New expansions, MMOs as life simulations, and why only idiots whine about “welfare epics”


A whole new world …

So a new WoW expansion is now just around the corner which means that players are getting ready to take their characters into what is effectively a new game world. People are returning to the game, deciding which alts to play first, and (if they are keen) thinking hard about what preparation they could do now to give themselves and their characters a bit of an edge.

And of course, mentally preparing to replace hard won epics from the current expansion with blue and green quest gear. This is a time for getting some closure from current content and preparing to move on. Bloggers will be writing about their favourite zones and stories from the current expansion, people will be chasing those last few achievements while they are still just about current, doing the farewell tours, getting ready to leave. This time next month, no one will care about your Pandarian epics (tbh they probably already stopped caring).  Expansions are (gaming) life’s way of telling you not to take things too seriously.

I’ll probably put up a few posts remembering some of my favourite parts of Pandaria also before WoD is released.

MMOs as a simulation of life


MMOs are a simplistic simulation of life. Your character enters the world as a callow untried youth with nothing to them except their name and the clothes on their back. As you play the game you collect gear, gold, levels, pets and mounts (I guess these are the in game equivalent of family Smile ), friends/ contacts, maybe a guild and a social circle, reputation, achievements, knowledge, whatever passes for in-game wisdom – you become wealthy and save the world (possibly multiple times) and NPCs know your name. And it doesn’t really end other than when you get bored and leave, but if it did there would probably be some kind of state funeral and loving heirs waiting to take over your mantle and light a candle in your name every year.

Like I say, very basic simulation of a certain type of life narrative. Rags to Riches. The immigrant story.

I think people can get fooled by this into some odd political ideas if they are silly enough to try to apply MMO rules to actual life, where it isn’t quite that easy to start from nothing and end up as the coolest, richest character on the planet. But it’s nice to be able to forget all the horrible disparities of RL and just play in a world where everyone pretty much starts from a clean slate.

Anyhow, this leads to two ways of looking at a new expansion:

  1. Asylum model. You have to leave your home and go to a new place. It’s a new beginning with new opportunities. But ultimately you had no choice about whether to go. And you have to start from nothing.
  2. Emigration model. For whatever reason, your character looks to new horizons and going into a new expansion is like emigrating to a new country. You can’t take a lot of your existing knowledge and gear with you but you can plan to transfer whatever you are able.

A new player would pretty much have to start from option 1, unless they have friends in the game who are going to help them out. Existing players have a choice, and the way they make that choice will be largely about their own priorities and how they prefer to play.

I quite enjoy the sense of starting from scratch. You feel that you are making a lot of progress quite fast. It is exciting. It focuses you on making the most you can of the new experience. Others prefer to put a lot of work into achieving as many advantages as they can. Some would even argue that if it is possible to minmax some advantages, that is clearly the optimal way to play.

But what IS clear is that the vast majority of the effort keen players have poured into playing the current expansion will not affect their experience in the next one. It won’t matter how many times you wiped to **evil boss of choice – Elegon in our case I think** because all you will be able to take with you are the memories of the good times and the friends you shared them with. Players will simply have to live with that. It isn’t the traditional/ original MMO way (which would have been just adding more content all round but letting the players’ game history continue to have more impact), but HAS become the MMO way since level-advancing expansions were first invented.

This is because it allows new players to catch up a bit, and also offers a good entry point for returning players. They do expansions like this because it works and is profitable.

Lets talk about the ‘welfare epic’ whiners

If  you have every complained about ‘welfare epics’ in WoW you are an idiot. And you have been duped into equating poor people with gamers whose playing style you don’t like, and with dev companies whose strategies to make the game fun for different parts of the playerbase you don’t like either. Right wing political slogans simply have no place in describing MMO setups and I suspect the people who fall into those linguistic traps have no idea what they are talking about; it’s a trap laid by the MMOs being an incredibly simplistic life simulation, as I said above.

The original phrase was coined by a Blizzard Dev (who should have been disciplined for insulting large numbers of the player base, incidentally) and was about the way points were given out in PvP battlegrounds which meant you could get points by basically doing nothing. This was fairly dumb but had nothing to do with welfare – anyone who thinks that you get handed nice stuff via actual welfare for doing nothing simply does not know what they are talking about. (You get shit stuff and it comes with massive stress and being forced to let the system know far too much about your personal life. I’ve lived on benefits when I was a kid and I’m grateful that the govt paid for us to have a roof over my head and clothes on my back, but not needing benefits is better.) The people who deliberately exploited this were both stupid and lazy, but mostly they were exploiters and Blizzard  has to take the blame for leaving that loophole open. It is always surprising, in both RL and in game, how much more effort people will put into trying to exploit the system than just playing it regularly when the rewards are not that dissimilar either way.

(I always thought the welfare metaphor was an odd one incidentally — it would have been just as easy to refer to ‘spoiled children loot’ or ‘trust fund baby loot’ for a metaphor for people getting stuff they don’t deserve. But no, right wingers are obsessed to a bonkers level with whether ‘welfare recipients’ are deserving or not.)

It also should be obvious to everyone by this point that the way Blizzard run the game is via a succession of major and minor expansions. The minor expansion we tend to call major patches and there will be 3-4 of them within every major expansion. With every minor expansion, the game needs to make it possible for new or lagging players to catch up to the new content, hence the iLvL of drops/ quests from the new content will be edging higher.

  • So if you think the optimal way to play the game is to get the maximum loot for the minimum effort, the most sensible thing to do is collect your gear when it’s easiest (ie. slightly out of date but still useful), and play through the raids once or twice on LFG just so you can see them.
  • If you think the optimal way to play the game is to get every advantage available and see all the content while it is cutting edge, then be prepared to put a lot more work in AND to see your advantage become eroded with every expansion (both major and minor); it’s a never ending treadmill but “Fame costs and here’s where you start paying”.

(NB. If you don’t really care about the optimal way of playing the game then you will probably never feel stressed about any of this. Go and have fun Smile )

The aggro I think comes from the latter group who have a nagging worry that maybe, just maybe, all that work they are putting into the game has become somewhat devalued. WELCOME TO THE NEW REALITY GUYS! The only reason to put that much effort in is because you enjoy and prefer that style of gameplay. It is cool being part of a cutting edge guild, feeling that you have completely mastered your game of choice. Own your choice and enjoy it.

But don’t fucking complain about welfare epics, you idiots. It just shows that you don’t know anything about either welfare or epics.If it’s that important to you that your hard work feels rewarded, then you would be happier with a different game. Or in other words, in real life one’s hard work is not usually rewarded or even recognised, maybe this just means the life simulation is simply getting more realistic.

[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.


The easiest way to pick out some addons is firstly to ask around guild/ friends. Or secondly, head to 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.


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.


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.)


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


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.


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.