Friday, April 30, 2010

Preparing to plunge into Vashj'ir

It's Friday night at the inn and I suspect that you'd prefer to have something stronger in your glasses to sip on than water. And you'll get that soon. But first let's talk a little bit about something water related.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, Blizzard released the first pre-hand information about Vashj'ir, the new underwater zone that will come in Cataclysm, and I don't think it's been given the proper attention in the community. I don't think it's because we're not interested, it was just insanely bad timing from Blizzard, since the announcement was squeezed in between the mega-huge news about the class changes and the changes to raiding. There was more information going on at the same time than we could deal with.

But now that we've agreed on moving on after this week of intense debating about 10vs25, time has come to think about the idea about an entire zone situated under the sea level. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Are we looking forward to it?

Mixed feelings
My own feelings are a little bit mixed. I think the glimpses we've seen from screenshots and concept art look awesome. I've been snorkeling a bit myself at coral reefs in real life, and considering how breathtakingly beautiful it can be, I think it will be a very good addition to the game - especially since they've hinted that they've found new ways to simulate water in a better way.

Bear this in mind. I am basically very positive about it and I'm looking forward to see what they've come up with. But now I'm nevertheless going to talk a little bit about the possible downsides. My doubts are entirely based on the experiences we have from under-water-playing up until now. They might have learned something from it and improved on it.

The Nagas

So let's dive into my first concern: The Nagas.

To be honest I never was a huge fan of naga fighting. They all look and behave pretty much the same, either they're camping a beach in Zangarmarsh or Ferelas. I have too many memories of annoying silences from spellcasters, and they all look about the same, either they're camping a beach in Ferelas or Zangarmarsh, and they drop annoying loot such as shiny fish scales and fish oil.

I can't really be bothered to see more of them and I sincerely hope that this zone will come up with many entirely new creature models as well, to mix up with the fish people.

The Swimming

My second concern is Swimming.

I would expect that there will be quite a bit of it and every since I did my first diving exercises in that little lake in Redridge, I've just hated any quest involving diving. It was slow, it was annoyingly hard to orient yourself in the water, your character didn't move as you're used to and before they increased the underwater breathing from 1 minute to 3, you had this horrible counter to pay attention to, getting up to the surface for air every now and then.

I have especially bad memories from that pipe in Zangarmarsh that you had to swim through to get to the Coilfang instances. I never knew what was up or down in it, so if I even managed to reach the end of it, it happened just as often that I accidently had turned back to the surface as I actually reached the instance. It was a nightmare when you had a group waiting for you to arrive.

For a long while I relied on my stack of Nagrand Cherries, a reward from a poo quest. At that point they gave you 30 minutes of underwater breathing and that was enough even for me to get through the tunnel. When I ran out of them I started to mass produce underwater breathing elixirs, which I always carried around. The humiliation to drown in the pipe running out of air after 1 minute was just too big to endure (not to talk about the running back after a whipe - when everything turned white there was absolutely no way I could tell where to go. I always put myself at follow.)

Towards the end of TBC they extended the breathing to three minutes, and that has helped a lot. Nowadays even I manage to get most underwater quests down without an elixir.

However, an entire zone under water.... I wonder what that will be like? I suppose I'll spend most of my time in the pocketed undersea caves they're talking about in the preview, where you're free from the water's grip.

The vehicles
And then there are of course also the promised vehicles that are supposed to help you. But this is also my third concern: the vehicles.

Without any doubt we can prepare ourself for vehicle fights in Vashj'ir. And we all know how much we like that, don't we? I sincerely hope that they'll find some way to make submarines easier to manage and more intuitive than the infamous dragons at Eye of Eternity and Occulus.

The name
And now over to my last concern about this zone. The very name of it.

Are they making up those tongue-wrenching names on purpose just to laugh at us? How are you supposed to get that "j" into the picture? I suppose we'll do what we always do in those cases - finding up a nickname that we can pronounce. "The Naga place". "The underwater zone". Or - most likely - just "Vash".

Oh well. I may lack swimming skills and I may not fall into trance at the thought of fighting nagas. But I suppose they'll have sorted this out the day I'm standing there at the shore, ready to take the plunge into the sea. And if not - well then I'll just start mass producing breathing elixirs again.

Now have another drink in your glass at the expense of the house - water, ale or rum, whatever you prefer. May your weekend be joyful.


Looking For More Once Again

The biggest challenge in the game right now isn’t Lich King, if anyone thought so. It’s the R&B boss, read as Real life interference and Boredom with the game

This lethal boss has lately been snatching a lot of players from the game and our guild has also been affected. He’s a mean bastard and the only thing you can do about it is to keep your spirits high, move on and recruit to fill the gaps.

I don’t accept ads at The PPI and I'm normally reluctant to spam the blog with recruitment announcements. But this is one of those times when I’m making an exception.

So here we go:

  • Are you curious about how hard the hardmodes in ICC 25 really are?
  • Would you like to enter Ruby Sanctum in a dedicated, solid and focused raid team rather than messing around in Dalaran looking for a PUG?
  • Are you playing on an EU-account?

Then you might want to consider applying to Adrenaline of Stormrage, which is my steady home in WoW since almost two years.

We currently need a bunch of dps – melee and ranged without any specific class or spec breakdown. We’re also looking for a healer.

Recruitment ad is up here.

Basically I think long-time readers have a fair picture of Adrenaline from my postings over the years. But if you’re wondering what the guild is like and want some references, you’re of course welcome to ask me.

Sorry for the interruption of the conversation. But there are moments when you need to give a hand to your guild and try to help out in whatever way you possibly can. And this is one of those occasions.

Edit: As added by our GM in a comment, we're also open to the possibility of absorbing the right 10-man guild who have 25-man ambitions but who are struggling.

Guides on What to do if you’re Raised as a Ghoul

The other day I made a confession about how clueless I am when I’m raised as a ghoul. I also made a not-so-subtle request for someone to make a how-to-ghoul 101-guide, since I couldn’t find one as I looked for it.

I admit I was a little bit lazy as I posted this – why didn’t I do some research, making the post by myself? But just it seemed more efficient to try to let the people who actually knew something about this share their knowledge instead of me starting from scratch.

The response was fantastic, beyond anything I would have expected. Within just a couple of days three different bloggers have put together brilliant, easy-to-follow guides on how-to-ghoul. And from now I don’t have any excuse whatsoever to just stand there as a clueless ghoul. And you don’t have that either. It’s all very clear in those guides, so go and have a look at them.

I’ve put together this little post to give those bloggers some link love and to hopefully bump them a bit so people will find them in a Google search.

So I present to you three good guides on How-to-play-a-ghoul 101:

Dwism: How to play if you have been Raised as an ally by your friendly neighbourhood Death knight

Digital Incorrectness: Your request is my Post if it’s interesting enough

Death & Decay: Ghoul School
This post also includes some advice to the deathknights who are using this spell, including a suggestion for a macro:ed whisper to send to the selected target.

Well… that’s all I suppose. The ghoul request was an inspiring experience. Next time I’m wondering about something and won’t find the answer easily in a web search, I’ll just put my question to you who are hanging around by the barside. You're an amazing bunch of people, sitting on a wealth of knowledge!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why we're so upset about the changes

Yesterday I decided to write a post about ghouls, because I thought that I as well as the blogosphere needed a break from the debate about the Cataclysm changes to raiding. I imagined that if I looked somewhere else my bad stomach feeling about what will happen to my own raiding in Cataclysm would go away.

I was wrong, of course. Shying away from worries will only rarely make them dissolve into thin air. Talking about the ghosts normally works much better. So let's talk a little bit more about them. After this post I think I'll be done with this for a while and can focus on the sources of joy in the game. Yeah, I still have those - my resilience for close-to-the-end -an-expansion-blues is pretty solid.

Feeling uneasy
But first: one more therapeutic post for the road. Somehow I can't help feeling a little bit uneasy at the big rift that is running right through the community in this issue. And my own reaction surprises me. Can't I just enjoy it for what it is: a good discussion and a fun exchange of thoughts, aiming to broaden our views, bending the arguments around and giving us new perspectives?

Apparently not. I'm getting way more emotional about this than I want to. I tell myself in a rather severe voice that I should just get the hell out that emo crap.

"You are an adult, this is just a bunch of pixels, a freaking game for crying out loud, and those changes mean NOTHING and by the way are you really that kind of conservative nay-sayer, I'm disappointed with you. Everything - including WoW - changes and you just have to live with it. Grow up! And besides, what does it matter to you what anyone else thinks? Cut this bullshit!"

Do I listen to myself? For a while. But then I read yet another of those triumphant posts :

"Wohoo for those changes, now I can raid with my closest friends (/flex, I'm a member of a tightly knitted little imba group who have been together forever). You e-peen infested 25 manners should just stop whining - if you can't get a 25 man raid going in Cataclysm it's because 25 man raiding sucks in the first place, so go and die in a fire. QQ a bit more. And besides you're probably just horrible players who are carried by others and are just in it for the loot. "
Well it isn't exactly written like that. But it's the spirit. And then I feel a pain in my stomach because it comes from bloggers who I normally love and respect and regard as friends. They're happy for a change that I believe is a threat to the kind of game I love. It's totally childish and weak to thing this way, but nevertheless I feel a little miserable when I see stare into this fence that come between us.

The split within Blizzard
Actually this split seems not to only go through the blogosphere; it's also seems to be a topic for a lot of heated discussions within Blizzard, reading the replies from Zarhym in a forum thread if you read between the lines:

"we know very well that this change may impact some guilds, as did the removal of 40-player raids and addition of 10- and 25-player versions. Just as there isn't a lack of feedback on these forums about the proposed changes, there isn't a lack of internal discussion about how to make this system work so that it doesn't hurt the 25-player raid game."

"The internal discussions that take place on any given topic can get quite heated. We all push strongly for what we feel is best for the game, but ultimately try to listen to dissenting opinions. Eventually a decision is made, but that's not before a good number of people with very different play styles get together, fight, and then hug it out. ;p"

I guess that's what we're doing now. Regardless of if we're in Blizzard or just plain players, we're fighting. Some of those crying loudest believe that they're arguing out of unselfish reasons, "objectively" looking at what's best for the game. But unless you're a Blizzard employee, I would say most of us in fact are just trying to protect our own little worlds from falling apart.

So we're fighting. And eventually we'll hug it out and move forward into Cataclysm, except for those why will move somewhere else - to RL or another game, since WoW has lost its appeal.

Fear and hope
In the end, I think the fighting comes out of our own, personal, strictly selfish fears and hopes, even if we don't admit it to ourselves.

Every expansion is a huge challenge to any guild. Of course players re-evaluate their playing all the time, but around an expansion every single one has to do it at the same time and you don't know the outcome. Who will stay in the team, who will want to try out something else, who will quit gaming or going casual? How many will you have to recruit to keep the raid machinery going? And looking at it from a member-perspective - can you rely on your officer squad to stay around for yet another round? You never know - you just have to put your trust into them.

We all have those questions. Will my guild still be around on the other side of Cataclysm? Will it still be raiding 25 mans or will the "best" players rather move over to the 10 man format so they can compete better for first kills and achievements? Or if you're in a 10 man guild you might ask if some people will leave for 25 man raiding, although I personally doubt we'll see much of that. (I could be wrong though, you're welcome to tease me if it turns out the opposite.)

Anyway. It's a bit like playing Musical Chairs, before you know it you might end up without anywhere to sit.

The stir-up that comes with the changes will without any doubt lead to changes in the guild structures. Many have made comparisons to what happened when they removed 40 man raids, and so does Zarhym:

"we know very well that this change may impact some guilds, as did the removal of 40-player raids and addition of 10- and 25-player versions."
The thing is that if you've raided in a guild for years, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours learning, laughing, grumping, joking, yelling, pissing each other off, everything on the scale from love to hate, it isn't just something you walk away from easily. Separations hurt.

I believe that the many of the 2 000 comments at MMO champion on this topic are written out of this fear. "What will happen to me and my guild? Will we survive this?"

I'm lucky enough to be in a guild which I believe is quite stable. We're approaching our two year anniversary and we've seen loads of 25 man guilds on our server breaking down over the course of time. We're one of the very few who manage to stay around, still going strong. Because of this I have faith in that we'll be around for Cataclysm. But you can never be entirely certain about anything. There's always a little room for a gnawing doubt and we won't be absolutely sure until we've run our first 25 man raid in Cataclysm.

Chasing out the ghosts
So. Now I've definitely seen enough of those ghosts. Time to get rid of them. Shoo! Get out of my inn! And you over there, yes you, please open the door and let in some sunlight and fresh air!

There's still so much fun going on in WoW. Yes! There really is! TB might be bored out of his mind according to the last show, but I'm certainly not.

Right now I'm super-excited about our steady progress in the final fight in ICC, the defeat of the Lich King. Who said we couldn't manage those twitchy defiles? Last raid, after two more spent wipe nights, we had him to 17 percent in the typical last-for-the-night-so-make-it-count-try. This means in fact only 7 percent from a kill and I can't wait for our next raiding week. If nothing unexpected happens it sure won't be long before I can call myself Kingslayer!

And the split in the community and my silly worries suddenly seem very distant. Vanished even.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Confessions by a Clueless Ghoul

Have you ever been turned into a ghoul? I have. Seven times to be more precise, according to my statistics page. I can’t remember last time it happened though. It seems to be more and more rare these days.

I wish I could say that my current lack of ghoul appearances is a consequence of own improved survival ability. Maybe I just don’t die as much mid fight these days as I used to? Maybe I get out of green crap and fire, knocking up an iceblock in case of emergency, but basically staying alive? Gnome is up, so no need to turn her into a ghoul!

Or perhaps – on the more realistic side – I can attribute it to our increased amount of druids in the raid, spoiling us with battle resurrections?

Given up on me
To tell the truth I think our DK:s simply have given up on me. They can’t be bothered to even try raising the gnome anymore. Why should they? For all their efforts and wasted global cd:s they don’t see any huge impact in the raid dps output.

You see, I have a confession to make. I don’t know how to play a ghoul. As a matter of fact I’m more or less clueless about how to handle that vehicle disguised as a body. For someone watching me I probably looks as if I’m just standing there, doing nothing.

From my own horizon I’m busy indeed, frantically hovering over the new action bar that suddenly appeared, studying the tooltips, trying to figure out what to do next.

I’m delighted, a little bit flattered to have been considered for a raise, and excited at the perspective of being able to actively participate in the fight again, not just looking from the sidelines. I assure you: I’m not lazy to play a ghoul, but I lack the knowledge.

However: regardless of reason – in the end it’s the result that counts and I can’t blame the DK:s if they’re disappointed with my efforts.

Ghouls doing nothing
I’m definitely not the first person to appear as an idle, clueless ghoul. I wouldn't be surprised if the DK community has given up on ghoul creation altogether. As I prepared this post I did a simple search to see if I could find a link to an easily accessible How-to-ghoul 101-guide. I found none. Not even WoWwiki could help me out.

What I found though was a thread in the MMO-champion forum, where a DK bitterly complained about players like me:

"Topic: What's up with people and Raise Ally?

It seems as if every single time I use Raise Ally on some dumbass who got himself killed, they just stand there.. Doing nothing.

Does this happen with you guys?

I honestly don't get why people would do that, by controlling the ghoul, the encounter won't take as long as if you were dead, so you won't be dead as long, and you get to do something instead of staring at people. Surely that beats doing nothing, right?

I don't think I'll ever truly understand what goes on in these people's minds.. "
Many of the answers are on the line that people who have died either will alt-tab to watch Facebook or grab the opportunity to a bio-break. Others blame the UI, saying that it isn’t evident enough that you’re turned into a ghoul – people might just not notice.

One comment differed. It’s apparently written with the purpose to troll, but nevertheless I found it slightly amusing:

“Keep your stinking DK hands to yourself and leave my corpse alone tbh.

I don't play your class i play my class, i don’t want to go chew on someone or make myself explode so IF you feel the need to use the ability you had best lose all hope of it being put to good use and take it as a bonus when it is.”
Further objections
Troll or not, apparently there are more players around who don’t appreciate the idea to be ghoul raised. In my search for how-to-ghoul I found a discussion thread in the official forums, initiated by an apparently die-hard roleplayer:

“I am a paladin, I consider being raised as a ghoul to be a hostile act. […] I know anything relating to RP and Lore is considered a joke by a lot of people, but this is still an MMORPG.”
Ouch. I never thought of this. I reckon a servant of the light doesn't want to mess with the dark powers? Somehow it makes sense.

A few final words on the ghoul mechanics. Some players apparently think it’s annoying and insulting; for my own part I find it fun although a bit confusing.

But I’d sure appreciate if someone bothered to throw up a how-to-ghoul-post for me. The self-implode button is surely tempting for an experimenting gnome, but I’d rather be useful to the raid. If I remember it rightly there are several buttons around in the UI.

So help me out on this one – how can I maximise my ghoul performance, making my DK willing to raise me as a ghoul when the druid BR is on CD?

Monday, April 26, 2010

25 man raids in Cataclysm - will anyone bother?

OK I promised the other day that I would try to cut down on my question-mark titled posts. But I'm afraid that I'll have to break the oath right away. It's just a little bit too early to make the definite verdict on the announced changes to raiding in Cataclysm.

So I'll leave it with a question mark, just to make clear that I'm worried but not in the state of nerd rage when it comes to the future of 25 man raiding. Not yet. We'll have to wait and see a bit more.

10 man vs 25 man raiding
The topic of 10 man vs 25 man raiding - if it should be considered equally difficult and if they should be rewarded the same way or not has split the community for a long time. I would dare to say that which stance you take in most cases corresponds to if you're doing 10 mans or 25 mans yourself.

If you're in a 10 man raiding guild you're likely to say that 10 mans are exactly as challenging as 25 mans - if not more, since the failure of one single player will have bigger impact of the outcome in many fights.

If you're in a 25 man raiding guild you'll probably argue that getting 10 people come together and play as a team is a piece of cake comparing to the administrative nightmare of arranging 25 man runs. Apart from that it's way more likely that one out of 25 will screw up or just get dc:d in an encounter with tight margins, than that someone will fall off when you only have ten people to worry about. The effort is bigger and the risk for a wipe as well and because of this the reward should be better. Without the incentives, the 25 man raid is likely to die.

So where do I stand in this? Well, since I'm a 25 man raider myself and would like to remain so if possible, it's hardly a surprise that I look at this from the 25-mans-must-have-better-rewards perspective.

This doesn't mean that I don't like 10 man raiding or that I somehow look down to it. I enjoy 10 mans immensely - especially since they normally offer better teamwork in a more closely knit group. And I have full respect for those who prefer it to 25 mans - with special kudos to the 10-man-gear-only strict guilds.

But at the same time I believe that the law of the least resistance is what basically rules WoW and if the incentives aren't enough the 25 man raiding will die off, which I think would be a shame.

Gold and emblems don't cut it
Now to the question: will the advantages that Blizzard has announced to 25 man raids be enough to keep them going in Cataclysm?

They say that the loot table will be exactly the same. The only difference will be that 25 man raids will get more gold, more emblems and a yet-to-be-determined higher chance to drop items. This is supposed to make 25 man raiding a more "efficient route", if you manage to gather the numbers.

I have my doubts about this. I really have. Even mentioning the gold factor sounds like a joke to me. Have you ever heard of anyone raiding for the joy of gathering gold, apart from when you could solo Original Onyxia for a short period of time before she got her remake? If you play the gold game you're more likely to do it at AH than raiding.

What about badges then? Well, if they continue the path they've chosen in Cataclysm with badges dropping all over the place, from daily randoms, from weekly raid quests and from quests inside the instance, I don't think that it will have any huge impact on the motivation to arrange 25 man raids. Possibly it will feel important in the very beginning, but it doesn't take that long before people have more badges than they can use.

So the final incentive then, the increased gear drop. How attractive will that be? It remains to see. It isn't exactly like we've been starved for chances to get good gear easily in Wrath. Epics are raining from the sky and if you'll get 3 drops in a group of 25 instead of the "2,5" that it should be to be equivalent to a 10 man raid, I don't think it's enough to keep them going.

Other incentives
There are other incentives than gear and gold though, that motivate players to bother about raiding in the bigger scale, namely prestige. While not everyone cares about it, many raiding guilds will throw a glance at the progression list of their realm every now and then. It simply feels good to see that you're in a guild that is doing well compared to others. In this new situation, where Blizzard has declared that not only the loot table will be shared, but the level of difficulty will be the same in 10 man and 25 man raiding, I can't see any reason why the progression charts won't be shared between 10 man guilds and 25 man guilds. And guess what will happen in that case?


The 10 man guilds won't just get the world-firsts. They're also likely to dominate the realm ranking lists. Irrelevant? Yeah, maybe if you're already in a ten-man guild. But to the more advanced 25 man guilds I'd dare say it matters.

I'll quote a randomly picked comment at MMO- Champion:
"This means basicly get the best ppl from you 25 man raiding guild , kick out all others , and focus on 10 man raids? less troubles with organisation , less drama , more chance on raiding since you don't have to count on that many peeps."

Yeah. I think we might see those things happening. Especially if it will help your guild to climb on the ranking lists.

There are other incentives for 25 man raiding than the ones I've mentioned though. Such as the experience as such - the way you perceive the fights. There is a certain grandness of fighting a big badass dragon with 25 people in your army, which I've never seen in a 10 man fight.

I know I'm not the only one to enjoy the epic feeling (and I yes - I know it was even more epic with 40 people). Because of this I would rather keep raiding 25 mans than scale down to 10 mans, regardless of the loot. But on the other hand I'm not a raid leader or organizer. It's not my headache and it's not my decision if 25 man raiding still will be worth the effort. I really wonder what's in the minds of the guild leaders worldwide right now. How many guilds will fall apart due to this announcement?

Guild leveling incentives?
I realize that this post contains quite a bit of gloom and doom, and I suppose it reflects my gut feeling in this very moment. But my guts are wrong sometimes! Hence the question mark, right?

I haven't yet condemned all the 25 man guilds to die a horrible death. Not yet. There are still some unknown cards around. One is exactly what the increased drop rate will mean. Another card yet-to-be-seen is more precisely what the guild leveling will be about. Maybe they'll give a few more incentives for 25 man raiding that way? It could happen. We don't know yet.

And even if I'm a bit worried, there's also some really good stuff in the announcement. I love the idea of making more but smaller raid instances. This will grant more variation in the weekly raid schedule and keep players from boredom. I also approve of that 10 man and 25 man versions will share the same lockout. This will prevent players from feeling compelled to run the same instance in every possible version just to keep competitive with the gear. I suppose they learned from the ToC debacle, where some players ran the same instance four times a week and grew incredibly bored with it in a very short time. The lockouts will prevent it. And you may call it patronizing and that we should be able to make that call for ourselves, but I still think it's a wise call to help us to keep the fun in the game.

Blogosphere reactions
The first few reactions to the announcement I've seen in the blogosphere have mostly been on the positive side. Restokin is even more worried than me, but Hatch, Cold Comfort, Nibuca , Big Bear Butt and Screaming monkeys all seem to be very happy about the changes. And for good reasons, looking from their angles.

Maybe they're right. Maybe I'm just a protective, insecure little gnome, worrying more than necessary about where she'll end up in the mighty tides of the change?

Deep inside I think we're all wondering a bit: Will there be a raid spot for me when the dust has settled and the new raiding landscape has been shaped after the cataclysm?

We won't know anything for sure. The question mark is hanging over us. And the discussion has only begun.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Concept Art Gallery Lies!

Did you notice the title? It’s not a question – it’s an exclamation.

This makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I’ve never claimed to hold some kind of Truth and I definitely don’t have the urge to sell my ideas to the world. If anything I suffer from indecisiveness, looking at things from different angles, arguing back and forward in my posts and my thoughts. The one who spoke last always seem to be so right, until someone else says the opposite, sounding just as cleaver.

And the older I grow, the less do I find that I know. Everything flows, panta rei, as Hereclitus used to say. It's weird.

One of the reason why many of my posts have question titles is that I’m actually interested to get some further input from the readers who might sort it out for me and help me to come to a conclusion. However Krizzlybear wrote a thoughful post the other day, showing why question marks in the titles might not be such a good idea. And even though he kindly enough said that PPI is an exception and was excused, I’ll listen to his advice and try to cut down a little bit on the question marks. That’s why this post looks like a yet-to-do quest and not like a turn-in.

Ouch, this was a strange way to start a post! When am I getting to the point?

I’ll blame the Casual Friday atmosphere at the inn for this. In case you didn't notice, the bar is open and we have happy-hour prices for a while longer. Right now I'm just slacking with some of the guests in the armchairs in front of the fire, enjoying the perspective of a job free weekend. No wonder my tongue and thoughts will drift away in different directions.

Focus Larísa, focus!

The Concept Art Gallery
So. Back to business. This post is supposed to comment on the new Concept Art Gallery which Blizzard launched this week. This is a treasure box filled to the brim with pictures from various Blizzard productions such as World of Warcraft, including some pen sketches, but also very impressive full-coloured all-out paintings, which are absolutely stunning in their beauty.

The gallery offers eye-candy to any Warcraft fan, and especially the Cataclysm pictures give me thrills. That dragon in fire looks so bad-ass, not to speak of the underwater scenes, which makes me want to dive, even if I hate swimming in games (more about that another day.) Gief. Now! I want to explore that world, I want to face those creatures, I want to play Cataclysm! In this aspect the Concept Art Gallery definitely works as intended.

However there’s a back side of giving us all those pretty pictures, namely the fact that the game doesn’t quite live up to the expectations they awake.

I come to think of those frozen ready-to-eat potions that can help you out in an empty-fridge-and-no-time-to-cook emergency. They look so tasty in the store. The box shows a delicious dish in lustrous colours. But when you open it you’ll just find a pale copy. You could even call it a lie.

The image and the truth
It’s the same with those concept pictures. Howling Fjord may be a pretty zone, but hands on heart, it doesn’t look like it did in the pre-released pictures.

While we’re at it, let’s also look at some of the cinematics that Blizzard has done over the years. There are the machinima-looking ones, with figures that look more like in the game, and I suppose they’re not too far from the truth so I don’t argue about them. I loved the in-game cinematic introducing Wrathgate. But the motion pictures are different. They suggest something that that the game won’t deliver.

On one hand I cried out loud of happiness and excitement when I saw the cinematic introduction to Wrath. It was so alive that I almost could touch it, smell it, push the snow to the side for myself and shiver with cold. I was excited to start out my new journey into the winter landscape.

On the other hand – as I continued to the actual game, I couldn’t recognize myself from the movie. Arthas isn’t exactly an actor walking around, making the ground tremble. He’s just a small cartoon figure. Northrend is a pretty world, no doubt, especially if you have a computer that can handle to set the graphics to a high level. But the “for real” feeling from the 3d version just isn’t there.

Tricked and disappointed?
Do I feel genuinely tricked and disappointed at this? Am I upset because Blizzard are trying to fool me with their simple marketing devices?

I wish I could say “YES!” since it would make a funnier read. But to be honest I’m not all that devastated.

After three years in Azeroth I’ve grown used to the concept. I love the world for what it is and I’ve learned to be realistic as I look at the exciting movies that comes with a new box, well aware that the game waiting behind will be more ordinary, far from a holo deck-alike experience.

I try to regard the Concept Art and the movies as a source of inspiration for my own imagination rather than as a table of contents for the game.

The Concept Art Gallery is a lie. But a nice one.

And those words will finally put this post to an end and call for a toast for the upcoming weekend.

Cheers all!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Does Blizzard suck at communicating? And if so - does it matter?

My post about Blizzard’s disinterest in WoW blogs sparked an interesting discussion in the comment section. Some agreed with me that they should make an effort to acknowledge and encourage the community and fan sites more. Others pointed at the risks. Blogs can be expected to be personal and opinionated and put your company in an awkward situation if you accidentally link to material that is against your policy.

Learning about social media
I’ve been working in public relations for over 15 years, but I can’t claim to be any expert in social media strategies. I’m still trying to make up my mind how they fit into the media mix and how to interact with them in the interest of my employer. One of the underlying reasons for me to start this blog in the first place was that I didn’t have a clue about what blogging was about. Over the last couple of years I’ve been learning by doing, but I’m still very humble in those discussions, eager to listen and get new perspectives.

Bristal, a long-time reader and commenter at PPI was one of those who argued against Blizzard putting too much attention to social media. He said that WoW is a brand and that you couldn’t expect a company to endorse fan sites without having direct control over them.

In my reply, I begged to differ and reminded him that I believe many marketers of today make huge efforts to get on good terms with bloggers, since they see the value of viral marketing. I also referred to an article about how you can work strategically with social media and a video where a Coca Cola representative shares his views on this.

The view of a marketer
The other day I got an e-mail from Bristal, who now had shown my post to his wife to get her opinion. She is not a gamer, but unlike me she has a solid background in marketing. The last three years she has been incorporating social media strategies to her corporation. To my delight it turned out that she agreed with me:

“ pun intended...there is so much wrong here. Here's some of what I thought when I was reading this blog post. IMHO (and in the HO of many social media experts), the #1 rule of any social media is, Don't start it if you can't devote resources to monitor and contribute to it. The #2 rule is, It's a conversation; you don't always hear what you want to hear so be ready for that. And the #3 rule is, Content is king. Or in the case of WoW I think it's, Content is big fat purple drops. There is no "obligation" but I do wonder why, as a virtual business, Blizzard would start a social media strategy and assume it would sustain itself without their help. They should know better.

The other thing is about the Blizzard website. It sounds, unbelieveably, that they created an online brochure without a strategy for what they wanted their site to do for them. Some of my thoughts on effective websites are they need to be sticky - visitors need to have a reason to hang around and come back again and again. For Blizzard it could be for shopping, fan connection (like the blogger said), previews of coming attractions, goofy games, news, free downloads of stuff...things to get new players engaged. Also, I think websites need to continuously add content or new info (see Rule #3 above) in order to remain relevant. And, they should include some level of optimization strategy - people need to be able to find the site even when they're not specifically looking for it.

I wonder if Blizzard has devoted all its resources to the game and has little left over for other projects. WoW is, by itself, a sticky social media site that is continuously being updated. Still...I expect more from them.”

The lack of strategy
Now, to be fair, I should say that some of the features that she asks for already exist on Blizzards community website if you look closer. There is shopping. There are some previews and downloads. Wallpapers. Music. Movies. Contests. Stuff like that. But it all seems pretty random, the structure is messy and updating is unreliable to say the least.

Just like she says, it’s hard to see the underlying strategy for the overall Blizzard website (which I've bitched about earlier) as well as the WoW specific site. They don’t seem to know for themselves what they want to accomplish with their web presence. This includes their fumbling efforts to Twitter, where they arrange developer chats occasionally but not very much in between. And why do we have to look into a gazillion of blue posts and putting things together for ourselves if we want to understand the minds and intentions of the developers better? Wouldn't it be way better to let them have their own blogs? Have they really thought this over?

The structure is wild and confusing, branching out in all directions. New features are launched, but they don’t seem to pay any thought whatsoever to if they have the resources it takes to sustain it. It’s easy to find horror examples of neglect. A podcast with something in the lines of two episodes a year, can you really expect that to be much listened to? A newsletter where the latest issue is from March 2009, what’s the point?

Lack of updates
What is worse and even harmful in my opinion is that there is so much outdated, flat incorrect information floating around at the official website, misleading new players who are pointed to look at the website if they need further ifnormation than what comes with the instruction book. That's nothing but a shame.

I guess the company lacks resources for proper updating, or maybe their website system is so old and clotted, which happens to most websites as time passes, that they’ve lost the overview.

Regardless of the reason behind it: you don’t have to poke around long to find stuff that is so old that it smells. Like when they give the basics about partygrouping, and don’t mention the new LFD tool with a word, but still are referring to LFG and LFM. That’s not cool, especially since the information lacks a time stamp. There is no way that a newcomer can judge if this information is valid or not. I would be truly embarrassed if I was the one who was responsible for this information.

A reflection of Blizzard’s failings
I’m far from the first one to notice the weakness of this site. It’s one of the reasons why we have such an abundance of unofficial resources which are way more accurate, in-depth and useful than Blizzard’s own information.

As Tim Howgego commented, those third-party services are a “tribute to Blizzard's own communications and design failings.”

The eco-system, including everything from fan sites and blogs to wikis, movies and addons, has grown crazily huge and wild and Blizzard doesn’t yet seem to have figured out how to handle it. What is the best strategy for the future? Have things gone so far that they can’t take control anymore? Should they do like I suggest, encourage the community efforts more than they do now? Or have they got a valid reason to ignore it? Could they incorporate more of the community into their own sphere? Or will we see them fighting more to maintain control over their intellectual property?

I don’t know the answers. If I did I suppose I wouldn’t write blogposts but apply for a job at Blizzard.

What I do know is that Blizzard has a lot of strengths and opportunities, but also weaknesses and threats to their communication with fans and customers.

In the very end the sales figures will reflect how well they have succeeded.

I look myself into the mirror, trying to be humble and objective. Could it be that I under influence of my own professional hybris overestimate the value of good communications?

Blizzard doesn't seem to have that much clue about their website and what to do with it. But how much does it matter?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

38 speeches and we’ve only got started

So we’re facing The Lich King. The final jewel of this expansion, the last chapter in the book unfolded. I’ve listened to his minute long introductory speech 38 times by now (only counting the 25 man raids) and I expect to hear quite a few times more before I finally will make him shut up.

In TBC I think we had about 100 wipes before we finally killed Archimonde, and I wouldn’t be the slightest surprised if LK will turn out to be something in those lines.

A worthy opponent
In case you’re living in the illusion that all the normal modes in ICC are ridiculously easy, using the Gunship fight as your benchmark, I’ll tell you something: LK is playing in an entirely different division. Not that I mind - on the contrary; LK is the final of the final, a legendary boss in the Warcraft universe and as such he should doubtless be a worthy opponent for even the top-end guilds, not a loot piñata.

Apart from the whispering role playing, which is tedious to hear 38 times, not to say 100, the fight is just as varied, challenging and complicated as I expect it to be. Really well done, Blizzard!

The obstacle we’ve run into is the phase where you’re supposed to slow and kill val’kyrs that shamelessly kidnap your raid members, planning to drop them into the big void, while you also avoid an aoe-damage-thing called “defile”. This defile targets an individual but can wipe the entire raid if you make the slightest of error. The reaction time is one of the most unforgiving I’ve seen in WoW. Twitchy, to say the least. You need the reaction time of a teenager brought up on Nintendo and FPS games as well as a very good, lag free internet connection, or you’re screwed.

In theory you have two seconds to move away – not just a few steps, but getting a good distance between yourself and the raid, dropping the dreadful black pool at a good spot and not in the way of the flight path of the kidnappers. In reality the time is even less, since some of this time will get lost due to the communication back and forward between the client and the server.

The ICC buff doesn’t make any huge difference to this. Surely, we will be able to kill the val’kyrs quicker as our damage output increases, but it won’t help us against the defiles.

Incoming nerf
I will stick out my neck and make a prediction: I think Blizzard will nerf the defile mechanism in a not far distant future, probably by prolonging the casting time or the pace for it’s growing. If they don’t, this will turn out to be exactly the kind of brick-wall that they don’t want to see around anymore in the normal modes (heroic modes being an entirely different matter). They’d surely like more 25 man guilds to get LK down than the current 1,78 percent according to the charts at Guildprogress.

Will we be able to get LK down before the nerf hammer hits us? Maybe, maybe not. I think we have the capacity, but we’ve also got the same issues as many other guilds have these days, struggling with signups and slow recruitment. We’re definitely in a better situation than Matticus writes about today, but we’re all facing the challenges of keeping up morale, motivation and spirit towards the end of an expansion.

Hardmode reward
Do you know what’s funny? I haven’t thought that much about what loot LK may drop. That doesn’t matter. What matters so much more is the fact that he’s the guardian that keeps us from starting out hardmode versions of the lower wing bosses. The reward to get access to those is way more tempting and motivating than anything else.

A bunch of spiced-up, challenging encounters are waiting for us on the other side of the LK. We just have to figure out how to manage those defiles. It probably means that we’ll have to listen to his yada-yada another 60 times (do you realize that we’re spending ONE hour of game time on it?).

But we’ll get there. We’re not sissies. We’re Adrenaline.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How Blizzard could make extra profit from a rich middle-aged geek

Tobold commented on on the connection between the sparkling pony and the changing dempographic in MMORPGs. The players who once upon a time enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons in the 80s aren’t unemployed or students these days – we’ve got jobs – often even well paid ones in science or engineering.

We may appear a bit childish and still look upon ourselves as geeks. But let’s face it. We’re grown-ups. Rich grown-ups with way more money to spend than then monthly subscription fee allows them to.

There’s a huge potential for the gaming industry to find up new services to sell to those this player segment with much more money than time at their hands. Tobolds predicts a future where we’ll see more merchandising, more virtual goods and more premium services.

So far we’ve seen a sparkling pony at 25 dollars. The 100 dollar sparkling dragon is waiting around the corner. This is just the beginning, according to Tobold’s prophecies, and I believe he’s quite right.

Me – a cheapscate
I suppose I am the kind of player that Tobold speaks of. I’m middle-aged and employed, and considering how much I’m willing to pay for activities such as skiing and holidays abroad, there’s no reason why Blizzard shouldn’t try to get their share of my wallet.

Their first attempt failed however; the sparkling pony didn’t cut it. I imagined myself riding around on it and realized that it wouldn’t make me feel entertained, excited, happy or proud – only awkward and embarrassed. If my children had played WoW and wished for a horse it would have been a different matter. When you get an opportunity to treat your children and see them smile, principles about good or bad game design go right out through the window. But since that’s not the case, the ponies will stay on the shelf.

What about a 100 dollar sparkly dragon than? It says itself that fewer people would be willing to pay that kind of sums, so it would probably work better as a status symbol. It could be The Rolex of mounts (mind you, coming with a not negligible risk of mockery for being a pillock).

To be honest I’m not tempted. I guess I’m a bit of an old cheapskate, more or less immune to vanity stuff that mostly is about to make an impression. Sorry. Admittedly I DID buy the collectors edition of WotLK, but then I’m a complete sucker for behind-the-scenes material of any kind. The extras for the LOTR movies were the best ever. The more of it the better and you could charge me almost anything for it.

What they could offer
The question is: how could Blizzard make me want to pay more for my WoW playing, apart from making good behind-the-scenes stuff for me to devour? What extras could they possibly tempt me with?

My time shortage is definitely a niche that could be explored. People in my age are constantly juggling, trying to fit our gaming into an already cramped schedule with job and family commitments. The time we can devote to WoW is limited and we’re very keen on spending it playing, having fun, getting challenged and entertained. We don’t want to spend it messing around trying to solve technical issues on our own or waiting for customer service in a queue of unknown length.

Yes, there is a potential market for premium customer services. In a comment at Tobold’s post, Peregrine recalls the original Everquest, where they apparently made a special server with a higher level of GM support in exchange for a higher monthly fee. I suppose it wasn’t a huge success, considering that we don’t see it in WoW. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they would come up new concepts in line with this.

Time has passed since EQ, the MMO-community has changed and grown older and the playerbase is way bigger, including people with little previous experience of gaming and limited knowledge of computer issues.

Maybe they could package this kind of services in a different way. Some players might like to play at special servers for the rich people, where you maybe could be protected from spam in the general channels thanks to more present GM:s. Others would probably like to get access to fast-queues for GM assistance, but would like to stay on their home services where they have their guilds and friends.

Paying extra for a higher level of service from GM:s sounds fine to me. What if you could get granted in-game chat contact with a GM within a certain amount of time – let’s say one hour – bypassing the normal ticked queue, which can take anything from a couple of ours to a week?

Individualized tech support
Another area of interest is out-of-game tech support. I’d like to see something more individualized, that helps me more than handing out generic answers that are supposed to be for everyone but are to shallow to really solve anything.

I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve bee suffering from problems with everything from lag and reoccurring disconnects to problems with new patches and UI headaches. The help you can expect from the Blizzard support is the three standard solutions: reinstall the game, delete the WTF and Interface folders or go whine at your ISP provider since they suck. Those suggestions will take you infinite amounts of time (yes, even the delete-interface-folder takes time if you want to rebuild your UI) and you can’t be certain they will help you in the end.

I may be an old geek, but I come from a world where I spent my time making fanzines with a manual typewriter and a mimeograph rather than messing around with a C64. I’m technically daft and I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent manically googling and browsing forums full of techno-babble looking for if not a solution, at least a clue.

More than once have kind guildies or even blog readers come to my rescue, giving me good suggestions or talking me through what to do, step by step over the phone. However it makes me feel like a parasite. My guildies value their time as much as I do and they could spend it in a better way than baby-sitting me. A pay-service from Blizzard? Yeah, why not? I’d be totally fine with having a personal servant, my own Jeeves, always on his toes and doing his very best to help me out of technical emergencies. Service with a smile, as they say.

Crazy ideas
Finally a couple of ideas more on the crazy side. A year ago I talked about the lack of equivalence of snowboard teachers in WoW. My idea at that point was that experienced gamers might offer some sort of in-game services. But what if you could buy personal tuition from the ones who should be best at playing the game, Blizzard themselves?

We recently saw a service where you could pay crazy amounts of money for a dating-service where you basically partied with a girl sitting in front of a webcamera. But let’s imagine another sort of dating service. Exactly how much would you be willing to pay to have an online meeting with a few of the Blizzard developers, maybe like the twitter chats they’ve run now, with the difference that it would just be you and a handful more of paying people allowed into the chatroom? Or a web-cam date with Ghostcrawler himself? I wonder what price tag they could put on that. I know from real life that some people are willing pay anything just to attend the same dinner or seminar as some celebrity, not even being granted to talk to him/her. I wonder if that would apply to WoW? How big is the stardom of the prominent staff members and how much is the community willing to pay?

I guess there isn’t any urgent need for new premium services right now. For the time being the sparkling pony has given Blizzard more revenue than they possibly could have imagined. Hopefully this gives them room to focus on old-fashioned game developing for a while, giving them a respite in the demands of making instant profit.

But sooner or later they will come back with more offers to the middle-aged rich geeks. Be sure about that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Has Blizzard put the WoW blogging community on ignore?

A little while ago put together an excellent list of WoW resources, providing links to good news sites, databases, blogs and podcasts devoted to WoW. I’m sure there’s room for improvement – a short description of every linked-to resource wouldn’t hurt for instance. But they've made a good effort.

When I saw this list it came to my mind that I should go and check out the equivalence at Blizzard’s official fan website. I was curious to see what resources they would link to. I knew they had a Fan Site program and was wondering which blogs and news sites had made their way into it.

Ugly and thin
Before even looking I was prepared for a shorter list than the one. Surely they would have to be pickier, checking up on the quality of whatever got their Blizzard approval stamp.

But what met me was far tinier than anything I would have imagined. There were so few Blizzard approved sites that it resembled to a joke.

Sure you’ll find a few favourites on the list: Wowwiki, Wowhead, Tankspot, The Instance and a couple of addon-download sites. But apart from those it’s void of content. They link to a couple of “news” sites that are pretty much useless as far as I’m concerned, since all they do is repeating the official announcements from Blizzard’s own site, without having the slightest ambitions to add something of their own to it such as an analysis.

Why would anyone want to visit those sites? I have to be really creative to find up a reason. Maybe if the official site is blocked for you at work and the copy-news sites aren’t? That could possibly be a reason to visit them. But it’s not a reason for Blizzard to link to them.

It’s also worth mentioning that the European Fan Site Program there are links to a couple of resources in other languages such as Polish, Serbian and Turkish. I can’t evaluate those sites; maybe there’s a need for them if people don’t understand English in those countries.

However my overall impression is that Blizzard’s fan site program isn’t only presented on an extremely messy and ugly, not to say hideous website; it’s also so thin that it’s close to non-existing.

The Fan Site Guidelines
When you look at the guidelines for what it takes to qualify for the Fan Site Program it appears that many of the sources listed at could be included.

These are the requirements:

The site must be entirely about WoW, be up and running, updating at least once a week, be run by someone over 18 years old and not link to content that violates or encourages to violating the WoW Terms of Use.

Not too difficult, is it? And if you get elected, you won’t just get linked from the Blizzard website, you’ll also “receive regular updates and heads-up on news along with some additional surprises from time to time.”

To help aspiring fan site creators, Blizzard offers a free kit that you can download, including not only a bunch of pretty nice pictures, but even templates to help you get the right WoW-feeling on your site.

That is as far as Blizzard’s love for the community goes and to be honest I think it sucks. It sucks badly.

Writing to Blizzard
To give them a chance to explain their views on this – maybe they just weren’t aware of the existence of the blogs – or maybe they had some new upcoming link list in pipeline? – I wrote a letter to them. Or to be more precise: I left them a little note. The contact form to get in touch with the Fan Site Program staff only allows you to write 500 letters, which is cool for the Twitter folks, but a joke for a blogger.

Anyway. I wrote them and asked why there weren't any blogs in the program. And here’s the answer I got:

“Unfortunately our Fan Site program does not have capacity to lend support to individual blogs or websites that consist mainly of blogs. This is due to the (in many cases) limited interest they hold to our community as a whole, the limited amount of content and low update frequency, and lastly also due to the sheer number of these websites.

That being said however, we are not against mentioning and linking to individual blogs in our weekly Community News, and fact we have often linked to various WoW related blogs that someone made a post about in our Events and Fan Creations forum. We go through that forum every week to look for interesting things to mention in our weekly news updates:

Kind regards,
The Community Team
Blizzard Entertainment Europe”
Why they won’t link blogs
So let’s look a bit closer at this. In the first part they list the reasons why they don’t link to blog. They blame:
  • the limited interest they hold to the community (translated as “they suck”)
  • their lack of content
  • their low updated frequency
  • the big amount of them.
While I agree on that there are a ton of awful blogs out there which aren’t really worth spreading to a bigger audience, I still think the answer is inadequate.

“There are too many of them”. What kind of answer is that? I can’t imagine that they’re drowning in applications from bloggers. And even if they received many requests, how hard would it be for them to check them out and weed out the good from the bad? As a matter if fact I think there are many blogs out there that provide way more substantial content than those copy-paste crap news sites they have linked to so far.

The Community forum
Now let’s look closer at the second part of their letter. They say that they’re linking to WoW related blogs in the Community News if someone has posted about it in the Event and Fan Creations forum.

Right. It’s possible that they’ve done this in the past, but if it happens, it’s a rare event. I checked out the forum – which hasn’t got any equivalence on the US side as far as I can see – and noticed that it’s not exactly a vibrant one. The posting is rather slow and is more about promoting ingame-events than blogs. I can’t see any mentioning of blogs in the Community News. Of course we could try to change this a bit. We could start to promote our best blog posts through the forum and see if it will result in some link love in their Community News letter.

The Mythic example
But even if Blizzard would start promoting not only comics and machinima sites, but also to WoW blogs once in a while, they still have a long way to go if they want to develop a closer relationship with the blogging community.

Other gaming companies show a far bigger interest for their fans and understand the PR value they can offer them.

Mythic recently announced that they had invited four leading WAR bloggers to a special visit to their studio, where they would meat the design team. Here’s a quote from the announcement:

Everyone knows that here at Mythic Entertainment we love our blogging community. The close and personal ties that each of these wordsmiths have to WAR is a constant source of inspiration and motivation to all of us here in the studio. As a continuation of our close relationship to the WAR Blogging community we’ve selected four of our most active bloggers to receive a special trip this week….
I can’t help letting out an envious sigh as I read about it. That kind of attention is never showed even to the biggest, most influential podcasts and blogs in the WoW community. They won’t even get as much as a Beta invitation or a presscard to Blizzcon.

Has Blizzard put us all on ignore? Not entirely. It happens that they read blogs. We can see that from a couple of in-game references they've made, paying homage to the ex-bloggers BRK and Resto4life. Every blogger isn't on their ignore list.

Still I think they could do a lot better. I think they could pay back a little of all the love and help they get from the blogging community, which keeps promoting their game and helping to educate the playerbase, making it a better experience for everyone. They do it for free. All we're asking for in return is some link love.

A couple of words about that mount

I guess I should write something about the topic on everyone's lips today. But Ixobelle and TotalBiscuit beat me to it and I haven't much to add really. Read Ixo's post and watch TB:s movie and have a laugh. Basically they cover it all.

It felt absurd to watch the army of horses hovering over Krasus Landing tonight. Exactly how special and imba could those kids really feel? As I pressed my random-mount key and took off riding my classic epic gryphon, I felt like a truly unique snowflake compared to the others. It didn't cost me a single extra cent. And it felt SO good.

But my heart is bleeding a little once again because I'm reminded of what I feel about RMT connected to WoW. They aggro me pretty badly there. As it appears Blizzard is getting greedier and more daring. There surely must be a line somewhere but I wonder where it goes.
And that's all I have to say.

Now to the post I had planned for today! Some more Blizzard bashing actually.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Skiing vs WoW – different views on difficulty and entitlement

I spent my Easter week the same way as I've done the last few years: downhill skiing in the Swedish alps.

Most of the time I had my mind set on other things than WoW. I marveled at the view of the mountains, covered by miles and miles of unbroken snow reflecting the fresh spring sunlight. Pure arcane power if you ask me. I kept a watching eye for suicidal three year olds, heading directly towards me like a flame orb in time warp speed, apparently with no clue about where to find the break (in the unlikely case they'd notice me.) And above all I fought the increasing symptoms of a really bad cold that cunningly had picked my vacation for an evil disease attack.

But a couple of times it happened that my mind drifted away towards Azeroth as the ski lift slowly pushed me to the top. I came to think about similarities and differences between skiing and WoW playing - especially when it domes to the mindset and expectations of the people involved. I’d like to share a few of those thoughts, for whatever it's worth. I might even come to some sort of conclusion. Or maybe I won’t. See for yourself!

This post will be mostly about different views on difficulty levels, expectations and how we’re entitled to certain experiences. It will be a wall of text, so we’d better get started.

The view of a WoW player
First we'll have a look at the WoW community. The more vocal part of the playerbase has always been pretty much obsessed with the issue - constantly arguing about exactly where to put the difficulty bar in the current and future content. The claims and demands from various groups of players shift wildly and are often contradictive. The game developers try to adjust accordingly as well as they can, in an act of balance, providing "a little bit for everyone", so much that I'm afraid that they sometimes get a bit lost in their own long term vision for the game.

It appears as if the lowest common denominator is ruling most of the time these days, and because of this, raid instances are in a process of constant nerfing, accelerating towards the end of an expansion, just to make sure that "everyone" will be able to do "everything" so they can "see" what they've paid for, since it's their “right”.

This doesn’t stop some players from thinking that the content wasn’t nerfed enough, they couldn’t see what they wanted to see, and they’ll make no secret about this.

In the other end you find the hopelessly bitter veterans who never grow tired of mourning a game they think basically has been destroyed by this Army of Ignorant Noobs (which is referring to people like me, without any pervious background in gaming, and therefore in need of a slightly more forgiving learning curve.). Those veterans will glorify any stupid game mechanism from vanilla that has been changed or removed, regardless of the fact that they actually hated it in the past and wanted it to go away. To change the game is to dumb it down, and any change that makes the game accessible to more people is a personal insult to these guys.

The view of a skier
Now let’s move on to the skiing resort. When you put the WoW player view on differences in difficulty in the context of skiing, it looks rather absurd.

At the place where I spent the previous week, you would find about 30 different ways to get down from the hilltop to the valley, and the span of difficulty was enormous. You'd see slopes where you'd happily put your old grandmother who has never seen a pair of skis before, and you would see others, which looked like a death trap, a lethal wall, making you nauseous if you as much as threw a glance at it.

And do you know what? The skiers seemed to be completely happy about this variation!
Did I ever hear anyone who spent their days in the black labeled ski trails whining about the existence of green slopes for the beginners? Of course not! The thought was absurd. Did I ever hear a beginner complain over the fact that they missed the fantastic "content" since they couldn't view the black slopes, demanding that this should be made easier and more accessible, by building some sort of ramp so it wouldn't be so steep and scary? Definitely not! Such a claim would be laughed at.

There was content enough for everyone to be happy. And the fact that the content came in such a variety even seemed to make people easier at mind since it meant that they could bring all of their friends and family, certain that no one would end up being either left out due to noobishness or bored to death because of lack of challenges.

Not once in the lift did I hear anyone commenting negatively on the choice of gear or skill level of other skiers, laughing at signs of clumsiness, ignorance or foolish bravery. As long as you're not violating the rules, putting other skiers safety in danger (the equivalence of hacking, I suppose), skiers don't care. They've got their hands full focusing on improving their own performance, so why would they bother about others?

Approaching WoW like skiers?
So what do I make out of those observations?

I can't help finding the skiing view on levels of difficulty and skill a bit more... let's call it "mature" than the whining you hear from WoW players. A ski resort is a pleasant environment to be in, no doubt. The question is: would it be possible to somehow let this approach sip into the WoW community? Could we encourage Blizzard to design raid slopes in all difficulties, ranging from green to black-black? Could we convince the players to find this design acceptable or even attractive?

I don't know, but to be honest I doubt it. For some reason I don’t think you can expect WoW players to behave like skiers. Someone with deeper knowledge in economics would probably explain it in terms of business models. I’ll refrain from this and just point out a few fundamental obstacles for an ever-smiling WoW audience.

One major thing is the need for grouping in WoW. While skiing is purely individual - you don't even need a buddy to ride the ski lift - you have to cooperate with people in most things you do in WoW. And when you force people together, you will also create tensions, when the interests of the individuals clash.

Imagine you couldn't ski down the black wall-slope on your own, but had to hold hands with 24 other people, running it in a long, unbroken chain. I bet you would be rather annoyed if a first-time skier with no clue whatsoever suddenly broke into your chain and insisted on bringing him with you. But that’s not the case. Skiing is more individual, so people can afford not to bother about others.

Another explanation could be the costs – in money as well as in time. If you break it down to how much you spend per hour you are entertained – in my case how many hours I actually was skiing – the cost for my holiday was absolutely horrendous. No doubt would I rather spend those precious hours enjoying myself, skiing as much as possible, making the best of my time, rather than looking for errors and reasons to complain, worrying about other people’s business.

Since it’s so expensive, I’m also very keen on feeling happy about my choice, so I’m also likely to convince myself that it was a good one, that I enjoy what I’m doing and the level entertainment justifies the costs. It's the mechanism of “commitment and consistency”, as the psychology professor Robert B Cialdini would have labeled it. And since I pay so well, I’m certain that the company that runs the ski resort will do everything in their power to keep me as a paying customer, making a good profit on me. Blizzard on the other hand makes only a smallish marginal benefit from my subscription, so even if they want to make a broad-market game, they’ll not be extremely anxious about meeting the expectations of the individual Larísa.

And finally: WoW playing as opposed to skiing isn't limited in time and space; it's more of an alternative existence in a parallel universe. I bet that if we didn't just visit the ski resort one week a year, but on a daily bases, year after year, I would be more inclined to discuss and have opinions on the overall planning of the trail system. I might even whine a bit when I grew bored, feeling “burned out” on skiing, having nothing else to replace it with to get the thrills I’m used to.

A sort of conclusion
My conclusion, if there is one, is that even if I admire the atmosphere at the ski resort, I can’t expect to find it in Azeroth. Nevertheless I think it wouldn’t hurt if we got a little bit of inspiration from it: Blizzard in the terms of customer care. And the player base in the terms of accepting that players these days come in many different shapes.

Some like it black, others pick the green trails. If you don’t like the easy slopes, there are always others to try. Live and let live.

And if you get bored - try some off-pist wowing. As opposed to in the alps, falling won't hurt you. In case you'd forgotten.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maybe an addon will fix it?

No. Arcane Brilliance doesn’t seem to cut it. Nor does the gnome racial increased intelligence.

No matter how much I try to expand my intellect, I’m simply not cleaver enough to understand the idea of Blizzard’s new “Mana Adept” concept for arcane mages, to be launched in Cataclysm.

Frankly I feel rather stupid. The only comfort I have is that I’m not alone in being clueless. Not even the gurus at Elitist Jerks seem to have figured out what to make of it yet, judging from the discussion.

Mana managing game
For all of you non-mages who may not have heard of it, the new idea is that arcane mages will deal damage based on how much mana the mage has. A mage at 100 percent mana will make more damage than at 50 percent.

Mind boggling, isn’t it?

But before I start this little piece of classic mage qq, I want to point out that I don’t have anything against Blizzard putting some more emphasis on the noble art of mana managing.

It’s always been a task for arcane mages to make good use of our limited sources. We squeeze out as much as we can of our pool, altering burn phases with conservation. We evocate at the proper moment and we strive to end up with a more or less empty mana bar as the boss dies. The mana game is a part of my arcane identity and I enjoy it.

The problem is that the mana game that is now presented to me looks more strange than fun. For instance: exactly at which point in a fight are you likely to be at 100 percent mana, and because of this enjoying your biggest damage output? Yeah, I thought so too. Right in the beginning. Personally I have yet to see a fight where you’re expected to go all out right from the start. At least I think the tanks will have objections.

In my world you’re normally expected to top off towards the end, sometimes fighting against an enrage timer. Now imagine spending the entire boss fight anxiously managing your mana bar to be absolutely sure that it’s filled to the top for that short period. That doesn’t sound challenging or interesting at all to me – only frustrating and counter intuitive.

When I think about it they might as well have done the opposite construction – adding more damage to the mage, the less mana he has left. It would probably have some backsides that I don't think of, non-game designer as I am, but at least it would make sense.

To be honest I wonder if the Blizzard devs really thought this over. Doesn’t it sound a bit like one of those ideas you may crack as you’re hanging around a coffee machine: “What if…”?

EJ thinkers or a new addon
For my own part I can’t see myself mastering the Mana Adept challenge, at least not based on the information we have for the moment.

If someone replaced my brain with a calculator I might be able to figure out when to keep nuking in spite of a shrinking damage output and when to stop for refill. Maybe. It would be a complicated equation with many factors tto consider though. There’s not only the mana pool to worry about, but also the cooldowns – my own and others. Has heroism been cast? But wait – it will just burn my mana quicker. I’ll soon hit the not-so-good-damage percentage… maybe rather evocate? What about arcane power? Adding more damage – yes, but at the cost of more mana. Use it or not? Maths, maths, maths.

But I tell you: I’m just a gnome with a normal pinkish soft brain. I’m not a borg. And my head gets all dizzy when I think about Mana Adept issues.

Hopefully the great EJ thinkers will figure something out during the summer and have a new shiny spellcasting cycle ready for us when Cataclysm launches.

If they fail, maybe someone will make up an addon that can come to my rescue, telling me what’s most beneficial for me at the moment – evocating or nuking. It doesn't sound like entirely fun to let an addon decide my actions, but what’s an un-mathematical arcane mage to do?

Or I could of course just give up and go back to the so-much buffed fire tree.


I’m glad there’s a long time to go to Cataclysm. Hopefully they’ll have some time to sort this out better – or to even throw the whole thing in the trash bin.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time Warp goes Swoosh!

So, in case you've missed it, mages will get a heroism equivalence in Cataclysm, called Time Warp.

This raises some questions. Like: exactly how many tears will the shaman community shred over this? Will it exceed the mage outcry when they got their frog spell?

Another matter of discussion is what will the time warp spell sound like? I would vouch for some sort of "Swoosh!". But it could as well come with a "Bang!", like a starship taking off at warp speed. Who knows? The truth is out there.

The sound effects
To make a slightly (but only slightly) more serious take on this: regardless of what the sound turn out to be, I know I will learn to love it, the same way I love the cheering crowd that accompanies our heroism sessions.

It's not the sound in itself I enjoy so much of course - some people even argue that the bloodlust sound, which is supposed to be in the line of "gar-gar-gar" is way cooler. But I love what it represents. I suppose this is a perfect example of Pavlovian conditioning at work. When I hear it I don't exactly salivate, but not far from it. It's not only my toon that gets a boost from it - I do as well. It calls me out: "Focus! Action! Go for it! Just do it! Now!".

For you who aren't into raiding, and might not have experienced it, I'll try to describe the feeling of it. You see, the moment when the heroism is cast in a raid encounter is like the tipping point at the top of a roller coaster, at least if you're playing a dps class (I have no idea about if it's the same for a tank or healer.). The sudden acceleration, the huge damage increase, the short but sweet period where you know you have to squeeze everything you can out of your character and push it to the edge. The thrill is fantastic.

Actually I dare say that the psychological effect of it - triggered by the sound - probably is more important than the spell itself. Or as the blue poster Eyonix put it in a discussion on the forums about heroism a couple of months ago:
"It certainly feels like a big boost when it happens, but part of that is because so many groups use the Bloodlust/Heroism moment as the time to blow all their cooldowns and go all out. While it is unarguably a buff (though for some specs more than others), it’s role as “blow everything!” is significant too."
Mage power at last
And who wouldn't like to be the guy or girl who pulls the trigger? Until now it's been the privilege of the shamans, adding to them a certain aura of exclusiveness and power. But finally - FINALLY - the turn has come to the mages to shine. God knows we've been waiting long for this, almost as long as the gnomes have waited for their glorious retake of our capital.

When was the last time anyone really took any notice of us? Honestly? Has anyone ever asked for a mage or bothered about what we were doing standing in the back in our sissy robes since we tanked HM in Gruul? Don't think so. We weren't even wanted for the world first kill of LK heroic. (sniff)

But we're approaching a new era, my friends! As I'm casting my first Time Warp, I will pay a thought to the short statement at in the header of Euripedes blog that I've always admired so much, because it has Attitude:

I am important.

And then I'll proudly and loudly make the announcement - the obvious callout to make when you're about to enter a Time Warp.


Then there will be a Swoosh! Or a Bang. Whatever.

Edit: I think I need to add a little disclaimer. Like some other community members (for instance TB) I DO have doubts about how wise it is to make all the classes more or less similar, - the same stuff in different shells. The Bring-the-player-not-the-class concept can easily lead to a pretty boring game in the long run. If I'm truly honest.

Nevertheless: speaking from my strictly selfish Mage perspective, I can't but smile thinking about my new incoming power buff that will put me in the captain's chair. Cheers! It was about time that we got a little bit of love. Then there's some other stuff going on with the mages that is less promising. But I'll leave that to another day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Return of an Innkeeper

Knock, knock, knock.

Is there still someone hanging around here?

I left quite suddenly a week ago, without giving the readers any previous notice. There were no prewritten posts for you to chew on, although I had hired a stand-in to keep an eye and chase away any trolls. The mountains were calling me, that's all I can say.

I came home with a cold that makes me resemble to one of those about-to-explode slimes at Rotface. So honestly I'm not quite as re-energized as I had hoped for. But I guess it made me good to replace the view of the raid instances with some breathtaking real life sceneries, drinking sunlight rather than coffee for a few days.

The Game
I'm trying to pick up what has been going on in Azeroth during my absence. To be honest I hadn't expected too much to happen. The previous week, the one before Easter, had been incredibly quite - so quiet that Totalbiscuit had to shorten his Blue Plz! show since there so few things to comment on.

This week seems to have been a bit more busy, especially with all the Cataclysm Class Changes being presented. For the more information-theorycrafting heavy blogs out there, this gives a ton of stuff to talk about. For the PPI it doesn't mean that much. I don't play any hunter and I couldn't care less if they have ammo or not. I have no idea about if our DK:s play in frost or blood or whatever - as long as they keep the mobs away from me when they're tanking, I'm all fine whatever way. Sue me.

Of course I DO care about the classes I play though, and most of all I care about mages, since that's what I am and will remain until I put down this game for good. I'm way too lazy and slow to learn new things to change classes between expansions. A couple of hours ago they released the mage information, which made me both smile and frown at the first glance. I'll probably make a separate post about it. It doesn't happen often, but once in a while it happens that PPI reveals its true nature as a mage blog.

The guild
What else have I missed? Well, two first kills in my guild: Lich King in 10-man and Sindragosa 25 man. It would have been nice to be there, since I've worked so hard and wiped so much on both encounters, but those things happen. It's a part of raiding and you have to learn to live with it. You can't always be there. Actually I'm most of all excited about it; I can look forward to face LK 25 man in the next raid, and the heroic modes are finally open for us in 10 mans. That's awesome.

The Blogosphere
And then there's the Blogosphere to catch up on, and there's especially one blogger that currently has my attention. Ixobelle. My hero. He hasn't just kept an eye at the inn during my vacation (thank you once again!), he has also been busy on adventures of his own, making it all the way to an interview for a dream job at a gaming company. Yes, his brave attack at the Blizzard HQs paid off. It's a fantastic story and I hope it has a happy end. Or I'd rather put it this way: I know for certain it will have an happy end; I just don't know if we're about to see the end right now or if we'll have to wait a bit longer for it.

Upcoming posts
And now I'll just rest a little while here in front of the fire, letting out some more slime out of my head before it explodes. But I'll be back in the bar again soon, serving you some thoughts about the mage changes and about some new perspectives on the game that the skiing gave me.

I had planned to make some sort of Tobold's Open Sunday thread while I was on vacation, where you could put some orders for things you'd like to see discussed here, but never got around to do it. It isn't too late though. Just write in a comment if there's something special you'd like to read in the next few weeks, and I'll see what I can do about it.


Friday, April 2, 2010

OH SNAP, Ixo's got rhymes!

Come pull up a seat and an ale,
And I'll weave you a short rhyming tale,
I've been left with the keys,
While Larísa's on skis,
Let's all hope I can dodge a LOLFAIL?

She told me to watch out for spam,
But she didn't say "NO GUEST POSTS" (dammmnnn!),
So forgive me bar patrons,
And Larísa, our matron,
I'm the first to admit, I'm a ham.


So what have I been doing in WoW?
Why, I'm riding the Honor Grind Cow!
My game time (recently),
Has been all PvP,
And I'm having a blast... ummm... Ka-Pow?

I used to roll eyes at those ding-dongs,
"PVP TAEKS MOAR SKILL!" are their themesongs,
But I have to admit,
That each comp needs new wit,
And the prep time doesn't take quite as long.

Log in, invite Vessen, and queue,
So far it's been all Two Vee Two,
The queue times are fast,
And each match is a blast,
Even when we lose points, no QQ.

Nobody complains of repairs,
Or runs for the door (or the stairs),
During a wipe,
We just break down the fight,
And adjust to new strats from our chairs.

My UI has ne'er been so clean!
No spare buttons or crap on my screen!
I need to see all the action,
Much to my satisfaction,
Only two moles to whack!? Grid looks LEAN!

Used to hate getting trained as the priest,
But with so much resil I'm a beast!
I can tank all the damage,
"Ves, commence pew pew spammage!"
And our shiny new ranks have increased!

Last night I turned down Lich attempts,
And I'm absent from YE OLDE GUILD VENTS,
4 hours at a time?
It's too hard to align!
Plus the raid gear is trash, no resilience!

So I apologize to my fellow crusaders,
I've crossed over to the dark side (just like VADERZ!),
I've become what I hated,
My Bloodlust is now Sated,
A PvP douche; no time for the raiders. :(

In my defense, I've a 19 month man,
And my wife just got back from Japan,
I just can't commit,
To an all evening sit,
40 minutes, 10 matches? That's the plan!

My limerick rhyming grows old,
And my story thus far has been told,
I'll watch out for spam,
just like Jean Claude Van Damme(!),
Till Larísa returns from the cold.


One last bit before outward I duck,
And I hope you'll all wish me good luck,
Game design interview!
38 Studios' crew!
Help design Copernicus? OH FUUUUU*****

I fly Cali to Boston on Monday,
I hope Tuesday will turn out a fun day,
I'm nervous as hell,
But it's all just as well,
They can see I'm sincere, so that's okay..?

Maybe this time next week, new employment?
Apartment search drama deployment?
We'll see how it goes,
Crossing fingers and toes,
Brand new paid MMO-based enjoyment?

As I bow out this blog posting gimmick,
If you comment, it MUST be a limerick,
If it's hard to be clever,
Make the last line whatever, helps if you get stuck and can't uhhhh...

find ... a word...

that rhymes with Limerick...


: /

Homesick for Blizzcon

Are you going to Blizzcon this year?

Oh, you are? Good for you. Or rather: I hate you. Because there's no chance in the world that I'll be going and it bugs me.

Did you notice how cleaver I put that? By writing "this year" I kind of imply that I won't be going now, but that I've done it many times before; this year is just an exception due to some unforseen circumstances. It suggests that I'm a dedicated WoW community member, so of course I plan my life and set my priorities so I can attend the yearly we're finally coming together as a huge-family-event.

Why I won't go
But to be honest that's not the truth. I won't be going and I can't see myself going anytime soon. Even for an established adult person with a decent income the cost for participating in such an arrangement is enormous, especially if you're living in Europe.

I'll make you a quick list:

  • Flight tickets across half of the world.
  • Outrageously expensive hotel room since sleeping on the floor or coach of some fan living on the location, as we did when I was a SF fan in my youth, just doesn't cut it anymore. I'm old, spoiled and squishy compared to how I used to be.
  • Astronomical costs for food because you can't really bring your own or put up a camping kitchen at the convention, but have to accept whatever junk food they're offering.
  • Ridiculously overprized franchise stuff sold at the event - silly, but hard to resist.
  • And of course the convention fee not to forget.

The biggest issue however, which effectively keeps me away is that I really couldn't use several of my precious days of paid vacation just for my own amusement instead of spending them with my children.

I may be a WoW fanatic, but Blizzcon is definitely out of my reach.

And you know what: even if I haven't ever been there, I feel homesick about it, because I believe I have a pretty decent picture of what it's like.

SF conventions
As I've told you before I have a passed as a member of the Science Fiction Fandom. I never went to any of the world conventions, but for several years I attended the national ones, in a community that resembled a lot to the World of Warcraft blogosphere. Our panels featured SF writers, publishers and such rather than game developers, but in the core I dare say it was the same kind of event: geeks meeting up around a common interest, enjoying the company of each others.

Some of the participants were pretty classical nerds, the stereotype of a no-lifer living in his mothers basement coming alive. Some of us on the other hand led a life outside of the conventions that appeared to be pretty normal - including having a job, wife, kids, car and house. But deep inside we all had a hidden geek that needed to be let out in full freedom.

Arriving at the conventions was always a feeling of homecoming. For a couple of days we were in a protected area, where we could speak and think for hours about our passion, without any restriction whatsoever. We could use fanslang expressions and make references to books and TV series and expect everyone else to get it. We didn't have to apologize, we didn't have to make excuses, we didn't have to explain anything or try convince skeptics that what we were doing was acceptable. We didn't have to pretend to be normal. We were safe among friends.

Every convention was like a little bubble and all those bubbles tied together like a pearl necklace. It was sad when we parted, but somehow when we came together the following year, it was as if no time at all had passed. Geek conventions have a time logic of their own.

Size matters
Maybe I'm completely wrong. The conventions I attended never held more than 700 participants and Blizzcon hosts thousands and thousands of people. Size matters. The SF conventions were arranged by fans and were non commercial - Blizzcon is big business.

If I as by a miracle was given the opportunity to attend Blizzcon 2010, it's definitely possible that I'd become utterly disappointed. I imagine you can easily feel a bit lonely and lost, because of the scale of it.

On the other hand - there will surely be some initiatives to make smaller, more cozy meet-ups for the community during those days. I know Twisted Nether are planning for something, and there will be others.

Actually I think that's the part of the convention that I'm most envious of - the opportunity to hang out with people in the community in real life.

It was the same thing with the SF conventions I used to attend. Many times I didn't bother all that much about the official scheduled program. It was nice that it was there; I might watch a bit of it. But the best conventions were often the ones where I missed almost every single panel or speech since I had too much fun sitting in the bar, talking to other fanzine editors, just relaxing.

Wil Wheaton's homesickness
The other day I stumbled upon the brilliant blog by Wil Wheaton. (BTW I must have been living under a rock to miss this one for so long, it's really a shame.) He quoted a few lines from the keynote speech that he held at PAX, some sort of gaming convention that was recently held. And I couldn't help smiling, because I could recognize his sentiments so well:

All of the things that make us weird and strange in the real world? Those things that people tease us for loving, those things that we seem to care about more than everyone else at work or school? Those things make us who we are, and when we’re at PAX, we don’t have to hide them or explain them or justify them to anyone; instead, we celebrate and share them.

We have come here this weekend, and we will go to PAX Prime in Seattle in August, and we will be back here in a year, and back there next year, and the year after, and the year after that, because just playing games isn’t nearly as fun as playing them – together – surrounded by thousands of people who love them as much as you do.

And in the post he also added a few concluding lines as he was sitting in his hotel room and the convention was about to end:

as I sat on my bed in the hotel, zoning out at something stupid on television while my HP and Manna bars slowly climbed out of the red, I began to feel a familiar sense of ennui. I feel this way every time a PAX is over: a sense of sadness and loss that I've never really been able to identify more eloquently than "post-PAX blues." A fellow PAX attendee e-mailed me this morning, though, and summed up the feeling in one word: Homesickness. I'm home, yet I feel homesick. I know that may sound weird, but it perfectly sums up how I feel today.

Wil's post is about PAX and not about Blizzcon. However this is exactly how I picture it would be for me to go there.

I've never been to Blizzcon. I probably never will. But the thought of it makes me homesick.