Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Combat animations

Watching the Darkfall video I realized that what I liked the least about it was how the characters moved in combat. Darkfall is a real time action combat based MMORPG, and the characters move accordingly: fast movements, strafing, circling, the whole deal of typical FPS movements. Which looks *extremely* silly on knights in heavy plate armor. I never tried wearing a real plate armor, but I'm pretty sure that a knight wearing 40 kg of heavy metal didn't strafe and jump around.

The other extreme is classic PvE MMORPG combat, where there is little need to move at all, at least not in soloing. I remember playing games like Anarchy Online, where your weapon was some sort of futuristic gun, and combat consisted of you standing toe to toe with an NPC mob, with you and your enemy firing huge laser guns at each other from very close range for one or two minutes, without moving. Needless to say that this didn't look like realistic combat either.

One of the reasons that I don't like WoW PvP is that I always end up fighting some nervous youngster who is trying all this strafing and jumping nonsense around me. I don't believe that in a real swordfight it would be possible to run around somebody and stab him in the back. In a pen & paper combat system like D&D, you have a "zone of control", and if the enemy tries to move around in that zone, you get free hits on him. That is realistic, because if somebody is attacking you with a sword, you don't really have time to do much fancy footwork.

I can see how a MMORPG combat system in which you had to react more in real time could be popular. But *not* by allowing people to move around at full run speed in combat, without any penalties. The combat in Auto Assault wasn't bad, because trying to race after another car while keeping it in your arc of fire was both fun and feeling realistic. But that only works for shooting games, not for melee combat games. If I would design a real time melee combat system, I would dramatically slow down movement speed whenever you are in combat mode, but allow the opponents to click high, mid, or low on their enemies, and allow targeted defensive moves as well as attacks. Predicting, or reacting very quickly to what you see your opponent doing would be rewarded. See an opening, hit it. Think your opponent will swing high, raise your shield. And so on.

The standard MMORPG auto-combat with special attacks thrown in got better with time, but it is getting a bit stale by now. Special move combos, like the renkai chains of FFXI or the less good heroic opportunities of EQ2 are one way to make MMORPG combat more interesting, but there could be better ways. And ideally a game should have classes which click more in combat, and others which click less, to appeal to the different tastes. That is something that WoW does well, a rogue mashes a lot more buttons per combat than a warrior, for example. Just going back to a Diablo-style click-fest combat is not an improvement. If a MMORPG combat doesn't *look* real, chances are that it isn't much fun in the first place.

The last sedan?

A month ago I ordered a new car, which I'll get in about 2 months. First time in my life I buy a "new" car, so for the first time I could really choose things like color and form. The car I'm buying is a Toyota Corolla sedan, which will look like this:Just that mine will be in electric blue, as the silver look is a bit too boring for me. :)

So with a newly acquired awareness for cars I looked around me in the last month, and found that there aren't all that many sedan style cars left in Europe. Basically only the high end cars like Audi, BMW or Mercedes still have mainly sedan models. Everybody else is driving hatchbacks. The middle class cars like the Toyota Corolla are available in both shapes, the hatchback looking like this:With the hatchback model definitely being more popular. But I didn't even make a conscious decision about this, I just went for the sedan by instinct. For me "a car" has sedan shape, with a trunk clearly separated from the passenger cabin. If the trunk is just an extension of the passenger cabin, and when you open the trunk you actually swivel the whole back side of the car, including the window, it feels more like a utility vehicle to me.

I guess that makes me old-fashioned. Or I'm too much influenced by American culture, where nearly all the cars are sedan shaped, and hatchbacks are rare, unless you count SUVs as hatchbacks. It seems obvious that at equal car lenght, the hatchback has more space in the back than the sedan, which explains it's attraction to Europeans. Europeans don't buy SUVs, because we pay $7 per gallon for petrol over here, which makes buying a gas guzzler a really bad idea.

I just wonder if there is any reason, besides aesthetics, to buy a sedan. I still hope to find a web site explaining how sedans are more aerodynamic and thus use less fuel. :) Or something like that.

Until then I'll just have the memory of a Lada advertisement for comfort, for which I was unable to find a photo on the web. It just showed three bricks, one flat on top of the other two so it had the basic shape of a sedan, with a slogan saying: "Lada. There are shapes you can't improve upon."

Monday, February 27, 2006


A guy with the interesting name of Tasos Flambouras (the name turns out to be Greek, and not some fantasy character) sent me an e-mail. He is Associate Producer for the MMORPG Darkfall, and asked me to spread the news that the first Darkfall gameplay video is available. Which I am herewith doing.

Clever strategy, finding game blogs on Google and sending the bloggers such an e-mail. Makes the blogger instantly feel flattered to be recognized as somebody influencing the opinions of others, thus making sure the news gets posted. Next step: Send out preferential beta-invitations to bloggers. *hint* *hint* :)

I must admit I don't know much about the game Darkfall. The video and the features page reveal that the game has a good-looking graphics engine, and is a combination of real-time combat with MMORPG elements. The setting seems to be medieval, with real-time PvP battles as a main attraction. Personally I'm not tempted, I'm too slow for twitchy combat, and I don't especially like PvP. But I know that I'm a minority in these respects, so if Darkfall manages to be the first MMORPG with good real-time combat action, it could be a success.

Darkfall is currently in "Clan beta", with a beta signup for individual players coming soon.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

WoW Journal - 27-February-2006

The advantage of having two characters of high level is the added flexibility. This weekend I did a wide range of activities, playing both Kyroc and Raslebol. Kyroc made level 58, but is already close to 59. And I have problems deciding whether to do Silithus or the Plaguelands on the final stretch to 60.

The most fun activities this weekend were the 5-man expeditions with the guild. One with Kyroc to Scholomance, one with Raslebol to Stratholme (living side). As long as you are with guild mates, and everybody understands that wipes happen, these places are the best. Challenging, interesting, and teaching you a lot on how to play your class. If you mess up, you usually wipe.

For Scholomance my guild first got together to kill Araj in the ruins of Andorhal, to get the key for several guild members, including Kyroc. Then we went into Scholo with a 5-man group, fighting our way to the viewing room. We didn't need to kill Rattlegore, as somebody already had the viewing room key from another expedition. So we killed Ras Frostwhisper with ease, then the Butcher for the Scholo quest series with a bit more difficulty, and then the undead Barov guy for the last deed of the Barov family fortune wiped us. The interesting thing was that although mobs had respawned in the first part of the dungeon, you can bypass them by jumping off the bridge in the first room, which helped with wipe recovery. We finally got the deed by having the fighter lead the undead Barov on a merry chase, while the other group members grabbed the deed. We then tried to fight our way backwards, from the room below the bridge to the room which leads to Janice and Rattlegore. But pulling from down there turned out to not work, the way the monsters are placed, if you pull from below you pull half the room and wipe quickly. So we went out, and decided to do the follow-up on the Barov family fortune instead. Turned out you can't do that one with just 5 people, as it is a PvP raid 62 elite quest. I'll try another day with a raid group, I'd really like to have the Barov trinket for summoning zombie servants, for fun.

The other great 5-man group was with Raslebol to Stratholme, living side. Interesting group, with 2 rogues and a warlock, doing heavy damage. We got 2 righteous orbs for me, I need 4 of them to tailor the Truefaith Vestments for Kyroc. I also won a Magister's Belt, a bind on equip item from the mage set, which I was able to sell for 40 gold in the auction house. We had a couple of wipes on the way, but managed to kill Balnazzar at the end without anyone dying. Then we tried to go for the cannon master, but wiped twice in short sequence, due to a group which was placed in a way that the rogues couldn't sneak there to sap. With our armors being damaged heavily by now, we decided to stop there.

I had just quit the group, repaired my equipment and cleaned up my inventory, when I heard somebody announcing a pickup raid to Strat living. Hey, I thought, I might get another righteous orb or two quickly in a raid. Bad idea. Why do pickup groups suck most of the time? This time the problem was the raid leader, an unusually obnoxious priest. First he refused to invite any other priests into the raid, because they would roll on "his" loot. We get to Stratholme with 10 people, and before we even enter, 2 people leave. We decide to try with 8 people, and the fighting goes smooth. We don't have a single wipe on the whole raid. But the priest is starting to get on my nerves. He whines constantly, complains about my pulls, even if I'm just killing an Eye of Naxxramas, which you need to kill fast because it summons gargoyles otherwise. And whenever there is a decision to be made, he is blackmailing the raid group with "if you don't do what I say, I leave the group, and I'm the only priest". Now I understand why he didn't want to invite another priest. When 7 of the 8 people want to try the cannon master, but the priest refuses, I have enough and just hearthstone out.

Saturday night I went on a spontaneous guild raid to Zul'Gurub. Unfortunately I hadn't looked at my watch when it was announced in guild chat, and then it took quite some time to get everybody ready. So by the time we killed the first boss, the snake, it was after midnight, and I would have liked to go to bed, being tired. But there were only 3 priests in the raid, the others still wanted to do the Bloodlord, and I couldn't leave. By the time I got into bed it was nearly 2 in the morning. Raids like that aren't compatible with my personal inner clock. I'm an early riser, even on weekends I rarely sleep longer than 8, but then of course by 10 pm I get tired, and by midnight I can hardly keep my eyes open. That is a bit of a problem, because other guild members often can only start raiding late in the evening, when their children are in bed.

Sunday night, while my guild went raiding Molten Core, I decided to do some farming for the recipe for the Greater Nature Protection potion. That recipe has a 1% drop chance from the nature elementals in the Weeping Cavern. The respawn rate is very fast, so you never run out of things to kill. Unfortunately each spawn point can either spawn the elemental you want, and they are easy to kill, or some slime monster. There are two kinds of elementals, and two kinds of slime, and the second kind of slime is really nasty to solo. During the fight, and on death, it splits up into many little oozelings, which together do quite a lot of damage, and are hard to target (TAB doesn't work on them). I can solo them with Raslebol, but they bring down my health to below half. Then fortunately some guild mates who hadn't gone to MC either turned up to help me. Especially the mage was helpful against the oozelings, with his area-of-effect spells. But we were extremely unlucky, will killed over a 100 elementals and the same number of slimes, and still couldn't find the recipe. I so hate low drop rates combined with bad luck. Well, we did get a couple of green items, and I even won a Traveller's backpack, but the recipe never dropped. Finally we just gave up.

But in general I had a lot of fun this weekend. Next Friday I'm signed up for Kyroc's first Molten Core raid. Starts at 8, hopefully people aren't too late. I just need to find out how healing is organized in large raids in my guild.

Blizzard on bag space

This is from the World of Warcraft forums (no link, because WoW forum posts aren't archived and links go dead too fast):
The limitations of bag space are intended and make it a necessity to choose what you want to keep. This may be the inane ramblings of a depraved mind, but I find it fun managing bag space. I treat it as a sort of mini-game, arranging items by category, making tough decisions on what to do with specific items. That is my personal outlook; I don't know if anyone else feels the same way.

That said…

With the 1.10 patch two new craftable bag types will be available specifically for holding items related to either herbalism or enchanting. Tailors will be able to try their hand at crafting these new bags as the recipes will be found throughout the world. These new specialty bags will function similar to how a normal bag would, but with the restriction of holding only herbs or enchanting supplies. The recipes will be made available for crafting these bags in various sizes, the high end of each type being 24 slots.
Good news, Raslebol's herbs and Kyroc's enchanting materials are taking up far too much space. I just hope that you can actually *get* those 24-slots bags. I already have normal 16-slot bags, and if the first size available is 16-slot, they are of no use to me.

I'd hate to see the 24-slot bags being tailored from the hide of Ragnaros, recipe dropping of Onyxia, and costing 1000 gold on the AH.

Friday, February 24, 2006

World event

The scarab gate of Ahn'Qiraj opened on my server yesterday, and I was there! And I learned the important lesson that unless MMORPG technology improves substantially, world events are not a good idea. Because while I was there, I didn't really see much. The gate suddenly wasn't there any more, there were a couple of nice looking Anubis-style mobs, some lines of texts that scrolled by too fast for me to read, and that was it. Ah yes, and two world server crashes. But mainly there was lag, which made it totally impossible to fight those mobs in front of the gate.

After people had dissipated a bit, and more mobs had appeared in Feralas, Tanaris, and even the Barrens, the lag got a bit better, and my guild managed to kill some of those Anubis guys. But except for 250 points of reputation they didn't give anything, and you need 36000 reputation to reach the next level up from "hatred". The level 22 elite mobs in the Barrens only gave 1 reputation point, happy farming!

I don't really know why these games are called massively multiplayer. Because if ever you assemble a massive number of players on one spot, either the game crashes or at least you get unbearable lag. Which makes world events problematic.

So in the end the most interesting part of the world event was the human factor. On my server the biggest Horde guild had achieved the sceptre first, and they had negotiated with the big Alliance guilds that it would be them who would be allowed to start the event at a certain hour. But the sceptre holder of a big Alliance guild didn't keep his word, and banged the gong half an hour earlier. Which was okay for all the other players, who had never trusted the announced hour anyway and had been waiting at the gong for some time already. But the big Horde guild who had thought they knew exactly when the event was going to start, hadn't had all members there yet, so they missed the opening of the gate. I'm afraid the Horde-Alliance diplomatic relations on my server won't be the best for some time to come.

New priest 1.10 talent calculator

For everybody interested in the changes to the priests talents upcoming in patch 1.10, Blizzard put up a new talent calculator. I put together a holy/discipline template for Kyroc, tell me what you think of it.

Unfortunately Improved Power Word: Shield was heavily nerfed, now just adding a bit to the damage absorbed, while before it halved the cooldown. The shadow talents also got weaker, in general. But other talents got improved, and I think the holy branch gained a lot. So basically priests will get a bit worse in soloing, and a lot better in healing in a group. Good that Kyroc is already level 57. :)

Not quite a liberal

I laughed about an offensive joke today. [If you are easily offended, you might want to stop reading here.] It said "Argueing on the internet is like participating in the special olympics: Even if you win, you are still a retard." I mentioned that I found that joke funny, and immediately got a response telling me that the joke was offensive to our less fortunate mentally handicapped fellow humans. In situations like these, and for example my comments on the gay-friendly WoW guild, some people obviously think I'm a right-wing nutter.

On the other hand I also get attacked for example for defending the European welfare state, or worker's rights. I never mentioned it, but I'm also pro-choice, anti-gun, anti death penalty, and for the right of homosexual partnerships to be legally equivalent to heterosexual marriages (although I would prefer if they wouldn't call it "gay marriage"). So conservatives would probably call me a liberal, or even a commie.

In short, I'm a bit lost in the culture wars, standing somewhere in the middle. Of course a joke about special olympics, or a teenager calling something "gay" is offensive, that is the point of saying it. A totally non-offensive joke wouldn't be funny, and using offensive language to explore social boundaries is a normal part of growing up. Trying to ban everything which is offensive to anybody from the common language is bound to fail, as you could observe over the "happy holidays" debacle.

Calling somebody argueing on the internet a "retard" might be offensive to mentally handicapped people, all mentally handicapped people I know are a *lot* nicer than the average internet forum user. But it doesn't harm the mentally handicapped people much, as they are unlikely to even see that joke. I find current politically correct attitudes sometimes a lot more discriminating and harmful than that joke. For example the current spat over an arab company wanting to buy the facilities of 6 US harbors, where both Democrats and Republicans basically argue that all arabs are terrorists, has a much bigger negative effect than some offensive language in a WoW chat channel.

The culture war also negatively affects the ability of people to come to a compromise. For example I believe both in evolution and in that God created the world. When the bible says he created the world in 7 days, you simply shouldn't take that as the literal truth, God's days during creation were a couple of million years long. So for a christian conservative I'm a blasphemer, and for a die-hard atheist I'm in religious denial of scientific facts. But in fact religion and science are in no way in disagreement with each other, religion by definition looks at the ultimate causes *beyond* what can be explained by science.

Unfortunately it gets more and more difficult to have any opinion on anything, without being classified into some corner. But the good news is that this culture war is perpetrated by a small vocal minority. The large rest of us can laugh about Will & Grace without either worrying that showing homosexuals on TV will corrupt our youth, or that laughing about them might be homophobic.

Learning from WoW

Gamasutra has a feature article claiming that WoW teaches children the wrong lessons for life: that time spent rewards you more than skill, and that group is better than solo. I think the guy is half right.

A lot of people believe that they only need to spend time somewhere to be rewarded. Unfortunately for example "going to college" doesn't really get you anywhere, you will actually need to have half a brain, and study to get a degree and a good job. There are some jobs where you can get away with just being there, but then don't complain if you have a lousy career. For a job which is really satisfying, and to get recognition from your bosses, you will need to have skills, and spend some effort on your work, not just be there from 9 to 5 like Wally from the Dilbert comics.

World of Warcraft is notoriously bad at teaching you that. Getting to level 60 requires a lot of time, but very little skill. Somebody having twice the time will beat somebody having twice the skill to level 60. Succeeding with a 5-man group takes skill, but unfortunately WoW does not reserve the best rewards for 5-man groups. Instead WoW teaches you that if you manage to join a big organization, and join big 40-man raids, you can often get away with just following instructions from the raid leader, not thinking much yourself, and being lucky on the rolls, for the best rewards in the game. WoW also rewards you for mindlessly killing the same easy mob over and over, for example for grinding faction or farming gold. If on the other hand you come up with a clever idea that nobody else had to beat a hard fight, you risk getting banned for exploiting.

The Gamasutra article also complains about WoW teaching you that groups succeed better than solo players. Yes, WoW does that. But in this case it is a good lesson, because the same is true in life in general. Teamwork is more efficient, be it by forming study groups at college / university, or later in your job. The author might not particularly like groups, but being a loner isn't rewarded much in real life either.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unwritten rules

I'm in a foul mood. I'm angry at a guild mate for breaking an unwritten rule, he probably (or lets say hopefully) wasn't even aware of. The rule is question is "do not roll NEED on an item which is better for another class, unless nobody of that class wants it". On Raslebol's 137th UBRS raid finally the Draconian Deflector dropped, and no other warrior needed it. And then that shaman decides that this is a nice shield for him, rolls NEED, and snatches it away from me.

There is a certain justification for this unwritten rule. If everybody rolls need for all items he could possibly use, it is quite likely that the shaman will end up with the draconian deflector, which with its +10 defence bonus is ideal for warriors; and then next time a shield with for example an intelligence bonus drops, the warrior wins it, making both parties worse off than if everybody had only rolled for the stuff that was for his class. In a recent raid my priest didn't roll on a dreadmist robe, which was much better than what he had, but is considered more of a warlock item. And then there is the eternal fight between hunters rolling for melee weapons (the "that is a hunter weapon" running joke), and melee fighters rolling for ranged weapons.

Problem with unwritten rules is that often they are not known to everybody, or they are known and not accepted. Everquest first had an unwritten rule of "don't killsteal", then that rule was written down in the "play nice policies" of SOE, and still killstealing was such a problem that modern games have some anti-killstealing device hardcoded. Technically killstealing isn't possible in World of Warcraft, the first person to damage a monster gets the xp and loot, but there *still* are complaints. Yesterday for example I wanted to try killing Scarlet Spellbinders in the plaguelands for a chance to find the crusader enchantment. I found the tower where they reside, but other mobs are guarding the entrance. And while I fight the mobs at the entrance, two other guys rush past me and killsteal all the spellbinders. Not nice, but technically allowed. And how often did you kill the monster next to a chest, just to have somebody else empty it?

Of course some people try to invent new unwritten rules in their favor. For example on my server we will have the opening of the Ahn'Qiraj gate world event, and the big guilds are spamming the server forums with messages telling everybody else to stay away. They say "if you haven't contributed a lot to the war effort, and if you aren't in a level 60 raid which actually can fight the battle, you have no right to be at the event." It is well known that lots of people present during the event will cause at the very least some unbearable lag, but more likely even several server crashes. I can see how the big guilds would want to have the event for themselves, but that isn't going to happen. Nobody is going to accept *that* unwritten rule.

Chinese yuan farmers

Some chinese farmed 212.2 million yuan ($26.3 million) with World of Warcraft in the fourth quarter of 2005, MSN Money reports. Actually thats the quarterly sales of The9 Ltd., the chinese company selling pre-paid WoW time to 3.3 million chinese customers. That works out to $8 per customer in 3 months, which is still a lot of money in China, but not quite as profitable as an US customer, who would pay up to $45 for 3 months.

Of those $26.3 million of sales, $8.5 were profit for the chinese company. Substract the actual cost of running the pre-paid system of a couple of millions, and there is something like $10 million to $15 million left for Blizzard per quarter, lets say $50 million per year. Divide by the number of customers, and Blizzard earns only $15 per chinese customer per year. And that is earnings, not profits, Blizzard still needs to pay for the servers, translation into chinese, and customer support from that money.

For a US customer, there is no middle-man, and Blizzard directly gets the $150 to $180 per year of monthly fees. So the 1 million US customers bring over $150 million per year of earnings, three times more than the 3.3 million chinese customers. And lets not forget the Europeans, which bring again about the same sum as the Americans. China is certainly profitable for Blizzard, but it is just a minor addition to the WoW money making machine, not its motor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Best places to farm gold

I used to farm gold in World of Warcraft with Raslebol some months ago in the graveyard of the Scarlet Monastery, following the advice of one reader. Now I went there with Kyroc, to see if I could do the same with my priest, and found that the drop rates there have been nerfed. Even with disenchanting the magic items from there, I couldn't even make half the money that I used to. So now I'm looking for better places to make money.

One good way to make money is to kill Toxic Horrors in Felwood for Essence of Water, or Dust Stormers in Silithus for Essence of Air. Unfortunately the Toxic Horrors are horribly overcamped. The Dust Stormers are harder to kill, at least with my warrior, due to their lightning shields. I'll have to see if that is easier with the ranged attacks of my priest. Essence of Fire can be gathered from the fire elemental in the middle of Un'Goro, where I could also get Hearts of Fire, which can be transmuted into Elemental Fire, which then makes greater fire protection potions, which sell well. The disadvantage of all these methods is that you farm items which are only valuable to other players, not to NPC vendors. So if you or others overdo it, you saturate the market and the prices for the essences on the AH drop.

Many people recommend Hearthglen in the western plaguelands for farming gold. The Scarlet Spellbinders there not only drop runecloth, but you also have a small chance to "win the lottery" and find a formula to enchant weapon: crusader, which sells for several hundred gold pieces. I haven't tried it yet, as I never win in lotteries anyway, and I've heard the place is overcamped as well. I also never camped Tyr's Hand in the eastern plaguelands, but I heard the place was so popular that it already got nerfed by Blizzard in patch 1.8.

Killing high level humanoids for runecloth is still a good way to make money, even if the prices for Runecloth dropped again after all the bandages for the war effort had been collected. The bloodelves in Azshara have a decent drop rate. Another possibility would be the Legashi satyrs in the same zone, which drop both runecloth and felcloth. Although the felcloth only really pays if you transform it into mooncloth, and you can only do that once every 4 days.

Everybodies favorite humanoids to kill are ogres, because they are too dumb to run away or call their mates. The highest level ogres are found in Deadwind Pass, between Duskwood and the Swamp of Sorrows. They don't drop anything real special, but the usual mix of runecloth, grey garbage, with the occasional magic item thrown in.

Of course there are other ways to make money than farming. Raslebol has a steady income from buying Essence of Undeath for 3 to 5 gold, transmuting them first to Essence of Water, then to Essence of Air, and selling those for 13 to 15 gold. That is 5 gold per day, but only requires a minute every day.

With a lot more time and knowledge needed, you can play the auction house, buying underpriced items and selling them for more. But that obviously works well only if you are the only one doing it. There is a considerable risk nowadays that the prices have already been driven up so high that you only lose money on the AH fees. Unless of course you trade only in items that are free to put up for auction, like enchanting supplies. But the prices for those are pretty much stable, and it is hard to find underpriced shards to buy.

So farming gold is still the main source of income for most people. What is your favorite place to earn money in World of Warcraft?

Content vs. hardware

Ars Technica has a story about the movie industry sueing Samsung over making a DVD player that could be reprogrammed to ignore DVD region codes and high-definition copyright measures. Well, if even Amazon is offering help on how to reprogram your DVD player to make it region code free, it is clear that there is a conflict between the people who want to protect the content, and the people who want to sell hardware.

Digital rights management (DRM) systems are getting more and more sophisticated. But that is not in the consumers best interest. It is perfectly possible for a consumer to have a legally bought HDTV, high-definition DVD player, and high-definition DVD, and still not be able to watch his DVD in high-definition, because for example he bought a HDTV which isn't HDCP compatible.

And for once the hardware producers are on the side of the consumers, against the content providers. It is perfectly possible to design a future DRM system where the content provider dictates that you can watch this DVD only during full moon, on a Tuesday, and even that only if you haven't used the same DVD player to watch a DVD from a rival company recently. But that obviously makes selling DVD players very hard.

Even existing protection schemes, like the region codes, make the life of the hardware producers difficult. The average consumer, having bought a DVD on a holiday trip to another region, will not understand why he should be prevented from watching that DVD at home. Him now being far from the vendor of the DVD, he angrily calls the hardware manufacturer. That is why nearly all DVD players can be made multi-region capable by typing in some code via the remote. And the same will probably happen with HDCP and any other DRM system, because the hardware manufacturer has an interest in his machine being able to show everything, because that is what the end user wants.

Meanwhile the real pirates are laughing, because while DRM systems are highly annoying to the normal users, they don't pose much of a barrier to anyone with the most basic hacking skills. In fact the more restrictive it becomes to buy content legally, the easier it becomes for pirates to sell copies on which the DRM system has been removed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

WoW Journal - 22-February-2006

Another evening, another pickup group to Scholomance. Only this time it was a pickup raid group of 10 people. That *does* make the place a lot easier, and instead of just reaching Rattlegore after 2 hours, in the same time we had finished the whole dungeon.

We still wiped a couple of times. It is depressing if you take care to explain beforehand that in the chamber of summoning the summoners need to be killed quickly, and then nobody listens, some badly controlled pets aggro more summoners, and your raid gets wiped by over 30 summoned skeletons. Okay, it *was* kind of funny, and certainly a sight to see, but not really a good way to handle that place.

Transfer of information in a pickup group seems to be a problem. There were several people in the raid who had been to Scholomance before, and who all tried to warn the others of the more dangerous features, like ghouls exploding into poisonous clouds. Nevertheless most people who hadn't been there before only learned to stay out of the cloud by dying at least once from them.

We also had the usual fights of a warrior rolling "need" on some bow of which the hunters in the group thought that it should be reserved for them. But that isn't really a pickup group problem, we have exactly the same discussion on our guild forums. It is actually a running joke on many WoW discussion forums to call any good melee weapon a "hunter weapon", due to the fact that such a good melee weapon is often useable by hunters, and they will roll on it even if somebody else in the group is obviously doing a lot more melee combat.

The raid got me some Argent Dawn reputation, and one minor green item that I disenchanted into eternal essences. But we were extremely unlucky with cloth drops, most of the stuff that did drop was leather. The only cloth we found was giving additional frost spell damage, and was obviously a mage item, not for priests.

But the major disadvantage of the pickup raid was that in a raid I couldn't do any quests. I really want to do the quest series starting with the ghost of the woman standing in front of Scholomance, which ends up giving you a trinket that allows you to speak with all the ghosts of Caer Darrow. But that one requires three trips to Scholomance, each with a group, not a raid. I'd also like to do the Barov family fortune quest, as it gives a nice item to summon zombies to fight for you. But that requires a really good group, as the last deed you have to collect for that in Scholomance is guarded by a rather tough boss mob. I never got that far with Raslebol, I hope I can do it with Kyroc.

The death of mail order

I got a parcel from Amazon with some books this week. Of course I was at work when the parcel got delivered, so I had to drive to the pickup center yesterday after work to get it. The pickup center is in some industrial area, hard to reach, especially in the evening rush hour. And it is surprisingly badly organized, with just two people at the counter who probably don't have much to do during the day, and then get overwhelmed between 5 pm and closing time. What a hassle, it definitely makes me want to order less from Amazon.

Which made me think that this might be the reason why many of those dot.com business idea of the internet as "the world's largest mall" never took off. Modern ordering systems via the internet are nice enough, but the actual delivery of goods is stuck solidly in the middle of the last century.

All over the western world the number of households is growing faster than the number of people, that is more and more people live alone or in much smaller family units. Also the female work force participation has gone up a lot during the last 50 years. The nuclear family with dad going to work and mom staying at home during the day is now the exception, not the rule. If you ring the door bell of a random private address during the day to deliver a parcel, chances are that nobody is home.

But delivery of parcels, from mail order or private, simply hasn't evolved in spite of these facts. So very often people have to pick up their parcels themselves. That used to be relatively easy at the local post office, but nowadays the postal system has often "restructured" to centralize parcel pickup somewhere farther away from where you live. That is more cost effective for the post, but less convenient for the customer. But of course if you have to go out and drive far to pick up your mail order, you might as well buy in a shop, as you lost the convenience of getting your order delivered to your place.

There must be technical solutions to this problems. For example much larger mail boxes for parcels, complete with scanner, handing out a receipt to the delivery man, whether he be post office, UPS, or FedEx. But it is hard to see who would push for such a system. The people who'd profit most from it, like Amazon, are not involved in the actual delivery, and thus would probably not want to pay for it. Maybe the big breakthrough for internet mail order will come with a company that does the delivery itself, and comes up with a cost effective *and* convenient system to deliver the goods. Until then, we either have to live with bad delivery, or just forget about mail order.

Top 10 Windows games

I'm subscribed to the monthly "Exploring Windows" newsletter. This issue had another link to the gaming section of the Microsoft site, where Microsoft presents not only the games they make themselves, but also have lots of information about other games. Logical enough, somebody interested in PC games will automatically be a customer for Windows, there aren't all that many games running under Linux.

But the most surprising thing to me on that site is the top 10 Windows games by sales volume, where for week 5 of 2006 World of Warcraft is again the best selling game (I assume the data are from the US).

Me playing World of Warcraft, I tend to have a view from the inside. So what I see is often people leaving, or at least going into hiatus. And being on an old server, I don't see all that many real newbies either. Other players see the same thing, and this gives rise to all this discussion about longevity of the game, and the "game over at 60" problem. But if I try to distance myself from my in-game observations and try to see the larger picture, the view is quite different. There is barely a month where no new server opens up. Total growth of subscriber numbers might have slowed down a bit, but the game is still growing. Which not only means people are still buying the game, but *more* people are buying the game than are leaving.

WoW might not be in the top spot for sales every week, but whenever I check it is the top 10, so the sales hold up pretty steady, and that for 15 months now, which is a phenomenal age for a PC game. Everybody always calculates how much Blizzard is making from 5.5 million subscribers multiplied with the monthly fees (which is difficult, because monthly fees differ over the world, and some countries have other models of payment by hour). But I think that the box sales alone must keep Blizzard rolling in cash.

And of course the day the expansion set comes out, Blizzards main problem will be satisfying all the demand fast enough. Expect people queueing up at stores, others complaining that Amazon didn't deliver the pre-ordered game, and all the usual chaos on release day. I'm still dreaming of a online purchase and download option, but offering the Burning Crusade for download would be like inviting a Denial of Service attack on your servers. I don't think the current technology of the internet could handle the data volume of the number of people interested multiplied with the probably large size of the download, not even with a peer-to-peer network solution. Obviously people buying your product faster than you can deliver is a nice problem for a company to have, Blizzard will earn millions of dollar on a single day. Too bad they are part of Vivendi Universal, a huge media conglomerate with lots of problems in other sectors, thus you can't buy Blizzard shares.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Closing doors

I'm having a lot of fun with Kyroc at level 57, feeling as if I have endless possibilities. There is a lot of high-level content in World of Warcraft. And then I compare that with characters who are level 60 since a while, like Raslebol who has over 16 days played at level 60, and see how the possibilities have diminished. It is as if there are lots of open doors ahead of Kyroc, and they are closing one by one the longer you play at level 60.

Going to a dungeon for the first time is great fun, and usually you can find lots of loot there which is an improvement for you. But once you did the same dungeon several times, you know every corner of it, it gets boring, and the chance of finding any good loot is decreasing with every piece you already found. At some point the door of that dungeon virtually closes for you. You *could* still go there, but there isn't much of an interest any more. And if everybody else in your guild is more or less on the same circuit, the whole guild moves on to the next level of dungeons and never looks back. You'd need to wait a couple of months until you have forgotten most about the dungeon, or even better, level another character up who could still use the loot from there.

Some of my D&D friends even skipped the lesser level 60 places, because of their guild, and headed more or less directly for Molten Core. I told one of them about my adventures in BRD, and he said he just went there once in a 20-minute raid to get the attunement to MC, and that was it. And now that he has lots of epic gear from Molten Core, he doesn't see any interest in visiting places like Scholomance or Stratholme, and only does UBRS for the Onyxia key quest chain. Closing doors before you even went through them is a very bad idea, you miss half of the high-level content the game has on offer. I just hope I can persuade people to do all the different high-level dungeons with Kyroc. I don't want to go on an eternal "farm stuff in preparation for MC, do MC, farm gold to pay the repair bills from MC" treadmill that I see so many others on.

WoW Journal - 21-February-2006

Somehow I ended up in a pickup group for Scholomance last night. Had been planned as a guild event, but in the end only my priest, a mage, and a warlock from the guild showed up, and we had to invite a warrior and a hunter from outside the guild. At first I was optimistic, seeing how well equipped with epics the warrior was. But we fared incredibly badly, it took us 2 hours with several wipes just to reach Rattlegore, and we abandoned the enterprise there, due to the respawns behind us.

Pickup groups inevitably suffer from a lack of familiarity and trust. And probably me and my guild mates weren't playing absolutely perfectly. But I still think the problem was with the other two guys. The hunter definitely pulled at some occasions where he shouldn't have, and several times broke the crowd control of some shackled undead or sheeped human. And the warrior wasn't drawing and holding aggro as much as he should have, which forces me as a priest to spread my heals over the whole group, which isn't very mana efficient. Just confirms my impression that a raid is in reality much easier than a 5-man group, as long as you aren't the raid leader. Thus somebody can end up with lots of epic gear on his warrior, without having a clue how to taunt.

I do like Scholomance. The place has atmosphere, a very fitting haunted library theme. And of course if you manage to beat it, you are well rewarded, with a 7 boss mobs dropping loot in the final part. But the place *is* hard to do for a 5-man group. Did it several times with Raslebol, to finish the quest series there which allows you to see the ghosts of Caer Darrow, but didn't get to the final boss every time. Nevertheless taking 2 hours just to reach Rattlegore was the worst performance there I participated in. I hope I can get a guild group going there which fares better.

Raid healing

I reported below that my priest went on his first raids. Now healing in a raid is more difficult than healing in a group. You have to watch more possible targets for your healing, and there is the possibility of interference with the heals of other healers in the raid. So while I still refuse auto-healing bots, I did use CTRaidAssist.

The standard WoW interface has the option to turn off the display of your group members portraits and health / mana bars when in raid mode. So I put the much smaller display of all 15 members of the UBRS raid I was in into that corner, and could easily see with one glance who needed healing. I haven't got a clue how that is going to work with raids of 40 people, I'll have to ask the more experienced raid healers in our guild.

The other functionality of CTRaidAssist I used was the "mana conserve" options. This prevents you healing people that just got healed by somebody else. You set a time, for example half a second, and a minimum value for your large and small heals. And if at this half second before your spell would fire off your target has less missing health than the minimum values you set, your spell gets interrupted and you save the mana.

Being priest in a raid is nice, because it is a bit more egalitarian than warrior. Among the warriors there can be only one "main tank", but there is no such thing as a "main healer", although you obviously can assign different responsibilities. But I still enjoy 5-man groups more, where everybody has an important and visible role to play. In a 40-man raid you sometimes just feel like a lemming, or a very small cog in a big machine.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

WoW Journal - 20-February-2006

Another weekend played, another 2 levels gained. Kyroc hit 57, and honestly, I wasn't even trying. I did lots of things whose primary purpose was something else than gaining xp, but which ended up leveling me anyway.

I started by looking for a zone where I hadn't done all the quests with Raslebol, and stumbled upon the Thorium Brotherhood in the Burning Steppes. At 55 I was already a tad too high for them, but did all their quests anyway. That netted me 500 reputation points for 7 quests (you get 700 points if you do them a bit earlier, but only 70 points if you do the quests at 60). Then I read up on them and found out that faction with the Thorium Brotherhood not only gives you smithing recipes, but also recipes for enchanting and tailoring. So I decided to grind faction with them now, instead of later.

First part of Thorium Brotherhood faction grinding is killing lots of incendosaurs in one big cave below the Burning Steppes. You need to hand in 2 of their scales, plus 1 coal, plus either 4 kingsblood, 4 iron bars, or 10 heavy leather, to get 25 reputation points. Being at 500 points and needing 3000, I thus needed 100 hand-ins, thus 200 incendosaur scales. They drop between 1 and 2 Whenever other people appeared to farm the incendosaurs in that cave, I switched to Raslebol and collected the kingsblood. Gathered about half myself, bought the rest in the AH, as somebody was selling them cheap.

Then I went to hand everything in and noticed a huge design flaw. You can hand the stuff in only one by one, and every hand-in takes 4 mouse-clicks. 400 mouse-clicks later I was friendly with the Thorium Brotherhood, and a good step closer to carpal tunnel syndrome.

The second part of Thorium Brotherhood faction grinding is easier, you just need 240 hand-ins of 4 dark iron residue from BRD. I already had some of them in the bank from my first BRD expedition last week. But now some guild-mates were looking for a place to go, they had quests in BRD as well, so we did a 5-man group to there. We did some quests, I attuned to Molten Core, and had a lot of fun. Plus got a lot of that residue, ended up buying the remainder cheap in the AH, and did another 960 repetitive mouse-clicks to reach honored with the Thorium Brotherhood. Ouch, my wrist!

In the end I didn't even really know why I did it. For the enchanting recipe I really want, I would need to be revered with the Thorium Brotherhood. For that I would need to hand in 2,400 dark iron ores, which I can't collect because I don't have mining, and which would be prohibitively expensive in the AH. I could instead hand in either 160 core leathers or 60 cores from Molten Core, which is even more ridiculous. You get maybe 1 or 2 of them for the whole group of 40 players on a typical MC raid, and a core sells for nearly 100 gold in the AH. I looked up the fiery core price, because I did get the tailoring recipe for flarecloth gloves from the Thorium Brotherhood guy in the bar in BRD. Nice gloves with fire resistance, but as they need 6 fiery cores, they are far out of my league. You practically need a whole guild working together to get one guy one piece of fire resistant equipment, and that isn't very realistic. So the whole thing ended up with me being again very much disappointed about the high-level crafting in World of Warcraft.

But of course killing lots of incendosaurs and going with a 5-man group to BRD netted me a good amount of experience points, and I made it to level 56. Grinding mobs of slightly below your level is actually quite a good way to earn experience points. If you can combine it with a quest to kill them, you can make over 20k xp per hour. The 5-man group to BRD only gained me around 12k xp per hour, but of course you get a lot more loot in a dungeon.

One activity I did for the first time with Kyroc this weekend was going on proper guild raids, one to Stratholme and one to UBRS. And xp-wise that doesn't do much. I clocked only 3k xp per hour. The xp for every kill are first divided by the 10 to 15 members of the raid, and then further divided in half as malus for being in a raid. A dungeon in 5-man mode is much better, because instead of a raid malus you get a group bonus.

Anyway, you don't go on a raid for the xp, but because it is fun, and for the loot of course. I got the recipe to enchant a 2h-weapon with +9 damage, a nice amulet giving intelligence and spirit, plus some minor items. General Drakkar dropped a dreadmist robe, which would have been much better than what I was wearing, but several people in the raid claimed dreadmist being warlock gear, and I didn't insist on rolling on it. At that point I wasn't totally concentrated any more, and totally forgot to touch the orb behind General Drakkar for the BWL attunement. Well, next time. I should have gone on that raid with Raslebol, to get the Onyxia key, but the group already had 3 other warriors and only 1 other priest, so Kyroc seemed the better choice. In any case, the chance to find loot which is still an improvement is much better for Kyroc, who is going to these places for the first time, than for Raslebol, who went there often enough.

I finished the weekend doing more quests, cleaning up my quest log a little, while the others of the guild were in Molten Core. That got me to level 57. Next stop probably Winterspring and/or Silithus. Or maybe I should go to the Plaguelands, there is so much left to do, and the end (level 60) is approaching fast.

In other news I had a closer look at the priest talent tree, and decided that I should have put points into discipline much earlier. I don't know why everybody says that for soloing priests should put their points into shadow. True, I use mind blast and shadow word pain in every combat, but the larger half of the combat is then done using the shield and the wand. And discipline has excellent talents to improve your wand damage, and to drastically reduce the cooldown of your shield. While the top talent of the shadow talent tree, shadowform, I'm not really using all that often in soloing. I use it when the fights are so easy that I never need to heal myself, but if the monsters are tougher, I'd rather be able to heal myself than to get a bonus to my shadow spells. Well, I don't think I'll respec now. As far as I know patch 1.10 is "coming soon", and then priests get their talent trees reworked, and thus get a free respec. And at that point I should be level 60 or very close to it, thus I am going to switch to some group-friendly holy build, not a solo build. Well, probably a build with the best-of-holy, and then some discipline talents to make the character a bit more rounded. I don't believe in blindly taking all talents from one branch of the talent tree.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chicken bug

I went to Feralas to do the final OOX robot chicken escort quest, but like the day before the chicken refused to budge. So I reported the bug in game. One hour later a GM sent me a tell that this is a known bug of the current patch version, and they are working on fixing it.

Okay, I don't think that in this situation it is realistic to hope for immediate resolution of the problem. Being informed that the bug report has been received, and is being fixed soon is sufficient customer support. I can live with that.

Baseball and WoW

No, I don't know what the connection between baseball and World of Warcraft is either. I only got this mail from Amazon:
Dear Amazon.co.uk Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased "World of Warcraft
Official Strategy Guide (Official Strategy Guides S.)" by Danielle
Vanderlip have also ordered "Baseball Hacks" by Joseph Adler. For this
reason, you might like to know that this book will be released soon.
And here was I, under the obviously mistaken impression that WoW players wouldn't go anywhere near a sports field. :) On the other hand this might just be another example of artificial stupidity. For example if you search for a game strategy guide on Amazon, you get an offer to buy that book in a bundle with ... another strategy guide, and not as would be logical with the game itself.

WoW Journal - 17-February-2006

Kyroc his level 55 last night in Un'goro. I was grouped with a level 55 mage from my guild who helped me kill Blazerunner to end the Legend of Zelda quest series. I died a couple of times trying, but finally we worked out how to do it with just us two. That was fun. So we killed him once, I go back to the quest giver, and find out that I'm missing the Golden Flame that Blazerunner was supposed to have. Hmmm. We go back, kill Blazerunner again on the second try, and still no Golden Flame. Finally we find the quest item in Blazerunner's cave, it wouldn't even have been necessary to kill him again, we could just have lured him away. Oh, well, sometimes one just plays sub-optimally.

Besides being a Legend of Zelda fan, I didn't get much out of the quest. Good quest series to do in the evenings, when you are tired, because most of the time on this quest is spent traveling. But the item rewards aren't really great for a priest: Either a sword or an off-hand item adding only +20 to healing, plus the boomerang. I can see how the boomerang would be highly attractive to a paladin, as you can use it for ranged pulling without needing any ranged weapon skills, its a trinket. I guess I'll just disenchant both rewards, and keep only the photograph of Linken and Princess Zelda, WoW style, as a souvenir. Due to a lack of storage space, I can't keep all the items I would want to.

Afterwards we went killing yetis in Winterspring for the "Are we there yeti?" quest. No problem with the killing, but the drop rate of the thick yeti fur is abysmal. We cleared out the complete large yeti cave and ended up with 4 of the 20 furs we needed. Unfortunately in that kind of quest there isn't really much of an advantage in doing it in a group.

So I decided to go to bed, when another guild mate requested help for killing the Scarlet Oracle. I switched to Raslebol and helped out. Quite a lot of guild members turned up, so we put everybody who needed the quest in the group that would tag the oracle, and everybody else in a raid group handling the large number of bodyguards. It is good to see how helpful the guild is in these matters. Kyroc will need to do that quest series as well, it gives one of the best wands in the game.

The weekend draws closer, and I plan to at least reach level 56 over the weekend with Kyroc. I also want to clean up some unfinished business, like the last Rescue OOX quest in Feralas. I tried that yesterday, but the damn chicken was bugged, and refused to move after I took the escort quest. If possible I would do some dungeon, but I'm not sure if 55 or 56 is already high enough for Scholomance and Stratholme. Level requirements are usually a bit lower for a priest, as he doesn't have problems with his targets resisting his spells as long as he heals.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Robot healing

World of Warcraft has a very powerful scripting language, which allows programming all sorts of add-ons and macros. And like everybody else I use quite a number of add-ons. For example Gatherer, which marks all the herbs I find with Raslebol on the map, so I don't need to write down the locations on a piece of paper. Or Telo's Infobar, showing me information on the main screen which I would otherwise need to press a couple of buttons to see. Or even Tacklebox, which reduces the number of mouse clicks necessary for fishing.

Unfortunately that is a slippery slope. You get lazy, install more and more of helpful add-ons, and in the end the macros play the game for you. Somebody just recommended ClickHeal to me, for use with my priest. Now I'm certainly impressed by the description of what this add-on is doing, that must have been many hours of programming. But I'll be damned if I'm going to use this. With ClickHeal you can basically put your priest on auto-follow, and just hit ONE button over and over, and the add-on decides which of the many priest activities to perform: Buff, remove debuffs, heal, it does it all, and even prioritizes what to do first. Turns your brain into mush, and your character into a heal-bot.

Now somebody is going to tell me that in a raid a priest *is* a heal-bot. And the better he "functions" in removing debuffs, healing, and buffing people, the better. Can't hit the different buttons fast enough? Install an add-on to do it for you. And please don't chat in a raid, it could disturb somebodies concentration. *Bleh!*

I refuse to play a MMORPG on that level. And a large part of my antipathy towards raids is coming from the tendency of raids to reduce people to the function of their characters. I'd rather go on a 5-man group or small raid, where it is me who is making judgement calls on who to heal when. Yes, there is a risk that I might mess up, but what fun is a game with no risk? The famous definition of Sid Meier, defining a game as a series of interesting decisions, is true for MMORPG as well. Hitting only one macro button repeatedly is not an interesting decision, even if it ends up keeping the raid alive and earns you some epic loot.

Tradeskill challenge

In the long run I'm a bit disappointed by the tradeskill system in World of Warcraft, it has the wrong kind of challenge. High-level crafting involves either lots of grinding, or it involves going to dungeons in a group / raid. Unfortunately that is exactly the same sort of challenge that the rest of the high-level game offers. There isn't any difference between grinding mobs for faction to buy a tradeskill recipe, or grinding mobs to farm gold. And whether you join a group / raid to find a piece of equipment, or to find a rare recipe, is also the same. That pretty much eliminates crafting as viable alternative playstyle. It just runs in parallel to what you are doing anyway.

That is insofar sad as this is not the case in the low- and mid-level part of the game. If you chose tradeskills like herbalism / alchemy, or mining plus smithing or engineering, gathering resources is a game in itself. You might occasionally get into a fight, and you better have a higher level than the monsters around you, but otherwise picking flowers or mining ore is significantly different from grinding mobs.

Unfortunately there isn't much demand for mid-level crafted items. With half of the population being level 60, only the highest level crafting products have a market. Which means resources that drop only in dungeons, and recipes that either require lots of faction grinding, or rare recipe drops from dungeons. Raslebol got his Greater Fire Protection potion recipe after numerous expeditions to LBRS, and now he would need to farm fire elementals for the main ingredient, which only drops on about every 10th kill. He has recipes for high level flask type super-potions, but to make them he needs to go to the alchemy lab deep down in Scholomance. "Hey guys, hold the raid for a minute, I need to brew a potion!"

Now I certainly don't want to go back to games where the challenge of crafting was that you needed to perform the same series of clicks many thousand times. For a much better way of doing crafting, you only need to have a look at Puzzle Pirates: Crafting is a puzzle, and the better items you want to craft, the more perfect you have to solve the puzzle. But while WoW does everything by killing monsters, Puzzle Pirates does everything with puzzles, and both gets boring after lots of repetition. A better game would have different challenges for the different sub-games. You can simply keep players in your virtual world longer if you offer them different types of activities, and don't reduce everything to the same combat mechanism.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Do we need an economy?

My first level 60 character in World of Warcraft, Raslebol, is a warrior. For some reason there are not many "bind on equip" epic items in the game that a warrior could use. I got a 1h-sword from a quest series in Scholomance, and the epic 1h-weapons available on the auction house are simply not as good as the blue sword I already have. I've never seen any purple plate mail armor parts for level 60 on the AH. The only epic item I could possibly buy there is the Skullflame Shield, and I'm not even really sure about that one, because it has a chance to deal some fire damage to all targets around me, which could seriously mess up crowd control if it awakes enemies that were sapped, shackled, or sheeped. So with Raslebol I never felt any "auction house envy".

With Kyroc, my level 54 priest, I don't have that tranquility. There are purple staves which he could use, the purple Truefaith Vestments pattern, and a lot of expensive enchanting recipes and materials. I had a closer look at the Truefaith Vestment pattern, which sells for between 200 and 400 gold, and then needs another 300 gold worth of materials to make the item. Crusader enchantment recipe, 400 gold. Glowing Brightwood Staff, 700 gold. And all this does for me is to annoy me. I know the stuff is so bloody expensive because there is no way to get these items by normal playing in a targeted way. These are all random drops with ridiculously low chances of dropping, at no specific location. Getting them is like winning the lottery. And I'm not sure that this is good game design.

Okay, camping items in Everquest wasn't perfect either. My personal record was 16 hours camping (not continously) for a Wooly Mammoth Cloak. But at least if you absolutely wanted the cloak, you knew where to go, and what to do. Killing a stupid ice goblin every 23 minutes until he drops his rare drop was boring. But farming gold in WoW for days and days to be able to buy the purple item you want from the auction house isn't better. It only encourages people to buy gold from gold farmers, which then further drives up the prices.

Now Kyroc certainly bought a lot of his equipment from the auction house, twinked by Raslebol. As I explained with the meta-level concept, having better than normal equipment makes you level faster, because you fight like somebody a few levels higher, but get xp based on your nominal character level. Nevertheless even that twinking has a disadvantage: If you already bought / received the best possible equipment, you rarely get any loot or quest rewards that are interesting to you. It will be more fun once Kyroc goes raiding places where his tier 1 blue gear drops, and he can find items for himself.

So I was wondering whether the ability to sell, send, or trade looted items and materials was absolutely necessary for a MMORPG. I could imagine a WoW without an auction house, in fact lots of newbies play for quite some time before they discover its existence. All items in WoW could be "bind on pickup", and every character would have to find his equipment himself. Then eliminate the stupid world drop items, and put all items in specific places, so if somebody is after a specific items, he has to organize a group for a specific place.

There could be one exception: Crafted items could be bind on equip like before, so that people could do tradeskills and have a market for their items. But even crafting would be more fun if the materials for crafting couldn't be bought.

Only crafted items on the auction house would seriously limit twinking and gold farming. You could further eliminate gold farming if you made it impossible to transfer or mail money. Depending on whether you would like to keep twinking or not, you could introduce a common bank slot that all characters on the same account can access, which is what Everquest 2 does.

Eliminating most of the player-to-player economy would make the game economy a lot more stable. Right now, whenever somebody in a MMORPG finds a bug that allows him to dupe or otherwise produce money in large amounts, it affects all the other players on his server. Making every character have to earn his money and items for himself, without a way of transfer, would create lots of insular one-man economies, which wouldn't be hurt if something goes wrong with one character. And in a way it would be more in the heroic spirit of the genre: The hero goes out in a quest for a specific item in the legends, he doesn't farm Hearthglen for two weeks to buy Excalibur in an auction.

Search engines

Running my own blog gives me some insights into how the internet works, which is a fascinating subject. For example I noticed that since several major gaming sites linked to my hidden quests in WoW blog entry, the number of visitors per day I get doubled from 100 to 200. And that is after the big spike from the first couple of days was over. At first I thought that people still followed those links from the gaming sites, but studying the Sitemeter data revealed that something else is happening:

Basically due to being linked to my "page rank" in Google went up, from 4 to 5, and the equivalent happened on other search engines. Which means that if you search something MMORPG related on these search engines, and I wrote about it, my blog entry appears higher up in the list than before. Curiously for some not-so-exotic keyword combinations like "DDO release" I even occupy the first place in Google (no guarantee that this will still be the case tomorrow). And obviously the higher up my blog is in a search engine result, the higher is the chance that somebody clicks on the link leading to me.

I even get the impression that this is a self-reinforcing trend. People link to me, my Google page rank goes up, more people find me, and then some of the people that newly discovered me end up linking to me. I just hope I never hit the point where Blogger (owned by Google) tells me that they can't host my blog for free any more. Although seeing how generous they are with the size of my GMail account (2 Gigabyte for free), I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Power and the law

The vice-president of the United States of America shot a lawyer friend in a hunting accident, and American comedians and cartoonists are having a field day. The victim is in intensive care after one shotgun pellet provoked a heart attack, and the White House spokesman is making jokes in an official press conference about wearing an orange tie to not get shot by the VP. The authorities announce that Cheney didn't have the required $7 stamp to hunt quail, and he sends them a check for $7 (insert further jokes about the cost of a stamp to shoot lawyers).

Now hunting accidents happen, but I fail to see the humor in the situation. The 78-year old man in intensive care with shotgun pellets in his face and body plus a heart attack is not laughing. But what I find the least funny is how there are obviously two laws for the powerful and for the normal people. You bet that if *you* accidentally shot somebody, you would be grilled a lot more by the sheriff. And if you got caught without a valid hunting licence, you'd get fined a lot more than $7.

I am pretty sure that even if the victim dies, and if the root cause was negligence or recklessness by Cheney, he will get away with nothing worse than a Jay Lenno joke and some biting comments in a newspaper editorial. While if the same accident had happened to somebody poor and black, he'd end up in prison. And that is no laughing matter.

WoW Journal - 14-February-2006

I have Telo's InfoBar running as addon. Among other useful information this tells me how much experience points I gained per session or per hour. Yesterday I played a bit over 3 hours, and made 80,000 xp, at a rate of nearly 25,000 xp per hour. That was a bit more than the usual 15k per hour, but I was grouped for a while with a level 59 warlock guildmate and we were doing quests in Silithus together. Doing a level 59 elite quest as level 54 gives a lot of xp.

But even without help from the guild my rate of leveling to 54 with Kyroc was a lot faster than with Raslebol, I only have 10 "days" played up to now. Of course a part of that is due to knowledge. I did most of the Horde side quests already, which helps me avoiding the few bad ones, and speeds up the ones where you need to find something. But I guess a major factor is twinking. At level 54, before ever having set a foot into Scholomance or Stratholme, I'm already wearing 2 pieces of Dreadmist and 1 piece of Devout blue armor. These pieces have either been found by Raslebol, or bought on the auction house, but both ways are methods of twinking. Raslebol doesn't have an epic mount, but the money was spend on alts, and Kyroc is quite well equipped because of it.

The most important twink item for Kyroc is that he is always wielding the best wand money can buy. Soloing priests only have one viable strategy for speedy leveling: Shield yourself, pull with Mind Blast, put a Shadow Word Pain on the advancing mob, and finish him off with the wand. The wand does half the damage, and is thus very important. And ideally you don't have to recast a shield, or a second shadow word, thus you don't cast at all during the longer part of combat, thus you regenerate mana, and end the combat with full mana, ready for the next fight. That works because I usually try to go for quests that are slightly below my level. I *can* kill mobs of 2 or 3 levels above me, but then I need much more downtime between fights, and the xp per hour are not as good.

Of course in a way this efficient leveling is less fun than learning the game with Raslebol was. Which confirms Raph Koster's Theory of Fun. :) The fact that in the 50-60 level range there are lots of quests that I never did with Raslebol, and am now doing with Kyroc is certainly one of the fun "learning experiences" which explain my current high interest in this character. But the other source of fun is social, doing 5-man groups, especially with guild mates. If I am looking forward towards doing Scholomance or Stratholme with my guild, it is more because that is so much fun, with the loot just being a secondary consideration. My only fear being that I don't get to go to these sort of places often, due to my guild being too busy with MC / ZG raids, which would be a shame.

The mix between learning experience and guild social life makes me wonder how I am going to do if I want to play the next character after Kyroc. For the learning experience it would be much better if I played Alliance, and for the low-level grouping it would be good if I played on a new server. But on another server I couldn't twink myself, and if I play Alliance, I can't play with my guild. Even if Kyroc is playing less with the guild than I'd wish to, at least I'm always in guild chat, and can switch to Raslebol when somebody needs a tank for his group. I think SOE games have cross-server chat, where you can play on one server and still be in the guild chat of another server, but WoW doesn't offer that.

Classes I'd like to play in the future include paladin and mage. The paladin obviously forces me to go Alliance, but I could either play on Runetotem and twink him by transfering money via the neutral AH, or play him on a new server where it is easier to find low-level people to play with. That worked reasonably well when I tested this strategy out by playing a hunter on Bronzebeard, so I'm tending towards the latter. For the mage I wondered if I'll wait for the expansion, and then play the mage as blood elf on Runetotem, with all the twink and guild advantages, plus the learning experience of the new race and zones. Of course the paladin could also play after the expansion, and if possible be created with the new race. If that race doesn't offer paladins as possible class, I can still make a pally of another class and just travel to the new zones and play there. Of course when the expansion comes out I might be terribly busy leveling Raslebol and Kyroc to 70. And then there is this level 30 shaman I could level as well. Decisions, decisions.

It is great to have so many options and so many plans for the future. It really makes me think that I might be playing World of Warcraft for many more months, if not years. I guess the people that claimed WoW would be a short-lived game, and not a world experience that could hold players for a long time, were wrong.

Developer blogs

Abalieno reports that Jeff Freeman from SOE, one of the SWG developers, pulled the plug on his blog because comments he made on general game design on his blog were used against him on the official SWG forums. Comments from Scott Jennings (aka Lum the not-so-mad-any-more) are found here, stating how unfortunate it is that players haunt developers off the internet, and that feedback is so important.

Now in some points the developers complaining about unreasonable players are certainly right. The average official game forum is full of hysterics, foul language, and totally unreasonable demands. And often the complaints hit the wrong person, the visual face of the company instead of the guy who actually made the decision in question.

But on the other side the players *need* to have a way to complain, a way where somebody actually listens to them, and responds to their concerns. You often hear the stupid "if you don't like this game, play something else" argument. Unfortunately that isn't that easy, because players invest a lot of time and effort in their characters, and can't take their characters with them if they switch. It is a bit as if you were allowed to switch your bank, but the old bank would keep the money you invested there, and you weren't allowed to transfer it.

Star Wars Galaxies is a very particular case. We are not talking about unreasonable complaints by a small minority of thick-headed players on minor issues of game balance. SWG is a game in which the basic gameplay has been completely redesigned. The game was on a slow decline before the changes, and now moved onto a steep decline trajectory. The developers consciously went for a strategy designed to attract new players, at the expense of losing loyal player who played the game because they liked the previous design. And of course the new players never came, who buys an old MMORPG with bad press? And thus SWG is in the process of imploding, I wouldn't be surprised if it was cancelled before the end of 2006, and the masses of angry players certainly have a point in complaining about it.

And the implosion was clearly foreseeable with a minimum of common sense. A *much* better strategy would have been to let SWG continue as it is, and develop SWG2 in parallel, with the new game having all the easy accessibility for the casual customer that the NGE changes were supposed to bring to the old game. In spite of not being as big as WoW, EQ2 was nevertheless a success that basically doubled the number of customers of SOE. The sequel strategy is much better than the complete redesign strategy.

Now I don't think that Jeff Freeman decided the NGE changes, and it is somewhat unfortunate that he gets all the heat. But that is the same for all public representatives in every other company. If there is a major disaster, like the Ford-Firestone tire recall, there will be lots of hapless customer service representatives getting an earful of abuse from angry customers, while the manager actually responsible for the bad decision is relatively well shielded. That comes with the customer service job description, who ever called them to say that the companies product works just fine? And Jeff, as developer, is at least closer to the NGE decision than somebody just paid to work in a call center.

MMORPG are basically not a good, but a service. If I buy an offline, single-player computer game, and I don't like the changes applied in some patch, I can decide not to apply that patch, and live with the bugs the game had before instead. With online games I don't have that choice. And with MMORPG I have the additional problem that I am captive, because of the attachment I have to my characters. The choice is not between SWG and lets say WoW, but between a maxed out jedi character with a network of friends and a lonely level 1 human paladin killing kobolds in Elwynn Forest. It is only understandable that the SWG players are upset. And if the guy who made that decision at SOE isn't taking the flak, then other people at SOE in public view will. You can't expect your customers to stop complaining just because you won't tell them who is responsible.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Barbie Online

No, not a new game I beta tested, "Barbie Online" is just an expression we had on the old Grimwell.com discussion boards for the part of every MMORPG where you dress up your character. Friday in BRD I got a Chief Architect's Monocle, and had to decide between it and a Gemburst Circlet. Basically the monocle has 10 more intelligence, while the circlet has 15 more spirit.

Now I got a guild mate who is good in WoW stats math, and he explained me that 8 spirit on a priest is equivalent to 1 mana per second regeneration, starting 5 seconds after your last casting, or 120 mana in 120 seconds. 8 intelligence on a priest gives him 120 mana more. So unless you get 2 minutes in a fight where you don't cast, the intelligence is much better than the spirit. Soloing fights usually last less than a minute, and in a group you rarely get even 1 minute of rest, so the int from the monocle is preferable to the spirit of the circlet.

But what influenced me as much as the math was the looks. Kyroc is undead, with a pale skin tone, a bald head, and I choose one of the few undead face options where the jaw isn't missing. So Kyroc doesn't look much like a zombie, I cover my rotting flesh in long robes, but more like a creepy human. The monocle, while not highly visible from a distance, fits *perfectly* to that look, while the circlet looks rather dumb.

In a similar decision I tailored myself a Mooncloth Robe rather than a Mooncloth Vest. That increased the cost by 40 gold for 2 golden pearls, for 5 more int and 7 less spirit. But more importantly the robe completely covers my legs, while with the vest you see my pants. And all pants on undead characters are shown as shorts, with rotting legs showing under frayed tissue, which just doesn't look stylish enough for me. I don't mind Warchief Rend in UBRS shouting "Kill the one in the dress!". :)

For Raslebol I never found a good looking head dress, but fortunately there is a possibility in the interface options to turn the helmet invisible. On Raslebol I have an orange irokese haircut, and trolls don't exactly stand straight. A plate helmet looks horrible, and makes it difficult to tell my troll from somebody elses troll. Plate armor looks a lot better on humans, on Raslebol you need to look twice before you even see that he is wearing plate.

So while I was thinking of the different clothing items and looks, I realized that there is a big deficiency in the WoW crafting system. There is no choice of looks! For both loot items and for crafted items, if you choose an item by its level requirements and its stats, you are stuck with its look. A better system would allow the crafter to do the same chest piece either as vest or as robe, or the same head item either as headband or felt hat. In WoW you can't even have the same item in different colors.

In fact the WoW crafting system is not designed as an alternative occupation for the more casual players, but just as an additional thing to do for the standard and hardcore gamer. All the good recipes either drop in high-level dungeons, or need many hours of grinding reputation. With Kyroc I learned tailoring and enchanting, and got all the recipes from the trainer, and the affordable ones from the auction house. But then I found that for these not-so-rare enchantments there is basically no market. People below level 60 don't want to spend anything on enchantments, as their equipment changes too fast. And people at 60 only want the really high-level enchantments, like crusader. A crusader recipe costs several hundred gold pieces on the AH, and as the ingredients are hard to get, you just don't get enough clients to ever recover the cost. Tailoring isn't profitable either: loot from dungeons is generally better than tailored stuff. And the market in bags is dead, due to lots of people farming, and the price of looted traveler bags being half the cost of tailoring a mooncloth bag. I think when the expansion comes out a lot of people will drop tailoring in favor of jewel crafting, including me.

White spots on the map

I really like the world of Azeroth in World of Warcraft, because it is relatively densely populated. Unlike the randomly created worlds of lets say Anarchy Online or Star Wars Galaxies, which were huge but mostly empty, WoW has a new encounter around every corner. Of course if you have your content densely packed, and the amount of content is limited, you end up with a relatively small world, in terms of square miles. You can travel the longest distance in the game, lets say from Moonglade to the south of Tanaris, or from Scarlet Monastery to Booty bay, on foot in an hour or so, and the longest flight path is about 10 minutes. So the whole Azeroth isn't much bigger than Malta, or Washington D.C., but nevertheless covers all climates from frozen wastes to steamy jungles. A lazy explorer's paradise, where you can see lots of different things without having to walk too far.

But if you look at the maps of Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms, you will notice that there are still a lot of white spots on the map, with no population whatsoever and often no way to reach them. You can see these spots up close using a program like WoWMapView. And people used to make a sport out of visiting inaccessible places, by for example using a bug that allowed you to cross steep cliffs when walking slowly. That bug has been fixed in patch 1.9, and getting to places like the Ironforge Airport is not that easy any more.

The good thing with these inaccessible places is that it gives the developers room to expand without adding continents. For example both Zul'Gurub and Ahn'Qiraj were previously such blank spots. It seems that the blank area north of the plaguelands will be used as the starting area for the blood elves. There are areas with obvious future access points, like the Graymane Wall in Silverpine. The zone of Mount Hyjal, south of Winterspring, seems to be fully prepared to be opened in some future patch or expansion. And some large areas like the one north of Stormwind, south of the Badlands, or south of Un'goro offer further room for expansion.

On the bad side the whole WoW geography is based on most zones being walled up with very few mountain passes to connect them. There are only a few places where you can for example swim from one zone to another to avoid a longer or more dangerous land travel. Menethil Harbor to Southshore, or Westfall to Stranglethorn for example. Most coastal areas are completely blocked off by mountains, most people don't even realize that for example Dun'Morogh or Silithus are coastal areas. And the mountain barriers also block travel inland, for example from Mulgore to Desolace. Of course there are solid game design reasons behind that, you don't want level 5 Tauren to wander accidentally into aggressive level 40 mobs. But it somewhat diminishes the feeling that this is a world which you can travel around to see.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

WoW Journal - 13-February-2006

Another long weekend spent playing mainly Kyroc, advancing him a further two levels to 54. I'm not sure if it is the lure of level 60, being finally able to play with all your friends, that is making me race so much, or if the level 45+ content of the game is really so much better.

Friday night I spent with a group in Blackrock Depths. At 52 I was a bit too low for the place, but usually that is okay for the healer. We took an original path, as we didn't have a key, first through the arena, then to the top of the open gate which you need to close with the key if you want to go towards the bar. Jumped from the window there, and arrived directly at Incendius. That has the advantage that you then first encounter the architect who drops the quest item, and then head past the vault towards the statue where you can get the key. And then you are already close to the lock to close the gate. So we went further in, skipped the general and the golem master, to arrive at the bar. We did some bar quests, and fought the bouncer to open the door leading still further in. Unfortunately by then my level 52 was definitely getting too low in level, having a far too large aggro radius and pulling mobs without wanting to. Plus we had been in there for several hours, and it was past midnight. My group wasn't happy about it, as they wanted to continue past the hall of seven towards the MC attunement, but I really couldn't continue and quit for the night.

The remainder of the weekend I didn't do any extended dungeon crawls. Joined a guild group for DM east that needed a healer, but somebody had to leave unexpectedly and we never got even to the first boss. Sunday I participated in a Maraudon group, but only the last part, a "princess run" including the two other bosses in that corner. While killing the princess gives a great sword for fighters, the staff it gives for casters isn't really good. And I had noticed that Maraudon was a lot less popular than other dungeons, never saw anybody looking for group for there in the city chat, so after doing the princess I abandoned my other Maraudon quests, which had turned grey to green at level 54 anyway. I guess the problem is that the place is too huge, with its 3 branches, if you want to do the dungeon completely it would take you up to 6 hours with a group of level 50.

So what got me from level 52 to 54 this weekend was doing quests, mostly solo, in Felwood and Un'Goro. It helped that I knew which things were important for later on, so I did the Felwood Cleansing quest to be able to gather night dragon breath and whipper root tubers, plants that heal you and restore your mana, and that work on a different timer than the potions. I also did the quests for activating the crystal pylons in Un'goro, where I got crystals to increase my spirit and to heal me, unfortunately there isn't a direct mana giving crystal. For fun I started the Legend of Zelda cameo quest in Un'Goro. The final reward isn't really good for a priest, Linken's sword and boomerang, and the quest involves lots and lots of traveling. But its a fun quest, with some interesting elements like killing yourself with a potion on the Gadgetzan graveyard to talk with a ghost. And of course it gives xp, and not too shabby at that.

I also did all of the Valentine's event quests I could get hold off. The quest line for the Horde isn't really good, with no xp and just a stupid dress as reward, except that it teaches you how the remainder of the event works. So I spent some time using cologne on myself, giving love tokens to NPCs in Undercity, Thunderbluff, and Orgrimmar, and collecting small gifts into collections. There are three types of these small gifts per city, and you need 5 of each, before you finally arrive at a Horde gift collection, which you can use to vote for your favorite city leader. No xp, just a 1-hour buff as reward, but at least I did it once. Oh, and every hour you can get some random items. The bag of candy only produces useless heart candies with phrases like "I love you" on it, and no in-game function. Fortunately my wife plays WoW too, so I could mail her some of those, I'd guess for the average player they are completely useless. Much better are the boxes of chocolates, which contain a selection of chocolates of 4 types, giving different 1-hour buffs. Then there are rose petals and arrows which you can use on other players, so that they either have a rain of rose petals around them or a cute little goblin cupid pet flying behind them until they next take a gryphon or teleport. As many players aren't very romantic, they quickly discovered a much more original use for these: stick them on an enemy rogue on the battlegrounds, and the rose petals or goblin cupid will always give his position away, so he can't sneak up on people very well any more. The final present I got was another type of arrow, this time for myself, so I have a goblin cupid pet now as well. And while the other Valentine's items all have a duration of only 10 days, it seems the cupid pet is not limited.

I really like all those seasonal events. They aren't for the power gamers, as they usually don't give very useful rewards. But you do get stuff like clothing, non-combat pets, food, or polymorph items which are just fun. This weekend there were two seasonal events ongoing at the same time, the lunar festival wasn't finished yet, and the Valentine's event had already started. I'll miss the lunar festival when it ends, because it turned out to be highly useful for the teleports. My hearthstone is bound in Undercity, and to go to Felwood or Winterspring it is a lot quicker to use the lunar festival teleport to Moonglade and take the timbermaw tunnel, than to first ride the zeppelin to Orgrimmar and fly from there.

In spite of all the Valentine's love around, I must confess committing one really evil act. I was on the boat in Booty Bay, to go to Ratchet. The only other player on the boat was a dwarf, who for reasons unknown to me decided to annoy me. He turned his PvP flag on, started insulting me in words I couldn't understand, used /rude emotes, jumped around me a lot, and obviously wanted to provoke me into a duel. So I waited until the boat had just started moving, cast Mind Control on him, and jumped him off the boat. *Evil grin*

There is still so much left to do for Kyroc. I haven't finished Felwood, nor Un'goro. And then there are lots of other zones for this level, the Blasted Lands, Burning Steppes, Searing Gorge, and the two Plaguelands. That is how WoW should be: An endless ocean of possibilities. The only fear I have is whether I will be able to find something fun to do at level 60. Well, worst case scenario is playing at 60 just enough to get some decent gear, and then leveling the next character to 60, until the expansion enables me to level Raslebol and Kyroc again.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sources of fun

I've been thinking of what makes different activities in a MMORPG fun. What I came up with is somewhat similar to the Bartle classification of player types into achievers, socializers, killers, and explorers. This Bartle test site shows that World of Warcraft is pretty much identical in player types to the original Everquest, with just a bit less socializing and bit more killing going on, while a pure PvP game like Shadowbane has much different scores. And these different player types are motivated by different sources of fun.

This is not just a different way to come to the same 4 player types under a different name. One source of fun can be identical for several types, while one player type can have several sources of fun.

One source of fun is a competitive spirit, trying to be better than the other players. I mention this one first, because otherwise I'll forget it, as I have very little competitive spirit. Competitiveness motivates achievers to try to achieve more than the other players, something clearly visible in the "race to 60" on every new WoW server that opens up. Lots of people achieve level 60, but only a few can claim that they reached it first on their server. But the same competitive spirit is clearly a major driving force behind the killer player type. If you beat somebody in PvP you can claim to have demonstrated that you are "better" than the other guy. Lots of verbal fights on "my class/spec is better than your class/spec" include the "lets duel and find out" argument.

But being competitive is not the only possible source of fun for the achievers. They are also motivated by the rewards for their achievements. You can achieve things in a virtual world, for example run with a level 1 gnome from Dun Morogh to Gadgetzan without dying, which don't have any tangible in-game reward. But most people like to report their achievements ("I killed Onyxia") with their rewards ("... and got this awesome Deathbringer axe").

Achievers can be motivated by overcoming a challenge the game itself sets you, like beating a dungeon or a boss mob. That is kind of competitive, but you measure yourself against the game, not against other players. Beating Onyxia is a big achievement, even if lots of others did it before you, and you didn't get any loot.

A source of fun common to achievers and explorers is doing something for the first time. My guild is immensely proud each time they kill a boss in MC or ZG for the first time. Even me, who doesn't like raids much, am looking forward to seeing Ahn'Qiraj at least once, even if it turns out to be far too hard for us and we end up with nothing but a huge repair bill.

The WoW raid game experience is a mix of these sources of fun: The fun of seeing a boss for the first time, the fun of overcoming the challenge he poses, and the fun of getting his phat loot. The first source is only valid once, but overcoming the challenge of beating a boss can be fun several times before you get the impression that you totally "pwn" him, and the loot is fun until there is no possible drop left at this place which is better than what you have. My guild hasn't raided Stratholme or Scholomance for ages, because all three of these sources of fun have run out for the people who went there repeatedly. We should restart doing these raids with the alts and people who haven't got the complete sets of equipment from there.

One source of fun which hopefully never ceases even after repeated raids to the same place is the social interaction. Although I heard that some guilds are very strict and don't allow any chat on big raids, being totally focused on the result. Raids are unfortunately not the best place to socialize. You can organize guild events that are pure socializing, just having a party or guild meeting. But I think that 5-man groups are much better at forming strong social bonds.

Me, I am very much motivated by doing new things, and by social interactions. I like to overcome challenges, but not fanatically so, if something is too hard I tend to give up after a couple of tries. And I don't care at all how my achievements compare with those of other players. I do like rewards, but only those which can be reached with a reasonable effort. As a result of all of these factors my favorite occupation is doing dungeons in 5-man groups, for the social interaction, the reward, and because in a 5-man group I can still identify what part I had in overcoming the challenge. Does this list of my sources of fun describe me better than a "70% explorer" Bartle test result?