Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mobile guild chat – a success or a portal breaker?

Which new features in WoW have become a success and which projects turned out to be expensive mistakes to learn from? That’s something that never ceases to catch my curiosity, but of course it’s also something that Blizzard treats it as well guarded secrets for competition reasons.

We can never know for sure, only speculate, based on what we see with our own eyes in the game and the gossip we hear in the community. This post will begin with a bunch of wild guesses and then go over to some personal ponderings over the incoming mobile guild chat. It will be long and ranty and not entirely on topic. Be warned!

The sparkling pony
I think we all agreed on that the sparkling pony became a huge instant success – despite the fact that you hardly ever see any of those around these days. Maybe the stigma of being so “foolish” that you actually bought this steed (yes, I was one of the critiques) became too strong. Maybe the novelty wore off. Or maybe it was just too annoying to see everyone else flying around on the same horse. My guess is that they don’t sell many mounts now, but they certainly must have made a fair amount of revenue on them during the first couple of weeks.

There was so much buzz around that pony – and you actually could see it in game to begin with. I really don’t see any reason to doubt that people bought it.

Then there are other features that aren’t as obvious. One development project, which they included in the game rather than making it something extra to pay for – which they probably could have - was the in-game voice chat. From what I’ve read through the lines in interviews it appeared to me as if it took the quite a bit of effort to get it in place. But does anyone ever use it? I can’t show any evidence, but I really doubt it. Surely you would have heard of it? If you ever get into a PUG ambitious enough to try arranging voice communications, they won’t ask you to activate your voice chat. They’ll give you the address to their existing TS or Vent server. I’m not sure why it was such a failure. Maybe the marketing wasn’t good enough, maybe the sound quality was too bad or maybe everyone who’s interested in that kind of communication already had the tools they needed and didn’t see any reason to swip.

The AH app
Some novelties, are marketed more heavily, namely the ones they hope to make money on. Early this year Blizzard launched an application that lets you make some (limited) business at AH even when you’re not logged into the game. And without having any hard facts to back it up with, I have a feeling that it didn’t turn into a mega hit, as I suspected from the start.

It’s about as quiet about this feature as it is about the voice chat. Do you know of anyone that uses it? I sure don’t. It could of course be due to the fact that it’s an overall downtime for WoW. If you’re on a break until Cataclysm, like so many are, there isn’t any strong incentive for you to pay extra to browse AH from home. So it could be about the timing. But for some reason I don’t think that’s the entire truth. You see: I never heard of any enthusiasm for this even back in the days when you could test it for free.

Here’s my speculation for the day: I think that the mobile app doesn’t sell as well as they had expected. And that’s why they now are adding more features to it, in the hope that it will be appetizing enough to make more players open their wallets. If the AH device had been standing well on its own legs, they could as well have sold the new guild chat remote access separately for a lower cost, letting the players chose for themselves what extras to use.

3-d viewer
I know there are other new features incoming as well, such as the possibility to see your own character as a 3d model and to see all of your latest doings in the game. I’ll leave it out of this discussion, because it’s beyond my comprehension in what way that would be interesting to anyone? Do we feel such an urge to look at our toons that we can’t wait until we log into the game next time? Don’t we remember any longer what we did last night? It boggles my mind.

Let’s focus on the mobile guild chat feature, which according to me is the biggest news to the deal. This is clearly another step in the direction to change WoW from a game into a social network, in line with Real ID and a lot of other recent changes.

I can see why Blizzard thinks it’s a good idea from their perspective; players who have deep connections with their guilds are more likely to keep playing. And how do you make them loyal and feel as if they’re “friends” with their guildies? Well, getting to know each other better, being able to chat even when you’re not online. certainly would help.

Other channels
The question is: are people really prepared not only to use this, getting more attached to their guildies an the game following Blizzard’s social engineering plan, but also to pay extra in order to do this? Will this become the hit that the AH app never was? Let me doubt it.

It isn’t as if we’re completely lacking other ways of keeping in touch with your guildies when you’re not logged into the game. Many guilds have forums, or perhaps you’ve set up a mailing list, joined MSN or some other chat device.

I’ve heard the argument that this device will be perfect if you’re stuck on a train and will be late for the raid. But as it is today you can leave a message to someone in the guild through a text message or a phone call. Would you pay several dollars extra per month just to be able to say that you’re late for the raid in the guild chat rather than by some other means? Mind you, we’re not talking about a one-time-only deal, such as the pony was, but about a subscription – a commitment that will add up after a while. It’s a fair amount of money, not only for students and unemployed.

The magical portal
Finally: how do I think for my own part? Do I feel an urge to participate in the guild chat all day long? Well, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to you when I say: I don’t. It’s not just the thing that I’m still a stranger to some parts of the modern social networking, such as Twitter.

I think it also has to do with my view on the game as a magical world that I want to enter, leaving my normal life behind me. A 24/7 access to the guild chat somehow blurs the lines a little bit too openly for my taste.

But… but! Larísa! You already blog and you visit your guild forums! You’re socializing a lot with WoW players outside of WoW! So why not through the guild chat? Well, that’s not easy to answer. I think I just want to draw the line somewhere.

Let’s put it this way. It’s often good for a relationship if you come around to spend some time apart from each other, doing things on your own hand. When you finally meet again, your time together will be that much sweeter than if you had been text messaging each other every twenty minutes all through the day. You have much more stories to share and you’ve built up some sort of longing for each other.

When I log in I’d like to feel: “yay! How awesome! Finally I can go and kill dragons together with him and him and her, it’s been a long time since I saw them, and gosh, I enjoy spending some time together!” rather than….”omg… I’ve been listening to his/her ranting the entire day now, can’t he ever shut up… I’d better log off and do something else where I don’t have to hear this I’ve had enough of it.”

It’s just like seeing family. Sure, it’s nice to see your brother and sister and parents and aunt and cousins, but it’s nice since you’ve had time to miss each other. I certainly wouldn’t like to spend all day long in their company.

The login screen is my magical portal to Azeroth where I can meet my friends and kill dragons. It’s a separate world. It’s a bit like the kids who entered Narnia through the wardrobe. It wasn’t as if Lucy had an online chat with Mr Tumnus as she was back at home.

And I like to keep it pretty much that way. So even if I had one of those modern fancy mobile devices, which I don’t, I wouldn’t subscribe for this. Some players will though, no doubt. I wonder how many.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The button that can make GM Zhafaarion out of work

Boubouille over at MMO Champion calls it "one of the most amazing features of Cataclysm, really". He might be exaggerating a little bit but, to be honest I think I'm not the only one to think that the incoming "Return to Graveyard" button will be handy.

This is a feature especially designed to help out confused gnomes that get have the habit of getting stuck in ghost form, after dying in a strange location.

Does it sound familiar? You've given up about getting to your body long time ago, you've accepted your defeat and will happily pay the repair bill and endure the debuff, if you only could find the goddamn sprit healer. It's just that now he's gone and you have no idea of where to find him. The map doesn't help you either, because for some unknown reason Blizzard has decided to keep the graveyards secret. It's like one of those military installations that you can encounter sometimes. It obviously exists, because you see it, but you're not allowed to capture it on a map or a picture.

But now Blizzard in their infinite wisdom has decided that enough is enough. No more restless hovering. Just pull the emergency handle and BAM you're saved.

And we are not the only ones to be saved. I suspect that this will save them a bit of GM workload as well, and I guess that's one of the reasons why they're giving it to us in the first place. Why let paid GMs spend time on this when the players can help themselves? It's not as if body-searching provides something extra or is an essential part of the gameplay. It's just plain annoying, most of the time.

A story from Maraudon
There are exceptions though. This weekend something happened that almost made me regret the incoming change. The story took place in Maraudon, one of the most feared body traps in the game. As a matter of fact I've never ever been able to find my way back into it after dying in there, so it's not the instance of my choice so to say. But now I had ended up there after using the LFD tool for my level 42 frost mage (a very long term little side project of mine in case you're wondering.)

I prayed silently that we wouldn't wipe as we aimlessly wandered around in the caves, looking for the end boss that would make the instance considered completed. Finally we found and killed they guy. So far so good. But before we had decided what to do now - break up, finish the rest of the instance or queue up again, someone pulled another pack of trash mobs and we wiped. And not surprisingly, it turned out that none of us was able to find the way back. The entire party was in ghostform for the longest, every now and then asking each other: "have YOU any idea of how to get back?" No one had. Eventually we broke up before anyone had resurrected.

I found myself completely lost in the labyrinth surrounding the instance. Sometimes I was apparently quite close to the entrance, since I got a message telling me that I had to enter the instance to resurrect. Thank you very much, but I had an inkling about that already. However I couldn't find the magic door and I got more and more frustrated. After a while I decided to give up on it and go back to the spirit healer instead. But that's when the true devilish nature of this maze would show. The entrance I came through had vanished. I was stuck.

If you think about it, it could be a possible manner to spend the rest of your time in the game. If it had been on an RP server I could have become a gnome ghost, haunting the depths of Maraudon, spreading fear into anyone daring to set their foot there.

But thinking about how people get into instances these days, teleporting themselves into them, I figured that it would be rather lonely in the long run, with not many players around to scare.

So instead I went for my last resort. I decided to write a GM ticket, pleading for mercy and help to get out of this.

An unexpected meeting
Actually I didn't expect very much to come from it. I wasn't even sure of this was the kind of problems you could get help with - after all there wasn't anything in the game that was malfunctioning apart from my sense of direction. It was self inflicted. And if they did something about it at all, they could very well let it wait a few days - or even until Cataclysm, when those issues would be solved anyway.

Can you guess how long it took me from that I wrote the ticket until a GM whispered me? I think it was about 10 seconds, if even that long. Before I knew it, fellow gnome and GM Zhafaarion came to my rescue. Not only did he have the sweetest conversation with me, bringing me out from the caves and back to life (he had some really good cables, that guy) - he also met up with me where we could have a little dance- and hug-party in this far distant place. He gave a final demonstration of his gnomish powers as he departed in an earthquake so big that I'm sure it will have some consequences for the geography of the old world. In case something will change I know where it started: right outside Maraudon.

It turned out that I had been chosen to answer to a survey about what I thought about the service I just had gotten. I don't know if it was a coincidence or not that I got it, but I gave him the best superlatives I could think of. I hope he'll get a pay raise.

Cutting down costs
We've reached the end of my story and it brings me back to the topic - the introduction of Return to Graveyard. Is it only for good? It's a very useful feature, no doubt about that! I'm all with Bouibouille in his enthusiasm. If you've ever been stuck as a ghost, you know why.

Still I hear this tiny little voice inside me that actually regrets it. It's just a little bit and not for any logical reason. But the thing is: if that button had been in the game already, I wouldn't have gotten the chance to have that lovely dance with Zhafaarion.

WoW is getting better and better. We thought it was polished as it was, but they keep on smoothening out whatever little bump that still is in it. The better the game becomes, the more of the customer support that is done automatically, the less opportunities will we get to interact with the GMs. Eventually they won't have any reason at all to come and have a happy dance for a minute with a pink pigtailed gnome to celebrate that she's been brought back to life or to shake up the world as they depart.

I wish you could say that: oh well, but the GMs can come and dance with you anyway, and now they'll have even more time to do that if the players can help themselves with the emergency button!

To be a realist though I don't think that's what will happen. If they find a way to cut down on the number of GMs they have on their payroll, I'm sure they will. And it will make the game a little more dull.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two frost badges in 20 seconds - and still I'm not smiling

Twenty seconds of "effort" to get two frost emblems, that must be something of a record. If you by "effort" mean standing on the spot, waving my branches, pretending I'm doing something when I'm in fact only waiting.

Twenty seconds is enough time to toss a buff on everyone. Not because it's needed but because I have to click some other button than the open-the-bag-and-loot-button. Just anything! I know, it's a little hang-up of mine, but I have this old-fashioned idea about a connection between effort and award in games.

Twenty seconds and you don't only get emblems, but also about 20 gold and if you're lucky even BoE weapons or a "rare" mount.

I guess I should be dancing with joy at the thought of Brewfest 2010. This is indeed an opportunity "not to be missed" for anyone who who wants to progress their character or gather gold. It's a perfect fit for my resto druid, who needs every frost badge she can lay her greedy hands on. Two pieces of T10, here I come!

So how come that I'm not happy? Why am I not amused?

All I feel is emptiness, bordering to loath. I think I've been cheated on something important. Namely the actual game.

A broken event
Blizzard decided not to bother about upgrading the Brewfest event this year. And so it broke. Completely. You could call it a joke, it's just that it isn't even remotely funny. It's so ridiculously easy to a level 80 character, that it's over before it even started, not a bit more interesting than it would be to loot the gold and items straight from the mail box in the "lottery of the day" where you win every time, just like you do at the cheapest ones in an amusement park for very small kids.

I used to think that the daily dungeons were a bit anonymous, too much of a one-night stand, where even the talkative players won't say much more than "hi" when you start and "bye, thanks" when you finish. But then I hadn't seen Coren Direbrew in the 2010 version! It makes the dungeons appear as social clubs.

In BRD no one says a word - how could you in the span of 20 seconds? Are we even sure that we're actually interacting with real players? For all I know they could as well be computer generated. It doesn't feel a bit like an MMO anymore. It's rather an MSO, if that term even exists? Massively Singleplayer Online game.

The interesting aspect of this is that the change to the seasonal events was done with the best intentions, as an improvement. End of tiresome assembling of groups where you risked that someone already had used up their daily chance to get it. End of waiting for everyone to move their asses to the starting place. Just push a button and BAM you're at the boss. Concentrated coolness, isn't that what they call it? Cut the slack and the dead time!

We asked for it, didn't we?

It's only one thing: it doesn't quite work that way. There are a lot of things that you might think would be "fun" to see in a game, but which actually would leave you unsatisfied and unhappy in the long run.

The fun fallacy
Nils wrote a thoughtful post about this a little while ago, where he talked about it as the "Fun fallacy", and I think that's exactly what we're seeing in the case of the Brewfest misery in BRD.

Sure, it could feel a little bit annoying if you were running down the chain bridge down into the fiery depths and someone (not ME of course ;)) stumbled and fell down and you had to start messing around with resurrections, summons and whatnot. But you have to admit that actually seeing the place gave some atmosphere! For a little while you were once again an adventurer, travelling through the world with a mission to complete.

I think the problem here is the rules. Or the lack of them, just as Nils points out.

Players may complain at them and want to get rid of them for various reasons, but they don't have the entire picture. If you take away too many of them, you risk that you remove the point of the game at the same time. I you could move any piece in chess any way you wanted to, would it still be interesting to play it, to anyone older than 3 years?

A big problem with the Brewfest event is of course that we're so overpowered for it and still keep doing it. Not for the trinkets anymore, but for the frost emblems or for the fluff items. But I also miss the flight that brought you there.

Do you remember that lovely little trip with the Mole Machine from the entrance to the bar? For some reason it always reminded me of the little rocket that Doctor Snuggles used to come flying in. (For non EU readers: this was an animated TV series with a slightly psychedelic setting from the early 80s.)

Now the little journey is gone. BAM and you're in the instance. And I'm not too pleased to be honest. My only comfort is that I finally got the remote myself. I don't care if it's useless now. All that matters to me is that I can build my own flying device, for no other reason than that it makes me smile.

On a finishing note I hope that they will pull themselves together now that they're soon done with Cataclysm, giving Brewfest a necessary renewal next year, if they intend to keep it at all.

Because 2010 it was so bad that I was embarrassed on the behalf of Blizzard. This is not what I consider a game. It's just a click-and-loot-fiest, which is something entirely different.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I suddenly feel an urge to spit

I don't think I've ever spit on the ground in my entire life. At least not out of the blue, without a good reason, like after eating something I shouldn't have, without going into any further details. I find excessive spitting absolutely repulsive and a sign of very bad manners. If you're mouth is overflowing, just swallow. OK?

I just want to make that statement from the beginning. I am NOT a spitter in real life, so don't get me wrong in this.

But regardless of this I can't really see what's so horrible about the emote "/spit" in WoW. On the contrary. The first time I met a horde character who spat at me, it surprised me and made me smile a little. Here was someone who actually cared about the character he played and what was going on in this character's life!

Apart from on the RP servers - and hardly there either - there aren't many players who care about roleplaying these days. Following the discussions in the open channels where all you here is GS, ACH and DPS, we could as well be blue and red cubes walking around. Just a geometric form with a bunch of connected stats. If someone spits at you instead of inspecting you, you could as well consider it a complement. After all: it's an effort to interact with you. They want to be a part of your gameplay and the forgotten conflict between alliance and horde.

I would go as far as to say that a little bit of spitting is good for the game. It keeps the spirit alive as long as it's done with good timing and in jest.

However - not everyone shares this opinion. An intense discussion about the /spit-emote has broken out on the EU official forum, in a thread where a player demands that this emote should be removed from the game:
"I personally find this more offensive than being sworn at. At work / school / college you get sworn at in some form or another on a regular basis. Sometimes its offensive sometimes its not.

When do you ever get spat on IRL. If you do its classed as assult and can lead to a criminal charge. In football / rugby you spit on someone you get banned for a minimum 3 weeks. Where as they can swear at an offical in the heat of battle. I personaly belive this emote should be removed from the game. I cant think of a replacement for it atm but im sure there are other options than to have this obscene gesture in place. "
Her request is mocked by quite a few, but there are others who support the anti-spit movement. It doesn't seem as if Blizzard is prepared to meet her request, but Vaneras wrote a blue reply and suggested her to install an addon that can help her to filter unwanted emotes. He's even linking to "Spitfilter reborne" that was designed a couple of years ago with the one and only purpose to filter out "/spit", which made my jaw drop.

There's an addon for everything, isn't there?

For my own part I get a little bit triggered by the spitting debate. I suddenly feel an urge to do it myself. I'm always so polite. In real life. In game. On my blog (at least I want to think so). But how much would it hurt if I for once tried out what it feels like to spit on the ground for no particular reason in a role playing game? Maybe it would even make me good?

Think about it: isn't spitting actually a more peaceful way to fight your opponents than to execute them with a spell or a strike?

One of the commenters in the thread suggested a macro that I maybe should try out in a battleground.


Press until opponent will flee.
I would name it "Larísa's Super Special PvP Macro". Oh yes... Fear the Spitting Gnome!

But hey... what's going on over there in the corner? You there! Stop! That's disgusting!

Now get yourself outside young man and do what you need, but no spitting on the floor in my inn!

Cheers all!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What can Blizzard do to fight the phobia of inefficiency?

Have you noticed that Blizzard’s lead systems designer Ghostcrawler has gone into a frenzy mode on the forums recently?

Day and night he seems to be browsing them, looking for good discussion threads to participate in. Normal working hours won’t apply to him. He’s especially active during the weekends, when other people tend to try to spend some time with their family and friends or diving into their hobbies. If legendary yacht even exists, Ghostcrawler can’t see much of the sea, being too busy discussing with the players.

Did I ever say he is awesome? He really is.

The over-obsession
Anyway: in the stream of blue posts signed GC, a recent thread caught my attention. This discussion is about the new talent trees, about cookie-cutter specs and whether you really have any freedom to put your points wherever you like to, or if this freedom is imaginary, since so much ends up being mandatory.

Ghostcrawler talks about this at length and with a passion that gives me the impression that this isn’t just some ordinary mumbo-jumbo corporate speak, but that the guy actually is worried about certain parts of the game and that he’s tearing his hair because he doesn’t know what to do about it.

He is genuinely concerned about what he calls an over-obsession that the community has for cookie cutter specs.

“It's somewhat understandable because the WoW community has evolved in a direction where being badly informed is worse than being a bad player. We're all very quick to judge each other based on litmus tests, such as gear scores, achievements, or proper talent builds, that likely don't measure performance half as well as we want them to.”
One of the posters in this thread takes up a situation that I think many of us can recognize:

“The Devs may be correct, in theory, that we don't need to squeeze every last drop of DPS out of our talent trees to down bosses. But in practice, you try to get in a raid with a tree that sacrificed 1% DPS for some fun utility, and you don't get an invite. Why would the raid leader take someone that didn't even spec the "right way"? “
Exactly. If you’re just following the EJ recommendation to 99 percent and not to 100 percent you’re per definition perceived as a moron and a slacker, if not by everyone, at least by most other players.

And here’s Ghostcrawler’s reply:

"Posts like this make me very sad. You're portraying yourself to be at the mercy of uninformed yet tyrannical raid leaders who are quick to judge your performance based on perceived "tells." I know you need some basis to evaluate potential recruits or even pug members. But I do wish there was some way to turn around this virtual phobia of inefficiency -- this terror of being WRONG -- that we have managed to instill in our player base. I honestly think it's one of the greatest challenges facing the game."

Blizzard’s fault?
Did you see that? Ghostcrawler is taking the responsibility for the sad state of the player base. My spontaneous reaction is to say: “no, no, no!” Don’t blame yourself! You’re delivering a great game, if players are dumb jerks it’s not your fault!

But at a second thought I can see that he has a point. Blizzard has a reason to ask themselves why it turned out this way and what they could do about it.

The culture in the community, the atmosphere in the game, the ideals, the ethics, the core values, the attitudes in the player base won’t come out of nothing. It’s the result of a number of combined factors and in the end, gaming companies probably get the audience they deserve. Some of it comes from game design decisions, such as the introduction of the LFD feature, which changed the social structure completely. But it’s also related to out-of-game decisions. What information sources do you provide? How do you interact with the players and the community resources? Which market section is your main audience and how do you present your game to them?

The extreme min-maxing philosophy used to be something that just a tiny part of the playerbase cared a lot about, but nowadays it has spread much more widely, in a twisted form that doesn’t make sense, where players refuse to play with anyone who isn’t completely overgeared for an encounter.

This has nothing to do with understanding the basics of the game, which is a good thing. I’m not talking about concepts such as Gevlon’s recent guide for fresh level 80s. This is something else: it’s pure, uninformed, destructive and ridiculous snobbery that won’t create any better or happier players, only make the game less fun for everyone.

I’ll give the word to Ghostcrawler again, because he says it best:

“How many attempts can you name in your lifetime as a WoW player where your doing 1% more dps would have made the difference between success and failure? And how many of those attempts could you have gotten 10% more dps if you had just totally nailed your rotations etc. on those fights instead of worrying about a theoretical 1% dps gain from a different talent?

Every bit helps, totally. I'm not saying throw a dart board at talent trees and expect to be competitive. But at times it's a bit like stooping down to pick up pennies in the gutter because you're about to plunk down six figures on a house. Hey, that's one-one hundredth less dollar I have to pay. :)

Min-maxxing is fun. It's part of the game. Sometimes (more rarely than is claimed) it's even necessary for progression. Just keep it in perspective. It's probably not going to doom your attempt if you pick up a fun talent instead of a 1% dps increase. If the Saturday pug won't take you because you lack the anointed talent, you're probably better off not running with them.”
Turning around the phobia
Ghostcrawler says that turning around the phobia of efficiency is one of the greatest challenges they have and I believe him. It will be hard, not the least due to the fact that WoW is a fairly old and mature game. It’s easier to maintain an attitude of openness and innocent experimenting in a game that is new and not already analyzed down to the last percent. The information is already there. And the idea that you HAVE to take part of it and use every inch of it to be even a half-decent player is spread all over the place.

Is there really anything Blizzard can do about this? I can’t think of anything. But if you know the answer, please give Ghostcrawler a helping hand. He needs it. The game needs it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blizzard’s message to guilds: Get Bigger!

A few months ago there was a huge hullabaloo about the changes to the loot tables of 10 man raiding vs 25 man raiding.

In Cataclysm the drops are going to be the same, something that infuriated many 25 man raiders, who argued that it takes more effort to organize it, and that this should be rewarded.

At that point Blizzard made it very clear that they didn’t want better gear to be an incentive for players to go for bigger raid formats. They wanted us to go for whatever raid size we enjoy rather than what would pay off better. That’s why they made it even, with only a slightly higher drop rate in 25 man raids, in order not to kill off the bigger raids completely.

Now Blizzard is going in an entirely different direction, as they’re presenting the how the guild levelling will work and what guild achievements and perks we’ll see in Cataclysm.

If you’re a small, tight 10 man raiding guild, you can forget about a lot of the guild achievements, and your levelling speed is likely to be way slower. Blizzard will reward guilds that grow Big. Not just a little big, but Crazy Big. The bigger guild you have, the quicker will you reach the level cap and get access to all the goodies.

And I must say that I’m a little bit taken by surprise. What happened to the “we want you to not be punished for just wanting to play in a smaller group of friends” philosophy? Where did this sudden love for mega-big guilds come from?

Changed philosophy
When the guild levelling system first was introduced, they said that only the XP provided by the top contributors every day would be counted. This would mean that a small guild with very active players would stand a fair chance to level almost as quickly as a guild with several hundreds accounts. Well, probably not entirely since a big guild could organize multiple raids, getting more boss kills and more XP that way. But at least it would smoothen out the advancement pace a little. So not anymore.

In a recent blue post, Mumper stated:

“There is no concept of "Top 20 contributors" anymore. We changed that functionality many months ago.”

Totalbiscuit ranted a bit about this in his last show, and I’m just as surprised as he is. Just when did they change this? And why haven’t they said anything about it until now?

The impression that they’re looking for big numbers is reinforced when you look at the recently announced guild achievements. Many, many of them are about quantity rather than quality. And I’m talking about insane quantities.

Take for instance the achievement “That’s a lot of bite”, which requires you to catch 10 000 fish. Quite a different task to a 15 man guild than it is to a 500 man guild, right?

Some of those achievements don’t seem to give much of reward, except for adding to the guild XP (which in itself actually is a pretty big award. Some of the perks you get at max level are really good.)

But there are achievements that give stuff that probably is pretty handy. We don’t know for sure yet what the recipe “Big Cauldron of Battle” does, but I could imagine it’s some flask equivalence to fish fiests that will bring down the consumable costs for your guild. To get it you need to make 25 000 flasks. What small or average sized guild can do that easily?

Alea Iacta Est
Blizzard has always had a good eye at the legendary guild Alea Iacta Est – so good that they even made an anniversary interview with them. I wonder if it’s guilds like them they’ve had in mind designing this?

Now don’t read me wrong; I like them too and I’m a frequent listener to AIE's podcast The Instance. Randy and Scott are nice to listen to and provides a lot of positive energy to not only their own guild but the entire community. But even if I’m fascinated by their epic size, spotting thousands of accounts, I can’t say that I long to belong to such a big guild myself. I like to be in a guild where I recognize every toon and there aren’t more of us than that I can remember which alt belongs to who.

Adrenaline is definitely not the most social guild you’ve ever seen – we’re fairly focused on our raiding endeavours and outside of it, we’re not an extremely talkative bunch of people. But as I log in I feel that I’m the member of a team and not just an unknown name in a 3 000 headed crowd. Our guild chat is small and intimate. We don’t run our own podcast. But we have other qualities.

Looking at the latest news about the guild achievements and the guild levelling, I’m however asking myself if Blizzard really sees the qualities of the small guilds, or if they’d rather want to see more AIE type of guilds on every server.

Randy and Scott brought up this issue themselves in their last show, admitting that many of the achievements will be a piece of cake to their mega-guild, something they get without even paying attention to it. Within weeks of the launch of Cataclysm they’ll have their guild chat spammed with it thanks to their very size.

Take the Critter Kill Squad, where you’re supposed to kill 50 0000 critters. Any small guild that hasn’t lost their mind will stay away from that achievement. Even the cutest Armadillo pup can’t motivate you to go through the hassle. But for AIE? It’s nothing.

Actually the hosts of The Instance didn’t sound too enthusiastic about their incoming achievements, and I don’t blame them. The enjoyment you get from making an achievement usually corresponds very well to the effort you have to make into getting it. It must feel like a rather hollow, non-deserved victory to get all those treats.

What’s the idea?
For my own part I keep asking: Why? What is Blizzard trying to achieve?

Because surely they have an idea in mind? They don’t give away carrots randomly; they normally have a purpose, trying to make players to play the game in a certain way.

They handed out badges to make us play more five-mans than ever before, and extra badges to make us do it with random strangers. They’ve made us revisit old raid content through the weekly raid quests in a futile effort to revive raid instances we’d left behind.

If they now mainly reward quantity-related guild achievements, they apparently want to give incentives for guilds to grow bigger. If they wanted small, tight communities they could have made up achievements that rewarded the smaller scale. I’m not sure how you’d make up such an achievement, maybe it would be something like: “X percent of the guild members must have killed raid boss NN”.

But as it is now it’s all about the Big Numbers.

The question is: will it work? Will guilds be so desperate to get access to those perks and achievements that they’ll try to merge into server-wide superguilds that gain achievements as by default?

For the good of the game I hope not. In a time when we tend to spend more and more of our online time in quiet solitude, playing with stranger you’ve met in LFD and never likely will meet again, I think the game needs the smaller guilds, where you’re not just a number in the big cooperation, but rather a member of a tight team.

I hope that the playerbase will ignore the message from Blizzard and stick up for the smaller format. Regardless of the incentives to go Big.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Diggin’ the digging?

Are you planning to become an Archaeologist in Cataclysm? Apparently it’s not a “must-have” profession for min-maxers, but rather a little “something to do if you enjoy it”. Will you spend time on it anyway?

Not a Loremaster
I think I might, even if I at a first glance assumed that Archaeology wasn’t meant for me.

After all, the entire purpose of this profession is to dig up the past in order to enjoy pieces of lore and history, getting to know the story better. And that’s something I’ve never ever managed to become enthusiastic about before.

My lack of achievements in this area speaks loud and clear. While I’m a dedicated reader in real life, I haven’t read a single book of the ones that are on the list for “Well read”.

I’m not a Loremaster and I’ll never become one. Not just in the achievement sense - I’m thousands of quests away from title and I just can’t be bothered to care about completing all those versions of kill-ten-rats. But also in the sense that I find it hard to become engaged into the lore. God knows I’ve tried, even reading some really crappy WoW novels. But it just didn’t stuck with me. I suppose that I’m a bit like Ixobelle in this manner, that WoW is more like crack than like a book to me.

But after reading Ghostcrawler’s recently published beginner's guide of this profession, I must admit that I feel a little bit attracted to it.

A reason to explore
One reason to like archaeology is that it provides us with an incentive to get out from the city hubs and instance portals, to see the world and smell the flowers. The fact that there isn’t any competition for the spawned artefacts appeared a little strange when I first heard of it. If there isn’t any risk involved at all, won’t it become a tad boring? But thinking closer about it I imagine that it actually can feel like a blessing if you’re in a mood when all you want to is to relax.. A little bit like when you’re taking your fishing rod and heading for some distant water in Grizzly hills, just listening to the music and small talking with the bears. Sometimes you don’t want to push things, but rather slack a little bit and yet feel that you “do” something. And that’s what I think archaeology is for.

I’m not in the Beta myself, so my views on this are of course pure speculation and built on second-hand testimonies. From what I’ve seen, those who have tried it have mixed opinions about it – as always.

Player views
Here are two examples of player views in the forums. First from Branwynn, who is disappointed and doesn’t like it at all:

“3 items then the dig site despawns is just so annoying that I can't express howannoying it is. It seems like you spend a few minutes in one place, then it's off on a flight path to another place on the map where you spend less time doing the "fun" minigame than you took getting there.

It feels like annoying cross between Fishing and Mining. At least with fishing I can do it anywhere there is water (assuming I am skilled enough), with Archeology I get to wander around a site for a few moments then I have to fly far away.

So, It doesn't fill time while I am waiting for people (fishing) because I can't stay in one spot and do it. Also, I can't do it while questing as the dig sites are only in a few spots and unlikely to be in a spot where I am questing.

I really wish it was more like mining or the other gathering professions where there are items scattered around the map and I can use tracking to find the spawn. Then at least I can do it while questing and not have to do special archaeology grind runs.”

And now the point of view from Synandria, who enjoyed it so much that he or she couldn’t stop digging:

“Is it at all sad that I found Archaeology so interesting that I actually did not want to raid today on live?

I really enjoy this. I really do. I don't even care that everything I've made up to this point has been gray, something about it is just really interesting. I'm working on a Fossilized Hatchling and I'm stupidly excited for it.

It's a secondary profession, but it isn't like cooking or fishing or first aid - no, archaeology is actually fun and a great way to waste time, in my opinion.

[…] It's so simple, and so far has not rewarded me with anything of any value whatsoever, and yet, here I am at 3:30 in the morning, digging in Un'goro Crater so I can put together a vanity pet. I don't know why I find this as entertaining as I do. I just know that I really like it.

I am totally okay with criss-crossing the world and back digging up these artifacts since, hey, flying around, checking out the new world is a lot more productive than sitting in Org. I like that they're not spawned like mining or herbalism nodes, so nobody else can 'steal' your artifacts. I enjoy not having to compete with other people in the same area.. that was always one of the most frustrating parts of mining.

People who don't enjoy exploring probably won't enjoy this profession, but as it's a secondary profession that doesn't really offer any gamebreaking rewards, nobody's forcing them to do it. People who don't mind it, and people who are interested in lore and such, might enjoy it. I know I do. “

Items with a story
Well, optimist as I am (most of the time), I choose to go with the enthusiast. I’m definitely going to take up this profession and try it out for myself. The loot table presented at MMO champion with a few examples of what kind of treasures we can expect, made me drool a little bit. Even if I have trouble to care about the WoW lore as wholeness, I’ve always been suck a sucker for items that come with a story.

Just look at that mummified monkey paw, reminding me of some of the horror short stories I used to read, such as The Flayed Hand by Guy de Maupassant. It’s awesome!
Working on long-term projects to get this kind of items will definitely add a little bit of flavour to the game, and might even have a positive effect on my overall interest for the storyline, who knows?

They certainly seem to have great plans for this profession, designing it to be “easily expandable with much more content in the future patches. This sounds promising. Already as it is, archaeology appears to be way more complex and interesting than the other gathering professions. And it will only get better.

So my answer for now is: Yes! I think I’m going to dig the digging.

And now all that remains is to end this post with a traditional Friday night toast.

Cheers all! May you have a great weekend, either you spend it inside or outside Azeroth!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

WoW remains ad-free - for now

Imagine a future WoW where your innkeeper would sell certain world famous soft drinks or hamburgers instead of Honeymint Tea and Sour Goat Cheese.

Imagine that you would see posters advertising the latest cell phone model, side by side with the wanted-posters for villains.

Imagine that you would get a pop-up box with a 15 second “message from our sponsors” every 15 minutes.

Would you be prepared to accept this, if Blizzard at the same time would remove the subscription fees and let you play for free?

I know for sure that I wouldn’t. In-game advertising would effectively kill off the last piece of immersion I possibly could have. The moment they’d bring ads into Azeroth, it would mean that I’d be done with it. For good. If I’ll find myself in a financial situation in the future, where I can’t afford to pay a subscription for WoW, well then, I’ll just quit playing and spend myself on some other low-cost hobby that comes without ads.

Paying with attention
We’re living in an era were more and more services are “free”, or rather: where we pay not with cash, but with our attention. That’s how you pay for news services, music, movies, blogs, you name it, and most people don’t seem to mind very much. But I do. A lot.

Even if I’ve developed certain immunity to advertising, filtering it out from my attention span, I’ve also gotten quite sick and tired with it. I can’t stand watching TV live these days due to all the ad breaks. Since I can afford to buy TV series and movies in boxes, that’s the way I consume them these days. Just to avoid the advertising.

And it appears as if I’m not the only one. According to an article in The Escapist, Blizzard Activision CEO Bobby Kotick recently did a statement about this, saying that they don’t have any plans on incorporating ads and sponsorship into their games, out of respect for the players.

I don’t believe for a second that his views come from him being suck a nice and good guy. It’s all about calculations, and currently they’ll make more money on selling an ad-free game, than they would by including it. Regardless of his motives however, I think the statement also is an effort to help up his solid reputation for being a ruthless business man who doesn’t give a crap about the interests of the gamers or his employees.

Unfortunately Bobby Kotick has a couple of disclaimers. People at his level normaly have that. He says that there won’t be any ad included “unless it’s something that’s really authentic and will enhance the game experience”. Which of course could be interpreted just anyway he wants to, if the situation comes up. "The X company raid instance is a huge addition of game content and we know our players will love it". Yeah, I can imagine how they'll put it.

He also says that in the future, he could imagine a situation where they offer the consumers a “advertiser-supported experience” (or as I would put it “advertise-polluted experience”) so they wouldn’t have to pay for it.

But for now being we're safe. So keep paying, my friends! As long as we do this, Bobby will let Azeroth remain an ad-free sanctuary.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An unexpected cleanup

Frankly I had given up on those old emblems and marks long time ago. That table of currency stared at me accusingly, as a testimony of how lazy and bad I had been in my planning. Why didn't I get rid of those Emblems of Justice in time, while they still had a value?

And why didn't I do something about them this very date? OK, the market probably didn't want those old gems or the Primal Nether anymore. But maybe I could try to see if a vendor would offer me a few silver?

Laziness, Larisa, laziness.

My solution was to tell myself that I had kept them for nostalgia. A look at those Sprit shards, that I never managed to find out how to spend properly, always reminded me of all those nights I spend in the instances surrounding Auchindoun. Dear old Shadow Labs!

And then there were those useless battleground tokens, the Schooby-Do necklaces from Alterac Valley and the bricks or whatever they were supposed to represent, originating from some lost Warsong battle. Theoretically I could have made them useful, doing more battlegrounds in an effort to create full sets that could be turned in for honor. And that honor could be traded for gems. But seriously? Run a battleground just to get a token to get rid of other tokens? Nah. Not worth it.

So as time has passed, the currency page has turned into a neat collection of junk. Well, at least it didn't take up any space anymore. That was quite an improvement to how it used to be back in the days, tokens and shards of all sorts filling my already cramped bags.

The announcement yesterday, that Blizzard has decided to give me a hand, making a complete cleanup of badges and tokens, came out of the blue. I always thought of that currency page as an end station, where those items were left to rotten. But apparently not. All this stuff will be automatically exchanged for gold that will be sent to us in a letter, as we're heading into Cataclysm. Just like that!

We don't know the exchange rate, but I'm all happy it's happening at all. Getting something for that crap is better than nothing. I suppose that the action has nothing to do with their concerns about my messy currency page. It's rather an issue of cleaning up in their databases, getting rid of old stuff that just takes up place. Well, whatever the reason is - I don't mind. Finally my laziness pays off. Sometimes it's best to do nothing at all.

I couldn't help finding the example they put up in the announcement a little bit intriguing. They're discussing the rate for the conversion of the highest current emblems to future Justice points and suggests that a player could have 3 000 Emblems of Triumph and 1 200 Emblems of Frost. Really? Does anyone own such a collection of emblems? Why?

Or maybe they expect us to go back to start grinding five-mans to get it, now that we know that they'll actually be useful as an exchange currency for the new point system?

I certainly won't. But I'm really glad to get this cleanup. It was about time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moments of zen at the dusk of Wrath

- My name is Larisa and I enjoy playing World of Warcraft.
- Hello Larísa!

It's actually true. I enjoy playing WoW. *Gasp* .

Not just in theory or in the past or the future. I enjoy playing it now. Maybe I'm juvenile; maybe I'm a clueless victim for the cunning marketing from the big evil company. Maybe I just lack good taste and insight of what constitutes a good MMO.

I don't give a crap. Because I actually like it. Stupid or not.

Time for a disclaimer: Of course there are moments when I'm not overwhelmed or thrilled. You could even call them a bit dull:

  • I get bored whenever I try to clean up in my bank. It makes me fall asleep and always ends in the same way. “Oh, at least I have five slots available. I can do that another time.”
  • I lose my gaming spark when I’m repeatedly killed over and over again in a BG and end up spending 90 percent of my time in the battlefield standing in a grey mist facing a spirit guy.
  • I find potion crafting rather tideous. To stand still on the spot to create 40 potions of speed and staring at the cast bar filling up over and over again isn'twhat I consider "fun".
  • I'm pretty sick and tired with most of ICC as I'm playing it with my mage (my resto druid is another matter). I don’t think you can blame me really. I’ve been there three times a week, starting in 2009. I don’t even want to think of how many hours that adds up to.
  • I get impatient quickly as I'm queuing for an instance, hanging around in Dalaran with nothing else to do but to see the stupid goldseller spam passing buy in one of the general channels.

I think we all have those moments of drudgery. That's life - online as well as offline. It isn't an endless stretch of fireworks and roller coasters. Sometimes you're just on a mental break, and I actually think we need it. That's when we recharge our power supplies.

However - if WoW offered nothing but lethargy, I'd definitely stop playing it. I wouldn't put in so many hours of my free time into something that offered nothing in return.

Moments of excitement
And WoW does still offer me moments of excitement and thrill that make it all worthwhile.

Copra gave me a good reminder about this in a comment to my post about the generation gap in WoW. I think he was trying to make me take a step back and stop bothering about what other players think about WoW. So what if the veterans are bitter and don't like to play the game? What matters is how I feel about it.

"It all comes down to the fact whether you are enjoying the game or not [....] Now, if you concentrate on this moment when you play, what others think doesn't matter. Only thing that matters is your own game, which you either enjoy or not. I know I criticise and whine about the game in my blog. That doesn't mean I wouldn't love it WHILE I play[…. ] As you know, when the flow is there, the raid moves on and there is nothing else in the world. That's when you are there."

Copra, I know exactly what you're talking about. Those moments of zen. Those are the major reason for me to play WoW, something I expanded on in a post last year.

And you know what? They're still there for me! I experience them here and now, as the sun is sinking below the horizon and the darkness is closing in on us. Not so much on my mage, admittedly. She's a little bit tired and in the need of the replenishment that comes with new bold goals. But let me dress up as my resto druid Arasil, and you'll find me completely absorbed. I don't even have to be in a raid to get those magic moments.

Like a few nights ago, when I was healing heroic Halls of Reflection. That instance is always a stretch to me, fresh and inexperienced as I am in the role of a healer. And it certainly doesn't get easier when the tank is a tad low geared and equally new to his toon, which was the case in this run. We barely made it through the first part. I healed and decursed and cleansed poison like I never had before, cursing at every global cooldown, making decisions on the fly, second by second, as focused on this encounter as if it had been heroic LK I was facing. I lost the tank once, but lo and behold managed to battle res him between two waves, and as by a miracle we didn't wipe. My sense of triumph and exhilaration was just as big as if it had been a major first kill for our guild. I was all absorbed, all immersed into the game and my blood was boiling. I have no idea if I got any drop that night. Probably not. But that wasn't the point. I got my zen moment, which is all I ask for.

Those moments of complete focus, clarity and flow makes up for any downtime, any frustration, any boredom I may experience as we're waiting for the launch of Cataclysm. I don't get them every second, not even every night. But I get them from time to time. And that's why I'm still around.

That's why I still, at this very point, enjoy playing World of Warcraft.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Just give us a date please!

It seems as if we're quickly approaching the moment when Blizzard will announce the release date of Cataclysm.

MMO Champion suggests November 2, with a disclaimer that it might get postponed. Boubouille has a solid reputation for having reliable sources within the walls of the Blizzard HQs, so it's not unreasonable to believe that they at least has some kind of internal goal along those lines and that there will be November release if nothing goes terribly bad on the way. (I'll stick to my previous prediction for November 17).

If you ask me I don't actually care that much if it will be launched in November, December or even next year. All I ask for is a release date, since I think it will help us to get the game out if its current location in a No man's land.

Raiding at halt
I would dare say that a majority of the raiding guilds have put their raiding at a halt by now. I don't have any numbers to back it up, admittedly, but the lack of players outside the entrance of ICC at raiding peak time speaks to me, as well as the absence of lag these days. We're all left hanging, and I really can't blame those who have decided freeze their subscription to go and try out other games.

The current lack of information is annoying. It resembles a little bit to what you can experience at an airport or a train station when there are delays in the traffic and the service provider fails at communications. People are generally prepared to wait very long and patiently for a delayed train, as long as they get estimation about when it will depart. And if that information isn't available yet, that's OK to, as long as the company clearly says when they will be able to announce the departure time.

But if you don't say anything at all, people start to get impatient. And that's the case here. In one way I can sympathize with Blizzard's stance, since it's an expression for their "it's done when it's done" philosophy. They don't want to release a sub-par product due to foolish, premature promises. But understandable or not - it shut downs the power field and drains the game for mana.

An estimated release date would bring new energy to Azeroth and the community; as a matter of fact I think it will increase the player activity quite a bit.

You could of course assume that it would make more players to temporary cancel their subscriptions since they'd believe that all the efforts they put into the game is "in vain" since there's new content incoming. (Which by the way is a pretty stupid attitude. Are we really raiding just for shiny gear and not because we actually enjoy killing big bad dragons).

However I'm not so sure that the players will drop quicker after the announcement. I could in fact imagine the opposite effect - that this will motivate players to return from their extended summer break.

Preparing for Cataclysm
As soon as you have a time limit, there's a reason to go over that bucket list again. Is there yet another goal to tick off? Get that Kingslayer title once for all perhaps? Or actually clear Ulduar?

But above all I think this will be the spark that makes us start preparing for Cataclysm. It's time to start clearing our banks, bags and our bunches of badges that soon will become historical items of no use. We will flood AH with our stuff and the prices will fall. A few of us will of course go the other way, stacking up on items that the incoming worgen and goblin alts might need as they'll level their professions.

If you're planning to promote one of your alts to a main you may want to go over the gear and swap out a few pieces. Surely it will quickly be replaced with new quest items in Cataclysm, but judging from the comments from the beta tester, levelling will be tougher than it was in Wrath. You probably don't want to start out in greens if you can avoid it.

Once the 4.01 patch goes live, we'll be even busier. It's time to start to think more seriously about those new talent trees and the changes to our classes. Better get used to it so you're not completely clueless at launch.

Guild preperations
A fixed release date will also be the signal to all existing guilds to think about their future. What classes are people planning to play? How many of the players on hiatus will come back? When and how will you start recruiting to cover the gaps? When will your first raid take off? What will be your goals and priorities as a guild? Are you chasing for guild achievements and guild perks? Is there any interest in battle grounds? Have you even settled for if you're going to be a 10 man or a 25 man guild? Will you aim for hardmodes right from the start?

There are so many things to think over for guild leaders during the months that remain to cataclysm. Of course some of those issues could be dealt with without knowing the exact date. But I believe that the announcement will get things going, bringing it from a vague idea about something happening in the future, into a more immediate concern. We will face that this is going to happen soon and that we have a lot of decisions to make, for our guild and for ourselves.

Incoming events
What I look forward to most of all though are the incoming events leading up to the launch. It's been such a long stretch when not very much has been going on in Wrath. There were those earthquakes for a while, but now it's been ages since I last experienced one. I miss them!

Recently we finally got an appetizer in the form of the gnome/troll event. I know some commenters thought it was a tad shortlasting, but to be honest I don't think there's any way you can please this starved audience. We're always craving for more, regardless of what bones they'll toss to us. For my own part I was really excited about it, enjoying every second from my proud gnome march through Ironforge and the silly little drill exercise to the sudden, bitter end.

More will come, no doubt. But I don't expect anything spectacular to happen until we get a release date.

So here's my humble request for you, oh mighty Lords of Blizzard: Please give us a date!

As a matter of fact any date will do, even if it would be as late as in January. All we need is a landmark. It will finally bring us out from limbo and make us start spinning up for Cataclysm.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Generation Gap keeps us apart

There’s a generation gap in the blogosphere. It’s got nothing to do with physical age. You’ll find 40-year-olds as well as people in their late teens on each side of the gap.

No, this gap is about how long you’ve been around as an MMO player. Did you play in vanilla or did you join the party in Wrath? Or maybe you remember how things were back in the old days of EQ? This will settle on what side of the rift you’re standing.

It appears to me as if a majority of the bloggers – at least the ones that I read – belong to the veterans. And that explains why you see so many rants about how good things were back in the days and what a disappointing direction the development of the genre has taken.

I’ve read so many of those over the years. I could mention Wolfshead as one example, who recently brought up the topic again, eloquently pointing out in what ways EQ was way better than WoW. But he’s just one of many. We keep seeing it over and over again, the celebrations – or in some cases even worshipping - of the past and the complaints about how easy, shallow and dumb the games have become in order to cater to a wider audience.

Why it’s depressing
As someone who came comparatively late to the party, starting to play in TBC, I must admit that I often find those reads rather depressing, if ever so thoughtful and well put. Sometimes I wonder why I even read it. What good does it make me, a fairly new player, to hear that the game I love is complete rubbish and that it was much better a few years ago?

Maybe there should be a warning sign on them: “Do not read this post unless you played EQ or WoW vanilla”.

With the risk of sounding like a whiner, I’ll try to explain the feeling I get from those reads. It reminds me of when you’re seeing a bunch “friends”, who all have attended a party back in time that you weren’t invited to, and they just can’t stop talking about how good that party was and how the parties that are arranged nowadays never come near that in awesomeness. You try to listen politely, nodding here and there, but finally you’ve heard enough and would rather just not listen to their conversation anymore. You can’t relate to it, you have nothing to add, apart from that it sucks that you weren’t there. You’re an outsider and there really isn’t much point in hanging around. It’s probably a better idea to look up some other people who also missed the party, but who are looking forward to the next upcoming event and are happy to talk about this, with enthusiasm rather than contempt.

What adds to the pain of reading about everything was better back in time, is that the blame always is put on the fact that the MMO companies are aiming for a bigger market. It’s because they wanted to reach out to new players, find new audiences and turning non-gamers into gamers, that they have made the games “too mainstream and easy.”

As Syl wrote recently at the new blog Raging Monkeys:
Blizzard's increased endeavor to make the game more and more accessible and easy to play for a mass market audience, ever since halfway through TBC, has killed a lot of what I consider the 'soul' of the true MMORPG experience.
And from this it’s not a far step – at least if you’re Larísa and always looking out for a good reason to bash yourself – to conclude that it’s partly my fault that those veteran players are suffering so badly now. I’m a part of that mass market. I doubt that I would had found the way to an MMO, completely unexpectedly turning into a gamer at the age of 39, if it wasn’t for the fact that WoW in TBC was far more accessible than those old games ever were. Thanks to this new approach, Blizzard lured in my sister to it, who in her turn got me hooked.

But I can’t but assume that the veterans would have preferred to have their world and community the way it was: way smaller, way more streamlined, catering to a playerbase that wasn’t as diverse as it is today. No Larísas around would grant them a better game experience. This would also mean that they'd miss out the subscription fees from the mass market, which could mean less resources available for development and maintenance of a server structur. But I suppose it doesn't matter?

Fitting in?
I wrote a comment to the post along those lines (a tad whiny, I admit) and today I got a concerned letter from Klepsacovic, who tried to comfort me, asking me not to take it personal:
”No sane player is unhappy to have you in Azeroth. All our vanilla nostalgia is for a different world, and yes, different players, but I think you' d have fit in just fine. We weren't all farming 20 hours a day and buying gold to raid Naxx.

Sometimes you seem insecure about your rank in Azeroth. I can't quite see why. Your achievements speak for themselves. Look at the bloggers around you. How many are stuck somewhere on normal? How many have to buy their way into raids and abuse those around them just to stay afloat? You're elite! Just not arrogant.”

However kind and comforting this is, it doesn’t take away the feeling of being an outsider who doesn’t quite belong among the cool guys, the ones who were around as early as in EQ.

I replied to Klepsacovic:

"From the perspective of someone who wasn't there they're very excluding, aimed at a private club "we who played WoW when it was GOOD". It gives me a bitter taste in the mouth. No matter what efforts I make I will never ever qualify to become a member. [….]

The demographics of WoW has changed. They're aiming wider. And the result is that you get a bigger playerbase with more variety. There are way more players playing wow these days. Some of us are crap and noobs, yeah, maybe. But don't you see that we also can offer something? Would you rather have a very small hardcore game where everyone comes in the same shape, than the melting pot that the community is today?

I have yet to see a post that opens up its arms towards the players that have joined since TBC and forward, saying: "Hello there, we're glad you finally found us!"
I have yet to see a post that says that we enrich this world, bringing something into it that wasn't there before. That you're glad to have us here - even if it has meant that the game has changed, not requiring quite the same time commitment and previous gaming experience as it used to."
Building bridges?
I honestly don’t know if there is any way to build bridges over those gaps? I really can’t require bloggers to stop writing about their concerns and their longing back for a past time that can’t come back. Everyone is entitled to write whatever they want to.

They say that the first MMO you play will be your first love and that nothing ever will be the same like it. Well, we happen to have different objects for our affection. My first love wasn’t their first love and there’s nothing that can change this fact. It resembles a bit to filial imprinting.

Equally I understand that there are new player generations incoming. I can imagine that players who started out in Wrath can feel quite alienated when I keep going on and on about what a fantastic instance Karazhan was and that there has never been anything like it.

Maybe we’re doomed to stand on our little islands, preaching for ourselves and the other playes who belong to the same generation. Those who loved EQ and vanilla best will read each other blogs and lose themselves in nostalgia and feel awesome as they do this. The TBC babies should do the same. And next up are The Children of Wrath, who will assemble and talk about how good it was back in the days, when Cataclysm has come and “destroyed” their gameplay. Maybe we should just put a stamp on our blogs so it’s clear to everyone what to expect. EQ hugging, vanilla hugging or TBC hugging.

Still it appears a little sad to me. MMOs bring men and women together, old and young, rich and poor, people from very shifting backgrounds, disregarding of prejudices and forge friendships thanks to the game they have in common.

Shouldn’t we also be able to build over the generation gaps, embracing and honouring the origins as well as recognizing that every game will change and evolve over time?

I'll end this post with a comforting final remark that Klepsacovic sent me in antother letter:
"Everyone will find something that they were late for. I missed the first few months or so, so while I saw vanilla and the AQ gates and cool things like that, I never saw old old old AV. Yes, there was a version of AV even more hardcore than the one I played. Even if I'd been in WoW from day one, I missed the beta. And people in the beta missed EQ. And people in EQ weren't there for the old MUD days. And the MUD people missed the early table-top RPGs and playing chess by mail. And so on.

To find someone happy with their timing we'd have to go back to the guy who invented fun. I imagine he'd spend a lot of time complaining how casual fun is these days now that we don't live in caves and aren't regularly attacked by wolves.

I remember a friend telling me a story of WoW from like two months in where someone went a camped the newbie zones killing every quest givers, to get the noobs out of his game. What I'm trying to say is, don't worry when you joined. Everyone has missed something."
Food for thought as I’m calling for the Friday night toast. Veterans and newbies, you’re all welcome to join! At the inn we're one big happy family. At least that's what I'm aiming at.


(Psst all TBC babies out there! You have free drinks tonight, but don't tell those grumpy oldies, they'll just get whiny about it.)

PS After finishing this post I noted that Klepsacovic of course wrote a take of his own on our exchange of thoughts, answering some of the issues I bring up. Go ahead and read it in case you haven't.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Run away little girl! – A different approach to monsters

Suppose that you didn’t kill any monsters in WoW. Suppose that they were all invincible – and that all you could do would be to try to get away from them as soon as possible. Rather than being a strong, face smashing hero, you would be a smart and squishy coward or pacifist, whatever epithet you prefer. Could it still be a fun and exciting game to play? And would it work in WoW?

Avoiding the enemies
I came to think of it as I read an interview with a couple of Swedish game developers, working on a small new game that is launched these days, called Amnesia – The Dark Decent. (Here’s a rough translation)

I’ll point out right away that this is not an MMO, but a single player game in the horror genre. Think Lovecraft. The idea is that you should avoid the enemies; even to see them is dangerous. You hear and sense them though. The game involves a bit if puzzle solving, and you’re moving between darkness – where you risk to go insane – and daylight, where you’re vulnerable to their attacks. In the interview they talk about a different approach to gaming, where they want to get away from the idea that you’re supposed to “win” a game. Instead they want to put emphasis on the experience.

I can’t help finding this idea interesting. I’m not the most experienced among players, so it’s possible that the ideas they’re launching are old news. However I can’t but agree that the obsession we have with that monsters are there to be killed can feel a little bit old and repetitive sometimes. How many ways are there really to kill a monster before you sense that you’ve been there and done too many times to really bother?

The reviews I’ve seen have so far been positive. Apparently this game manages to be really scary, making a good use of the sound effects. It seems to be immersive, and they even recommend you to turn the lights off, playing with headphones as you’re launching it.

Would it work in WoW?
The question is: could some of this thinking be applied to WoW?

Well, yes and no. I can see that the immersion is a bit of a problem to start with. It’s really hard to be fully immersed in a game where they’re telling Chuck Norries jokes or discussing the World Championships of football in the trade chat.

Sure, I remember trying to flee from zombies in the invasion events that preceded Wrath, but I wasn’t really excited or scared of them, at the most a little bit annoyed.

But I think that you could use this approach, not the game as a whole, but as a part of an instanced or phased event. The escape from LK in Halls of Reflection was a great idea and had elements of it. You never were supposed to fight LK, just get away from him.

Now imagine that you had replaced the monster fighting with some different sort of task, slightly more sophisticated, that didn’t involve killing. You wouldn’t get any drops from mobs, since you didn’t kill them in the first place, but you could perhaps collect objects that you found on your way and loot a fantastic chest in the end.

Would players be OK with this? As a change of pace, yes. As long as they get some loot I don’t think they necessarily need to get it from the monsters. And if they still get to use some of their class abilities, such as going invisible, blinking and using other tricks for survival, I think they’ll still feel that they’re playing the game and not just watching a movie.

Puzzle solving in MMOs
The puzzle solving is another issue, I haven’t been too impressed with the few puzzles I’ve seen in WoW. Do you remember Atal’alarion in Sunken Temple, who you could only summon by activating statues in a certain order? It wasn’t as if you figured out how to do it on the spot. Either you knew it by heart after doing it several times, or you checked it up at Wowwiki and followed the directions. How fun, exciting or immersive is that?

If you create a puzzle in an MMO, the solution is bound to spread in the community quickly enough. And that takes away quite a bit of the excitement of an escape.

Nevertheless – if it was doable, I wouldn’t mind if WoW somehow could get a little bit of inspiration from a game like Amnesia.

I don’t ask for a change of the entire game, because I don’t think it would work. But it would surely give us some variation if we once in a while were supposed to flee the mobs rather than kill them as we’re questing or running instances.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What to do when we're running out of names

Do you know what the major reason why I haven’t created an army of alts? It is that I can’t find any available name for them.

No, I’m not kidding. I don’t think my imagination is far below the average, but I still have huge issues finding an available name every time it’s time to make a new baby. And I’m not going for the “obvious” ones, copying names of characters that already exist in fantasy novels. I’m not complaining that I can’t be Galadriel, the night elf.

I get stuck on the most random combinations of syllables. Every single time I try to make a name that has an air of fantasy around it, I can be sure that someone thought of it before.

There are several random fantasy name generators on the net, ready to help me out, and when I first heard of them, I was enthusiastic. Surely they’d come up with something? But the sad truth is that they don’t help very much. Every suggestion they come up with that I find at least remotely attractive (many are not, unfortunately), will inevitably turn out to be in use already.

The name creating process
You don’t want to be near me when I’m in the middle of a character crating process.

On one hand I just want to get done with it so I can do what I had planned to – play the game. On the other hand I know that you’ll do wise to pick your names carefully. What you planned to become your silly little alt might turn out to be your next main. Sure, there’s always the possibility of changing it in the future but if you get it right from the start, you won’t have to go through the hassle to explain the change to your friends and guildies (which at least I would find slightly embarrassing for some reason.)

So I’m really doing my best to quickly find something that feels OK-ish as a fantasy name (even if I’m not role playing I think a name preferably should work on an RP server). A name that doesn’t refer to a pop artist or a book character (with or without changed spelling). A name that feels like “me”. My ambitions are high at the start. But my heart sinks as I over and over again will get the message that the character already exists, and I will slowly go from annoyance, via frustration to something that resembles to nerdrage.

It was hard to find a decent name for my character as far back as in the beginning of 2007, when Larísa was born. And it certainly hasn’t become easier over the years. Players come and go, and many of them will create a myriad of alts, who all will hang around in Blizzard’s databases for a while after the player has stopped his subscription.

Good names has become such a scarcity that players even will create placeholder characters, months and years in advance, to have ready for their future deathknight, worgen or goblin. For a new player who wants to create a name for a character that you’re actually going to you know… play, this is annoying to say the least. The server is just filled with useless ghost characters that you’ll never see in action.

Possible solutions
Rohan of Blessing of Kings, who was the one who brought up this topic in a post today, has a couple of suggestions for what could be done about it. One idea he puts forward is to unlock the name of any character under level 40 that hasn’t been logged in for four months. I support this! It would probably rid us of a few of the placeholders and at least the insignificant alts of ex-players that currently are blocking so many good names.

I’m not as enthusiastic about his second suggestion, that the character would get a sort of last name, only displayed in the chatbox, consisting of your accountname. Larísa would accordingly be called “Larísa@[myaccountname]. The reason why I don’t like it is that this, to me is connected to the realID issue. My accountname happens to be my real name. No thanks.

I think a better solution would be if characters could have a second name. Then I could finally drop that silly ´-accent that I had to add when I server transferred and found out that there was already a Larisa around, some horde character lower than level 10. The server would be big enough to have room for one Larisa Fizzlespark and one Larisa Grimhoof.

I suppose there is some underlying technical issue that makes this impossible. I’m pretty sure that it has more to do with how the databases and the logistics are set up than that they actually think that characters only should have one name and that there only should be one of each on a server.

Offering name suggestions
If we assume that the second-name solution isn’t doable, what else could Blizzard do to help us out? I think a great help would be if they could offer an in-game random name generator service with a connection to the realm servers. This would work in the way that the generator would make the availability check for us. Every name that it would suggest would be free. I would pick the realm, make my character, hit the give-me-a-name-button, and then if it came up with a name I liked, I could accept it. If I didn’t like it I could ask for a new suggestion until I was done.

Of course the random generator would have settings preventing it from suggesting stupid, offensive or policy breaking names.

I’m pretty sure that if this kind of service was available, we would see far less of Pwntards, Imbatanks and Legolaz running around on the realms.

Bad names isn’t necessarily a result of people being evil or plain morons.. I think they come from laziness, lack of imagination and a frustration over the lack of available names.

Like Rohan, I don’t want to play the “That name is not available roulette”. I just want to be able to make a new character without breaking my back doing so. And I wish Blizzard could give us a hand.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When progression raiding becomes a grind

She looked surprisingly elegant, not the destruction and death you could expect from a pile of bones coming alive. Her wings moved ever so smoothly as I took off from Krasus Landing, as if they were put together by baby soft, weightless feathers.

I couldn't stop smiling. Finally, after all those wipes, The Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquisher was mine. I experienced a sensation of lightness, as if I had been released from something. A burden. Most definitely a burden, even if it felt a bit odd to use that word. After all, weren't we talking about a game I'm supposed to play for fun and relaxation? But I think I simply was relieved that I got it done before we were hit by the enrage timer of any raiding in this expansion.

Getting the meta achievement
Sunday night I completed the 10 man version of the Glory of the Icecrown Raider meta achievement - my last, serious goal for Wrath of the Lich King. This doesn't mean that I've stopped raiding entirely. We've got a few more drakes to get before we're finished. But we're closing in, oh yes, we're so closing in.

It has been a strange couple of months, where our guild has been put at test. I knew we had a strong sense of belonging, but the guild loyalty and comradeship has gone beyond my expectations.

In theory it doesn't sound too bad, does it? You grab 10 players, you head off to ICC and you progress through the hardmodes and achievements, wiping a little, learning the fights one after one until the box flashes up on your screen. Glory of the Icecrown raider, yay! Shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks at our gear level and with the ICC buff, should it? Tick, tick, tick, BAM, done!

In reality it's been way more complicated. It isn't exactly as if our guild is perfectly well balanced for those purposes. We're still a 25 man raiding guild, but until Cataclysm, we can go on a break if we want to, without risking to lose our spots as raiders. Running 10 man raids, which is what we can do with our current squad, is optional. Some players have taken the opportunity to a hiatus. Others have kept going, at least to grab the ICC mount, which was one of our set goals. The result has been a huge surplus of ranged dps, compared to the amount of tanks and healers. We've rotated a lot, which has meant that it has taken longer for the dps:ers to complete the meta, especially for the ones who also have missed a few raids due to the summer vacation season.

A painful grind
Our tanks got their mounts more than a month ago and most of our healers shortly after. They've had absolutely nothing to get for their own benefit in ICC. No achievements, no shiny upgrades, no progress, nothing.

All they've had to look forward to as they have signed up for raids has been yet another grind night with content they've done before. And yet they've kept signing. Week after week, raid after raid have they turned up, to make sure that every active raider will get a shot at the mount. In the meanwhile, our officers have made spreadsheets, keeping track on everyone's status, trying to make the achievement hunt for the guild as efficient as possible.

My mount was the 16th and it hopefully won't be too long before we've got the last few, putting an end to all this.

I can imagine how painful this must have been for those who got their Sindragosa achievement or Putricide heroic weeks and months ago. They did their share of wiping and learning back in time. They downed them and they know exactly how it should be done. The problem is that everyone isn't on the same page. In every raid there has been a couple of players, still in the beginning of their own, personal learning curve. And there are no shortcuts in the most difficult fights of those achievements. Every single player has to learn the dance steps by himself, sorting out exactly where to put the feet.

Those encounters are technically demanding, putting pressure on every individual to not make any mistakes. You can't rely on a couple of veterans carrying everyone else, since it's "on farm". Everyone has to execute it well, and while it can be useful to watch videos before an encounter, most of us need to learn, practice and wipe a few times before it eventually clicks.
Week after week, our veterans have patiently been wiping until the newcomers have learned their lesson. Hardly ever have I heard anyone of them getting annoyed. They've shared what they have been able to, and have patiently waited.

Progression - and grind
It's a strange situation. Normally it's the same for everyone. Sometimes you do farm runs, sometime progression and we learn it together. But so not in this case. While a few in each raid group have enjoyed fun, interesting and engaging progression raids, the same encounters have been horrible, tedious grinds for others. But as opposed to other grinds, those raids have included a lot of wiping.

However our tanks and healers haven't fled in terror. They've stayed. Sure, they're a bit tired, but still they keep showing up, willing to help out everyone else until the job is done. Not just their own mounts, but mounts for everyone.

I know that this attitude isn't something you find in every guild. The world is full raid groups that fall apart as soon as a few players have completed their goals. All of a sudden player will disappear without any previous notice and they suddenly start prioritizing their real life as soon as they've reached their personal goal. That's what you could expect.

The patient fight to get everyone a mount is an amazing effort and I'm truly proud to belong to a guild with such a team spirit.

I smiled as I cruised above Icecrown on my new dragon. I'm well aware of that she's not super exclusive compared to for instance the Naxx meta mount, which was brought out of the game in a patch. I've even heard first hand reports that it's common in the beta, so apparently quite a few players have managed to get her.

Regardless of this: in my eyes she remains a beauty with a very distinct look of her own and I love her. She will forever remind me of our guild spirit at its best. We are guildies and we help each other out. In grind as well as in progress.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Time to move on - I think

The gender debate has been raging back and forward in the blogosphere for a while.

I made two statements about my position in this debate. In the first one I explained my rather pragmatic survival tactics in a stereotyped world. In the second, I called to arms and challenged women in WoW to start aiming higher, conquering everything from the number 1 spot on the charts to the top positions at Blizzard.

I commented a bit here and there on the blogs that were most involved in the debate. But then I turned pretty much silent. Not because I don’t care about those issues. Not because I’m afraid to scare any readers away. But because the entire debate started to make me feel uneasy and uncomfortable.

On one hand I wanted to stand up and defend values and views that matters a lot to me. On the other hand I hated to see the blogosphere, which mostly is a rather peaceful, Shire-like place to hang around, into a hardcore, merciless PvP battleground where people took sides and were standing around, doing thumbs up and thumbs down as they saw another argument or insult landing as a blowing strike. While I sympathized with one side, it was quite painful for me to see the other side getting crushed and tore into pieces. Because I’m motherly like that. Yeah, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Adam, regardless of he deserved my pity or not.

Putting an end to it
In the best of the worlds I probably would have been more active. In the best of worlds I would have come up with a splendid solution that everyone could agree on and we would get out of it a little bit wiser than we were before we started the debate. Because that’s how I deal with such things.

But I couldn’t. The entire thing wore me down, so I tried to get rid of it, writing about other things that crossed my mind, stuff that wasn’t about gender and about what right we have or don’t have to want to ask for changes in WoW. I dodged. And I dodged again. It didn’t help much. There was something lingering in the air, keeping me from letting it go. I needed someone to make a summary, putting together the pieces into a puzzle. What was it that happened, what in all this made me so upset, and what can we learn?

Tamarind, has hold a pretty low profile in the debate, but has spoken up now in a sort of summary post where he tries to knit it all together and put it into perspective. As always he’s far more thoughtful and elegant than I’m capable of, and after reading it I thought: “Yes! Here it is. The end. I’m done and I can put back that book on the shelf, for now being.” Time to move on.

I think it will be a while before I throw myself into another discussion about gender perspective on WoW. Not because everything has been said. There’s surely more and I respect those who blog about those things all-year-round and not just when it’s up as a hot topic. But personally I’ve got nothing more on my mind for the time being. For once, I’ve run out of words. And Tam helped me to come at peace. Finally.

About my blogroll
Oh, and there was one last thing. There has been a spin-off off topic coming from this debate, about blogrolls, where I got some attention too as I removed a couple of links from it recently.

The strong reactions surprised me a little – is it really such a big deal? My blogroll isn’t a manifestation of anything. I disagree a lot with some of the blogs on my list, like for instance Gevlon, who I’ve argued with a lot over the years. But I read him anyway, because I think many of his posts are interesting reads. I like to get a look into a goblin perspective of the world.

If you look at my blogroll, it consists of a very strange mix of all sorts of blogs, reflecting my broad approach to blog reading. I link to very small blogs, which barely no one but me reads, judging from the commentary. And I link to some of the most wellknown and profiled blogs as well, because they’re awesome reads.

Spinks made an overview of the different purposes a blogroll can serve. In my case, the blogroll is mostly for my own use, since I don’t have any feedreader. I read the blogs as they are, visiting them. Thanks to Blogger’s system I can see if they’ve been updated recently, which is why I prefer the Blogger blogrolls to the ones generated from for instance Wordpress, where you have no idea if the last post was from yesterday or a year ago. The “last update” system is very handy.

But the blogroll of the PPI is also a part of the content. I don’t think it’s important, since most readers don’t see it as they’re reading through a feed. But still. It’s not neglected, I keep an eye on it, and because of this, it’s constantly changing. I add new blogs and remove others as often as a couple of times a week.

There are several reasons why I remove a blog. The most obvious one is that it isn’t updated anymore. My thumb rule is that I remove them after two months of inactivity. I also remove blogs if they stop being mainly about WoW or MMO related things. I might keep reading your real life blog if I love you as a writer, but I won’t link to it. Sometimes I remove blogs because I don’t read them anymore, it’s been months since any post really spoke to me and I’ve forgotten why I added the link in the first place. It's not because they're bad or I'm angry about something, it's just not my piece of cake anymore and there are just too many WoW blogs out there to link to everyone. “Sometimes you grow apart”, to use Tam’s words.

There’s nothing fair about a blogroll. It’s a deeply personal thing and I don’t think you should have to explain yourself to anyone why you link or don’t link to a certain blog. I don’t link back to every blogger that links to me and don’t expect linklove from blogs on my roll. It just doesn’t work that way.

Many times my decision to add one blog and not the other is quite random and more based on a gut feeling than on a thorough evaluation. I just wish it didn’t become such a Big Thing. I want to be able to play around with my blogroll without having to consider all the possibly hurt feelings that may follow.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a subtitle to The Pink Pigtail Inn, namely “Larísa’s Corner”. Yeah, the blog used to be called that for a very short period, before I moved it and name changed. But there’s still some truth in this name. Sure, I invite everyone to come here and have a pint and discuss almost anything connected to WoW and gaming and MMOs and life and the universe or whatever. But in the end it’s my corner of the world, and I’d rather not like to go into arguments about the looks of my blogroll.

And that’s about it I think. I got all the stuff I’ve been carrying around off my chest. Time to move on.

On an additional note I wouldn’t rule out that the blogosphere might explode in some other argumentation soon again. What else is there to do when Cataclysm still is months away and there isn’t much going on either in the game or the blogosphere?

There’s a good reason why this happened right now.