[WoW] Something old, something new: life as a returner

Demons in Well of Eternity

Story of my life

Last time I wrote about WoW, I touched on my first impressions of the game as a returner. The overwhelming chaos, rudeness in groups, how intimidating the game can feel when you’ve been out of things. This week I have persevered with things, played around on some alts, and had my hand held in one of the new heroics by a very patient guild group. I don’t feel as much like a fish out of water any more, and while I’m better able to appreciate some of the things I always liked about WoW, there are mechanics from SWTOR that I really do miss.

  • AE looting (this is coming with Cataclysm I think)
  • Every class having a way to heal up quickly when out of combat.
  • Every class being able to res out of combat.
  • Sending your companion to sell your vendor trash
  • Ressing near your corpse or outside the entrance to your current instance, rather than miles away at the nearest graveyard.
  • A built in configurable UI. Yes, WoW has addons, but this would be easier. (I don’t think there’s anywhere in WoW where players are advised to check out addons incidentally, you just have to know what everyone does and where to find the current popular ones.)
  • I do miss having a companion to heal/tank/CC/ dps but WoW PvE is just easier than SWTOR so it’s not really a big deal. I’d only really want a healer or tank in WoW.
  • Writing that generally makes sense. WoW has some very well written quests but the consistency isn’t really there and in some zones they messed up quite badly (Dragonblight can get very confusing if you do the questlines in some orders rather than others, for example.) It was also rare in SWTOR that an NPC would send me off to do something for some reason and I’d think ‘how did he know that?’
  • Stories that I care about. SWTOR can also be hit and miss with these but they hit more than WoW does. This feels like more of a Cataclysm issue to me, because I remember Wrath feeling a lot more focussed and motivating.

I still feel a bit overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information that WoW throws at players. My characters all seem to have zillions of abilities. Running heroics feels as though it requires memorising hundreds of encounters (possibly multiple times if you play more than one role). How on earth do people remember it all??

As far as the community goes, I have had enough slightly less bad experiences in groups so maybe I was just unlucky before, but I also feel the game is less friendly than it used to be.

I have also spoken to several players who have just returned to WoW after breaks of up to a year – amusingly we were all in the same random instance together and since I’d run it once before, I automatically became the expert who got to explain it to the others. It was a much friendlier group though, and we did get through it. So it may well be that quite a lot of people are heading back to WoW now in preparation for the expansion.

I also spoke to one actual new player. This was after he had asked a question in Orgrimmar and had a few people mock him in general chat (this is not actually the sort of thing I’d have expected to see on Argent Dawn last time I was around, some mockery sure, but not of basic/ sensible questions). He whispered to me after I’d answered the question to say thanks and mention that he hadn’t been in the game long.

Addons

The easiest way to pick out some addons is firstly to ask around guild/ friends. Or secondly, head to curse.com and check which are the most popular addons. It’s as good a place to start as any, and you can always go hunt around blogs if you’re not happy with the ones you have.

I think I ended up checking a few out but ending up mostly with the same ones I liked previously:

Wot I Did

The easiest way to explain what I’ve been doing in WoW over the last week or so is to look at achievements. That may say something deep about the nature of the game, but I think shows again how well implemented the achievements are. There really are achievements for every play style.

wow_cheese_aug

So the top three here are from heroic instances, and the bottom one is from a daily quest – I imagine every Tom, Dick and Harry can finish off that dragon in under 90s these days but I was pleased with myself for doing it solo when the achievement came up.

I want to talk a bit about how I tried to get the confidence together to run heroics. My guild were great, and we did run the first new heroic together, with voice chat and lots of advice and reassurance. At that point I was thinking “That wasn’t too bad, maybe I’ll try another run with them before I do those on my own.” So I queued for a regular Cataclysm heroic, and the LFG threw me into another of the new ones (I didn’t know it could do that.) At which point I just followed everyone else and hit what they were hitting, and it seemed OK and no one complained.

So presumably with a bit of practice and a couple of upgrades, my dps has gotten beyond the ‘omg what is this doing in my instance’ level to the point where no one is talking to me, which I imagine means it is OK. After that, it felt that a barrier was broken and I was OK with just queueing for them like everyone else. I  feel that I am getting the hang of them now.

Blizzard is clearly going for some ambitious storytelling here with instances set in the far past, far future, and present day. Whether or not you can actually FOLLOW the story I’m not sure, you might need to know what the Dragon Soul artefact is for a start. Or maybe I missed the part where they explained that. I found them all a bit shorter and easier than the classic Cataclysm heroics, assuming your gear is high enough level to get you in the door.

wow_hot_map

Another new tweak is that the instance maps (as shown above) are really very slick now, with brief explanations of the backstory for each boss when you mouse over them. Basic boss guides are also now in the UI, so you can look up every boss in the instance both in normal and heroic mode and find out what it does mechanically.

Of the three, Well of Eternity is a particularly strange instance, which gives every indication of having originally been designed as a raid. It’s  that bit more epic than you’d usually expect; and you get to meet/kill quite a large number of important lore figures along the way. I suppose you can always go back to Outland and kill Illidan later on if you want to see him again, I half wondered whether the game would take into account whether you’d done that (in his far future, obviously) when you met him in the instance. But it doesn’t. The instance also features time travel, stealthing around hordes of demons, and extended NPC dialogues after the final boss has died (ie. when most players have probably already left the instance.)

wow_wellofeternity

Here we’re just chilling with Illidan in Well of Eternity when he … dude, was that really a good idea? (Also we are disguised as night elves, which I personally found quite traumatic.)

I still haven’t had the nerve to try a random raid yet.

Nights at the Circus

wow_faire1

Darkmoon Faire now has its own minizone, and portals to the Faire open where the Faire used to be. This sounds confusing (and is) but basically when the Faire is up, an NPC will be in every capital city who can transport you to your nearest portal – why he can’t just transport you straight to the faire I do not know.

As you can see from the screenshot, it is very purple. This shows Spinks standing on a hill looking down at the Faire. There are minigames, none of which really grabbed me, quests you can do which raise your crafting skills, and some achievements to be gotten.  The crafting perks will be particularly great for people trying to eke out those last few points when raising tradeskills.

wow_faire2

Spinks is shown at the bottom here, to give an idea of the scale.

Preparation H

The whole process of getting ready for a new expansion can be seen in two different ways.

  1. It doesn’t really matter whether you put any effort into it or not, the new expansion will render most things irrelevant and you’ll be just as able to make gold and farm materials after it has dropped as before.
  2. Get everything ready so that you can level your characters/ tradeskills etc as quickly and smoothly as possible.

I’ve never been big on overdoing the preparations so I am mostly just looking at clearing my inventory of things I’m not going to need any more and deciding if I want to level any alts. I figured it was a also good idea to level my alt with Enchanting so that he can disenchant any drops I pick up while levelling, which also gives me a good excuse to check out the Cataclysm levelling zones again to see if I didn’t properly appreciate them last time round. (Poor warlock, he only ever gets levelled at the end of expansions, to just high enough level where he’ll be able to buy the next tier of tradeskill.)

One thing I notice immediately is because of the transmogrification mechanics, I take much more interest in the green drops and quest rewards. Even if it isn’t an upgrade, it might have a really cool look that I’d want to keep.  I still feel piqued though that they put transmog in after I’d gotten rid of my Tier 10 warrior gear.

The only other thing on my bucket list is to attempt to get Pebble as a pet. This explains why I ended up getting that daily quest achievement, shown above. (It’s part of the same set of dailies that can eventually reward with the pet.)

What are those blue remembered hills…?

WoW is still a very pretty game, here’s a couple of screenies I took from levelling alts.

wow_vashjir

wow_twilight

Quote of the Day: On Endgame

I had forgotten how good the Blizzard designer notes usually are. This is another great example of designers sharing their thinking about MMO endgame, with reference to Pandaria. (They are also very open about where they think Cataclysm failed.)

No developer wants to hear "I want to play your game, but there’s nothing to do." For Mists, we are going out of our way to give players lots to do. We don’t want it to be overwhelming, but we do want it to be engaging. We want you to have the option of sitting down to an evening of World of Warcraft rather than running your daily dungeon in 30 minutes and then logging out. We understand we have many players (certainly the majority in fact) who can’t or aren’t interested in making huge commitments to the game every week and we hope we have structured things so that you don’t fall very far behind. The trick is to let players who want to play make some progress without leaving everyone else in the dust.

This. This is why you never bet against Blizzard.

[TSW, SWTOR, WoW, CK2] Well, it’s certainly been a week.

I thought today I might sum up some experiences I’ve had in games recently. This is mostly a quick fly though, just to demonstrate how incredibly /different/ some games which are nominally similar can be.

The Secret World

tsw

The Secret World had a free weekend, and sadly I didn’t have as much time in game as I had hoped. Partly due to watching the Olympics (on TV) and spending a day out in London (not to go to the Olympics because I didn’t have tickets), and also partly due to getting roped into some raids in SWTOR. So these really will be first impressions.

I like the game a lot, and as other people have said, the setting and storytelling is very engaging. For me there was a disconnect between “secret masters of the world. conspiracy theories.” and “welcome to Kingsmouth, here’s your shotgun. Go kill some zombies.” There is even more of a disconnect between the clever and immersive world building and a public channel full of “LF2M tank and healer”.  I’m also not sure whether I find that the combat fits neatly to the storytelling parts of the game – it’s common for RPGs to have this disconnect but the stylistic difference seems stronger in TSW. It just is a very disconnected game. All the individual bits seem good in themselves, but I liked the RPG/investigative parts so much more than the combat. Partly for that reason, this is absolutely a game that sings “single player or small group only” to me. Even more so than SWTOR.

But for all that, it IS immersive and engaging and I enjoyed how Funcom use the environment to drop clues to the player, as well as the usual “quest person marker” details.  I also always wanted to be an Illuminati, so there is that too. I also get a kick out of ‘take a shortcut through Agartha” and similar funky occult daftness; I love urban fantasy which this game does in spades. I didn’t have much of a chance to really check out any of the riddle quests so I’m still unsure whether I have the patience for that type of play or would get frustrated too quickly.

The screenshot above shows two of the other things I did really enjoy with the game.

  1. Blue hair. Apparently this is more of A Thing than I realised, since a lot of my twitter crowd mentioned that their characters also had blue hair. I do think it’s cool though. I also like how my character is holding the shotgun in the shot, her hands/fingers are actually closed around the weapon. Also was amused at being told I had good aim when I shot something. I am not a firearms person (to say the least) but I feel that using a shotgun at point blank range may not be a big aiming challenge.
  2. This shows a tutorial for the talent system. It’s a voiced video that steps you through how things work. Please could more games do this, it’s great.

Whilst I did get a good first impression from the weekend and would definitely like to spend more time with TSW, I can’t justify a sub at the moment. I just don’t have the time free in my gaming schedule. Maybe in a few months time. But I do want to go back.

SWTOR: All my raiding comes at once!

I think there’s a hidden switch in the communal mind of a new raidgroup that suddenly decides you are good enough (or needed badly enough) to be included in the main team. So I’m guessing all my practice with the Consular and generally being around and genial in guild chat has made a mark; this week I was invited to join the guild for runs in two Operations that I haven’t seen before: Explosive Conflict (Denova) and Karagga’s Palace. The raid leader was also really nice about explaining the fights, and the raids were friendly and patient. And we did clear them both. It was just a great gaming experience.

denova

These screenshots are from Denova, which is a very solid raid in my opinion. The encounters are interesting and well designed, there’s a nice mix of content, and they’re challenging without feeling that you are hitting your head against a wall. Bioware have done a good job with the raid content. Karagga is by far my least favourite of the Operations. The first and last boss are both thoroughly annoying (last boss might have been more fun if I had been on dps rather than healing).

My feelings about SWTOR seem conflicted at the moment. I do genuinely enjoy the game, but I’m not sure about its future. Whatever happens, I’m thrilled to have gotten the chance to play it, and to have met such nice players on both the guilds I’ve been in. This may affect how I view the SWTOR community in general, but even my PUG runs have generally been cordial and friendly. Dropping WoW last December to play SWTOR instead has been a really good decision for me.

In any case, this means that I have now seen all of the PvE content in the game, although there are harder modes for the Ops which we haven’t done yet. I’m not really sure what my next goals are, I enjoy raiding with the guys so will plan to keep doing that though.

Warcraft: Back for more abuse

I picked up a Scroll of Resurrection this week, and thought it would be a good opportunity to drop back into WoW and see whether absence makes the heart grow fonder. (The answer is: no, but it does give a different perspective.) My first impression on logging into Orgrimmar was of overwhelming chaos, noise, people all over the place, randomness on general chat. There’s so much going on and where is everything and heck, there’s so much of it. Like I say: overwhelming.

From what I can gather, the only new content since I last played (in December) is that the Darkmoon Faire has its own zone now. It looks cool and a bit foreboding and the music is good. The new Faire is (as with the rest of WoW), busy, noisy, overwhelming. There are quests which grant tradeskill improvements as well as rewards, and some minigames. None of the minigames looked especially interesting at first glance. There’s only so much designers can do with ‘whack a mole’ or ‘steer the vehicle into the other vehicle.’ This is a shame, because I would have thought a fairground would be ripe for actual vehicle minigames.

It was of course great to chat to my guildies again in game. They are a really good bunch, and have been the one thing I really did miss from not being in game. I did think it was a bad idea to agree when someone suggested queueing for one of the most recent heroic instances. This proved to be the case, and the complaints about poor dps started very soon into the instance. I do think there’s an issue with the game where everyone is studying your dps the whole time in groups using real time damage meter addons, even when they don’t need to. Anyhow, I didn’t stay long, I suspect my dps would have been OK but that’s not an atmosphere you want to learn new fights in.

This, incidentally is where WoW is utterly failing at the moment. If a reasonable, average player cannot learn a new fight in LFG and guild groups are unlikely to form (due to people either preferring the convenience of LFG or being tired of the group content) then your group game is basically dead. I’ve heard arguments that this will be better at the start of a new expansion when the content is new to everyone. I don’t entirely buy it; this may be true … for a week or two.  If Blizzard want to break this chain then they need to a) make the LFG instances easier, no complex boss fights that require a page of tutorial to explain the tactics or tightly tuned dps races and b) give players a chance to practice the fights on their own first. (I’m not arguing against hard instances, but I don’t think they are good LFG content.)

Before being put off grouping altogether, I then thought I’d queue for one of the original Cataclysm heroics. These are instances I’ve run several times in my character’s current gear before taking a break. There were no dps issues, but after one wipe the tank aggroed a pack of mobs while everyone else was running back (which led to another wipe). Here is a snapshot of the conversation that followed:

Me: Could you wait for everyone to get back before starting the next fight?

Him/ Her: No.

Me: Why not?

Him/Her: *pause* Because I like doing things wrong.

Me: OK, have fun then. *leaves group*

Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent time in SWTOR where I haven’t had a single bad group, but two poor PUGs in a row isn’t cool and shouldn’t be the norm. Anyhow, I will be hanging out in WoW for the next month or so. Partly because I feel I’d like the guy who sent me the SoR to get his (ugly) mount, and also because it’s good blogging fodder to come back with fresh eyes and gauge how WoW might feel to other returning players. Right now, I feel that I could happily never run another PUG in WoW ever again.

One thing to note for returners: Your spare justice or valor tokens are still useful, Blizzard regularly upgrade the gear you can trade them in for.

I feel I haven’t said much about good first impressions yet. WoW has an INCREDIBLE sense of being an actual world.  It’s buzzing, chaotic, there’s a lot going on and huge zones to explore.  So I went back to a quieter zone to do some daily quests that everyone else is probably bored with (or even forgot by now) to chill out and chat.

wowreturn

Crusader Kings 2

This is such a big bonkers game, but it’s the best gaming crack since the original Civilisation. How can I be so drawn to a game which I am so bad at playing? My latest ruler did actually manage to win some wars, but I think I could happily watch the game play itself out without me really doing much. Still, I continue to read up about it and try different things in new games. I wanted to mention CK2 in passing as I’m still only scratching the surface but it takes a special sort of game to engender this kind of love from poor players.

[Links] So are we finally at the end of the (MMO) era?

In a week where I’m still struggling to move my armies around in Crusader Kings 2*, I’m sensing a sort of existential gloom around the MMO blogosphere. Not quite what you’d expect when WoW have just announced a release date for their next expansion, perhaps.

* I know, total fail. But the bizarro thing with CK2 is that you can play it like a sort of medieval soap opera even if you suck totally at the military side.

But let’s start with some upbeat links.

Huw at the MMO Melting Pot does a great job at curating MMO blog posts into a small daily digest. If you are interested in reading good writing from actual players (as opposed to  paid journalists or for-profit sites) about their experiences, thoughts and feelings with MMOs, put the Pot on your regular feed. I feel that we as a community (ie. gamers) don’t appreciate enough the value of our own gaming expertise. But I’m darned sure I would prefer to read views from a wide range of players, covering the full range of casual-hardcore, PvE-PvP, and other ways of playing I’d never even have considered, than a small selection of gaming journos.

Arb writes a paean to the Ultima games, and explains why she’s so excited about Ultima Forever. (It took a fair while, btw, for her to say anything nice about my boyfriend/husband – but we’ve been married 11 years now, so perhaps he’s been accepted by my family. A bit :-) ).

Any Rift fans in the house? Scott Hartmann (Exec Producer at Trion)  has hosted an extensive Q&A thread on reddit. This was part of an answer to a hardcore raider complaining that it wasn’t fair that some guilds had better access to beta tests than others:

If people require more fairness than “a guy is working a 16 hour day just so my guild can test,” to be happy in an MMO, I guarantee the MMO they are looking for simply does not exist.

Also, anyone catch the Olympic Opening Ceremony? Everyone British I know really loved it; I think it captured a certain irreverent spirit at the same time as touching on some national traits/people/ culture that we’re actually very proud about. I especially loved the bit where Tim Berners-Lee tweeted live from the stadium “This is for everyone” and it literally showed up as a RT on my twitter stream about a second later (obviously I had twitter up while watching the opening ceremony, doesn’t everyone?) This is the best review I’ve seen (comparing it to the Chinese one), and the whole thing is available on the BBC iPlayer to anyone who can access that.

Maybe F2P isn’t the answer to life, the universe and everything

This week, Zynga stock prices are falling through the floor. I don’t think this will surprise many gamers, as their model of F2P, fast turnabout on new games, and heavy reliance on Facebook was never really convincingly long term. Especially since so much of their initial growth relied on cross-fertilisation between games using features that FB has since heavily restricted (due to them being massively annoying), and various other underhanded semi-exploits such as deliberately working with scam advertisers and “… did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues right away”.

However, now that they are a public company, this type of stock performance triggers analyses in fairly mainstream publications as well as gaming sites.

Mashable suggests Zynga try making better games rather than aiming for more gambling applications (note: they will do the gambling thing though.)

Forbes asks why Zynga is bleeding users.

The best analysis I have seen is on gamesindustry.biz (you’ll need to create a login to read the whole thing), which notes that although they’re still gaining players overall, fewer of those players are paying. This is not the trend that F2P believers want to see.

Free-to-play mechanics mean that you expect the vast majority of users to play for free, effectively acting as cost-effective marketing to entice the small minority of players who’ll pay money and make the service profitable overall. However, in Zynga’s case, the trend is all wrong. Back in Q2 2011, 1.5% of Zynga’s players were paying money for things. A year later, the figure is 1.3%. That 0.2% figure may not seem like a lot, but it’s a trend moving in the wrong direction – and it actually translates to about half a million players who ought to be paying, if Zynga could maintain its ratios, but aren’t. Moreover, that isn’t being compensated for by “whales” dragging the average expenditure of the paying players upwards – in fact, the company’s average income per DAU (Daily Average User) dropped by 10% year on year. In short – costs are up, and revenues aren’t rising to match them.

So does this mean that F2P is perhaps not the answer to life, the universe, and everything, or just that Zynga is ‘doing it wrong’? Probably a bit from column A and a bit from column B. Cash rich Zynga could have put more of that cash and effort into developing better, more engaging games, but they haven’t done so, nor have they really ported their success to non-Facebook or mobile platforms. Pincus is almost certainly more comfortable running traditional casino games, so it’s not surprising he wants to take the company that way.

But the general trend of players drifting from one F2P game to the next, tending to spend less as they go, is one to take on board. You are NEVER as invested in any MMO as you are in the first one you play. It’s entirely possible that this is as true for F2P social games as for AAA MMOs.

Since we don’t really get meaningful numbers from most F2P MMOs (eg. LOTRO, STO, etc) it’s hard to know if this signals a general trend. Maybe companies do have to work harder to get F2P customers, even the fabled whales, to keep spending enough to make their games truly sustainable once the flood of new players has dried up. We know that regular paid expansions is one way to keep the money flowing in (you could think of this as similar to the subscription model, if you only had to pay once every year or so), but if a F2P game cannot sustain a fairly massive base, can the model still work?

Whither SWTOR, and can any new MMO have a longterm future?

EA have an earnings call this week, and it’s likely that SWTOR subscriptions are significantly down from the last time they were announced. They will drop further in August when the six-monthly subs from people who took those out at launch run out. Even as someone who still enjoys the game, it’s hard to feel positive about SWTOR’s future. Bioware have let a lot of SWTOR staff go, and leavers include some of the more influential senior designers. That’s never a good sign in a new MMO, because their vision is the thing which made the game appealing to the players who actually like it.

There have been comments about new content such as a new companion and new planet before the end of the year, but if EA want to retain players, they need to give out some actual timescales. If you bought the game and enjoyed the content and were hoping for a long lifecycle of regular content updates, it isn’t really clear whether that is still the plan at all.

As a fan who has been subscribing, if they kept a reasonable pace, I would retain a subscription. Possibly even for years. That offer (from me as a player) was on the table when I bought into the game.  If they can’t and the community crumbles and my guild/s wander off … then I won’t keep paying them. I’ll follow the players. I wish them luck with a F2P conversion if they decide to go that way and I hope a lot of new players get the chance to try SWTOR, enjoy it, and realise that it’s actually a pretty darn good game if you can enjoy it for what it is, and not whine about what it isn’t. But if they renege on what I expected at launch, I will leave them to it, albeit with fond memories.

UnSubject has been writing a super set of posts at Vicarious Existence about recent MMO failures. And he tops it by looking at factors that contributed to these failures, and predicting the end of AAA MMOs (it’s been said before, but this is a good analysis.)

I’m having difficulty thinking of a Western AAA MMO that has launched since 2006 that’s managed to grow its player base post-launch (well, without switching to free-to-play (F2P) anyway).

And with all that choice, the MMO player base is more fragmented than ever. It’s hard to get enough of them engaged for long enough to earn your development budget back (well, without switching to F2P anyway).

One of the interesting things about his analysis is that this doesn’t depend on how ‘different’ the new MMOs are from existing ones. Unless they are genuinely different enough to appeal to a different market, in which case existing MMO players may well not like them. motstandet writes a reply to my post about not minding MMO clones, describing how he looks for games with depth that he can play for years. (Clearly this also requires other players to play with/against if they aren’t single player games.)

From Zynga’s example (see above), it’s not clear whether F2P is a good long term solution either. So maybe the destiny of these games is never to be longterm again in the way they have in the past. Old dino players will look back to the days in which a core player would subscribe to a game for YEARS as if it were truly prehistory. And that will affect in-game communities also, because people engage differently with a game that they genuinely expect to be spending significant amounts of their free time around than a game which they expect to be done with in a month or two.

EVE is often cited as an outlier, with a steadily growing subscriber base. I’m always unclear how to analyse this, since so many of the core players seem to pay for their gametime and multiple accounts using in game credits/ PLEX. Gevlon has been theorising this week about which segment of the EVE player base actually pay for time – I have no idea if he is right. Theoretically, every PLEX that is bought in game had to be paid for at some point with real money, so it shouldn’t matter to CCPs bottom line how people finance their gaming (ie. if a player buys PLEX for in game cash, that PLEX still got bought by someone else before they sold it in game  so CCP still got the money for it).

But I’m not sure. I’m not sure if a model where the more hardcore players get to play for free is really a solid one, especially since the playerbase will tend to become more hardcore over time. If it’s really that easy to make money in game (which seems to be implied in comments to just about every EVE blog I’ve ever read), then are there enough players who like the game but can’t be arsed to make money in it to pay the subs for everyone else (and their alts)? I do take their subscriber base with a pinch of salt, given the preponderance of multiple alts though. That game is not as big as people think, and if Dust fails, we’ll see CCP feel the pinch.

People seem more dubious about MoP already

Let me be clear on one thing: I would never bet against Blizzard. They consistently make games that players enjoy, and even games that have garnered plenty of criticism such as Diablo 3 have broken sales records and generally pleased the majority of their players. I will not be surprised if Mists of Pandaria breaks sales records, even if they have to invent a record for it to break.

But I look on my guild boards and for the first time before an expansion, I see people wondering how long other players will find MoP engaging. I see one of the hardcore raid guilds on my server (which is the most populated RP server in the EU) take their entire guild to another server for the expansion. I think MoP will please many many players, and I like the new emphasis on a wider endgame. But for how long?

Anne at Wow Insider riled up readers by talking about how players got bored with Cataclysm and comparing it to the smart kids at school who are bored with lessons aimed at those who are merely average. The reason this annoyed people is because of the implication (which I don’t think was her intention) that if they’re not bored, then they were not ‘the smart kid at school.’  Redbeard has some good comments on her post here also.

I’m going to use a different analogy. When I was a kid, we moved around the country a lot, so I went to lots of different schools. And they taught the syllabus in different orders. I remember sitting in a beginner’s French class and being bored rigid because I’d already studied French for 2-3 years in previous schools. This is a type of boredom that comes of experience, rather than just being ‘the smart kid’. Experienced players in a game/genre will always get bored more quickly than new ones, because they don’t face the same learning curve. Wrath kept the experienced players interested for longer than Cataclysm because it came with a much larger set of zones and storylines than Cataclysm (10 new levels rather than 5, plus a new class, plus hard mode instances, plus longer raids such as Ulduar and even Naxx). Also for many casual raid guilds, Wrath represented the pinnacle of their raiding existences, where some of the barriers that had kept them stuck in TBC were removed.

Pandaria on paper offers more new content than Cataclysm for max level characters. The new continent seems larger and more connected (as opposed to the bittiness of Cataclysm). Cataclysm’s focus on remaking the old world didn’t sustain either old or new players. There will be a wider variety of endgame experiences. But now maybe the rot has set in, and players will be more willing to unsub once they are bored rather than hanging in there. Perhaps Blizzard will have to work that bit harder to keep them – after all, these last months represent the longest WoW has ever gone without a solid content patch.  Yet at the same time, more players than ever have tried the MoP beta. Does that mean they’ll get bored more quickly when the expansion goes live? Soon enough, we’ll find out.

[WoW] Bits and pieces about MoP: Future of raiding, dailies all the way down, pay for more powerful pets

Mists of Pandaria looks set to offer a very different style of endgame to Cataclysm. While the traditional raid and instance setup will still be present, along with a group/raid finder to let players jump into a PUG, Blizzard look to be making a definite push to provide more content and options for non-raiders and soloers. For example, there will be:

  • Many more daily quests
  • More factions to grind (rather than being able to earn faction points while running instances via tabards)
  • A farmville setup
  • Pet battles, including being able to tame pets from the wild
  • Scenarios (like mini instances/ events that only require 3 players, all of whom can be dps)
  • Challenge modes for regular instances (ie. more loot if you complete the instance more quickly)

And those are just the gameplay mechanics that someone who hasn’t  been following the beta closely has picked off the top of their head, I have no idea what the PvP plans will be. This could be an incredibly successful expansion for Blizzard if they can attract those more casual or solo focussed players with an ‘endgame’ balanced for their interests. Ignore the panda haters, there’s some genuinely new direction here.

Whither raiding?

Raiding, I think, in the sense of dedicated raid groups, will suffer more in this expansion than it ever has before. Players have pondered whether the relative popularity of 10 man raids over 25 man ones is purely due to ease of organisation of smaller groups. If the rewards (and difficulties) from gold level challenge modes are in any way comparable to hard mode raids, we may see whether 5 man instances will be preferred over 10 man raids by a hardcore PvE crowd.

Casual raid groups who got trashed by Cataclysm – and they did — may find a resurgence. (Although not as much as if Blizzard relaxed the 10/25 man raid locks.) There will be plenty of players who are happy to do a weekly 10 man run with the friendly guild and spend the rest of their time pursuing less directed, more solo focussed, or more casual play which lets them chat while they work on the pet collecting or faction grind.

There was a sad thread on the official boards that caught my eye called “Don’t let the 25 man raids die” which asked whether Blizzard was planning any changes to the 10/25 man setup, rewards etc in response to how much 25 man raiding has dropped off in Cataclysm. The CM answered:

The devs don’t have, at this time, any plans to incentivize 25-man raiding. They want to make 10 and 25-man raids close enough, so that you choose whatever you find more fun.

The thread is quite poignant if you like that sort of thing, with lots of reflection from people who preferred 25 man raiding but now feel 10 man is their only choice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that 10 man raiding is too small to sustain a healthy guild. Having multiple 10 man teams leads to the formation of cliques, and having a single 10 man team doesn’t have enough people to be able to support a pool of substitutes who’ll be there when you need them.

…not everybody who wants to raid 25-man rather than 10-man will be able to do so… not even remotely. If I think back to WotLK, when my guild was born… I came from a guild that raided 25-man on a rather casual level. You won’t find that anymore. It’s all or nothing with 25-man raiding nowadays, because players in general tend to choose the easiest way they can.

I liked doing 10man with guild and pug 25man in wowlk it was soooo fun. Now we can only do 1 or the other there is no choice in doing both before the 1 week reset.

10-man rosters are a nightmare… if you have 10 people that show up 95% of the time you get floored when 1 person can’t show up. People just leave if they get put on backup so rotating is almost impossible (unless you have a very casual / forgiving players).

I’ve seen that phenomenon, people who would rather quit than be put on backup even for just one night.

The real problem in Cataclysm is the survival of semi-hardcore or semi-casual 25 man raiding guilds. There were a lot of them and in the advent of Cataclysm they were the guilds that suffered the most. … With this system, Blizzard are killing off a specific breed of guilds. The semi-hardcore 25 man guilds that were so prevalent in TBC and WotLK, and that makes me really sad. That was the kind of guild many players liked to join, they knew they weren’t the best of the best, but I bet they had a hell of a lot of fun before Cataclysm came around.

I’ve ran and led 25man raids in WoTLK, and that’s something I know I’ll never get back to. The ingame rewards don’t override the out-of-playing hassle for me, not at all. Even if 25man had 50ilvls better gear, I wouldn’t bother with 25man if I had to be the one taking care of most organization.

So maybe there are plenty of players who would prefer 25 man raids in a semi-casual environment to 10 man raids, but can’t find those raids any more. (I think part of the problem was that officers/ raid leaders always had to be pretty hardcore in 25 man guilds, even if the rest of the guild was semi-casual.) Anyhow, Blizzard has no plans to tweak this or add any incentives for 25 man raiding. Expect to see 25 mans continue to die out.

Yo dawg! We heard you like dailies so we put dailies in your dailies …

So, daily quest lovers, in MoP you will be able to run about 48 daily quests per day should you so wish. There’s actually no limit so you can always do some lower level dailies from previous expansions if you finish all of those and are still bored.

Vaneras comments:

Mists of Pandaria is actually the expansion where we have emphasized dailies the most… ever!

I don’t have any issues with this myself. At that point in the game, people just want to log in and do something fun that will progress their character in some way. Assuming dailies are at least as fun as normal quests and that people who like PvE are happy with normal quests, the only issue is whether players get bored and how many dailies you have to do to get whichever reward you are aiming for. I’d assume players will be less bored when they have a wider variety of daily quests to choose from, so this is probably a good change.

This is also likely to provide quite an influx of gold into the economy, with the usual inflationary effect. People who play the AH will no doubt profit greatly. There will be a new gold sink in the black market.

Olivia@WoW Insider worries that players will feel forced to do as many dailies as possible. I don’t think anyone is ever actually forced to get in game rewards as fast as is humanly possible and maybe the people who do feel that pressure just need to chill and let the people who can control their own playing times enjoy the extra choice.

I find it quite tiresome when choices in games are deliberately restricted because ‘hardcore players would feel forced to do everything.’ Well sucks to be them then.

Cash shop pets to be more powerful in pet battles

Ah, you probably saw this one coming as soon as Blizzard announced that some pets would be considered ‘rare quality’ (ie. more powerful in pet battles) and they would add some non-capture pets to this list. Non-capture means pre-existing pets as opposed to ones that are captured from the wild in MoP.

The full list is here and it does include many of the previous pets that were rare drops in the game. It also includes pets bought from the in game shop.

Blizzard comment:

We decided which pets to change based on how difficult they are to obtain. This approach makes sense since it means that more time was put into getting these particular pets than other ones.

It did not take much time to click ‘buy’ on the cash shop, just saying. Still, I did get warm fuzzies when I saw my crimson whelpling on the list – that pet was given to me by Arb during Vanilla WoW Smile Happy days.

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.