What a long strange trip it’s been

“What a long, strange trip it’s been” is an unusual set of WoW achievements. In order to complete it, a player has to fill in several sets of achievements, one for each of the in game holidays. This means that at the minimum, it will take one year to complete. That’s one year in which a player doesn’t miss a single in-game holiday.

The reward is a mount that is faster than almost anything in the game. Although not with a unique skin, just a unique colour.

This does explain some of the dissatisfaction with the recent Valentine’s Event. Other than people like me who hate it on principle, some of the achievements which count towards the drake require luck with the random drops. And now the event is over, anyone who missed it this time will have to wait another year.

Is it unethical?

I personally hate achievements that reward you for having a subscription for a minimum amount of time. I hated the idea in CoH that the only way to get wings for your superhero was to have subscribed for X months. The CoH achievements are why I can never persuade my husband to drop his sub when he stops playing for a few months (it’s not that we can’t afford it, it just offends me on some deep level to be paying for a service we don’t use.) To my mind, it’s just one step beyond letting you pay cash for achievements.

In any case, to get the violet protodrake, people will have to keep their subscription going for at least a year, and arrange their own holidays and spare time such as to never miss an in-game holiday. Granted many people would have maintained that sub anyway but you can imagine some financial guy at Blizzard’s eyes lighting up when the notion was invented.

And for some people, it’ll encourage them to play more than they really should, pay longer than they really should, and act against their own best interests. And the pressure not to miss an event achievement will get stronger and stronger as the year goes on. It isn’t the game’s job to save us from ourselves, but shouldn’t they be rewarding activities that are fun?

So what’s the big appeal?

One of the complaints that people have made about WoW at the moment is how difficult it really is to stand out. When everyone is raiding, no one is a non-raider. When everyone is raiding, raiding achievements don’t feel so exclusive any more. In fact, very few things in the game feel exclusive.

So let’s look again at the long strange trip:

  • can be done mostly solo (the non solo parts can be done in PUGs)
  • requires dedication during each event
  • requires a whole year of dedication to events
  • requires luck too for some of them
  • has an obvious visual reward
  • has a reward with a nice extra feature (extra speed)

This achievement is plugging a gap for people who may or may not be raiders but want to do something hard that will give bragging rights. The reason it is hard isn’t necessarily to do with a challenge to playing skill, it’s more of a logistics issue. Were you dedicated enough to get your drake? Were you lucky enough? Did you spend months and months working on it?

There are very few goals in the game which are as accessible to everyone but still feel exclusive. The sarth+3 title/mount is for relatively hardcore raiders only. There isn’t anything cool that you can grind for solo if you want to prove your … uh … hardcore grinding skills.

Even though I have so little comprehension of the playstyle that would see these things as desirable, I can see how achievements like this will make a lot of people happy. I think they are unhealthy (the achievements, not the people) and encourage developers to add content that isn’t fun or appealing. But if an activity was fun, appealing, and accessible, then everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be exclusive. And so players vote with their feet.

The only way to make a reward exclusive is to make it either inaccessible, unappealing, expensive, random, or demanding in some other way (eg. needing to influence other players to vote for you). The price of exclusivity in games is this type of content.

So perhaps this meta-achievement is a way for Blizzard to introduce the illusion of difficulty without actually making the achievements difficult. It’s not a good substitute for solid gameplay or real content with properly scaling difficulty.

In which people puzzle me

I am surprised by how many people are going for this one. In retrospect, I really shouldn’t be. I’ve listed above all the reasons the achievement is desirable, and being achievable solo is a big part of that.

But any time I see a violet proto-drake, I’m still going to think ‘What a muppet’ :P

The study of incentives in WoW is a very fertile ground for economists. I will be fascinated to see what people make of achievements in future and how they drive player behaviour.