Gaming News: Shattering hits Azeroth, Elder Scrolls 5 in production, Skills change in EVE, casting for Uncharted film, details on FF Agito XIII

As you can see from the subject line, this is a quiet time of year for gaming news. But there are some moves afoot to change that.

Bioware has already been issuing teasers for a new game announcement to be made after the Spike VGA awards, and now Sony have also announced that a new exclusive PS3  title will be announced then also (word is that it will be Uncharted 3, which probably blows Bioware out of the water.)

As predicted last week, there have been a lot of heavy discounting sales this week. Steam’s indie bundles have been particularly good value if you had any interest in some of the games, and their sale still has a few days to run. I picked up a copy of Audiosurf for approx. zilch a couple of days back, which has been good fun. Anyone else make any good sales buys?

Interestingly, Steam are encouraging people to make a wish list. When I tried, I struggled to think of many games to put on it, on the grounds that if I really wanted something I probably have bought it already. Not really sure what to make of that. Amazon is also entering the world of digital download, at least on their US site.

An article from Massively that caught my eye was about Wurm Online which has revamped its tutorial. WO is very much a sandbox game, I never had much time to play other than checking it out and thinking that it reminded me a bit of Tale in the Desert. But if that sounds like your thing, then this might be a good time to jump in.

The Shattering hits Azeroth

Phase one of the Cataclysm hit World of Warcraft this week, transforming all of the low level zones and quests and introducing some new class/ race combinations. The rest of the expansion (the new races and new high level zones and content) is what you will be buying if you purchase the expansion on 7th Dec.

There are no comprehensive reviews out yet, and I’ll be writing more about my experiences next week but the lower level game is now incredibly slick, story focussed, and bang up to date with lots of interesting ways to stitch the quest based play together. I’ve been impressed at the parts I have seen.  No one does this type of thing better than Blizzard and possibly only Bioware even come close. Or in other words, if you like themepark quest-led style RPGs, there has never been a better time to join the party. And Blizzard are sweetening the deal at the moment with some pretty good discounts on WoW and all of the existing expansions. Come on in, the water’s lovely :)

Also, Blizzard announced more details of the various Cataclysm launch events which see their dev team sent off around the world to host in different cities. London gets Ghostcrawler, and … does anywhere else really matter anyway? (Me, I’ll be in bed at midnight on 7th Dec.)

Elder Scrolls 5 in production

Eurogamer quote an unnamed source that Bethesda is working on a 5th game in the Elder Scrolls series. This would be a sequel to Oblivion, but hopefully not with the same dreadful levelling system.

Still if – as is likely – this is true, it means good news to come for fans of the single player RPG. Or is it? Various commentators have wondered if the new game might be an MMO. (I think this would be a pretty bad idea, but who knows?)

EVE Online ditches the learning skills

As you may know, EVE is based on characters learning skills. Currently, a whole batch of metaskills exist which make it possible to learn other skills more quickly. So a savvy player would train those up first and the save hundreds of hours in skill training time for future skills.

But as from an upcoming patch, this will no longer be the case. Learning skills are disappearing from EVE, and players who spent time learning them will get the skill points back – the link is to the official announcement and it has graphs and everything to explain why they did this.

Another entry on the dev blog this week touched on the issue of F2P and item shops. Short summary: they will soon be selling vanity items via some kind of a cash shop. We don’t know if the vanity items will also be craftable in game.

Casting announced for Uncharted film

It’s a sign of how weak the news has been that this even gets a mention here. But for those interested, Mark Wahlberg will play Nathan Drake (ie. the lead) in the film of Uncharted, and the producers are talking to Robert de Niro about playing his father.

This has caused a large amount of concern amongst fans who don’t think he fits the role. But that’s likely to have been the case whoever was cast, although my personal pick would have been Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception).

Final Fantasy Agito XIII

I think anyone could be excused for being confused about the various different games being touted around in the FF13 series. Some details about this one, which is to be a PSP game, have been released this week, but frankly I’m still confused. And I don’t think we’ve had much mention of FF Versus 13 (which I think was to be a fighter) yet either.

Where to find more warrior information

If you play a warrior in WoW, write about the class, or are looking for more information on how to play a particular spec, look no further.

Kadomi has put together an exhaustive list of warrior blogs and I’d recommend anyone who has any questions to go check it out! Also if you have any blogs you’d like to add to the list, let her know.

And on a similar note, I think the whole community (such as it is) will miss Veneretio now that he’s decided to move on from tankingtips. You only have to read through the (currently 141) comments on his last post to see what an influence he’s had on so many people.

And he also knocked up the banner that I’m using here :) Thanks Veneretio, and good luck! Come back with your shield or on it.

How I’m playing Protection in 4.0

I’ve been experimenting a bit with Protection in the current patch. We’re done with raiding until the expansion and my desire to tank in PUG raids is approximately zero, so I’ve been running a few heroics. (Also mad props to Ele who said, “Lets try some heroics” and queued us straight up for HoR. This is what we call the ‘in at the deep end’ approach.)

Summary: The sky is not falling. AE threat is down across the board for all tanks, but warriors play hasn’t changed greatly. It’s mostly a few tweaks rather than a complete overhaul. Plus you can get some pretty amazing numbers out of Shield Slam. I’m still adapting but definitely still finding it fun.

The only way I adapt to less AE threat is by apologising for poor threat in random instances. But I don’t mean it :) And in Cataclysm when mobs start hitting harder I’ll get back into marking and requesting CC.

Live by the shield, die by the shield

The protection spec is now very oriented towards shield type moves, with lots of boosts for shield block and shield slam. It is now possibly to get some insanely large shield slam crits, especially if you tank in dps gear which you can also do now that we get crit proof from talents. Tankspot has a shield slam bragging thread so I know I’m not the only one who’s dazzled by the big numbers! If you want to test this then wait for a Hold the Line Proc, hit Shield Block and any of your dps trinkets, and then Shield Slam.

Feedback from healers is that I’m easy to heal. Feedback from dps is gogogo. Feedback from me is that threat is more of an issue, but I’m not finding it a major deal except in special cases such as the event in HoS where there’s no real time to build rage up – I think with more practice in managing rage I’d handle this better.

My current spec and thoughts on talents

This is my current spec. (The goal of this spec is to generate huge shield slam crits.) Many of the talents I discuss below are still being discussed in the community at the moment.

Blood and Thunder: I’m not enthralled with this one. Rend doesn’t generate a lot of threat anyway, maybe this would work better for Arms specs or in a raid but trash mobs in instances don’t stay up that long and Thunderclap + Shockwave plus some cleaves and glyphed revenges will be better bang for your buck than slinging rend around.

Incite: Heroic Strike is no longer spammable (thank goodness) and I’m still getting the hang of how to manage rage, but I still think this is more useful than blood and thunder.

Hold the Line: Parry is now your very best friend. Shame it doesn’t work on spells.

Shield Mastery: Reduced timer on shield block is nice. The rest is a bonus. Bear in mind you now use glyph of shield wall to increase the cooldown and increase the amount absorbed.

Shield spec: Not really finding rage to be an issue but need to put the points somewhere.

Bastion of Defense: This is your new anti-crit ability. Compulsary.

Impending Victory: I tried it and wasn’t really impressed with the numbers. Sounds cooler than it is.

Vigilance: Probably mostly a raid talent now, to be put on off-tanks. I find it useful to stick on the most aggro-y dps in heroics at the moment and then make good use of all the free taunts.

Thunderstruck: Way better for AE threat than blood and thunder imo. Note that it stacks three times but you have to spam Thunderclap to do that.

Arms: Field Dressing — this is why healers find me fairly straightforwards to heal at the mo.

Fury: Cruelty — Moar shield slam crits!!

(Blood Craze will probably be ace for levelling and I may swap points from cruelty to blood craze when the expansion drops. Unless I decide to level in Arms spec, which seems really really fun atm from my first forays.)

Glyphs

Warrior glyphs are pretty lame and you won’t get a lot of choice.

Prime:

Shield Slam (yay for more shield slam damage!)
Revenge
Devastate (will be your main filler)

Major:
Heroic throw: Heroic throw applies a stack of sunder.
Shield wall: Shield wall cooldown increases by 2 mins but it reduces a lot more damage (60% instead of 40%)
Long charge: charge range increased
You might want to glyph for cleave for better AE threat. Thunderclap (increases range) is another possibility but I’ve avoided that because of issues with breaking CC.

Minor:

Berserker rage: adds 5 rage whenever you use it. Handy for emergency rage generation

Battle/ Command/ Demo — increase range and duration of shouts. Pick whichever.

Warriors do however have the best named glyph in the game which is “glyph of bloody healing”, sadly it’s for fury though.

Rotation/ Priority

Very similar to usual except with less heroic strike. That is to say, protection uses a priority attack system and not a fixed rotation. I’m sure as we all get more practice we’ll get a feel for where it’s worth trying to fit HS in but generally use it when you have a full rage bar.

Shield Slam –> HS –> Revenge -> Devastate (single target)

Shockwave->Thunderclap-> Cleave (AE) (if you use blood and thunder you’ll want to weave rend in as well. Remember if you have thunderstruck you can stack the thunderclaps for more of a shockwave buff.)

Rage — shouts now give rage. Demo shout also still has some threat attached so you can shout and then charge for some starting rage. I like the berserker rage glyph for some extra emergency rage too.

Stats and Reforging: If you’re raiding it will probably be worth indulging in some reforging (if needed) to cap out expertise and hit. If you’re not, I wouldn’t bother, all the equipment will shortly be moot anyway. I haven’t done any reforging myself to gain extra mastery — not inclined to mutilate my gear until some number crunchers have worked out the optimal strategy first.

(You’ll notice that I have zero interest in gear optimisation but that I do quite enjoy experimenting with new talents and specs on my own. That’s my gameplay preference, and I’m glad for anyone who prefers things the other way around because I can steal their gear cribsheets later.)

[WoW] How to play your class in the 4.0 world

So it’s patch week, and this patch contains all the Cataclysm class changes. And if you’re wondering how to spec or glyph in this brave new world, plenty of bloggers have chipped in to help out.

Jaded Alt has a compilation of class guides here.

MMO Melting Pot has also gone through a similar exercise and picked out their favourite guides for each class and spec.

There have never really been many active DPS warrior bloggers so it’s not surprising that Arms/ Fury specs are not well represented in the lists. I imagine most Fury warriors will stick with Titan’s Grip (since they already have two 2-handed weapons) for now though.

My WoW Report

Boss: I told my son about you playing, what is it? World of Warcraft?

He said ‘I bet she’s like EIGHTY and EVERYTHING’, so I said ‘what level are you, Jack?’, and he said ‘12!’.

kizi1That is a legitimate exchange between my boss and myself while discussing whether I could have the week of Comic Con off work in 2011, on the off-chance I can sort myself out for going for a third year in a row. But it reminded me I have never really spoken about my return to WoW, a little intimidated by the number of WoW players amongst Spinks’ readership.

I left WoW just before Burning Crusade. I’d been playing since Friends & Family Alpha and was classically burned out on the game. I mostly played druids, in fact, it was a kind of joke that I’d played around 5 druids consecutively, bouncing between Alliance and Horde between various alphas, betas and the launch. This was at a time when druids were a little bit rubbish and although I played them to heal and because I loved all the hybrid goodness, I found things pretty tough. But mostly, I was burned out on the game and blamed it on the people, my last guild and the struggle of raiding Molten Core and how long it always took. So I left, and took a fair break from MMOs until I eventually landed on LotRO by way of the disastrous Vanguard launch month.

From that time on Spinks has still been playing WoW, and keeping me abreast of the changes. Some I was sceptical of, still harbouring some bitterness towards the game, but others sounded cool. Mostly, I never really felt a pull back to it, my account was gone and I didn’t want to start over from scratch even if I did go back. I’m pretty stubborn about things like that. So I ignored Burning Crusade and the launch of Lich King. I was pretty busy with LotRO also, and didn’t really have time for a second MMO.

But, last year sometime, in all the talks about Cataclysm, I thought it might be interesting to have another look, using the refer-a-friend scheme to play with Spinks. It wasn’t a completely successful first 3 months. While we enjoyed the added xp and summoning abilities, I kind of played one month on, one month off, so I didn’t get the full rewards for the r-a-f scheme. But it did get me to level 40-ish, which was over the hump of ‘how many freaking times have I done all these starter zones’. I picked a class I’d never liked previously, the shaman – and started to truly love it around level 30. Why a shaman? I was fairly sure I’d never want to play one in Cataclysm, I’d never managed to get one past level 5 before but with Spinks playing a hunter we could pretty much manage anything!

The dungeon finder really impressed, even when some of the PuGs created were rude, it was a nice break from grind if I needed it. Also, being on WoW meant I could catch up with my other sister who’d been chugging away soloing a rogue over there. Using realID meant that we could always tell when each others’ alts were on. And eventually I caught up to her level (I have more time on my hands!!). I had a really rough start to Lich King content and was really unhappy around level 70, but a few months ago I got to my first ever level 80 on WoW. And I adore shaman now, naturally – thinking of making another in Cataclysm. Yes, I have a problem remaking the same class over and over, I know this!

So Spinks has been trying to teach me about emblems, gearing up, heroics, tournament stuff and anything else I may need to do to be ready to raid. I tinker with it. I log on and do a dungeon or two, sometimes heroic, I head to Wintergrasp and I mine or muck around. While I’d quite like to see a raid, I’m not feeling really pressured to do so, and I think that’s been the real reason I’ve enjoyed my return to WoW so much. It feels quite peaceful to me without any pressure except to heal to a decent standard. Though I am considering switching to Spinks’ main server and possibly joining her guild there so I can explore the raiding side of the game.

I’m not the greatest player in WoW. I’m not trying to be, yet. But I’m no longer a snob about it either. It’s a great game, with the same grindy, rocky patches any MMO has. And sometimes it’s nice for me not to have to care and to just find a fun class and chill out with it.

[Cataclysm] New race/ class combos in before expansion

Ladies and Gentleorcs, start your engines. We have a release date for Cataclysm and it is 7th December. I imagine there was a lot of pressure for Blizzard to get this one out of the door before the end of the year (and not just from bored players.) Player vs Developer notes that the digital download will be available from Blizzard on launch day, which didn’t happen with previous expansions. Will Cataclysm sneak in as the biggest game of the year? There’s a lot of competition.

But there are going to be some major changes in the game before this date too. It’s been quite usual in the past for class changes to be patched in before an expansion and that will happen here too.

isheepthings sums up the changes coming into the game via patch 4.0.1 which is due in a week or so.

I predict that the raid lock changes in particular will be quite confusing to people. My brief summary:

  • 10 and 25 man raids will share the same locks
  • You can zone into any raid as long as it’s further into an instance than any boss you have already killed that week. So if you go into ICC on Wednesday and clear the first wing, you can go in with any raid later in the week as long as those bosses are already down when you zone in.
  • Blizzard explain it more fully here.
  • However, if your raid clears the first wing when you aren’t there and you then clear the rest of the instance with them the next day, you cannot later go into a new raid just to kill the first wing (because you have already killed the later bosses.)

More interestingly, Zarhym commented in answer to questions on the official board:


Q u o t e:
Will the new Race/class combinations (not Worgen/ Goblin), be available prior to Cataclysm? Or do you have to have a Cataclysm account to create an Orc mage or a Troll Druid?


They will be available to everyone shortly before the release of Cataclysm when The Shattering takes place.

So it sounds as though the world will change before the expansion launches, at which time everyone who is desperate to play a blood elf warrior, tauren paladin, dwarf shaman et al can get their groove on.

Is your character race purely cosmetic?

There is a long tradition, stretching back to the earliest MUDs, that players have a choice of fantasy races for their characters. It has become part of the MMO scenery, even though in many games it will never much affect your play. So is a race just cosmetic, just another way to customise your character visually?

PvD posted awhile back about how races are sold in the cash shop for EQ2X at the moment. You can buy options for that game in packs of three, and each pack is arranged to offer one popular race with two less popular ones. Other than that, there’s no rhyme or reason in the selections. This puzzled me as a concept – the idea of picking a race because ‘it was included free in the pack with the one I actually wanted’ feels like a very unintuitive way to make that choice.

I was minded of this because I have a friend who has a really strong preference for playing elves. If a game doesn’t offer elves, her interest drops. One of the things she is most excited about in Cataclysm is the ability to play a blood elf warrior for the first time. And this has nothing to do with game elements like racial abilities. She just likes elves. If she played EQ2X I don’t think she’d be too thrilled to see the elf races split between packs (she’d probably just pick the one she liked best and not bother with the others, whereas she’d have paid more for a pack that included all of them.) I know others who always play humans, and prefer to pick a human character who looks as close to themselves (in some idealised form) as possible. So some players go into the game with a vague idea of how they want their character to look or act and pick the race that fits it most closely.

For other people, the most important thing about picking a race is any in-game advantage. So optimal racial abilities or starting areas would play a bigger factor in the choice. If racial abilities change, these guys may take advantage of a paid race change in game.

Others are more interested in aesthetics. Which race looks prettiest or most badass? Which race/ class combination has the coolest looking armour?

And in some games, that’s pretty much it for racial identity. It’s all about how you look and whether you get any minor mechanical perks. EQ2X for example does have racial lore, but it isn’t equally emphasised for all races. You can easily go through a starting zone that seems to have been designed for another race without learning anything about your own.

When races are more than a collection of stats and a skin

Warcraft certainly wasn’t the first game to emphasise racial starting areas and lore. But their commitment to doing so has always been quite impressive. When you pick a race, you’re also picking a starting zone in which you’ll have about 20 levels worth of race specific content. (Unless you’re a gnome or troll, in which case hang in there for Cataclysm!)

This is fertile ground for roleplayers, who might go with the strongest lore or most appealing backstory. As well as their own starting areas, races have their own architectures, racial leaders, history, and in-game racial stereotypes. So gnomes are not just small and squeaky but also crazy scientists with silly names. Forsaken are sarcastic, deadpan, and have no moral compass. Dwarves like beer and blacksmithing (is there any game in which this is not the case?).

Racial lore is about to get a huge boost in Cataclysm with the addition of Archaeology to the game. I think this is going to be one of the most popular new mechanics that the expansion brings. And as a side-effect, it adds more oomph to the races and their backgrounds.

Why is this big at the moment? Because of course Cataclysm will add in two new races to the mix. They’ll have very solid racial abilities, new lore, new cool models, and since players like new stuff anyway they’re bound to be heavily played. And also, many classes will have new racial options in the expansion.

This is most striking for druids, who soon will be able to pick from two races per faction instead of just one fixed choice. And one of the most asked for screenshots from the beta was the picture of the new troll and worgen druid forms. I’m thinking this shows that a lot of people are mostly about the aesthetics with their racial choices.

Is it mostly about the looks for you? I wonder if people tend to pick their first character based on look/feel/ prior idea and maybe explore the lore of other races after they’ve played the game and are making alts.

[Guest Post] The first three seconds

(Salanna is a mage who runs in the same raid group as Spinks, for her sins. Her hobbies are drinking, setting things on fire, and reminding tanks of their own mortality.)

Hi. So, Spinks is away, and has rather unwisely turned her blog over to other people. People like me. A mage. Spinks situates herself in front of the boss, helmet on, shield up, perfectly placed and nailed there with tent pegs, whacking the boss with a fishing pole to show how hard she is. I’m just inside her line of sight, zapping four kinds of hell, with nothing between me and the world but a blue bar, the 130% aggro threshold, and my chef’s hat that I forgot to take off before entering the instance. Tanks taunt the boss, but mages taunt the tank.

Now, about that aggro threshold. Spinks and I, we have a funny relationship with that. This mage, see, has been working on improving my own DPS lately. A DPSer’s trade is never fully mastered, of course, but I’ve had my share of catching up to do. Now I’m not going to get stuck into the whys and hows here – there are plenty of resources for that – but I spent a good while following all the good advice, and it wasn’t clearly helping. Couldn’t work out what was wrong. I was beginning to think that I needed to hit the buttons harder.

Then I started paying attention to the very start of the fight. You know the bit. The tank has no rage yet, they’ve maybe landed a sunder, they’re moving around trying to position the boss so it doesn’t insta-kill the clothies – and those same clothies just let loose. The boss goes on a rampage, the raid leader emits an audible sigh on teamspeak, there are general exhortations in /raid to give the tanks time at the start without naming any names, and we all ress, rebuff and try again. All for the want of one second’s worth of patience from the DPS, on a fight where we’re nowhere near the enrage timer. Absurd, isn’t it?

Except. That’s the one moment in the fight where everything is aligned for those DPS. Particularly for a class like a mage where mastering your role is in large part about maximising the use of cooldowns, the start is the only place in the fight where all the cooldowns align. The macroed abilities (and mages do like to stack their macros), weapon procs, trinkets with mismatched internal cooldowns, more often than not a Bloodlust – this
is where they all stack, and stack multiplicably.

Which means that if you fluff that part of the fight, you’re not just missing out on a couple of seconds valuable damage time, but you are missing out on the highest potential damage per second in the entire fight. If you don’t keep up here, there is nowhere else in the fight that you can catch up. For a class like a mage with its many cooldowns, the difference does seem to be astonishing – in the right fight it can be the difference between being in
the top third and the bottom third of the meters.

I discovered that the rest of the effort I’d put in before was making a difference – but until I got the beginning of the fight just right, any improvement was getting lost in the noise. I had lost the race in the first ten seconds and could no longer make a sensible comparison.

Which gives me to wonder if this is an intentional design. Competition between DPS is a crucial part of keeping the overall DPS of a given raid group good and healthy. But when the difference to the outcome of the encounter is so small – there are very few fights in any given raid these days where a couple of seconds off the enrage timer is the difference between success and wipe – it seems absurd to put this level of tension between the DPS I reckon it is deliberate at least in principle, if perhaps not fully intended to have turned out the way it has. I can see that there is, and should be, a benefit for DPS and tanks who get to know each other well.

Asking the designers to remove that benefit is unlikely to be successful – and rightly so. But I suspect that how it has turned out in practice is, at least in part, a victim of the funny scaling of threat versus damage. Right now, this problem is bodged by non-tanks who help with threat by means of Tricks of the Trade and Misdirect, and nowhere is that help more important than the start of the fight. But this takes some responsibility for one of the most intricate parts of the fight away from the tank, leaving them with another five minutes of “three-stacks-taunt.”

That’s not a good thing. My raid’s tanks are all great, experts at what they do. I want them to be able to show that skill. I don’t want them to feel like they’re taking the place of an adequately buffed voidwalker. But I’m caught directly between showing proper respect for the tank, by giving them the little time they need, and showing respect for the raid as a whole, by learning to up my DPS.

So Cataclysm will cure all ills, right? Well, maybe. If the level of tension today really is a result of 64 ilevels of threat vs. damage, then it’ll benefit both from the gear reset and from the developers’ work to try to address that scaling in future. Both the risk of pulling aggro and the consequence of it is likely to be lower in a first tier Catclysm raid than in the end dungeon of Wrath; and DPS’ dependence on nailing the first few seconds of a fight will be lower thanks to the proportionately smaller procs and buffs at that tier, so the pressure to ride the edge will be eased. I reckon the measure of a successful outcome here will be if that tension between DPS and tanks can be ramped up a bit over the lifetime of the expansion, without having to resort to outside hackery again, and without sending us all back to Outland to farm the materials for Subtlety enchants for our cloaks.

Why the mobile auction house will be good for WoW.

For all that Larisa rails against Blizzard’s hapless PR and Marketing department, they’ve been smart with their press release schedule. Have you noticed there has been at least one cool piece of news per week recently (whether it is about Cataclysm or SC2 or Blizzcon) that has made the news cycle? I’m curious as to how long they’ll be able to keep up the pace.

This week, tentative moves into RMT took a new twist when Blizzard announced the trial of a new service for Warcraft. For $2.99 per month, a WoW player will be able to access the Auction House remotely, either from the web or from an iDevice. And there will also be more mobile functionality even for non premium subscribers. In particular, lots of people will enjoy being able to see immediately when an item has sold.

Free Features

  • Browse the Auction House
  • Get real-time notifications when your auctions sell or expire
  • Get real-time notifications when you win auctions or when you are outbid
  • View your characters’ current gold
  • View the status of your auctions and search for similar auctions
  • View the items you can sell in your bags, bank, and mailbox
  • View the status of auctions you are bidding on
  • View the items you’ve sold in the Auction House
  • View your expired auctions
  • View the status of auctions you created
  • View your successful auctions

Subscription Features

  • Bid on auctions
  • Buy out auctions
  • Create auctions from items in your bags, bank, and mailbox
  • Collect gold from successful auctions
  • Collect gold from unsuccessful bids
  • Collect all outstanding gold with a single click
  • Cancel your auctions
  • Relist items for sale from your expired auctions

So who might be the customer for this new service? Up until now, we have managed just fine with logging into the game client to buy and sell as part of our regular game sessions. But I’ve thought of a few use cases, example of how people might want to use this.

1. The working raider

It can be difficult to balance a raid schedule with a work schedule. Many raids start early in the evening, early enough that the working stiffs barely have time to rush home, grab something to eat, log in and be ready to raid. And now imagine that you are at work, you can see on your guild bboard that you are in the line up for tonight’s raid, but you can’t remember whether you bought consumables or not. Do you have the right flasks, do you have spare materials for any raid crafting you might need to do?

With this feature, instead of fretting and then having to rush around like a crazy when you do get home in the evening, you could just check your character’s bags and log into the auction house and buy anything you need for the evening in advance. That will be worth $2.99 per month to a lot of people. (This will also be great news for alchemists and any other crafter or gatherer who sells consumables.)

Clearly you can avoid the need to do this if you are either very organised or have a helpful guild bank. But being able to pay for the convenience of not NEEDING to be organised is what spare income is for. For this type of player, this is a great service and I’m 100% behind it.

In fact, I’m looking forwards to being able to check Spinks’ bags for consumables remotely even without the auction house functionality.

2. The altmeister

If you have a lot of alts spread across different servers, it can be difficult to keep up with their various needs and profits. Being able to access the auction house remotely will make it very easy to check AHs across several different servers. You could buy a shiny epic for one alt, sell some cut gems from another, and never need to tediously log in and out of several different servers. Plus of course, you could do it all from your iDevice or from work (if you don’t get caught.) Intriguingly, this might also make it easier to flip items from Horde to Alliance or vice versa depending on whether it’s possible to be logged into the AH for two different alts at the same time.

Again, this service provides a way to pay for convenience. And also, messing around with alt AH shenanigans could be a good time waster during the day, filling the Farmville niche. I’ll come back to this because I think that Blizzard could take the offline minigame idea further without harming the game in any way.

3. The pro trader

This is the category where bloggers have been most outspoken. Would having constant access to the auction house provide an in game advantage to ‘pro traders’? Could people use it to manipulate the market more easily than they currently do?

I’m not yet convinced about this one. Blizzard have said that they will restrict the number of trades you can make per day via the remote interface, presumably to stop people buying out the whole AH and relisting it every 30 minutes. Similarly, repeatedly cancelling and relisting thousands of inscription glyphs is not the type of operation that this will support.

People selling high ticket items will still be more likely to set them to run out during prime time, so sniping auctions is a limited market. Arbitrage in general requires sellers to set low prices because they don’t know the market rate. There will always be some people who do this, but clearly the more people looking for bargains, the quicker the prices will be normalised.

So yes, if you make most of your income by looking for arbitrage options on the AH, then you will gain some advantage from the remote access option. But even then, most auctions will be listed during prime time (since this is when most people play) which is when most of the action will continue to happen.

The Big Unknowns

We don’t yet know how addons will interact with this remote functionality. This will have a huge effect on how much advantage there is, especially if remote addons can have more functionality than in-game ones.

If you can search the AH from a web interface, then presumably someone can write plugins to scan data, set buy orders, calculate complex up to date graphs showing which crafted items to make, and snipe auctions.

We don’t yet know what Blizzard’s plans are for cross server mail. Blues have mentioned in the past that they like the idea of being able to send heirloom (bind on account) items across servers. Clearly a BoA item cannot be sold on the AH, at least not at the moment. But if they were to implement cross server mail and relax restrictions on what can be sent, then it would be possible to arbitrage between auction houses. This is the sort of future where remote access might be a huge advantage, purely from a convenience point of view. Being able to quickly scan several different auction houses without having to physically log in and out of servers would be a definite advantage.

How many people will take up this service? If remote AH access gets very popular, then it can potentially change how people use the auction house. At the moment, most auctions are set up with fixed buyouts. Players are impatient and have preferred to pay a buyout to have their item right now rather than bid and wait. But if a lot of people prefer to bid during the day and don’t mind bidding against each other, then we may see a move to more open auctions. If that happens, then although most auctions will be set to run out during prime time (if the sellers have any brains), there will be more of an advantage to remote access for bidding on auctions that do not.

Thumbs up for RMT for services!

I have always preferred the idea of paying a subscription premium for extra services rather than buying virtual goods. This is a great example of the type of MMO service that is feasible, will be of huge interest to a segment of the player base, and still does not have a big impact on the game.

I think that in particular, working people who raid will very much enjoy the option of being able to quickly pick up some raid consumables while at work so that they can save some time in the evening.

Buyers in general will benefit from more trades taking place on the auction house. It encourages more sellers to list. More active traders/ arbitragers keep the prices normalised. I don’t see much of a downside and I’d like to see more MMO companies experimenting in future with this field.

Imagine a Farmville type of game for herbalists, for example, where instead of gathering you could choose to keep a little offline herb garden to tend during the day and harvest in the evening. The herbs produced could be capped and it might provide a neat alternative to gathering for crafters who have time during the day to do it, but not when they are at home.

Thought of the Day: Sparkly horses make quarterly earnings look great

Is it a coincidence that Activision announced that quarterly earnings for Q1 2010 were ahead of expectations (I was amused by EA’s comment) on the same day that Blizzard offered a sparkly pegasus mount for sale via the wow store? Methinks they just bumped up the next quarter’s earnings rather substantially too …

This is a significant (but hardly unpredictable) move on Blizzard’s part. Special awesome mounts used to be associated with hardcore raid or arena achievements. To put one into the cash shop that is prettier, sparklier, and more awesome than the raid achievements — yup, that’s a change of direction. Of course everyone will buy one. I only wonder whether they’ll make it time limited or not.

And to those pondering the costs, I suspect it actually compares reasonably to cash shop offerings from any other sub game. It flies, it runs, it’s available to every alt on the account and all future alts too, it goes as fast as the owner’s training will allow (up to 310% if you have access to that). And it’s a sparkly flying pegasus.

And bear in mind that the only reason so many people are willing to pony up (haha, I slay me) is because they’re already invested in the game, because the rest of the gaming experience offered is so high quality. Also, the more money they make out of this type of virtual fluff, the less likely they are to raise the sub fees.