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Making the World of Warcraft more trivial, one post at a time…

Posts from the Leafy Rants Category

Molton DoneI really, really wanted to like the Molten Front stuff, I really did.

Parts of it were great. I liked the silly Mylune quests in Hyjal, and the random NPCs in Setheria's Roost. I quite enjojed peak-hopping via spider's webs. But the whole Druids of the Talon area is just damn painful (I've only once got through the intro escort without dying on the way), and the much-vaunted random quest mechanism just didn't have enough variety in it. I made a big mistake by opening that up before the Shadow Wardens stuff, which was much more fun. 

In the end, there was far too many "kill x of y" and not enough interested and innovative mechanics. The "rune dash" area and "bird collection" quests were the only ones that struck me as noticably new in feel and tone.

I admired the concept, and struggled through the execution.

Finally, I opened up the last vendors and grabbed the ring I needed to push me to iLevel 359 in my healing kit. The screenshot above seems to have captured the Ancient in mid-Phase…

You?

I've just finished reading the pre-Cataclysm novel, The Shattering. And, on the whole, I enjoyed it. In fact, I'll go into what I thought of it in depth in another post. But first, I want to take a little time to rant, because there's something in it that annoys me beyond all reason. It's not the fault of the book or Christine Golden, its author, in any way. In fact, its roots lie in the previous book, Stormrage.

250px-Stormrage_Cover I bought and read Stormrage. I didn't enjoy it a huge amount, as I'm one of those people who just can't warm to Richard Knaak's writing style. His prose is just too over-worked for my tastes, and his characters feel like plot ciphers rather than real people. YMM, of course, V. But I enjoyed seeing what's happening with the druids, and getting a feel for the druid-y world in Cataclysm. And that's all cool.

The thing that annoyed me, though, was a single event that dominates the last part of the book, and which is referred back to in The Shattering: The War Against The Nightmare. Now, I don't want to go all spoilertastic here, but suffice it to say that this is a major event, whose effects are felt throughout Azeroth during the days it happens. The denizens of the world cannot miss its occurrence: everyone is affected.

Unless, of course, they're a World of Warcraft player character.

For, as far as I can tell, this major lore event, which tidies up many dangling plotlines we've been exploring since vanilla, is not going to be reflected at all in-game. The War Against The Nightmare will only happen in the book. Here's the thing: I don't mind them doing some elements of plot "off-screen". Personal events, like the return of Varian Wyrnn and the handing over of power from Thrall to Garrosh make more sense in books or comics. As long as you can get the basic story somewhere within the game, all is good. The spin-off media became an enhancement to your game experience. But to have an entire event, an invasion of sorts, happen to everyone but the players? That just sucks, in my humble opinion. That's shifting the balance far too far away from the primary medium – the game – to the spin-offs. If the events had been small and personal – Tyrande and others rescuing Malfurion and defeating the Nightmare, fine. I can deal with such events happening where Leafshine is not. But this is explicitly set up as a major world event. Which doesn't happen in the World of Warcraft. Madness.

Now, I could be ranting prematurely. These events may crop up in the weeks prior to The Cataclysm. But it doesn't feel like that's the case, from the hints from the beta of 4.0x. And that's a shoddy way to treat your players.

So, I spend about half an hour griding that last point of Maces weapon skill and what happens? My bloomin' Achievement-grabbing screenshot addon messes up:

MasteratarmssortaStill, Master of Arms is mine, and well before it becomes a Feat of Strength, which is a relief, and one to cross off my pre-Cataclysm list. Hurrah.

Ulariathrashes However, it did remind me just how annoying weapon skill can be. For instance, my baby Pally Tank Ularia is going through her regular pre-expansion levelling burst, and I just equipped her with a Battleworn Thrash Blade, ready to do some random dungeons to learn tanking and push her towards Outlands.

The thing is – I'd never bothered learning any Sword skill on her. Cue 20 minutes of hitting somewhat easy mobs until I can actually use the sword with something like effectiveness. And I really don't see what that time added to anything. 

Sure, it's a time sink, but a dull and annoying one, and one that limits the potential diversity of weapon use. It was a trivial, annoying mechanic, and I'm please the Cataclysm is sweeping it away. 

Larisa quoted this from a fellow mage (I couldn't track down the original source):

Game heads don't care about Facebook, or social networking. Sure, they might use the services, but when in 'gamer mindset', they care far more about melting faces, and beating the crap out of their fellow players then engaging with them via swapping pictures of their cats.

He's wrong. Or, rather, he's making a sweeping statement that isn't true for everyone. You see, I want to melt faces (or heal the one melting faces) WITH MY FRIENDS. That's why I play WoW rather than a solo game – because it's doing these things with people I care about that adds another layer of meaning to it for me. And, because this is an opt-in system, you can choose to add that layer of meaning without detracting from the experience of what's already there for those who don't care who they're melting faces with. 

RealID in Forums

However, the big issue hasn't been that. It's been the decision to apply RealID to the forums; a decision that's since been reversed. I don't use the forums (apart from checking the Mac support forum from time to time). I think, for time invested, the return is poor. Finding good quality content amongst the trolling, juvenile behaviour and out and out drama just isn't worth spending my precious free time on. 

And my initial reaction was "Oh, good, I might actually check out the forums again". 

Now, before you flame me, bear in mind that I'm a late-30s male. You can find my real name really easily. It's on the about page, the "by" field of every post on my professional blog, and in the URL of my personal blog. Dammit, I'm even on Wikipedia. I've been like this for the best part of a decade – possibly longer – and it's yet to come and bite me in the ass. For me, to date, having my real name out there on the internet has been a positive thing. It landed me my current job, and has lead to many positive friendships and working relationships. 

That said, I do understand many of the safety arguments. I am, self-admittedly an extrovert, married to an introvert who has me police her web presence very carefully, and I know that my wife would probably be horrified to have her name attached to discussions in this way. Psychochild nails pretty exactly why, for introverts, this is a bad move

I don't agree with all the anti-RealID arguments, mind. I'm somewhat suspicious of "thin end of the wedge" or "creep" arguments. I tend to think you should debate ideas on their merits as described rather than adding a bunch of assumptions into the discussion about what the implementer could do. That said, I've already posted to the effect that I think this is the first step towards Blizzard protecting the core of its business from the growing encroachment of social gaming – but I can't agree with Dechion's assessment that this is only about this. I think the desire to clean up the forums is just as big a part of this. The two are not mutually exclusive, and killing two birds with one stone is a pretty damn attractive option in a corporate environment. 

And I don't, for a second, buy the idea that this is about selling us to advertisers. When Blizz can sell us Sparkle Ponies and monthly subs, and magazines et al, the idea that they'd attempt to gather activity and intention data via a game when there are so many more useful, revealing methods to do it beggars belief. The amount of useful activity data they'll gather is so negligible, the investment/return does not stack up. 

Some Community Theory

I'm on several discussion groups/lists/fora etc for community professionals, and I'm seeing a distinct split in them. Some people are really disappointed that Blizzard haven't gone forward with this. Many people within the community space see the enforcement of social consequence to misbehaviour as critical to managing the growth of large communities, which are problematic to manage. The consequences of anonymity for internet debate are well-known, and were satirised a long time ago. Facebook has, in part, succeeded because it provides an environment of consequence, but the factor that Blizzard has missed is that the consequence is not just in the enforcement of real names, but in the fact that, since of the introduction of the activity stream News Feeds, if you're being a dick on Facebook, your friends see it. Consequence.

(Note to self: there's a post about how Blizzard is deeply embedded in the online community business, but doesn't actually seem to understand the pre=existing knowledge and expertise in the field here. Write it at some future point.) 

Just applying something that works in activity-sharing social networks to forums isn't going to work. 

Forums are a really old form of online community (in internet terms) and have two well-established problems: 

  1. Bandwidth costs – Blizz can handle this
  2. Exponential (rather than linear) moderation needs – this has killed many a forum run by corporate entities and individuals in the past – although the costs tend to kill those first. The moderation costs start to exceed the perceived benefits to the company, and so the forum is killed. 

In a sense, the people who do use the Blizzard forums should at least take some comfort from the fact that Blizzard are making active steps to make the forums a better place. Lissanna has a useful post compiling the other things they're doing. 

The problem, of course, is the one solution fallacy, as discussed above, coupled with a retro-fitting problem. If this had been the situation from the start, then there would be much less of an outcry. When you fundamentally change a social environment around people, they are almost certain to complain. And when you change one element of a social environment in such a dramatic way, you really need to rethink the whole way it operates at the same time. For example – is a real name enforced forum really the best way to handle technical support?

I don't think that real name enforced social environments are bad inherently – and I find it telling that there are compelling arguments out there for both the fact that there are consequences for posting under your real name – and there aren't - but I think that the model that Blizz came up with is an uncomfortable hybrid.

And that's what cost them. 

The Future

This isn't going away. As I mentioned above, people who work in the online community field are actively discussion ways of enforcing consequence to improve the quality of online debate. This is highlighted in a Guardian article on the situation:

So: the end of a non-era? Yet there was an interesting discussion at the Guardian's Activate conference, where Steven Clift, of the e-democracy project, insisted that using your real name should be the norm in online discussion, not – as it presently is – the exception. "Why do we accept norms of flaming in online commenting? It doesn't happen in our private networks of communication," he remarked. 

I suspect this is more a retreat by Blizzard, rather than a defeat. And if that's the case, they need to learn two lessons:

  1. It's reasonably well-known that people, especially teenagers, tend to have more than one online identity (or persona). You can enforce a persona on an account, without having to enforce a real name. Even just forcing one character on your account to be marked as the "main" character would go a long way to doing what they wanted to do here.
  2. Forums are not social networks. Don't try and apply the methodologies of one to the other. 

What Blizzard Should Have Done (according to one opinionated tree)

Attaching RealID to the existing forums was clearly a mistake. Even as someone who would have welcomed that move, I can see the problems it creates for the community as a whole. 

It would have been far better to build a Facebook-style social infrastructure based on RealID and an activity stream model in parallel to the forums, and even start to migrate announcements over there. Frankly, I wouldn't need to rely on external bloggers to aggregate Blue posts for me, if I could subscribe to relevant Blizzard staff's posting in a RealID activity stream. My RealID friends could see my name and my activity. No-one else could. My posting activity on the forums would be visible to my RealID friends in their aggregate activity stream, creating a degree of consequence, and, coupled with the existing rating additions and an enforced single persona (which does not use a real name) would do much to improve the forums.

Forums? Not for me. An activity stream of what my friends are up to and what Blizzard is saying? Sign me up. 

Today, I'm annoyed.

I'm annoyed because I can't play WoW. Steamwheedle Cartel EU, the chunk of silicon in a blade farm I call home, is down for 24 hours in that pre-Cataclysmic maintenance thing. So I can't play.

The weird thing is: I probably wouldn't have played anyway. Of late, I've only really been playing on Mondays – our raid nights – and occasionally on weekends. But still, the knowledge that I couldn't play if I wanted to annoys me.

I am, it appears, a contrary tree. 

Update: Of course, as soon as I post this, an e-mail arrives from a guildie saying that it's back up…

I've been quiet again.

Why?

I've been fighting an internal battle. 

Oh, sure, I've been distracted by christenings and elections, but the other thing on my mind this week has been WoW. And, more specifically, Achievements. And they've become a problem.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, Achievements have become a burden to me – especially the ones around the World Events. A set time limit to do a number of pretty complicated tasks? That's pressure, especially in a life where I only get a few free hours to play WoW every week.

Now, I'm not doing badly. I am all but two achievements away from Long, Strange Trip. One of them is to do with Children's Week. Yes, it's the 'orrible School of Hard Knocks. And it's actually stopped me logging in this week. I just didn't want to do it. I didn't want to feel obligated to do it. So I didn't. Children's Week ends tonight, and I don't care. I'm letting go of Achievements, and I'm letting go of WoW pressure. I really enjoy only two things in WoW: questing and doing dungeons or raids with my guild. 

I have come, in the last few weeks, very close to quitting WoW for good. I found myself feeling bad that I didn't have time to do the things that I was working on, and then steadily realising that I didn't want to do them. I'd been sucked in by the time sink spiral that makes MMoRPGs so compelling, chasing Achievemnets and emblems from daily randoms and all the rest of the distractions built into the game, and it was twisting my life around in ways that I didn't find comfortable. Instead, I've chosen to work on my photograph, or to spend time with my wife, family and friends. It feels good. And, maybe, tomorrow I'll do some dailies and some quests on one of my lower level toons. That'll be fun.

But WoW can't be a chore, because life has enough chores. It's a game, and games are fun. It's a pity I need to remind myself of that from time to time.

This, I think, changes everything about buying mounts and pets in WoW:

Blizz StoreQueue time of 4 hours. Nearly 60,000 people queuing. And that's just Europe.

I don't think anyone believes that the queues are because of Lil'XT. These are all about the Celestial Steed

Presuming that everyone ahead of me in the queue is just buying a pony – that's €1,169,640 before I buy mine. That means £1,027,159 or $1,584,043. That's a late evening queue, hours after the goods launched, in one of many stores.

Blizzard has made millions today, on a virtual item, that costs them virtually nothing to distribute.

This is not going to be a one off. They'll be coming back to this table for second, third and fourth helpings.

I think World of Warcraft has just changed forever.

If you weren't a designer, but a hardcore WoW raider, do you think you would think the game was too "casual" these days?

Quite possibly. I have this theory that, when you're a really elite hardcore gamer, what you really want – what drives you – is that sense of competition; really having that gap between you and the less skilled, and more casual. That's what drives you, and that's not different no matter what game you're playing: WoW, Counterstrike, Warcraft III, games like that. You strive to make the gap as big as possible.

So I certainly think that there is that sense that "Hey, I remember back when I had to walk uphill to school in snow both ways, and other players don't have to do it as hard as I did!" There's naturally going to be some resentment, but in the bigger picture, it doesn't diminish their accomplishment at all. They're still better and more skilled – but the gap has changed.

via www.warcry.com

That's from an interview with Rob Pardo of Blizzard, that I've had open in a browser tab for days, but have only just got around to reading. I think it's a really telling quote in light of our recent discussion about the state of WoW.

The short of it is this: Blizzard is interested in providing you with challenges as hard as they have every been, but not in pandering to a sense of extreme superiority over others.

Now you can argue about how well Blizz are doing at providing that challenge – and it seems to be clear that there's a certain segment of the market they're not pleasing at all – but it seems very clear that vast differentials in gear and access between the most committed and the average players are a thing of the past.

My guildmate Dale has also plunged into the debate, with a lengthy and, I think, quite insightful post from the perspective of someone who is pretty hard-core in his game time by anyone's standards:

And… I am not bored with WoW yet. Ok, I go through phases lasting 2-3 days where I might just "not feel like playing", but not because I am bored, rather because I want to do a different kind of activity. (ie. non-computer)

So why am I not bored, while less "hard core" players like Lissanna are?

I think it's because for Lissanna, and many of the people who commented on her Blog, Raiding is the main reason they play WoW, and they have run out of fresh raid content.

I play far more broadly than that.

I think the nub of this issue is that WoW has become a lot less forgiving, over time, of those who choose to only concentrate on one aspect of the game. I went through a bad period of WoW ennui, similar to that being felt by the raiders now, because I'd run out of Northrend questing to do. That's my absolute favourite thing to do in the game: PvE questing, both solo and in groups. I enjoyed the Northrend questing experience. It was simply fantastic. And it was done. I had no more of it to do. No more questing, in fact, until the next expansion. I nearly quit then, because I realised I had precisely two choices: find something else to do, or quit the game until the next expansion. And that "something else" proved to be, well, everything. I craft, I raid, I do heroics, I do dailies, I grind reps, I pvp and I do Achievements. I mix them all up, so I don't get too bored of any one thing. If I get bored of all that, I still have alt levelling to do.

And perhaps that's the point I was really trying to make on Saturday. WoW is a game that, in the Wrath age, rewards a broad-brush approach to play. And which can be very unforgiving if you only have one or two aspects of the game that really appeal to you. Questers are faced with the knowledge that they have no major new content until the next expansion. Raiders can easily get bored or frustrated if a tier of raiding doesn't meet their expectations. Even PvPers get bored of fighting the same battles again and again. The trick for Blizzard, with the next expansion, will be to try and square this circle; to reward the generalist without boring the specialist to tears. Or maybe that can't be done, and both Blizz and each of element of the player base will have to make their choice. 

1 Something of an aside, but this is one reason I stopped listening to Twisted Nether for a while. There was a whole succession of guests who were only interested in the raiding game, and I just got a little bored. Once there were enough other episodes, covering other playstyles, I listened out of order and caught up.