Monday, November 30, 2009

Incoming exciting guest post

Matticus. Who doesn't know about Matticus? He's one of the pillars of the WoW community, not only through his own blog, but also as a regular columnist at Ever since I first stumbled upon his blog, I've been a regular reader - even though I don't even have any max-leveled character that can heal.

You see, World of Matticus isn't just a blog for healers; many of the posts are quite enjoyable for non-healers as well. Personally I can't help admiring his appetite for challenges and his philosophy of learning by doing, be it in his creation of a raiding guild or in his writers competition where he was looking for new writers. Matticus isn't just a follower who does what every other blogger does. He thinks in new lines and he keeps aiming for daring goals.

A couple of days ago he announced that it was time for another of those experiments. In a post with the headline "Want a Free Guest Post?", Matticus offered his services to the blogging community.

"You bloggers work hard. Wouldn’t you like a day off from all the thinking and the writing? Here’s your chance. I am willing to write you one guest post on any topic of your choice."

The 20 first requests were promised to get an article for free, written by Matticus himself.

20 guest posts. Posts you're not writing for your own blog, but for other people's blogs, while your blog still is waiting for fresh content. I get tired of the very thought of it. It's hard enough to find time for my ordinary writing, to find up topics and to answer to all comments. But Matticus isn't Larísa. He thought he would get a spark of inspiration out of this drive, so who am I to question it? I can't say anything but "yes please!".

So I sent a few suggestions of topics to write about to Matticus, in the hope that one of those would suit him. Considering the competition among other hungry bloggers, I expected that my chances to actually get one of the promised texts were small, not to say non-existent. But lo and behold! 24 hours after my first e-mail, I had a brand spanking new guest post by Matticus waiting in my e-mail box.

Of course it will be posted here, as the intention was from the beginning, but I've decided to keep you hanging a little bit longer and save it until tomorrow. All I will tell you for now is that it will reveal quite a few things that you didn't know about Matticus. You all know what effect a comfortable armchair, a cozy fire and a strong beverage can have on you, especially when you're surrounded by the kindhearted visitors of the PPI. It loosens your tongue.

Curious? Come back in 24 hours and Matticus will share his best protected secrets with you, here at the inn.

Do I need to tell you I'm excited?

Friday, November 27, 2009

The end of a goblin era

Did you know that Gevlon actually wasn't any goblin at all in the first place? Or if he was, he was using a disguise all the time.

"I'm Gevlon, a human paladin with quite a strange story".
Those were the initial words in the first post written by the Greedy Goblin on September 6 2008. I'm proud to say that apart from himself (and possibly his gf), I was probably the first one to read it, and definitely the first one to comment. Check out for yourself.

Under the name Ghostboci, Gevlon had been a long time commenter at The Pink Pigtail Inn before he decided to start a blog of his own. As he wrote me, asking me for some advice how to make his new blog noticed, I was more than happy to help him out. Looking back, I can't help finding the following dialogue we had in the comments to this post rather sweet. Who could have thought at that point that Gevlon's blog would develop into one of the most visited, subscribed for, and talked-about blogs in the entire WoW blogosphere? Of course I don't think for a second that this this development took place because of my initial support; he has definitely done everything thanks to his own force, creativity and effort. But it was cool to see it happen, to be around from the very start.

During the soon-to-be 15 months that Gevlon has been blogging, he has developed quite a bit as a blogger . Well, the layout hasn't, he sticks to his minimalistic Blogger basic standard look, a living proof that content and interesting ideas mean so much more than pretty pictures for the impact of a blog. But the content has. He has gone through several periods. Sometimes he has been teaching gold making basics. Sometimes he has rather been preaching, spreading his goblin political ideas to anyone who was prepared to listen. Gevlon has also often put his idea at trial, performing practical experiments such as his buy-myself-a-raid-spot period and various apprentices, who he gave the tools to get rich - if that was what they wanted.

Now it's time for a new, possibly rather sharp turn in his blogging career. After hitting the gold cap on several occasions, after proving his points, like when his guild raided Ulduar dressed up in blue gear, it has been obvious that Gevlon had run out of challenges.

I've silently wondered if he would find the spark again, or if he would just close down the blog and terminate the subscription, since it didn't entertain him anymore. Gevlon gave me the answer the other day, as he declared that he had changed his "About me"-page:

This is what it says:

Now my focus is on soloing low level instances, with locked XP low level character, or with a pair of such characters with my girlfriend. I found this gameplay very much fitting to my anti-social playstyle, as I'm free to try out new tactics, don't have to carry nor being carried by others, can do it whenever I want, choosing my own challenges. While I still post about WoW economy, I do it rarely as I don't really see new, uncovered fields.
I'm pretty sure that this shift in focus will cost the Greedy Goblin some readers. How-to-make-gold is a topic that never goes out of fashion, while how-to-solo-low-level-instances is a very small niche.

Of course Gevlon is aware of this. His +3500 subscribers will probably remain stable for a while more (I think people are too lazy to unsubscribe actively), but the clicks will be fewer and so will the comments be. But so what? Gevlon doesn't care! Gevlon has never tried to make any profit from his blog. He doesn't own anything to anybody. He just keep doing what he always has done: enjoying the most precious of the privileges of a non-payed blogger: the freedom of speech.

Gevlon, we have disagreed more than once since you started your blog. I don't know if there's any way that I can disagree with you on the topic of soloing instances. Maybe I can. No one can be provocative like you.

Still you can be certain that this pigtailed gnome who joined you from the very start will follow you on your wanderings in this new field, even after the spotlights have been turned off and the thousand headed anonymous crowd has gone somewhere else to fight over nothing.

As a matter of fact, I'm quite looking forward to it. Who knows, maybe we'll once again get to see that human paladin who got lost somewhere on the way.

This one is for you Gevlon. Cheers!

PS And while I'm at it, here's one more toast for another old blogging friend of mine, Gnomeaggedon. He is going to appear as a special guest at the upcoming show of Twisted Nether Blogcast. You can follow it live on Friday November 27 at 8 pm PST, 11 pm EST, (which unfortunately is 5 am in the morning European Game Time). If you'll miss it because you're a turkey eating American or a sleepy European, you can do like I will and download it a few days later from the Twisted Nether website. Best of luck Gnome! You have no idea how long I've been waiting for this. Cheers!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pilgrims' Progress

For hundreds of years science fiction has predicted future technological developments. Leonardo de Vinci envisioned the submarine and the helicopter 400 years before scientific advancement made them a reality. Writers in the 1940s predicted cloning and sixty years later it too became a reality. The truth is that many things once thought impossible have become real. It seems that if some person dreams it someone else makes it real.

Is it possible to genetically engineer the Druid Tree of Life form; is it possible to create a human plant. While it hasn’t actually been done, the theoretical process necessary to create a human plant is well understood.

Three Steps to a Human Tree

The major difference between plants and animals is that plants contain chloroplasts and animals do not. Chloroplasts allow a plant to conduct photosynthesis—change light into food. So the first major step is injecting a chloroplast into an embryo and coaxing it to divide as the cell divides. This would give a human ability to generate energy from the sun.

The next task is creating a means to turn the energy created by photosynthesis into a form usable by the human cell. Plants produce the enzyme rubisco which converts carbon dioxide into sugar. Because animals and plants diverged so long ago human DNA does not have the gene necessary for this conversion to take place. The second step to creating a human plant is to splice the necessary chromosomes into human DNA.

The final hurdle is caused by the diffuse nature of light. Plants have a large surface area relative to their volume because they need a lot of light for photosynthesis to take place. Plants, such as cacti, which have a relatively small proportion of surface area to volume live in direct sunlight and even then grow very slowly. In order to create enough energy for basic life functions (like walking) human DNA would need to be engineered to grow long chloroplast filled hair, essentially fur.

A human plant would actually look much like a yeti.

Space Seed

In the well-known Star-Trek episode genetically modified human beings were cryogenically frozen and launched into space. Much coy sexual innuendo, heated violence, and hundreds of millions of dollars in profit later this resulted in the death of Spock.

Human plants offer several advantages for interstellar space travel. First, with a minimum of food plants can live an extraordinarily long time. The oldest living plant in the world is a Bristlecone pine tree in Nevada nearing its
5000 birthday. If genetically engineering humans slows the aging process in the same way the need for inter-generational space travel disappears.

Second, the hardiest species we know on earth are plants. They are called extremophiles and they live in conditions inconceivable to human flesh. NASA is
already investigating how to genetically modify earth plants to survive on Mars. If we can modify plants to survive on Mars and we can modify humans to be plants its logical we can genetically engineer humans to survive on Mars.

But the biggest advantage of human plants for space travel lies in embryonic or seed dormancy. A dormant seed requires almost no life support whatsoever. The oldest living seed that has been successfully germinated is 1300 years old. Forget menstruation and pregnancy; in the future human babies might simply sprout from the ground on some alien planet.

Flesh: The Final Frontier

The major long-term implication of the Copernican Revolution was to remove earth (and hence it’s inhabitants) from the center of the cosmos. The major long-term implication of the Darwinian revolution is that human beings are not even the center of the evolutionary process of life on earth. People often justify pleas for biodiversity on the benefits that this diversity brings or can bring to human beings. Evolution could care less such about anthropomorphism. It’s not the case that we need life so much as it is that life needs us if it ever intends to expand past this planet.

The tagline of the Star Trek series is that space is the final frontier. Yet interestingly there is very little focus on either stars or space in Star Trek; its focus is mostly on the life forms that inhabit the stars. Kirk and crew represent one vision of pilgrims' progress; a vision where genetic advancements are shockingly taboo.

Spiritual leaders often tell us that our human form is just one temporary step in an infinite or eternal pilgrim’s progress; heaven or hell or nirvana or Jannah awaits us. So why shouldn’t this be true in physical evolution too. One vision of that physical future is on display at Fizzcrank Airstrip in the gnome robots saved from with the Curse of the Flesh. Another vision of that future is in the Druid Tree of Life form where the very plasticity of flesh is not a curse but the ultimate salve.

In one of my favorite poems the poet T.S Eliot calls incarnation “the gift half understood”. For what is the point of having flesh anyway; what is the progress we are making as pilgrims. Where are we going to? Back to dust from which we have arisen? To a future of metal and stone? To plant life on some unimaginable planet some inconceivable distance away?

Where is humanity
boldly going?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are there really no women working at Blizzard?

It has probably been announced all over the place, but somehow I must have missed it. Yesterday however, I managed to stumble upon a special anniversary site that Blizzard has created to celebrate the recent birthday of WoW. And I was happily surprised at what I found.

Apparently this site is under development. A couple of departments - such as interviews with community members and a special edition of Blizzcast - haven't opened up yet. But there is already one huge chunk of content which I really recommend everyone to check out, consisting of video interviews with the people who created the Warcraft universe.

All in all 22 people, including well known names as Jeff Kaplan and Chriz Metzen, have been asked the same two questions: one about the moment when they realized that Warcraft was something special and one about a personal memory from playing a Warcraft game.

Memorable interviews
Of course the quality in the answers and the charisma of portrayed people vary a bit, but generally their replies to those questions are quite personal and interesting. It sounds as if they're meaning what they're saying for a change. This is so different to the pre-3.3 patch promotion interviews with Ghostcrawler and his colleagues so commonly appearing these days. When the designers are talking about future content, every word has to be weighed carefully and they often end up being so vague, general and polished, that they become rather boring to listen to or read. The anniversary interviews are much more relaxed.

There are a couple of testimonies which stayed a bit longer in my mind. Rob Bridenbecker, vice president of Online Technologies, shares the story about how his brother, a dedicated WoW player, died at young age after years of struggling against a cancer disease, and how Blizzard has made him immortal in the game, letting him be the inspirational source for an epic quest line. It's hard to remain untouched when you hear about it.

Another interview which stuck (probably mostly because he looks like a dwarf Warcraft character himself) is the one with Sam Didier. I loved his recount from an early BlizzCon, where thousands of players were queuing. Suddenly his heart swelled so much with company pride that he felt compelled to yell a battle cry: "For the horde", which the masses quickly joined . (Except for a few allies, who countered: "For Gnomeregan!".) He also tells a story about an epic moment in Alterac Valley. Not a huge thing when you think about it, but he tells it in a nice way.

Men only
There was one thing in those interviews however, which took me a little by surprise: There isn't one single woman in the party. It never occurred to me before that it was a pure male business to create video games, especially not a video game which actually has so many female players.

Now, just to make things clear: I'm personally very much opposed to special treatment for women, putting them in some special quota just to make things more balanced. I think women are perfectly capable to compete for jobs on their own merits. Still: it baffled me a little to realize that the members of the leading team behind WoW look as much alike as if they had been brothers.

I guess the upcoming interviews with the player community will be quite different. The game developers may be similar to each other, but the player base is definitely very much diverse.

The lack of women is just a small remark however, more an observation than a complaint. My message today is that if you're curious about what happens behind the scenes at Blizzard and if you think it would be fun to hear Cory Stockton sharing his personal memories from his first kill of Ragnaros (yeah, many in the staff do play the game themselves), I recommend you to put off half an hour to see those interviews. Even if it doesn't give us the complete story of how WoW became WoW, it gives us some enjoyable and entertaining samples.

I'm looking forward to check out the rest of the content of this site as they'll make it available.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Some thoughts about nerfs

If anyone has missed it, there’s a golden opportunity now to power level your cooking skill almost for free thanks to the Pilgrim’s Bounty event. Tobold thinks this skill is given away too easily and adds: “Where is the fun in leveling a tradeskill when you can level it for a handful of silver in an hour?”

The following discussion is interesting. There are different views on this matter and good arguments to support them. Some commenters aren’t too fussed about it. After all it’s “only” cooking, a “nice to have” but not altogether necessary profession. (If you just have the gold you can buy any buff food you need at AH). A profession like enchanting would have been worth worrying about. Cooking – not very much. If this gives new players a chance to catch up on their cooking, it’s just a good service.

Others point out that it’s just in line with the current development to make everything more accessible to players with less gaming time at hands. Be it gear, be it raid bosses, be it XP or, as now, cooking (although it’s only for a week).

The discussion about cooking in Pilgrim’s Bounty points toward the good old, never-ending debate: what has all this nerfing done to WoW? Is it improving the game or destroying it?

Providing opportunities
I’m always a bit torn when those matters are brought up.

As I’ve said many times before I sincerely support the philosophy to provide raiding opportunities for all sorts of players, on different skill levels, with different amount of experience, making the base level of raiding less exclusive and time consuming. As long as there still are challenges for top-end raiders available (and there are), it’s good not only for the business, but for all players. We can be certain that when real life restrictions will prevent us from raiding on a regular schedule in our guilds there will still be opportunities for us. It isn’t the end of the game. And if your raiding team is skilled enough, there’s no need to spend 4-5 nights a week raiding to fight for the top positions on the progression charts. You can go very far without becoming a “no-lifer”. It’s easier than ever to keep up the balance with your real life.

On the other hand, I also must agree with some commenters who think the make-things-easier-and-quicker-policy has gone a bit too far. You dould ask: Are we really playing the game if we’re making the process of levelling cooking to max so quick that it can be done in 30 minutes, just standing on a spot buying cheap mats from a vendor? What exactly is fun or enjoyable about that? Isn’t the process of developing your character in different aspects a huge part of what the game is about?

A part of an MMO
One of the commenters to Tobold’s post, Beltayn, nails it:

“It seems like so many people hate most of the many small things that have always been part of an MMO.Questing, grinding, grouping, craft skills, everyone seems to be trying to find a way to make them go past more quickly... It's like saying: "I love playing football... except the part where you go outside, work as a team or have to kick a ball. That part sucks and I try to get it over with as soon as I can because it's annoying."Seriously, how long till we realize that for some people, if they actually hate 90% of the game and don't have time for most of it, they just shouldn't be playing an MMO?”
Longasc writes something in the same line:

“They cannot produce really new content as fast as players can consume it, not even Blizzard. In former times grind bridged the gap between new content and people grinding for the old content. By no means I want to defend mindless grind, but allowing people to complete everything imaginable easier and easier, faster and faster, cannot be the answer either.”
Exactly. Levelling professions, collecting materials and recipes for gear, doing long quest chains for attunements, those activities aren’t necessarily just plain boring and horrible grinds. They’re a huge part of our game play. This is what WoW, as well as many other MMOs are about, take it or leave it! If you don't like it you can play another sort of game!

When all those activities are nerfed to the ground for the convenience of the players, what other things are we supposed to do when we’re online? The pace that Blizzard has for producing new content isn’t overwhelming to be honest. And it shouldn’t be! I want them to stick to their philosophy of producing high-quality, well-polished content rather than rushing things. But if they do so, they need to keep the playerbase occupied with meaningful things to do.

Customers aren't always right
Maybe Blizzard has listened a little bit too carefully to the demands from the customers. Players complained loudly about what they thought was “grinds”, so they took it away.

Being customer oriented is a good thing, but you have to be aware that customers aren’t always right. We’re not game developers, we don’t know what we want in the long run and how the solutions we suggest will affect our enjoyment in the game.

What I ask myself is: was levelling cooking really that horrible in the first place? Does it deserve to be considered an appalling grind? And even if it was, and players complained that it was tedious, couldn’t there be better ways to deal with this than to turn it into something that could be done more or less automatically, standing by an NPC, altering between the “buy” and “cook” buttons?

Maybe the levelling process would become more interesting, challenging and fun if you added some more quests (not the silly one at 225 where you just buy the ingredients from vendors or AH), offering exclusive recipes and rare ingredients? Make an in-game-movie, a phased event from the "chef" realm? Whatever.

Of course cooking will go back to where it was before after this week is over, so the commenters who say that it isn't a big deal are right. Still: this isn't the last time they'll speed up a game process one way or another. And although it sometimes is necessary, they need to be careful and think things over thoroughly before they do those things.

There are more solutions to player complaints about grinds and demands for flexibility, than to just nerf everything to the ground.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A sign that WoW has grown up

"For the Horde!"

I jumped as I read the line this morning in Svenska Dagbladet, the second biggest national morning newspaper in Sweden, which I've always thought had an audience consisting of elderly conservatives, me being an exception due to heritage and habit.

The triumphant sentence concluded a full page article, more or less openly celebrating Blizzard and Azeroth, due to the five year anniversary of today. The article was published on the department for arts, where they normally cover literature, theater and design of the more narrow kind .

In the article (rough translation to English here, thank's Elnia!), the writer discusses in a rather serious manner things like the success factors for WoW, how the online worlds offer new ways for people to interact and what impact it has on the lives of millions of people. He touches the problems with keeping the balance to real life, and he succeeds in keeping it rather neutral manner, neither denying that those exist, nor making a huge sensation, over-criticizing it.

What makes his article different to similar articles where someone is trying to explain what's so special about WoW to non-gamers, is that it's written by someone who has firsthand experience from it. It isn't a journalist just referring to things that he has heard. He's obviously a dedicated WoW player himself.

And we're not talking about some 20-year old new recruit to an obscure never-heard of institution at some random university who wrote it. In fact the author is the 38 year old vice president of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, Nicklas Lundblad.

While he's flirting a bit with the cultural elite, referring to sociological terms that most of us never have heard of, such as "Gesellschaft" , it shines through that he actually loves to play his dear sneaky undead rogue Gorthaq.

It's a new world, isn't it? At the age of five, WoW is embraced by the cultural elite of Sweden.

Such a pity though that the guy was horde. There's only one way to respond to an essay like his:

"For the Alliance!"

Friday, November 20, 2009

The game in the game

It took me a couple of years of WoW playing before I realized that there was a game in the game. The battle for the top positions of the damage meter.

For a very long time I was a naïve young (ahem) lady. My focus was always to get the boss down and I couldn’t care less about who did most or less damage as long as this happened. I also thought this was the case for everyone else. But little by little I’ve realized that many players do care about those meters, even though very few would admit it openly. And yes, even Larísa cares.

Staying alert
Now, just to make it clear: Reporting the dps-chart in the raid chat is generally a no-no in my guild and if we publish them on our forums, they come with an in-depth analysis which deals with other aspects. Rocking the dps meters is not a cool thing if you do it at the expense of decursing, spellstealing, cc:ing, add dealing and other obligations.

But even so, many of us silently run a Recount addon in the background, checking from time to time how we’re doing. You could argue that it’s just silly and very childish, pure e-peen measuring that shouldn’t be done at all. On the other hand, to be honest I think it’s one of the things that can keep us alert when we’re running unchallenging content such as normal ToC25, Onyxia and VoA. Those instances can easily turn into a collect-the-emblems-and-epics-of-the-week grind. We need this game in the game not to fall asleep.

As raiders we’re normally expected to be flasked. Last raid however, it was made clear that it was optional this time, since we did easy content such as Onyxia. Do you think I left my flask standing on the shelf for another night with hardmodes? Did I act as a sensible goblin, saving my gold for better use?

No way I did! I didn’t consider it even for a second! Being cheap, saying no to the steroid boost, would punish me on the damage list, breaking the game in the game, so of course I took my flask.

I know it’s embarrassing to say aloud, but yeah, I care. So shoot me.

Easy come easy go
Apart from the aspect of keeping up the attention in non-challenging raids, I suspect that our interest for those lists correlates to how much love Blizzard currently is giving our classes. Of course it’s more fun to look at your personal dps when you know that you’re fairly competitive, than to do it when you’re struggling for various reasons, be it your class, your gear or the nature of the fights. I bet warlocks loved to check the dmg meters in TBC, while the mages weren’t quite that interested in the charts. Now things have changed.

As Jong wrote in a post the other day:

“When the 3rd moon of Venus is aligned with Pluto, the planet of personal transformation, and the libido in the air is just ripe, nobody is going to touch Arcane Mages on Jaraxxus or the Twins. Nobody. Fights with consistent, controlled raid damage are arcane mages’ territory, so if they smoke you, there’s no shame in your game.”

He’s absolutely right of course. The fact that my mage currently often ends up on one of the top positions for those particular fights doesn’t say anything at all about my abilities as a player. It’s just a combination of decent gear and design of the encounter that happens to work in my favour. Deep inside I realize this, and I know perfectly well that there will be other challenging fights incoming, where I’ll be shamefully humiliated and will struggle even to stay above the tanks.

Easy come, easy go. The game in the game can be a fun addition to keep up some excitement in non-exciting fights. It just shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

And now I really long for some new fights.

Hopefully Icecrown will give us so much to think about that we once again will forget about looking at the damage meters, since we’re fully focused on just killing the boss.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How limited attempts risk to make raiding more dull

"OMFG not again!!! Larísa is about to complain about something she's seen in WoW or in the community! She's obviously on the verge of a burnout, she' hates the game, she should leave any day soon now."

I can picture the comments as I'm writing this post. Just in order to show you that I'm basically still a merry gnome and that I'm not trying to mutate into a pigtailed version of TotalBiscuit, I'll start by mentioning some of the good or at least OK stuff about the mechanisms of Icecrown.

(If you don't know TotalBiscuit, he's the host of a brilliant podcast called Blue Plz! -, where he in an endless stream of consciousness is bitching about literally EVERYTHING connected to WoW in a spot-on and very entertaining manner. He's wonderful, but honestly there's only room for one of those cakes in the WoW community.)

Once I've established a positive blog climate I'll go on expressing a few doubts, without being too whiny. Right?

Gated encounters and world buff

So first the good stuff:
- Gated unlocking of bosses once again. Yeah, they're treating the gamers like children, only handling out a few of the candies at one time so the chocolate box will last longer. It's a bit patronizing, but I'm afraid it's a necessary measure to prolong the life of this patch. Otherwise we'll just rush through it and then instantly start complaining about the lack of new conetent.

In ToC the gated mechanism became a bit silly and quite annoying since there was no trash and just one boss a week released. We were starved! But in Icecrown they're releasing one wing at a time and that might enough to keep us entertained for a while each week. In my guild we're still working on ToC hc , and I don't mind that we're given a little bit more time to do clear it.

- A world wide raid buff to all raids, which will grow gradually after some months. This is an attempt to little by little nerf the encounters to make sure that the majority, even quite casual raiders, will be able to enjoy "all" the content, at least in a simple form. In stead of openly nerfing it they're doing the opposite now, providing this buff which will make all characters stronger. The benefit of this is that it's optional. After all you can just take away the buff if you want the encounter to be at the same difficulty level as it was when the instance was launched.

Even though I suspect that quite few raiders will have the motivation and self discipline to deactivate the buff, since taking away the buff doesn't seem to give any advantages such as better loot, I still think it's a good thing that there is an option. If you were a late starter in TBC you were forced to face bosses nerfed to the ground. This model provides much more freedom of choice.

Limited attempts
And now to my concerns. Or let's say "reflections", since it sounds more neutral. What bothers me is the idea to limit the attempts to try the hardest bosses so much. Five attempts for a whole week! Gosh. That's harsh to say the least, unless the bosses are ridiculously easy, God forbid.

I've heard the arguments for limited attempts many times. The most common one is that it somehow is "better" if you down an encounter after a complete analysis of every detail in the fight on beforehand, than if you do it by doing many consecutive attempts until you're finally successful. Doing many times is supposed to be "brutal force", which is considered a bad thing.

And I can't quite understand why. What I ask myself is: what's so bad about actually playing the game online on the game server? And what's so good about spending more time on this game offline, studying boss strategies and boss videos in detail so you know EXACTLY what to do in an encounter, all you need to do is to execute?

Now understand me right, I too look up new encounters in advance. As a minimum I want to see the Tankspot movie so I know the basics of the fight. But this isn't the one and only way to raid! I'm well aware that they're in a minority, but still - there are players out there who refuse to do like "everyone else". There are players who are in guilds where they have an agreement to try out new encounters blindly, not walking in the footprints of others, not having any clue about what to suspect when they first enter. There are players who think that figuring out a strategy on your own is a big part of what makes raiding interesting. And they prefer learning by doing, rather than by reading and looking at other people raiding.

I think those players deserve some respect and encouragement. And they definitely don't deserve to be unable to continue working on a boss after only five tries, just because the developers expect everyone to know all fights in Icecrown on beforehand.

I know there isn't much you can do to reward the players who figure out strategies of their own. There isn't any way to prove that "we did this without looking at any Tankspot video". But at least they could be considerate enough not to introduce mechanisms like this one, which will steer towards a form of raiding which they find pretty dull, but is absolutely necessary if they want to remain competitive on their server.

Some people prefer to learn a raid encounter by reading and looking. Others like learning by doing. As simple as that. There's more than one way to raid. Please remember that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No, Mr T, this is not my game

I watched it. Once. Twice. I watched it three times and still I couldn't connect to it. On the contrary, it distanced me from the game and made me wonder if WoW really is the game of my heart. The only conclusion I can draw from it is that something must have gone seriously wrong with the new marketing video for WoW.

I guess I'm seeing this from a strictly European point of view. But since it's posted on the European fan site as well as on the US, I must assume that it isn't intended for US citizens only. However that was how a guildie of mine explained it to me when I confessed that I've never ever heard of any Mr T, that I don't have any relationship to him whatsoever and the new commercial leaves me cold. (I even had to look him up at imdb to understand that he was an actor.)

"Larisa, this isn't for us. It's for the Americans. It's really funny if you already know about this guy", he assured me. But I'm not quite so certain that's the whole explanation. The guildie is a teenager and I'm over 40. There might be more than a geographical aspect in this.

So Larísa, come to the point! What's the big deal? Why don't you like this movie? Everyone else seem to fancy it, they think it's hilarious.

Well, the thing is that the guy they're featuring isn't only unknown to me - I can't identify with him at all. It doesn't in any way reflect what I experience when I play WoW. Putting masquerade costumes on other players, either they like it or not, has never been any favorite of mine. I've rather felt a bit embarrassed as I've been hanging around just outside the horde area in Dalaran so I can transform an orc, a troll or a nightelf just for some achievement. To me it's rather childish and pointless (and yeah, I'm probably suffering from some anti-social tendencies). My game is mostly about raiding, a little bit about immersion and I believe I've got a potential roleplayer dwelling somewhere deep inside. But messing around with the appearance of other players isn't anything I enjoy doing very much. No matter how "cool" the hairstyle is supposed to be.

But Larísa, this movie isn't intended for you! They probably have another target audience. They just want to expand their playerbase by doing some advertising. Let it go! More subscribers to WoW = more money for development!

Yeah, I know. That's why I'll try to ignore the movie as much as I can. I'm glad that I hardly ever watch any TV with commercials. It isn't even certain they'll show it in Europe, and if they do I'm likely to miss it.

Still. I want to make a little shoutout, even though they probably couldn't care less about what a tiny little pigtailed gnome thinks about this. So here's my objection:

What Blizzard seems to forget in this picture is that as much as you're trying to catch a new group of costumers by advertising, you're also affecting the relationship you have to your current customers. Ideally the campaign will confirm their relationship to your brand. It will make them renew their vowels to remain loyal to it. It will inspire them and reinforce the connection you have.

Mr T has just the opposite effect on me, which makes me wonder. Either they haven't bothered to try it out since they're lazily expecting everyone else to have the same taste as they have. Or they just don't care, since I represent a minority, so small that it doesn't matter to Blizzard's financials.

I get it, this is crap according to Larísa. What kind of commercial would I rather like to see? What could Larísa possibly relate to?

To be honest, I'm not an expert on how-to-make-commercials. I work in the PR area, but I'm not making ads. But I know what kind of style I would rather like to see than this blunt "look-at-me-I'm-talking-with-a-funny-voice-please-laugh-don't-you-think-I'm-funny" approach.

I would for instance love to see something that was inspired from the fantastic movies made by Cranius. You know Big Blue Dress, Darrowshire and most recently The Story. He knows how to touch and involve the audience, how to tell a story that you want to listen to. Or if you want a more realistic and/or humorous touch, you might take inspiration from The Guild, portraying different sorts of players, showing the diversity in the playerbase and how much fun you can have in an MMO.

Those are just two examples. I'm sure there are many other, better ways to capture and communicate the soul of WoW. All I know is that Mr T fails at doing it. Miserably.

His game is NOT my game.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The most annoying loot in WoW

Hands on heart, have many of you do regularly trash things that could be sold to a vendor or posted at AH?

I do. All the time.

I'm lucky that there's some magic device in Azeroth which makes the litter you throw out of your bag invisible. If it wasn't for that one, there would be an embarrassing trail of trash appearing behind me. You could follow my wonderings as easily as If I had been Theseus in the labyrinth, tossing out a string not to get lost. In real life I'm just the opposite, almost obsessed not to litter the ground with anything. Not even a chewing gum or a match will be put anywhere but in a bin. But in game - oh my.

Like so many other habits it was founded early, in my childhood back in Don Morogh. Yeah, I grasped that it could be a good idea to vendor grey items and worn out gear at an early stage to get some cash, but most of the time leveling it remained a theory. What is a girl to do when the vendors are few and far between and modern ideas such as butlers and squires never have been heard of? The bag is full, you get a quest reward you want or you need to pick up some requested quest items. I didn't see any other alternative than to toss it out of my bag. And once you've started on trashing, it's so easy to continue. "Hmmm... those pieces of meat are white and not grey and this means that they're "worth" something to other players according to the tutorials. But surely it can't be that much, can it? Nah. Away you go. After all, it's not epics, heh?".

The value of trash
I think it wasn't until I encountered The Stoppable Force in the TBC instances that I realized how much gold I lost by this mindless trashing. 2g, 33s and 70 copper was a considerable subsidiary to my repair bills. And from there on I started to be more careful about it.

In WotLK this carefulness has become even more important. They grey color can be deceiving. Trash the New Age Painting that comes as a reward from the daily fishing quest, and you've just lost 25 g! And the Battered Jungle Hat may look useless and sells to vendor for as little as 43 copper, but check AH and you'll see that the players value its cool looks a great deal more than that.

"Poor Quality Items should be sold to the vendor. Players do not want these items.", says Blizzard at the beginners section of the website. That's not entirely true.

The Most Annoying loot
At the European forum, there's a thread with a discussion about which loot in the game that is the most the annoying. Shiny Fish Scales and Fish Oil have both been suggested. The problem with those is that they're white, hinting that they're worth something to other players and therefore shouldn't be vendored or trashed. And once upon a time they were, as reagents for shamans. But with the introduction of reagent saving glyphs, that demand is gone, as well as the demand for light feathers. If I ever see those items sky rocketing at AH I suspect that there's some shady gold dealer around. Not even the most moronic moron would bother to buy them.

However, in spite of their very limited value, I think neither Fish Oil, nor Shiny Fish Scales qualify for being the most annoying loot, the trash that we hate so much that we destroy it as soon as possible. After all they stack nicely! And so do the clams nowadays, after Blizzards tremendous and never-ceasing efforts to trim the mussel loot mechanism into perfection.

No, the most annoying loot consist of items that no other players want for any reason, that are worth next to nothing if you vendor it and which use an entire precious bag slot per item. After my recent grinding for a Winterspring Frostsaber mount I'm quite certain on the matter of which loot I hate most.

I proudly present it to you: Large Bear Bone! The Most Annoying item in Warcraft!

Not only is it useless as such - the icon for it is so ugly that I get bugged every time I see it. And since they drop from the Shardtooth Bear - which you have to loot to get the meat that you bribe the Frostsaber Trainer with - you can't afford not to loot. Shift-click is the way to go to get the job done quickly, but this means that the bags fill up quickly too. The 100 slots I currently have on my main don't suffice far when you're on a Wintersaber grind, trust me on that. I guess it sums up eventually. Maybe I've lost a fortune on not dragging those smelling skeleton pieces to some stupid junk dealer. So be it.

Some trash is just so annoying that you don't want to carry it a second more than necessary.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tickled Pink: Your First Instance has a neat little piece which links this to post giving advice to new players about running their first instance. What was your first instance or dungeon run like in Warcraft. Were you tickled pink?


My first instance run featured me creeping alone though Black Fathoms Deep as a prowling cat trying to figure out what this instance stuff was all about anyway. I was truly intimidated as I knew nothing about tank or healer or DPS. I didn't even know what one did in an instance. I actually went through there twice because the first time I missed the instance entirely. There's a substantial set of underground rooms before you get to the instance entrance. When I first saw that big swirly fog thing I thought it was a bug and I ran away because I was afraid the game would delete my character. 'Tis true. It was only after asking in General chat that I realized I had made a mistake and need to prowl all the way back again. I must have spent an entire evening playing around and the only knowledge I took away from the whole thing was that the monsters were much more difficult to kill than they were outside the instance. It wasn't something you could solo. I know because I tried to solo it every five levels between 20 and 40. Eventually it got through my thick skull that I needed to group.

My first dungeon run with a group was in Zul'Farrak. This is when I learned that despite being a Moonkin my actual job as a Druid was to heal. I remember being quite puzzled as to why all the monsters kept attacking one player. I thought at first that the goal of the other players was get the monsters away the person they were attacking (/facepalm) and even though I had been asked to heal I went into Moonkin form and started throwing damage spells because I thought this would help draw the monsters away from the person they were attacking and they could attack me instead because I was a Moonkin with all this armor. I did remember that I was supposed to heal and I got really frustrated because every time I threw a heal spell it would pop me out of Moonkin form. I spent the first part of that instance switching back and forth between DPS and healing and no one ever said a word to me. It was only after we wiped on one of the bosses (I don't remember the exact one) that someone suggested maybe I should try just healing because I wasn't as "uber" as I thought. Not really understanding leet speak I didn't understand the insult at all but I did what they asked. It certainly made it easier. But I would like to say to the person now
I was not trying to be uber I was just confused.

Some people don't believe me but I healed 5 man instances all the way through Heroic UK as a Boomkin. At some point in time I realized that there was such as thing as trees but I never got the point as I was doing just fine without being in that spec. Even though I play a tree now the form itself remains strange to me and one of the things I cheered was when the Ghostcrawler himself said awhile back that he didn't like the fact that healers spent all their time as trees. Not even knowing what a tree was or looked liked that first instance cemented in my mind that druid healers were elfish looking.


The first time I entered an instance was entirely by accident. As a matter of fact it wasn’t until much later that I realized what I had been doing. I think I’ve told the story
before in one of those posts where you make confessions about noob mistakes you’ve done over the years. But I’ll share it again, since it WAS the first time I put my foot into an instance.

I must have been around level 10 and I was still full of enthusiasm after my first encounter with Ironforge. It was impressive. It was breathtaking.
I congratulated myself at finding such an awesome game and I felt excited thinking about what a huge world I had to explore, how many adventures I could look forward to in this unknown universe.

Now I was back to
questing in Don Morogh, probably on my way to kill some trolls or troggs, but still in an adventurous mood. As I strolled down the road, looking out for the angry, hungry wildlife, always ready to attack me, I noticed something that looked like an entrance tunnel, guarded by two peculiar looking gnomes. I recalled from the manual (which I only had given a quick glance) that the gnomes had a capital of their own, just like the dwarfs. Gnomeregan. Looking at the map, it seemed to be located somewhere around here, close to Ironforge. Could this be the place? This needed some further exploration!

I remember how
I found it a bit odd that the guards seemed so hostile to me, not at all like the nice chaps at Ironforge. Lucky for me there were a couple of high levelled players who were hanging around in the neighbourhood. They came to my rescue and killed them off. So I happily entered the tunnel, or rather ran through it to get rid of another guard, thinking to myself that it would be quite annoying if I had to go through this every time I wanted to say hello to my fellow gnomes in the city.

jumped into the elevator, awed at the quick ride down, went out…. And that was probably the fastest kill of Larísa ever, if you look into the book of records kept by the NPCs. Before I knew it I was dead. Realizing that I would never get out of that elevator and tunnel without an endless amount of corpse runs I decided to play it safe and resurrected at a spirit healer.

And that was the end of my Gnomeregan adventure.
I acknowledged my defeat. The exploration of our capital would have to wait to later.

Admittedly I never even made it behind the instant curta
in, but I still think it counts as my first run.

But what about real instance runs, in a group? What does Larísa remember from her very first instance party?

I’m afraid that I don’t remember
it, to be honest. I recall some early runs in Deadmines, Gnomeregan and Scarlet Monastery in my first smallish, casual guild. I remember that we had some crazy group composition. Four hunters and me – a mage. No tank apart from the pets, no healer. We wiped. We laughed. We never finished anything, killed a boss or two at the most, and that didn’t bother me too much. It was as far as you can come from the blast-through-the instances-and-pick-up-as-many-epics-as-you-can-carry mindset of today.

I was young (as a player, although not in real life), I was a noob in every sense you could think of. And I was com
pletely happy being where I was. Void of epics and achievements I had never heard of at that point.

I was tickled pink.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rent Seeking in Warcraft

Economists define money as a medium of exchange and a store of value. One logical consequence of this is that there must be an actual mechanism to exchange value. This mechanism by which stores of value are exchanged is called a market. As markets exchange value they distribute that value among market participants. In our modern industrialized world money markets are the main market. However, markets are not the only system for distributing value. Another means of distributing value is brute force (such as a war); another means of distributing value is democracy.

At least in theory, modern capitalist democracies are democracies first and capitalistic second. Democracies deploy markets to achieve specific social ends in the same way they deploy armies to achieve specific social ends. One difficulty with this social arrangement is that markets work most efficiently when they are free from outside intervention. We take it as a democratic given that people have a right to petition the government for a redress of their grievances. But the people’s grievance is often that capitalistic markets produce results which harm them. Thus governments are pressured into a market intervention that erodes efficiency and undermines the reason that a market was deployed in the first place.

When social groups petition their governments for market interventions that favor them economists call this behavior “rent seeking”. The “rent” in rent seeking is merely a historical term and doesn’t have anything to do with renting a flat or car. Another name for rent seeking is “privilege seeking”.

Evidence of Absence

The most interesting aspect of rent seeking in Warcraft is its almost total absence. Let me be clear here. Players are always complaining about nerfs and demanding buffs to their class. This is indeed privilege seeking. But there is extremely little movement by players to prod the developers into giving them an advantage in the in-game market for good and services.

One example of rent seeking that springs to mind is the recent reaction of players regarding the new disenchanting option in dungeons and raids. Many players with toons with the enchanting profession claimed that it would seriously impact their ability to charge for disenchanting and thus impact their ability to make money. After a significant amount of complaining Blizzard announced that they would restrict the disenchant option to parties that already had an enchanter in order to “protect the importance” of the enchanting profession.

This example of successful rent seeking is a rare occurrence. There are certainly a great many interventions by Blizzard in the in-game market: the establishing of the Inscription profession, dual specs, and even the prospecting of epic gems which caused titanium prices to skyrocket. Yet none of these market interventions were done because players demanded them. The Greedy Goblin discusses all sorts of types of anti-competitive practices that players attempt to engage in from monopolies to cartels; behavior that would be illegal in our non-game world. Sometimes these anti-competitive practices work and sometimes they fail but I have yet to see any serious effort from players to get Blizzard to intervene to stop it.

Capitalism and Democracy

For those who think that game markets offer useful insight into real world markets this situation begs for an explanation. Given the power and ease by which developers could dole out market favors it’s shocking that there is so little pressure by players to do so.

The obvious answer is that players don’t advocate for market interventions to the extent they do for class interventions because they value class changes more than market changes. Players don’t advocate for market interventions because markets in Warcraft operate successfully without those interventions. There is no need to demand intervention because the markets successfully address their in-game needs, as opposed to class mechanics which don’t.

What’s interesting about this answer is what it implies about rent seeking in capitalist democracies. Economic theory argues that rent seeking imposes net social costs on society. Yet the lesson from Warcraft is that rent seeking actually creates net social benefits. When markets work effectively to address social needs people don’t seek market interventions; the demand for government interventions is a signal of market failure. There is nothing instinctive about rent seeking any more than there is something instinctive about citizens petitioning government for a redress for their grievances.

Seeing rent seeking and subsequent government interventions in markets as an economic positive allows us to grasp that the reason government interventions take place is not because capitalistic monetary markets are weak but precisely because they are too strong. Weaker monetary markets reduce rent seeking and allow those markets to operate efficiently and effectively to meet social needs. That’s what’s happening in Warcraft. The interesting economic lesson from Warcraft is that less capitalism produces better capitalism.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The post where I assure the readers that I'm still a merry gnome!

Maybe it's just the season. The darkness coming over us will full force. Maybe it's the time of the WoW cycle, in the gap between content patches. But isn't there a bit of gloominess in the air?

Quite a few players seem to have gone into some kind of power save mode, biding their time for Icecrown, not caring particularly about upgrades and progression, since it all will be outdated in just a couple of weeks. This effect has spread to the blogs, where the writers are slowing down and spending whatever they have of creativity and spirit on their write-a-novel-in-November projects rather than on ranting about WoW.

Have I too become infected with this state of mind? A disturbing sign showed up in a comment to the post yesterday:

Bell wrote:
"You've been seeming intensely disillusioned about much of the game lately; are you sure you're not getting close to being done with playing? Brewfest, titles, instances, preparation for Cataclysm, micro transactions and're very unhappy and antagonistic towards much of the changes occurring in the game."
Larísa a grumpy gnome?
Yeah, thinking back on the last couple of months you might wonder. Has Larísa beome a Grumpy old lady? Has she without knowing it turned into one of those who are bitter, constantly complaining and looking back at the "good old days"? Has she joined the party of too old players who for some odd reason insist on hanging around, pestering the atmosphere in Azeroth, rather than leaving for a game they might like better?

I think it's time that I put some things straight. You see: I don't consider myself a disillusioned player at all.

OK, I admit that I'm not a fan of the pet-shop-thing. And for very personal reasons, I had some problems with the drunk-until-you're-smashed-out concept of the Brewfest, which I wrote openly about. But read my lips: on the whole I'm quite fine or even enthusiastic with how WoW has evolved since I started to play it in 2007!

I consider WotLK an absolutely awesome expansion with beautiful new zones, much more fun questing and a fantastic finish. I have never complained about the lack of difficulty, I have never cried about the handouts of epics to more casual players, on the contrary. Over and over again have I supported that all players have the possibility to see all bosses and that the more advanced raiders are offered hardmodes for their amusement. I think the achievement concept is fine too, even though I've very selective when it comes to which ones I care about for my own part.

I love WoW as it is and most of the changes that are incoming - although there are of course always things you may have opinions about in such a huge game and world. I have no plans to stop playing anytime soon; as a matter of fact I see myself playing in Cataclysm and probably beyond. And I'm a dedicated Blizzard fan girl, which I think is pretty clear if you look back at my writings about for instance the Cataclysm announcement or my love for their mission statements.

The stroke of melancholy
So where this does this sad tone in the innkeeper's writings, which Bell obviously can read in my posts come from?

The intention of this post was originally to assure you that don't just like the title Merrymaker, but that I'm actually quite a merry little gnome, no matter of a few blogposts where I may have seem a bit down. But still I can't lie to you. I don't walk around every single second in the game with a huge smile, sparkling as if I just had used one of the Halloween toothpicks.

There has always been a stroke of melancholy in my WoW writings. You see, I'm sitting here in my virtual armchair, enjoying a pint in front of the fire, just relaxing, putting words on whatever I happen to have in mind - ups as well as downs. That's the whole point of running the blog in the first place. It helps me to deal with my Azerothian existence - the good that comes with it as well as the bad.

I admit that I have moments in the game when not every single corner of my mind is all happiness. I think that what currently bothers me most is that I often find myself pretty lonely, except for when I'm in the guild organized 25 man raids. One reason is simply because I play at a bit odd hours, when not so many others are online, except for people who are already engaged into 10-man instances at the point when I come online. Another explanation might be that I've never been good at getting or maintaining friendships in real life either.

I've had a few game friends over the years. You know, someone who whispered you when you came online, someone to level with, run instances with, just talk some nonsense with, have a laugh with or whine a bit with when things are bad. But they're not around anymore, for various reasons. I couldn't help finding a little bit of comfort in a recent post by Thistlefizz at The Cranky Old Gnome, where he describes his loneliness. I know exactly where you're coming from Thistlefizz. We may be alone in the game but we're not alone in our experiences.

Still having a blast
This loneliness might be one of the flavors you've felt in what I've been serving recently Bell. But it doesn't mean that I'm done with WoW!

When I'm not raiding, which I'm absolutely passionate about, and is the major reason for me to keep playing wow, I've started to do some of the things on my 33-things-to-do-before-I-quit-WoW-list. And I'm having a blast!

For instance I can tell you about what I did a few nights ago. It was one of those bad nights, when my internet provider failed me and I repeatedly was dc:ing (which makes me quite cranky, it's the digital equivalence of toochache if you ask me) and I finally had to give up on raiding, asking for a replacement. Instead I switched to the horde side, to the bloodelf DK which I started recently, just to have a look at those famous first few levels, with all those moral dilemmas and cool questlines.

Admittedly, I felt pretty lonely - now that the huge DK rush in the beginning is over, there aren't many people around in the starting area and I know one (1) player on the horde side, who of course wasn't online. But boy, did I have fun (in spite of the dc:s, which didn't hurt anyone but myself)! I was clueless about how to spec and I even forgot to train as I leveled, which made killing quite a bit harder than it would have been else. I fumbled in darkness and I was delighted.

Maybe I should share more of those experiences with you, so you don't start to think that I'm about to quit. Because I'm not.

I will finish this post, quoting DW-Redux, who like me is worrying over the fact that he's starting to get a bit grumpy. In a post the other day he argued with himself, trying to silence the voice of that grumpy old man inside him, telling him to sod off.

"The game is still fun, and the people playing it are still the same."

Well DW-Redux: the people playing it aren't quite the same. But it's true that it's an awesome game. Maybe it was about time that I reminded myself and my readers about it.

Merrymaker Larísa. In the future I'll try to work a bit harder to show that I'm worthy the title.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Immersion starts with a passion for pointless pixels

So Blizzard is selling pets for real life gold, what's the big fuss about it? It's just pixels after all, right? Some bloggers and commenters find it hard to understand why people in the WoW community react so strongly, calling the criticism "nerdrage".

I won't go into a deep analysis about the pet shop, since Elnia already did it. But as I said in a comment to BoK:s post: something snapped inside me when I heard about it. My little pink pounding gnomish fangirl heart shattered.

I've been thinking about this the whole weekend. What exactly is it that makes me get so emotional over this - and over other things as well in the game? Where does it come from, the crazy joy, the burning anger, the happiness, the sadness, the laughter, the giggles, the disappointments, the cries, the constant excitement over something that doesn't have any impact whatsoever on reality? Is it really advisable to experience WoW as an emotional rollercoaster? Wouldn't it be better to see the game from a relaxed position in the far distance, shrugging at every boss kill, upgrade, buff or nerf, not making a big deal of it. After all, what does it matter? It's just pixels, right? Pointless pixels. Or is it?

The pointless pixels argument
The more I think about it, the less do I believe in the "pointless pixels" argument. I would even go so far that I would argue against using too often, especially not ingame.

You see, every time I utter "pointless pixels" to myself, it resembles me of something I do when I find myself at a cinema, where it turns out that the movie I went to was more violent and scary than I had thought. Since realistic violence makes me nauseous I will start an inner monologue, talking to myself. I picture how the movie was made and I imagine how the actors are surrounded by technicians and all sorts of equipment at the recording spot. I remind myself that what I'm seeing on the screen never has happened in real life. This is a defense mechanism and although it works pretty well, it also breaks the experience and idea about going to a cinema in the first place. You could ask: what exactly am I paying for if I break the immersion deliberately?

To really enjoy WoW, as well as to enjoy a movie, you have to play along and accept the fantasy world you enter as "real" and "important". Not 24/7, because most of us have a real life to care about too, which takes precedence. But as long as we're actually in the game we need to care, if not about everything, at least about something. We need to be passionate. We must to put a value to those "pointless pixels". It doesn't matter really if we're crazy about pet collecting, alt leveling or high-end raiding, as long as we have something that grabs our attention completely. The moment we start thinking about it as "pointless pixels", it is like turning on the lights in the middle of a theatre performance. The magic will be gone and so will the illusion be. It's a clear signal to the audience: it's time to go home and do something else.

Breaking the immersion
And to me this is also the main objection against the RMT pet shop. You could argue that the pet is useless or awesome - but that depends entirely on what part of the game you're focusing on. One thing is clear to me though: it breaks the immersion. When we can get items by giving out our credit card numbers on an out-of-game website, we get a distinct reminder of that we aren't any real heroes, fighting to save a world from evil forces (which also occasionally results in loot rewards). In reality we are morons who pay real life money for pointless pretty pixels.

In order to enjoy WoW as much as possible and get full entertainment for my monthly fees, I choose not to think of the game as "pointless". But Blizzard's recent actions really don't help. They're turning on the lights in the salon. They're shutting down the holo deck, letting us clearly see that the world we were engaged in, in fact was just an empty room with flat walls.

There will be a day in the future when I don't play WoW anymore. There will be a day when I think about the game as a bunch of pointless pixels, and I will be equally passionate about something else in my life, which may be just as incomprehensible in the eyes of others. Aikido, mountain climbing, origami, whatever. Go picture.

But as long as I play it I want to be immersed. So I will keep raging. I will continue hating and loving and caring about things that the developers come up with, even if some players will consider it an overreaction. I will get annoyed when I make mistakes, cursing and grinding my teeth, and I will get overly enthusiastic, crying with joy over all sorts of progress - my own as well as my guild's. Because this is the whole point of playing the game in the first place! It's a rollercoaster, for God's sake!

WoW is nothing but an escape, relying on our passion for pointless pixels. And I don't want it shattered until I'm ready for it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shop Smart, RMT Pet Shop…Smart?

Aghast. That’s the precise word to describe my reaction to Blizzard’s introduction of real money transactions to the game. Aghast.

Old timers will know why I am aghast but if you are new or just don’t recall go back and read
this post wherein I stated my belief that the foundation for Warcraft greatness was the fact that it did not have real money transactions in the game.

Pets as Status Symbols

One of the major issues I have with real money transactions is that they are classist. They create a distinction between the haves and the have nots that is based upon a person’s out-of-game rather than in-game accomplishments. The fact that this distinction is merely visual (a pet) as opposed to functional (an epic) is of cold comfort. If anything, the visual distinction is much more “in your face” as opposed to an exp potion that no one sees you use.

Chris thinks the new pet store is just a logical extension of Blizzard revamping of account services but I don’t agree. If I am standing on the auction house bridge in Ironforge and your character that just had a faction change walks by I am clueless about any RMT activity unless I know you personally. If you have a RMT pet I know. I know because it is staring me in the face (my bank alt is a gnome.) With account services what is essentially out of sight can easily stay out of mind. Precisely because RMT pets are going to be always in sight the classist distinction will always be in mind.

This is also why I disagree that this move is just one tiny step in a history of selling pets by other means. There's a difference between a pet which is bought as part of another transaction and a pet that is bought directly. Taking off one’s underwear and hopping into bed is just one tiny step in a romance; most people would also acknowledge it’s a significant step. The first step on the moon was also one tiny step; it was also a giant leap for mankind. The size of the step doesn’t always correlate with what it portends. Little moves can signal big intentions.

An Accountants’ Game

Whether we see a full fledged RMT store will depend on the success of this pet foray. If the net profit margins meet expectations it will be full steam ahead. Don’t delude yourself into thinking Blizzard cares anymore about the fantasy world of Azeroth. This RMT development signals that in the future it is going to be the accountant, not the players or the developers, which is going to determine what is “detrimental to the game.” What the game boils down to now is profit maximization; that’s the greatness of the accountant’s game.

There is an old saying in politics that “elections have consequences.” Yet it never ceases to amaze me that people can talk about voting with their dollars and at the same time pretend those money elections have no consequences. When you buy a pet from the pet store you are not only buying a cute panda monk, you are electing to support with your dollars a specific business model. The consequence is that when you buy a pet from the pet store you are voting with your dollars for the sale of epics. It’s that simple.

An Issue of Trust

Most fundamentally I see RMTs a betrayal of trust by Blizzard. I began my hunt for a new MMO more than a year and a half ago by specifically eliminating any game that featured RMT or micro-transaction of any type. I joined Warcraft and invested my time in the game predicated upon the expectation that Warcraft was a subscription game and would continue to be so. The game had been a subscription game for the last three years; there was no indication in would not stay that way.

At the bottom of the Pet Store FAQ there is this question: “Will you be introducing the ability to buy epic weapons/etc. in the future, for example?” The relevant part of the response is “the Pet Store service is entirely optional and intended to provide players another means to enjoy World of Warcraft in a way that isn't detrimental to the game and that doesn't detract from the gameplay experience for players who choose not to use the service.” Notice the artful wording in that response. They avoid a direct answer to a simple question and that is never a good sign. Of course, even if they did directly say “no” I doubt I would believe them anymore. They also said they would never do faction changes or races either and well…you know what…they did. People keep insisting that the pet store is not on a slippy slope when all the evidence points to the fact it actually is on a slippery slope. Epics for sale. Wake up and smell the coffee.


What I want is for the bullshit to stop. Don’t tell me that these are just pets and they don’t make any difference to the way one experiences the game because unless one is blind they do. Don’t tell me that these pets are just $10 items and Blizzard will never sell epics because Blizzard has refused to commit to that when asked directly; everything they are doing says if they can sell epics they will. Don’t tell me that I can trust Blizzard because I won’t accept a blind faith that totally ignores a pattern of past behavior. Actions have consequences. This action by Blizzard has consequences. So don’t tell me that this action by Blizzard is not a game changer; it is. Whether it is a smart game changer is going to depend on how players respond to it. Because our actions have consequences too.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A different perspective on WoW charity

This post is probably going to be a little bit controversial. I tell you right from the beginning, so it won't come as a shock to you. Not Very Controversial, but controversial enough to make a few of the readers annoyed or at least a little bit disappointed, since they don't share my views. But I wan't honesty in my inn. I won't settle with anything else.

I'm going to talk about charity.

Once again there are a couple of fundraising events going on in the blogosphere. Wow-insider says it’s "because of the time of the year", but to be honest, I think there’s some stuff like this going on more or less all year round. Wow players are asked to support everything from cancer research to homeless animals.

I can’t help wondering about the reasons for it. Are gamers a good target audience, more goodhearted and generous donors than others? Or maybe we’re more prone to suffer from bad consciousness, thinking about all the time and money we waste on our socially not totally accepted hobby? Perhaps we have some secret hope that we can feel a bit better about ourselves if we support a good cause?

Probably it's neither. Probably it's just a cultural thing. The blogosphere is pretty much US dominated, and over there they have a long tradition of charity, where people support different phenomena in society through donations, rather than doing it as we do in Europe, by paying higher taxes. So all those charity things that stick out in my Swedish eyes are just an everyday thing for the US bloggers. You have it all around you, all the time, wherever you turn in your life.

Some explanations
As you might have noticed, you won't find any ads or announcements about those things at The Pink Pigtail Inn. How come? Don’t gnomes recognize a good cause? Has your innkeeper been influenced by a certain goblin? Do I think that welfare is the root of all evil?

As time goes by and I see those voices, hands and pink colored things on every single blog on my roll, I feel more and more apart as I'm refusing to join the choir. It's time for some explanations.

No. I'm not opposed to charity. I earn well enough to put aside a percentage of my own income to causes which I think helps to make the world to a little better place than it else would have been. As I decided to do this, many years ago, I realized that there are endless of alternatives. You can save gorillas, you can support the fight for cure against certain diseases, you can help abused children or prevent an environmental disaster. My choice fell on two organizations which I think do a great and important job, Doctors without borders and SOS Children's Villages. I support both of those as monthly donor. This means that they are granted a long-term support which doesn't require them to put a huge chunk of their income on marketing. They can trust on me being there for them, not only for a one-time-only event, but month after month, year after year. And I know that this kind of support is important for their longterm existence.

The benefit of this for me on the other hand is that I don't see any reason to bother much about all the other charity things that come in my way. It's easy to say no to organizations which call me on the phone, stop me in the streets - or approach me through blogs, asking me for money. I know that I'm already contributing.

Freedom of choice
Do I advocate that you should help the same organizations as I do? Absolutely not! I think the readers of the PPI are fully capable of making their own choices in those matters. As I said, there are tons of good causes to support out there and I have no reason to try to talk someone out of rescuing the whales in order to sponsor daring field medics instead. Your wallet is limited and it's really up to you how you want to use it. Maybe you even have good reasons for not supporting anything at all. Maybe you've got problems even to finance your own living? Maybe you even think that charity is the wrong way to go and that you should rather help out by other means, the political way for instance. Who am I to argue about that? It's your life, your decisions.

WoW as an escape
And last, but not least: I don't want too much of the world problems intervening with my existence in Azeroth. All day long I have my hands full trying to balance job, family, worrying about the state of my life, my mother, kids, the state of the world, where am I heading, where are we heading, what is it all about? You know. Real Life Stuff. The things that wears us down.

Yeah, I admit it, I say it aloud and I refuse to feel ashamed. When I log into WoW at night or when I spend time reading and writing blog posts, it is an escape for me. It's a fantasy world, my own little corner, where I can be merry, free of burdens, free of duties, just playing like a child. In the game. On my blog.

There is another part of my life where I DO worry about suffering children and women. But I don't bring it into this inn. If other bloggers want to participate, I don't mind (although I honestly think it becomes a bit repetitive when EVERY blogger and podcaster participates in the marketing, not once, but over and over again).

But I won't do it. Apart from this post, PPI will remain a charity free zone.

Please forgive me.

yours sincerely


PS Someone may have noticed that PPI is a member of Azeroth United, which indeed promotes charity events. I had no idea that this was the main purpose when I joined the network. If I'd known it would have been more honest not to join. I'm a crap member, who won't actively take part in the fundrasing, for the reasons stated above.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Goodbye world!

And so began the evacuation of Azeroth.

With Cataclysm still months away, Blizzard has already started to take measures to make sure that we stop patrolling the world. Our heroes are to take shelter in the major cities, leaving the poor civilians on their own. The new instant teleporting to instances incoming in the next patch is a step in this direction. It motivates us to turn our backs to whatever is happening outside the walls and instance portals, leaving free room for demons and other creatures to take over and destroy everything in their way. A Cataclysm requires a deserted world. From that point of view, the Exodus makes sense perfectly well.

Waste of effort
The insight of what is about to happen hit me as a rock a few nights ago. Playing a lever 80 character, what will motivate me to ever let Larísa get outdoors, getting some fresh air, seeing some new horizons?

I’m not addicted to making dailies at AT. I’ve got enough gold to buy whatever consumables I need at AH rather than painstakingly gathering the materials. And now I will be able to teleport to the daily instance rather than flying to it. So why would I bother to move my ass anywhere at all? Will the result of 3.3 be that I restrict my existence in Azeroth to alternating between Ironforge, Dalaran, battlegrounds and instances? Will those beautiful sceneries – the soothing sunsets, the frozen waterfalls, the sunbathed deserts and the hazy, shaded forests just fall into oblivion?

The vastness of the world was one of the things that made me fascinated with WoW in the first place. And now we’re just dumping it in the trash bin. It’s as if we’re voluntarily entering the smallest of Malygos bubbles. It’s such a waste of artistic effort. All those dreams and fantasies will remain as digital numbers and program codes, never coming alive in anyone’s mind.

An explorer once again
How did it happen? Once upon a time I was an explorer. When did my gameplay end up being all about achievements and efficiency? I don’t know. But the other night I made a conscious decision to make a change and dedicate some of my non raiding time to just enjoy the sceneries once again, before it’s lost in the coming tide.

I’ve never cared about the Explorer achievement. It’s a rather silly one, don’t you think? It doesn’t require any skill whatsoever. Just flying or riding around. Not much to show up or be proud over.

However, it’s quite useful as a help to see what parts of the world you’ve never cared about seeing until now. Looking at it, I could see that I had missed quite a few views of Kalimdor- a natural consequence of levelling as an alliance gnome, who is more at home among the peaks of Don Morogh than in the elfish forests or barren plains. So I turned on the fog to see where I had unknown territory and headed out for a final mission: to once again become an explorer, checking out the mysteries of this magical universe.

Beautiful but lonely
Do you want to know what it’s like out there? I tell you: it’s lonely. Dead lonely. I rarely see anyone around but NPCs. (Amount of players in Desolace last night: 1. Larísa the gnome. I checked /who.) Not that I need any help from fellow adventurers, overpowered as I am for anything I’m likely to encounter. But even though I don’t exactly feel adventurous, cruising among lvl 10 moonkins who have gone evil, it’s still a rather enjoyable experience. What it lacks of excitement, it makes up in beauty. I’m almost as enchanted as if it had been in the early days of my WoW career.

I’m doing my farewell tour in Azeroth. Soon enough I’ll be restricted to cruising between instant portals and city facilities like everyone else. It’s like an amusement park where they’ve bunched up the rollercoasters and all the other attractions side by side, skipping all fluff like green parks and strolling areas. It’s something I suspect that most players appreciate - and me as well. I expressed my enthusiasm over it the other day, commenting on the new LFG tool. It’s like being on a holodeck, instant switching between different scenarios.

But I can’t help feeling a pang of sadness that the world has become so small. Hopefully it will grow once again after Cataclysm is launched and we once again will head out to conquer the world.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tell and Show

God spoke and it came to be. This reality is at the heart of Catholic self-identity. As a people of God we are first and foremost a people of the word.

The Story of the Design

The order of events in the introductory sentence is worth highlighting. The first thing we learn in Genesis is that speaking; talking…vocalization…is contemporaneous with creation. The Lord said let there be light and there was light. He then looked upon the light and saw that it was good. God does not engage in an act of show and tell; he tells and shows.

The concept that creation springs from the voice runs throughout the whole course of the Bible from Genesis, to Moses hearing God and then writing down the Ten Commandments, to the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. It is for this reason that Catholics place special importance on the disciples’ description of Jesus as the word made flesh. We think primarily of John in this context yet Mark’s emphasis on Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophetic prediction, that he is the one foretold, is critical. The Greek concept of Logos shares with the Hebrew concept of creation ex-nihilo the belief that speaking is the original creative act.

This Biblical story of creation is predicated on an understanding of the senses as passive receivers of stimuli; our senses perceive reality but they don’t create it. This understanding is also the basis for many Warcraft class abilities. For example, the warrior ability is called Commanding Shout and the priest ability is Shadow Word: Pain. There are no class abilities entitled “Commanding Hearing” or of “Shadow Smell: Pain” because in the literal meaning of the word those don’t just make any sense; they wouldn’t reflect the way our biological senses actually work.

The Design of the Story

It is for this reason that I was astounded to read that the lead creative designer of Warcraft believes that the future of MMOs lies in, “Show, don’t tell.” It’s true that video is a visual medium but as a passive sense sight can never tell us what to do.

Let’s be explicit about how sight actually works. Human beings have two eyes that are physically spaced apart to create slightly different views of the same event. This parallax creates a contrast affect which the brain interprets as depth. What the brain perceives as movement is simply a changing ratio of depth affects. Sight tells us what’s happening but it can never tell us what to do about it. There is an exclamation point over the quest givers head but it has meaning only because someone somewhere told us it did.

I think the thing that confuses designers is that they forget that text is a visual representation of an oral fact. Written words have no power outside of the oral context; they’re random lines, gibberish. Human babies are born with the ability to make noises and their hearing is fully developed within a month. Sight is not formed until six months and reading happens much later. God spoke. Then he saw.

Depressingly, there is even an element of self-hate in Alex’s statements. He was speaking, to a journalist who was writing his words down, to be displayed on a video card and his statement was that video cards are more important than speaking or writing. OK. That makes a great deal of sense. (No, it’s stupid.)

Creation Stories

The most mind boggling thing about Alex’s interview is that doesn’t actually represent the way World of Warcraft is designed. After you create a new character (are born) you are given a cut scene which zooms into your starting area (home town) while a voice, yes an actual human voice, tells you what the story is all about. Then once the narration is over you are deposited in front of another being and (here’s a shocker) that being tells you what to do.

Why does that ring a bell? Maybe it’s because after God created the world and after placing man in it the first thing he did was start ordering Adam and Eve around. And of course they ignored him. Exactly like what most people do with quest text.

But that doesn’t mean that the best answer is to get rid of the story. One reason the Biblical story is still around 4000 years later is because it accurately reflects in a crude way the basic development of human consciousness. It resonates. While developers may get their egos (and career ambitions) tied up in hot properties like phasing the truth is that for the new players the redesign of the tutorial system in Patch 3.3 will have a much bigger impact on customer retention. Clue to the clueless: there is a reason that God names things the moment he creates them.

I’ve mentioned before how I hate flaccid clichés and “show, don’t tell” is now officially on my hit list. Normally I wouldn’t bother about it too much except for the fact it’s annoying that someone who presents themselves as a creative designer evidences such a complete lack of understanding of even the most basic creative design. Life itself. Perhaps before he starts spouting off to the press Alex might wish to think a little more before opening his mouth. Although, now that I think about it, the Bible doesn’t say anywhere that God actually thought before he spoke either. Which would explain a lot.