Night capping and region locked servers

Imagine the scene: You are asleep in bed when your alarm goes off. Blinking, you eye the clock blearily. It’s 3am. You jump out of bed, grab a tea/coffee, and head for the computer. When you log on and get voice chat going, you hear equally sleepy voices (and the one dude who sounds ultra awake at 3am, maybe he doesn’t need sleep) but they’re excited. Your raid gathers together at the agreed spot, maybe other guilds in your alliance are trickling in as well. Everyone is excited, because there’s still a pyjama party cool about being part of an alarm clock raid. You’re proud that your guild has managed to field two whole groups of crazy alarm clock raiders to the raid and hope the organisers take note. When you head out into the PvP area, it’s still dark outside. You make a clean sweep through undefended keeps/forts/waypoints and end up colouring the map whatever colour your alliance prefers.

It was cool, kind of exciting despite the lack of opposition, and you can’t wait to see how the other factions respond when they log in to see you’ve taken all the capture points.

So: Cool tactic? Standard tactic? Exploit?

There have been enough complaints in GW2 about ‘night time’ raids in WvW for the developers to start a new thread just to say that they see it as a valid tactic, one that is inevitable when people from different time zones play together, and players should learn to live with it. Which means not complaining that its easier for guilds in some time zones to capture WvW points because of lack of defence. Instead maybe try to lure some guilds in those time zones to play on your server instead, or just try not to stress over it. I haven’t really seen any complaints about this from EU servers yet, it seems to mostly be propelled from the US side and driven by the perception that the majority of Aussie guilds ended up on one server, which now had the advantage of the night time population.

But mostly it makes me wonder why they split the servers regionally in the first place. Because it would be easier for players to even up the time zones for guilds on their server if half the ‘night time’ guilds weren’t on different servers by design.

Pandaria sells 2.7m copies

So the press release is up and the numbers are out. Blizzard say that they sold 2.7m copies in the first week, prior to the Chinese release, and that WoW’s global player base is now over 10 million subscribers. I suspect that number may edge up as word of mouth has been pretty positive, so people who were on the fence about MoP may decide to give it a go or get the old gang back together.

In a month or two, we’ll know how many people either burned through the content or decided that the game is no longer for them. I think 2.7m, crazy as it sounds, is a bit on the low side for what we might have expected from a WoW expansion and really shows the effect that a) Cataclysm b) passage of time and c) other games have had on the industry giant, in that order.

The sales likely include a fairly high proportion of direct digital sales, driven partly by a sales campaign and partly by sensible pricing. Or in other words, when the price of a digital copy is roughly similar to a retail box, people will tend to go for the easier option. Anyhow, yes it did sell more than GW2, if we go by the first week, which is reflective of both games being well received. Initially at least.

Give us this day our daily quest

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Next, attach a heart shaped balloon to your dragon … (the heart does remind me of GW2)

We are all creatures of routines. In any MMO you play regularly, there are routines you get into when you log in or out for a session. Maybe you check the auction house, send some materials between alts, check bank/guild logs to see what has happened while you were away, make sure you get your character somewhere ‘safe’ to log out, make a to-do list for what you want to do in this session, and so on. We can call this housekeeping, meaning habits you get into which will maintain your character/account the way you like it.

It’s in the interest of any MMO designer that players build regular habits around the game. For subscription games, it encourages you to keep subbing. F2P games may not charge subscriptions, but they benefit from having regular players if only for the content and marketing they provide for the people who do pay. Also players who log in regularly are more likely to form communities; when you see or hear the same people around every night, you will eventually feel that you are getting to know them even if you never stop to chat.

Daily quests are pretty clever, because they can slot neatly into this need for routine. So you log in and instead of the dailies being part of ‘what shall I do this evening?’ they are part of the housekeeping instead that you want to finish before you get some ‘me time.’ I have a good tolerance for daily quests (as long as they don’t expect me to do something I really hate) and if nothing else you will become really expert in the geography and spawn patterns of the daily quest areas of WoW. Pandaria has gone rather whole hog with the dailies, of which there are many and for multiple different factions. Which does lead to the risk that if people focus on dailies, they might not have enough time to do anything else.

I like to think people can sort out their own playing schedule, but the lure of ‘must complete dailies’ can be very strong. Not only that but it’s very easy to “log in quickly, just to check auctions” and end up with “while I’m here, might as well play a bit” and daily quests are an easily quantifiable unit of gameplay to plan. So “might as well play a bit” could become “might as well do the cloud serpent dailies.”

GW2 takes a very different approach, where the daily appears much more freeform and wrapped up in the sorts of PvE activity people tend to do anyway. Harvest X materials, kill Y mobs, kill Z different types of mobs, complete ZZ dynamic events. I love the requirement to kill lots of different types of mobs – it rewards you for knowing roughly where to find them and encourages you to move around. I am less fond of the dynamic event requirement, because those are random elements and hunting round for DEs can be tedious. So basically, although the daily appears more freeform, if you want to complete it you might have to fit it into your closing set of housekeeping routines (ie. things you need to do before you log off : complete daily quest).

In many ways, the best daily at the moment is the farming one in WoW. You log in and harvest your crops, then plant some more. It doesn’t involve fighting other players for scarce mobs, or doing anything onerous (like logging in your lowbie alt on GW2 so you can do lowbie DEs), but there’s a routine you can get into. It’s no accident that Farmville style games took off in such quantities, they’re really good at getting players into habits. It’s a lightly gamified version of the crafting/ AH housekeeping that a lot of people do and mostly you’re just being trained to log in every day.

It would be stretching things to say that daily quests help games to become more than 3 monthers, and really its better if you can set up your own habits,  but getting people into the idea of logging in regularly might play a role in building a more longterm mindset.

[WoW] Assorted thoughts, the curse of accessibility, crafting in Pandaria

mop_ally

 

Accessibility is the curse of Warcraft at the moment. Whatever the designers do, they can never seem to please all of the people; even offering a  range of content from chilled out casual daily quests and farming, to high speed challenge dungeons with a leaderboard and ranked battlegrounds will not stop players complaining when they try content that was aimed at a different group and find it wasn’t tuned for them. It must be frustrating for devs who are trying to entertain the masses, and World of Warcraft has never tried harder to provide entertainment than it is right now, with Mists of Pandaria. The new expansion is terrifically endearing, like a puppy that just wants to be loved.

If you have enjoyed WoW PvE in the past but burned out on lack of content or high end raiding or the frustration of being bottlenecked by group content, there has never been a better time to come back to the game. The new continent is beautiful, the zones are stunning, the storytelling is classic Blizzard (spotty in parts, but lively and likeable, and the good parts are really exciting), and the company has also made real efforts to tweak the gameplay with modern updates.

For example, the picture above shows Spinks (who is in the foreground, bottom right) fighting a big elite mob. You can see the shiny spell effect wings of the paladin who is helping her, behind the mob. That character is Alliance. That elite quest mob was not tagged to either one of us, we both got the kill. Now anyone who has been playing GW2 will be au fait with this, because it’s a game where no mob is ever tagged. In Pandaria, only the named quest mobs get this treatment, but they have done it fairly consistently. So while you will still be competing with other players (unless you group) for mobs in farmed out daily zones, when you go for the bosses, everyone can pile in.

I quite like the interplay of both different types of fight. Sometimes you have to compete and others you cooperate.

The world feels very vibrant compared to some previous expansions. I couldn’t say exactly why this is, but there is something very lively and lived in about Pandaria.  They’ve really taken the Chinese inspiration, put a fantasy twist on things, and run with it. As far as the storytelling goes, I will have more to say in future, but the goal has clearly been to make the player feel like a hero. And not just the murdering zillions of kobolds kind of hero. The kind of hero who helps people who need heroes. There are thrilling set pieces where your character helps to defend a village from bandits, in classic wuxia style, or takes part in larger battle scenes, and these offer much better actual gameplay than previous set pieces such as Wrathgate (however cool it was).

And maybe it’s because I play a warrior, but the wuxia storytelling style really plays to the warrior as a class. It felt very appropriate that Spinks might just take a feisty young panda girl under her wings and teach her a bit of warrioring along the way (I hope that panda grows up to be panda Mulan, just saying). So it felt more personal to me than Cataclysm, and more meaningful also.

Accessibility to a fault

Now the expansion seems to be trying to train people to play the game, even though anyone who has managed to get to level 85 probably already has a clue or two about that. So the introductory quests are quite streamlined and don’t encourage you to explore much. You could, but its not encouraged. Later on, the world does open up more, but throughout the first three zones I never had any fights that left me below about 80% health. I was thinking, “This is fun and all but surely they didn’t mean it to be THIS undertuned?”

However, by the time you get to the level 90 content, mobs will put up more of a fight and there is a definite trend for requiring movement in fights. There are mobs which put damage down on the floor, or have an attack which will do loads of damage if you are standing in front of the thing, or need you to run out of melee range, etc.  All of this is very well telegraphed (well I thought so, but I’m an experienced raider), and I’m sure the idea is to train players for instance and raid bosses. Which is great, and all very well, but not very satisfying to players who already knew that.

The panda starting zone, to my mind, is even worse. It’s very fun, very in genre (with nods to Ranma, for example), very railroaded and easy up until the last few encounters. The intent is very clearly to be an introduction to both the pandas and to the gameplay for new players. And as above, this is great and all, but the majority of people rolling pandas are probably not new players.

For my money, the best starting zones currently in the game are the Blood Elf and Draenei areas, and it’s because they open up very quickly and encourage you to wander around, explore the areas, and smell the roses. I would have enjoyed a Pandaran area more in that style, with more quest hubs, more hints about the culture (maybe for the various classes, like Pandaran magi et al) and less about ‘you will follow this questline until it ends.’

Crafting

Crafting actually feels coherent in this expansion. The goal is clearly to make it easy for people to train Pandaria crafting skills, but characters who are actively played will have access to more recipes, and more specialist materials. This is made easy by the baseline materials being incredibly plentiful. ‘Actively played’ doesn’t mean that they need to do hard group content (there may be raid recipes and materials in future I guess), they just need to be levelled through the content and after that can amble around doing the odd daily quest or anything else that involves a bit of random killing. So a casual solo player will have better access to crafting and recipes in this expansion than ever before.

In some crafts, such as Blacksmithing, if you want to raise the skill above 575, you will need recipes that are accessed from a vendor that you will have to open up by completing a questline. But it is a questline that can comfortably be done solo. I think this is a nice balance between gating content and still making it accessible in a non-frustrating way for more casual players.

Accessible Progression

I think Blizzard are aiming for an accessible form of progression in MoP. This is good news for all those players who do enjoy the progression aspects of WoW but have felt frustrated or gated in the past when hitting a progression brick wall that only raiders could pass. There are still ‘gates’ (or things you have to do before you can access other content you want to see), but people who enjoy working on progression goals but prefer a more casual or solo style will also have cool things to work towards.

See, it was never attunements themselves that were the issue, and people who argued in favour of them were always pretty much on the money. A lot of people enjoy planning out how they will attune a new character. Just now you can largely do it with less frustration. Not ‘no frustration’ because sometimes someone else beats you to that rich trillium node, or you wish you could just skip the dailies, but mild frustration is also a part of the genre. For a lot of players, it adds to the sense of achievement when you stick at it and finally get the thing/key/content/progression that you want. And I think Blizzard realise that, and have embraced it.

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

mop_dragon

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

gw2_snow

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.

gw2_ghost

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.