[WoW] Thought for the Day: On playing a new expansion

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It is tempting to go with a first impression, or start making broad predictions quite early on in an expansion, before you’ve played through all of the PvE. Be careful if you try that with Mists of Pandaria, because each zone I have seen so far is better than the last. The cool stuff is paced and spread out much better than any of the previous expansions. I have more thoughts noted down, and the game is still very much WoW at its core. But the questline/event for Savior of Stoneplow is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in any game ever. It is better than Wrathgate.

I have also seen questlines that made me laugh (honestly, that monkey guy in the Horde Jade Forest special assault group! I heard my partner giggling from across the room earlier and knew that was what he was playing through too) and that made me cry (if you are playing Horde, you will know this one when you see it). The music is also wonderful.

I miss the freedom to just head out and explore that I had gotten used to in GW2. Pandaria is less on rails than Cataclysm, and you could just head off and find new quest hubs if you want, but the longer storylines just work better if you don’t push it too far because you will meet NPCs from one zone in another further down the line. You can end up feeling like Doctor Who if you go back and forth (as in: Hi, I know this is the first time we’ve met  for you but I’ve spoken to your future self and I’m really sorry about your wife/dog/favourite sword.)

But when WoW hits the mark, it really does hit the mark and I’m enjoying meeting so many memorable NPCs and places that make me care about them. My advice to bloggers: be cautious about making conclusions about this until you have played it to the end, you may not have hit some of the big payoffs yet.

[GW2] Some things are better with other people: personal stories and social exploring

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Is it a picture postcard? Nope, it’s a GW2 vista

I feel that I am settling into a comfortable groove with Guild Wars 2. My Mesmer dude is now level 60 and I think this may be the first MMO I’ve played where I don’t feel any pressure at all to reach max level. I’ve played games where I got bored of the game before that point, but not sure I cared so little about what level my character was as this one.

This is because of the way levelling content and endgame are set out in GW2; they can all involve the same types of activity (economy, crafting, wandering/gathering/PvE, instances, WvW, sPvP, alts) and you can easily play with your friends via the down levelling feature, so levels themselves don’t seem so important.

And the comfortable groove I am settling into is a slow paced one in which I’m as likely to spend my time shuttling between trading post and crafting station as wandering the wilds of PvE or (occasionally) PvP. The trick to making money by trading is mostly just to look for frequently traded items where there is a large enough spread between buy and sell orders that you will be able to turn a profit once you have accounted for trading post fees. The general idea is to avoid selling or buying for the price offered unless you are in a rush, are happy with your profit/price, or there’s not much difference between the sell and buy prices. So every time you sell, undercut by a copper or so. Every time you buy, overbid by a copper or so (if you want your order to be filled more quickly). Or more than a copper if you prefer.

I’ve been trading bags and runes. There are no secrets about both of these being good tradegoods – people always want them in multiple amounts. Although it is worth trading cautiously for a few days so that you can watch the price fluctuations and get a feel for them, given that there aren’t (as far as I know) any auction house addons.

But I do find that my stamina for long PvE sessions is waning unless I have friends or guildies online with whom to chat. Maybe I am too social a being, but I don’t find GW2 really grabs me for long immersive play sessions unless I am following a story quest. On the other hand, it’s great for shorter play sessions. What is more surprising (to me) is that although the game is still pretty new, and buzzing, there are practically whole zones which can still be very quiet. I’m not sure if that is a good thing in a game that only really comes to life when there are lots of people around. Braving the Elementalist has noticed the same thing and notes that it also means levelling is slower in those less populated zones.

Certainly although I have enjoyed exploring the snowy peaks of “whatever zone it is pictured above” on my own, it’s nowhere near as exciting as racing around Bloodtide Coast with Arb, or chattering frantically to guildies while being drawn into huge dynamic events in Harathi with tens of other players running around. Parts of GW2 do feel massive, the trading post for example. But others really don’t. It is a puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles, I tried one of the jumping puzzles in Metrica and got about halfway through before deciding to go and do something else after several attempts. I don’t really understand why people hate them, it’s good that MMOs have content for different types of player. Maybe I will go back sometime for another go.

I have also been working through my character’s personal questline. I have a really good tolerance for offbeat storytelling, so although I don’t disagree with some of the criticisms, I still have liked these quest segments quite a lot and they definitely add to my personal enjoyment of the game. Moreover, it feels that  the mechanics of the story quests were designed to fit the story – so maybe Claw Island isn’t well tuned and can feel like a bit of a mess, but it still told a poignant and exciting story for me. I love that Arenanet tried to do this, even in the places where it doesn’t quite work. It makes the story segments way more memorable. I even quite like Trahearne.

My own character is a bit of a void in comparison, and that’s one thing I really miss from SWTOR. The sense that my character had a personality. Actually, after level 10 I miss a sense of my character’s culture as well, and since he’s human that’s fairly basic.

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Trahearne is standing behind me in this shot, which is why it looks weird

Last time I touched on GW2, I wondered what people made of the WvW. Well, there are major issues.

kiantremayne is very positive about WvW, aside from the queues.

Not sure what Anet can do to alleviate this easily – just raising the pop caps, even if the servers could take it, would make maps more crowded and zergy – but if WvW remains this popular they’d better start working on something. I don’t begrudge others their fun but let me have some too, damn it!

Syncaine links to feedback from his guild on WvW on the official bboards, which talks about some of the issues they are facing in more detail.

All borderlands are copies of each other?? You guys did a great job in the variety and look of all the pve zones, then when it came to your main draw, the feature most people have been clamoring about for years you simply cut and paste the same zone. We all assumed in beta these were placeholder zones and on release the WvW zones would be three unique areas which is how it obviously should be. If someone is looking for uniformity and repetition they have SPVP. The fix for this would be to actually design 4 unique zones which would play out differently.

I was surprised that the borderlands were direct copies too. I still think the WvW is fun as an activity, particularly for players like me who make it more of a sideline, but it did and does have the potential to be better than it is now. And particularly if people want to play and can’t, that’s something that needs to be sorted out. I don’t know how though.

We are also starting to see some more thoughtful reviews of GW2, after a month in. My main conclusion is that I enjoy the game a lot, and the gameworld itself is beautiful and critters are wonderfully animated. I think I will keep coming back for a long time, in between other  games I am playing, and that it’s a great base for Arenanet to add to in future. In particular I hope they do something with the home zones, and I would be happy to see more personal storyline stuff.

There’s a lot of potential here and I think people who like it and stick with it won’t be disappointed. I’m looking forwards to rampaging around with Arb and my guildies some more, although Pandaland is likely to be a preoccupation in the next few weeks.

[WoW] In which I predict shortages of tanks and healers for MoP instances

One of the new WoW features going live in the expansion is changes to how loot is doled out in quests and instances. No more need/greed rolls or eyeing quest rewards that can’t even be used by your class nevermind your spec, the future has the game doing any random loot rolls privately and offering you only rewards tailored to your character’s current spec.

Cuppy voices concerns that she wants to heal in instances but her (druid) levelling spec will be melee dps – and wonders how she can gear up for instance healing. I was wondering about that also but she notes, via Grumpy Elf, that vendors in villages will be selling gear equivalent to that area’s quest rewards to cover off-specs. (So what is the point of the quest rewards then? For the cash maybe? Don’t ask me, I only play this thing.)

I can see a similar dilemma for players who play a different role in raids than in instances. So for example I’m planning to dps in raids but happy to tank in instances if needed. At the moment, you get to roll on all the class-wearable drops regardless of your current spec, so I could queue as dps or tank, let the LFG pick what it needs most, and still roll on my preferred gear. But this new system means it would be pretty suboptimal of me to offer to tank instances while I’m trying to use them to gear up for raids; I would only get tanking drops.

(edit: No, I’m an idiot and read the Blizzard blog wrong. Quest and LFR (random raid finder) loot will be tailored for current spec, instance loot will still be on need/greed, if I read it right.)

So ignoring me being wrong, you can still use your support offspec to instance and pick up loot for your dps mainspec (or vice versa). Although I do wonder if the questing and LFR loot model will start to shape player expectations to be even more vehement about people rolling for offspec loot.

Also if you offtank or offheal in raids,  for those encounters where you are playing your offspec (ie. an encounter needs an extra tank or healer), you will have zero chance for a main spec loot drop. Again, it might be smarter not to offer to help the raid out unless you don’t need any main spec drops from that boss.

I would have preferred a system that lets the player pick the loot they prefer when they queue, and allowing that to be for a different spec than the one they are currently playing.

[WoW] Delenda est Theramore

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Well I thought the scenario was quite fun!

One of the features added to WoW in the next expansion will be scenarios: short 3-man escapades which are designed to be manageable without a balanced group, by characters without raid gear.  We know this because WoW developers addressed this question in a Q&A last night. 

The fact is that Scenarios in Mists will be more tailored for players in quest gear and dungeon blues.

The Fall of Theramore was released early and tweaked for level 85 characters (in rather better than quest gear) to give people a preview of scenarios with one that is related to stuff that happens in the lore between the end of Cataclysm and the beginning of MoP. You can queue randomly for a PUG, although I guess waiting times are longish because people were also calling for groups in general chat.

In this particular scenario, your current goal pops up on the right of the screen and you’re guided from encounter to encounter, with patrols and suchlike to avoid/kill on the way. The storytelling works fine on a micro level, you always know what  your next objective is even if you don’t really know why. Clearly (as Horde) you are doing destructive things in Theramore, and eventually rescue a snotty Blood Elf spy – I don’t know why we didn’t just leave him there either. On a macro level, the storytelling isn’t a failure so much as completely nonexistent. Even a paragraph of text on the LFG screen would have helped.

Unsurprisingly, this is a widespread complaint. Blizzard also addressed it in the Q&A (different site from above because this is the full transcript).

Guest-37: The story of Tides of War is really interesting. I don’t think players can get engaged if they have no idea what’s happening, the bomb dropping is really anticlimactic. I felt a bit disappointed so little got included in the scenario. Was this because of lack of time, of developers or because you rather keep all that info in the novels.
DaveKosak: To Guest-37 I’ve been watching the Theramore feedback closely, and this comment seems pretty universal. We tried to keep everything all in the scenario, to make it really self-contained, but not burden it with lots of story that you have to slog through every time you played the scenario. It’s pretty clear from the feedback that people wanted more story. We should’ve surrounded the scenarios with more quests or explanations to help round out the story for the people who wanted to know what exactly was happening. Lesson learned!

It looks as though the developers heard all the complaints about the long preambles in lore heavy instances like Old Stratholme and decided to just skip it and let players get on with the random devastation. But I bet most people really quite liked the preamble the first time they saw it. They might have liked it even more if they had first seen the preamble in a solo instance with plenty of time to listen, explore, or just spacebar through it if they really have no patience.

LOTRO, I think, had the best solution to this with respect to their skirmishes (similar to scenarios but better, at least based on what I have seen atm). A LOTRO skirmish is a shortish (20-30 mins) scenario which scales up from solo to 6 player groups, some involve defending a location (such as Weathertop or The Prancing Pony Inn in Bree) from waves of attackers, others involve heading into an enemy held location and freeing it by capturing one goal at a time.  Where skirmishes were introduced into the game, some were immediately available and others had to be unlocked by completing the (mostly soloable) epic questline in which they played a part. Only after you had finished the quests did you realise that you had just completed the one man version of the skirmish as part of the storyline. So players knew all the background to the skirmish and had familiarised themselves with the layout and goals BEFORE being able to queue for random groups. I thought that was fairly genius, and it’s a shame WoW skipped that part.

As far as the actual storyline goes, Horde dropped The Bomb on Theramore (at the end of the scenario, when players are no longer at ground zero). It’s like we have our very own Hiroshima – naturally there was no exploration of any ethical implications. Which is fair I guess since players had so little to do with it all. Plus they’re only Alliance. You even get a miniature bomb memento in the mail afterwards. My goblin priest probably thinks it is the best thing ever.

So in that context, the only surprising thing is that it will take the Alliance an entire expansion to get round to invading Orgrimmar.

I am however, intrigued to see the other scenarios. I think we’ll really enjoy them at that sweet spot between reaching the level cap and zooming into heroics (a sweet spot which currently lasts about 2s but may be more drawn out in MoP.)

My scenario adventures

I ran through the scenario a couple of times on my shadow priest (who only just makes the gear requirements). Fun was had, we found the instructions clear and easy to follow, the boss fights aren’t very interesting but it was cool to be able to run around Theramore. I liked that the scenario didn’t feel like a long corridor with mobs in it, but more like an actual location. The challenge level felt fine with a random group of 3 dps. I can easily imagine that with a guild group involving some tanking and healing on the side, it would be trivial. And you get a loot bag at the end which may contain iLvL 384 shinies, or may not.

The first time one of the random people went AFK at the start and we weren’t able to boot him, and the other player was a resto shaman who kept telling me he was just there to heal. Needless to say, it didn’t go brilliantly well although we got about 2/3 of the way through before a mass unexpected pull just sapped my will to be there.

I can see why Blizzard might have thought it of lesser importance to implement a boot mechanic (to boot people from groups) in content that is only 8-`12 mins long, but they underestimated how dickish some players can be. Hopefully some ability to book afk people will be in sometime.

The second time I ran the scenario (same character), I had a  better feel for how it was intended to run. This time it was my shadow priest, a hunter, and a mage. It wasn’t hard but it was fun and we had to be on our toes. I threw some heals, there was crowd control, if the hunter had actually brought a tanking pet they could have tanked. I can see my spriest having a ton of fun in scenarios during MoP, there’s a real role for a dps who can throw clutch heals. I also got a shiny iLvL 384 healing staff in the reward box afterwards, and getting shinies always improves my mood (shallow, I know).

[Links] Death of an MMO, Obsidian Kickstarter, Backlash for GW2

We are just coming up on one of the traditionally busy times of the year for the gaming industry, and this year is busier than most for MMOs with a slew of big new releases, new expansions and media blitz. You might almost think that the traditional (whatever that means) MMO is not in fact dead.

Unless, like City of Heroes, it is dead in the water. One of the reasons the news about CoH inspires such emotion around many of the blogs I read is that it is an older MMO, from an era where social networking was not as widespread as it is now. Back then, if you played an MMO, it may well have represented a much more important part of your online social life and online support network, at a time when these things didn’t greatly exist anywhere else.

Welshtroll notes some memories about the UK CoH community. Bree thinks about how this will affect how she plays MMOs  in the future, and how she feels about GW2 now. Strawfellow writes about what CoH meant to him and why the news that it is closing has hit him so hard.

What I am left with is a profound sense that no part of my life is sacred from the feeling of loss. Online games used to be my refuge, and now I am acutely aware that this ground is not safe either. It is difficult for me to trust to begin with, and investing myself in a new game will be significantly harder. You never do trust as easily as you do the first time.

Peter @ Markovia also reflects on what it means when a virtual world shuts down that had been active for so long (relatively).

… I’ve heard from people who have grown up there, who have proposed to wives and husbands in-game, or who have introduced their children to it as they become old enough. These people face losing their old haunts, places they often regard as an extension of their hometown. The community faces being torn apart.

<…> this isn’t a game anymore; the ‘game’ aspect of it is, at this point, something of a vestigial organ connected to the body of something much larger.

Unsubject analyses the state of NCSoft to think about why they made this decision.

NCsoft wants big successes, not titles that have limited future potential for growth. If the money might be better off going to ArenaNet (you bet NCsoft wants Guild Wars 2 to an incredible success) or Carbine Studios (Wildstar is on its way) than staying with Paragon Studios, then it makes sense to divert the cash.

Another game that has had a rough ride recently is The Secret World. Funcom announced that the game failed to meet their (crazily high) expectations, and that they have laid off some staff, and the promised monthly update is also running late.

A former Funcom CEO is also under investigation for insider trading.  Tobold suggests that figuring out that the game would not meet Funcom’s expectations and that this would affect share price, and therefore selling ones shares before launch may not indicate insider trading so much as common sense.

But I am sympathetic to all the players who really love the game and hoped for it to have a long and prosperous future. It’s far too early to announce doom and gloom, but clearly things aren’t going to well at the moment, and they’ll have to make do with the players they have.

lonomonkey argues that players who want MMOs to go places other than fantasy need to back new ideas with their money by supporting games like TSW when they are released. I would rather give the industry the message that if they make fun games, I will buy them.

A word from our developers

Alexander Brazie (who is a WoW designer) has a great blog on game design, and his post this week touched a nerve with me.

If you consider the pacing the macro level of a game, dungeon or encounter, you don’t want players to be going balls-to-the-wall nonstop for the entire experience. To cater to their human nature, you want luls, breaks and breathing periods between moments of intensity. Players, however will continue to naturally seek higher and higher levels of intensity until they breakdown from exhaustion.

You need to give them a hint that pushing forward harder is wrong.

Although I think I’m fairly good at knowing when to stop, I’ve definitely played games that felt like the gaming equivalent of a sugar rush. It was exciting, there was so much to do, and I played to where I was (mentally, if not physically) exhausted. So I appreciate efforts by designers to design in this type of lull as a pacing mechanism.

Because sometimes you want chilled out fun and not balls to the wall fun.

Whatever you think of GW2, the trading post/ auction house/ economy is shaping up to be one of the most exciting parts of the game (in my opinion). John Smith, the house economist, writes a great blog on the state of the economy that I hope is going to become a regular update. And incidentally, why don’t other MMOs other than EVE have their own economists?

We’ve noticed several markets that are clearly out of sync in terms of supply and demand. It isn’t interesting or fun to have a market flooded with items that contain very little value, so we’re making adjustments to the game every day. Players can expect to see these markets even out over time.

While adjusting the supply and demand will bring markets closer to non-vendor based equilibrium, there is still the matter of massive surplus of some items. To address the surplus, we’ve created some new, limited-time Mystic Forge recipes that use these items. These recipes create boxes that give chances for gold and some cool items.

It’s the fact that they are making constant adjustments in a way that players can respond immediately (via trading, naturally) that makes this so interesting. The day after he posted this, the ‘massively surplus items’ shown in the screenshot on the blog saw a huge increase in value, presumably because some players decided to stock up so that they could gamble on the new limited-time Mystic Forge recipes.

I realise this won’t be new to anyone who plays EVE, but it is entirely possible that Anet will do a better job of ‘balancing’ the economy than CCP. They also have an easier task because GW2 isn’t a completely sandbox game so they can tweak elements like the Mystic Forge and what is sold by NPCs in a way that CCP can’t. I think it will be interesting to watch, and interesting to play if you are economy-minded. I’m already loving the buy orders.

Smith also discusses economic issues around gold making ‘exploits’ in MMOs, and the karma vendor exploit in GW2.

The game has gotten to a point in size where there is no such thing as a single player discovering an exploit. Exploits come in waves of mass participation and in the end, if they aren’t dealt with, the economy becomes hyper-inflated. After mass exploitation, your wealth is only relative to how good you were at exploiting, rather than your success in the game. This damages the integrity of the game and makes it unfriendly to new and honest players. There have been cases where exploits have severely damaged and arguably killed a game.

Exploits are mostly generated by a mistake on our end and are really hard on players. When an exploit is discovered, players are tempted to participate by the draw of becoming wealthy and out of fear of being left behind the massively wealthy players who do participate. We take a harsh stance on exploiters because this decision should be easy: find an exploit, report the exploit and move on. It isn’t worth the risk to the player or the game.

Let me give you all my money

If you are one of the 36k players who have already thrown some money into the Kickstarter hat for Obsidian Entertainment, you probably know all about Project Eternity.

If you are like me, you got as far as the first paragraph of blurb ….

Obsidian Entertainment and our legendary game designers Chris Avellone, Tim Cain, and Josh Sawyer are excited to bring you a new role-playing game for the PC. Project Eternity (working title) pays homage to the great Infinity Engine games of years past: Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.

… and then gave them some money immediately, before finding out what this game is actually intended to be about or when it might be released (2014 is the current estimate.) I do not pretend that this is either sensible or smart, but what is life without a little risk? I hope it’s more like Planescape than Baldur’s Gate but I won’t quibble either way.

The Kickstarter still has 29 days to go and, amazingly, made it’s $1.1m goal in about the first day. What makes me excited as a player (and pundit) is that with the success of games like Skyrim, GW2, and this kickstarter, I hope the industry is getting a strong message that there is a really solid audience for open world fantasy games and that we would like more of them.

Guild Wars 2 – backlash edition

So the game has now been out for a few weeks, plenty of  time for bloggers to get stuck in and come out with a stronger idea of what they do and don’t like about it.

Syncaine describes the game as ‘enjoyably meh’ and feels that it lacks meaningful decisions. Or at least the sort of decisions and challenges that would feel meaningful to him. It feels as though he can’t quite summon the energy for a full blown rant, but knows that something isn’t right.

Keen explains that he really enjoyed the levelling experience, and talks about what he and his guild are doing at level 80, with suggestions for other players. (Mull around, get bored and/or burned out, write an insightful post about flaws in the game and hop on the next hype train?)

Verene at Under the Pale Tree gives her two week summary and  touches on something Arb brought up while we were playing. The game is like crack for people with short attention spans.

Nearly every time I set out to do something, I spot another thing going on, and then another, and so on and so forth. Suddenly it’s three hours later, I’ve leveled up several times, and I realize I never got to what I was going to do in the first place!

Ravious is looking forwards to giving Arenanet more of his money in return for fun toys, like a pirate outfit that comes with its own emotes (we thought that looked quite fun when we saw it in the store too.) He also writes about his attempts to slow down and smell the roses in game – this is related to what Brazie wrote (see link above) about the natural lulls.

One of the cool things about being British, apart from the Olympics/Paralympics and having a weather system that isn’t trying to kill us, is that “afk 5 mins to get tea” is one of the great universal codes among British MMO players for “need a lull/ slow the pace.”

smakendahead also touches on the pacing of the game.

Dusty writes about roles in GW2 and discusses dungeon tactics. Since my main takeaway from the one dungeon we did run was “That wasn’t really very fun compared to roaming in PvE/WvW,” I’m trying to be open to the possibility that I was just doing it wrong. However, he does conclude that it would be useful to have a plate wearer around to take damage, which doesn’t quite gell with the whole ‘no trinity’ vibe.

Jeromai describes why he loves the underwater environments so much in GW2. I think I’d love them more if they were less full of barracudas.

Doone summarises some of the rest of the feedback from bloggers.

It’s interesting that I don’t have a lot of bloggers on my reader discussing WvW or sPvP in GW2. Feel free to recommend any blogs that cover those in more detail (or if you have written about them, feel free to add links in the comments, I’ll post them up here.)

On another note

Lord British (Richard Garriot) is getting Zynga to publish his new Ultimate Collector game. Don’t hate me but it sounds kind of fun and I think both of them are going to have a big success on their hands. You heard it here first.

Although I will probably be too busy playing on the GW2 auction house.

[WoW] Patch 5.01 redux, and getting closure on Cataclysm

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Will the last alt through Uldum please turn off the light…?

So at the tail end of another expansion, thoughts turn to two things: finishing up anything you wanted to do in the current expansion while it is still current and populated, and getting the alt industrial complex ready for the expansion that is to come.

I feel that coming back after a few months break, there’s no point in having a weighty bucket list. Presumably if there were loads of things you wanted to do in the game, you would have stayed in the game longer and done them. There is also a notion of ‘unfinished business’ – any raids you haven’t completed and still want to see, any achievements in the current expansion you might want to do, and so on.

So I was excited, and grateful,  to be able to take Spinks through Firelands with my guild, since we had been struggling with it when I was last subscribed. This time, unsurprisingly, we whipped through it all fairly fast including some heroic modes, I got a new axe from Shannox, and we killed Ragnaros (or whatever you do to giant fire elemental lords). Job done.

I do feel a sense of closure on Cataclysm raiding, despite having seen so little of the Dragon Soul. I’ve never really been that up for killing Deathwing and … sometimes a raid simply doesn’t appeal. The other reason I’ve been slacking on seeing the latest content in guild raids is that I don’t really feel good about whipping through content that other people have worked hard to get on farm. I know it will sound odd, but the whole experience of raiding (in my head) is about going in, wiping, people getting frustrated, getting better, first kill, and then finally onto farm status. And the last reason is that I’d feel bad if someone who had been raiding all year had to sit out so that I could raid.

I also had a chance to practice my shiny new 5.01 tanking spec in Icecrown when we took a raid there to snaffle some achievements. It is, for a start, very nostalgic to tank a raid that you have tanked many times before albeit a couple of years ago. Although it is a different experience when the level 85 zerg does the whole ‘knife through butter’ number on Arthas. Mostly what I remember is the tension that all the raid tanks felt at the time, that we were in competition with each other for raid spots. That caused far more anxiety than the actual raids themselves, even though I’m pretty sure raid leadership wondered why we were all so wound up all the time.

So I guess as well as finishing out my Cataclysm raiding (with some old raids), I’ve started to get my confidence back for group work in WoW. We’ll call that a win.

I am finding the current Prot/Fury setup for warriors to be serviceable, but I’m not sure if it is more fun than the previous version. Active mitigation seems to mostly consist of deciding whether to hit shield barrier or shield block once there’s enough rage in the bank, with penalties (in terms of damage taken) if your twitch reflexes are below par. It would be nice if the UI could make this more prominent, as I suspect healers will end up catching the flak for tanks dying due to failing to mitigate unless it’s really obvious that it isn’t their fault.

Of the alts I have tried under the new system, it’s the priest who I’m really liking at the moment. Shadow is shaping up to be a strong, fluid spec at the moment; it has a different rotation for burst damage than for longer fights which I like and you can glyph to be able to throw a few emergency heals too.  I healed a few heroics with Disc spec and that seemed fine, I’ll look forwards to experimenting with it further. I did also check out my druid and I think Balance is going to be quite unwieldy due to the sheer number of keys you need to bind for the main spells and all the various utility spells you get as a druid. But bonus points to Blizzard for including a glyph that means you don’t need to be in moonkin form all the time.

The other bucket list items for me were levelling fishing and archaeology on at least one alt. Fortunately (for my sanity) Blizzard have made both of these a bit less onerous in the last patch. Archaeology also would drive me bonkers after awhile – possibly why I hadn’t bothered with it much previously – it’s the most Facebook of the WoW minigames and involves lots of clicking and random rewards. There are hints of lore behind the found items but really this thing needs a full codex style interpretation with extensive entries for each item, which WoW conspicuously does not provide.

Out with the old, on with the new

Sometimes, seeking closure and preparing for a new expansion can be done at the same time. I wanted to level a couple of alts from 80 to 85 (one for crafting reasons, the other because I was just enjoying playing it) which gave me a chance to see the Cataclysm levelling zones again. Mostly I agree with my first impressions – the levelling game has a lot of good, fun content in it if you don’t mind sitting down to enjoy the ride. I still love Vash’jir as a zone, and still hate Uldum. It’s a shame about Uldum, such a beautiful zone that begs to be explored and all you get is a halfhearted ‘help these people retake their city’ and ‘be a sidekick to Indiana Jones’ questlines; the latter is ALMOST worthwhile just for all the puns but not quite.

With the upcoming pet battles, I found a new interest in acquiring pets. I’ve never been much of a collector so there several I hadn’t bothered to pick up from faction vendors even though I could. I also went through all my alts to figure out which of them still had any Argent Tournament tokens, to see if I could pick up any pets from those vendors. Turned out a couple of them did, yay.  As always, if you pick the low hanging fruit and aren’t a completionist, you can be fairly laid back about WoW and still feel that you’ve accomplished something in game.

And the other thing I wanted to do was hang out and reacquaint myself with my guildies. It’s been awhile, there are new faces as well as old one, and I feel there’s an unspoken stigma about being a quitter that you can only really overcome by demonstrating that you’re actually around. I am sure that a lot of people are playing both GW2 and WoW at the moment, and that MoP will sell millions (as per every WoW expansion). It will be interesting to see if it grabs people more than Cataclysm did. I do think there is a chance that it might, but Blizzard are now going against the flow with their subscription game so we’ll see how that hits the numbers.

Next week brings the new Theramore scenario, which will be the first sight a lot of players (including me) will have of the new 3-man instances, if instances is the right word. And now that I’m pretty much done with closure and have figured out how to play my character post-patch, I am looking forwards to it.

Do you do anything to get a sense of closure at the end of an expansion, or before leaving a game?

Crafting, Convenience, and Capitalism

Every WoW player should try, at least once in their playing career, selling [Ice Cold Milk] on the Auction House during the Christmas Event where you can often get up to 1g per piece. You can buy it from a vendor in unlimited supplies for 25c (1.25s for 5 pieces) literally 5s walk away from the Auction House.

You will learn a lot about the nature of people, consumers, and trade by making that one transaction.

Crafting for the sandbox

Crafting is pretty much the ultimate sandbox activity in MMOs. Player gatherers gather raw materials and trade them with each other, player crafters acquire raw materials and turn them into finished goods, player traders create and maintain a market in these raw and finished goods. That is the crafting way of things.

So why do themepark MMO devs feel they can’t ship without some kind of crafting mechanism in the game? Themepark games offer plenty of other ways to get gear and consumables. You can buy them from NPCs (either with in game gold or with various tokens) , they drop randomly from mobs, they might be rewards from minigames, and so on.

  • It’s partly for historical reasons: Ultima Online had crafting, DaoC had crafting, Everquest had crafting. Therefore every MMO in perpetuity will have crafting because players just expect it.
  • It’s partly because crafting is another avenue for progression, another progress bar to fill, another grind to keep players in the game.
  • And partly because a lot of players seem to really enjoy making gear for themselves and trading with other players.

While many (maybe even most)  players would be perfectly happy with a crafting system that only allowed people to make gear for themselves and their alts, the sandbox interaction and trade side of things has also proven incredibly effective at getting communities of players to interact. Usually via an auction house or trade channels. Where there is an actual in-game auction house, it often ends up as the social hub of a city.

In a very real way, trade between players   is the beating heart of any MMO community.

Eric at Elder Game argues fluently for the case against auction houses. He comments that GW2 and Diablo 3 both ‘suffer’ (in gameplay terms) for their huge global auction houses – the competition is so high, the barriers to entry so low, that prices tend to sink quickly to a stable floor.

Crafters have the most fun when they can sell items to other players and make a profit. It’s just not as fun when there are literally millions of crafters competing for customers.

He also discusses the different markets in luxury goods (ie. epic gear, fancy crafted mounts and pets, etc) vs everyday consumables.

Let’s say it even more generally: the transactions that let players play the game on a day-to-day basis should be fast and easy. The transactions for rarely-needed things, for luxury items, or for power-player goods don’t benefit from being trivialized like this.

I think the case is not so much against auction houses, although it can be fun to go browse player merchants if a game supports it. That was how crafters sold goods in DaoC. You could search the merchants from a central point to find out who had the best offer on the item you wanted, but you still had to go to their merchant and buy it. But the case against global auction houses in a massive multiplayer game on the grounds that it affects gameplay for crafters and traders is beginning to look stronger (to me.)

Consumers in the real world, as well as in game, will pay a premium for different types of goods and services. They will pay for luxury goods, they will pay for personalised goods, and they will pay for convenience. Part of the fun of crafting and trading in sandbox games is figuring out how to make your product or services more convenient for players, so that you can add your profit that way. In themepark games devs sometimes encourage this by putting products or materials in the game that might be inconvenient to gather or require some exploration by players to discover. For example, some item that is only sold by one vendor in a little town on a four hour cooldown, or a component that is dropped by a raid boss, or purchased with PvP tokens.

While this might be more inconvenient for customers, it’s a gift to explorers and to any trader/crafter who also likes the type of content which provides the material. You could actually make some profit just for knowing that the vendor next to the auction house sells ice cold milk, AND that ice cold milk is a component for one of the Christmas Event quests in WoW.

And if you can profit from that, you are encouraged to think about other ways in which you could use your game and world knowledge to trade convenience for profit. “Who are your customers, what do they need, and what would make their lives more convenient?” Now that is how a trader thinks. And where this is possible, it means there is a (possibly non combat) role in the game for players to pick if they choose. It is driven entirely by players and how they relate to other players. That is why trade is at heart a sandbox style.

Back in the day, we had to travel to different cities to pick up our goods

Back in Vanilla days, WoW had segmented Auction Houses. The Stormwind Auction House was not linked to the Ironforge Auction House. What actually tended to happen was that one city ended up as the hub everyone used and the others were much much quieter. Patch 1.9 was the one that linked the auction houses together. Up until that point, you could make some gold by working out if any items were cheaper in one city than another and trading between the auction houses accordingly.

It was inconvenient for customers, and not ideal for crafters (because ideally they’d want to have items for sale in every venue) but great for traders.

Vanilla WoW also featured rare(ish) recipes and components being sold by various vendors around the world, many of which were in limited supply. You had to know who sold what, where, and when or else pay extra on the auction house because someone else had known that and made the item available more conveniently for you. They continued this into TBC and you can still find useful recipes for levelling some of the crafting skills scattered around vendors in Outland.

It’s no accident that since Wrath, Blizzard have avoided doing this. On the one hand, it encouraged players to explore the game world and vendors, made the random vendors in various settlements more interesting, and was good for the trading play style. On the other, it was rather inconvenient. I’ve talked about convenience and inconvenience a lot in this post, and it is because whenever MMOs move towards being more convenient, traders and explorers lose out on rewards for their willingness to make a market and rewards for knowing the world well, respectively.

Maybe the convenience of a global market place with low prices is more important for players than the ‘fun’ of random loot, crafting for trade,  or having to depend on traders to fill up the local auction houses. But every time convenience trumps a playing style, people who enjoyed that playing style are turned off the genre, and that playing style becomes less attractive to newbies, and the genre itself loses some of the things that make it special.

I was thinking about this when I found that the latest WoW patch has removed most of the need for tradeskills to use special tools (eg. fishing rod, blacksmith hammer) and enchanters now only need one enchanting rod (the cheap low level copper one). Convenience is great, but I used to make a bit of pocket change from selling those enchanting rods on my blacksmith. They were one of the few useful things to make with rare metals from earlier expansions for which there was an actual demand. I don’t need the income from selling rods – but what will those metal ores be used for now? People don’t even need them for levelling. Any miner who finds some won’t be excited because it’s rare and will sell, it will just be trash. During TBC, if one of us who wasn’t a miner found a Khorium node in Outland, we’d tell our guild immediately so that someone could come out and get it. Now, it will be “Useless Khorium, what a waste of a metal node.”

And yes, I think when a trade good has no actual use in the contemporary game, the game world is diminished.

[GW2] Keeps, Auctions, Boulders, and reasons to WvW

gw2_vista

GW2 vistas are a gift to bloggers looking for pretty screenshots. (This is from Kessex Hills although pretty much everywhere so far seems to have centaurs.)

Bree sums up many of my thoughts about GW2 in a brilliant post which ponders whether the game will prove ‘sticky.’ (Or at least, will it be stickier for her guild than Cataclysm or SWTOR?) I have been playing the game a fair bit and I do enjoy it, I just don’t think I love GW2. It’s not you, GW2, it’s me. I loved WoW and I loved SWTOR and I loved LOTRO but there’s some emotional connection with GW2 that isn’t really there for me. At least not yet. Maybe it’s that although the human lands are expansive, well designed and fun to explore, by the time you enter your third zone of pretty rolling plains with towns under siege by centaurs, they all start to meld into each other. Maybe it’s the wide use of travel portals that make even the connected parts of the world feel a bit disconnected. Maybe I just don’t care enough about my character or the story of their people if there is one beyond fighting off centaurs. I think there is, I just don’t get what it is yet.

The game is undoubtedly fun to play, although I’m not finding combat to be a particular high point, but – ironically in a game where heart quests are literally part of the landscape – for me it lacks heart.

There have definitely been some high points while exploring; the dynamic events do a great job of drawing players together, and some of the heart quests are just unique. I loved the one where you get turned into a pig and hunt for truffles. I’ve spent longer trying to figure out how to get up /that/ mountain or into /that/ underground area in this game than I have for a long time in MMOs. Allowing everyone to harvest every node is another great way to encourage players to explore and putz around with the scenery, and I admire the skill of the designers even while I enjoy clambering around rocks or dodging ghosts to try to find a tomb. It means that moment to moment goals are much more interesting than ‘Next I will complete quest X’.

Me and my Mesmer

I am finding my mesmer (level 38 at the moment) intriguing. I like having lots of clones out, it makes me feel as though I have friends. It is also disconcerting in events with lots of players when I look round and think ‘Hey that guy looks just like my character! Oh wait, it’s my clone.” The basic idea is that you can spawn some clones (which are wimpy) or phantasms (which are better) that may do different things in combat and decide whether to leave them out as mobile DoTs or send them all off to converge on your target and explode. It’s different.

I also like that my dude can dual wield swords and do a bit of damage in melee, it feels stylish and effective. I also feel fairly useful in PvP and am sure the clones are annoying as heck to opponents. They are like very low maintenance temporary pets and if they die you just summon some more.

Other than that, I’m not very excited by GW2 combat so far. It’s fun to be able to get your own combos off or see combos flying around while you are in groups, but even with weapon switching it can feel a bit plodding.

The human storyline was good fun but now I’m a member of the Vigil and … I’m not as interested in the post-30 storyline, maybe because it’s in a different zone and again I’m not entirely sure where it is supposed to be compared with the rest of the world.

gw2_falcons

I am also deeply impressed by the attention to detail in some of the critter/ animal animations in this game and have spent far too much time just watching them wander around, stretch, attack each other, and so on. The models are also gorgeous. This picture shows three falcons attacking a rat, which was part of a heart quest. Look at the detail on the feathers,  and how they are posed to strike out with their talons. (I am a bird watcher so I appreciate this kind of thing Smile ).

gw2_keep

Blink and you’ll miss it – this screenshot shows my server actually taking a keep in WvW !!

There are plenty of reasons to try out WvW:

  • It’s fun (subjective)
  • Just about everything you do (that helps your side) will count as a dynamic event if you’re trying to tick some off for daily or monthly achievements, including defence.
  • There are plenty of objectives, including some that are soloable as well as group or zerg type activities. Obviously this depends on how much resistance you receive from the other teams.
  • Plenty of opportunity for xp. Lots of nodes to mine.
  • Supply lines are important. If you like your PvP a bit more tactical, you will probably enjoy this aspect of the game.
  • You can drive a ballista. Or other siege engines.
  • Free teleport to capital cities. Given that travel is a gold sink in GW2, the free port is handy if you need to get back to a trading post or want to do some crafting. Obviously this won’t be very appealing if your server has long PvP queues but its great if they don’t.

I’ve had fun pitching into PvP when I’m bored with centaurs. The realm v realm/ team style play does encourage players from your side to work together, although they may not always do it effectively. I don’t really get where the mists are supposed to exactly be geographically but given that this is server vs server PvP, it’s probably best not to worry about it.

It’s the economy, stupid

I have seen discussion this week about the GW2 economy: Azuriel thinks it is broken, Ravious thinks it is hugely successful. I see large volumes of trade occurring (the front page of the trading tab shows you some numbers) so trade is happening and we’ll call that a win for the moment. The main trade items are low level raw materials and unidentified dyes – cloth is evidently in low supply compared to other craft materials. There are clear gold sinks in the game via repairs and travel costs as well as pricey cosmetic gear that can be bought with gold at high levels.

While there are reasons to craft in the game — for xp, for fun, to eventually be able to make your own legendary gear, etc. – selling crafted gear to other players isn’t likely to be one of them. There may be crafts where a smart crafter can find a niche in the market, but you will be competing with all the other players across all servers in your region. (The trading post may also be cross-region, I’m not sure.) There is a lot more to be said on crafting and economies in MMOs but GW2 doesn’t look as though it will be a particularly rewarding game for crafting fans. I think I preferred the GW1 approach where you just handed your raw materials to an NPC and got crafted gear back, making crafting into its own /thing/ hasn’t really added a lot. Still, its early days yet.

It will also be interesting to watch the exchange rate of gold to gems (and vice versa) to get a feel for how many people are buying gems to convert into gold. Logically, Anet probably want to have plenty of gold sinks to encourage this but without making the game overtly pay to win or demotivating other players.

I suspect that while Azuriel may be right in principle with his arguments, any view that discounts that the vast majority of players do not read blogs or want to put much thought into playing the economy is unrealistic. It won’t matter to the GW2 economy if a minority of players can make loads of gold from it with some work, there will be many more who can’t be arsed.

Boulders and the single instance runner

gw2-boulder

We ran a story mode instance yesterday for the first time, huzzah!

I like this screenshot as it shows all the boulders we had been hurling at a boss stacked up in a corner after the boss died. Boulders are good! They knock mobs over. Use the boulders.

I am currently ambivalent about the PvE group content based on this experience. Although it was a story mode instance, only one of the players actually got the story cut scenes, the rewards weren’t really worth the effort, the bosses tactics were fine for an introductory instance, and our tactics tended to involve lots of boulders and death zergs (this is when people keep dying and running back into the fight until the boss dies). I don’t think this was particularly down to our poor play, some of the traps the bosses put down seemed to do a load of upfront damage which didn’t allow for much time to get out of the danger zone.

I enjoyed the actual exploring and trash fights more than the boss fights, and it’s always fun to hang out with the guys and kill things in a group. It would have been nicer to have gotten some rewards from our first instance that we didn’t all sell. I kept the yellow hood (quest reward) for the looks.

Also, for all Anet have attempted to remove the tank/heal/dps trinity in this game, I do hear a lot of people in general chat asking for plate classes to join their instance PUGs.

Does hearing about overachievers demotivate players?

I feel I’m getting way behind all the posts I intended to write this week, time mostly lost between RL and playing GW2 and WoW. As a gaming blogger, it’s not a bad idea per se to spend time in games but I think you’re supposed to pause occasionally (outside meals, work, sleep) to write things up.

I have also been following a course on Coursera on Gamification.  If you are interested in the subject I recommend checking it out, it’s all free. Gamification seems to be a mixture between game design, game criticism, marketing, psychology et al and the syllabus also looks as though it’s going to cover criticisms of gamification and uses for social good.

Anyhow, one of the comments made in a lecture was that players are only really motivated once they get 90% of the way to a goal.

This I suspect is true of a lot of games; it may not hold for a goal you really want  for personal reasons, or if you are just good at motivating yourself. But the idea is that people need to see their goal, see that it is achievable, see what they will need to do to get there, and feel as though they are almost there already. If those things are all in place, chances are you will play ‘just a bit more’. Both WoW and GW2 do a great job with this type of motivation, using stepped achievements and the game environment itself. GW2 is great at tempting the player to explore the expansive game world with the dynamic events, view points, resource nodes and travel points scattered across the landscape.

However, one thing you can guarantee in a new game or new expansion is that  you will quickly hear about players who have reached the level cap, geared themselves up, beaten any raids, and generally zipped through the content while you are still noodling around in the newbie area wondering how to get to that potato patch or access your bank. I wonder if has a demotivating effect by reminding new players that despite the game’s attempts to lead you through in terms of small steps and reachable goals, there are people who are quantum leaps ahead.

I don’t personally find it demotivating when random people I don’t know inform that they are already max level, maxed crafts,  fully kitted out in exotic gear and just working on their legendaries.  Or that they’ve made tons of gold already and exchanged a load for gems while I am still figuring out how to achieve that first gold piece. I made my peace long ago with the fact that I’m not hardcore, not much of an achiever in games, and probably not that good at them either**. But it doesn’t make me engage more with the game either. As well as highlighting all the goals that are far away, it’s tempting to compare yourself with other players in a way that isn’t encouraging.

This may be connected to the 90%, above,  because hearing about overachievers can make a goal feel less attainable rather than more, or the player feel “I am a bad player compared to X, Y and Z, maybe I shouldn’t bother with this game.” This is all in the mind. In the long run everyone who keeps playing will be max level and will probably have as much gold as they can be bothered to grind out. But emotions are powerful, and the feeling of disengaging from a game is powerful too.

Do you enjoy hearing about people who have zipped through a game, or only if they give some useful hints and tips for how you can do the same thing? What about guildies exercising bragging rights? Or have you ever been turned off a game because someone else made you feel that you were falling behind and would never reach your goals?

 

** I know there will be people who I make feel like that too ;/ These things are all relative.

[GW2] Thought of the Day: Plus ca change

In Guild Wars, you could ‘craft’ gear by taking your raw materials to the crafter NPC and exchanging them for crafted goods. In GW2, you can do effectively the same thing and sell your raw materials to the trading post (auction house), then buy the crafted goods, but this time you  end up with a good profit.

This is because, as others have noted, raw materials (particularly metal, cloth, and leather) typically sell for more than the finished pieces. I imagine someone has a spreadsheet noting at what point it’s a better return to just salvage your own crafted pieces rather than selling them.