[MMOs] Your learning needs are not my problem

Stubborn has a great post up on the Epic Slant blog where he applies some of his teaching theories about collaboration to game design. You should read it, but I’m just riffing off the basic idea. He talks about how you design a collaborative task to give everyone in the group opportunities to learn.

I was intrigued because I feel increasingly that random group content in MMOs is an anti-learning environment. If people zone in with someone who is learning the fight, they’re likely to be disappointed because it will take longer. They don’t want to take ‘the hit’ of being part of someone else’s learning experience. It’s not surprising, if group content is designed to encourage group learning (I don’t actually think MMO devs have educators on board, sadly, because that would be awesome but let’s pretend) then the whole point is that the group learns together.

Even a lot of learning players would rather be boosted and not have to bother learning the fight than be thrown in with a group of similarly experienced players and all learn it together. That isn’t a function of noobiness, a lot of experienced players would do the same thing – just they’d probably actually bother to learn the fight at some point. Although possibly not to the same holistic level – if you learn a fight in a group where everyone else already performs their role well then you will only really learn your own role. You won’t learn how the fight fully works.

People are lazy. Only raid leaders are really motivated to fully understand fights. A lot of players are happy to just be told what to do. None of this is surprising. I also think it is most fun to learn a fight in a group of similarly skilled players who are also friends who are learning together; it’s harder than ever to get this type of group together except at the beginning of new content. Because people will head into LFR to learn what they can.

Your learning will slow us down

The other week we raided again with an old guildie who has just rejoined after spending the expansion in more hardcore raids. He’s a great guy, good player, geared to the gills, knows the fights backwards, and it was lovely having him back in raid chat. We got to one of the boss fights (Blackfuse) where some of the DPS have a slightly different role – he said he was happy to try it but it would be his first time as his old raid hadn’t let him do it before so he wasn’t really sure how it worked.

This gives an indication of how specialised and risk averse some raid groups can be. If you didn’t happen to be That Guy who took on that role when the raid first learned a fight, they will be reluctant to give you a chance to learn unless they have no choice because learning takes time and that would set them back. So do you make the whole raid wipe a couple of times while new guy learns the positioning or tell him to go practice in LFR/ go back to his usual role so you can make more progress?

Has learning got more scary in MMOs?

So what I am wondering is whether it has gotten scarier to learn new roles or fights. PUGs don’t care if it was the first time you saw the raid, they’ll have to judge you on what they see. Progression raids worship progression and will be frustrated if you take too long to learn.

I guess with a new WoW expansion coming up, we can say it’s easier to get into learning mode at the beginning of a new content patch when everyone (briefly) is learning together. And the goal isn’t just to learn, it’s to learn as quickly as you can do you don’t get booted from your raid later. That adds a certain extra stress that I suspect good educators would have tried to avoid. I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more people just avoid group content – it only takes one really stressful experience to kill someone’s confidence.

And I wonder if the genre (such as it is) would be more long lived if more design effort was put into making the learning experience less stressy.

[WoW] The raiding dropoff in MoP

I think it’s approaching that time in the expansion where I get a bit burned out on raiding, notwithstanding having a great guild and raid team. I can tell this because I was getting quite frustrated at being the nominated turtle kicker (I promise this makes sense if you know the encounter) on Tortos this week. (Fortunately we’re taking a week or two off due to people being on holiday and then we have a guild meet coming up so I’ll probably be back to normal after that.)

Or maybe it’s just a frustrating role that no one really likes. Who knows?

Well actually, Zellviren has been collecting stats on normal-mode raid participation and has put up a long and detailed post on MMO-Champion about it. To summarise: raid participation in normal mode 10 man instances has been steadily dropping off since Wrath. Even with the surge in subscriptions that came with MoP, fewer guilds killed the first boss in Mogushan Vaults than the last boss in Dragon Soul (last raid in Cataclysm) in normal mode 10 man. He also collected data on a boss by boss basis to show which have been the main roadblock bosses in MoP for these raiders.

I know the main roadblocks for us were Elegon and Garalon so it’s no surprise to see large drop offs associated with both of them, but the numbers also show that after hitting those walls, a lot of guilds seem to have given up on raiding. He concludes:

“1) This is the first time we start to see massive jumps and “brick walls” appear in normal mode raiding. Elegon himself puts paid to more guilds than the entirety of tier 13.
2) The Heart of Fear is a one-instance wrecking crew. Of the guilds that started the expansion by managing to defeat the Stone Guard, it’s managed to kill over 58% of them.
3) The ‘attunement’ for Heart of Fear is bypassed, allowing more guilds to kill the Sha of Fear than killed Grand Empress Shek’zeer.
4) 75% of the final tier instance was less punishing than Amber-Shaper Un’sok; the Heart of Fear accounts for an average mortality rate of over 7.6%.”

In Throne of Thunder, only 25k 10 man guilds have taken out the first boss in normal mode. Ghostcrawler did comment that counting the number of guilds wasn’t a great way to measure progress (I interpret this the opposite way he does and wonder if it’s because hardcore players might have multiple alts in different raid guilds) but agrees that fewer players have made an attempt on Jin’rock 10 m normal than on Stone Guard in the earlier tier.

Then Horridan (which admittedly took us several weeks of attempts) filtered out another 5k, that’s 20% guilds which killed the first boss still haven’t killed the second.

Well, it makes me feel better about our current progress, even though we’re not one of the elite 7k who killed Lei Shen on normal. I was tempted to put elite in ‘’ but really what else can you call it?

Basically, the current endgame model doesn’t seem to be working. Yes LFR will have soaked up all of those raiders but does LFR have the stickability of raid encounters which each might require a month or more of effort from a guild to clear?

[Links] A medley of links for early summer

The clocks changed here yesterday so let’s call it summer!

Last week was fairly heavy on MMO news, another sure sign that developers/ publishers are firing shots across the bows in anticipation of the summer convention season. (That’s a second sign of summer.)

Also, I saw The Hunger Games at the weekend, which may be this year’s first ‘summer’ blockbuster. (Enjoyed it a lot, in case anyone is wondering. We don’t see enough teen girl power fantasies that are about survival, purity of heart, and fighting social injustice rather than about romantic entanglements.)

The Mists of Pandaria beta started last week, without an NDA, so expect increasing amounts of news/ screenshots/ live video feeds etc on the internet from now until launch. I am bitterly regretting the WoW-blogger tendency to focus in hard on a single class because if (like me) you play a class that isn’t popular in the blogosphere, it’s actually quite hard to get a) a sense of excitement for your class and b) any information without having to delve around the bowels of patch notes/ dev comments on the mmo-champion front page. On the other hand, if you’re interested in druids or hunters, you’ll get it all analysed about several zillion times.

Anyhow, I suspect there isn’t much interesting to report on warriors. Even the glyphs look a bit dull, although there is one cosmetic one that makes your character look on fire when it is enraged. I’ll call it the “girl on fire” glyph.

Cynwise wonders where all the warlocks went in Cataclysm and looks at levelling data to find out how many people abandon their warlocks along the way. Warlocks in MoP beta, incidentally, have some tanking abilities (ie. proper tanking abilities, not just an attack with high threat.)

Apparently Blizzard have confirmed that they have started working on the next expansion after MoP. Are there any NPCs left to become raid bosses?

Green Armadillo is considering SWTOR 3 months after launch, and takes a look at how much money he would save if he buys it now compared with going in at the start, and how many bugs will have been fixed and extra content added (in 1.2).

This also reminds me I was going to write a post sometime about how fun Arb and I have found it to play our alts as a duo. There are times when the characterisations are almost uncanny.

Rohan has been playing TERA during a beta weekend, and isn’t impressed by the beta community.This is a game I dismissed automatically as soon I saw videos of female characters running in a way which involved panty shots. Call me psychic if you like…

Still, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. TERA choose high heels, skimpy armor, and lolicons. And thus they get the audience that is primarily attracted by high heels, skimpy armor, and lolicons.

Pete at Dragonchaser reports that Notch is apparently working on a new space trading sandbox game. He mentions the magic word ‘Elite’ and I start doing the pavlovian dog thing :)

CCP presented some information about the World of Darkness game at EVE Fanfest 2012. I had to read that article twice to be sure I’d gotten it right that they said “The game will have a focus on fashion”. So just like EVE then :P

[Last one on Blizzcon] Always in motion the talent system is

Eric at Elder Games has some thoughts on the changing WoW talent systems. He’s not impressed, and it’s nothing to do with the new streamlined design or any special attachment to talent trees. This is about whether it’s something players wanted, or something the game needed.

having just rewritten the talent system from scratch in the last expansion, and having finally worked out the major kinks over the past year, does it make sense to erase everything yet again in order to try something new yet again? The answer is no. There are better things for the systems designers to be doing.

Blizzard do seem to spend a lot of time designing new talent systems and then refining them with every patch, it’s true. The only motivations I can really see to do it all over again is:

  • Players hate the current system and are leaving in droves because of it. (Like Eric, I don’t think this is a cause of people leaving WoW at the moment.)
  • They can draw in more players with the simplified system, it’s an investment.
  • This will be the last time ever. Promise. It’s refactoring once now and will then be fit for purpose until the end of the game. I’m sure this was the hope last time too.

None of these arguments are based on whether the new system is good or not. I think it is a more streamlined design that focusses on actual options that will make a noticeable difference to someone’s play. But I also think you can get talent fatigue as a player. Every time the talent trees change and you have to go through the process of figuring out your character again, a bit of the link between player and character dies.

And it’s still true that they could have spent that time and effort working on a new system instead.

Their actions speak a lot louder than words: to Ghostcrawler and team,perfecting the existing game is more important than adding new stuff. The trouble is that nothing is ever perfect, so revisions will never end. And in the meantime, there’s no cool new stuff.

My Last Words on the Annual Pass

Check out the comments on yesterday’s post for some good ideas about why the annual pass doesn’t come with a 12 month sub option (so you can just press one button and buy it.) I’m not convinced, but maybe you will be ;)

I do take issue with Tobold claiming that if you get the pass, your effective monthly sub is reduced to $8.  That argument only makes sense if you were planning to buy D3 at release from Blizzard directly. Just about any other route would make it cheaper. So yes if you pretend you had been going to spend as much as possible on D3, you can now pretend you have saved all that money.

My other thought is that when players are thinking about leaving WoW, they are likely to drop down to a one month sub for a month or two while they think about it. Signing up for an annual pass means that people won’t be doing that, and probably won’t be thinking about it either.

The tipping point for me personally was when I did actually start unsubscribing during slow months when I wasn’t playing. To do that, I also disassociated with my raid group – they’re nice guys and I wish them all the luck in the world, but I wasn’t actually enjoying it so it wasn’t making sense. See, as soon as the idea “Maybe I will just unsub when I’m not playing” enters your head, you don’t really expect to be paying annual subscriptions any more unless they are coming in at a good discount.

So for me to sign up, it would have needed an annual sub option that came in cheaper than two 6-month subs,  along with the other annual pass perks. At that point, I would have seriously considered it and I suspect I’m not alone. By not having that option, they lost out.

In which Blizzard solves the melee vs ranged issue: THE PITY BUFF

Thanks to Fenris@rpg.net for the heads’ up on this one. There is some more information about the next WoW patch available, and one of the notes reads:

Melee classes will be getting a buff that is only active in the new raid to help them compete with ranged classes.

I read this as an acknowledgement of what most players recognise, which is that melee are hampered with respect to ranged as dps (esp in raids). This is largely because of the Cataclysm implementation of ‘bring the class not the player’ which reduced or removed most of the issues with ranged dps while not touching the melee classes requirement to always be in range.

I can only imagine the whining that will ensue if this new buff means that melee outdamage ranged by any significant amount.

But will the new buff and the rogue legendary daggers, entice raids to bring more melee classes along? Well, presumably they’ll bring a rogue along to pick up the legendary gear if they can. Otherwise, I suspect ranged will still be seen as the more flexible option unless Blizzard specifically designs melee friendly fights. I mean, how big does a special buff need to be to make up for the fact that some classes simply have a lot less dps time on the boss than others?

Also, although a blanket buff like this could be seen as acknowledgement of a design failure (of sorts), it offers an interesting glimpse into a future in which buffs become more associated with an instance than with an individual’s gear. We can see also that it fits with the tank threat changes in which a blanket boost was applied to fix a design problem (or at least make it irrelevant). I think that actually might be bang in line with making the game more accessible also. We’ll see.

[WoW] To run or not to run, and the politics of good enough

Out of all the things I saw in WoW on returning recently, one has been the most surprising by far. After all these years, there’s STILL no consensus on whether or not to run back into an instance after a death/ wipe.

As a point of comparison, in both Rift and LOTRO, the player base (or at least the ones I associated with) only wanted the resser to run back. They see it as part of the healer/ resser’s job, it’s what they signed up for. If anyone else released and ran too, no one minded, but people would wonder why you’d bothered. They’d laugh one of those, “you’re weird,” laughs. Less so if you got lost on the way back.

Rift makes this simpler and quicker by allowing classes with a ressing soul (and spec) to switch specs after being ressed themselves so that they can help res others. It also lets everyone have one self res every 30 mins or so, which ressers tend to rotate (eg. I’ll soulwalk this time, save yours for the next wipe.) So you usually have more than one resser in a Rift group, and usually at least one of them can self res in situ so that no one has to run back.

LOTRO on the other hand likes to make recovery quicker by letting people who release in instances reappear just inside the instance entrance, a modification that I am amazed has never made it into WoW. But the culture in my server is also very clear that only the healer runs back after a wipe.

OK, so that’s the comparison. Now let me recount a couple of experiences in WoW PUGs this week.

1. The arsey healer

The instance was Blackrock Caverns, an instance notable for having quite a long run from the graveyard if you do release from inside it. My character got killed while fighting the first boss and the rest of the group seemed to be doing fine so I figured I’d just lie there and wait for a res afterwards. It wasn’t as if running back would really save any time and I’d probably get back at about the time it died anyway.

But after the boss died, the healer refused to res and instead had a small hairy fit aimed neatly in my direction for not running. “Fine,” I said, “Have it your way, I’ll run back now.”

So they all sat around while I ran back because that healer didn’t think ressing people who died during a fight was his job. I don’t know what would have needed to happen for him to actually use his res. Maybe if I’d died a split second before the boss did he’d have decided I ‘earned’ it. (Or, you know, maybe if he’d been more on the ball I might not have died in the first place.)

It’s not that I particularly enjoy lying on the ground during a boss fight. It’s very dull. But I don’t especially see why I should spend 5 mins running back from a graveyard when a healer could cast a 10s spell to have the same effect.

2. You can’t run here, this is bat country

So another instance or so later, in the Halls of Origination, I die on one of the optional bosses (probably because I had totally forgotten the strategy – does anyone else find that you can only keep so many strategies in your head at the same time? after that, you just forget them unless it’s a really memorable boss, which this wasn’t.). The rest of the group die too. I have already started running back, and find that the shaman had self-ressed and ressed everyone else by the time I got there.

“Why did you run?” they asked curiously.

“I like that you walk,” added the shaman, “But you didn’t have to.”

Valor points and the good enough doctrine

The trouble with WoW after a new patch, when new grinds have been added to the game, is that a lot of people feel a moral imperative to gather as many points/ badges per day as the game physically allows.

So for example, if WoW allows players to gather X Valor Points per week (which can be done by running a mixture of heroics and raids), ultra-keen people will feel that they are obliged to gather exactly X Valor points per week. Any less means that you’re a slacker. Any more means that you’re an idiot who is working harder than you need to.

And when earning X Valor Points would take more time per week than you have available, people start to crack under the strain. After all, how can you tell a hard working good player who is short on time apart from a slacker if not by the number of Valor Points per week they earn? Surely if you were really dedicated to your guild, you’d find the extra time to get those points. (This is sarcasm, btw.)

Anyhow, sensible people realise that good enough will have to be good enough and if you earn your points more slowly, all it means is that it takes a few more weeks to gear up. It isn’t the end of the world. (And most raid leaders would rather that you didn’t burn out chasing that last 0.1% of raid performance.)

Guild Mum discusses this pressure, and makes the smart decision:

I don’t have time to do dailies, raid AND max out my valor points. I’ve got 240 this week. That will have to do. I’m sorry – anything more is just too much work for me. It’s a GAME!

But it’s a shame that so many bloggers feel that they have to apologise for … being sensible.

WoW really is quite phenomenal (and not in a good way) by how pressured everyone feels to prove that they’re ‘a good player’ when in practice anyone can tell if you’re a decent player about 5 mins after being in a group with you.

[WoW] In just 7 days, I can survey patch 4.2


This is Spinks in the Molten Front. It feels as though she should be waving a sign saying “Hi, mum!”

Finding myself with some spare time (due to end of college for the year), a newly landed patch on WoW, and 7 free days for my account which I could take at any time, I felt the time was ripe to go back and say Hi to my friends and see what’s changed in the past few months.


If you have an inactive WoW account that isn’t a trial, you will also likely have an option to take 7 free days. To do this, log into your battle.net account and where your game accounts are listed, there will be an option to claim the free days.

Catching up with the talent changes and questlines

First off, visit your trainer just in case and check your talents haven’t been accidentally reset or anything like this. I scored a shiny new raid version of Last Stand (why is this a Fury ability?) which is nice, I suppose.

Sadly failed to notice that my interrupt had vanished from my quickbar in Prot Stance until I was actually in the middle of tanking something that needed interrupts, but c’est la vie. (Pummel now can be used in any stance and has become the default warrior interrupt.)

As far as catching up on quest content goes, this is where the warlord’s quest board really comes into its own. You’ll find one of these in every capital city, and it’ll come up as a questgiver if it has outstanding quests for you. It helpfully pointed me to the new troll/ ZG questline (new as in several months ago) and also to the new quests about Thrall, which lead to Hyjal (new as of last Wednesday).

I figured this would be a good use of my free days so trotted off to do those.

They were both good fun, Blizzard well up to their usual standard on quest content. The ZG questline also rewards you with a pet panther cub, to which I MAY have responded with squeals of ‘it’s so cute!!!’, especially as I got the achievement for having 25 pets at the same time. As an aside, I utterly hate cosmetic pets and never actually use them – I’m a goddamn warrior, I do not have kittens lolling around my heels when I go off to kill dragons. Aside from thematic inappropriateness, it’d be cruel to the kitten — but somehow I always like actually getting a new one.

Thrall has never been my favourite NPC, at least not as much as he is the devs, but his storyline showed some depth and hopefully you can feel a little empathy for the guy who has given up his hopes of finding a partner and raising some orclings in order to lead the Horde towards freedom and away from barbarism. Now that the Horde has decided that barbarism gets a bad rap and we like killing the shit out of stuff, Thrall is free to stick two fingers up at them and waltz off with Aggra into the sunset – at least after we’ve saved him from the elemental lords. The actual quests were quite fun too.

New instances

zgrenataki Here we are in Zul Gurub. It’s been fixed up a bit …

My guild were kind enough to invite me along to an instance run in the recently revamped Zul Gurub, which was also good fun. Blizzard has again done a super job on the revamp; it felt challenging, the bosses and the trash are interesting, the fights still feel mechanically related to the old ones, and it’s always been an appealing zone anyway.

Amusingly, I got an achievement for not standing in stuff on one of the bosses (Venoxis, aka didn’t I kill you three years ago?) and one of the newer guildies who I hadn’t met before asked hopefully if I was planning to stay and join their raid team. To be fair, I can see why people would be nervous of inviting an old guildie to join an instance run that’s known to be hard, sight unseen.

On the bright side, despite having missed most of the raiding in the last tier, my dps is reasonably up to scratch. It won’t be winning awards any time soon but it’s not woefully sub par for instancing.

I’m not really convinced on the new troll lore, so let’s not dwell on that.

New dailies

newdailies You can always spot the new daily questgivers because all the players are sitting on top of them.

One of the clever things Blizzard have done with the layout of the new daily quests is allowed you to open up the molten front after just 2-3 days of questing. This means, for example, that someone on a 7 day return visit can get to actually see the meat and bones of what the new firelands zone is all about, earn some rewards, and come back and write about it!

So far, there are two sets of questgivers. The ones in the screenshot who are outside the firelands portal who will set you to clearing up Hyjal, and another set inside the portal who will send you off to help the war effort there.

I’ll talk first about some of the big wins here. The first is the daily quest which requires you to go kill some elite mobs in Hyjal.

  • Changes in the tagging code mean that every player who tags a quest mob while it is being fought gets credit for the kill. So when the quest zone is busy, it will feel like fighting a rift in Rift. Everyone attacks everything, and everyone gets credit for everything too. It’s fairly social.
  • Lots of friendly NPCs show up to help out, and if you have been paying attention you may recognise many of them. I’ve seen a different set every day and they have included Mankrik, King Mrrrrgglll, Chromie, Lunk, and some named alliance NPCs I don’t recognise, and they all have been given some new in-character barks which I have found very amusing. It will feel as though you are fighting alongside NPCs that you know.
  • dailychromie

Chromie the time dragon (in her favourite humanoid form as a little female gnome) makes some time related jokes while she fights.

The second is giving you access to nice gear from a vendor fairly early on. Once the firelands portal opened, I could immediately upgrade a couple of pieces. I’m assuming that as you earn more tokens and open up more of the molten front, new vendors will appear.

Monocles are everywhere!

You can take the player out of EVE but you can’t take EVE out of the player – this screenshot below was taken from trade chat in Orgrimmar.