Good

July 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm (WoW General)

Let’s hear it for screaming your bloody head off.

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Welcome to WoWbook.

July 7, 2010 at 6:32 pm (WoW General)

One fairly common refrain, when people express angst about the RealID/forums announcement, is that it’s much ado about nothing – after all, many of us participate on Facebook under our real names.  What’s the harm?  The two are, of course, not directly comparable.  Like many, I have a Facebook account using my real name.  It is, however, accessible only to people on my friends list, save basic name/photo info that confirms nothing more than that I have a Facebook account, and that I am not the world’s most graceful photography subject.  Nothing about that is likely to cause me harm.  Facebook is sufficiently ubiquitous that nobody is going to hold the existence of a profile against you, and my photos online are quite innocuous.

Alas, rightly or wrongly, playing World of Warcraft carries a stigma.  Rightly or wrongly, in many industries, it is a black mark against you in hiring.  I blog under a pseudonym because I do not want potential employers discovering I play WoW.  It’s not worth the potential cost to my real life – I would quit the game first.  So the comparison is not germaine.

In one way, however, the comparison is prescient.  Facebook has come under some considerable scrutiny of late for the ways in which it has slowly diminished its users’ expectation of privacy, and that has called attention to the fact that, at bottom, Facebook’s users are not its customers.  Facebook’s advertisers are its customers – they pay the bills.  Facebook’s users are the product being delivered to the advertisers.  Their personal information is the commodity.

Blizzard’s subscriber list is potentially a gold mine source of revenue in much the same way Facebook’s is.  Activision-Blizzard are not unaware of this – they’re not fools.  The obstacle, to this point, to developing this revenue stream is that the sudden discovery that our data was being sold would result in mass departure from the game – it would cripple WoW and any goodwill associated with the company’s name.  How to get around this?  Slowly, piece by piece, erode the user’s expectation of privacy.  First, your ID is only exposed to your friends.  Then, only if you participate in what is (unless you count tech support and customer service) an optional “add-on” – the forums.  The end result is WoW as true social network, surrounded by a game (Farmville on steroids, essentially), with advertising and microtransactions the primary revenue stream.

Blizzard’s revenue stream is subscribers, you say?  Well yes.  For the moment.  Products have a lifecycle.  After a time, when growth slows or reverses, it becomes time to figure out how to eke out new revenue opportunities from the product.  WoW-as-social-network-and-targeted-advertising-platform would be a heck of an opportunity, if they can acclimate their users to accept it.

If this is the future of WoW, I want no part of it.

EDITED TO ADD:  I could have done research on this before I posted, I suppose.  Exhibit A.

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Wherein our hero demonstrates how cheap a trollop he really is…

April 26, 2010 at 6:11 pm (WoW General)

It’s all about the loot.

I have finally returned to WoW.  I had taken some time off LotRO and WoW both to focus on single-player games (not to mention that whole rejoining-the-gainfully-employed thing), but ultimately, I was unable to resist.  Resist what?  Resist seeing what WoW looked like on my new monitor, which I’m pretty sure is the sort of monitor the President uses to see where the missiles are going.

Having spent most of my WoW career watching it on 1024×768, to see it at 1920×1080 is, well, something (even if I did have to turn a setting or two down to compensate).

However, I’ve poked my head in before.  I’ve even done what I did last night – hop in the LFD queue to do a few random heroics.  I very nearly bailed (for the evening, and for who knows how long after?) when Oculus came up.  But, we trudged through, I pretended I knew what I was doing, and we downed Eregos.  I hop over to the chest, and see everybody looting it, even after the gear’s been sharded.  Huh.  I look in my party chat screen, see several items I haven’t seen before called “Cache of the Ley-Guardian”.  Okay, guess I’ll loot too.  Don’t remember that one, but I assume it’s bribery to keep people from bitching about running Oculus.  I pop it open.

Reins of the….what, wha?

Okay, Blizz.  You got me.  I’ll stay.

Actually, it was a good night all around.  I got enough Triumph badges to buy my first piece of T9 (my guild’s in Icecrown, and now that I’m resolved to stay, I do want to join them and help out as soon as possible).  At this rate, I should have the full set fairly soon, whereupon I expect I will find myself desperately missing LotRO’s outfit system.  Because while I may have forgotten how to play, I haven’t forgotten that monstrosity of a set.

Oh, and Kel’Thuzad?  Still not a warlock.

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Good news for Blizzard

April 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm (WoW General)

No, I’m not making an imminent return.  Other good news.

One of the MMOs on the horizon is Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Given Bioware’s reputation, I would have said that if Blizzard wasn’t worried, they should be.  Brilliant RPGs from Baldur’s Gate II through Knights of the Old Republic show they have a great grasp of storytelling.

Then I picked up Dragon Age: Origins.

Bioware continues to live up to their reputation in terms of storytelling.  I like the characters, the writing, and the story.  But technically speaking?  This game is garbage.  They have an auto-updating downloadable content (DLC) acquiring/installing client that is broken, camera controls that are awkward when they aren’t completely worthless, the usual video-game pathfinding for NPCs, and a host of other technical annoyances big and small.  I bought a couple of DLC packs the other day.  I still can’t get them installed (or rather, the program still won’t install them – it’s a completely passive process I can’t do anything about, and it’s broken), and tech support is not exactly burning the midnight oil to help me out.

If DAO is any indication of what SWTOR is going to be like, nobody’s going to stick it out beyond the first month.  And another WoW-killer will bite the dust.

EDITED TO ADD: After going 24 hours without any feedback from tech support whatsoever, I figured out how to fix the whole DLC issue myself.  In the process, exploring the tech support forums indicates that, in ways that haven’t even begun to affect me, their last patch terribly broke the game.  And they went a month without even commenting on the problems (and they still haven’t fixed them).  Running an MMO is going to break them.  I swear, Blizzard’s greatest fortune is the incompetence of its competition.

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The Game Doesn’t Always Begin At The End

February 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm (Navel-Gazing, Raiding, WoW General)

So, I’ve been fairly quiet.  Part of that is, of course, being gainfully employed once again, which is keeping me busy.  But also, I’ve found a somewhat unexpected experience when I came back to WoW this time around.  The game and I just haven’t clicked.

I’ve taken hiatuses (hiati?) before.  I figured I’d get ramped up for raiding and be good to go.  I ran a few heroics, got a few badges, and just Ran. Out. Of. Steam.  I found I lacked any enthusiasm for gearing up for raiding.  Now, I’ve always had a bit of that essential laziness (I don’t think I ever did get exalted with Sons of Hodir), but this time, the chore just seemed even more tedious than usual.

On some level, this bothers me.  I really want to see Icecrown Citadel.  My entire mental conception of my character and her history requires her to go into Icecrown Citadel.  I’m not going to see Icecrown Citadel if I go a month at a time between logons.  But I don’t, however, appear to want to see Icecrown Citadel badly enough to gear up from Naxx25-Ulduar10 level gear to where I’d be ready (assuming my guild even still exists such that it would be an option – it’s been a month since I logged on, so I have no idea).  But when my alternative is pugging Heroic Utgarde Pinnacle again, I feel a piece of my soul die.  And not in a good warlocky way, either.

Meanwhile, the siren song of Lord of the Rings Online has sucked me in entirely.  My hunter (think WoW hunter, but without a pet, so playstyle’s an almost more mage-style nuke-em-before-they-get-to-you) is level 44, and I have a small stable of alts I’m playing with as well.  Another few levels, and I can begin heading south towards a certain rather nasty dwarf ruin of considerable notoriety.

(And once again, Turbine, I’ll go into considerably more detail about the awesomeness of  your game if you send me a big fat check, so I can be one of those Kept Bloggers I keep hearing so much about!)

Why, I find myself wondering, am I spending time in a new MMO while precious raiding hours slip away?  After all, raiding has been what I’ve organized my endgame around since I first hit 70 on the lock.  And that, I think, is what it comes down to – it’s endgame.

Everybody has heard the claim that “WoW begins at level cap”, or that the endgame is the real game.  I’ve made the argument (I forget where) that that’s only true after you level your first character to level cap – the first time through, every new zone is exciting.  Leveling alts, that’s not as true – by a certain point, you’ve either leveled through a zone before, or you don’t actually have any interest in doing a particular zone (the latter is the case for me with most of the forested Kalimdor zones, for example – I’m just not interested.)

The raiding endgame is something I got into from the perspective of being an explorer.  I wanted to see what the inside of Medivh’s tower looked like.  I wanted to see this Kael’thas guy I kept reading about in the quest text (yes, I read quest text).  I wanted to see what was behind door number 1.  That said, raiding is also about the furthest thing from exploration there is.  The whole point of exploring is to boldly go where noone who is you, at least, has gone before.  If you show up to a raid, on the other hand, not having watched the videos that tell you precisely what to expect when you enter the boss’s room, you’re not doing your job.

It reminds me of how my dad and I used to play those old Sierra adventure games – King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, and so forth.  Those games, for any of my readers who are too young (/cry) to have played them, had a point system that was your score – up in the corner, you’d have a tag that said “Score: 135 of 280”, for example.  You could, if you went through the game without exploring around the edges of the game too much, complete the game with considerably less than a maximum score.  I usually did.  I wanted to see the next part more than I wanted to be absolutely positive I hadn’t missed a point somewhere in the room.  My dad, on the other hand, wanted the maximum score.  Different types on the Bartle Scale (though as I read it, despite my characterization of my motives and his, my type would actually be “Achiever”, and his would be “Explorer”).

And that’s where things stand right now – there isn’t really anything in WoW to explore.  LotRO is nothing but exploration for me right now.  And so, that’s where I am.

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Upcoming Itemization Changes

August 25, 2009 at 2:14 pm (WoW General)

Bear with me, this is relevant.

Once upon a time, I worked for a company in the pharmaceutical industry.  I worked at said company for around six years.  In that time, I noticed something – every team of people who took over management at the higher levels decided, for whatever reason, that reorganization was an imperative.  Now, there were two primary ways to organize the general area I was in – you could organize based on what product/therapeutic area people were working in (i.e. “the oncology team” working together), or you could organize based on job function (i.e. the statisticians together, the data managers together, the project managers together, etc.)  It almost didn’t matter what was chosen, what mattered is that every time there was turnover in the upper levels, the new management decided it was crucial that it be done The Other Way.  Most people wouldn’t much have cared which way was chosen, but the constant reorganizations were wearying, and cost more than any marginal benefit that came from whatever the new organization might have been.

The relevance to WoW is probably obvious.  Itemization is undergoing another revamp, and is apparently going to resemble the simpler days of yore.  No more attempting to decide which is better, 22 points of haste, 17 points of armor penetration, 14 points of crit, or 16 points of strength (“Oh wait, I’m a caster, never mind.”)

On the one hand, I honestly found myself on more than one occasion (particularly leveling alts) throwing up my hands and guessing as to which piece of gear was better (yes, you may all commence telling me how terribad I am for not immersing myself in quite as much detail with any other class as I do my warlock).  Part of me thinks I’ll miss making those trade-off decisions on my warlock, but honestly, I think I probably won’t.  And I don’t think most players, whose assessments of gear choices come from an addon, a spreadsheet, or gear rankings on a website, will either, the cries of a handful of wannabe-hardcores notwithstanding (for the genuine hardcores, for whom the statistical analysis of one sort of gear’s benefit versus another’s was a major part of the fun they derived from the game, you have my condolences.)

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Make Up Your Mind

August 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm (WoW General)

Okay, so since time immemorial (well, since TBC dropped), I’ve heard and read members of the (classic) Horde griping without end about being saddled with the blood elves.  The blood elves were simply too pretty to be Horde (forgetting the fact that, as a matter of lore, The Sin’dorei and their bitter, fascist little elven collection of hovels up there in Silvermoon certainly belong in the Horde, as anybody who knows the significance of the name Garithos will understand).  Kids, you see, played Alliance (with their aesthetically appealing races that more sophisticated gamers wouldn’t touch).  Trendy gothy-loving anime-freak poseurs played blood elves.  And probably read Twilight too.

Well.

As probably everybody reading is perfectly aware, the mmo-champion-leaked info about Cataclysm turned out to be correct, and the Horde is getting goblins as a playable race, while the Alliance is getting the worgen.  And, if one spends any time in the forums, one sees Horde players are…shall we say…underwhelmed with this development.

Seems to me, the Horde got an aesthetically-unappealing (well, by conventional human standards) race that survives on their wits.  A race with character and humor.  Meanwhile, the Alliance got werewolves.  And Horde players are spitting nails.

Now, what this illustrates is the real issue many Horde players have with the blood elves, and it has nothing to do with who plays them, or some sort of inconsistency with the character of the Horde.  It’s because blood elves (particularly excessively-pretty blood elf males) make insecure teenage boys even more insecure.  Which certainly calls into question the bill of goods Horde players are rather fond of selling regarding the vast maturity differential between them and the “kiddies” who play Alliance.

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The Persistence of Culture, or, Why I Hate Enchanting

August 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm (WoW General)

So, I’m reading the WoW.com “WoW Rookie” article on one of my favorite ranting subjects, but one I hadn’t thought about for a really long while – Enchanting, disenchanting, shards, and so forth.  And as I always do when the subject comes to mind, I found myself wishing I had some soapbox upon which to stand, to loudly declaim why I think Enchanting is profoundly broken.

And then I remembered:  Oh yeah.  Now I do have a soapbox.  Lucky for me.  Not so lucky for you.

All crafting professions can be nasty to level to 450, but some are nastier than others.  They range from the absurdly easy (Alchemy) to, well, Enchanting.  Enchanting is as nasty to level as it is (mine is still stuck in the 430s) for two reasons:  (a) because its “nodes”, if you will, are incredibly rare, and (b) because the culture of WoW distorts, in a profoundly destructive way, every possible market for enchanting and enchanting mats.

Re: the first point – my blacksmith, if I put my mind to it, can go out and farm mining nodes for a while, and end up in good shape for mats.  Ditto leatherworkers with skinning, or alchemists/scribes with herbalism.  I cannot do the equivalent on my enchanter – greens drop too rarely to be reliably farmed, and blues and purples cannot be obtained except in groups (about which, more later).  The level of scarcity this imposes on the materials cannot be understated.  Scarcity increases (substantially) the auction house cost of mats.

The other factor that increases the auction house cost of mats is that enchanters have no other way to speak of to make money with the skill.  In WotLK, Tailoring and Blacksmithing were given BoE epic recipes to make and sell on the AH.  Alchemy has always had potions and flasks, along with transmute cooldowns, to make money, and Jewelcrafting and Inscription make money hand over fist.  In all cases, the end product is something people (a) are used to buying on the auction house (gear, gems, glyphs), and (b) don’t have a years-long history of obtaining for free.

The latter point is especially important.  Inscription was supposed to solve this problem – enchanters could, at long last, level by enchanting scrolls, and then sell those scrolls on the auction house.  Finally, we could be a normal crafting profession!  Not so much.  The primary reason for this being, the mats for recipes above 400 or so remain ludicrously expensive due to scarcity.  This tends to create substantial risk that your enchanting scroll won’t sell (particularly when people remain unwilling to pony up for enchanting because “lulz ur just clickin a button”, which I desperately wish were not a literal representation of the most common non-enchanter take on paying for enchants).  Therefore, it remains preferable, financially speaking, for an enchanter to level the skill by doing the “free with your mats” enchants.  In fact, it’s worse – it’s actually a financially reasonable decision to offer to pay people to let you enchant their gear, if it gives you a skill point (which I’ll refer to as the Trade channel market).  This is something of a vicious circle, of course – the people who do this destroy the market for AH enchants, which makes it financially non-viable to level with AH enchants, which drives more people into the Trade channel market.  It’s classic Tragedy of the Commons – something we recognize in the real world is a market failure, and usually justifies some form of intervention into the market.

I suspect that part of the reason the Trade channel market persists, in addition to the cost of mats, is that the bulk of the WoW player base is simply not used to paying for enchants, so they won’t do it (which of course further feeds the race to the bottom).  They do not consider enchanting, or disenchanting, to be a commodity worth paying for.  And enchanters, in pursuit of their own personal financial best interest, prove them right.  This comes out every time you see the endless debate crop up re: distribution of shards from instance runs.  Now, I think some of my fellow enchanters get greedy in these discussions (no, we’re not entitled to every single unneeded drop in the instance), but the refrain from the nonenchanters is, overwhelmingly, “Why are you being rude?  It doesn’t cost you anything to disenchant for people?”  Well, true.  However, first, I don’t see you crafting me a bunch of potions/flasks/gems/glyphs/Titansteel sets/Ebonweave sets/etc. free with my mats (unless you’re a guildie, but then, I happily (dis)enchant for my guildies, so that’s a separate question).  That wouldn’t cost you anything either.  Why don’t you do it?  Because gear, potions, etc. are tangible items (well, as tangible as anything in an MMO is), and everybody understands that the crafter should get to make a little something on the deal to compensate them for their expertise.  Well, it sure as hell cost me to get Enchanting leveled to the point where I could disenchant that drop for you in the first place.  Or where I could give you that snazzy enchant that you think a 10s (I kid you not) tip adequately covers.  And given I’m just going to end up buying this same shard that I created back from you in order to level my profession, it makes me cranky.  If it pumped enough enchanting mats into the economy to substantially drop the price, well, that would be one thing.  But it doesn’t, because they’re still too rare.

So, while Blizzard is looking at rebuilding all of the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor from the ground up, perhaps they could take a look at Enchanting while they’re at it.  Other professions, in various and sundry ways, have their terrible aspects (nobody takes a crafting profession to get rich, and Tailoring was such a crashing disappointment in Wrath I dropped it entirely, a decision that hurt quite a lot, given my first epics were from tailoring, and given I’d already made myself a flying carpet that I now can’t ride).  In fact, I think Blizz needs to take a look at every crafting profession, and possibly even revisit the fundamental concept of them.  But the Enchanting market is fundamentally broken.  When Enchanters are paying people to let them use their skill (a skill they’ve already paid major gold to level)  so they can level it up further, this point shouldn’t even be arguable.

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Whoa

August 15, 2009 at 8:42 am (WoW General)

Well, this is….different. (warning:  MASSIVE spoilers, if true, for the next expansion).

For the benefit of those who wish to be surprised, I’ll put my thoughts after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Trial of the Champion

August 8, 2009 at 9:23 am (WoW General)

Okay, so I finally got around to doing the new five-man instance in normal and heroic mode.  My first thought is that they really do want a pretty serious gear reset pre-Icecrown.  Because TotC drops a lot of epics.

My second thought it, Tirion Fordring and the entire (*&#$ing Argent Crusade needs to hand off leadership of the war against Arthas to somebody who will take it more seriously, and handle it more competently.  I’m thinking the Winterfin murlocs, perhaps.  Let’s see, the Alliance and Horde have been slaughtering each other in Icecrown, largely in reaction to the events of the Wrathgate (well, that and the fact that Varian Wrynn and Garrosh Hellscream are jackasses who need to be lined up against a wall and shot for undermining the war effort).  So Tirion’s response is to build….an arena.  Where the two sides will kill each other.  Under the Argent Crusade’s banner.  Yeah, that won’t have a problematic effect.  When five players massacre twelve of the other faction’s soldiers in the first fight, including three city Grand Champions (each individually vastly more powerful than a player character)?  Yeah, that will facilitate unity, and totally not breed resentment of the sort that will fatally undermine the war.  Cripes, just what the Alliance-Horde relationship needed – the angst of a Red Sox-Yankees rivalry added on top of it.

Or how about this – the Argent Confessor fight?  She brings nine Argent Crusade underlings into the arena with her (each one individually more powerful than a level 80 player character).  And then offers them up to be slaughtered (while she, of course, puts a stop to the fight before she dies – to borrow a line from Pink Floyd, “‘Forward!’ she cried from the rear/And the front rank died.”).  All quite explicitly to test the PCs.  What about those poor underlings?  Seems to me those three Argent Priestesses could have been freaking useful in, I don’t know, maybe killing the undead of Icecrown?  You know, those wandering bony-looking guys right the *(&$# outside?

This isn’t even incompetence.  This is treason.  At least the Scourge don’t slaughter each other for fun (or phat lewtz).  Are we entirely sure that one of the twelve thousand dreadlords-we-thought-were-dead isn’t running the Argent Crusade, just like the Scarlet Whateverthefrak?

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