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Saturday, July 20, 2013

New Boots and Panties

Let's get the admission of failure out of the way first, shall we?

I had a plan for this post, I'll have you know. I'd already seen it had become the most contentious suggestion of my three 'future' predictions and I was ready for a fight. Gear normalisation is SUCH a tricky concept to either explain or grasp that it bought pretty much total strangers to my doorstep on Wednesday to call me a scrub for even suggesting it. No matter, I was NOT to be deterred. I'd bought in extra torches and pitchforks for people to wield as a result... until it dawned on me.

Well, perhaps not me per se but the concept...

There is no way on Elune's Blessed Azeroth that we will ever see gear normalisation in any situation other than those it already exists in. The concept is just SO AWESOME that it would break the game. However, by that point there would be nobody left to play it, because what is more significant is the concept of making the entire player base grasp the fact that gear suddenly didn't matter. This is a bigger deal, that became apparent when trying to discuss it in the week. Getting people to work on that principle alone was hard work. However, there's one final point that needs to be addressed, wrapped up in all this, that is worth a paragraph all on its own.

If this game solely relied on people's ability to play it without the use of gear as a crutch (which it ends up as) Warcraft would haemorrhage life faster than a Tauren attacked by a posse of Voodoo Gnomes. If you were forced to rely on ability and skill alone, the entire fabric of Azeroth's universe would alter forever. Gear doesn't simply act as a hindrance to progress, the door swings both ways. So, I'll accept that normalisation won't work. However, that doesn't make for a particularly entertaining Blog post. I feel duty-bound to offer some kind of alternative, but I doubt we'll ever see it in this game. It's not a particularly original idea either, and I'm aware other people have suggested this, but I have an obligation to come up with something...


Imagine therefore, if you will, a World of Warcraft where your gear didn't matter
from LEVEL 1.


First off, this is still a bit of a problem. A huge honking issue, because without gear you die. Gear gives you key stats, and cool bonuses. You have to wear *something* because running around in your underwear isn't an option. So when you start your journey in-game, you need something. So, let's offer you a choice from the start: PvP or PvE?

In my world, there are two 'sets' of gear you need to collect, before you reach L10 and start either PvP or PvE outside of your starting zone. You don't need to worry yet about a spec either, one set of class armour fits all. So, you quest and pick up 15/16 items that comprise your Basic PvE or Basic PvP set. You're not bothered that you look the same as anyone else because you can change that too, just not yet. Without every item slot filled however, YOU DON'T PROCEED. It would mean all new L1 bankalts would all have to train/equip before they left the Starting Zones, which would (of course) be phased. That entire set opens access to Dungeons/Battlegrounds, but don't worry if you don't want to do them and just level in the world, the basic PvP/PvE set fits everyone. Its the armour you'll wear for the next 90 levels and beyond, because it doesn't matter what's underneath any more.

The key is never the basic armour, because that simply scales as you do.

Access to every Battleground and Dungeon requires a token (a key! you could have a keyring! STOP MOCKING) which you collect as you level. As you complete an area of questing too (yes you can still quest, its okay) you're rewarded with a scale to your gear, that improves your abilities. From 1-90 therefore you're simply gathering reputation from factions and earning a universal currency, one you can choose to spend on ANYTHING YOU WANT. As gear is no longer a worry, you can buy skins to change your existing sets from a vast range of classic armours. Certain mobs drop classic skins you can sell on the AH for spare cash. No dropped item gives any advantage however. Once you get to 40 you're asked to pick a Talent spec and gain access to a talent system you can also customise with your universal currency. With gear not mattering, you can tailor your abilities to personal needs or specific CC. No ability gives a dps bonus or if you're just about looking good could give access to a special set of skins.

Oh, and don't worry if you're never going to do a dungeon or instance at max level. You could use that currency you've collected while levelling to buy Battle pets, or mounts, or crafting materials. Once you reach max level, Dungeons and Raids award tier sets whose bonuses give you access to different sectors of your talent trees. You'll be able to go back into old instances with an equal challenge if you desire with a token you buy that normalises your gear back down... or stay OP, the choice is yours. Needless to say, if gear normalisation and scaling were built in from thr bottom upwards, a system like this would work. But as we've established the Dev's aren't going to go back and change the old continents, I can pretty much guarantee the gear system's going to remain untouched for the foreseeable future...

As I said I'm not the first person to suggest this, and I doubt I'll be the last. I'm not sure I'd want to be the person known as breaking the game, so maybe we can just sweep this one under the carpet and pretend it didn't happen...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Come Together

All human life is here. Unfortunately.

You know what? I really miss Cataclysm. THERE I SAID IT.

There's one overriding reason I do, and that's all wrapped up in the concept of the Guild, which is my second point from Wednesday's little predictive explosion. 'Adverts' like the one above are back in fashion over the summer months (no, I wouldn't join them, even though I follow their GM on Twitter ^^) but you're just as likely to see someone popping up with a L25 Guild for sale, because for many that's all the community experience has become: something to make money from. Despite championing the Guild 'ethos' Blizzard's done little or nothing to further the notion of Community within game by adding to the mechanics it introduced in Cataclysm, and I miss that.

I believe this needs to be changed as a matter of urgency, to allow Guilds to reflect the true nature of the people who play in them, both good and bad.

How Blizzard approach the problem of 'toxic' behaviour elsewhere has been discussed at some length, and it occurred to me after the post on Wednesday that Guilds could go a long way towards helping improve the image of the Community, and indeed help to strengthen it not simply by the number of feasts they can cook or legendary weapons they win. There are a lot of changes that could be made to improve the entire Guild experience, so many I am compelled to list them:


1. Improve the Guild Recruitment Screen In-Game.

I cannot help but feel this feature was added as an afterthought, and it remains sadly unfit for purpose. Blizzard assume (sometimes correctly but increasingly not) that Guilds will do their own PR, but the Guild Website can be deceptive. What doesn't lie, and continues to be a standard, are the many statistics the Devs retain in-game. It might be a problem for some, but I really think if you're examining a Guild in game you NEED to see some numbers. If we insist on not normalising gear (see tomorrow's post) then there are some key factors I think people need to be told, in game, on the Guild screen:

  • Average Guild iLevel
  • Number of 5 man/Heroics/Scenarios completed
  • Current Progression in Raids
  • Average Achievement Points
  • How many people have joined the Guild in the last month
  • How many people have left the Guild in the last month
  • How many people own an Authenticator (last three can be a percentage)

I can already hear the sharp intake of breath in certain quarters: some Guilds don't raid, iLevel doesn't matter, why should you care how many people have Authenticators anyway? The basic fact in all of this is that numbers, at least in most of these cases, don't lie. People may not like to be judged on statistics but in gaming terms this is a far better indicator of how a Guild is faring than a fancy website will ever be. People need to know if a Guild has a massive turnover of players, or if most of them aren't security-conscious, so they can make INFORMED DECISIONS. Those who RP or choose only to Classic Raid, for instance, should be obvious not simply from their websites but from the facts their in-game site give the prospective Guildie.

The more information you have, the better.


2. Introduce a Guild Rating Scheme.

Rating systems are often ignored because of the capacity to abuse them, but there is scope within the Achievements system to allow a basic system to be established. It would require an examination of the Achievement Database, and would have to be completely removed from player influence (insofar as people could 'vote' themselves up or down.) If this system 'rates' every player according to certain criteria, a system could be do-able. You'd have to consider some key factors however in these equations:

  • Ratings would need to be given for specific 'areas': completing Heroic content would give a Guild no more gravitas (for instance) than a Guild who didn't.
  • Ratings would need to take an overall snapshot of players over a regular basis (weekly would be the idea but processing restraints might make that impossible, I'll defer to expert opinion on this.)
  • It would give credit for Guild's longevity, and the number of core players that remain 'on board.'
  • The number of times a Guild Master changes would have a direct effect on the overall rating.

There is then also the possibility (and yes I know I'm probably stretching the tech here) that bad behaviour could then be linked to the Guild rating. Yes, if you act like a twat in an 5 man or pull a boss in LFR and then quit, that could adversely affect your standing not simply in the community, but amongst your peers to boot.

I realise that's probably a bridge too far right now, but if it happened, I'm betting an awful lot of things would change, maybe some of them for the better.


3. Revitalise the Guild Achievement System.

I'm not asking for extra levels here, before anyone wonders if L50 Guilds are on the Agenda. Let's make the Guild system work like the 'friendship' system in Halfhill: as of the next expansion every player is given three 'levels' of additional achievement to complete: Bronze, Silver and Gold (insert name of expansion here) Medal. You'll earn a medal every time an expansion happens (I'm assuming we'll get more than two!) and to earn those you have to do random stuff like you do already. Yeah, digging and battling and fighting and contributing to all those Guild totals puts the responsibility back into the laps of the individuals. Earning each 'level' then awards you with something THAT'S REALLY USEFUL:

  • Bronze: 28 Slot Bag
  • Silver: A Portable Bank/Mailbox
  • Gold: EXTRA BANK SLOT

Then there is an incentive for every character to level to gain items of actual value, that increases an individual's worth in the system whilst giving them something back in return.


4. Redesign the Guild Bank to allow Personal Storage.

This one could be used as a reward to everyone who's stuck with their friends since Day One, or used as a very attractive carrot to incentivise people into staying put. There really ought to be a means by which individuals can access a section/tab of the Guild bank that is specifically theirs and theirs alone, as a 'reward' for being part of the Guild experience. It would also allow them to see how much cash they contribute to the Guild on a weekly basis: perhaps it could be made to allow storage of Guild-only items like heirlooms as well. This also might be a great place to stick the Blizzard In Game Money Shop, programmers... (I'll let you have that one for nothing :D)


5. Reward Guilds for Staying Together.

This one is largely cosmetic, but there's an important point wrapped up within. If you remain in a Guild for an extended period of time, there ought to be rewards that celebrate that. However, and this is a point I cannot emphasise enough, you should only keep those rewards by remaining in the Guild. yes, I am aware of the consequences of that statement, but this is where I remind everyone that ultimately, this is a game we are playing, and if virtual items hold more meaning than real-life consequences... I'll let you finish that sentence for yourself.

==

The Guild 'experience' in game hasn't been updated now for almost an entire expansion, and it is time for a change. The question is, will Blizzard simply stick with vanity and cosmetic upgrades or will it take the bull by the horns and use the opportunity to introduce some real change into the system...?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Living on the Ceiling

PLEASE DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON. NO REALLY.


After yesterday's (pretty much spur of the moment) post on the future of the game, it occurs to me I should probably go into a bit more detail about where I think change should occur. Let's address those points on a day by day basis, shall we... which means today, it's all about the World we live in.

I, for one, am getting pretty hacked off with the concept of 'undiscovered' continents mysteriously appearing at the beginning of each Expansion. It smacks to me of a basic belief that people will only play content that is completely new or undiscovered. I realise I'm in the minority who completely and totally loved the upgrade of the Old World in Cataclysm, but it did something that the Devs seem very keen to dismiss for the sake of ease: continuity. Some days it's like 'living' in a giant episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation: don't worry about anything, we'll just press this Giant Reset Button and everyone will simply forget EVERY MISTAKE WE MADE. The problem is, however, this Expansion will be the one that takes the game into it's 10th Anniversary, where the last place we should be is some new place no-one knew about before the Expansion was announced.

WE NEED TO PLAY IN AZEROTH.

The problem then becomes how you combine end-game content, levelling content AND the existing content in one seamless form, without needing to press any Big Red Buttons anywhere. Well, that's a problem easily solved, because Blizzard have already done that. Go look at the Barrens Weekly, and then understand that End-Game and low-level content can exist together. Once you grasp that Blizzard can use phasing to do that, the same way it uses CRZ to bring groups across servers together, things begin to make a bit more sense. Would it be possible to phase new Expansion content on top of old stuff? Hell, of course it would be, but why would you want to level in a place that people now hate levelling in and need an XP potion to speed past and avoid?

Because levelling at 90-95 could combine both new and old in a way that's never been possible in the game's history before.

Look at the Siege of Orgrimmar (and in Cataclysm the Dragon Soul raid) as an indicator of what phasing could do to include you in a familiar surroundings. Of course, the raid is instanced, but it marks a a movement away from creating completely new environments for raid encounters and using the familiar not simply to immerse people in familiar surroundings, but to SAVE VALUABLE TIME for patches and expansions to roll out faster. The huge amount of space that exists in Azeroth, most of it completely underused or lying virtually empty, is ripe for exploitation, and phasing could mean that several distinct types of questing could take place simultaneously. You could have 1-90's playing on one 'level' whilst L91's are questing/levelling in the same zone. It really isn't beyond the realms of possibility.

The biggest single issue with this approach is the belief that people will only play in a zone that's new, that the 'undiscovered' Azerothian race that we'll be introduced to (presumably) as part of an Expansion package brings with them some unique architecture and locations that we need to see away from the 'old' World. Although this may be a fair point for many players, there is one overriding consideration in creating levelling zones for what becomes the vast majority of the server population, and that's hardware performance. If everyone is in the same place, load and lag become an issue.

So what about those two ENTIRE CONTINENTS Blizzard created that no-one ever visits now because the gear and the quests are completely redundant? You've really not thought about doing in Pandaria in these places? The original world and quests can remain below a new level of phasing, untouched, while new stuff relevant to the new Expansion can be added on top... except, both you and I deep down have accepted that's not going to happen :(

I know, I know, Ghostcrawler's pretty much gone out of his way to squash that possibility at EVERY SINGLE opportunity, and I am reliably informed he's joked that Blizzard can make parts of Azeroth's 'unexplored' geography appear almost at will. That's all well and good fellas, but if you want to create an experience that lives in the spirit of Azeroth's creation for a Tenth Anniversary Celebration, and I KNOW someone's thinking with that hat on, bolting more stuff on may not be the answer. In fact, as time goes on and the VERY LARGE AND LOYAL playerbase remains ahead of those people who aren't engaged or who play Warcraft like an XBox game, you're going to start having people ask questions like I have. Why are there not consequences for certain actions? Why does the Reset Button have to be used at all when you've made a vast and pretty much empty world that NO-ONE USES ANYMORE but we still live in on a daily basis?

It may be time for a major shift in outlook, especially if you want to increase your sub numbers again for the next expansion...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

From mutamorphosis.org. Next stop, uncertainty...

The future of Warcraft is suddenly a lot more interesting than it was a month ago.

Predicting anything is, as has been established in these pages, a mug's game. You're just as likely to get flamed and called a troll as be praised for accurate speculation. The only facts, the intractable truths, are the ones Blizzard actually release in completed patches and expansions. We know it now to be true that in-game transactions will occur in at least one localisation of the game client. We also know that transmog items will be available to purchase for cash at some point in the not-to distant future. A month ago, both of these facts would have been laughed at if you'd suggested them as speculation.

The next question I want to ask is deceptively simple, but horrendously complicated: what's next?

Now we have established that nothing (potentially) is beyond the realms of possibility, where do we go?  There's already hugely divided opinion on the possibility of L90 'premade' characters available for sale, but what does generally seem to be agreed upon is that Blizzard are not going to deliberately 'break' the game for the sake of more cash. As has been noted elsewhere by several people, Blizzard's monthly sub has remained constant for close to a decade, so even though they continue to make money from that side of the game, it is significantly less money when placed against the trends of inflation. Bringing in extra coinage from mounts and pets on the Virtual Pet Store has also not changed since it was introduced.  The only items that are being added are those that the designers KNOW are items that people want: to make them look cool, and to help them level faster.

What has not as yet been addressed are the endemic failures in the game that stop people remaining within it, most of which for the static playerbase are tied to end game content, player competance and gearing. However, if we look at 5.4 as an indication of what MIGHT yet be to come, we can perhaps speculate on how Blizzard intend to fix those issues too.


1. The Problem of Content and Location.

One of the most consistent complaints I've seen about content is the fact it remains static once played. Zones become 'stuck in time', effectively not moving forward or being permanently encased in the amber, from the moment you last left them. Pandaria has established phasing as Blizzard's de facto method of eliminating this, and as the expansion has played out we have seen phasing used in an increasingly more sophisticated fashion (often tied with solo scenarios). Come 5.4, the Weekly 'Zone' in the Barrens, which would in previous expansions would have remained intact for the rest of the time, will vanish, as is as it should be, because the content is no longer relevant.

This should be the way all zones behave going forward: criticisms that areas like Outland and Northrend are 'old' are valid and you would not expect Blizzard to want to 'upgrade' this content so that everything is consistent. The number of man hours this would take and the undertaking required to produce a seamless and consistent game world would be a serious commitment... so, explain to me again why all those people got pulled off Titan and they delayed the release of the game again? What could those people be doing? Is it possible that old worlds could finally be bought in line with the new ones, allowing Blizzard to start using Northrend AND Outland in the next expansion's grand plan?

The popularity of the Warlock green fire quest in the Black Temple should have sent a signal to the developers: yes, old content is good. People like nostalgia, revisiting old places with a new spin. You can make new content from old places. Maybe it's time to admit that it isn't just about coming up with new continents. Maybe we could have a try at making old ones better again.


2. Learning How To Play a Better Person.

Proving Grounds are receiving universal praise from around the Blogsphere, for a very good reason: every day is a school day. No-one is perfect at what they do, and we could all use practice. This feature allows you to do just that, using the tools Blizzard have established to immerse you in an experience that isn't just fun, it is also educational. Another one of the constant criticisms from the Community has been the lack of education of players who can level fast to make it to endgame with little or no understanding of their class. If people are chugging XP potions to speed their passage, there needs to be a way to give them a taste of what they should do once they make it to the end.

Of course, it isn't just about doing your job, it is about being part of a wider community, and learning that being a good person isn't just a case of topping the meters or ensuring nobody dies. Guilds need to be a bigger part of the experience for lots of players, and not simply those that reward extra XP for levelling or physical perks for reaching a certain 'level'. I feel it is high time Blizzard bought the Guild ethos front and centre again, and that rewards weren't simply based on how many dinners you cooked or what classes you killed in a Battleground. Rewards should be given for the number of times you complete an instance, and XP should be deducted from people who deliberately cause trouble. If there is an algorithm that tracks player behaviour in LFR, then that should be extended to Guild activity too.

Guilds should be places people are proud of and that are nurtured, not that end up being sold as going concerns in Trade to make a quick buck. It is time to put the emphasis back on Community Spirit, and Guilds are at the heart of that. Let's hope Blizzard is ready to make the Guild a place people want to nurture and not simply use for convenience.


3. Gear isn't Everything.

Both proving Grounds and Challenge Modes make use of the concept of gear normalisation: a reduction of your iLevel to a point where you only have your skill and ability to rely on for results. Too often in this game the hunt for the elusive BiS item overshadows people's ability to be useful  and contribute in ways that do not revolve around what they are wearing as the first point of concern. The initial Endgame in Pandaria was bogged down by very specific levels of reputation tied to gear, which although worked well as a way to restrict entry to more sophisticated content, ultimately caused frustration and burnout amongst the player base.

It is time, once and for all, to stop making gear matter and to shift the focus back to people actually playing the game. Although a standard level is obviously required, that would be far more satisfactory would be to introduce 'normalised' versions of some encounters and have success not simply based on a bosses' death. Placing other factors into the mix (yes, maybe a timer, there I said it) could allow even those with lower levels of gear a chance to compete. It might be nice for raiders not to feel they had to run four different levels of content just so they had the best chance at a boss fight when if you gave everyone the same gear, it wouldn't be about numbers any more, it would be about ability above everything else.

This one is possibly the most contentious idea of all, but if at new expansion's launch everyone was suddenly at the same level regardless of gear when they encountered the first boss of a new instance... how many people would cry foul at being normalised and how many would consider this an opportunity to step up and prove their actual ability was superior?

==

We have no idea of what is to come, but now we know Blizzard is not adverse to throwing the occasional surprise into the mix, anything is potentially possible. If only I had a crystal ball, or indeed a working TARDIS...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bye Buy Baby

Can I get it in red, please?

This week's WoW Insider Community Topic covers the question of what I'd buy in an In-Game Store.

Hang on, there's going to be an in-game store? /innocent.

This question will require me to put a fair number of personal qualms to one side to begin with, despite the fact I've been quite the regular mount and pet purchaser over the years. Dropping real cash for things therefore isn't something I'd have to think that hard about. However, these will most definitely have to be 'things' I would want and therefore this is going to be a pretty specific (and I suspect) niche list of wishes. Or maybe not.


1. Guaranteed Rare Archaeology Solve.

I'd like them listed by Race, please, 3 Euros apiece. Then I can just buy the Tol'vir ones I need to GET THE BLOODY QIRAJI MOUNT. No, I don't think that's too much to ask. Plus this would allow me to make the decision to finish Archaeology via legwork or simply blow my Monthly Pocket Money on doing it and still having a life. I don't think that's too much to ask at all.


2. Mount of the Month Club.

It's like Beer of the Month, only with Mounts. If you buy the mounts separately, it's 5 Euros each, but you can get all 12 delivered to your mailbox on the first of each month if you pay 50 Euros for the lot. You won't care that everyone else will be flying/riding about on the same mount for a month, because you'll have twelve things to count towards an achievement and, again you can save valuable time having to fly around countless instances trying to farm for things that never drop. If Blizzard were REALLY smart, they'd stick something like Anzu in the package, that you could only get if you paid the 50 Euros for the complete package. Yeah, that would do it.


3. XP Potions

Hang on, didn't you have a problem with this when it was first announced?

Weeeellll... yes, I did, until I actually stopped and thought about it. When I grasped the intractable that items for sale will be there for a reason (people actually want them, this isn't fleecing for the sake of it) then the concept of buying XP makes a lot of sense. However, and this is the key for personal usage, I'd like to think that these things will only expire once you max at 90, or they have a seven day 'use.' Therefore I could buy a potion and know I had a week in which to level my problematic alt, and plan accordingly.

I'll stop here and re-iterate what I've said elsewhere, that I think the introduction of premade 90's to buy is the line that should never be crossed. Yes, there are many advantages to be had with this path, but the basic fact remains there has to be SOME time spent in the levelling process or there's no point in selling XP potions to begin with, or indeed allowing people to level conventionally. There have to be intractables in every game, the cornerstones that hold the fabric of process together, and taking time to level remains one of them. That's why we're being sold potions first and NOT premades, after all.

Anyway, I digress.


4. Armour Dyes.

This one's another very personal one, and it was an April Fool's joke for a while, but the concept is sound. I love my outfit currently, but it would be great to be able to recolour the entire thing from time to time for a different look. It would allow me to keep a very specific mog style but amend it to suit my mood (or indeed match my mounts.) Yes, an utter vanity item but utterly perfect to separate me from my cash. That is, after all, the point.


5. Extra Storage Space.

The biggest no-brainer in the entire game. An absolute GUARANTEED money-maker. Update that first 16 slot, and then give us an entire second tab of Void Storage, so you would have to pay gold (still) for deposit, but you'd have more places to put stuff. Yes you'd still spend gold on top of real money, because you've got it coming out of your ears anyway and it doesn't matter. No, don't moan about it, because we all know you'd buy it, because if I would... ^^

==

I am sure if I sat down and thought at length there would be more, but those are the five that most readily spring to mind, and there's not a single Battle Pet amongst them... but thinking of that...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cruel to be Kind

As has been mentioned previously, being a GM can be a pretty thankless task.

What can be particularly difficult to grasp, especially if you're not a GM, is why certain decisions are made, especially if (to you at least) there does not immediately seem to be a huge amount of logic to said choices. This morning's post is prompted by another personal recollection (I keep dreaming about bad GM choices, this is clearly a sign) and the understanding that sometimes, in order to allow your Guild to keep functioning, everybody needs to be prepared to sacrifice for the greater good.

==

End game progression is a harsh mistress, even in the lowly pools of Normal 10 Mans. The closer you get to an end boss, the more it begins to matter what happens. 'Completing' this part of the game may not come with a 'Stage Complete' message or a life bonus, but for most content it becomes a badge of honour, and certainly for those who are alive at the end a small pile of bragging rights. For a Guild of our size, the last boss of any tier used to be where the good weapons came from, and that was the case for both Deathwing and Arthas. As a result, once those two guys began to become distinct possibilities, certain mentalities changed.

In both expansions, the composition of our 10 mans were very similar: core players, people who had been with myself and Mr Alt since Vanilla, with a floating secondary group of people who would move in and out of the frame depending on real-life commitments. In both expansions, the bulk of the leg-work, the actually getting to the end boss bit would be done by pretty much the same group who began the Tier. However, once we'd approach the end boss, that would change. People who had previously paid little or no interest in raiding suddenly became interested, and would begin signing. As we have a policy in game to try include as many people as possible in our raiding if they come suitably prepared, suddenly I found myself having to turn people away, and in some cases actually running a second group.

I never killed Arthas the first time our Guild did. The same was true for Deathwing, and indeed for the Twin Emperors when we completed the Vaults on Normal (which is as far as we've done current content at correct level.) On those nights, when we had extra people and there was going to be an issue with who went, I took the decision to deliberately bench myself. As a dps, I could almost certainly guarantee there would be someone who could be taken who bought better utility to the raid composition than a Hunter did. More importantly however, if the GM was prepared to sit out the Guild's Boss Kill (and the Guild's achievement as a result) I hoped this would make other people consider sitting out with me and cheering from the sidelines. Sometimes, it isn't about the same people getting a kill, its the RIGHT people (which means the best chance of coming away with the goods.)

Doing what is best for your Guild, to keep a disparate group of people motivated and inspired, is bloody hard work. Being first has never bothered me. Nothing motivates everyone better and quicker than an end boss kill and the chance to have said encounter 'on farm.' If that means I have to wait a month before that happens, then so be it, because I think everybody in a Guild from the boss woman downwards sometimes has to take one for the team occasionally to allow everyone to move forward. Often, it can be hard to see if you're not the one organising things why certain decisions are taken: I've lost count of the times I've told people they're not being singled out, it isn't their fault they're not being taken, I'm just trying to be fair to everyone.

Of course, this isn't true of every guild, and your experience may vary. However, a kill can be just as satisfying, often more so, when you're NOT the one doing it, especially when it is your guild making the progress. This is certainly true for me, though it occurs to me that I might be the exception and not the rule...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Silence is Easy

I seem to be having tremendous difficulty in certain corners of late with the understanding of the concept of irony, especially in relation to the recent moves by Blizzard to introduce certain items in game/elsewhere for purchase.

Twitter, although clearly a textual medium, has a lot of similarities with verbal media. The speed at which you 'tweet' can be likened to a conversation, for instance, and that's pretty much how I view it in my mind. I forget however that irony as a concept (many definitions here) can be hard to grasp if people aren't in visual contact with someone whilst in conversation. Therefore, this 'verbal irony' often simply misses the mark completely. For the purposes of this post, I'm taking Wikipedia's definition pretty much verbatim:

Verbal irony is a statement in which the meaning that a speaker employs is sharply different from the meaning that is ostensibly expressed. The ironic statement usually involves the explicit expression of one attitude or evaluation, but with indications in the overall speech-situation that the speaker intends a very different, and often opposite, attitude or evaluation.

Some of my tweets therefore of late have begun life as ironic statements, but subsequent conversations with other readers have helped build a picture of a player base that appears resigned to the inevitability of what is transpiring around us. It appears inescapable that this state of affairs would eventually come to pass, especially as the subscription base continues to dwindle (which it undoubtedly is at least in the part of the game world in which I play.) I've seen a lot of people doing their best to remain removed from the situation, and you won't see any 'official' affiliated news site decrying the end of existence for pretty obvious reasons. This makes those people who do start criticising seem even more exposed, but the truth is a lot easier to grasp.

At the end of the day, silence may be easy, but it's also the default state for a huge proportion of the player base. It is a VERY small proportion of the Warcraft 'population' who post on forums, or who Blog and podcast. For them, paying for things they want is something they have done in-game since Blizzard encouraged everyone to obtain an authenticator to protect the investment of time they had made in the game. Asking for things they want has undoubtedly resulted in the Transmog helms, in the TCG items that people spend vast sums of money on outside the game via the Card Game. In that regard I am sure Blizzard knows EXACTLY what items would sell, and will be preparing a selection to be available once the In-Game Store finally rolls out worldwide (let us hope they sort security issues out after the problems we've seen with the Virtual AH.)

I've seen certain cynics consider this as 'double-dipping' on Blizzard's part, but they've been extracting my cash for pets and mounts since the first one was released. The difference this time is that this isn't wrapped up as anything other than what it is, an exercise in making money. Blizzcon's another exercise in that, which continues to be a huge showcase for keeping the huge bandwagon of products and services in the public eye. This is a gaming company, whose task is to make money. It's a dirty word, and most people don't like to consider things in such basic terms, but that's the way it is. It is the business of HOW they make money which is, of course, the crux of the problem, because just about everyone else in the marketplace isn't doing this while at the same time extracting a monthly subscription.

Then you have to ask a question: is this increase in real-money content intended to lure people back into the game, or is it designed to extract more money from the players that remain?

Blizzard have some vested interests on the table in the months that follow: Hearthstone may be niche in terms of gaming interest but there's clearly a lot riding on it, including the opportunity to see other  games in the mobile market (yes battle pets, looking at you.) The Diablo 3 port to console may open the floodgates for another area of interest that Blizzard has as yet not even considered exploiting. The fact that Titan has been delayed until the 10th Anniversary of Warcraft... I'm going to keep saying this until I'm blue in the face, there is a plan here we're not seeing, long-term planning that takes us to the next Expansion and possibly beyond. What is happening now, like it or not, is an extremely savvy set of moves that is actually giving people in game what they want. I have absolutely no doubt these helms are going to fly off the virtual shelves, and there will be other items that follow. After all, I've seen many blog posts in the last week with wishlists I am absolutely sure someone at Anaheim is reading, and then taking copious notes as a result.

At the core of all this however remains one part of the game that will not be touched by transactions: nothing we have seen introduced as real-money 'accessories' will have any effect whatsoever on the process of Endgame. Server firsts, challenge mode golds, gear and progression are your responsibility to complete alone and will remain so for quite some time. The fact that an achievement was introduced to indicate that current content had been completed before new content was deployed shows that Blizzard understands there is one line that can never be crossed. I may have joked about the possibility of premade max-level characters being sold a few times this week, because it's the ultimate irony. The moment that happens, when any effort expended can be equalled or bettered by a real-world purchase, it's pretty much Game Over for Warcraft. If I know this to be an intractable truth, I reckon Blizzard do too.

Discussion about these subjects is what I do, both here and on Twitter. If I've upset you with my words over the last few weeks I apologise, but the discussion needs to be had. This game is yet again evolving into something new and different, and although some people may think this is a troubling development, the fact remains you can vote with your feet. Other games are available, and if you don't like the fact you can buy more things for real money, there are many options. It might be an idea to stop moaning about it and do something constructive instead.

The door is that way [FX: points left]