[WoW] It came from the PUG, and how the love of bling unites communities

wow_mahjong

This is just a picture of Spinks standing around in a pub, but the detail on the interior furnishings in MoP is lovely. I think this is a Mah Jong set?

And so, with another WoW expansion, there is another rush of players into heroic PUGs so as to gear up their new level 90 characters. The instances on the whole are shortish and emphasise the boss fights, with minimal trash mobs between bosses. (Honorable exception: Shado-Pan Monastery, which does seem to have a fair amount of ‘trash’.) It does make for a different and more ‘theme park’ style of instance. But I am finding them quite fun and enjoying where Blizzard experiment with different types of mechanics, such as in the Siege of Niuzao, or the one where dps get fired out of a cannon. I am however now rather tired of Stormstout Brewery which I have been dutifully running once per day and still never seen the dps trinket drop from the last boss.

I haven’t tried any challenge modes yet, I hear they’re pretty tough and look forwards to getting round to it at some point.

I was also hoping by now to have some good anecdotes to share on “It came from the PUG.” Actually people have mostly been pleasant (or at least quiet) and reasonably well behaved, and willing to briefly explain boss fights if other players don’t know them. But there are a couple I’d pick out.

One was an instance of Stormstout where the first thing the Death Knight tank said to me when I zoned in at the start was “Are you going to roll on the dps trinket off last boss?” I said, “Yes,” and he left. This was in the morning, about 30 mins before the daily instance lock reset.

Since I’ve never actually seen it drop, I have no idea if tanks are able to roll need on the trinket. I’d guess that they can, because I could roll need on tanking gear if I wanted, and did get into an argument on one run where I rolled need on a one handed sword without tank stats because I thought it would be handy if I wanted to switch to dual wielding 1 handers.

So this is a player who would rather sit out altogether than take a 50% chance of winning an item if it dropped (which of course it didn’t Winking smile ), with the knowledge he could try again in 30 mins anyway. A lot of people apparently cannot handle the idea of a shared roll. I refuse to feel guilty about turning up to an instance with the intent of rolling for an item which is best in slot for me. I don’t personally feel strongly about people rolling need for off spec items, although the longer I go trying to get this trinket, the more pissy I am likely to be it does drop and I don’t win. I do wish there was a roll priority for ‘off-spec need’ which would take priority if and only if no one with main spec priority rolled need. i.e..  from top to bottom priority –> main spec need, off spec need, greed/disenchant, pass. Because I’d rather see an item go to someone who will use for offspec than sold to a vendor.

A more heartening PUG story was in a Shado-Pan PUG, where the group had wiped a couple of times on the last boss. One of the dps was going ballistic on a hapless warlock who hadn’t been focussing on the adds, and by going ballistic I mean serious anger management issues. The tank was a very placid player who told him/her to settle down and shut up, explained the fight patiently to the warlock and made sure they understood, and then we aced the fight. It’s not a very exciting anecdote, I admit, except to say that there are plenty of decent, mature players out there and it’s probably a good sign if your tank picks “the Patient” as his/her title of choice.

Bling bling, emergent behaviour

wow_bling

The Blingtron 4000 is an item that an engineer can make, which doles out free gifts to everyone who clicks on it. It is quite expensive to make, requiring 4 Spirits of Harmony, Living Steel, Trillium, Blue quality gems, etc. So why would any crafter spend all those materials on something whose only purpose is to give free stuff to other random players? The only answer must be because it’s fun. But when you’ve spent that much effort making an item, you want people to notice, and to get some use out of it.

I noticed when one of my guildies set off a Blingtron, she announced in general chat where it was and most of the players in the zone turned up for their free gifts. (OK, a couple of them also got on their largest mounts and sat on top of the Blingtron to annoy everyone else, but they got reported.) The screenshot above was actually taken from an alt on a different server and faction. You can see again that he’s  put it in an accessible location and is announcing to everyone in range (this was in Stormwind) that they can come and get some freebies.

I find that kind of cool as emergent behaviour. It does bring players together, the engineer hopefully gets some social status and people might remember their name with good associations, and it’s quite fun to turn up and get a free random present from someone you might not even know.

Learning from Watching Others

I feel inspired to start today with a failure story.

My first MMO was Dark Age of Camelot and my first character was a minstrel. It’s a jack of all trades class with a bit of melee, a bit of buffing, some stealth, and some crowd control. The crowd control was a single target mez (it’s a sleep spell) with a short range, and you had to play a little song on your flute to make it work. When I first started playing, I tried this out and figured out very quickly that it was rubbish. I mean, the mez broke as soon as you hit the mob. Plus if anything hit you while you were playing your flute song, it didn’t complete.

So if people asked me to do it, I just explained that it wasn’t very good.

Later, I was in a group with another minstrel (this didn’t happen often, it wasn’t that common a class). And what do you know, he started tootling away on his flute and dancing around during the pull and sure enough, one mob got mezzed and stayed mezzed. It was a revelation to me.

He was actually even better than that because with all the dancing around, he could mez 3 mobs ON HIS OWN before they even got to us. And I was like “Um, I’m a bit shit, aren’t I?” (I didn’t say that though. I just thought it.) And sure enough, a couple of months  and a lot of practice later down the line saw me doing the same thing.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Now this is what emergent behaviour is all about. Someone thinks of something new and tries it, and finds that it’s cool. Other players either read about this, or see someone do it. Then they try it for themselves. The new tactic catches on. And it’s purely because of something that players learned from each other, not something the game instructions explicitly told them to do.

But for this to work, you do have to be willing to watch, to listen, to read, and to learn from other people. It’s also how you learned most things as a child.

And it’s more fun and immediate if you witness it first hand, just as I did with the uber minstrel in DaoC, than if you just read about it or see it on a Youtube tankspot video. Those things are good, but they don’t smack you in the face the same way as actually seeing someone else do something cool.

Things I learned about raid leading last week (from watching other people)

My quest to get more achievements for my alt without having to put any effort in continues. Last week I snagged For the Horde! and Heroic: Twilight Assist, both in pick up groups from trade chat.

PvP Raid Leading:

The guy who led the PvP raid would be a familiar name on my server and faction. He organises a lot of world PvP, city defenses, town defenses, attacks, RP PvP events, and so on. So he’s very used to grabbing a bunch of inexperienced PvPniks and steering them to some semblence of success, zerg-style. And to those who mock zerg PvP, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The raid itself was good fun, we met our goals, got to fight a few players on the way, and here’s a few tips I picked up on PvP raid leading:

  1. Make sure everyone knows where the raid is heading next. What’s the next objective?
  2. If people die, give clear instructions for what they should do. Should they res and run back? Should they res and wait for a summon?
  3. Keep the instructions basic. Keep the tactics simple.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go back for people who got lost, just make sure everyone knows what is going on.

I was especially impressed at how well he communicated the instructions for if people died. Everyone always knew whether they should run back or wait, and where the raid would next stop to summon people. It kept the momentum and stopped people from panicking about how they’d catch up with the rest (this tends to happen a lot with zerg raids – if people lose the zerg, they panic.)

It was a very relaxed, chilled out experience. And no small part of that was because the raid leader was relaxed and chilled out.

Oh, Sartharion! PvE Raid Leading:

Anyone who leads a PUG PvE raid has my greatest respect. I don’t make a habit of it, and as a result I’m really not used to leading a bunch of people of varying skill, experience, and who may or may not give a shit about the encounter. So I’m really bad at gauging the capabilities of a PUG. In this group, we were taking down Sarth+1. Our dps was not stellar. Our tank failed on all three basic jobs of “just keep its head and its tail away from the rest of the raid, and don’t get caught in the fire wall either.” But we got Sartharion on the second attempt. So here’s a few more tips:

  1. It’s not over till its over. Don’t give up too soon.
  2. This includes if someone makes a stupid pull. Just calmly call out the kill order and let the raid deal with the extra mobs. If you’re going to wipe, might as well die fighting. See rule 1.
  3. Trust your gut feel. If you know your raid can make the kill, don’t be dissuaded from trying again.

So this raid was pretty much a study in tenacity and the raid leader trusting the players to handle unexpected incidents like pulling an extra trash pack, or the dragon tail swiping the raid (although I am bitter about being tail swiped while I was about to get out of a void zone).

What have you learned recently from watching someone else play?

Can regular achievers and ‘emergent’ players be friends?

Goodbye to Blogatelle (I wish I’d discovered it earlier now) – which is/ was a blog about roleplaying in WoW with advice and commentary.

And in the spirit of the out of the box thinking that I was talking about previously, here’s what Sean has to say about unintended play and why some players feel threatened by it. Roleplaying in MMOs lives in a kind of halfway house. It isn’t specifically intended by devs but I do think they design worlds with roleplaying opportunities in mind.

You’re playing it wrong!

No multiplayer game ever survives contact with the players. This is as true for traditional card and board games (and pen and paper games, if those count as traditional these days) as it is for MMOs, but there is a huge difference in scale.

For example, has anyone ever played a game of Monopoly without some house rules? In fact, has anyone read the actual rules? I sometimes wonder if every family has its own set.  Note: Monopoly is such a poor game  that I’d advise anyone to PLEASE USE YOUR OWN HOUSE RULES IF THEY MAKE IT MORE FUN

Running pen and paper games, it’s also  a given that players will always think of something that you didn’t expect them to do. But when I’ve been running those sorts of games, a large part of the fun for me is finding out how players will surprise me.

I’m fascinated by player behaviour in MMOs,  particularly in ways we find to play the games that the devs never intended. This could involve:

  • exploits
  • players cooperating on goals where devs expected that they would compete, or vice versa
  • roleplaying in games that aren’t designed around that
  • exploring instead of achieving, or vice versa
  • soloing content that was designed for groups
  • buying gold instead of farming it
  • powerlevelling
  • griefing
  • building elaborate social structures that weren’t foreseen by designers
  • any kind of mixmaxing that devs didn’t spot
  • focussing on unexpected goals (eg. the naked warrior, or people who collect pets as their endgame)

As soon as you bring real players into the picture, the sky’s the limit. Some of these emergent behaviours get labelled as cheating. Players are told ‘you’re playing that wrong’. Or ‘you’ve broken the game.’ Some exploits get fixed, some players get punished, life goes on.

But is it really possible to play the game wrong? It is understandable that if you present a player with a game — and no rulebook — they’ll assume that anything they can do in game is reasonable.

Even if there is a rulebook, as per Monopoly, they’ll feel comfortable tweaking it the rules just don’t reflect how they want to play.

Some players will not make this assumption. Instead, they’ll assume that the way they play is reasonable and everyone else is wrong. You’ll sometimes see complaints about perfectly legitimate power levelling from players who think it removes the fun from a game.

So in any case, it’s easy to feel confused. The huge MMO sandboxes that we play around in are welcoming to lots of different styles of play. You can do what you like. Except when someone decides that you were playing it wrong. That rock on which no mob could reach you? You thought it was designed like that, but what if it was a bug? That’s an exploit right there. That super powered combo you built your character around? Sorry, not intended. It gets nerfed next patch.

It is absolutely part of the MMO genre that if players find a way to be a little too optimal in game, steps will be taken to fix it. For the sake of balance. And because in order for the game to be fun for the majority, the optimal route through needs to be a ‘fun’ one and not a dull grindfest? Well maybe.  In any case, devs have their ideas of what is fun and since you are paying them to produce fun games, we assume most players are down with that.

So when is an exploit not an exploit?

Most people are aware of when they are exploiting an unforeseen bug in the coding, or even outright cheating. When these bugs are fixed and the exploits closed off, the majority of sensible players nod, remind themselves that these games are complicated, and may even think in passing how much more fun MMOs would be if you could just dump the hardcore achievers with their minmax attitude, exploits, gold buying, and tendency to focus on the ends rather than the means.

But sometimes it simply isn’t that clear.

Recently City of Heroes introduced a mission architect. You could create your own instances, your own plot arcs, your own supervillains and enemy groups, and other people could run through and give them marks out of 5. You could even earn xp and pick up achievement badges inside architect missions. It was (and is) terrifically fun.

Then someone worked out how to create a mission that was optimised for xp. It was called meow. It wasn’t just optimised for xp, it was crazy xp. You could create high level mobs with virtually no health. You could use high level mobs who were effectively rooted to the ground. You could use bunches of high level mobs clustered around a bomb that players could explode.  Here’s a  video of a player in a meow farm mission.

Other people caught on quickly and before you knew it, the channels were full of requests for groups for meow missions. They zipped up levels like wildfire.

And then NCSoft decided that enough was enough. Positron stepped in (as reported by Blog of Heroes) and stated clearly that this was going to stop. Meow missions would be banned, and:

Players that have abused the reward system egregiously may lose benefits they have gained – leading up to and perhaps including losing access to the characters power-levelled in this fashion

So the punishment is not just for the people who designed the missions. But possibly for anyone who ever used them. Even if it was just to grab a couple of quick levels to get a new ability, to help a friend or partner, or just to get high enough level to access some of the cooler zones.

Ardua@Echoes of Nonsense has a good rant about this. He helped his wife get her character a couple of levels via a meow mission because he was tired and it was late, so that she could get a pretty cloak and a pet that would help her to solo and now she risks being banned for it? And this is in City of Heroes, a game with no significant endgame.

I don’t have a problem with devs banning exploits and cheaters where they find them in games. But when it was down to their mistake and no one was really hurt by the extra powerlevelling, what’s the point in coming down so hard on all the players who may have taken part?

Maybe instead we should ask: why were people so keen to powerlevel in CoH? Is it because the midgame is boring as heck? Is it because some characters just don’t get fun before they collect a full set of abilities at higher levels?

Yes there will always be some people who exploit loopholes just because they can. In a way, they get their fun by outsmarting the devs (and good luck to them). But when you find a large proportion of the playerbase jumping onto the bandwagon, you have to ask what’s wrong with the game at a more fundamental level. Because if it was fun in vanilla mode, people would eat vanilla.

And if it takes hours of boring gameplay to get the character you want, then maybe the problem isn’t with the meows.

On another note, I’m still impressed at whoever thought to design powerlevelling missions. Someone recruit that guy as a level designer, stat. S/he obviously has a solid understanding of game mechanics and how players behave in game.