Saturday, August 29, 2009

Au Clair de Elune

Human beings are creatures of light. Viewed from physics, our human substance is just light at a particular density. It's not simply that we need light to see, it's that we need light to exist at all. Our most basic hunger is for light. It starts with the process of photosynthesis in a plant; light turned into matter. It ends with the biochemical process that turns a deer into a human femur, a trout into a eleemosynary neural synapse. Without light life as we comprehend does not exist.

Biologists say that human beings are on top of the food chain or that man is an alpha predator. All that's really saying is that he is farthest away from the sun as a food supply; he eats the being who eats the being who eats the being that eats light. Of course, when we eat lettuce or some other vegetable we are getting much nearer the source of light conversion. The truth is that man is an omnivore, a polite word for scavenger; he'll take whatever source of power he can find to live. In this sense there is a basic kinship between all living things; we are all creatures of the sun, creatures of the light. From dust we have arisen and to dust we shall return; what animates that dust, what makes it living, is light.

Light of the Mind

It is not surprising then that light is an important image, a vital symbol. When we achieve a state of mental clarity we say, " I see" or "the light is beginning to dawn". The moon in Western culture has always been a symbol associated with the feminine. Jung, borrowing from alchemy, used the concepts of Sol and Luna as symbols for the ego and the unconscious; what we are unconscious of we do not see, it's the place where the light is dim. Historians speak of the Age of Enlightenment, economists talk of "enlightened self-interest;" the state of Buddhist transcendence is called "enlightenment". Enlightenment, literally to become light; to return to the source of all living things.

A biologist would take it as a matter deserving of only the most basic comment that the senses of animals work in fundamentally different ways. The bat and the dolphin use sonar to echo-locate, the dog has a sense of smell up to a million times more sensitive than a human's, the soaring eagle's acuity of sight is legendary, most invertebrates are dependent on a sense of touch. But if anything that evolution tell us is true, then it must be that animals are not merely products of their environment they are more precisely the product of the response of their minds to their environment. As a raw physical matter, no one claims that the brain of the dog is the same as the brain of a frog or the brain of a snake is the same as the brain of a human. Even if we assume that there is an objective fixed reality no one claims that the way the cat perceives that reality is identical to the way a bird perceives it or the way an alligator perceives it. If there is any truth whatsoever to the claim that there is a mind/brain connection then it must be true that fundamentally different senses produce fundamentally different brains which then produce fundamentally different minds.

This reality is beautifully expressed in Druid shape shifting. The different talents, powers, and skill rotations between cat, bear, tree, and human all reflect the reality that when a Druid changes form it changes its mind. Cats prowl, bears maul, there is healing power in the leaves of a tree. The Druid doesn't just master minds, it masters fundamentally different minds; yet it is always remains a Druid. Dying shape shifted reverts the Druid to human form.

But what does a creature do when it wants to express a difference in mind but has no ability to change form? The human answer has be to concoct a wild mixture of totems, heraldry charges, signs, and symbols. We need to communicate in a visual way that our minds see in a different light. Given that we eat light, are light, light glows from within as well as without. If one thinks of the mind as a prism then the range of symbols humans produce becomes a beautiful cascading rainbow of lions, eagles, dolphins, trees, and flowers.

A Gentle Light

I wrote here about how I enjoyed watching the sun set over the ocean in the world of Azeorth. It's not coincidence because I love to watch the sun rise and the sun set outside of Azeroth too. One realization that has come with age is that I'm as much a sun worshiper as the world's worst hedonist. The difference is that I like my sun gentle, fading. I don't do noon. The height of summer is not the time to be basking on the beach covered in oil, drinking margaritas; it's time to be huddled indoors, the air conditioner blasting. The perfect illustration of this truth is the date of my Warcraft anniversary: July 3rd. Even as a child the seasons I loved best were Spring and Autumn. Sun kissed I'm all for, sun burnt no thanks.

Even though I wasn't conscious of it at the time I think this was one of the things the attracted me to playing a Druid, to becoming a creature of the moon. The moon is the ultimate in faded light. I never considered myself acquainted with the night before but since I have started playing Warcraft I have found myself more and more attached to the world of shadows, the world of the indistinct. I joke to myself, does this make me a lunatic now.

The fading light I have come to see is not only beautiful but like all beauties it represents a challenge. Noon is easy. The lack of light makes the way seems dull so the senses must be sharp. This understood the night elf racial passives reveal themselves as fitting: quickness, elusiveness, melding into shadows. Low informational density increases risk; rather than the snap judgments of the desert noon decision making in the moonlight is based upon hints, guesses, hints followed by guesses.

Glowing eyes, prowling cat. Footfall of padding bear. Rustling trees in the wind. Are you nervous my friend. Listen: cry of the crow. Are you tense. Why you jumped. It's only the blur of the cheetah; there is no cause for alarm. See, horns from the stag; feathers from the owl; kin to all living things. Here in the moonlit forest glade; that was me, Elnia. Each time, Elnia. One mind and many minds. Elnia. Come friend, walk with me. Walk by the light of Elune.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tobold being funny

In a post today Tobold claims that he doesn’t only run the blog under his own name – he’s got another one as well: Greedy Goblin.

So what should we make out of this? One way or another Tobold is having fun with the community. If he would be telling the truth, he would have been mocking us for quite a while. That would include me – after all, I’ve always felt a bit like a mother of Gevlon. He was born as a blogger in front of the cosy fire of PPI, I was the one who once upon a time encouraged the long time commenter Ghosboci to create a blog of his own, giving him a few pieces of advice when he started. People have questioned my love for this greedy little creature, I’ve stuck to it and I still do. He’s got a special seat reserved in this bar, like it or not.

The other possibility is of course that the only lie is this post, that it’s just an entertaining and thought-provoking post by Tobold, where he’s making fun of Gevlon, while at the same time making an important point about the nature of blogging. Currently I'm leaning towards this theory, that Tobold's revelations is a fake, a set-up. Among other things I think it would be too much of a hassle for Tobold to put in grammar and spelling errors to the posts that he writes as "Gevlon" when they don't appear when Tobold is writing. And the final words of Tobold's post are the essential ones:

Just shows you can't believe everything you read on the internet.

If the Tobold= Gevlon theory had been true, it would have been an "And Atlas Shrugged” experience, a Cataclysm to the blogosphere bigger than the Ferraro debacle. But I think we can settle the issue now. There's no confirming post on Gevlon's blog, as a matter of fact he has already commented on it:

“PS4: Tobold is being very funny today. My comment on the topic is this, and no more, all comments on my blog about Tobold's joke/experiment will be deleted”

The nature of blogs

With this prank Tobold highlights what I pointed out a week ago: bloggers aren’t journalists in the normal sense. They share opinions, they entertain, they give food for thought – either the views are authentic or faked, as Tobold now claims that Gevlon’s opinions are. All of this has a value – it creates a discussion and thought exchange that makes the world into a more interesting place to live in. It increases the intelligence with people. We should enjoy and appreciate the blogs for what they are but beware of seeing them as truth holders.

Think for yourself
Tobold being or not being Gevlon wasn't the only available option by the way. A third possibility struck me: Tobold and Gevlon could be different bloggers, as we always thought they were, but they could have agreed to put up this little charade together, just to make a point about the sheepish character of some people in the WoW community. The message is: never ever stop trusting your own intelligence and judgement, don't just accept whatever story is served to you.

Even if Tobold and Gevlon always have taken opposite approaches in most issues (although not all), one thing they have in common is that they’re challenging the audience to use their brains in a way that few other bloggers manage to do.

And with this post, Tobold, you’ve certainly succeeded in that mission and given us some giggles at the same time.
By the way, Larísa is still Larísa, same innkeeper as always. If you don't believe I exist, just drop by and say hello to me at the Stormrage server! But am I really the one I claim to be, that 40+ Swedish woman? Or maybe I'm just some 16-year old guy who enjoys to dress up in his mothers skirts? You'll never quite know. The truth is out there.

Edit: The hoax wasn't out for many hours before Tobold admitted it's true character. What a shame that you told it so quickly! It would have been interesting to see how far out in the Blogopshere the rumor about Tobold=Gevlon could have spread. From my professional life I know too well that once a false picture is "set" in the mind of the audience it's very, very hard to change it with just reason and information.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The potential of the new PUG wormholes

Will the upcoming cross-server PUGs turn into the paradise of ninjas and morons in general? It's quite likely if you ask Ixobelle, who thinks this is a "horrible idea". Besides he suggests that it doesn't solve any problems. If there's a surplus today of dps and a lack of tanks and healers, this won't change. The disproportions of the roles in LFG will still be the same, even though it's spread on several realms.

And of course it's easy to agree with those points. If you're playing on the same realm, you still can act as a jackass, but you have a reputation to care about. The word will no doubt spread if you have behaved like a jerk. You'll end up on ignore lists and someone may contact your guild master. There are ways to make life unpleasant to people who deserve it. But with a cross-server PUG this will definitely change. The chances that you're ever meet again are infinitely small and protected by the anonymity, this may bring out the worst sides in some players.

Ixobelle is worried about the change and could only think of one good thing about it: that there's a bigger pool of players to draw from when you're looking for a group.

The wormhole revolution
Now, I wouldn't say that I disagree with Ixobelle. After all he's one of my absolute favorite bloggers. But I think there are some potential benefits from this change that deserve to be mentioned.

As I'm writing this, there isn't any detailed information available about how the multi-realm LFG will work in practice. So all my suggestions are very hypothetical. The outcome depends on how they chose to implement it. There's a huge difference if the LFG pool only is drawn from a few realms in your battlegroup, as they do it in the battlegrounds, or if you can pick people freely from any realm within EU or US, as long as they have the same language.

But let's say that they actually WILL give us the opportunity to not only get players from any realm on our side of the ocean, but also to pick actively from the people listed in the LFG channel, instead of getting them automatically added to the group. If that is the case, this means that Blizzard finally has decided to break up the server barriers by building those worm holes. And this, my friends, would be a revolution.

There are many players out there who have friends on different servers - game friends as well as real life friends. So far the only way they've been able to play with them without making server transfers, has been to create alts. A solution like this would mean that friends could team up with their mains., forming the group through LFG.

The possibilities are infinite. Who knows, one day I might join a PUG of EU-bloggers from different realms, checking out one of the new 5-man instances together. How awesome wouldn't that be?

But not only friends would benefit from this. It would also make cross-server guild recruitment infinitely much easier. Just run a couple of instances with the applicant and you'll soon enough see if there is any mutual liking. The risk of wasting money on failed transfers will decrease. You can always check out several games and do some research before you decide, finding a realm that fits with your play style.

Who wants loot anyway?
What about the risk of losing loot to ninjas then? Would Larísa even dare to join such a PUG?
Well, I'll ask a return question: how many of you are running instances for gear anymore? Who wants the loot anyway? I don't. If I pug an instance on my main character, it will mostly be the daily heroic, and the only thing I want from them, apart from entertainment, are the emblems of triumph, which no ninja in the world can steal from me. And this is not just the case with my mage, who is well geared and deep into endgame. It's exactly the same thing if I'm running a PUG with my lvl 62 druid alt. The major reason to do it is to get XP, maybe to get a quest done, or just to get experience of group healing, seeing the instances I've run before from a completely new perspectives. I certainly don't run them for drops. I know that the gear will be replaced many times anyway before it's time for endgame at some point in the future. And then, I can always gear up by emblems and heirloom items.

With the amount of gear currently available in the game, there isn't as much potential loot drama around 5-man instances gear as there used to be. Most of the gear I see drop in pugs goes to shards, if there's a disenchanter around, or if not: to a vendor. I don't think this will be any different just because the players come from different realms.

What possibly could be a source of conflict is the issue of leadership though. Without giving us any details, they've hinted that the PUG leaders somehow will get a reward for their job. And as soon as there are rewards I think there will be many more people who are more than willing to lead. The question is if the other players are willing to be led, missing the reward. It's hard to say until we know more about what they have in mind for this.

Social drawback
But don't I see any drawbacks in this, like Ixobelle do, apart from the lack of social pressure that can bring out the worst in people?

Well, If there's any disadvantage, I would say that it's the social one. Running a lot of pugs is a great way to get to know more people on the realm, building up a list of friends and acquaintances. It's quite unlikely that you'll develop friendship bonds with people from other realms. This will be more like "one night stands" with strangers who you meet once and never will see again. How are you supposed to get to know your own server if you're playing with random people at others?

It will also be harder to predict the outcome of a PUG just by looking at the guild tags. To be honest I always pull a sigh of relief if I see that most of the players in the group are from one of the 15 most progressed raiding guilds on the realm. I know it isn't any guarantee. Just because you have a tip top main it doesn't necessarily mean your alt is as viable, gear- or skillwise. But still - the guild tag normally works like a sort of certificate. This player has been approved by a guild which is probably somewhat picky. There's a big chance that he's got a clue about what he (or she) is doing. With a crossrealm PUG you can't benefit from any general knowledge about the guilds on your realm. But it isn't any worse than that you can look up the player in armory and take a peak to make sure he's good enough for the task.

Finally: I find it hard to believe that Blizzard completely would replace the ordinary LFG channel with this new feature. It's more likely that it will be a complement, somewhere you can look if you're really desperate for a last player to your group.

And now we can only eagerly wait for more information, probably sooner than later, since they plan to implement it in the same patch as Icecrown. Maybe it will turn out to be a disappointment, as clumsy and random as the BG raid formation process. But it certainly has huge potential. I'm looking forward to see if they'll give us those wormholes after all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My guild is looking for more

I’m sorry for spamming this blog with guild recruitment ads, but I really need to since we’re quite low on people currently and we don’t get much result from using the ordinary recruitment channels. Everyone needs to help out the way they can, and this is my contribution.

So to put it brief: we’ve got some open positions in my alliance guild Adrenaline at Stormrage/EU (PvE). We’re looking for experienced tanks – DK or warrior and for ranged dps: a balance druid, a mage, a warlock and two elemental shamans. A rogue would also be welcome.

If you know your stuff, are geared to do all of Ulduar (we’ve downed Yogg 25 man and are working on some hardmodes), if you’re comfortable with a raiding schedule of 3 times a week, with minimum 2/3 attendance, and if you enjoy a serious raiding environment where we mostly keep the smalltalk out of the raids not to lose focus, feel free to apply!

This is a link to our website and this is a link to information about how you make an application for us.

That’s all I wanted to say. Back to ordinary inn small talk.

Cataclysm: Triumph of the Social

The big picture take away message from Blizzcon 2009 is simple: solo content is dead. The real cataclysm is not to the the physical geography of Azeroth but to the entire game experience. Solo questing as a major game mechanism is finished and guilds moves to the center of the game play experience. Love them or hate them what Gevlon terms the social have won a decisive victory in the future of Warcraft.

The Guild

The key development in Cataclysm is the new guild system. As Ghostcrawler said in the Game Systems panel, "They want people to be in a guild. The game is more fun when you're in a guild." As a de facto matter, the only question will be what guild you will join, not if you will join a guild at all. While it will still be technically possible to engage the game as a single player the penalties will be so decisively punitive that only die hard masochists will try.

The list of already announced guild bonuses include:

(1) a straight up 7% additional gold and experience for guild members over soloists.

(2) guilds will earn experience separate from player experience which will be convertible to gold
(3) significantly reduced repair costs for guild members over soloist
(4) Crafted guild heirlooms that will fit any gear slot and be soul bound to that guild
(5) The complete elimination of the need for the gathering professions for guilds as they will be able to by such items directly from specialized guild vendors.

One thing that remains unclear is whether the gold the guild will earn will be freely distributable to members or can only be used within the guild for crafting heirloom items and buying from guild vendors. But this is only a question as to whether the huge benefit to being a guild member is in direct cash or indirectly though potions and other crafted items. If that was not enough to kill solo leveling the panel made it clear that once you are in a guild they don't want you to leave. If you purchase stuff for the guild you will not be able to take it with you. No more ninjas. Again, Ghostcrawler, "we don't want people to bounce around from guild to guild." All of this focus on the guild will be enhanced by the new guild user interfaces and a new Looking for Guild tool.

Once this is understood its easy to see why there are only five levels to the expansion. More levels means more quests which means more soloing. Rather, to get players into situations where they group the amount of levels have been reduced from ten to five and the additional resources switched from questing to raids. Cataclysm will launch with four full new raid instances as well as two revamped version of old world instances. To balance this lack of solo action the designers have placed an increasing emphasis on the visual identity. There will reforging, which will allow you to changes the stats on individual items; the new talents trees are designed so that the player picks talents to be enhance the visual actions of the characters rather than game stats; the coup de grace being that the dance studio is finally becoming a reality.


In one sense, it's difficult to argue with these changes because they certainly put the multi back into multi-player. Yet one of the strengths of Warcraft was the way it appealed to both the people who wanted to participate in a guild and those who did not. This reality has now been swept away in a maelstrom of historic proportions. Players have been asking for a new class and they, in effect, got one: guild manger. The new guild leveling, achievements, and talents; combined with the huge in-rush of previously unguilded players, will complicated guilds so much that the administrative burden will increase significantly. My own suspicion is that we will see the advent of a few super mega guilds on each server as the penalties for casuals not belong to a guild are so strong they will have to go some place.

The other big shake out will no doubt be to gut the auction house. I give props for this evil genius move which I did not see coming. The primary way to get rid of gold sellers is to create a system where there is nothing to buy. If you can't eliminate supply, eliminate demand. In effect, the new guild system turns each guild into its own mini economy with no real need to interact with the rest of the game. The guild vendor system effectively guts the gathering professions as a means of individual wealth accumulation as raw material will be able to bought from the vendor. This leaves only crafted items to be exchanged. But with the guilds being able to create full gear sets of heirloom items there will be no need for crafted gear of any type before end game. The primary buyers of gold were always the casuals who had more money than time and those guilds struggling at the high end who needed to buy consumables. The casuals will now have no need as the guild will become the endless nipple and the high end guilds will be able to now buy directly from the vendor and craft their own. Again, like soloing I don't mean to suggest the AH will die out completely. But the days where someone like Gevlon will be able to amass a fortune are dead and gone.

The whole cataclysm is so profound that it's hard to argue as to whether it's good or bad for the game. Warcraft is simply not the same game anymore. It's not so much an expansion in that sense as a discontinuity. I entitled this the Triumph of the Social but it easily could be called the Genocide of the Soloist. Welcome to the new WoW, most definitely not the same as the old WoW.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The sweet victory of the B-team

I don't know what makes me most enthusiastic - the actual content in the information we've had about Cataclysm - or the overwhelming reception from the community that we've seen so far. It's too early to tell what is what. But the impression I will carry with me from this weekend, following BlizzCon from a distance, is that Blizzard very well succeed in what I was hoping for a few days ago. They're showing us that WoW is far from a dying game.

Excited players
Of course there are already some grumpy, disappointed, complaining blog and forum posts out there. There always will be. But the vast majority of players - new ones as well as old veterans who have cancelled their subscriptions long time ago - seem to be as excited about it as I am. Even Tobold, who's been so grumpy and tired with WoW for a while, has gotten caught the bug again. I'm not sure if we have solid reasons to be THAT happy. But those feelings are contagious, so they're filling the WoW community right now. Probably the previous tension, reinforced by the speculations, adds to it. It's just like at one of those inforgettable moments at great rock concerts, when the arena suddenly kind of explodes and we're all integrated, one huge organism, happily singing, dancing, breathing and drinking the music, the game we love so much.

Is this love-in-the-air feeling permanent or will it fade away once we've thought the changes over a bit more? I come to think of that TV-show where they grab some poor victim of a disaster (disease or natural catastrophe) who has lost their home and build a new luxury house for them. The walk-through of the new content in Cataclysm was a little bit like the walk-through in those shows. "Look what we've planning to do for you! And we've got this and this and this! Now check out this room! Awesome, isn't it?" It remains to see though if it will hold in the long run. Looking at the TV-show, some of the rooms they build for the children in those families are plain silly, just not anything that will work in everyday life, and as a mother I know that the kids will grow tired with them in no time. It could very well turn out to be the same with some of those changes when we've seen them come true and lived with them for a while.

But right now my eyes are glittering happily at the thought of the new stuff, as they are for so many other of you out there.

Reinforcing the grounds
I think that what makes this expansion so great is that Blizzard really show that they believe that the WoW concept has a few more years to come. I see it as if they're building a tower. Instead of just adding another level to an unstable building, which is leaning over in a dangerous angle, they've decided to go back to the bottom, rebuilding and enforcing the grounds.

With an Azeroth that feels up-to-date and interesting when you compare it other games, they've built a foundation that makes it possible to make further expansions, using the previous adding-new-contents-concept. The game will still hold together. Which is something that it - in all honesty - doesn't quite do at the moment. If you compare the artwork and the game experience you get from for instance Darkshore or Redridge Mountains of today with Icecrown, you can hardly believe it's the same game. Now hopefully this will smoothen out, even though some spots in Outlands will feel a bit old (Hellfire bores with orcs, anyone? Sigh.)

I'm not in the position that I can make any detailed analysis about the changes. There's too much to comment it all at once and I need some more time to think it over. Besides - at least in my world - we're only halfway through the current content. I'm so looking forward to see what Icecrown will be like, for one thing. But of course I'll come back to Cataclysm many times in the months to come. PPI basically reflects what currently fills my mind, what WoW looks like through my eyes for the time being. And you bet that I'll think a lot about this.

I just need to mention one of the details that made me clap my hands most intensely. Yes, of course you know what it is: they've finally given the gnomes a bit of love. A healing class! I wonder how long it will take before we see the first gnomes-only-guilds? I for one would just love to run instances in a Small People Party. The bigger dragon, the better!
Enjoying the victory
A few final thoughts: I hope that the BlizzCon Effect will remain for a little while before the community will go back to the ordinary whining and "it was better in the old days" ranting. I really think that the B-team deserve to linger in this feeling and cherish their victory for a little while.

Another winner is of course Boubouille at MMO-champion. He put his reputation at risk, publishing the leaked information. And he turned out to be correct in every detail, in spite of a lot of public criticism and questioning. Now his reputation as a trustworthy source of information is all-time-high. Cheers for you Boubouille! Come and have a pint whenever you're done with the Cataclysm reporting. You deserve it!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tickled Pink: Onyxia Revisited

Larísa's take:

"You can't step into the same river twice."

This quota by the old Greek philosopher Heraclitus has haunted me through life. How many times hasn't it happened that I've wanted to return to something I enjoyed once upon a time - it could be a job, the company of a friend, a place I've visited? In some sort of wishful thinking and outburst of nostalgia, I've fooled myself for a second that it would be the same experience as it was the first time.

But then I've heard the soft whispering from the old man, reminding me that everything inevitably changes over time. The flood seemingly runs the same way as always. But the second time you step to it, the water that was there the first time has moved on somewhere else. It's not the same river, even though it maybe looks like it.

We can do things again that we've done before. We can re-read novels 20 years later, get back to our favorite restaurants and see the movie yet another time. But we must be prepared for another experience. If nothing else, we have changed in ourselves.

I came to think about this as I heard about the upcoming return of Onyxia. The opinions on it differ. Most reactions I've heard so far have been pretty negative.

"We've been there and done that. Why on earth would we like to do it again? Blizzard should use their resources to develop new content rather than to reheat the leftovers from yesterday. We deserve that as paying customers. "

Others on the other hand hope to enter the river once again and are excited, expecting that raiding somehow once again will feel as epic as it did in vanilla WoW. And considering the river mechanism, I'm afraid they're bound to get disappointed. No matter how much they'll revamp Onyxia and enhance not only stats and loot, but maybe also the visuals (at least I hope so, because frankly quite a lot of the vanilla WoW content looks rather plain and crappy if you compare it to WotLK) - they can't possibly create the same atmosphere. You who were around in the old days have too many years of raiding behind you, too many scars that you've earned wiping in Onyxia's lair to get that excited again, even if you'd like to.

I guess I could call myself lucky, being a TBC baby. Even though I've fought my way through the attunement and got my Drakfire Amulet (still in my bank deposit), I've only done this encounter in an overpowered manner, more or less as a joke, where it didn't matter much what I did as long as I stayed out of fire. This means that I can actually look forward to this raid encounter, which will be more or less new to me.

But no matter if you like the thought of a returning Onyxia or if you consider it rather pointless, we probably shouldn't work up ourselves too much about it. Think of it as a silly little bonus event to celebrate the anniversary, equivalent to the cute baby bear we got last year. It does not take away Blizzard's focus from developing Cataclysm and whatever is beyond that. The amount of PR about a phenomena doesn't necessarily reflect how important it is.

As long as we don't believe that the river is the same, we'll be fine.

Elnia's Perspective

I have been fortunate in my life to have traveled outside the USA numerous times. My advice to people about traveling is always the same, "Go. Just go." There is no right time to travel because every traveling experience you have is going to be a unique combination of who you are at the time and who the places and people you meet along the way are at that time. And whether it is you who are different or the place that is different the experiences are not fully repeatable.

The other thing that I have learned is that as big and huge as this planet is (and it is not a small world after all) no matter where you go someone will have been there before. It's like falling in love with someone who is married; if you are expecting virginity you are simply deluded. Virginity is the province of the inexperienced.

On of my pet sayings is that novelty is the rape of intuition. Being new and fresh and virginal is certainly attractive. On the other hand, a lust for perpetual virginity, perpetual novelty, perpetual freshness and youth seems to me a disordered view of life. Certainly there is a rush the first time new lovers see each other naked. But no one who has experienced the deep and penetrating satisfaction of a true emotional and mental intimacy built up over time would ever trade that for a series of perpetual infatuations. At least I wouldn't.

So I agree entirely with Larisa when she says you can't have the same experience twice. But why would you want to? Why is it that the second time or the third time around is by default going to be worse. Sometimes, I won't lie, it is worse; that happens. Yet I think it shows a poor mental attitude, a self defeating attitude, to simply assume that's going to be the case. Shouldn't it be, like when you have the right lover, experience makes it better. To me all the angst around recycled content in Warcraft smacks of a lust for endless virginity, a desire to plunder the muse of creative intuition for all it's worth and leave it bleeding and moaning in some drank alley.

And that's assuming that angst is even credible. There are a lot of trolls out there who will search out anything, no matter how small, just to bicker about it. They will find the negative in every situation. If it's recycled content then it's boring because it's not new; if it new then it's offensive because it's not traditional and violates the the lore, or their sense of identity, or whatever. Not only do these poor creatures collapse everything into a binomial, they collapse it into a negative one. Pity them.

Rather than prejudging the matter, we should give Blizzard a chance to show what they can do with a recycled Oynxia. I am more likely to accept negative criticism from someone after the fact if I know they had an open mind before the fact than someone rehashing the same criticism they been had going on about for the last year. At the end of the day, the only real measure of success is if the game designers produce an expereince that's interesting or fun to play; if they do that, no one will care if it's recycled or not.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why I hope the melting iceberg will hold a bit longer

We’re living in the age of branding, where we not only build the brands of products, organizations or ideas, but also ourselves. Quite a creepy thought, but a fact, like it or not.

Now building a brand isn’t just something you do once for all, to live happily the rest of your life, harvesting the result of your investments. All brands and products have a lifecycle, even though non-marketing people don’t pay much attention to it.

According to a famous chart, used by market economists, The Boston Matrix, there is a certain pattern in how they go from upcoming stars to “milk cows”, which eventually will face an inevitable death and destruction. That will say: unless you put considerable effort into keeping them alive – through re-investment, re-positioning and tons of advertising.

How quickly a brand will go through all the stages in this lifcycle vary of course, depending on the market and the product category. Mind you, I’m not an economist myself, so this explanation of the matrix is probably questionable, this is not the whole truth, just the way I had it explained to me.

Counting the minutes
I’m bringing this up because I, with the rest of the WoW community, eagerly is waiting for the BlizzCon circus to break out. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend it, not even by the Internet broadcast. So I’ll have to do with whatever information is reported by and other news sites. I’m sure they’ll do a great job, so I’m not worried that I’ll miss something.

I’m counting the minutes, because I have the feeling that Blizzard is facing a moment of truth. Will they once again be able to dominate the MMO-market, will they do the trick and not only deliver what we thought they would, but even more than that in the upcoming expansion, which is expected to be announced? Will they be able to amaze us and one more time revitalize the WoW concept, defying the fact that it – in a gaming context – is a very old and rapidly aging brand?

A melting iceberg?
A couple of years ago there was no question about it. Blizzard’s WoW concept was The Star on the MMO sky. They managed not only to gain the likening and respect from a somewhat picky core of the gaming community, but also to make it work commercially Even though they weren’t exactly in the frontline, even though they weren’t pushing the edges, they were unquestionably masters in combining things, picking the best ideas from other games and putting it together in a tasteful, easy-to-love and broad-approach combination. Perhaps you could call that inventive as well, it its own way.

But the world has changed and I’ve got a strong feeling that WoW isn’t quite the fix star as it used to be. The very thing that they feel a sudden urge to bring in Ozzy Osbourne ads, is a certain sign that the former cash cow needs some extra oxygen to keep breathing.

With the official movement of the leading creative staff from WoW to the future, secret MMO project, the community couldn’t draw any other conclusion but that it was the B-squad that remained in the building, with the instructions to keep the boat afloat as long as possible.

WoW vs Aion
There has been “Doom and gloom” prophecies about the upcoming mass Exodus of players more than once before. But now I think the arguing makes more sense than it did a year ago.

Spooner at Spooncraft wrote a post where he compared WoW and Aion, arguing that Aion is a part of the next generation of MMOs and that it’s probably about time to take the step over now. He bunches up WoW, EVE, LOTRO, AoC, War and City of Heroes, resembling them to a melting iceberg.

“These games have been around for a while, and they’re showing their age either through obsolete gameplay or graphics or just terrible management and community.
And he suggests us to jump over to the new beautiful, solid and fresh looking iceberg which will last us at least 5 years before it starts to wear off. There you’ll find games like Aion, Champions Online, Final Fantasy XIV, SWTOR and the next generation MMO from Blizzard.

His concluding words probably express pretty well the views from players who are done with WoW:

“Remember in December of 2004 when you first installed the World of Warcraft and you felt like you were looking at the most beautiful and amazing game to date?
Addictive and exciting and full of mysteries you were yearning to uncover? Zones yet to explore, epic weapons and armor and vicious monsters and evil that had to be fought? It’s like that all over again. Aion feels like WoW used to.”

Why I hope for success
The funny thing is that all the ongoing picking at the current development team, all the moaning from the community and the general assumption that WoW is a dying game, has the reversed effect on me. Even though I don’t consider myself a “Blizzard fan boy” (I have no history with them whatsoever and have never touched any of their other games), I find myself sympathizing with the staff, wanting them to proof the critics wrong, showing the gaming world that they’re well prepared for another round in the match about the MMO-audience.

It’s just like watching an old athlete, making his last Olympics, defending his title one more time against the 15-year old upcoming stars. My heart bleeds for the old, scarred fighter.

How discouraging mustn’t it be to belong to a team that the community has classed as secondary? You’re one of the people left behind, with a game engine that is running obsolete according to the experts. (Not that I notice it at all, I have no idea what a game engine is. To me the game is as beautiful and stunning as ever. But what do I know?) Whatever they make up for the next expansion, they can expect a ton of criticism from those players who never seem to be content, no matter what they do.

I certainly don’t awe them. It is hard and unrewarding work to manage a brand which has been so strong, that you can’t possibly make it any stronger, trying to prevent it from getting weaker too quickly and too badly. I know, because I’ve done it myself in real life.

The countdown is on. In a few hours we may – or may not, if the speculations turn out to be wrong – get some official announcements about the next expansion.

My heart is with the B-squad, who in the current situation come out as underdogs, no matter of the glorious past of WoW. I hope you’ll step out from the shadows and show us that the lifespan of an MMO not necessarily is limited to five years. I want you to show that even if the iceberg slowly is melting, this brand is strong enough to float for at least another expansion and that we who decide to stay around will have quite a ride to look forward to.

Go, Blizzard, Go!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Value of Violence

The fundamental tenant of economics is that money is both a medium of exchange and a store of value. In short, money is tool to exchange value between people. Economics recognizes that not everything in life can be monetized; economic models either implicitly assume an arbitrary value for such goods or explicitly dismiss them as externalities. Economics doesn't insist that monetary value is a perfect reflection of life priorities; it simply insists that monetary valuations are a useful tool for inquiry.

Valuing Patch 3.2

In the lead up to patch 3.2 several bloggers expressed their disappointment in what they felt was the poor value of the patch. Their position was that 3.2 represented a poor return on their monetary investment (subscription fees) compared to what they believed Blizzard could have done with their money. In all honesty, I thought this complaining was more a case of disappointed emotional expectations rather than a genuine effort to critique Blizzard's financial policies. As pointed out in this brief article at, Blizzard's attitude toward patching the game has gone from one of having wild sex once every few months to what is effectively a perpetual cuddle. Undoubtedly this leaves some people unfulfilled.

These blog posts did serve a useful purpose, however, because they got me to thinking about how precisely one would evaluate the value added of patches and on-line gaming in general. Even if 3.2 is a failure in light of some individual subjective standard, that individual is still left with choosing from among a variety of entertainment alternatives. Since all the major MMOs effectively charge the same regular monthly-to-month subscription fee of $15, the relative value added comes down to whether you enjoy the content of one game more than another. But what about the value added of MMOs compared to other entertainment options.

Consuming Violence in America

Let us assume for the moment that, as I wrote in this post, Warcraft is essentially a game about violence. What is the relative value returned by an MMO in relation to other options people have to consume violence. After spending a few hours doing research on the internet, I came up with the table below.

per Minute

World of Warcraft Subscription$0.013
Tom Clancey Novel$0.016
Major Release FPS Video Game$0.017
Chuck Norris Video Rental$0.048
First Run Action Movie$0.071
One NHL Ticket$0.276
One NFL Game$0.400
One SEC College Football Game$0.611
Ringside Boxing Ticket$2.381
Ultimate Fighting Ticket$66.667
Afganistian War$50,692.339
Iraq War$142,359.141

Regrettably, due to width restrictions with Blogger I cannot include the full table with complete calculations. Some of the underlying data used to produce the summary above can be challenged; my goal was to come up with what I think is a list of representative numbers that are valid relative to each of the other options. For example, I could find no official data on the length of an average Ultimate Fight match so I took the data from a blogger who based his opinion on his personal experience. His estimate was that an average fight lasted three minutes leading to a $66 average per minute. This number may not be precisely accurate but I am confident that it's not off by such an order of magnitude that it would disrupt its placement in the table.

One of the things that leaps out from this ranking is that MMOs in general are a fantastic entertainment bargain. Short of talking a walk in the park (free) or watching a sunset from the porch (also free) on-line games are the ultimate in cheap thrills. Their value is comparable to that of books and single-player games. One could fund an entire six-month subscription to a major MMO for the cost of attending one three-hour long NFL game.

Reality Revisted

Sometimes investigations lead you in unexpected directions. The more interesting thing about this ranking is that it clearly illustrates the fact that the more real the violence the more costly it is to consume; that is to say, the more value we place on it. By real here I mean the likelihood that the violence will result in actual physical harm to another human being. Pixel PvP costs you a penny a minute; physical PvP costs you up to $142,359 a minute. Indeed, we can even draw a distinction between soft violence (gaming, books, movies) all which fail to crack the 10 cents a minute barrier, semi-soft violence (sporting matches) which all fail to break the dollar per minute barrier, and hard violence (which is $2 a minute and up).

Here's the kicker. If there is no functional difference between reality and fantasy (a point I made here) then why is it that people spend their money as if there actually is. If money is a store of value then this ranking illustrates beyond dispute that people value what happens to their bodies much more than what happens to their minds. The only cogent explanation for why someone would pay $200 to watch men claw each other for three minutes is that somehow or another this player vs player violence is perceived as more real or authentic than the pixelated kind. Philosophers, poets, psychologists, and monks may believe that the mind is a terrible thing to waste but the ordinary man on the street--full pun intended--he isn't buying it. He perceives a difference between fantasy and reality and is willing to pay much more for one than the other.

The easy way out of this situation is to simply label such people materialists, or ignorant, or unenlightened. Such descriptors are not explanations. Addressing the question why some people draw distinctions where others do not is a topic much too lengthy to address at the tail end of a post. I do think the ranking, however, helps us to understand why some people see computer games as form of escapism; it's a defense mechanism. It's not enough to simply vote with their pocketbook, they need to actively denigrate others to stabilize themselves. If you think that saying the Iraq War is nothing but a cartoon graveyard is insulting to the survivors, think how that argument must feel to the people who planned and payed for it. Talk about a rip off; you payed a trillion dollars just to kill a bunch of pixels. That makes your teenager trade-chat troll look like the economic version of Albert Einstein. The distinction between fantasy and reality had better be a real distinction because if it is not some people are acting downright silly and, if I have the measure of such people aright, they are not going to take looking silly lightly; there is going to be hell to pay.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Playing with numbers thanks to Tim Howgego

A few days ago I asked myself in a post how many times a night Yogg-Saron is killed.
I still don't know the answer to that question, but at least I've got an idea about the opposite - how many characters that are killed by him every night.

On August 12 his guardians were responsible for 98 602 deaths on the European realms. If you divide this between approximately 100 European realms and suppose that the average raid has 17 players and does 7 wiping attempts at him, I would come to the conclusion that there are around 8 raids during a mid-week raiding night at each realm that manages to go as far as to Yogg-Saron. How many of those raids that will succeed is another issue. One or two perhaps?

So where did I get this figure about 98 602 deaths? Did I secretly "mine" some hidden files? Have I found myself an anonymous source leaking information to me? No. I got it from a dark and forgotten corner of the official website of Blizzard. (You'll find the US equivalence here.)

At the same site I can also see that the most created item in the game is a saronite bar, with about 2 millions of them made every night. That is probably needed though, since it's the second most sold item at AH, after infinite dust.

We've all got the feeling that emblems are raining over us these days and we're absolutely right; Emblems of Conquest is the most looted item together with frostweave cloth!

And even though many bloggers have testified about their complete lack of interest in jousting, and how completely out of place it is from a lore/RP perspective, it remains popular; the top list over the most popular quests is completely dominated by the Argent Tournament dailies.

This database managed to spellbind me for quite a while and I'm convinced that other bloggers can find input to blogposts if they check it out. The only thing I regret is that it's limited to six categories. I'm convinced that Blizzard has many other figures available; the question is only what they bother to share with us.

Tim Howgego
Now, I didn't find this well of statistics at the WoW website all by myself. Someone did it for me: Tim Howgego. Tim is something as unusual as a blogger who presents himself with his full name and a picture of himself. He looks like a schoolboy, but his innocent looks is just an illusion. He's got a brilliant mind. He presents himself, not so humble, as an "independent analyst, consultant, writer and thinker". And that is exactly what he is. He's far more than an ordinary blogger.

You say you've never heard of the guy? Well, actually you probably have. Tim is more known as the man behind the best source of information ever about fishing in WoW, El's Extreme Anglin'. Are you with me now?

In my opinion Tim Howgego has written some of the most interesting blogposts ever done about MMO-gaming. His analysis are very well thought out and always supported with notes about what sources and methods he has used. Still you won't find him in the blogroll of PPI for the simple reason that he is completely unreliable. He can write a brilliant post or two quickly after each other and then suddenly disappear, not posting a word for seven months. This makes a poor ground for a solid audience for his blog and he will inevitably fall for the two-months-without-an-upgrade limit I have put on my roll.

If it wasn't for the fact that Tim Howgego commented on my post yesterday I wouldn't have found out that he's currently actively blogging again and that he has written a few very interesting pieces this summer, which I sincerely advice you to read. So thank you for commenting Tim, not only that your comment was very well put, but also for letting me know that you're still around blogging.

It was in Tim's latest post, Where we fish, that I found the link to the Blizzard statistics. In this article he shows how much you can do with this kind of statistics if you combine it with creativity, game knowledge and an analytical mind. Read the post and you'll get the complete picture about the habits and thinking of the fishing people in Azeroth. I bet you'll be as charmed and intrigued as I was by this reading.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A few thoughts about the blurry WoW journalism

The last few days, the WoW community has been boiling with rumors and speculations about the next expansion. It's hardly a coincidence that it happens just a few days before BlizzCon. MMO-Champion has put their reputation as a very reliable source of information at stake. Soon enough we'll know if they were right.

Should we believe what has been said? No, according to Tobold, who has declared his skepticism, while Green Armadillo made an analysis that showed that this is a plausible development of the game.

If you ask me, I wouldn't be surprised if MMO-Champion was right. But this conclusion is based on my gut feeling and general trust for the source than on any solid proof that backs up the story.

Ethics discussion
There has also been a couple of interesting blogpost discussing the ethics of it. Matticus commented on the publishing about the new races at a few days earlier. He defends the use of anonymous sources - after all you don't want to get people sacked.

Too Many Annas points out the difference between a personal blog and a news provider. People who break news that Blizzard may not want to get out are doing their job- it's standard practice in journalism - but it's not something Anna herself would do in her role as a blogger.

The new media landscape
When I read those posts I start wondering how I should label sources such as and MMO-Champion. Are they really news providers in the same manner as my morning paper or a professional niche magazine about business, sports or literature? How does the staff work and what guidelines do they have for their work?

I have no idea and that's not special for those WoW sources; it's part of an ongoing trend in the media business. The borderline between journalism, infotainment, opinion and marketing has become blurred not to say erased. Anyone can call themselves a reporter these days and get an audience on the net, as big - or bigger than the major newspapers. For good and for bad.

Fossil old-school journalists like me are somewhat confused in the new media landscape. We were special, we were needed. We had ethical guidelines which we respected. We honored credibility, we looked for sources, evidence and above all an unbiased, independent perspective in everything we did. I don't say we always succeeded - that would be hypocrisy; we failed too from time to time. But since the competition wasn't as fierce as it is with the online publishing, where Deadline always is "Now", we had better opportunities to work through our stories, and check up the facts once again.

Critical thinking
But confused or not - there's no going back. We can't fight it. We must embrace the changes. What we can do though is to try to reach out to young media consumers as well as those new, self-appointed producers, and make them understand the value of critical thinking and independency, to always ask themselves if there's some interest hidden behind.

I for one must say that it puts me off a bit that so many blogs and websites which borrow manners from journalism (although they don't exactly claim that that's what they are) seem to be in cooperation with different all sorts of commercial companies. I don't mind that those semi- or all-out professional sites have ads to get an income, what I DO mind though is that there isn't a clear distinction between what is an ad and what is edited, journalistic material.

I don't know if someone running those sites is even remotely interested in what an old local newspaper reporter like me has to say. Probably not. But if you would ask me for advice I would say: try to keep the ads and the news articles clearly separated from each other so you always know what is what. A little bit stricter policy towards sponsors may hurt you economically initially, but I'm convinced that it will pay off in the long run. Your credibility should be as precious to you as your sponsors.

Anonymous sources
Now back to the issue about the anonymous sources. Is it good practice to use it or not? Well, if you ask the teachers I had at university so many years ago, they would argue quite much against it. Of course there was this myth about the "big scoop". Everyone wanted to become the new Watergate investigators. But at the same time, using anonymous sources, you easily become a victim of manipulation, bonding to people in charge, trying keep the good relations you build to them. You won't bite the hand that feed you. What we were taught was that anonymous sources could be used in exceptional cases (which I hardly think that the release of Cataclysm is to be honest), but that you always must find solid proof, documents and such, to back it up with. One anonymous source just isn't good enough.

If someone wants to look more into the pros and cons of the use of anonymous sources I recommend this article from American journalism review. It is a bit old, but the arguments are still valid.

A reader request
As by a chance I received a letter from a reader a few weeks ago. He knew about my background and suggested that I should make an "interesting post to compare news and news appetites for the real world and how it is similar or dissimilar to the microcosm of wow news.”

Well Tristan, I don't know if this post was what you had in mind. Probably not.

I had planned to write something about the different sorts of WoW news providers and how those easily could be divided into different departments, just like in any newspaper. There's a general news section, there are business news, the sports which deal with e-sports and Arena rating. There are comic strips. And a lot of lifestyle with instructive articles like "10 ways to become a better healer", similar to "10 ways to become a better lover". And of course tons of columnists, sharing their opinions on different sorts of things.

Maybe I'll write that post another time. This one about how a traditional journalistic thinking possibly could or should be applied to WoW news media felt more urgent. I'm not entirely sure that I managed to make all my thoughts on this come through. It is as if my mind is still processing the new media landscape, trying to understand what is happening and how the journalists of tomorrow will think and act - if there still are any around. So if I'm somewhat messy in this I ask you to forgive me. I'll probably come back to this topic in the future, hopefully a bit better sorted out.

And now I just can't wait to hear the official statements from BlizzCon...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tickled Pink: the new races of Azeroth

The staff at PPI are pleased to offer to their customers a brand new feature at the Inn. Tickled Pink shall appear occasionally in these pages as a collaborative effort between the Innkeeper and the Bartender. One topic relating to the world of Azeroth is selected and Larisa and Elnia will both offer their views on that topic within the same post. We extend an invitation to our readers to let us know if they are or are not Tickled Pink in the comments.

Elnia's Perspective

The introduction of the new races is more important to me for what I hope it portends about other changes to the game not because I possess an overwhelming enthusiasm for specific new races introduced. Playing Alliance, I honestly don't have much interest in playing a Worgen. They are not visually appealing and when you have to look at a toon for hours at a time visual appeal is important. There will need to be enticing racial benefits in order to over come that visual barrier.

On the other hand, I'm going to play a goblin. If there is one thing that will entice me over to the Horde side it's playing a goblin. Which, I suspect, is one of Blizzard's goals; to get more people to play Horde. I definitely have an impish and rapscallion part to my character and the way goblins are portrayed in Azeroth has always appealed to that aspect of my personality. A goblin Rogue is a little creature after my own heart (and certainly after my pocketbook!)

My problem is that I don't really think goblins should be a playable class at all. I understand the lore argument but it's based on the false assumption that Azeroth as implemented in the game is a perfect reflection of lore and it's not. All the other three races introduced to the game were races that, up until their introduction, played on a small part in the life of the game. Goblins are different; they have a significant role in the game as NPCs. The major neutral cities of Taranis, Stranglethorn Vale, and the Barrens are all goblin cities. In terms of sheer numbers, there are probably more Goblin NPCs in the world than any other race except human. This will certainly be true after they get their own starting area. Maybe because I've only played Alliance, but I'm acculturated to looking at Goblins (which are everywhere) and thinking "friend" or at least, "not enemy." Changing that mindset will be difficult I think. More than anything else, I think the game will look unbalanced with so many Goblins (both PC and NPC) running about.

The introduction of Goblins, the Argent tournament, the ability to change factions, these three things make me wonder if the new expansion features a much reduced emphasis on the Horde vs Alliance conflict. Perhaps in the future the world will split up into competing home cities (much like feudal warlords). The only thing that actually still requires Horde vs Alliance is battlegrounds, and the Argent Tournament offers a model where even that could be displaced. I think that if the new classes are the major development in terms of game play mechanics in the next expansion I will be disappointed. So I'm curious to see what else Blizzard has in store.

Larísa's perspective

Was I really tickled by the news about the new races? Yes and no. To be honest I found the way that they first were broken – the discovery of the masks in the database and the following efforts to cover it up – much more interesting than the actual content of the news.

As a former journalist I kind of enjoy watching the race between the search dogs of the community, constantly browsing forums, putting clues together, and the public relations staff who try to keep some kind of control over the information that goes out.

The community obviously won this one, since someone had been careless. Or maybe the policies have changed a bit and they just don’t care that much anymore about what comes out in which order? Anyway – seeing it happen makes me giggle. I’m definitely tickled.

On the other hand, like Elnia, I’m not overly excited about the outlook of having access to two more races. Unlike a new class it doesn’t bring in any new aspect to the game – it’s just two new furs to put on and not a big deal. Surely they’ll come with new questing areas, but is that enough to make me roll another alt, just to get the privilege to watch the furry back of a worgen instead of a nightelf or a dwarf? I doubt it. Hey, I haven’t even come around to roll my new DK, which seems like a far more exciting thing to do, since it’s also a new class.

Besides – is it just me, but do you really think that a werewolf looking character really fits into the Alliance team? I’m sceptic. To me it has much more of horde connotations. Without having any deeper knowledge in the worgen lore, the looks of them makes me think of them as another people of outcasts – misunderstood and not considered “beautiful” in the normal sense, unless you get to know them a bit better.

And then we have the goblins. I don’t quite get it. Why would they suddenly go all-out horde? I’ve always seen them as mercenaries, - the Ferengies of Azeroth, loayal to nothing but their gold. It would have been natural if they had become the first flexible race that could go either horde or alliance, as you prefer. It doesn’t make sense to me that they suddenly would swear a permanent oath of faith to the horde. This said I would like to have a goblin of my own – in the only natural role I can see for it – as a banker. But that little pleasure will only be given to the horde players as it looks with the information we have at the moment.

All in all – I hope that the next piece of leaked news about Cataclysm will be more exciting than the one about races. When I’ll take the decision if I’ll stay for the next round, it won’t depend on the availability of another furry skin. There are other aspects that matter more: the amount of new content such as instances, cool questlines and a new hero class. It’s about overall feeling of the game, the look, quality and finish in the design of the new areas. It’s about how much effort they put into the development of game mechanisms and the features yet-to-be invented the equivalences of the phasing, the vehicle fights and the integrated short movies that came with WotLK. It’s about the general feeling that the game is still alive and breathing, that Blizzard cares about it and not only are cashing in the gold, while their heart and focus is turned somewhere else.

But what matters most of all is as always the players. For in the end it’s the players that build this game more than anything else. If there’s a mass exodus from the community, if my guildies move over to other games and I find myself all alone in the new Cataclysm world, there’s no worgen or goblin suit in the world that can make me want to stay there.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A few notes about what I’ve been up to

Yogg-Saron has died. Again. I wonder how many times he dies every night, if you add it up, every kill on the realms all over the world. Night after night after night. No wonder he looks like a jellyfish. Who wouldn’t?

The special thing about this kill last Tuesday though was that it was the first time that Larísa did it. And the first time that Adrenaline on EU-Stormrage did it in 25 man. A small step for WoWkind. But a big step for us.

I wouldn’t say that the step was huge though. It didn’t carry that enormous relief we felt when we eventually killed Archimonde last autumn. The joyous cries at vent were quite few and discrete. I guess we never had the opportunity to assemble enough of wipe nights to build up the right amount of frustration.

I think we all felt that it would have been even better if we had gotten the kill before the 3.2 patch. We lost the race against the nerf timer this time. It was a hard race to win in the middle of the summer vacation, with the lack of 25 man raids that comes with it. Given the opportunity, we would have been capable of killing him on the old terms.

All in all, nerfs or not, it was sweet to get it done, it was a good raid, where we went better and better with every attempt until the well deserved kill, and I definitely look forward now to do some more serious wiping on the hardmodes i Ulduar that will follow. We have the capacity of doing it. I know that.

New Computer
This night was special to me in another way as well: it was the first one where I tried out my new computer.

Yep. After all the trouble, ups and downs I’ve been through with my old PC, I finally decided that I was done with it, when it completely refused to start at all last Saturday. And once I settle my mind I tend to get things done quickly. A new one was ordered promptly from a local computer building firm, and to my own surprise I got it home and put it in order so quickly that I was able to raid just a couple of days later.

It was a new and different experience to be able to raid with a relaxed mind, not constantly fearing that the screen would freeze and the computer crash at the worst possible moment. I never realized this put such a tension on me before.

Now I’ve got a lot of things to learn and get used to. I can turn up my graphic settings and enjoy the scenery. I can start running addons like Recount, which I deserted ages ago to keep down the lag.

And I’ve also taken the step from a normal mouse to a gaming mouse. You know one with a pretty bizarre look and several extra buttons that you can bind to different spells. Woot! Yeah, I know, it’s probably quite normal for most PPI readers, but for me it’s a huge thing. It makes me feel like a naughty kid. Am I supposed to handle one of those things? A GAMING mouse! In my hand. Who could have thought this three years ago?

I’ve never thought about myself as a Gamer. But I guess I am. And actually a very happy one at the moment.

Yogg-Saron dead. Computer alive and working as intended. Next raid instance will contain 31 bosses. Could it really be any better?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Silent Revolution of the Willing Mentors

In all secrecy there’s an ongoing revolution on the official EU forums. It started in July at an initiative from the player Leilana at Emerald Dream. She put together a list of friendly players on each realm who are willing to offer advice to new players.

Enthusiastic reception
In just a few weeks this list has grown considerably and now there are willing tutors on the alliance as well as the horde side on quite a number of realms.

Many of those volunteers don’t only sign up for giving services, they also write touching and enthusiastic testimonies about how glad they are to help out. This is just a couple of examples among many:

“I know it sounds quite sad but I do actually like it when I meet a new player who asks me questions when they are completely unsure how something works, because they are new to the game. I would even cancel a raid signup if someone needs help, or would like me to show them around, and I think seeing someone happy and having fun is always way more rewarding than any epic loot that drops.”

“I too get very depressed and sometimes even furious when I see some of the drivel that pops up in the Chat Channels: you may be uber-epic in your purply raid items, guys (and you KNOW who you are) but typing "Learn 2 play nub" and suchlike does NOT make you big or clever. Rest assured you can ask me anything at all without the slightest fear that I will laugh or think it is a dumb question; in the four years I've been playing I've learned most of what I know by trial and error, and as a result have done spectacularly dumb things myself!”
Will the newcomers find it?
This is indeed a beautiful thought. Does it work in reality?

A question that crosses my mind is if the newcomers to the game really frequent the official forums at any greater extent. This post is marked with a blue sticky, but is that enough to make them find it?

Speaking for myself, it took me quite a while before I realized that I could learn much more from the gaming community than I could from the quite poor manual which came with vanilla WoW (which mainly seemed to deal with the glorious history of different races, and fell apart into single pages if you as much as looked at it.)

Will they respect the rules?
Another question is: will the newcomers stick to asking questions, or will they be temped to beg or ask for boosts?

A few thumb rules are given in the thread:

* Don't beg for gold or keep asking people for money or items.
It's taken a long time for high levels to get to that level and earn their money, and at low levels you certainly don't need large amounts. You can save money by not buying items from the Auction House - you will get sufficient armor while questing, and if you do any dungeons. It's much more rewarding buying things with money you have earned yourself too.

*Don't beg for boosts in instances
Instances are areas where a group of similarly-levelled players fight stronger monsters than you would usually find around the world. It is possible for high level players to 'boost' you in lower level instances, but it is always better to find a group of people your own level. It's much more fun and you will learn a lot more. If you can't find a group, then you could ask politely if your helper would mind helping you out when they have free time, but if they are busy then respect that :)

*Most of all, be polite to people and largely, they will be polite back to you.
You will always find unpleasant people who like to call people noobs or other names, but it's best just to ignore them. Everyone was new once, we all did silly things, we all got stuck in caves and had to hearthstone out way out (or maybe that was just me!) People who call you names aren't worthy of any replies, just ignore them.

I can only hope that the newcomers will read and respect those guidelines.

Will it last?
My third question is: for how long can it last? We all know that there’s a constant flow of players, people having breaks or even leaving the game, not the least among the veteran category of players, which I suspect that most teachers belong to.

Will they notify Leilana if they’re not longer available? How long will Leilana herself be around to maintain this list? It’s definitely a weakness that the existence and updating of the list is so heavily depending on one single player.

Maybe a better solution would have been to follow a suggestion I saw somewhere: to make it possible to flag yourself, just as you flag for PvP, if you’re willing to answer questions from newcomers. I believe that you need to build this sort of activities into the game, rather than keeping it in a out-of-game forum, if you want it to work in the long run.

The Silent Revolution
But now I want to put my doubts aside for a moment and just let out the warm, fuzzy feeling I get in my stomach when I read this kind of posts.

So far there hasn’t been a single trolling reply. There’s no one claiming that the beginners suck, should learn to play, are plain lazy or that carebears are pathetic. Everyone is all kindness and willingness to share.

Azeroth isn’t yet completely overtaken by douchebags.

The Silent Revolution of the Willing Mentors is here. And it makes me smile.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I wish I was in it for the loot

Wouldn’t the game be so much easier if gear was all that mattered? Especially considering the New Deal Policy of Blizzard let the purples rain over everyone.

Gear up. Shine. Smile. Be done. Log out.

Sometimes I wish I was in it for the loot and that I could look upon other players as NPCs, replaceable tools which just happened to be working towards the same goals this very moment. Easy come, easy go.

Nothing could hurt me. There would be no losses, no pain, no disappointment. I would play WoW the same way I would play Lemmings. Happy and confident in my loneliness.

Another farewell
I came to think about it when I found one of those farewell letters in my mail the other day. It was a guildie of mine who has been on a break for a couple of month to focus on his studies. Now he had been caught by the “Real Life bug”, as he said, and decided not to come back to the game.

He tried to comfort me: “maybe another time somewhere we will see each other again in a MMO”.

But of course he knew as well as I did that it was a lie. This friendship has come to its end, just like the other friendships I’ve had in the game.

Or wait, that came out wrong. It sounds as if I’m one of those people that have a friend list that is about to explode, with a ton of friends coming and going, and that is not the case. They’re not overwhelmingly many. But the few there are matter to me. The chat window feels a bit gloomy if all you see is the pale, colourless talking going on in general or the green conversation in the guild chat. To occasionally get a pink whisper brightens up my night, even if it’s only a cheerful greeting when I come online or a silly remark about nothing in particular.

Not getting attached
In his farewell post on the guild forum, my departing friend commented on the gear mechanism of an MMO, which bugged him:

“I miss the good times raiding with you lot, that was and always will be fun times that I will miss a lot, but the whole, pray to the loot gods for upgrading gear to the next level, only to have to do it again every time a new expansion comes out...lets say I won't miss that anymore”

To be honest, replacing gear has never bothered me that much. You just can’t get too attached to it. It will all replaced at some point, sooner or later. But when I think closer about it, isn’t it the same with most of the people you meet in the game, or for that sake, your favourite WoW bloggers?

They’re just as likely to disappear in the next patch as your old gear is. Thinking anything else is to ask for sorrows. Don’t get too attached.

This is of course easier said than done. It’s hard to fight your nature. I’ll probably keep investing myself more emotionally into this game than I should. And it will keep causing me pain. On the other hand I don’t think that the opposite is necessarily a good thing either. If I would always keep a sound distance, meeting the world behind a protecting shield, telling myself that “nothing of this matters”, watching it all from the sideline rather than participating it, don’t you think I would miss out an important aspect of the game?

I guess the answer lies somewhere in between. Make friends, because without any friendship, WoW will feel as empty as the Barrens. But in the same manner you should always be prepared to see them take off. It can happen any minute, any day. There will be new shiny epic loot. And there will be new players that you can get to know, who suddenly will brighten up your chat log with pink colour.

It’s in the nature of MMOs. You just have to get used to it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why I want to run instances that take forever

Is the Hardcore Raider a dying kind?

Yes, if you should believe Theerivs at a High Latency Life. He ended a post about the new five man instance (that seems to be the name of it; until now I haven’t heard anyone calling it anything but “The New Instance”) with this prediction.

“I got some sick stuff yesterday. With this great stuff though, why would I do Ulduar which takes forever. I sense the death of the Hardcore Raider soon.”

The loot motivation
Theerivs is probably far from alone in this mindset. On the contrary, he represents the view of the average player of today, the player that the Blizzard developers have in mind when they design the new, modern five man and raid instances. Those players are happy that the days are gone where you could spend 2 hours+ grinding trash mobs in order to complete a single instance. They don’t miss the masses of packs that infested Shadowlabs or the seemingly endless corridors of Shattered Halls. They don’t long back to Botanica, with all its beautiful, imaginative, deadly flowers growing in every corner.

Because when it comes to an end they’re in it for the loot. They most of all want to gear up their character, thus manifesting their progression in the game. It’s their motivator. And the quicker the better. It seems as if they just want to log in, have a kill-boss-and-loot-fix, and then log out and throw themselves into another activity.

In one way it makes sense. But if you ask me, this kind of game play leaves me empty, still hungry for more, in the same way as a hamburger meal that lasts me five minutes wont give me the same satisfaction as a three-dishes course at a french bistro.

The missing music
So what am I missing in the new way of designing instances? What’s my problem with the additions in 3.2, as far as we’ve seen them? And why will I rather do Ulduar “which takes forever” than grind the The New Instance and farm 5-man heroics until I’ve got all the gear I could possibly wish for? This is what I’ll try to explain in this post.

I think it boils down to two aspects. It’s about musicality and it’s about immersion.

Let’s have a look at the musical side of it first.

Even though I agree that the boss fights generally are the top moments of instance runs, in 5-mans as well as in epic raids, this doesn’t mean that the long walks through drainage pipes, gardens, caves, corridors, fighting whatever you see on the way, are pointless and boring. On the contrary.

The dramaturgy of an instance is like music. You can look at classic compositors as Beethoven and you can look at modern rock musicians, putting together a gig. They will always have slower, more gentle and subtle parts in a symphony or on a record. Because without them, the magnificent crescendo won’t be half as impressive.

Maybe I’m just a victim of nostalgia, but to me the 3.2 instances lack something in the musicality. There’s no time to build up excitement before it’s done and over. The drums may be loud, but since they’ve been going on during the whole encounter I don’t hear them anymore.

The lack of immersion
The second problem I have with those short encounters is the lack of immersion.

I’m a slow starter. Whenever I’m about to consume some kind of entertainment, be it a book, a move or a game, it will take some time before I get into the mood, leaving the real life behind me, losing myself in another world. That’s why I prefer novels to short stories and big format movies to a 30 minute TV episodes; once I’ve done the effort to get to know the characters and the plot, I want to enjoy it and stay there as long as possible.

It’s just the same in WoW. Black Temple was an awesome because we were sneaking through the pipes, scared to death by the dense darkness we were facing. The atmosphere was built up step by step and we were all wrapped up in it. We were explorers and heroes, venturing on a heroic mission in a huge, unknown world. Not gladiators, killing of the next poor monster sent into the arena.

To me raiding for 3.5 hours straight isn’t a pain, not any more than seeing the extended version of Lord of the Rings was. A full-night raid isn’t a sacrifice I make to get hold of epic loot or achievement points. It isn’t work. It’s escapism and it’s pleasure, a pleasure that is increased if it can be done without too many interruptions, such as changing instances because there were too few bosses in the first one.

If you’ve ever been into jogging, I think you know the feeling. It’s when you get into the “second stage” that it starts to be enjoyable. The 3.2 instances don’t ever let you reach that point.

Casual friendly
Finally: I know that this post falls into the “player complaining about a lost glorious past” genre. I know that the cause is lost and that there are good reasons for the change of design philosophy.

To many people (myself included), it’s quite hard to play without real life interruptions for hours. Places such as Shadowlabs were not friendly with players who had families to tend to. You had to plan for playing a heroic in the same way as you arrange your life around a raid. With the new deal you can run an instance in half an hour and if you’re up for fighting more bosses, you can just run add another instance. It’s modern, it’s flexible and it’s a huge improvement for the average player. I don’t disagree on that.

Still I can’t help hoping that Icecrown will be different from this. No one would be happier than me if we could get another place that will take “forever” to explore and conquer.

Maybe the new extend lockouts will be the solution we’re looking for. With those in place, there shouldn’t be the same need to make the raid instances shorter in order to make sure that all players will see as much of the content as possible. You can always extend your exploration to the next week.

The 5-man instances will however remain short I’m afraid. We’ll never again see another Shadowlabs. Mostly for good and just a little for bad.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Game Synergy

English is an amazingly rich, deep, superficial, fun, annoying, simplistic, complex, confusing, easy to understand boring language. There is a theory that language reveals what is truly important to a people, as in the fact that the Inuit (Eskimos) have 13 words for different types of snow. If this theory is true then perhaps what is important to English speakers from the list above is confusion, for one of the most notable features of this language is the fact that the same word can have myriad meanings. Cool doesn't always mean a state on the continuum of coldness; "take the Mickey" does not mean cutting into a film and stealing a cartoon character. In Australia a barbie means a grill but in America it's a doll. Confusion rather than order is the order of the day.

All of this means that when I hear non-native speakers of the language make mistakes I typically overlook it in the interest of getting laid by hot Scandinavian blonds. But sometimes this confusion really does create a pickle when people fly off the handle and make a beeline for the computer where they mash out their angst on the official Warcraft forums. A great number of pixels have been spilled over the topic of class representation and class balance and I think most of it stems from a simple misunderstanding by speakers of Engrish.

In the balance

To all the forum posters and bloggers on the topic of class balance let me quote Senor Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Be careful, the word 'balance' is one of those tricky words that has more than one meaning and those meanings are opposite of each other.

One defination of the word balance is the expression of a binomial condition. This is the way it is meant when we use it in sentences such as "The jury is in deliberations and his life hangs in the balance." While technically it is possible for even an all female jury to return hung, the phrase "in the balance" always refers to an either/or condition; in this case either guilty or innocent. This meaning of the word balance is derived directly from the old term for a traditional scale. Think about balance as teeter totter (seesaw); when one person goes down the other person must go up. In economics this concept is called a 'zero sum game'; for every winner there must be a loser. Ideal class balance is always a state of equipoise and the goal of class balancing is to get as close to this state of equilibrium as possible.

On Balance

The other defination of balance in English is that of a relation of parts to whole. This is the way we mean balance in the sentence, "After interviewing all the candidates John decided that on balance Ms. Jones was best." This defination of balance refers to a multivariate distribution, not a binomial one. This is the defination of balance, for example, that is used every day in the winery business. Here is the defination I pulled off of a wine site, "wine balance is the synergy of all the components that formulate an enjoyable tasting experience." In this vision of balance the relationship among the various elements of wine is not a zero sum game, for every winner there is not a loser; the simple question is which combination of elements cooperates to produce the best tasting experience. This does not mean, of course, that there are never any trade-off in the binomial sense; but it does mean that those trade-off are not the focus of the decision making process. From a wine makers' perspective which is the better wine: the wine where there is a strict balance between sweetness and acidity yet makes most people gag or a wine that is more sweet than acidic but flies off the shelf and wins many tasting competitions.


Ghostcrawler has repeated numerous times that he defines balance in this second meaning of of the word. For example, he wrote in this Warlock thread, "
That may be sufficient for you. That may be sufficient for a lot of players. But I don't think it would be sufficient overall." I honestly don't know how he could be more clear. It isn't a question of Warlock vs Mages, or PvP vs PvE; it's a question of what's best for the game as a whole. I honestly think the situation borders on pathos. A poster writes, "Alas when they put out too many changes, players complain about the game changing too fast. When they don't put out enough changes, the game moves too slow." Notice how the poster collapses the entire game development process into a single binomial. Ghostcrawler won't buy it. If there is any sweetness and light in this world it is contained in his response, "Of course, that still doesn't mean that the right solution is to give up either." The biggest problem with looking at life binomially is that it doesn't allow any room for growth or improvement of the whole. In a multivariate analysis, even if one is worse off compared to his neighbor they may be better off compared to where they were before because the overall quality of the game has improved.

The problem for Ghostcrawler then is how to balance the game using his multivariate understanding of balance when many players are responding to developer decisions based upon a binomial understanding of balance. What I wonder is how much of this player response is conditioned upon a misunderstanding of the meaning of balance. The dual meaning of balance in English is confusing, especially for non-native speakers of the language who almost certainly interpret it in the first sense of the word. It has gotten so bad that every time developers say "balance" players think "Who got nerfed?" My own opinion is that everyone could have a more fruitful discussion if we just abandoned the whole phrase 'class balance' entirely.

The discussion I think Ghostcrawler wants to have in regards to class representation and class balance would be better described as "game synergy". This is also where he's headed in his comment about making classes "distinct but equal". How does a designer make the the DPS talent trees function equally in the game without turning them all into a homogeneous mass of goo. I don't think there's a simple answer to that question because, given the thousands of variables in a game like Warcraft, it's a complex problem and we should resist the temptation to simplify complex problems by reducing them to a single binomial condition. The only thing that will do is tempt us to give up. There is no system or set of systems for making the perfect game in the same way that there is no magic formula for making the perfect wine. Like wine, game development is more art than science despite the fact that there is an enormous amount of science behind it. By using the term game synergy we change the focus of the discussion from how the various game elements (such as class representation and class power) compete with one another to how they cooperate with each other to produce the best gaming experience for all. On balance, I think this is a better method when the life of the game hangs in the balance