[WoW] Thought for the day: What happens when the content fits F2P but the model is subscription?

I read recently that Blizzard have removed the “Scroll of Resurrection” offer on WoW — this was a longstanding deal by which if you had been unsubscribed from the game for a few months, a friend could send you a code to get a couple of weeks free to entice you to return.

One can only speculate whether this is because, now that people can hop into LFR to check out new raid content and gear gets an (easily accessible) update with each patch, that a motivated player could actually check out ALL the recent content within the 7-14 free days and then wander off without resubbing. Or in other words, maybe they found that the resubscription rates in people who used the scroll of resurrection weren’t as high as they’d hoped.

I don’t feel that the motivation to keep playing for months in WoW is the same as it used to be — you can see the new content without having to turn up for your weekly raid group (albeit in easier form) with easy random group finders, you know that any gear you get will be immediately replaced in the next content patch, I don’t know how compelling PvP/arena is these days but I do know that it isn’t a majority pursuit and there are many competing games with PvP. And if the social fabric is disintegrating also then that’s another longterm hook that is disappearing.

I don’t think WoW will ever go free to play while there are so many people happy to pay monthly subs. The justification for changing model has to be that it would make more money and I don’t think it would for WoW. But I do think that the pattern of ‘turn up to play the new stuff and then unsub and go do other things for a few months’ is going to be seen more and more in the coming months, at least from players who didn’t take the annual pass. And funnily enough, this is one of the typical F2P playstyles – I know I drop into LOTRO when there is new single player content, and then wander off again.

I also think that in Pandaria, Blizzard do have a chance to change this. But to do it they need a new type of gameplay that people will want to engage in longterm, because ‘log in just for the weekly raid/s’ won’t cut it in a LFR world. I also think that a pokemon style MMO could be wildly, crazily successful. Ignore the naysayers, pokemon is a solid game with good collection/ card-style-combat that could support large numbers of players. So I wouldn’t bet against Blizz being able to implement a good WoW version of this for their next expansion. In many ways, the game’s future depends on whether they can provide a fun and engaging endgame replacement for raiding, because with LFR the traditional raiding endgame is largely dead. It just hasn’t realised it yet.

Out with the old year, in with the new. MMO predictions for 2012

I didn’t make a great job of my predictions last year. TAGN has a super gaming roundup of 2011, covering what actually did happen.

I was right about mobile gaming becoming ever more popular although I’m not sure any specific game has rivalled Angry Birds yet for popularity, and also right about the Android market growing. I predicted something big for Zynga and sure enough they went public, although the share price hasn’t been performing well.

I predicted e-sports to grow, which I’m not really sure has happened.

I also predicted more emphasis (in the PC and Xbox world at least) on Indie games/ bundles/ etc. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the breakout indie MMO, but this year has seen some super and well received new indie games. Dungeons of Dredmore and Terraria have been two that have seen particular play round my house. Avadon the Black Fortress is the one on my backburner, as it’s on my hard drive but I’ve just not had the time yet to play it.

Any fans of roguelikes out there? Check out the results of the Ascii Dreams Roguelike of the year 2011; TOME4 heads the list with Dungeons of Dredmore close behind.

I said, of the Nintendo 3DS, “This year also marks the release of the Nintendo 3DS, the 3D version of the DS. Whilst it will sell well enough to be marked as a success, they will signally fail to persuade most users to upgrade.” And also said I didn’t think it would be a good year for handhelds. Well I should have had the courage of my convictions, the 3DS was very disappointing for Nintendo. 3d in general has failed to really sell itself to gamers.

Blizzard failed to announce Titan, and also didn’t announce an emphasis on crafting features in the next expansion, preferring to focus on Pandas and pet battles.

Sure enough, GW2, TSW, and WoD failed to launch this year. However, D3, ME3 both also did not get released in 2011. And I’m not sure Microsoft has been able to do much to clear up the Xbox live chats.

MMOs I have played most this year have been Rift with bursts of WoW and LOTRO. I did (and still do) like Rift a lot, but for me the pace of new content and sameish events was a bit overwhelming. I wound up feeling that my lifestyle just didn’t support keeping up with Rift, not because it was grindy but because new stuff kept turning up so often. I think Trion did a super job with the game and will look forwards to seeing future games from them.

And as it turns out, the game I bought and played on Steam most last year was actually Duels of the Planeswalkers, the MTG computer game. I still think this is a pretty excellent game so there ;)

Predictions for 2012

I’ll keep things tight this year. The recession/ economic climate is affecting players and their expectations more now, and although you might think this would benefit F2P games, I wonder if people are preferring to both save their money and stick to more manageable games (ie. standalone indie/ older/ games) with known good reviews. Has the F2P sheen worn off? Are there so many F2P competitors now that it’s easy for players to hop from one game to the next before they get in deep enough to be wanting to spend much money? I suspect this may be the case. Zynga’s share price implies that others wonder the same thing.

Is it that the MMO fad is over? No, SWTOR’s release proves that there are plenty of people still willing and able to plonk down their cash for a solid AAA Diku style MMO. I think this game will have better legs than the naysayers are predicting – yes some of us will have level 50 characters by the end of the first free month, but if you enjoy the basic gameplay, there’s replayability in the alts, and the game itself is just good fun which is worth a lot. I know I’m recommending it to friends who I wouldn’t normally point towards an MMO.

Better legs in this case may mean stays strong for 6 months rather than 3, it’ll be down to Bioware in the end to persuade people to stick with it. I personally would like to see better social features, but they will have to balance this up with adding more content in other areas too.

There has been a fair amount of upheaval involved this year with sub games switching to a F2P model. While a sub game can survive on retaining players, a F2P game needs to either keep raking the newbies in or focus hard on retaining the actual spenders. So expect the big name AAA F2P games to push out paid for expansions/ patches this year even if the value for money isn’t great. LOTRO will continue to expand Isengard but Turbine will find a way to release something that the max level player base will want to buy (probably extra content in some way).

Diablo 3 will release this year, and although it’ll be a solid game, it won’t be the massive excitement that fans had been hoping. I’ve seen hints of this in beta reviews – people liked it, but there was something lacking. There will however be much focus on the real money auction house, which may overwhelm the rest of the gameplay in commentary (like the game is just a basic mechanic to support the AH). Torchlight 2 will also release this year, and will actually be the better game in many ways (world design, pace) although I would put my money on Blizzard when it comes down to solid game mechanics and class design. I will play and enjoy both of them.

Mass Effect 3 will release this year, will be highly successful. It’s hard to say whether Bioware are over-expanding when they have different teams to do all of these things, however being able to release a hugely successful standalone game at the same time as running a successful MMO will be quite an accomplishment. They will also announce DA3.

Pandaria (WoW expansion) will not release before the Summer. This will be at around the 6 month mark for SWTOR and a lot of players will go back to WoW to check out the new stuff. Blizzard has a real chance to keep them if they play to their strengths. But now the poor WoW voice acting will be more in the spotlight (it’s not that players need voice acting but if it’s there, the bar has now gone up.)

The Secret World will release, to mixed reviews. I still feel that I don’t know much about this game, except that they’ve been relying on ARGs to push out word of mouth. If they stick to that type of model, it could gain a small but very dedicated hardcore following and keep them. I wish them luck.

GW2 will release towards the end of 2012. I really cannot decide how I feel this one will do – but it will depend a lot on how well the dynamic quests and PvP work with the player base, and whether they make the WAR mistake of balancing it with the assumption of constantly full servers at all levels. I’d like to see GW2 succeed.

CCP had an anno horribilis in 2011 and are now claming to have cut back development on everything except Dust and space stuff in EVE. I predict slowly falling numbers for EVE – devs have been leaving, and I suspect internal confidence at CCP is falling. They hopefully will be able to keep most of the core fanbase happy but I think the events of this year will have affected player confidence too.

Other MMOs which have been hyped for 2012 include Tera and ArcheAge (both korean MMOs, I think), and Battle for Dominus (or Dominus as it is now known) which is a more PvP/DaoC type of western MMO. I wish them all luck but I don’t see any breakout successes there. I think Dominus could do well in its niche if it can attract a solid core playerbase.

Aion is going F2P in early 2012, as is Startrek Online (I recommend STO for people who want a more involved space combat than either SWTOR or EVE) there aren’t many other games left to do so other than WAR and WoW.

The games I am currently most looking forwards to in 2012 are (aside from D3/ Torchlight 2): Journey (PS3), and Dragon’s Dogma (PS3) — based on having seen/demoed them both at conventions last year.

There have been several large browser based MMOs launched in 2011. It will be interesting to see whether this trend will continue and how devs adapt the gameplay to the general strengths of browsers. In my opinion, browser games are fantastic for strategy, but I still am not really sold on them for straight out action. Still, that’s my pick for MMO trend in 2012, more browser games.

I will also be keeping an eye out for more news of Three Rings work on a new Doctor Who MMO (they made Puzzle Pirates and Spiral Knights, and were recently bought by SEGA.)

The LoL gameplay model has been fantastically successful in 2012 (and previously), which makes me wonder if some dev (maybe Valve or even Blizzard) will announce an MMO with combat based on that mechanic. A left field prediction might even be that Popcap would be encouraged to enter the MMO field with their polished casual gameplay.

2012 will end with no major new AAA MMO being announced as in development (other than possibly the one stated above), and will be seen as the end of an era. But the success of Skyrim in 2011 may mean more companies are considering large sandbox style open world single player games … will that take us back to the start of a new RPG cycle?

[SWTOR] Notes on bonus missions, slicing nerfs, did WoW ruin PUGS?

aldaraan1

This is a screenshot of my character riding a speeder along a river in Aldaraan, which is a very pretty planet. Because the speeder hovers anyway, there’s no real need to ever swim again once you have one. My trousers aren’t actually green – character classes in SWTOR have strong colour schemes and Sith Warrior is generally black and red.

I’m still having a blast with the game. I got to the end of Act I (each class story is in three acts), had some fairly tight fights and cool scenes, and am now a Sith Lord. Go me! I also have a legacy – which is like a family name. You don’t have to actually use it as a surname, but from now on every time you get xp, you also get legacy xp. I compare it to guild xp in WoW except that we don’t yet know what you’ll be able to get with legacy xp, that’s for a future patch.

I called my Legacy family De’Nevers, after the swashbuckling Duc de Nevers in Le Bossu (if you like swashbuckling films, try to find a copy). I figured if I’m a lightsabre/sword fighter, might as well be related to the best.

I remember vaguely comments from beta that people were concerned that there might not be enough quests to level up with. While this may be an issue on some of the starter planets, after that you’ll largely be rolling in xp. After you have finished the main storylines on a planet, you will open up some extra bonus missions which will usually feature a military quest giver who is in the spaceport. So if you’re pretty sure that you’ve done all the single player non-class quests on a planet, check out the spaceport for the bonus questgiver. Some of the bonus quests are pretty good, but mostly they give good xp and credits/ gold. Other sources of xp/credits are PvP and flashpoints.

I haven’t done a great deal of PvP but the battlegrounds I have seen show clear influence from the WAR devs. They’re interesting locations, with plenty of scenery or buildings to climb up, push people off, and generally PvP around. I have totally failed to figure out Huttball, which is a grab/capture the thingie battleground, because I never quite figured out where the goals were (clearly this is a problem if you do end up holding the ball). One of the others is an Arathi-style “capture and hold these points for X amount of time”, and the other is an attacker/defender setup which resets a few times to give both teams a chance to both attack and defend.

I couldn’t comment on PvP balance at the moment, but there’s no reason why this game couldn’t be as interesting PvP-wise as any best of breed in similar genre. It has a good feel.

Another thing I’m enjoying far too much is playing dress up with my companion/s. While the companions can wear normal gear, quest rewards on each planet will also offer a full set of companion-specific gear, each of which has a different style/ look. Sadly this isn’t orange/ moddable, so you can’t upgrade the stats later. I’m also quite enjoying picking gear for myself, this may be because cut scenes show your character’s face and torso rather more than you would usually see it in MMOs, so you get very aware of what they are wearing.

State of Crafting/ Slicing Nerfs

The patch news this week is that Slicing got an emergency nerf – while people are complaining about this on bboards, I suspect that there may be a later tweak upwards to make it harder to actually lose money on Slicing.

The bboard complaints are not surprising, although it’s interesting to see how many people didn’t see any problems with it. See, a consumer society would be just great if the bank just printed out extra money and gave it to everyone. This would clearly not affect prices, or the willingness of anyone to actually make/do stuff at all. Well.

Truth is, in an MMO, not every crafter enjoys the trading side of the game. Some people are mostly interested in making cool stuff for themselves and their friends – which is something Bioware forgot to figure in. (Maybe they don’t have many crafting nuts in the team.) If Slicing stayed as it was, the people who picked crafting because it was fun (ie. and not as a capitalist moneymaking ploy to bleed the Slicers of their not-very-hard-earned credits) would have ended up being hit very hard. Plus, prices would eventually drift upwards (aside from the crafters who couldn’t be bothered to check the market rate and settled for the default AH prices) and it would become necessary for everyone to have maxed Slicing and be using it all the time if they wanted to actually be able to afford stuff.

The Auction House in SWTOR is far from optimal at the moment. It’s not easy to search unless you know exactly what you want, and the default sales prices are driving me (and presumably other crafters nuts). The default sales price is the price that the system inserts for an item you are selling, you can then edit it manually before placing the item up on the AH for sale. This default price tends to be on the high side for green drops and on the low side for anything else.

So, for example, I know I can sell my implants for upwards of 8k because I’ve done so. But as soon as another crafter is too lazy to check current prices and just sticks some up for the default, that goes down to about 1.2k. I think the default prices prevent the market from finding its own value, which is generally bad for crafters but good for buyers. Although maybe not so good for buyers in the long run because I (and presumably others too) are not going to make things that sell for less than cost.

I never thought I would say this, but this is a game that needs an Auctioneer addon equivalent to help the prices settle and make it easier for crafters to pitch prices at the actual selling rate.

I can’t comment on what the various crafts are like at endgame. But watch out for crafted gear with extra mod/augment slots. Those are produced when a crafter crits, and are likely to be the most desired crafted gear at endgame. I suspect non-critted gear will end up being very cheap because you have to make a few of them until a crit turns up that you can sell for more money  (this is similar to the mastercrafting system in DaoC).

My PUG experiences

PUGs, as in any game, can be good or bad. I’ve had great experiences with PUGs for heroic/ group quests on planets, people being generally cool, willing to explore, and work together. Flashpoint PUGs can be a different matter.

I ran Esseles (the first republic flashpoint) with a PUG on an alt, and it felt like being dragged back into WoW kicking and screaming. The moment we got into the instance, the rest of the group started whining about “press space to get through conversations faster” (it’s the equivalent of gogogo). Someone complained at me rolling greed on an item I couldn’t use, while later rolling need on something they couldn’t use either.

I told them I hadn’t seen the instance before and was planning to watch the full video. They said that was OK, with a hint that I should have mentioned this previously. Since I don’t really care what random people think of me (although these are randoms on my server), I’m not sweating it. But it wasn’t anywhere near as fun as running the flashpoint with a group of friends/ guildies. I wish people would just chill out, accept that some runs will take a few minutes longer, and not harass people they don’t know to rush through faster. It feels like a WoW plague that is spreading, I hope I’m wrong.

On the other hand, planet chat in Tython (Jedi starting zone) on a RP server was worryingly solemn. People were discussing the meaning of justice, and other ethical issues. I don’t know if it is like that all the time, but it was quite cool, and I’ve never seen a general chat quite like it.

[Blizzard] Plan B in patch 4.3, and Diablo 3 trailer

Happy Sunday!

Let’s start with a link to the new D3 trailer that was premiered last night (this is an RPS link since the Spike TV one is inaccessible to people in my region. )

If you want to compare with previous ones:

Maybe I’m jaded from awesome computer game trailers these days. It looks fine. I just want to know the release date.

Of greater interest to prospective players, Blizzard also released some more details around how the auction house/ battlenet/ money thing is going to work. So you’ll be able to ‘charge up’ your battle.net balance via paying money into your account, but you cannot withdraw money from it – this isn’t a bank. Proceeds of a D3 cash auction can either go into the battle.net balance (ie. if you want to use the money to pay future subs or something), or they can be cashed out if you pay a cashout fee. What this basically means is that you cannot store auction profits on battle.net until you have a decent amount and then cash all of it out for a single cashout fee. You’ll have to pay a fee on every individual auction you want to cash out.

Or as Mike@MMOCrunch puts it, quadruple dipping. This rather makes the cash AH  useful only if you either want to ‘earn’ money for your WoW subs/future D3 expansions or intend to sell rather large/ high value items. I suspect gold selling/ buying for Diablo 3 in large amounts will be the dominant model on the real money AH, and people will just use the gold AH for selling most gear.

What does a successful patch look like anyway?

Earlier this week I asked readers how they had found the difficulty of WoW’s latest patch, 4.3. Thanks to everyone who responded! The main impression I get is that people are enjoying the content, so that’s definitely a win for Blizzard.

But still, I see concerns around how difficult or challenging the raids and instances are (or more accurately, around how difficult they aren’t). I see this as very much tied into longevity. Ideally every player would like to spend their time working towards clear short and medium term goals, and seeing actual progress towards those goals with every session. (The goals don’t have to be gear related, maybe you’re making gold, making friends, or learning how to play your class/spec better.) So there’s an idea that “Well yes, this is really fun now. But what happens next? It won’t stay this fun for long …” It’s like a protestant work ethic – we cannot admit that we are having fun with the new content because dammit, we didn’t have to work hard enough. And it feels as though admitting that a patch is fun right now is like saying that it won’t be fun next week, or maybe the week after.

So–  when a player meets their medium term goals quickly, what happens then? Either they make new goals, or take a break until new goals present themselves. Some people are better than others at thinking up interesting personal goals, and some goals appeal more to some people than others (eg. I’m not motivated by achievements, personally.) And after you have played a game for long enough, maybe you’ve run out of potential medium term goals that can still hold your interest. There are only so many times you need to get the Loremaster or Crusader achievements, after all.

Blizzard is aiming to offer heroic modes as future goals for people who complete the content on normal modes, AND a much larger proportion of the player base will complete the content on normal or LFD mode than previously. Will the player base buy it, and will people then want to spend time working on the harder modes? If so, it’s a good model for Blizz. Lots of fun things for everyone to do and see when a new patch drops, as they check out the content on LFR/ normal mode. And then when they have completed that, extra challenge on heroic. Plus the new PvP season, and any other new content/ daily quest Blizzard can drop in (Darkmoon Faire in this case.)

And all that is required for that to work is for people to really care about repeating content they have already seen in normal mode in a harder heroic mode.  Let’s see how that pans out. I’d also have concerns about how LFR will affect turnout to casual raid guilds. Again, if people are motivated by seeing the content, how keen will they be to turn up to weekly raids to see it again in a harder form?

Still, it’s undoubtedly a good deal for players who wanted to see the cool lore stuff from patch 4.3 and be done with it (assuming they don’t care about harder modes) when SWTOR is released.

Updates! LOTRO, CoH, Glitch, SWTOR, and stuff

meand saruman

Most of my gaming time this week (sadly, not enough) has been spent in LOTRO. My impression of Isengard so far is that Turbine have done a good job of providing ‘more of the same.’ That’s not a bad thing per se, it means that the zones feel well designed, the storylines are engaging, the PvE flow is good, and I haven’t seen the servers this busy for a long time. I’m enjoying how the burglar plays, as long as I don’t compare it to any other class. There are a few minor tweaks that improve dps, and the new Isengard skills involve updates to existing skills which make stealth more appealing (can riddle from stealth, get automatic crits from stealth, etc). As a QK burglar, I’m happy enough.

Although there are definitely other classes which are tougher in PvE, what I love about my burglar is that when I die in PvE, I can usually stop and think and try another approach and then succeed. The class has a large toolset. And that’s one of the things I enjoy.

One of the things that works well for Turbine’s storytelling in these zones  is that Middle Earth legitimately has poor communications across the regions (unless you cheat and use a palantir or MMO mail/ chat channels). Also the ring quest is secret and no one is supposed to know much about the rangers. So this means that when you rock up to a village and no one knows who you are, but they see that you look like a seasoned fighter who has come in their time of need, it’s plausible. It also means that you end up feeling like the man/woman with no name, which is actually pretty cool.

I’ve encountered Saruman in an epic storyline (yes, I was expecting someone taller too), and I’m enjoying the swashbuckling look of the Dunland clothing, as modelled on my burglar above. And through the wonders of cosmetic clothing, she can keep looking like a female version of Errol Flynn for as long as I want. Wish I could get those boots iRL.

Turbine have a very cool dev blog about how they develop their epic storylines, recognising that players will want to visit key locations from the books and encounter key characters.

As we design the Epic Story for LOTRO, the biggest consideration is something we call T-Factor. The more Tolkien something feels, the more T-Factor it’s said to have. All the most iconic characters and places in The Lord of the Rings are considered to be the “Biggest T.” In all things, but especially in the Epic Story, we’re aiming for lots and lots of Big T.

I’m a great fan of tea.

City of Heroes

CoH is in full F2P mode now, and my beloved is encouraging me to jump back in and have a go. Because I used to subscribe, my account still has some of the veteran rewards, mostly costume pieces or minor (but quality of life enhancing) abilities. I hear a lot of good things about the F2P revamp and it’s definitely on my list of things to do when I have more time.

Anyone have any feedback on how the game is feeling at the moment?

Glitch

Other people have written about their experiences with Glitch, which is a side scrolling flash-based browser game with zones and crafting and things to collect. I’m struggling to really call it a MMO but I think it probably has to qualify. Lots of players can play simultaneously and communicate with each other, it has zones and quests, and customisable characters.

I hung out in the game for about an hour and found it fun but I’m not sure I feel very compelled to go back. I can understand why people compare Glitch with Facebook games (there is something of Farmville in the point-and-click and you-can-only-collect-cherries-once-per-day), but for me it has more in common with Kingdom of Loathing. And a fairly complex skill tree system that probably has more in common with EVE than anything else I’ve seen.

I will definitely aim to spend more time with Glitch, if only to understand better why some of my friends like it so much. I don’t really find much of interest yet in the virtual world, which probably says more about what I like in MMOs than anything else.

It is free to play and you can spend money to buy credits to customise your character etc etc. I have 3 spare invites so feel free to leave a message if you want one.

SWTOR

Anyone else excited about SWTOR? Among the blogs I read, I sometimes feel as though I’m the only one. I haven’t seen the beta so I’m just basing this on what I’ve read, but really, if you like Bioware’s RPGs and are expecting more of the same with full voice acting, Old Republic setting, sub model and extra MMO-like stuff borrowed heavily from WoW which you may or may not like, and find that appealing I don’t see a reason to pass on it. I’ve said this before but I do expect a LOT of the storytelling in this game, and since that’s one of my great interests I can’t wait.

I know there is a large probability that I will be bored after 3 months, but I now know that this is because I’m /usually/ bored of a new MMO after 3 months. The test for me is whether I want to dip in again after having played at the start and taken a long break.

In my case, given the current workload, I think it may take me longer than 3 months to get to max level anyway.

WoW

In my view, the main issue with WoW is (and maybe has always been) that the devs can’t quite settle on which type of customer/ player they are aiming at. This means that if you find one expansion or patch is absolutely perfect for your playstyle, it’s practically guaranteed that this will change on the next content update. Blizzard really struggle on the idea of providing more of the same.

Over Wrath and Cataclysm, they seem to have been changing tack more and more often, so it’s not surprising if the player base (which usually reacts to changes approximately a year or so after they happen) is feeling restless and uncertain. When I say that the player base has a delayed reaction, I mean that social structures designed for one type of play tend to endure even after the game changes.

This is why raid guilds continue to fall apart. WoW hasn’t really been that holy grail of hardcore raid games for awhile, probably not since TBC. This is because part of the hardcore raid appeal was being able to see content and lore which others didn’t, and hard versions of existing raid instances don’t really fill the same niche.

I actually think that they’re now settling into a new model, and hopefully they’ll stick with it long enough that people can at least decide where they’re at for more than one patch at a time. The new model is: new or returning players can jump in at any patch and easily gear for raiding, raid and instance content available via PUGs to all players, and hard modes for hardcore players. There is a squeezed middle here but as Tobold says, maybe they aren’t the player base you’re looking for. With WoW, you always have to ask: who is this content aimed at?

The new Looking for Raid finder is going to be great for anyone who wants to see the last raid of the expansion (and kill Deathwing) and isn’t in a hardcore raid guild. The LFR version of the raid is going to be easier than normal mode (which is likely to still be pretty hard, if Firelands was anything to go by) and should fill the purpose of getting everyone to see the content.

I don’t know how this will affect raid guilds but I suspect casual raids in particular will be hit hard. If you have the choice of raiding regularly with a casual guild that struggles through the normal modes or hitting up the LFR (which has no raid lock so can be done multiple times per week if you’re desperate to grind it and gear up that way) I think people will tend to drift to LFR unless the social aspect of the regular raids is stellar.

As to why they put in a special legendary weapon and questline just for rogues, I have no clue. I imagine part of the questline will require hardmode raiding, so that narrows the possible user base even more. Having legendaries be rare is fine, but a whole epic questline just for one class still feels like an odd way to go about things to me.

Another thing to note is that the new instances will be dropping gear of equivalent level to normal firelands drops. That probably signals the death of firelands raids once the new patch drops.

EVE

Syncaine thinks it is awesome that the CCP CEO has apologised to EVE players and decided to actually focus on creating content that they want.

I think that if I was playing a sub game where the only new content I’d had for a year was something lame that NO ONE wanted, I’d expect an apology too. And if they’re so bad at listening to the player base (less large than you’d think given the number of players with two or more accounts) that they need grandstanding tactics by players on an egoboo to draw their attention to basic things like this, then why are they running an MMO in the first place?

The nearest equivalent I can think of is that LOTRO had a fallow patch when the devs were working on the unannounced F2P conversion. That was shocking too, but at least people could see that the F2P conversion was actually done in the best interests of keeping the game viable. Unlike a new CPU-eating character generator used only in a single room for each player.

One of the side effects of the rise of the F2P model is that it does make players think about what they expect from a subscription model in a game.

[WoW] So isn’t it time for legendaries to become more accessible?

Latest WoW news is that the Firelands, which is coincidentally the most recent raid, is due for a nerfing before the next patch comes out. And when I say ‘due for a nerfing,’ I mean next week. Also, said patch will include a new legendary weapon along with the next raid – a rogue dagger. (Well, it’s a melee dagger but rogues are the only ones who really use them.)

A more cynical person than myself might think that Blizzard was on a quest to use up all the news cycles up until the end of the year. Between Diablo 3, WoW patches, Blizzcon, and WoW watercooler discussions about how they decide who to nerf, it’s all go all of the time.

I think it’s generally agreed (among bloggers at least) that raid progression in Firelands has been slow. Maybe it’s because of the usual numbers dip due to Summer, maybe it’s down to raid difficulty, but fewer raids than ever have completed the instance on normal mode. Ilovebubbles comes out and says what a lot of people are thinking: that raid instance was overtuned. It’s never been a problem if heroic modes are hard, that’s what they are for. But an average guild of average competence would have been able to butt heads against the last boss a few times (if not down it) in Wrath by the time the next raid instance was released. If a lot of people in average guilds of average competence are saying that they’re struggling to even get 2-3 bosses down in normal, then something isn’t right.

I’m not using average as an insult, just a way to distinguish casual guilds who take their raiding seriously as opposed to what bubbles calls ‘stacks of failpancakes’.  Blizzard nerfing the normal raid hard pre-patch is pretty much an indication that they acknowledge the tuning issue.

All of which makes you wonder just how many people actually achieved the current tier legendary at all. Anecdotally, the one friend I have who is in a hardcore raid guild says that they have been finding it a heavy grind. These guys had no issues getting both the legendaries from Wrath and they’re downing the bosses.

So let’s talk about legendary weapons

Legendary weapons have tended to be rare and sought after in WoW. Shadowmourne, the two handed axe from Icecrown Citadel, was probably one of the more accessible variants – it didn’t require any heroic mode kills. Expensive and time consuming, but accessible to raiders who could clear ICC on normal mode.

The current tier legendary can also be obtained from normal mode raiding, but there’s a difference. Firstly due to the raid locks, each player can only clear Firelands once a week (rather than once in 25 man and once in 10 man) and secondly fewer raids than ever are clearing the raid in the first place. So it would take longer even if you were in a raid that got the place on farm quickly. And if you’re an average raid group that would normally take a few months to clear the place on a regular difficulty – you have pretty much no chance of being able to gather enough of the drops to make the legendary. And once the next patch drops, your players are likely to want to move on to the Deathwing raid and not keep farming Firelands so that one person can have a legendary weapon.

So there’s a point where I ask whether this matters. Legendaries are supposed to be rare, is there a problem if only the top raids can get them? And frankly, in an endgame where it’s harder and harder to get players to raid, I think it does matter. Would it have really mattered if the legendary had been accessible enough that a guild capable of clearing the raid would have a hope of getting one?

I find it hard to see people get their hopes up and then have them dashed by either bad luck with drops, or bad luck with Blizzard dropping a poorly tuned instance on their heads. I’d rather see a decent legendary with neat perks and questlines accrue to average guilds, and then let the hardcore guilds have a way to upgrade it somehow from heroic modes.

Anyhow, apparently the next patch will include a rogue legendary dagger. At which point everyone who doesn’t play a rogue mentally tunes out and stops caring about how accessible it might or might not be. But you have to feel for those players who do play and raid and love their rogues (I think least played class in raids at the moment), to have the offer of a legendary weapon wafted in front of them, but wonder if only the most hardcore raids will likely have a chance to get one.

[WoW] Thoughts on levelling an alt, and poor Tyrande never had a chance

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Silithus was always empty, even back in the day …

I decided to resub to Warcraft for a couple of months after the last patch, I had some time due to the Summer, was curious to see the Firelands, and it’s nice to hang out with my guildies. I don’t expect to stay when the sub is up – it’s been fun but I don’t have the urge to do endgame any more. It may be that WoW will always be the game now for me that I go back to briefly when there is new content.

So one of the things I decided to do was level an alt. There were several low level revamped zones I hadn’t seen, and I was curious to see how the game played these days at lower levels.

So here’s a few notes on my findings, in list form:

  1. Some of the lower level zones are brilliantly well imagined. At least on par with the Cataclysm zones and probably with more engaging storylines and NPCs. You can tell a lot of effort was expended here, I hope people find time to go check it out. My favourite low level zones so far (as horde) are: Darkshore, Southern Barrens, Stonetalon, Thousand Needles, Silverpine + Hillsbrad, Badlands, and the Plaguelands. The higher level Azeroth zones, not so much.
  2. The levelling curve is off in strange and interesting ways, you can outlevel some zones by questing even without any heirloom gear or guild perks. Don’t expect to be able to keep up with crafting easily either, you’ll need to either spend extra time farming or buy materials from the auction house because the streamlined crafting that applies post-Cataclysm hasn’t been retroactively fitted to lower level crafting. ie. If you’re new, stick with gathering skills and expect to do a few extra circuits of some zones to keep them roughly up to where you are.
  3. The Goblin starting area is far better executed than the Worgen one (which is very on rails, even for WoW). Plus Worgen actually lose their starter zone to the enemy at the end so you’ll never see it again. Goblins lose theirs too, but get a shiny new capital city to explore and a whole level 12-20 zone with fun new goblinish quests.  Worgen get told to go help the night elves, “… and by the way you are now living in a tree.”
  4. Instance groups are much the same as ever, most are fine. The trend is for players to communicate less and less though. It seems far more likely for dps to go nuts pulling extra packs or for tanks not to wait for healers to drink. My suspicion is that the recent threat changes will eventually mean that there are more tanks and fewer healers – larger pulls without any extra survivability means more healing. The big problem with dps pulling unexpectedly is not the size of the pulls but that people often aren’t aware of any trash special abilities (eg. silence or fear) or reasons why you might not want to just grab everything in sight.
  5. Priests are fun, and Discipline is great. It’s a nice mix of situational buffs, heals, instants, group heals, and powerful single target heals.
  6. As a healer, you can pretty much get instant queues in Outland. I did a couple of quests to upgrade gear but other than that I’ve been sitting in Shattrath. Maybe this is the way of the future – sitting in a city and waiting for your instance/ PvP queue to come up – but I loved the world areas, it’s just that I have already spent years wandering around them.
  7. I’m glad I was resubbed for a few weeks before our guild meet. It’s great to meet people in real life who you know online and it gave me a chance to meet some of the guys who had been more active after I left.

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I had forgotten how cool the sky was in Outland …

We forget that Night Elves are supposed to be matriarchal

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Blizzard have been posting a series of short stories about the WoW faction leaders on their website. They’ve been fun.  (For my money, the Goblin one has been the best so far.) The latest in the series is about Tyrande, the Night Elf priestess who is also her faction leader, technically at least.

It has been controversial because the focus of the story is equally on Malfurion (her husband) who has also been taking a major role in game in the Firelands story and dailies. You might be excused for thinking that he was the important one and she was just arm candy. The writing is fine, but it would have been nice to have read about the badass female character as she was portrayed pre-WoW (or at least about why she changed and possibly even grew as a character).

I thought it was amusing then when seeing Tyrande and Malfurion together in game, as per the screenie, to see how much larger he is in person. He’s almost twice her size, which is a trick used in WoW to indicate that an NPC is a) more important and b) likely to be the target of a raid.

Still, the reason Night Elf society was matriarchal was because so many of the male druids were away (for thousands of years) in the Emerald Dream, so now that they have returned, there’s no reason not to switch back. It’s just a shame that this wasn’t reflected in the story, even just a little.

[WoW] Tanking Changes

Ghostcrawler announced some design changes around the threat mechanics via a forum/ blog post today. Basically tanks will be getting an automatic 200% treat increase next patch. It’s mostly due to dps who don’t like having to hold back in instances when they get a lower geared tank. This plays into the issue I was discussing a couple of days ago about there being some barriers to people picking up tanking for the first time.

The threat change won’t make any difference to how tanks play, since they usually go for their best threat rotation anyway. Other proposed changes for more DK-like survivability active cooldowns sound interesting, but are likely to make the tanking classes play more and more similarly.

But there’s an interesting thread running through the post and it’s to do with threat dump abilities (ie. feign death, soul shatter, cower, etc.)

It’s not fun for the Feral druid to stop using special attacks in order to avoid pulling aggro. It’s fun to use Feint at the right time to avoid dying, but it’s not fun for Feint to be part of your rotational cooldown.

I had thought feral druids had a Feint ability of their own, why would it be fun for rogues to use it but not for cat druids? (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen either a rogue or a feral using an aggro dump, but besides that.)

We like abilities like Misdirect. It’s fun as a hunter to help the tank control targets. We are less enamored of Cower, which is just an ability used often to suppress threat. We like that the mage might have to use Ice Block, Frost Nova, or even Mirror Image to avoid danger. We don’t like the mage having to worry about constantly creeping up on the tank’s threat levels.

This is where I get confused, because several of the ranged dps classes have aggro dumps, as well as two of the melee. If it’s bad for one class to have to use that ability, why is it OK for the others?

Anyway, regardless of what you think of threat and the proposed tanking changes, the big question is why this was considered to be so important that it’s being changed mid-expansion. My guess is that instance tanking just isn’t keeping up with strong AE dps such as mages and frost death knights and this is a quick fix.

But it will take some of the teamwork out of instance play, having to adapt to what the tank was doing and watch your threat will become a playstyle of the past.

Random Wow Thoughts: Draenei vs Worgen females, shortage of tanks

Earlier this week I referred to a survey about the relative popularity of different class/ gender combos among WoW players. One of the things that came out of the survey is that Draenei are the race where players are most likely to pick a female character. And a commenter noted that worgen females (despite being the most recent race added to the Alliance side) were perceived as being a lot less attractive.

So I thought I’d show some newish alts side by side.

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I am also not fond of how the worgen females look in play, but if you look at the still screenshots they look mostly fine. I think the worgens have way too large boobs – it may be appealing to the furry fans but I find it really detracts from the lean, mean, feral killing machine look. There is also an uncanny element of sticking a non-human face on top of a human(ish) body, which doesn’t happen so much with the male worgen who have a much more feral, animalistic stance.

The draenei on the other hand has a beautiful face but her posture, with the hugely arched spine, looks uncomfortably weird (or more likely, designed to have her arse stick out as much as possible). It’s fine for an alien race to look weird but I find this very off-putting.

So how is that shortage of tanks thing going?

There is still a deep shortage of tanks in WoW, and this time around we’re seeing it in the raid guilds as well as the 5 mans. I think the extra perk reward helped the numbers in the short term, but the main draw to playing a tank/ healer in random instances is still the shorter queue.

I also notice increasingly that players in my guild who don’t play a tank are very reluctant to consider tanking on a new alt. Somewhere along the line, it feels as though the barrier to learning the role became overwhelming for people. So as the regular tanks want a break or want to level non tanking alts, guild groups become rarer. I’m not sure how typical we are, but I’ll just throw it out there as an example. It has the effect that I’m way more popular with guildies when I tank, even though it’s not my preferred role at the moment. Although they also have an increased interest in ranked battlegrounds at the moment, perhaps because you don’t have to wait for a tank.

On the forums, someone suggested making dungeons that don’t require tanks or allowing a pet/ NPC tank to fill out the instance group. If this happened, there would genuinely be no point in tanking unless you really love it, especially if the NPC tank was good. Plus few PUG players would put up with an inexperienced tank who is learning the role if they could just summon a pet to do it. The same would apply to healing. (And probably to dps too – pets already don’t break crowd control which puts them ahead of the game really.)

Zarhym also said:

That said, you do raise some good points about offering challenging, rewarding content to players which doesn’t rely solely on players waiting for a specific class role which is in high demand across the boards. In our minds, there’s potentially something missing between daily quests and dungeons, from a content/progression perspective. To that end, we’re exploring some options for the future.

This hints at some kind of solo/ skirmish content in the works (I wondered why it had taken Blizzard so long to steal the skirmish idea from LOTRO.)

One of the other interesting comments in that thread was from someone who used to tank/ heal in TBC and Wrath but finds them both too difficult/ stressful now. And yes, it sucks that instances can be fairly chilled and relaxing if you roll in as dps whereas tanks and healers have a fairly stressful time of it (not so much now that people are getting overgeared but the same idea holds.)

 i’d rather half !@# an instance as dps than actually have to focus on being a good player.

Rumours of a Pandaren Based WoW Expansion (are greatly exaggerated)

Rumours sprang up earlier that the next WoW expansion will be centred on the fluffy race of panda people and their mysterious homeland (which cunningly doesn’t seem to fit on regular maps of Azeroth so that’s some clever island hiding right there.) This was based in Blizzard having taken out a trademark for the name, “Mists of Pandaria.”

Far be it from me to doubt Boub’s research but I won’t be surprised if this turns out to be either a hoax or Blizzard are moving away from the large 2-yearly expansion model. Two reasons for this:

  1. Pandaren are pretty much a joke race. That’s not a showstopper in itself, lore can be written. But there doesn’t seem enough meat there to justify a whole expansion even if they throw in an entire east asian fantasy themed continent.
  2. WoW is going to face some stiff competition in the AAA MMO field over the next year, with SWTOR, GW2, Diablo 3 (we might as well call it a quasi-MMO now), and smaller MMOs like Prime, not to mention whatever Blizzard has up its sleeve with Titan. Wrath and Cataclysm were both fairly epic; are they really going to go with the fluffy pandas for their next outing?