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

Posts from the WoW News Category

From the official WoW blog:

Once we decided to no longer offer new head enchants, we made the older ones non-functional to eliminate giving players the feeling that they had to go back to older content or miss out on a little bit more power. Head gear is simply no longer enchantable, and you now have one less required step to get a piece of loot ready to wear.

Hurrah for reducing “forced” faction grinds. And double hurrah for ensuring that you don’t have to go back a grind expired content just because your raid leader is a min-maxing dick… 😉

Well, I'm sitting in my (soon-to-be-ex) living room, drinking a nice pint of Tribute, and what drops into my in-box?

Endofwowmag
Wow. (No pun intended.)

I wonder what triggered that decision. Maybe the renewals for the second year of subscription weren't up to scratch.

The offer, by the way, seems to be a complete set of the paid vanity pets…

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.

Features a big, bad dragon and lots of things blowing up:

 

It's great to see so many familiar parts of Azeroth being rendered (and then blown up) and like the Wrath cinematic, the World of Wacraft: Cataclysm cinematic features the main plot points of the expansion's threats (world changed, Deathwing up and having breakfast).

Somehow, though, I preferred the Wrath one. This is a touch too abstract. Arthas was front and centre in the earlier cinematic, and he's a character you could get more of a grip on. Deathwing is more of a beastie, more alien to the human mind, and thus less engaging. 

photoThis morning’s e-mail brought with it a small dilemma. In my in-box was a (genuine) invite to the Cataclysm beta. That, I was not expecting.

People who have been reading since the waning days of the Burning Crusade expansion will know that I was very, very anti joining the WotLK beta. I didn’t want to spoil the Northrend experience for myself for release day. I used the “Hell No, We Won’t Go” slogan a few times here and on Twisted Nether to make that point.

This time around? I’m going to accept. When I get home tonight, I’ll be downloading the client and getting all patched up and ready. But I’m going to be concentrating on things that won’t be my first priority come the retail launch of the expansion – the goblins, and the revised 1 to 60 levelling experience. And in trying to actually find problems and report bugs. 🙂

I’ll clearly mark any posts which are derived from the Beta here, so those who want to remain spoiler-free can dodge them.

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. 

4789970498_617652e519_b  Guys, do me a favour in future..?

Please try not to EXPLODE the INTERNETS with NERD RAGE when I'm on my holidays in future.

Ta, muchly.

(That's a pic from my holiday on the right. It was lovely)

(Leafy thoughts on the RealID issue forthcoming)

(I'm overusing these brackets, aren't I?)

Amongst the blog posts discussing Gameplanet’s interview with Ghostcrawler, I completely missed the the fact that there was one with Cory Stockton, lead content designer, as well. (This says something, I think, about the WoW blogging community’s emphasis on game mechanics over narrative and experience, but that’s fodder for another post). I found much more of personal interest to me in that post. For example:

For example, on a quest we might send you to go kill a specific quest mob. When we do that now, we can phase you and have that mob act like you’re the only person there – no other players are visible. It creates a much more customised experience, we can do a cinematic, you’ll get more of an individual set up.

Now, that’s awesome. Quest-specific phasing and encounters? That really opens up the storytelling opportunities for Blizz this time around. They can craft genuinely dramatic encounters with individuals or groups at the end of quest chains that are much more in tune with what we’d see in film or tv as compared to the convention for MMoRPGs.

The fact that the revamped Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep won’t hit until 4.1 is revealed there, too. But I found this revealing:

And a zone that you didn’t see today, but a zone that has had a 95% revamp would be Westfall. Westfall is completely different, huge changes. Almost no quest line is intact because the Defias don’t make sense any more as a threat. Now the Cataclysm is a threat, so things have really changed and all of that will play into the new Deadmines, the boss there and the way that experience is going to happen.

So, there’s going to be a narrative reason for the new dungeons? It’s not just Van Cleef on Heroic? I suspect some people will be disappointed by this news, but I find it rather exciting. Long-term players are really going to get a sense of an evolving, changing world.

And there’s an interesting little hint of a revised strategy for patches:

We actually have a list of old dungeons that are the highest candidates to actually do revamps for. Stratholme’s on that list, Scholomance and Diremaul are there – there are a couple of others that players also really, really liked. So [revamping] those instances are things for when there’s a patch, a gap, and there’s time for us to do it, that’s what we’d fill it with, rather than making entirely new content.

That’s revealing – possibly more so than meets the eye. Can we read a new approach to the patch/expansion cycle in this? They’ve got scheduled time for each patch, and any spare will go on revamping old content to make it relevant again – which must be more time-efficient than starting from scratch. There’s no doubt that accelerating the patch cycle will be crucial to picking up the pace of expansion releases. It may be wishful thinking – but I think I can see something beginning to emerge…

There's been a fair bit of chat on our guild mailing list today, about the coming mage changes, triggered by this post by a guildie. One ex-guild member, who went off to a different server for some more hardcore, sweaty raid action, expressed the feeling that he might stop playing WoW with Cataclysm, not because he was bored of WoW, but because the changes he was seeing took away from the fun of the game for him.

And, I'll admit, I've been feeling the same way. The changes to tree form that are proposed strike at the heart of the game for me. I like the quirky, off-beat elements of the game, and the.  Trees of Life, with their medallions, and agitated broccoli looks, are part of that for me. And restos, as a breed, seem to identify very strongly with tree form. Look at how many resto druid bloggers have the tree form in their headers, rather that their individual, personal character avatar. It feel like Blizz's concept of what is important in the game is starting to stray from what many of the player base think, as all their focus seems to be on balance in 10 man raids. 

The whole "showing off the armour" thing annoys me, because it's a party- and raid-centric viewpoint. As many others have pointed out, our armour gets plenty of "air time" in cities, while questing, during non-grouped time generally. Taking away a core part of druid's self-identity for this seems, well, to be prioritising dogma over player need. 

I am grumpy.

Yet, I'm likely to buy and play happily in Cataclysm. Why? Well, this paragraph gives it away:

In World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, players will have the opportunity to explore the newly reopened Mount Hyjal as Azeroth's heroes, with the help of Ysera, Malfurion Stormrage and Hamuul Runetotem, are called upon to push back the armies of the Firelord, banish Ragnaros to the Elemental Plane and lay waste to the twilight dragon stronghold in nearby Darkwhisper Gorge. This all-new level 78-82 zone will feature multiple quest hubs, phased terrain and quest lines, portals to micro-zones within the Firelands, an all-new raid dungeon, and much more.

You see, at heart I'm a quester and dungeon-er (Look, if Shakespeare can make up words, so can I). And that sort of phased, narrative content is what I play for. Raiding is what I do to mark time between chunks of quest content. 

I'm beginning to wonder if I should avoid all the mechanics previews, concentrate on the content trailers, and just accept that I'm exactly the sort of player that I am.