Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Re: WoW is dying

Is there any existing game that has received as many death sentences as WoW? I doubt it. WoW has been "dying" almost since it was launched, if you would listen to the community.

For some reason players who leave WoW don't just silently cancel their subscriptions when they've decided to move on. Oh no. They feel compelled to make a Grand Exit, delivering the Breaking News that WoW, the most successful MMO ever released is on the verge of a Catastrophe and as a matter of fact is DYING. It is! It's just everyone else is blind to it. But now there will be a change to this, since finally someone dares to speak up, saying that the emperor that people are blind to it. Now there will be a change though, that someone FINALLY points out that the emperor isn't wearing anything at all.

If you look at the official forums there is always at least one of those "I'm leaving WoW so now it's dying" threads that is up for discussion. And the funny thing is that this has been the case for over three years now, if not more.

Dying back in 2007
Recently someone managed to dig up a post like this by bumping it in our realm forum. This thread dates back to April 2007 and is actually quite fun to read to a newbie like me. Some complaints about attunements are a bit outdated, while others, concerning lack of new content, easily could have been written 2010.

At the time this forum post was published, I had barely started to play WoW at all. I would believe I was somewhere around level 50, I had only seen a handful of five man instances and not even a fragment of what the game had to offer. It seemed like a magical, endless world to me, full of mysteries and unknown territories to explore. And I can assure you that the idea that this in fact was a dying game never crossed my mind.

But the poster apparently had thought a lot about it during the 280 played days he had at his main character. Which I must say was quite an achievement considering it's written back in April 2007. No wonder the poor guy got bored! I would like to see that game that wouldn't bore you with that excessive amount of playing over such a short time! He must have played almost every hour he was awake, apart from when he was sleeping and eating then. Was there even time to work?

So WoW has been dying since back in the beginning of 2007 and if you looked further I wouldn't be surprised if you could find even earlier rants like this. It honestly makes it a little bit difficult to take the similar labeled posts as by today with any huge amount of seriousness.

The sad thing is that some of those "WoW is dying" posts actually contain some pretty good and interesting analyses, which could provide food-for-thought in the future development. Therefore it's such a pity that those valid points disappears. If I was a Blizzard employee I'm pretty certain that a "WoW is dying" topic name would be enough for me to dismiss a post and put it in the trash bin.

Could it be true?
But let's change perspective for a second. Could there actually be something in this? After all, as I've mentioned before every brand, every product has a certain lifecycle and according to the theories they'll die eventually, unless you reinvest and revitalize them.

The world hasn't yet seen any computer game that could match Chess in longevity. WoW will have to die at some point, so why not now? And after all I've seen and mentioned the current lull in the game myself. It doesn't take a generous to see that many players are on a break now. How can you be so sure they'll come back for Cataclysm?

Well, the truth is of course a well kept secret at the Blizzard HQ. I don't know how much value you should put into what they told their shareholders at the meet-up they hold for the investors at E3 (which is available for anyone to listen to after registration). Of course they have every reason in the world to say that everything is just fine. If you go to the end of the recording, about 1.34, the Blizzard representative gets exactly this question. His answer is that they're optimistic since new content is coming this year and this is the biggest growth driver. He also talks at length about the China market, where they still haven't launched Wrath, but have good hopes to do so "soon".

It's possible - even likely that WoW is stagnating in Europe and North America. Probably even declining as we're waiting for Cataclysm. But this can hardly equal to that the game is dying, especially considering that it's still giving the company a revenue that seems to be decent to say the least.

If you're interested in the financial state of Blizzard-Activision, Gronthe at Deuwowlity did an in-depth analysis of this in a recent blogpost. Go read it unless you haven't already! What he describes is a company that certainly is in a risky business, but you can't really see that their flagship would be in the danger of an immediate death.

The reasons behind
So why do players insist on claiming that WoW is dying? I can't help thinking it's a case of magical thinking. They overrate their own importance and influence on the success of WoW.

Maybe it's also a step in their own process of detaching themselves from the game. Many players have witnessed about what a firm hold WoW can have on you. Even if you want to quit you might find it hard, due to habit or addiction, whatever you prefer to call it, and the social networks you've built through it.

If you call a death sentence over the game you're leaving, I can imagine it will become easier to stick to your decision. You can tell yourself that the game is dead anyway, so why bother to play it?

The truth is that the WoW as you got to know it when you started to play might die. The game might feel dead to you if you don't approve of the changes. But this doesn't mean that there aren't others who think the opposite. New generations of WoW players will come with their own expectations and wishes, which might look quite different to the ones of the players who have been around since beta.

The game changes. We may or may not like those changes. If you don't like them - feel free to criticise them! My favorite angry podcaster Totalbiscuit has recently excelled in colorful rip-into-pieces rants about the terrible state WoW is in and how disappointed he is about the way that Cataclysm is turning out. He has hence cancelled his preorder of it. But you don't hear him saying "WoW is dying". Bacause such claims are just stupid.

WoW still attracts huge amounts of paying customers. It sells very well, according to Dwism - even at this point with Cataclysm yet-to-be-launched. I'd be damned if it would die anytime soon.

My interest for the game might die. But in the end I'm just a very small, barely noticable fish in the pond.

Monday, June 28, 2010

From purples to blues - will a bit of dye bring back the epic feeling?

Blizzard are planning to restore the epic feeling to epic items in Cataclysm, according to a blue blue answer from Ancilorn in a forum thread .

The original poster did a simple search at Wowhead and came up with some numbers that speak for themselves:

Epic: 7843 items found
Rare: 5307 items found
Uncommon: 7503 items found

Ahem. Epic items are more common than greens? The writer says that he doesn't understand how to translate the word "epic" anymore , and it's hard not to agree with him.

And to my surprise, that's exactly what the Blizzard (ex) community manager Ancilorn does:

"Well, hopefully this comes as good news. We're actually working on restoring the epic feeling to epic items in Cataclysm. Epic loot should be epic, and something to be very proud of. Our plan is to try and get the Heroic -> Blue Gear and Raid -> Purple Gear balance back."

Wryxian shares a little bit more of their current thoughts on this later in the thread:

"we have the data on who's getting epics from raids and who's getting them purely from heroics for instance and we're happy with our new plans for balancing the distribution of epic gear in Cataclysm and with the number of people that will be affected by this change.

Of course, plans are never set in stone and we're not at this time announcing details concerning other routes to procure epics -- if indeed there even are any other methods of obtaining them, but it is currently our intention that raids will be the main source of the purple gear that seemed so much more epic in the original iteration of the game especially."
Apparently it's not just the player base that thinks that the epic inflation has gone too far in Wrath. Blizzard agrees that they have a problem.

You see the more epics that are handed out to the players, the less enjoyment and thrill does each one give us. Any parent could have told them this. There comes a certain breaking point at Christmas Day when the child doesn't get excited and happy about additional gifts. It leaves them indifferent or even worse - cranky and nauseous since it's gotten out of their hands.

They don't want to give us any details yet, saying: " what comparisons can be made between the quality of emblem gear and that which is obtained in raids are details that we are not quite ready to reveal. "

If we should speculate a little bit on this though, it sounds very possible to me that they're about to do a philosophy change when it comes to the badge gear equivalence in Cataclysm so that you don't get purples any more, just shiny, rare and powerful blues. And maybe, just maybe, they will ration the epics in 5-man instances as well, handing them out more rarely - if at all.

Will it work?
So what should you make of this change? Do I think it's a good idea? Yes, I think it is!

I know this sounds a bit silly, but I actually believe that just a simple color change would be enough to achieve what they want to. It wouldn't take that much superior stats; as a matter of fact they probably could be the same. A different color and a lower prevalence of the items could be all that it would take to bring back a bit of the exclusiveness, the epic feeling of the epics.

If you got your tier piece by blood, sweat and tears, spending hours wiping and learning an encounter, as opposed to pugging hundreds of faceroll 5-man instances, you want it to show - even if just by cosmetics. It won't bother those raiders that much if someone grabs their tier gear a few months later - as long as you can spot some sort of difference - even if only cosmetic. You can call it childish as much as you want to, but a little bit of "bragging rights" is - if not the core of the game - at least a part of the fun for many players.

I don't think Blizzard has much of a choice to be honest. Getting major upgrades - after going through certain hardships and frustrations -is one of the things that makes your heart leap up and gives you a thrill in game. Without it, the game feels more and more blend - not only to the bleeding edge raiders, but to everyone. They need to bring back this excitement somehow. An alternative could have been to introduce yet another "out-of-space-magnificent-godlike" item level, labeled "argent", "golden" or whatever, degrading the legendaries to a new sort of purples. But I don't think they or anyone else really wanted that.

Increase the diversity
Will someone complain about the change? Probably - yes. You can't please everyone. There will be some players who feel "entitled" to purples who will be annoyed if they can't get them like they used to do in Wrath. I can already hear the complains that they'll be "forced" into raiding to get their epic set.

But mind you, just because they'll become more rare, it doesn't mean that non-raiders will be deprived of any possibility of character progression. And it won't lock out late-comers from the chance to catch up on gear by grinding instances and crafting. The color might change, but I'm certain Blizzard will stick to the philosophy that good gear should be obtainable in many different ways.

I think it's good because it will increase the diversity among the characters - especially if they'll bother about making more differently looking gear while they're at it. I think the game turns boring when everyone looks more or less exactly the same.

And hopefully it won't take too much long before we get used to it and start to see blue gear as what it's supposed to be - really good gear to strive for and be pride about, gear that is absolutely viable for most raiding purposes if you just bother to look at the stats and not just at the color.

Raiding in blues. Maybe that's what we'll all be doing in Cataclysm? I really hope so.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Midsummer Snap(s)shots

You’re innkeeper isn’t here today. It’s just my voice. As you’re reading this post the real life Larísa is most likely swirling around in a pole dance.

Not in Azeroth though, I’m done with those. It’s funny how achievement driven those seasonal events are. Since I have the title already, I can’t motivate myself to do anything in it, apart from possibly tossing the dices and see if I’ll get the vanity pet of the year.

I’m taking a couple of days off from everything WoW, to celebrate Midsummer in Swedish style. It’s just as silly as the in-game version, if not worse. Grown-ups are imitating frogs, jumping around gigantic flower decorated phalloses, worshipping the light that for a few sweet days briefly breaks up the Nordic darkness. And on top of this huge amounts of snaps, indulged whilst singing traditional songs.

Here's your guide on how-to-do-it if you want to try it for yourself.
While you’re imagining this gnome doing her pole dance of the year, I’ll share a couple of snaps(shots) from the past week.

1. My thoughts about Real ID
Let’s start with Real ID and be done with it. Probably you don’t want to hear another word on this matter. And mind you – we haven’t seen it in Europe next. So we might have yet another week of blogging about it to look forward to – the European bloggers should get their shot at it too, I suppose.

I haven’t got much to say about it though. I’ve raged a good many times before about integrity, such as the activity feed in Armory that you can’t hide, which I still think is a bad idea. But this feature is different because it’s voluntary. I can’t stress this enough many times.

It’s not for me; I barely know anyone ingame who’d come up with the idea to exchange e-mail addresses and I can’t see myself using it. I agree that it breaks the immersion for the ones who use it. So what? If people want to move their MSN into game, let them do it. It doesn’t affect MY gaming experience the slightest. The Noisy Rogue sees conspiracies:

"They did not put this in out of the love of their hearts so teenagers can communicate more. They did it for purely finacial reasons, some of which perhaps are not that clear. Right now it is optional. We’ll see about the future. "

Hm. I love conspiracy theories, who doesn’t? But I’m afraid I can’t really follow the idea of this one. My current sentiments towards Real ID is: /shrug.

2. Why we need the casuals
In case you missed it, I suggest that you go and read a post by Systematic babble on the topic of elitism and if hardcore players should get themselves an exclusive MMO of them own.

Systematic bubbles argues why players at both end of the scale of skill and dedication benefits from playing together. He reminds us that casual players actually are the ones that flesh out the world.

“Casual players, despite the scorn heaped on them by self-styled hardcore players are vitally important for the success of online worlds; they form the constant buzz of activity that is the backbone of any good game. Sure, these casual players may not know how to grind efficiently from level one to the cap, they may not have mastered the combat system, and they may be dreadfully unreliable for guilds striving to constantly progress through the endgame, but they are more important than most players are willing to admit. […]

Not only that, causal players act to fill up a world, and make it seem massive. While hardcore players are often grinding as fast as possible and trying to maximize their playtime, casual players can be seen filling up the landscape – sometimes in areas that would be desolate if not for their ignorance of the “best” route to the end game. Towns are abuzz with casual players hanging out, chatting, and just generally filling up space. Battle grounds and PvP areas are populated by these noobs, most of which the hardcore take great pleasure pwning. An MMO without a casual base would be much different beast from a game where all types of player is welcomed; casual-friendly games feel alive.”

That’s damned well said if you ask me. Over the time I’ve been playing WoW it has become clear to me how important the player density is. An MMO where you don’t meet a soul feels dead. This has bugged me quite a bit as I’ve been trying out LOTRO.

I’ve hardly met a single living soul in the entire Shire . Now I’ve ventured for Bree, hoping that the somewhat bigger city would attract some more players, but there’s no difference. It’s void and creepy and the NPCs that are around just can’t make up for it.

Casual’s flesh out the world. Indeed.

3. Voice IP in game – a waste of effort?
The official WoW website has published another five year anniversary interview with a staff member, this time the production director J. Allen Brack. Like the previous interviews it’s a good read. What I especially noted in this one was that they’ve changed their method of designing the game completely. They used to make one zone at a time, working it to perfection before moving on to the next one. Nowadays they work on several zones at a time in a way more flexible and easy-to-change manner.

He shares stories from his own experiences as a WoW player. Apparently he’s playing multiple hours a week and has just killed the Lich King.

He reveals that they try to keep the design team focused on doing what they’re best at – making the game. When they’re doing work on the side projects, such as the Battle Net system, designing plushies or making racial changes available, they bring in their seniors, such as Alex Afrasiabi and Tom Chilton.

He also talks a bit about the design team – at this point about 140 people and still growing. Whenever they bring in someone new they have the ritual to bring them up in front of the entire team, telling about themselves, where they’re coming from and what they’re exciting about doing. Even if the team is big, they try to be a close-knit group – a family.

What stood out most to me in the interview though was the following:
“From a development standpoint, one of the things that have taken me the most by surprise is the introduction of voice chat in World of Warcraft. It seems straightforward, but it ended up taking far longer than we expected. We had to rewrite a lot of the sound implementation to make it work; we ended up making a number of mistakes in terms of how we did it. The amount of time we ended up sinking into that feature was far more than I expected -- it doesn't seem like a complicated feature, but it is.”
Heh. Considering how few players I’ve ever met that use this feature, I wonder if they’re really happy about this time investment. Was I worth it?

4. This week’s raiding
I’ve only been into one raid since last week. It was an “interesting” experience, as our diplomatic raid leader put it. Our 25 man raids are far and few between these days, so we take turns in running the 10 mans. Tuesday night the turn had come to me to be in the raid. LK was all that remained in ICC and we barely could get a team going, due to tank shortage. We ended up with a reserve tank, one of our ret paladins who used his off-off-spec and dressed up in his so-and-so gear.

For this reason we decided not to even bother to try LK on heroic mode, but we spiced it up with an achievement, Been waiting a long time for this. How many tries do you think we needed? He was one-shotted. One-shotted. I felt cheated.

After this we swapped out a couple of members in the party, and headed to Ulduar to get a few more achievements and hardmodes under our belts. And do you know what happened? We wiped at Freya trash! I’m not sure, but I think one of my mirror images decided to play a little prank and ran off, pulling several more bunches of trash mobs out of the blue.

I think it’s a natural law in raiding though: The more overgeared we become, the sloppier we play.

The end-of-the-week toast
And now, as a homage to the Swedish customs I’ll end this week, bringing out a Midsummer toast.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ask Larísa: How do I help my better half to become a better player?

The other day I got a letter. It came from a fellow blogger, Zekta, from P3P.net, who wanted a piece of advice. From me of all people! I can assure you I grew several inches. He seemed to think that I was some sort of Guinan figure, standing in her bar, listening to the customers, cracking sound advice with a touch of eerie mystery. Of course I'm not anywhere close to be anything like her. But it's nice to pretend!

I thought the best way to deal with this letter was to post it here, giving the other bar guests the chance to add their two cents to help out Zekta. And with this introduction I'll give the word to Zekta:


Dear Larísa,

This is Zekta from P3P.net I would like some advice. I guess many people had asked the same question before, but this really puzzle me, and I don't know where to look for the answer. So here I am, in the bar talking to you. Being one of the most intelligent Gnome I know on Azeroth, may be you can shed some light on the mist.

Last year, my better half decided to join me in Azeorth (with her hunter and after I asked too many time), so that we can "stay" together in our gaming time as well. Everything goes well, I had to teach her most of the thing and protect her on some dreadful situation. We enjoy every bit of that, and We dash thru Azeorth, Outland and finally Northern.

Finally her toon is now 80 level, and as we all know, there aren't much thing left to do. I am sure PVP is not her type, cause she value more cooperative gameplay, But I am hesitate to bring her to the PuG as well. Most people in PuG is in a rush and unforgiving, I wonder how she would learn the skill of a decent player. While we are so get used to it, avoiding danger (The classic don't stand in the fire), OT and DPSing may not be as simple as it looks. I expect much from other PuGer myself as well, so I am not sure where to take her to, while I can guide her thru the moves.

I had tried couples of dungeon (including Lord Ahune) run while I run with my Restro Shaman (While I can reduce the chance of wipe), I hardly had time to provide advice while I am busying filling health bars. I don't have much RL friend in game that are still playing, so there aren't any "training session" I can organise. (Unless it's 70-level).

What should I do? Queue up PuG with a DPS with her? Pug on normal? Solo run 70- instance? Or do you happens to know where I can look up information for a new player.

I personally had a Hunter as well, so I know the class In and Out. But the basic instance run info, It's hard to explain for me. (Since we are too used to it)

I really want her to enjoy the game... But I gotta have place to let her know about the basics, so that if any player complains at her, she'll know if their point is valid. (And we know that how many clueless Pug finger pointer is out here)

I think there are many other people had the same problem too. The instance difficulties now is too easy for old player(Us), but still kinda harsh for new player...


Zekta Chan

Larísa's answer:

Dear Zekta,

I don't know you and you the lady of your heart in real life, so please forgive me if I'm jumping into the wrong conclusions after reading your letter. But to me it appears as if you're very protective towards her. You seem to be anxious to make sure that she's having a good time in Azeroth and that she won't stumble into some jerk, calling her names, making her feel uncomfortable. You're also very keen to shield her against potential failures, going as far as to play a healing shaman to compensate for her possible mistakes.

The question is: has she really asked you for all this help? Are you sure that she wants it? Could it be so that she might need a little space, so she could get the chance and the pleasure to figure out a few things on her own?

You see: the barkskin of a player doesn't grow overnight from nowhere. It's like learning to ride a bicycle. You need to fall a couple of times before you get it. Doesn't she deserve to enjoy the learning process like you did once upon a time, without feeling the pressure that she should catch up with you so you can play harder content together?

I've never played together with my better half. But I've read quite a few blog posts on the topic. Some bloggers obviously have a fantastic experience playing together as a couple. They enjoy having an interest in common and whenever they're online they're in a team. My impression though is that many of those happy gaming lovers actually don't live together. They use Azeroth as a way to see each other online between their real life meetings.

On the other hand - I've read more than once about couples where both play WoW, but on different servers and even on different factions. Sometimes it's because they enjoy different parts of the game, but there's also an element of getting personal space for themselves. As Spinksville noted in a blog post, where she described how she and her boyfriend were living in a small one-bedroom flat, where there wasn't much "solo room" for anyone. "And sometimes, being logged into the computer and playing a single player game almost felt as though it genuinely did add some virtual space to the house."

This quote is taken a bit out of context, but I still think you should really think about it carefully. Helping your girl friend is absolutely a good thing to do, but you might want to do things on your own, just for your own pleasure from time to time. And the same goes for her.

Ways to coach
With this out of the way: let's move on to your question. If you both agree on that you want to play together, if she really wants your help and if you enjoy being her teacher, where should you start to help her climb in the learning curve?

Well, to me it sounds as if you think that she might still lack a few basic skills that an all-round hunter should master. Maybe she needs to work out and practice on things as rotations, misdirecting, kiting and putting up traps. You can do this in several ways and I think you should try to vary it as much as possible.

Above all: don't worry at this stage about character advancement, loot drops or achievements. It's not important. What you want to do is to give her the chance to practice and improve in a non-hostile environment, where she'll get experience and hopefully also a little boost to her self confidence, which many new players need.

Seek out challenges that you can do as a duo to begin with. Do whatever group quests you can find in Northrend, just the two of you. At least the five-man quests should give you some resistance. Training sessions in a low-level instance is also a great idea.

Also remember: you don't have to be in the same group as her when you want to coach her. Try to vary the coaching a bit. You could for instance let her pug normal level 80 instances on her own. Instead of playing on your toon you could sit beside her, seeing exactly what maneuvers she does with her mouse and keystrokes, what spells she takes, how she reacts in certain situations. You can even ask her to comment on what she's doing aloud, letting her explain why she does what she does. With the knowledge of her actions and her reasoning, you'll be able to give way better feedback to her.

Another variant of this could be to switch roles. You said you know how to play a hunter. Well do that! Borrow her toon or pick out your own hunter if it's still around. Show her how you play it, tell her exactly what you're doing and what's going on in your mind.

Yet another idea is to find a few good instance videos that you could show her, preferably with hunters around. Watch them together and guide her through them, pointing out essentials that you think she could learn from.

Talking about online-resources: provided that she doesn't mind reading - why don't you send her to the blogopshere? I know The Hunter's Mark and Aspect of the Hare both have guides on different aspects, but there are surely many others as well. For some reason hunter's seem to blog and podcast more than other classes. They're there to be read and used!

Not overdoing it
Last but not least: there's nothing wrong with putting up a boot camp to get her going, helping her to grasp the basics of the game. Just be careful not to overdo it, not to be too pushy and enthusiastic about it. And know when it's time step back and let her try her wings in a PUG without you hanging around in the party trying to save her.

Zekta: you should put some trust in your girl friend! She can probably do much better without you than you imagine already. Eventually you have to give her the chance to grow on her own. She deserves it like every player does.



So this was the answer that your innkeeper could come up with. But if there are any bar guests who have more suggestions to Zekta, please speak up!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Private WoW teacher for hire

A little more than a year ago, I asked: why is it normal to consult a teacher when you want to learn how to ride a snowboard, but you won't see anyone offering to learn you how to play a tank in WoW? It's acceptable to take skiing lessons, but we expect everyone to learn how to master the game by their own means.

My idea about veterans offering lessons in WoW was pretty well received in the comments, and some experienced players shared stories from their past where they had been the mentor for a newbie player, and how much they had enjoyed doing this.

I never wrote clearly how I thought the willing teacher should be paid; actually I never thought about it much at the point I wrote the post. I guess I assumed that it would be payment in gold, similar to how Gevlon paid for raid spots at that time. People are paying gold for boosts, why not pay for knowledge? And my readers probably assumed the same. The real life commercial side of it never became any issue in the discussion.

Coaching for money
Now I’ve seen this teacher-for-hire idea come true for the first time, thanks to a post at Consider This. The story is that a fury warrior, who seems to be well known in warrior circles, deeply involved in the EJ forums and a raider in one of the top guilds of the world, is offering coaching services at 24 dollars an hour.

Consider is very critical about this, and concludes that “no player out there is so dim-witted whereas they need a paid service and no player is so amazing that they’re worth paying for such a service.”

His major objections are:
  1. The game is fairly simple and there are a ton of free resources to help you out if you need
  2. The warrior in question isn’t that great. Why pay for someone who isn’t actually the best?
  3. Others can’t teach you to react to the unexpected – which is what being a good player is all about. To be truly competitive with the best, you’re going to have to be able to think on your own, and a coaching service doesn’t make you do that.

He finally offers anyone who needs advice on how to play their DK a free service – through mail, MSN or even on vent.

“But whatever else, please god, never pay someone for such junk. Not for a game. Not for WoW.”

Why I don't mind
So what’s my view on this? Well, not so surprisingly, considering I suggested WoW teaching services in the first place, I’m not as disturbed as Consider.

It certainly makes more sense to me to pay 25 dollars for personal tutoring of one of the 100 best players in the world than to pay the equal amount for a silly sparkling pony.

The way I’m playing the game, I don’t see any need to consult such a teacher myself, (provided that there was one available for mages).

I’m playing in a guild which although it’s The Best in its kind and holds my heart, honestly can’t claim to be on the bleeding edge of raiding. I don’t have any ambitions to make a WoW career, aiming for a spot in Ensidia. I’m not going anywhere. But suppose I did? If I really had that drive, if I really wanted to become the best in the world in my class, why wouldn’t I try an hour of personal coaching? I’d soon enough find out if it actually resulted in any improvement.

I agree that there’s a ton of information available for free. Provided that you have unlimited of time at hands you could probably learn most of the stuff that this coach could tell you by looking it up yourself. But at least the mage forums at EJ (I can’t tell about the others) is currently a mess, a jungle to get lost in, a time sink I could live without.

I don’t think that this guy is scamming players. He’s made an offer and if people are happing to pay for the service, I don’t mind.

Will it work?
The next question is: will the warrior get any customers?

To be honest I doubt it. The players who are ambitious enough to want to learn from the best are probably a little too cocky to admit that they have a lesson to learn. And the casuals who know that they’re not the best, aren’t motivated enough to pay to get better.

The biggest problem however is the timing. It’s summer and there’s end-of-expansion-blues in the air. The people who are still into progression raiding are pretty clear by now on the best specs, gear and rotations. The market will probably be better once Cataclysm has arrived and people are still in confusion, trying to navigate through the information overload.

But I still think that most players are pretty reluctant to pay real life money for this. In game gold would work better. On the other hand – these days when the gold is flowing on the streets I suppose that very few top players would be willing to sell their time for such a trivial reward.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Does jumping straight into heroics at 80 make me a leech?

Do you always pull your own weight in a group? Does it make you cringe if you don’t? And how do you tell if a healer is carried in a five-man group? Can he or she basically be carried at all? And is it OK to jump straight into heroics as soon as you’ve dinged 80? This is the topic for today’s discussion at the Pink Pigtail Inn.

I’m in a confessional mood today, so let’s start it from there.

The shame of being carried
I can as well tell you right away: I haven’t always pulled my own weight in groups over the years I’ve been playing. There have been moments when my mage has been crawling in the sewer below the tank, barely beating the healer on the damage chart.

And the funny thing is that for a long while I had no idea that I actually was carried. I didn’t have any damage meter or even know that such things existed. I felt ashamed when it dawned upon me, Swedish as I am.

You see one of the most conspicuous national traits of our people is the obsession with the idea of being self sufficient. As a good Swede you’re not supposed to owe anyone else anything at any time. This shows in situations which probably would look pretty hilarious to an outsider.

In other countries – as I’ve been told – it’s considered normal, polite and expected that if you’re visiting a restaurant, someone will take the bill for the entire party. They know that next time someone else will pay and eventually it will even out. But so not in Sweden, oh no! In a Swedish restaurant, the bill will be split up. And sharing it evenly isn’t enough; every one will scrutinize the receipt, not hesitating to ask the serving staff for a calculator if necessary to make sure that no one by accident will pay a single cent more than they should. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen parties ending a lovely dinner spending 15-20 minutes or even more on the payment procedure.

Coming from this, you can imagine how I feel if I notice I’m falling behind in an instance party. It makes me cringe.

It happens – rarely - that I’m in the opposite situation, topping the damage chart in my PUG group thanks to superior gear. I don’t mind at all. I will carry my less fortunate fellow dps:ers and I’ll smile happily on the way! All I ask for is that they do their best, contributing with whatever they can. So what if it takes us a little bit longer to beat the content? Given the choice between being carried or carrying others as a dps:er, I’ll go for the last option, any day.

Struggling in normals
However: the last few days I’ve once again found myself in the role of a leech. At least I think I’ve been leeching, I’m not entirely sure. Judge for yourself.

The story is that I’ve finally gotten my third character to level 80 and like most players in this situation, I boldly ventured on my dungeon-grinding tour, hoping to gear up the druid, improve my healing skills and have some fun on the way.

To begin with I only signed up for the normal modes, even though the dungeon finder would admit me into several of the heroics. After all, I was dressed in blues. Shouldn’t I at least get myself some emblem gear and a few crafted purple pieces, maybe buying some BoE:s, before stepping up in difficulty level? As the “good girl” and Swede I am, I wanted to make sure that I did the “right thing”.

And maybe it was morally correct, but it certainly gave me a headache. Far from being easier than the heroics, those normal modes were rather a super-hard mode. Every single time I ended up as the only level 80 in a group where everyone else was level 78 or 79. The tanks were without exceptions death knights, and suddenly the name of the class got an entirely new meaning. Death was the word, and my heart sank whenever I saw their squishy little bodies go “splat”. I couldn’t help blaming myself (healer guilt, you know), and I wondered if I had been foolish to believe that I would have what it takes to become a reliable tree. I won’t lie to you; it was pretty depressing.

When I mentioned this to a guildie, he just laughed at my foolishness, saying that I was doing it wrong. Why didn’t I go for the heroics, like everyone else? People are so well geared these days, he said, that they don’t need that much of healing. I would be fine in there.

Reluctantly I gave it a try. It would offer me better loot and more badges, and after all – why should I distrust the gearscore that is built into the dungeon finder tool? If I wasn’t prepared to run a certain instance, I would be locked out from it.

Leeching in heroics
My legs trembled nervously as I entered my first heroic, which turned out to be Gundrak. I greeted the party, and couldn’t refrain from babbling insecurely, asking them to take it a bit careful since I was new to healing and badly geared. They just laughed it away: “No problem, we all have to start somewhere!” and with concern about me, they also made sure to take time to do the extra boss, so I could get a couple of more badges.

My friend had been totally right. The full epic geared warrior tank barely got a scratch, regardless of how big packs he pulled. I dutifully kept dotting people with HoTs, as a safety measure, giving me something to do. But it was barely needed. We reached the end quickly enough without a single death.

Was I carried through the instance? I suppose I was. I doubt the run would have been as smooth if everyone else in the party had been at my gear level. I was relying on them.

Did the group feel that I was a burden, dragging them down? Probably not. I don’t think a better geared healer would have made a huge difference to the run. They might have skipped the extra boss if I wasn’t there, but that’s all. As long as the party stays alive, can you really say that the healer has been carried?

Strengthened by this experience I checked the heroic box for the next instance. And then I did it again. And again. The results were similar: it worked just fine. I wouldn’t do this as a tank, and possibly not as a dps, but I tell you - as a healer, you’re way better off in a heroic instance than in normal.

Yet I can’t rid myself of the nagging suspicion that I was a leech after all. In the end, there were other players who took a bigger share of the bill. I heard this little voice telling me that I should call on the waitress, borrow a calculator, and settle my debts.

This doesn’t prevent me from keep signing up for heroics though. Why would I pick the normal one when all I get is a repair bill and severely bruised self confidence?

Carrying or being carried
A final thought on carrying and being carried. It’s easy to get blinded by the dazzling, seemingly scientific, unquestionable numbers on the damage chart, forgetting about everything else. But the truth is that the guys who are subscribing for the first place in your raid sometimes are carried by they ones who always dwell in the bottom. Only in another sense.

Who is the one who provides the spirit, the force and the giggles that keeps your guild going through times of hardships? What is he if not a carrier, and what is the constantly disgruntled, unsatisfied guy who never provides anything but negative energy, if not a leech?

There are many ways to carry. There are many ways to be carried. And maybe we should do as they do abroad: take turns in paying the bill and feel confident in doing so. It will all even out in the end.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Emotions – and a teaser about my LOTRO experiences

I’ll warn you right away; I’m in an emo mood as I start writing this Friday night musings post. I don’t know why. Or maybe I do, to be honest.

A clash with a reader
The other day I clashed into one of my readers in a discussion in the comment section, which somehow touched on the good old elitist-casual tension.

Normally I can handle criticism pretty well, (or at least I tell myself so). Like Gevlon I keep it at a healthy distance from me, thinking “they can’t hurt me. It’s just pixels, words.” But this discussion for some reason went out of my hands. Which actually was a good thing, as things turned out.

What happened was that we decided to take our little conversation away from the public eye. We sort of sat down at a table of our own where no one could hear us, talking through emails rather than through comments. And you know what? We connected in a way that I don’t think would have been possible without that initial clash. Everything is fine on both sides I’d dare say. But I still feel a bit shaken up after the episode. Emo.

A letter from Gevlon
And here’s another story from the week. The other night I created a little mage alt and had her join Gevlon’s latest experiment guild. I don’t know if I’ll ever run a raid with her, considering that my available time is so limited. However I thought it could be fun to at least have a look at the guild from the inside while levelling her. I’d like to see with my own eyes how the chat might look in this guild where normal social behaviour such as saying “hi”, “bye” and “gz” is frowned upon, a guild full of goblin minded people.

Today I got a concerned letter from Gevlon, asking me if it was the real Larísa and not an impersonator who had joined the guild. He just wanted to make sure, which I can fully understand since he’s been a victim of such pranks himself. I assured him that I was the “real” one indeed. And somehow his question touched me. It made it so obvious that he despite his image actually cares about other things in the world than just gold.

The state of the guild
A third part of my emo state of mind is caused by the condition of our guild. I think we’re still in the post-shock phase of our leaders stepping down. There are so few of us left – 26 active raiders as it is now – that we realistically only rarely will be able to put together a 25 man group. Yesterday we finally could make one for the first time in quite a while. We were a few players short, but still managed to oneshot 10 bosses in 2.5 hours, which isn’t bad, not even with the buff. It was just so sweet to be together again, almost all of us, and the fact that we don’t know how long it will be until next time this happens only added to the sweetness of it.

It’s a rough time for all raiding guilds, but I think everyone who is left with us has a strong wish that we’ll get through this, survive, and make a glorious return in Cataclysm. Thinking about it makes me a bit emo though.

My first dip into LOTRO
As some readers have noticed, I downloaded LOTRO a week ago and signed up for a 14 day free trial. The reactions to this have been fantastic, yet another reason to get a little bit emo. All those concerns! All those comments! I’ve even got several personal letters, encouraging me to try this, suggesting servers and offering help. Thank you all! It really touched me.

Some readers who also are LOTRO fans are a bit worried about what I’ll eventually write about my experiences. Barrista wrote:

“As for your lotro post, I hope it is truly fair, although I don't expect it to be. WoW was my first MMO, but I tend to evaluate things for what they are. I did a bit of "oh blizz does this better", but to do a true evaluation I realized I had to take it as it was. Plus, this is a WoW blog.”
Well, I suppose that my impressions inevitably will be coloured by my WoW glasses. It’s impossible to disregard of them. WoW is the only game I’ve played and see all the time how it partly helps me, partly plays me tricks. I don’t know for instance how many times I’ve tried to open my bags, pressing “B”, getting annoyed when nothing happens.

I don’t think I’m the right person to write a proper full size review of this game, even if I had played it for more than 14 days. I’m just not qualified. But I will write a post in the area of “What a WoW player first will notice when she tries out LOTRO”. I think it might have some sort of interest to all of you who consider to check it out once it goes free.

I’m not ready to do it quite yet though. I need to spend a few more hours in the Shire to make up my mind.

But I can tell you one thing already: It’s hard to wind down from the pace in WoW and I have to struggle a bit with myself to do it. It’s as if you’ve been running around for a long time with tense shoulders and now are trying to relax, letting them down. They’re like stuck. I have to assure myself that it’s OK to run around delivering hot pies and solving riddles, picking the eggs in the right order. I do enjoy this, if I only can allow myself to relax and smell the flowers, watch the clouds (which are incredibly well done and beautiful by the way.)

One more thing: I love to kill mobs by music. It looks so silly that I crack up every single time. And it seems as if I can vary it; If I grow tired of my harp I can grab my flute! I don’t know if there’s any difference in how well they do their job. And I don’t care! Because I’m not planning to max out anything here except for my level of entertainment.

Who can be emo and melancholic when there’s a merry little hobbit is jumping around, playing a ballad? I can’t. So let’s cheer up a bit!

I hope you’ll all get a wonderful weekend, wherever you choose to spend it – in Azeroth, the Shire or maybe out in the real world.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Defias were scary enough to me

"Give us harsher death penalties!"

No, this view doesn't originate from me. I think you knew that. I'm just referring one of those ideas that pops up in the blogosphere every now and then.

This time it's Wolfshead who has picked it up in an - as always - interesting and eloquent post about the lack of real risks to the player in modern MMOs. Once again I can't unconditionally make a /sign on what he says. But on the other hand, I guess that's just as good, because if I could there wouldn't be much of a discussion.

The dumbed down game
I must admit that I'm a little bit surprised to see this coming from Wolfshead of all bloggers. After all he has earlier described himself as some sort of spokesman for the casual gamer, and he has always talked passionately about the need for virtual worlds and not just theme parks. Guild houses and that kind of fluffy, cute and far from risky things. Now he sounds more like an elitist minded veteran jerk, complaining about how the casuals and noobs have ruined it all, longing back to vanilla WoW when only the REAL players had access to the raid instances and you had to work HARD to EARN your EPICS.

He says straight out that the MMOs (read WoW I suppose) have been dumbed down:

"MMOs are dying a death of a thousand cuts as the unintended consequence of meddling game designers eager to “improve” their MMOs by dumbing-down their mechanics has eviscerated the end user experience that made MMOs so unique. The sense of challenge, danger and mystery has been replaced by a feeling of entitlement, security and predictability."
He accuses the MMOs of today for giving the players praise and status they don't deserve, granting them too easy character progression, showering them with loot and de-emphasizing player ability and skill.

Gosh. I don't think Wolfshead would like to have me in his raid. I can vividly imagine how he'd call me out when I failed at a defile. "LTP, noob! You don't deserve to be here!"

As a symptom of this "convenience-driven" gameplay, Wolfshead talks about the "trivialization" of the death penalty.
"Because of this, death has been rendered meaninglessness in most MMOs. Players lose any respect they had for dying and death itself. Failure has a token cost of a few coins. Players lose any respect they had for dying and death itself. Failure has a token cost of a few coins."
Wolfshead argues why an element of real risk - and the fear that comes with it - should be brought back into the games, not just because it fosters better, more skilled players, but also because it's more fun.
"The ability to risk is what separates the men from the boys. The potential to lose everything is what makes high stakes games worth playing."
Rose-colored lenses of nostalgia
As so often with Wolfshead, his post has sparked a very good discussion in the comment section. I find myself most of all agreeing with Scott from Pumping Irony, who says:

"There can be plenty of risk but the bottom line is not all of us who used to have all day every day to play these games can do so anymore. We’ve grown up just like the developers have grown up. The new kids might actually be kids with the time we used to have but the companies still want us playing because we’re the ones making the money. I don’t want to have to run a corpse around to get my stuff. It’s just boring and yes, it is absolutely inconvenient. I don’t need to “win” every battle but I don’t feel a need to be further punished for “losing” one either. "
Wolfshead argues:
"Don’t people want to feel excitement, danger, the thrill of living on the edge at least virtually? That’s what I used to feel when I first played MMOs. Seeing my first Ancient Cyclops, camping for my Ghoulbane. Seeing Sand Giants for the first time. The awe and wonder are gone."
Scott counters bluntly that Wolfshead simply is looking back through the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia:

“Seeing” your first Ancient Cyclops? “Seeing” your first Sand Giants? Of course the “awe and wonder” are gone. They were gone the second and third time you saw Ancient Cyclops and Sand Giants, as well. There’s no “risk” in “seeing” things; there *might* be “risk” associated with getting to where these things are, however, and that has not changed even in today’s MMO’s

Like anything else when it comes to nostalgia, “you can never go home again,” or "nothing compares to the first love,” or any other number of quaint catch-phrases to sum up the fact that a substitute will never recapture those raw emotions we felt on the First Time

Again, someone could make your Perfect MMO with all the risk, challenge, whatever else you think you want now and it would all pale because you’ve been there, done that. That’s just life man."
Enough of quoting, I hope I've tickled you enough to read the post for yourself and make an opinion about it.

Larísa's view
I'll also add a few thoughts of my own. As I've hinted, I believe the death penalty in WoW, consisting of a repair bill and a loss of time, spent on corpse running, is big enough as it is.

Take progression raiding. When I'm engaged into beating a difficult encounter, the world outside of it ceases to exist. I'm involved, present, committed and motivated to do my very best as it is. I, like any other raider HATE to fail and to lose, especially if it's "my fault", and I take every single try very seriously, trying my best to control my emotions of disappointment and frustration when we miss out. When we finally, after all those endless corpse runs succeed, I tell you I'm triumphantly happy about it. It doesn't take permanent loss of gear or xp to get me there. I'm excited anyway.

But even if you look in the other extreme end of the game, there's definitely room for fear in WoW as it is now.

I'll take take an example from my first experiences in WoW, in the beginning of 2007, when I rolled a paladin, my first gaming toon ever. Wolfshed, I assure you that I went through a ton of trouble and that I was scared and frustrated enough.

The Defias band members kept running after and killing me over and over again, while I helplessly tried to understand how to control the camera, the mouse and what the concept of questing meant. And I actually was pretty close to giving up and quitting the game when I believed my character had become infected with an incurable disease. (The yellow/red man in the vanilla UI, meaning you need to repair, which I couldn't figure out.) I hoped it would wear away, but it didn't. My character just kept dying if someone as much as looked on her and I wondered if I'd ever learn to play this game. Finally I decided to desert her, rolling a new toon, a certain mage, which still is alive and kicking. I was still pretty scared of the mean trolls in Don Morough, but at least I learned how to repair.

Admittedly the mobs in the starter zones are yellow these days and won't aggro unless attacked, so probably new players have no reason to be as afraid as I was. A good change if you ask me. But soon enough they'll reach Duskwood, where the wolves and spiders still are hungry and aggressive and the corpse runs are endless. They have every reason in the world to be cautious.

I can still remember the excitement as I brave but clueless ran through it, dying quite a few times on the way, not really knowing what I was doing or where I was going, only that it was scary as hell. If I had lost XP and not just gotten eaten by the wolves, would that have made it more fun? Not very likely.

The second time around
I don't think the problem is that the games have become slightly less annoying and harsh, and that this has destroyed the experience. I think the issue is that every player eventually will change as they've learned and seen the basic concepts of MMOs. You can try to evoke thrills with increasing amounts of stimuli, but I only think it helps you to a certain point.

You can't ever repete the very first love experience you get with an MMO.

I'm currently having a brief and curious look at LOTRO. It's very charming in many ways (I'll write a report on my impressions soon, I promise!). But it's not the same thrill as it was to enter WoW.

This is not because the lack of risks as I'm delivering pies and eggs in delightful little quests within the Shire. It's because it's the second time around.

And no death penalty in the world can change this.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Was it Greed or Need That Made Blizzard Kill their Darlings?

Lonomonkey made a very colorful post where he analyzed the real reason why Blizzard cut out the Path of the Titans and the Guild talents from Cataclysm. He pictures the Blizzard staff as slaves

"dressed in rags, skin taunt against their bones, eyes wild and beard gone unshaven for too long. They're bound to their desk by ball and chain to make sure no escape is possible. Behind them a taskmaster is beating the drum to set the pace.... Welcome to WoW Cataclysm development!"
Lonomonkey estimates from figures from Warcraft realm census that WoW is down to 6 million players, a loss of half of the playerbase. (Personally I'd dare say the loss is bigger; have you really counted on the loss of Chinese players?) He thinks that it's the pressure from the investors that has forced them to this decision. The game is losing players too quickly, so they have to ship the expansion as soon as possible. And the motto of "When it's ready" went out through the window.

Is he right? We've all seen with our own eyes how it looks on the servers and what has happened to our guilds and friends lists. Can they really be completely unaffected by this? For a couple of months over the summer - certainly. But I've got the feeling this has been going on for quite a while now. It's hard to believe they'll go unaffected through this. They're a business and they're expected to pull more than their own weight.

On the other hand: the sparkling pony surely must have given them quite a revenue. Shouldn't that be enough to keep the shareholders silenced for a little while, buying some more time and resources for further development?

Ghostcrawler's comments
Ghostcrawler sticks to the official version, saying that they're following their ideals just as they've always done. They do what they think is necessary for the game. Period.

He has commented on the official forums:

First in this post:

"Nobody wanted to see a feature that felt like it delivered on half its potential. Nobody wanted to be thinking about how we were going to "fix the flawed Paths system" in 5.0. If we can come up with a design we like, then we'll try again in the future.

A big part of game design is triage -- knowing when something is good enough, knowing when something can be good with just a little more work, and knowing when something is a lost cause... at least for now. There are very few WoW features that we kill outright. Most go into a design parking lot, and we get together every few months to review those features and consider what to work on next.

Fortunately, one of the benefits of being Blizzard is we don't have to ship a product until we think it's ready. Our marketing department works with us on the game, but they understand that when the game is ready is ultimately up to the team. We didn't
cut it because we ran out of time. We cut it because we didn't think the design
we had was fun. At the high level we still like the idea, and if we can solve some of the problems we might bring it back in the future."
And then in another one:

"If you were a game developer, perhaps you'd make different choices in our shoes. It's a subjective business and if you were super passionate about guild talents, perhaps you could have come up with a model that solved all of our concerns. Sometimes those concerns are visible early and sometimes you really have to get into the meat of the implementation before you realize the problems. We think the Blizzard development model has worked pretty well for over 15 years. Part of that model is being willing to cut something (features, or even titles) that isn't working out, no matter how much effort we've put into them. Keeping a feature that didn't work but that was clearly the pet feature of some developer has marred several potentially good games.

[...] As I mentioned in the above response, we have killed entire games and even game worlds before. If you go back and look at previous expansions of World of Warcraft, and certainly vanilla, there were features on the list that eventually were scrapped or changed into something completely different. As with much of our design, the alternative is not to share any information until we are 100% sure it is going to come to pass. That would mean you would know almost nothing about Cataclysm at this stage though, which would also be pretty frustrating. Every good game studio I know cuts features (and titles!) all the time.

It's like sculpting in stone. It's like good writing. You carve away until what you have left is the best you can make it. "

Blizzard's core values
It was easy to agree on Lonomonkeys conclusion that it was greed that made them take the decision. But then I read Ghostcrawler's passionate reassurance that they're doing this only for "need" reasons. They're just doing what they think is best for the game. Should I believe them? I don't know. I know one thing: I sure want to! I like Ghostcrawler better as a sculpter than as a slave.

I've always loved Blizzard's core values. Commit to quality. "At the end of the day, most players won’t remember whether the game was late -- only whether it was great."

I want to believe and I can't help once again wishing I could see Ghostcrawler and his friends in person. Polished corporate clichés is one thing. But his eyes would reveal the truth.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Press Event at Blizzard – Did They Actually Show Anything at all?

From a point of efficiency I suppose it was a great idea to bring all the “press” to Blizzard’s headquarters at the same time.

Not that I’m sure that “press” is the right label to put on them. Are those sites really what you would consider independent, objective, stand-alone media, committed to follow the code of ethics for journalists? But let’s say they’re “press”, to keep it simple.

I can see why they wanted to gather them all at the same time. You make that guided tour. You do a bunch of interviews in a row, sticking to the story, the message you want out this time. And you give everyone the same NDA until the point you’ve chosen. It’s handy, easy to manage and won’t take a ton of your time.

From the reader’s point of view however, bunching up all the media like this was a tad disappointing. The result is a little boring and I’d so much prefer them to make an effort and let them get their interviews at different points.

The coverage of this event reminds me of the interviews you see with directors and main actors on the promotion tour of a new movie. Every interview lasts at the most 15 minutes and the result is thereafter. There’s no way you can establish a real connection between the reporter and the interview person, there’s no way you can break through the surface and find some new, revealing insights they haven’t shared before. Inevitably it will become thin, polished, repetitive and void of presence and soul.

Disappointing reads
The interviews coming out from the press event so far have been quite disappointing reads. Yeah, I see they met Ghostcrawler, but not in the sense that they really *met* him as a person. They just kindly wrote down the few things he had decided to share, which really wasn’t much new under the sun. I don’t feel as if I’ve really seen or even caught a glimpse of what’s going on either in his head or in the rest of the Blizzard headquarters. He’s about as slippery as liquid soap, impossible to get a grip of.

We’re given the impression that Blizzard wanted to open up the doors, but did they really show anything interesting at all? Even the Crown princess of Sweden – who probably is one of the most media trained persons on this planet – is way more revealing, personal and in-depth when she gives interviews. Maybe this is thanks to her huge routine in media handling; she knows that if you share a bit of yourself you’re more likely to get better press than if you just shy away from it.

I hear someone’s objecting over there at the bar side:

“Come on Larísa, admit it – you’re just being jealous of not being invited! Would you have done a better job yourself, given the opportunity to interview Ghostcrawler et al?”

Frankly I don’t know. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. I want to believe that my age, routine and professionalism would have made me better fit to find new angles and not fall flat on the floor, overwhelmed at the honor of just being invited to the captains bridge. Given the opportunity, I'd like to try to crawl beneath the skin of GC, revealing that he's just as much a human as a professional ghost and spokesman of Blizzard.

On the other hand – not even the brightest reporter can easily make a good interview if you only have 15 minutes at your hands in a tight schedule, where other interviewers standing in a line, waiting for their turn.

“But Larísa, you have to stop your whining now! At least Blizzard is finally doing something to reach out and communicate with the fans. You have to give them cred for that! Recently you complained that they didn’t care about their fansites like Warhammer, who invited some major bloggers to a guided tour. Now they’re doing exactly this and you’re STILL negative!”

Oh. Yeah. That. I hear you and you’re right I suppose. One step at a time. And this IS a good start, no questioning about that. It’s just that I would like to see something more. Something different. Something unexpected. I dream of finally reading that well written article that would give a truthful, insightful picture, exposing how it really is to work in Irvine, showing what’s in the mind of one of the masters of the most successful video game in the world.

Maybe we’ll see this article written one day in a far distant future, when WoW is an historical artifact and there’s no need to keep an NDA on anything, since everyone has moved forward to something else. On the other hand, will anyone want to read it by then?

Ghostcrawler and the forums
Well, enough of grumbling now from my side. In the end there were at least a couple of things in those interviews that caught my attention and I thought I’d point you to it.

Wowhead talked quite a bit with Ghostcrawler about his frequent posting in the forums, and we learned that this was on his own initiative, something he asked for permission to do, and that he enjoys doing it in his free time. Currently he thinks it’s a bit of a drag because it’s a bit too quiet in the forums. People need more information to have something to discuss. He says that he really doesn’t want to be a “PR bot”, but want to have real discussions with the players. And he also says that the developers care a lot about what’s said in the community. They read ALL forums, not just the official Blizzard ones.

“We have a pretty good idea of how the community feels, and often we agree with them, even if we can't always go and instigate change that second—if people think there's a big problem, chances are we do too”
The failure of ToC
Eurogamer had a chat with Ghostcrawler too, this time accompanied by Alex Afrasiabi.

I don’t think I’ve ever before heard them ever before admit so openly that ToC was a failure, causing a burnout among many players:

Alex Afrasiabi:
“We want a raid to be a raid. We don't want you to feel obligated - and when I mention certain things that we viewed as failures, Coliseum's one of those zones that we have mixed feelings about. The design itself was really cool, we liked a quick raid which was really the intent of it.
But something we learned, it was a harsh lesson, was: four lockouts. That had some pretty negative repercussions, because to maximise, if you were a player that was min-maxing the zone or min-maxing your character, which a lot of raiders do, you had to run that zone four times. The whole purpose of it being a quick, short, cool, fun raid was obliterated.”
And GC chimes in:

“Our design for Lich King was to give players a lot more flexibility, both in terms of the classes that they brought and whether they preferred to do 10 versus 25. The problem was the way we set up the rules, we were actually encouraging people to run both 10 and 25 every week, which just got to be a little draining.”

“Well, they're gamers, so they're trying to game the system. They're kind of trained to do that. So it's up to us to put in a system that rewards the kind of behavior that we want players to do and that a lot of players would prefer to do.”
The view on new players
I also was a little bit surprised to read just how noobish the developers seem to think that the new players are, one of the reasons why they skipped the Path of the Titan concept, since it was considered too complicated.

I’m quoting GC again:

“We have players who've been with us for six plus years, because they started in the beta, who want something new, they want to see different things.

And then we have new players, particularly younger players... A lot of the original WOW players came from other MMOs, and now we're getting new players who've never played an MMO before. They may have played console games, and to them even mastering mouse movement is really difficult.

And then to look at all this, I mean it's just a gigantic game, so it can be very intimidating.“
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at this. OK, I’m not a youngster, but basically GC is talking about me. I’m one of those players without any previous MMO experience, I haven’t even played any console games (apart from that TV game where you played “tennis”, trying to hit a ball that bounced back and forward on a black-and-white screen back in the 70’s. If that counts.) I don’t deny that I had to do a ton of learning on my own, making an effort of my own, as well as using the wealth of knowledge there is on the community run sites (since Blizzard’s own is so terrible.)

But you know what? I didn’t mind! The learning process was actually a part of what made the game fun to me in the first place! Gaming to me is about overcoming obstacles and if you smooth everything out so much that you don’t even notice the bump in the road, it starts to become a bit pointless.

I honestly think that they’re obsessing a little too much over the accessibility issues, anxious to scare away any potential customer.

With all the tutorials and the built in quest-helper they’ve already added to the game, there’s definitely no need at all to worry about it. Show WoW to your granny or your 10-year without any gaming experience. They’ll figure it out.

I would rather worry over the opposite. If WoW becomes so easy that it feels like a game intended for very young and clueless children, I think they’ve chosen the wrong path.

More interviews
What else have we seen so far? World of Raids had a chat with Tom Chilton, but it didn’t contain anything that stuck with me.

However Gameplanet released two pretty long and detailed articles, which actually are a pretty good read, probably the best ones so far.

Ghostcrawler gives a bit more information about how reforging is going to work, and also talks about the guild reputation system. If you’ve got a guild master with the habit of guild kicking players temporarily “for fun”, you don’t need to worry too much about it. It turns out you won’t lose your guild reputation points until you join another guild.

It was also new to me to hear that the designers initially didn't expect WoW to last more than two or theree years. The designers of today think that there might be a ninth or tenth expansion eventually and are adjusting the game with that in mind, trying to keep it as clean as simple as possible, avoiding to add complexity to the game with every expansion.

The second interview at Gameplanet features Cory Stockton. What caught my attention in this one was especially the last part, where he outlines the upcoming launch event, which he says will be huge and spectacular and include an invasion of elementals.

“If you take the Scourge invasion, imagine that, and then multiply it by ten – possibly in major cities! – and the way we want it to work is very similar to the way the plague worked, where we’d start it up a few weeks early, and then you’ll see a build up… build up… build up, and then in those last two or three days before we flip the switch, Azeroth will be in chaos, and any player who didn’t know the cataclysm was coming will definitely know something’s going on!”
Wow, that sounds just so exciting to me! I just hope we won’t have to wait until October to see it.

It remains to see what the next few days will bring. I have no idea how many fan and gaming sites that actually attended the press event. Maybe there are more and better interviews incoming. I keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What Matters to me in Cataclysm

So we won't see the Path of the Titan thing in Cataclysm, at least not at launch. And to be honest I'm not raging or shredding any tears over it.

Blizzard failed to explain the idea to me in the first place, and besides I think that the EJ thinkers would have thought out the Best Path for raiders anyway. So much for creating more individuality!

The second piece of major WoW news this weekend was that guilds won't get any talent points to set at their own will. They'll have to profile themselves in other ways, as they always have.

I'm not particularly disappointed about either piece of news and you definitely won't hear any the-sky-is-falling cries from your innkeeper. Those features were more in the category "nice to have" than absolutely necessary, and the lack or delay of them certainly what settles if I'll keep playing WoW in Cataclysm.

3 000 quests
There was also another piece of news that was released, something I suppose they expected the community to get happy about, but which leaves me completely indifferent. I'm thinking about the fact that Blizzard are about to add some 3 000 quests into the game.

I'm just telling you: I haven't asked for 3 000 quests. Being a mainhugger rather than an altoholic, I would probably be just fine with the few hundred that could take Larísa from 80 to 85. Yeah, like everyone else I quest if I get XP or valuable reputation. But when I don't get that, I find it pretty hard to motivate myself to quest a lot and an abundance of quests won't make me resubscribe.

I don't deny that there are many quests and questlines in Wrath were way cooler and more enjoyable than the vanilla quests. Who didn't love the battle for Undercity? Nevertheless - in my world questing is more or less a necessary evil. I don't think I've done even half of the quests that came with Wrath.

But if thousands of quests isn't a selling point to me - what is?

Why I'm still playing
The other day Ixobelle asked me a disturbing question. He is a bit bored with WoW himself and can't see any reason to stick around. So he asked me why I'm still playing.

Now, to be fair I'm not at all playing as much as I used to either. Things are really slow in the game right now and if you don't enjoy questing and other solo playing there frankly aren't many things to do, at least nothing that grabs my interest.

Last week I did some silly achievements, including leveling Larísa's unarmed skill to 400. But then I suddenly woke up from my coma-like state of mind, asking myself my life wasn't more precious to me than I would spend hours and hours on such a boring and pointless grind. I decided it was. No more junk play like that for me. Then it's better to just turn of the computer and get a life.

But yeah Ixobelle, as opposed to you, I'm still playing, still logging in a couple of times a week to spend a couple of hours online.

Take last night for instance, when we used the entire evening wiping on Sindragosa 10 man heroic. We learned to master the new twists pretty well, but didn't get any further than 18 percent. That dance has to be performed with perfection, the error margin was very slim and we weren't quite there yet. Next time. Maybe.

But even if we didn't down her, this was an entirely enjoyable night. And here's the answer to your question Ixo. It's because of nights like our Sindragosa wiping that I still play WoW, in a time when the between-expansion apathy seems to be all-time high.

I'm fine as long as I'm getting challenging raids as a member of a good team with people I know and enjoy playing with. And this spills over to my expectations for Cataclysm.

What I want in Cataclysm
My wish list for the expansion includes two things.

1. I need to have some people to play with. Not just "any" people, but good people, such as the ones in my guild. They're the real epics of this game and they'll lose interest in it and leave, I won't have many incentives to stay around either. I refuse to pug my way through WoW. To me the heart and soul of WoW is to build a great team to progress with. So Blizzard: please make sure to keep the players I care about happy. This includes my guildies as well as my blogging buddies. If everyone else will head for the Grey Havens, I'll go as well.

2. I want some good raiding. The size isn't such a big deal - I like 25 mans best, but I'll be fine to settle with 10 mans if we have to. What matters is that they put in some effort as they make the instances. Think Ulduar as opposed to the lazy ToC design. I also want them to make a good call on the difficulty level. I'd like to see something that will be a challenging but still possible-to-beat content for the top 10 percent of the guilds.

And basically that's it.

Good raid instances and a good guild. That's what I care about in Cataclysm, rather than about guild talents and Path of the Titan.

Am I asking for too much? I hope not. But the future will tell.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Glimpse of How it used to be

Yay! It’s Friday night and it’s time for a little bit of storytelling here by the barside.

This week I'd like to share with you a tale from something that happened to me in game recently. Looking at it from the outside it wasn't special at all. It didn't give me bragging rights; it wouldn't hit the gossip columns of WoW.com or MMO-champion; it didn't qualify for any achievement. There was no loot to be won and the slow gain of XP was laughable.

And yet it was a golden nugget, a precious moment I wouldn't exchange for any gold or jewelry you could offer me in Azeroth.

What happened was that I for an hour or two – typically enough I lost the track of time - got the chance to experience how WoW used to be once upon a time. I had a glimpse of how the game could appear back in the days when the gold-and-epics fever hadn't yet infected the game and we were exploring the world rather than exploiting it.

It happened in Maraudon
It all started as a pretty normal PUG run, using the dungeon tool. I singed up with my level 41 druid bear and didn’t have to wait long before I was assigned to a group.

“Oh. Maraudon. Crap. Am I capable of doing this?”

The doubts flew threw my head, but I tried to push them away the best I could. “Confidence, my dear, confidence”, I thought to myself. The one and single most important ability of a tank.

This would be my virgin run in this instance in the tank role; as a matter of fact I could only recall seeing it once before – a few days earlier, when a friend drag my mage through it, so I could get the achievement. I had no idea about the place, where to go, where to look for bosses. All I could remember was that it was a labyrinth in the good-old vanilla style.

There wasn’t much time to ponder upon this though, because before I had managed to buff up anyone or even switch to bear form, someone had pulled. My shiny “Welcome-to-this-run I’m –your-tank-today and Here’s-the-rules” macro didn’t help at all. This was obviously going to be one of those runs when you’re rather fighting your party members than the mobs.

However somehow we managed to make it to what appeared to be the first boss. As we killed him it turned out that this boss was at the same time the last one, because we got that random-dungeon-completed message and a goodie bag.

“WTF?” I thought. Was this all? Are they building this huge instance for one single boss? I felt cheated. Looking closer to it I understood the situation; there were more bosses available, but apparently there are several entrances and for some reason we had arrived at a spot where you can go straight for the end boss.

Dancing with the slimes
The party started to disassemble every so quickly. I suppose everyone was eager to join the queue again to find a new instance to rush through. You’ve got to think about your XP/hour you know. How would it look if everyone started to slack?

But not everyone left. For some reason I lingered in the instance, and so did another druid, who had joined in the form of a kitty. We looked around us and noticed the lack of party members.

I don’t know how it happened, if someone actually said something aloud, making a suggestion, but before we knew it we were continuing our way through Maraudon, just the two of us.

Gone was the silly pull-as-much-as-possible attitude. We approached every pull and every turn in the cave with respect, checking for patrols, calculating on which packs were linked together and which weren’t. I pulled one or two at a time, mostly tanking. But when it was needed I shifted to another form, and so did he. One moment we were bears, the next we were kitties, and then we were cows. We took turns in tanking, dps:ing, healing and rooting, whatever was needed best at the moment. It happened that we died, but we battleressed and kept going.

Some slime mobs were especially fun to figure out how to deal with. They hit hard as a truck and were very hard for a tank and a healer/dps to manage, but then we realized how slowly they moved, so we worked out a way to slowly kite them around, slowing them even more with our roots, using our caster spells to kill them. It became a sort of dance, the most beautiful example of team work I’ve seen in a very long time in the game.

Deeper and deeper into the dungeon did we go, both equally clueless about the way. When we spotted some packs that looked just too big, we transformed into cats and sneaked by them in stealth.

Go us! We both knew we rocked. We couldn’t actually talk much about our strategies or rejoice at how well we did, since my partner’s English was lacking. Most of my efforts to chat away were met with a "?", since he didn't understand me. But who cared? When two druids are on a roll you don't need many words.

The end of the story
I don’t know for how long this lasted. But I enjoyed every second of it. The story came to an end eventually, when we both died and failed to find our way back to the instance and our bodies. Which of course is the backside of the handy teleport-to-instance-feature. Players who are prone to get lost (read: Larísa) won’t get any chance to improve on their map skills this way.

When we finally gave up on continuing, we both knew that it was the end of a friendship that might have been. We were on different servers, and it was very unlikely that we ever would get opportunity to do this again. And I suppose this added to the bittersweet flavor of this random meeting in Azeroth. Once in a lifetime.

As I logged back to Larísa, I mentioned in the guild chat what I had been through. And someone remarked that this was how the game was back in vanilla all the time. These kinds of encounters were common and it was on those occasions that game friendships were forged.

And I couldn’t help wishing that I had been around back in those days. I suppose it’s about as futile as for the kinds of today to wish they had been around for the golden days of punkrock. What’s gone is gone.

But I keep having this naggering thought: doesn’t it tell us something about the state of WoW when teaming up with a stranger to have some fun with trash mobs in Maraudon is such a rarity, such an exclusive event, that I find it natural to devote an entire blogpost to it?

As Blizzard polished and polished on the game, listening to the players, making up all those cool and handy things and made everything available to everyone and all the players independent of each other, because we asked for it, something seems to have gotten lost on the way.

I got a glimpse of this “something” that night in Maraudon. But I have no idea about where to look to get more of it.

Listening to the voices
From one thing to another: I downloaded a free trial version of LOTRO last night. Shocking, isn’t it?

I blame all those voices in the nether. I couldn’t refuse to listen to the advice of my guests. This means that one late night this weekend I might take my first stumbling steps in the Shire, provided that I didn’t mess up somewhere in the installation.

I'm not planning to break up with my loved one. I'm just fooling around a little, but I must admit that it’s kind of scary. WoW has been my one and only home for such a long time. But I suppose it’s about time that I dare at least have a peak into other realms, finally maybe becoming a gamer and not just a WoWer.

And who knows, maybe I’ll stumble upon someone who will enjoy teaming up with me, having some fun, without being in a hurry for anything particular? Maybe, just maybe, I might experience an equivalence of my Maraudon adventure. I actually have hopes about that, judging from the rumors about the slightly more relaxed and civilized atmosphere in LOTRO.

But now it’s time for the traditional Friday toast to celebrate that the working week has come to an end.

Cheers all!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some things you didn’t know about me

Every blogger is a bit of an exhibitionist. Don't deny it.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of though. Show me an artist, writer or actor who isn't! It’s a part of the deal for people who have this unexplainable urge to share their thoughts, emotions and imagination with the world.

So it’s no wonder that I happily accpepted when Chris at Game by Night recently asked me for an interview for his series of portrays of the community. You can read the result here, and maybe you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know.

Chris asked me a bunch of tricky questions, ranging from how I integrate playing and blogging with everything else in my life to my predictions for how WoW will look in five years time. Be prepared for a rather long and chatty interview, more like a bunch of smaller blogposts than a normal discussion. I can’t judge if I’m saying anything even remotely interesting, but it was fun to participate, so thanks to Chris for this opportunity!

Ask Larísa anything
And as an extra bonus by the way: if you have any questions you would have liked to see in the interview, you have the chance to ask them yourself now.

As an experiment I’ve discretely added a feature to my blog, which you find to the right if you click on “Ask Larísa anything”. The link leads to a little service called “Formspring”, a tool for simple managing of Q&A.

Until now only three questions have been asked, of which one was a bit odd and makes me wonder if it really was intended for me. However I couldn’t resist answering.

I haven’t made up my mind about if I'll keep it or not. But for the time being - feel free to use it if you're curious about something.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Can “free” LOTRO lure over a WoW addict like me?

I’ve never played any other MMO but WoW. And I must admit that it plagues me a bit, the blogger I am.

I follow a number of general MMO-blogs which, unlike me, aren’t just obsessed with one game, but move around freely covering a much wider field. Full of knowledge and insight, they can compare their experiences from different games, recall previous successes and failures, make accurate predictions about the future and suggest how MMO:s should be changed for the better. I’m full of admiration for this kind of bloggers.

What do I know about gaming? Not very much when you think about it. After three years of WoW playing I suppose I can talk about some aspects of WoW (PvE from an alliance point of view) fairly accurately – as long as I limit myself to post-vanilla content, being a TBC baby. Whenever I try to look at the bigger picture I feel shallow and clueless, a hoax of a blogger who lacks perspective and should keep her mouth shut about things she doesn’t understand.

Maybe this will come to change though. Last week it was announced that LOTRO will go free-for-all this autumn, which of course set my mind on work. What’s in it for me? Could this be a sufficiently attractive bait to finally lure Larísa away from Azeroth?

Maybe. Maybe not. How much I’d love to see a new setting and see another take on the MMO concept, I still have some issues with it that holds me back.

Things that keep me from trying LOTRO for free

1. The Concept
A major concern I have, which probably is the one that has the strongest hold on me, is the game concept as such. I’m a huge Tolkien fan since childhood; I’ve read and re-read the books at least ten times, if not more. Mind you, I don’t consider myself a purist or a fanatic, and I had no problems to accept and love the Peter Jackson movies, with all the compromises and changes they had to do. But nevertheless: I wonder what I would feel about my world transformed into a cartoonish video game. Do I really want to see that happen?

2. The Business Model
Another holdback is the business model. I know there are many players who think a free-to-play game combined with micro-transactions is brilliant, but I’m not one of those. I want to pay my monthly subscription fee, knowing that I’ll get access to the entire game, and then not having to worry about anything.

My entire life is full of decisions and it wears me down. I don’t want to have to think and evaluate: “Do I want this thing or that thing, how much is this thing worth to me, can I live without that, but what about my game friend, if she’s bought this and I haven’t, can we still play together?” In my world this is not fun, this is more like visiting a supermarket. Something you do because you have to rather than because you enjoy it.

My problem isn’t lack of money. My problem is lack of time and energy for decision making. Before you say it – yes, I know you can still “subscribe” to LOTRO, becoming some sort of VIP member. But as a newcomer it’s the free-to-play combined with a number of different purchases that I’m facing, and it pushes me away.

Apart from this I’m notoriously suspicious of anything that is claimed to be free. For instance I refuse to read crappy advertisement financed “newspapers” that people try to force on me. I’m proud to pay my subscription, thus making sure that the news corporations will hire proper journalists and not just ad sellers. And if you’re a paying customer you can always expect better treatment. I think this goes with games as well as with newspapers.

3. The Timing
We’re in the middle of the longest and I’d dare say deepest dip in player activity that WoW has seen up until today. Summer is here, we haven’t seen any new content for ages, and we don’t know yet when Cataclysm will arrive. Guilds are struggling, and tons of players are going on a hiatus. We don’t have any official statistics on it of course, but just having a look around me in game at what normally is peak time is evidence enough. The people aren’t there anymore. And this turns into an evil spiral. An MMO that lacks people online is as dull and sad as an empty theme park in November.

I think more than one WoW player would be dying to try something else by now. But does Turbine take the opportunity to launch this free-to-play idea now? Nope. They’ll wait until “the fall”, which is rather strange to me. They may have their reasons to do so, but speaking for myself I can tell you that once Cataclysm arrives I won’t have a second over to try some other video game. I’ll have my hands full to explore and enjoy the new old world and to level and gear up my main again for raiding. What were they thinking when they scheduled this change?

Things that can make me try LOTRO anyway
I haven’t entirely dismissed the thought of trying LOTRO though. And it’s not just about educating myself to become a slightly more experienced gamer. It’s also about longing back to my MMO childhood. I would love to once again experience the feeling of being at the start of a huge adventure, of not having any idea about what to do or where to go, to not be involved in the min/max game.

I never knew how privileged I was as I leveled my first character in WoW, innocently strolling around, exploring, messing up, gasping at everything I encountered, generally having a good time. It wasn't until a long time afterwards that I understood.

Once you’ve done it, there’s no going back. I’m looking forward to Cataclysm as much as anyone else, but I don’t think the novelty will ever be the same as when you play a game for the very first time, since you’ve already eaten the apple.

What makes it even more attractive is that with the huge influx of new players you can expect, I would be far from the only noob in the starter zone. With all respect for veteran LOTRO players, who I imagine will stay as far as possible from the noob infested areas, I think it will be fun times for the newly arrived players. As opposed to if you roll an alt today in WoW, you’ll have plenty of people around who are equally clueless and equally happy to form groups and to try to help each other to figure out this world. (And yes, I have a very optimistic view on the shape of a game community until I’ve been proved otherwise.)

The tipping point
I haven’t yet reached a verdict on the LOTRO case, whether to give it a go or not. One factor to take into the calculation is “what will my friends do?” If a bunch of my guildies enthusiastically would head over for LOTRO urging me to come along, I might find it hard to resist. They’re a bunch of nice people to hang around with after all and the setting isn’t that important in the end.

Another factor to count on is how easily accessible the game is. I have an extremely low tolerance level for technical troubleshooting. I want the download and installation to be quick and more or less effortless, not requiring me to go through complicated instructions or do a lot of settings in my computer. I want the game to be ready-to-go in just a few intuitive clicks.

In the end I believe the tipping point will be all about timing. If they release the game for free at a point when there isn’t much to do in WoW and my guild is on a break from raiding due to lack of players and content – sure, I might give it a go, in spite of my doubts.

But if Cataclysm arrives before this happens, you’re very unlikely to ever see your innkeeper setting her foot in Middle-earth. Clueless blogger or not.