The Game is Evolving, But the Players are Not
The problem with WoW’s current raid progression is that it simply isn’t accessible. Innovation after seven years of being the market leader implies that boss fights need to continue to evolve beyond tank-and-spanks and massive-mob-rushes, but it also has the added drawback of increased complexity. Ordinarily this shouldn’t be an issue, as players continue to learn the more they play and the more they encounter more complex fights. But WoW is an MMO, and that implies players come and go, and the average skill level fluctuates.
I read recently that there are several times more inactive WoW subscribers that once played WoW, than currently active (10 million +) WoW subscribers. I myself have unsubscribed four or five times. This effectively implies that aside from a few hardcore players, most of WoW’s core players continue to rotate. Raids see new players (or older players that haven’t played in a while) returning to newer, scarier, bigger, crazier boss fights. What I am trying to say is, the game is evolving and metamorphosing, but perhaps the player isn’t.
A very tiny percentage of the raiding population in WoW (which itself is a small portion of the overall population, I’d imagine) has conquered the Firelands raid, a fact most bloggers, including Spinks, agrees with. When most of the player base in your MMO is unable to even see (let alone down) the last boss of a raid instance before you are gearing up for the next raid tier, there is a problem. I have no factual information to support this, but this heavy-duty overtuning may well be the reason WoW has been losing a steady (not worrisome, but steady nonetheless) stream of subscribers since Cataclysm released.
The solution does not lie in nerfing the instance to make it more accessible to more players (as is apparently due, this very week), or introducing a “lower difficulty” setting (*groan*), it is to revisit your design principles and ensure that your instances are more accessible to the raiding population to begin with. This straddling the fence with content that is ridiculously difficult, then incredibly easy, and then painfully difficult again has us all confused. Hell even Tobold would like Blizzard to stick to their guns for once.
Blizzard recently said the Deathwing encounter will be the longest and the most complex encounter in-game. So clearly the message isn’t getting through, but until the instance is actually released, I suppose there is always hope.
The first screenshot is of an alliance player who joined the instance for one item off of the first boss, and then left without warning.
The second screenshot is of a horde player helping me in the most unlikely manner. His gestures helped figure out the quest’s gimmick.
You can figure out for yourself who I hate and who I love.
I can’t play this title any more. I have had a blast playing Molyneux’s latest title, but to a point.
Relationship Quests: I discovered that nearly every NPC in the game had a unique name (though not a unique personality) and several factors determined whether they loved or despised me. This revelation led to figuring out how every single NPC had quests for you, provided you improve your relationship level with them. This was exciting, but also incredibly anal, time-consuming and repetitive. I think it is a great idea, and it breathes new life into the concept of a living, breathing world, but the repetitive nature greatly detracts from the concept. After a few relationship quests, I was just tired of the whole thing, especially after having the dog dig through the 16th random dig site for a small piece of who-gives-a-shit-anymore.
Weapon Leveling: Halfway through the game I found how the weapon upgrade system worked. I was excited. I picked up Briar’s_Blaster, and went about finishing the three objectives required for improving the weapon (earn 10,000 gold from jobs, kill 150 men, complete 30 quests). When the gun wad finally fully upgraded, I realized I had no idea what I was supposed to do next, or where in the storylines had I misplaced myself. Mind you, this wasn’t a “that was so awesome, I completely forgot about the story” moment. This was more of a “all that work for a lousy +12 damage, and now I don’t even know where I was” moment.
Collection Mini-game: Of course the icing on the cake was the collection mini-games. You had to find and shoot 50 gnomes scattered all over the world, in addition to silver keys, the highly elusive gold keys and corresponding chests. Then there were the Demon Doors with their own criteria, as well as rare flowers, and all those damn books. Having collected nearly 70% in each category stated above, I realized I had been spending all of my in-game time collecting these items and getting aggravated when I couldn’t locate something in a particular area, instead of pursuing the ultimate goal: having fun!
I love Fable 3, and I have had a blast with what I have done so far. It will remain as one of the very few games that I actually enjoyed to a point, but never actually finished, thus going against my completionist nature. But I am done with it, now and forever, and I am OK with that.
Cataclysm has been a blast so far. There are a million things to do, and with all the changes to the game, I continue to find new things in the UI that I had not seen or experienced before. Juet yesterday I realized that you could see a ton of information about guildies via the drop down menu button in the top right corner of the guild management window. Who knew?! You did? Well then, go have a cookie.
Professions: My cooking is at 525, but that wasn’t difficult to do because I can fish for hours on end when I am catching up on my weekly shows. The caught fish simultaneously raised my fishing to 525, and cooking it took my cooking to 525 as well. I tried my hands at Archeology, but after getting the raptor mount try as I might, I just cannot bring myself to do it any more. It is just… exhausting. I dropped Alchemy as a profession halfway through Wrath of the Lich King, and picked up Blasksmithing. It is now stuck somewhere in the mid-hundreds, and feeling utterly neglected. I should probably do something about that. My enchanting is now finally at 500, and although that is a ways to go yet, I am sure I will get there by the week’s end.
Auction House Master: I am back to playing the auction house. I have been back at WoW for merely two weeks and have already added closed to 50K to my coffers. You might think that is exceptional, but it really isn’t. I don;t normally bag that much gold in such a short amount of time. The prices for reagents and goods in Cataclysm have, let’s just say, skyrocketed past the Cathedral’s steeples in Stormwind. Just the other day I saw Maelstrom Crystals go from 1K a pop to 7K a pop (thanks to the alchemy nerf!). I also discovered the joy of a wonderful new mod called Trade Skill Master. It is too complex to explain here, suffice it to say it is bloody brilliant, and you should look into it on Curse or WoWInterface.
End-game Content: Uh, I haven’t done any yet. Honestly I haven’t even completed all the normal instances, let alone the heroic ones. Part of the reason is because I have only so many gaming hours in a day. But part of it is because, well, I am scared. Everyone in Cataclysm keeps talking about how hard dungeons are in Cataclysm. Hell Ghostcrawler himself admitted that dungeons were hard, yo. I keep meaning to try heroics, but my timings are so much different from everyone else in my core group of WoW friends that it rarely, if ever, works out. My goal is to complete every dungeon on normal, and every dungeon on heroic by this week’s end. Next week I will will start working on Glory of the Cataclysmic Hero.
So I finally got in the beta. Sort of. It took two days to download because the download rates, despite a kickass connection, were abysmal. When the game finally downloaded, patched, updated (rinse repeat the last two a few times), it wouldn’t launch. It kept givingme some error about how servers were not available. When the game finally launched, I kept crashing at the character creation loading screen.
This morning, when I was finally able to re-create a Guardian Dwarf Warrior and enter the game, the game crashed again. Too disgusted to try again, I shut it down and punched a kitten in the face. I made up the last part, but I was a little too frustrated to try it again for a while. I know this is the beta, and there will be some inherent issues, and I should be more understanding. I will be eventually. Just not now, after struggling with the game for two straight days.
Wow is full of pop-culture references. I remember in vanilla WoW when I accidentally figured out who Muigin and Larion in Un’Goro crater were referring to. Cataclysm added a metric ton of new references to this list, and took the reference game to a whole new level. Although there were many memorable moments leveling from 80-85, to moments in particular stand out.
The first was a quest in Stormwind where Matthias Shaw, leader of the SI:7 asks you to locate and liberate one missing Jack Bauden. Now as a die-hard fan of 24, the moment I received this quest, I knew it was a reference to 24. Lo and behold, when I finally find Bauden, this is what he says to me: “I am SI:7 Agent Jack Bauden. This is the longest day of my life.”
I used to love Strong Bad at one point (still do!) I can’t remember the last time I saw it, but I have very fond memories of the Poopsmith and Strong Mad. One character particularly sticks out in memory, and that was TROGGDORRRR THE BURRRNNINATORRRR! So when I came across this NPC in Deepholm, I nearly feel off my chair laughing. Well done Blizzard! Well done indeed!
Every once in a while I accumulate too many things in my reader that I want to talk about, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Most often I just end up deleting those things after a week or so, and other times, I just mash them together in a crockpot and put up this post. Now granted this isn’t a weekly segment by any definition, but it helps me square away a plethora of information that I think is important enough to share.
APB Closed Beta Information
APB was a great, ambitious project gone horribly awry. Mere months after launch it was shut down due to a wide range of issues and acquired by GamersFirst. The game will now ship as an F2P MMO titled APB Reloaded. A twitter post last week claimed that closed beta could begin as early as February. You can sign up here. I avoided this title because of… well… I suppose you could call it intuition, or sixth sense. Some prefer to call it lessons learned from open beta! I played the game for a few level pre-launch, and I knew right there and then that it needed some serious re-tweaking. Milamber tried it, I don’t think he’s too happy about the eventual outcome. That’s a good amount of money down Realtime Worlds’ bankrupt gullet!
CEO Bjorn Book-Larsson, in his latest blog post claims that nearly 20,000 people have signed up for the beta, and they expect to leverage the input from 6,000 to 8,000 players during the first round. Bad news for fans/players of the original title though: nothing will carry over from the original game, even if you had the highest level character. Sorry! Here’s to hoping the second time around will be met with boast-worthy success.
RIFT Launch Date and Design Principles
Rift will launch on March 1, 2011. WoW. I did not expect that. Given that they are just going through their closed betas, I honestly expected the game not to launch any point before the summer. I guess they are a lot more ready than I imagined. More accurately, they believe that they are a lot more ready than I imagined. So Rift hits in March. Will it be the next WoW-kil- oh forget it!
“There are countless unwritten rules for creating an MMO world that successful designs in past games have impressed upon the entire industry. No monsters on the roads; never stop the player from questing or doing what he plans to do; group content should always be separate from solo content. While I will acknowledge that these sorts of rules of thumb are the guidelines that we designers live by, challenging them is where we have found a lot of success in RIFT.”
- Will Cook, Trion Worlds’ content designer for Rift (RIFT?), RIFT challenges unwritten rules of the genre in a new dev diary, Massively.com
1. We like it when you surprise us. We don’t it when you surprise us with something that we can’t even wrap our heads around.
2. Is it Rift or RIFT? And wasn’t it Planes of Telara at some point? Or Excalibur Tractor or something?
What the WoW?
In shocking news of the week (not really though), Cataclysm sold 4.7 million units in one month. That is ridiculous. But also curious. If WoW has 12 million players worldwide, does that mean 7.3 million people were simply not impressed enough by the game to actually buy the expansion? 60% of the alleged WoW base never actually bought the expansion. Is it me, or is that just a little strange?
Either way, nearly 5 million active WoW players in Cataclysm is impressive as hell, especially when you consider Cryptic was ecstatic over 200,000 players in Star Trek Online.
Second, as is the case with all systems in WoW, the Dungeon Finder tool was met with resounding success and was one of my favorite additions to the game. It seems Blizzard isn’t hanging up the old towel, and is at it again to further improve the dungeon finder tool.
“Groups could benefit if they knew they didn’t wipe because the healer didn’t manage mana well enough, but because the DPS wasn’t high enough, or boss adds weren’t properly rounded up, etc.”
Now that is smart. Educating the player why their group failed will go a long way to alleviate the tensions in pugs. As someone who has played a Holy Paladin for over six years, I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I heard this. That is fantastic, let’s finalize that and put it on live servers ASAP!
Three Times the LOTRO
Turbine tripled their revenue by going with the Free-to-Play model in Lord of the Rings Online. You hear that Afrasiabi? *sigh*
Make Love, Not Guild Wars
10 years of Guild Wars have passed if you include the development of the title as well. The team has come a long way, and some of their most glorious and touching moments are highlighted in this short and sweet video that goes over the last 10 years.
The Secret World, as Forced Upon us by Ragnar Tornquist
I hate you Ragnar. Months of wait for some but of information My face lights up when I see the title mentioned in my feed reader. And what do I get? EA will be co-publishing The Secret World. That’s it. You suck Ragnar, you suck.
It does take one red flag though. EA has previously published The Sims Online, Motor City Online, Earth and Beyond and Hellgate: London. Do you know how many of those were successful? I’m nervous now.
Yes I am back to WoW. I had to. When you play for five years with kids like these, you aren’t left with a lot of choice.
It took a lot longer to get back into the game than I expected. The UI restructuring alone took well over four hours, and you will see it in the screenshot below. I also had to redo my talents, which took a while because I decided to level as a Holy Paladin (shocking I know), learned the new talents, including the faster flying (I can now fly at 409% travel speed, factoring in Crusader Aura and 10% speed increase from guild talents), cleared out my inventory, learned the new mastery for all of my professions and picked up Archeology. I even did the cooking and fishing dailies.
I leveled extensively on my sea horse in Cataclysm, so in the interesting of a varied starting experience, I decided to go with Hyjal. My very first quest was “The Earth Rises”, the completion of which rewarded the Scalded Rockscale Shoulderpads. And I promptly replaced my epic shoulders from Wrath of the Lich King.
Now granted I didn’t raid much beyond half of Ulduar, but come on man, first quest, first green? *sigh*
A Love Letter from Krothar
It has been less than 3 hours since I posted my top seven games for 2010, listing WoW as one of them, and claiming how I had quit the game, but maybe something will provoke me to go back to it.
An hour after I put that up, I got the following mail from my friend Krothar (yes that is his toon’s name, who would name their kid ‘Krother’? Sheesh!), fellow dwarf paladin and one of the best damn paladin healers I have ever had the pleasure of playing with.
Some of the boys and I have been running 5 mans together… we talk about you often and make fun of you even more often. But only because you miss your fatty dwarf.
Happy new year from the boys who remember the good old days.
– Krothar and the CoV vanilla crew.
P.S.: Milamber wants you to post this on your blog because he wants to be famous.
What Makes MMOs Special
This is where the MMO genre shines. Where other genres are remembered by the gameplay experiences you had or what systems they had in place, or the awesome graphics, or the epic storylines, MMOs are defined, in addition to the above and more importantly, by their communities, the relationships you forge along the way, and the friends that you make. I have played with nearly everyone in the screenshot above for nearly five years, and no amount of high end graphics (hello Crysis), epic lore (hello Dragon Age), storyline (hello Mass Effect), quirky mechanics (hello Plants and Zombies), atmospheric design (hello Metro 2033) or stellar questing/mission structure (hello Starcraft II) can replace the feeling of going up against a tough battle with the same tried and tested crew that you know won’t fail.
And even if it will fail, it will still be a helluva lotta fun!
Goddamn it guys! Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!
“But y’know, I haven’t gotten the WoW Faithful all in a tizzy by saying something bad about their beloved game, so I figured I’d shoot out a post anyway.
The Worgen quest line has possibly been even more hand-holdy than the Night Elf quest line is! There are some quests that literally task you to click on a vehicle. Once you do, your character jumps in, goes on a canned ride where you have no control, then jumps out in front of a quest NPC that you have to click on to finish the quest. SUCCESS! You’re an awesome wolfie, you pulled it off! It’s like an MMO for pre-schoolers.”
Why do we rush through new content if we are always so starved for it?
An interesting dichotomy exists in MMOs, especially those that are subscription-based. Players, generally speaking, get very antsy when new content isn’t available and they are farming the same old (conquered) content for months. The clamor for more content reaches deafening proportions, with the truly hardcore claiming their monthly subscriptions deserve additional content. Then the developer creates the new content, populates the world with thousands of new NPCs, mobs, quests, encounters and events, and releases it.
A week later, the top players have killed the toughest boss in the game, effectively wrapping up all endgame PvE content for the time being. Sure you could argue that:
- It is only the 10-man Nefarian kill, the 25-man remains to be killed: OK first, Blizzard said 10-man and 25-man and are alike in difficulty, so nah nah na-na-naaaah! Second, let us also not forget that the toughest encounter during the initial days of WotLK was the 10-man Sartharion. And third, the 25-man version was bugged out, and even if it wasn’t, how long before that bastard is killed as well?
- There is a ton of new content for starting players and those who want to re-roll: Sure, but we are talking about the players who were anxious for new content. This effectively implies they were already playing. And second, because they were already playing the game, re-rolling was clearly a option they had considered and either exhausted or ignored. The new races might cause a few players to test out the new starting zones, but by-and-large, the player who cried for new content is looking for content at and/or above his level.
- There is Archeology: Yup, and if you would take Tobold’s word for it, it is also quite entertaining. But how long will Archeology keep you happy, or leveling new professions, or freaking fishing?
The point is that there may be a ton of new features in the new expansion, but the feature we are most interested in, new storyline content, we zip through at breakneck speed.
I looked around in the blogosphere, and at the time of writing this post (Saturday):
- Vixsin was already level 85
- El Armadillo Verde was level 82.5
- Stumps had not reached level cap, but raised his Engineering to 525, thus achieving server first. Woohoo!
- Greedy Goblin was 7% away from level 85
- Rohan is also level 85
The list can go on and on. Did I mention it hasn’t been a full week since Cataclysm hit? I am not saying I am any different, hell I’d probably be in my first raid instance by this time. But the fact of the matter remains: MMO expansions are one of the few things in life where the destination matters a lot more than the journey. Perhaps we are genetically coded to get to the finish line ahead of the competition, and much like a 100-meter dash, completely ignore the periphery, the surroundings and the length of track that you sprinted on to get to the end.
I just find it baffling that guilds like Exorsus and Paragon have already cleared all endgame content, and will not be trapped in an endless cycle of repitition till the next content patch. Where is the fun in that? Again, I am not saying I am above all that. No, not at all. I am very much a part of this MMO community, and possess the same mindset for getting there first, beating the competition, but at least I am increasingly aware of how much I am missing on the way.
I’m quite certain that realm first achievements don’t particularly help either.
“Archeology is a complete waste of time. I love it!”
I have played WoW for a long time.
I remember the day I went to get it in snowy Ithaca, NY. Best Buy had already run out of copies by the time I got to the store. The clerk told me they will get more copies within the week and that he was sorry. I left the mall quite upset, it was Thanksgiving break, I wasn’t going home, and I had nine days of vacations with a few other international students in the dorms. As I sat at Pyramid Mall’s entrance, waiting for the local TCAT (Tompkins County Area Transit) bus, I looked to my left and realized they had opened a new target store in the area. The bus wouldn’t be here for another 15 minutes, so I just decided to meander around inside, get a little warmer.
Lo and behold, as I traversed Target’s empty aisles, I came across the game section and to my surprise, there sat nearly 20 unsold copies of World of Warcraft, all new and shiny, waiting for their new (soon-to-be-addict) owners to take them home. I picked up a copy, giddy with excitement and rushed home as quickly as I could. I opened the wrapping, and inserted the first of four discs to start the installation process. the installation took nearly a half hour, but that gave me enough time to go over the game’s gorgeous manual (yes, there used to be manuals kids, and yes, we used to read them).
I leveled a Hunter to level 20. Then I switched servers and leveled a paladin to level 60. I took over a guild. I raided Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. I conquered Ahn’Qiraj and sat on C’Thun’s throne. I wandered the hallways of Naxxaramas. I was there when infernals fell from the skies in the Burning Crusade. I was there when the Lich King emerged in Northrend. I was there through all of it, raiding, PvP’ing, fishing, farming and manipulating the Auction House to damn near gold-cap a character.
Now it is time for Cataclysm, and although initially I was very excited about the expansion, I find now, a day from launch, that I am OK with not playing it on launch day. I am OK with not playing it a month from now. Actually I am OK with not playing it at all. This isn’t because I don’t enjoy WoW, or because I am sick of it. I just think after six years of a love-hate (primarily love) relationship, it is time for a clean break. It is time to find something else to occupy my time with in the long-term. It is time, put simply, to move on. And although I am half-tempted to follow the 10 things to do before you quit WoW list by Elitist Jerks to the letter, I think it’s better to make a quiet exit.
There is the new EVE Corp by Massively’s Brendan Drain. There is the Perpetuum’s free month, courtesy of Chris Cavelle. There is Rift’s beta. SW:TOR, The Secret World, the free-to-play version of Champions Online and Jumpgate Evolution are being crafted as I write this. There is so much to look at now, and so much to look forward to. And as much as I love WoW, there are 12 million others who can band together to take down Deathwing. I will be over here, off of the beaten path, trying out something new.
Via WoW.com, I came across this hilarious comedian on YouTube. He has a wide range of segments that he puts up regularly, but perhaps the one that makes the most sense to us as gamers is called “Literal Trailers”. It is very difficult to explain what a literal trailer is, just know that it is a hilarious spoof of video game trailers using original footage from the trailer itself. For example: his latest literal trailer targets Blizzard’s epic Cataclysm cinematic.
Just watch the video, you will be glad you did, because it is absolutely hilarious!
This was bound to happen. We are exactly four weeks, unless my math is off, and it usually isn’t, from the release of Cataclysm (EDIT: thanks for the confirmation, Tobold!) The blogosphere is abuzz with opinions regarding the end of Wrath and the pending beginning of Cataclysm.
A lot of things are now happening in the player-base simultaneously.
The End of End-Game Raiding
First and foremost is the boredom, either brought about because your guild has been farming endgame for a while now, and there is literally nothing left for you to do anymore. Or because they never got to end-game, and they are so close to “greens that are better than purples” that they see no point in raiding. In any case, fewer and fewer people are motivated to engage in end-game raiding, especially if the primary motivation is loot, because said loot will be obsolete in less than a month.
The Lazy Subscribers
Another is a sense of lethargy for some players, regardless of their endgame persuasion, they are just tired of the existing grind and just need something new. This group includes players like me, who, for one reason or another, just cannot bring themselves to play another few months leading up to the sparkly new content that will once again spark their interest. I let my subscription run out about two months prior, not because I had conquered all content, or because there was nothing left to do. I got tired of two things. First, the inability to raid with my friends because my geographical location is nine hours ahead of EST. Second, because despite my love for WoW, I find myself increasingly aware of the endless grind for better gear. Once you make it to level 80, the only way forward, especially in PvP is to farm more loot. Whatever the case, I won’t be back before Cataclysm.
The Overzealous Overachievers
This is a special band of individuals who go into hyperdrive mode when an expansion nears. They have neat little lists of all the things they want to accomplish before the new content hits, especially if the new contents changes or removes some of the older contents. The list items range from normal (explore all the kingdoms) to completely luck-based (obtain a raptor mount from Zul’Gurub) to the utterly insane (Complete LoreMaster when you never even touched one of the two vanilla continents). These are the people that (probably) spend the most amount of time in the pre-expansion hit world.
The Biggest PvPenis
And finally, PvP explodes as more and more players are logging on primarily through force of habit, only to realize they haven’t much to do online, and then join the BG queue to fill that void in their hearts known as pre-expansion blues.
Everyone is talking about the expansion in one context or another it seems.
Syncaine has a post up about the differences he sees between Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, the most prominent of which, it seems to him, is the tendency for WoW to “prevent bad things from happening to players”. In the interest of partiality, it should be said Syncaine’s opinions notwithstanding, he hasn’t played WoW in quite some time. I remember the older days of vanilla WoW, when everything was blatant and well-pronounced grind, and while I understand where Syncaine is coming from, I would much rather prefer the, uh, I suppose hand-holding for the lack of a better word, than corehounds that spawned every 18 minutes, and running UBRS 40 times to get your guild keyed for Onyxia.
Spinks wonders whether the WoW formula will eventually cater only to the ultra (turbo?) hardcore raiders, and more people will continue to dip briefly into F2P titles before something else half-interesting comes out, endlessly repeating that cycle. I do agree with this point to an extent, but I think it needs to be refined a little. I don’t think people get tired of raiding, or WoW would have died out in 2005. I think people get tired of raiding the same content, a phenomenon to which Blizzard has consistently responded with new content patches introducing new instances and/or expansions.
Psychochild, as usual, has an incredibly well-thought out post about the problem he sees with the MMO industry today. Although his list is comprised of some very broad concepts, what resonated with me a lot more was Wolfsheads comment underneath the post. He says:
“You’ve made some great points! For me, the big culprit is unambitious and risk averse game designers — they create the rules and they set the agenda. The buck has to stop with them. They are the slippery pied pipers that the players follow via a steady diet of rewards and incentivized gameplay.
People are simply experiencing MMO fatigue. I believe MMO bloggers are just echoing the dissatisfaction of the MMO community in this regard. This is a complex subject and there are many forces at work which are contributing to the general malaise out there. Just as the Roman Empire fell due to many reasons, so too are MMOs in decline for many reasons. Here are a few off the top of my head:
1) Lack of Choice – Where are the quality niche MMOs? How is it we live in a 500 channel universe for television but we only have a few AAA+ MMOs to choose from? Obviously, good MMOs cost a heck of a lot of money to create. We’ll have to wait this one out while the costs to produce MMOs comes down much like what happened to the music business where anyone with a computer can produce a studio quality album.
2) Lack of Innovation – Players are bored with essentially the same content (dressed up as “new” expansions) being offered to them. There’s a reason why most TV series — even good ones — don’t last more than a few years. There’s a reason we don’t use cell phones that are 10 years old too. Unless you are selling toilet paper, every business must innovate to stay alive.
3) Lack of Player Freedom – MMOs have morphed into big budget single-player video games with Hollywood cinematics that have more in common with Zelda and God of War than Ultima Online and EverQuest. Players must stay on the rails. The story always ends the same. No deviation. Also, where is the dynamic world we were promised years ago?
4) The Rise of Demographics and Metrics and Based Design – MMOs are now designed to appeal to the widest possible demographic. While this is good for the bottom line and there are some good things about this, there are also a lot of negatives such as dumbed-down gameplay, welfare epics, etc.
5) Convenience Based Design that Panders to Time-Starved, Short Attention Span Gamers – This is all about money and related to #4 above. Instead of the player conforming to the virtual world, now the virtual world must conform to the player. The result is solo friendly MMOs. Travel is almost instantaneous and rendered pretty much meaningless via portals and dungeon finder tools. Loot means nothing as well as it basically grows on trees in most MMOs.
6) The Death of Community – Thanks to solo friendly MMOs, people barely chat anymore and why would they? Community and playing online with other people was one of the big selling points of MMOs years ago, now it’s just a marketing ploy. What community is left is dominated by vulgar jokes and general idiocy on the Trade Channel.”
I particular like point # 5, that convenience-based design which panders to time-starved, short-attention-span-gam- have I talked about Larisa’s post yet?
Larisa, being Larisa, instead offers a list of reasons why WoW is still one of the greatest things to happen to gamers and nerds (a double-whammy category that I am a proud member of, as is, I am certain, Larisa) worldwide. A lot of her points are personal, unique experiences, but then again, that is what online gaming is all about: experiencing the same world through the lens of the people we interact in it with, and through the lens of our own distinct backgrounds, ideologies and experiences.
Returning to WoW
Since I came back to WoW, I have enjoyed a few key features introduced since I last weathered Azeroth’s tribulations. The Dungeon Finder is one such tool, and though I will religiously do a 5-man daily to accumulate those precious Emblems of Frost, the novelty wore off after a while, and the unused 400 Emblems of Triumph in my backpack became enough of an indication that the Dungeon Finder tool had outlived his functionality for my main.
So I started looking for alternate means to enjoy various other aspects of WoW. One of these was the leveling of a new character, a mage called Septimus (he was created originally as a bank alt on the 7th of July, 2007; hence Septimus). That too has it’s charms, as I am taking the time to explore each story and side-quest in WoW, trying to take in the breathing world before Deathwing comes along and fucks everything up.
Arathi Basin and The Burning Crusade
One other element that I have dabbled into with increasingly frequency is PvP. I have played World of Warcraft off and on for almost six years now. In those six years, I have PvP’ed during those lull moments in the game’s history, with varying degrees of success. It started with AB-premades. Our guild had killed C’Thun 4 months prior. We had 7/15 on farm in Naxx-60, and with The Burning Crusade looming around the corner, raiding became more of a chore with every passing day. People stopped showing up, those that showed up didn’t have their heart in the game. I was beginning to feel like I was losing all semblance of a cohesive guild identity. At first I was comfortable with the idea. After all, The Burning Crusade would necessitate that we remove 15 players from our ranks as it supported the 25-man raid structure and not the 40-man raid structure. But then I saw less than 10 people log on a primary raiding night, and I knew something had to be done.
And so the Arathi Basin farm group was created. There were close to 25 of us, rotating in and out, depending on who was online at the time, and we started learning the ropes of Arathi Basin. In the beginning one or two days, the battleground was a sweet and sour experience. We 5-capped a game, which gave us great confidence and momentum… to survive and regroup after we were 5-capped a few games later. By the end of December 2006, we were rampaging through Arathi Basin. The raid was divided into 5 parties as follows:
- Group 1: Stables – 1 individual (preferably a rogue or cat)
- Group 2: Lumber Mill – 3 individuals (two DPS, one healer)
- Group 3: Gold Mine – 3 individuals (two DPS, one healer)
- Group 4: Blacksmith – 4 individuals (three DPS, one healer)
- Group 5: Hit Squad – 4 individuals (three DPS, one healer OR four DPS with a hybrid class that could heal moderately).
The function of groups 1-4 is fairly obvious. They would cap their targets and stay at the node to defend. The work, however, was cut out for the Hit Squad. They would ride with group 4 (Blacksmith), and depending on the scenario, several things could happen:
- No (or light) opposition at Blacksmith, Gold Mine and Lumber Mill fight in deadlock or leaning towards us – charge Farm
- No (or light) opposition at Blacksmith, Gold Mine or Lumber Mill in trouble – hit the respective node (if both in trouble, hit Lumber Mill) and reinforce
- Heavy opposition at Blacksmith, reinforce Blacksmith team
The Hit Squad basic function was to serve as a traveling band of miscreants, bringing death and destruction to any and all challengers in our four primary nodes. If we secured all four nodes, then we would call up four additional reserves (1 from Lumber Mill, 1 from Gold Mine, 2 from Blacksmith), add them to the Hit Squad, and all eight would endlessly hit Farm, even if it meant endless deaths, because as long as you kept the enemy focused on holding the Farm, the pressure was taken off of the other nodes. In extreme cases or really dumb opposition, we even left just one person to defend each node, with eleven individuals taking on their farm. If we got four nodes in the first 90 seconds of combat, we normally ended up with a 5-cap win.
If, however, the Horde was moderately organized, and we could get only three nodes, the focus would be to get Blacksmith, Lumber Mill, and Stables. Lumber Mill, especially with the distance slider turned up, served as a warning system for the other two nodes, a liberty you cannot enjoy with the Mine. The groups would remain the same, except group 3 (Gold Mine) would split, with one member from the group reinforcing Group 1, 2 and 4 at Stables, Lumber Mill and Blacksmith. The Hit Squad would continue to reinforce nodes as needed or bum-rush into certain death at Farm, or utter uncertainty at the Gold Mine, the objective being to keep applying pressure to the Horde-held nodes so they never got a chance to attack ours. In a game like that we got a lot of HKs, and almost always came out with a 3-cap, drawn-out win.
The group had to be very tightly controlled and the slightest deviation from the plan could mean the difference between capping or losing a node. With such strict rules for PvP, morale management was a fairly major aspect of the pre-made. I had to rotate people between nodes to try and ensure everyone would see each node as everyone got cycled through it. While I tried to make it fun for everyone, I didn’t enjoy it as much because of the sheer level of organization that went into it. That is part of the reason I have such respect for Gevlon’s now-defunct PvP project and Bee’s notion that PvP cannot be fun.
Our win:lose ration over the course of 5 weeks of Arathi Basin PvP was 108:3. We lose 3 games in all, and we lost all three in the first two days.
PvP and Wrath of the Lich King
I can’t afford to do the afore-mentioned any longer. Partly because I am no longer the GM of a guild with 200-odd members. And partly because I simply can’t be bothered to lead anything anymore. Being a guild leader for three years does that to you. That being said, I have been PvP’ing with increasing frequency in the last few weeks, and it is remarkable how much more complex the game has become since those early days in Arathi Basin.
I started small, participating in a few Wintergrasp battles. And that was important, because it taught me the importance of group strategy and resilience. I got absolutely slaughtered by any rogue that could sink his daggers into me. More times than I care to remember, I was stun-locked from 100%-0% with both my lolbubble and trinket on cooldown. After that I invested my 1,500 or so Stonekeeper Shards and accumulated honor to get myself a full set of PvP gear, getting my resilience just above 900. I do much better now, and I can’t recall the last time I was stunlocked 100%-0% by an undead rogue named “Afkbathroom” (you bastard).
From there I went on to queuing for random battlegrounds. I know it is hard to believe, but up until three weeks ago, I didn’t even know what Island of Conquest or Strand of the Ancients looked like. I also started a 2v2 team called ‘Turban of Vengeance’, an homage to my old beloved guild, ‘Cross of Vengeance’. My partner in crime, Valisa, is a veteran PvP’er with several titles and accolades under his belt. Our initial run was last week, and in 14 games, we were 8 wins to 6 losses. Not bad for the first week, I think.
But the one thing I have noticed consistently in PvP is that no matter how many times you run a battleground, it is never the same. Every time you enter the skirmish, the experience is different, there are no pre-determined set of abilities that the boss character uses, there are no rules, there are series of events that define the experience (e.g., Kel’Thuzad will sodomize you at 35% health etc.) Each time I enter a PvP zone, I am unsure of the outcome, I have to react to the situation dynamically and on the fly, and I have to respond to threats in a logical manner, not in any pre-conceived pattern dictated by static variables and triggered by player actions. And in that, I completely agree with Christopher Cavelle’s assessment, that “the true test of any player’s skill is pvp”. I have been a PvE player for a very long time, and I know I am a fantastic healer. But there is just something about the dynamic, volatile, utter madness nature of PvP that piques my curiosity and gives my e-peen an e-boner. And in all bluntness, PvE, in my humble opinion, does not even come close to the sheer level of skill needed to be a capable PvP player, especially a healer.
<Shush in Vent> was created recently, but the history of the members can be traced back to vanilla WoW. We are a closely-knit social fraternity of mature, casual players, and we have played together for over five years. Over the course of time, we have gotten to know one another in real life as well. Our career in WoW has included achieving server firsts, attaining old-school Grandmaster PvP titles and leading the server in the opening of the Ahn’Qiraj gates. There have also been times when we lay dormant for months. But at the end of the day, we have always kept track of each other.
Since we have known one another for so long, there is a natural level of trust and camaraderie. We don’t have ‘ranks’ in our guild. Everyone has full access to officer chat and the guild bank, and everyone is considered and treated on equal footing. Of course we step up to the plate as needed, such as leading in an instance or coordinating a PvP raid, but we are effectively a cohesive, collective conscience, multi-faceted in backgrounds and united in purpose and direction.
We have played WoW since launch, and almost all of us have participated in WoW betas before. We know how the beta system works and how crucial player feedback is to the development process. We would be absolutely delighted experience the content in Cataclysm and provide profuse feedback as needed.
Courtesy of MMO-Champion, several zone maps from the upcoming third expansion of World of Warcraft, Cataclysm, are now available. They show both old zones ravaged by the cataclysmic event, and newer, never-before seen zones. I am particularly impressed by the way they have taken elements from the old world, and left them as vestiges in the revamped zones. If I wasn’t excited about Cataclysm before, I sure as hell am now.