Saturday, July 27, 2013

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

Blizzard HQ, California. LOOKING GOOD!

Yesterday was like Christmas and New Year all rolled into one for some people. Not only did Blizzard buy itself out of potential drama from (what was) its parent company Vivendi but quietly tacked on the back of this announcement was the acknowledgement that the game's subscriber base has dropped to 7.7 million. For those of you who like your information delivered in graphical format, that means that this is what the number of people playing RIGHT NOW looks like compared with... well, since we started.

What goes up, must come down....

Down is a trend, as a whole, that isn't exactly great to recoup the kind of numbers Blizzard's just had to shell out to regain its independence. To say the Naysayers are having a field day as a result is an understatement of Epic Quality. It made me wonder: how many people who line up on websites and forums when these kind of announcements are made actually own a current subscription? After all, if you're playing a game and enjoying it, will you be moved to complain about something to begin with?

Using YOUR OWN BLOG as evidence: Priceless.

The discussion of anonymity and accountability did the rounds yesterday, on the back of which I did some slacker research on the kind of people that use Twitter to communicate their displeasure and otherwise with Blizzard on gaming matters. There are, perhaps unsurprisingly, a group of people for whom Twitter has become a very specific tool. They don't grasp the social networking aspects, they're not following their favourite pop star or posting Instagram pictures of their last great meal. For them, these accounts have one use, and that's to follow Blizzard employees, tweet them specific questions, and hope for an answer.

Names have been removed. Consider this a 'typical' Egg/Sock account.

This account is typical of loads I found during my investigation, and when I went to their 'About' page I was met with the same (rather depressing) set of statistics:

Only following Blizz employees. NO friends. ONLY TWEETING BLIZZARD.

I even discovered accounts that had been dormant since late 2011 that have reactivated in the last couple of months, and realised these people would have been complaining at the end of Cataclysm, left the platform, AND HAVE NOW COME BACK. I have to admire such individuals for creative use of the Internets, but it does make me worry that some people need to reappraise their priorities. It's also really unclear just how many people this means are firing questions at Blizzard: I know it's unlikely, but if I were to put my tinfoil hat on [FX: Rustling] there is an argument for saying that every Egg account like this could be run by the same person. Mind you, if I then jam that hat down so hard it covers my eyes, what's to say that Blizzard isn't instructing members of staff full-time to create said accounts and fire only the questions it wants to answer to ITS OWN EMPLOYEES?????

That's the trouble with paranoia. Everyone ends up as a suspect. EVEN THE GOOD GUYS.

Whatever happens, there will continue to be those who have been 'cured' of Blizzard's influence, standing on soapboxes, decrying the Evil That Warcraft Is. It ruins your life, steals your girlfriend, makes you ignore your children, and destroys your soul. Of course it does none of those without some other fairly complex psychological issues coming into play, does not consider circumstance or situation. Every story is different, every instance of damage impossible to comment on because no two instances of obsession are the same. What it does mean, however, that many people who don't play do seem to take the 'recovering addict' stance, which makes Warcraft as bad as cigarettes or alcohol in terms of being free from influence. It makes a lot of sense, but it's not fair, or indeed healthy. Obsessing about Warcraft EVEN WHEN YOU'VE STOPPED PLAYING doesn't mean its the game that was the problem. You've still got those answers to find.

I'd say if you think Blizzard's concerned about this week's turn of events, you're just looking at the figures without context. I'd be really rather happy if I were a Blizzard employee, looking at how their stock reacted to the buyout. People however, as we have established before, aren't happy unless there's something to complain about. This should keep loads of people happy therefore for quite some time...

Friday, July 26, 2013

All Over The World

Be more sappy, why don't you!

If you haven't already grasped, I do enjoy playing Warcraft. Sometimes I don't as much as other times, if we're doing full disclosure. I've been moved on several occasions to give it up altogether, but something always pulls me back. What remains intractable is the learning experience I've gained not simply from playing the game, but from interacting with the other people who do with and around me. Although I am often deliberately solo in my play-style, there is no avoiding the rest of the population. Often, if you want to achieve the awesome, that's an inevitable part of the deal. One of my favourite phrases when considering such things is that 'every day is a school day.' You can learn anywhere, if your mind is open to the understanding that knowledge doesn't simply come from a book or from a teacher.

This game is a journey that has become a part of my life.

It isn't just because I've been writing about it for four years. I realise that I could do that with anything, if I'm passionate enough about it, and there are many other subjects I could attack in Blog form. It isn't because of the friends I have made either, of which there are many, scattered across the globe. It is a basic understanding that what I learn in game about myself: how I attack problems, how I deal with other people, how I process has a direct link to how the real world is both perceived and dealt with. Playing this game has made me realise the bad things about myself far more acutely, the vices and obsessions, the desire to not try and be carried by others, until the understanding becomes clear that effort is its own reward, and choice is king.

Most importantly of all, from a writers perspective, the game has helped me to understand the value of consequences.

Everything you do in game has a massive number of potential causal effects, not simply on in-game events. Being able to understand how these relate to both you and your environment and the consequences of said events, opens up the mind to millions of potential outcomes, enough sometimes to make your head spin. As a writer this is my meat and drink, the stuff of legends, the untappable wellspring of ideas and enthusiasm and inspiration. When my first novel makes it to a readable, published form (and it will, oh yes), there will be those who can rightly cite this game as a significant influence in what I've written, because it undoubtedly is. It has warped itself into my being, and anyone who understands my history will know that it has a place in a far wider context. The fact remains that, after eight years, I'm still not ashamed to stand up and be counted as a fangirl, because I appreciate the value of passion.

That's a lot of people, that is.

On the back of the announcement that ONLY 7.7 million people are playing the game, being retweeted to over a quarter of a million of them in one hit yesterday is a huge moment for me. It is a snapshot of the moment we find ourselves in, where being able to write in 140 characters with the same passion I use in long-form is enough to make my feelings stand out. I consider Twitter as a life-skill I need to learn, because to make people want to read more than four lines of text is hard work in the modern world. If I can draw people in with the real desire I can show in that medium, then maybe there is a chance that more people will take the time to consider a bigger picture, where words for me are as important as the character I play and what I do.

Without this game, I would not be the person that I am. All over the world there are those who share that same passion, and have been touched by the same events that I have. I am proud to be a part of this, and whatever may happen from this point on I will always consider my time in Warcraft as some of the happiest I've ever had as a gamer.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Who Wants To Live Forever?


Reports of this game's death are pretty much permanently exaggerated.

Making anything successful is a massive gamble: keeping it that way an exercise in chance. Vegas knows a bit about how the odds work, that sometimes the winners are the totally unexpected. One quarter is all it needs sometimes (not just the movies, it does happen) because these guys have a relationship with numbers that anyone who plays a video game should learn not only to understand, but to embrace. Everything's a possibility in this town, and what happens there, stays there (if you believe the stories.)

Hovever, this place never dies, it just continues on in all it's fabulous neon-wrapped seductiveness. The bulbs may occasionally blow, but it never dents the allure or the draw. Can we say that for our game, that by our own admission can frustrate and annoy, that is a massive drain on time and our personal resources. How long reasonably can we expect this entire bandwagon to keep on rolling before all the wheels fall off?

Be nicer to your wife and family, you nasty man ^^

Technically we don't know anything past 5.4 right now, but I think considering the fact they're making a movie about the game next year (and they've kinda committed to that in San Diego in front of real people) that we can expect at least one more Expansion out of this lot before the Cherokees rightfully avenge the taking of ancestral lands. This then raises a logical question: where do they send us? There is now SO MUCH lore that exists that we could go pretty much anywhere. We've already established that this team's not afraid to go pillage original Warcraft for ideas if they need them too, or else Chen Stormstout would still be stuck in Warcraft 3. I think this is the time that I take you back with me to 2007, and a file buried on what is now the Zam Network. The stories of this post are nearly as legendary as the game itself.

Is it too good to be true...?

Some said it was a lie, just another one of those clever deceptions that surface around the time of Expansions. I'm not repeating the list here because (as memory serves) that has caused issues with Blizzard in the past, and I still am very much a friend of the game. The fact remains, that if you go hunting on the Internet and find this list, there are a lot of names that existed well before they actually became real, some years before, with levels beside them that match what then came to pass. This is why, a couple of months back, I saw for the first time a speculative post considering that the next expansion might be taking us back to meet the Burning Legion. That final 'set' of numbers on the document, that covers 95-100, includes sending us to Argus, the home of the Eredar (and by extension the Draenei.)  Considering those who have seen the 'mood piece' that was shown at SDCC are reporting back that it looked as if it could be based in Hellfire, I find myself compelled to return to this document, if only for possible inspiration. Will we really be moving into space to level to 100? It would certainly save the cartographers the trouble of having to redraw the Azeroth map AGAIN... ^^

However, there is another part to the document, which is tied around the Emerald Dream, which has been a popular choice as a possible Expansion destination for some time. It also mentions a second race alongside the Pandarens, who would level in the Xorothian Plains. If you play a warlock, that name should be familiar to you, as that's the place where all your demons come from, plus where your Dreadsteed is yanked from in Vanilla were you lucky enough to earn your Epic mount the hard way. It is easy therefore to see why a March of the Legion expansion might be a popular choice (were that title not already used by the TGC) Ironically, the race that was placed alongside the Pandarans before they were given the choice to be either Horde or Alliance were part of a specific 'set' which includes a lot of the elements that finally made it into Cataclysm. The name of that set might yet have some relevance...

How about World of Warcraft : Secrets of the Planes as the next expansion title?

Of course, the biggest problem in all this speculation is it is just that: speculation. No-one knows what we can expect. What will happen (if history is an indicator) is that at some point in the not too distant future someone will see Blizzard register a domain name/trademark and make the logical assumption that this has something to do with what's coming. If that announcement's going to be made at Blizzcon (or before one assumes for announcement purposes) we shouldn't have too long to wait before we can stop contemplating our navels and actually have some cold, hard facts to work on.

Until then, what happens in this blog post stays in this blog post.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another Brick in the Wall

Structures. An important part of holding things together.

Maybe it's the weather, but there's been quite a lot of what I can only call antagonism around my part of the Internets of late. I've even watched people deliberately wander into situations and attempt to start fights where before everyone was very happily just minding their own business mere moments beforehand. This set me to wondering: why do people feel the need to deliberately create confrontation? Is it to assuage their desire to be in control of any situation they find themselves in? Maybe some people aren't happy unless they are upsetting the equilibrium, it becomes part of their modus operandi to cause trouble. More concerning however is the notion of conflict as entertainment, and this is where Warcraft's problems with toxic behaviour float into the frame. I was pointed this morning to a thread in the US forums which is no different to hundreds of conversations I've had with you here or that have happened elsewhere.

The difference today, at least for me, is the real understanding that some people use this kind of behaviour in-game as entertainment, and that walking away never makes things better.

The only way games continue to function successfully is when everyone uses the same rule book: once you add cheating into a situation, for instance, then everyone is damaged. It's why continually educating people that buying gold is wrong and dangerous and ultimately destroys the fabric of the gaming environment for everyone. This is also why it is important to be able to identify and single out people who are divisive or antagonistic and report them, but ultimately you may wonder if there is any point to this, especially in situations where the problems are only name calling or expletives. The fact remains that THERE IS NEVER ANY EXCUSE FOR BULLYING OR ABUSE. Blizzard have a system for dealing with people, and it is worth reporting any situation where you find yourself being placed into a situation where you are uncomfortable. If you are not aware of the Penalty Volcano, go take a look at how things work.

There are situations where you can see problems coming from a LONG way away. Often (if you can) taking power away from divisive elements is enough to allow you a measure of control to begin with, but that will need you to feel confident enough in such situations to do so. I have been in LFR's where a group of people have deliberately held the rest of the party to ransom pretty much for entertainment purposes: in those situations you can do your best to wrest control back, but ultimately your best bet, like it or not, is to leave and report the individuals from a distance. What you should always bear in mind, and this cuts both ways, is that Blizzard have access to all chat logs in game. ALL OF THEM. So, ultimately, watch what you say because the consequences could be serious if you lose your temper over someone else's misdemeanour.

Once you get outside the game, of course, things become even more difficult. There are the ex-Warcraft players who acts as evangelists, decrying anyone who continues to play as possessing any manner of dangerous obsessions. There are those who will blame society, the government, teachers, parents... depending on where you meet these people will depend on how you deal with them. In most cases, I can guarantee whatever you say to them, they're probably not listening anyway, so don't waste your breath. The only way things really change is by positive action, and that you can contribute to. People really can make a real effort to expand understanding and challenge perception of ideas and outlooks, if you pick your fights. Apple Cider Mage for instance has proposed a Harassment/Safety Policy for Blizzcon which I have endorsed, even though I'm not going to the event. Just because you don't take part in something doesn't mean you can't lend it your support, especially if it working to make the environments in which we live and work safer and happier for everyone who inhabits them.

Building safe structures is vital to maintain a sense of community and comfort. You are not simply another brick, your strength is part of a whole that keeps these places together, that holds them safe and firm. You should not be afraid of being a part, and you have a significant role to play in keeping the environment around you solid and intact for years to come.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gimme the Prize

Sunday marked a first in my Expansion gameplay experience. I won a weapon upgrade in LFR.

Still amazed I got it.

I didn't get this from my main roll at Tortos, I tossed a Mogu coin for the bonus roll. As I've not seen a weapon to use my Sha-Touched junk in yet either I had the extra socket waiting in the bank (and because I've never used any of this stuff period I was mistakenly under the apprehension the socket would take the +500 gem ^^) and soon this was off to the Upgrader. A quick look on Mr Robot made me *believe* I'd got the best possible upgrade from LFR, but I was looking at Relative not Absolute values for gear: my good Twitter friend @MushanEtc popped up to correct me. He was of course correct, the drop from Durumu means adding more useful stats and not reforging from useless ones.

I am grateful people take the time to correct me. Thank you Mushan!

However, winning this weapon has created a quandry: considering it has taken three patches to get an upgrade, should I simply be grateful and leave things at that? Considering how frustrating (and time consuming) the last two wings of the ToT LFR are currently should I bother even trying to complete them over the Summer *simply because of that small upgrade*? Isn't it just good enough to have some kind of better weapon and that's enough?

This is where old school mentality meets new game thinking: I've not been near the game for two days because I'm unwell, but when I get back there are so many other things to do as well as run LFR.What should be my priorities, and shouldn't I consider the chance of an improvement a good thing? Well, yes, I suppose I should, but the fact remains the drop chance of hunter weapons (for me at least) has been SO woeful that I have no feeling or belief the situation will improve. There is no other alternative either, unless I get lucky in a Scenario and snag a 516 from a Cache, but if I do I cannot affix an extra socket to that item anyway, so I am betting the advantage I'd gain would be minimal anyway (or at least comparable, no I haven't checked, yes I will.)

In which a Blog post is born... :D

Best in Slot, for me at least, meant before this expansion that I'd chase down the items I needed regardless of the time constraints involved. This time around I will settle for second best, mostly because if I didn't I am fairly certain I would have walked away in utter frustration. Weapon itemisation for hunters, at least in my eyes (under the RNG stare) has been bloody useless this Expansion. THERE I SAID IT. As Blacksmiths have been given new weapons for the interim patches, Engineers got NO GUNS AT ALL. Yes, we saw you sneak in a concession Archaeology gun there Blizzard, but it's not enough. Weaponry needs to be consistent, across all classes, and AT SOME POINT NOT RELY ON THE RNG TO BE OBTAINED.

Part of me is sensing this might be the last weapon upgrade I get before the NEXT expansion working on current rates. If it is, I'll manage, because I'm going to assume that stat inflation next time around might be even more fierce than this time. If so, I'll take my reward ranged weapon from questing and be happy, and keep everything crossed that the mistakes made in this Expansion will not be repeated again. I'm not sure when Blizzard designed Pandaria it was working on the theory some people would deliberately take second best because it was all they could manage... but that's sometimes the way things go. You take your successes where you can find them.

Being the best you can manage when dictated by circumstance is often more than enough.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Any Other World

Ask, and you shall receive...

This weekend was quite the talking point.

I've been picking up the odd comment or two on Twitter starting from last week: innocuous things, really. One guy lamented the signal to noise ratio on his feed, another girl lamented just not feeling Warcraft when she logged on. Then, at the weekend, I experienced my biggest single portion of unfollowers in a single hit since I joined the platform. The reason, I surmised, was pretty simple: I got excited about the Warcraft movie 'trailer' that was shown for the first time Saturday and a load of people realised that actually, they didn't want to share my enthusiasm, and so they left. Normally I'd not take that much notice to people unfollowing, but it was enough people to make me sit up and take notice. Was this something I should be concerned about?

Yesterday I also picked up a pretty unhappy vibe: people were lamenting spawn timers, respawn rates and generally getting annoyed (I'm blaming the heat) that they couldn't do what they wanted in what I'm assuming was a limited timeframe. So I asked the question above, and people responded. I'd wondered how many people might if I asked the question directly, and I was genuinely surprised at the honesty. One compared 5.3 to a conveyor belt, and the fact it's not worth staying on for that one drop when there is better stuff to do. Others have far more important issues to look forward to (new jobs, impending parenthood) and these things are inevitably part of the 'natural wastage' the game suffers from regardless of the time of year. What did surprise me however was the lack of positive responses.

I hear people being thrown out of LFR for wearing them... ^^

Of course, my small sample of the Warcraftverse is just that, a tiny drop in what remains a pretty huge ocean. Clearly from comments elsewhere a lot of people are justifiably excited about the film, but I'm seeing an increasing number of commentators wondering if this was just a publicity exercise to keep Warcraft in people's minds before the film goes into production proper. There's also the very real issue of time being  possibly the most important factor to overcome when playing the game at present: this isn't going to be helped with the announcement of iLevels in the 5.4 raids either. However, the biggest single issue right now isn't what 5.4 will do to the game, it is when.

I'd kinda expected the Warcraft Movie trailer to be launched in a blaze of glory across the Internets as soon as it was debuted at SDCC, but that's not happened, and I find myself wondering what Blizzard's next move is. Are they quietly doing what many of us are and settling back for the Summer, or can we expect a bunch of news today once business opens on the US west coast? Should I be concerned with the change in attitude of the group of players around me or am I simply living in a part of the World of Warcraft that's simply coming to the end of its affair with the MMO?

I think the next six weeks may be very significant indeed, not simply in terms of who stays around to play across the summer...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eighth Day

... aaaaaaand relax.

And finally, we get to Sunday.

I'd love to say I have something to give today that will stimulate you, but I'm going to be honest. I'm utterly knackered. The last seven days posts have generated more discussion and traffic than at any other point in this blog's history and I've done my best to meet the challenges that have resulted on Twitter and elsewhere. However, today I have nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Some days, you just need to be honest.

Therefore I will be spending today faffing, and recharging the batteries. I don't want to break the streak of posts with something substandard, and as I don't have staff to fill in for me you'll just have to manage with this picture of green rain and the reassurance that Normal Service, such as it is, will return tomorrow.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to do some transmutes :D