The future of WAR: does it have one? Tuesday, Nov 10 2009 

WAR

WAR: is its days numbered?

Other commentators have picked up on EA’s further cuts to its workforce. Hit hard, the team looking after Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. Nobody really knows how many Mythic employees went, but the there is a good chance they got hit hard. I feel for those peeps. Really, I do.

I have to say it saddens me, even though I no longer play the game. It had such potential. I wuved the PvP, especially in the early tiers when the game was full of players battling it out. I liked the artwork and the lore.

But the game had too many issues – class balance, imbalanced server populations, quality control issues, middling PvE content – that killed it. What does the future hold for WAR?

  • Closing the game down – a drastic move, and this would be a real shame. WAR was a $70m investment. I’d guess the player base is well under 100k subs by now. That may not be enough for corporate bean counters. It would be a huge embarrassment to EA to have to shut it down just over a year after launch, but if the game can’t break even or return a modest profit, then EA would have little choice but to shut it down.  
  • Life support – consolidate the remaining servers and keep the remaining population of players happy until it dies a slow, quiet death. That seems to be EA’s strategy.
  • Free-to-Play/RMT– follow Turbine and the DDO model? I’m not sure the games mechanics would allow F2P. Opening up Tier 1 as “free” is a good move, but what else could they do?

The problem inherent with WAR going F2P

F2P would mean opening up all the Tiers and allow players to purchase items, mounts and other items. But is that even feasible?

The problem is that WAR never really had a great deal of vanity items to speak off. There’s no Lil’KT or Mr. Chilly. And $10 for a mount in WAR? I can’t see the players purchasing them. Could they offer potions and scrolls perhaps? Maybe… though that might destroy what little remains of the player economy.

The endgame does not lend itself well to the F2P model. It depends on large numbers of players coordinating to lock down objectives and take the enemies city. F2P appeals to the casual market, and I don’t see them investing that much time and effort into a complex and demanding endgame.

The endgame offers very little else. There are precious few instances/dungeons of note to turn it into a gear/raiding game.

Most likely future of WAR… my “hunch”

Well, putting on my “Monday’s Expert” hat I predict a slow decline with WAR being closed down sometime in late 2010 or 2011. A simple press release will come out announcing when the servers will be turned off. With Cataclysm and so many other MMOs coming out, WAR will find it hard to survive.

A real shame, but WAR reached for greatness and fell short.

Advertisements

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.

The legacy of WAR: a former player’s eulogy Thursday, Oct 1 2009 

After the battle, when all is said and done...

After the battle, when all is said and done...

 “But here I am to speak what I do know…” ~ Marc Antony, Julius Caesar

I cancelled my subscription to Warhammer: Age of Reckoning last week.

It saddened me to do so, as it’s not a bad game. Aspects of it approach true greatness: Open Realm versus Realm (ORvR) combat where parties of Order and Destruction slugged it out was always thrilling. Sure, keep fights where repetitive and the PvE game was open to charges of being monotonous and boring.

However, I found the range of WAR’s classes interesting and enjoyed the games art work and aesthetics. I’d rather not slate the game, I think WAR has been subject to enough trash talk on the interwebz.

When people talk about failed MMOs they mention WAR and Age of Conan in the same breath. The less charitable compare it to such notable failures as Vanguard and Tabla Rosa. But I’m not here to do that. After all, I invested a lot of time and energy in the game. I don’t see that as wasted effort.

I had a lot of fun in WAR, and have some great memories of the game. If I’m going to make one, final dedicated post to Warhammer: Age of Reckoning I’d rather do it out of respect. Respect for the hard work of developers. No doubt they sacrificed years of their lives. Also, respect for what is still a solid, though flawed, MMO.

Did the game fail? Yes, even EA/Mythic employees are talking about it’s major shortcomings and referring to it as a “magnificent failure”.

Still, let us speak fondly of a game that was once held to be a challenger to “The MMO that shall not be named”.

I come to praise WAR, not bury it.

I would rather pay tribute to WAR then condemn it. This, my eulogy, will praise the legacy of WAR…

Public Quests

A notable innovation, the public quest (PQ) allowed players to easily group and take on elite level MOBs and gain higher level gear and rewards. Players could simply open the “looking for group” window and join a group anywhere in a zone. Starting a PG group was just easy, and removed the need to constantly spam the open chat channels for party members.

This mechanic easily encouraged grouping, and as the groups numbers grew you would often convert the group into a “Warband”. Then the fun really started, as you and your little army went off to hunt enemy and capture strategic points in the ORvR areas. No doubt PQs will become a standard in many MMOs over the coming years, and can be rightly stated as true innovation.

Introducing PvP to a broader audience

Many gamers have become accustomed to the PvE tread mill: click NPC, get quest to kill ten rats, kill ten rats, come back and get rewards. Repeat for several years. Players were ripe for a change, and they looked to WAR for a different experience. After all WAR advertised itself as “the player versus player” experience: no doubt many flocked to WAR’s banner because of this very promise.

Fighting a MOB with scripted moves is one thing. PvP players know taking on another player is a thrilling challenge. WoW’s PvP is rather dull in comparison, restricted to Battle Grounds and a few open areas (Wintergrasp). I’ve never felt the same sense of danger or anticipation in WoW’s PvP than I did in WAR. No doubt the interest Aion has a lot to do with it’s PvP aspects. Thanks to WAR, many formally PvE centric players have had a taste of PvP and are keen to experience it in greater doses.

How to manage pre-launch expectations

It’s fair to say that pre-release, WAR was subject to enormous hype. Viz, Mark Jacobs very public statements, the bold claims made for it’s success and how WAR was going to take on WoW. In the months leading up to WARs release, I like many other players where *pumped*.

However, the games infamous post-launch issues dashed the hopes and dreams of many gamers. It was if there was a great disturbance in the MMOsphere and hundreds of thousands of gamers cried out in frustration all at once.

In contrast, witness NC Soft’s low-balling of expectationshas with the Aion launch. They’ve tried hard to walk the tight rope of building awareness and anticipation for Aion while not setting themselves up for massive failure. Mythic as taught the industry a valuable lesson: be careful what you say pre-launch.

Oh, and Blizzard will face stomp you if you dare try to take a shot at their crown.

Community engagement

Despite the often acrimonious relationship between Mythic and it’s player base, one could never fault the companies commitment to engaging and communicating with the WAR community. Even as a casual player, I had a good sense of the direction of the game and how issues where being resolved thanks to the frequent communication from Mythic. It sets a benchmark for other companies, and Mythic should be applauded for setting new standards of engagement with it’s player base.

Focus on polish

WAR was not polished enough at launch. The rough, unfinished Tier 4 and endgame experience dissapointed most players who got there. Bugs riddled the game, leading to almost daily hot fixes by Mythic during the first few months. The client would often crash, and server performance was subject to the ire of many players. In contrast, Aion has offered a relatively smooth launch experience. Despite the long server queues that some have experienced (at worst I’ve had a ten minute wait) there has almost no QQ about client/server performance. The game is relatively bug-free and runs smoothly.

Hopefully, developers will learn from WARs post-launch blues and ship a quality, polished product and not hope players will “stick it out” for a few months unit they get it right.

They first few months are when players such as myself are evaluating the game and deciding whether or not we’re going to maintain our subscriptions. Treat us well at the beggining, and we might just stick around.

Aion: five tips for new players Monday, Sep 28 2009 

Character customisation: go nuts!

Character customisation

Character customisation

Aion’s character creation tools are simply wondrous. Since stepping into Atreia I’ve been amazed by the variety of avatars players have created. I’ve seen diminutive one foot tall warriors, eight foot tall, muscle-bound hulking sorcerers, pixie-like Chanters, bird-like avatars, sultry Amazonian Priests, dashing Scouts and everything else in between. It’s a riot of colours, hairstyles, body shapes and names. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the look of your toon.

I strongly encourage you to explore all the tools, options and styles available in character customisation. Individuality in MMOs is a rare thing: take the time to create an avatar that is just right for you.

X marks the spot: use the dictionary

Use the dictionary function

Use the dictionary function

The Dictionary is a handy in-built feature and will make intuitive sense to you if used to add-ons like quest helper in Warcraft. When reviewing your quest log you’ll note that some of the words in the text descriptions appear in blue: as expected these are hyperlinks.

Quest objectives can be easily located

Quest objectives can be easily located

Clicking on these will open up a small window providing more detail on the item, monster, location or NPC. You’ll also note there is a “Locate option”. Click on that, and the Map will open with a small purple X indicating where you’ll find the item/MOB in question.

The dictionary acts like a “mini wiki” within the game: it’s great as you don’t have to Alt-Tab out to a third party site to look up locations or descriptions.

Heal thyself: comma and bandages for rapid healing

Bandages: actually do something

Bandages: actually do something

Compared to say WoW, combat is slower in Aion: MOBs hit hard and they’ll take down a fair percentage of your health points (HP) if you not paying attention. Fortunately you can rapidly regain HP through resting and the use of bandages. After a fight hit the comma (,) key to rest your character. They’ll sit for a few moments, allowing HP/mana to rapidly regenerate. Alternatively you can use bandages. The good news is bandages seem to be an effective tool for healing. They’ll regenerate most of your health, have a very fast cool down and can be purchased cheaply from NPCs (50 kinah is typical for a stack of 50).

This is great for my Scout, a melee DPS class. They hit hard, but wear leather and can sometimes take a fair bit of damage – especially if I attempt to fight multiple MOBs. Fortunately down time for regenerating HP is not long, resulting in very little down time.

Buy and sell: jump into the economy early

What ever your selling, I'm buying

What ever your selling, I'm buying

It’s about the economy people!

The economic system of a MMO is critical in bringing people together. Aion does this really well by allowing players to set up their own stores anywhere. Frequently you’ll find players have set up little stalls around quest hubs: take the time to check out what they’re selling. More often than not you’ll pick up a great armour upgrade for very little.

To browse a player’s store simply walk up to them and click: a window will opening listing all the items and their sale prices. Alternatively, set up your own store!

Don’t make the mistake of vendoring all the trash or items you can’t use. Green quality armour and weapons drop frequently from MOBs so put these aside for the moment until you can sell them.

Often you’ll find five or six players selling items: check out each store for the best bargains. I upgraded my armour to mostly “green” quality items in a few minutes by using the player run stores for very little kinah.

Allowing players to set up their own stores turns quest hubs into thriving markets.

Don’t race to level cap: enjoy the trip!
Last, but not least, please don’t race to level cap! Take the time to enjoy the scenery and art-work. Aion is a beautiful game, and if you’re an explorer saviour the incredible vista’s Aion has to offer. I’ve not enjoyed levelling a character this much in a long time. Sure the quests are standard “kill ten rats”, but reading the quests text and exploring has been immensely enjoyable.

If you’re an existing (or ex) WoW player, you’ve been trained to power level all the way to 80. Put that habit to one side and enjoy the levelling process once again.

Riddle me this MMOs: what ever happened puzzle solving? Thursday, Sep 17 2009 

"Riddle me this: how many rats can you kill in ten minutes?"

"Riddle me this: how many rats can you kill in ten minutes?"

In experimenting with DDO and other MMOs I’ve been struck by the lack of challenge some of these games offer. I’m still in the early stages of exploring Dungeons & Dragons Online, but one of the features I noted and liked was having to solve puzzles in instanced Dungeons.

One of the very early quests asks you to go to a storeroom in Stormreach and find a missing parchment. It’s an instanced dungeon, rather small but nicely designed. However to get the parchment you don’t simply kill X amount of MOBs and wait till it drops.

What’s different?

You have to do some problem solving in order to retrieve the item.

Sure, along the way you kill giant spiders and reanimated zombie rats (that’s right – you have to go kill the proverbial ten rats). However, in this quest puzzle zolving is central: the parchment is held in a magical field. To deactivate the field you need to rearrange the surrounding floor tiles – which are decorated – into a pattern. Once they are into the right pattern the magical field drops. Following tht you collect the parchment and return it to the NPC for your choice of reward, XP and currency.

All good fun.

Whoa there! You want me to think through the problem?

Hours of fun... or frustration?

Hours of fun... or frustration?

When I initially when I entered the chamber I stood there numbly… the room was empty. I was expecting to see a semi-elite MOB I’d have to kill. Maybe a few trash MOBs around them. I was ready to pull, auto-attack and thump some keys to activate some abilities. But, something was different…

“What the hell?”

Panic! What should I do? How do I complete this quest!?!?!?

Maybe I should Alt-Tab out and go online and Google the answer? Is there a DDO wiki? If this was WoW I’d have half a dozen resources to consult, and maybe a add-on or two that would tell me what to do.

“Right…” I thought “…breathe…maybe I’ll try something different. Let me try and solve it by myself.”

It took me a minute or two, but I solved the puzzle. And gosh, didn’t I feel good! OK, it isn’t a MENSA test, but the simple act of attempting and solving a puzzle was enormously satisfying.

In my view it was a true D&D experience: a dungeon, some monsters to kill and puzzles to solve. Puzzles in DDO clearly signal the role playing game (RPG) heritage inherited from D&D. Dungeons required players to disarm traps, explore and solve problems. In contrast, dungeons in games such as WoW ask that you learn a scripted fight.

Do gamers want puzzles in their MMOs?

It did make me think: we aren’t MMOs doing more of this? WoW clearly doesn’t, or at least not in the quests I’ve seen. WAR certainly didn’t. Both MMOs are built around the concept of killing vast numbers of MOBs and looting items from their corpses. Puzzles offer something different and fun. They can offer a challenge.

Strangely I don’t think gamers would be immune from charm of puzzles. The enormous popularity of Tetris, Peggle and Puzzle Pirates indicates that gamers would be amenable to the challenge of puzzle solving. So why have games lost their puzzle solving elements over the years?

It would seem MMOs have become more and more like conveyor belts, placing the player on a path that will level them as quickly as possible. And while it may be great to get to level cap and experience the “end game”, such an approach degrades the fun and challenge of levelling a character.

Most WoW players pride themselves in how fast they can level a character these days. No one takes pride in completing a quest. And how could you? The mechanics of most WoW quests are fairly basic. Go here, kill this, come back… here is the XP you need to level as fast as possible. Rinse and repeat for eighty levels in WoW or forty in WAR.

But maybe it’s the journey we should value more, not reaching the destination as fast as possible.

My view? More puzzles please.

Next instalment: my comparison of the DDO and WoW user interfaces.

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 🙂

Imitation and flattery: what WoW has taken from WAR Wednesday, Sep 9 2009 

WoW’s Borg strategy
This is not an exercise in WoW bashing.

How to build an MMO? Take the best bits from others...

Successful strategies often rely on studying the ideas and technology of your competitors, then making them your own...

I play WoW and I the game.

I think it offers a great MMO experience. Heck, I’ve just starting leading a ten man Naxx group, which indicates my commitment to WoW. But having sampled other MMOs I can’t but smile when I see features of other games slowly find their way into WoW. Ever since WAR launched I’ve seen a number of it’s features become standard features of WoW.

But it’s no secret that Blizzard is somewhat Borg like (check ultra nerd reference there guys). They’re the biggest, baddest dudes on the block and grow by absorbing the technology of their enemies. They take the raw ideas of others and polish them.

Bit-by-bit WAR features are being assimilated.

WAR fell short, but it’s failure offers valuable lessons
I suggested in one of my previous articles that WAR relied on a strategy of innovating many of the features common to MMOs. However in doing so they diluted their efforts. WAR is one of the great “could’ a been” MMOs. It reached for greatness, but just fell short. It’s the Icarus of MMOs. It’s a game with beautiful artwork, interesting classes and a rich lore supporting it.

But with it the developers tried to do too much. However, other MMO developers have noticed some of the interesting features and have started to adopt them.

WAR may have suffered from not capitalising on it’s first mover advantage: it introduced novel concepts to the MMO genre, but failed to capitalise on them. The advantage then moves to the second  mover, who sees a good idea and grabs it. Clearly Blizzard is taking advantage of this position: watching competitors, analysing their success and failures and absorbing them.

Something borrowed, something WoW
So what are some of WARs features being assimilated by the master of polish at Blizzard?

WAR feature 1: instant PvP
One of the great features of WAR was joining a scenario from anywhere in the world. Simply click a button form the user interface (UI) and join a scenario. WoW now offers the very same feature. Perviously who had to find a Battle Master in one of the capital cities to join a Battle Grround (BG). Now, you can join a BG from anywhere in WoW.

WAR feature 2: open world PvP
Surely Wintergrasp (WG) was Blizzard’s counter to the promise of WARs RvR lakes? Both offer zones that each faction battles to control. The zones have strategic control points (keeps in WAR, workshops in WoW). You get rewards for controlling the zone. The battles are essentially the same experience: zerg v zerg.

WAR feature 3: WoWs Orcs and new Goblin race will mirror the Greenskins

Ere den? Wats this about gobbos in Azeroth den?

Ere den? Wats this about gobbos in Azeroth den?

Cataclysm will offer two new playable classes: Goblins and Worgen. The question is why are Goblins aligning themselves with the Horde? Why even make them a playable class. Well, the addition of Goblins to the Horde mirrors the Greenskins races of Destruction in Horde. Both are the “bad” side. Both offer Orcs, and now both offer Goblins as a playable race. Really, a Goblin Hunter will be WoW’s equivalent of a Greenskin Squig Herder. A Goblin warlock/mage is a Greenskin Shaman.

We did leave WAR and comes to WoW lads!

We did leave WAR and comes to WoW lads!

WAR feature 4: tracking quest objectives in map
This feature has not yet been implemented (did not make Patch 3.2), but will do so in the near future. WARs maps did this by shading quest areas of objectives in red. This made the entire PvE experience much easier, and was a well liked by players. WoW will add icons and the like on their maps, pointing players exactly where they need to go.

Learning from the enemy is a legitimate strategy
Is there anything wrong with this? Well you can QQ about Blizzard not being original… but we’re talking about fantasy computer games folks. Not great art.

All MMOs can trace their ancestry back to Lord of the Rings and Dungeon’s & Dragons. They all borrow  aspects of lore, gameplay etc. WoW was designed to be an easier version of EverQuest. EverQuest derived it’s inspiration from MuD games, but added a graphical interface. MuDs based themselves on D&D. D&D took it’s inspiration from table top games and Lord of the Rings… and so forth.

In the end adopting WAR features makes WoW a better game. From a customer perspective, I and the millions of other players “win”. Though it does make me a little sad that WAR could not have translated all their great ideas into the worlds #2 MMO.

Cataclysmic Monday, Aug 24 2009 

Arooooo! Roooo! (thats wolf for "New WoW Race")

Arooooo! Roooo! (thats wolf for "New WoW Race")

So, the web and the blogs are awash with news about the WoW expansion.

My reaction?

Worgens baby! Worgens!

Apart from the chance to play a “werewolf “, what impresses me most about the upcoming expansion is how it deepens and broadens the existing game. This isn’t another ten levels with unattainable endgame content (10/25 raids or PvP arenas).

It revamps of the old world (i.e. content from Vanilla WoW, pre-expansions), allowing the developers to go back and rework zones and quests using the technology and lessions they’ve learn’t over the past five years.

Players who have left WoW are bound to return. Existing players have more to do. New players will have have more options. Casual players who reach level cap, and who don’t raid/PVP, will have something to do.

The cynic may say it simply recycles existing content. In my mind it brings the old world back to life. There’s a reason to be in the old world, it’s not simply a place to level your character through as quickly as possible.

More importantly it changes the world. Old zones will be revamped, goblins go from being a neutral faction to allying with the Horde, the Worgen is unleashed…

Change is coming to WoW. Can that be a bad thing? Nah.

What else caught me eye?

Guilds will have levels! Guild levels will become the new way to judge your success as a player. Being part of a high level raiding guild will have more meaning, as it get to show off your uber-leetness to all and sundry. WAR had this, and it gave your guild tangible rewards. Sure, Blizzard is adopting the innovations of it’s competitors. So what? If it makes WoW a better game,  then it can only benefit the player.

Dead Mines is back baby! Looks like DM is going to be dusted off and spruced up as a Heroic Dungeon. I like! One of the best instances is going to have life breathed back into. Expect trade chat to be filled with the following:

“LFG H DM”

/awesome.

New artwork – both the concept art and walk throughs – we’ve seen is up the usual WoW standards: brillliant. Gilneas looks like an amazing zone already.

We need content, not another hero class

Not much QQ for me so far… though there has been some talk about how another hero class was not added.

Personally, I’m pleased another hero class didn’t go into the game. Why? Who was not frustrated with the endless round of nerfs/buffs/talent point resets made for the sake of class balance.

No doubt the addition of a new class created a lot of work for the developers. Adding races that utilise existing classes is simpler to implement.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a DK and enjoy playing them. But I’d rather have more zones, content and instances. Seriously, who want’s to run another character through 85 levels of the same content?

Roll on Cataclysm!

The attraction of entering an online world is immersion. Cataclysm look’s set to give old, existing and new players lots more to enjoy. So, let’s hope Blizz meets it’s 2010 launch date.

Karazhan: best instance ever? Friday, Aug 21 2009 

V5s5t5ng the s5ghts
Kara. Still worth visiting today if only for the sights

Could Karazhan be the best WoW instance ever?

The world of WoW is big. Despite the fact that I’ve been playing WoW for almost four years there is a very large proportion of Azeroth and Outlands that I’ve never seen. Despite rolling several alts and levelling one character all the way to level cap I’ve experienced only a small proportion of the game. But it’s not just zones I’ve missed missed out visiting. I’d pretty much missed out on seeing the end game instances of both Vanilla and BC WoW.

Last night I took a tiny step in correct that with a run through the fabled Karazhan. Yes, we went in with a mixture of 70’s and overpowered 80’s. It was a nostalgia run for some and a bit of tourism for me.

Kara was *the* raid to do in Burning Crusade. It’s where many started their raiding experience if they hadn’t done so in Vanilla WoW. It’s the one that first piqued my interest in raiding as a concept. But I never got round to running it. Time and an addiction to far too many alts meant I never got there.

But thanks to some good friends of mine I was run through it last night. My impressions?

Gosh it’s a beautiful instance.

The art work is superb. You really get the feeling of fighting your way through a partly demolished and ruined tower. The boss fights are interesting, varied and would have been challenging. I’d heard all about the Maiden, Big Bad Wolf etc. from podcasts, guild mates and the WoW blogosphere. But seeing them was as different experience.

Karazhan has character, the kind that Dead Mines has. I know there are many instances in WoW, each with their own unique charms, but there are some real standouts. Kara would have to be one of them.

Of course it was an easy run for us last night- just over an hour. Apparently in the “good old days” in order to clear Kara raid groups would schedule at least 3-4 hours over three nights.

Listening in on experienced raiders reminisce about Kara runs of old in Vent was also fascinating:

“Oh I loved this part!’

“This fight used to be so hard!”

You could tell how many memories this place holds, how fun and challenging it was. My super-pally-healer friend talked us through all the highs and lows of old Kara runs. How they wiped on every part of the instance (including the trash mobs), how they’d *never* taken this boss down. BoE and BoP gear was dropping left-right and centre, with members of our raid team exclaiming “Oh I always wanted that!”.

I regret never raiding Kara back in the day. At least last nights run gave me a glimpse of just how fun it would must have been.  I can see why experienced raiders have a special place in their hearts for Kara.

My hope is in the next expansion or future patches they remake Kara as they did Naxxramas. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would give me and others real incentive to go back and visit what may be one of the best WoW instances ever made. 

Given how much content has been missed by players over the years, reimaging old Vanilla WoW content is a good strategy. The assets have already been built and they could be retuned for the new level cap with reimaged fights, loot drops and revamped story lines.

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

Next Page »