Friday, October 30, 2009

Tickled Pink: Do titles matter to you?

Bane of the Fallen King. The Ashen Verdict. Wrathful gladiator. Three new titles that will come with the 3.3 patch. How much do we care about them? Do the titles as such tickle us enough to make an effort to get them? Or should they come with other rewards? Plectical at Rawrcast suggests that players with the Loremaster title should get 10 percent more gold from quest rewards or that Battlemasters should do more damage in BG:s and arenas. Is that a good idea?
Titles. Who cares about titles in real life? I don’t. On the contrary – people who are obsessed with titles give me giggles. As I grew up we always used to laugh at Germans who seemed to be excessively interested in that stuff. As if it wasn’t enough to write “doctor” about someone who was that, they had to add another “doctor”, as if they just had to make sure. But on me the effect was rather the opposite. How could you ever take someone who called himself “Herr Doktor Doktor” seriously?

Do you remember how it used to be in the old days? Sure, there were some titles around, but people didn’t make such a big deal of it. I barely noticed them to be honest. I remember a guildie who was particularly proud of some title she had gotten in the old PvP system. Could it have been “Commander”? But to me it didn’t’ say anything. The first titles I got were Champion of the Naaru and Hand of A'dal. It was pretty far into TBC and didn’t come with a lot of prestige. I saw them as nice souvenirs, reminding me of those endless quest chains to get them, but I didn’t really expect anyone to notice.

Enter WotLK. Enter titles. A ton of them, ranging on the entire scale from silly to imba.
On the silly front I count “Jenkins”. I guess that title is supposed to be funny, but it only gives me shivers. Yeah, I’ve got it on my mage, but I wouldn’t dream of displaying it. Whenever I find a “Jenkins” in my pug, I fear the worst and expect all sorts of immature behaviour - l33t-speech, loot drama and ninja pulls.

The imba titles on the other side are quite impressive – for a little while. The sad thing is that their value decreases rapidly as time passes. While “Twilight vanquisher” was pretty cool early in the expansion, it can be acquired easily now with people geared in ToC epics. It doesn’t say a thing, so if you still wear it, it’s rather for some sort of RP reasons. You think it goes well with your character. You feel like a “twilight vanquisher”.

All in all, if you ask me, I’m almost as uninterested of titles in WoW as I am in real life. The only one that ever caught my attention was “Merrymaker”. I thought it so fit well with a sweet little pink pigtailed gnome with a sweet giggle and explosive spells. So Merrymaker it is. Larísa is also Elder, Hallowed, Matron, Love Fool and God knows what after the long strange trip which ended recently (yay!), but I don’t bother show it.
Would I make an effort to get one of the new titles? Well, I certainly want to kill the Lich King in heroic mode. But it’s not primarily in order to be able to expose myself as Bane of the fallen king. The title would just be a side effect.

So should Blizzard should add more incentives for players to get those titles? In my opinion: only in the form of vanity items. Dragons and non combat pets are fine as rewards, but giving substantial advantages to players with certain titles wouldn’t only cause imbalances in the game. It could also become a too strong incentive, making it harder for some players to keep the RL/game balance at a healthy level. And that’s exactly the kind of gaming behaviour that Blizzard is trying to move away from.

I agree with Larísa that there should be no substantial rewards tied to titles in game. Unlike her, I like to collect titles. I have five of them now: Ambassador, the Explorer, Chef, The Argent Champion, and The Guardian of Cenarius. I usually wear whatever holiday title I have during the holiday but in-between I almost always use Ambassador for role playing purposes.

Interestingly, I also share Larisa's dislike for titles outside the game as well. Except for the polite terms of "sir" and "ma'am" (which are originally titles) I never use them; it seems to go against the grain of our American sentimental egalitarianism. This is why it frustrates me when people give me titles that I don't actually have. It's true. All I have to do is show up on a college campus and with minutes I will be addressed as "Doctor" or "Professor" even though I do not have a doctorate or ever taught a college level course. I guess I just look like a professor and that's good enough for most people. Thankfully no one has ever called me Doctor Doctor because I would lose lose it it and smash smash their their face face.

The reason I like to use titles in game is two fold. One, they are useful for role playing purpose. It's cool when I meet another Ambassador that plays along and we can discuss the respective duties of the our Ambassadorships and what we think of the big political decision of the day. I've probably learned more about the actual lore behind Warcraft though this means than I have any other way.

The other reason I use titles is because I think it creates a sense of identity in the same way that people dress up their AH alts in bunny ears or with a diamond tipped cane. Let's be honest. From a distance all night elves look basically the same: tall with pointy ears. If we are in tree form we all look exactly the same: like wilted celery. And don't give me nonsense about how I'm disrespecting trees. I'm a druid healer myself. But if you take out a sheaf of celery that has been in the fridge for too long, stand it on the counter, and walk it along it moves and shakes exactly like a running "tree" does. If it looks like wilted celery and runs like wilted celery than celery it is and I don't care if people want to sex it up by calling it a "tree". It's celery. Call me Ambassador Celery. I'm O.K with it.

Where was I again? The fact that from a distance all gnomes look like balls of cotton candy. No? Titles. That's right; titles. As I was saying titles help to spruce up the trees and give their identity some bark. Without titles trees would be rootless and leave the forest whenever they could, fir sure. Do we players want that? I think not. It's roots that give trees their nourishment and allow to them thrive. If Blizzard allows rootless trees the next thing you know they will begin to wilt and people will mistake them for walking celery. So a title for every tree and a tree for every title.

I do think that titles do tell you something about a person that you can't tell just by looking at them. For example, my own impression of the Jenkins title is exactly the same as Larísa's impression and arrived at completely independently. The problem is that the interface limits one to displaying one title at a time, which limits the amount of information conveyed. So I think we should be able to display all our titles and see who really has the biggest ego. I want my title to be: The Explorer Ambassador to the Chef of the Argent Champion. Now that's a title that commands respect, isn't it Herr Doktor Doktor.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The new dungeon system – first impressions

Many bloggers have been sceptic towards the incoming cross-realm LFG system, fearing that the increased anonymity when you don’t have your realm reputation to care about will bring out the worst in people. It will be the paradise for ninjas.

Others – like me – have been, if not overly positive, at least curious about the possibilities it could offer.

The picture of what to expect has become clearer the last few days, as Blizzard has put up some information about the changes here and in some questions and answers, which you can find at MMO-Champion. Of course it remains to see how it will work in reality, but here are my initial reactions. I’ll start with the good stuff, then talk about the promising, but maybe questionable features, and finally tell you what made me disappointed.

1. Instant teleporting to the instances will be a huge relief.
Violet Hold has been one of my favourite instances for long, not only because I’ve loved the timed scripts ever since Black Morass, but mainly because of the location. No more flights across the whole continent, lasting forever! I just have to remember to get my coffee on beforehand, now that the brb-break while transporting will be gone. And the possibility to teleport back to the instance if you’ve had to take your hs to repair, get some reagents or an extra gear set from the bank – that’s just awesome, even though it will leave warlocks with less work to do.

2. Bringing back the LFG channel for realm pugs is basically a good idea.
You can keep an eye on what groups are looking for more people, without having to actively make yourself available in the LFG tool. But what I fail to understand is why you only can access this channel from the major cities and not from anywhere in Azeroth.

Finding a pug can take quite a while, at least if you’re a dps class. What am I supposed to do in the meanwhile, dragging my feet around the city? Is this why they’ve put the fountain in Dalaran for us to fish in? Can they please at least throw in some usable salmons in that case? I want to be able to DO something while I’m looking for a group. Grinding for rep, fishing other stuff than coins, farming herbs, whatever.

I don’t want to be imprisoned for hours in the major cities with nothing to do but watching the stupidity in /trade.

3. The matching system looks promising.
Trying to group up people at the same gear level is a good idea and will definitely prevent some pug annoyance. It’s less likely that some players will feel that they’re “carrying” freshly dinged level 80 strangers or that overgeared dps will face serious threat issues because of an imbalance towards the tank.

The idea to also try to match the experiences from different players is ambitious, but leaves me a bit wondering. They say that they will match “at least one experienced player for the assigned dungeon with less experienced players in the group”. While it’s a beautiful idea that experienced players will share their knowledge with newcomers, I’m not so sure they want it forced upon them.

Having a group where no one has experience before isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be quite a pleasure when you’re figuring out an instance together, each one pulling his own weight, no one expected to help the others through.

And if you on the other hand have experience and very little time at your hands, you might prefer to get an all-experienced group to get a quick run. Mix the groups might be good, but not always.

4. More power to the people!
The vote-kick feature is interesting as a social engineering. Imagine you’ve been tossed together in a group with a leader who turns out to be a jerk. You can make a mutiny and kick him! That’s amazing.

On the other hand, I can imagine how hard you can take it if you get kicked by a vote-kick and think that it isn’t justified. Being kicked by one jerk of a leader is something you can cope with. It was one stupid guy, right? Being kicked after a vote the group tastes a bit like bullying to me. I may be exaggerating this though, being a bit of a carebear.

What I wonder though is if it ALWAYS will take four votes for a kick? Will the leader of a cross-realm pug be deprived of the privilege to kick whatever member he wants to? I haven’t found any clear information on this yet.

5. And finally the Big Disappointment.
The feature I hoped for most of all, cross-realm Looking for Raid, won’t come in the 3.3 patch. The dungeon tool will be restricted to five man instances.

This sucks for players like me who log on after 10 pm friday or saturday nights, too late to join the guild 10 mans, and often too late to find a 10 man pug on the realm. Most players just seem to start playing earlier, not waiting for their kids to go to bed. Their raiding is a way to start the night, before they go out to party with their real life friends, while for me it’s a way to end the night before I go to bed.

With more realms to pick from, I think I might have been able to find a 10 man pug at midnight. Now this won’t happen anytime soon, according to Blizzard.

PS: Another disappointment is of course that you won't be able to handpick players from other realms. This means that reuniting temporarily with lost friends or trying out possibel cross-realm recruits won't be possible. To be honest I hadn't expected it either. It was just some wishful thinking from my side.

Finally giving Larísa’s feet some air

After more than 2.5 years I finally let Larísa take off her shoes. It was about time you could say. I dare not even think about the smell that spread around her.

The triggering event was that I gained my Frostsaber mount. This creature is different to most other mounts in the way that it hasn’t got a ton of armor and decorations on it. It’s a plain tiger. And that’s where the beauty of it lies.

While grinding for it, a vision came up in my mind. I wanted to let Larísa have her first ride on it dressed in a similar manner, in a simple but yet beautiful dress, barefeet and free from her duties and free from heavy armor and weapons that she normally drags around.

My choice fell on the Lovely purple dress. It was such a perfect match with the white/purple shimmering mount and the distinctively pink pigtails.

The inventory became rather cramped as I took off any visible gear, just keeping a couple of rings, trinkets and a wand equipped, since they weren’t viewable anyway.
And you know what? I was surprised at the fuzzy feeling I got in my stomach as I saw Larísa happily taking off, so beautiful, so relaxed, really living up to her title “Merrymaker”.

Secret roleplayer
I guess it was another hint from the secret wanna-be-roleplayer I nourish inside. This was something I realized as I shortly after this read a passage at Too Many Annas in a post where she gave the basics about role playing:

Would you want to sit around in a park with your friends while wearing an entire suit of armor and padding, unable to bend half way? I know I wouldn’t! So Aely usually wears pants, a shirt, and a vest, with some leather boots when she’s just “hanging out” – simply because as a /person/, it makes more sense. (Even Knights from the Medieval era didn’t wear armor 24/7)
Even if I’m not into RP, I must say that makes sense to me. I can’t help feeling a bit silly though for not thinking about it earlier. As far as I can remember it happened once before. I remember letting Larisa taking off her shoes, enjoying some relaxed fishing in Hinterlands after an especially crappy raid night. I also think I put on a festive dress when we had our guild anniversary. But apart from those occasions, Larísa has been decked out in equipment intended for warfare. Day after day, week after week, year after year. She hasn’t had any vacation ever. She even sleeps in her uniform!

Switching gear
One reason for this is that I’ve never gotten into the habit of switching my whole gearset. If you’re playing a hybrid, you’re probably used to carry around several sets, and you’ve been using wardrobe addons for years to manage it smoothly. You’re also probably pretty good at keeping your bags clean to make place for all those different sort of clothes.

Playing a mage is a different thing, especially if you like me don’t have a complete PvP set. Sure, I’m dual specced and I’ll certainly change a few pieces if I’m switching from arcane to fire or if the hit rating needs vary depending on the group. But most of the time I’m wearing the same thing. It was only thanks to my adventures into druid levelling that I became aware of the new standard gear change feature in the default UI.

Suddenly one day the insight reached me that as long as I keep my bags fairly tidy, I should be able to redress Larísa entirely with just a simple click.

I don’t have to do the tedious task to move item after item individually to the inventory and then back again, afraid that I’ll miss something. OK, I’ll have to do it once, when I create the new gear set, but when it’s done it’s done.

In real life I prefer to walk barefeet when I get home from work, changing my clothing for something more comfortable. And with the new support in the UI, I really can’t blame my laziness any more for not letting Larísa relax, taking off the dirty and uncomfortable warfare uniform when she’s not actively fighting the enemy.

There is still one little problem connected to it. Even if I from an RP perspective would like Larísa to go to sleep in a pyjama as I log out for the night, it doesn’t quite work with my raiding ambitions.

Logging out in Lovely Purple dress didn’t go unnoticed in armory. And this meant that my gear score fell from 617 to 52 at Be Imba. Not that impressive if you’re trying to find a pug and someone is making a check on you. And it will definitely mess things up for you if I try to run an updated optimization check in Rawr.

So my solution will probably be a compromise. I’ll give Larísa’s feet some air while she’s fishing, crafting or making deals at AH. But she’s doomed to keep spending her nights dressed in full armor. Smelly or not.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Love what you do – do what you love

This post was inspired by the final angry rant from Angry Raid Leader, a blog where you over the years have been able to enjoy some charming, angry posts, written on a very irregular basis.

Now the former raid leader has left the blogging scene, but before doing so he decided to make a final fist punch. For once it wasn’t directed towards raiders who die in fire and do other stupid things just to annoy raid leaders. This time he was targeting his colleagues. I’ll quote you the juicy part:

I’m so damn sick of whiny ass raid leaders, that bitch about how hard their job is. It’s so stressful! I put in so much time! I don’t get anything back! No one listens to me! Boo fucking hoo! Man up, it’s a goddamn game. No one made you play it. Complaining about being a raid leader is like complaining about being too pretty. A bunch of people wanted to spend time with you, admired your skills, gave you first pick of loot, helped you pretty much every time you needed it, included you in every group, hung out and talked with you when your real life friends had given up on you ever coming out of your cave and hanging out with them. You had it made! You were in nerdvana! So stop yer bitchin, fuckin pansy!
Making a choice
It’s a damned good rant, don’t you think? Personally I’m not quite as disturbed as the author about raid leaders who let out some steam from time to time. I can understand that they need to do that, especially when they’re among colleagues. But there was one point that caught me especially: “You had it made”.

Exactly. No one has forced you to become or remain a raidleader. It’s your choice and you should take responsibility for it. Love it – or leave it.

And this leads us over to an important – and possibly disturbing – question I’d like to put:

Do you ever reflect over why you’re playing WoW?

Is it a habit? Addiction maybe? (Nooo, of course not :)) Or is it something that you actively choose over other available divertissements such as watching a movie, taking a walk in the park, making love with your second half or reading a book? In the best of worlds it’s the latter.
Ideally I think you should spend a few seconds before logging in, asking yourself if this is really is what you’d like to do in this very moment.

If the answer is “yes”, also reflect over exactly what in the game that makes you want to play it. And as your login screen is replaced by the view of the back of your toon – make sure to act accordingly.

If the answer is: “no”, you might still want to log in, since you have commitments to people that are waiting for you to come online, if you’ve for instance signed up for a raid. Do whatever you can to make the night pleasant even though you’d rather do something else. Putting up a smile can be a good start.

I can hear the objections coming already as I’m writing this. “Smile?” “Why so, I didn’t even want to play in the first place?”

Yeah. Smile. Just as in the song. Even fake smiles work pretty much as intended. They are contagious. Before you know it the smile that initially felt forced and artificial will have turned into an authentic one. It will help you and the people around you to get through the night.

But once you’re done with whatever your obligation in the game was, don’t forget take some time to reflect over your initial resistance to come online. What does it tell you? Maybe it’s time to reconsider your priorities – inside or outside the game.

The mustard factory
It’s time for a little bit of storytelling. Take a seat and make yourself comfortable in front of the fire!

Real life has taught me a few things over the years. One lesson that particularly has formed my way of thinking was my first encounter with a blue collar job. I was 19 years old and hired to join the extra seasonal crew at a mustard factory. The consumption of mustard always peaks at Christmas, so this factory brought in some extras to fill their barns. It was a traditional conveyer belt job, where I was doing the same movements over and over again, packing mustard and cleaning up the mess whenever a glass tin broke. The stench of mustard was impossible to describe. And it was a shock to this spoiled little middleclass girl never ever before had put her step in such an environment. I cried every morning before I went to work. And I cried every night as I went home. It only lasted a couple of months, but I couldn’t eat mustard for years.

But what I brought with me from that job wasn’t just the distaste for mustard. What stuck in my mind were the conversations I had with the small steady crew that worked at this plant all-year-long. It consisted of a bunch of ladies in their 60-s who all had worked there for 40 years or more. I just couldn’t understand it. How came that they kept working in this horrible environment with this tedious job, which gave them little money and aching bodies?

The answer I got was: “It just happened. Once upon a time I was young and I was just like you. I thought that this job would only be something temporary, that I would get a “real” and more interesting job later on. But the years passed and it just happened. I got left. It was nothing I had planned to do.”

This conversation filled me with terror and I decided at that moment to never let life “just happen” to me, to never give up my right and responsibility to take command of my own life.

That’s why I’ve done a few rather abrupt career changes and moves in my real life – as well as in Azeroth. Rather than whining and cursing my destiny I try to make something about it.

So returning to WoW, this is my conclusion:

Do what you love doing in WoW. Make those things happen. Love the things you do. Smile. And stop wearing yourself down with activities that you just don’t enjoy anymore.

As simple as that. And yet so difficult.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Don't touch our lvl 1 raids!

I hear a thundering in the distance. Currently it's just a low noise, barely audible. But for every day it's increasing, and hopefully it will reach the level of a thunderstorm before Blizzard applies the 3.3 patch.

We’re many, we’re united and we’re dedicated to stop the sudden and stupid idea to remove the possibility to form low level raids.

OK devs, you are the Gods in WoW and in the end we’re left out at your mercy. But you won’t make this thing go through without anyone noticing!

The reason behind
Ghostcrawler – who anyone who reads the PPI will know that I appreciate and respect a lot – has tried to give some explanations and arguments in a forum thread picked up by MMO Champion.

And to be honest I was a bit surprised when I read about the reasons behind the change.

I couldn’t quite figure it out myself, so in my imagination I formed a vague theory that it somehow had to do with gold sellers or some other kind of cheaters that Blizzard wanted to get rid of. Maybe they had some new tricks in their sleeves including the use of raids? Why else would they take such a drastic measure?

But the explanation turned out to be a different one. It was all about concern for new players!
Listen to the words of Ghostcrawler:

One of the worst experiences a new player to WoW can have is to get invited to a raid. It immediately shuts off their ability to complete quests. Yes there are ways around that, but when you're talking about a legitimately new player who may not even have the support of friends teaching them how to play, it can just kill any progress flat. Without the starting quests, the player has no direction, no sense of their role in the game and no reasonable way to gain XP. It's even worse when done maliciously, by inviting a bunch of noobs to a raid and then dropping out. :(

Speaking from my own experience I never ever joined a raid before I was 70 and took my first step into Kharazan, wiping like mad at the trash heading for Attuman (oh, memories!) I don’t even think I grouped up in a normal party before I was at least level 20. If someone maliciously would have invited me to a raid to prevent me from getting xp, I would probably have been terrified and said “no thank you” since I didn’t have a clue what it was about.

I can’t help wondering if those ill-intended raids even exist. But let’s say they do. There surely must be better ways to protect the innocent newbies than to prohibit them altogether. A number of suggestions of alternatives have been made in the thread. Personally I think the natural way would be to make a warning to low lvl characters joining a raid, similar to the warning about saved instances. “Joining a raid group means that you can’t complete any quests or gain xp. Do you still want to join the raid group?”

Ghostcrawler admits that there are other solutions than to stop low level raiding, but doesn’t seem too keen on going through with any of them, claiming that the issue is complicated and needs some more pondering. OK, but if it is, what’s the rush about taking away the low lvl raids in the first place?

Fundament for ingame events
Now listen. Those raids may be laughed upon, but they are a pretty much the fundament of player created ingame events, like gnome rat races, trains, hogger raids, gnome bombing and such.

In fact it’s the ONLY way that players from different servers can come together to have some lighthearted fun, without having to form an army of deathknights or take the hassle to speedlevel a new character to level 10 just to be able to participate in the event.

Whoever in the developing team who came up with this event (not necessarily Ghostcrawler): please rethink.

Don’t touch our lvl 1 raids!

Monday, October 26, 2009

One of those epic moments - followed by another fail

A few hundred posts back, in June 2008, I made a list of my 10 top moments in WoW. I think it's still pretty much valid. During the time that has passed since I made that list, I've had a few more experiences that could deserve a spot on that 10-in top list.

One was when I was promoted from a trialist to a regular member of my guild last year. I still remember that first frightening jump into the comparatively serious raiding environment, where I suddenly found myself in Black Temple, trying to catch up with strategies, very unsecure and not quite sure if I really belonged there. But they decided I did . I was as proud as I was shocked.

Another moment was downing Archimonde the same autumn after hundreds of wipes. The pressure on each individual was huge, but I made it, I didn't wipe the raid and I was standing on my feet as he passed into the final, triumphant easymode at the last few percent.

Sarth+3d early this spring would definitely compete for a spot on the list. Now, as we're overgeared, we're heading there when we have some time over just to give more players a fancy mount. But when we did it the first time it was totally different. It was a sweet victory that came after a huge effort from everyone.

This weekend I had another one of those epic moments. And I bet nine out of ten of you who are reading this won't quite understand what was so epic about it. But if you've made the kind of journey through Azeroth as I have over the last years, you'll understand what I mean, so I'll share it with you.

It wasn't a moment of the kind that gives you achievement points. It isn't recorded anywhere at all, except for in my memory. No one noticed and no one but me will care. And still it was so shiny and purple that it gave me tears in my eyes and a huge smile on my face that wouldn't quite wear off for the whole evening.

The story of a pug
So what was it that had happened? As simple as that: I was asked if I wanted to join a heroic ToC 10 man handpicked pug.

The story begins earlier the same day, as I pugged the normal 10 man ToC. This turned out to be one of those good runs. We only had one wipe, when a couple of miserable players missclicked or something and managed to get smashed by Icehowl. A few annoyed comments followed, but then we shaped up and oneshotted everything properly after that, as smoothly as if it had been a guild run.

I wasn't one of the wipe causers. For once I managed to do everything right. I was quick on the snobolds, I mangaged the poison and fire debuffs correctly, I spellstole every single buff I could, I switched shields and targets exactly when I should and I moved around properly when chased by the giant bug, while happily taking out the adds. And I topped the dps as well as the damage list! I have no idea how this happened. Probably all the stars stood in the right constellation or some Azerothian godess had decided to give me her blessing for an afternoon. But it did happen, even if it probably was this one and only time.

And when I logged in again later the same evening, I got this whisper from one of the participants. He was putting together a team for the Grand Crusader 10 man the next day and since I had done so well in the normal version he wanted me to join.

Tears filled my eyes as I whispered him my "thank you".

It turned out that the run would be scheduled at a time that just didn't work with my real life obligations, so I had to turn him down. But that didn't matter much. Just to get the question - based on my performance in a pug - was definitely one of the my best moments in the game. Ever.

Never being asked
If you're a healer or tank you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. On the contrary. You're used to and a bit annoyed of being constantly approached by people who want you to come and heal or tank a certain instance for you.

If you're an veteran player with a huge in-game network, maybe even some real life friends playing and a solid reputation on your server, you're probably also used to get those whispers.

But I'm neither. I'm Larísa with endless learning curve, Larísa who always has to struggle a little bit longer than other players to master the gimmicks - moving out of fire, moving into beams, clicking a shield quickly or whatever it is. Larísa who has learned a stupid moving pattern with keybindings in the wrong places and now is fighting like mad to get it right. I'm Larísa who always was picked last at school during the athlete classes. I'm Larísa, the leftover, the reserve that you have to put up with when the best ones can't turn up. The one that is never asked.

And here I was, invited, not because I was in the LFG-channel and they had to take the chance on someone. I was invited personally because this group wanted ME to tag along. Can you imagine?

I cried. And I smiled. The disappointment that I had to turn him down didn't diminish my joy.

The next day I dinged exalted with the Wintersaber trainers and bought my beloved mount. It's just as shiny and beautiful as I had imagined and I'm glad I made the effort to get it. It was well worth every kill - and the process to get it was much more social and fun than I ever could have imagined.

But in epicness it can never compete with the moment when I was invited to the Grand Crusader 10 man raid because someone had thought that I did a good job.

Back to Earth
And so came Sunday night and our guild went to do Vezaxx on hardmode. I ate a ton of shadow crashes and to be honest: I sucked badly, so badly that I logged off in a low spirit, embarrassed, once again cursing myself because of my stupidity and incompetence.

I'm back to Earth again, facing the next steep climb on the learning curve. On the other hand - isn't that the very reason why we keep playing? WoW wouldn't be much fun if there wasn't another hill waiting behind the corner.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tickled Pink: Blizzard's New Account Services

Over the course of the past year Blizzard has implemented a series of changes to Account Services that allow the player to change server (PVE to PVP), faction, and soon race. These changes are controversial to some who thought that these are things Blizzard would never do. Are you Tickled Pink about these changes and have you utilized any of the services yourself.


Normally, I've all for expanding opportunities and enhancing freedom; these changes do that. Yet I also understand why people who have invested a lot of time and energy creating an identity for their character are upset. Until recently I would even have said the complainers were correct. A recent experience has made me rethink my attitude.

I have a human mage alt that is now level 70. I didn't intend to create this character as a full fledged alt; initially he was my bank alt. When 3.0 rolled out last year I leveled him up to level 20 so I could take advantage of the new inscription profession released with Wrath. Then he sat for almost four months. When I learned about dual spec in 3.1 I decided to level him up again to level 52 so I could once again take advantage of the inscription profession on the Auction House. Then he sat for another three months. Over the summer I decided to level him to 65 so I could max both his inscription and enchanting profession. Now I want to get him to level 74 so he has all the portals.

What I have realized over time is that I actually don't like playing a mage. I didn't level him because I wanted to play a mage yet now he's so close to 80 I feel like I should just finish the job. I love playing a hybrid class and doing nothing but frostbolt spam and the occasional water elemental as my dps bores me. I want my cat rotation. I would love to try out the Paladin class and if Blizzard gave me the opportunity to pay to switch my class I would jump on it.

Of course, class changes are not a paid service Blizzard offers; maybe they never will. Yet my feelings about class changes has helped me to see why some people were dying to change their race or their faction. Frankly, race and faction don't mean as much to me as class. Yet I can see how having the wrong race or faction could cause as much angst for some people as being in the wrong class has for me.

I still won't say I'm tickled pink about the changes but I'm no longer an blustery red either. Even though I don't have any plans to utilize the paid services available, I now get why they were implemented.


I love freedom of choice as a principle. Maybe it’s an effect of growing up during the cold war in the relative neighbourhood of the socialist regimes, which not only oppressed their own citizens, but also filled the surrounding countries with fear. I suspect many of the readers of the PPI aren’t old enough to remember words like Glasnost and Perestroika. But believe me, if you lived in Europe in that period, they meant something. People literally tore down the wall dividing Berlin with their very hands, stone by stone, and I shiver this very moment when I think back at it.

Even though I’m quite far from the political standpoint of Gevlon, I’m basically a fan of giving as much freedom as possible to the individual - for good and for bad. Making our own choices isn’t always fun or anything we wish for, but it’s a part of being human.

The last few years we’ve seen a smaller revolution in Sweden, which has parallels to what’s going on in Blizzards account services. I’m no longer stuck with the government power supply, telephony service, school or healthcare. I’m free to pick whichever I want. This doesn’t mean that I’ll necessarily switch. In most cases, I stick to the government alternative, as I’ve always done. They’re doing their job well and I’m rather lazy about checking up the alternatives. But the possibility is there, if I want to.

For me, the new account services in WoW are exactly like this. I can switch server, I can switch faction and soon even race. New opportunities are opening up almost every month. The choice is mine, not some random rules set in stone when they first came up with the idea about WoW. But will I use this service? Not very likely!

I’m a main hugger you see. In a world of altoholics, I’m a mainaholic. I may play a little on some alts now and then to get an idea about other aspects of the game. It gives me variation and some giggles as I’m enjoying the druid shape shifting. But Larísa is and will remain my first love in Azeroth. She’s much more than just a vehicle through which I can consume content, questing and raiding. She’s an extension of the real me, and that’s why I can’t imagine waking up one morning, seeing Larísa turned into a blood elf or a human.

On the other hand – I can’t see any reason to deny other players to switch around as much as they want. After all, people make sex change operations in real life, why not in WoW? If someone who was unfortunate enough to pick a blood elf instead of a gnome at the creation screen, why would I demand that they re-roll and start their gnome career from level 1? Their choices don’t affect me.

Glasnost has arrived at Azeroth. And it was about time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Questing for Immersiveness in MMOs

Sometimes when the light dawns it hits you like a ton of bricks.

Mike Schramm at wrote two posts recently (
here and here) noting with approval the trend in MMOs to de-emphasize text, particularly quest text, in favor of a more visual model. The ultimate source of inspiration for these posts appears to be an interview with Warcraft creative lead designer Alex Afrasiabi where he repeatedly denigrates the importance of the "the story" to Warcraft. While I have a more fundamental disagreement with Alex that I'll save for another time, I want to focus today on the implication in Mike's post that the purpose of questing is to immerse players into the story.

Damn, that hurt.

Seeking Immersiveness

It never occurred to me before that the purpose of questing in a video game is to immersive players into a story. It's strange to me that anyone would ever think that having the text scroll across the sc r e an l i ke th is c o ul d create an immersive experience. Presumably some developer made it the default in an attempt to give quests that "olde" aura. Yet the reality is that slow speed text is irritating. The first time I ever used the escape key was to find a way (I hoped) to speed up the scrolling. It's a good thing the instant quest text feature was there because otherwise I might not have made it past the trial account.

If Warcraft designers think that quests should create an immersive story they have bigger problems on their hands than just slow scrolling text. The word immerse means to plunge into, to dunk, or figuratively to be absorbed by. There is nothing in the game play design of Warcraft that makes the story absorbing. There's nothing that makes it
flow. Warcraft seems designed to break up flow, to force us to experience the story in bits and chucks, in pulses. Go out at night and stand in front of your car and have your partner repeatedly flick the headlight on and off. That's not immersive; it's irritating. Sometimes irritating can be another word for attention getting but attention getting is not absorbing. Attention has to be held continuously for absorption to occur.

If we define immersion as the state of flow, the state of absorbed attention, then it should be obvious that the enemy of this desired state is interruption. Yet the game play design constantly interrupts one's attention on the story.
The failure of questing to absorb me into the story has nothing to do with the way "the story" is written or the fact that it's text based.

Breaking up is easy to do

First, the nature of questing itself is disruptive to the story. When you take a story and chop it into a 4500 bits, throw those bits to the four winds where they are picked up by it hundreds of different NPCs, and then ask your average person to recreate that story in their own head over the course of months or even years you are simply asking too much. I can't do it; I'm confused; I don't get it. It's no wonder that people want the quest text out of the way as fast as possible. You have given the average user an impossible task and so they brush on by it. And I'm only speaking about intellectual comprehension. If the story is so disjointed and chopped up that people can't understand it, why would anyone expect people to be absorbed by it.

Here is a challenge for Alex and Mike. Take the novel
War and Peace and rip every single page out. Throw those pages off the roof of the Blizzard headquarters. Collect them all and read one page every day in the order they were collected. If you find the story (notice I did not say the task) immersive after one week, you too can be a Warcraft game play designer.

Second, consider all the interruptions to the story from a purely mechanical point of view. One of the biggest disruptions to game play is inventory management. I'm supposed to kill ten rats to help save Stormwind from the plague yet five minutes later I'm not back in Stormwind to report to the quest giver that the rats are dead; I'm back in town because I need to dump all the garbage that I collected because my bags are full. Then there is the whole issue of leveling professions, trading on the auction house and dealing with a character's talents and abilities. Yes, I grasp the technological reasons for limited bag space. I get the fact that much of the trash that we pick up is designed to heighten the realism of the game world and give us a monetary start in life. But with all these distractions and interruptions it's no wonder that some people get their story by reading the paperback novels.

Third, if game designers are seeking player absorption in the story I can't think of anything less immersive than daily quests. Third, if game designers are seeking player absorption in the story I can't think of anything less immersive than daily quests. Third, if game designers are seeking player absorption in the story I can't think of anything less immersive than daily quests. Third, if game designers are seeking player absorption in the story I can't think of anything less immersive than daily quests. Third, if game designers are seeking player absorption in the story I can't think of anything less immersive than daily quests. [ACHIEVEMENT]

Seriously, how many people curl up by the fireside with their favorite book and read the same scene over and over again for hours at a time. Yet that is what we do with dailies; that's what we do with heroics. Such behavior might absorb us into the game but it's the antithesis of what it takes to make a gripping story.

The Point of this Story

The point I want to get at here is that it bewilders me why anyone would think that the point of quests is to immerse players in the story. I've always seen questing--as I've seen killing mobs, playing the auction house, running instances--as tools to absorb me into a fantasy, an alternative world. It's the game itself that holds my attention. I think that placing the burden for story cohesion and player absorption is asking too much from the questing mechanic as a function of game play design. Questing is a lousy way to tell a story.

In saying that I don't mean to suggest that the story, the lore that serves the basis for the game, doesn't matter. I think the story matters a great deal. I think the
written story matters most; that's my fundamental disagreement with Alex that I hope to get to in another post. But when the creative talent makes the lore inaccessible in the game it's two faced to claim that the players don't care about the story. The game design itself discourages us from caring. When Alex tells his new talent "nobody cares about the story" it's a vivid example of blaming the victim.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why Mr Chilly doesn’t work as intended

On the paper it was a great idea. Blizzard wanted to reward the players for switching to a account.

The thing is that there was a solid stick hanging over our heads, or maybe I should rather call it broad-axe. Switch before November 12 or you can’t play any more. Period. That’s what I would call negative enforcement!

Somehow they realized that they to put needed some sugar coating into this. They wanted to take away the focus from the blackmail situation. So they gave us a treat - something that should compensate us for the hassle of having to create a new account, no matter if WoW was the only Blizzard game you were playing.

They ended up offering us a carrot – a real one to munch on, not just something hanging out of our reach as the ones decorating the Northrend turtle ferries.

The measure could have been taken straight out of am instruction book about marketing and customer relations. It was absolutely the right thing to do. The only thing is that they picked the wrong reward. They gave us a pet. And I’m afraid that doesn’t work as intended. It clearly shows that Blizzard hasn’t understood the basics of the psychology of pet keeping.

Character customization
One huge incentive for keeping pets is that it’s one of the few tools you have to customize your character and turn it into an individual, not just another twin to the other 5 percent of the population that is running around with a similar race.

This doesn’t mean that the only pets that are interesting are the ones that barely anyone else has, such as the Azure Whelpling.

One of my favourite pets is the very plain, cheap and common rabbit which can be bought from a vendor in Don Morogh. There’s something in his innocent, fluffy appearance that speaks to me and fits into my character. Theoretically he’s available to anyone (at least on the Allience side) to buy, simple and cheap. But since not everyone cares that much about pets, not too many will bother to do it. In fact it happens quite rarely that you ever see a Snowshoe happily jumping around the legs of someone. Whenever I let him out for some exercise and fresh air, I can easily live in the imagination that he’s quite special, that he’s sharing his destiny with Larísa and not everyone else in the game.

Mr Chilly on the other hand will be the least exclusive pet we’ve ever seen. While the baby Blizzard bear (which I adore since it’s so beautiful), was sent to huge amounts of players just for logging on a certain day, this one is sent to literally everyone. And just to make sure that no one misses it, they’re spamming us. There’s one pet in the mailbox for each character and once you’ve learned it, it’s still there as a BoA for a reason I can’t figure out. If I ever create another character I know there will be another Mr Chilly in the mailbox for this lvl 1 as well. So what am I supposed to do with the ones that are not consumed?

Theoretically we can from now on expect to see an army of penguins marching around in Dalaran, which will make my mirror image+voodoo mask trinket combo look like a small crowd. In reality I don’t think we will, because who would want to show a pet which is as common as a nose on your character, with the difference that it looks exactly the same for everyone? I wouldn’t. Especially since I’ve already got another penguin with much more interesting eyes (until now, who came up with the idea to change them? :()

Need for more RNG
But if Mr Chilly is a “meh” to Larísa, what could Blizzard have done to make the carrot tastier? Well, I think it wouldn’t have hurt to put in some RNG to the event. Instead of handing it out to everyone – make it to a lottery with a few different pets dropping. Perhaps Mr Chilly would be the most common one, but there could have been a few other, more exclusive pets as well. Or just make him come in a bunch of varieties, with different colour combinations? They could either be random or vary depending on class and race of the owner.

Just make it more fun and attractive. Because considering the initial problems with the transfer (for instance we had a raid night spoiled because of this last week, since European players who had merged couldn’t log into the game), they certainly need some goodwill.

Mr Chilly doesn’t work as intended.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why I don't want to hear another "WoW is too easy" statement

She began her post in the best way you can if you want to stir up some feelings and cause a bit of buzz in the WoW blogosphere, tossing out a classic torch:

Here’s a dangerous statement: Wrath of the Lich King (Wrath) made World of
Warcraft/Crack/Crass(WoW) too easy.

The words come from Mimetir, a guest writer at World of Matticus, who has written the first part in a planned series of articles about the social effects of WotLK. Like many a good blogger she invites the reader to a discussion, concluding in a question: "How easy is WoW these days and how do you feel about it?"

And of course I can't resist to take the bite and rant a bit about it. Because to be honest I'm pretty much fed up with the constant whining about that WoW has become too easy. What annoys me so much is that the loudest criticism comes from players who themselves are far from having cleared all the current raid content.

Hands on heart, how many of you have actually killed Yogg-Saron 25 man? Not quite that many. As a matter of fact, people seem to have given up about him altogether. I haven't got any scientific evidence that this is the fact, but from what I read on the blogs, it appears that most raiding guilds have stopped aiming for an Ulduar clear. They make ToC, Onyxia and not much more than that.

Why? Well, I guess they find him too hard compared to the upgrades he offers. The wipe/gear quota isn't favorable. And fine, that's their choice. But don't come and tell me that the raid instances in Wrath are too easy!

The choice is ours
I've praised the hardmodes before and I do it again: they're there for us to be able to put the bar at exactly the level where we want it to be to get the kind of gaming experience we're looking for.

Sure, there are people who don't enjoy wiping and prefer to kill bosses in one or two goes, pick up the loot and rejoice at their epics. The normal modes are there for their pleasure.

Then there is this other kind of raiders, who enjoy playing under pressure, who want to curse and be cursed at, who want to be frustrated and grind their teeth, who won't hesitate facing a long learning curve, who always try to bring their very best performance and who rather raid to enjoy the sweet first kills than to get gear. The hardmodes are for them.

And of course there are all sorts of shades and nuances in between. Actually I think we're all moving a bit back and forward between the categories, depending on our mood of the day. In our guild we've stopped raiding Ulduar on normal mode, but keep going for the hardmodes, since we've still got one more boss to see there. We do the normal ToC every week, in spite of the lack of challenge, after all it's hard to resist the T9s. It's a lot of loot for very little time, just above an hour. But I think everyone enjoy the following hardmode attempts more. That's where the real raiding is.

Some players could argue that doing both normal and hard modes in ToC will be too repetitive and boring. But then I wonder: since when did it become mandatory to run the raid instances on normal mode? Is there anything at all preventing you from skipping the faceroller raids altogether and stick to hardmode Ulduar and heroic ToC? Nothing. Nothing at all.

I know that there are many players out there who are much more skilled than I am. And maybe WotLK is completely sickening easy for you. But speaking for myself, I'm still challenged over and over again.

Enjoying the learning
I'll give you an example from my everyday life in Adrenaline. It's what I would call a "good" raiding guild. We've never topped the ranking lists of the server, and we probably never will, but we're steadily among the 10 best raiding guilds on the alliance side, which is fine if you look at how much time we spend on our raids.

In the last week I've had a couple of wonderful learning nights. One night I was lucky enough to get into a 10 man raid for Ulduar hardmodes on an offnight. We did Freya+3, and although the guild had done it a couple of times, it was the first time for me and some other raid members. It was such a thrill, going from wiping on one of the first waves, then slowly getting longer and longer into the fight, and then finally, after quite a few wipes, nail it, exhausted, with a big smile on my face.

A few days earlier we had the same kind of learning process and Thorim hardmode 25 man, the Lose your illusion achievement. We had to work for it, just as we had done the weeks before when we got our Hodir and Iron Council hardmode kills. We worked for this kill, not only in the raid situation, but also in between, when we were tweaking strategies and discussing what we needed to improve.

Finally, this Sunday night we started to work seriously on Northrend Beasts hardmode. Previously we had only made it through the first phase. After one hour of tries we got a glimpse of phase three. Yay for progress! I'm sure we'll get it right pretty soon. Easy? I don't quite think so.

Message to whiners
In my opinion the only players who really are entitled to say that the raiding in WotLK is too easy are the ones that are farming Algalon and clearing ToC hardmodes without any effort. How many are those? Well, according to WoW Progress 0,13 percent of the guilds have done A Tribute to Insanity (25). I'll be prepared to listen to what those players have to say about the skill level in WotLK.

The rest of you whiners? Go grind something. Switch to Aion. Or give yourself a challenge in the WoW They're still there for you, if you want them. Trust me on that. But please (and now I'm going to use one of those horrible abbreviations, which I normally detest, it's just that it's appropriate this time) - STFU.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tickled Pink: Are we solving a puzzle or living a fantasy?

Euripides at Critical QQ wrote a post where he talked about his lack of enthusiasm for lore when he's raiding. While he appreciates a well told quest chain, it's irrelevant in a raid situation. Kael'thas could as well been a featureless blue cube named "final boss" with abilities called "Phase one ability" and "Phase two ability". Raiding isn't about storytelling, it's about laying a puzzle. This post tickled the raider Larísa and the non-raider Elnía.

I'm torn when it comes to lore. I really am. Let's put it this way: One part of me wants to pay attention to it, wants to get involved, wants to live the story. Isn't this what playing an MMO is about? Escaping into a distant world, seeking the adventure, playing our roles in the history. But no matter how hard I try to listen, my mind starts to wander when it's time for storytelling in WoW.

The first time I saw Lord Jaraxxus, I found it a bit amusing to see that little gnomish warlock and then the huge dude incoming. But not even at our first date could I focus long enough on the dialogue to actually hear what they were talking about. Because when I raid - I raid. I don't care about stories. I care about performance. No matter what hero or anti-hero or bad guy or whatever we're going to face, my mind is somewhere else. I ask myself: am I at the right position? I double check my buffs and players I'm supposed to buff one more time, just to be sure, even though I've checked it a dozen of times before. I plan for my opening attacks. And above all - I pay full attention to the pointer, to see when it changes to a dagger, the signal for me to throw my favorite starter - mirror images. All those speeches - with or without excellent actor performances - is just a background noise. The only voice I'm listening to is the one of the raid leader and the only text that matters to me is the raid chat, the mage channel and the ranged channel.

So to be honest Euripides, I'm quite with you. Jaraxxus could as well look like a cucumber - I wouldn't notice much of a difference as long as his abilities were the same.

Unfortunately this lack of interest for in-game storytelling doesn't only appear when I'm raiding. I'm afraid there are a ton of great stories you can get through the quest lines which I've missed too. I'm reluctant to admit it, but it's very rare that I stop and read what the NPCs are trying to share with me in those let-me-tell-you-a-story-quests. Normally I click it through as quickly as possible, impatient to get to the yellow question mark and head along to the next quest. Maybe it's because of my lack of experience of game storytelling, maybe it has to do with the game mechanisms and the incentives to constantly progress our characters. Or maybe the narrative parts are rather poorly written. I just know that there is something that doesn't work. I fail to lose myself in the story of Azeroth. At the most I see a hazy version of it in the far distance.

If I'm going to become involved I have to do it outside of the game, by reading Warcraft novels. Thanks to a generous donation from Ixobelle I've read a few and I enjoyed them a lot. They haven't got Nobel prize potential - to be honest they're rather crappy written - but they tell the story about Azeroth well enough to make me interested.

Still I can't say that I listened more carefully to what Ilidan had to say in Black Temple just because I had read about him. Once I stood in front of him I looked at him and thought to myself: "hey, there's a celebrity", in the same manner as I would have looked at one of the wax figures at Madame Tussaud's. And then I went back to my normal raiding mode, thinking about what this "Final boss" would do in phase one, two and three, not giving a damned about who this guy was, what he had done and why I was fighting him.

I'm sure I would look differently at it if I was playing at a RP server. Who knows, may I will one day? But as things are now, I'm definitely not living a fantasy. I'm solving a puzzle.

I don't see myself as engaged in solving a puzzle or living a fantasy. I do understand the puzzling part because I have done five man heroics and some of the fights can...well...could offer some puzzling challenges. I say could because I have been level 80 for only about five months and what I have learned about running heroics is that patience is the primary challenge. Whatever strategic decisions might be needed usually go out the door once you either find an over-geared party or become over-geared yourself. The best evidence of that is the fact that I have most of the achievements for the red protodrake and never once have I been in a PUG that deliberately set out to get those achievements. They just...happened. So unless you happen to do heroics at level they are basically /faceroll; no puzzle at all.

Nor do I really see myself living a fantasy, although that is the more appealing direction. As I mentioned in my post about improving questing the problem I have with the story is that it remains discombobulated to me. I think Larisa's point about the boss being a "celebrity" is spot on. For me, the Lich King is akin to Paris Hilton; someone who is famous for being famous although I couldn't actually tell you why. His name is on the box cover; I see his picture on the loading screen; but he has no relevance to what I do in the game outside of one or two quests. It's strange to me because as a non-raider I would think raiders would care more about the deeds of the summit bosses than us little schmucks in the trenches; after all, you guys are killing the bosses; don't you even care why? But it appears you don't.

At the level we are speaking about Warcraft is a game. I enjoy playing it. I like to explore the world; listen to the music; complete some achievement in the game to give me a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe there is a sense of a puzzling but it's the entire game universe that's a puzzle. How does the mechanics of this class work; where does this road go; how do I defeat this mob; how can I make 10,000 gold in one day. Yet there is also a sense of wonder, of being in a different space and time; of projecting myself into my character so much that when she gets whacked from behind I jump in my seat. So in that sense it's a fantasy too. So do I play for the intellectual challenge, for the imagination; neither fully and both a little bit. Let me quote that grand-papa of gaming, William Shakespeare, who had Hamlet solve a much more serious riddle with this immortal strategy: "The play's the thing." Yes, the play is the thing that reveals the consciousness of the king. I play to play; it's enough.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How I turned into a grinding moron

Did you believe that Larísa is one of those players who think for themselves? Did you think that she wouldn’t behave like a mindless sheep? Did you expect her to stand above the faceless crowd of morons and slackers?

You lived in a lie. Gevlon, listen to the breaking news and get your illusions shattered. Larísa has transformed into, if not slacker, at least a moron.

Since a week back, I’ve joined the squad of Bar Addicted Players. And this is not a side effect of my membership in the Brew of the Month Club. I’m referring to another kind of bar – an old-school, hypnotizing reputation bar.

Yep. I’ve decided go ahead with one of the 33 things I want to do before I quit the game. I’m going to get myself the ultimate symbol of grinding and vanity in Azeroth: a completely useless and pointless Winterspring Frostsaber mount. The only way you can get it is by grinding yourself to death to become exalted with the Wintersaber Trainers.

Waiting for a PUG
What sparked this project was one of those lonely nights when I once again spent hours trying to find a 10-man PUG. While I know that there are players who don’t mind walking around in Dalaran in circles while waiting for something to happen, I’m not one of those. It gives me rashes all over the body - I have to DO something. I want to have a goal and a direction, something to hold on to.

A natural one would be to level an alt. Who doesn’t like to see the ding-sparkles all over the screen and then head to the trainer to see what yummie little gifts he has in mind for us? However, the LFG system doesn’t allow that. I can’t disguise my lvl 67 druid as a full-epic-mage looking for a 10-mangroup for ToC. So that isn’t an option. My main is always my first priority and she needs badges, period.

Another idea of things-to-do while waiting is to quest randomly, doing a huge bunch of quests that still remain for to do in Icecrown, Grizzly hills and ZulDrak. But for some reason I can’t find the motivation for it. Since I’m not heading for the Loremaster title, I don’t see any goal to strive for. It’s just a time-killer. And even though you can make some gold on it, there are more efficient ways to become rich.

Why not AH?
The most sensible thing would probably to spend the time at AH, trying to make some good deals. The advantage of this would be that I would still be in range to read the Trade channel, where some players (for a reason I don’t understand) prefer to announce their runs rather than using LFG.

I normally don’t need to gather gold to keep myself fit for raiding. By simply transmuting an epic gem every day I’m online, I get enough to cover costs for repairs and consumables and I’ve been steady around 5k gold for as long as I can remember. However – if I doubled my fortune I could buy some crusader orbs and get myself a new shiny dress before I manage to acquire enough dkp to get it from the guild.

The only problem is that I hate, simply hate the AH grinding activity as such. I more or less fall asleep every time I try to go through the lists for business opportunities. I’ve never cared about the stockmarket in real life either. And that’s why I’ll never escape into AH while looking for a group.

The final alternative of what-to-do could be PvP – and it happens from time to time that I do it. But it lacks something – the feeling of progress, either towards a goal, or skillwise. I just don’t get anywhere with it.

And this is how it comes that I ended up looking at my 33-list and decided to go for the frostsaber. I wanted to do it at some point, why not now? I’ve always liked the crispy winter landscape, and since I was in a lonely mood, it seemed fitting to physically move myself to the most empty and remote area of all.

I imagined there would be no one there except the trainer and his pet, forever at watch high up on the rock. And so I set out for my lonely mission out in the wilderness.

An altered state
Somehow this grind isn’t quite what I expected. The burnout and sickness of the whole thing which I had thought would arrive after just a few runs is still missing.

Admittedly, I’m doing the same thing over and over again – currently two quests, which require me to kill bears, those butterfly-like flying creatures and two sorts of guys in a village. However, something strange happens after a while: I slip into an altered, meditative state of mind. I come at peace, void of troubling thoughts. It’s soothing. And even if I still want to find a group I’m not quite as frustrated as I was before. I’m not in any hurry.

Sometimes the grinding coma is interrupted by the presence of other players. Obviously I’m not the only one who has gotten this bug. When the peace is broken by horde players, I usually grumble a bit to myself, wishing I could teleport them to any other spot of Azeroth by pure willpower. KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF MY SHAMANS, WILL YA!

When the other guys are alliance, things become more complicated. It definitely pays off to group up for the kill x amount of mob-quests. The respawn timer is horrendous, not at all like the one associated to the Son of Hodir quests, which adjust depending on the amount of present players.

You have every reason in the world to keep competition to a minimum and join your forces. But on the other hand: if I do so, I will lose my spot in LFG and no one will know that there’s a mage who is willing to bounce into ToC any minute. In a group, this mount grind will turn into my major activity instead of a sidekick while I’m waiting for the real stuff. And I’m really not that insane. Not quite yet.

But I’m on my way. The bar is steadily growing. Just two more rounds and I’ll be honored. It makes me feel strangely good about myself.

Say hello to Larísa The Moron!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cataclysm Release Date: February 1st, 2010

I have been an advocate since before Blizzcon that Cataclysm will release before March 1st, 2010. The purpose of this post is to share my reasoning with you.

(1) Given that Blizzard has already announced Cataclysm at Blizzcon 2009 it makes no sense that that they will wait for yet another Blizzcon to go by before the release. In fact, it makes no sense for them to announce the new release and then wait an entire year before the product comes out. Whatever suspense they build up with the end of Wrath will be dissipated if there is a six month gap between the end of Warth and beginning of the next expansion. Further, the summer is the slowest season for playing the game and it makes no sense to release a game at a time when people have no desire to play it. In short, it's inconceivable to me they would release after May 1st, 2010.

(2) There is precedence for releasing a game in mid-winter (Northern Hemisphere). The Burning Crusade was released January 16th, 2007. In fact, with Wrath being released in November 2009 both expansions have been released in wintertime. So another winter-to-early spring release is in keeping with that pattern.

(3) After Wrath came out Blizzard publicly stated that their goal was to make expansions on a yearly basis. While it is true that Blizzard does not always keep its word in such matters, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason to think they can't keep that pace. Furthermore, Blizzard stated at Blizzcon 2009 that they had already started working on Cataclysm before Wrath was even launched. Anything in summer of 2010 would mean that the company was not merely off target; it would mean that the third expansion took just as long as the 22 months it took to complete as Wrath. That's unlikely.

(4) Patch 3.1 dropped in mid-April 2009. Slightly less than four months later patch 3.2 dropped in early August. Patch 3.3 is on the PTR and a four month gap means it would drop no later than December 1st. A release day after March 1st, 2010 would create a yawing gap of content. In fact, all three patches have been essentially raid patches with no new solo content to the game. The idea that Blizzard will go six to eight months with no major updates (either raid or solo) to the game is inconsistent with recent practice.

(5) A release date after March 1st misses a landmark sales opportunity: Christmas. Christmas is the busiest shopping period in North America. With Patch 3.3 coming out no later than the beginning of holiday season it's inconceivable to me from a business point of view that any company, let alone Blizzard, would fail to have some major Warcraft product for sale during that time period. A release date of the first three months of 2010 allows them to market and sell pre-orders during the holiday shopping period.

I could go on but for me that's enough. There is a constellation of reasons why it's highly improbable that Blizzard will release the next expansion after March 1st, 2010. Given the release status of Patch 3.3 I expect it to drop mid-November, a public announcement of the release date of the next expansion during the holiday season, and the next expansion to release February 1st, 2010.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why scaling may not be such a brilliant idea

It’s time to start scaling encounters in MMOs!

The sender of this message is no less than Wolfshead, who in an – as always – very well written blog post argues for a flexible raid design, where the encounters scale seamlessly. According to Wolfshead, it shouldn’t matter if you are 9, 11 or 12 players who want to kill a certain boss. Let the hp and damage change with the numbers and don’t force people into fixed sets of 5, 10 or 25.

When I first read his article I was all on his line. How many times haven’t I been in a situation where we’ve cursed the current model for raid design. If you’re the 11th or 26th person who has signed up for a raid and it’s your turn to sit out, I assure you you’re all up for scaling!

But after thinking about it a bit closer I can also see another side of it. Not everyone would benefit from scaling, and I thought I could as well share this perspective with you. Not because I disagree completely with Wolfshead, but after all – it takes two for a discussion, and hopefully it can help Wolfshead sharpening his arguments even more.

Giving odd players a chance
So why doesn’t Larísa think that every raid encounter in WoW should be flexible?

Well, one thing is because it might work the opposite way to what Wolfshead suggests. He wants to make sure that no one is left out, that everyone who wants to raid will have a chance to do so. And if you’re only seeing raiding as something done in close knitted guilds, this may be true. But how about the newcomers? How about the guildless, the lone wolfs, the players who can’t quite fit into the regular guild raiding schedule because of job or family?

Today those players can get their raiding fix by PUGing it. Sometimes you can find a pure-from-the-scratch PUG. At least ToC and Onyxia are PUGed these days at 10 as well as 25 man on normal mode (hardmodes is another story). But there is also the option to grab one of the last few spots in a semi-PUG. You can benefit from those guilds who manage to get 8 players together but not 10 and be a “filler”. The entrance level won’t be astronomically high. They’ll be happy with whatever additional contribution you can make, since the alternative had to do it with too few people, something that could award honor and achievements, but not any additional loot. This is a wonderful chance. And if you grab it and prove yourself a good player, it may even be your entrance ticket to apply to the guild.

What would happen if they scaled the encounters? Would those 9 friends find it worth it to open up and let an outsider join their party if the only reward is slightly better loot? I don’t think so.

More room for goblinism
I also think this system could risk to create a very unforgiving environment, where everyone is required to carry exactly his own weight in every single situation, or else they’ll be kicked from the raid.

There wouldn’t be any room for people who are slightly further down on the learning curve or gearing process than the rest of the party. Just by their added number they’ll burden the rest of the raid with increased difficulty. The benefit of adding them won’t outweight the cost and then you could as well kick them.

Mind you, of course I too embrace the principle that everyone must do their share of the job in the raid, that there shouldn’t be any people getting free rides. But there will always be people who are slightly worse than others and I think the scaling principle risk to be pretty harsh for them.

Lack of flexibility
Another worry about the flexible scaling encounters is actually the lack of flexibility they provide. If the resistance and difficulties you’ll encounter will decrease and increase with the number of players you have, there’s no way for you to increase the challenge by your own initiative by undermanning an instance. Today you can 8-man for instance the 10-man Naxx, enjoying the difficulty and the small room there is for mistakes. It takes some thinking tweak the strategies and think of the best way to compose a party when you’re doing it on fewer people. This possibility will be gone.

My final objection is that it will be harder for guilds to benchmark themselves to others. Yeah, I know, it’s politically correct to say that we’re only competing with ourselves, and if you’re in a very casual guild that is also the truth. But I think most guilds that are somewhat serious in their raiding are at least a little bit competitive in this. This doesn’t mean that topping the progression lists of our realms is our main goal, absolutely not, but it’s quite common practice that raiders throw a curious glance at the list from time to time. When we climb a few steps on the ranking after a new boss kills it makes us proud, especially when we know that we have a lighter raiding schedule than some of the guilds below us.

But how do you benchmarks guilds that have done the encounter in different scales? Wolfshead suggests that the encounter should be slightly more difficult the bigger it gets - more difficult than the calculated added strength because of more players would be. How long would that curve be stretched? Would the guild with the biggest raiding force get the highest ranking?

I’m not convinced that a not settled amount of players for an encounter is desirable, in spite of the good arguments that Wolfshead puts up. However I think it would be interesting to see more of it in some sort of non-instanced raid encounters. Once upon a time there were outdoor world bosses in WoW (well, technically I think they're still hanging around, but they're doomed to oblivion). I never experienced it myself, but it sounds like fun.

And I can’t help being tickled at the thought of the EverQuest event that Wolfshead describes, when 200 players defeated a supposedly unkillable dragon. I definitely would like to experience something like that – provided that they found a way to keep server stability up and lag at a reasonable level. It could give us back some of the adventure feeling we're missing, to quote another great post from Psychochild.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is the solo-friendly trend threatening the MMO idea?

Is the MMO genre evolving in the wrong direction, as it's becoming more and more oriented towards solo gaming? Yes, if you should believe the signature Longesc, who wrote a comment at Tish Tosh Tesh. It was so well put that I'll quote a huge chunk of it:
"Today gamers ask for more and more things and content to do in their GAME, but all this is not adding anything to the VIRTUAL WORLD. The social component of MMOs is receding, and I wonder if Blizzard’s latest “Guild achievements” stuff for Cataclysm is going to change that. I very much doubt that this will besuccessful if it is done in the way of “achievements” for doing this or that grindy thing or collective grinding of achievements! […] These to-do-lists bugger me a lot,personally. But this is my personal pet peeve, one does not have to do it, after all. What is much worse is that >all< (really, almost everyone) people are going for this are basically eliminated from the game, as they are busily working/grinding to Valhalla. I damn the whole genre if it cannot evolve out of this particular direction that is prevalent nowadays."

I think Longesc is quite right, and in this post I'll explain why.

From solo to group playing
When I started to play WoW in the beginning of 2007, I had no idea about what kind of world I was entering. And while I was fascinated by the avatars I met - thrilled by the thought that they were controlled by real persons, spread over all of Europe - I didn't expect or ask for them to interact much with me. I had my hands full learning to move around in the world, understanding how to use the spells, getting to know the concept of questing, gearing, levelling. Even though I stumbled upon a smallish casual guild pretty early, we were rarely online at the same time and I spent most of my time playing on my own. And I was happy with it.

As time has passed however, my interest for solo playing has decreased. After all - the NPCs, the quest models, the game mechanisms are pretty much the same. The execution - for instance the graphic artwork - may vary a bit, but the rest... I can’t help thinking sometimes that it’s only "more of the same", although at a higher level. STV tigers are traded for Nagrand clefthoofs or Sholazar rhinos.

The reason why I’m still so fascinated by WoW after +2.5 years of playing it is definitely the M as in multiplayer. It’s the interaction within this huge family of geeks that makes the game worth playing. It’s the other players – the carebears as well as the jerks - who will give you those unexpected thrills: the successes, the fails, the annoyances, the giggles. Without the social aspect, WoW wouldn’t be anything but beautiful scenery with some button clicking therapy added. It would be a distraction, not much different to playing solitaire card games or solving sudokus.

So from my point of view, I’m not happy with the development towards a more solo friendly game. Not at all.

Market driven development
I know I’m not speaking for all players – on the contrary. Of course the development is market driven. Blizzard wouldn’t change the direction of the game if they thought they’d lose customers from it. The change is just reflecting an ongoing trend in society. People want to be independent. They don’t want to make commitments and give definite promises about turning up at a certain time a certain day – not even to friends. They want to be able to switch plans in an instant if a more attractive offer comes up on the cell phone.

And it’s the same in WoW. Players want to be able to play it in small chunks, and without having to wait for someone else to party with. That’s why Hogger lost his elite label. That’s why we’re supposed to level up all on our own nowadays. That’s why they’re putting so much effort into making long lists of solo achievements, to make sure that we can spend tons of time on our own in game. The community asked for it.

The effect for a player like me though is that I can’t play the game the way I’d like to. I don’t have any real life friends playing WoW, who I can talk into coming online. I haven’t played since vanilla and hence I don’t have any huge friends list. The few I had seem to have vanished. They’ve jumped to other games, gone horde, whatever. At least they’re not there when I’m online.

Outside of the scheduled raids, I often find myself left on my own. This doesn’t stop me from trying to find a group. Last weekend I spent hours and hours in LFG trying to find a PUG for a 10-man instance, without any success. Finally I gave up and logged over to my druid alt. She is currently clearing Nagrand and had a ton of group quests in her log. So I asked in general to see of anyone of the players in the zone would be up for it. And what was the reply I got? “You can solo those quests”.

Yeah. Maybe I can solo it. Especially with a druid. But it’s not what I’m looking for!

Just a bigger console game?
In one way you can still say that WoW is a multiplayer game. After all there are many players online at the same time using the same server. However, they’re spending more and more time sitting in their own little sandboxes, building their own small castles, rather than making joint forces, building a HUGE palace together. At the most they may throw a glance at each other, benchmarking to see the worth of their own achievements.

I understand the reasons to make more solo friendly content, and I can sympathize with it, since it makes the game available to parents and others with very limited gaming time. But ultimately I’m not happy about the direction the MMO genre is currently heading. And I ask myself: when does an MMO stop to being an MMO and turn into just a bigger console game?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is it OK to apply to another guild while you’re still guilded?

Some players are lucky enough to find their permanent home in WoW right from the beginning. Love at first sight. A family to belong to until it’s time to say goodbye to the game. Good for them.

However, most of us will change guilds a couple of times during our wanderings through Azeroth. It isn’t always out of our own choice. Our guild may disband, transfer to another server or die off, going turning, dead and inactive and leaving us alone and abandoned. Time to move on.

But sometimes we’re initiating the change by ourselves. The guild that we joined once upon a time doesn’t correspond to what we’re looking for in the game. Maybe the guild has changed. Maybe we have changed. Maybe both. Whatever reason there is, we want to quit the relation and terminate the social contract.

The question is how to do it. Is it OK to send in applications to other guilds while you’re still guilded? Or should you leave your current guild before even thinking about contacting others?

Guild philosophy
There are different opinions about this, and I think they’re based on guild philosophy. Some people see the guild as an employer, who has hired us to do a certain task – tanking, healing, dpsing bosses, paying us with loot? Others think about it as a brethren, like the adventurers in LOTR, united by a mission, with sworn loyalty to each other and the good cause. There are guilds where the internal relations are so cold and impersonal that the guildmates could as well be NPC:s. And there are guilds where the members are closer each other than they are to their real life family and friends.

How you look upon applying to other guilds while still guilded depends on what kind of guild you are. The important thing is that the policy is clear to everyone. If you think that guild applying people are showing disloyalty and disrespect, and you’d rather kick them from the guild if you’d find out – you should make this clear from the beginning. Transparency is always a good start to prevent dissonances in the guild.

For my own part I’ve always looked upon the guilds I’ve been into as “brethren” rather than as "businesses". All guilds have been on different points on the scale of seriousness and progression, but my feelings towards them have been the same. While I wouldn’t hesitate a second to throw in applications for other jobs while still employed in real life – I’ve done it several times myself – I would never do the same in WoW.

When I left my former guild and joined my current last year, I didn’t apply before I was guildless. It’s a matter of honesty. Guild shopping while still in a guild would feel like posting pictures of me at a dating website, regardless of the fact that I’m married, just to see if I could find myself a better husband.

Doing it the right way
I can’t help wondering a bit about what makes people apply to other guilds behind the back of their current one. While there is a good reason to hang on to your current job in real life – it’s easier to get a job if you already have one, unemployment is frowned upon by many employers – I’ve never seen that attitude in WoW. On the contrary. If someone applied to my guild, being guildless, and could give good reasons why they’d left their old guild to look for something else, they would get my respect for it.

The only reason I can think of is character progression and gearing. As long as the guild gives you access to more upgrades than pugging would, you may be better off hanging around, keeping improving your character and your chances to get the spot in the guild of your dreams. But it’s definitely not the way I would do it.

So, from my point of view, is it ever appropriate to apply to other guilds while guilded? Yes, it is, provided that you’ve agreed with your guild to have an “open relationship”. It could be stated in the guild policy, but it could also be the outcome of a discussion with the management. If you’re unhappy with the current situation, the first natural step should be to talk with the officers about it. If you still think you’d be better off moving on to another guild, you shouldn’t count on that this will render you an instant guildkick. It could be a win-win situation where you could stay in the guild, helping it to progress and giving it some more time to find a replacement, until you’ve found your new home. If you handle it like this, you’re likely to leave with good references and the blessing of your former guild.

And isn’t that just SO much better than sneaking out through the backdoor?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How I almost became a game reviewer

A little while ago I got a letter from someone working for Electronic Arts. They were about to launch some game called Dragon Age Origins in a couple of months and the writer offered me a free copy of it if I wanted to write a review.

I looked at the e-mail suspiciously. Thes ender address hadn’t got anything to do with the game in question. Was it some sort of setup, someone trying to install spyware on my computer to sneak into my WoW account?

After a little bit of research I decided that the letter probably was for real. I had never ever heard of the game, but it did exist and they had some flashy website marketing it with trailers and pictures. For a second I felt a little bit flattered. They wanted Larísa’s view on this? They thought that this innkeeper somehow could have an influence on the reception of their upcoming launch in the gaming community? Wow.

But it didn’t take long before my inherent Jante Law instincts were triggered and I told myself: “I've already seen a few mentionings about this game on other blogs. They’ve probably spammed the whole goddamn Blogosphere with their offer. They have picked MMO blogs as one of many channels on their marketing plan and they send this letter to any address that remotely can be associated to blogging in the hope to get the buzz out. Cleaver. But I shouldn’t believe for a second that I’m a special, chosen one.”

Qualifications for reviewing
The next question coming up in my mind was of course: should I accept the offer and ask for a free copy? And I’m still not quite done with it.

It’s not that I’m not familiar with the concept of getting copies in advance in order to write reviews. When I worked at a newspaper I wrote a lot of reviews, never about games of course, but on books, especially novels. It was all very uncomplicated. I was an independent journalist (at least I wanted to think so) and I wrote in an unbiased way what I thought about them. Most of the time I was a very goodhearted, kind critic to be honest, since I focused on reading and writing about books that I thought would interest me. The stuff I didn't like, I usually ignored.

But this case is different. The Pink Pigtail Inn isn’t a journalistic product. It’s a personal blog, without any ambitions to be objective, accurate, covering all sides. And what troubles me even more is: am I really qualified for writing a review? Admittedly I didn’t have any degree in literature and still managed to write decent book reviews. But at least I had a broad background of reading. If you look at my experience from gaming, it’s thin to say the least.

Could a person who has played Lemmings, a few hours of Civilization and WAY too many hours of WoW have anything relevant at all to say about Dragon Age Origins? As far as I’m concerned I don’t even know how to play it! It appears to me that it’s a solo game rather than an MMO, but I’m not entirely certain about it.

Maybe you could argue that there is a certain refreshing quality when you write about games from a noob perspective. I can easily describe how this game would be experienced by someone who’s coming into it with completely fresh eyes. And there could be a point in this if they’re aiming to reach a new audience, which lacks pervious gaming experience.

But on the whole I don’t think it would work out, especially not as consumer information. To be able to grade a game and look how it performs in different aspects, you need to have something to benchmark it against – apart from WoW.

Thanks but no thanks
The letter is still in my inbox, and at the moment I have no plans on accepting the offer. The main reason is that the time I can set aside for gaming is limited, and my obligations in WoW when it comes to raiding will always have priority. I can’t see how I possibly could get this into my schedule if I want to make a serious job as a reviewer. And besides: The PPI is and will remain a blog with a distinct WoW focus.

So it will probably end up in a: “Thanks for asking, but no thanks. I don’t feel qualified to make reviews about games.”

Unless someone else can come up with a very good reason to accept the offer.