Sunday, March 27, 2011

One chilly, blustery morning in March

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

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

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

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

So, I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Speaking of trash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Out of touch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Legendary Test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why it matters so much to us what other people play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In-game items in honour of bloggers – who’s next?

It’s been a while since last time we saw it, but now it appears as if Blizzard is going to give a shoutout to a prominent community member by naming an item in the game after them.

Frostheim, the columnist at WoWinsider, who also runs a hunter blog and co-hosts a podcast, has apparently dropped his cloak somewhere, but it will soon be found again in the form of the epic drop Recovered cloak of Frostheim.

This is not only well deserved, but also encouraging to the rest of the blogging community.

It may appear as if Blizzard doesn't pay much attention to the work we do, the ideas and opinions and the knowledge we share for free with the rest of the community, the passion and effort we put into it. I’ve bashed them previously for the lack of interest they’ve displayed.

But when those things happen you start to wonder if they might actually be listening after all, sneaking around, hiding silently in the dark corners, taking notes, reflecting, getting a few insights on the way and hopefully a few laughs as well. At least I’d like to think so.

Phaelia and BRK
We’ve seen this kind of gestures a couple of times before. What comes to mind is of course Phaelia at Resto4life, who was honoured with Phaelia’s Vestments of the Sprouting Seed when she closed her shop after getting pregnant.

And a few months later, the most famous and loved hunterblogger through all those years, BRK, got a gun named after him, BRK – 1000, which even smelled faintly of raspberries. (BRK had a thing with those.)

What makes the case of Frostheim different to BRK and Phaelia though is that he hasn’t announced that he’s quitting blogging, at least not as far as I know of. And I think that’s a good thing. It means far more to get this kind of recognition and encouragement when you’re still active in the community and playing the game than to get it as some sort of farewell present, once you’ve decided to move on and leave it behind you.

If you ask me I think Blizzard could be more generous than they are in naming items after people in the community. How many items are there in the game? Thousands and thousands! Not everyone would have to get an epic item. It could be ordinary grey or white items, which actually would last longer than an epic drop that will get outdated and never-to-be-seen as soon as the raiding moves to the next tier of content.

The case of Breanni
My favourite nod to the community in game is not an object at all - it’s an NPC. Of course I’m thinking of Breanni, the pet shop keeper in Dalaran, who is a reference to the creator of Warcraft Pets. Obviously an NPC has a longer life than an item, but this one is more than that: it’s an NPC that doesn’t stand idly on one spot but reaches out to you. Even these days when very few bothers about going to see her in Dalaran, Breanni will keep sending letters, as when you complete the meta-achievement for pet-collecting or when you get your Core-hound pup.

How awesome isn’t that? If you’d like to know more about the real person behind Breanni, I suggest you read the interview with Brian, which is his real name. (Yep, he’s a guy. As opposed to what some players think, collecting non-combat pets isn’t necessarily something girlish).

Who’s next?
The question is: who’s next? Who in the WoW community would you like to see honoured in game with an item, an NPC or in some other way?

I have one favourite candidate: Tim Howgego, who has created El’s Extreme Anglin’, the one and only resource you need to improve your fishing. Make him a hat, a lure, a quest or an npc named “El”. Whatever. He’s not only the biggest fishing enthusiast and source of knowledge out there; he also manages to transfer a bit of this enthusiasm into the community. Which is quite an achievement considering how exciting fishing really is as a gaming experience.

Oh, and I’d totally love to be able to buy or bake a Tobold Cookie. Eat it and increase your intellect for an hour. Pretty obvious.

Edit: After publishing this, it has been brought to my attention that there is another blogger who has been honored in the game, namely Mania from Mania's Arcania and the hunter pet resource site Petopia. The reference to her beats anything I've heard of so far in terms of coolness.

You're not likely to have encountered her since it's a rare one, the silithid Aniamiss the Hive Queen. Take away the -iss ending and read it backwards. Or you could read it as "Mania is the Hive Queen".

It's very discrete and totally adorable!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Embracing our inner geeks

"Embrace your inner geek".

I suppose you recognize it? It comes from Blizzard's mission statement about their eight core values, principles and beliefs they claim are reflected in employees' decisions and actions every day.

I've always loved those core values, and specifically this one.

"Embrace your inner geek".

Don't hide him. Don't feel ashamed over him. Don't question him or cover him in excuses and explanations. Just embrace him and be proud! You don't necessarily have to go mainstream, adjusting to what is socially accepted and considered be The Road to Success. Not in this world, where geekery is allowed and even encouraged.

The geeks at Blizzard
I was reminded of this as I read the first round of questions and answers to the developers at Blizzard.

Among a bunch of other more or less predictable question, with equally predictable answers, this one stood out to me:

"What is your favorite escape/distraction when you aren't working on WoW?"

To answer the question, they made a poll to the entire development team and picked out "the most interesting, unusual and potentially terrifying responses".

It's a long list, which actually includes a few not-so-geeky answers, such as baking bread, blending smoothies and playing hockey. I guess they need a variety in the staff, including some non-nerds who can give the perspective they need for a mass market.

But some of the replies were outspokenly geeky. Among my favorites were: "building my own 3D printer" and "attempting to turn my living room into a live action scene from Tron using blacklights, stencils and a helluva lot of paint". I also liked "building Star Wars Lego sets" and "trying to control my computer using brainwaves and an EEG reader" (are we supposed to actually believe this?) "Work on my Jaina/Varian fanfic" is something I would consider rather geeky as well.

However: the price for being the biggest geek will probably go to the guy (or possibly girl, but as far as I know of there aren't many women in the development team) who answered. "Playing "WoW". Good grief. You work full day thinking about nothing but World of Warcraft. And then you go home and play it. It takes a true nerd to do such a thing. (Or possibly someone looking for a raise, says the cynic.)

Geeky stuff I do
If I go to myself, what geeky things do I do apart from playing World of Warcraft? I suppose running a blog entirely devoted to this game for more than three years would be considered a bit odd in the eyes of most normal people. Or when I dress up in fantasy clothes, dancing to music that went out of fashion hundreds of years ago. Anyone who wears mantle in public has come out as a geek, I'd say.

The geekiest activity I've ever committed myself to was probably my years as an active member of the science fiction Fandom about 25 years ago, which I've described further in a nostalgic post. Those were the days when I didn't blog, but made fanzines on a mimeograph, which had a personality and life of its own. Most of us were about as geeky as you could be. I still see some of those people and to be honest, I think we haven't quite moved on to the world of normality.

Those stripes never quite leave you, do they? Even if we cover them with a thick layer of Important Things such as having a family and a career, at core there's still an inner geek, waiting for the right moment to let himself be heard.

Have you embraced your inner geek? Do you consider yourself a nerd, and if so, in what way? Are you proud and open about it or is it something you're doing in your closet?

It's confession time! Share your most geeky sides with the rest of us. Free drinks to all you geeks tonight!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sparkles in my rift free zone

Rift. It's everywhere these days, isn't it? Except for at the PPI. A rift free zone. Enjoy it for what it's worth.

It seems as if I'm the only one left in the blogosphere who hasn't jumped onto the Rift wagon. And to tell the truth it feels a little lonely here in Azeroth at the moment. So many of my guildies have rolled characters in Rift that we've set up a mirror guild in that game and a special channel on vent where they can hang out while rifting.

Different this time?
It's not the first time we see a hype around a new MMO, pointed at as The Challenger of WoW. Conan, Warhammer, Star Trek, Aion, I guess you remember them? There was always this buzz, but it never took long before it was back to business as usual.

This time it feels a bit different though, don't you think? Rift is obviously better done, more polished. It appears to stick in a way that the others never did, although it remains to see if it's sticky enough to last into endgame. Or maybe people are just desperate to get away from WoW after playing it for six years straight and who can blame them for that?

I wouldn't swear an oath on it, but at the moment I'm pretty sure that I won't go for Rift. And it's not just because Rohan compared it to popcorn. WoW has learned me how time consuming MMOs are - at least if you have my personality type. Playing them "moderately", which if you ask me would be something like 2-4 hours a week, seems pretty hard.

But if I decide to keep playing MMOs when I'm done with WoW, do I really want to play something that is more or less the same thing, with some minor changes and new shiny paint? Probably not. It would take me something more revolutionairy different to drag me in.

A Rift overdose
When it comes to Rift, it feels as if I've had an overdose of it, without even playing. Weird, huh?

Normally I don't mind blogs with a multi-game profile; as you can see from my blogroll I follow several of them. Even if I've never played any other of the MMOs on the market (with the exception for a little LOTRO), the polygamerous bloggers bring me new perspectives and helps me to see WoW in a bigger context. They broaden my horizons.

But what I've seen lately in the blogosphere isn't a broad approach to MMOs. It's endless talking about one thing. And to be honest, if this keeps going for a longer time I will probably cut down on my blog reading a bit, dropping those that have turned into Rift blogs.

It's a little sad, but those things happen. Life changes and people move on - moving to a new job, a new city, a new hobby. For a while we enjoyed the same gaming universe and shared our experiences. Now a rift is tearing us apart and all you can do is to let go.

Letting go
Eccentrica put it well in a comment to a post at Bullcopra the other day:
"It's probably more healthy to think of your gaming and blogging friends as you do of your coworkers. Over the course of your employment you spend of lot of time with them. You bond over lunch and the compilation of that difficult report. On Monday morning, you tell them about your weekend, and they share details about theirs. You may, with time, get to know quite a lot about them.

Then one of you leaves the company and moves on. Do you stay in contact? No. Do you wonder about how they are doing? You certainly may, for some, and others you never think about again. And that's ok. Some people are in your life for a reason, and some for a season. If you maintained contact with everyone you had ever been friends with, shared experiences with, or shared moments with, you would have to start writing your Christmas cards in January.
Value the memories, and prepare yourself to welcome the next friend into your life."
That's what I'll try to do. Some of you are drifting away into the rift, but I'll value the memories I have of you. And I'll welcome whoever will come in your place.

Blue Lacuna
But let's get out of the melancholy for a while. After all, the exodus of rifters isn't all that has happened to me this week. There were moments when my eyes sparkled - not from tears as they have recently, but from joy.

One sparkling moment was when I tried a new piece of interactive fiction (IF). I wrote about my late discovery of this genre recently, and this week I received a letter from one of the PPI regulars, who suggested me to try out something called Blue Lacuna. And I followed his advice, after all I'm an innkeeper and as such you should listen to your guests.

I'm only into chapter two of a work that contains 400 000 words of prose and code, and considering how slow I am to put the puzzle pieces together, I'm not entirely sure I'll ever reach the end and "beat it". But at this point it doesn't feel as if it matters that much to me.

It's huge, it appears to be well crafted and currently I'm just enjoying the journey, being a wayfarer, exploring a world I don't quite understand. Like someone wrote in a review of Blue Lacuna: "It's a reminder that the best graphics engine on the market is our imagination". How true isn't that? IF makes me sparkle, even though I can miss fellow travellers. I suppose I'm a little bit MMOified.

Blizzard 20 year documentary
My second sparkling moment came as I watched the new 48 minute long documentary video that Blizzard launched this week as a part of their 20 year anniversary celebrations.

If you weren't a fanboy before seeing this movie, you sure will become one after seeing it. It's awesome, especially the first half of it, where they focus on the first few years of struggles, when they worked day and night (when they weren't playing games themselves) and didn't know from one week to another if they could pay their bills.

The memories they share and the photos they show leave no doubt about their truly geeky origins. Sure, the founders have turned into middle aged men with grey hair and huge bank accounts, but as they talk about gaming and about their passion and how much fun they had, they're completely believable.

The introduction sets the tone, when Allen Adhem talks about how he as a kid either wanted to run a candy factory, inspired by Willy Wonka, or run a game shop. He had no idea this would one day turn into Blizzard.
"I actually thought making games would be fun and managed to talk a couple of cool guys in college into coming on board and here we are 20 years later."
He tells the story about how he met Mike Morhaime at UCLA in a computer class and how he talked him into starting to make computer games together. Silicon & Synapse, later to become Blizzard, was born.

And as the documentary progresses you follow them all the way from Rock n' Roll Racing and Lost Vikings through Warcraft, Diabolo, Starcraft and WoW, ending in some quite optimistic predictions about the next secret MMO project and a future that will be even brighter.

I'm such a sucker for success stories, for people who have a vision and fight for it, who make their dreams come true, out of passion and effort. And this one really made my eyes sparkle.

If I'd ever play an MMO again after WoW, I definitely would love it to be the next one from Blizzard.

Did I hear someone calling me a fangirl? Yep, totally! And I don't even have a reason to be nostalgic since I never played the games they're talking about. I still can't help loving those guys. Kudos to the PR department. Well done, making good use of your corporate storytelling!

Toast of the week
Sparkles. They still exist, even in times when Azeroth feels a little quiet.

I thought we'd make the toast of the week into a sparkling one. ISo why don't we bring out some champagne for everyone? And strawberries to go with it! It's still winter, I know, but I'm a mage after all. Nothing is impossible!

The special toast of the week goes the creators of all those worlds we inhabit and explore. You may be the successful founder of Blizzard or the probably-not-yet-quite-as-known author of Blue Lacuna. Or the guy who designs the 28th orc feet of the day at 4am. Or one in the team behind Rift. Regardless of your wealth and fame, you rock.

Thank you for inviting us to your universes. Thank you for bringing magic and sparkles into our lives. Thank you for offering us a hidden garden, where we can regenerate our mana.

We need those sparkles, especially in times like this when the real rifts of the world suddenly appear, reminding us about how small and fragile we are in the whole.

Let's enjoy this night in our rift free zone.

Friday, March 4, 2011

How I left my guild

OK. It’s Friday night and I admit I’ve had a drink or possibly two already, which means that I’m in a mood for talking and sharing, possibly more than I normally would. But sharing is a bit of the point of blogging, isn't it?

There won't be any pretence or cover-up. This is the truth, the reality the way it is, including cracks and less-than-perfect. But even if this post starts in misery, I assure you it will get much better towards the end. Don’t worry. Just have a seat and a pint and relax while I'm sharing my story, OK? And don't forget I love my guild.

Now let's get started, shall we? (Larísa fills a pint to the brim and heads for her favorite armchair, takes a sip and clears her throat before speaking up.)

What made me leave
If you’re a frequent reader of PPI you probably have noticed that things haven’t been quite as bright and rosy as usual recently. Last week I hinted about a sleepless night and hours of crying, but I refused to say what it was all about.

However I don’t think it was too hard to guess. What WoW-related issue could possibly make Larísa that sad? A wipenight? A lost loot roll? A nerf to my class? No way. Such trivial things aren’t even worth a shrug. It’s nothing. The only thing that possibly could cause me such a grief must be related to the people I play with. My guild. And of course you were damned right.

This is what happened:

Despite our struggles to fill our roster, Adrenaline has put up daring goals for Cataclysm – even raising the ambition level a bit compared to earlier. We aimed for the hardmodes and we wanted to come to those and to progress through them fairly quickly. This was announced early in the expansion, and we also were told that our performances would be followed and noted and that players who couldn’t live up to the requirements would be removed, regardless if you were an old-timer or a new recruit. Fair enough.

A month or so after this “evaluation period” had been declared, our GM gathered a bunch of players to a special meeting on vent after a raid. He wanted to have a discussion with the players who were considered to have “issues”, the players who were most likely to be removed from the guild in case we would have to give up on 25 man raiding altogether, cutting down to a 10 man guild. And yes, I was one of those players.

Not a surprise
To be honest it didn’t come as a complete surprise. I’ve shared my struggles and efforts many times here at PPI. Especially fights that required a lot of movement and multitasking have always been a challenge to me. This very day I’ve still not gotten to terms with that son-of… cough, sorry. I mean Hodir. While my survival has been quite OK, I’ve been messing around at the bottom of our damage charts ever since Cataclysm was launched. I’ve done my best, as always, but my best isn’t always good enough.

Calli at PewPewLasers seems to be in a similar position as me. As he wrote in his post of confessions a little while ago:

"The problem is, I’m 41 next month. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be, there are youngsters in our raid who act like they have the reaction times of rattlesnakes on crack and they handle fights like this with ease. Me, I need time to process things, time to let muscle memory take the slack that my reflexes can’t handle and my brain can’t process. "

This could just as well have been written by me. So when I was told that they were afraid that my learning curve was too slow and they feared I might hold us back from progression in hardmodes, it wasn’t exactly a shock to me.

Nevertheless – it sucked to hear it said openly. While most of the others that were called to this meeting had issues that were quite easy to solve – such as attendance issues – mine was far worse. With exception for Hodir, I usually learn fights like everyone else. But if the learning curve is too slow, is there really that much you can do to speed it up? If you’re already giving everything in every raid, if you’re already preparing, watching strats, adjusting to the latest advice from the theorycrafters, practicing with dummies, what more can you do? I am who I am. Larísa. And after about 300 raids it should be quite well known to my guild what I was capable of and not capable of. It wasn’t something I could fix or change within a week.

After all those years of fighting to deserve my spot in the raiding team, to be someone who contributed to the success of the raid like anyone else, it felt as if I finally had reached a roof. I had reached the limit of my potential as a player and if this wasn’t good enough with regards to where Adrenaline was aiming, I should recognize this and take the consequences.

No one told me to leave the guild. The idea was entirely my own - and that was the point of it: to take the initiative, to be proactive and in charge rather than just waiting for a verdict to fall.

Of course it wasn’t easy. I had raided with Adrenaline since I first stepped into Black Temple in the summer of 2008. My entire existence in Azeroth was built around raiding and around my guild and I couldn't imagine the game without it. What would I do? Where would I go? Even if I suspected that I probably could find a new home if I advertised my need for it at my blog, I wasn't sure that I even wanted a new home. After so many years, starting all over in a guild where I didn't know anyone, where I had no shared history, no sense of belonging together, felt close to impossible.

Leaving Adrenaline would mean that I would try WoW as a solo game, alt playing and pugging my way through the world. Since I never have had time to explore all the revamped content and the worgen and goblin starting areas, it probably could hold my interest for a while. But deep inside I knew that leaving my guild, most likely was the beginning of the end of my time in WoW. An era coming to an end. No wonder that I hesitated.

Sunday night I had made up my mind after rewriting my farewell post to our guild forums four times and waiting a few days, just like I had promised our GM. I spoke a final time with my closest friends in the guild, and then I got to work, removing my characters from the guild one by one. And all the time I thought about the guy who cut off his own arm when it was stuck under a rock in the desert. I hated what I was doing but I didn't see any alternative. I didn't do it to cause drama, I didn't do it to make a point or make anyone feel sorry for me. I did it partly out of a sense of pride, dignity and self respect, partly because it seemed to be the logical thing to do, the best solution not only for me, but also for my guild.

After two and a half years I was no longer a member of Adrenaline. I was alone again. Lost in the big voids of Azeroth. I didn't cry. I reckon I had already emptied my resources in that field. All I felt was this huge emptiness.

Letters and comments
Little did I expect what would follow the next few days. It turned out that my departure didn't go unnoticed. Letters were written, in- and outside of the game. Comments were written and all those efforts that were made to convince me to come back to the guild brought tears into my eyes. One guildie wrote to me: "If there are hard modes we can't do with you, then I do not want those hard modes. Do not leave, please." You would have to have a heart of stone to resist that.

Another one sent me a compass in the hope that it would help me to find my way back home. He was also rather brutal on our poor GM (who goes under the name Stumps), starting to send me stumpy feet every day, threatening to keep cutting our GM into pieces until I got back to my senses. and returned. And he wasn't the only one to take to blackmail - one of our sweetest, most peaceful members swore that he'd kill one innocent puppy every day until I came back.

Most unhappy of everyone was our GM, who regretted the turn things had taken and was determined not only to get me back into the guild, but to help me work out anything that could be missing for the hardmodes, if it so would mean that he'd had to buy an airplane ticket to Sweden. He made it clear that he'd never give up on getting me back, and he would keep pestering me until I gave in.

Who can resist so much love, coming from a family that I've spent so much time with? Well, I certainly couldn't. 48 hours after my departure I was back in the guild of my heart, back in Adrenaline, the only guild I'll ever belong to for my remaining days in WoW.

25 man struggles
So is all well again now? Sort of. I'm fine with my relation to my guild, but to be honest I'm not entirely sure for how long we will survive. Times are tough for 25 man raiding groups, as Spinksville wrote about the other day, and God knows we too have been struggling a lot over the last month, never sure if we could make the raid take off, more often than not undermanning our raids.

The other night we got a blood transfusion in form a of a whole bunch of players from a smaller guild joining us and hopefully this will take some pressure off us. After rain comes sunshine and things actually look a little brighter now then they have for a long while.

Let's not worry about the future though. All I need to know for now is that I'm back, at home, in the guild where I belong. A happy end and I've put the issues we had behind me. That's a good way to end a week, isn't it?

The toast of this week goes to my GM Stumps. For all the pain the last couple of weeks have brought us both, I think we've learned and ended up a little bit wiser. And we've still got some great adventures ahead of us, I'm certain of that now.

As you said when we talked about it on vent - this book hasn't come to its end yet, and I still have a part in it to play. You haven't given up about my learning curve, so why should I?

This one is for you and and actually for all other guild leaders out there, struggling with the fine balance of pushing their guilds up and beyond while maintaining the atmosphere and level of happiness. It's a damned hard balance act you're doing and there's no wonder if things go wrong once in a while. The crucial question is if you have the ability to recognize when it happens and make something about it.


(Larísa raises her jug and let's her eyes sweep around the room, smiling and nodding to all theose friendly and familiar faces.)

But look over there! Our musicians for this evening have arrived! So let's put those past events behind us and sing and dance and enjoy ourselves until the night ends. Dark shadows may lure around the corner, but tonight I assure you we're out of their reach.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Piggies to brighten your day

Things are very, very quiet in the WoW community this week. Or rather: everyone is busy buzzing about Rift, but since I’m not playing it and not planning to join anytime soon, it holds very little interest to me.

I’ve had a couple of rather dramatic days myself, and I’m still wrestling my mind whether to blog about it or not. Hence my silence.

However, something arrived in the post the other day and I wanted to share it with you, since it gave me a smile.

It’s a Piggie! And in case you have no idea about what a Piggie is, I’ll tell you now. The word was invented by no one else but BBB, who I’ve always thought of as the grandfather of WoW blogging. He had a post a few days ago where he spoke very kindly of PPI and among other things referred to the yearly PPI award as “piggies”.

And this in turn inspired another wonderful blogger, Tesh, to offer me a medal-like icon, which the category winners could use on their blogs to show that their award.

I fell in love with this figure the first time I saw it. Pigtails indeed! While I admit that the Oscar is superior in fame and wealth, it isn’t even close to the piggies when it comes to charm.

It remains to see how many of those we’ll see around. As a matter of fact several of the blogs that have won previously years aren’t active anymore. But I hope someone will pick it up because it’s so cheerful.

And if you haven’t yet been officially awarded, you're free to use the version without the text. I can imagine different kinds of usage. For decoration of course, or perhaps it could replace stars if you're making reviews. Or why not mark out particularly cheerful posts with a piggie, so blog readers who are desperate for something up-beat easily can spot it in the sea of melancholy and apathy that is floating around at the moment.

The piggies saved my week, that’s for sure. Big thanks to BBB and Tesh!