Peace on Earth and RMT to Games Companies

We are approaching the time of year when for many people in the western world, Christian or not, thoughts turn to charity. How can we use our hard earned money to help other people and make the world a better place?

Among the many good causes who’d like a slice of that pie, this week sees a couple more game companies throwing their hats into the ring. (I feel like it’s RMT week or something.)

Say you love her, buy her a minipet (on WoW)

There were a couple of big(ish) WoW news items that came up yesterday. People seem to be mostly ignoring the fact that you’ll soon be able to earn arena points from winning battlegrounds which is a pretty big climbdown on Blizzard’s part, in favour of the minipets added to the Blizzard shop.

So, for $10/£9 (this is an extortionate exchange rate for us, by the way) you can now buy yourself a funky minipet with special moves to add to your collection. Or, smartly, they have made it very easy to buy one as a gift for someone else who plays Warcraft. Is letting people buy minipets going to break the game? Nope. It’s not functionally all that different than giving them away with rare cards in the CCG. It is, however, another step towards a fully fledged item store. Maybe they just weren’t making enough money. I think they are smart enough to avoid selling items that will affect gameplay but the temptation to see if they could push their players just a little further is always going to be there.

It also raises questions along the lines of “How much is a minipet worth anyway?” For the price of both minipets you could snag yourself a copy of Torchlight, for example. The answer of course is that it’s worth whatever people are willing to pay and from forums I frequent, I see a lot of people enthusiastically buying the new pets either for themselves or for partners/friends. The pets themselves are undoubtedly high quality, as such things go, with their special emotes and animations.

They plan to add more pets to the shop as time goes on. I wonder if they’ll go as far as a ‘pet of the month’ club where you just increase your sub to cover the monthly minipet too. I suspect a lot of players would spring for that.

Free Realms not so free after all

Player vs Developer spotted an announcement buried deep in an interview about Free Realms about a shift in philosophy for that game also. Previously, a large part of the game was free to play. If you picked up a monthly sub you got access to more powerful and interesting classes to play, and access to extra quests and activities. In addition they had an item shop selling many of the usual suspects (pets, cosmetic items, potions, equipment).

In early November (ie. nowish, I guess) that’s all set to change. The game is now only free to play up to level 5 in any career, although that now includes the jobs which had previously been locked to subscribers. But if you want to keep playing after that, you have to subscribe. Naturally the cash shop will remain available. Pre-existing characters will still be allowed to level up to 20 on the previously free jobs.

I can only assume that they feel they’ll make more money from switching to a full subscription game. Maybe the free to play wasn’t working out as well as they’d hoped? (I suspect the issue is to do with targetting kids as their main audience, they’re just not a market with much disposable income to spend on cosmetic gear and pets.)

Why choose between subscriptions and RMT when you can have both?

What both of these announcements have in common is that they show that the big western AAA MMOs are playing around with different payment methods and seem to be settling on the one which is least advantageous to players.

To whit: they’re going with a mandatory subscription, possibly a mandatory box sale for the initial game and expansions, and also throwing in an item store.

We’ve seen it in Champions Online, we’ve seen it in EQ2, we’ve seen it in WoW (they’re just more explicitly selling cosmetic items now), and if the model sticks, they probably won’t be the last ones down the line.

It’s widely held that some of the indie games have more favourable RMT schemes, such as Wizard 101 and Puzzle Pirates. Ultimately, I think they’re going to be the outliers though. STO is likely to use a similar scheme to Champions given that it’s coming from the same company. And who knows yet what Bioware will decide to do with their Star Wars game?

And that leaves Dungeons and Dragons Online, where the free to play model seems so far to be working for them very well (unless you’re in Europe). So well, in fact, that they’ve just opened another server. Have they just monetized better by charging for instances? Will anyone else follow their lead?

The Way of the Shield


There’s something about shields. It is not only a piece of armour that marks you out as a defensive fighter but also one that is traditionally decorated to identify the user. Is it any wonder that shield using fighters in games feel attached to their shields? More than that, even though offensive fighters and gladiators in real life did use shields, in MMOs the shield has become associated with tanks.

It is the armour piece that says ‘I’m here to protect other characters’, and ‘this is not my PvP spec’. It’s strange how bound up your online identity can be with one item. Often players like to show off their weapons (sic), and compare the glows, the stats, the size. And you’ll find the tanks in a corner eyeing up each other’s shields instead. Even in a game like WoW which has tanking druids and death knights, there’s always a sneaking feeling that you can’t be a real tank without a shield.

Shields have always been decorative as well as useful, even when the decoration was mainly to mark you out as friend or foe on the battlefield. Graphics guys have really come home for us with shields, even in games that don’t massively feature glowing, speaking, skull-laden equipment. On Spinks, I love that my shield is big and solid and unsubtle. No one could mistake it for anything other than a tank’s shield. And somehow it isn’t as aggressively butch as a glowy weapon. But still, my character feels badass when she picks up a shield. She’s not just getting ready for a bit of light self defence before running off and screaming, she’s a defensive warrior, gearing for action. When a badass monster turns up, she’s going to grit her teeth, find solid footing and stand her ground. She’s the first person into a fight and the last (wo)man out.

I imagine the shield being heavy and unwieldy enough that if any other type of character was to pick it up and heft the weight, they’d wonder at how it could be used in battle and look at our tanks with grudging respect because they shoulder the weight daily.

So, I love shields. I love blocking attacks, I love hitting people in the face with a shield slam,  and I wanted to show off a few of the cooler ones I have come across during my time in WoW.

shield 1

shield 2

shield 3

Draconian Deflector and Red Dragonscale Protector, from UBRS and BWL respectively.

shield 4

Bulwark of Azzinoth, also known as the fridge door.

shield 5

Hero’s Surrender (Naxx).

This post contains no spoilers

My favourite spoiler story is connected with Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince. If you have managed to go all of this time without ever learning what the spoiler is for that book then I salute you, and if real life had achievements you’d be up for [Harry Who?]. In any case, as soon as the book was out, so were the spoilers. People plastered them all over bulletin boards, had t-shirts printed (helpfully giving page numbers), blabbed it all over TV shows and … my personal favourite … put up huge banners on motorway bridges telling everyone who passed underneath the secrets of the book.

I’m reliably informed that indigenous tribes on planets in another solar system first learned English by interpreting messages beamed out from NASA about the Harry Potter spoilers. In a millenia’s time, when mankind makes first contact, I won’t be surprised if the first information exchanged by aliens, with a mad snigger, is about Albus Dumbledore.

Now, spoilers are a very personal issue for both geeks and non-geeks alike. You’ll definitely get a very different experience from a book or film or game if someone tells you the shocking twist in advance, but not everyone finds that it totally ruins their enjoyment. I’m fairly relaxed about spoilers myself, for example, but I don’t make a habit of deliberately spoiling twists for other people. (With the shameful exception that I guessed the twist in Sixth Sense about five minutes into the film and told my husband. I don’t think he has entirely forgiven me. My defense is that it was just a guess, I wasn’t SURE.)

In WoW, we’re now quite resigned to spoilers leaking out in advance of new patches. We know that someone (probably someone from mmo-champion) will have datamined the patch from the test server, people on will have posted all the strategies for new instances from the test server, and it probably won’t be difficult to find out anything else from various forums or twitter. Is it really a problem? You can just avoid the spoiler sites if you don’t want to learn too much.

In a surprising move on the official forums, Nethaera posted a comment this week implying that Blizzard do see it as an issue and disapprove of sites posting data-mined content:

We’ve put thousands of hours of work into crafting an epic conclusion to the Wrath of the Lich King story, and we’re excited that we’ll soon be able to share it with everyone — however, we also think the surprises we’ve got in store are best experienced within the context of the game itself. Should you wish not to have your Icecrown experience spoiled, we advise you to steer clear of any sites data-mining and posting this content. And if you do seek out spoilers, we ask that you please be mindful of your fellow players on the official forums. We’re looking forward to hearing about your adventures once the new content is available on the live realms.

Rumour has it that they have also exerted some IP influence to have spoiler related clips taken off youtube.

I can’t say I’m sorry to see it. I do find it frustrating that just because people are off testing the new patches (which is good) they feel they have to spoil it for everyone else. I just don’t see that it can ever be stopped, as long as lots of people really do want to get that slight advantage that the knowledge might give them. aren’t going to stop posting data-mined content, it must get them a ton of search hits every day.

But perhaps it’s not asking too much to have RSS feeds for people who don’t want their content spoiled, or to mark the spoilers a little more clearly…

Re-reviewing Warhammer

It’s been suggested before that in order to review a MMO, you have to keep reviewing it again and again after time has passed. Because it is the nature of these games to change.

Alec Meer writes an insightful one year review of Warhammer Online at Eurogamer, which touches on both the brilliance and the pitfalls of Mythic’s flawed baby. And make no mistake, there’s a touch of genius in making PvP into a fun casual experience that you can easily drop into or out of.

The times I spent playing in Tiers 1 and 2 when the game was new out include some of the best online gaming I’ve had anywhere for sheer fun and exuberance. But that was partly fun because the place was bustling with people, and even then, most of the action was in prime time only.

WAR successfully transformed PvP from a presumptive, often frustrating experience aimed only at relatively hardcore gamers into an open-to-all-comers fairgound. It deserves respect for that, and with a big crowd it would function perfectly as a game you drop into for a month or so here and there, one in which you can find an honestly satisfying fight at any time of day. Without a big crowd, though, that fairground’s ferris wheels are left to wobble in the wind, and the bumper cars stand rusting. Then you realise that there isn’t even anywhere to go sit and have a drink and a chat whenever the rides aren’t working. So you just go punch someone you don’t like the look of, because there’s nothing else to do.

This is the key to what went wrong. It isn’t the class balance. It’s that the game couldn’t sustain the huge critical mass of players needed to make it really sing. Some MMOs can work well with fewer people — maybe they have more solo and small group content, maybe they don’t encourage mass PvP to such a great extent, maybe they train players to be more organised about arranging to run content together, maybe they have very tightly knit and self-sustaining communities. But the glory of Warhammer is that you don’t need to do any of those things. You can solo in PvE if you want, and there are small group Public Quests too, but the lure to the casual player is that you really don’t need to organise your life around it. You can just log in and go join in what the others are doing. You don’t even need to talk to them if you don’t want. But the others have to be there first.

And why did so many of the initial players leave? They weren’t all WoW tourists.

(Sure I went back to WoW, but I had a 6 month subscription that I decided not to renew, and it’s a casual friendly game. No reason to drop it just because I was playing something else too.)

Maybe some of them were hoping for an immersive online world. Although Warhammer makes a few half hearted attempts to be that place (the crafting is especially half hearted), it’s not the core of the game. So many of those early players enjoyed the game, but realised it wasn’t going to be a new home.

More than anything, WAR is a competition, even a sport – and I can’t help but feel that, had it been clearer about that instead of pretending to be a believable, functioning online world, its servers mightn’t be as distressingly empty as they are today.

It isn’t just that WAR wasn’t WoW, it wasn’t WoW in a very specific way. It’s much more gamey and much less worldy. And as the man says, perhaps if they’d been a little clearer about that, it would have helped in the long run.

Guess the next Old God for Azeroth?

I found this thread on the official forums: Guess the next Old God from Cthulhu mythos?

Currently Cthulhu/C’thun and Yog-Sothoth/Yog-Saron have had callouts in the game. But who might be next?

We were discussing this last night (as we wiped again on General Vezax in 10 man). Opinions were split between fan favourite, The King in Yellow — *coff*Hastur*coff*, my favourite, Nyarlahotep, or my husband who thinks that the Shub-Niggurath (the goat with a thousand young) would make a cool raid encounter.

What do you think? And as an aside, why haven’t we had the Hounds of Tindalos in an encounter yet? Beware the corners ….

How dumb is too dumb?

The latest round of Ulduar nerfs has sparked off a slew of posts about games being dumbed down and why you need to be a moron to play Warcraft these days. Gevlon blames social players, riding hard on his regular strawman fallacy that ‘the pure social sucks in everything he does’. Tobold sneers that the game is skill-less.

From my perspective, I still think that current raiding is harder than back in 40 man days. It isn’t really the instances fault that players have several years more experience in playing the game and have seen it all before. It does have some depth but not unlimited amounts.  The hard modes do seem to be providing reasonable entertainment for hardcore guilds while more casual setups pick away at the normal modes.

And when you boil skill down to reaction times, how good people are at watching several graphical effects going off around them, and reading strategies/watching videos – well, some people aren’t as good at that type of video game. Twitch is not for everyone. But WoW-types with their one-size-fits-all endgame are shoehorning them in somehow.

I don’t recall the levelling game ever being difficult (I certainly managed to get to level 60 when the game was new without ever really figuring out my class) so there’s no real point beating it up for that now as if something dramatic has changed. The old days when we walked both ways uphill through the snow to our bindstones were only ‘difficult’ because they were a pain in the neck. Not because they were actually … difficult. Now there are real advantages to having some frustrating content in games (immersion for example, and downtime for socialising) but frustrating is not the same as hard.

Can we just stop calling players morons?

I get that it’s frustrating to play with people who are dragging your performance down, but how about we just quit calling the people you never ever play with names.

Sente has a great post up at A Ding World where he compares MMOs to a virtual pub (ie. a relaxed hangout) and a virtual casino(ie. much more focussed and reward oriented set of activities, owners very motivated to keep you there), and concludes that he prefers the pub.

A lot of people prefer the pub. A lot of people don’t want to have to prove themselves to a bunch of hardcore elitists who will call them morons if they commit some serious crime like … ooo … having the wrong gem in one socket. They’re not morons, and they’re not necessarily ‘pure socials’. They’re just trying to tell you that they’re in for the beer and pretzels gaming and you should stick to your own kind.

Retirement vs Challenge

This week I have committed a terrible crime which I usually try to avoid. I read something cool in a blog post and forgot to bookmark it. So if this came from you, let me know and I’ll add in the link.

In any case, I was reading this article and the writer compared the ideas of Retirement Gaming with Challenge Gaming. This is simple but brilliant. The Retirement Gamer thinks ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want to enjoy it by having the game become easier.’ The Challenge Gamer thinks, ‘I put some work into this game and got some reward. Now I want more of a challenge!’

The best MMOs cater to both of these viewpoints. And I suspect that most players, however hardcore, enjoy both of them. After all, the whole point of repeating raids is that you get them onto farm mode eventually. If you get good at the auction house, you have a larger pot of money to play with so you have an easier time making still more.

When a gamer gets a new shiny level, ability, or item, they want the chance to go show it off and feel uber. It’s fun to go back to a zone when you’re totally overgeared and take vicious revenge on some mob that bullied you as a wee noob. It’s fun to try soloing old instances after you outlevel them. It’s a very RPG thing to want to do. I did the same thing when I was GMing pen and paper games. In order for progression to be meaningful, the player needs evidence that they have progressed. And what better way to do this than to let them ease through a fight that gave them trouble in the past?

Who is really harmed if older zones become virtual pubs?

The question is, how many people really do want more of a challenge? A lot of people will say that they want more difficulty. But is it true? Gear based games have an easy answer to introducing more challenge – just up the health/damage of the mobs, or throw in some extra adds or a vicious ability on a cooldown. But there still comes a point where you’ve gotten most of the depth from the game that you’re going to get. After that, it’ll be down to twitch skills, knowledge of game mechanics and how good you are at finding X other people of the appropriate class/spec/gear/twitch skill/dedication.

And at that point, you may find that you get more challenge from playing a different game with new mechanics to learn and master. Challenge gamers in an MMO will find that their game has an end, a natural point at which the best way to find more challenge is to switch games.

Gossip! How are easy raids affecting servers?

I was writing last week about keeping in touch with server news, but I did miss out one way that I track guild moves on my server.

I check bboards of other guilds.

I can never decide if this is fair game or whether it is just one step up from cyber-stalking. In either case, it’s a habit I got into back in the days when I was the priest officer in a 40 man guild. The guild leaders used to get on my back any time we weren’t able to field five priests on a raid night so I spent a fair amount of time trying to second guess how many I needed to recruit and who might be planning on leaving and need to be replaced.

You can see where this is going. Initially I tracked the application boards of more progressed raid guilds so that if a good priest applied to them and was rejected, I could contact the player in game and ask if they were interested in a tryout with us.

But sometimes what you found was that a player from your guild had applied to ‘move up’ without letting anyone know. We were never a guild who took punitive measures when this happened. It sounds wacky to read now but some guilds would boot a player just for applying to another guild. Maybe some still do. If you do, you’re a bunch of nutters by the way …. just saying. Anyway, we didn’t boot people for that, but I took it as a sign to start looking for a replacement.

It was quite common for officers to scan other guilds’ public bboards at the time. ie. not just my freaky gossip-herding habits. So word got around. A lot of the more hardcore guilds started to take private applications – they knew that some of the players they’d want to recruit didn’t want to risk punitive action from their own guilds if they applied and were rejected. But fortunately, on my server this was not the norm so I was able to enjoy keeping tabs on guild movements in peace.

From the non-officer point of view, keeping an eye on the public forums of guilds which you aspire to join can also give you an insight into what they are like, and what they look for in recruitment posts. eg. If guild officers mock applicants who don’t write in full sentences and use good grammar, it’s a very different type of guild from one where everyone uses txtspk.

It isn’t just a WoW phenomenon either. Scanning guild boards in other games is just as useful a way to keep up with what’s going on. If nothing else, it’ll tell you whether the guild tends to use its public boards or not.

That was then, this is now

These days, we care less about the application boards. Also, there are more raid guilds around in WoW. It’s harder to know who the more influential guilds are. People in general fuss less about ‘server firsts’ and more about who runs raids on their preferred schedule, or which guild likes or dislikes achievements,  because they assume that most raids will be running most content. Sarth+3, whilst the hardest encounter in game at the moment, is not one that everyone cares about.

And even just scanning bboards from the older hardcore guilds, you can see this in the applications that they receive. There was a time when a server first guild never had a shortage of applicants for any class. That time is gone, at least on my server.

Partly I think most people don’t know or care which of the various raid guilds is better or worse. This comes down to Blizzard having scaled the Wrath raids such that most organised raid groups blitzed through them.

But I know what I’m seeing is guilds listing which classes they are looking for, and getting some … unimpressive applications. I’m not talking about hilariously bad here. Just people who wouldn’t normally be applying to high end guilds — new 80s, people with no previous raid experience. The kind of people we’d take if they had friends in our guilds! And I mean no disrespect to my alliance (who rock), but one of our strengths has always been in teaching new people how to raid. It’s not so much what I expect to see from the more hardcore groups.

So my scuttlebutt at the moment is that easing the difficulty of raiding has smashed server coherence. There are very few gradations between a hardcore and a midrange raid guild right now. And no reason at all for anyone to be raiding more than 2-3 days a week (I see people advertise 5 raid nights – WHAT DO THEY DO ON THOSE 5 NIGHTS? I really want to know! Or maybe I don’t.).

What’s worse for the hardcore guys is that because they have fewer ways to demonstrate their skill/organisation, regular players cease to care. And without any external pressure to funnel more hardcore players into those guilds (why bother, when you can raid all the content in your current guild), they’re struggling to replace turnover. This may be healthier for individual midrange guilds. I know it is more comfortable for us to not be losing our best raiders at a continual drip. It’s probably also a much better situation for individual raiders. It’s nice to be able to raid with friends and not be frustrated because they don’t progress as fast as you’d like.

But if Ulduar isn’t hard enough to let the hardcore guilds pull ahead, expect them to start dying.

EU WoW is going to be run separately from the US version

Received via email this morning:

We have a short but important announcement that we wanted to share with our players. World of Warcraft is currently an operation of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (USA), but starting April 14, 2009, the game operator will be Blizzard Entertainment’s central European entity, Blizzard Entertainment S.A.S. (France), and will be referred to as such in the game’s Terms of Use going forward. Our European office has been an essential part of our global operations since before the launch of World of Warcraft, and this update better reflects its role within our organization, as well as our continued commitment to our European players.

This is an administrative change — your World of Warcraft game experience will not be impacted.

They are likely right and it won’t make much difference.

We don’t know why they are making this change. Could be anything from various managers building business empires to a reorganisation that should have taken place months ago.

But just for the record, we do prefer to have our service run by the same company who develops the game and not by its european offshoot.

I think EQ2 still does this. Wondering how many other games do? I’m tired of being forcibly separated from other gamers just because they’re in a different continent.

I may be addicted to the readycheck

Any raid or group leader can enter a /readycheck command in WoW. When they do, a box will pop up on everyone else’s screen saying, “Are you ready?” with yes and no buttons. After 30s or so, the raid leader gets a report saying how many people picked yes or no and how many people did not respond.

It has a few different uses. I always run a readycheck before a raid boss fight to check whether everyone is *gasp* actually ready. Before the readycheck we had to just ask, see a few y or yesses and hope that meant everyone else was ready too. I also use it as a general “Are you awake?” check, or “Are you all back from making tea and washing your socks?” check after a break.

Sometimes we use it for general votes. For example: Vote yes to the readycheck if you want to stay past raid end for one more shot at the boss.

Sometimes I just run a readycheck because I can. I have that power!

It’s one of the few WoW UI features that I really miss in other games. Like most of the useful parts of the Blizzard UI, it was ‘inspired’ by addons. This is a smart move. It means that new features aren’t just random, “Hey y’all, look at THIS!” ideas that some developer had in the bath.

The first addon I remember with a readycheck was CTRA which was an incredibly popular raid UI back in the days of 40 man raiding. CTRA had proper support for custom polls too, and I do miss it.

Maybe I’ll dedicate next week’s 10 man raids to the memory of CTRA.

Blink and it’s on farm?

I ran another raid to 10 man Naxxramas this weekend. We had to swap a few people round because some of last week’s raiders couldn’t make it, including our fury warrior who regularly tops the damage meters. So we ended up more caster heavy this week, with two shadow priests.

We cleared the place in five hours. Also picked up the achievement on Faerlina along the way.

Every boss in lower Naxxramas was one shotted except for Gluth, including a good recovery from a slightly awkward “Arrgh, what’s he doing down that end of the platform?!” pull on Thaddius. I was most proud of the crew on the Four Horseman kill which was pretty much a model of calm and control, especially compared to last week’s semi-panicked chaos.

We had a couple of wipes each on Sapphiron and Kel’Thuzad but we did also have three people who hadn’t seen those fights before.

So, my raid continues to impress the heck out of me. Either we’re good or it’s easy, I don’t even know any more! I do also wonder about the Naxx loot tables. At least two thirds of the bosses dropped paladin plate this week. That’s loot that is only useful for one spec of one class. We had to shard most of it because our holy paladin already had it from last week.

My main goal now is to speed things up. Five hours is way too long to spend raiding in one stretch. We’ll probably also poke more of the achievements, but to be honest the only one I really want for my raid is for us all to get Undying (which you get if no one dies in any boss fight).

I opened next week’s raid up to an open guild thread, and hoping at least one extra tank signs up because I’m out at the theatre that night. I asked people to say if they might be free on Sunday instead if we have to change nights as a backup. But I hope they can go.

Oh, and I also picked up a shiny shiny two handed axe that our Retribution Paladin didn’t want. Shiny!!

It’s Big and it’s Blue and it wants to eat us!

Last night we took our first 10 man attempts at the Eye of Eternity. It’s an unusual raid instance and an unusual boss fight.

You zone in to find yourself standing on a platform with the universe revolving around you. In the middle of the platform is an orb with a label on it reading, “DO NOT TOUCH!”. And high above you, a big blue dragon is flying around and shouting intimidating phrases about being the master of this domain. I don’t know why he doesn’t do a strafing run, I would if I was a dragon and spotted a raid zoning in. Clearly this lack of judgement is a sign that he is off his rocker and needs us to kill him.

To be fair, there have been plenty of other quests leading to the conclusion that Malygos, Lord of Magic is crazy and needs to be put down. Draconic mental health care is apparently not very advanced.

OK, maybe the orb doesn’t actually have a sign on it.

In any case, someone with the raid key activates the orb and Malygos notices us properly  (even though he was shouting to us earlier) and decides to get in close and personal.

It’s a three phase fight which only needs one tank (thanks, Blizzard! As if it wasn’t hard enough to find tank spots these days). I’d done some homework by watching videos of the fight, which mostly intimidated me with Ciderhelm’s ability to tank the dragon, swivel the camera around, strafe, kite in a perfect circle, and instruct the raid ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Fortunately, it is easier than it looks. I’m certainly not doing it as well as he does, but we got the gist fairly quickly. It also helped that we had a Death Knight along to capture sparks but I’m fairly confident now that we could manage without.

It was a fairly short raid. I called it after two hours because I thought we’d learned a lot and made good progress, and there’s a limit for how long you want to spend all trying the same boss (in my opinion). By that time, we’d gotten to phase three reliably on every attempt and were improving the speed of the first two phases.

Phase three is insane. The ground falls away below you and everyone drops through the sky … and lands on the backs of the flight of red drakes that have been sent to help you. So the third phase is a flying phase. Everyone is flying on their drake and circling the injured big blue dragon.

We will need more practice, but the coolness factor is incredible!

Self help? Help yourself!

Happy Thursday, and now for a quick thought exercise. Imagine that you are playing a character in an online MMO and you are a member of a friendly guild. (I know, it’s a stretch.) Now, imagine that this game has crafting professions and characters are limited to how many they can learn. Imagine also that you know your friendly guild has friendly players who play characters who can make any recipe in the game and would be happy to do that for you for free, all you have to do is ask.

Would it be worth the effort for you to create a crafting alt and level it and its tradeskill from scratch, rather than to just find a friendly guild member when you want something made? Now, hold that thought because we’re going back in time a few years.

<twilight zone squiggle>

Back in the Dark Age (of Camelot), there was no ability to mail stuff to alts. And no auction houses. When you wanted to buy or sell anything, you had to arrange to meet up with the crafter in person and trade.  The big cities were always bustling, the areas with the crafting materials were full of crafters, and the political geography of the game world just made more sense. Of course the capital was where you went to trade, it was the easiest place to get to. If you wanted to transfer items from one alt to another, you had to find a friendly, trustworthy player to hold them while you swapped alts.

It was pain, there was lots of griefing. I’m sure that the enforced interdependence did lead to stronger communities but it was still pain.

In particular, there was one craft that was dependent on another. Armourcrafters needed tailors to make linings for their armour. And this was a problem because even the friendliest tailor might not want to sit around and make 500 linings while you tried to get that masterpiece chainmail hauberk (did I mention these old games were terrifically grindy?). So what people did was buy a second account, and level a tailoring alt. It was enough hassle to rely on another person that they were willing to pay double their regular monthly fee to avoid doing it.

It was the shape of things to come.

<twilight zone squiggle>

OK, so there are some people who have a pathological dislike of ever having to rely on other people. Or maybe just a strong aversion to risk. Dealing with other people is risky and they aren’t always around at your convenience. So even with conveniences like auction houses (what if no one is selling the thing you want at the exact time you want to buy it??) and being able to mail items around, a lot of people prefer to be as completely independent of others as possible.

I was thinking about this because my husband prefers to create his own enchanting vellums on one alt, mail them to another, write an enchant onto them, and mail them to a third alt rather than just ask another enchanter to sort his alt out. It’s not an economic thing, he doesn’t want to make gold out of it. It’s a minigame resource management challenge:  How can I make this without having to ask anyone else .

I think players in general prefer not to have to be reliant on each other. But game designers know that their MMOs need to be sociable because paradoxically, the ability to play with other real people is one of the big draws of the genre. So to make this work, random people need to want to play with other random people. Designing punishing interdependent crafting schemes hasn’t really worked — people embrace auction houses and mail and other conveniences which mean they don’t actually have to interact directly with others.

Raids and instances have worked a lot better, same with team-based PvP. But these are cases where you absolutely need those other players to be online and hanging out with you before the activity even becomes possible. I wonder very much how things might change if we had access to more intelligent NPC henchpeople or allies. I’m pretty sure I’d use them.