Google+ ALT : ernative: 03/09/2014 - 03/16/2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

WARLORDS :: Look Up


Ashes of Al'ar was 'unavailable for comment.' From MMO Champion.

The gloves are not simply off with Warlords, there's already a Mickey Finn in many players' Ironforge Ale. Yesterday, whilst some were distracted by Heroes of The Storm Technical Alpha streams, Blizzard announced that all mounts will work in Battlegrounds come the Expansion. I assume the Ashes of Al'ar and all other mounts without legs could still hover above ground and *look* like there's flight going on, but that's where the illusion ends. Those of us who have been paying attention know full well this isn't as a response to player concerns in PvP, this is to enable a possibility that was made in an interview by Alex Afrasiabi that Draenor might be about to become the first version of the game since Vanilla where flying was not an automatic default for players at max level not simply after 6.1, but throughout the entire Expansion. If that were to be the case, a large proportion of mounts (including significantly many paid for with real money from the Blizzard Store) would effectively become redundant. Making this a decision to enable everything in Battlegrounds means, by extension that it won't matter if your mount can walk now or not if everyone gets tethered to the ground in Draenor.

Needless to say, this again changes the complexion of an Expansion that becomes more fascinating the longer we're made to wait for it.

Having lived in a world without flight for some time, it is very easy to see why so many people may be about to get very angry indeed at its loss. However, in terms of redefining gameplay, this is probably as radical as thing could likely get outside the auspices of completely redefining character abilities. That's something players need to grasp, perhaps now more than at any point in the game's evolutionary process. Blizzard can't redefine character abilities once they're at a stage when balance is achieved. That leaves them a limited number of choices as to where conflict and challenge can be injected into gameplay. Boss fights are one option, so is environment, and the amount of control the game can have over a player is severely limited when they can simply hop on a flying mount and stick themselves in an axis where ground rules won't apply. Therefore it should really come as no surprise to anyone that the idea of a No Fly Expansion has come to the table when as designers the Devs have perilously few options remaining to inject deliberate obstacles into a player's path.


Buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz in the eardrum...

The biggest potential losers in this entire equation, yet again, are the long-term playerbase: gold makers, gatherers, those with multiple alts who need to save time. PvP gets a massive boost on those servers where simply mounting up and flying away in the new zones is no longer an option. Bear in mind it is only Draenor where being unable to fly will be an obstacle: flying doesn't go away anywhere else, so you can still show off your Ashes and clog up the Mailbox by the Stormwind Bank with impunity. It also means having a Druid with Herbalism isn't going to give you an advantage for gathering, and the Sky Golem's simply a fancy Iron Suit. Apart from that, absolutely no difference between here and any other Expansion. NO REALLY THERE ISN'T.

This is pretty crucial in the whole equation: flying is a convenience. It is not essential for gameplay, and when it was the way it changes the landscape of the game world was not always for the better. We got a redesign of Azeroth to accommodate it, but that in itself has probably created more problems than its solved. There are still areas in game where you can't fly, and nobody goes there, which is not how things should be at all. By tethering people in two dimensions no content is trivialised. It allows a measure of control that does not exist as soon as you allow people to move into a third axis. Most importantly of all, it forces players into decisions that they might not even consider if flying is an option, like ACTUALLY FIGHTING AND USING THEIR SKILLS. That's the key to all this: you can't simply skip everything and go right to the end. You are forced to make the journey, and I for one cannot approve enough of that mindset.

Personally, I heartily welcome our no-flying overlords. I embrace the possibility of going back to just being on the ground, and can see an argument for making the entire world no-fly in the future. It won't suit everyone, that much is already obvious. Whether they pack up their mounts and leave... well, we won't know for a while yet. This is a big risk for Blizzard, that much is already apparent. Whether it pays off...

I wonder how long we'll have to wait for a Beta Client?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Please Read The Letter


Imagine this is green.


Dear Blizzard,

I know it's been a while since we spoke, but since the pre-orders went live worldwide it's all been a bit mad around my part of the world. The servers and instance queues seems to be full of 90's all of a sudden and it's apparent that a lot of them aren't as prepared for their journeys as perhaps they should be. It's that I'd like to talk about, if you've got a minute, though I appreciate that with the Beta on the way you're all pretty busy. I'd kind of assumed because that other MMO, you know the one that's like Firefly with aliens, did their prelaunch too this week that you were keen to beat them to the punch and get your stuff on the table as quickly as possible. I know you'll never publicly admit why you do anything to us, and that's utterly cool, but that's pretty much how it looked from over on my server.

The thing is, I don't think anyone would have minded if you'd have waited. In fact, for a lot of us the whole instant 90's a bit of a waste, all told, because we don't have anyone really we want to max. I understand I'm not your audience for that too, but the notion is attractive. I'd like to try a DK but it's hardly the end of the world, because most of my friends are in the same boat as me. We'd rather have a Beta, but understand why that's not happening either. It is totally awesome that you're explaining what's going on and letting us take it in slowly, but somewhere along the way something has changed. I've been trying to put my finger on it since Monday night and finally, in of all places the shower on Thursday, I worked out what the problem is.

I think you need to explain to me about what you consider as value.

When I saw the adverts for the 90 Boost in my Battle Net launcher on Tuesday, my heart sank. There's that Worgen, doing that whole roar thing Worgen do so much, and next to him, in small letters, was the following: '50 Euro value.' I've been around long enough to know how advertising works, and what you must legally say in an advert not to get bitch-slapped by the Advert Police. I understand that value is of the equivalent boost you can purchase at the Online store. My first question was, before I even considered the fiscal consequences, very simple. At what point did you start advertising Warcraft on value? Why should it matter how much the boost is worth to begin with, why should that be the ONLY selling point of this entire advert?

I can answer my own question, of course; you want people to pre-order the game now. The cynic in me could argue this could be to make your Quarter 1 figures look good, or in the vain hope that if you snag enough people into end-game there could be a rise in subs whilst those 90's learn their classes and take part in all those wonderful endgame activities that you rushed the rest of us through at breakneck speed last year. However, as I can't afford to buy your game until next month, I don't really have the need to boost anyone, and am rather sad I got here what seems like six months early for the expansion. I find myself considering that the value of this boost, per se, is largely negligible for me.

This household has five recurring subs with Blizzard at present. That's a remarkable amount of money we give you each month, and the game is played, regularly, and has been since pretty much launch. Keeping that sub alive is, quite clearly, a massive portion of your active business model. It seems odd therefore that the need to part people with cash before a product is even at the testing phase and it might be viewed by some as, well, opportunism. I should point out here that I'm not about to cancel everything in disgust and wander away muttering: I still love this game, and the people who play it, and the people who make it too. Don't mistake criticism for anger or an argumentative stance: that seems to happen a lot on the Internet, because people seem to think that anonymity somehow translates into being loutish and unthinking.

All you need do is to spend just five minutes on this Website to understand I've loved Azeroth publicly for over FIVE YEARS, with a depth of passion that is not going to be dented by what is, I sincerely hope, just a momentary lapse of the ideals you inspire us to grasp. This shouldn't be about money, but more and more it is. Giving people what they want, allowing people to play with their friends is a great notion. Making them pay for it now is utterly ridiculous. I am very sorry but deciding that 50 Euros is the value of a levelling and learning experience if you don't buy into the boost is madness. It should be ten times that cost. There is so much you will singularly fail to grasp about ANY class if you simply arrive at 90 and are expected to just pick it up. It has taken me a decade to become a halfway decent Hunter and I'm still learning. With the subjectivity of individual learning curves, frankly, this looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Except it already is, and were it not for your Community writing guides to help out new 90's in distress there'd be nothing out there at all to aid the progression you'd made people pay for.

What I think you've failed to adequately grasp is that the massive nature of your demographic allows an awful lot of groups to hide in the shadows: the very young, the very old, those with issues of self worth and inadequacy, those who struggle with dealing with interaction, those who actively shun it and choose to play alone. These are the players you don't target, not simply those who are financially challenged or who have no need of the boost to begin with. These are the players who may look at what has now become a new notion of value and wonder what changed in the last year.

These are the people who, if they walk away, could significantly impact the future of your game.

I'm no expert on numbers but I can see how much money you've made in the last few days. You guys could sell sand to desert dwellers and water to fish, there is no doubting your depth of aptitude in finding the markets. However, we are here to play a game, and for those of us who don't want to spend the next six months kicking our heels the choice is a stark one: leave or stay. Ironically, while my 13 year old son will shrug his shoulders and go play Team Fortress 2 and my husband will LFR until he gets fed up of the stupidity and then go watch a movie, I will remain.

I'm going to level a character from scratch, not because I can't afford to boost, but because I don't see the point in playing this game unless you take the journey. It's not even a character I don't have, it's another Hunter, whose going to play through content that you won't update after it didn't go as planned in Cataclysm, and because I am told that people want new things at End Game anyway. I don't know who these people are, but one day I really hope you sacrifice some raid tier and go back and try to improve the world again. It's where all my characters were born, and where they will die when you finally turn off the lights and throw me off the Server. That would, at least in my mind, have a real notion of value.

As a mum to two children, I often despair at the notion of buying yourself into situations. It happens a lot in gaming circles: obtain this Beta and we'll give you a bunch of stuff that's not actually any use but you'll feel like it matters because it's free. I have to say, this is just how the 90's 'feel' to me: maybe it's because I have no friends I need to try and entice back, because they're all still here and never left. Maybe its also because the way you handled the entire thing makes it feel like there was little thought involved, although I'm fairly certain that is probably as far from the truth as it is possible to get. From the outside, over here on my medium-population EU server, my World of Warcraft often seems a long way away from the wonder of Blizzcons and the excitement of eSports tournaments. But I still love you. That's the problem, I think, that sometimes when you care so much about a thing you're prepared to look the other way when something happens like this, you chalk it down to experience and move on. The problem is that this time, I do feel cheated, and angry and disappointed, because I'd expected so much better from you than this.

I have friends who tell me to put this in proportion: its only a game, it doesn't matter in the Real World. Except, actually, it DOES matter. You're my friends too, I talk to people who make the game, you take the time and effort to involve me in a process that I know a lot of the time I have no chance of changing, but I can at least be a part of. I don't even think I'm looking for someone to blame either. That whole making CM's scapegoats thing is a great idea in principle, I get that. There's a joke in my Guild that my mate from Sweden is the guy we blame stuff on when we die in Raids or someone does something stupid. He even has his own Guild rank: Blame Me. I grasp enough psychology to know what that does in helping deal with issues. But it's not right to point a finger at one person. When you fail as a Raid, everyone fails, and it's about dealing with the consequences of the collective if you wish to move forward.

So, really, I should point my finger at the giant statue outside your massive Campus on this one and state, for the record, I think you guys screwed up. I really do. I think what could have been a genius way to give people a 90 was badly handled, priced and implemented. I think its made you look bad, and I think that had you been honest up front after Blizzcon and said 'here's the timescale we're working on, if things go wrong we'll admit it and tell you' might actually have done yourself more favours.

The thing is, I KNOW you guys don't work like that.

Maybe you could consider thinking differently about how you deal with the Expansion after this one as a result.

Anyway, I have gone on far too long and as your Hearthstone game's got it's claws into me now I think I'll be off to start building a custom deck. I'm not gonna cancel any subs, or go on the Forums and rant, or even start being mean to you on Twitter. You did this bit wrong. Make sure value never means your balance sheet and always refers to the worth of your players in intellectual terms. All of them, not just the ones in the target demographic and with the disposable income.

Have a good weekend,

Still with love,

Sarah.

To Build a Home :: Kodachrome


Oh, this is a goodie.

This time last week, pretty soon after I'd published last week's post, Warcraft Game Designer Jeremy Feasel proved, once and for all, that there's actually an Alpha Client of the game, and inside that is a Garrison. He gave us a picture to prove it.


I hope that's not your L100 in this Expansion's tier...

As a screenshot, this is stupidly ambiguous, but wonderfully telling. This isn't just player housing, people, this really IS A GARRISON. A living, breathing centre where there's running water and working lights and LOOK THAT'S A HEROES CALL BOARD THERE. Yes, to the right of the fountain.

Oh, and so we know what we're looking at, Mr Feasel was good enough to supply the details:



Right. Barracks is gonna be the big stone building on the right. Town Hall (which wasn't mentioned in the original release specs, by the way) will be the clock tower building (insert your Back to the Future reference here) and the Inn will be the building on the left. I assume that the lovely covered wagons to our far left will be where our merchants 'live', and this is where I find myself looking at the lass kneeling and wondering whether you end up taking off your battle armour when you enter a Garrison, and casual clothing is the order of business when you're surrounded by your own personal army. I'm also considering the possibility that if you have to go and 'discover' every single person who inhabits this space in the game world, just how indivisible this part of the experience will be from the process of levelling.

This might go some way to explaining why we have a bit longer to wait for our Expansion.

There's also been a hint of this change from an interview from Alex Afrasiabi where he states that Garrisons will make the game play differently and feel 'new.' If I were a betting woman I'd put some gold on the table and predict the following:


  • Garrisons give every player a uniquely 'personal' gaming experience inside the wider plot of Warlords, leading to more immersion and less 'predictable' gameplay. This means every players experience will be different, depending on what decisions they make inside their Garrison. Consider it a Personal Scenario, that plays out alongside the main storyline of the game, where you can dictate the flow of events at your speed and to your tastes.
  • A lot more items/NPC's and events will be linked back to your Garrison than first expected. In fact, you'll have to spend a lot of time in the Gaming World to pick up Garrison 'storyline' if you want the complete experience.
  • People who don't care so much about the Garrison will be able to still play but with a less flavour-rich version of events. It will entirely depend on the individual what you do, giving a far greater sense of personal accountability.

I find myself thinking that, if they do this right, it does have the potential to completely change the way the game works, and by that I mean the game stops being about you going to find the fights and pursue the storylines, and the Garrison gives you a custom-built and customisable backdrop in which the events of Draenor play out AROUND YOU. The best way to describe this would be with the Theatre metaphor I've used before, I think. In previous expansions you've been a character who has travelled to places and always retuned to a 'set' that's contained lots of other characters: a capitol city, for instance, or a hub like Shatt or Dalaran. This time around your 'set' is something that isn't designed by a bunch of people in California. They made all the pieces of the set but it is entirely up to you how you place those elements together, how you construct your 'backdrop', and what items you choose to collect and use along the way from your Journey. It becomes a story that is as individual as you are, with your character right smack bang in the centre of the action.

If this is the plan, then it's BLOODY GENIUS.

Trouble 't Mill!


Sadly, there's still no definitive indicator of a Beta: however, if Garrisons are this closely integrated into the design plan and we only saw a functioning one LAST WEEK, this might go some way as to explaining why it's not ready to play with yet. Maybe they weren't joking when they said Garrisons were a game changer either: if this works, it does have the potential to completely redefine the gameplay experience, and after ten years, that might have some rather interesting consequences...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Dealer


Eventually, I worked it out.

Yesterday, I learnt how to play Hearthstone in a little over five hours.

I'll freely admit that there was one reason only for this diversion: the Hearthsteed. I'll also go on record, be controversial and admit I don't like the look of the thing at all, it is just another mount to add to the total. So this was for all intent and purpose a totally cynical exercise in getting something for winning three games of cards... except, along the way I learnt stuff, and I ended up enjoying myself when I worked out how to play. And this is why I decided that it is probably worth spending five minutes considering what happens when you actually stick at something, don't let it beat you and make yourself step very distinctly out of your comfort zone.

That has a definite relevance to Warcraft, especially in light of events during the last seven days.


Yes, it was against the AI. STILL A WIN IS A WIN :D

I was given a Beta invite sometime in the Summer of last year, and can remember giving up trying to even understand what was going because I simply did not grasp the principle. Coming back to it yesterday I found myself thinking pretty much the same thing until I made my first of many important logical associations: at the start, playing the AI, losing was mostly all that was going to happen. If decks scaled on power, then the higher my level, the better my cards would logically become over time. Consulting various guides suggested by my Twitter brethren showed that all the 'Starter' Decks assumed I was at L10, and when I understood that this first journey was a significant one, things began to make sense. I let the Computer give me a bunch of cards and then it was a case of reading them, beginning to grasp the significance of the commands on each one and what it could do and using that knowledge to begin to actually play. And I did.


The Gimmick Card has to go ^^

Then I started faffing with my own cards: I grasped the significance of keeping certain ones back until others were played. I decided to throw my lot in behind a Hunter deck (WELL DUH) because the principles were based on the class I understood the most about, and as it transpires it made life considerably easier. I am aware that this may not be the most powerful or ideal combination for 'Open' play, but I like the way certain abilities interlock with others, how I can use 'power' cards to boost existing ones on the table. When I won that first AI fight above purely on merit, there may have been a Dwarven Male Arms Aloft 'BRILLIANT!' celebration as a result. You see, the thing is, all you people who play these games and understand about stuff like card synergy and advanced strategy need to remember that for every smart-witted deck wielder there's a counter, a Ying for their Yang, the doofus who's making it up as she goes along.

And yes, I had to ask how I opened my first pack of cards when I earned them at L10. Feel free to snigger behind your Golden-Backed Hero cards, you're more than welcome to. I have no illusions here. I'm a Ditz with some Hearthstone cards, but I did enjoy myself. Once I'd beaten all the Basic UI decks and understood that some Heroes get weapons (WHERE IS MY BOW?) I felt buoyed enough to go try the Real World.


If the Game says I'm ready... ^^

However, as I discovered, the AI was definitely lulling me into a false sense of security:




My first three games were an education in how to play: two mages and a hunter deck that picked me up, grabbed me by the lapels, stared into my face and in Jason Statham's voice informed me 'YOU'RE NOT 'ARD ENOUGH FOR THIS GAME.' Suddenly I couldn't make a single mistake, because if I did I was smooshed into the ground with a foot to my head and that was it, game over. Thinking about strategy began to actually matter, and I'm utterly pants at planning, I just want to play. However, if there was a free horse at stake I was going to do things properly. I would like to thank everyone who offered to win-trade with me BUT REALLY THAT'S STILL CHEATING. I was doing this to attempt to understand how the game works, and that meant I would indeed need to eat dirt for a while so I could get up and spit it in my opponents faces. Possibly. Actually, no that's mean. Anyway, I digress, and once I actually paid attention, the first win was registered. After that, it was only a matter of time.


Good Game, Exent!. I HAZ MOUNT NAO.

My secret success to winning the Hearthsteed? I LEARNT TO PLAY. More importantly, I tried to understand WHY I lost, and what meant that other people won. To break it down, this is pretty much how the five hours went:


  • Default Mage Deck until L6 I let the Computer pick the cards. I didn't play any opponents, just the UI. I then switched to a default Hunter Deck and played until I'd beaten all the UI opponents, which took me (conveniently to L10) I then used the Default L10 Hunter Deck from Icy Veins.
  • Many Minions Win Prizes. Having lots of things on your table appears to pay dividends in early games, though there are abilities such as Flamestrike which can decimate you. In the end, having lots of stuff that buffs other stuff seems to be a good idea, which means the more stuff you have out, the more damage you can do. Yes I'm being overly simplistic, card experts ^^
  • Go read this post about using your 'Coin' Card :D
  • Gonna suggest taking the 'Hero' that plays the class you're most comfortable with in the early stages of your career, playing the 'familiarity' Joker that means you'll be grasping abilities you know that help you in Warcraft. If I put my Psychology Hat on I'd say there's something comforting there in terms of reinforcement or summat, but having a Hunter Deck was a distinct advantage. It also meant that when I came up against Snake Trap for the first time it made perfect sense in context because that's just how the trap works IN WARCRAFT. Bet that's deliberate.
  • Losing is inevitable. Don't give up. Look at why you were beaten, not that it happened and you feel bad. Try and analyse the method by which your opponent did it, and try and find one thing in each game you think you did well at, and remember to try that again for the next game. If it helps, MAKE NOTES. There is no shame in doing this.

That's basically it. Except, not quite.

I went back last night and played a few more games after I'd won the Horse. Not against other players, but the UI, and once this thing makes it to tablet I can really see myself having it to potter around with. I doubt I'll ever reach the lofty heights of the serious players, but my brain has now been attuned to the possibilities of playing a Hunter somewhere OTHER than Azeroth, which is good news for another MMO which is about to go to pre-order next week. If they'd let me stop being Rexxar and be a Female Dwarf instead, my life would basically be complete.

In fact, I could see P quietly playing a hand or two of this with Crais in Stormwind whilst they wait for the Expansion. Nice work, Team 5 :D

Those We Leave Behind




Today, I'm going to ask you if you'll join me levelling an alt without boosting it automatically to 90.

This isn't a reaction to the decision made by Blizzard to offer the paid service. It's also not meant as a means to belittle or indeed deride anyone who has. What it IS meant as is a distinct means of reminding everyone, in what will soon be the Tenth Year of Warcraft, of where we all began, and what the game came from: the Old World of Questing, exploring and generally not screaming headlong straight to Endgame. On the way I hope to gain some new friends, share some posts from other Bloggers about their experiences, and generally rediscover a love for the journey, and not simply the destination.

Let me tell you how I hope this will work.


You've already met :D


This was the toon I created for Hunter Week last year, and who has been stuck at L17 ever since. I could, if I wanted, use my free boost to get her to 90 but as I'm strapped for cash, I'm going to level her the old-fashioned way. I doubt I'll head into a Dungeon because the Heirlooms will make the world XP more than adequate to get by. My gear will come just from rewards and drops. And I intend to slog it through every zone between here and the Shrine with just my mount and my knowledge of Warcraft to guide me. I'd love you to join me in this adventure, and more importantly I'm asking people to write about their experiences, and I'll be looking to share them as Guest Posts in the weeks that follow.

Yes, this is also a thinly-veiled request to ask people to help keep content on my pages until the Expansion finally arrives. Let's not be under any illusions here, it is really tough finding new stuff to write about on a daily basis and with no indication when the beta will appear... I want to keep the site running, and NOT be one of those people who vanishes because there's nothing 'important' going on in game. Yes, there may be distractions here and there (see the post coming up later on Hearthstone) but this is a place for World of Warcraft, and long may it continue.

So, if you're interested in taking part in this exercise, please use the Comments to tell me what character you'll be levelling, and if you'd be interested in contributing a post or posts to my site documenting your journey. If you wish to show your support for the exercise, there's a button here for you too:




So, having asked the question, now I wait.

Anyone up for an adventure?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stop


Yeah.

Normally, if I couldn't do a Podcast I'd make an announcement via Twitter and not make a big deal about it.

Not today.

I have taken the decision not to record a Podcast this week because I simply have too much I want to say. The graphic above's one of the processing stages I've gone through since the World imploded on Monday, but it's not really where I am currently: doing the News Podcast has helped focus my brain, but I'm still not ready to open my mouth, ESPECIALLY unscripted. I had always said you'd be able to tell when I didn't want to talk about Warcraft, that I'd give myself away with the tone and approach of my voice. Right now, I'm still a bit too angry with myself and unable to balance everything to make what I think would be a professional and realistic job of putting everything into perspective, and then record it. In fact, this might actually be the moment where I end up going BACK to a script to say what I want without getting all emotional and stuff. In this case, I'm concerned I'd say something I might end up regretting when I could have taken a step back and considered my options first.

See, the thing is, I still love this game. I haven't woken up (yet) and decided I've had enough and I can't be bothered to wait to whenever the Expansion actually gets released. I'm not about to throw a dramatic hissy fit and stomp off muttering about timescales and commitments. I'm also likely to get a bit teary over something that triggered some really rather intense feelings that is related to the game and there will be those who say that if that happens you're doing it wrong to begin with. When you are in a relationship, sometimes it takes a while to work out what you really want to say to someone, to quantify the feelings you have. This game made me angry this week, and frustrated, and disappointed but I am adult enough to understand these feelings aren't anyone else's problem except mine. There is no torch to grasp and pitchfork to hurl at either individual or organisation, because all such reactions are subjective and as a result are not to be used as weapons to begin with. I return therefore to words, which at times like this are pretty much my support mechanism.

What I need therefore is time, and in my current schedule there simply isn't any if I'm Podcasting today.


... aaaand BREATHE.


There are those that would encourage me to go and record everything I've felt since Monday afternoon as a way to deal with it, and although I can see the merit in this, I reckon I know myself well enough to know this has POTENTIAL DEATHTRAP stencilled across it in large, friendly letters. As a result, dear Podcast listeners, I will give it a week and I'll be back with you, and I promise I'll make it worth your while when I do return. I am determined to remain under my 15 minute 'budget' at all times and that means being able to come to the table with the right things to say, and in the right manner.

If you'll excuse me, I am now off to do a Yoga session. I'll be back with you all later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Only Myself To Blame





Expectations are difficult things.

I have, for quite some time now, been of the belief that the pace of development that Pandaria maintained was an indicator of what we could expect not simply for future Expansions, but for Beta releases as well. This was based on the very real understanding that Blizzard was pushing out content that I couldn't complete, that I consciously had to pick and choose from because designers wanted to maintain momentum of change for the majority of the playerbase. I am well aware I hardly fit into the 'average' player demographic to begin with: mother of two, well past forty, with time as my primary resource to manage. Therefore, when it emerged in quick succession yesterday that not only was the 'leak' of the boost to 90 video not being dismissed but that pre-sales of the Expansion would begin today with the boost attached, plus there would also no Beta to be seen to immediately accompany it, I realised I'd been deluding myself.

If I wanted as a company to maintain interest in a game, giving people a new 90 and six months in order to run all the content the existing subscribers were rushed through first time around is the perfect delaying tactic. In fact, it couldn't be more brilliantly timed.

Pandaria was yesterday relaunched for a whole bunch of new people, who all get until the Autumn having paid their money up front for a game plus a L90 to play catch up. The rest of us? We can go back and do all the stuff we were forced to miss out on because there was never the time to do it when it was current. The new Expansion will be with everyone in Fall 2014, just in time for that all-important 10th Anniversary, and it will appear this was all part of the plan. We were never promised stuff at the speed of Expansion development, after all. Lots of people went on record and said they'd *like* it to happen quicker, but if you go and examine interviews nobody ever said it would. Only people like me foolishly assumed that when they announced at Blizzcon the concept was ready to go sooner rather than later. Only players with what might appear like misguided enthusiasm could mistake this pace of change for ACTUAL progress and then get disappointed that actually, this is exactly the same pace of development as we had last time, and the time before.

In the end, do we only have ourselves to blame?


10 points for the reference. OFF YOU GO.


What has prompted this latest flurry of activity, the consequences of which caught pretty much everyone on the hop, is unlikely ever to be properly explained. Just like that time when the Mobile Armoury got hacked at the weekend and millions of gold simply vanished, there are some reactions and decisions as players we simply never get an adequate explanation for. There are many reasons for such silences, and a lot of them involve internal issues and mistakes that simply can't be avoided, and therefore have to be dealt with in the most efficient manner possible. The key in any such situation is how to turn a potentially disastrous issue into a success story, and let it not be said that Blizzard aren't more than capable of making a win out of what many would consider a loss. Allowing people to buy their game now and either play a 90 or simply leave and come back when the game proper launches is, yet again, a stroke of marketing genius. Well done them. If it's also being launched now to fill the gap until there's a functional Beta in place, then even more so. It's also going to make those First Quarter profits look really healthy to boot.

There's still a very good chance that a Beta could appear in March, but with Blizzard trailing Warlords for a 'Fall release' in already published Tweets. It's probably more likely to be next month than this, simply because we know from the Dev Watercoolers that there's still a lot of stuff yet to be explained. Of course, they might prove me wrong again and start the thing tomorrow, which could well go some way to assuaging the general level of disquiet I've seen pretty much everywhere since this announcement broke. The biggest problem in all of this is the manner in which the announcements have transpired, the information that has been released, and the way that has disseminated across social networking, which has never been afraid of pulling its punches when presented with the surprising or unexpected. There's still plenty of opportunities for points to be scored and mistakes to be rectified, but that might not be enough for some.

There will be those who feel, perhaps with justification, that they've been misinformed.



Bring fish fingers and custard STAT.


Life is, like it or not, a lot about what you can control. When it comes to your gaming experience the only sure-fire method you have to guarantee you'll get what you want is to be inside the company making it, and even then there's no cast iron certainty even then that any end result will be exactly what you're after. For everyone else, you take what you're given and often cling onto it with an enthusiasm that is misplaced, beliefs that are inherently tainted by individual perception. To make sure that happens as little as possible it then becomes vitally important for any information to be handled both sensitively and objectively. I'm pretty sure therefore Blizzard wouldn't deliberately want to announce anything particularly important on a Sunday morning, especially not a very high profile advert for a service that has so much riding on it. Once something like the 90 Boost Advert is public knowledge, the company has a choice. You either make it work where it lands, or you're forced to watch it devalue what has been worked for. Given a decision like that, the solution is simple. Blizzard made what is undoubtedly the right call: you remember those, we've been talking about them for weeks. In fact, this is probably the moment to drag out my favourite graphic as demonstration:



Presented without comment.


Nobody promised an Expansion early. Nobody guaranteed a game before December 20th, least of all Blizzard. Nobody said we'd have a year of the Siege either, but here we are, looking at the distinct possibility. The powers that be have decided to 'relaunch' the game for a new bunch of people in the hope returning and new players will either pay up front now, walk away and come back at release or simply shrug and wait. Whatever happens, they make money. If the game is absolutely brilliant it won't matter, because people will flock back. If it's awful it won't matter, because of the cash made from pre-sales. Either way, Blizzard will profit, and that's all that really counts in the end. People like me now have a choice to make: do we sit it out, take a break, or do we accept what is normal behaviour and simply play through to the end?

Whatever happens, as players there is a salutatory lesson to learn from what has transpired. The only people really in control are the designers, and however much you might THINK your input matters, that's only ever true to a point. Don't build up your expectations based on unrealistic possibilities. Understand who's really in control. Above all, don't get overly emotionally invested in a videogame.

Trust me when I say it will only end in tears.

Monday, March 10, 2014

This Week, I will be Mostly :: Too Low For Zero


And now the votes from the Grumpy Cat Jury...

Oh dear, another week goes by and frankly, I'VE DONE NOTHING ^^

Honest? Perhaps TOO MUCH.

Actually, that's not STRICTLY true. There has actually been some Dragonscale gatherage, but not nearly enough and that WILL change this week because I've still got the Shaman's Mog to deal with. I did go ahead and race change the Priest yesterday on the back of the Healing Dev Watercooler, and because her old mog did frankly unpleasant things to the poor lass' chest area I was forced into an unscheduled costume change there too. The result is, even by my standards, pretty awesome.


Holy-specced malevolence :D

I know I've done something right when Mr Alt remarks that this mog looks like tier. The Staff is a purely temporary measure, I have a plan to replace that as soon as I'm able to drag myself through the relevant dungeon:


YOU CAN'T GET THE STAFF *scoff*

Once the staff's obtained, there'll be pictures, don't worry, but you'll want to be running ICC for the headpiece, that much is certain. The plan after that for the next week is reasonably simple: DO SOMETHING. I've exceeded the 600k Gold threshold, so I could also do a bit of pottering towards that, or I could spend some to reduce my crafted mount total. If the 'boost to 90 thing' comes in on Tuesday (and there's a good chance it might) then I'll be thinking about a DK Mog as well... when actually I could be doing that to begin with... and this is my problem. Too many shinies, not enough hours. In the end I'll end up sorting one alt out somewhere, with bags properly cleared and space ready for filling with a bunch of dailies for hand-in, and then I will start mothballing people. But until we have a Beta on the table, that's not going to happen.

Faffing is most definitely the order of the week.

Oh, and I'm going to remog my Rogue as well. ARGH.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Land of Confusion


You didn't RTFM, did you? ^^

Learning something new can be hard work. We've already established that change is a wrench, and if you look back over the last few weeks this blog has attempted to furnish you with many ways in which to cope with the impending tide of alteration that Warcraft is about to be engulfed with. However, there are people already preparing themselves not simply to cope with said change, but to write about it so that you can choose to utterly ignore them. Today's request is simple: JUST DON'T. There are going to be players across all the healing classes (and indeed all aspects of gameplay) crossing EVERYTHING they have that they'll get themselves a Beta invite so they can insert themselves into the client and spend hours of their lives writing about what's different, and how they (and by extension you) cope with it. Even though you may flatly deny you ever need a Guide for a game that's been around a decade, you really will, especially in the months that follow.

Today, I'm going to ask you to START READING AGAIN.


But what's the point! It's only beta...

There are those who will argue (and quite sensibly) that there's no point in taking any notice of a Beta client to begin with. After all, so much could be scrunched up and thrown away between development and release that it's largely academic... except that's not really the case. If you look at this first iteration of the revised Hunter Talent system for Pandaria above you'll see that although many of those talents never made it live, the structure of the tree remains intact even today. Structures are pretty much set in stone before the Beta ever makes it into our hands, and it is VERY rare for anything to get a major rethink at the eleventh hour. Therefore, there'll be something useful to gain from the process of learning, even at this early stage. As learning new things is so intrinsically linked to understanding why they work the way they do to begin with, the process of Beta can help you be not simply a better player, but give you a vital head start on other players when the whole thing goes live, as long as you can think past the 'why am I bothering with this, I'll only have to do it again when this is real' mentality. I'll have to say I've been guilty of this mindset, especially in Pandaria's beta. Ironically it's taken a different game entirely to help me understand the significance of a dry run before the main event.


#GameThatCannotBeNamed

I may (or may not, you can't prove anything) have been playing a game in beta for the last two weeks, that is quite popular amongst the people on Social Networking. Because there is a general Non Disclosure Agreement in effect (unless you're Press, and I don't think even I could stretch that at present) I am not allowed to go into specifics, but when a game is good enough for me to start consulting Guides before I reach the designated level to start a new area of interest. it's doing something right. The thing about MMO's as is often pointed out by people like me is that the basic foundations and frameworks are often very similar, by deliberate design. If your player's done Warcraft then they'll understand a lot of what to expect in your virtual work if you set out things in the same manner as Blizzard have. The key then is to make things sufficiently different and diverting that players don't feel like they're in Azeroth but in your world instead. Learning in any game is absolutely vital, but there are levels of subtlety you will never grasp without some additional input, and then we're back to RTFM territory. This is why Guides REALLY matter too, especially if like many people you are returning to the game after an absence or even cold.


Hi Roosta, Hello Towel.

There has been much discussion that individual player treatises on How to Play (TM) are no longer relevant, that the changes to the game make it easy to summarise all the possible options in bite sized chunks on catch-all sites, and although that may be true to a point, there is a great deal to be said for the nuances of an individual's take on a bigger picture. I'd like to think that in a world where if it doesn't loop after six seconds people lose interest, there is still a place for words and pictures with a distinctly personal slant to have a relevance, or else I'd have to ask what the Hell I'm doing here on a Sunday morning sticking words on a page that half of you won't even read... unless of course there's some controversy (Rogues suck) or I insult someone's BFF by accident. What most people don't remember is that Guides take time, effort and ultimately a piece of the person writing them to be really successful. If someone makes a commitment to do the work and have an opinion, at least have the decency to read to the end and respect that, even if you don't agree with the end result. Without Guides we'd be nowhere, and the Manual exists for a reason, because EVERYONE at some point will have an answer that you can't simply extract from a friend, your Guild or Twitter, that you'll find in someone's instructions.

Take five minutes today and ACTUALLY READ a Guide for something and see if you can learn something. Remember to thank anyone who takes the time to write one too and grasp that if they made the effort for it to be public, you should respect that and give yourself the time to take in what you've been given.

Content producers need love, you know.