Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Horizontal expansions

I found a pair of Blizzard CM responses from the forums a few days ago entertaining. In response to the question of whether or not faster mounts on are the horizon, Nethaera wrote:

“We’re not planning to increase the speed on mounts at this point in time.”

I don’t find this particularly surprising considering my epic flyer already goes so fast that I often fly past objects, players and NPCs because they haven’t loaded into memory by the time I reach them. If I moved any faster, I would never see anything. This is really a technical limitation since the server can only provide so-much information about your surroundings in a timely fashion.

In response to post titled “Is legendary a joke?,” Bornakk wrote:

“No item is meant to last forever - everything has its limits. This makes getting a Legendary item in its prime all the cooler for those people that do, plus you can pull it out in town and players will gawk at you even if it’s an old one.”

There are just so many things wrong with this comment it’s a bit nauseating. Blizzard’s answer to mudflation is basically that you can pull it out in town and let players gawk at it. I don’t know if I have ever seen a better example of Blizzard’s callous attitude towards invalidating game content that subscribers have spent considerable effort to achieve. Note to Blizzard: If you ever wondered why players accuse you of not caring about them, it’s because of comments like this one.

On a broader note, I found both of these things interesting because they strike a common theme regarding expansions that more of the same is not necessarily better. A few months ago, Tobold discussed the sustainability of this model by making the tongue and cheek remark that ‘in 2024, the 10th expansion for World of Warcraft is released and raises the level cap from 150 to 160.’ As absurd as the idea of level 160 sounds, this is pretty much the model that Blizzard has followed through two expansions.

The issue is with thinking that progress needs to be measured vertically by adding more of the same STUFF to the existing STUFF. While this expands your game in the direction people are used to playing, it doesn’t provide a much different experience than what the player has already done. By contrast, a horizontal change that adds new content in a different direction provides more variety to a game and avoids these types of pitfalls.

So what’s an example of a horizontal change? Well, take the mount problem that Nethaera addressed. In that case, they can’t simply make the mounts faster because it would break the game. It’s a technical limitation, so they were forced to think more horizontal about other changes they could make to mounts that would make the experience richer and deeper. In turn, they opted to provide things like mounted combat and the ability to carry a passenger on your mount. These are exciting changes and much better improvements than simply increasing mount speed.

A big part of my criticism for WoW lately has been that they don’t take a similar approach to other aspects of the game. The goal in expansion design doesn’t always need to be about vertical advancement. Sometimes, it should simply be about making a richer, deeper experience for your players. Variety is the spice of life and providing more of the same just means that players (like myself) are just going to get bored with it that much quicker.

Based on the blog entries and forum posts I have read, I suspect that most people are looking forward to Death Knights, Inscriptions and new Class Abilities. All of which are horizontal changes that potentially offer something vastly different than what is included in the existing game. It's a real shame that we are not seeing more of that horizontal type of content since that is clearly what players are most interested in seeing added to the game.

Update: I just recalled that I wrote an ‘Expanding the expansions...’ entry back in June where I wrote about some of my ideas for horizontal changes to WoW.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ganking or Griefing?

The ganking is griefing opinion

The Escapist had a poll back in June in which 45 of 66 respondents (68%) felt that “ganking” was simply wrong. A quick perusal of the comments on that poll and you’ll read opinions like:
  • The only time ganking is okay, in my opinion, is when you do it to stop someone from ganking.
  • Cowardice. Unless it's in a really funny situation, I can't really see the satisfaction in killing someone several levels below you.
  • Ganking takes the fun out of the game. If you're the ganker, it can't possibly be fun to kill someone with no hope of fighting back, unless you are exceptionally mean or cruel.
In this Terra Nova article from 2007 , Thomas Malaby proposed that ganking is a form of griefing in which “Gankers [..] are getting their jollies in an endless circle of confirming their own expectations, mistaking the increasing number of notches on their belt for actual personal development.” Second Tense, a blog about Second Life, expanded and surmised that “Ganking is Mere Bullying” and therefore unethical and immoral unless it is a desired component of the game.

Ultima Online, SWG and EQ2 developer Raph Koster responded to the Terra Nova article on his blog: “A miner is trundling along trying to get ore to town for the purposes of building a commercial empire, while a [Player Killer] is there playing another game entirely[.]” Or as the GoonSwarm alliance in EVE Online would say, "You may be playing EVE Online, but be warned: we are playing Something Awful."

Now it’s worth pointing out that Raph wasn’t defending ganking or making any distinction that ganking is anything other griefing. In fact, his argument only seems to support the idea that ganking is in fact griefing. Raph continued, “Interestingly, the miner in our little example is perfectly capable of regarding the marauding [Player Killer] as equivalent to just another monster. [..] Instead, he’s angered more because he sees this monster as a player. [..] The complete disregard for the feelings [of the victim] is only possible because the victim occupies an uncomfortable position midway between real person and score token. If they were a just a token, the ganker would not bother.”

This distinction is important. It’s a foregone conclusion that my level 69 warrior can solo a level 69 non-elite monster. I ascribe meaning to the encounter because it provides experience points and a loot drop. The meaning ascribed when level 69 warrior kills a player controlled level 42 priest is that another player was inconvenienced or bothered by the player kill. The same result could have taken place if a wandering elite (like a Fel Reaver) had trounced the player, but it takes on a particular importance for BOTH victim and ganker that the unit doing the killing was player controlled. The conclusion is that ganking must be considered griefing because the primary reward is the joy that comes with knowing that you disrupted someone else’s game experience.

The ganking is NOT griefing opinion

One of the biggest problems with defining griefing (or ganking) is that it’s subjective. It’s completely possible (if not likely) that what I do and do not consider to be griefing may be wildly different than yours. So for the sake of making sure we have a common understanding, let’s start by reviewing the definition of both terms:
  • Gank: (4) To kill, ambush, or defeat with little effort; used in online games.
  • Grief: (2) Cause of sorrow or pain; that which afflicts or distresses; trial; grievance. (4) hassle, abuse
Purely by definition alone, the word Gank uses no language that is synonymous with any of the phrases used to describe Grief. So strictly speaking, Gank does not equal Grief. However, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that killing, ambushing or defeating can cause sorrow, pain, hassle or abuse. The problem is that the measure of hassle or abuse caused is completely subjective. In other words, if the victim feels no pain was it really abuse?

As pointed out in Raph’s example above, the miner and the Player Killer were playing two entirely different games. But what if they weren’t? What if the miner KNEW that he could get ganked and that was part of the risk of mining in that particular area? For many people, myself included, that’s part of the appeal of open world PvP. Simply knowing that such bad guys exist make the world that much more of an exciting place. I certainly wouldn’t welcome a real-life ganking, but in an online world I am willing to accept a certain amount of risk. The amount of risk varies on the individual, which is why many developers make design decisions to avoid things like perma-death or XP loss. Even so, the risk associated in a game like Eve is much larger than in a game like WoW.

The problem is context. If two people have the same expectations that ganking is simply a part of open world PvP, then it’s simply an aspect of the game – not griefing. Even the Second Life blogger I mentioned above acknowledged that ganking was acceptable if “specifically stated otherwise as a desired component of the game.” At the core of this issue is the idea that if someone willingly participates, then it is not unethical or immoral.

By contrast, griefing or causing sorrow or pain, is clearly unethical and immoral in all instances. No rational person would willingly opt-in to get abused and hassled. The idea that “you win when they quit” is most certainly in this category and something I classify as disruptive game play. However, the problem is still context. For some people, simply repeatedly getting whacked while trying to turnin a quest is getting griefed. For others, it’s an actual abuse of game mechanics (like tricking someone to flag themselves for PvP). Or it may simply vary on circumstance – no big deal if I am just traveling, but a huge deal if I am at the end of a 15 minute escort quest.

On a personal level, I draw the line at the exploitation of flawed game design. This would include things like intentionally standing in a place that made navigating or clicking something difficult or impossible, or tricking someone to flag themselves. It would not include world PvP if the game system allowed it. The game design is the important thing here as it’s the intent of the actual designers. In a game like UO or AoC where players can achieve bad reputations, the mechanic is built-in to provide negative consequences. Likewise, in a game like Eve, you learn to be part of a Corp for protection. Alternately, in Hello Kitty Online, I suspect that world PvP doesn’t exist at all and any attempts at such a thing would be griefing. At the end of the day, it’s the game designers that need to be blamed for how people behave in their games and only people who step outside of the intended rules are the true griefers.

I am also a big believer in Karma and the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you. In Warcraft, this means I follow a few extra personal rules. I don’t gank someone more than three or four times in a row. I don’t gank people during escort quests or while fighting elites unless previously provoked. Now just because I follow these rules, it doesn’t mean that I consider it griefing if someone does these things to me. It’s just a line I don’t cross personally and anyone who ever did such things to me gets on my special little list of personal paybacks. I recently spent close to an hour ganking such a fellow the other day on Sunwell Isle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Does WoW Criticism = WoW Hate?

Oakstout raises an interesting topic in the comments of this post by Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual. Oakstout wrote “I just feel that when I read blogs about how great WAR will be and how much WoW sucks now, it tends to set me off a bit. WoW sucks no less than it did at launch [..], its just that people burned out on it so quick they just can’t bring themselves to say anything positive about the game[.] Now for some reason there are all these flaws that WAR is going to fix, and I’m saying that’s a pipe dream.” On Oakstout’s blog, he continued the rant and even echoed some of my own sentiments that bored players want variety and WAR is not the end of the World of Warcraft.

For my own part, I don’t want to be mistaken. WoW is a great game. I’ve played it for 3+ years and I still continue to play it and write about it in this blog. WoTLK will come out and I’ll buy it and play it and write about it for at least 3 months while I quest and explore. I’ll take at least one of my 70s to 80 and likely even a Deathknight. WAR, on the other hand, is a complete unknown. I *think* it offers what I want to see in my next MMO, but I really won’t know until I play it. To this point, all I can really say when comparing the games is that the WAR Public Relations team kicks the shit out of Blizzard’s PR team.

However, I strongly disagree with Oakstout that WoW criticism is unwarranted or unfair. I suspect the reason why many people like him are tired of hearing people be critical of WoW can best be summed up in one of his earlier in the comments over at Hardcore Casual. Oakstout wrote that “No need making WoW the bad guy, if your bored because you’ve done it all, its not WoW’s fault, its basically the players.”

So wait... It’s not Blizzard’s fault I got bored with the game, it’s mine? It’s my fault that it takes Blizzard 2+ years to release expansions? It’s my fault that the top end-game content is limited to a small % of the player base? It’s my fault that they don’t provide alternate progression paths or a deeper end-game that isn’t loot driven? It’s my fault they have introduced one battleground in two years? It’s my fault that most guilds can’t make the progression leap from 10-man to 25-man content? It’s my fault that all but a handful of crafted profession items are actually useful? It’s my fault that Rated PvP matches are limited to Team Deathmatch? It’s my fault that they haven’t updated any of the old world content to make leveling up another character fun?

It’s simply a fallacy to blame players for Blizzard not being able to continue to entertain their audience. I place the blame on lack of foresight and planning. For crying out loud, Blizzard hasn’t even fully planned out WotLK and it’s in beta, yet alone what’s the next expansion after that will provide. How can they possibly anticipate what will continue to keep the audience entertained 2 years from now if they don’t plan for it? I’m not saying this is easy, but with a subscription based MMO, you absolutely 100% have to be thinking about how to keep the majority of your audience entertained in both the near and far future. If you fail to do that, then you deserve every ounce of criticism that you receive.

Whether or not WAR will be a great game is really besides the point. The crux of the matter is that no matter how good Wrath of the Lich King is going to be, it’s simply not going to hold my interest for more than a few months. If WAR is what I hope it will be, then great – I know what I’ll be playing next year. If not, then maybe I’ll just watch more TV. Either way, I’m not going to be playing WoW and that is why they deserve the criticism.

Too little, too late indeed...

Same site address, slightly different name

I changed the title of this blog from “Confessions of a Serial Ganker” to simply “Serial Ganker”. I don’t really confess anything or run around talking about a bunch of ganking exploits, so I thought the “confessions” part needed to go. I will always think of myself as a Serial Ganker, so that part is staying. The evil part inside of me has always had fun at the expense of others. It’s one of the reasons that deep inside I know I’ll be going somewhere much warmer than I like when I die. I know others are the same way, just a little less honest with themselves about their true feelings. It’s worth pointing out that I also see a line between ganking and griefing. The line isn’t always visible but there is a big difference between simply having fun at someone else’s expense and being relentless about trying to make someone quit in frustration.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The illusion of reality

At my last job (IRL), my primary role was to project manage a team(s) to accomplish some very specific tasks that we were contracted to complete by various clients. While my main focus was to manage the team and “do the work,” the most important part of that job actually dealt with managing the client. It’s one of life’s ironies that it doesn’t matter if you are doing a great job if people don’t think you are doing a good job. The opposite also holds true, if people think you are doing a great job, then you are doing a great job even if you know you did a shitty one. This is a big reason why shameless self promotion and ass-kissing often leads to promotions.

Perception vs. Reality
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding. Reality is the state of things as they actually exist. We all have perceptions about everything around us. We simply need to become aware of something in order to start forming impressions. However, understanding how things truly exist is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The result is that our perceptions are very rarely the reality of a situation.

Plato told the allegory of the cave in which he depicted a scene where a prisoner lived his entire life chained to a chair and only able to watch shadows of puppets on a cave wall. While the shadows were only a manufactured truth, they were also the only reality known to the prisoner.

The allegory is a good one because it teaches us that our beliefs are a product of our perceptions, not a product of reality or the way things actually exist. If we work to undermine or change a perception, then we can even influence core beliefs. Marketers will tell you that beliefs are much stronger than perceptions. Beliefs provide bias that allow two people to view the same reality in wildly different ways.

How strong are beliefs? Well, how would you feel about buying Exxon Ice Cream, or Penzoil Yogurt? Does that sound disgusting? Would you even try it? I wouldn’t, nor would most people. It wouldn’t really matter if it were the best ice cream ever made – people simply wouldn’t buy it based on the associations of ice cream and oil. I know I just couldn’t help thinking that the ice cream would be somehow toxic or dirty.

The point is that reality is mostly irrelevant, particularly when dealing with a person’s opinion or subjective view of something. Happiness, for example, is not a measure of a particular thing, but a measure of your perceptions of such thing. Our beliefs and perceptions play a much larger role in what you think than the actual reality of the subject.

MMOs and Perceptions
Why is this relevant to MMOs? Because a successful MMO needs to manage the perceptions of hundreds of thousands (millions even) of players and potential players. Fail to manage those perceptions and they may start to form beliefs that you can’t easily change. I am consistently surprised by how many people in the MMO industry seemingly fail to understand this concept.

One of the more glaringly examples to me of this mismanagement are nerfs. I wrote an article earlier this month titled “Don’t nerf me, please...” in which I remarked that nerfs are fun for no one and particularly UN-fun to the guy getting the nerf. It amazes me that game companies would actively prefer to take things away from players rather than add things to players who are falling short. The result of a nerf (even a fair one) is that players are left dissatisfied because they perceive something has been taken from them. The act of balancing should be additive, not subtractive. Nerfing should be an act of last resort, not the lazy choice.

Most class changes in Warcraft seem to be a result of feedback (i.e. complaining) on the class forums. I do find it interesting that WAR doesn’t plan to offer any official forums. It reminds me a bit of an old joke but a good one: “I used to be happy with my class and then I started reading the class forums.” This is a great example of how other players are managing and influencing perceptions. Blizzard chooses to employ CMs to moderate the forums (and these perceptions), but they seemingly fail more often than they succeed. Most non-gaming companies handle announcements through carefully worded press releases. Blizzard CMs seem to drop bombs willy nilly with little to no thought. WAR’s strategy by contrast, of no forums and utilizing a newsletter provides a better measure of control. Granted, they can’t delete anti-WAR threads from the forums, but that type of censorship only leads to disaster.

I am the most critical of MMO developers and executives when they do interviews and again, I can’t help but contrast Blizzard’s ad hoc approach to Mythic’s very specific and calculated approach. Kalgan recently announced a Dire Cat form at WWI in Paris. It turns out that he was mistaken (!). Some Druid bloggers, like Big Bear Butt, were left wondering what else Kalgan lied about. By contrast, Paul Barnett’s and Mark Jacob’s recent interviews at E3 were incredibly succinct and professional. After reading many Blizzard interviews on Wrath, I have tended to get the impression that they all sit around smoking pot thinking “oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we did…” in some neverending brainstorm session. Whereas with Mythic, I get the feeling like there is a cohesive and unified direction and plan. Reality or not – this is my perception based on how both companies speak in interviews.

In fact, Mythic has done such a great job at PR that they may end up being a victim of their own success. As many have pointed out before me, the WAR hype machine is in full force and the problem with lots of hype is that it can set expectations unreasonably high. An expectation is your perception of what the future holds for a particular thing. If the eventual experience doesn’t match your expectation, then your actual perception can be quite negative even if the overall experience is enjoyable. In other words, if you don’t experience as much joy as you expected to experience, you can easily be left disappointed. In my old job, the rule of thumb was to under promise and overachieve. Mythic may be setting the bar so high that they can’t do anything but underachieve even if the game is great. We are already seeing a backlash of this with the recent capital city and class reductions. I’ll be very interested to see how fanboys (who have strong beliefs about WAR) will react if the game is not what they expected or wanted.

Where else do you think MMOs fall short in managing customer expectations?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How long will you play Wrath?

In contrast to all the positive spin the Wrath Beta is receiving, Syncaine over at Hardcore Casual forms a much different opinion. He wrote “[All WoTLK offers is] another few tiers of the same old raiding game [..], more grinding of a broken PvP system, and just ten levels of what actually made WoW great, questing and exploring new zones.” In fairness, Syncaine has expressed a pretty similar sentiment about Burning Crusade, so it really comes as no surprise that he is pretty critical of the WoW endgame.

And yet.. I found that simple statement echoes many of my thoughts about the upcoming expansion:

Another few tiers of the same old raiding game:
At it’s core, PvE remains relatively unchanged since the pre-BC game. Random loot drops will continue to cause the same gear progression woes and grinds we all have endured since the game was created. Boss/trash encounters will continue to be simply modified versions of something we have seen previously. I may be a bit jaded here, but I find that most boss fights can be described by simple terms like Tank & Spank or it’s like this guy except he does this like this other guy. Blizzard’s idea of spicing things up is to make “position” critical by having people dance to certain points at key phases or face instant-death. Big raids end-up being choreographed fights where you either play your clearly defined part or you wipe the whole group. The scenery on the episodes may change but the fundamental style and gameplay remains unchanged.

I completely 100% acknowledge that PvE raiding in Wrath will offer a 10-man and 25-man version of each raid instance. This is a great change and one that makes Raiding more accessible to people who could organize a Kara raid, but stumbled when making the transition to 25-man content. The downside is that while this is a good change, it is one step further removed from the truly Epic feeling that the 40-man content provided. In a Massive Multiplayer game like WoW, it’s a real shame that the best experiences come at the expense of requiring smaller groups. I can’t help but be critical and think that such problems are the result of poor game design.

More grinding of a broken PvP system:
WoW PvP boils down to two areas: Battlegrounds and Arena. Of the four available Battlegrounds, three of them were available at the level 60 end game. If you endured the Battleground grind at 60, you got to endure it again at 70. And guess what? You’ll get to endure it again at level 80!

Arena, the top-end PvP for WoW, is effectively Team Deathmatch. This proves to me more than anything else that Blizzard simply doesn’t understand what makes PvP fun. Arena is popular is because a) it provides Ratings, and b) it provides the best available PvP gear. The only reason they are even remotely successful is because the Rating system provides some measure of meaningful competition. However, the platform for that competition (Team Deathmatch) is an incredibly poor choice. I’ve maintained for quite a while that Rated Battlegrounds where you could pit Premades vs. Premades would be 1000x more enjoyable than Arena matches that are simply glorified Duels.

World PvP really doesn’t exist in WoW in any meaningful form. They are working to change that by introducing a new zone dedicated to PvP. The problem is that they are planning to use the same broken gear grind mechanics that exist in Battlegrounds. I wrote about more extensively earlier this month in my post titled Lake Wintergrind.

Just ten levels of what actually made WoW great, questing and exploring new zones:
Syncaine positions this as “just ten levels” and I think that sells the expansion a bit short. It’s not really “just ten levels” worth of content because the leveling speed will be considerably slower and the amount of content (including instances) at least as great as Burning Crusade. That’s quite a bit of content and a few months of playtime. For me personally, this is reason enough to buy the expansion.

But he hits on a key point. This really is the best part about WoW. The new quests, zones and story lines will continue to be interesting and fun to play. When I look back at my entire WoW career, I have to say that many of the highlights came while leveling my first character to 60, and then again when I went from 60-70. It was new, it was interesting and it was exciting. The last time I felt that way about the game is when Magister’s Terrace was released and that was only exciting until the third time I beat it on Heroic.

The problem with the best part of a game being new content is that eventually the content runs out. And that sums up my main concern about Wrath. I’ll certainly be playing the expansion and I’ll level at least one (possibly two) of my 70s to level 80. But what then? If I find that all the game offers me is the same boring endgame gear grinds that I already played at 60 and 70 – well, I just don’t think I am going to endure that again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blizzard to include FBI warning against Copyright Infringers?

The controversy
If you hadn’t heard yet, Blizzard effectively won it’s case against MDY (read the summary judgment). The central issue at the heart of the Blizzard v. MDY case has always been about copyright violation. It’s not about whether or not Glider users break the Terms of Use, because no one (not even MDY) has ever argued that they don’t break the TOU. No… the central issue has always been whether or not breaking the TOU is a copyright infringement or simply a breach of contract. If it’s a breach of contract, well then, third parties are allowed to interfere with contracts all the time. But copyright, unlike contract law, is heavily enforced with onerous restrictions and high statutory damages.

And that’s the rub… copyright law has such onerous restrictions and high statutory damages BECAUSE it’s so narrowly defined in scope. At the most basic level, if you copy or distribute something that is not yours, then that’s copyright violation. Because it’s that simple, our government feels comfortable with creating laws that include punitive penalties (such as fines) to enforce copyright. A ruling, like this one, potentially widens the scope tremendously because it allows software developers to side-step narrowly defined rules with anything they choose to put in a User Agreement. In other words, they can enforce a contract (which can say anything) with the all the weight of the laws and fines that protect copyright (which is only supposed to protect something very specific).

To be very clear, breaking a contract is not illegal. Violating copyright is illegal. The concern is that Blizzard just won a case that made violating the User Agreement illegal not just a breach of contract.

Imagine that you contracted someone to build you a cement swimming pool. Sometime after you both signed the contractual agreement, the price of cement triples in price. In your contract, you had agreed that materials (like cement) would be billed to you separately. After finding out that cement is three times what you expected, you decide you don’t want to build the swimming pool. You break the contract and the pool contractor sues you for breach. In turn, the court sides with the contractor and awards him damages based on the expenses he paid out for the work already performed. That sounds fair, right? Now imagine that in addition to recovering those expenses that he also gets all his own lawyer fees covered and that you have to pay $150,000 in punitive penalties.

Imagine software developers had a blank check to have whatever terms and conditions they choose to put in a contract enforceable by copyright law. In this case, it just happens that the breach is related to botting. However, what if it were something insane like “must wear a yellow sweater on Sundays” or “must pay $50,000 if used longer than 6 months.” And while Blizzard may not ever add something like that into a EULA or TOS, the idea that some software company is not above reproach for such tactics is ludicrous.

The decision
Judge Campbell wrote: “As an initial matter, the Court concludes that limitations on the license granted by Blizzard may be found in both the EULA and the TOU. [..] These contracts must therefore be read together.” At first glance, this appears to make the entire User Agreement enforceable under copyright. However, he clarifies that “When the EULA and TOU are considered in their entirety, the Court concludes that section 4 of the TOU [titled ‘Limitations on Your Use of the Service’] establishes limitations on the scope of the license and section 5 [titled ‘Rules of Conduct’] sets rules of the game as independent contract terms.”

While I can’t say that I am entirely happy with this conclusion, I do breathe a sigh of relief that he recognizes a distinction between terms that are limiting the scope of the license protected by copyright versus terms that are simply contractual obligations. It appears to leave the issue a little more open-ended with the merit of each individual term being brought into question rather than the “blank check” that many of us feared.

However, the other broader issue of how this impacts Third Party Integrators is not quite as rosy. Judge Campbell continued, “Users of Glider clearly violate the prohibition in section 4 against the use of ‘bots’ or any third-party software. [..] When WoW users employ Glider, therefore, they act outside the scope of the license [..] Copying the game client software to RAM while engaged in this unauthorized activity constitutes copyright infringement.

In other words, if the license agreement says that another program can’t interfere with a program loaded into memory – it’s a copyright infringement. When we are talking about Bots, most of us don’t want that type of thing to exist. But imagine if Windows had a section in the EULA that said only “Microsoft Certified” software programs are authorized to use the operating system. By Campbell’s interpretation, these types of limitations in scope are enforceable by COPYRIGHT law.

The reality is that such an interpretation simply stifles innovation. Third party integrators exist because the first party missed a niche or idea when they released a product. If the first party can simply come along and squash the third-party when they decide to compete, what is the incentive for third parties to make anything? The person who ultimately suffers is not the first party (or even the third party), but the end user customer who loses out on the innovation that is never created for fear of copyright infringement.

The whole “copy in RAM” idea is so completely asinine and beyond logic to me that I can’t believe it even enters into the discussion. It is my opinion that no such copy ever really exists because any use of the product implies such a copy must exist. It’s like arguing that you don’t have the right to listen to the copy of the music that plays between your ears and your brain. Loading a piece of software into memory is not making a copy because that’s the only way it possibly has any use or value to anyone.

Update: If you are interested in a more professional opinion on the decision, a copyright lawyer for Google wieghed in on the subject: “The court's holding on the copyright claims [permit] a chilling extension of control by copyright owners of software over copies of programs they have sold. [..]God help us if law is being reduced to such subjective, non-statutory grounds.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Warhammer chops out The Choppa

The big news today in Warhammer Online land is that they are scaling back on a few features they had planned on release.

First up, there will be a four fewer classes than they originally intended. This isn’t quite as big as deal as it sounds since there are a ton of classes in WAR and they are specific to a particular race. In fact, one of my concerns was actually too many classes, so in a way this might be a good thing. It appears that two of them are Tank types and two are Melee DPS. It sounded from the interview like the decision was made during beta partly as they observed which classes appeared to be getting love and attention from the users. Syncaine points out at Hardcore Casual that since they removed something no one has played, they took away from nothing.

I’m sure a year from now people will be ranting about how upset they are that they “took away my Choppa” but these things happen during testing all the time. If something isn’t working out, it’s better to get rid of it now than allow it to make live and have it suck. After watching countless hours of deleted scenes from movies on DVDs, I have come to the grand conclusion that there is a reason these scenes end up on the cutting room floor. They are edited out to make a better movie. So in similar fashion, I’m not surprised that something in beta test gets edited out of the game and suspect that it might actually be a good thing.

The other big change is really more of a delay. Of the six planned Capital cities, only two of them will be available at launch. The other six will come post-launch and presumably patched into the game. The official reason is that Mythic simply wanted to concentrate on making Capital cities as fun and interesting as possible and didn’t feel they could do all six the justice they deserved by the time they want to release the game. Mark Jacobs at Mythic defends the decision by remarking that cities are more than just “a place for people to hang out, buy stuff and run around making Chuck Norris jokes.” Capital cities play a huge role in the RvR as players literally conduct sieges against the enemy faction.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, because this is obviously disappointing. It’s a real bummer that four of the six races are homeless without a Capital city. I can’t help but think that players interested in a progressive story arc will feel like their story is truncated or out-of-place.

Now that being said, perhaps it’s a good thing. If it means that the product we get at release is more solid, that’s a good thing. If it means that the product gets to the market that much sooner, it’s a good thing. If it means that players have a more unified focus on defending and attacking two cities as they learn how to RvR, perhaps that’s a good thing as well. As Mark also points out, starting with two cities may allow Mythic to learn from the mistakes of early RvR rather than repeat the same mistake six times over because they didn’t know better.

So while I can’t say that I’m happy about learning WAR will be incomplete at launch, I can’t help but be thankful that they are smart enough to recognize that it should be incomplete if they want to provide the best long-term product possible.

One thing I found particularly interesting is that Mark Jacobs regrets over these two decisions is a contrast to mine. Mark says, “I wish we didn’t have to [cut the four classes]. I really do. Unlike the capital cities [which provided a silver lining in the end], I can honestly say that I really wish we didn’t have to cut them out, but it’s better for them to be cut out than to have classes that aren’t great.” Hmm. Is it just me or does that sound eerily like a movie director commenting about a deleted scene that he ‘just loved, but it didn’t fit in the movie’?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is it really stealing if you already own it?

One topic that periodically pops up in the MMO blogosphere is whether or not Blizzard plans to introduce a new subscriber-based MMO like World of Warcraft. Inevitably, whenever this subject pops up someone comments that Blizzard would never do such a thing because they wouldn’t want to steal subscribers away from WoW. Tracey John finally puts this debate to rest in an interview with two top Blizzard execs at the WWI in Paris.

Paul Sams, Chief Operating Officer
“The idea of doing games that could compete with World of Warcraft is something that I think a lot of people would say, ‘Geez you shouldn’t do that.’ [If our] developers come up with the next great game that they want to make and it’s an MMO, then we’ll do that. We would go about trying to make the best MMO of all time, and to try to eclipse World of Warcraft.”

Frank Pearce, Executive Vice President of Product Development
“At some point, some product’s going to come along and cannibalize the World of Warcraft player base, and if it’s going to happen, it’d be better for us to cannibalize our own player base compared to having another publisher do it.”

Thank you for finally putting this silly argument to rest, Tracey. Cannibalizing your own market to exercise greater control over the entire market is a very common and expected business practice. This is a huge reason that R&D exists. The expectation is that your competitors will try to make a place in the market and successful businesses will look to anticipate and counter such competitive threats. The idea that Blizzard would be close-minded about a new MMO simply because they already had an MMO is ludicrous.

That being said, I think Frank Pearce’s next comment that “[Our] hope is that Starcraft II and Diablo III will be games that can be enjoyed by our fans simultaneously with World of Warcraft” reveals quite a bit about the future plans for Warcraft. This tells me that at least for the foreseeable future, WoW is it for them as far as MMOs go. So while they would certainly be open to the idea of a new MMO, it’s not something that is remotely on the radar. The current strategy appears to be to continue to make WoW better through expansions and use game enhancements (like in-game chat, UI and addon performance improvements, etc) to evolve the existing game.

Honestly, if that’s the strategy, then they really need to increase the pace of the expansions. As I wrote in yesterday’s entry, WoW is fighting stagnation and I know that I personally am not going to endure more gear grinds or another long draught while I wait for new content. The next expansion has 4 months of my time, maybe 8 if I split it between that and another game like WAR.

So with that in mind, what exactly does another statement like this from Paul Sams say about WoW’s future pace of expansions: “I think that there will be a little bit less time [between product releases] but we’ll continue to take our time to make sure that they’re right. […] I don’t think our development cycles will shrink on any of the projects that are going on; it would just be that there’s more product flow.”

In other words, we can expect that additions to other product lines (like Starcraft and Diablo) will increase the overall frequency of product releases from Blizzard, but the development time taken on any one project (like a WoW expansion) will not shrink. So assuming an expansion is released in 2008, we won’t see the next one until 2010. I can only speak for myself, but there is just no way I am lasting until 2010 for World of Warcraft: Uprising of the Storm Queen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The end of the World (of Warcraft)

My last post provoked a few comments about WoW vs. Warhammer Online (WAR). A lot of people are looking at WAR as some type of “WoW Killer” and are predicting the end of the World of Warcraft. First, this presumes that WAR will be a good game in the first place. I hope that it is, but if it’s not… well, this whole discussion is a moot point anyway.

We already KNOW that WoW is a good game and that the Wrath of the Lich King expansion will be a success as a result. I will buy the expansion, I will level to 80, I will play a Death Knight, I will try Lake Winterspring and I will try my hand at the 10-man raiding. AND – I’m not alone. Most current WoW subscribers will do this as well. So at a bare minimum, WoTLK buys WoW three to four months of my time with or without Warhammer Online being a success on it’s own.

The bigger question for WoW is what happens after everyone spends that three to four months playing Wrath and reaches that plateau where Blizzard expect players to grind things out. I wrote a month or so back that the real WoW Killer is not another game, but stagnation. One expansion every 2+ years is going to slowly strangle out the love people have for this game. We get focused on the competition for WoW being another game when in reality it is competing with all forms of alternate entertainment. How many people will leave WoW simply to spend more time with the family? Or to watch TV or read books instead?

In the MMO world, many people like me, will turn to WAR as an alternative and give it a chance to win them over. As a marketer, that is a BAD thing. A really BAD thing. You simply never want to give your competition the opportunity to take and hold market share. If WAR releases before WoW, then that opportunity is HUGE. I realize that this is stating the obvious, but getting Wrath released before WAR is absolutely essential for Blizzard in continuing to secure market share. If I am a Blizzard executive, I am telling my staff that it is simply unacceptable to allow this to happen. If it does happen, and WAR is a good game, I expect WAR to capture quite a bit of the WoW audience.

As Hudson points out in my comments, the segment most at risk of turning to WAR is the PvP demographic. Now I am defining PvPers here as people who play first and foremost because they like PvP. It remains to be seen whether or not WAR will actually be able to convert entire guilds or any of the PvE crowd. To me, I think that’s the big unanswered question. I personally think we will end up with WAR as the MMO PvP choice and WoW as the MMO PvE choice. If that PvP segment makes up only make up 30% of WoW’s player base, then that number could very well be incredibly staggering.

In response to Hudson, Kirk commented that “ Warhammer Online has computer requirements that are too high for a large number of current WoW players to meet. They may WANT to go to WH, but they are stuck playing WoW.” I would agree with Kirk if he were talking about Age of Conan. However, my understanding is that WAR will actually have fairly reasonable system requirements. There will certainly be a % of players unable to migrate, but I don’t believe that the technical limitations will be so high that it will exclude the greater majority of the WoW community. I would also argue that PvPers as a demographic are more bleeding edge than the average WoW player. That’s just a theory, but I base it on the fact that for years the most competitive PvP games (largely in the FPS genre) have always had incredibly demanding system requirements. The unspoken doctrine is that the better your computer, the more competitive advantage you have against other players.

One other thing to consider is that a game based on PvP as it’s central core does not face the same types of issues as a PvE centric game like WoW. For a PvE game, the game content is the game. Run out of content, and you run out of game. As a result, you need to have long boring grinds to pace your community through the content. In a PvP centric game, the content is the conflict with the other players. As long as that conflict exists and there are players to fight and things to fight over, then the game never really ends. In other words, the people generate the content simply by virtue of competing against one another in a competition that has no end.

Now compare that vision of PvP to the one depicted by Blizzard with Lake Winterspring and I think you’ll see what I am so disappointed in it. From all I have read on the subject, WAR appears to be the PvP game I want to play. The game that makes PvP meaningful and long lasting. That doesn’t mean that it WILL be a good game, but if it is… well, that’s definitely going to be a big chip out of the MMO rock that is World of Warcraft.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Introducing Lake Wintergrind

Keen has a worthy read up about Lake Wintergrasp, Blizzard’s new all PvP zone in Wrath of the Lich King. Keen provides a great concise list of features or you can sift through the PvP Panel discussion at the WWI at WoW Insider.

The thing that really strikes me from reading Keen’s list is that Blizzard is making a ton of mistakes with Wintergrasp. Which is honestly very disappointing to me since I had a lot of hope for the concept. Until now, I have largely held back judgement until the details came out.

Lake Wintergrasp is WoW’s first non-battleground zone solely devoted to PvP action.

One thing that has been a concern of mine since I heard about the open zone has been faction balance. Most servers are not balanced 50-50, so one side is going to have a clear number advantage. Most of the time, this favors the side with the bigger population but you’ll find that the lower population side will start doing things as large groups in order to compete for world resources. The result is that there is either no one to fight, or an overwhelming force to fight. Either way, that’s not real fun.

Apparently, Blizzard will address the imbalance by having a fixed rolling schedule that “flips” the sides and/or provides additional resources to help out the losers. Those are reasonable fixes, so at least they realize it will be a problem. But I was a bit disappointed in the descriptions since they feel contrived and are obviously artificial fixes. I want to feel like I am fighting the other TEAM and not the mechanics of the game. Solutions like “flipping” (while fair) are not very transparent or seamless to the experience.

Wintergrasp Marks of Honor will drop in the zone. These marks are necessary for honor gear acquired through the Honor system.

Haven’t they learned their lesson yet? Please stop forcing people to play things who don’t want to play them. You could see this coming, but it is still disappointing. Blizzard simply follows the philosophy that “People in WoW do things for the reward. If there is no reward, than people won’t do them.” With PvP, that’s NOT really the case. People like PvP for the challenge of competing against other players. Those of us that like that challenge and have been yearning for more World PvP are not asking for it because we want a reward. To the contrary, we actually resent people who come to “help” that are only there for the reward. This equates to forced grouping and it simply sucks the fun out of something to have it treated like a grind.

Combined with the above faction imbalance problem and these two things are a recipe for disaster. You basically have a grind you need to endure in which you will either be constantly fighting overwhelming forces or struggling to find anyone. All the other neat things about Lake Winterspring is just a sugar-coated top to this very unsavory meal.

Update: I just saw this by Jasi over at World of Ming:

“Shard systems are crap, and once people finish getting their gear, the incentive for returning is gone and the zones die. Bad PVPers know this, good PVP'ers know this, and Blizzard knows it. When there is no other incentive besides a small amount of gear, fighting gets repetitive, Siege or not. There is no real sense of power, control, or domination that is exactly what is needed for players to actually want to compete, and continue doing so months later.”

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. PvP that stays enjoyable and lasts is about competition, not the rewards. It’s about people wanting to play against other people because living thinking people are better opponents than some NPC that has a predictable AI.

“One of the reasons that the Arena is remotely successful is that with the improved ratings, you now have a means of distinguishing your talent from other players.”

Ratings aren’t the only way to accomplish this, but as Jasi is pointing out – this works to some degree because it allows players to distinguish themselves. At a micro level, you also see this in Battlegrounds when people are competing to top the damage and killing blow charts. This is one reason that I am such an advocate for Rated Battlegrounds. As I have said in the past, it’s silly stupid that the only rated match type is the equivalent of Team Deathmatch when we could easily have Team Capture the Flag and Team Dominion.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Don't nerf me, please...

I’m starting to doubt another one of the infallible MMO doctrines: Class Balancing. While I think balance is a worthy goal, sometimes I think we get a little bit too caught up in the idea of fairness. Eric at Elder Game has the right of it I think:

“what’s important is that your game is fun, and you need to make that the primary goal of everything you do. If you have to nerf something, nerf the particular scenario, not the underlying system. Over-nerfing is the easy road, but not the road to fun.”

This is particularly true in Blizzard’s case where they are trying to class balance two completely different games in Arena and PvE Raiding. It’s hard enough trying to maintain some type of balance so that all classes are desirable in a Raid, let alone that they are “equal” in some kind of PvP scenario. In the Arena game by contrast, you have a bunch of classes that are rocks to your scissors. So while paper is just fine the way it is, you definitely think that rocks should be nerfed.

So of course, when YOU get the nerf because you are someone else’s rock than that just seems, well, damn unfair. And you know what, it IS unfair. You didn’t do anything to deserve that nerf. You are just having fun playing your character. The worst nerfs are the sweeping ones that impact some guy who wasn’t even overpowered in the first place because some tweaked out PvP god posted his 10K crit on YouTube.

Then you have the nerfs that happen because someone feels their PvE role is threatened. My favorite one here is the Feral Druid nerfs that followed the 2.0 patch. You had bunches and bunches of warriors in angst over their inability to “multi-tank” more than a handful of mobs. The “solution” was to make Druids a bit less useful at tanking and end-game itemization seemed to follow this trend in favor of Warriors.

The problem with nerfs is that it is fun for no one and is particularly UN-fun to the guy getting the nerf. Isn’t it ironic that in a game like WoW that every single class has been nerfed several times? It seems to me that if they had just left things alone and addressed specific scenarios or buffed up other classes to compete, that they would have achieved a form of balance without causing heartbreak via the nerfs.

I also can’t help but feel that all this “balancing” comes at the cost of them not spending more time working on actual NEW content. After all, if you are constantly fixing that which can never be completely fixed, then aren’t you just running in place? It seems to me that gets you nowhere near your actual destination.

The REAL irony to me is that the player community is not just some static ball but a living breathing thing that ADAPTS to the current environment. If there is an unbalance, people get used to it and worked around or with the imbalance. I’m not saying this is perfect, but what I am saying is that not every problem needs to be addressed immediately and with a nerf stick. In fact, quite the contrary, I would like to see imbalances addressed more often with POSITIVE additions.

The Druid story is a good one because a very significant portion of the Warrior population was very vocal about saying: Don’t Nerf Druids, Buff Warriors. The problem wasn’t that Druids were Overpowered in the eyes of Warriors, but that they were Underpowered. Nerfing the Druids didn’t actually solve the underlying issue and it eventually took positive changes to the Warrior talents to get the effect that Warriors wanted.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

2.4 Alterac Valley Strategy Guide

I wrote an article back in February called “The Truths about Alterac Valley” in which I wrote about that:
  • Faction and map imbalance means nothing in the face of good communication.
  • Helping the team win is simply about being in the right place at the right time.
  • You need to be well-geared to pwn face, but not to help your team win.
  • He who contributes most is not the one at the top of the damage or killing blow chart.
  • If you work at winning by communicating and not acting like a sheep, then you will win more games than not.
Twenty-five of your 40 players are sheep and run around on auto-pilot doing whatever everyone else is doing. 5 are AFK in the cave. The other 10 are the Difference Makers. These Difference Makers are the ones who win the AV for you. This article is about teaching YOU to be a difference maker.

The best strategy and map imbalance
Map Imbalance exists for each faction. There are advantages and disadvantages caused by the terrain for both sides. The best strategies take advantage of the imbalances that are in your favor and utilize them as strengths. Since the strengths are different for each faction, it makes sense that the best strategy for each faction would be different. For a detailed explanation of the map imbalances, read my earlier entry on “Truths about AV”.

The strategies I am going to recommend below are all winning strategies in PuGs. While I believe there is a BEST strategy, it’s less important that it be used than it is to simply get everyone to agree to follow the same strategy. You can play a part in this discussion early on by lending your support in BG chat when someone steps up with a winning plan. Some strategies are NOT winning strategies or simply require more coordination than is possible in a PuG. Do NOT endorse these strategies. The point is to help get consensus and make sure all the sheep do something useful. Endorsing a winning strategy in chat and shutting down the inevitable “we tried it that way last time and lost” crap will dramatically increase your odds of winning.

Difference Makers adapt to the strategy of the group and the strategy of the enemy. Remember that helping the team win is simply about being in the right place at the right time. It’s important for you to recognize where the sheep are headed and what they are doing. Then you go fill in the gap wherever the team is weakest. Keep in mind that it takes a good 5 minutes to run from one end of the map to the other, so you need to try and think that far ahead. It doesn’t do much good to run all the way to the other side to help kill the General when your General will be dead in 3 or 4 minutes.

Tactical objectives
An Alterac Valley match is won or lost when a team is reduced to zero reinforcements or a Faction General is killed. Here are the things that impact reinforcements and honor since Patch 2.3.
  • Faction General (Van or Drek) killed:
    -600 reinforcements (guaranteed loss), (+84 honor for enemy)
  • Faction Captain (Bal or Galv) killed:
    -100 reinforcements, -42 honor (+63 honor for enemy)
  • Any Tower/Bunker destroyed:
    -75 reinforcements, -42 honor (+63 honor for enemy), a Warmaster (or Marshall) disappears
  • Each player killed:
    -1 reinforcements, (+20.9 shared honor for enemy)
  • Wing Commander rescued:
    +21 honor if he returns to base
  • Control of a Mine:
    +1 reinforcement every 45 seconds
One popular misconception is that graveyards yield honor and reinforcements. They do not. Only towers, the captain, enemy players and mines impact the reinforcement total. The combined total of all four towers and the captain is 400 reinforcements. This means that a minimum of 200 enemy player deaths is required in order to win through reinforcements alone. Failing to cap a tower means an additional 75 kills are needed. It takes over 28 minutes of controlling two mines to equal the same value of one tower.

The importance of knowledge
I strongly encourage you to download and use an addon that provides timers on key Alterac Valley events. The one I use is called Capping, but there are plenty of others that do something similar. This is critical because it’s absolutely essential that you know what has been capped and how much time is left in order to prioritize where you will assist. It takes 10 seconds to cap, so trying to cap with less time than that is a waste of effort. As I wrote earlier, if there is 50 seconds left on something that is 41 or more seconds away – then it is pointless to go running after it.

Towers are the key to winning Alterac Valley. They are worth 75 reinforcements AND a Marshall (or Warmaster) waiting inside with your General. These NPCs increase each other's maximum health and maximum damage by 25%. It also stacks, so each NPC left alive dramatically increases the difficulty. It’s actually not too difficult to take out the General with three destroyed towers but damn near impossible with only two. In other words, keeping two towers defended virtually guarantees that you won’t lose because your General is killed. To underscore that point, I have only ever lost ONE match when we had two towers.

Alliance Strategy
The Alliance have two areas of strength in AV. The first is that the Stormpike base is very easily defended. The second is that most Horde chokepoints can be skipped. The result is that Alliance have an easier time simply running down the map, capping objectives and then getting inside the base than the Horde. If both sides go “all offense” the Alliance hold a significant advantage.

Everyone rush Frostwolf: The everyone rush Frostwolf strategy plays to the strength that Alliance can take and hold the Relief Hut with 10-15 players. It is a sound strategy, but only works well if Frostwolf is lightly defended or one very large group all goes together. It also absolutely requires that you get at least one of the two towers in the MIDDLE. As mentioned above, you can kill the General with three down but not two – so you need either Iceblood or Tower Point to cap in order to win. If a large group does head down to FW, then your role as a Difference Maker is to help cap and defend one of those two middle towers. If TP and IBT are both very well defended by your team, then join the group rushing FW Towers. It is actually quite helpful to take the Relief Hut first, then the FW Graveyard to keep the number of Horde able to rez at the Relief Hut as low as possible. I can’t stress how important it is to “go as a group” with people if the archers are still alive in the FW towers. If you go alone, one Horde hunter or rogue in greens can kill you while the towers rain down death. There is also a small gap on the right that you can take to run around the tower. This helps you avoid the choke in the middle and the towers have no LOS to attack you.

Recap Icewing Bunker/Stonehearth GY: The idea here is that the Alliance offense is encountering little resistance because the entire Horde team is off rushing to Stormpike. In a straight “rush to general” match, the Alliance have a decided advantage. Your role as a Difference Maker is to guarantee the win by recapping the middle two bunkers. Once the Horde have passed Icewing Bunker, head back to Stonehearth Graveyard and recap it. If you die, you will now rez close to a bunker. Next, head towards either Icewing or Stonehearth bunker and recap it. Keep in mind things like the number of other people helping you, number of defenders and time left on the bunker. Ideally, you want to recap both. Now – it doesn’t matter that you hold it, so much as it matters that you reset the time for the Horde to destroy it. You can be very effective just going back/forth between bunkers. In most cases, the Horde will often not have enough forces in the middle to take back a bunker once it’s been recapped.

Defend the Bridge: The best single chokepoint in the entire game is the Bridge of Death. In pre-2.3 games, this Bridge was the single biggest thorn in the side of the Horde. 15 Alliance defending this one location can hold off twice that number of Horde as long as the tower archers remain alive. If you are Hunter, you are super useful here in tossing down traps and flares. Now – the problem with the bridge strategy as it exists today is that it absolutely requires that you take out two enemy towers and Galv. If your entire team is on Defense, then you have already lost Icewing and Stonehearth. If you haven’t taken any enemy towers, then you are down 150 in reinforcements and need 150 more kills just to catch up. Chances are that if you are defending like this, your team is behind in kills not 150 above it. Your role as a Difference Maker is to get the hell out of there and cap a tower, preferably at least two. However, if your offense is doing quite well, then it might be a lot more useful to add your weight behind the handful of defenders at the bridge. Don’t let people take towers and make them fight ON the bridge as much as possible. It’s worth pointing out that if you have lots of defenders, this is a much more successful defensive strategy than recapping Icewing.

Skip Galv, Take Iceblood: This strategy is based on the idea that Galv is a low priority target that can be killed after you have established control of Iceblood GY, Iceblood Tower and Tower Point. This is a good strategy in the sense that Iceblood is one of the Horde’s two best chokepoints. Your role as a Decision Maker in this strategy is going to be to lend support to taking these objectives and then making sure they stay capped. Many of the sheep on your team are going to go after Galv regardless, so your help here will likely be needed. Be prepared that the Horde are going to fight you tooth and nail at Frostwolf. If your offense starts meeting quite a bit of resistance, you might want to recap some towers in the middle or recall to defend the Bridge and slow the Horde offense. Taking Iceblood early works because it helps secure the middle and pushes the Horde back to FW Graveyard.

The Turtle: A crushing blow at the hands of the Horde defense has the effect of sending your entire offense back to Stormpike. When this happens, it’s imperative that you get back to Stonehearth and recap the middle towers. The odds are good that this will become a Turtle and defending those middle objectives is the difference between a slow loss and a slow win. You are almost forced to take back Stonehearth GY and a battle line will be drawn around Icewing Bunker. Once this turtle settles into the Icewing area, you should break away from everyone else and help establish a new forward base. If you can’t stealth, then the most likely and easy to get candidate will be Frostwolf GY. If you and one or two others can manage to stealth into one of the FW towers, you might be able to cap one or both from behind while most of the Horde is off fighting the Turtle. Believe it or not, the Alliance having Snowfall GY during a turtle like this actually favors the Horde. They didn’t really want to Turtle you, just knock you back. Letting you have Snowfall relieves pressure from the chokepoint at Icewing but is still far enough out of the way that it doesn’t really provide much advantage.

The Reverse Turtle: This strategy is almost a combination of two strategies: Take Iceblood and Defend Icewing. No one really plans this strategy, it just develops because the offense stalls. The idea being that defense will defend Stonehearth and Balinda, then recap Icewing and Stonehearth bunkers. Meanwhile, your offense controls the Iceblood GY and two nearby Horde towers (IBT and TP). The result is that all of the Horde will pop up around FW Graveyard and be bottlenecked at IB GY. The group that recapped Icewing/Stonehearth can now move down to kill Galv (if he’s still alive). When that is done, they will bottleneck the IB GY and the rest of the Alliance will push down. Stealth classes (rogues/druids) should push into the towers while the rest of the offense keeps the now countless Horde occupied. This is a war of attrition. Your role as a difference maker will most likely be in defending the towers at IBT and TP since these will undoubtedly come under heavy fire by the Horde rezzing at FW GY. One way to relieve the pressure of this reverse turtle is to allow Iceblood GY to get recapped by the Horde once you have enough towers down to defeat Drek. Defenders will be pushed north as they rez but will have insufficient time to cap towers and kill Van.

Horde Strategy
The advantage for the Horde is that they have an easier time defending the four middle towers. The Horde are given Stonehearth Graveyard with little to no contest almost by default. Any Alliance killed early on are sent all the way back to Stormpike and have to wait 4 minutes for Snowfall to cap. Horde almost always have Iceblood Graveyard until Galv and Iceblood Tower are both capped. The net effect of having a GY near the towers gives the Horde a decided advantage in capping and re-capping the middle four towers. When you also consider that the people sent to Stormpike are also plagued by the incoming Horde, then it becomes that much more difficult for Alliance to counter-attack the middle. It’s also worth noting that while the Frostwolf Towers are not as good a chokepoint as the Bride of Death, it is still a very powerful chokepoint and even 5 defenders can easily take groups that don’t rush in together.

Everyone rush Stormpike Graveyard: As mentioned previously, if both sides go “all offense” the Alliance hold a significant advantage. This a very popular strategy that fails far more often than it wins. The reason is simply that the Horde have more obstacles and NPCs to overcome in taking the towers. Think of it this way – Alliance can run up a tower, skip archers and cap the flag. In two of the bunkers, the Horde must first kill or occupy at least one archer in order to cap the tower flag. Also since bunker archers can shoot you inside the room, it takes less Alliance to guard one of these bunkers. In addition, every time an Alliance dies early in the game they go back to Stormpike Aid Station and you’ll face them as you cross the bridge. So if the Horde offer no defense at all, they are most assuredly going to go lose any “race” to cap the North and South Bunkers before the Alliance caps the two Frostwolf Towers. The best thing you can do as a Difference Maker is therefore to slow the Alliance down using one of the below defensive strategies.

Everyone rush the Aid Station: This is marginally better than the Stormpike Graveyard strategy because the Alliance respawns end up on the wrong side of the Bridge of Death. However, it requires a very coordinated group to pull it off and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a party of friends with you to help. To do this effectively, you need to avoid Alliance follow a very specific route that minimizes the traffic you might encounter. As you rush forward and reach Icewing Bunker, veer RIGHT through the TREES instead of going downhill following the road. Instead, of taking the road, you will go up a narrow gully in the mountains and come out right next to the shed where you find Jeztor. From here, you can go straight along the high road that leads to the Alliance cave. Then ride past the fallen log above the Stormpike spawn point and towards the mine. You’ll come out behind the Graveyard flag and can run past the choke to the bridge. Once across, veer LEFT around the backside of the South Bunker to LOS yourself from the archers. Then head straight from the backside directly to the Aid Station flag. Done correctly and you’ll take only a few shots from the Archers and not aggro a single NPC. If five of you do it, then you will most assuredly cap the Aid Station and can then proceed to cap the North and South Bunkers. At no point should you fight on the road or fight on the bridge. Only fight on flags. If your offense is non-existent or struggling, this is the best way to get an offense going or simply bust past an Alliance Turtle.

Defense meet at Galv: Back in the days before Burning Crusade, one of the best ways to beat the Alliance was to defend Galv. Unlike Balinda, Galv is easily defended because he needs a proper tank. Kill or CC the tank or tanks and then watch the other team crumble. Even so, he’s still much easier to kill than the Generals, so at least 10 people are needed here in order to ensure that the Alliance will be defeated. The thing about a Galv victory is that it decimates the Alliance offense and sends them all back to Stormpike. As long as the Horde don’t recap Snowfall, you can cap the middle Bunkers and keep all four of their Towers. Once Snowfall does cap, this relieves the Turtle and it’s up to the Horde offense to make a strong push for the North and South Bunkers. The danger in this strategy is that the part of the Alliance skip Galv and take Iceblood Graveyard or that the Horde offense get badly defeated by the returning Alliance. It’s quite possible for this to slow the game down overall, but not slow down the outcome when the Alliance come back and recap all the objectives around Stonehearth. This strategy is pretty unpredictable and can result in anything from an Alliance shutout to a long drawn out Horde loss.

Defend Frostwolf: No, not the Graveyard. Not the Relief Hut, either. The Frostwolf Towers. As I noted above, the Horde don’t have a chokepoint like the Bridge, but they DO have a pretty powerful choke at Frostwolf Towers. There is basically what amounts to a killing zone between the two towers in which all the Tower archers can rain down a bunch of pain on the Alliance. Anyone foolhardy enough to ride through by themselves is quickly killed if they are slowed or stunned in any way. Large groups riding through should be slowed in mass (Hunters!) and specific targets like healers and cloth types should be singled out for stuns or other loss of control abilities that don’t break with damage. A team of 4 or 5 can dispatch 15 Alliance that come through in smaller groups at short 45-90 second intervals. Now, the killing zone is the hotspot, but you absolutely have to make sure that no one caps the towers or the Relief Hut. Fight as much as you can beneath the towers and actively target anyone trying to enter. The same group of 4 or 5 can get spread out trying to take back objectives, so stick together as much as possible. The biggest danger are stealth classes ninja’ing something and spreading out your small group of defenders. It’s not real important that Frostwolf Graveyard is controlled as a spawn point, but it IS important that the Alliance don’t cap it 100%. The reason is that once FW GY caps, the defenders are going to see significantly more pressure as large groups come at them spaced in 30 second intervals. As a current Horde player, participating as a Frostwolf defender is one of my favorite place to be because even a small number of people there can make a big difference. You also chalk up a ton of Honorable Kills in the process as the Alliance pound themselves against a wall of swords. The frustrating part about your role here is twofold. The first fold is that if the Offense stalls, then this match becomes the Reverse Turtle described above under Alliance strategies. And if you are killing lots of Alliance at Frostwolf early then your Offense gets to fight all of them at Stormpike. The second thing is that you are just giving up on Tower Point and Iceblood, so if you fail at Frostwolf then you are going to lose.

Recap the Middle: This is the strongest defensive strategy that has the least probability of developing into any form of Alliance or Horde turtle. The basic idea the defense helps the offense achieve some of the middle objectives (like killing Balinda and capping Stonehearth Graveyard) and then reforms as they retake Iceblood Graveyard, Iceblood Tower and Tower Point. The goal is that the Alliance offense has largely moved past those objectives and onto Frostwolf. The critical thing here is that you MUST take back two towers. Only taking back one tower is not going to be enough to keep the Alliance from killing Drek. It’s not 100% important that you maintain control of them, just that you can keep recapping them as needed. A group of 5 moving back and forth from Tower Point to Iceblood Tower can stall the Alliance for quite a while, particularly if there are one or two back with Drek causing interference. If your recap group is particularly strong (possibly because the Offense got decimated) then the whole group might have a lot of success heading back down and retaking Frostwolf. It’s also worth pointing out that an alternate strategy is to FIRST try to defend Frostwolf and then recap middle if you get overrun.