Friday, January 30, 2009

The Good Old Days (Part One)

Something has changed in the World of Warcraft. It is a change that is not for the better.

In my first weeks in World of Warcraft I was running Deadmines and never got booted from a group. I was obviously new. I was obviously bad at my class. In one run I "needed" on everything that dropped. At the end of that run one of the guys asked my to give him some green healing pants that my warrior had "needed". Fortunately I'm curteous and gave them over without question. I didn't even know what they were for. I thought I was just having a really good run with all of my winnings.

In my first Ulduman run I received my first tanking lessons from a priest. I was wielding my high damage two-hander and the priest asked if I had a sword and board. I was like, "Uh, what?"

The healer calmly explained to me that I was the only one in the group capable of tanking and that I needed a sword and shield. I smartly replied, "But I do more damage with my two-hander and can't wear a shield with it."

She calmly explained nuances of tanking.

So I began doing far less damage with the sword and shield, just as I had predicted, and we wiped again. The healer then told me I needed to taunt the boss. "But taunt dosen't do anything but make the boss focus on me, he'll hit me."

I don't know how long that run took, but I didn't get booted and no one left.

My first 5-man run in Utguard Keep was taking too long and we wiped twice on the first boss and everyone left the group. I think I did ok tanking for the first time with all the new character abilities and no one said I sucked. The main complaint was that it was taking too long.

I am all for solo content, but by making solo content so swift and easy, and then aligning the group content to also be swift and easy, Blizzard has created an environment of instant gratification. If players are not rewarded instantly then they drop from group.

Give me a group of people who actually want to play the game please. I'm not asking for things to be hardcore, but the instant gratification is making the player base spoiled. I wish I could be part of the solution but I've proven to myself that I am actually part of the problem and can be as spoiled as the rest of them.

The game just wasn't like this in the past. Sure there have always been ninjas and guild thieves, but the average player was not spoiled.

Retiring a Warrior

About two and a half years. That is how long I have been playing World of Warcraft.

Up until a few weeks ago my main has been my first character, a warrior. That warrior is now unofficially retired. It is too bad that most of my fun BOP items are attached to that character. Rare pets, Goblin Gumbo, Picnic Basket, TCG tabards, Brewfest and Summer garments, Headless Horseman helm...etc, I am going to miss those items for a while.

I have not only chosen a new character, but I am also playing on a new server with some real life friends. Most of us have mains on other servers but decided to get together. At least one of those guys is still raiding on our old server, I sometimes jump on my old main and chat with him when I get bored on the new server.

While I will miss my main's BOP items and some of the friends I've made on the old Day One server, I am happy as a peach with my current main, a Night Elf hunter.

The problem with my warrior is that I never really played her well. I ran across a signature quote on the World of Warcraft forums about a year ago that sums things up very well. I don't remember the exact words but it goes something like this: In all of the RPG games I have ever played, warriors have always been the best fighters and defenders, who knew that Blizzard would fix that?

Granted, Wrath of the Lich King has made warriors far more playable, but I feel that up until now I've been thoroughly abused. For over two years I stood by and tried to survive the onslaught of a single mob while other classes danced around me while burning down scores of mobs. By the time I made it to level 70 I finally realized that a different set of gear would help my dps but by then I had to rely on groups. At that point you only get to roll on your current spec or you get barbequed for ninjaing. I remember trying to get into a group for Shadow Lab once, there was gear in there that I needed. The group invited me and let me run all the way there (not sure why they didn't bother to summon me) and when I got there they dropped me from group because I didn't have enough blue gear.

Eventually I did get geared up and found myself in a raid guild. It was fun but it was a lot of work for me due to the completely different playstyle I had to learn. The jump from solo/5-mans to raid is a long one. Fortunately I'm not afraid to ask noob questions and with time I learned to tank properly. They were a nice bunch of guildies.

I never got over the pain of being a warrior though. Farming was an atrocious chore. I finally got some arena weapons with honor points and farming became much easier. Wrath of the Lich King fixed that by only allowing top rated teams access to arena weapons. And with all of the new changes I had to learn how to tank all over again.

No thank you.

So, I've taken on the bane of Warcraft characters and I don't even care. It's easy to play, easy to level. I can take on 3-4 mobs at my level or single mobs 4-6 levels over me. Why on earth would I WANT to go back to a warrior?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

BOP World Drops

Old news, yes. But for those who missed it during the Burning Crusade, or for entirely new players, here is a quick run-down.

From time to time a mob will drop an item that was unexpected. It could be of any quality. The auction house is full of these random world drops. However, in The Burning Crusade, Blizzard decided that some of these random world drops should be Bind on Pickup. A BOP item cannot be traded or sold to auction. If a nice epic two-hand tanking sword drops for a mage, too bad, he is not going to be giving it to his friend, or passing it to an alt.

An additional feature of the BOP world drops that I didn't realize until tonight, is that (at least for the one I found) you can not even sell them to a vendor.

All in all, if you can't use it, you have to delete it from your inventory. A BOP world drop is an item of no worth whatsoever, unless you can use it.

In my case, I found a jewelcrafting pattern. Unfortunately my character is a leather worker and skinner. I thought I might pass it on to a guild member, but it was BOP. Then I thought I could at least sell it to a vendor, but no, wrong again. I was forced to delete it.

I told a guild mate that there is no good reason for Blizzard to implement this feature except to make the players angry.

BOP world drops are an exercise in failure.

Blizzard, please stop fixing things that are not broken.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blizzard Losing Money?

Tobold asks if Blizzard might be tightening its financial belt. He suggests that this may be why Lich King appears to be suffering over population and server crashes and that this could also be the answer to why no real new raids were implemented at the launch of the expansion.

From my limited real world experience, this could actually be the truth. I have experienced the tendency of a profitable company that refuses to invest new money into the projects (or people) that made the company successful. In other words, the more money a company makes, the less it wants to spend.

I am not sure that this is the case with Blizzard, but the evidence does suggest the trend. Advertisements on the company forums, less raid content, long delays on the first "small" bug-fix patch, over-populated servers, over-populated instances...the list goes on.

Regarding the population issues, one would think that more people would be a good thing, yet Blizzard seems to be attacking the issue as though it is a problem for them. When Burning Crusade experienced the same issues at its launch, Blizzard added new hardware to the servers to increase their population loads. They still added new servers later on when the world populations continued to increase. Why Blizzard appears to be dragging their tails this time is a mystery and only adds weight to Tolbold's speculations.

The idea that the company itself might be financially unstable seems rather ridiculous to me, however. Starcraft and Diablo II individualy brought in enough cash over the years to cover the development of new sequals of their own, without the need the World of Warcraft cash cow. Now, whether or not Blizzard properly utilized that cash is another question entirely. Even if those games were unable to support their own sequals, World of Warcraft brings in enough money each month to produce a fully developed AAA MMO.

No, I do not believe for a moment that Blizzard is strapped for cash. Chances are they have simply gotten greedy and are attempting to cut costs to appease the shareholder's demands for ever-increasing salaries. Shareholders are a vicious species of Man. They are more than willing to see people go jobless rather than not see an increase in their profit. And that is the crux of many multi-million dollar entities.

The first two years of World of Warcraft were very glamorous for everybody involved. But once the Shareholders begin to demand 50% increases to profits year-after-year, they will force the managing personel to cut everything in sight in order to make that profit. Shareholders are not satisfied with a steady or flat income, they are always seeking more than the last paycheck.

If there is a financial crisis of any sort at Blizzard, look to the vampiric shareholders.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Aesthetic Values

World of Warcraft is a beautiful game. While most MMOs appear to consist of hues of drab greens, grays, and browns, World of Warcraft is vibrant.

Many MMOs have a specific set of gear for each class for a range of levels. The numbers on each item can change, but the artwork remains the same until a certain level is reached. This provides very limited options for character aesthetics.

World of Warcraft offers a wide variety of artwork in its gear line up. The options compress somewhat at end game level caps, but there is still far more variety to be found than in most MMOs.

However, things could still be better. There could be more aesthetic options within the game.

I have a level 42 hunter. This hunter's pet is a wolf. It is the first pet my hunter chose and I have grown accustomed to it. This wolf is not the best pet in the game. If I wanted to raid with this hunter, I would not be allowed to bring the wolf to the raid with me. This is because there are only a handful of pets that raid guilds consider worthy of a raid. I would have to go out into the game world and tame a beast that I might not otherwise care to bother with. This is a good example of where the aesthetics in World of Warcraft seem to break down. I should be able to choose from a wide variety of pets, all with the same stats, so that I might be able to stand out a little better from other hunters in the end game raids. I am not asking to be able to "carry" more hunter pets, but for there to be more variety of raid worthy pets that raid leaders will actually allow.

Sometimes, I just think it would be nice if the gear and pets in the game were more about aesthetics than stats. There is so much art that is simply vendor trashed.

I understand that the developers have a limited amount of time to design what we have. In order to give players more asthetics options, they would have to give less attention to other content.

Money well spent?

With all of Blizzard's billions of dollars they make every year with World of Warcraft, sometimes I wonder if they are really doing all they can.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Changes to Mining

From the current patch notes:

  • Mining veins and deposits no longer require multiple hits to receive all the ore. Players will receive around the same amount of ore, stone, and gems they would have received from multiple hits.
I am not a fan of this.

At first glance it is just more of Blizzard's current trend of homogenizing everything in the game. I understand that there were some complaints:

"Why do I have to spend 2-10 times as long at a mineral vein than a flower?"

The quick answer would be that mining is a more physical process than picking flowers.

All "reality" issues of this fantasy game aside, I have to point out some things from perspective.

Before I bought my epic flier, it was a chore to mine. It was painful to watch people drop from the sky and tag "my" vein while I was still trying to kill the mine's "body guard(s). I could not fly past them, but at least I was not racing with the thieves either. I was happy to remind myself that his epic flier was taking him far away from me. I would be able to pick up ore that might spawn behind him.

The multiple strikes allowed me a chance to retake "my" vein on occasion. It also slowed the epic flying thieves just a little so that they didn't just swoosh up behind me quite as quickly.

When I finally did get my epic flier, I sometimes found myself racing with other miners. The multiple strikes ensured that we would at least be held up long enough to allow the other miner to get some ore along the same path.

The above change however means that mining will be far more competitive than it already is. Near instant ore gathering will only allow the scrupulous to be more so. Are you fighting the mob guarding the ore? Awesome! Now I can snatch it up in a single strike then scoot on over to the next 2-4 veins while you are still fighting.

Come on, Blizzard. You've already made the game faster than it needs to be for your near 12 million players. You've homogenized far too much. Now you're attempts to speed up the game further are only making things more difficult.

Stop "fixing" things that aren't broken.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A look at WoWJutsu.

In my short career as a raider, my guild cleared Karazhan and downed Gruul and the first three bosses in Zul'aman. We also eventually took down Magtheridon and Void Reaver.

While doing these raids, I was watching WoWJutsu. I saw our guild make our first appearence on the top 50 list and rise up to #34 or so.

Essentially, I considered us a scrub guild, but it was enough to get us in the top 50 on the server. Yet, there are hundreds of "raiding" guilds on each server.

It makes me wonder. If I thought we were bad, just how bad are these other guilds?

My main role was an off-tank. Consider that most guilds have two-four tanks, and my guild made it to #34 or so, then that makes me one of the "better" tanks on our server. Yet I feel as though I'm mediocre at best. Maybe it's just that all the other good tanks are stuck in guilds that are worse than we were. Maybe if I had to go toe-to-toe with most of tanks in those "lower" guilds, I might had my face handed to me. Maybe I was just lucky to be raiding with some nice people willing to put up with me. It's hard to tell. I certainly wasn't much good to them when I started, but did get much better as we pushed.

Just how accurate are the WoWJutsu numbers? Do they really tell the whole story? Maybe it's good enough in spite of some of the missing information.

All I know is that we were placed among the top guilds on our server and we barely progressed past Karazhan. Maybe our server just sucked.

Numbers and complaints.

Here are some numbers to chew on. You've probably seen them before, but here they are anyway.

$15.00 per month
10,000,000 subscriptions
=$150,000,000 per month

$150,000,000 per month
12 months
=$1,800,000,000 per year

That is a nice chunk of change. And it is low. I used the nice round number of 10mil subscribers rather than the current 11.5mil.

Here is an article from 2006 that estimates the average development cost of a platform game is approx. $20mil.

Here is an article that shows Grand Theft Auto 4 cost over $100mil to develop, making it the highest costing game ever.

Here, Tobold shows World of Warcraft may have cost from $25mil to $100 to develop.

So, let's put these numbers into some perspective. World of Warcraft currently makes enough money to develop a block buster MMO every month of the year. Now, I'm not saying that the current team(s) involved with World of Warcraft should be making these other games. There is an overhead cost to keep World of Warcraft running and evolving as it does, those programers and artists are not cheap to keep around. But, World of Warcraft does make enough money, every month, to start a new project, with new teams of artists and programmers and to see the project through to completion.

Every month.

It just boggles the mind.

So, where is all the content?

Currently it feels as though the more people play, the less of a game we get. Consider the recycling of gear and Naxxramas. Sure, we WANT to see the old instances get a facelift, but not at the expense of new content. Sure, we WANT to have more epic items available to us, but not at the expense of uniquness. We now have raid content that anyone can do, and everyone IS doing it. That's great for scrubs like myself whose last guild only downed two bosses outside of Karazhan, but I don't feel like I have anything to really work toward now.

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like we have less new content now than before, but World of Warcraft is making more money than ever.

The future of WoW?

I was doing some reading and came across and old discussion from April 2008 about the future of World of Warcraft after the Lich King. Someone pointed out that there are three Old Gods left and a couple of other characters. He predicted that there would be three more expansions and (assuming an 18 month release cycle) then it would be the year 2013 and World of Warcraft would be nine years old and all of the major story villians would have been killed off.

End of story.

End of World of Warcraft.

I think that this is a very good prediction.

However, I don't believe that World of Warcraft is going to end this way. I believe that the game will only die of old age and not for lack of story or players. There may come a time when huge epic expansions are set aside for more aesthetic things. It is possible that expansions might just stop being produced eventually. Servers might end up being merged as the population decreases. But I don't think the game is going to shut down for at least a decade a more.

Consider that the game is constantly being tweaked so that knew computer systems can take advantage of new technology but also the developers do everything they can to ensure that older computers can run smoothly as well. I imagine that in its current state, World of Warcraft could be played smoothly on my computer for at least another five years. I have room to add a second video card and two more ram sticks. Previously, my computers simply didn't have room for upgrades. For players who have their computer packed with all it can hold, they can only get new stuff, not more. My $300 video card will cost only about $50-$100 in five years. It'll be difficult to find a matching card for my extra slot, but not impossible.

My point is that, the current technology alone is enough to sustain World of Warcraft for at least another five years. By then they will likely have tweaked the game some more for those future expansions.

World of Warcraft has a particular art style that works well with low resolutions. But it also takes advantage of current technology and those "simple" graphics can really shine.

Also, consider the historic record of Blizzard. Diablo II is six years old and still comes up in the top ten most played PC games.

No. The player base may begin to shrink some day, but most games tend to shrink from a tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. World of Warcraft is going to have to shrink from 12 million or more.

This game is here to stay.

On phasing vs. meaningful impact on the environment

Ixobelle and Tobold are discussing epic quest chains and phasing in Wrath of the Lich King.

Phasing appears to have a mixed reaction. In World of Warcraft, phasing allows players to interact more uniquely with the game environment without inconvienencing others. This makes for a fun experience. However, there are noticeable quirks that can leave much to be desired.

One issue is that players who are not at the same point of a phase quest cannot see each other in the game until everyone in the area has completed the quest(s).

The other issue, however, might a bit more troublesome, depending on how seriously you take World of Warcraft. Ixobelle used a tree as a good example. If you were to cut down a tree while phased, no one else can see it happen or the end result of the action. The discussion then moves into something I find very interesting. The world changes around you in real life every day but you generally have nothing to do with it. Someone builds roads and bridges, seasons change, forests burn...

World of Warcraft has a few environmental cycles such as weather (rain, fog) and night/day and a some events such as the fair and holiday activities, but that's about it. I understand that warcraft envrionments are very moody so it might be very difficult for them to implement proper seasons in all of their zones, but it would be very cool if they did. How about trees that "go up in flames" from time to time from lightning strikes in a thunder storm. Mudslides or avalanches. Quakes that bring down city walls and we get to see workers putting them back together.

Some players might say "No, we'd rather the developers put their time into adding more general content such as instances and gear or new battlegrounds and races or classes." Their argument is sound, but I think the world would be much cooler with some more randomized events.

But what does this have to do with phasing?

What if when the lightning strikes the tree, you have the option of putting out the fire? What if you could help put the wall back together after the earthquake? What if you could pick up new skills or minor professions that allow you to repair decaying infrastructure such as fences and lights along roads, or help sick animals in the wild, or clean up environmental hazards in rivers and lakes...these are things that could be seen to evolve into opportunities that players could watch.

Let's say you're running along the road and you see an old rickety fence falling apart (not the entire fence following the road, there would be "spawn points" so other players can do the same). Check your skills to see if you have the right level to fix it. Gather some supplies and get to work. Now you have a brand new fence. Maybe it only lasts for a few hours, or maybe a few days, but other players get to see your handy work.

Rewards might consist of fluff gear such as cover-alls or toolboxes to carry or other tools. Maybe some titles. Certainly achievements would involved.

The point is that having the opportunity to make an impression on the game world is possible without hindering other players and their goals. Yes, the developers might have to take time away from the implementation of new classes and races and other stuff, but it sure would be cool.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New to PVP

So, my buddies and I have decided to role alts and make a PVP guild. For the most part, most of us are PVE only. I was rather nervous about spending a lot of time on a PVP server, having read the horror stories that can result from those realms. I have no desire to be corpse camped. I also don't care to be humuliated at every turn or have my quest mobs ganked. What happens when we are ready for raiding? On PVE servers you set a time and you go. On a PVP server you set a time and plan for the opposing faction to make your entrance into the instance a chore. I just want to play the game, not compete for every aspect of it.

Still, these are my real life freinds so I roled a PVP toon.

Yesterday my PVP hunter dinged level 28. I've been ganked twice but also returned the favor once and also snatched up the Make Love Not Warcraft achievement when I came across a corpse in the road that had not released.

At level 25 I went head-to-head with a 32 warrior on three seperate occasions. All three times I almost took him down. The first round I made him pop retaliation and it made me giggle because that is my panic button in PVE. Now, I consider myself to be a mediocre player at best, so I have to assume that this level 32 warrior wast just bad. If we had been on an equal footing he would have lost every one of those meetings. I've been skimping on my training to save money for a mount at level 30. I have no traps, no disengage, no wing clip...I am completely gimped. My gear at level 25 was made up of level 8-15 green and white items. I say again, this warrior must have simply been bad. Whenever we encountered each other his health fell to below 1/3 before he could kill me. Obviously, he was able to get to me. What if I had my freezing trap and wing clip?

Anyway, I seem to be enjoying my current PVP experience. I hope to continue doing so.

The failure of World of Warcraft.

I have only played World of Warcraft for about 2.5 years. When I purchased my copy, the box had a shiny gold sticker that declared I was about to embark on a journey with 6.5 million other players.

A similar sticker today would read 11.5 million players.

Blizzard has been criticized for abysmally slow expansion releases for the World of Warcraft. Having only released two expansions in the past four years, Blizzard really does not have an argument, but they do argue that the slow releases are to ensure high quality product to keep World of Warcraft on top.

Other well-known (and somewhat tired) criticisms include: too much PVP, too much PVE, too many epics, lack-luster legendary loot experiences, too easy, too gear oriented, corporate greed...etc.

All of these complaints have led to an odd prediction for World of Warcraft.

Doomsayers declare that World of Warcraft is going to fail because of all of those complaints. Subscriptions are going to stop increasing and then the development staff will be cut as the numbers decline. This will lead to the inevitable shut-down of the World of Warcraft. The most popular MMORPG is doomed to failure.

No. World of Warcraft will never be a failure. Yes, it will someday be shut down. The shut-down will not be for lack of accomplishments but rather because the game's technology will one day simply be too old for most gamers to bother with.

Blizzard has already begun the process of creating a more advanced MMO in the form of the company's mysterious fourth project. Job openings seen on the Blizzard pages include next generation technology knowledge. This next-gen MMO is not in response to a failing World of Warcraft. It is in response to the obvious eventual progression of technology. Or maybe Blizzard simply felt like making another MMO since their current one is such a blast. Blizzard has also made assurances that the upcoming MMO will not be a World of Warcraft sequel and in fact, they intend for it to be a completely new product not based on any of their current franchises.

No, World of Warcraft will never be listed among the many failures in the genre. Sure, some dorks will be mad that they didn't get what they wanted out of the game and therefore it was failure enough for them, but in the grand scheme of things, it can never be considered a failure.

World of Warcraft will die of old age before it could ever die of failure. And considering the longevity of Runescape, who can honestly predict the future of World of Warcraft?