Thursday, June 13, 2013

When the Dust Settles

What real-time web updating looks like when you don't have one post a day...

This time yesterday, everyone got really excited. This morning, the Blogsphere has a distinctive post-announcement vibe to it. In fact, I'd suggest there might be a few 5.4 reveal hangovers after what was frankly a HUGE infodump. I have seen some people suggest that 5.4 might be just too much to cope with altogether. On reflection overnight, I can appreciate the merit of that statement.

There has been two key changes to the way patches have been deployed by Blizzard post-Cataclysm. One is the frequency at which they are being applied to the game, the other is the speed with which these new features are appearing. This has lead to people like me simply being unable to 'complete' content within the timeframe of it's application, and has forced a massive reassessment of how players use choice as a gaming tool. This excess of decision making has affected everyone in the game: whether you're a Hardcore raider who now has to decide whether to Flex or LFR (or both) or a more Casual player who's list of Battle Pets to capture is now so long you've had to completely re-write your 'To Capture' List. The biggest single problem to 'completing' the game is no longer what you're given, it is the way in which you organise the time you have to play. When WoW Insider provides a guide on Time Management, it's time to finally accept that things have changed.

I've been lamenting this pretty much constantly since we started this Expansion: lists have been made and discarded, I'm on my second pad full of random scribblings, of projects I was going to start but failed to complete, simply because they ceased to be current. However, just because the game has moved on, it does not mean relevance has diminished. Let's take yesterday as an example, in game with a Guildie (and regular reader of this Blog.) He's been trying to search for a Vial of the Sands for some time, and he was digging in the Old World to do so. Of course, there's no problem doing this (and some may argue it's actually quicker) but the fact remains that an entire mechanic was introduced in Pandaria to allow you to 'unearth' current content and still have access to Old World fragments via being Exalted with the Lorewalkers. My Guildie, by his own admission, was utterly clueless... however, I find myself thinking this isn't actually his fault. It's not like there's a Blizzard Guide on this he can easily access... and here's a big part of this accelerated content's 'problem.'

Things move so fast, it is often becoming impossible to remember what 'version' of events is current.

I find myself looking at that statement with a measure of incredulity: I can remember being highly critical in the past of things NOT moving fast, of having to sit and metaphorically tap my foot while I waited for Blizzard to bring the content. Now we have this pace, I can't cope. I know I'm not the only one either. Does this mean however that I'm atypical? Is everyone else sitting around bored, waiting for new stuff, or is the pace just right? Whatever your speed is, however, are you clear on where you need to go when 5.4 hits?

As if by magic, a Quote appears :D Shouldn't this be Blizzard's job?

I remember reading a lot of stuff by Kurn, after she announced her retirement from raiding. One of her arguments, which still rings true even now, is that it should be Blizzard's job to educate people on how things work and not the task of the players themselves. It's always been a delicate balance: when Blizzard will, as above, arbitrarily point people to web resources, you might think that's to help alleviate their CS Ticket queue times with people asking the obvious. The fact is there is often only the time before a patch transition to give people the most basic direction they need (points, gear) and if you mess that up, the consequences can be catastrophic (remember Blizzard giving us an extra three weeks to gather points when they stuffed up the VP/JP conversions and told everyone they were free to spend?) The flurry of VERY DELIBERATELY WORDED blog posts pre-5.3 I suspect will already mean Blizzard CM's are frantically drafting similar documents for every key feature in 5.4, with deliberate lead-time for Mr Street and anyone else with a Twitter account to field questions right the way across the Summer. If you thought being a CM was a thankless task already, I suspect the next three months will have EVERYONE earning their gold.

This inevitably means a lot of features simply don't get the time devoted to them. Professions, Archaeology, Rare Spawns, Treasure Hunting... all those 'minority' areas are covered by Fan Sites. Blizzard I suspect will never find the time to thank enough those people who provide these services, apart from perhaps immortalising as many of them as possible in game. The fact remains, that the more 'stuff' Blizzard packs in, the more difficult it becomes to be able to know how you do them all without some kind of map. 5.4 desperately needs a better map than the patches that have preceded it. That fact cannot be emphasised enough, because a lot of people are coming close to losing the plot completely, and I'd count myself in that number. As a result I think I know what I'll be doing this summer, and that's making some Guides myself to the parts of the game in Pandaria that I've had trouble grasping.

There really is a lot to take in, especially on days like yesterday, and it can be easy to forget how daunting that can be in a wider context.


sprowt said...

I think it's sometimes difficult to remember as well, that the majority of players don't spend time reading up on the game and the finer points of it. Some of them don't even know that such out-of-game resources exist.

I know people personally who either don't know, don't care, or have simply made a point in the majority of cases to work it out for themselves without any website help. Whether that's a personal choice in an attempt to further challenge themselves (I CAN make this flat-pack without reading the instructions), or down to the amount of time available to them (I have x hours available to play - I'm not going to spend half of them reading about playing ...), I don't know.

I do know that, as my personal gaming time has reduced, and the amount of information coming out has increased, I'm finding I'm more often playing catch-up with the finer points and just having to soak up the "big news" items.

Marcus Ty said...

Having played the game for well over 6 years now I'm finding the rate of patch and content updates a little tiring. Perhaps we can't master all stages of the game and sooner or later many players will have to specialize. I guess many do. Perhaps it's a consequence of the size and complexity of the game as its grown over time.

redhattedrogue said...

I agree with both folks above me. (And with you.)

It's definitely been a psychological adjustment for me. You said in another recent blog, I think, that the devs overcompensated in Mists for all the lack of variety (and even, arguably, depth) in the end game during Cata. I'm not sure they did so in an objective sense (if it's even possible to be objective here), but I do agree they may have misperceived how much change the playerbase could handle in such a short period.

It takes a while for many of us to wipe our brains of the idea I think we may have had in Cata that we "should" or "must" be completing virtually everything the game had to offer at level 85. For all but those with significant amounts of time they can dedicate to playing, that's simply not realistic in Mists, and accepting that -- not just that it's true, but that it's *OK* not to do everything -- is key to finding one's own personal peace in WoW's new reality, I think. :)

The guides, meanwhile... I'm not sure what to think. I really, really like how fan-driven some of our most awesome and valuable resources are. I think it speaks to the strength of the community, and the strength of the game itself. At the same time, I agree it's frustrating to think that Blizz can't do many of these things themselves, arguably because they have more resources going into development/design than they do into thorough documentation.

My early thought is that it'd be nice if Blizz more effectively tied community resources into the game. I know that's a fraught road to travel down, with any number of concerns about competition, conflicts of interest, upkeep and the like. But how great would it be if, when you brought up your Pet Battle window or your Character screen or your Talent pane or what have you, there was a little tool on the side that recommended (and actively linked to) the most widely respected outside resources on that particular aspect of the game?

Matty said...

All I can say is I'm glad I'm not the only one. I log on and sit and spin, sucking my thumb, not knowing what to do first, so often I end up doing nothing. I'll deal with this overload though, like I do all situations similar: with good wine and a shrug.