Monday, March 31, 2008

Magister’s Terrace Revisited

Tobold wrote an article about his impressions of Magister’s Terrace. I wrote mine a few days ago and came to a similar conclusion that crowd control is a top priority. BUT – I have since had a chance to digest it several more times on both Normal and Heroic difficulty and I have decided that it is quite a bit less important than I first thought. As with anything, I think it’s more difficult when you first try it and don’t know what to expect. Crowd control is a bit of a crutch in that it simplifies the situation. If you have 5 mobs to pull and you take three of them out of the picture – then it’s really just a 2 pull and is dramatically easier. Of course, your group could likely handle 4 mobs pretty handedly under the right situation with a decent understanding of which mobs do what and a good strategy for handling the situation. Under those circumstances, I believe you can easily beat this instance with only 1 or two crowd controlling classes. In other words, a leader who marks well can more than make up for any lack of “proper” crowd control.

Speaking from personal experience, my smoothest Heroic run yet was with a Druid tank, a Paladin Healer, an enhancement Shaman, a Warlock, and myself – a Rogue. Noticeably absent from that group is a mage. I’ve noticed that, in the LFG channel, mages seem to be in as high a demand for this instance as Healers – perhaps more so, actually. Tanks of course, are the hardest to find – but my oh my mages are in demand. My problem with that is simple: Quality Control. With such a high demand for Mages, your odds of getting a crappy player are much higher than with that of another class that has a bigger pool of available players. Ironically, I find that Warlocks (in particular) are a FAR superior choice for crowd control in this instance than a Mage and I see far more Warlocks having trouble finding a group.

Don’t get me wrong. Mages are excellent at what they do. That’s why there is such a high demand. But I’d rather take the well-geared Shaman who is the better player over the lousy mage. Oh sure, your sheep is helpful – but if you suck – why should I take you over someone who doesn’t suck? In the end, you are just going to cause me more problems. Shamans in particular, are interesting to me in that they often seem like the odd duck out in the “group” equation. The funny thing is that every time I actually DO group with a Shaman – it’s an easier run. There is something intangible about the group benefit the Shaman provides that outweighs the more obvious shortcomings. The opposite is true with a lot of Mages. It seems like the run should be easier, but it ends up being more difficult than you expected.

One thing I noticed about Heroic Magister’s Terrace is that it’s not that much more difficult than normal mode. The six pull I dreaded on Heroic turned out to be only a five pull. It’s really no different than the trash around the 5v5 event. With the exception of the extra Pure Energy spawns and Kael’s Pyroblast, the only differences I notice in the bosses is about a 75% increase in HP and a 30% increase in damage. Although Selin does do a Mana Drain now (big whoop!).

A couple of groups I have done seem to like to enter a debate about kill order for the trash. I think there are few ways to handle it that vary with your group composition, but generally speaking:

You need to deal with the Blood Knights right away due to the heals. They hit like pansies, have a large amount of armor and a very quick-to-cast (but not instant, so it can be interrupted) Heal. I have found that crowd control works best on these guys.

Warlocks and Magister’s hit the hardest, but Warlocks appear to be the quicker kill. My groups have typically skulled the Warlock and crowd controlled the Magister. The Imps have little HP, so just designate one person in your party to pick them off quick.

The Succubi can crowd control one of you, so this is where having a Warlock of your own to Banish helps. Otherwise, I have found that taking the Succubi down after the Warlock is smart.

The Physicians have an instant cast heal, so these need to be dealt with right away. These are worth skulling over the Warlocks and I like to keep them stun-locked until they are down.

The Mage Guards drop the magic dampening domes and have annoying cleave-like ability that has a stun called Glaive throw. As annoying as it is, they are a lower priority and can be tanked.

Likewise, the Smuggler’s can blink and cast an AOE Arcane Explosion. It is incredibly annoying and your first reaction may be to scream for crowd control. However, they can also be tanked and are not likely to do enough damage to wipe you.

The Naga Witches are the lowest priority and are typically killed in the middle while other things are crowd controlled.

There is this movement out there to call Magister’s Terrace by the abbreviation MrT instead of something that makes sense like MgT. The whole premise is that “it’s tough, like MrT, Fool!” Umm. Well, it’s not that tough, so I have started my own movement that goes like this: If you think it is tough, then go ahead and call it MrT. If not, call it MgT. Personally, I wouldn’t want people thinking I thought it tough – so I’ll stick to calling in MgT.

Update on my Merchant profession: Primal Nethers dropped briefly to 30g this weekend and then rose up to 38-40g. Hard to say what is going to happen, but I expect the market to stabilize in a couple of weeks. Best guess is that market will be around 40g. Void Crystals and Large Shard have both DROPPED like a rock. Of course, it’s been less than a week since the patch and I still think this will average out around 30-35g per Void. So far, I’m getting proved wrong – but haven’t lost any gold on the deal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How to roll a Merchant in Warcraft

An article titled, “What Can Virtual-World Economists Tell Us about Real-World Economies?” can be found over at Scientific American that interviews an economist employed by Eve Online to monitor the player created economy in the game. The fact that they employ a real economist for this purpose is interesting in and of itself, but I mostly want to remark on the article because of something I read that fit very closely with something I wanted to write about. To quote the article:

Just as in real-world markets, in-game prices are sensitive to the law of supply and demand. Prior to Gu├░mundsson's arrival, a new asteroid belt was seeded with an abnormally high level of the usually rare mineral zydrine. Prices dropped for six months until the ore sold for half its normal cost. The developers then updated the game so that less zydrine could be refined from other compounds. In the meantime, players began to stockpile the mineral until the price leveled out, which Gu├░mundsson points to as proof of a working economy.

The striking part of that blurb to me is “players began to stockpile the mineral until the price leveled out”. Why is this relevant? Well, recent changes in patch 2.4 significantly altered the economies of several profession reagents. In particular, Primal Nethers are no longer soulbound and Void Crystals can be split into two Large Prismatic Shards.

I watch the markets on about 10 or 12 different craft items fairly closely. These are my “stock in trade” and what I harvest and sell for profit on the Auction House. A month or so ago when I heard about the patch changes, I also started monitoring Void Crystals in anticipation of a price increase. A month earlier, the price on Voids ran about 20g per crystal on average on my server. Anything that went for 18g or less, I bought. As the patch grew closer (particularly within the last week) the price of Voids rose to about 25g on average – I continued to buy anything on the market for 20g per Void. Prior to the patch, a Primal Nether went for 100-200g depending on the item you were crafting.

Needless to say, I was very interested in what would happen to the prices of these items when I logged in after the patch. As predicted, the Voids were already listed at 10g above the price the previous night and the lowest priced Voids on the Auction House were running 35g. Since then, they have dropped to an average of about 28-30g per crystal and the Large Shards are holding their price at around 25g. This makes sense because the recipe to break the Shard requires an enchanter to be Honored with the Shattered Sun Offensive. Enchanters that get it the earliest will make the largest profit until most enchanters have the pattern and prices begin to equalize.

Primal Nethers, on the other hand, were selling at a dismal 30-35g and there were A LOT of them listed on the Auction House. My immediate reaction to the Primal Nethers was shock. I expected a discount, but I wasn’t expecting a 65% discount. Then it occurred to me – these were new items to the market and many people (including non-crafters) had been stockpiling in anticipation of the 2.4 patch. The net result is that the market simply flooded with Nethers that had previously just been taking up bank space. And so my second reaction was – BUY BUY BUY and I grabbed up 10 at the 30-33g price. My speculation here is that once the initial flood is off the market, the price will rise on Nethers. Also consider that the new patterns introduced with the patch will take up to 4 Primal Nethers, rather than just one which was typical in the older patterns.

To further support the idea of rising prices, consider this – How many more dailys got introduced with Patch 2.4? Oh, and what’s the limit on the dailys now? Hmm. And how do you think all the gold from those quests will impact the economy? *raises hand* That’s right. Inflation. With no new “gold sink” mechanic introduced in 2.4, the net effect of all that quest gold is going to be inflationary and average prices are going to go up accordingly.

The other topic worth covering here briefly is how I make money on the Auction House. The premise here is actually very simple. Watch the prices on just a handful of items. I stick to those I farm since I am selling those anyway. The trick is to learn the “market” for the item and to pick an item that is traded in frequently.

A “high volume” item is really key here because it needs to be something that is bought frequently. Trading in items that only sell a handful every week is not profitable and you risk being undercut. Enchanting mats are a good example of a high value, high volume items. If the volume is significant enough, you don’t risk not being able to sell your product.

You make the MOST money when someone decides to flood the market. Why? Because you buy up almost everything below your SELL price and relist at the SELL price. Effectively, you are acting to CORRECT the market back to normal levels. Your stockpile will eventually dwindle back down as people buy the items. This means that you must have a decent pool of money to start and a willingness to stock items that are bargains. If you don’t have a lot of money to start, then choose something cheap that sells often. Even a level 40 toon can become a Wool or Silk cloth tycoon.

Again, it is imperative that you choose a high volume item and you know the “going rate” for it in order to minimize your risk of selling off the extra stock. If you don’t have the resources (gold) to correct the market, then wait it out and let the market correct itself. Most importantly, you must have faith that if you bought the item at a low price – worst case scenario says that you could sell it again for that low price.

Interestingly, if you find that you have a considerable stockpile and prices are low, then one strategy is to flood the market yourself. Most people just want to sell what they have and make an instant profit at it, so they sell at or around the lowest listed price on the Auction House hoping it will sell quickly. Your goal is not to be the very lowest price or to sell many at this price, but to force your competitors to drive down the current market price. I’ve actually continually kept this tactic up until I drove the price down to near vendor levels. Once it is at a really low price, buy up everything on the market and cancel your own auctions. Then relist a moderate amount at or slightly below the normal market price. Yes, your stockpile just grew even bigger, but the price of the average item in your inventory was lowered significantly. This is risky, so I would caution you to make sure that the market is otherwise stable and nothing abnormal (like a patch with new content) has recently happened.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

And then some guys Dad chimes in…

I’ve been following the case between MDY and Blizzard pretty closely and certainly have my opinions. There is a lengthy discussion going on over on at Broken Toys and while I chirmped in my $0.02, the commenter Freakazoid had the best take on the discussion:

I cannot possibly find a big enough rolleyes emote for the armchair lawyering going on in here.

And then about 25 comments later, CiscoKid’s Dad chimed in with this insightful commentary:

Re: Triforcer.

I could not disagree with you more. I have been an IP lawyer for over 22 years, I rarely play video games, but my kids are big WoW players. I have read both briefs and I personally think Blizzard is up a creek on this one. To me, Blizzard cannot rebut three simple points that MDY eloquently raised in its brief: (1) simply adding a term to a EULA that makes something a violation of the EULA cannot turn a violation of that term into a copyright infringement, (2) if you circumvent a technological measure, the measure has to be protecting someone from infringing an exclusive right under the copyright act (Warden and Scan.dll do not), and (3) there must be some malicious intent to harm Blizzard by MDY (simply wanting to make a profit by using a game that interferes with a contract is not malicious, especially if the person is a competitor). People are allowed to interfere with contracts. They cannot interefere tortiously and my reading of the brief shows that MDY has to have “malice”. Making a piece of software for profit that might harm someone else indirectly is not malicious, especially , as MDY’s brief points out, if that person depends on the interfered party. It happens all the time.

MDY’s citation to Chamberlain and Storage Tech are right on point because, as MDY points out in its brief, Blizzard is trying to use the copyright laws to police its business model. That’s not what copyright law does. The proper enforcement of a business model is through contracts. The only reason why Blizzard is trying to use copyright is to try to fool the judge into thinking that software is somehow different than if WoW was played as a big MMORPG board game. If WoW were a board game and Blizzard said that if you didn’t play WoW with a WoW hat on while you play the game, would they be able to sue for copyright infringement if someone wasn’t wearing a WoW cap but played the game anyway? I think not. Blizzard relies on Ticketmaster v. RMG which is a horrible decision by a judge who didn’t understand the DMCA and it has no controlling effect on the matter since it is a California district court case.

In my opinion, if MDY loses this case, it would shock me.

Uh.. I think I’d like to take back my earlier statements that I think Blizzard is going to win this one. In my own armchair lawyering, I deduced that the motive for the harm MDY causes Blizzard is astoundingly obvious – profit. However, as CiscoKid’s dad points out – simply wanting to make a profit is not the malicious motive required to constitute as tortious interference. Quite the contrary, MDY’s product is inherently dependent upon the success of Blizzard’s game and even advertises other sites where their customers can purchase WoW licenses and game cards. Without WoW subscribers, there would be no Glider subscribers.

In other words, MDY has no contractual obligations to obey Blizzard’s EULA agreement. That contract agreement is only made between the subscriber and Blizzard. As a third party, MDY is not subject to the terms of that contract and the burden is on Blizzard to prove malicious intent to intefere with the contract. This means that while Blizzard has a very clear case against subscribers who break the EULA contract, they have no reasonable legal recourse to pursue MDY for the contractual violations caused by Glider customers.

If that interpretation is correct, then the only avenue left for Blizzard is to pursue copyright infringement. And as I pointed out in my previous post, the result of that decision could have much more sweeping ramifications than just a video game. I’m certainly no lawyer, but I do take an interest in IP laws and I am certainly very opinionated about how our laws should work. In practice, they may work very differently because of legalese, but that doesn’t mean I can’t express my opinion about what is right and wrong.

Traffic Jam at Sunwell Isle

Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard said several weeks ago when talking about the next expansion that ‘they learned from Burning Crusade that having a single point of entry into Outland was a bad design’ and that Wrath will have multiple entry points to Northrend. Anyone else find this statement highly ironic considering the latest patch and the single point of entry to Sunwell Isle?

I only have one word to describe yesterday on my highly populated PvP server: Mayhem. Shortly after patch download, the Sunwell area was completely flooded with both factions all competing to complete the first two dailys that are unlocked. Luckily, these two are quickly completed and the competition wasn’t terribly fierce. It’s also worth noting that 500 level 70s in the same general area causes incredibly horrible lag. My only comment on the quests here is that they were VERY simple. Too simple. My guess is that while this is something I don’t appreciate now, I’ll have a much different opinion after I do them for the 15th time.

The next questline for the new dailys teleports you to Hellfire Peninsula where you will find two more quests. The flaming ball of fire one is easy. You don’t even need to kill the elementals, just be around them when they die and your spark gets bigger. BUT – the other quest is VERY badly designed due to the horrible spawn rate of the Felbloods. It is pretty easy to get the blood to power your device, but with a hundred other people hunting for the Felbloods, you practically have to be standing on the spawn point when it spawns in order to grab the mob. I eventually left the area in frustration after having only two of my four completed.

Things were relatively peaceful between the factions early in the day while people explored around a bit. Later in the evening, many people had finished the daily and exploring and were just waiting for an instance group. That’s when it started to get a little surly between the factions at Sunwell and I don’t envy anyone trying to get those quests completed later in the day.

If I ignore all the congestion for a moment, I can see that the changes actually have a lot of polish and I like how the story arc is going to wrap up Burning Crusade and lead up to Wrath. The first day was disappointing, but if I wipe off the dirt a bit I can see the gem underneath. My issue is that all the congestion isn’t going to go away. It might slacken a bit, but for the forseeable future it is going to continue to be a very crowded place. At least when BC released, the congestion only lasted the first zone until people got a chance to spread out into the other zones. In a way, Sunwell Isle is the launching point to Wrath of the Lich, so it seems to me that Blizzard didn’t really learn from that lesson after all.

About the instance, Magister’s Terrace: I did a full run on normal last night. No heroic yet, just the normal version to get a feel for the dungeon. I’ll likely run it a few more times on normal before attempting Heroic. I like doing new dungeons with no prior knowledge and with no one else in the group having experience. It causes more wipes, but part of the challenge and fun is learning the instance.

My overall impression is that it’s fun, but perhaps a bit long. I think being able to jump off the balcony as a shortcut would have been a nice touch. The first and third bosses were pretty trivial. The second boss is – tricky. As melee DPS positioned behind the boss, I couldn’t really see what was happening with the adds. My big recommendation to our group was keeping us on the move whenever he spawned the adds (pure energy) and keeping our biggest range DPS focused on the adds until they died. They do an AOE attack, so keeping your distance from them is critical. Once he overloads, thump him fast. We got him on our third shot with this strategy, so that seemed to work.

Kael is the toughest, but I really like the phases make this a fun fight. Our hunter was gimped, so the entire run was a little more difficult than it needed to be, but overall it was good. I’m not looking forward to that six mob pull on Heroic. That pull alone is likely reason enough to never bring a DPS who can’t CC to the Heroic instance. Warlocks are actually really helpful on that pull because they can seduce and banish.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blizzard, MDY, the DMCA, and You!

I take particular issue with Blizzard’s interpretation of how the DMCA should be applied for copyright infringement against a botting program. If they win, it sets a bad precedent for IP and Copyright law that potentially strangles future innovation and competition. The DMCA is intended to protect companies from the unauthorized distribution of their intellectual property. To quote MDY’s legal argument:

Congress did not enact the DMCA as a way for businesses to use the copyright laws to enforce their business models or license agreements. (…) The DMCA does not extend to every act of electronic circumvention. The DMCA extends only to efforts to circumvent measures that enable access to a forbidden place and thereby facilitate ―digital trespass. (…) DMCA liability does not attach -- when efforts to circumvent technological protection merely enables rightful access to a protected work for the purpose of using it for its intended purpose (without copying, making derivative works, or distributing the work).

This is not about botting. It’s about how a business should be allowed to apply the DMCA to enforce copyright. Check your knee-jerk fanboi reaction at the door for a moment and think about issues a bit bigger than a video game. And in plain terms, this is WAY outside of the scope of what the DCMA is intended to protect. Blizzard’s EULA and TOS agreement have nothing to do with copyright and their legal argument should be restricted to enforcing those contractual agreements, not copyright. Should they win this point, the precedent could be used later to enforce copyright law on things that have nothing to do with the video game industry. For example, it could easily extend to a third-party product that circumvents protection on your cell phone to provide some functionality your current provider doesn’t even offer.

I believe Blizzard can and will win this case based solely on the contention that “MDY knew that the use of its Glider software with Blizzard‘s WoW game client violated Blizzard‘s EULA and TOU. MDY‘s acts of offering its Glider software for sale to Blizzard‘s licensees tortiously interfered with the contracts between Blizzard and its licensees.” I have yet to read any response from MDY that effectively counters this complaint. MDY knowingly encouraged players to break contract with Blizzard. Period. In the end, I think that simple inarguably fact leads to the inevitable conclusion that MDY can and does cause Blizzard harm. In fact, I find MDY’s response to this claim in the summary judgment to be laughable:

Blizzard does not have requisite evidence to support three of the five elements, namely that:
1. MDY acted improperly as to motive or means;
2. MDY intentionally interfered by causing a breach; and,
3. MDY‘s actually caused damage to Blizzard

Are they joking? Motive is simple enough – Glider customers must break the EULA to use the product. Ergo, MDY profits from Glider license sales and has motive to encourage users to break the agreement. Likewise, they intentionally motivate customers to breach contract in order to sell the product and even market “protection” against Warden and other means of detection. Thirdly, harm caused to Blizzard comes in the form of Blizzard losing subscription revenue when it enforces it’s EULA contract with the licensee who violated the terms. The alternative, not enforcing the contract, would cause a greater harm in community perception and lack of faith in the product.

In the end, you don’t have to win all points – just the few that matter. And in my mind, that one matters most of all.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Leveling addons and other pointers

I have a few pointers on addons that are very helpful for leveling an alt or a character on a new server. The assumption here is that you have already played the game and experienced the content once, so this is just some advice on getting to 70 and the end game as quickly as possible. I’m limiting this discussion on addons to just those that I find most helpful while leveling.

Cartographer - Allows you to resize your map, record notes, set waypoints and display your notes on the minimap. Mostly however, we want this addon for the waypoint integration it provides with LightHeaded and MobMap. An optional download for Cartographer is Quest Objectives which will record quest updates for future alts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a built-in database but the objectives show themselves nicely on your mini-map.

MobMap - Provides an IN-GAME database of mob locations, mob drops, quest nodes, recipes, NPCs, and vendors. This is basically like Wowhead but it doesn’t require alt-tabbing and it hooks to your questlog and quest watcher, so you just need to click the [?] and it will visually show you the location. Click one of the white dots representing the location and it will create it Cartographer waypoint. This is essentially an Arrow that provides a direction heading and distance to that waypoint. Right-clicking the Arrow will open an option for you to cycle through waypoints and choose the one closest to your current location.

LightHeaded - What MobMap doesn’t provide are the comments people make about quests on Wowhead. LightHeaded is simply a database of all these Wowhead comments provided IN-GAME and is also attached to your questlog. The combination of the two addons provides both the locations and the comments with no need to alt-tab to your internet browser. More importantly however, is that if you have Cartographer installed, the location coordinates in the comments are highlighted as links. Clicking the link opens a waypoint!

QuestFu - There are a few addons that provide much of the functionality that QuestFu provides, so if you have one you already (like MonkeyQuest) then no need to change. While QuestFu is technically a plugin for FuBar, it can also act as a stand-alone addon that simply attaches to your mini-map. My favorite feature of this addon is that it tells me in the tooltip how many more of that particular mob or item drop. It serves as not only a reminder as to what I need to do, but it also points out the quest that it is needed. Another option that I like (at times) is the “Announce” feature. By default, this is turned off but you can set it up to announce to your party when an objective is completed or updated. This makes it very easy for two people to party together and know how many of a particular thing are still needed.

GarbageFu - Like QuestsFu, there are plenty of addons that offer similar functionality. All this addon does is sell all your grays (or other items you specify) whenever you visit the vendor. I always visit a vendor to repair and sell the grays, then go to the Auction House to sell off whatever is leftover.

Auctioneer Pack - Auctioneer is not something I would typically advocate as helpful in terms of leveling speed, but there are a couple of very useful features that it provides that do help considerably.

First, the addon Informant is included as part of the Auctioneer pack and provides a nice little database of item values and such. When completing quests that have no obvious beneficial reward, this can be used to simply pick the item that will vendor for the most gold.

Secondly, the main benefit of the addon is Appraiser. For leveling, I do NOT recommend doing large Auction House scans. You aren’t farming items of great value, so this is not super beneficial. However, what Appraiser offers you is a quick way to SELL SELL SELL. All you need to do is visit the AH, click the Appraiser tab – click Refresh then click “match competition” and the start posting auctions. You can empty your inventory in about 3 to 5 minutes at prices that will typically sell. The point here is not to maximize your profits, but to eliminate your excess inventory quickly and more profitably than you do it by simply vendoring. You can sit there and “work the Auction House” but who really cares when the item is just going to sell for 15 silver. This is REALLY true when the toon is a just an Alt. In terms of time for money, do you make more money farming something valuable for 20 minutes with your level 70 or “working the Auction House” to sell your level 50 whites and greens?

Other Tips
One BIG BIG tip I have for you on leveling is to be a Dual Gatherer. Once you reach 70, go ahead and abandon them if there is something else you want. This can be a significant source of income as you level and done correctly doesn’t require much additional effort. In particular, I suggest Skinning and then either Herbing or Mining. Mining will slow down your leveling speed, but is profitable enough to be worth the extra effort. If you take mining, make sure you have 300 mining before entering the Outlands and you will make a small fortune by the time you hit 70. Skinning takes very little extra effort, is easy to level and the Thick and Rugged leathers in particular go for BIG money for the respective level ranges. If you are a gatherer, you can also download optional plugins that records notes for mining and herb nodes for Cartographer.

It’s fairly common knowledge that leveling a quest two to three levels below you is about optimum for quick leveling. I always had trouble following this advice because I always seem to complete all the quests at my level really quickly. I found the trick to getting “ahead” of the game is to (very early on) run over to the other starting zones and complete those quests before they go gray. Keep this up all the way into your 20s and you’ll find that this never really becomes a problem later on. The other advantage of doing this is that you are less likely to “outlevel” your mining, skinning or herbalism profession. It can be a real headache to let your mining fall below the level of the nodes of the zone that you are currently visiting. You will spend a bit more time traveling early on, but you end up doing that quest early anyway.

In regards to traveling: Beg, borrow, buy or plead for a port to Shattrath as early as you possibly can. This is where you want to set your Hearth to reduce your travel time. Old world quests have a tendency to send you all over the place and Shattrath provides quick access to four different zones quickly. And remember that your Hearth is not limited to once every 60 minutes. Enter an instance and leave group and you are ghetto hearthed back to Shattrath where you can then port yourself anywhere you need.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fixing Battlegrounds

OK – So enough bitching about Battlegrounds and more talk about how to fix them. I have a brief disclaimer here that I normally don’t like to discuss topics that will never impact real change. And let’s face it, these types of discussions might illicit some really great ideas – but none of them will ever get implemented in game. So I am going to prefer to think of this as more of a “in a perfect world” scenario.

Rated Battlegrounds - The type of PvP that WoW provides was invented first in the First Person Shooter genre. Alterac Valley is a simply a V.I.P match. Arathi Basin is Dominion. Warsong Gulch is Capture the Flag, and even Eye of the Storm is simply a combination game of Dominion and Capture the Flag (a combo also first introduced in FPS). And Arena – well, Arena is simply Team Deathmatch.

Team Deathmatch is not a superior form of PvP over the other types of objective based PvP. TD is simply a team based game where the only objective is kills. The optimum strategies revolve around maximizing your team kills while minimizing your team deaths. Other objective based match types place a premium on strategies that help you win the objectives for that game type. A good parallel analogy here is chess versus checkers. In checkers, you win by eliminating all of your opponents checker pieces off the board. In chess, you win by check-mating (or killing) the King.

Strictly speaking, if we continued to draw those parallels to WoW PVP then Arena would be most similar to checkers (the removal of all pieces) and chess would be most similar to Alterac Valley (the protection and elimination of the King). Many people would argue that chess takes more skill and therefore a chess champion is greater than a checkers champion. In WoW, we effectively argue that the checkers champion is better. However, chess is not better than checkers and checkers is not better than chess. One may be more difficult to master, offer more competition or arguably be more enjoyable to play, but they aren’t inherently better or worse than each other – just different games.

The point here is that WoW currently offers only one type of Rated or Ladder game when they could be offering five types. There is no reason why a system couldn’t be put in place where I paid 1000g and setup a 40-man team for Alterac Valley that played in rated matches against another 40-man team. Or likewise, a 15-man team for Arathi Basin/EoS or a 10-man team for Warsong Gulch. Blizzard already has a reward system in place for Rated Games and this could be extended to Rated Battleground games. Right now, there is no incentive for a premade to play a premade. If you want to inspire the epic battles that these battlegrounds deserve, then the only real solution is to incent teams to want to be the best. Oh sure, you may still end up with guilds farming points but that problem already exists in the current form. At least this way, the battles would be that much more exciting.

Coincidently, you also solve the problem of premades playing against PUGs. After all, if you take the time to find 14 other people, why bother running against a PUG when you can get better rewards from a Rated Match?

10 out of 15 teammates think you suck. Goodbye. - As I talked about in my previous post, if I form an instance PUG or go on a Raid with my guild, I have to be able to contribute or I am not going to be playing. There absolutely needs to be some type of way to get rid of players who don’t contribute or otherwise cause problems in a battleground.

I think the best solution here is a simple voting system where people can nominate someone to be removed from the match. A few rules to prevent obvious abuse:
  • A player needs to be nominated by at least three people before it is put up for a team vote

  • A player can’t be voted on more than once in a single match

  • You can only nominate one person every five minutes if your last nomination vote failed

  • A player is voted out when a certain majority is reached (varies on the battleground)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rant. Rant. Growl. Rant. Grr.

I read a number of different blogs. I don’t always agree with what people write, but I usually respect the point of view. Until now, I have never been really angry after reading a WoW related post. After all, it’s a game that we already take more seriously than we should.

But this blog entry really pissed me off. The short version is that the author is disgusted by the people who get all worked up in battleground chat when things go badly or people do stupid things. The thrust of his point is that these people are just wannabe PvPers and that the real PvPers do Arenas so they should just quit whining. Oh, and the strategy the wannabe wanted to follow has a 50-50 chance of working anyway. This post was a follow-up to a prior post where he admittedly AFKs in order to get the gear rewards and another post he made around the same time in which he ridicules people attempting to organize a strategy prior to the match starting.

I think what strikes a chord for me is the utter lack of consideration for anyone who wants to play a battleground because they enjoy playing battlegrounds. As I said in my reply, “you are doing something you DONT enjoy and because you dont enjoy it, feel that you have the right to ruin the gaming experience of others who DO enjoy it. If you did that in a Raid, you'd be gone in 5 seconds. Do it in a BG, and I'm stuck with you until the match is over.

The crux of the issue about why people AFK in my mind is something I posted about previously in my blog article, ”From Newb to Pwnage”. The thesis point of that article is that, in WoW, gear is greater than skill in every possible way. A player doesn’t need to get better at playing the game to be better, they just need to get better gear. The net result is that people don’t do things because they want to do them or find them fun, they do them because they HAVE to do them in order to stay competitive. It’s an ugly affair and almost every “unfun” part of the game is related to this problem.

Here is a very interesting take on AFKing that is quite telling. To quote this blog entry:

You see AFKing doesn't stem from something as simple as wanting honor - it comes from wanting honor without working hard for it. Your average AFKer (like me) does other things to maximize their time while AFKing. Read a book, make a blog entry, do classwork, wash dishes, pretty much anything. In fact, It isn't so much PvPing then doing something else, its more like "Meh, I gotta do these dishes - let me AFK and at least get some honor while I'm doing it."

Now if we just do a simple find replace on the words AFK and honor, here is what we get:

You see Botting doesn't stem from something as simple as wanting gold - it comes from wanting gold without working hard for it. Your average Botter (like me) does other things to maximize their time while Botting. Read a book, make a blog entry, do classwork, wash dishes, pretty much anything. In fact, It isn't so much PvPing then doing something else, its more like "Meh, I gotta do these dishes - let me Bott and at least get some gold while I'm doing it."

There is ZERO difference between a botter and an AFKer. The underlying motivation is the same. If you AFK and hate botters, than you are a hypocrite.

Still – I can almost understand AFKing. But the thing that really irked me is the ridicule and disgust for the people who are actually trying to win the battleground. It’s the same “Why bother? We are just going to lose” or “We tried that and lost last time” comments I hear way too often in battlegrounds. This attitude acts as a self fulfilling prophecy of ineptitude and leads to a herd mentality of people just running around contributing nothing to the match. I’m sorry, but if you don’t give a shit and are just in there grinding out the honor than shut your mouth and listen to someone who does give a shit.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Is Warsong Gulch fixable?

I think that most people would agree that Warsong Gulch is broken. The thing is though, it seems way more broken today than it ever did in the past. I ran WSG a lot in the old level 60 end game. How often? Well I had enough spare marks that even after buying all my PvP gear, I had more than enough to purchase all four types of epic PvP mounts. That’s something like 170 marks including the gear. I won maybe 50% of my matches, so it took around 85 matches to get that many marks.

But even after all those 85+ games, WSG never seemed like a chore. Oh sure, the odd game here or there would last 30 minutes or more and get frustrating, but for the most part it seemed like most games were more in the 15-20 minute range. At an average of ~20 minutes a game, it takes about 28 hours of game play to get that many marks. That’s roughly a week if you averaged out 4 hours a day playing.

Now however, my games have been lasting upwards of 35-40 minutes. The same number of marks would take me 50 hours and closer to two weeks (at 4 hours per day) to reach.

Still – I wouldn’t be all that irritated about it if the games were still fun. Back in the day, I played that many WSG games because a 15-20 minute game was often exciting. Particularly when it ended 3-2. But a 35 minute game is rarely fun. It’s a turtle match that seemingly has no end. It drags and drags until I am tempted to simply /afk out due to sheer boredom with the same repetitive tasks. Needless to say, I avoid it at all costs nowadays.

So what changed? I know some would argue that it was always broken, but I am strong evidence that at least some people didn’t used to think it was broken. In terms of pure PvP in any game, capture the flag objectives have always been my favorite type. Something changed in Burning Crusade that broke WSG almost beyond repair, what was it?

Two things. Feral Druids and Resilience. Of the two, I blame Feral Druids the most. It’s one thing to be a very fast flag carrier, it’s another thing to be a flag carrier that is difficult to kill. Feral Druids shine more brightly in WSG than any other class in any other battleground. They arguably may not be the best suited for other types of PvP, but when it comes to flag carrying the Feral Druid is the undisputed champion.

As a pure flag runner, they can dash in cat form or move into travel form if dash is on cooldown. If they are rooted or polymorphed – no problem – just shift forms out of it. No class (except possibly Shamans) can run with the flag as well as a Druid. Of course, Druids could always do this, so this isn’t what broke Warsong Gulch.

No, what broke WSG is how much punishment Druids can now endure in Bear form. The amount of health, dodge and armor they gained in the level 70 endgame compared to the level 60 endgame is staggering. It’s practically useless for any of the physical DPS classes to even attempt to kill the bear due to sheer amount of armor. When you also consider that they can come out of form to self-heal and convert rage to health, well – they can seem practically unkillable at times. The combination of speed and near indestructibility virtually guarantees they can get back to base to turtle up with a healer. And once they turtle in, well – your game just got longer. What makes it worse is that it seems like each side has two or three druids and is almost certainly going to have a Druid tank that can quickly run back to his base and turtle. I can tell you that as a well geared Rogue, the only time I seem to kill Feral Druids is when I stunlock them when they are out of Bear form.

Resilience is the another source of the turtle problem, but to a lesser degree. Anything that makes a flag carrier and his healers more survivable is going to drag the game out longer. The worst of course, is a Druid tank with a lot of Resilience. Even worse? Two Druid tanks with lots of Resilience. Many PvE Druids work at stacking Resilience anyway as a replacement for +Defense, so it’s not uncommon for Feral Druids to have 200+ Resilience.

Does Patch 2.4 solve this problem? Lets take a look at the upcoming “fixes” to WSG:

  • When both flags are held, the flag carriers will receive 50% increased damage done to them after approximately 10 minutes and 100% increased damage after approximately 15 minutes.

  • Flag carriers can now be tracked 45 seconds after picking up the flag.

Hmm. Well, hopefully the 50%/100% increase is based on the game time for the battleground and not how long the player has been holding the flag. Otherwise, you might as well just rotate tanks when they get the debuff.

If it is based on the time for the battleground, then I do think this might “fix” many of the problems for Warsong Gulch. As I pointed out above, the problem as it exists today is that is far more difficult to kill the flag carrier today than it was in the old level 60 end game. With this change, well – 75% armor mitigation effectively becomes 56% mitigation after 10 minutes and then 37.5% mitigation after 15 minutes.

The real problem in WSG is the turtle effect. If it becomes more challenging to turtle, then the game becomes less predictable and more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants entertaining.

Friday, March 14, 2008

That guy is an idiot.

I do a lot of Heroic dungeons. I always try to get in the daily and usually one or two others every day. I think the combination of Heroics, the badge reward system and the daily dungeon quests are one of the smartest things Blizzard has ever implemented.

Part of the problem in the level 60 end-game was that the number of available 5-man instances for your level was relatively small. Once I progressed past Scholomance, Blackrock Spire and Stratholme – you didn’t have much reason to revisit them. Oh occasionally I would hit the living side of Strat when I needed a new Crusader enchant or I would grind out Argent Dawn rep, but more often than not I left them alone.

Fast forward to the Level 70 end-game. When you first ding 70, there are 6 instances at your level for you to do at normal difficulty (Shadow Labs, Black Morass, Arcatraz, Botanica, Mech, Shattered Halls). It’s also not uncommon to continue to be running Steam Vaults, Durnholde and Sethhek Halls at this level. By the time you master these, you are geared well enough to begin the Heroics. Suddenly, many of the earlier instances you ran just a handful of times are relevant again on Heroic difficulty. In total, there are something like 13 different dungeons that can be done on Heroic difficulty.

And still – even when your gear surpasses that of the rewards in all the Heroics (not hard to do if you are also running Kara), the Heroics are still worth doing for the badges and the daily quest reward. All in all, it’s a good system and one that I find enjoyable.

Of course, if you do a lot of Heroics then chances are that you find yourself in the occasional PUG. If your guild is like mine, sometimes you can find one or two people to go with you. A full group of 5 guildies is rare for anything but the daily and you almost always have to pick up one or two from LFG. Other times, no one wants to go and you find yourself in a PUG with 3 or 4 from another guild.

Groups are funny. When things are going really smoothly, it can almost seem unexplainable. Particularly when the group feels a bit “undergeared” or you have a lot of off-specs running the instance with you. I’ve been on runs with a Shaman tanking and no CC other than my sap that have gone more smoothly than other more traditional setups.

And of course, we have all been in the groups where things go badly. These are the groups where “That guy is an idiot.” Of course, no one thinks they are the idiot, so the blame is inevitably being spread around evenly. That guy can’t tank. That guy can’t heal. That guy can’t control his aggro. That guy can’t get out of the way of XYZ. Sometimes you even grouped with that guy before and he seemed OK then.

Sometimes, it’s just painfully obvious what the problem is – but at other times, what makes a good group good and a bad group bad can be a complete mystery. In an odd way, this is one of the things I actual enjoy about PUGs. Oh it may be frustrating, but I also find a sort-of thrill in deducing what is making this run a bit easier or that run a bit harder.

Ironically, part of the problem lies in the continued appeal of Heroics for people who are well past it’s gear rewards. My friend dinged 70 and specced Feral on his Druid maybe a bit over a month ago. He is currently well enough geared to offtank Kara with no trouble and run most (if not all) of the Heroic instances. Put in a group of similarly geared people, he has no trouble holding aggro or soaking up damage in Heroic instances. I know this because I have ran a dozen or so with him tanking with no problems.

Last night, the daily was Slave Pens and we picked up two very well geared players. One was another Rogue in BT gear and the other was a Hunter in what must have been good gear because he was competing with the other Rogue for top DPS. I am competitive with the top of the charts in most groups and I was a distant third. Needless to say, DPS was not a problem and we burned mobs down fast.

We wiped three times.

It turns out we had too much DPS. In the eyes of the Hunter and other Rogue, my tank friend was undergeared. The Hunter in particular seemed to pull each mob off the tank in every fight. “Oh – his threat per second is underpar.” Umm. Well, no – for the level of difficulty of the dungeon his threat per second is just fine. Your threat per second is just way higher than most level 70s. To say that the run was sloppy is an understatement. If the two Rogues hadn’t been stun locking and blinding everything, I think at least one of us would have quit in frustration. And of course when we got to Quag, one of them pulled aggro during the Acid Spray and wiped us.

It’s easy to cast the blame on the Hunter and Rogue, but their position is equally understandable. If they are making reasonable attempts to control aggro and are feinting and feigning – then it’s reasonable to expect the tank can hold aggro.

I was in a similar scenario on my old alliance Rogue. I was very well geared by the time I got around to doing the Aldor/Scryer quest chain that takes you to visit Altruis in Nagrand. After killing three named mobs, he gives you a quest to go into Shadow Labs and get the Book of Fel Names off the Inciter. I grabbed a quick PUG and figured it would be a cake walk. It was a real shocker how easily I kept getting aggro. Even my white attacks alone were enough to pull off aggro and I was contributing more than 50% of the group DPS. I found myself waiting until mobs were damaged around 70% before I would attack in order to hold back enough to allow the tank to do his job. Luckily, mobs in Shadow Labs don’t one shot you and I was able to adjust. Still, I imagine that the tank and healer were cursing my name at times.

Had I gone in with an equally geared tank, we would have moved through the content faster and I wouldn’t have needed to hold back my aggro much (if at all). With normal instances, the mismatch I described rarely happens. In Heroics however, gear levels are often mismatched due to the nature of the rewards that are available. The irony is that the key is to have a really well geared tank, but that tanks are the hardest group member to find.

The point here is that sometimes, there is no idiot. We’d all like someone to blame, but sometimes it is just the group composition itself that creates the problem.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Privacy versus Protection of Digital Assets

Every time a new patch comes out I and see the new Terms of Agreement on my welcome screen, I can’t help but think about Warden. If you aren’t familiar with Warden, let me give the quick 100 foot view: Warden is an anti-hack program that Blizzard loads onto your computer at login and queries every 15-30 seconds about your activities to ensure that you aren’t doing anything to cheat. In order to operate, it needs to scan your memory and processes that are outside of the World of Warcraft game.

Blizzard positions Warden as a form of protection (or DRM) that safeguards it’s digital assets from unauthorized manipulation. The criticism against Warden from Privacy advocates is that it needs to scan and collect things unrelated to World of Warcraft in order to gather the information it needs to performs it’s analysis. Interestingly, Warden was not something that was included in the game at release, but came as a result of protecting the game from exploits, botters and other cheats. It was not an announced change. It hides itself. It permutates or changes its composition at login so that it can’t be easily identified. In fact, it behaves so much like a virus, it’s not uncommon for Anti-Virus programs to incorrectly target it. In the early days of Warden, this was even a method of defeating it.

How many people know about Warden? My guess is fairly few and likely only the ones that take the time to read websites like mine. And how many people know what Warden scans? Very very few. Ironically, outside of Blizzard, the only people who really know what Warden is scanning are the same people that Blizzard is trying to keep out. Namely, people providing the botters and exploiters with products to defeat Warden.

And therein lies the crux of my complaint. Blizzard has every right to protect their game. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be worth playing if they DIDN’T protect it. But first, we can all see by the prolific gold selling and bot farmers that Warden can and is circumvented. I know of two programs a few clicks away that I could download and be happily botting Warden-free in under an hour. An ongoing lawsuit against one of those companies is evidence enough that Blizzard knows the protection offered through Warden is not working.

Still – I can talk myself out of being upset about all that. After all, the only people really hurt by it are the botters and exploiters, right?

Maybe not. In the 2.3 patch back in November, Blizzard introduces some subtle changes to Warden that prevent an observer from tracing down what they are monitoring. Why is that important? Well, at least before, if something illegal or immoral was happening – then people who do keep an eye on Warden would at least know that was happening. All it really takes is one malicious developer to insert some code and none of us would be any wiser.

Well still – this only hurts botters right? Not really. The change does nothing to address the current methods being implemented to defeat Warden which either revolve around outright hiding or spoofing results. To me, this crosses a major line in regards to Privacy protection.

To which you reply, “But if you don’t like it, you don’t have to play.” The people who use this argument are the same kids who took their ball and went home to leave everyone else out on the playground. These types of use it or lose it agreements are very one-sided. True agreements are negotiated and bargained. These contracts are instead dictated to us and we, in turn, are expected to agree to them in order to use the product. It’s like signing a waiver before a treatment for a painful ailment. Your choice is either get the treatment or don’t sign the waiver and suffer. Many of these types of contracts are often not enforceable if challenged in court.

But more importantly, look at it a different way. Pretend it’s not Blizzard and it’s not about botters. How would you feel if Microsoft made the same requirements for Windows and it scanned your whole computer for whatever data they wanted without your knowledge and then sent back results to be used however they wanted? And worse, they did it in such a way that you could never tell what they were scanning or sending back.

And that’s the rub. If Microsoft were to bundle something even remotely similar to the current incarnation of Warden in it’s products, one million IT professionals would be marching on Washington DC to ensure that privacy would be protected. The uproar would be incredible. Microsoft took a lot of flak on this topic when they wanted to send data back about simple bug reporting to enhance user performance. That’s why they have the little screen that pops up that lets you opt-in to reporting an issue and will even provide snapshot of the data being sent back to report the crash. Unlike Warden, it is VERY transparent and obvious what they are reporting.

Yet – most users of World of Warcraft have never even heard of Warden and those that have consider it a lesser evil than botting. Try expressing Privacy concerns regarding Warden on the WoW forums and within three replies you will be called out as a cheater. The nasty thing here is that it sets a precedent for acceptable behavior by a software developer. Do we really want to accept that a software developer can embed hidden processes that mimic virus and spyware in their products?

The real irony is that it offers very little protection for Blizzard. Anything loaded into the memory of your computer can be defeated regardless of how cleverly it is programmed. If it operates within your computer’s memory, any form of protection can be reverse engineered and defeated. The burden for the exploiter is not to learn all that it does, but only to learn one method in how to circumvent it. The better investment would be to invest more heavily in forms of detection that cannot be defeated. In other words, teach the servers to be smarter about identifying the exploits – not the client software. Exploiters don’t have access to files or system memory on the server itself and without that access, there is no way to protect themselves from server-side detection mechanisms.

If you do feel it’s absolutely necessary to have a Warden reporting back information, then at least provide a log of what is being scanned and reported. At the very least, this type of activity should be made transparent in order for the users to be fully informed about what is happening on their computer outside the game itself.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Silent World of Warcraft

I started playing WoW with the sound off about 6 or 7 months ago. It all started because I was just leveling a toon up at the time and playing with a headset on gets a bit uncomfortable after about 2 hours. I play in my living room on a laptop, so having the “sound on” without a headset would have annoyed my wife to no end and forced me to play on the kitchen table. Two or more hours in one of our kitchen chairs is quite a bit more uncomfortable than the headset, so the easiest thing to do was just turn the sound off while I was leveling.

It took some getting used to since there were a lot of sounds that clued me into my surroundings, but I eventually adjusted and learned to rely more on the visual clues. One unintended benefit of playing without sound is that I found I could be a bit more aware of my real world surroundings. This meant I could keep an eye on the TV or hold a regular conversation with my wife. Two simple things that did wonders for keeping my wife happier and allowed me to ironically increase my amount of playtime in the evening without sacrificing that relationship.

So now I play without sound and while I sacrifice some of the game experience, the overall effect on my life experience is more positive.

This is why I hate Vent now. I get that communication is important and that’s why I won’t hesitate to put on the headphones and load up vent to participate in a raid. There is important stuff to throw out there and typing it just doesn’t make sense if it needs to be communicated quickly. My issue is that those times are few and far between and it’s mostly just three or four guys chatting it up. Hell, I used to be one of these guys, so I’m not casting blame on them – I just don’t want to listen to them talk. I almost wish you could join two different Vent channels at the same time with different buttons to talk. Press A to talk about the raid, press B to chat about bullshit. That way, I could just put B on mute and let you BS about the new game for the Wii while I got all the information that I needed from A. Sometimes, it feels like the crap is just like Barrens chat except in my head.

The other thing that I find interesting is that when I do play with the sound on now – I am amazed at how repetitive it sounds. Especially in groups or PvP where it’s just a cluster of the same noises over and over. Think about it – every ability has a sound to it, and everyone is casting one of those abilities pretty much every time the Global Cooldown will allow. Even worse, many abilities share a sound with another class. Honestly, the only thing I even miss anymore are the emotes.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The sum of all parts..

I’m not a theorycrafter, but I am a min/maxxer or theory user. In my mind, the crafters are the ones creating the math formulas and scrutinizing the combat logs. I simply keep myself informed on their discoveries and let them do the heavy lifting while I put the theory into practice.

My preferred site for the latest and greatest in Theorycraft is the Class Mechanics forums at Elitist Jerks. From what I can tell, just about every viable spec and class has a thread discussion on class mechanics and details the staples of what you need to know to min/max your class. You can also find incredibly useful Excel spreadsheets (like this one for Rogues) that will act as DPS calculators based on your spec and gear selection. BTW, one thing that is nice about that spreadsheet is that you can search for gear upgrades and calculate your buffed DPS based on the types of buffs you are most commonly receiving.

For rogues, there is nothing I could ever contribute about maximizing your DPS that isn’t already detailed in that spreadsheet or in this Roguecraft 101 thread. IMHO, that thread should be required reading for every Rogue.

Of course, the only gospel that I preach is that your shouldn’t take everything as gospel. In other words, don’t use those sites as the bible for how you should spec and play, but as a guide for maximizing your DPS for the style that you want to play. With that in mind, I will provide some key learnings that I have found to be true from reviewing the Theorycraft on Rogues.

I am going to talk about incremental DPS benefit. First, let me explain what I mean by incremental. This is simply the benefit gained (in terms of DPS) from taking a talent or not taking a talent. Since we have a limited pool of points, it’s important that each talent is chosen for maximum benefit.

Secondly, most DPS talents build upon each other – this means that having MORE of these types of talents will provide a greater incremental benefit. In other words, the final result is greater than the sum of the parts. The highest DPS build, Combat Swords, requires very few non-DPS based talents so everything is very complimentary to one another.

To illustrate the point about talents building on each other, let me provide an example. Using the default setting in the calculator, we can see that the first 11 points into Assassination provide us an extra 72 DPS unbuffed. The first 20 points into Combat provides us 119 DPS unbuffed. If we simply add these two numbers together, the sum total is 191 DPS unbuffed. However, when we actually use the calculator to select 11 pts in Assassination and 20 in Combat, the actual DPS output for these talents is 203, or 6% higher. That 6% increase represents the complimentary effect the talents have together to provide something greater than the sum of the parts.

In terms of bang for your buck, the first 11 points into Assassination provide the greatest amount of incremental benefit early in a tree. In fact, the first 11 points into Assassination provide roughly 40% more benefit than the first 11 points into the next closest tree (Combat). However, when you go 20 points into each tree, it flips and Combat actually provides 34% more DPS benefit than Assassination. The actual benefit is even greater as well, since you also need to use 5 pts in other non-DPS related talents in Combat (most likely in Dodge, Riposte, Imp Sprint or Endurance).

Having established that 20 pts into Combat is greater than 20 pts into Assassination, what about the next 11 pts? Is there more benefit in Combat or Assassination? Contrary to gut instinct, the most benefit is gained by picking up those 11 pts in Assassination over your 31 pt talent. In fact, 11-20-0 is 8.3% greater than 0-31-0.

The key learning here is that 11 pts into Assassination and 20 pts into Combat are going to be optimal for any DPS build. You might be tempted to take Blade Flurry over Relentless Stikes. Don’t. The incremental benefit from Relentless Strikes is about 75% more than Blade Flurry. The other key learning is that we also know that if you go 41 points into Subtlety or Assassination, the remaining 20 pts are best spent in Combat to maximize DPS.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

All Rogues need Tank Alts

I’ve talked about how my main used to be a warrior and my thoughts on gear and talent selection for the Fury tree, but I haven’t talked about my Rogues yet.

Ironically, the first thing I think future Rogues should do is roll a healer or tank high enough to run a few instances like Shadowfang Keep, Razor Fen Downs or Scarlet Monastery. No need to level to 70, just the high 30s. I think this is solid advice for not just Rogues, but all the pure DPS classes (Warlock, Mage, Rogue, and even Hunter). The hybrids who have healing or tanking capability should give them both a try as well. Why? Because the healer and the tank are the GLUE that hold a group together. They are the ones keeping us DPS types alive long enough to unleash our wrath on the poor little mobs in our quest for blues and purples.

The basics of the relationship between a Healer and his Tank are pretty simple. The Tank holds aggro and soaks up damage. The Healer keeps him alive. Even the most moronic DPS type can understand that is the basis for every group. But as simple as that seems, we DPS types keep doing our best to screw up that relationship by pulling aggo, not avoiding AoE damage, not bandaging, not focus firing, or breaking CC. Alternately, maybe we don’t do our best in terms of CC to contribute to the equation.

Playing a Tank or Healer and learning the frustration that comes when other people make your job unnecessarily harder will increase your “Group IQ” by several orders of magnitude. Let me provide a few examples:

  • Run to the Tank, not away from him. - If you do happen to pull aggro and you run away, then the Tank needs to chase the mob. To do it safely, he has to back away from the other mobs he is tanking so that he can continue to Parry/Block and not get Dazed. This is slower than you can run. It also makes holding aggro more difficult since some abilities aren’t available on the move. The correct thing to do is bring the mob into melee range of the Tank. I do suggest you still move a little bit (while staying in melee range to tank) to make it obvious that you DO have aggro. Also, hit ESC to clear your target and stop attacking.

  • Sap Often. - OK – Yes, you can Sap humanoids. Get good at it. Learn to use Distract to setup your Sap on Humanoids. Even rogues without Improved Sap can easily sap any non-stealth seeing mob by effectively using Distract. This is a staple of the Rogue class and you probably already got good at this when leveling. Get FAST at it and make sure your group lets you Sap. Oh – and after you sap, sneak all the way back to where the Tank is fighting before using your opener. Don’t be the idiot who fights the mob all by himself.

  • Stuns as Crowd Control. - But you have more crowd control than just Sap. First, you have stuns. Stuns can be used as both spell interrupts and secondly as a form of crowd control to mitigate tank damage. An encounter that is “tough to heal” because of how hard a particular mob hits can be rendered easy because you keep them stunned. Likewise, a mob with a particularly annoying ability like Mind Control or Fear can be controlled through stuns. All rogues can do 3 in rapid order: Cheap Shot, Kidney Shot, Vanish-Cheap Shot

  • Are you Blind? Then why don’t you use it! - Blind is popular in PvP and seems non-existent in groups. It’s on a 2 minute cooldown, but if you are using it more often than that then your group has bigger issues. It’s superior to Gouge in that it a) lasts longer and b) doesn’t require you and your target are facing each other. If your Sap breaks and your group isn’t ready for it, then Blind it quickly. See a mob running for the healer? Blind it and give your Tank time to grab it. Did you get aggro with vanish down and you don’t have a Stun ready? Blind. Tip: /cast [target=mouseover] Blind

  • Learn the power of Distract. - We already established that this is useful on Sap, but even on non-humanoids, you can use Distract to freeze a patrol. This is useful for skipping a pesky pat without your slowpokes getting aggro. But it can also be used as a weird type of crowd control. Ever been in the middle of a fight and you see a patrol coming? A quick Vanish, followed by a Distract can freeze it in place long enough for the group to get out of the way or finish your current fight.

  • Vanish and Feint - This should be obvious, but there is no reason why you should EVER have aggro. Our attacks deal 30% less threat and we have an aggro clear and a threat reducer. Arguably, no other class can manage threat as well as a Rogue with the possible exception of Hunters.

  • Bandage. - If you are doing your job correctly, then the only time you need a heal is when you are taking some type of AoE damage. In most cases, this can be either avoided by using Sprint to move in/out of range OR if it’s spell damage you can mitigate or resist it with a well timed Cloak of Shadows. Remember – Every heal you receive is a heal that the Tank did not receive. Still – you are going to take damage in these types of fights and that makes it important important to keep an eye on your Tank’s health and your Healer’s mana. If you see big spikes or low health or mana, then the Tank is getting hit HARD and the Healer is not going to have any spare heals for you. A lot of wipes are caused here because the Healer tosses a heal on someone who is not the Tank and then can’t catch up on the Tank fast enough to keep him alive. You can help by getting out of AoE range and Bandaging yourself. Even if you can’t Bandage, sometimes it’s smarter to get out of AoE range and not die until the Healer does get a chance for a spare heal.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Damage Meters Lie.

Anyone who has compared the results from a Damage Meter from two different players has likely noticed that they don’t tell the same story. How do you tell which one is right? You don’t. They both tell “a story” but neither tells the whole story. This post is going to cover why Damage Meters don’t tell the truth and is inspired by all the ego whores who like to output a damage report whenever they top the chart.

Combat Log
All damage meters use your Combat Log to provide the majority of the data it records. There are a few problems with this method:
  • Log Range: Your log thinks of you as the center of it’s universe. If someone is outside of the maximum range of the log, it’s as if they don’t exist to the meter. This is why two meters rarely ever show an identical amount. Some addons will extend the range (which helps), but it’s still not possible to extend it far enough to be able to capture all data, all the time. Data synching can help with this problem, but that leaves the door open for other inaccuracies. The net effect is that you never have the entire picture.

  • Death: This is related to Range, but it’s worth pointing out as it’s own thing. When you are running back as a ghost, you are out of range and collect no data from your log. More likely however, is that you won’t release. Your log will stick pick up data, but it’s centered on your corpse. Often, a fight will move away from your corpse and therefore out of your log.

Over-healing and Over-damage
Over-healing is much better understood, so I’ll start with it. The basic idea is that a player has 9000 of 10,000 HP and you crit a big heal for 3000 HP. The effective healing is only 1000 HP and you over-healed for 2000 HP. The total healing done is noted as 3000 HP, but you only really helped for 1000HP. The good news is that most meters can be set to make a comparison to the player health at the time of the heal and track the difference as effective healing. However, it’s still not an accurate picture because it doesn’t show the whole picture. For example, let’s say a Druid drops a heal over time at the 9000 mark. It gets 1 tick at +300 and then the Greater Heal trumps it for +3000. The meter will record +300 for the HoT and +700 effective healing for the Greater Heal. However, in terms of overall healing effectiveness for mana spent, you can easily argue that the big heal was wasteful.

The same logic is also applied to over-damage, but the big difference here is that no addon tracks effective damage dealt by making the comparison against the health remaining of the mob. Why is that important? Consider this – a Warrior unleashes a 4000 crit execute on a trash mob with 200 health. The over-damage is +3800 damage. Yet, the damage meter records all 4000 instead of just 200. Now let’s say the fight lasted 40 seconds and you also had a non-crit execute with +1500 damage on another mob. Your DPS for the fight would reflect 132 DPS higher than the actual DPS you contributed. When I played a Fury warrior, I was constantly frustrated that I never really knew my own personal DPS even when soloing simply due to the sheer amount of over-damage caused by my executes when the mob dropped below 20%. Think of it this way, it’s very easy to deal 8000 damage to a mob that has 5800 HP. If you killed it in 13 seconds, that is the difference between 615 DPS and 446 DPS.

Over-damage alone is reason enough to not trust damage meters.

Critter kills
Linked to Over-damage, a guaranteed crit for 1500 on a 100 HP critter is an easy way to inch your damage number up by +1400. I’m willing to bet the same guy killing all the snakes is the same one who asks for a meter report later. Trust me. He already has a meter. The people who ask for a meter report are the usually the ones who already know they are at the top of the meter.

Damage per second
Damage per second is calculated by the amount of damage you have dealt divided by the amount of time YOU have spent in combat. The problem of course, is when you end up in combat and your role is to do nothing. The mage who crits his Pryoblast to start the fight is oddly rewarded over the player who entered combat but exercised caution early on to allow the tank to build up threat.

Boss fights vs. AoE clears on non-elites
The amount of over-damage created by AoE spam can be incredible. AoE clearing is certainly useful, but as a measure of damage contribution it is pretty heavily skewed. In most cases, the same goal could have been accomplished without the AoE just over a longer period of time. You could argue that all the drinking afterwards should be included in the DPS calculation since most AoE clears include an intermission for refreshments. Big props to all the mages that have died on these pulls for the wonderful self sacrifice. You deserve to top the meter if you die.

Boss fights, on the other hand, can vary greatly depending on the encounter. For example, an endurance encounter may favor the melee types who don’t have a mana pool to worry about. Likewise, a boss who spams a bunch of AOE might keep the melee types out of range while range types take down the boss. Also consider, how much less healing was need due to that Hunter’s nature buff or Shaman’s totem?

Group Contribution vs. Damage or Healing done
The biggest single issue with any meter is that it simply reflects the output recorded by the log. It does NOT provide an accurate picture of all the things that contribute to the actual output.

For example, what effect did that Feral druid bring to the group with his Mark of the Wild and Leader of the Pack (5% to crit)? How much extra healing did the Mage bring with his Arcane Brilliance? How much extra DPS did the Warrior bring the other melee with 5x Sunder Armor and the Battle Shout (+300 AP)? What is Blessing of the Kings worth? How many extra nukes did the mage cast safely because of Blessing of Salvation. How much of the extra damage from a Rogue’s Hemo debuff went to the other melee (including the other Rogues to which they are being compared)? How much healing did that crowd control PREVENT?

None of these things is measured in a damage meter. We like damage meters because they simplify things down to this person contributed X and this person Y. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. The actual contribution varies greatly based on the group configuration and encounter.

So what are damage/healing meters good for?
Personal measurement. They aren’t the bible, but you can use them as a gauge for your own personal betterment. You can also see if you are roughly in the same league with other people in your group or use it to learn how much another spec or class complements your output. It’s not gospel, but if you use it as a tool, it can be helpful. The exception is if you are using a threat meter. These are helpful as a general guideline. Again, not the gospel, but they do act as pretty immediate feedback on whether you need to slow down your threat. Along those lines, monitoring your aggro duration can be a good measurement of personal skill as well.

Using a meter correctly – Reset It Often
Your meter is really a measurement over time. If what your situation changes, then it stops being relevant or as useful. For example, if you were grinding out boars for an hour before Wailing Caverns and then didn’t reset your Damage meter after entering the instance with your group, then your meter will provide pretty meaningless information about WC. Typically speaking, I recommend resetting the meter whenever you join a group, enter an instance, gain a new buff, and finally both before and after boss fights. This last is important because trash fights are considerably different than boss encounters. On the other hand, don’t reset too often because it only really works as a tool if it is allowed to average itself out.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Rules? We don't need no stinking Rules!

One of my biggest pet peeves is when other players start making rules that other players have to follow. I hate that type of thing with a passion. This is a game for chrissakes, so rules that we have to religiously follow is taking the whole thing too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I play a lot and already take it more seriously than I should, but strict enforcement of “rules” for a GAME is where I draw the line. Typically, these rules fall into a few categories:
  • Loot Rules: First, a minor distinction here, a Loot Reward System, is a system for fairly and equitably distributing drops. The system itself is more of a process than it is a rule. However, once you start adding “Rules” to the system that have little to nothing to do with the system, then it’s bullshit. For example, earning EP or DKP points for Raid attendance or downing a boss and then using them auction style is part of a system for participation. Getting no DKP for the raid because you used an Elixir instead of a Flask for a boss you downed anyway is bullshit.

  • Class Rules: I hate 90% of class officers. The whole idea that one person in the guild ”knows best” for all other people of that class is ludicrous. As I pointed out in a previous post, it’s hard to be well qualified to offer advice to others. Being better geared or a better friend to the Guild leader doesn’t make a person the end-all-be-all of class knowledge. This is particularly true when they don’t have similar talent specs. It’s bad enough when it’s just advice, but when it becomes a RULE that tells someone how to play (or worse, not allowing someone access to gear), then it’s bullshit. The best example is, “spec this way or you don’t raid”. Nevermind that the person may not be geared for that spec, know how to play that spec, is over-geared and can compensate for spec shortcomings, or has a better understanding for theory and class mechanics than the person making the rules. I think I need to write a whole future post dedicated to how damage and healing meters lie to us and perpetuate myths. Anyway… my number one problem with Class rules is that they dictate how we should play. I’m sorry, what I find enjoyable and how I play is MY DECISION, not someone elses.

  • Gear ChecksEither you are geared well enough to do it, or you are not. If you aren’t, then you don’t get to go. Pretty simple and something that I agree with completely. However, gear checks for entry into a guild are another thing altogether. While too often, gear equates to skill, this is a pretty narrow minded view for the long term health of your Guild. If a player is skilled and plays often enough, then he won’t be undergeared forever. What matters more than gear, is attitude. Is the person mature? Are they positive and self sufficient, or do they bitch and moan about needing help for simple things? How do they impact the morale of the Guild? Are they about ego or about enjoying the game? Hint: The ones always boasting about what dropped or the new piece of phat loot are in it for the ego.

  • Silly Rules:
  • These are the WTF?! Rules that were created because one guy that should have just been kicked out of the Guild couldn’t get something through his thick head. The worst is when they become part of one of the above rules. For example, my current Guild had one guy who was on “standby” take entirely too long to show up to a 25-man. The guild waited more than half an hour on the guy and 24 people were pretty pissed. Thus, the “new rule” that you must be actively standing outside of the instance if you SIGN UP for standby or you aren’t allowed any loot or DKP for the run. In other words, that toon is not allowed to do anything other than stand by the entrance of the instance for however long it takes you to be needed (if at all). I could learn to understand this rule if you were given like 5 to 10 minutes warning before someone left. At least then you could set your Hearth to the area and get there quickly to be ready.

In my day job, I need to hire (and fire) people to be part of a team. The best person doesn’t always have the best resume. Often, it’s the person with the underlying skills and mind set that will make them successful. I am cautious and wary of the guy with way more experience than is needed for the task. Either the job is beneath them and they are in it for the short-term, or they could never advance in their career because they lacked the skill, motivation or were simply a problematic employee. The trouble starts when you get desperate and make a bad hire. If you DO make a bad hire, then fire them before they become a cancer that spreads to your other employees. Be as open and honest (as you can legally) with your team about why it happened and what direction you are headed. If you have the right mix of people and act fairly with them, you don’t need to manage the drama or make unnecessary rules.

If you have an underperforming employee, there are three possible reasons: 1) they don’t know how or don’t have the tools (in which case, it’s your job to get them the tools), or 2) they have an personality conflict or attitude problem, or finally 3) they simply are unable or unwilling to become skilled. If its #1, then you nuture them until you learn that it’s #3. If it’s #2 or #3, then fire them. You are better off without them and hiring someone new who has the underlying skills and personality to make your team successful.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need all these rules to make your guild work, then you took shortcuts and didn’t work to ensure you had good people within your guild that are willing to work together as a team to achieve your objectives. Instead, you have a bunch of “me” types that are overly concerned about personal epeen. You should stop and rethink the makeup of your Guild. Character First. Skill Second. Gear Last. After all, good gear and phat loots will always drop and you can work to teach Skill. But Character and personality is something each player is stuck with forever.

EDIT: To make it clear, there is a difference between “rules” and “process”. A process is something you linearly follow to achieve a purpose. Rules are just there to prevent undesired behavior. Process is about efficiency and people should be easily able to follow it along. If they can’t follow your process – then you need to rethink how you are implementing it. Loot rules, gear progession, attunement quests – these are linear and can be defined by process. When “rules” are required to make your guild function, then you have simply done a poor job in your recruitment process. RULES for a freaking GAME is ludicrous.