Thursday, July 21, 2011


Larísa isn’t here anymore. She’s enjoying her retirement, forever sitting by a campfire in Elwynn Forrest, sharing stories, looking at the starry night sky.

The inn will remain closed. I don’t subscribe for WoW anymore and I’ve even – gasp! - uninstalled it from my computer. It’s a finished chapter in my life. I don’t regret it but I’ve moved on.

It’s me, Jessica who is writing this post - not the innkeeper, even though I know it can’t be separated all that easily. A part of me will always listen to the name Larísa.

There’s a thick layer of dust covering the place. Not many people come this way nowadays. I see you’ve emptied the bottles, and that what was just what I intended.

I know there were a few of you who wondered what happened to me and who asked me to give a notice if I’d ever come back to public writing again in some other place. And that’s why I’m here. I’m just putting up a small note on the door for stray wanderers to see.

Yes, I’ve started to blog again, just a little bit, hesitatingly, but not as a pink pigtailed gnome, but as myself, Jessica. It’s called The Velvet Café. (Yes, I couldn’t let go of the analogy of a bar, I’m afraid: I always get that image into my head when I think about blogging.) However I don’t think this blog will be particularly interesting to most of you, if any.

It’s not about WoW; in fact it’s not about gaming at all. It’s about an old interest of mine, which has been sadly neglected for many years due to other commitments taking precedence – raising children, making a career, spending insanely lot of time playing and writing about WoW. It’s a blog about movies.

I’m not quite sure yet what I’ll make of it. Like all newborn blogs it has an aura of insecurity. It lacks direction and a distinct blogger’s voice. I suppose the introductory post will give you an idea of where I’m heading though.

As for a start I’ve tossed up a bunch of reflections over movies I’ve seen lately, which I’ve previously posted at a forum for where I’ve been hanging around. (This is quite an intimidating place by the way. Believe me, there are EJ forums for everything! Film is no exception.) For the future I imagine that I’ll write not only movie-specific posts, but also more personal takes on whatever comes into my mind as long as it has some sort of remote connection to the world of films.

Again: I know perfectly well that this cup of coffee isn’t for everyone. But I thought I hould let you know since you asked so nicely. Feel free to come and have a look if you want to, but remember - don’t feel bad if you don’t like it at all. It’s not you, it’s me, OK?

I also want to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their thoughtful, loving, caring and touching comments on Larísa’s final post. I always used to reply to every comment I got, but this time it felt appropriate not to, since Larísa basically had left the place. However, I took all you said, every single comment, and put it close to my heart, where I’m still carrying them around. It’s a cold world out there. You kept me warm. You still do.


Jessica, former Larísa, innkeeper of The Pink Pigtail Inn

Sunday, March 27, 2011

One chilly, blustery morning in March

You should put the important stuff first in your article. Don't wait for it, just let it out. Give the reader a hook or you'll lose them.

That's what they taught me when I studied to become a journalist, and God knows I've happily ignored this advice many a time here at the inn, including in this post. That's the freedom of blogging as a non-professional. You can just not give a crap about how it "should" be done and do it your way, and there's no one that will hold anything against you for doing it. Your blog. Your kingdom. Your call.

But I won't keep you hanging any longer because it doesn't change anything. I see that you've all got a pint of our finest draught, the one I saved for this very occasion. So here we go, it's time to pop the news.

This is the final post at The Pink Pigtail Inn. My days as a WoW blogger have come to an end.

So, I said it.

I didn't hesitate about the decision; it came way easier to me than I imagined it would. However I hesitated on how to put it. Somehow it didn't feel right to write: "I'm closing the inn". Because how could you ever close an imaginary place? Regardless of what happens in the future to the blog, it will always remain open in my mind, as a spot and a hideout where I can recover when the world out there feels dark and lonely and threatening. A fire to warm my feet, an armchair where I can snuggle. The mumble of friendly voices in the background. Stories are shared, songs are sung, food is enjoyed. This doesn't change. The inn remains open for me. It's just that I'm not blogging anymore.

The reasons
You may wonder about the reasons for this change of mind. Why did I stop blogging now and not a year ago or a year into the future? And I honestly can't come up with one particular. I just woke up one morning and knew that this was it, that the day had come. It was over. I had said what I had to say about WoW.

I blogged for over three years. This is quite long in comparison to most other WoW centric blogs. Over the years there have been about 700 posts published at the PPI, of which I've written the vast majority. So I guess it's no wonder that I eventually feel that I'm done with it. To be honest I would have expected it way earlier. I could never ever imagine what PPI would become and how long it would last when I started to blog once upon a time.

I have no idea how many hours I've put into this blog. It must be thousands, and I'm not exaggerating. But exactly as in the case of the game itself, I don't regret a single one of them. Sure, it took a lot of effort, but there was also so much in it that I enjoyed.

I enjoyed stretching my writing muscles, taking up the challenge to write in English, seeing how it became easier over time after the initial struggles. I enjoyed the perspectives blogging gave me on WoW. All those thoughts, all those insights that were brought to me - from my own writing process as well as from commenters and from the discussions with other members of the blogosphere - have helped me to understand and experience the game in a way I wouldn't have otherwise.

If you're a blogger you notice things and it adds depth and meaning to everything you do. You associate to blog posts you've read or you get inspiration to new posts of your own. With the mindset of a blogger, even such a trivial thing as killing ten rats, can be turned into something interesting.

The thanks
And this is the point when I should give away the big thanks. But to be honest, I've never been a big fan of acknowledgement chapters in books. It's normally just endless lists of names that mean nothing to the reader, where the only variation is if they have put the credits to the supporting wife first or last. I won't make a list of names, not only because it would become too long, but also because I'd be terrified to miss to include someone that was important to me.

But you know who you are - readers, commenters and other bloggers. You cheered me up when I needed it desperately, you gave me solid advice when I was clueless, you believed in me when I just couldn't. You gave me giggles, resistance and food for thought. Without your support, your love and your inspiration, this place wouldn't exist. You made this happen.

The future
So, what's next? Well, as far as it comes to the blog, I'll keep it up for now. I pay a little fee for the rights to the domain name, but it doesn't cost me much, so there's no rush about anything. Once I see that there are absolutely none visitors whatsoever, I'll silently close it, but at that point it doesn't really matter to anyone.

And Larísa? What will happen to the pink pigtailed gnome when she has left the bar disk and walked out of that door?

For now being I'm still playing and raiding as usual (even though I'm honestly playing very little outside of the raids these days - like so many others). I haven't left WoW and I still don't know for sure when it will happen. But I know one thing: it will be a lot easier to do it, now that I'm not blogging about it anymore.

I can already give you a glimpse from how it will end. It's all planned. After giving away my gold I'll take Larísa to a green meadow in Elwynn Forest. Her feet will be bare and she'll wear nothing but a simple cloth robe, just like she did when she entered the world four years ago. Closing the circle.

And what will happen to me then, the player, that middle-aged woman who stumbled upon WoW more or less by accident and unexpectedly turned into a die-hard raider? Will I keep playing games, will I keep playing MMOs, will I start blogging again, under a different name?

I'm pretty sure I'll play other games. It took me very long, but eventually I realized that my visit in Azeroth was more than a tourist trip. Like it or not, I've become a gamer myself.

However I doubt that I'll ever go this deep into an MMO again. It becomes very time consuming ever so easily. And while I - as I've said before - don't regret the time I've spent on WoW, life isn't unlimited and there are other things I want to do with it, apart from exploring virtual worlds. I would think twice before committing myself to a game again the way I have with WoW. Been there, done that.

When it comes to blogging, I definitely want to keep writing for pleasure rather than for work, but I'm not so sure I'll do it in this form. I might try to find a different outlet for my creativity.

The final toast
I see that you're close to finishing your pints and the fire has turned into a faint glow. It's time to let go. Normally I'd probably find a suitable quote from LOTR as so many times before, but Tamarind beat me to it as he let Bilbo have the last word as Righteous Orbs closed down a while ago.

Instead I'm going to finish this final post at the PPI with the words of Richard Adams, from the ending of Watership Down.

He expresses my thoughts and emotions way better than I could myself. I'm leaving now because it was time for me to do so. But life goes on in the blogosphere and you'll be just fine.

I bid you all farewell. This is the final toast at The Pink Pigtail Inn.


"One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way -- something about rain and elder bloom -- when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him -- no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?"

"Yes, that's what I've come for", replied the other. "You know me, don't you?".

"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light.

"Yes, my lord," he said. "Yes, I know you".

"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now".

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right-and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom. "

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tier pieces or just a candle – how much does it matter what the boss drops for our willingness to wipe on him?

Is it worth wiping on Al’Akir, considering that he only drops some randomly enchanted stuff and no tier pieces whatsoever?

How many wipes does it take before you say: “screw this, let’s go and grab some more epics from the bosses we already have on farm?”

Recent discussions in my guild showed that there are many different views on this. Some players argue that it’s a waste of time, while others (including me) think that the lack of interesting loot is highly irrelevant and that we’ve never shied away from any challenge previously, so why would we now?

So far I think it’s the loot-is-irrelevant side that is winning. Last Sunday we had a wipe night in good old fashioned style, 22 in a row, without ever making it into phase 3. In my world it’s just a starter. When we’re up above 100 wipes we could start talking, and maybe playing the Benny Hill signature on vent during the corpse runs. But until then? No reason to despair.

Gear cap at level 359?
It’s a funny thing though, how much we differ in the value we put to loot – how important it is to us as motivator. One of the commenters on Ghostcrawler’s post on raid difficulties questioned the idea of constant gear progression through the tiers. Stop handing out better and better epic loot, was his suggestion. Put a cap at item level 359 so the players don’t become more powerful. The point of raiding isn’t to get loot anyway; it’s the feeling of accomplishment, of downing the boss. According to him, they could award vanity items for fluff, fun and bragging. The gear levelling curve should be capped though.

As I read it I asked myself: how many raiders would keep raiding if there wasn’t any more gear to win, if your character didn’t get more powerful thanks to it. How many would be willing to wipe o Al’Akir if it only cost you time and consumables, with no reward apart from the entertainment during the raid? My answer is: probably very few. Just look at what happens to the final tier instances during the months before a new expansion is about to be launched.

I’m pretty certain that more players would have bothered about Ruby Sanctum if it, for instance, had awarded loot that you couldn’t equip right away, but would be useful later on at level 85. Like it or not, to most players – but mind you, not all – WoW is still very much all about improving your character from a gear point of view until you hit the ceiling and can’t realistically improve it anymore.

Raiding like dancing
But does it really have to be that way? Let’s make a parallel to my other current hobby, namely historical dances. Every second week I’m raiding with my dance guild. Well, we don’t call it a raid, but actually it feels pretty much like it, especially those nights when we get a new boss to conquer, a new dance to learn, upon the ones we already have on farm. Just like in any raid there are all those moves and actions that the group of 10-20 people have to learn to master. I

Initially we wipe a lot, since there’s always one or two who miss out something completely. And our learning curves differ a bit, so we have to wait for each other. But eventually, after many wipes, and many nights of training, it clicks and we nail the dance and afterwards we put our hands in the air and cheer of relief, happiness and pride of what we’ve accomplished. Do we get any loot? Not at all. Not as much as an achievement. All we get is the sense of having learned to master something, as a group. The joy of making it well, of beating the challenge. And that’s all we ask for.

To me raiding in WoW is pretty much the same thing as learning how to dance a pavane, a branle or a country dance, with the difference that the raid group is dominated by men rather than by women, that we're in physical and not just digital contact, and that there doesn’t come any fire balls from my hands (even though they DO get sweaty sometimes)

Different motivations
I feel a confession is incoming and I know my guild officers won’t be pleased to hear this. But to be honest: most of the time when I raid I have no idea of what loot will drop from a certain boss. I know I should; I know I’m expected to plan my gear in advance and keep close track on such things. But it’s so largely irrelevant for my motivation and generally it’s easy enough for me to see weather a drop is an upgrade or not. I’d rather spend time studying the dance moves than the loot lists, which just bore me out of my mind.

For me WoW isn’t about the loot, it never was. Al’Akir could drop candles for what I was concerned. I would still have a burning desire to keep wiping on him until we’ve learned the dance.

This said: I don’t look down on loot driven players. I just note the fact that we’re not triggered by the same things in the game. I enjoy dancing and reaching the top of the mountain, and the more suffering we’ve been through on the way, the happier I’ll be once I get there. Others get their kicks from a new piece of gear or from topping the damage chart. Different players have different motivations, and I guess that’s all fine, as long as we’re working towards the same goal and do it as a team.

Friday night
Enough talk about loot. Let’s get to the essentials: a drink and a fireplace is all I ask for right now. I have no worries to share, no tears to shred, no doom or gloom or sad tidings from the world. Actually I have one thing I’d like to mention. In case you haven’t already seen it, head over the The Daily Blink and see what buffs the mages will get in 4.1. At least it gave me a refreshing laugh. Now I remember why I chose to play a mage in the first place. Under the cover of cute pink pigtails, I’m made out of evil.

And with those words I’ll bring out the toast for the week. It goes to all guilds that are currently wiping on a boss. May your dancing be enjoyable and eventually successful! May the RNG force be with you in the loot bag!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Speaking of trash

Razzmatazz at Planet of hats is sick of trash in raid instances. If he could decide he’d rather trash the trash altogether, since it’s boring. He doesn’t buy the idea of it as a pacing mechanism, calling it old school he argues that we should be past this by now. And he finishes asking anyone who thinks trash is fun to speak up, since he’d like to have a word with us.

So here I am, raising my arm, trash supporter as I am.

Yes, I think trash is an essential ingredient to any raid instance, and I’d be sad if they were removed altogether.

The trash free instance
Is there anyone around who remembers when Blizzard tried out the trash free concept in an experiment called ToC? Or have you tried to just forget about it? I surely don’t blame you.

I think I understand why they tried it in the first place, the reasoning behind it. Players love boss fights. They think big bad bosses are awesome. On the other hand players show very little love for trash. If anything they complain if there’s too much of it. Also: the players seem to play WoW half of half blindfolded. They don’t pay much attention to the surroundings, the beauty of the castles and dungeons and their inhabitants. All they talk about is boss abilities, strategies and loot. So why don’t we give them just that? Concentrated coolness should make them happy, right?

It’s just that this doesn’t work in it didn’t work in practice. Listening to the players is all nice, but you have to be aware of that sometimes they’re plain wrong, not realizing what they really want, not understanding the full consequences if their wishes should be granted. This was one of those cases.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone celebrating ToC for the lack of trash. It felt hollow, thin, and completely void of the atmosphere and beauty that instances such as Ulduar, Karazhan or Black Temple held. ToC reminded a bit of the seasonal bosses you finish in 20 seconds. It was not a place where you could experience adventures. It was a loot machine.

So what’s the point of trash mobs? Well, as I see it there are several.

Atmosphere and credibility
One purpose is to set the atmosphere and make setting where the fight takes place more credible. Bad guys in the fairytales rarely fight all alone against the world. They have people around to help them.

Or to make a comparison to an amusement park such as Disneyland compared to a travelling tivoli. It isn’t enough o provide awesome rides; if you just put those rides on a big empty parking place it won’t be half as fun as they are if they’re surrounded by a lovely park, with trees and houses and dressed out people. The trash makes the instance come alive, at least in the best cases.

One of the best examples is probably Karazhan, with the dancers and the dinner guests on the bottom floor. Would Moroes have been half as enjoyable if you had fought him in the empty room of ToC? I wouldn’t think so.

Pacing and variation
Another point is the pacing, even if Razzmatazz dismisses it. Think of it as a piece of classic music or a rock concert. You want variation. The most intense, high paced phases, that makes your heart beat faster, will stand out even more if they’re contrasted against periods that are a little bit slower. It’s not only more enjoyable, I think most raids also need it to recover a little mentally. If you’ve been seriously challenged by a boss fight, you need to reset your minds and get a break with something easier, if only for 10-20 minutes, before it’s time for the next peak.

And provided that it’s not too difficult, it will give the raid leaders a little bit room for thinking and making things ready for the next boss fights. You don’t have to keep the entire raid waiting when you reach the raid boss, since the tanks and healers have been able to sort some tings out during the trash.

Training and warm-up
Thirdly I think trash gives an opportunity for the raid to train their abilities and trim their coordination in a more forgiving setting than a boss encounter. Provided that the trash is varied and well crafted, and not only mindless aoe-targets, you’ll get the chance to test your tanks on pulling and your cc:ers on doing their job, sometimes with some added move-out-of-fire element. You could see it as a bit of warm-up before it’s time to perform at top. Sportsmen do it, so why not raiders?

Bad trash
I could give Razzmatazz right in one thing though, namely that not all trash is as good as it could be. Some trash doesn’t add any flavour or challenge at all, but feel more like randomly crafted standard mobs with the only purpose to delay your progression.

In some cases there’s just too much of the same thing. Take for instance the elementals right before the Twilight council. I don’t really mind the mechanisms, but is it really necessary to fill an entire room with the same kind of mobs, forcing us to go through the same manoeuvres over and over again? They’re not even interesting to look at. All you can think of while doing them is: I wonder how many there are left now?

The good trash
So what constitutes good trash according if you ask me?
Here are a few things I like to see in trash:

  • A plausible reason for why they’re there at all.
  • Interesting mechanisms that are more than just tank and spank, but still not as challenging as raid bosses. You should be able to wipe if you’re extremely careless, but you shouldn’t have to bring you’re A-game to manage.
  • Variation. Ten pulls of the same sort of trash in a row is quite un-fun.
  • A reasonable amount, meaning that respawns not necessarily means the end of your raid.
  • Some little extra award to keep up the spirits in the raid, such as reputation gains or random epic drops. In this manner, even a newbie raid that doesn’t manage to kill the first boss can feel that they get a little something for their efforts in a wipe night.

Best and worst
Finally you may ask: which raid instance is my favourite when it comes to trash?

Well, again as in so many other aspects, I think it will be Karazhan. I remember it was heavily criticized for having too much trash and yes, it was disheartening if you found respawns after The Curator room. You knew that it meant the end of that raid night, even if an hour remained of your raid time. But this said, most of the trash felt meaningful and added a lot of flavour and atmosphere to the instance.

And the worst? Well, that’s obviously ToC. There’s no worse trash than the non-existing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Out of touch?

WoW for sure isn’t dying, but not even I, normally a sparkling optimist, can deny that something has happened. It isn’t the same old "WoW is dying since I don’t like the game personally” whining that has been going on since the game was launched. It’s different.

What we’ve seen lately is a serious discussion in the community about the state of the game, where a lot of relevant points of concern have been made by veteran players. And yes, we’re also seeing the same players voting by their feet now, unsubscribing. Of course those losses might be compensated to some extent by the influx of new players, and therefore isn't such a big deal to Blizzard. However something tells me that it isn’t exactly as if they’re singing up in masses these days, at least not on the old and established markets as North America and Europe.

Ringing the bells
Considering the atmosphere surrounding WoW currently, Blizzard’s latest PR activity left me a bit puzzled. Are they really this much out of touch with their audience? Or is this just picture of their priorities: that the share holders are more important as a target group than the players are nowadays?

While I enjoyed the 20 year anniversary movie, I seriously wonder what they were thinking ringing the bells at the Nasdaq stock exchange the other day.

How cool as it might have felt for those former geeks to be let into those salons, I don’t think it looks quite as cool in the eyes of the customers of Blizzard. They’re honesty wasting some of their street cred capital this way.

Blizzard previously has been good at giving the impression (probably truthfully) that the people who work there are passionate gamers themselves and because of this they understand their audience completely. They’re on our side. But on whose side are those costume dressed gentlemen? Sure, they claim that they had a game of Starcraft II after ringing that bell, but it really doesn’t change the main impression: That the stock market matters more.

Now don’t take me wrong, I don’t think the stock market shouldn’t matter to Blizzard. In the end, it’s a company and not an NGO, they need to make a profit. But they would make wiser not to be so blatantly open about it, taking better care of their image.

The fact that they’re soon to launch yet another mount in the Blizzard store doesn’t help to improve the impression.

Ghostcrawler in touch
Not all is bad though. Even if some people seem to have lost their touch, Ghostcrawler hasn’t. After a couple of months of silence, he’s back with an interesting and honest post about raid difficulties. It doesn’t only show how hard they work to balance the end game to be enjoyable to a wide array of players. It also signals that they are interested to get feedback from the community that might help them to correct whatever did go wrong in Cataclysm. The US thread is spotting some 1500 comments and new ones are still incoming, many of them very long, detailed and insightful.

I sincerely hope they’ll make good use of it and show that this discussion is more important to them than ringing the bells at the stock market and that they’re still in touch with their players.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Legendary Test

How much longer do you think you will keep playing World of Warcraft?

I guess I’m not the only one who has been wrestling with this question lately, seeing many long-time guildies taking off for greener pastures in other games.

I’ve come up with a way to find out, and it’s as easy to take as a pregnancy test. I call it The Legendary Test and it consists of one simple question:

Imagine that you are a raider and that you’re playing a casting class. In the 4.2 patch, Blizzard is expected to introduce a legendary casting staff. Will you candidate to become the staff carrier of your guild?

Long time commitment
I don’t know how others distribute the legendaries in their guilds, but in our guild, our legendaries have been given out through a dkp auction, just like any other loot, but with one difference. If you wanted to candidate you should be likely to keep playing for a long time to come, with a good sign-up history, committed and prepared to put in the extra efforts it may require, such as gathering expensive materials and working on quest lines.

When the previous two legendaries were introduced – first the Ulduar mace and then the ICC axe, I obviously wasn’t a candidate, playing the wrong class. However I don’t doubt for a second that if those weapons had been suitable for mages, I would have loved to get one. At that time I was certain I would keep playing WoW for years, and I knew beyond any doubt make good use of the weapon once I had completed it, killing evil dragons under the banner of Adrenaline for a long time to come. Something else was unthinkable.

When I took the Legendary test on myself the other day, asking if I’d go for the weapon this time, the answer came up just as quickly. Only that this time it was in the opposite direction.

No. I won’t candidate, since I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll be around to complete it or use it for very long once it’s forged together. To candidate would feel completely wrong and unfair to my guild.

Losing the grip
This is not a farewell post, this is not the post where I declare “I’m bored with WoW and I’ve already cancelled my subscription”. But I can’t deny that something has happened, that something is in development. WoW is slowly but surely losing its grip on me.

I don’t think it has to do with the way the game is designed. It’s prettier, more polished than ever; I think they’ve more or less nailed it with the raid difficulty, coming up with good solutions to offer challenges to players on different skill levels and I really can’t see any reason to complain about lack of content either. It’s a beautiful, many sided and well crafted game, in many ways a lot better than what it was like when I started to play it four years ago.

There's something different that is in the doing, which affects me and gets to me. And I think it’s mostly about the community.

Every week there’s someone who leaves, a blogger I used to read or a guildie I used to raid with. And when they go they take something with them. Each one takes a little fragment of what kept me so invested and given me so much enjoyment in WoW. You could call it soul shards.

Today I got the message that one of my best friends in WoW has decided to call it a day. He’s not the first one and maybe not the last one, but suddenly I realized that I’m starting to run really low on soul shards. They’ve been taken from me and it doesn’t seem to me as if they’re replaceable.

I’m so low on them that I don’t pass the Legendary Test anymore. And as sad as it sounds, I realize deep down that this actually might be a Good thing rather than a Bad thing.

After all, when I’m completely out of soul shards and will decide to move on, there will be room for something new to come. Somewhere there are new shards that I can find and love and gather into shiny legendaries. I just don’t know where and how. But they’re out there, waiting to be discovered.

The WoW episode of my life isn’t over yet and I still can’t tell for sure when it will be. It could still be many months away. I don't know. I’m closing in though. I'm closing in.

It’s just like when you approach the sea and hear the birds already at a distance. They’re calling for me, louder and louder.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why it matters so much to us what other people play

It’s been another rather quiet week in the blogosphere. I believe the rift issue is still hanging over us as a damper.

As I said a week ago, I’m not likely to write about Rift since I don’t play it. But others have gone further, even marking their blogs as Rift free zones.

As Tobold wrote today:
“MMORPG players are an extremely territorial bunch, constantly fighting turf wars of "my game is better than yours".

This is quite true and at first sight it might look a bit silly. Why would it matter to me if another player prefers game X to game Y? I don’t go around getting annoyed over people who’d rather go the theatre than play WoW, so how does it come that the Rift vs WoW discussions immediately get so touchy and edgy, from both sides? Hey, why are we even speaking of “sides” in the first place?

Why we care
I’ve given it some further thought, and I think it’s not as if we’re fans of different football clubs, cheering for “our” game, the one we’ve sworn our loyalty to forever. After all – games come and go and I don’t think anyone expects to play one MMO their entire life.

It’s more about that we are worried about what consequences it will have to our own personal game experience if the game of our choice becomes less popular than it used to be. If our MMO stops being Massively and Multiplayer, it loses its purpose and its soul.

We want our games to be crowded. And when we’re afraid that our world won’t be as crowded in the future as it used to be, we become worried and somewhat whiny.

Sure, we complain loudly whenever there are queues or we experience server lag due to the high activity around an expansion or a major patch. But at the same time we enjoy the rush and the frenzy of it.

The opposite situation is something we fear. The thought of an empty virtual world is just as sad as a closed amusement park on a grey autumn day. It’s a ghost town. Sure you can appreciate the pretty scenery for a while, it can eve be fun to explore it on your own, as if you were paying a visit to a museum after the closing hour. But all in all - if the players are gone, it’s nothing more than facades.

It’s the players who make an MMO come alive. I can’t imagine anything lonelier than to live in a virtual world of memories and shadows, a friends list that is greyed out and a trade chat that has gone silent.

Now, I wouldn’t say that things have gone that bad in Azeroth yet, not at all. And I’m also sure it varies from server to server and from guild to guild.

I found a graph over the player activity at my own realm at Warcraft realms, and if you would believe this, people are playing as much as they did last autumn and almost as much as last spring.

I’m not sure if it’s my perception that is wrong or this graph, because the feeling I get from my realm is quite different. It’s about as quiet as it normally is during the vacation period.

When we worry about the decline on our servers, we don’t think about the whereabouts of Blizzard Activision and their shareholders. We couldn’t care less.

For most players there the social aspect is what keeps us playing WoW year after year, regardless if they just recycle content, putting new skin on old quests and raid bosses. We don’t’ care about the epics or the achievements. We care about our online friendships. And now they’re put at risk.

No wonder WoW players get a bit emotional when they see so many players leaving. No wonder Rift players urge their friends from Azeroth to come and join them.

Not the end of the world
Of course the hype around Rift isn’t the End of Azeroth, the nail in the coffin for WoW or anything like that. Even if Rift would snatch as much as couple of million players (not all that likely), there would be millions left for years to come. Blizzard can adjust accordingly, opening for server transfers, making server merges, whatever is needed to make the servers feel lively and yet not overpopulated.

Players will also adjust to the new situation. Some guilds will split, others will merge, there will be a lot moving-around in the months to come and if you want to raid, you will always be able to find a guild where you can do so, provided you’re a decent player and not too repulsive as a person.

However, if you’re a long-time player, it’s quite natural that you feel a bit discouraged at the thought of it. Sure, you could start over again, forge new friendships, find a new social context. But is it really worth it, after all those years? How much do you want to invest yourself into something that might only last a few months before the exodus from the game might force your new guild to break up and reorganize?

This is not a case of football fans talking about which club is the best. It’s about dealing with losses of friendships and about realizing that an MMO is always fluid. Like the old greeks used to say. Panta Rei. Everything flows. And as many friends you will get, as many separations will you have to get through.

Friday night toast
Either you’ve moved on to Rift or you’re still enjoying Azeroth, I hope you’d like to join me in the Friday night toast. This toast is for the friendship we find through Azeroth. And that actually – in rare cases – might last long after we’ve drifted away to different games.