The release date tango

  • The Secret World has just started its early access period prior to launch on July 3rd.
  • Arenanet have made the (gaming) internet explode by announcing GW2 release date as 28th August. (Like Tobold, I plan to pick my copy up then because I think it will be cheaper.)
  • Also Turbine will be releasing their Rohan expansion for LOTRO at some point this Autumn/Winter. I don’t imagine that will have a big impact on the other games, but you never know.
  • So the big question now is when will Blizzard release Mists of Pandaria?

In previous years, MMOs have tended to shuffle their release dates around each other. There is an advantage to having an earlier release than competitors, in that bored players will pick up your game just because it’s new. On the other hand, the typical MMO tourist spends a month or so in a new game and then moves on, so timing your release for a month or so after another game might work better.

  • Notorious clashes in the past have been when Warhammer Online released on Sept 18th, 2008. Blizzard released Wrath (probably their best expansion to date, imo) in November of the same year, just in time to pick up disaffected WAR players.
  • Cataclysm was released on Dec 7th, 2010. Aion released in the West on Sept 7th of the same year.

As gamers, we may tend to read too much into these things. Q4 is popular for gaming releases in any case, it picks up the Xmas market, returning students, and gets cash inflow before the end of the calendar year.

Still, it’s interesting that the big MMO releases this year seem to be edging earlier and earlier. There are good reasons for Blizzard to launch MoP as early as possible:

  • If players get hooked on GW2 before MoP launches (I see GW2 as more of a competitor here, as it’s also a fantasy themepark MMO), the barriers to switching from a sub-free game to a full subscription + pay-for-expansion WoW are much higher than switching from another sub game.
  • Players who picked up an Annual Pass (these are Blizzard’s core gamers, the ones they can least afford to lose) may get pissed off if they can’t get at least a couple of months of MoP as part of their annual lockin. Especially since this year in WoW has been rather a content desert.
  • No Blizzcon this year to act as a distraction to the playerbase.

So will Blizzard release against GW2, or will this expansion, like the previous ones, get shunted back to the end of the year?

The ways that WoW changed us (and me)

When WoW launched and Blizzard immediately announced that they would need to open more servers to cope with the flood of players, I think we realised that the gaming landscape had irrevocably changed. Now, 7+ years later, it’s been a good time to look back on not only how WoW changed gaming but how individual gamers were changed by coming into contact with WoW.

(This is not even including changes because of other people met while playing.)

Syl asked other bloggers who WoW changed them, both as players and as people, and has summed up responses here.

How WoW changed me

Warcraft wasn’t the first (or last) MMO that I played. It wasn’t the first game in which I was a guild officer or a raid leader:  but it was the first game where I was part of a (fairly) hardcore endgame guild, it was the first game in which I kept a regular raiding schedule, and it was also the first game when I switched guilds just for the sake of progression. It was also the first game in which I played a tank, and the first game in which I burned out on endgame.

That is quite a lot of firsts. In vanilla WoW, I was the priest officer in a 40 man raid guild which ended up in 2nd place on the server. So I saw how these things worked from the inside. In TBC, I saw that guild break up painfully on the rocks of 10/25 man raiding, switched back to a different server and set of friends to raid Karazhan and recover from the sad guild breakup, and eventually switched an alt into a more hardcore raid guild because I wanted to clear Zul Aman and see The Black Temple.

The 40 man guild days were probably the most hardcore I personally have ever played. I used to log in on BWL nights and sit outside the instance for 3 hours just in case they needed a substitute. I had to leave work at 5:30 on the dot in order to get home in time, and many evening meals consisted of a mug of soup by the monitor. I was constantly recruiting new priests, trying to keep the active ones happy, and working with players on improving their performance and fine tuning our tactics.

I have to say, my partner was very understanding.

It was exciting, but it wasn’t something I could sustain. In retrospect, I was almost relieved when the guild split up. I was upset too, but I couldn’t have carried on for much longer. That type of raiding does burn people out, not from the actual raids, but from the stresses of trying to keep a raid guild together.

So I suppose I learned that I could play like that, I was good enough, but I also learned that I didn’t want to and that for me, progression wasn’t worth the cost. I also learned that a lot of other players would judge you purely on progression, and would not accept that you might be a good player who was motivated more by other things than achievements. And that I kind of regret losing out on progression even though I know the decision and play/life balance is much better for me this way.

I also learned to hate Blizzard just a bit for:

  • Making me PvP to get a decent raid weapon (that was in TBC)
  • Nerfing both my main classes hard at the beginning of TBC (that was warrior and priest, if anyone is counting)

It’s a funny thing because I have been raiding casually for far longer now than I was ever raiding hardcore, but I’m still bitter about some of the ways hardcore raiding forced us to play. I enjoyed the camaraderie and team spirit, hated feeling that we had to run just to keep still as far as keeping raid members went, and hated being stuck with fixed team sizes when I knew fine well that the DaoC ‘just take whoever wants to go’ method both worked and was less hassle for raid leaders.

I’ve also made good friends via WoW, but they tended to either drift off, not go to the same games I did, or abandon my friendly 10 man Wrath raid for a hardcore progression raid to which I wasn’t invited (which did put me off raid leading again, possibly ever.) I’m also still quite proud that my little raid team did some of the 10 man Naxx achievements in Wrath while they were still current, especially the 4 horseman one.

Although TBC shaped my playing style a lot, Wrath was my personal high point in the game and was when I was main tank for a 25 man raid guild as well as leading my own 10 man team. But that’s also a time I don’t know that I’d want to return to. It was fun, but I burned out on that style of raiding too and now am more in favour of a more relaxed type of raid schedule.

So I learned a lot about MMO mechanics, made some friends who mostly weren’t permanent, and got involved in MMO endgame. And learned more about myself and achievements, and that I’m more motivated by social and internal goals than my extrinsic motivators, which I sometimes feel separates me from the great mass of gamers who seem to love pointless achievements. So it goes. I also learned that while tanking and healing are good ways to make friends and make yourself useful to your guild/ raid, I’m just as happy with dps and it tends to be a stronger solo playing style, and I’m tired of having to gimp my solo play just to get groups.

I also learned that flying mounts are awesome, I will never get tired of flying.

Breaking the Bond: things that disrupt a player’s MMO experience

Cynwise writes this week about ‘The Tyranny of Classes’ and wonders what happens when a class you once loved doesn’t feel right for you any more. Maybe it’s because your raid group has a greater need for a different role and you are tired of being the unwanted umpteenth melee dps and really really want to feel needed by your raid group. Maybe it’s because various patches and changes over the life of the game have just changed how it played.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. <…> Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Or maybe your class took some nerfs and another class now performs that role better. It shouldn’t matter as long as yours is still good enough but other players will tend to ram it home to you all the time that the blood death knight is a zillion times better of a tank than your warrior (example picked at random) and how much easier things are when the DK can make raids. And before you know it, you feel unwanted and wish DKs would get nerfed into the ground just so that people would appreciate your efforts more.

I honestly think that for a lot of players, this is their first personal experience of discrimination. People judge you on external attributes that you can’t easily change, such as your character’s class. And it’s not fair because it isn’t your fault you weren’t prescient enough to roll the current overpowered class; you are just as good as those stupid DKs with their overpowered abilities, and why can’t anyone appreciate the great stuff that you can do, even if someone half asleep could do it better on their paladin and with fewer key presses too.

Cynwise is wondering why allowing characters to re-class is such a bugbear for MMOs. I’d say that role/class being fixed is a staple of RPGs because it stops everyone from rolling a tankmage and keeps some diversity of flavour in the game. But the fact is, players often have an emotional link with their main character. If that link weakens, the player feels less of a connection to that character or maybe loses the will to play it altogether, then their link to the game is disrupted.

There are other occurrences that can disrupt a player’s link to a MMO. Having your guild (or raid group) implode or friends leave is one of them. Another is having new content arrive that you feel forced to do for progression, but hate (ie. if a game that had been mostly PvE now ‘forces’ players to PvP for their upgrades). Another might be having the payment model change. Another might be burnout, which typically happens over a period of time, but there might be a single disruptive event that gets a player to realise they are burned out.

Any of these disruptive happenings offer the player a chance to change how they play the game: find a new guild, roll a new alt, learn how to enjoy a different playing style. Or they might just decide to leave and try their luck in a different game.  Because changing how you play may involve a lot of effort and energy – joining a new guild and getting to know a new crowd for example can require a lot of emotional energy, especially if you are naturally quite introvert.

One of the comments on Tobold’s post yesterday rang true with me.

MMO players have a career. They get into it, they play for a few years, burnout, spend another couple of years looking for a new MMO that will do it for them again, and then they wander off and play other games. Whether this is because of the demands of life, family, and career, or they no longer respond to the endorphin release of new gears and levels depends on the guy. But the number of people who are willing and able to play these things for decades is very small.

Disruptive events are likely to move a player along this career trajectory because they encourage change. When do you start looking for a new MMO? When something has disrupted your connection to your last one, perhaps. This is why nerfs are more dangerous to a MMO community than buffs, people don’t enjoy having their characters nerfed even if it was regarded inevitable.

When I think of issues that have prompted me to switch games or stop playing a game, I come back to guild/raid issues and burnout, and changes in game philosophy via patches, but also to classes simply not being what they were when I made my original choice.

What changes in MMOs have you found most disruptive? And did you decide to change or quit?

[WoW] In which, surprisingly, subs don’t drop

Actiblizzard announced yesterday that subscriptions for WoW have remained stable over the last quarter (ie. Dec 2011-March 2012).

So despite the current Cataclysm content being widely considered by players to be poor in comparison to previous expansions, and there having been no new content added since last November (patch 4.3), players are hanging in there. That’s not what I would have expected to see. Even allowing for the annual pass tying players in for a year, only a proportion of the player base would have taken that offer up. All you can assume is that Blizzard will feel that whatever they are currently doing with WoW is working, or at least not failing. These long content gaps towards the end of WoW expansions – players clearly are cool with that.

Or not. (I’d disagree that Cataclysm is in its dog days now, I think it has been since shortly after the last patch. But clearly 10.2 mil subscribers disagree Winking smile ). If you play WoW at the moment, are you surprised to see sub numbers stable over the last few months?

Now, pre-orders for Diablo 3 setting some kind of new record for Blizzard doesn’t surprise me, by comparison.

[Cataclysm] 7 ways in which questing has changed

Now that I’ve gotten my main to 85 and seen a large number of the quests in the game, I keep noticing that Blizzard have made some changes across the board to how the whole questing game works. Some are minor, some already existed in other games (LOTRO players will definitely recognise some of these), and others smooth and clarify the existing system.

Bearing in mind that Blizzard pioneered the current MMO trend of levelling completely via quests and were seen as fairly innovative even for minor tweaks like marking quest givers with a giant !, it’s interesting to see where they’re trying to take the ‘genre’ further.

I haven’t mentioned the increased use of phasing, since that existed before. Although it has been used to great effect.

1. No more annoying escort quests

I think players always found escort quests a bit annoying. You find a poor hapless NPC and have to escort it to some other place, during which time you get attacked by several waves of mobs and have to keep the NPC alive. These quests were always plagued with NPCs who ran ahead and got themselves killed, or kept going regardless of the fact that the player was fighting so you got behind, or just generally being annoying.

In WoW these days, this barely happens. Instead, NPC sidekicks are useful (sometimes to the point of massacring mobs before you get to lay a blade on them), amusing/ worrying, and ‘escort’ quests form some of the high points of the questing experience.

Who could forget that dopey druid in the Plaguelands who keeps transforming into the wrong forms? Or the undead ex-Gilneans in Silverpine who coolly murder prisoners after you have freed them ‘for being cowards and getting captured’.

2. More interaction with the world

I have noticed that Blizzard are trying to foster a bit more interaction with the gameworld. Yes, it’s never going to be Minecraft but for example:

  • The Hillsbrad quest that made me go ‘ick’ where you had to pick spider eggs from the backs of dead bears. In previous expansions, you probably would have looted ‘[spider egg] from the corpse. In this one, you have to actually click on the pictures of the spider eggs to pick them up. It’s a subtle distinction but a useful one.
  • The dragonmaw/ alliance daily quests where you have to loot foodstuffs from the burned out villages. Previously the food would have looked like giant sacks. This time, you can loot loaves of bread, fishes, and grain hanging from the ceilings. It feels more like rummaging through the houses to see what food they have left around.
  • Quests where you have to pick things up and deliver them are more likely to show your actual character carrying the item. (I know I’ve seen this but struggling to remember the actual quest.) LOTRO or WAR players will find this to be old hat, but it’s new in WoW.

3. Zone introductions

This is most marked in the new Cataclysm high level zones, but you don’t just run into a new zone any more. Instead there will be cut scenes, travelogues, and ‘something will happen’ to drop you right into the middle of the action. My character probably should never take public transport again, judging by all the shot down zeppelins, drowned ships, and captured caravans.

And yet, it makes the whole process of going to a new zone and discovering it for the first time more of an event.

In particular, the prelude to the Twilight Highlands in Azshara for Horde is brilliant. You have to fetch some of the soldiers out of the goblin fleapits where they’ve been spending their R&R, help get the fleet ready for action, and sit through one of the funniest sequences in the game, where a couple of goblin flight attendants convince you never to set foot on one of those flying deathtraps immediately before you have to leave.

And then there’s the actual flight, together with the fleet of zeppelins, and what happens when they get attacked in the air.

Yes, it’s on rails. But yes, it’s also really exciting. If you’re going to run a game on rails, this is the way to do it.

I think in general Blizzard have been considering how to make progression feel more meaningful. The quest in Vash’jir where you have to tame your own seahorse, Avatar-style, is a good example. Instead of just giving you the seahorse reward,  you get to play through some of the process of getting the sea horse.

Again, LOTRO players will find this to be old hat. They’ve had special racing and riding quests associated with getting your character’s first mount for years.

4. New ways to receive quests

Gone are the days when all quests were received by clicking on an NPC with an exclamation mark over their head. Some will pop up when you enter a location, others when you kill a mob for the first time, others when a new festival starts.

I particularly like the location based quests. They aren’t typically thrilling quests, more along the lines of “there are tons of boars here, you think it’d be a great idea to thin the herd”, but the notion that you could be exploring and find a quest for yourself rather than going back to find an NPC who wanted those mobs massacred is definitely a step forwards.

WAR players will find this similar to the way public quests used to be introduced. You entered the right area and the quest requirements popped up on your screen.

Similarly, some NPCs will let you hand quests in remotely (something which will be familiar to CoH players), saving you having to keep running back to them.

And instance quests now tend to be given out inside the entrance to that instance. There are still extra instance quests that you can get by finishing the zone outside, but the majority are inside the instances. Of course, the downside is that after you have finished the instance, you have to run back to the start to hand them in.

5. More dynamic questing

If you’ve been trying the Dragonmaw/ Wildhammer dailies, you will know that some of them are based around little villages which constantly change hands between horde and alliance. As a player, you can get involved with these skirmishes, and are encouraged to do so in order to get your quests done. In fact, if you find a village occupied by the opposite faction NPC and pull one of them, your own faction NPCs will run in to help.

So basically there’s often fighting between NPCs going on in these locations. New waves will turn up every 10 minutes or so after a village has been captured. And a player can take part either solo or in a group. I imagine it’s a focus for PvP on PvP servers too.

I am rather enjoying it now that I have a better understanding of how it works. I wasn’t so sure before.

6. Use of cut scenes

I know some people hate cut scenes but I love how Blizzard have been using them in Cataclysm, and I now understand what they meant when they were talking about a new approach. You will see your character, wearing the gear it is actually wearing. You will be talking to people, sitting on wagons, interacting with the NPCs in the cut scenes. And if the cut scene involves part of the gameworld where other players are around, you will see them too.

I think they’ve been beautifully done, and if you hate them then there is always the ESC button. Sure, they could be improved. There could be a way to replay or pause them if something comes up iRL while one is playing and you missed it. There are some bugs in Uldum where you may have to terminate a cut scene early.

But I found them very cool on the whole. I like seeing my character in the cut scenes! It makes me feel more part of the action. In particular, the dream sequence in the Twilight Highlands was very very effective.

7. Great set piece solo encounters

Blizzard have really been trying to work on the solo gameplay, in some areas. There are fights like Baron Geddon in Hyjal where NPCs encourage you to move out of the flame ring, and get away from your friends when he turns you into a living bomb (I tried to bomb an alliance guy but he ran away – boooo.)

There’s a particularly cool example at the end of the Twilight Cultist chain in the Highlands where you are fighting alongside Garona (one of the big name characters from the lore) in a fight which feels more like a raid encounter – even solo – than some of the earlier raids themselves did.

In Uldum, Blizzard have tried some innovative quests where you control armies of mobs, where you roll around as a flaming ball of fire killing evil gnomes, and where you paint targets for a tank gunner. They don’t all work brilliantly as gameplay, but it’s obvious that they’re trying to do something different.

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic2 Riding my seahorse through a kelp forest.

[Cataclysm] You don’t have to be crazy to do blacksmithing, but it helps

The price of ore seems to have settled as much as it is going to in the short term so I decided I might as well level up Blacksmithing. (If you are looking for a guide for levelling Blacksmithing, this is as good as any. The only place I disagree is that I’d make Pyrium Weapon Chains from 500-510.)

Every time I raise the skill by another point I feel like a prize idiot. It’s expensive in terms of materials, and you barely have any consumables to sell. I would never recommend this tradeskill to a new player. I have never seen any other blacksmith recommend it either. The only thing it really has going for it at the moment is that Blizzard didn’t put any higher level Cataclysm recipes for sockets, so if you just want extra sockets for your gloves and wrists, you don’t actually need to level blacksmithing past 400.

Especially when jewelcrafters make tons of gold, have lots of different gem cuts to sell, have daily quests and can also make really good trinkets for themselves. It’s not remotely on par. They also tend to drive up the price of ore, because they can make more money from it than blacksmiths can on the whole. This is why it’s a pain in the arse to have to share raw crafting materials with a more profitable profession.

Having said that, if you are crafting then you should be selling PvP gear at the moment. The new arena season has just started. This is about the only time you’ll get good prices for blue PvP gear so make the most of it. I sold some blue plate gloves for 2k yesterday. And don’t forget the weapon chains, which are fairly cheap to make too.

But I want to go back to the crazy material requirements to level blacksmithing. Obsidium, the lower level Cataclysm ore, has been in short supply recently. Blacksmiths require 4 pieces of ore to make 1 piece of folded obsidium, which is the base material for levelling blacksmithing to 500ish. So when you see a recipe that requires 20 folded obsidium, you’re looking at 4 stacks of ore. Oh, and it won’t sell for anything remotely near the cost of that ore because most people will realise that if they keep questing they will probably get a better quest reward eventually.

But wait, it gets better. Once you hit 500, you need to buy all your recipes with large amounts of elementium ore. Granted, some of them are PvP blues which sell well at the moment. Others are epics which all require truegold (available on a 24 hour alchemy cooldown) and chaos orbs (BoP drop from the end boss of a heroic), and lots of volatile element drops. It’s fine that epics are supposed to be difficult, but I wonder how many players  will be willing to pay the sort of prices that would incur. Mind you, someone just paid me 2k for some blue PvP gauntlets so who knows? Only one way to find out. (Incidentally, if you are a tank or melee dps, pick the caster epic recipes if you want people to run heroics with you to help get ‘their’ obs. If you are dps or healer, pick the tanking epics. etc.)

Bottom line is that for crafting professions at the moment – blacksmithing, tailoring, leatherworking – the material requirements to level the skill are pretty high. There are fewer zones than in previous expansions in which to compete with other gatherers if you want to gather your own. And volatiles in particular can only be farmed in a few places. So if you aim to make gold via gathering, expect a lot of competition. (Having said that, I am getting pretty good at the Obsidium circuit in Vash’jir.)

And also, Blizzard doesn’t really care that some professions are simply better than others for making gold. Jewelcrafting has been good ever since it was introduced. Alchemy looks to have been given some perks this expansion too, with the very desirable truegold transmute (in the last expansion, miners had the equivalent) and they also have options to transmute volatiles, and presumably will be able to transmute epic gems when those get introduced.

Anyone having better luck with their professions?

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic8

This was taken inside the Vortex Pinnacle, a 5 man instance which is all about the element of air. Those teeny black things in the middle are our characters running back after a wipe. It’s hard to really do justice to the scale of this place, it’s gorgeous.

The Fluff post

It’s a given that World of Warcraft is great for fluff content; pop culture references, silly holiday costumes and devices to throw at other players, things to do in down-time, etc.

I can dress my new dwarf shaman up as a pilgrim and turn other players into turkeys – now that’s what I call fluff!

But, if they’re so great with fluff, where’s the housing, the cosmetic clothing, the trophies? Why is it so easy to give us vanity pets (which are great and strangely addictive) and not the rest. Every time I get some new cool bit of clothing or mask at a holiday, I crave cosmetic armour. I want trophies like in Warhammer Online, medals I can pin to my armour. I want a better selection of titles and for achievement points to mean something. And I’d like housing so I could have housing items. I love all these things about the MMOs I’ve played in the past and that I currently play.

And WoW is so great at so much fun content, that I feel the lack there all the more. If I couldn’t see the full pilgrim armour, or the Day of the Dead gear.. I wouldn’t care about the cosmetics. Also, the moment you see it done well in one game, you kind of realise all games could probably do it.

If there was one fluff content area you could add to WoW from another game, what would it be? I think for me it’d be housing, and all that entails.