Breaking the Bond: things that disrupt a player’s MMO experience

Cynwise writes this week about ‘The Tyranny of Classes’ and wonders what happens when a class you once loved doesn’t feel right for you any more. Maybe it’s because your raid group has a greater need for a different role and you are tired of being the unwanted umpteenth melee dps and really really want to feel needed by your raid group. Maybe it’s because various patches and changes over the life of the game have just changed how it played.

Players I know who have switched mains for raiding or PvP seem to go through certain stages of anguish over this. Every time someone drops a pure DPS to tank or heal, it’s always emotionally complicated. <…> Sometimes it works out well – the new class is a better fit than the old one – but even then there are questions of discarded mains, of emotional attachments which need to be resolved. Rerolling is a tough step to take.

Or maybe your class took some nerfs and another class now performs that role better. It shouldn’t matter as long as yours is still good enough but other players will tend to ram it home to you all the time that the blood death knight is a zillion times better of a tank than your warrior (example picked at random) and how much easier things are when the DK can make raids. And before you know it, you feel unwanted and wish DKs would get nerfed into the ground just so that people would appreciate your efforts more.

I honestly think that for a lot of players, this is their first personal experience of discrimination. People judge you on external attributes that you can’t easily change, such as your character’s class. And it’s not fair because it isn’t your fault you weren’t prescient enough to roll the current overpowered class; you are just as good as those stupid DKs with their overpowered abilities, and why can’t anyone appreciate the great stuff that you can do, even if someone half asleep could do it better on their paladin and with fewer key presses too.

Cynwise is wondering why allowing characters to re-class is such a bugbear for MMOs. I’d say that role/class being fixed is a staple of RPGs because it stops everyone from rolling a tankmage and keeps some diversity of flavour in the game. But the fact is, players often have an emotional link with their main character. If that link weakens, the player feels less of a connection to that character or maybe loses the will to play it altogether, then their link to the game is disrupted.

There are other occurrences that can disrupt a player’s link to a MMO. Having your guild (or raid group) implode or friends leave is one of them. Another is having new content arrive that you feel forced to do for progression, but hate (ie. if a game that had been mostly PvE now ‘forces’ players to PvP for their upgrades). Another might be having the payment model change. Another might be burnout, which typically happens over a period of time, but there might be a single disruptive event that gets a player to realise they are burned out.

Any of these disruptive happenings offer the player a chance to change how they play the game: find a new guild, roll a new alt, learn how to enjoy a different playing style. Or they might just decide to leave and try their luck in a different game.  Because changing how you play may involve a lot of effort and energy – joining a new guild and getting to know a new crowd for example can require a lot of emotional energy, especially if you are naturally quite introvert.

One of the comments on Tobold’s post yesterday rang true with me.

MMO players have a career. They get into it, they play for a few years, burnout, spend another couple of years looking for a new MMO that will do it for them again, and then they wander off and play other games. Whether this is because of the demands of life, family, and career, or they no longer respond to the endorphin release of new gears and levels depends on the guy. But the number of people who are willing and able to play these things for decades is very small.

Disruptive events are likely to move a player along this career trajectory because they encourage change. When do you start looking for a new MMO? When something has disrupted your connection to your last one, perhaps. This is why nerfs are more dangerous to a MMO community than buffs, people don’t enjoy having their characters nerfed even if it was regarded inevitable.

When I think of issues that have prompted me to switch games or stop playing a game, I come back to guild/raid issues and burnout, and changes in game philosophy via patches, but also to classes simply not being what they were when I made my original choice.

What changes in MMOs have you found most disruptive? And did you decide to change or quit?

Saturday Links: Interesting Reading

  1. There’s no drama like RP drama. So when players decided to select one Aion server as their unofficial RP home it was guaranteed to become a dramafest, right? Of course right. Aionic Thoughts is at ground zero to report.
  2. Dickie@Rainbow MMO wonders if the lifetime subscription scheme is viable in the long run. Is it possible that LOTRO just has too many lifetime subs, meaning they’re going to have to find more ways to add extra charges?
  3. Is Champions Online actually a step backwards from City of Heroes? Trembling Hand thinks so, at least when it comes to teaming up.
  4. Hawley (yay, he’s back!) writes about his experience with leaving his raid community and joining another one. But the invite came before the quit, and suddenly his ‘casual’ raid group were acting as though he was “ worse than Hitler” for abandoning ship.
  5. wow.com is one of many sites that reports on a study showing that playing in a guild actually lowers your stress. I’d rephrase that as ‘playing with friends’ lowers your stress, or ‘interacting with a friendly  and supportive community’ which might rule some guilds out from the start.
  6. Green Armadillo notices how little shelf space in games shops is given over to PC games these days (I’ve noticed that here also), and asks if this is the end of retail PC gaming and what that might mean.
  7. Tamarind tells a heartwarming story of a guy in a sissy robe and the little pet that found its way home. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Even I was in tears by the end.
  8. Brian Crecente at Kotaku writes a thoughtful piece using Beatles Rock Band as a starting point to wonder about the use of reality in games, and whether designers have a responsibility to represent reality wisely.
  9. Klepsacovic wonders how you can reward exploration in games without punishing non exploration. He also reminisces about some of WoW’s less obviously located quests. (For me, that water elemental guy who gave the MC quests just took the biscuit.)
  10. Oakstout was chatting in CO about his favourite abilities and found himself inundated with theorycraft and advice about what he should take instead. Does theorycrafting make us happier? Can we have too much information?

A Warhammer Special

Warhammer Online reached its first anniversary this week.

Jeff Hickman spoke at GDC about what he thought were Warhammer’s three biggest mistakes. He puts a lot of it down to PvE being too easy, which wouldn’t even have made my top ten, to be honest. But I do think it shows that without any ‘community’ specialists on the team, they really don’t know why their community didn’t gel. I guess blaming PvE is as good a way to go as any.

Syncaine notes pithily that you can’t blame PvE for the failure of a game that was all about RvR.

Syp chimes in with his comments and suggestions for three major mistakes, which seems nearer the mark to me. He also lists his 10 great successes for Warhammer. Dude, by the time you include “Um, Snafzg is playing it”, you are really reaching :) Also, he missed out the red blobs of awesome, the friendly/unfriendly targets that were beloved of all healers, being able to pour boiling oil onto people’s heads, and scenarios. Apart from that, it’s a good read!

In any case, it’s a game with which I had a lot of fun and my personal view is that their biggest mistake was not trying to go for a single virtual server (a la champions online). I don’t think they realised how many players they’d need active to keep all their PvP zones, PQs, and PvE instances busy.

I was going to use the title “Happy Birthday (WAR is over)” which tied in neatly with both Warhammer and The Beatles, but truth is, I hope very much that WAR is not over. I had a lot of fun with it and I hope that Mythic are plotting even now about how to lure people back from Aion (or grab the Aion tourists in a month or two when they’re disillusioned with it.)

Also, Shana Tovah, mateys.

This was the (raiding) week that was

It’s been quite an interesting week for me in WoW, aside from having rose petals thrown at Spinks all weekend (fortunately only one day left on that holiday). I was involved in minor drama in the 25 man raid, and by contrast my 10 man raid just continues to stomp all over stuff. Every time I set a goal for us, we waltz all over it on the next week’s raid.

In any case, my best raid news is that we have now killed Malygos on 10 man. We also polished off the achievements for the 4 Horsemen (kill them all within 15s) and Kel’Thuzad (kill 18 abominations during the fight). I’ll note down some tactics at the end.

One thing that is really glaring to me is how quickly an encounter moves from being on progression (ie. we haven’t beaten it yet) to being on farm (ie. can beat it reliably every week) in the current content. I can’t with my hand on my heart find this to be a bad thing, it does make the raids more casual and alt friendly. But we also get bored more quickly.

25 man raids really are more annoying

This week we spent all of Wednesday night wiping on Malygos. Our best attempt had him down to about 16%. I didn’t at any point feel that we were one more try away from getting him.

So my gut feeling is that although more practice is needed, our main problem is fast enough dps through phases 1 and 2. The fight is a bit misleading in that respect because normally in a several stage fight, if you can reliably get to the final stage then you know you have it beat.

With Malygos, the timer is tight enough that even if you get to phase 3 every time, you still might not be in a position to be able to kill him. Especially because dps in phase 3 isn’t something you can kick up with buffs, trinkets or consumables (for anyone who doesn’t know the fight: in phase 3 everyone is riding around on drakes and can only use the drake’s innate abilities). So we really do need to sort out stacking sparks better in phase 1, you’d think with two deathknights in the group it wouldn’t be an issue …

I was in a bad mood anyway because I was on off-tanking duty. Phase 2 is the only phase which needs an off-tank, and not for very long. So I was stuck in my tanking gear/spec for the whole fight just so that I could grab a couple of mobs for 30s or so. I was finding this very frustrating, especially because we actually had two feral druids in the raid who could have done it. I’m not saying that my poor protection dps stopped us getting the kill, but it can’t have helped.

I was told off afterwards for being passive-aggressive (I didn’t think I was being very passive, to be honest, and the bitching was all in the tank channel anyway), and one of the raid leaders told me that it wasn’t the first time. I also got the talk about how we had to work as a team and that meant not arguing with raid leaders on forums. Since I don’t recall having any actual arguments, I interpret this as meaning they prefer me not to disagree with them. Note: I don’t make a habit of arguing about tactics in the middle of a raid.

Whatever. I apologised profusely, as you do, and resolved to just let them do things their way in future.

I feel more uncomfortable in the raid now than I had in the past. I had assumed that this whole being a team thing meant that it was generally a good idea for me to chip in with my opinions. It’s just another thing that makes me want to flee to the 10 mans where  if people disagree with my tactics or have better suggestions, I weigh up their arguments and  then decide.

I suspect everyone was just a bit grumpy on Wednesday  night.

10 mans continue to rock

Saturday evening rolled around, and I ran a Valentine’s Day Naxxramas raid. What could be more romantic than slimes, spiders, maggots and zombies?

This was the first time I had to really weigh up raid composition because we had 3 tanks sign up. So what this meant was that one of us would need to switch to dps or healing. Since we also had 2 healers who had signed, it left the choices down to whether I would switch to dps or whether the paladin would since I prefer to have the feral tanking. He had always made it clear that healing was his offspec, which left it down to me.

So if I feel a bit down about tanking this week, it’s because not only was I forced to OT Malygos-25, but I also didn’t even get to tank my own 10 man.

I decided in the end to bring my warlock, which was the first time we’d had an alt in the 10 man. Because of it being Valentine’s my husband nobly let me use Curse of Agony to inflate the numbers a bit and in the event I was hitting about 2k dps which is fine, really. We even picked up Arachnoph0bia  although I explictly said ‘We’re not trying for Arachnophobia, we’ll loot after each boss’. I also made out on gear like a bandit.

This turned out to be a good decision because the raid stomped all over Naxxramas and then went on to kill Malygos (where having an extra warlock was a bonus).  We had spent a couple of hours wiping on him a few weeks back, this time we went in and got him on the third try.

But I was most proud of the raid for the four horseman achievement. I knew that we were good at speed runs, which is why I wanted to challenge them with a more control/finesse type of achievement.

As of next week, we’ll definitely open the sign ups to alts. And assuming we make good time in Naxx, we’ll definitely go on to Malygos afterwards.

Tactic thoughts: And they all would all go down together (10 man)

You will need three healers for this fight. We used two fully specced healers and one shadow priest in healing gear.

The trick here is that it is a control fight. So you need to be able to dps down all four of the bosses in a controlled way, and then burst down the last few percent very quickly at the end simultaneously.

At the front, we used one tank, one melee, and one healer on each boss. After every three marks, the front tanks run towards each other and taunt each other’s boss, and then bring it back to their original corner. Because of Thane’s meteor, we waited for the first meteor to drop after the third mark went up and then did the tank switch. The healers and melee can stay in their corner. The idea with having the melee there is to help soak meteor damage.

At the back, we had two ranged to ‘tank’ the bosses and a healer to heal both of them.

That makes 9. The last dps was a ‘floating’ ranged dps who helped keep the two back mobs on an even footing and also helped whoever had the worst burst damage to get their mob down at the end.

So when the fight started, I told people to dps the mobs down to 50% initially. By that time, we knew we had the tank switching sorted so then we took it down to 10%, then 5%. At 3% we had the last tank switch at the front, and then it was into KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT time.

There is a moment right at the end where you can see them on all really low health and your heart skips a beat and you wonder, did we …. and then the achievement comes up. Hurrah.

I like this achievement in general because although it isn’t hard, it does test everyone in the raid. As a raid leader, my main concern was whether the shadow priest would be able to heal through the meteor for the whole duration. As it turned out, this wasn’t an issue.

Tactic Thoughts: Just can’t get enough (10 man)

This one is a simple numbers game. You need to kill 18 abominations during phase 1. Some will wander into the raid anyway. When you pull the abominations from an alcove, you’ll get 3-4 of them and the rest of the alcove generally stays put.

So we had our druid keep an eye out for the regular abominations, casters stay focussed on the skeletons and banshees, and our paladin pull abominations from 4 different alcoves during phase 1. They do have a mortal strike so the tank needs to wait for that to fall off before pulling the next set.

And then once you are into phase 2, just kill him as usual.

Tactic thoughts: Malygos (10 man)

You can get the general tactics from somewhere like tankspot. The tactics are the same for 10 man as for 25 man, although there are fewer adds in the 10 man encounter and Malygos doesn’t hit as hard.

We did find that this encounter favours casters because they can keep casting as he starts his vortex. Warlocks in particular are laughing because if you stick your teleport circle in the middle of the platform, you can port out of the vortex, take no falling damage, and keep nuking. Casters can also keep standing in the sparks and nuking at the transition between phases 1 and 2.

Having a death knight or dps-style druid around helps with spark management because they can either be grabbed or rooted (we had a moonkin with us this week). The idea is that you’d like to stack them some place where melee can stand in the sparks but the boss doesn’t. Fortunately he has a big hitbox.

The tactic which worked best for us in phase three was for everyone to spread out around him and keep a stack or two of HoTs on themselves. Then the general rotation is 1-1-1-2 which should leave everyone with enough energy to use their shield when focussed. We had previously been having everyone on top of each other with one assigned healer but we found that this ‘every man for himself’ was less prone to everyone being wiped out by a static field.

My raiding round up

Last week, our 25 man raid group stormed through Naxxramas, killing all but two of the lower bosses. This week, things didn’t go quite so well.

On Wednesday’s raid, we set out to clear the Military wing. This did (eventually) result in a first kill on the four horsemen. I was puzzled that our tactic successfully involved burst dps on the first horseman to kill him within four marks (each horseman has an AE debuff which involves stacking damage but it only stacks with itself, not with the other horseman’s marks, so the standard strategy involves lots of running around and tank swapping). The reason I was surprised is because this is a brute force strategy, I get that brute force comes into play when raids are overgeared but were we really supposed to be able to do this on a first kill?

My gut feel is not that the Wrath raids are too easy, but that they’re a bit undertuned. It’s a subtle difference, and mostly means that I think the penalties for brute forcing encounters aren’t high enough. You should have to do the intricate strategy a few times at least.

After this we messed around in the Construct wing. After people had stopped pulling slimes, and then pulling more slimes, and then pulling a whole room of respawned slimes with a badly placed totem, we made a clean kill on Patchwerk. And then it was raid end.

I was absent Thursday, and the Thursday raid was a bit of a mess. These two facts aren’t really related, some of our top dps were away this week also. They started where we’d left off in the Construct wing and spent most of the evening wiping on Thaddius.

Needless to say, the mood on the alliance forums is more sombre today. Raid leaders are realising that we’re going to have to do something about people who turn up wearing unenchanted green gear and that some people may need to be more motivated about picking up their dps.

We get some drama also

I was chatting to my feral druid friend this morning and she mentioned casually that she was taking a break from 25 man raiding. She is a really awesome tank, has great gear, and I can’t think of anyone I would prefer to tank with on the 10 man runs. She also has good dps gear, and therein lies the problem.

She felt that the raid leaders kept slotting her into the raids as dps or as ‘third tank’, when some of the other tanks just weren’t as good or as well geared as she was. And she’s right (one of our tanks is the worst paladin tank I know, I didn’t even know it was possible for paladins to be as bad at AE tanking as he is). I know why they do it, it’s because she puts out better damage than the o thers when she isn’t tanking. But it’s miserable for her to see herself low on the damage meters because bear spec dps isn’t really competitive with proper dps specs.

Or in other words, she feels that she’s being punished because the other tanks can’t be arsed to get dps gear and she could. There’s no intentional punishment involved but in practice she’s being cut out of her favourite role so that less skilled/geared people can do it instead. In particular there’s another feral who gets to tank more often because his dps really isn’t very good.

It may make sense from the raid leaders’ point of view but they just lost a pretty good asset right there. I have found through bitter experience that if you really want to tank, NEVER TELL YOUR RAID LEADER THAT YOU HAVE GOOD DPS GEAR.