Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Morale The Destroyer

Cameron Sorden wrote an interesting piece yesterday about morale. As he writes, “It's like watching a chain of dominoes. Sometimes, the group can laugh off a wipe or two. But if a simple mistake turns into a pattern of someone screwing up, or if luck goes against you and you have a few simple mistakes in a row, people start losing their morale.” And when that happens – people jump ship.

I’m a bit of a “what went wrong?” detective. Even when a wipe doesn’t happen and we just lose one person, I’m trying to deduce why it happened. It’s not always easy, but most times I can figure it out. I’m a bit of a perfectionist in that I believe there is good work and then there is just sloppy. No in-betweens. We either did it right or we did it badly.

But the morale thing, that’s something I’ve never really addressed on it’s own. And it’s sooo true. A couple of clumsy wipes and some finger pointing and it can be almost impossible to hold onto a group. I’m not a quitter and a repair bill or two is not the end of the world. I really really really hate to let an instance or boss get the better of me, so there is very little I hate more than a failed group. Think of me as a bulldog perfectionist.

I went on a bit of a badge marathon this weekend. I grinded out 37 badges over two days (Heroics only). Here’s the thing: I played the same amount of time both days, but on Saturday I got 28 badges and on Sunday I only got 9. I literally earned three times as many badges on Saturday as I did on Sunday. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I had so much more difficulty on Sunday.

On Monday, I only ran one Heroic and wanted to do something quick and simple. I looked around in LFG and saw a group forming (with tank and healer) for Slave Pens. I arrived at the instance and it quickly became apparent that three members (including the druid tank, warlock and priest) were all fairly new 70s. The other player, an ele shaman, was adequately geared but nothing spectacular.

Pull after pull we kept losing at least one person, at times three or four. More often than not it was the priest, shaman or tank. I kept waiting for one of them to pipe up that it was over or not going to happen. No one did. The priest (who had died the most) kept cracking jokes and hardly seemed to care. No one called out the tank for losing aggro. No one called out the priest for letting the tank die. No one yelled at the warlock for pulling aggro (over and over) and making the tank’s life difficult. So even while I’m thinking to myself that this is a horribly sloppy and overly difficult run, no one was upset about it. In fact, quite the opposite. The priest asked openly if he could add the tank and I to his friend’s list.

We finished the run and I logged for night. I didn’t think much about it again until this afternoon when I read Cameron’s article about morale. It hit me like a thunderbolt. That was the difference between Saturday and Sunday. Morale. The Saturday groups didn’t all go perfectly, but everyone had a good attitude. The Sunday groups just seemed to blow up over nothingness. In that Monday group, that undergeared healer was able to keep the morale up despite what would have been an otherwise frustrating run. While I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time, I’ll gladly join a group with that priest again as a result.

It makes me wonder what else I should be doing to keep group morale up during a run.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

officers dont do officers like u did

I’ve got a theory. The level of guild drama you have in your guild is directly proportional to the start time of your raids. The earlier your raid time, the more susceptible your guild is to drama. Oh sure, it’s not always the case – but let me explain why I think the time you start a raid is part of your drama problem.

The best raid time for an individual is really dictated by the constraints that you have on your real life. We game when we have time to game. For some, they have a seemingly limitless amount of time to play, so they really don’t have any real life constraints. For others, real life constraints require weird hours, so it’s easier to play “in prime time” if you play on a server that’s not in your time zone.

But most of us don’t have an unlimited amount of time and have chosen a server that pretty closely reflects our current time zone. For example, I live on the west coast and (surprise, surprise) I play on a Pacific Time zone server. I’m a mature adult, I work until 5pm PST and live 45 minutes away from work. Once I get home, I have dinner and take time to visit with my wife and kids. The earliest I can be available to raid is 7:00 and I prefer 8:00. My expectation is that most responsible and mature adults would fall into a similar pattern. Even an adult bachelor that works till 5:00 is going to struggle to meet anything earlier than a 6:00pm raid.

Now consider who can make a 4:30 raid time on a server. People with seemingly limitless amount of time to play, people who play in a different time zone, or kids. Four thirty is about the perfect time for a 12-17 year old kid to make it home from school, hug mom, do their chores/schoolwork, and then log on to raid. An 8:00 raid is going to be pushing it for a lot of kids whose mom is going to unplug that computer at 10:00.

There is a reason we characterize immature, rash and emotional behavior as childish. Kids are, well, kids. Remember High School? Remember when what Terry said about your gym shorts in 4th period was seemingly the most important thing in your world. No? Then go watch Superbad and get acquainted with your new Hunter and Mage. Oh sure, some kids are great. But even the most mature kid has some trouble understanding the importance of a game relative to the importance of the outside world. It’s not the end of the world if you lose out of those epic boots. But it is the end of the world for that kid. Or at least it seems that way to them at the time.

Note: Check out this article on WoW Insider about the “officers dont do officers like u did” title and make sure to read the comments. Credits to BBB for pointing it out.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My life as a Warcraft Daytrader

I’ve added a new blog (WoW Economist) to my RSS feed and so far I have enjoyed the site immensely. The articles themselves are OK, but as with all the blogs I enjoy – the best stuff is in the comments.

I think what is great about the site is that it attracts like minded folks to the same place. These are the day traders of the WoW economy. The people rubbing two silver together to generate 2 gold.

Over the past six or seven weeks I have really become one of the enlightened ones. I’ve leveled and geared up quite a few 70s, but I have always struggled financially. In large part because I bought into the idea that the best way to make money is through gathering or farming some rare resource. The problem is that this is always so time intensive and just one or two people farming something at the same time can really ruin your success. In order to really make money at a nice rate, I found myself needing to farm things at really weird and inconvient hours.

Dailys changed things a bit. There is competition, but it’s not so stiff that you can’t get things done and many of the quests will actually happen quicker if you group with someone. Even so, they are pretty repetitive and just another grind disguised as a quest. The exception is the Daily BG and the Daily Heroic which I genuinely enjoy doing on a regular basis. Of course, you are not likely to make much more than your repair bill on those two dailys alone.

On my most recent and (I vow!) permanent main, I felt a strong desire to earn up enough gold to buy that epic flyer. It was something I had never completed on other characters because I felt it was an almost unattainable task unless I completely devoted myself to it or stopped using quality enchants and gems.

When patch 2.4 went up on the test server, I read the patch notes and took notice of the changes. I wrote about how I took advantage of the foreknowledge of those changes in my article “How to Roll a Merchant” and managed to easily finance my Epic flyer.

I expected to slow down or even stop working the trade channel and auction house after getting the flyer. Only I found that I still kept an eye on the markets I had been watching and continued to find investment opportunities. At first, I spent maybe 20-30 minutes a day and just did my dailys like everyone else. The funny thing was that two hours of dailys was netting me 200g and 30 min of AH trading was netting me 300-400g. I reached Exalted with the SSO about two weeks ago and have skipped all but the simplest of the dailys ever since.

My intent here is not to boast about my profits, but to share in my enlightenment of this meta-game I discovered to ease the boredom of waiting for the next expansion. It really is a game within a game and while I always understood that people played this game, my small time dabbling never really netted me any worthwhile profits. In part, I blame failed attempts at using Auctioneer on my lack of success in this profiteering game. The real key is not using an addon but to really focus in on just a handful of markets and keep yourself invested.

If you have 3500g sitting on your character then that gold does NOTHING for you except lose value as inflation from the daily quests devalues your money in relation to the rest of the economy. If that same 3500g is invested in good buys that you are using as inventory, then you will be able to resell that inventory at the inflated price. Inventory sitting on the AH for a profit is better than inventory sitting in your bank – but either of those is better than the 3500g just sitting on your character sheet losing value. That’s like burying hundred dollar bills in your backyard. You’re better off burying diamonds that will increase in value over time.

I’m at a point now where gold really has very little value to me and yet I am completely hooked on this profiteering meta game. My goal now is to aquire an absolutely ridculous amount of gold between now and the next expansion.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Eureka! It’s the innovation, stupid!

Cameron Sorden of Random Battle is writing for Massively now. He has a great new article up titled “When will the players leave WoW?

The basic thesis of the article is that players whose only MMO experience is Warcraft will not leave WoW for another game without a monumental leap in gameplay. His argument is that only players who have already jumped ship from another MMO are looking for the next great MMO title. He surmises that the affection and attachment players hold for their first MMO will prevent them from leaving for anything short of a dramatic improvement in gameplay.

I don’t agree entirely with the logic, but I do agree with the sentiment that any game company that hopes to unseat WoW as the MMO of popular choice can’t simply re-package the WoW experience and expect to woo customers away from Blizzard. As Cameron points out, “WoW took the EQ formula and fixed everything that sucked.” In turn, the next MMO champion is going to need to take all the things that suck about WoW and fix it while keeping all the things that made the game so popular.

That’s a pretty steep challenge. The most obvious flaws in WoW are very deeply rooted in the original EQ formula. Fixing those flaws would require challenging many of the very basic game design formulas that we all associate and take for granted with MMOs.

Sound familiar? On Tuesday, I wrote that I believed the holy trinity of Tank, Healer and DPS was fundamentally broken and the result of an antiquated mechanic developed because early MMOs lacked the technology to produce intelligent AI. I would maintain that working to rethink that basic MMO principle now that better AI is more accessible would be a great starting point for any developer looking to create a serious competitor to WoW.

Likewise, I wrote back in February that I believed one of the other great flaws of Warcraft is that the incremental benefit received for each gear upgrade far outweighs any incremental benefit gained from becoming a more skilled player. Every “unfun” aspect of WoW can be attributed in some form to the mess this flawed reward system creates. As someone pointed out on Tobold’s blog earlier in the week, it says something about the game when the “fun thing” is opening the chest full of loot at the end and not the 45 minutes leading up to that point.

So while I strongly agree with Cameron that innovation and improved gameplay is going to be what it takes to unseat WoW, I disagree with him in his thinking that most players have such a strong affection for WoW at this point. Quite the contrary, people are bored. An expansion every two years and a content update every 9 months is not enough to keep this game fresh and interesting. At least EQ put out A LOT of content and, as Tobold pointed out, even provided a whole new leveling experience from level 1 to the new level cap in the Ruins of Kunark expansion.

I would argue that many people will try WAR when it is released simply for the variety and the fact that it is DIFFERENT. In marketing terms, WAR is going to be given an opportunity to steal market share from Blizzard. We will then see if they have enough innovation and improved gameplay to hold onto that share or whether it will go back to Blizzard. However, the fact that they will be given that opportunity is testament alone to the fact that the Blizzard status quo is stale and predictable.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The trinity is more MMO sin than holy

Last week I was in a pretty active discussion on Syncaine’s blog on whether or not good PvP and good PvE could both exist in the game. His point is that it can’t be done and my point was that it just hadn’t been done yet. I’m not going to rehash the whole discussion, but I will quote something I wrote that was a bit offtopic that mirrors my sentiments about what I think is wrong about MMO design philosophy:

[…]Why do you need a tank and clothies? Let me ask you, in real warfare – does your enemy just run up to one guy and let everyone else beat on them? No. Only dumb animals would behave in that type of manner. In the early days of MMO, developers had very limited AI so this mechanic of “tanking” a mob simplifies the AI required to make the encounter more real.[…]

In other words, the “holy trinity” of MMO game design was created because writing real AI was too sophisticated. For those of you unfamiliar with the trinity it follows this logic: A class to soak up damage, a class to deal damage, and a class to heal damage. The damage soaker controls the situation and takes all the damage, the healer heals the damage the soaker is taking and the damage dealer takes them out. There are variants, including crowd control and buff classes, but the basic design is around those three elements.

Early MMO developers needed a way to make NPCs very difficult encounters with a very limited AI. The result was to have a class whose sole purpose was to control or maintain “hate” or “aggro” of the creature and soak up the damage they dealt. They were given “taunts” and other abilities that didn’t scale damage but scaled some hidden mechanic only known as threat. This provided them a method for scaling an encounter to something difficult but without needing a complex AI for the NPC.

Of course, a truly intelligent NPC would evaluate threat in an entirely different way. It would ignore the hard to kill thing that does little damage and set priority by other criteria like distance and the source of damage or healing. And once they were hitting something, they wouldn’t be nearly as likely to disengage – turn their back – and run to a new threat unless they weren’t having much success killing what they were attacking . Groups of intelligent NPCs would behave very differently. One might go for or call for help, others might flank you or move into a more defensible position.

You could never have NPCs act so intelligently and have classes with such obvious flaws as exists in today’s MMO. Certainly a tank archtype would just be ignored and cloth types would be simply one-shotted. Truly intelligent combat would require a redesign and redefinition of roles.

So why change it? Because it’s flawed. And it’s boringly predictable. Remember that this design philosphy was the result of limitations in being able to script good AI. In recent years, the ability to program AI has come a long way and that is a problem that no longer exists. The reason for having such a system is antiquated and the only reason the system exists is because we haven’t evolved past it. In part, we haven’t evolved past it because we (as the gaming community) haven’t demanded that developers give us a better game.

How is it flawed? The biggest flaw is that it requires a specific group composition in order to succeed. A group of five or ten friends can’t just get together and succeed at an encounter. They need to worry about how they are putting that group together and consider group composition. It’s one thing if it’s “you be the healer this time” and it’s another thing alltogether when your role is defined by your class, gear and specialization.

If you like playing a tank and your best friend likes playing a tank – well, one of you is going to have to do something else when the encounter only requires one tank. In Warcraft, the problem is magnified in the end-game raiding scene because the ratio required for success in 5-mans is different than what is required for a 25-man. Every 5-man requires 1 tank, 1 healer and 3 DPS. A twenty-five man by contrast, needs 2-3 tanks and 6-8 healers. That’s up to 3 tanks fewer and up to 3 healers more than what would be needed if the 5-man ratio continued into the 25-man raid. It’s really no surprise that guilds struggle to find healers and ask the hybrids to spec for healing.

This whole dynamic just sucks if you get can get 4 or 9 or 24 people together and can’t go because you are missing that one type that determines your success or failure. It doesn’t matter that you have ten other people “on the bench” if they play a class that doesn’t fit in the group composition. And to make matters worse, the gear requirement will be steepest for the damage soakers (tanks) and damage healers since your group success is so highly dependent on their success. And if we do fail, who will we blame? I find it enlightening that one of my good RL friends quit his Feral Druid tank alltogether in favor of a Hunter he recently rerolled. One of his biggest reasons? He was tired of the scrutiny he kept getting from people. The other reason was because he was a complete non-factor in PvP.

Which brings me to the flaw in balancing PvP and the solo game. In the solo game, classes that can’t deal significant damage are frustratingly slow compared to those that can kill things rapidly. In the PvP game, these classes are at a very distinct disadvantage in a 1v1 game and only the healer is desirable in group PvP. If we increase the damage these classes deal, then we start to unbalance our PvE game. Syncaine’s observation that you can’t have good PvE and good PvP is certainly accurate if you presume that MMOs must continue to follow this antiquated forumla that has become the basic principle of MMO design.

The solution is to redefine these archtypes and start thinking outside the box. The trinity is broken and we need to start asking the developers of new games to think beyond the trinity. The wonderful thing is that there is no “best” solution, but lots of possible solutions.

All MMOs have their roots in the old pen & paper RPGs. The interesting thing about these RPGs is that the trinity didn’t exist in these games. We certainly had healers and warriors and cloth wearers, but a group didn’t need to consist of any specific combination of classes in order to succeed in a dungeon. One of my long-time groups that I played with frequently didn’t even have a cleric (healer) in the group.

I think part of the reason I have some hope for Warhammer Online is that it is based on a pen & paper / minature game that has it’s roots in these old games. A concept like “flanking” is irrelevant in WoW because the game lacks collision detection. I am by no means sold that WAR will be anything more than WoW, but I will say that the idea of collision detection brings a bit more realism to the game and I have to believe that a smart developer would build a smarter AI to take advantage of the nuances such a system could provide.

My final point is best summed up by something else I wrote in that discussion on Syncaine’s blog:

[…]The most common complaint that I hear from people is boredom. Bored with the grind. Bored with the lack of new content. Hmm. Well, if the content was a little more dynamic, then it wouldn’t get old nearly as quickly. WoW players don’t do things because they are fun or challenging, they do them because they have been taught that meaningless grinds provide them with items and gold. I say give them fun and challenge along with the reward and they would gladly embrace the change.[…]

Monday, April 14, 2008

Enter the Shadows

I had read several posts by Keen last week about stealth in Warhammer Online that inspired an idea for implementing stealth in an MMO. So in the spirit of “wouldn’t it be cool if” and the unlikely event that some random developer reads this blog, I wanted to talk about the idea.

One of the new patch 2.4 dailys takes you up to Bashir’s Landing in the Blade’s Edge Mountains. The quest starts by having you kill Ethereals until you get a Phasing Device. Once it drops, you can activate it to see the Smuggled Mana Cubes that you need to loot for the quest.

The neat thing is that the Ethereals that you have been fighting disappear when you go “out-of-phase” and the screen gets dark and blurry. The cubes are instead guarded by these mana wyrms you can’t see in the normal phase. Also – anyone else that is running around “out-of-phase” is also visible to you and not visible to anyone in the “normal” phase. Likewise, you are no longer visible to the normal phase and you can’t see people killing the Ethereals.

I read a book years ago (maybe this one?) where our assassin/thief/hero could enter into a Shadow World in order to enter buildings and such unseen. In this Shadow World, he was unable to see people in the real world. He could, however, see other people visiting this Shadow World and the horrific creatures that made the Shadow World their home. I can’t help but think of this Shadow World every time I complete this quest.

So I started thinking about this Shadow World and also a bit about Keen’s complaint about stealth in a PvP MMO. The biggest issue with how unfair Stealth is in PvP is because they can see you and you can’t see them. But what if it were more like this Shadow World? What if they couldn’t see you either?

Imagine that you don’t stealth, but phase into a Shadow World that has it’s own horrors and exists in the same physical space but not in the same plane as the rest of the MMO world. You could travel through it, but not see any other players or creatures that existed in the real world until you exited the Shadow World. Instead, you could only see other players traveling in the Shadow World and the nasty creatures that live on that plane.

Take it a step further and say that the Shadow World is somewhere between the normal game world and the realm of the dead. The horrors that exist are often the undead and you can see other players running around in ghost form after they have died. Perhaps players in “ghost form” even have some limited power over those that use the Shadow World to try and camp them (like a nasty debuff called “hex of the dead”).

The neat thing here is that a player could enter into the Shadow World and see not the real game world but something similar yet different entirely. Some classes could maybe enter the Shadow World temporarily (15 seconds) while others may enter it and exit it at-will. The “stealth” class would need to continually exit and enter the Shadow World to locate another player and would be visible while he came out and his ability was on cooldown.

And perhaps instead of stuns, we have the ability to bring people into the Shadow World with us. And some classes have the ability to toss them out. Think about a battle where your healer gets kidnapped for 8 seconds to do battle in the Shadow World. Or alternately, your healer is getting focused and you act to protect him by bringing him into the Shadow World with you. You then get “chased” into the Shadow World to deal with the threats that exist. And of course, some items or talismans could grant limited power to allow people enter into this Shadow World that didn’t have class abilities for it. After all, the Shadow World would be a lonely place if the Rogue types were the only ones who got to visit.

Oh well.. I think it sounds cool. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What makes you move?

One of the things that always strikes me as interesting is how people move in Warcraft. Some people keyboard turn, others use a mouse, most use a variation of both. Equally interesting is how many people claim they could never do it any other way. However, when I think about it, I believe that how you move is very much dictated by the class you play. After all, the mechanics of a mage are quite different from those of a warrior. So I thought I would write an entry about the different styles of movement.

The basic methods
There are three basic methods of controlling character movement. If you do any of these methods as described, I suggest you learn a more advanced method. I’m not going to tell you to do something foreign or uncomfortable to you, but I will say that if you try to step out of your comfort zone, you may find that it doesn’t take that long to get used to a new way of doing things.

The keyboard turner – The basic keyboard turner uses the four arrow keys to move around. This is the least mobile type of movement and one that I don’t recommend for anyone. The advanced keyboard turner uses Q, W, E, A, S, D to move around. This allows for six directional movements instead of just the standard four. The big drawback is that the turn rate is very slow.

Click-to-mover – Another very entry level option. A click-to-mover will simply click the ground of the location they would like to move and your character will move to that location. The advantage of this method is that you will very accurately go to that location and it doesn’t require you to hold down a button. However, in a heated battle you may find it very unwieldy to keep clicking on terrain to move around.

The mouse looker – The mouse looker is the first of what I consider the real options for moving around. The mouse looker holds the right mouse button down to “free look” around his surroundings. When they have a direction they want to go, they click and hold the left mouse button (while still holding the right down) to move the character in that direction. The advantage to this method is that you can turn as quickly as you can spin your mouse. The disadvantage is that for some people can get disoriented and it can take some time to get used to it. If you get disoriented easily, I suggest inverting your mouse and slowing down the mouse speed.

The advanced methods
The three advanced methods presume you know how to “free look” with your mouse to move. Anyone who strictly keyboard turns or clicks to move is always going to be less maneuverable than someone who learns how to free look.

The circle strafer - Circle strafing is a concept first introduced in first person shooter games. The general idea starts with the typical A,S,D,W keys to control movement. W remains move forward, S remains move backward. However, you rebind A to straft left and D to strafe right. What’s the difference between strafing and turning? Let’s provide a real life example. Stand up. Turn to your right, but stay in the same spot. That’s keyboard turning. Now – take three sideways steps to your right while facing the same direction. That’s strafing. In this method of control, you “turn” by holding down the right mouse button and “free looking” with your mouse. However, you MOVE by pushing the A,S,D,W buttons to move forward/back/sidestep left/right. Circle strafing gets its name because you can literally keep yourself pointed towards the middle of a circle while strafing (side-stepping) in a circle. No other method of movement control offers as much mobility as circle strafing.

The mouse looker “plus” - This is a mouse looker in the traditional sense: they hold down the right mouse button to “free look” and the left mouse button to “walk”. However, they have purchased a mouse with extra buttons that they also configure to perform additional movement. For example, mouse button 3 is backward and button 4 and 5 are strafe left/right. This method allows the mouse looker to move in a similar fashion to the a circle strafer while only using the mouse to control movement.

The clicker “plus” - The clicker plus uses “click-to-move” to send him a direction when things get particularly crazy and they need to move. This ensures they get to where they want to be while they concentrate on casting instants or other things that can be done on the move. As needed, they override “click-to-move” with mouse free-looking and/or strafing. This method sacrifices mobility by somewhat automating movement, but frees up your hands to focus on other damage dealing (or healing) activities.

Which method is best for you?
Needless to say, any of the advanced methods is superior to the basic methods and you could really make any of these work for any class. That being said, I think that some of the methods provide distinct advantages and drawbacks for certain classes.

Range classes that rely on casting time – If your class primarily uses ranged abilities that have a casting time that requires you to stand still for one or more seconds, than mobility is really about moving quickly only when you need to move quickly. For these classes, I highly recommend practicing “click-casting”. This is where you bind most of your mouse keys to different common actions that are performed when you perform a click on a portrait or unit. For example, shift-right click is Polymorph, shift-left click is Fireball, ctrl-left click is Pyroblast. Due to the nature of how you are binding abilities to mouse buttons, your best method of control will likely be circle strafing. This allows you to control most of your movement with the keyboard while freeing your mouse to perform the click casting.

Range classes that rely on instant casts – If you like click casting, then circle strafing is still a good option. However, you may also find that casting instant while “on the move” is also very effective using the clicker “plus” method. The basic idea here is that you click a point to move and then focus on casting. There is no need to “free look” while moving, you can just click on units and portraits to help you with your instant casts. I still recommend using click casting with this movement method, but you can also use bindings bound to your keyboard.

Melee classes – Playing a melee class is about being in melee range when you want to deal damage. In PvE, a lack of mobility won’t kill you since mobs rarely run around that much. In PvP, mobility is VERY VERY important since your target will never stay in the same spot. The two methods that provide the most mobility are circle strafing and mouse looker “plus.” The big difference with melee is that “click casting” is far less helpful to you. Most melee have very situational abilities and typically find that binding hotkeys to your keyboard is more effective. A warrior, for example, has a good dozen abilities that they may commonly use in a fight. In that scenario, I personally find that I prefer the mouse looker “plus” method. This allows me to control movement with one hand and my abilities with the other on the keyboard. Since my left keyboard hand often dances around they keyboard hitting hotkeys, I’m never in a position where I can’t outmaneuver someone because I had to take my fingers off the movement keys.

BTW – Here is a tip if someone is circle strafing you. Back up. It’s nearly impossible for them not to end up in front of you again. I can’t tell you how many fights I have won simply because I kept backing up as they tried to strafe around me.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Life is like a bowl of petunias…

I’ve spent a lot of time today visiting Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual. That link will take you to a pretty interesting discussion about the impression WoW is leaving on the mindset of the MMO player. Syncaine seems to put a lot of stock in how WoW is imprinting players to behave a certain way in MMOs. I think it’s less about imprinting mindsets and more about WoW catering to the behavior of the masses. It may reinforce the behavior, but the behavior itself already existed and catering to that behavior is what makes WoW broadly appealing to the masses. I suggest reading that article to put the whole discussion in context.

It’s actually a bit funny -- I read both Syncaine’s blog and Tobold’s blog and the best comments are where they respond back to each other. They both have a friendly relationship and offer adversarial opinions. One would think that when they don’t agree, you would naturally choose a side. I may be unique in that I enjoy both the PvP and PvE game to the same degree. In fact, for me, it is as much about variety in a game as anything else. Anyway, it is certainly funny in that I often find myself agreeing with both of them. Perhaps part of it is that they both seem to take the position that PvP takes away from a PvE game and vice versa, PvE takes away from a PvP game. I would argue that the two are not mutually exclusive and it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too. And in that, I guess I disagree with both of them.

Last week, I wrote an article titled “How to Roll a Merchant” and I spent a good deal of time talking about the 2.4 changes to Primal Nethers and Void Crystals. It took a week and a half for things to stabilize, but I’m making a mint selling off the my stockpile.

As I mentioned in my earlier article, I slowly started buying out Void Crystals around the 18-20g mark several weeks prior to the patch. I grabbed up around 86 of these for an average price of around 19g. My total investment was around 1635g. I’ve been selling them all off the last two days for 38g80s. Even with the 5% AH cut, I will make about 1500g profit.

I also bought up 26 Primal Nethers for an average price of about 32g on the AH the first few days after the patch. That was an 830g investment. I’ve sold out at 60g per Nether and made a tidy 600g profit.

I’ll admit to being nervous that first week, but I feel vindicated for having faith in my convictions and as I preached in my earlier post – the worst case scenario is that I re-sold them for the price of my original investment.

A new blog is out there that I have added to my RSS feeds - WoW Investor. It’s a site dedicated the WoW merchant in all of us. It’s one of those rare sites where the reader comments are as worthwhile a read as the actual poster. Hopefully, the author has staying power and keeps up the good writing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Married to World of Warcraft?

Why do married men cheat? Because it’s a different woman that makes it new and fresh and interesting. Certainly not every cheating man cheats for that reason, but most do. The woman might not even be better looking than the wife, she is simply different. At the most basic level, people get bored with what they have and start looking towards other things for variety. And while not everyone cheats, they do practice this basic behavior in other parts of their life. You might love spaghetti and meatballs, but how would you feel about it if that’s all you had to eat for several weeks?

To extend that analogy to WoW, Blizzard has to keep upping the ante with new content to keep things fresh and interesting. Without that infusion of content, players would find themselves with nothing to explore, get bored and then cancel their accounts in search of other entertainment. Of course, the problem is that, for many players, Wrath of the Lich King won’t be different enough and will lose its luster quickly. This puts pressure on the developers to break the mold. It’s not enough to simply add instances, gear and zones – you need to alter the way the game is played. Blizzard is already making strides in that direction by introducing “Inscriptions” that allow you to customize your abilities. However, the inherent problem is that Blizzard will always be confined to certain game defining characteristics that will always make the game look, feel and smell like World of Warcraft. I can add +5 yards to my Fireball, but it’s still just a Fireball.

WAR (or Warhammer Online) is the most talked about unreleased MMO on the internet because it offers what many people see as the next alternative to WoW. It is popular because it will be different from WoW. Will it be a better game? Well, that remains to be seen. But it will be at least moderately successful simply because it is different. From a design standpoint, they are operating from a position of strength. They can hold up WoW as a standard to measure themselves and blatantly borrow the best design elements of Warcraft. In turn, they can introduce their own style and influences to create something new.

Popcorn on Tolbold’s blog wrote: WAR may be as good as WoW, but for the people that don't see a huge improvement between the two, they will stay with their multiple 70s & online friends/guilds.

If WAR is even 80% as good as WoW, then a fairly substantial portion of the WoW population is going to migrate to WAR for something different. Then it will be up to WAR (not Blizzard) to ensure they have the staying power to keep people interested. WAR represents a huge threat to Blizzard. They have the opportunity to evolve the genre by borrowing ideas perfected by Blizzard and packaging it into something fresh. If they are to succeed in making the game remotely as fun as WoW, then a lot of players (including myself) would adopt it simply for the new experiences that a new game provides. There is some truth to sticking with friends, but there is no reason why entire Guilds couldn’t migrate over to WAR.

Of course, expectations are high for WAR. Really high. It’s the latest buzz, the latest thing, WAR will solve all our issues! In fact, I hear there are No Cats in WAR and the roads are paved with CHEESE!!

Needless to say, someone is going to be disappointed with WAR. The interesting thing to me is how successful is WAR going to be at converting all this pre-release hype into a successful launch. Because without a successful launch and beta, WAR will not be viewed as anything nearly as good as WoW. They’ll get the initial set of lookers desperate for a WoW alternative, but the masses will simply toss it to the side if they don’t deliver a solid product early. The MMO marketplace is littered with challengers that have failed to topple the MMO beast that is World of Warcraft.

After all, men rarely leave their wife for their new girlfriend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

BoJ for Gold – And no, I’m not selling Cyber

Toblod (this guy is amazing) touched on an interesting topic: Trading in a Badge of Justice for a Nether Vortex and selling it off for gold. The thrust of his idea is that Badges for gear is simply a temporary reward because at some point everyone replaces gear. He points out that investing in something that is not temporary (like an Epic Flyer or Profession Skill) provides more long-term value for those hard won badges. He’s provided similar logic in the past for not buying the best enchants or gems.

It’s an interesting position to take and one that’s hard to argue over the long term. I know I spent considerable effort to equip myself in the best gear prior to Burning Crusade and then experienced a gear reset during the expansion that invalidated the effort.

But did it invalidate it? Not really. It may not have been relevant any longer, but it was relevant at the time I acquired it. In fact, much of the game that I experienced prior to BC would not have been available to me without that gear.

In fact, the Burning Crusade gear reset simply put the game in a better perspective for me. Prior to BC, I was very gear focused and overly “concerned” about loot rules and how loot should be distributed. Today, I have a much more laid back attitude. Gear drops all the time and eventually you’ll get yours. Do your part and you’ll be rewarded.

And here is the thing: that “epic” you were drooling over will sadly be sold to the Vendor when you get an upgrade. Oh maybe not right away, but certainly after it sits in your bank unused for a month and you are running out of space.

So from that perspective, Tobold has a great point. But the part that is missing from the equation is all the FUN you have during the interim. Oh sure, all my present day gear might be worthless when the next expansion comes out – but that might be another six months away! Meanwhile, maybe that Pant upgrade really helps my progression TODAY and helps fulfill my immediate enjoyment of the game.

And that’s what it is about, right? It’s not about worrying about my enjoyment two to six months away -- it’s about how much I can improve the quality of my gaming experience in the present day. Of course, if my enjoyment comes from crafting or flying around on an Epic Flyer, then Badges for Gold can certainly have an immediate value.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Internet is Broken

Oh wait.. it's just April Fool's Day. Cya Tommorrow. :)