Monday, May 31, 2010

Why the "Community" word doesn't make sense

The Community. Everyone seems to be talking about it these days.

We've seen a stream of well thought out posts discussing just how bad the WoW community is - verified by for instance dickish behavior in pugs, sewer level conversations in the public chat channels and the Gearscore mentality plague.

I'd especially like to point you to a recent post by Brian Psychochild Green, who talks about how ageing and growth has an impact on the game community, arguing that Blizzard might not be able to do that much about it. It's a very thoughtful post and I suggest you go ahead and read it if you haven't already!

Another post I liked particularly was Ixobelle's response to Wolfshead's anti-WoW post, where he reveals the nature of the oh-so-good community back in the days of EverQuest. The truth according to Ixo was that the game was full of design flaws and tedious endless periods where you did nothing but sit around and just wait and chat together. Sure, it created a great community - nothing can get you come together as well as a common experience of misery. But as it appears it was at the cost of what I would consider an enjoyable gameplay. Way to go?

One Community - really?
Nevertheless, there's something more I'd like to say about this community issue. You see, I've got second thoughts about the way we talk about The Community as one entity.

I'm the first one to admit that I'm doing it myself. I've probably written a good many posts where I've generalized wildly, putting everyone in the same box, mindlessly applying the C-word label on everyone, either they deserve it or not. And I'll probably do it again. But nevertheless I think it's about time that we stop up and think for a moment.

Wouldn't we come further in our discussions if we would acknowledge that with a game of the size of WoW, you can't really talk about The Community in singular anymore? There are dozens, of them, or I'd rather say hundreds, and they have so little in common that every attempt to pull out an average from it and expect it to represent every player, will be so false and misleading that it's pointless.

Shouldn't we rather address the issues and potential improvements we can see in the different respective subcategories? That would be more constructive and interesting than the current I-want-everyone-to-view-WoW-the-way-I-do attitude, which is a bit strange when you think about it.

As it is now, it seems as we've suddenly all been incorporated into one big mechanism, void of any aspirations on individualism and variety, making you think of The Borg of Star Trek.

I don't quite buy the concept. I never did.

One game - many communities
Actually I wrote about this in my very first blogpost back in February 2008. I was still something of a newbie at that time, and I had many things yet to learn about WoW and the people who are playing and talking about it. But in my ignorance I got that right from the beginning. I wrote:

"When you think about it it's not ONE game, but many, there are so many ways to see it and play it."
Yep. I still have this view. Lume reminded me about it the other day as he commented on my post about how famous players can get TCG cards named after them.

"Famous" WoW players really depend on what areas of the game you follow and what communities you're a part of. And there's a LOT of communities. Arena, raiding, machinima, humorous videos (that aren't really machinima), tanks, specific classes (and specs of classes), etc. And then you have to COMBINE some of these categories for even more niched communities."
You're spot on, Lume.

So why don't we start to try to map out, describe and und understand all those sub-communites? Once again I come to think of Tim Howgego's brilliant attempt to draw a map.

I would like to see an expansion of it. Make it more fragmentized, more detailed, add multiple dimensions, point out the connections. We need more work along those lines if we want to understand the complexity of the game and the varying expectations the developers have to consider.

What Community is to me
I dare say that the Borg image of the Community is a hoax. Forget about it for a moment and recall all the different kinds of players you've encountered over the years.

Stop listening to the "The community is horrid" talk! Refuse to judge every player alike! Wake up and look around you!

There are fantastic, lovable subcommunities everywhere, if you investigate it a bit further.

The Community isn't just some drunk idiot rambling in /trade (which you by the way can turn off at your own will any second - issue solved.)

The Community is also Big Bear Butt assembling the raid-for-the cure event to support a guildie suffering from breast cancer.

The Community is a bunch of silly gnomes enjoying their epic journey from the starter area to Ironforge, thanks to their own imagination (and a glorious general).

The Community is Tamarind having a serious talk with one of his guildies.

The Community is to ignore Gearscore nonsense and naysayers, take charge over your own game time and create the kind of game play you want to see, in cooperation with other players.

The Community is made up by all those wonderful bloggers and podcasters who keep entertaining us, informing us and making us think, laugh and cry day after day - all for free.

Room for all?
There's such a huge diversity among the millions of people who are playing World of Warcraft that it doesn't make sense any more to talk about The Community as a singularity. Stop doing that! Stop bashing the "WoW Community!" Start looking for solutions where you can let different kind of players co-exist peacefully, without breaking the game for each other!

Azeroth should be big enough to have room for us all.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Ooops, I exploited Karazhan and Ghostcrawler takes the blame

The title of this post is somewhat intriguing, isn’t it? To be fair the two events are only remotely connected. They’re both findings from the official forums. And yeah, they’re both appearing in the “Larísa-lets-her-thuoghts-wander-freely-since-it’s-Friday” column.

Cheating or exploring
Let’s talk about my exploit first. There’s something shady or even dirty about exploits and I’m a little bit torn in my vies on it. I suppose it depends on the circumstances.

Some exploits are equal to cheating and that’s a touchy issue, especially if there’s competition involved, such as racing between top guilds. (No, I’m not going to talk about THAT piece of news once again, move on people, this post is not intended to be some pleasant, thoughtless ranting, not food for flame wars.) A wise raid leader makes sure to stay on the safe side, to avoid bans and removal of achievements. If the thought crosses your mind that this might be an exploit, it probably is.

At the same time I can appreciate and sometimes even admire exploits that are results of people using their brains and creativity. Those players are like fearless explorers, always stretching the boundaries in their refusal to do things as “they’re supposed to be done”. They don’t let themselves be dragged into any dull quest- and achievement grind, they don’t mindlessly take their seat in the theme-park attraction, watching what they’re supposed to watch. What they’re looking for is the unusual and unexpected. It’s like a little uproar, where the players take control for a while, until the warning system has been alerted and Blizzard mends the glitch. But by then, they are already far away, exploring some other godforsaken corner of the world that the QA team never visited properly.

The Karazhan exploit
However, even if I can approve of some exploits, I’ve never been an exploiter myself. I’ve just regarded it with curious eyes from a distance. At least I thought so.

But the other day I realized that I exploited Karazhan on a regular basis throughout the entire TBC. It’s true! I was a full-fledged exploiter. Admittedly it was by accident – I didn’t have a clue. But that’s what they always say, isn’t it?

What made me find out about it was a post in the bug report forum. A player complained that after completing the Opera Event, you couldn’t go out and enter Karazhan through the side door, as you always used to. After some investigation from the community managing staff, he got a blue reply: this was intended. That door was never supposed to be opened from the outside. This was an exploit and it had been removed as by patch 3.2.

I was just perplexed by reading this. Why make the door in the first place if you weren’t supposed to enter it other from the inside? And why would anyone want to go out from the castle through that door? To have a stroll in the delightful garden? You have to help me out in this, because I don’t quite see the reason.

I always thought that Blizzard had handed us the two different paths to take through Karazhan after Opera on purpose, offering the players a choice. The further progressed we were, the better gear we had, the more likely were we to take the inside way with the corridor leading from the stage, also known as the “gold way” since some of the trash you missed by taking the way from the outside were dirty rich. If you had Karazhan on farm you didn’t mind the extra effort, since you would clear the instance in one night anyway. On the other hand – while we were still progressing, the side entrance was the natural choice, saving us approximately 30 valuable minutes, time that we’d rather spend on mastering Netherspite’s beams or learning the Aran dance.

What took them so long?
Everyone did this. And all this time it was an exploit, until Blizzard recently stopped it. I can’t help finding it a bit amusing and intriguing. What on Earth took them so long? It reminds me a bit of when they suddenly posted a huge chunk of information about Sunwell island on their website when we were way into Wrath.

You may ask why they’re even bothering to do this at this point of the game. For some reason it never became top priority on their to-do-list, so why not forget about it altogether?

I wonder if there’s anyone at all who clears Karazhan the proper way these days. I thought the instance was mostly inhabited by level 80s who never went any further than the bottom floor, since all they want to do is to roll the dices for the mount. A few might finish it for nostalgic reasons. (I hope to do it myself anytime soon; after not setting my foot there for years, I’ve suddenly got the itch back, longing to see it once again.)

Would it really be that harmful if someone at this point takes a slightly shorter route through the instance?

Sometimes Blizzard’s priorities puzzle me. On the other hand, I find it kind of reassuring that they care about even such a small detail. If there is a bug anywhere they will do whatever they can to find it and remove it. It may take forever, but they will come to it eventually.

Blaming Ghostcrawler
Now over to the second part of this post, where Ghostcrawler takes the blame for everything.

Yeah, it’s true! Read for yourself his comment in a thread in the healing role forum, where they’re discussing where Blizzard is heading. This thread is long and has grown a bit wild, and when we come in there have just been some complaints about how they treated Incanter’s Absorbation, which was heavily nerfed.

“We designed Incanter's Absorption. It's our fault that it worked the way it did, our fault that players assumed they were supposed to stand in fires, and our fault that they assumed their dps was balanced around the assumption that they stood in fires. :)”
OK, Ghostcrawler, I’m with you so far, this might have been a design error, even though it provided a bit of fun for all arcane mages as long as it lasted. But in the next paragraph he extends his sense of responsibility.

“I'm not quite sure of the origin of this recent sentiment that GC blames everything on the players. Let me be perfectly clear. Everything we don't like about WoW is our fault and our responsibility to fix. I like to use the first-person plural to remind everyone that ours is a very large team all working together, but in this case I'll make an exception and take personal responsibility for plenty of the criticisms we have with the game right now.”
Aha. We can all stop blaming the community! Stop blaming the greedy shareholders of Blizzard Activision! Stop thinking that the state of WoW is a team effort. It isn’t. Ghostcrawler just stepped up and offered to be the scapegoat for just about any criticism we have with the game.

Hey there GC! If you happen to dwell somewhere in the shadows, I tell you: How heroic it may sound, aren’t you pulling this a little bit too far? Have a pint, my friend. Cool down. You’re actually doing pretty fine. For all the grumpiness in the community, it’s still a damned good game. Don’t put all that weight on your shoulders. Oh? It was a joke? OK. Got it.

It’s Friday night and my thinking is a bit slow, especially after the sad news the other day about our GM stepping down. But I’m alive. And I’m actually smiling, because we had one of those awesome raids last night, which you can read about in Tessy's lovely report. Two more first kills in ICC hardmode (Rotface and Blood Council), one achievement just-for-fun (read: Tessy) and as some sugar topping I got a lethal dagger and the shiniest necklace you’ve ever seen.

What more could a gnome possibly wish for?

Cheers all!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Call from The Grey Havens

Sometimes I feel like crying. Doesn’t everyone? It’s like breathing, sleeping, eating, drinking and getting a physical hug once in a while. A basic human need, I suppose.

We all have our methods to release our gathered tears. I have one that never fails me, namely to read the final chapter of The Return of the King, you know the one with the final breakup and departure, where Frodo heads off with the ships from the Grey Havens and Sam goes back to his family.

That chapter is pure sadness to me and any happy family awaiting Sam can't change that. I’m not joking, even when I merely think about the scene as I write this post, I get goose skin and tears well up in my eyes. I’ve read it tenths of times, but the words never fade away. They are keys that give me access to areas of my mind that I normally keep safely sealed.

Sometimes I feel like crying. Today is one of those days. You're wondering why? Because they’re going to the ships. They’re sailing away and there's nothing I can do about it.

The Balrog strikes again
Earlier this week I wrote about my furious fight against the Time-To-Quit-WoW Balrog. It turned out that he was a worthy opponent, tougher than I could have imagined and my struggles were futile. You see: now he has snatched our beloved guild master and raid leader.

Yesterday the ugly bald gnome (currently disguised as a night elf just so to make him easier to spot in the raid, but we all know where he's true identity is) declared that he's leaving the game within a couple of weeks, and so is our deputy GM. As for so many other players there are two simple reasons for this; the game doesn't hold its grip on them anymore and they need to put more time and effort into progressing in their real lives.

I know what you think and I hear what you say. Those things happen. All the time, to every guild, it’s more a matter of “when” than “if”. And by the way it’s “just a game”, right? Smart goblins don’t allow themselves to be attached to anything but gold, because everything else will vanish sooner or later – epic gear as well as people. Getting emo about the people in your guild is a bad investment. Don't trust anyone but yourself.

But I’m not a goblin. I’m a gnome and my skin is soft and thin and my heart is warm and throbbing and I can't stand to see them embark on that journey. So I cry.

The scary bold gnome
If you've followed my writings over the last couple of years, you've probably guessed that I've been privileged; I've raided under the command of a guild master with extraordinary qualities. Stumps.

To be honest he scared the hell out of me to begin with, having a slightly harsh, strict appearance at vent. He was demanding and disciplined and this was pretty shocking to someone with such a short raiding record as me. But he took a chance on me, and he never gave up about my potential to make better, even though I suspect that there was times when he tore his hair, wondering if Larísa ever would learn to move out of fire or cast while moving. After doing some 115 encounters under his leadership I don't fear him anymore, just admire and love him.

You see, Stumps had that sweet balance that it takes to lead a successful raiding team. He was the guy who took the unpleasant man-to-man talks that comes with the position and never hesitated to kick a player from the guild even mid raid if it was necessary. But under the rough surface he had a warm heart and fantastic sense of humour, which he generously showed through some bad wipe nights. I suspect that was what kept him sane while holding a position equivalent of fighting Yogg-Saron, as Tamarind put it.

For being such a youngster - somewhere in his mid 20s - he remarkably good, probably out of talent, for he didn't have any formal leadership training. And why am I talking about Stumps as if he was dead by the way?

I suppose he will be soon. Sort of. “Friend removed because the character no longer exists. Player not found.” He’ll be gone with the ships.

Now what?
So now what? What will happen to Adrenaline? Being who they are, Stumps and Sylvara wouldn’t desert us without working out a solid plan and making sure that they'll turning over the guild in good hands. The remaining four officers will now take the charge and run the guild as a team. And I'm sure they'll do just fine.

Following the plan presented to us, I think we've got a chance to keep the guild going quite strong, until Cataclysm arrives, although we may not do as many 25 man raids as we used to. I just hope there will be enough of them for our Shadowmourne wearer to finish his weapon. He has yet some 35 frost shards to collect before he can complete it with an LK kill.

I don’t expect to see a huge exodus, but it might happen that a couple of players decide to move on to one of the more progressed guilds on the server. Everyone is recruiting these days. Other guild members will probably take a longer summer break to reload their appetite for raiding. Under normal circumstances, you couldn't expect to have a raid spot waiting for you if you go on a long break and want to pick up raiding later on. But in the current situation, they've decided that anyone who wants to can stop raiding now and yet come back for Cataclysm. And I think this is a wise call. We're in this for the long run.

Everyone in the guild has been asked to think about the changes and then inform the officers about our intentions. In case the raid squad will shrink too badly, we'll switch over to 10 man hardmode raiding. And to me that’s actually just fine. Even if I love the bigger format, I can enjoy the smaller raids for what they are. As long as we keep raiding in an Adrenaline manner, which means a serious and focused approach and a sense of team work, I will remain a happy raider.

The rise of the phoenix
Every guild has a life cycle. These are days of turbulence, but we'll get through them and once we're on the other side we can start to build the new Adrenaline.

It will be a bit different, since the bold gnome won’t be there to tell us off when we need it or give us a pat on the shoulder when that’s what we lack. But on the other hand, this will give room for our new leaders to step out from the shadows and show what they're capable of.

As one of my guild friends remarked, as we tried to grasp the situation – it will be like the phoenix reborn from the ashes. A new start. I think Cataclysm will be a cataclysm for us in a double sense.

But all of that is in the future. Right now, as I see our friends heading for the Grey Havens, I have to cry a little bit.

I couldn’t wish for a better place to let my tears fall then here at the inn. The soft light from the fire shields me from anything that can lure in the darkness outside. I'm surrounded by the murmuring voices from blogging and reading friends from all over the world.

Thank you all for hanging around here, listening to the sad rants of a very sentimental little pink pigtailed gnome! In case there won't be any Friday post, you know the reason. I'm just lingering a bit here in my armchair, contemplating the state of the guild as well as WoW in general.
"Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil".
Don't mistake my tears for despair. When I'm done crying I'll pull myself together and start looking forward to whatever adventures that may await Adrenaline 2.0.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At least he got a card

I don't think Ensidia got what they had hoped for from this expansion. First there was the mishap with the first kill of LK that Blizzard judged was an exploit and rendered them a ban. Then they had constant server issues, partly due to griefing, and they lost the race for the spot as the #1 guild of the world. And lately they seem to have had a huge exodus from the guild, veterans quitting the game.

Maybe it's a bit of a comfort to one of their leaders, Kungen, to hear that he now has entered the hall of fame of WoW players

Kungen the Thunderer
Kungen is the third player ever to get a game card in the WoW TCG designed after him. "Kungen the Thunderer" is the name of the new card, picturing a tauren warrior. And what could be more appropriate for a deck of cards? After all "Kungen" means "The King" in Swedish.

Who were the first two to get the honor to be immortalized as a game figure? Well, not surprisingly enough, the first one was the video celebrity Leeroy Jenkins, who appears as a card in a set called Heroes of Azeroth from 2006. As if that wasn't enough he has also got his own in-game achievement.

The second player to get a card of his own was a druid called Alamo. To be totally honest I had never heard of him before now. But apparently he ran a legendary forum thread, Alamo teeches U 2 play DURID! which seems to have been highly appreciated back in time, according to WoWwiki.

So Kungen will be the third player, as far as I know of, to appear as a trading card. In a comment at Ensidia's site, he says that he thinks it's cool and an honor and asks how many packs he'll have to buy to get himself. (A hint to Cryptozoic, the company that currently produces those cards: I really think you should send one to him. For free. Don't you think you owe it to him?)

Gutrot the naked
I recently noticed that there really aren't many players that are recognized by name. But let's try to stretch our memories a little bit anyway and give it a try to recall some of our heroes.

If I would make a trading card modeled after a certain WoW player, I think I would pick the legendary Gutrot, the troll who leveled all the way to 80 naked and unarmed while creating a nudist community around him. I loved the picture from their 80 ding celebration party! I think he deserves to be remembered - as a card or why not as an in-game achievement?

Have you got any further suggestions for players who should be recognized in this manner?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

You Shall Not Pass!

The mighty Time-To-Quit-WoW Balrog keeps snatching players from our guild and raiding team. The last couple of weeks we've seen one or two leaving every week, each one taking a fond farewell at our forums.

They've all had every so good reasons for their leaving. Either they have got new priorities in life, a job situation that doesn’t permit raiding, or they’ve simply lost the interest for WoW as such. It’s never about us. It’s always about them. And it always ends in a lyrical Declaration of Love to our guild and its leadership:
“The past year in Adrenaline has been without a doubt the best in this game. I have seen all end-game stuff I wanted to see, I have met great people and I have been able to play this game on a level I never thought possible. The guild has been most of the reason why I have been in here for so long, without u guys I would have lost interest quite a while ago.”
”Adrenaline is doubtless the best-led guild I've ever seen….”
Of course the farewells are sad and sometimes even heartbreaking. I really hate to see people that I’ve been spending so much time suddenly be gone, just like that. At the same time the reads are somehow encouraging since they remind us of what a fantastic guild we are. We’ve got good reasons to be proud and grateful about what we have.

But being a “the best guild ever” isn’t enough. You need 25 people online for your raid, that’s the simple fact. And this time must be about the worst possible in the lifetime of an expansion for recruiting.

I feel truly, truly sorry for our guild leaders. They’ve put so much effort into the guild over the two years I've been in it and I wish there could come a time when they could just relax a bit for a while, enjoying the community, being certain that there will be more than enough players for the next raid. They don't deserve this hassle, which has nothing to do with their own shortcomings.

If you ask me, it's all about Blizzard being too slow in putting out new content. It's no wonder that WoW will be downranked compared to other activities, when you've been stuck doing the same instance over and over again, three times a week, for almost six months.

On a brighter side: it’s not like we’ve been cancelling raids. So far we’re actually doing fine, still working on and conquering the hardmodes of ICC. But I can’t remember the last time I was benched for a raid and that’s somewhat worrying. I’d much rather see a healthy surplus of players.

I know we’re not alone. I know that this is right now on every realm there is. Players are leaving every day, leaving empty spots in their guilds. What you can do is to stick together, keep your raids going and your spirits high even if the margins are slim. Hopefully some other guild on your realm will give up, which will mean that some more raiders will become available and go guild shopping. It isn't pretty, but the fact is that guilds are a bit of scavengers. We feed on the leftovers from our dying neighbours.

We can only hope that Blizzard will get out Ruby Sanctum RSN (yet another expression from the science fiction fanzine community, meaning “really soon now”), which might give a well needed – if shortlived - injection to the game, making people prolong or even reactivate their subscriptions.

I think it’s a little bit too early to give up raiding in Wrath, putting down the weapons, especially since we don’t yet know the release date of Cataclysm. We have a bunch of goals that still remain, deeds to accomplish in company with others who still have the desire to raid and progress in Wrath.

I wish there was something I could do to help. I wish I had some real life WoW playing friends or relatives I could snatch from other guilds. I wouldn’t hesitate a second to headhunt (a nicer word for poaching) if I had some potential candidate. But I don’t. All I can do is to once again mention our existence and recruitment here at the inn, in the hope to get the word out here in Europe.

Please come and join us! Come on your own or why not bring your 10-man guild with you if you’ve decided that you’d like to see something bigger. This is an excellent opportunity to make sure that you are prepared for Cataclysm, already being in a good guild. We’ve got room! What we can offer is some really good raiding. In case I haven’t told you. If you're quick about it you might join us in our upcoming 2-year anniversary event, how about that?

And to you, Mr Balrog, I have only one thing to say:

You shall not pass!
I'm not entirely sure he'll listen to me or to anyone else. But at least we have to give it a try.

Monday, May 24, 2010

No, the MMOs aren't really that bad!

I really should start listening to my own advice. I should know better than to devour rants from burned-out players who have seen the "truth" and want to share it with the world, possibly to get absolution for all the time they've spent on WoW or other MMOs up until now.

I should have known better than to read posts calling me an "glassy eyed, brain addled denizen of an opium house", "just too stoned to care".

And yet I read it. Because the writer in question is Wolfshead and he's an awesome blogger - even when he's in a depressive mood.

By the way, if you're reading this you should probably consider yourself included in the opium house analogy - Wolfhead puts this label on the entire MMO community, and calls it lethargic, since we haven't yet reached the insight that the MMOs of today are so void of innovation that they should be boycotted.

Wolfshead's rant
After an eleven year long, passionate relationship with the MMO genre, Wolfshead declares that he has has fallen out of love with it, and now he's apparently mad. He's breaking up with a bang, stating that the MMO industry needs a Real Cataclysm, something that turns the world upside down in a far more dramatic way than WoW's upcoming expansion.

Exactly what this Alternative Cataclysm would consist of is hard to tell from the post. Only that it would be better. Absolutely not more of the same. And nothing in the lines of the new features Blizzard has launched the last couple of years.

If it wasn't for the fact that I've read Wolfshead for a while and know that he's passionate about games and gaming - even working in the industry himself - I would have drawn the conclusion that he must have joined one of the more hardcore circles of the anti-WoW/MMO-movement.

Some of his statements could as well have come from one of those ex-players who have woken up from their addiction and now commit their lives to preach about how WoW is an lethal creation from Hell, ruining not only the lives of families but our entire society. I'll give you a few examples to give an idea about the post:

"We are watching this apocalypse unfold before our very eyes."

"[...] technicians who sold their souls at Blizzard Entertainment. For years they have been carefully and methodically concocting an addiction that is designed to keep you playing and paying long after there is any legitimate reason to do so.

"The WoW of 2010 is a MMO where community barely exists if at all. Players don’t even talk to each other anymore as they mindlessly farm so-called heroic dungeons. Players are happy to use each other like cheap whores in order to farm more emblems in order to get more shiny purple pixels."

"Blizzard has willfully programmed selfishness and avarice into the psyche of the modern MMO player via the mechanics of WoW. I’ve seen good people lose their souls and morph into ruthless Jason Bourne robots because of WoW."

"they are basically a numbers game heavily disguised by lots of polish and eye-candy. How many people do you know that played WoW 6 years ago are still playing? Most of them have figured out the equation and moved on."

"They’ve been serving us the same unimaginative crap for the last 11 years and putting a colorful bow on it. And you know what? We keep paying for it."

Some good points

I could go on like this forever. And I must admit that those sweeping statements put me off a bit.

There are several interesting points in the post though. His thoughts about the lack of independent and fearless gaming journalism that dares to take a critical position towards the industry would be well worth a discussion. He also brings up the risk that the design team might take bad decisions for the benefit of the players in the long run, just eager to get demographics that will please the stakeholders. This is underlined by a link to an excellent article by Richard Bartle from 2004, which was new to at least me.

However those golden grains somehow drown in the overwhelming flood of bitterness and criticism. It is a pity because as I said Wolfshead is a writer who has my admiration and respect. He's normally very intelligent, knowledgeable and well worth listening to.

He has been roaming around in the MMO field for a respectable eleven years, and maybe that explains this outburst. It's a long time, long enough for you to get tired with almost any other hobby. It happens all the time. You join a rock band, have fun a few years and then you move on. You take a course in sushi cooking and read up everything there is about that until you get blasé and something else catches your attention.

Is it really the MMO genre that has grown stagnant after eleven years? Or is the article more about his own, personal development, where the preferences will shift over a lifetime?

The lost paradise
I haven't been a part of the MMO phenomena for eleven years, only a little bit more than three. Eleven years ago, when Wolfshead started his exploration of the genre, I didn't have a clue about gaming and I couldn't imagine that there one day would be a game such as WoW. I remember how I for the first time heard about people who on an experimental basis arranged meetings in virtual rooms where they mastered avatars who represented themselves. I was told about it from a researcher at a university institution where I took a course in design of user interfaces, and I marveled at the idea. This was a glimpse of the future! Would I ever see such a thing myself?

I did eventually, in February 2007, when I took my first stumbling steps in Azeroth. A little more than three years later, my eyes are still wide open with amazement and enthusiasm, enchanted by this magical world.

I just don't recognize the description of the state of the game. Wolfshead talks about a lost paradise where he was a part of a virtual world, enjoying the "community, camaraderie, danger, player interdependence, role-playing and player freedom". This has now been opted for a "safe and scripted amusement park ride".

Is this really so? I don't deny that there is an amusement park open 24/7 in Azeroth with fantastic rides to enjoy. But surely that isn't all there is to do? As far as I can tell there's nothing that prevents you from creating your own game content, building your own world, using the world as a stage for whatever you want to. It still happens if you look around. RP:ers do it all the time.

"Too stoned to care?" Grumble, grumble. I beg to differ. Even if I've lost a bit of my newbie innocence, I'm not prepared to ditch the entire genre, preaching Doom and Gloom and "This is the End".

I'm want to believe that there's still a community worth the name. I want to believe that there's a lot of thinking and creativity going on behind the scenes and I have full confidence that we've only seen the beginning. Blizzard's secret MMO project might be the next step. And if not - there will be others. Who knows, maybe Wolfshead himself will be one of those who pushes the MMOs into the next phase?

He ends his article with a few words of wisdom:

"maybe I need to realize that there’s more to this life than looking at a computer screen and hoping for salvation from a virtual world."
Here's finally something we definitely can agree on. If you expect miracles and salvation from playing a computer game you're quite likely to get disappointed. It can't save our souls. But it can bubble us for a little while, distract us, entertain us and possibly give us a few friends.

And that's pretty well done if you ask me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gearscore is The Price You Pay for Swinging and Raiding Makes me Social

This is going to be yet one of those posts that I throw myself into towards the end of the week, letting my thoughts wonder and my tongue run away at the same speed as I’m filling your after-work pints.

Tonight I’m even more unfocused than usual, since I spent all I had of concentration abilities on our attempts on Lady Deathwhisper hardmode last night. Oh dear, that fight would end up way high on my difficulty ranking list! I’m still mentally exhausted and my gaming face has gone fishing. So expect some very long and very casual Friday night ramblings here, about stuff I’ve come to think of the past week as I’ve been cruising the Blogosphere.

Gearscore – again
First yet another take on Gearscore. Professor Beej wrote an angry rant on the topic, where he declared that he was ready to quit the game over this addon and the elitist view it represents. The system is superficial and it excludes players from pugged raid groups for questionable or even unfair reasons.

Well, I’m not the biggest fan of Gearscore myself, and I’ve certainly raged about it in a post when a guildie of mine couldn’t get into a VoA pug because of it. But reading this I also thought to myself: TANSTAAFL.

Let’s start form another angle.

I’ve been married for 24 years this summer. Crazy, isn’t it? And while it isn’t roses and heaven all the time, it adds stability to my life. I’m a restless spirit, but this keeps me grounded. I don’t chase around at night clubs, looking for a one-night stand or THE guy who never will appear but in your fantasies. I don’t have to compete on a remorseless market, and even if it’s certainly appreciated if I dress up sometimes, I know that it’s OK to hang around, free from make-up, in clothes that are more comfortable then sexy. We’ve been in this for the long run; I’ve never ever been measured by the real life equivalence of Gearscore and I know I bring far more to the table than just my looks.

On the other hand I pay a price for this. If you’re married you have loyalties and commitments. I don’t enjoy endless freedom and I can’t do whatever I want to whenever I want to do it on my own conditions.

Translated into WoW terms: if you are going steady - if you’re raiding with a decent guild, regardless of progression level - you can be pretty certain that they won’t let Gearscore make the decision for them as they set up the raid team for the night. They won’t judge you only by your looks since they know your capacity and how you can contribute – be it with great dps or just for being an awesome entertainer who will make the raid more fun and interesting. You have bonds of trust, formed by previous experiences, your history together.

However: going steady has a price too: you can’t raid exactly when you want to, whenever the lust for it comes up. There will be occasions when you want to raid but can’t since there isn’t anyone scheduled or there are more players than spots available. As in any other relationship there will also be ups and downs – sometimes you might get a bit annoyed and fed up with some of your guildies – you might even quarrel! It’s a part of the deal. You’re not on honeymoon every day.

I can totally understand players who for various reasons stay uncommitted, pugging raids whenever they feel like it. Free to come, free to leave if it turns out to be less rewarding and entertaining than expected.

It’s not my cup of tea – it’s too shallow, lonely and lacks the sense of teamwork and brotherhood that I appreciate so much. But I can see that it works for some. However: this lifestyle has a price too. You may not risk catching unpleasant diseases, but you will be judged just as quickly as you’re judged on the dance floor. Someone tosses a glance at you. Is she hot or isn’t she? Is her Gearscore fine or not? Accept or dismiss. If you’re not one of the hottest chicks on the floor this is painful. But if you feel this way, maybe swinging just isn’t for you?

I’ve seen people crying for bans on Gearscore, but I honestly don’t see how that would make any difference. It’s not about the addon. It’s about the nature of short-term respectively long-term relations. If you want to enjoy freedom there's a price for it.

Raiding guilds –tyrants or social clubs?
This brings me over to a couple of somehow related posts we also saw. It seems as if there are a lot of people these days who want to be in a guild but rather raid with people outside of it. Spinksville wrote a post where she expressed her concerns that the incentives in Cataclysm to raid within the frames of a guild will be so strong that players will be tossed into “guild tyranny”. She wanted the game to better support guilds as social circles where you can see your friends, while you raid with groups outside of it.

Tobold is on the same line in his post about the perfect MMORGP raiding:

"Raiding with your guild should be possible, but not be the major function of a guild. A random raid finder with random raid bosses provides a better challenge, and a better measure of “skill”, than learning a tactic from a YouTube video and then practicing the steps until the boss goes down.”
He develops this a bit further in a comment:
“I think that guilds *should* be social spaces, for playing and hanging out with your mates and other people you share common interests and beliefs with. And in the current WoW model the guild function of being a gatekeeper to raid content gets in the way of the social functions of the guild. There is guild drama over loot and raid spots, and people quit guilds to join another guild only because that other guild is more advanced in the raid circuit.
I believe that if raiding can viably be done by *either* guilds or PUGs, there is less organizational pressure on guilds, and they would be able to perform their social functions better.”
If I understand Spinksville and Tobold right they like to see guilds that are formed out of friendship. And if this social group wants to raid they may do that. But it’s not the reason why the guild is there. Friendship comes first. Raiding comes next and can be done on your own as well as questing is.

Raiding creates friendship
Normally I tend to agree with most of the posts by Tobold and Spinksville, but in this case I have a slightly different view.

It probably has to do with perspective. If you entered the game with a bunch of real life friends - or if you came into it very early, getting to know people as you were levelling up in vanilla, sticking together every since, I suppose that the game is centred around the friendship you already have.

But if you’re late to the party, not the most socially talented person and slightly “off” due to age, sex or whatever (yeah, I’m talking about me) – it’s not that easy. How do you approach and make your way into a set circle of friends if you don’t have anything more in common than the fact that you like to play WoW?

If you want people to really connect you need more than just a moderated game chat channel. Doing things together is what forges a sense of comradeship or even friendship.

This is why I’m convinced that I would end up way lonely in a non-raiding guild than I am in a raiding guild. Our raids may be silent, but in the silence there’s a lot of bonding going on. As raiders we wipe together, we fight together, we fail together, we laugh together at our shortcomings and occasionally we succeed together. And we give each other a ton of honest feedback, which is the most solid way there is to get to get closer to other people.

Open for outsiders
As opposed to informal raid groups consisting of players from different guilds, the raiding guild is also visible for people outside of it. When spots open up and a raiding guild is recruiting, you have the chance to apply, regardless of if you know someone in the group or not. I don’t disagree that guilds have a role as gate-keepers, but this gate is actually way easier to break into than a circle of friends is.

Being the shy geek I am, I’m really happy if Blizzard keeps giving incentives for players to run guilds and do most of the raiding within those boundaries. I welcome a random raid pugging tool, but I don’t want it to be so good that it overtakes the role of the guilds.

Tobold’s ideal game would have a strong emphasis on pugging, where not only the groups but also the bosses were random. It’s definitely not a game I would like to play.

Being in a guild that raids gives so much more than just loot and achievements. It gives me the chance to feel like a valued team member, growing together as we learn and progress through the raid instances.

But now it’s about time that I shut up and bring out the Friday toast. Raiders and non-raiders, guilded and un-guilded, socials or shy geeks – hopefully there will be something for everyone to enjoy in Cataclysm, regardless of preferences.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Geek in a Suit or Will We Ever Accept That Blizzard is Business?

So they raised the fee for Blizzcon with a freaking 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. It has the same length – two days. It has the same sort of content as far as I can tell, although I suppose they’ll find a new artist to entertain. What about Mr T on stage? I also imagine the goodie bag will contain a shiny mount or cute pet, like it always does. But now the deal is suddenly 150 dollars instead of 125. And you can’t blame the general increasing costs for this. A percent or two, yeah, I guess so. Twenty? Never. It’s a simple matter of demand and supply. They’ll sell out on tickets anyway, so why not make sure you get a good profit from it?

I suppose this isn’t breaking news. Each month Blizzard presents us a new additional service – from cute (or annoying) pets, sparkling ponies and plush toys to Iphone apps and magazines. There’s something in store for everyone and they’re just doing their job, trying to make a living for themselves and their owners.

The question is: can they keep putting this much of effort into merchandising and monetizing without somehow staining their ethos and changing the story, the image about who they are? Will the fan base ever fully accept that they’re doing this for profit like any other business?

As one commenter wrote at’s post about the AH app:

“Blizzard, be careful. You are pushing your players to rethink their commitment to you with each move farther down the nickel-and-dime path you take. We're going to start comparing you to an airline soon.”
Yeah… But aren’t they like an airline already, if you think about it rationally and not just emotionally?

Our relationship to the blues
Hands on heart: there’s something special about our relationship with the “blue guys”, as Tim Howgego pointed out in a recent post.
“A sense of relationship is possible because of the curiously personalised view most players have of Blizzard: People talk to “Blizz” or “Blue” (their corporate color) like they are talking to their dog, not a corporate monolith. Much like a pet dog, people feel able to hold personal conversations, without ever expecting a reply. Disturbing similar to the relationship some people have with gods.”
I’m actually not entirely sure of who’s who in this scenario. Are the fans the dog owner, fondly talking to someone who never talks back, projecting our wishes, imagining what’s up in their minds? Or are we in fact the dog, enthusiastically wagging our tail, giving our unconditional love, to the images we have of the blues?

We so want to believe that they are geeks, that they’re one of us, that they basically could play in our guild under cover.

I’ve been bashing on Blizzard quite a few times in the past, pointing fingers at their shortcomings in the PR area – particularly when it comes to making use of their own website and reaching out to the fan community.

But in this aspect I must say that they’ve succeeded. Even if we’re talking about a huge corporation with thousands and thousands of employees and branches all over the world, a company depending on the stock market and the quarterly reports, they still manage to distance themselves from the too polished surface thanks to an underlying strong corporate storytelling, where they’re gaining trust and sympathy thanks to their history.

They probably could do more out of it, sharing further behind-the-scene stories or making proper use of their named “stars” such as Ghostcrawler, giving him a blog of his own to run.
But even without it, they’re doing fine.

Picturing Blizzard
When I picture Blizzard, the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t a slick, business suit dressed guy pointing at the latest sales charts. I think about a slightly overweight Ghostcrawler in a silly, geeky t-shirt, throwing himself into an argument with a disgruntled warrior. I think about the ex-hardcore raiders from EverQuest who wanted to show that they could do something better. That’s quite some story! I know it’s probably a lie but I still can’t help seeing them as some crazy guys, working day and night, fuelled by energy drinks, not to get rich, but because they’re passionate.

They are our idols, our heroes and we want to keep them that way as long as possible. So when Blizzard makes decisions that seem to be based more on what revenue they can expect from it this quarter than on a vision of good game design, we don’t want to blame Ghostcrawler for this. We blame Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard.

Fair or not, Bobby is a good scapegoat. He can be that well dressed guy who raises the entrance fee to Blizzcon to 150 bucks. Ghostcrawler is still on our side and if he was in charge he would let everyone in for free or a smile. Right?

Blizzard is sitting on a huge capital of trust. Sometimes I wonder if those in charge really fully realize how valuable it is.

If one of the top guys in Activision Blizzard happens to read this, I would reccomend you to give your coroporate nerds some apprecation. And make sure that they keep their slightly geeky image when they appear in public. It you're lucky we may not even notice that in fact they're wearing a suit.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why you might want to cut down on your blog reading

I’m a huge fan of World of Warcraft blogs. I think you can tell from the excessive size of my link list to the right and from my bad habit of meta blogging. Like I'm doing right now.

Apparently I just can’t get enough of this little network of ours. It fascinates me, it entertains me, it educates me as a player and writer. And to be honest I think it’s one of the reasons why WoW has kept me hooked for over three years.

The voices. The personalities. The distinguished geeks. The clashes. The intelligence. The silliness. The ideas bouncing around. Not to speak of the super talented writers, who actually are enjoyable reads in their own power, not just because it’s about WoW. (I won’t mention those by name since I’ve pointed to them so many times by now that it’s kind of ridiculous. Oh bugger, I just linked them again. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. )

Curse of Boredom
However, we have now come to This Time of The Expansion Cycle when a lot of the links in our feedreaders and blogrolls suddenly turn into a nasty purple color. Yep. It’s the seasonal Curse of Boredom, Burn-out, Bitterness, Lost faith and Godknowswhat that strikes again, just as it did towards the end of TBC. It is remorseless, the victims are countless and unfortunately it isn’t as easy to click off as the in game-version.

First a piece of advice to the affected bloggers:

There isn’t any quick cure from this, so you’d better treat it as a bad case of battle rez sickness. Rather than writing about what a miserable state the game is in, blaming your guild, Gearscore, Ghostcrawler, the Casuals, the Elitists, your ISP and your Wife, I would suggest you to take a break, not only from WoW, but from blogging and podcasting about it.

Log out from the WoW community, clear your brain from the fog, go do something else. You have NO obligation to anyone. Do not feel forced to rant about something you don't enjoy anymore.

And if you ever decide to come back, like for Cataclysm, I would dare say that you’ll be stocked up with rested energy, spitting out posts like never before.

Advice to blog readers
My second piece of advice is to the blog readers. Normally I would never ever dream about telling someone to read fewer blogs. Frankly I’m probably a bit annoying to people around me, I just can’t stop myself from constantly pushing for the blog community, spamming our guild forum with links to posts of interest.

However in This Time of the Expansion it might be a good idea to cut down a bit on your blog reading for a while. At least if you’re still enthusiastic, energized and pumped up about WoW – or if that is how you would LIKE to feel.

You need to protect yourself. That curse is contagious as hell and it’s ever so easy to get dragged down in the drain by an eloquent and convincing blogger in a bad mood. Suddenly you realize that the daily quests that you actually enjoyed pretty much are a tedious drag and a time sink or that pugging instances is a ticket to hell rather than a box of interesting chocolate pieces with unknown content. You hadn’t thought about it yourself, but reading that blogger you think he has a point.

If there’s a blogger who keeps dragging you down, consider deserting him for a while. Yes, that includes deserting Larísa of The Pink Pigtail Inn as well, if I’m the one causing you the lethargy. I’m aware of that there is an undertone of melancholy in my writings, and sometimes I write slightly cynical rants about stuff that bugs me a bit. It's theurapy for me and possibly for readers who recognize themselves, but it's not for everyone. If I make you unhappy, I would suggest that you’d have your pints in another pub for a while, where the beer is more sparkling.

Blessing of Happiness
Don't dispair at the sight of the darkness, look out for the lighthouses that still are shining thanks to their Blessing of Happiness buff! There are a few enthusiasts around, many of them players who were a bit late to the party and still are enjoying the game at its full potential. Tamarind is one of them, now that he finally has found some good dance partners. (Damn it, I just linked to him AGAIN. I've SO got a blogger’s crush on him.) But there are also old-timers, such as the crew behind The instance, who still have an unbroaken spirit and a heart that obviously beats for WoW.

Give those bloggers and podcasters - new as well as established ones - some comment love and encouragement. This will make them even more enthusiastic, and before you know it the infused power has bounced back and forward until it has created a field of positive energy. I suppose you could call it magic, but there’s nothing supernatural at all about it to be honest. Pick a positive environment to be in, contribute to it yourself and you your world will glow.

I suppose it might work in real lie as well, thinking about it. But that’s another story.

PS I can't help hoping that the return of BRK (even if just temporary) will give the blogosphere a well needed energy injection. I'm totally giggly about it myself and I suppose I'm not the only one who is tempted to roll a hunter alt now. Just because.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Ranking List over the Raid Bosses of Wrath

"52 bosses, holy crap! That's like... a lot! An entire deck of cards! Did I really learn all those encounters? And that guy was such a pain... Oh, and I remember how we struggled on this..."

I suppose it's a bit early to become nostalgic about Wrath, but Cassandri succeeded to get me into the mood the other day. In a post of epic proportions she ranked every single raid boss in Northrend from a difficulty perspective - from the easiest to the hardest for a group to kill.

First out on Cassandri's list is Noth, and last is - not surprisingly - Lich King himself. Since she takes gear requirements into account, the list is quite straight forward, mostly following the tiers. But there are a couple of exceptions, so for instance you'll find Flame Leviathan sneaking in among the Naxx bosses at spot 11 and Mimron ranked as number 38, harder than any ToC boss.

Cassandri ends her post with a question: would you rank the bosses differently? And you can take this post as my answer, even though it's made from a slightly different perspective.

In my version I haven't included gear requirements, but rather tried to look back and remember how I perceived the fight when it was new and we were geared for it, but not yet overgeared.

The list shows the learning curve for Larísa. How hard was it to get the dance steps rights, how much of frustration did it cause me? Of course it's a very personal thing. I'm pretty terrible for situational awareness and fights on the move, and this shows on the list.

What was hard to me might have been easy for you and the reversed, and it probably varies depending on your class you're playing. For instance if Patchwerk was a joke to a ranged dps:er, I can imagine that it required much more of a healer, not to speak of what Loatheb did.

This said: here we go. I present to you Larísa's complete list over the bosses of Wrath, presented in the order from easiest to hardest to learn. I've also added a short comment on each boss as a support for my memory in case I'll want to look back at this one day.

1-14 "Not much effort required"

1. Patchwerk, Naxxramas
I'm not a healer, so Patchwerk was basically one of the IF dummies moved into the instance. It required a little thinking about CD:s and mana management if you wanted to compete on the damage charts. That's all.

2. Flame Leviathan, Ulduar
After all this time I'm still not entirely comfortable with all the vehicles. I definitely can't drive a demolisher flawlessly and I'm totally uncapable of aiming correctly, tossing the passanger without risking to kill him. Vehicle fights always freak me out. But on the other hand you don't have to know what you're doing. The guy goes down no matter what, as long as you aren't doing achievements. No learning required.

3. Gunship Battle, Icecrown Citadel
No. This wasn't challenging. Not at all. We did this encounter first raiding blind, without addons or strat knowledge. That didn't help. It went down too easy anyway. It was absolutely a fun mechanic to begin with and I enjoyed the novelty as much as anyone else, but the enthusiasm we felt faded ever so quickly when we endured painful 15 min long fights due to lag.

4. Instructor Razuvious, Naxxramas
I remember that our priests struggled a bit before they got the hang of the mind controlling. For a non-mind controller this encounter was pointless. The only challenge was to keep the hands off your spell keys until sufficient aggro was established.

5. Loatheb, Naxxramas
The spores hanged around long enough for even a slow mover like me to grab them. The hardest thing about this boss was endurance: the ability not to fall asleep. We just stood there and did the same thing like forever. Utterly, utterly boring. Gear was a factor of course. I remember it was a bit of a dps race to begin with and not entirely trivial.

6. Archavon the Stone Watcher, Vault of Archavon
I always enjoyed when he throw that stone spell at my mirror images. Apart from that - move away from clouds a couple of times, boss dead. A boss made for pugging.

7. Noth the Plaguebringer, Naxxramas
Noth included some target switching and decursing, but above all keeping track of your aggro. Pretty easy yes but not the easiest boss in the entire Wrath, in my opinion.

8. Emalon the Storm Watcher, Vault of Archavon
OK, once in a while you switch to a skull. Zzzzz. No learning curve required.

9. Festergut, Icecrown Citadel
Slightly more exciting than Loatheb since you have to make sure you get inoculated, not just to increase your dps but not to die. Read through the strat once and be done with it.

10 Grand Widow Faerlina, Naxxramas
I'm lucky enough to have raid leaders who tell me what to do. With proper marking, a nuke order and a raid assist to follow, this is a no-brainer for a foot soldier like me.

11. Anub’Rekhan, Naxxramas
This was actually slightly complicated when we first did it, remember? Kiting, taking out the tiny spiders, switching between adds and boss. Still not that hard.

12. Gothik the Harvester, Naxxramas
The hardest task for this fight was for the RL to make a wise call splitting the dps. But the personal challenge and learning curve was more or less zero.

13. Koralon the Flame Watcher, Vault of Archavon
Fun times with Incanters Absorbation, keeping up fire ward and getting some crazy dps at times. Hard? Not very much

14. Toravon the Ice Watcher, Vault of Archavon
Honestly I've only done it a couple of times. But it didn't take much of research or learning at all. Switch to the orbs when they're up. Nuke the boss rest of the time. Meh. Yet another trivial VoA boss

15-28: Still pretty easy, but need to look out once in a while

15. Ignis the Furnace Master, Ulduar
Not much of a fun fight, the same thing over and over again with a slight increase if you're on add duty. Most fun was if you got into the pocket and could see it from another perspective.

16. Maexxna, Naxxramas
There is something about this boss that I never liked. The transparent floor somehow disoriented me. If you were on cocoon duty, it meant quite a bit of target switching. And all those annoying silences, always coming when you last wanted it.

17. The Four Horsemen, Naxxramas
I can imagine that this fight was harder for people who were involved in tanking duties, coordinating with others in their side switching. For me it was a very simple fight as long as I moved along when I was told to, kept an eye on the debuff counter and stayed out of void zones.

18. Gluth, Naxxramas
I was always terrified that someone would insist on me speccing frost and becoming the kiter. Thankfully enough noone did, otherwise it would end up far higher on the list. The biggest focus in this fight was while entering the room. I didn't want to be THAT guy who fell down from the pipes.

19. Thaddius, Naxxramas
The plus-minus-dance is easier than the one in Mechanar. Addons ftw, just do what you're told and you'll be fine. The biggest issue with this fight was the Jump from the platform. You feel like a complete idiot if you miss it. I'm talking from experience. After this had happened a couple of times I remembered - or was reminded - about a handy little spell called "slow fall" and this wasn't an issue anymore.

20. Razorscale, Ulduar
This is the kind of fight that can confuse me with a ton of adds running around in a mess. However they made the Very Dangerous Adds bigger than the others, so it was fairly easy to pick the right target. Dodging fires from above can be a challenge to me, not too bad in this case. And once he was grounded it was tank and spank.

21. Onyxia
If you didn't do her in vanilla you might want to read the strats once. Then execute. It isn't complicated, it isn't particularly fun if you're not in it for nostalgia or are a fire mage who love pretty yellow numbers. And it didn't stay on our raiding menu for very long.

22. Grobbulous, Naxxramas
One of those bosses where everyone in the raid HAS to get it right or you'll just blow it for everyone. I was a bit nervous whenever I got infected; I worried about not putting it at the right distance, screwing up things for particularly our melee.

23 XT-00, Ulduar
I always found this fight was easier on hardmode than on normal, since I didn't have to flip the camera and look for the small healing bots to aoe. Tank and spank with occasional excursions to the sides. No environmental damage to react to. Easy to learn.

24. Kologarn, Ulduar
I admit it: I struggled a bit with the eyebeams. My addons kept alarming me when I in fact wasn't target and this made me spend more time running around like a chicken than actually being useful. I had to learn to trust my eyes more than addons.

25. Twin Val’kyr, Trial of the Crusader
It is a very easy fight unless you start to think too much. Suddenly you find yourself trying to get a white shield to protect you from dark vortex, or... hey, how was it? It's not about learning curve though. It's about your brain not messing up.

26, Auriaya, Ulduar
The most complicated about the fight is the pull and the initial dealing with the adds, which always seemed a bit chaotic to me. I think it's a worse fight for tanks and raid leaders who want to place the black zones at convenient places, not to mess up with the fears.

27. Lord Jaraxxus, Trial of the Crusader
Never has spellstealing been more appropriate and fun! Arcane mages rocked at this fight and I enjoyed it a lot. There were quite a few things to think of, but nothing more than that you could handle it with the help of an addon and a few good macros.

28. Faction Champions Trial of the Crusader
For a non-PvP:er this felt kind of strange and awkward. Why are they doing this to us? sort of. But if I don't remember it wrong, they nerfed it. Somehow it became doable even for me. I have no idea if I ever improved to be honest and I don't know where to place it in difficulty order so it will end up in the middle.

29-42: It's getting more difficult

29. Anub’arak Trial of the Crusader
Being chased always freaked me out, as well as the tiny adds you were supposed to get rid of quickly, being a ranged, and still not tanking them, because that hurt. Apart from that phase it was just simple tank and spank, probably more interesting for the healers.

30. The Assembly of Iron, Ulduar
I love it when you get some special assignment and can feel Important for a little while. Lot's of fun for mages here, spellstealing shields among others.

31. Valithria Dreamwalker, Icecrown Citadel
From a dps perspective this is like phase 1 of Kel’Thuzad, with the difference that you need to counterspell some adds, be quicker on others and stay out of a bit of crap. Not that interesting for a ranged dps:er, but I hope the healers are having a blast, whatever they're doing in that other realm.

32. Sartharion, Obsidian Sanctum
It took me quite a while to get the hang of the fire walls. It finally dawned upon me how they worked when I saw a highly pedagogic strategy where they included pictures of teddy bears in different positions. The jumping back and forward into the portals for the add dragons weren't entirely trivial either to begin with. It became a lot worse with +3 of course.

33. Lord Morrowgar, Icecrown Citadel
We killed this guy in a blind raid, working out tactics of our own. Dealing with spikes and staying out of fire wasn't enough to make me really frustrated.

34. Thorim, Ulduar
As long as we had to sheep one of the adds in the gauntlet this fight was a bit challenging with a lot of targetshifting, counterspelling, movements and an enrage timer not to let the arena be overwhelmed. Once our gear was better and had learned to look at the mean guy's firecasting hands, it was rather easy.

35. Northrend Beasts, Trial of the Crusader
With the constant threat of being demoted to pillock rank if I got hit by that hairy beast, this encounter always gave me a bit of pain in the stomach. The poison-fire-thing was also kinf of tricky.

36. Heigan, Naxxramas
I'm not the best of dancers. And with my former computer and the lag I endured on it, it was far from easy. I was insanely happy when I finally "got it" and after that I did the safety dance many many times. But it was tough learning and I was frustrated.

37. Deathbringer Saurfang Icecrown Citadel
I hate when I have to pick a certain target quickly as it spawns in the middle of a group. I somehow always manage to pick the wrong one. Since we have a strat where we're working in couples on the bloodbeasts I get away with it, using an assist-macro. Yeah, I know I'm a cheater.

38. Sapphiron, Naxxramas
One of the more challenging fights in Naxxramas to me personally. Stay out of general frost damage, be quick on the decursing, get behind tombs and still manage to keep up a decent dps. It demanded you to be awake so to say.

39. Kel’Thuzad, Naxxramas
Quite tough and required me to be on my toes, including instant-sheeping of mc:d people, which can be a bit of a hassle when you're not in ranged. Void zones, get away from the group with the mana detonations... And adds making it more intense toward the end. A worthy endboss, apart from phase 1, which was ridiculously boring. I could have killed for a fast-forward button.

40. Blood Queen Lana’thel, Icecrown Citadel
This fight was challenging the first couple of times before we got that addon that did half of the job for us. It wiped out half of the difficulty of the fight, if not more.

41. Mimiron Ulduar
Oh, I love Mimron. No other fight has had as much of "this is a dance"-feeling since Aran in Kharazan. Clear, solid phases, easy-to grasp movements and target switching and a brief, well needed breaks between every phase so you can reposition, evocate and put on a damage if needed while you're still entertained by gnome. There's some crap to get out of - like the beam - but for some reason it never bothered me that much. It's probably far worse for a healer.

42. Lady Deathwhisper Icecrown Citadel
Lots of stuff to deal with for a mage! Not only target switching, you're also spellstealing for a change, decursing, emergency-sheeping, counterspelling frost bolts and like everyone else: staying out of crap. It took me a while to get hang of it.

43-58: My biggest challenges in Wrath

43. Rotface, Icecrown Citadel
This fight was about getting better at using the camera, keeping track of the kiter so I knew where to run when I was infected. A lot of movement involved, a lot of green crap to stay out of, but somehow it was way easier to me than Hodir ever was.

44. Malygos, The Eye of Eternity
My learning curve hasn't ended. I've never got the hang of phase 3, I can't say I'd master it even today. It's not something I'm proud of, it's just the way it is. I don't match very well with vehicles. It was a beautifully crafted encounter, but it didn't work out as intended since noone wanted to run it in the end.

45. Freya, Ulduar
This fight was like Mimron very predictable with the alternating phases, but way, way more chaotic with the positioning under the little mushrooms, the get-away with debuff and the look-out-for-tree things. And on top of that having some of the adds to die at the same time.
It took me quite some time before I had it all clear for me.

46. General Vezax, Ulduar
Objects that fly quickly towards me that I have to flee from. I hate it. If it wasn't for the DXE addon they'd still be crashing in my head. Sadly enough.

47. Blood Prince Council, Icecrown Citadel
An utterly confusing fight which I still don't really get, no matter how much I look at the given strats. I used to be a bit scared of the kinetic bomb duty, nowadays I don't mind it. At least I know I'm doing something useful. There are simply too many spheres and bubbles for me to grasp.

48. Hodir, Ulduar
Hodir, oh, Hodir. I don't know if truly can say I master him yet. Too many circles to keep track of, and fires and npcs and beams and godknowswhat. Worse to learn than a great deal of the bosses in ICC, I might even put him higher than Sindragosa if I wasn't so embarrassed about it.

49. Professor Putricide, Icecrown Citadel
I would dare say that Putricide is exactly as difficult as Sindragosa, but then I've always been terrible at seeing things tossed at me from above. It was the same with Void Reaver and Genereal Vezaxx. Only reluctantly do I flip my camera up and if I'm then required to move I'm kind of lost. There's a lot of stuff going on at the screen and you also have to keep track of Putri's health to get the phase transitions right. Complicated.

50. Sindragosa, Icecrown Citadel
This is the opposite of tank and spank, requiring speed and precision in every detail - debuff handling, placing the iceblocks correctly and nuking them down at the perfect pace. Being a mage helps a bit; if it wasn't for blink I'd surely die from her chains. It took me quite a while to learn this though.

51. Yogg-Saron Ulduar
Three glorious phases! Tentacles! Decursing! Liberating mates from their chains! Turning away from gaze! Escape the beams! Always on the move and on the top of that keeping track of your sanity! It was a mega-long fight which was exhausting but fun, fun, fun. And as a sugarcoating: no corpse run, but a convenient teleport, which was very welcome since the fight as such took so long time. It took me quite a while though to go from the chaotic stadium to understand what I was doing. I feel sorry for everyone who never got around to do it because their guild wanted into the looting node of ToC.

52. The Lich King, Icecrown Citadel
I've only killed him once so far and I certainly don't expect the next kill to be a piece of cake. We have the gear, no doubt. But LK requires me to be on my toes like no boss has before.

The End
And that's the end of the list. We still have the Ruby Sanctum dragon to mix into this; it will be interesting to see where on the scale it lands. I would suspect they'll keep it on the simple side so the PUGs have something to deal with over the summer. Guilds who complain might get achievements to play around with to make it more interesting.

" haven't taken the hardmodes into the mix". Right. No I haven't, since I've done far from all of them myself and wouldn't know what I was talking about. Sorry. But please go ahead, make your own lists and fill in whatever is missing!

Thanks to Cassandri for the lovely idea! I don't know how much my version of the list adds to the original post, but I certainly had a ton of fun writing it, and that's what this is all about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Apropos of Heroes

Whatever happened to the heroes? No more heroes anymore, no more heroes anymore…

Sorry. I’m just singing to myself. The song from 1977 by The Stranglers started to play in my head this week and I can’t turn it off. Never heard of it? Jump over to YouTube and check it out!

OK, now when we all have some background music going, it’s time to welcome you to yet another episode of the Friday Night Talk Show at The Pink Pigtail Inn. Have a seat and a pint and let’s end the week with some relaxed ranting about what’s been up lately.

The lack of heroes
The topic for the discussions by the barside tonight is "Heroes", or rather the lack of them in WoW, something that was brought up first by Copra and then in a follow-up post by Tobold.

Among other things Copra pointed out that there aren't that many world famous WoW players around. For instance very few would know or care about who was the first one to kill LK.

And he's right of course. We who stalk WoW news sites and blogs may occasionally mention the guilds Ensida and Paragon and a minority of us can name one or two of their players. But the harsh truth is that their fame is limited, and I’m not talking about limited in the sense that non-WoW players never heard of them. They’re completely unknown to 99 percent of the WoW subscribers. Someone might recognize a guy called Jenkins, but that's about how many player celebrities as there are. I think we can agree on that the fame of a player rarely - if ever - will spread any further than to your own home server.

When you’re playing WoW it’s easy to find yourself as one in the crowd – a small and rather insignificant cog in a huge machine, and according to Copra this will give you a sense of hollowness. It's a game where everyone is greeted as a hero and yet no one really is one.

Tobold commented on it, agreeing in the case of the hollow feeling, but also saying that you can't really expect to reach hero status by playing a video game. If you want to become a hero you should rather join the fire brigade.

I think the discussion is slightly confusing since we haven’t really nailed down what we're actually talking about and how we define different words. Is this about heroes, heroism, e-fame or about the risk/reward system in the game? What constitutes a hero and what exactly is it that gives you a heroic experience? When does the sense of “heroism” kick in for a player? I’m afraid I can’t sort it all out myself either, but I’ll ponder a bit upon a few of those aspects.

The hidden heroes
As a starter I'll highlight the fact that being a hero is far from equivalent with being famous. There’s nothing heroic at all over the vast majority of people in the world that are considered "famous". They're in the position they are for many different reasons and quite often it involves a bit of luck. Equally there are also countless numbers of heroes who no one will ever notice or hear about.

Small and big deeds are done every day – in real life as in WoW. Dedicated leaders will make guilds that were on the verge of extinction rise and flourish again. Game friendships will evolve into something far beyond what you would have expected when someone is going through real life hardships as unemployment, divorces, illness or even death.

There are ever so many untold stories of heroism out there and I bet there even are heroes hiding in stealth here at this inn, too humble to even consider themselves heroes.

We’re living in a world where it in one way is much easier to get the word out about heroic deeds than it used to be. You don’t have to pass any gate keeper who has the power over the established, traditional media channels. Anyone can call for attention thanks to free tools such as Twitter, blogs, YouTube and Facebook.

On the other hand I’m not certain it’s easier to become a World Famous Hero than in the past. Everyone is so occupied shouting and exposing themselves that they haven’t got much time and space to listen to others. And even if they bothered they wouldn't hear much anyway due to all the noise.

No more heroes anymore. The lack of heroes n the WoW universe reflects the time we’re living in. Is it for good or for bad? Mostly for good I think. As good as heroes can be as inspiring examples I prefer a world where everyone has the potential to become a Hero in their own life, rather than watching and worshiping a few Chosen ones from the sideline.

A hero in the game
Let’s move along to the in-game perspective on heroism. Does the game manage to convince us that our characters are the heroes of Azeroth?

No doubt there’s at least an underlying intention that WoW should evoke heroic feelings within the player, just check how Blizzard describes it in the game introduction at their website:

“Players from across the globe can leave the real world behind and undertake grand quests and heroic exploits in a land of fantastic adventure.”
So, what do we say about this? How often do we sense that our quests are grand, our exploits heroic and our adventures fantastic?

Speaking for myself I felt like a hero this more ore less constantly as I first started to play WoW three years ago. I was a young, small but dedicated gnome mage, ready to explore and conquer the world. However the spell appears to have diminishing returns. Sure, I fly high, in moments of relief, joy, wonder and excitement once in a while, but I have the feeling that it takes more to get me there and that it lasts me slightly shorter. Which of course is a bit sad. I suppose that eventually when the moments just won’t appear at all, it’s time to move over and do something else.

What the NPCs tell us
If we have forgotten that we are heroes in the game, there are still quite a few NPCs around that are willing to remind us.

There was a time when I kind of believed the NPC when she told me I had made the world a huge service liberating it from ten frenzied pigs. Nowadays it takes quite a bit more to convince me. The NPCs may praise my name and call on me enthusiastically as I randomly pass them at Krasus Landing in Dalaran, but this doesn’t make my heart swell with heroic pride.

It reminds me a bit of the celebrations of Saint Lucy’s Day in Sweden, where well-meaning preschool teachers decide that “everyone who wants to” could be Saint Lucy, making you end up with 25 Saint Lucy’s in the procession and not a single accompanying maid. It takes away quite a bit of the enjoyment and beauty of the performance and I don’t know if even the kids are happier about it. When everyone is greeted as a hero no one really is, I would give Bullcopra right in this.

This said, there are also a few scripted events that are supposed to make you feel like a hero, which are if not heroic, at least enjoyable. The best one I’ve seen so far was definitely the scene that follows when you turn in the last part in the chain that opens up the Ogrila quests in Blades Edge, Into the Soulgrinder. I remember ogres all over the place, kneeling and dancing with joy, hailing me as their queen. Oh gosh, I wish I could redo that quest again just to see it happen!

The other day I passed by the ogre camp and even if it was scripted and something they’ll tell anyone with a decent reputation, I couldn’t help being a bit charmed by their call-outs:
“It's amazing how much you have helped us out. We'd dare say that if it weren't for you we'd already have been overrun by the demons or fried to a crisp by the Black Dragonflight!”

“We still stand here only because of Larísa's help.”

"It's Larísa, mighty mage and sister to ogres everywhere!"
Probably it helped a bit that I was the only player around; somehow it’s more convincing when you don’t see another 25 players at the same spot getting the same reception.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind if they expanded it a bit. Maybe they could let themselves be inspired by the wonderful Swedish commercial where you're picture is put into an heroic context? (The link goes to a version with Larísa included, sent to me in a comment after the LK kill, thanks for that!)

Moments of heroism
The heroism discussion has also branched out to include the issue of challenges and risk taking.

Copra complained that there isn’t really any risk involved in WoW as opposed to in EVE, which can be one reason for his lack of a heroic experience.

“In a game with instant resurrection and no fear of losing anything this feeling is watered down to a point that it causes no feelings at all.”, as he put it in a comment at Tobold's post.

This isn’t the first time someone brings this up. Some bloggers have suggested that WoW should have a more severe punishment for death, thus making the game more exciting. But I beg to differ on this.

The game provides all the tools you need as it is. You can very well make an encounter so hard that you will wipe unless every cast, every interrupt, every move and every CD is done with perfection. And once you succeed despite the odds against you, you’ll certainly feel the heroism flooding in your veins.

It’s easy to get there if you want to. Turn off the ICC buff, raid in blue gear instead of overgeared, make the achievements, run with a smaller group. It’s your choice. All it takes is self discipline and dedication. If you’ve been wiping for three nights straight, I can assure you that the death penalty with repair bills and endless times spent on corpse runs (or help me God listening to Arthas 1 min monologue) are harsh enough to motivate you not to want to wipe anymore.

I can’t help wondering if those who suffer from lack of heroism just are victims of the habit to follow the path of least resistance. Maybe you'd feel more heroic if you challenged yourself with something harder?

Final words
To summarize this monster post (I'm so sorry, but sometimes I just can't shut up once I've got started):

There may not be that many heroes around in the world or in WoW these days. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy moments of heroism – as the ogres are kneeling in front of you, as you’re giving a helping hand to someone in need or as you’re finally taking down that son-of-bitch-boss.

Now you’ve definitely heard enough of my voice for this week. So I'll turn up the volume again and lose myself in nostalgia, wondering whatever happened to the heroes of the 70s. But that's an entirely different story.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

No, I Won't Write any Review on That Book

The average WoW blogger can't expect any substantial rewards for all the efforts we put into our hobby. Sure, if you're a Big Name Blogger you might monetize your work just a little, like Tobold does with his donation button. But it won't make anyone rich; at most you can cover your subscription fee. If you're lucky.

We're not spoiled with any other fringes either. I believe there are a handful of exceptions, but most of us won't receive an invitation to an exclusive Beta testing, or get a copy of an upcoming game in advance so we can write about it. I suppose the blogosphere isn't considered to have that much of impact , so we're not worth including in standard PR plans.

Until now I've only had an offer like that once, an offer I turned down, since I thought I couldn't make a serious job as a reviewer due to my lack of general gaming knowledge. And in the end it turned out that those who accepted the offer never got their copies in the end.

A recent book
The last couple of weeks we've seen an explosion on the blogs, where everybody and his uncle has been more or less openly marketing a recently published book on the topic of guild management. Those who came up with this promotion campaign can't be anything but pleased with the outcome. I think bloggers who are starved for attention and benefits and who might nourish "I want to make a living on my writing one day" dreams is the perfect target audience.

The author has a connection to the blogosphere, and I suppose that's how the idea came up for the publisher to send out letters to what must have been a huge amount of WoW and MMO bloggers, offering them free review copies, judging from the amount of posts about it.

I got one too. It was a very nice letter, which didn't just feel like spam, starting with a personal greeting: "Hi Larísa"... I must admit that I initially felt a little bit flattered. Wow, they want ME to write a review on this. Are they considering The Pink Pigtail Inn and my views that important? I almost did a /flex. Yeah, I know, they just used simple, human psychology, and I dare say it worked pretty well!

So I almost ordered a copy. As opposed to in the case of the free game review copy, I thought that I might be qualified enough to be able to make a good judgment. I've written tons of book reviews in the past, and even though I haven't lead a guild myself, I've got experience of leadership in real life and of being a member of a guild. I thought I could be able to say something about that book. And I like the topic, most definitely. The psychology of WoW, the challenges of team building and leadership, is one of the aspects of the game that interests me most.

Why I didn't order it
I never came around to accept the offer though. One reason was that it felt a bit weird to all of a sudden start to write book reviews at my blog. It's not something I regularly do, so why now, why highlight this book out of everything that is published?

I think it was the journalist in me who wanted to have a word in this. If I'm to write book reviews, I want to do it on a more regular basis, keeping up with and mirroring not just this one book, but everything that is connected to WoW or MMOs. And I want to pick the books I write about out of my own choice and will, monitoring the market and not just jumping at whatever book that randomly is sent to me.

And then there was this more pragmatic reason. I already spend quite a bit of time not only playing WoW, but thinking about it, writing about it, reading blogs and listening to podcasts. I could vividly picture the reactions from my family if they caught me reading WoW related books when I'm not playing the game. It would be the final nail in the coffin, proving once for all that I had lost it, and actually I would partly be ready to give them right.

A win-win situation
I might sound a little bit negative, but that's not my intention. I have no reason to believe it's a bad book; the writer seems qualified enough. And I don't think it's a bad idea to send it to the blogosphere, on the contrary.

It's a win-win situation. The bloggers get a free book copy, which is exciting and nice if you've never gotten anything like that before. The publisher gets tons of free marketing. (Grats on that!). And the blog readers... oh well I suppose they're happy too. With so many reviews to look at they certainly know what to expect if they decide to buy the book. I just hope they bear in mind that the blog writers might be a little bit biased since - as pointed out - they're not used to making reviews and might be under the influence of feeling flattered.

I admit though that it makes me a little bit giggly to see all those reviews promptly pop up so quickly and dutifully, as if it the bloggers were turning in their homework, with apologies if they're a little bit later to the party than the other reviewers.

As the veteran I am I want to send my fellow bloggers a piece of advice: just because you've got a free copy it doesn't mean that you're obliged to write a review. In the end you are the one in charge of your blog and if you don't think it deserves a post you can just put the book in a drawer and forget about it. They won't sue you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Someone Just Knocked on the Door

I picture it as when a police squad finally arrives at a parent-free party going on in a house in the middle-class suburbs. A window is broken, there’s litter all over the place, and someone has puked in the garden. Finally one of the neighbours made the phone call to make it stop.

“Party’s over kids! Get out of here, time to go home!”

The party is over at MMO Champion and they have removed all content about the Cataclysm Alpha for the time being, and it will remain this way until the NDA is lifted.

Boubouille doesn’t say right out what has happened, but from what I can read out of it, they have probably done more than just ask him nicely to take it away. There are most likely lawyers involved.

“I don't have any reason or project to be an internet superhero because none of the underwear I have look nice over my pants”.
What took them so long?
I’m just a bit curious what took them so long to act. It’s as if the Blizzard lawyers have walked down by foot the entire way from their headquarters in Stormwind to MMO Champion's operation in Booty Bay. Don’t these guys have flying mounts?

Maybe it just took them a while to make up their minds on how to do. The buzz was nice to listen to, but there was a backside to it too. Maybe they finally listened to the complaints from the official fansites, put at disadvantage by sticking to the NDA, and realized that they had to do something if they wanted to keep them as allies? Maybe they wanted some space to keep working on the expansion in peace and quiet.

I believe a major reason for them to put a stop to it is that they needed to make a statement and show that Blizzard are serious enough about their own polices to take action when they’re violated.

If it would become too apparent that the NDA didn’t mean anything in reality, what would that suggest about all the other stuff at the three-page-agreement that we click through without reading thoroughly every time there’s an update? They have to take some sort of action every now and then against violation of their policies – be it gold selling, hacking or leaking of NDA material. Their credibility was at stake.

Another reason might be that they wanted to get some more attention to what’s happening in Wrath. There hasn’t been that much talk going on about Ruby Sanctum. With less of Alpha distractions right in front of our noses, they might be more successful in getting attention to their own, planned agenda.

Moving to the Evil East
Of course the action against MMO champion doesn’t mean that all the Alpha material is gone now. Once something is out on the webs it’s there and there’s no way to put back the genie into the bottle again. However the curious guys will have to look a bit further away to find it, in the “Evil East” as Tim Howgego called it on his by now classic map over the Warcraft communities.

And if you travel to those areas you’ll do it at your own risk, as Spinks points out in her comment today. Do you want to download viruses and other crap to your computer? Go ahead. If not you’d better stay here in the safer areas of the community, where the sun is shining, keeping the shades away and where you’ll still get teasers about Cataclysm, although in the pace that Blizzard decides.

The Cataclysm Alpha party is over. Now, let’s try to get some energy and enthusiasm back into Wrath. Let’s start longing for and speculating about Ruby Sanctum!