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.

[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.

[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

wow_theramore

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).

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

auben_cata

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.