Chasing the purple: is raiding “fun”? Friday, Oct 16 2009 

I stepped away from raiding in WoW for two weeks – due to some real life issues – and to be honest a break from “chasing the purple” was much needed.

I went back to a “casual play style” and it was a lot of fun. Running dailies, maxing up long neglected trade skills and doing some of the heroic dungeons felt like a much needed “holiday”. I finished off exploring some zones I’d not fully seen and even started fishing! Fishing! For five years I swore I’d never pick up that skill, but there I am standing on shoreline of Northrend fishing.

However, my best WoW experience in the last month had to be purchasing the Wyrmrest Accord drake mount. Normally my funds are reserved for epic gems, enchants and flasks/elixirs (all for raiding of course).

But having build up a few thousand gold, I decided what the heck. I’ve always wanted a dragon for a pet. So off Augustine the Paladin went to visit the Wrymrest vendor. I’m glad I did.

The moment I summoned the mount and launched myself from the tower I felt the thrill of enjoyment. I spent a good ten minutes simply flying around Dragonblight – wheeling, diving and swooping. Simply enjoying the feeling of “flight” for my avatar on a cool looking dragon mount.

Did it make me a more l337 player? No. Did I enjoy flying around on my little pet dragon? Yes.

So, my experience of the last couple of weeks has made me think: is raiding fun?

Upon reflection I have to say yes and no.

It’s fun when a you run with a good group and you get to see the endgame content. Blizzard has created some incredible dungeons and intricate boss fights. They’re enjoyable, cinematic and fun. Each raid dungeon advances the Lich King storyline – I’m looking forward to running Ulduar, Ony’s Liar and Icecrown.

I wanted to be there when my usual group first hit Ulduar, but couldn’t be there. So I feel I’ve missed the shared experience.

Still, what is less fun is building your entire game around raiding.

Recently I ran some Naxx 25 man raids. Obviously the rewards for 25 man gear are better – and from a strict gear progression POV necessary for Ulduar – but the experience was less fun. It’s far more impersonal. It’s more about 25 people concentrating *really hard* to get it right, and there is little banter or sense even a sense enjoyment. More a grim determination to “finish this boss” and “get that gear upgrade”.

Raiding requires a commitment akin to  a job. Yes, every commentator has made that analogy – but it’s true. When you spent your entire week focussed on researching boss fights, looking for the next gear upgrade and farming gold for materials it gets, well, repetitive.

It can also suck the enjoyment out of the game if you continually worried about how good your gear is.

Will I give up raiding?

Not yet. I do want to finish Ulduar and the Icecrown fight in patch 3.3.

But after that, I’m not wedded to chasing the purple. I’m looking forward to the Cataclysm expansion resetting the old world. It will allow players to enjoy the levelling experience again, explore and enjoy the shared experience of seeing new content.

No more gear treadmill: how WoW morphed into a story book Friday, Sep 4 2009 

Come and see the Lich King, come and see the Lich King, come and see...

Come and see the Lich King, come and see the Lich King, come and see...

WoW is no longer a game centred on raiding for gear. It’s moving to one focussed primarily on telling it’s players a story and letting them have some fun along the way. Heck, they’re giving away gear in instances like Trial of the Champion just so we the necessary gear to experience the final chapter in the “Rise and fall of Arthus” in Patch 3.3.

Gear will always be important, but is becoming a means to an end. Players enter raids not for the gear alone, but to experience the content. Gear is still an important incentive, but more as a means to experience the next chapter in the story.

That next chapter will be revealed in Patch 3.3 and the Icecrown instance.

Experiencing the fight against Arthus is an incentive for millions of WoW players, and Blizzard is doing it’s best to make sure most of them have the chance. Patch 3.3 will not be Sunwell Plateau which only a tiny fraction of the players saw and regarded as beyond the reach of most casuals. Blizzard prefers to cater to the broad player base, not the tiny elite.

Blizzard has deliberately changed  it’s approach to “raiding”. Right now they are tyring to herd as many of us into the fight against Arthus.

The end of gear grind?

Gear is what used to be the most visible sign of elite status in WoW. Being fully decked out in a tiered set, the result of hours and hours of raiding helped signify your l33t-hardcore status. But it also lead to the dreaded gear treadmill: raiding to get gear so as to raid even more.

A few recent comments made by some of my favourite bloggers have picked up on the subtle shift going on in WoW. Perhaps the gear treadmill that was seen as so central to WoW is changing.  As Player vs. Developer notes:

Each of my old items has a story, something that I did to obtain it. Almost all of those stories were more involved than “walk in door, breeze through instance, loot”. Perhaps I did daily quests for a faction every day for two weeks, or ran an instance a bunch of times, or collected and redeemed 60 emblems from 25-man content. Before 5-man TOC, I cannot recall a situation in WoW where the loot tables actually offer major upgrades for players who out gear the instance.

Gear is easy to obtain. It’s now longer a true indicator of l33t status.

Why then raid?

Without the loot incentive what will drive players?

Keen of Keen and Graev’s blog is onto the right idea:

Getting gear is easier than ever. Is that a bad thing? In my opinion it’s a good thing. I don’t want to get into a discussion, or encourage any of you to either, about the details of WoW and whether they’re good or bad for the players or even the industry, but I do feel it’s a good thing overall when people can obtain gear while experiencing the content at a comfortable pace.

The new 5 man ToC and emblem changes has radically changed the idea of gear in WoW. Getting gear is no longer the preserve of a tiny elite you raid 4-5 nights a week. Yay for the “casuals”!

But why raid at all if you can simply get gear from a few heroics? So what is driving us?

Having fun and being entertained along the way.

Lots of getting gear along the way is nice. In this way the concept of gear becomes devalued. Still important, but not as important as it once once is WoW.

Keen notes how WoW feels like a theme park (raids and instances are fun rides), and that every player is now a raider.

The is the exact issue my Naxx team is confronted with: if gear is so easy to obtain, why are we running Naxx? For the fun of it. We run two nights a week and have a blast. Each week we get better, our DPS perform better, our tanks get better at holding aggro and the bosses are frequently one-shotted.

We complete Naxx quarters at a faster pace and should be able to fully clear over two nights in few weeks time. The main thing is we’re enjoying the ride. The pressure to get “the epics” in order to display our elite status is of lesser concern. We want to achieve something as a group.

That we enjoy the raiding experience along the way is exactly what Blizzard intends. Fun takes precedence over obtaining “phat lewt”.

Raids are now chapters: emphasis on Arthus story line and not the epics

Central to the current WoW expansion is the story of Arthus. Through phasing, quests and content such as the Argent Tournament nearly every player is getting to know the Lich King is a bad dude and must be defeated.

Why are we so excited about Patch 3.3?

Because its the patch with the Arthus fight! It’s the final chapter in the Arthus story.

It’s important to WoW lore and Blizzard are giving players the gear to get into this boss fight via ToC and emblem changes. They want as many of us to see the content.

WoW is just not a theme park: it’s a story book.

Lich King is the anti-Burning Crusade

In BC, who really cared about facing off Illiadin?

Not too many casuals for sure. I’d predict only a tiny portion of the player base stepped into Black Temple. Raiding and endgame content where the preserve of a small elite. Barely anyone saw Sunwell. Not everyone got into Kara.The line between raiders and casuals was very sharp.

Infact, my guild at the time chose NOT to raid, because of the percieved pressure this would put on players and the guild. Raiding as it stood was a disencentive to many players, including me. So Blizzard have changed this for the millions of casual players.

Lich King’s raiding philosophy is the complete antihesis of raiding in BC. Now, we can all get epics. We can all run the dungeons. We can all step into Naxx. Raids are becoming more like chapters in the WoW story, not places to farm epic loot for more raiding.

So perahps it really is the end of raiding as we once knew it. “Gearing up” will still be an important concern, but it won’t be the same raiding or faction reputation grind.

Gear will be what is should be: a means to an end (i.e. boosting your stats to an appropriate level). Gear is no longer an end unto itself. There will still be a significant number of players – those achievement orientated ones – who will chase the gear as a sign of l33t status. But the good news for the majority of players is how Blizzard is shaping the endgame so that they can all experience it.

Yes, we can all get along: Blizzard has been teaching us to raid and PuG

Lich King made PuGs viable for both running heroics and raiding. No one really dreads PuGs that much anymore. Says another commentator on the blog Commen Sense Gamer:

I’ve gone through about 4-5 PUGs in WoW for various dungeons and the people that I’ve grouped with have not only been courteous, but helpful…and dear gawd…considerate, of their fellow players. What happened? When I went into WoW a couple weeks ago and started to get those dungeon quests, I shuttered at the fact that I would eventually have to hit that LFG button and brave the WoW PUG.

Seriously now…heh. Each of these PUGs have been…a pleasure…to be a part of. Everyone knew their roles and we just flew through every encounter like we’ve been playing together for years. Amazing and I thank those anonymous players for the great experiences to those dungeons. Model players…every one of them, and clearly the silent majority.

The introduction of an instance like Vault of Archavon pointed the way to the new style of PuG Blizzard wanted. VoA opens up to the faction that winds Wintergrasp. Unless you go in with your guild mates, mostly you PuG this instance. My first 25 man experience was as VoA PuG. I did it because it was an option. Yep little old casual me PuG’ed a VoA 25 man. Easy as.

It was a good experiment by Blizzard – giving so many players the oppurtunity to experience large raids thrown together in a few minutes. I think it taught many players the value of working together with other players.

Many nights our Naxx team can’t run without PuGs. In nearly every instance the PuGs have been excellent. Some our now members of our guild.

Trial of the Champion (ToC) is doing the same. A short 15 minute instance with good rewards is driving players to group.

Blizzard is doing some great social engineering here.

The new style of dungeons and raiding has allowed millions of casual players to learn how to raid. The ease of getting gear and accessible raiding content makes the formation of PuGs that much easier: you can be certain your pick up members will have some gear and experience.

The end game is not being dumbed down: it’s being made more accessible. And the point of being more accessible? So we can all experience the story of Arthus.

Be there for the fall of Arthus

Blizzard is presently herding everyone into Patch 3.3 as this expansions crowning glory.

Whether it be in 5, 10 or 25 man versions of the Icecrown instances (and in different flavours of easy, hard and heroic versions) we will all see the same content and the same story unfold.

Hardcore raiders who love their 25 man raids will have contnet and gear rewards. The casual wil be satisified, because they’ve been there too, whether it be the smaller 5 man instances or 10 man versions of the raid. Again, why these changes?

More and more WoW is about telling us, the players, a story. But we’re also actors in the story. We get to play the parts of the hero involved in these epic conflicts. This is interactive entertainment.

For most WoW players, that’s a good thing.

Damages Sunday, Aug 2 2009 

Becoming that guy…

My goal in WoW at present is pretty simple: cause as much damage as possible.

My main, Augustine the Paladin, is retribution spec. Which means in a raid or instance I need to bring as much damage to the table as I can. So for two weeks I’ve conducted a extensive reseach program. What gems improve my stats, what gear do I need to track down, what elixers boast my hit power and overall DPS…

Dear God! How much pain can I inflict on a AI controlled computer mob? I wan’t to crush their virtual bones to make virtual bread!

Will all my hardcore, nerd research pay off?

Will all my hardcore, nerd research pay off?

Yep. I’m one of those guys fretting over their numbers. That’s me folks, a WoW cliche.

/faceplam.

WoW boot camp

I never really gave much thought to the underlying mechanics of any MMO. I focussed on levelling , which really is a fairly easy route. I was best described as a virtual tourist. Off to see the sights and have a chat. I created multiple alts just to see the other starter zones.

The so called “end game” never really called to me.

“Oh yeah, you all go run a dungeon for four hours instand of one right?”

A raid is more akin to a chess match, but with 10 or 25 people trying to play on the one team. What you bring to the group can make a difference. After a few runs you know who is working hard, learning and doing their homework and who isn’t.

Sure, there are those who will claim the WoW end game is “easy”. That really, noobs like me should be coast through this. Well, yes and know. I’ve had to understand the game on a whole new level. WoW makes it easy to solo to level cap. But once you get there, your looking for things to do that are interesting. There’s PvP, raiding or collecting vanity pets.

I went raiding, because I’ve never done it.

I’m a noob, and I’m enjoying the experience of being one.

So called l33t raiders forget that my experience is more typical of your average MMO player. With only a few hours to spare each week (yes, per week not every day!), casual players are focussed on short term goals. Finishing a few quests, or upgrading that weapon from a green to a blue.

The thought of dedicating you whole week to raiding the same dungeon? Really? Come one guys, you must be joking right?

First all you need the time.Secondly you need to actually know what your doing.

For that dear readers, you need to work your virtual butt off.

And that is where the fun has been these past few weeks. Reading about the boss fights and game lore. Knowing more about my class and what I can do if I apply myself. Reading the debates about this spec, or that spell rotation.

All hearty nerd-fun.

WoW + Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour = Fun

If my raid group was playing indoor cricket, and we never trained and played week-after-week only to lose every time, we”d all get frustrated and give up. WoW end game is a bit like that. You need to “train” to raid. Run your five mans at heroic level and get some decent gear to get in there.

The last four weeks has been about me getting ready to raid. Having never experienced end game, I’m enjoying the learning experience. The more I look at the underlying mechanics of the game, the more fascinated I’ve become.

It’s not the levelling that matters anymore. It’s what I do in that two hours in Naxx that matters most.

So, yeah, I’ve become that guy. But only for a little while.

I promise.