about to sell the grey quest reward hat from the daily fishing quest: The Battered Jungle Hat. Realizing it would only give me a few copper, I tried it on instead. And I found that for the first time ever I had found a head in the game that was worth displaying. It looked gorgeous.

To let Larísa wear it was out of the question however; the risk was too big that she would forget to put on her real gear when it was time for raiding. On the other hand it certainly was a perfect outfit for my bank alt in Ironforge. She’s now the prettiest level 1 gnome in Ironforge, without any competition. But that’s about how much effort I’ll ever put into making my characters look good.

I’m sure there are players who think that the meaning of playing WoW is to make up good-looking characters. I’m just not one of those.

If WoW was like Sims, I swear I would never have made it passed the creation screen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

How nerfed is WoW? You decide!

There’s a lot of talk about nerfing these days. Nerfs are incoming almost daily and if you listen to the veterans, WoW is going from a pretty easy game to just a joke.

Even Gevlon is a bit upset, although he at an intellectual level can understand the decisions taken by Blizzard. Making an MMO isn’t about charity after all. It’s about making a living.

Enjoying the freedom
However I think you could see this from another perspective. Is the content really as badly nerfed as we think? Or rather: if it is, does it put any restrictions on our playing that prevents the game from being difficult and challenging?

Think about it. Do we necessary have to follow the “normal” path that Blizzard has laid out for casual, social or even lazy players, who want to level and gear up quickly without dying and without fighting hard to reach their goals?

No. Absolutely no. There isn’t any law dictating that you must do things in an easy manner for maximised efficiency. You’re free to turn your back to boring green and yellow kill-20-boar quests as you level up. You can go for the red quests only, soloing mobs that are supposed to be killed by a group.

You don’t have to run an instance with a full or a balanced group. You can purposely go to instances with mobs that are way higher level than you are or make up a strange balanced group. Paladins only, druids only, even mages only! What do I know, all frost and a lot of bandages… maybe it works if you set your mind to it? Or maybe you could do something really revolutionary and turn off Questhelper, DBM and all of your other addons? Woah!

It’s all in our hands.

Some players look at the game this way. They’re not many, but they exist.

Those players use their freedom, not mindlessly doing what everyone else is doing. They people don’t care if the Less is more-achievement allows you to bring eight players. They will four-man Sartharion, just for the challenge and a laugh. From doing this they won’t get a fancy title and it won’t be displayed in an achievement window. They won’t be offered extra loot. They’ll be unable to tell the world about it, unless they record it and get the word out. But they do it anyway, because this way of playing the game is more fun to them. They have the courage to be different, thinking for themselves.

The nerf of Yogg-Saron
Now I admit that there have been some nerfs that I too have been a bit disappointed at, such as the latest nerf of Yogg-Saron. Our guild has made the whole way to him a couple of times in 10 man as well as in 25 man, but we haven’t yet had so much time on him that we’ve come any further than phase 1.

Would we have been able to kill the original Yogg-Saron if we just would have been given a few more learning opportunities? Possibly. I don’t know. I never will, because the encounter has changed and his abilities are different.

But at a second thought, does it matter that much? If we want a tougher challenge we can always go for the hardmodes. And even better: we can stretch our imagination a bit and find new ways to deal with the encounter, inventing our own achievements, unheard of by Blizzard.

What I’m trying to say is that in the end WoW isn’t more nerfed than we allow it to be.

Put on a Parkour mind! Leave the paths which have been walked so many times, worn down by other players long time ago. (If you don’t know what Parkour is, Wikipedia has a nice article on it.)

Shrug at the nerfs of mount costs! It will make the life easier for some casual players. Maybe even some “morons and slackers” will rejoice. So what?

Your gaming experience is what YOU make it to. There will always be challenges. No matter of nerfs.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Finally seeing the game as a gnome

It probably sounds pretty odd, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized that I’ve never seen the game from a gnome perspective. Now I have and my love and respect for gnomes has reached a new level.

But let me start from the beginning. I’ll walk down the memory lane, back to my first stumbling steps in Azeroth, more than two years ago.

The beginning
First there was the introduction movie. Do you remember it? Or will you normally escape away from it whenever you start an alt, too eager to begin questing?

I remember the feeling very well. It was a virtual punch in my stomach, not like anything I’d seen before. It gave me the same thrill as a high standard 3d movie at an amusement park, only that it took place in the middle of my living room.

It was all a blur, an unknown universe, but somehow I realized that I was about to take a step into a new zone of my life, starting an adventure that I had no idea of where it would end. Or maybe I’m just making this up afterwards. Maybe I just thought: this is a computer game my sister has been talking about. I’ll play it a few hours and then put it aside.

Anyway – I remember also that it wasn’t just the presentation of the glorious past of human race that impressed me (mind you, my very first toon, soon deserted, was a paladin). I was also thrilled when I saw how it ended, in the smooth transition from the movie to the starting area where you suddenly see your character in game for the first time.

The camera was flying pretty quickly, coming from a far distance and then closing in. Without noticing any barrier I went from the timeless to the present. I started to notice NPC characters in action, toons controlled by other players who in this very moment were playing the same game as I was, occupying a spot in the same space and time continuum.

It gave me a “sense of wonder” experience first time I went through the process – and somehow it still does, even though I’ve created a number of characters since my debut. And I think the thrill didn’t just come out of the idea that you’re actually seeing other people in a virtual room (probably something a teenager will take for granted, but quite revolutionary for a 40 year old lady). It also was somehow connected to the movements and perspectives of the camera.

I’m afraid that the sensation of this first flight never quite came back in the game. The travels between regular fp:s have never been able to give me much of excitement. (Apart from the first flights between IF and Stormwind, oh, how I stared at the volcano landscape below me, with mobs at unknown levels, wondering if I’d ever be as big and strong that I’d be able to go into those zones.)

Zooming out
After this first flight I didn’t think all that much about camera movements. I wasn’t aware of the importance and the possibilities until much later. If anything, it made me a bit seasick to move my character. My previous gaming experience was limited to Lemmings and a little bit of Civilization, so moving in a three dimensional space on a flat screen was completely new to me and it took me quite a while to get used to it. For one thing, I thought the characters moved too quickly. Pretty much the same way you feel when you start learning to drive a car and think that 30 kilometres per hour will make you lose control and crash.

It wasn’t until much later that I became aware of the importance of the camera perspective. I think the wake-up came when I started to do Void Reaver in Tempest Keep and Jan’alai in Zul Aman. I learned how to maximize my camera distance with the help of a macro. Playing an ant-size version of Larísa changed the level of difficulty.

Ever since then, zooming out has been the standard way that I play the game. Most fights including any kind of fire or zones to avoid, will become substantially easier seen from a distance. The question is: even though it will improve your raid performance, will it improve your game experience? I’m not so sure.

Zooming in
The insight about how much the camera affects us even if we don’t think about it came to me the other day as I was doing a few Hodir dailies on my gnome rogue. Yeah, if anyone’s wondering, I still boycott the AT grind, but the exalted isn’t that far away on my rogue, and since she’s a herbalist she can grab quite a few ingredients for flasks at the same time, so I do them – not every day, but once in a while.

Anyway – I was in the cave to kill off a few slimes and the worms guarding them – when the idea suddenly came to me: I wonder what this would look like through the eyes of Arisal? I started to spin my mouse wheel frenetically and suddenly I wasn’t staring at the back of Arisal anymore. My whole screen was filled with the hungry, screaming, frightening face of a worm monster, bowing over me. Considering the size of his jaws he was capable of swallowing me in one piece, without chewing once.

I shivered more than I imagine I would have done if I had been around those days when Ragnaros was about the most impressive thing you could see in Azeroth. And then I started to ponder my little mace in a heroic effort to defeat this monster of gigantic proportions.

Suddenly the rather bleak “meh” quest in the cave was turned into a real fight! Lacking the overview I found that I did many more mistakes, aggroing things I didn’t want to aggro, unable to avoid mobs that sneaked upon me from behind.

You could hardly call it an effective way of questing – it probably took me twice the time to complete it compared to how long it takes normally. But the experience, the experience! Oh boy, it was almost as if I was thrown back to those first, innocent days, seeing the introduction movies. This was cool and exciting!

A new way of playing
I kept playing in this zoom-in-manner for a while and it certainly gave me food for thought. It’s not breaking news, I know, but you don’t quite see how incredibly small gnomes are until you see it from their point of view. Even the most common, everyday-life things that you take for granted suddenly appear in a different manner. For instance: did you ever know that a herbalist gnome actually doesn’t pick herbs and flowers? She fills her magic backpack with bushes and trees! A lichbloom is huge when you see it from the ground.

So is this how I’ll play the game in the future? Well, hardly when I’m in company, unless we all agree about it for the joy of having a change and a laugh. After all it gimps my performance quite a bit and I don’t want others to suffer from my experimenting. But if I’m soloing and doing some rather repetitive task just for the reward, I’ll definitely do it once in a while. I’ll do it for the laugh and thrill of it and for the gentle reminder of why small is beautiful and the gnomes deserve our love and admiration.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Message to the Planet Teenager

WARNING: This post contains spoilers about the game of life.

If there is one thing that sends me scrambling through the vents in my home and shrieking into the woods it’s gamers who buy into the myth that gaming is an anti-social activity. This perspective is only possible if one still inhabits the Lip-Locked BFF OMG 24/7/365 world that is teenager brain; that demented stage of life where one is actually glad that the phone call is for you.

Gaming is anti-social compared to what, exactly. Compared to the soccer game where the total amount of social interaction consists of 10,000 people all screaming in unison and rampaging on the pitch. Or perhaps you are thinking of the theater where people sit in total silence for two hours, where the only acceptable vocal expression is laughter (provided it’s actually a comedy) and any actual conversation is greeted with a scowl and a shush. No wait, you must be thinking of that great beacon of social interaction, the one that Americans have on in their home eight hours a day, called a TV. Yeah that’s it: family time. Where everyone sits for hours saying nary a word, eating popcorn, watching goofy strangers on a box that truth be told if they found those people in their home under any other circumstances the police would be called. On-line gaming is anti-social compared to the ubiquitous TV? Really, you believe that? Incredible.

Now I’m certain that you think that adults have all the fun. Error. Error. Error. Work life is just like high school only it’s filled with people old enough to know better but don’t. However social you are as a teenager that’s the most social you are going to get. Yes, I know that the media tells you differently. They lie. There is nothing interesting or even remotely eventful about the office Christmas party or the gang going out after work to the bar. The bar has a TV in it. That’s your first clue. The office party is filled with your co-workers….the same ones you have seen all year. That’s your second clue. If simply gathering a bunch of people together in the same physical space constitutes socialization then not only are sports matches and cocktail parties social events but so is the subway, the airplane, and the traffic jam.

On-line games, for the most part, are intensively social activities. Running instances requires you to interact with strangers in order to achieve a group goal. Selling or buying crafted items or trade skills on the trade channel requires skills in advertising and negotiation. There are plenty of small group quests available. And those are just social aspects of the game for people who, like myself, don’t even belong to guilds. Guilds and raiding add an even deeper and more immersive social aspect to game play. Yet somehow simply because this social activity doesn’t take place face-to-face it’s not social. Well neither does a phone conversation, instant messaging, or texting. Why are those social but vent is not? It’s stupid.

I don’t wish to imply that on-line gaming is the most social activity existing. It’s still possible to have a backyard bar-b-que with those real life strangers, your neighbors. Or you can volunteer at church; or get involved with a political party; or actually play a sport instead of watching it. But let’s be honest: hardly anyone does those things anymore. I actually think that on the social interaction scale on-line gaming sits right in the middle at about a 5/10. Teenagers only think it ranks a 1/10 because they think all life will be like teenagerhood. It’s not. For many people on-line gaming is actually a constructive improvement in their social life. If you think that’s sad or that’s scary, grow-up. I mean that literally: grow-up.

The point I want to get across is that you think there is something inherently interesting about the movies, or about smooching, or sending 24,000 text messages a month. There’s not. In fact, all those activities are actually boring as hell. You think you're seeing reality when you are only seeing the artifacts of your own mind at this stage in your development. Your brain physically changes as you get older. You didn’t think all that stuff was cool when you were six and you wont think it’s cool when your 36. That’s why adults call that OMG mental fog “teenager brain”. It’s not a crime; we went though it too. But it doesn’t last; your brain develops beyond teenagerhood. And that means the party ends.

I warned you at the beginning that this was a spoiler. And I’m sorry if I ruined your day. But you shouldn’t despair. As I tell my teenage nieces and nephews, being a teenager is great. It’s the only time in your life where you have all the physical and mental capabilities to cause trouble and for the most part people won’t hold you accountable for using them. Enjoy this fantasy. It’s the only time in your life you actually get to live it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Praising or blaming – different approaches to train your raiders

Some guilds love it; others think it poisons the atmosphere and should be banished.

I’m referring to the Failbot addon (nowadays replaced by EnsidiaFails), which mercilessly will point out the poor player who hasn’t moved out of fire, shadow crashes or failed otherwise during a boss fight that is designed to test the individual performance of a raider. Everyone in the raid will know who is to blame for the failure, not after reading the wws report later on, but instantly in the raid chat. It’s shame and blame in its purest form.

Big Brother helper
We don’t use it in my guild. We do use Big Brother though, which is somewhat related. This addon will announce in the raid chat any player who hasn’t used a flask or two elixirs or eaten buff food. After some initial annoyance when we first started using it a couple of months ago, it has been accepted and is now a natural part of our raiding environment. We don’t see it as a blaming tool, but rather as a helper to remind us to renew our flasks. It’s well needed now that they only last for an hour for non alchemists.

However, so far no one has seriously suggested that we should start using a fail announcing addon. This doesn’t mean that people who make critical errors during a fight won’t get to know about it. They certainly will, publicly, in a class chat channel or in whispers, depending on what kind of error it was and how it affects the rest of the raid.

When negative feedback is given, it’s in a more mannered way and often in general terms, telling mages to shape up their counterspelling, hunters to keep better track of their pets, or whatever issue we’re currently struggling with. But we don’t have it as a standard procedure to call out errors of individual players, addressing it publicly by the means of an addon, and I think this is a wise approach.

Positive reinforcement
I know there are many ideas about how to best train a dog or for that case raise a child (not that I claim it’s the same thing). I can only speak for myself, and I haven’t trained any dogs, but from my experience as a parent and as a group leader at work, I’ve always succeeded much better using a positive approach. Of course there are moments when you have to be very straightforward and give negative feedback about an unacceptable behaviour or lousy performance. But my focus has always been on reinforcing the good things I see. Without having any specific numbers, I figure the proportion of my praising compared to my criticizing is 80/20, if not more.

This isn’t any exceptional management approach; in fact it’s rather common practice in real life. (I probably should at: “where I live”. The styles of leading seem to vary quite a bit between different countries as well as business sectors.) But in Azeroth it seems to me as if it’s quite the opposite. It’s somewhat expected that the more hardcore and successful a guild is, the more abuse and negative shout outs will there be in the raid channel. The question is: is it really an effective way to make people perform better? Do those outbursts really help you reach your goals quicker? Do the players who have failed suddenly improve just because you tell the world that they suck? Will you really achieve quicker bosskills at a lower cost in repairbills and time spent on corpse runs? I doubt it.

Actually I think the effect can become the opposite. A fail announcing addon is likely to make more of your raiders miserable and annoyed with each other. Some players can even become nervous and tense about it, thus making more mistakes, and this can be the beginning of a spiral heading downwards.

How to feedback
Negative feedback should in my opinion preferably be given in a smaller context and be directed to the ones that are concerned.

Positive feedback on the other hand could be sprinkled generously. Of course it must be relevant, true and not taken out of the blue. If you praise people that are just performing at their expected basic level they’ll look right through you, wondering what you’re getting at. But what you should do is to notice when people are assigned to a new, challenging task for the first time and succeed reasonably well. You should point out players who look more to the outcome of an encounter than their position on the dps chart. You should direct the attention towards players who act responsibly, who can read the situation and dare to take independent and wise decisions on the fly when it’s necessary.

Put the spotlight on whatever kind of action you’d like to see more of in your raid. People don’t necessarily need extra dkp or loot to feel appreciated and motivated to perform better. Just a little bit of attention works remarkably well as incentive.

A praisebot addon?
The reason why I came to think about this topic was a little post by Swiftmend, whose guild is running Failbot in raids. They finally became tired of constantly listening to the negative messages, so they changed it into the opposite: “Player X is incredibly awesome at Shadow Crash”. Of course everyone still knew that it was a blame addon, but it gave them a laugh and hopefully took out a bit of the potential drama in it, so it’s probably a good thing to do if you insist on running it. “Fail in style”, as their raid leader stated it.

I couldn’t help start thinking about it seriously though. How come that there isn’t (as far as I know of) any Praisebot addon, spitting out positive messages about things that are done exceptionally successful in the raid? And if there was one, what kind of things should it inform about? Would it have any effect?

Monday, June 8, 2009

A blunt Swiss army knife in action

I did it! I brought my baby druid to Deadmines and I tanked one of the bosses. Sort of. Almost. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped or expected, but after all, it was a quick run, around 30 minutes, and not a single death, so I shouldn’t complain. I felt like a blunt Swiss army knife.

Arasil The Tank
In my vision it would have been quite different. In the motion picture Arasil The Tank running in my head, I saw how I was the one that arranged the epic event, invited and led crowd in the mission to seek out and kill this evil Mr Van Cleef.

Arasil would be that strong, sturdy tanking bear, probably a little bit grumpy, but solid as a rock, putting up a steady pace for the run - not overly quick, but yet efficient. I pictured how I’d take quick and wise decisions about how many mobs to pull. I would mark, if not every single defias, at least most of them. And I would assign people, telling them in which order to kill them, what to cc, what to aoe. I would deal with the loot issues. I would praise the ones who deserved it. I would probably not criticize much, because that’s not my way of leading people. To put it short: I would be godlike.

Nothing of this happened.

The preparations
I had planned it all so well, probably putting a lot more effort into it than a normal sensible player would do for an ordinary five-man run. After all this was one of the activities on my 33-things-to-do-before-I-quit-the-game list and I wanted to do it properly. My gear wasn’t exactly top notch, but I had thrown on a couple of low level enchants and some leatherworking enforcement on my armor, whatever I could to improve a bit. I had loaded myself with elixirs to get an extra boost. Considering the size of the stack you could think I was about to do a progress raid, but that’s just how I am.

I was prepared, but above all I was motivated, eager to give my brand new druid girl a real challenge. I felt as if I just had gotten one of those clever multi-tool devices and I wanted to fold out every single blade on it to try it out.

I'm sure that Gnomeaggedon and some other valued friends of the Kirin Tor will consider me a traitor, but since I’m always truthful in this blog I’ll admit it to you: I have reluctantly fallen in love. Reluctantly because there are way too many druid bloggers out there already as it is – they certainly don’t need any more to join their ranks. Reluctantly because I’ve always thought that one of the wisest things I’ve done in this game was to focus on my main rather than split my game time on thousands of project, not completing any of them.

But it would take a ton of resistance gear to withstand the joys of shapeshifting, the pleasure of healing, tanking, spellcasting, cc:ing, in short being capable to adapt to any situation you can think of in the game. It’s as far from the fireball-fireball-fireball spam as you can come. No wonder I couldn’t make myself put the druid on pause until I had managed to get a guild-only run. And that’s how it came that I ended up in the LFG channel, and before I knew it I had been invited to pug-party.

Tank competition
I can only blame myself for what happened in this run. I should have spoken up, being clear about what I wanted, saying that I was a tank, take it or leave it. Instead I mumbled like a school girl, giving a little speech, saying that I was ”specced into feral and that I’d prefer to tank if possible, since I wanted to try out something new, but oh, wait, I’m all new to tanking, so if I suck too much, just tell me and I’ll leave.”

I figure it’s not the best way to introduce yourself if you want gain the trust of a group.

As we ventured the tunnels of DM it became apparent that this party didn’t have one tank but three of them. Me and two paladins were all fighting like crazy to get the aggro. I growled and did everything I came to think of, pushing all those new unfamiliar bear buttons, trying to at least get some of the mobs glued to me. And the others did just the same.

Miraculously enough this zerg method worked reasonably well through the whole run. The only victim in this was the poor priest who ran out of mana in his efforts to keep up the health on three wanna-be-tanks. I was the only one who paid any attention whatsoever for his requests for breaks. The paladins just pushed forward, grabbing another bunch of mobs before I could do it, saying that the priest should blame himself for not saving his mana better.

When we entered the forge of Gilnid I finally dared to raise my voice, asking if they couldn’t let me tank this boss. And finally they let me. It wasn’t as organized as I wanted it to be and I pulled him prematurely together with some of the remaining trash wandering around. But he went down alright and I had kept myself steady in the top of the Omen meter. I smiled for a second, until I saw the paladins disappearing into the next corridor and I realized I had to catch up and fight if I wanted to have my share of love from the mobs.

My first tank insights
All in all, this wasn’t quite the run I had imagined. But I brought one thing from it: my first insights about what’s going on in the mind of a tank. Grabbing not only one but several mobs and keeping their interest was far from easy. The race on the Omen meter can obviously be quite a nightmare. This time it was self inflicted – the paladins knew what they were doing and it didn’t cause us any problem. But I could very clearly imagine how stressful it must be in a harder context.

Was I proud of what I had accomplished? No, far from. I was probably one of the bluntest army knives every seen. Still: it was a milestone in my personal WoW career, a noticable step forward in my general knowledge and understanding of the game.

On the loot side, if anyone wondered, I ended up with the Emberstone staff. Maybe it's a sign that my next instance experience should be as a healer? Hopefully I won’t have two other players fighting to perform the same task this time.

The motion picture about Arasil The Healer is already running in my mind.

To be continued.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why I rather take abuse from a living jerk than listen to the polished speech of an NPC

Would you like to play WoW as a solo-game? Many players would, according to a recent post by Tobold.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all there are many ways to play WoW and this richness of the game is probably the major reason for its success. It’s like a huge supermarket with aspects and features for every taste.

Yet I couldn’t help shaking my head in disbelief, wondering: if those guys don’t like to interact with other players, why did they start playing an MMO in the first place?

The annoyances of interaction
In his post Tobold discusses the social interaction in MMOs. He says that some kind of social interaction is necessary; if it was a pure soloing game people probably wouldn’t be prepared to pay monthly subscription fees.

But he also points out some problems connected to the socializing with other players. One is the requirement of coordinating your playtime with others. A part of your time online will always be wasted while you’re waiting for players to come online or get to the spot where you have agreed to meet up. Pick-up groups can dissolve halfway through the instance when someone suddenly leaves without any explanation.

Another issue is the player the player behaviour, or rather the lack of it. Shielded by the anonymity of Internet, people will behave much worse than they would in real life.

Indirect interaction
Based on those observations, he predicts that the future for MMO lies in what he calls “indirect social interaction”. Player economy is one example. When you’re playing the AH in one way interacting with others as you’re fighting competitors and trying to predict how to consumers will act. But you’re not talking to them, them, you don’t know or care about if they’re online at the same time as you are. Tobold also mentions achievements, which give some players a kick when they can show off in front of other players, without actually saying something about it.

According to Tobold it’s just a matter of time before we’ll see more games where players will interact without meeting each other online. They could engage into cooperative projects, such as building guild bases and they could deal with “politics”, which is a concept I don’t quite understand, but I suspect Tobold rather is referring to guild politics than to real life political ideologies.

Larísa’s point of view
So, what is Larísa’s take on this? Well, it’s quite possible that Tobold is right that this is going to happen. My knowledge about the MMO genre is very limited. It dates only back to the beginning of 2007 and it doesn’t include any other game than WoW. I'm really not the right person to question an authority as Tobold. So I can only speak from a strictly subjective perspective when I say this:

I love the direct social interaction. WoW wouldn’t be the same to me without it. Not at all.

Yes, of course I run into people that are annoying. I’ll meet them in pugs or I hear them yelling in the general chat channels in the capitals.

Yes, I too encounter asshats from time to time, people who are abusive, selfish, stupid and take actions that somehow intervene with my plans or ideas about how the game should be played.

Yes, there have been moments when I’ve been wondering what I’m doing, trying to play games with immature, annoying teenagers who I have nothing in common with and can’t be trusted for a single second.

But do you know what? If I never had to be exposed to those or to anyone else, if my gameplay was instanced in some manner and we only interacted asynchronously, I would soon grow incredibly bored.

There would be pretty sceneries and there would be NPCs to speak to, but they would be scripted and therefore completely predictable. I would surely admire it for a while, but something would be missing.

If I would be presented the choice between taking some abuse from a living jerk or listening to the polished speech of an NPC, I would pick the jerk anytime. Because there’s a real person behind it.

The potential of the unexpected
In the end, all those annoying people actually helps to bring life to Azeroth, just by being online. Either I interact with them or not – the very thing that I COULD talk to them if I wanted to adds another dimension: the potential of the unexpected. They helps me feel, they make me laugh and giggle and they make me rage sometimes, which also is a part of being human.

Visiting Ironforge or Stormwind resembles a bit of strolling around in a real life metropolis or sitting at a café watching the street life. There are voices, there are smells, and there is noise, always something interesting going on that can catch my attention. Being out in the wild of Kalimdor you won’t see as many people around, but you’re quite likely to start a conversation with the few you see. And you never know where it will take you – will you make another friend or a foe?

The MMOs haven’t yet evolved so far that there are built in sensors (imagine the day when we can play WoW as if we entered a holo deck!). But the here-and-now presence of other living players definitely adds to the illusion that I’m actually visiting a different, inhabited, virtual world and not just sitting by a computer, pressing some buttons, void of any emotions whatsoever.

I hope Spinksville is right in her recent post where she suggests that we’re still in the beginning of the MMO era and that our way of handling it will improve. Maybe in 30 years time we'll look back and laugh a bit at the problems we’re now facing.

And I sincerely hope that the solution we'll come up with isn't to construct the games in such a manner that players don’t have to interact. Call me naïve if you want to.