Thoughts on MMO tourism Monday, Nov 9 2009 

david-bowie

I totally see Bowie playing a Warlock. Like, for sure.

[Song to the tune of Fashion, by David Bowie]

There’s a brand new MMO
but we don’t its name…
The players from WoW are
coming to play…
But the game is big and bland,
full of mobs and gear…
We grind up some levels and cancel our subs.

Fashion! Sub to WAR!
Fashion! Sub to Aion!
Oooooooh wa, fashion.
We are the WoW tourists
And we don’t plan to stay!
Beep-beep

I just can’t help myself.

I try the shiny, new MMO but I keep coming back to WoW. Is it a sickness? Has Blizzard brain washed me? Dear Gawd what’s wrong with me!!!!!

Yet again, another MMO has failed to inspire me… yep I’m talking Aion. I just can’t work up enough enthusiasm for the game. Unlike WAR which I played solidly for six months before giving up, Aion didn’t even make it past the month.

Ok! Ok! I’m the dreaded WoW tourist! However, I’m not concerned about the slings and arrows that may be thrown my way. I’ll continue to try new games, but I’m yet to be lured away from the “One True Game”.

We’re mad, bad, and dangerous us WoW tourists. We descend on a game like a horde of locusts and then, just as quickly, we’re gone. In recognition of this fact, I dedicate the above song to both myself as well as the other WoW tourists out there.

But to be frank, I don’t feel guilty. A succession of MMOs have failed to maintain my attention: that’s not my fault. If the developers can’t make a product that keeps me enthused, then the blame mostly lies with them. I will give a game as much time as it deserves. Really I will.

But still, what is it about WoW that is different to the other MMOs? On the surface there is very little difference between these games:

  • Generic fantasy setting
  • DPS/Tank/Healer classes
  • WASD/Action bar controls
  • 3D graphics
  • Professions
  •  Virtual economies
  •  PvP
  • Instanced dungeons/raids

Tick “check” for all of the above for WoW, WAR, DDO, Aion, LoTRO and the rest.

What is that makes a difference: is it quality, polish, content, story or game mechanics? Sure, if a game fails in any of these, then it will find it hard to maintain its player base. Still, that’s only one half of the equation.

The other has to be the strength of the games community. And I don’t mean the number of subscribers. I mean how passionate a fan base is about their game.

“Community” – a much abused word – helps sustains a games pollution. It keeps players engaged. I read several WoW related blogs and listen to podcasts such as “The Instance”, “WoW.com” and “World of Warcast”. When they talk about game content, I feel the urge to go see it in-game. Reading other blogs inspired me to create my own blog. I caught up with same friends last week who I meet via WoW, and we talked about life and WoW. I’ll jump on a forum and join an interesting WoW related conversation.

All of this is part of my “WoW experience”, and a great deal if it is generated by other fans of the game and not by Blizzard.

Like most players, I crave a community that “speaks my language”. A MMO with no community does not inspire me to stick with a game. For me, it’s a vital element.

That was my experience with WAR: as the blogs and pod casters started closing up shop, it felt as though the community was dying. That, as much as the problems with the game itself, helped fuel the mass exodus of players. As the most vocal players lost their passion for WAR, so did other players.

In my mind, MMO’s need two things: a solid game as foundation and an active fan base prepared to talk about the game. World of Warcraft obviously owes its success to being both an enjoyable and accessible MMO experience. But just as important is the passion and enthusiasm of the player base in writing and talking about the game. It’s a case of players inspiring other gamers to stay part of the community and continue playing the game.

That’s something very hard to replicate.

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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.

What life lessons MMOs can teach us Friday, Sep 11 2009 

"No, no, no. Always stack strength for ret palladins. Just read Elitist Jerks my dear Aristotle!"

"No, no, no. Always stack strength for ret palladins. Just read Elitist Jerks my dear Aristotle!"

A recent post by one of my favourite bloggers – Tobold –  asked the question “what does playing MMOs teach you”. I liked his post, and was inpsired to expanded on it a little. MMOs are complex games requiring a high degree of social and technical skills. Playing them does teach individuals something: but what?

Broadly speaking, the skills we learn fall into three categories: technical skills, social skills and personal skills.

Technical Skills

By technical skills I mean specific skills or abilities.

  • The value of learning – MMOs are complex entities, and it’s impossible to know everything about them. You could spend a lifetime in WoW, EVE or EQ and still not learn everything. Fortunately there are many, many others who write guides for these games: how to gear up, how to raid, how to spec your character. In the end it teaches the people that researching, reading and learning are valuable skills. I work as an information professional, it’s been my job to research companies and industries for clients. What amazes me is just how sophisticated the level of research skills the average MMO player has. All these helps players learn: they can see the tangible results of their handwork.
  • The value of planning – Want to run raid? You need to learn how to plan well in advance. What night, what time, who to bring, make sure everyone is geared, the food buffs are there… then there is co-ordinating the group itself. Success depends on planning.

Social Skills

So what social skills can MMOs teach you?

  • The value of good communication – more often than not conversation in MMOs is limited to typing in general or guild chat. Ideally you can also use voice systems such as Ventrillo. What you say needs to be concise and to the point, while also striving to be polite. Because of their inherently social nature, can’t get to far in a MMO by being a complete jerk *all of the time*. It’s why some people have poor reputations across a server. Being a good guild leader or officer is about communicating with the guild, ensuring they feel the guild management is responsive and listens to their concerns.
  • The value of good teamwork – knowing your how to play your class and your own particular strengths and weaknesses is an invaluable skill. If you’re a raider in WoW or a someone who loves to run Warbands in WAR you understand intuitively that your game is enhanced by knowing how to play your class and understanding the role of others. It’s summed up by the old adage:

“If the tank dies it’s the healers fault.
If the healer dies it’s the tanks fault.
If the DPS dies, it’s their own damn fault!”

It means you need to understand how your class fits into a group. As a Retribution paladin I have two jobs: bring DPS to the encounter and don’t die. I bring DPS by ensuring I am geared properly and have the right food/potion buffs. I live by staying in range of the healers spell casting, by not taking aggro off the tank and knowing what mob abilities I’m vulnerable too.

Personal skills

Believe it or not, MMOs can teach you a few valuable life lessons.

  • The value of acting responsibly – MMOs teach you how to balance your passions with your real life commitments. Seriously. Many players are often married, have jobs and kids or at school. They’re time poor, but love playing games such as WoW, WAR and LoTRO. But these games are serious time sinks. So they learn the skills of balancing real world commitments with their gaming passion. It means negotiating with loved ones and knowing when to not play. Spending all your time in an MMO means your job and relationships suffer. On the other hand, if your a guild officer, raid leader etc. then you also have responsibilities to other players. I have a wife, kid, busy job and raid on WoW. I’m also a guild officer. I have to negotiate with everyone: with my family to ensure I spend time with them. I also have to let my guild know how much time I can dedicate to raiding and guild management. Happy players are those that can balance RL and MMO time.
  • The value of respect – respecting your guild mates, treating them as equals, will get you far. They will be prepared to help you run instances, talk to you and may even become your friends. The same goes with other players – the more you treat people with the respect, the more likely you’ll be invited back to run an instance with their guild. Ninja looters, whingers and people who verbally disrespect others also don’t get far in MMOs.
  • Managing dissapointment and the value of persistence – you’ve run that same dungeon fifty times, and the loot you want never drops. Every other member seems to get it but you. Do you QQ and make snide remarks, or swallow your dissapointment and move on? A raid team spends weeks wiping on the same bosses. It’s frustrating, but they keep trying. They’ll experiment with new strategies, research the boss fights, talk to guild mates. They swear they will get there! Long term players of MMOs have learn’t they can’t always get what they want, while persistence can pay off. Just like life.

And WHO said spending two hours in Karazhan or Naxxramas night after night was a waste of your time? Think of all the valuable life lessons MMOs have taught you 🙂

Monday’s Expert: why does Warcraft continue to succeed? Monday, Aug 24 2009 

Warcraft: one MMO to rule them all.

Strangely familiar logo?

Strangely familiar logo?

The general buzz about the next WoW expansion got me thinking. Why are so many of us still playing this game?

There is no debate about whether or not WoW is the most successful MMO in the market. Whether you believe it’s in decline, or the subscription numbers are fuzzy or you’re a Blizzard acolyte, there is no escaping the fact that Warcraft is the MMO to benchmark all others against. Personally I’m not too fused by those debates. The central question is “Is it a good game?”

The short answer is “Hell yes”.

On nearly every level it excels. While some other games may do an aspect of game play well – WAR’s PvP is terrific when there is sufficient players around – WoW offers everything from raiding, PvP, crafting and PvE. What it does it does very well. But what is it that attracts and keeps players in the world of WoW?

Something for everybody
Without doubt WoW offers the broadest experience to the broadest possible player base. You can level you character all the way to level cap (presently 80) without even speaking to another player. You can play for ten minutes of seven hours depending on the time you have, and still get something done. At the other end of the spectrum WoW offers a rich, challenging and fun endgame experience with heroic dungeons and raids. If you’re mercantile at heart you can speculate on the Auction House. Not only does WoW appeal to broad range of play styles, it also cuts across demographics and age groups.

WoW has transcended nerd culture – predominately white males aged 13-35 – to include players of all ages, backgrounds and sex. At least 30% of it’s player base is female. That in itself is testament to it’s accessibility and it’s broad appeal.

The famous Blizzard  polish
Ah yes, the famous “Blizzard polish”. Content or games are released “when they are ready”. Having worked in IT and seen project after project fail because artificial dead lines demand it, it’s refreshing to see a companies central ethos revolve around the quality of the finished product. Is it any wonder why people are still playing Star Craft, Warcraft III or even Diablo II years after there release?

Most games that are more than a few years old are played for nostalgia. People are still playing Blizzard games for fun. Think Defence of Towers or South Korea’s Star Craft obsession. WoW is over four years old and still the MMO to beat.

Guided starting experience
I still remember when I first logged into WoW, creating a character and entering the world. You could describe it as easy, but that implies the game is overly simplistic.  Actually, what WoW does is introduce you to the MMO world gently. WoW aint no EVE. The starter zone and the first few levels are designed to introduce you to your class, basic abilities and the games quest mechanics.

By level ten you know the basics of WoW. The Death Knight starting experience brought that to a whole new level: it combined both story telling with a prefect introduction to playing the new class. 

The world changes at the right pace
People often complain that the world is too static. And yet Azeroth has changed: the Burning Crusade gave us Outlands and two new races; the Zombie Invasion mixed things up while the Lich King gave us the zones of Northrend and the Death Knight class. Since then we’ve had Call of the Crusade, the construction and completion of the Argent Coliseum and several new dungeons and raid instances. Either through patches or expansions  the world does change. The new phasing technology being used by Blizzard now changes parts of the world for individual players.

The world if WoW is less than five years old and we have seen quite a bit of change as far the addition of content goes. The new expansion promises even further change. Some may claim that things don’t change fast enough, but in retrospect players have experienced a fair degree of change that keeps them engaged with the game. Actually the pace of change is about right, considering they have 11 million plus players to contend with. While those at the elite level may want change to be more rapid, for the vast majority of player the pace of change is about right.

Too much change would isolate or drive players away.

The game is suffused with a sense of humour and fun
WoW is like Toy Story in it’s use of humour. Adults get the sly pop-cultural references while kids like the quest lines involving poop.

Humour is often overlooked as one of the key strengths of Wow. But it’s the visual humour, pop-cultural references and slap stick nature of some of the quests make WoW fun to play. Haris Pilton, the diminutive, blonde Blood Elf  in Shattrath perfectly encapsulates this approach. 

Other examples include Achievement titles such as “Mama said knock you out”: this Naxx achievement references rapper LL Cool J’s song of the same title. Come on, that’s cool.  Frequently I’ll chuckle at the references sprinkled throughout the game. Blizzards games often contain a fair degree of humour. Warcraft II – the strategy game – players will no doubt remember clicking on peons and peasants over and over in order to hear them complain.

Easy to play, harder to master
The game allows even the most casual player to level up a character. You can be the infamous Huntard or Death Noob but enjoy yourself none-the-less. But if you want to raid or compete seriously in PvP then you really have to know your class and abilities.

My recent raiding experience clearly demonstrated this point to me. I’ve moved from a casual to raiding play style. And yet, to be an effective raider I had to understand the game on a whole new level. It actually took time, effort and hard work to improve my performance in raids.

It’s a big, big, big world
WoW lives up the title of “massively multiplayer”. The game world is enormous, spanning three continents and the world of Outlands. Zones vary from lush tropical jungles, to scorching desert, forested woodland and storm ravaged mountains. You enter WoW and you feel like you’ve entered an entirely new universe.

What about WoW’s shortcomings?

“Oi, you! Shameless Blizzard fan boi! What about the parts that blow!” I hear you say?

Just to balance this post, in case it may be thought I’m simply a rabid Blizzard “fan boi”, I do have some criticisms of the game.

PvP is meaningless
Battleground victories or defeats mean nothing, while the “battles” themselves are sprawling zerg fights between under geared noobs and overpowered twinks. Chat in most BG’s is abusive and harsh. You really have to toughen up when you enter a WoW battleground. Be prepared to be abused by players on your own team or be frustrated by the total incompetence of your team mates.

Crafting is simplistic
The crafting “game” offers no challenge. Simply collect X amount of materials. The only challenge stems from either farming materials in the world or having enough gold to purchase them off the Auction House.

Performance is not necessarily skills based
In PvP there is little chance a level 75 player, no matter how skilled, is going to defeat you average level 80 player in PvP. The same is true of PvE endgame content. While it is possible to raid Naxxramas in underpowered gear, it’s highly advisable that you gear up, get the right enchants and carefully select your talents.

If you don’t perform the other members of your raid team will let you know. Most likely they won’t even accept you into the raid. WoW is not a skills based game: success is more dependent applying cookie-cutter talents specs perfectly matched to the right gear.

That is not to say there are not skilled players out there: indeed there are some incredible raiders and PvP players out there. However it is impossible to perform at the highest levels without the right set of epic gear, gems and chants.

The moral of the story: what MMOs reveal about ourselves Tuesday, Aug 18 2009 

What is it that you have learnt about yourself and others while gaming?
  • Do you consider yourself a team player or a leader?
  • Are you excited by the challenge of leading a 25 man raid or does such pressure terrify you?
  • Have you ever been kicked from a guild for “disruptive behaviour”?
  • Is your friends list brimming with contacts you regularly chat with?
  • Perhaps you prefer to solo content, only talking to other players if absolutely necessary?
  • Do you like to attack the “noobs” asking “dumb” questions in the general/trade chat questions?

What do these behaviors  say about you and the individuals who present them? After several years of online gaming  I’ve developed a “pet theory” – our interactions online tells us a great deal about ourselves and human nature. In fact, we expose ourselves far more than we do in the real world. Virtual worlds make explicit our actions, choices and foibles.

Virtual worlds allow us to roam deep space, stride through the corridors of a dungeon or take flight upon the wings of a dragon. And yet our in-game avatars say more about us as individuals than we choose to belive.

The dangers of the online world: won’t someone think of the children!

There’s the old joke that on the internet no-one knows your a dog. It implies the internet is a dangerous, shady place full of people masking their true identities while, poised to unleash their evil plans unsuspecting intewebz noobs. Critics claim this technology threatens to dehumanise the individual while destroying those conventions that help society function.

Egads! What horrors wait beneath the false masks peeps wear on the interwebz!

Egads! What horrors wait beneath the false masks peeps wear on the interwebz!

In this dystopian nightmare the internet is a place of child porn, money scams, terrorists plotting the fall of civilisation and recipes for nuclear weapons. Even worse, people are never who they say they are. That person claiming to be a sixteen year old school girl is really a 200 kilogram, forty-three year old man. Moral panic is alive and well in debates about the nature and value of online worlds.

Suffice to say I don’t subscribe to those views.

Actually I believe the very opposite is true: individuals are more willing express themselves online than they do in face-to-face conversations.

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs (such as this humble effort) or overflowing with people expressing their opinions and exposing their innermost thoughts. This technology is creating more connections, allowing indivisduals to express themselves in ways like never before.

The same is true of MMOs.

When we enter Azeroth or Middle Earth we never leave ourselves. The true self will always come forth. Being online means you can drop some of the artifice you need to maintain in the workplace, at home and among friends and peers.

My WoW raid team spends two nights a week together in two or three hour blocks. Doing this week after week gives you insight into individuals. How they play, what they say in Vent or ingame chat… it all adds up and gives you a much fuller picture of the individual than meeting them a couple times a week over coffee.

Fantasy Island Syndrome: or why you can’t escape yourself.

Errr, I didn't order that...

Errr, that's not what I ordered...

MMORPGs are often compared to all you can eat buffet’s: a bit of everything thrown in to match the various “tastes” of a broad based player base. PvE, PvP, crafting, quests, instanced dungeons and end game content. But that analogy rests upon game mechanics.

Actually, to me MMORPGs are more akin to that old 1970’s TV classic, Fantasy Island.

If you remember the series – and yes I’m old enough to have watched it as a child – it had a very simple premise. The island was a place where individuals could have their fantasies brought to live – for a price. It was overseen by the mysterious Mr. Roake and Tattoo (Ze plane! Ze plane!).

The series struck a cord with the general public, and has since  entered the halls of pop-culture history.

Why?

Because we understand how fantasy worlds release us from the constraints of the everyday, but paradoxically allowing us to expose ourselves in ways we can’t in real life (RL). Freed from the normal encumbrance of the everyday, the individual can live and act as they desire. The mask comes off.

Each story followed a simular story arc: despite the individual paying a small fortune to enter a world perfectly crafted to meet their personal whims, satisfaction was only temporary. Soon enough the issues that had plagued them came to the surface.

Call it “Fantasy Island Syndrome” (FIS).

MMOs are just that: Fantasy Islands. We enter them wanting them to be freed of everyday constraints, but more often than not find we can’t escape ourselves. In fact the very opposite happens: we are more likely to be confronted with truths about ourselves.

Four things MMOs have taught me

Watching players implode in raids, guild drama and friendships come to life and die in online worlds, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the true self is much more display in game worlds than in real life. Fantasy Island Syndrome is alive and well.

So what has FIS taught me? There is very little difference between how both myself, and others, act both online and in RL. At a pinch I can list at least four things I’ve learn’t;

  • The true self will always show itself – In RL we try to put on a good front, especially with people and groups they’ve just been introduced too. Same with the online world. Joining a guild is like starting a new job. People have to learn how to navigate it’s culture, find out who the “power players” are and work out who they could potentially be friends and/or ally with. They’re conscious of the impression they will make in guild chat, Vent and on the guilds discussion forums . But as time passes, and they become more comfortable with individuals and the group you start to drop your guard and reveal more aspects of their true self.
  • I’m a Fox – No, I’m not a small red animal of the canine family. I’m a fox in the sense of the metaphor the philosopher Isaiah Berlin conceived: that of the Hedgehog and the Fox . Broadly speaking, Berlin classed the artists and thinkers into two categories: those who purported to know one very big thing (the Hedgehog) and those that knew many little things (the foxes). I know players who understand WoW, all the classes and the underlying mechanics of the game with such depth that I can never hope to match their knowledge. Ever. I prefer to play a multitude of games, classes and explore as much as I can. I like to know a little bit of everything about not only the game I’m playing, but other MMOs. This is true in RL where I pursue multiple interests.
  • The nature of friendship – some friendships are the product of convenience, others more lasting and genuine. The former are more common and transitory, the other rare and often long lasting. Friendships at both work and in-game can trail off once the thing you have in common no longer exists. Stop playing WoW with some people, and there is nothing else to talk about. Stop working at an organisation, and the friendship does not survive the lack of mutual interests. But occasionally, at work or in the metaverse you make genuine, lasting friendships based on respect and understanding.
  • Community creates meaning – there is the “bowling alone” theory still popular in some circles which states the the pace of technological change and the pressure of capitalist societies are atomising individuals, sundering the traditional links people have had to their broader communities (i.e. neighbours, church and community groups). This leaves the individual lonely, depressed and prone to unhappiness. Again I’d challenge that assertion, as for many individuals the guilds, collectives and even their “Facebook” friends are the new forms of community. Previously communities where one of convenience – that is to say geography dictated which church, volunteer organisation or club you joined. Schools and families shaped are choices. Today we choose the community we wish to belong too. Geography no longer determines your community. From my experience, I’ve been in my WoW guild for four years. I view it as a community. It has it’s own culture, personalties and even values. My guild is representative of a phenomena happing in MMOs around the world. What draws people together first and foremost is their love or interest in online gaming. From their communities evolve. Friends are made and lost, people fall in and out of love. Goals are set. New members are welcomed and embraced, others leave. Most importantly people draw meaning from being a member of their community. Knowing they make a difference to a group – even if it’s your regular raid team – give people a sense belonging.

I game , therefore I am ;P

The day after: when your MMO patches Saturday, Aug 8 2009 

No matter which MMO who play, WAR, WoW, EQ, Conan… you will have no doubt expereienced the joy of post-patch day. Often changes our made to the world or the class you play. Sometines for better, sometimes for worse. WoW Patch 3.2 has just dropped introducing a wide range of changes to the game. Some good, some bad and some “meh”.

Well, it's looks good!

Well, it's looks good!

All in all, I think the changes are welcome. I for one, like change. I really do.

However, it did make me think about the “what to expect” after your MMO has been patched;

  • Broken mods – You forget just how much you depend on the mods (add on programs) to enhance your game experience. Most “break” and don’t function, leaving you to struggle with the games original UI and functionality. And it normally aint’ pretty…
  • Class nerf – My spell/ability has changed! It changed! You may have even read the patch notes, and knew it was coming. Take for example my paladins Holy Wrath ability; casting time is now 1.5 seconds. 1.5 seconds! No matter the game, some players will feel a sense of outrage. “OMGZ I teh quite game!” Post-patch the QQ (crying, moaning, complaining) kicks into high gear)
  • The world changes – MMOs promise a dynamic, chaning world. But when it changes, many people can’t handle it. For people who play MMOs every day, having their routine changed (aka spoiled) is stressfull.
  • I can’t raid/endgame – Broken mods, changed mob skills, retuned instances and dungeons… all of sudden what you’ve been doing on auto is different.
  • This game is not what is used to be – Somehow the current state of the game just does not compare to when it first launched (see the debate of WoW’s endgame experience and how its “easier” for those cry baby, carebare casuals)

Sometimes a developer can really drive a stake into the game (the infamous “New Experience” Star Wars Galaxies, or some of the issues that seem to be arising form WAR’s “Land of the Dead”  live expansion).

But more often than not, change is good. Roll with it is what I say!

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.

Real Life v Metaverse: which do you prefer? Thursday, Jul 30 2009 

/afk with Real Life

I started this blog with the best of intentions, hoping to publish three to four pieces of content each week. Some of it short, trivial and fun (like the Postcards series) and others a bit more reflective on gaming in general.

However, RL (real life) has a way of intruding.

The wife caught one of those nasty flu viruses and the bub decided she didn’t want to sleep much. Work was also incredibly busy, with numerous budget and staff issues to attend too. The life of middle management is never dull. Well, it is dull. Just busy. It was I’d like to call WFH (week from hell). As far as metaverse activities where concerned, the best I could do was hold my Wednesday 9.30 Naxx raid spot.

So, now that the worst of the virus and sleep issues have passed, back to blogging.

Real Life v Metaverse: which do you prefer?

The whole last week made me think about the artificial split between “real life” and the metaverse gamers such as myself inhabit. MMO gamers are part human, part game accessory (transhuman as the more trendy part of sociology would have it) . We’re plugged into a virtual reality via a game client, which most of us customise via add-on programs to handle a data rich environment.

Compound this with the head sets we wear to participate in game chat (i.e. Vent) and we look like day traders or fighter pilots. We’re mean, lean metaverse fighting machines… and yet at the same time we live in the world of jobs, spouses, children and families.

Both can be demanding.

Committing to raiding is almost a life style choice. It requires an understanding of your class, boss fights and how to best work in a group. Research outside the game world can take hours per week. At the same time, I’m a father, husband and senior professional. These aren’t light personal commitments. How does one do justice to the other? What comes first?

Obviously RL does. It’s part of the tacit, unspoken code of all gamers. Raids can wait. The boss will respawn every week, and you can go back and kill him/her/them next week. My guild explicity states that RL always comes first.

However, during the WFH experience I experienced a moment that I’m sure any gamer/raider has felt:

“Gosh, I wish all I had to worry about was raiding. To hell with everything and everyone else!”

That fantasy of living in a small, remote shack with a kick arse web connection danced across my mind. I could grow my own vegetables, live a simple life and raid, write and blog.

“Perchance to dream…”

/sigh

But of course such fantasy life is not possible. But it did make me ask the question: “Where would I live? In the real world, or by magic I could live in Azeroth/Middle Earth/Earth Sea/Generic Fantasy World?”

Part of the attraction, which I may have already mentioned in passing, is the escapism that MMO’s and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre’s offer. Playing the part of the hero is very attractive. In RL most of don’t feel that we are in control of our lives. Bad jobs, bad marriages, the stress of maintaining a mortgage. The world itself seems too much to deal with: terrorism, global warming, the global financial crisis.

All of it seems too damn hard. Most of it can’t be controlled by the individual. Your choices seem so limited. What difference can you make anyway?

So why wouldn’t the chance to play the part of a hero in a small community (i.e your “Guild”) not appear to be more attractive.

Running a dungeon with guild mates, downing a boss and healing your friends offers instant gratification, recognition and respect. You can see the difference you make. People will thank you for the part you play. You feel far more in control of this part of the “world”.

So dear reader(s): which do you prefer?

RL or that corner of the metaverse you’ve managed to call home?

RL/Metaverse Dualism: time to end the dichotomy?

The conclusion that I’ve come to over the years is that for some of us both RL and our place in the metaverse are equally important. I like to think I’m committed to my career, friendships, family and relationships as  any “normal” person. But the guild I belong too in WoW, and the people associated with that guild are also important in ways those outside the MMO community can’t understand.

I’ve been in my guild, Mortal Wombat, just shy of four years now. I joined not too long after the launch of WoW. I was an officer from the start and have continued to hold that role. I helped recruit, build a new web site and have acted temporary Guild Leader on more than one occasion. The guild has experienced it’s fair share of “drama”, but I’ve stuck with both the game and the same guild. I’ve developed a couple of very good, genuine friendships over the years (/waves at my dear friend).

In early 2008 the guild went through a profound crises as the then guild leader went into melt down and drove away most of the membership. A couple of us stuck around and helped rebuild it. Now, the guild is the strongest it’s ever been with two raid teams, a permanent roster of raiders and a “Naxx 25 man” about to start up.

It takes a village to make a guild

The experience of early 2008 was intense, as intense as a crisis I’ve felt in RL. I lost many “friends” during that time, people I’d gamed with for almost two years simply vanished. I felt genuine grief. However both myself and the new guild leader threw ourselves into rebuilding the guild. We did so, and the reformed guild is the basis the thriving community that exists today. I feel intensely proud of that achievement. The hard work paid off. I look at Mortal Wombat and think “I helped build this”.

Myself and others put these peole together. We built this website. We run our raids. We’ve been going strong for four years now.

/smiles

Now that I’ve entered the world of raiding, the respect of my fellow guildies is important. I’m keen to show I have what it “takes” in terms of commitment and effectiveness in my role of damage dealer (Retribution Paladin). We have some increadible tanks, healers and damage dealers in our raid teams. Getting a private tell form one of them saying “Great job” or “Good job Aug” makes me feel proud.

The best analogy for a truly successful guild is that of the “village”.

A small community, whose members are known to each other. Some you know better than others. Others are new, but are welcomed with open arms. Some of them leave, and are truly missed. Some are “expelled” for disrupting the life of the community.

In last nights Naxxramas raid the effectiveness of the team really began to show it self. It’s only the second week, and we’re starting to one shot bosses (i.e. we kill the boss on the first attempt without everyone in the raid group dying). After the final boss went down we congradualted ourselves on how much we had improved, even in that short period of time.

You could feel the pride within the group, the sense that we were growing together.

So where would I live: RL or Metaverse?

I choose both worlds.

I don’t see the need to draw a distinction anymore.

Friendships and relationships in the real world can be as fleeting or as deep as those in the metaverse. I enjoy the feeling of respect from friends, professional peers and guild mates. If I make a commitment to raid a certain night, it’s not simply because I want to “chase the purples” or see end game content.

I come because I’ve told the people in my community I’ll be there, and that they can rely on me. I’ll come hoping to demonstrate my willingness to learn and become an effective member of the raid team.

Yep, I choose both worlds.

The challenge, or the art, is in balancing both of these.

Fear and trembling: getting ready for Naxx raiding Tuesday, Jul 21 2009 

OK, I’m well behind the experience curve as far as WoW raiding goes.

I’ll be making the transition from casual player to hardcore, leet, uber-paladin when I step into Naxxramas this week.

Reading the boss strategies, getting my potions and consumables from the Auction House. Got me Vent head set good and ready.

Raiding was always the thing every one else did. Now I’m going to experience the fabled end game.

Here I go…!!!!!!

Ready, set... Naxx!

Ready, set... Naxx!

Aion beta, raiding Naxx: I must be hardcore, eh? Tuesday, Jul 14 2009 

So, I’ve signed up for the Aion beta for later this month and even pre-ordered the collectors edition.

I’m also joining a Naxx raiding team in my WoW guild.

Dear me, after three years of playing MMOs have I become “*hardcare*?

I’m so l33t it scares me 😉

The proof of my new hardcore status: downloading Aion client to get into beta event

The proof of my new hardcore status: downloading Aion client to get into beta event