What a long strange trip it’s been

“What a long, strange trip it’s been” is an unusual set of WoW achievements. In order to complete it, a player has to fill in several sets of achievements, one for each of the in game holidays. This means that at the minimum, it will take one year to complete. That’s one year in which a player doesn’t miss a single in-game holiday.

The reward is a mount that is faster than almost anything in the game. Although not with a unique skin, just a unique colour.

This does explain some of the dissatisfaction with the recent Valentine’s Event. Other than people like me who hate it on principle, some of the achievements which count towards the drake require luck with the random drops. And now the event is over, anyone who missed it this time will have to wait another year.

Is it unethical?

I personally hate achievements that reward you for having a subscription for a minimum amount of time. I hated the idea in CoH that the only way to get wings for your superhero was to have subscribed for X months. The CoH achievements are why I can never persuade my husband to drop his sub when he stops playing for a few months (it’s not that we can’t afford it, it just offends me on some deep level to be paying for a service we don’t use.) To my mind, it’s just one step beyond letting you pay cash for achievements.

In any case, to get the violet protodrake, people will have to keep their subscription going for at least a year, and arrange their own holidays and spare time such as to never miss an in-game holiday. Granted many people would have maintained that sub anyway but you can imagine some financial guy at Blizzard’s eyes lighting up when the notion was invented.

And for some people, it’ll encourage them to play more than they really should, pay longer than they really should, and act against their own best interests. And the pressure not to miss an event achievement will get stronger and stronger as the year goes on. It isn’t the game’s job to save us from ourselves, but shouldn’t they be rewarding activities that are fun?

So what’s the big appeal?

One of the complaints that people have made about WoW at the moment is how difficult it really is to stand out. When everyone is raiding, no one is a non-raider. When everyone is raiding, raiding achievements don’t feel so exclusive any more. In fact, very few things in the game feel exclusive.

So let’s look again at the long strange trip:

  • can be done mostly solo (the non solo parts can be done in PUGs)
  • requires dedication during each event
  • requires a whole year of dedication to events
  • requires luck too for some of them
  • has an obvious visual reward
  • has a reward with a nice extra feature (extra speed)

This achievement is plugging a gap for people who may or may not be raiders but want to do something hard that will give bragging rights. The reason it is hard isn’t necessarily to do with a challenge to playing skill, it’s more of a logistics issue. Were you dedicated enough to get your drake? Were you lucky enough? Did you spend months and months working on it?

There are very few goals in the game which are as accessible to everyone but still feel exclusive. The sarth+3 title/mount is for relatively hardcore raiders only. There isn’t anything cool that you can grind for solo if you want to prove your … uh … hardcore grinding skills.

Even though I have so little comprehension of the playstyle that would see these things as desirable, I can see how achievements like this will make a lot of people happy. I think they are unhealthy (the achievements, not the people) and encourage developers to add content that isn’t fun or appealing. But if an activity was fun, appealing, and accessible, then everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be exclusive. And so players vote with their feet.

The only way to make a reward exclusive is to make it either inaccessible, unappealing, expensive, random, or demanding in some other way (eg. needing to influence other players to vote for you). The price of exclusivity in games is this type of content.

So perhaps this meta-achievement is a way for Blizzard to introduce the illusion of difficulty without actually making the achievements difficult. It’s not a good substitute for solid gameplay or real content with properly scaling difficulty.

In which people puzzle me

I am surprised by how many people are going for this one. In retrospect, I really shouldn’t be. I’ve listed above all the reasons the achievement is desirable, and being achievable solo is a big part of that.

But any time I see a violet proto-drake, I’m still going to think ‘What a muppet’ :P

The study of incentives in WoW is a very fertile ground for economists. I will be fascinated to see what people make of achievements in future and how they drive player behaviour.

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6 thoughts on “What a long strange trip it’s been

  1. Nobody NEEDS that achievement. Lets face it, the only reason for completing it is to show off outside the bank on your Imba mount.

    There is no pressure on anyone to complete these events at all, and anyone who is feeling pressured to do them should ask themselves why.

    My view is that you should have fun doing achievements; they are there as a goal, of course, but if you only do 2/3 of them whilst having fun, so what?

    Better that than sit at your computer feeling you have to do stuff simply because it is there, no matter how tedious.

  2. I suppose I aspire to being a “moppet”. :)

    This particular player vs developer struggle has turned into an ugly war of attrition. The devs clearly intended to have this thing be a supremely rare mount, and the players feel that non-raid/PVP achievements should, as a general rule, be attainable by players who spend a reasonable amount of time on them. The portions of the events that are NOT fun are the ones that are intended to keep the achievement rare. The end result is looking like a not very fun event grind that ultimately won’t end up being very rare either.

    I think part of the disconnect is become of the slow speed of content development at Blizzard. Players are starved for content, so they’re expecting events with incentives like Warhammer has, that provide something for everyone to do while the event is up and running. Blizzard seems to have underestimated the number of players who have elected to participated (who now feel too strongly invested to back out). They thought that only the dedicated would bother to do the content, which was the case before the achievement system went in, and apparently didn’t realize that people are more likely to do things that the game rewards them for.

  3. I generally object to time-spent-grinding (or logged in or whatever) rewards too. However, that made me think of the SOE veteran rewards where it’s not how long you’ve been subscribed, it’s WHEN you started subscribing, whether you’ve been subbed-up throughout or not.

    *That* is actually a really nice move which in itself is unusual for MMOs (let alone SOE :P). When I went back to SWG for a bit in late 2007, I had a butt-ton of veteran rewards available for selection. None of them are earth-shattering, of course, but I think that’s far more to the point of such rewards than giving out LeUltimateItemdeDoom only to people who can go without sleep for 120 hours straight. I’d rather have a nice/cute/funny housing deco or personal deco item I can get without having to chew my own arms off.

    But yes. I experienced this WoW Valentine’s thing for the first time (didn’t exist in the dim & distant when I first played WoW) and those double firecrackers and general groaning and keening and … ugh. No, thanks. Not an achievement I’m likely to get.

  4. *vlad*: I think you’re right. Fun is supposed to be the point after all?

    GArmadillo: I realise now that I could have phrased that more tactfully. I’m sure the mount will be cool. And I think the developers knew exactly what they were doing. They know how many people have done daft grinds for mounts previously. I figure it this way: rare, non-random, accessible, fun — pick any 3. So if something is rare, accessible and fun then it’s going to be very random. If it’s rare, accessible, and non-random then it won’t be very fun. And if it’s fun, accessible, and non-random then it won’t be rare. (And rare, fun, and non-random is where the hardcore raiders like their game to be, inaccessible to the rest.)

    Ysharros: I like that a lot. It’s nice to have a small visual perk to note that you’re an old dino of the game. Like the way that WAR gave out titles to people who had been in the last beta test (World-Shaper, I think it is).

  5. To a certain extent, I agree with you. It seems a little ridiculous. My major complaint with the most recent holiday was the candy bag; having an achievement based on a random is okay, but having an achievement based on TWO randoms is not. It’s like being given the choice of being punched in the gut or kicked in the groin; neither one is desirable, but one of them will likely hurt less.

    I’m working on this for the mount, but because I’m a collector, not because I want to show it off. I don’t particularly care who sees or doesn’t see what I have. I use what I want to use or what I like to look at, and other people’s opinions don’t really matter to me. I will say, though, that I wouldn’t be working on it if I hadn’t already snagged the Brew of the Month quest last October (purely by accident – I did that whole mess because I thought it would be neat).

  6. Dunno, this whole achievement thing kinda went over my head and somewhere along the line I’ve started ignoring it on principal.

    I think that point came when two friends invited me to run Scarlet Monastery. I love those instances because of the lore, the design and the look. It’s just a cool instance. But these two friends were utterly obsessed with the achievements, finding and hastily ‘reading’ every book that they could get for the achievement, repeatedly pointing books out to me that I might have missed ‘FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT!’ They never actually bothered literally ‘reading’ any of the books and actually had no clue what was in them and even less of a clue what the whole instance was about.

    I eventually lost my temper and told everyone to shut up about achievements.

    I’ve since found it to be a sort of litmus test for players. If they’re obsessed with achievements, and expect ME to be obsessed with achievements, chances are they’re going to annoy me even more down the line with other things.

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