Quitting vs taking a break

There are two types of gamer – and by gamer I mean people who would list gaming as one of their main hobbies. And this is valid across different sorts of games; board games, RPGs, computer games, etc.

1. One main game at a time. You might not actually get married to your current game of choice but your involvement is very deep. You probably spend a lot of time thinking and chatting about the game when you’re not actually playing it, whether it’s about running guilds or scenarios, or reading blogs or mailing lists.

2. Lots of different games on the go, possibly with a common bunch of friends.

If you are a type #1 like me (although I have bursts of type #2 and I think I’m drifting more that way with age also), then sooner or later you’ll get familiar with burnout. That game which has been an important part of your life for months/ years/ etc just … isn’t any more. Maybe it’s because the community has changed, maybe your life has changed, maybe something else caught your attention, maybe the game itself changed.

The first time, it may take you awhile to realise this has happened. People are resistant to change, especially when it might affect their social network, and moving on will leave a gap.

But does moving on have to be a permanent thing, or is it more like putting the old game on the back burner for awhile? I’ve done both before, and a lot of it comes down to the emotional situation you were in when you left, plus the state of the game/ community when you are thinking about returning.

Taking a break from WoW

It’s probably been obvious from the content here but my sub to WoW ran out a few weeks ago.

I’m not writing a long and impassioned post about severing all my ties to the game because I think it’s quite possible that I’ll go back sometime. It just won’t be in the foreseeable future. This did make me think about the difference between quitting a game for good (“I’m never going to play this again!”) and not making that final decision (“I don’t want to play it right now, but maybe sometime in the future…!”)

Clearly, developers would prefer the latter because it means that the people who were just taking a break can be lured back. It may not be until the next expansion but they’re still potential customers. And this is particularly key in F2P games because there’s no subscription fee to act as an extra barrier for returners.

On the other hand, we know how big a factor the social networks in games are in keeping people playing. By taking a break, even a fairly short one, a player is probably breaking off those social networks. No raid guild, for example, will keep a spot open for more than a few weeks (if that). Many players have short memories online and if you take a break for over a month or two, you may log back in to find that you are remembered by a few, but things won’t be the way they were before.

Why take a break?

For me, taking a break from a game is when I still like the game itself but I just don’t want to play it any more. It’s when I still like the guild but the burnout means I can’t bear to log in.

It’s not you, it’s me. Or maybe it is you (if you are the game) but I could forgive you in future, I just need a break. I don’t know what would have to change to make me want to come back. I just know it isn’t something I’m planning any time soon right now.

I’ve been through this before with WoW, personally. When TBC launched I was playing in a 40 man raid guild. It dissolved messily over a few months, and I was so invested in the guild (I’d been a class leader) that I just wanted to get away from the whole scene. I think I took about a year out, and when I did return, it was with a different server/ faction and I was astounded at being able to reconnect with my old guild (pre-40 man raiding on alliance, I mean).

It’s happened before, and it could happen again. So it’s goodbye, but not a final burning of all the bridges. I’ll miss my guild more than they’ll miss me; they’ll still be running the same instances and raids, chatting in gchat, working on guild achievements – just with one fewer grumpy person who was half burned out to take part. But then again, I have other things to do, games to play, people to meet. I wish them well.

Because this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a long break from a game, I had a rough idea what the issues might be in returning later. Those are mostly:

  • Can you pick up your old social network or is it time to start again? This is particularly tough for raiders. A casual raid group might be able to find a spot for a returning player, but you can’t rely on a more progression minded raid doing the same thing. This is especially true in a 10 man raid where they won’t be so big on having substitutes and rotations.
  • And can you catch up with your old character or would it be easier to start again? Blizzard are trying to make it easier and easier for a returning (or new) player to catch up with the current endgame, so as long as you don’t mind LFD, chances are that this won’t be an issue in WoW.

For example, I haven’t used realIDs in a big way in WoW, but once I decided I was taking a long break, I did swap realIDs with a lot of guildies and in game friends. It’s a practical issue at that point. If/ when I go back, they may be on different alts or in different guilds but I’ll still be able to touch base. It’s not quite like going cold into a new (or old) game where you don’t know anyone or can’t find anyone you know.

Plus I know I will want to play Diablo III when that comes out, and it will be cool to be able to chat to my WoW friends on battle.net when that happens too.

Have you taken a long break from a game and then returned? What issues did you face?

Gaming News: RealID was merely a setback, Dragon Age 2 announced, Firaxis hit by layoffs, E3 Game Critics Awards

I’ll start with my one and only World Cup joke, in honour of the World Cup finals: France, the only national side with 21 strikers.

Incidentally, Paul the Psychic Octopus now has his own facebook page (we assume under his real name).

WoW players love their pseudonyms

Blizzard this week announced that new Starcraft 2 and Cataclysm forums would require all posters to display their real names, as currently shown on their battle.net realID. Following widespread backlash from the community, they later withdrew the part about displaying real names in favour of a forum id.

Normally “Company A announces X. Company B then unannouces it 3 days later” would not be news. But the big story here is in quite how loud and unanimous the feedback from players against this change really was. There were crazy huge forum threads (I think the Blizzard IT team who kept those forums up all week under the heavy load are the unsung heroes of the piece), posts and comments all over the blogosphere, and reports in numerous national media. I am not sure that anyone would have predicted that quite so many people felt so strongly about their pseudonymity. I certainly would not. On a less pleasant note, some protestors also publicised information about Blizzard/Activision employees including addresses, details of family/ kids etc. I can’t condone this, but it undoubtedly was effective.

I do notice though that in many of the media pieces, they mention that gaming forums often use ids. Whilst failing to mention that this is thoroughly mainstream practice online outside facebook and many of the selfsame publications allow people to register with ids to comment on their own news stories.

We have assumed for awhile now that the spread of real names across the internet is inevitable. If nothing else, the facebook generation who were introduced to the internet via facebook will consider it normal. But now I wonder. There are certainly advantages to pseudonymity, many of which have been raised in this week’s discussions.

Anyhow, there is no doubt more to be said on the topic of internet privacy, as well as how to clean up gaming culture for the mainstream. The only arguments I have little time for in this debate are those who claim that it isn’t important.

Dragon Age 2, now more Mass Effectish

One of the other stories which caught my eye this week was that Dragon Age is apparently Bioware’s biggest selling title. I would have expected to see Mass Effect/ Mass Effect 2 in that position, and if you look at the actual article, Rob Bartel’s quote is:

“last November it was the single most globally successful title we’ve put out to date”

Last November was before ME2 was released. So – yeah – draw your own conclusions.

Anyhow, this week Bioware announced Dragon Age 2, a sort of sequel to the first game which features a different protagonist, different continent, updated graphics, and possibly very different style of combat. I hope the trademark blood spatters stay in though.

Unlike the original game, DA2 won’t offer the option of multiple character origins. Players will play Hawke (a character who, like Shepherd, can be either male or female) and the game tells the story of his/her rise to power over a period of 10 years. I do love that Bioware takes a different storytelling style with each DA release with the first being a classic ‘callow youth goes on adventure and saves world’ story, then Awakenings where you have to establish a power base around your keep, and now a 10 year epic tale.

Some commentators have said that they think the new DA2 sounds too much like ME in style for their tastes, and that the hero won’t feel as though it belongs as much to the player. We’ll have to wait and see.

Layoffs at Civilisation Developer

Firaxis laid 20 developers off this week, presumably a sign that they haven’t yet started work on Civ 6.

E3 Game Critic Awards announced

Every year, a poll is taken of critics from various publications to see which games or hardware presented at E3 most impressed them. The winners for this year’s awards were published this week.

I don’t see anything here that is either surprising or exciting (except maybe that Portal 2 beat SWTOR for best PC game). The critics liked the DS3 a lot. Games which got a shout out include Civ 5 (best strategy), Portal 2 (best PC game, best action/adventure), SWTOR (best RPG), Rage (best console game, best action game, best graphics).

I’m assuming here that ‘Best Action Game’ means best shooter, and I don’t really get why they don’t call it best shooter. But what do I know?

[RealID around the web] The future will be written in Chicken

Once in the twenty second century linguists tried to find the perfect simplification of all language. They dubbed it chicken. It has no grammar, no syntax and no ambiguities. The only word is ‘chicken’. Unfortunately it is so easy to learn everybody consequently did, dooming forever human society.

These linguists were never prosecuted, indeed nor could they even be identified because as aliens discovered when revisiting the planet in 16461943134916461179461626069, all language including the history books were all written in chicken.

- Chicken (uncyclopaedia)

“The future will be written in Chicken” is a phrase we use around the house to describe a paradigm shift so great that no one in the future will be able to understand why we did things the way we do today.

And the question that a lot of people are asking about Blizzard’s plans to RealID up the forums is whether this is really just about reducing trolling on a bulletin board, or whether it’s the start of something more radical than that. It is already clear that they have no  plans to back down, however great the current uproar.

We have been planning this change for a very long time. During this time, we have thought ahead about the scope and impact of this change and predicted that many people would no longer wish to post in the forums after this change goes live. We are fine with that, because we want to change these forums dramatically in a positive and more constructive direction.

Does Blizzard really care so much about the bulletin boards that they’d rather piss of the segment of the community most likely to use them than just give everyone a single forum id and call it done? Unlikely. They have further plans. This is a roundup of how other bloggers and writers around the web have been reacting.

Mike Snider writes at USA Today about Blizzard’s plans for further integration with Facebook.

Really what you are going to do once you buy StarCraft II and you take it home and install it and log onto Battle.net for the first time, you’ll be able to essentially hit a button and bring all your Facebook friends that are also on Battle.net into Battle.net and create (Real ID) relationships.

(This assumes that you have some facebook ‘friends’ who are also interested in battle.net. If you don’t fall into this group, you aren’t the main focus of their future vision.)

Stabs writes about why privacy matters and why the ‘moral’ pressure to reveal your real name is inspired by corporate greed.

What concerns me is that there is clearly an attitude that is inspired by corporate greed that has become a moral theme. It’s wrong to oppose RealId, some people say, you should be more honest. Got something to hide?

And how about reasons why people favour internet handles, not just on gaming sites but all over the net?

Tesh writes about the ideal of the internet as a raceless, classless utopia. Now, you won’t hear a lot about the utopian ideals of the internet these days, but being able to log into a place where people will judge you just on what you said and did there is something that many many users prize.

It strikes me that anonymity is valuable for free markets to work as well.  Honest feedback is generated from simple demand and supply, where business relationships are defined by the simple feedback loop of “purchase” or “no purchase”.  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” is concerned most with what people do, not with what they look like.  Actions, not prejudice, seem to produce the most productive results in a positive feedback cycle.

I’m not backwards about telling people that I’m female, but darned if I don’t enjoy the sense that what I write is taken more seriously on forums where people cannot immediately tell (unless I tell them). Think that’s crazy? It’s actually one of the simple pleasures of being online for a large proportion of the population.

It goes both ways of course. I like that people will come out and flame me if I say something stupid, instead of thinking, “She’s a woman, she might get upset, go easy on her.” I think being judged on your actions is a great equaliser.

Sanya Weathers is more concerned about the possibilities for stalking, and the legal ramifications.

My customers are not public citizens. Making them public citizens against their will is crappy. I can think of half a dozen reasons why someone should be allowed to be anonymous, and I’m not going to list them because any one of them is good enough. Want people to stop acting like asshats on the boards? Suspend in game accounts for out of game behavior. Hire more mods. Close the board. Whatever. This is just chickenshit.

And another thing. We know that the Facebook generation have been told that presenting more than one identity to different people is fundamentally flawed. But I put a lot of work into blogging and posting and playing as Spinks, it’s as valuable an id to me in online gaming circles as my legal name (probably more, actually). I used to have a different nickname at University as well. Just because no one outside that circle of friends ever used it doesn’t mean that it was dishonest.

Surely any identity that you have spent time establishing has value.

Randall Farmer thinks that this is a classic identity design mistake.

I’m sure they are using Facebook as an example – I often do this in my consulting practice. There is no doubt that Facebook users are better behaved in general than their YouTube counterparts, but the error Blizzard made is to assume that their player relationships are like those of Facebook.

This is where the vision of the future comes in. Perhaps Blizzard intends to force their player relationships to be like those of Facebook.

I don’t have much time for slippery slope arguments , but just for the sake of argument, imagine this:

Blizzard provides more facilities for people to use with their realID friends. More channels. Maybe a shared bank or the ability to auction things to just your realID list. Perhaps they even go as far as a random dungeon finder that only your realID friends can use. The game culture becomes less of a public space where you expect to hang out with thousands of random people but a private space just for you and your realID friends where you never need to mix with anyone else.

For sure, you’d need a LOT of realID friends to make that work, but they could encourage and reward building larger circles of friends (just like Facebook/ Farmville). And suddenly, anyone who isn’t in the loop is disadvantaged.

And no one will complain, because the history books of the future will be written in Chicken.

RealID debate brings all the posters back to the official forums

I’ve never seen an expression of general outrage against Blizzard so great as what’s been happening overnight.

I’ve lost count of the blog posts protesting the proposed new change.

Moderators of other forums, such as mmo-champion, tankspot, and even Elitist Jerks have come out immediately against the idea too (and to assure users that they don’t plan to go that route.)

And when an EJ moderator suspends their usually harsh rules about whining on Blizzard, you know there’s something more at stake:

The idea of merging RealID into the Blizzard forums is dumb. The more places that say it’s dumb the better (which includes here). If your post violates our forum rules we will infract you for it, but the do not whine rule is waived for this thread only. Carry on.

And that’s even without counting the official forum threads:

(As to why the EU boards are so much less excitable, I think it’s partly due to stronger moderation and partly because everyone knows there’s no point posting there because devs only read the US ones.)

Obviously one cannot assume that all those forum replies are from people who disagree with the idea. But who is going to read through 15682 posts just to check? Oh yeah, forum mods. Who’d want THAT job? Still, at least it gets people posting…

In any case, it’s an interesting experiment in online democracy, whether you agree with the change or not. Does Blizzard really intend to ignore all of the backlash? Today we’ll find out, one way or another. I hope they’ll modify their policy to let people create a battle.net account alias and require all official forum posts to show that information instead of real names.

And what dire PR for the company just before SC2 is released. There was a time when Blizzard was viewed as a company run by and for gamers. That time is now over. Even aside from the wrongs or rights of the proposal, no company that fails so badly in understanding gamer culture can really claim to be one of us any more.

Being alone in a MMO

336295941_00e23f305fAlejandra Mavroski@Flickr

So the rumours are increasing that patch 3.3.5 is due to drop imminently in WoW, and with it the RealID integration that could potentially make privacy  a thing of the past. One of my reservations about the new scheme is that if you swap RealIDs with a friend, they can see who all of your alts are.

But sometimes, I just want to log on and not be bothered by anyone. Just to pretend I am alone to explore peacefully in a big virtual world, with no social obligations at all.

I used to game with a Finnish friend who would periodically gquit and spend a week or two guildless. Then he’d rejoin. He said it was ‘his log cabin’ time and he’d go hang out in some unpopular zone where he’d never see another player. Now that’s a little extreme, but I wonder how many people enjoy the anonymity of being able to make a new low level alt, tell no one who you are, and just melt into the virtual world.

I used to notice this a lot when my boyfriend (now husband) first moved in with me. We were living in a small one-bedroom flat and whilst there was room for us both, there wasn’t much ‘solo room’ for anyone. And sometimes, being logged into the computer and playing a single player game almost felt as though it genuinely did add some virtual space to the house. For a lot of players, living in cities or far away from open land, being able to explore a virtual world is more virtual space than they might actually see in a year.

As well as an alt or two to just chill out, my bank alts are usually guildless. There’s no special reason for it, but I quite enjoy being able to drop online to quickly check auctions without being drawn into conversations or pestered to play my ((insert group specced character of choice)). I suspect that a lot of healers in particular lean on anonymous alts for some quality solo time in game.

The other bonus of an anonymous alt is that you can easily avoid players you don’t like. I’m sure we all are far too mature to harbour grudges against guildies or other players BUT if one was so inclined, one could log in an alt and check the /who list to make sure the object of derision was not online. Maybe it’s kiddie and immature but we’ve all done it!

So understand my concern about RealID. Even with close personal friends and family, we may sometimes want anonymous alts. This is entirely the type of behaviour that Facebook and, it now appears, Blizzard would like to wipe out. They find it deceptive. They find it unfriendly. But I know my anonymous alts are neither of those things. They’re just an attempt to find some extra me-time online when I can’t do it in any other way. If they didn’t exist, I’d probably go for a long walk or hide in my bedroom with a book.

Do you have anonymous alts? Would you be happy to share that information with your friends list?