Friday, March 31, 2006

April fools joke

The official WoW April fools joke can be found here: The 1.11 patch notes. Basically making fun of bad players suggestions ("Nerf rogues!") plus some new ideas that might make you smile. Gnome druids in cub and kitty form anyone?

I'm not going to write an april fools joke this year. My joke last year, a fake review of a MMORPG based on trading cards turned out to be too close to reality. Since I wrote it, a new game was announced, which used the same idea. Look at the skill deck system of Chronicles of Spellborn.

Devout Gloves

I'm a bit angry at Blizzard at the moment, for taking a stupid shortcut. I did the tier 0.5 upgrade quests first for the Virtous Bracers, then for the Virtuous Gloves and Belt. I *thought* that I could upgrade the gloves and the belt independantly from each other. But Blizzard packed them both into one quest. But as I don't have the Devout Gloves yet, I'm stuck with an un-upgraded Devout Belt, having paid 90 gold plus a bunch of materials for the quest to get there. Grrrr!!! Blizzard really could have made handing in the belt and handing in the gloves two separate quests.

According to the old information on Thottbot, the Devout Gloves only drop from the Archivist in Stratholme living. I'll have a hard time getting enough expeditions to there going until I find them. So up to now the tier 0.5 upgrade quest is not a success for me.

To infinity and beyond

My blog is getting bombarded by hits. I somehow ended up on the top spot for Google searches for "tier 0.5" and "stratholme 45 min", and that with an article that only links to where the real information is found. So since the patch in live, I get over 2000 hits per day. From a pure number of visitors point of view, 2006 is a big success:
Unlike previous spikes in visitors, this time it isn't a link from Slashdot or some big gaming site which gets people visiting my blog. This time the hits nearly exclusively come from Google. It is kind of a snowball system, people find my site on Google, link to me, which makes my Google page rank go up, and more people find me on Google.

Blogger and Blogspot being free services, I wonder at what point they'll limit my bandwith, or require me to pay for it. I'm probably still far from that point, but the growth rate is impressive.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Reverse difficulty in tradeskills

If I would design a tradeskill system for a MMORPG, it would be easy to get recipes, there would be some gathering mini-game to get the resources, and then there would be a puzzle-type mini-game for the assembly of the item. So recipe easy, resources medium difficulty, and the challenge in the assembly.

Where I am a bit disappointed by the World of Warcraft tradeskill system is that the difficulty is exactly reversed to my ideal. The assembly of goods is trivial, you just click a button. The gathering of resources is of medium difficulty, as it should be, and I quite like the system there. But gaining recipes in WoW is the hard part, and totally annoying.

Only the basic recipes are gotten from the trainers. For other recipes you need to travel and then camp a vendor for a limited supply recipe spawning. Then there are lots of recipes which are random drops. Either one type of monster drops it, and you need to kill hundreds of them because of the low drop percentage. Or the recipe drops randomly from many different monsters of the same level range, for example the swiftness potion. You can only hope that somebody else finds that recipe and sells it to you, there is no chance to systematically search for such a random drop recipe if you want it. A third type of recipe is boss recipes, which drop from raid dragons, or boss mobs in high-level dungeons. If you are not a member of a powerful guild, you can forget about getting these recipes yourself, and the auction prices for these are usually astronomical. The last type of recipes is the most annoying, because these recipes are sold based on your reputation with some faction. And no, there is not one faction with all tailoring recipes, one faction with all alchemy recipes, and so on. Every faction has recipes for every tradeskill, and you need to grind faction for months until you can get the recipes from everywhere.

I don't think there is a single crafter in this game who has all the possible recipes of his chosen profession. Now that could be a viable concept if that would lead to different crafters making different items and trading them. But the most valuable items are "bind on pickup", thus only the person crafting them can use them. In spite of the high cost of the recipe for e.g. Truefaith Vestments, everybody who buys it makes exactly one vestment, and then never uses the recipe again.

Assembly being so easy, people tend to not value them at all. I witnessed a heated exchange on the trade chat recently, where one guy shouted "WTB Crusader enchantment, got the materials", and then got very angry when an enchanter tried to charge him 10 gold for the service. As the Crusader enchantment recipe costs around 400 gold, offering the service for 10 gold is quite reasonable. But the customer saw the only value in the materials, and wanted the service for free, because it only takes seconds to do the enchantment.

I played games with much better crafting systems. Smithing a blade in A Tale in the Desert is a very interesting and difficult game. You hit the blade in 3D with different hammers, which makes the metal move, and you try to get it as closely as possible to a given template. The closer you get, the better the blade. That would probably be too complicated for a mass public MMORPG. But even the simple puzzles of Puzzle Pirates for making items would be a big improvement. Because each different tradeskill has a different puzzle, while in WoW clicking the smithing button is the same as clicking the alchemy button. And the difficulty level of the same puzzle goes up for more difficult items. It would be great if the best blacksmith would be the guy who was best at something involving player skill. Right now the best blacksmith in WoW is probably somebody who is in a big guild and gets the recipes from his guild mates. Tradeskills should be an alternative to leveling and gathering equipment, but in World of Warcraft getting better in crafting works exactly like collecting gear: You raid and you grind.

New bags in WoW

I gained 8 bank slots each, for Raslebol and Kyroc, by replacing two standard 16-slot bags in the bank by two 20-slot specialized bags, which are new to patch 1.10. For Kyroc these are bags holding enchanting materials. Getting those was easy, I was able to freely buy the bag recipes in Silithus at the enchanting supplier. He had recipes for 16-slot and 20-slot enchanting bags. Making the 20-slot bags was easy too, a couple of runecloth, 2 greater eternal essence, some rune thread and I had the bags made. The auction house is already full of these 20-slot bags, at between 15 and 20 gold apiece.

I don't know why Blizzard hates herbalists, but the herbalist bags are much harder to get. The recipes are also available in Silithus, but from the general goods vendor. Again two bag sizes available, 20-slot and 24-slot. But you can buy the smaller recipe only with friendly Cenarion Circle faction, and for the bigger bags you need the very hard to get revered faction status. Result is that there no herb bags in the AH most of the time, and when I finally found two of the smaller ones, I had to pay 36 gold pieces each. If there is any tailor with revered CC faction, he could make a fortune selling the 24-slot bags.

Intriguingly in the AH there is now also a category for "engineering bags", although I haven't seen any recipes for those yet. I'm not sure if they already exist, or will be patched in later. Furthermore there is a principal problem with making engineering material bags, in that it is very badly defined what *is* an engineering material. For alchemy and enchanting the bags hold raw materials, which are clearly used only for that purpose. But my engineer has his bank full of metal bars, stones, gems, cloth, and leather, because all these materials are used for making engineering items. An engineers bag which would only hold intermediate engineering goods, like unstable trigger or blasting powders, would be not very useful.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Play to Crush on Loyalty

I swear that there is a conspiracy going on where people do things just to make something that I wrote completely wrong. :) Just after I said that I don't agree with anything on the Play to Crush blog, somebody wrote a blog entry on loyalty there with which I can only agree.

Basically the blog blames Blizzard for making endgame content so dependant on 40-man raids, which results in people playing the game in a small guild up to level 60, and then leaving the small guild to join a big raiding guild. "Guild-hopping" used to be a big taboo in games like Everquest, but Blizzard turned it into something which the majority of players does. Some players change guild several times, because as visible in yesterdays post the big raiding guilds require you to have a certain equipment before you can join. So you start out with a bunch of friends, then switch to a medium sized guild to get tier 0 armor and an Onyxia key, and when you meet the requirements you try to get into a big raiding guild.

I'm old school, having learned about guilds in Everquest. Most of my guilds I only left when I left the game, and even then there was a chance that I staid in that guild for the next game. I'm still in the same guild that I played EQ2 with, and I'm not planning to leave them, even if there are sometimes conflicts in the guild. But I don't believe in conflict solving by running away from the problem. And I certainly wouldn't use a guild as a springboard to catapult me into the next higher guild, just to advance my character further in the game.

Of course that is a question of priorities. If someone's priority is to advance his character and the guild is a means to this end, he will act differently than somebody whose priority is playing with friends and a raid is a means to that end. But like all old men I lament the lack of ethics in the younger generation, and wished that loyalty would come back into fashion as a value.

Playing offline

A MMORPG plays in a persistent world, that is there are things happening in that world while you are offline. And some of the things that happen while you are offline can affect you. You are basically "playing" the game offline, even if you only see the results of that the next time you are online again.

I just earned major amounts of gold in World of Warcraft while playing offline. In the Stratics preview of the tier 0.5 quests that I linked to recently there were listed the materials that you would need to do the first couple of steps of that quest series. These materials included stonescale oil and goblin rocket fuel. Now both of these used to be items with both low supply and low demand. Thus for me as armchair economist it was obvious that after the patch they would be items with low supply and *high* demand, making them hellishly expensive. So every day before the patch I searched the AH and bought all reasonably priced supplies of these items. I paid around 60 silver for goblin rocket fuel, or the components to make it, and I paid around 85 silver for stonescale eels, which can easily be transformed into the oil by my alchemist. Over two weeks I got about 100 goblin rocket fuels, and 60 stonescale oil.

The night before the patch I struck out to cash in: I put up the goblin rocket fuel for 2 gold, and the stonescale oil for 3 gold apiece, in both cases more than three times my investment. And then I just had to wait for the patch, and for people to log back into the game after the patch, eager to do the new quests. It didn't matter that I had to work late that day, I was "playing offline". And it worked! I came back to find my mail box full with letters of "your auction of ... sold", having earned several hundred gold pieces while offline. Based on the same thought I also had bought a few cheap tier 0 items for 20 gold on the AH, and am now selling them offline for 40 gold.

And selling or bidding in the AH is not the only offline activity in World of Warcraft. I am also earning xp with my level 35 shaman while offline, in the form of a xp rest bonus. And the same shaman was waiting offline for a mail from another of my characters, sending him some materials he needed to build an "Ultrasafe Transporter". I tried it out this morning, and it worked. 4 hours cooldown, but at least once per play session I can teleport to Gadgetzan now. With my hearthstone set to Undercity, I have a way to teleport to either continent now. Cooldowns by the way are another thing that you can as well wait for offline. For example transmuting essences has a cooldown of 24 hours, and making mooncloth one of 4 days.

Many games have offline activities. EQ2 initially forced you to stay online for selling items on the bazaar, which just led to lots of people being afk, increasing the server load. They then wisely changed to offline selling. Final Fantasy XI had, I remember faintly, a system where you were growing plants in your house, having to add ingredients once per day, and harvesting other items at the end. But the king of offline games is probably EVE Online (or should that be EVE Offline?), a game which has skills instead of levels, and the skills go up in real time, whether you are online or offline. To "level up", you only need to log on occasionally to choose the next skill to learn. And of course many of the market activities in EVE involve waiting offline for a buyer or seller.

Having offline activities makes good business sense for the MMORPG company. Somebody who is offline doesn't use much computing resources, and no bandwith at all. And as he can only see the result of his offline activity when coming back online, he is more eager to come back. So even if you don't have time for playing EVE due to real live priorities, you are likely to keep paying the game company, just log on for 5 minutes once a day, and keep on advancing your character. If there were no offline activities, you'd be more likely to cancel your account, and then you might or might not resubscribe later.

How to get into a raid guild

For entertainment value, here is how you get into Ad Nauseam, a raiding guild on Runetotem (Euro), Horde side. They recently recruited with the following ad:

Due to some people leaving the game entirely for getting too busy in their real lives, Ad Nauseum is now recruiting following classes:

2 Priests (no, we do not need the shadow-variety but thanks for asking)
1 Druid (Innervate is purrty, consider having it!)
1 Warlock
1 Hunter
1 Shaman (please do have atleast NS)
1 Rogue

Applicants should come well-geared (blue gear, Dire Maul items/Tier 0 set might work), they should have decent Fire Resist (atleast 100 unbuffed, preferably more and this does not mean rogues in Volcanic crap sets). Those who have taken time to farm Nature Resist pieces from Maraudon will be appreciated too.

Our raid schedule is fairly heavy and we do not take lack of attendance kindly. Hence, you should be around atleast 5 nights / week on average. Naturally RL circumstances may prevent this at times, but still high attendance is a requirement, not a bonus.

Interested? Well, the recruitement is already closed again. But they did have an example for what kind of application would have gotten you into the guild:

Writing an application a little like this might get you in:

Name: Mentalslaveofnauseum

Molten Core access:Yes
Onyxia access:Yes
Blackwing lair access:Yes
First Aid 300:Yes

Current talents:8/0/43
Willing to respec?:Yes.

Play hours: Online 25hrs/day, 8days/week

Gear:Optimized raid healer gear consisting of mostly Dire Maul loot and some parts of the blue class set.

Previous guilds: None, they were not worthy of me!
Previous raid experience: No, but I am a fast learner.
Previous MMORPG experience:Yes, EQ for several years, muds before that.

Internet connection:1mb adsl

I'm a true WoW addict who wishes to participate in the endgame PvE content preferably several times a week. I am interested in learning how to play my class to it's full effectiveness and I wish to find new friends among your guild. Some of them I have met over time on Battlegrounds and some 5man instances, yet I can't name one over the others for reference. I have a sense of humour, yet I lack much content in my life, thus I can attend extremely often and will not spend my days whining over whatever little things people tend to whine about.

Servers are up, but ...

On the European Realm status forum there is a message saying: "Most realms are now live and available to the public. We are aware of the problems connecting to the realms, this is mainly due to the large amount of players attempting to log in."

In practice that means that I'm stuck at the authenticating screen since half an hour. What does it help if the realm servers are all up and running if the login server can't handle a "large amount of players attempting to log in"? It is not that "attempting to log in" is something illegal or unexpected. Especially not after a 12-hour maintenance.

Play to Crush

Do you think that I am a carebear, and you get tired of my sceptical attitude towards PvP and hardcore MMORPG gaming? Then you should head over to Play to Crush, the MMORPG blog for the player killers and hardcore PvP fans. Read there how to arrive at an attitude where the other players are your enemies, how to crush them, and then how to humiliate them on top of it.

Absolutely fascinating stuff, because it shows the game from a completely different angle. I totally disagreed with 100% of the opinions expressed in that blog, including the "Blizzard shouldn't open new servers" one, but reading these blog entries gives you a much better understanding of the mind of the player killer. If you ever want to persuade somebody to *not* play on a PvP server in WoW, make him read that blog. It scares the shit out of mild-mannered people like me. Which is obviously in the intention of Alex, the author. Well done!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How patch 1.10 will change your life

Today is patch day in Europe, and the patch 1.10 was already applied to the US servers yesterday. Uff, I escaped the torches and pitchforks, my prediction was correct. :) So now I'm reading through the final version of the patch notes 1.10, and I'm wondering what the biggest change is. Is there anything is patch 1.10 which will change your (virtual) life, the way you play WoW? Lets go through the patch notes.

Weather effects certainly won't change the game. Everybody looks at them in awe for about 30 seconds, then either ignores them or turns them off in the options to improve his frame rate.

The high-level instance changes aren't actually that dramatic either. They are annoying if you would have preferred to raid these places. They are nice if you wanted to 5-man them anyway and now get better loot. Related to this is the introduction of the "Dungeon Set 2" aka tier 0.5 armor. That is added content, it will give some of us something to do for some time. But it doesn't change the game play.

The priest revamp will change the life of *my* priest, but that is mainly because I was shadow specced before and was waiting for the free respec to switch to holy. In general, if you were already a healing priest, you are now a better healing priest. You will probably notice the difference, but your raid mates might not. I like the changes, they will make my life easier, but they will not change the way I play.

Various bug fixes and minor improvement, for example the flight path interface, are generally positive, but have no effect on game play either.

The changes to the macro language I can't judge yet. The one thing that I am sure about is that the "mana conserve" function of some addons, which automatically interrupted your spells if they weren't necessary any more, will stop working. I used these functions of CTRaidAssist to prevent me from wasting mana on healing somebody who already got healed by another priest. This will get some time getting used to, and the priests might lose a part of their new gained healing power to wasted heals. But in general I'm pro removing macros that replace a players skill, you now have to watch your target yourself and interrupt yourself by moving or hitting escape. I'm not quite sure how the "decurse" type of macros are affected, I heard some rumors that they wouldn't work any more either, but didn't find a confirmation of that in the patch notes. Manual decursing in a 40-player raid will be hard. On the other hand automatic decursing in PvP is very unfair against classes which rely on debuffs, like warlocks. I'll have to see what still works and what doesn't.

In the end, the one change in patch 1.10 that I think will change our lives is the quest experience to gold conversion at level 60. Think of it! From level 1 to 59 World of Warcraft is more or less defined as the one MMORPG in which people quest more than they grind. But that used to stop at level 60, where if you wanted to earn money for paying raid repairs or buying stuff, you were forced to farm mobs. You could have done quests at 60, but the rewards often weren't worth it. Getting a message that you earned 8000 xp for a quest while you couldn't gain xp any more was more annoying than rewarding. Now 8000 xp are converted into 5 gold pieces, which makes quests a lot more interesting.

Before the patch, there were some mobs who dropped more valuable loot than others, so many people were farming the same corners, while poorer monsters were just ignored. Post 1.10 killing a poor mob for a quest will probably earn you as much or more than farming a rich one. Just like the generous quest rewards from 1 to 59 make players switch from monster to monster, following the quests, now the same will happen at level 60.

Not only will making money by quests become easier than farming, it also is obviously more fun. Brad McQuaid, when promoting his upcoming Vanguard MMORPG says that players follow the path of least resistance, and that his game is designed to make the path of least resistance also the path of most fun. The quest xp to gold conversion is doing exactly that. It basically is the end of gold farming, and the beginning of level 60 players returning to the quest game.

Incidentally that might have a huge effect on commercial gold farmers, destroying their business. I always said that to suppress Real Money Trade (RMT), the selling of gold for dollars, you would either have to make all gold transfers impossible, or design your game in a way that the buyers have no desire to buy gold any more. Trying to "catch" the gold farmer is pretty much impossible, as the "illegal" part of their business, the dollar transfer, happens outside of the game. Now imagine a typical level 60 player with a desire to get money for an epic mount or something, but a limited amount of available time. Before the patch his options were either to buy gold for dollars from a gold farmer, or to farm gold himself, stupidly and boringly kill the same mobs over and over. Unsurprisingly many people chose RMT in that situation. But after the patch that could change completely. Your choice becomes either spending dollars, or continueing to play the game just like you liked it from level 1 to 59, doing quests. I'm sure that lots of potential customers will choose the quest way in this situation, leaving the gold farmers without a business. This is the one brilliant change in patch 1.10 that will change our virtual lifes, the way we play the game after reaching level 60.

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, the follow-up to Morrowind, is out. Lots of people like it very much, noting improvements over the predecessor. As far as I know, the game is as close as you can get to a MMORPG while playing a single-player RPG, offering a similar degree of freedom.

I'm not going to play it. I shelled out good money for Morrowind when that one came out, and then only played it very little. The reason for that was mainly that the cursor was fixed in the middle of the screen. If you wanted to click on something, you basically moved the camera until that item was in the middle of screen, under the cursor. This control system caused me video game motion sickness, so after half an hour I got nausea and headaches, which didn't exactly endear the game to me. Furthermore while I do enjoy the freedom of MMORPGs, I also enjoy the ability of playing with other people, so I don't exactly need a single-player version of it.

If there is ever a downloadable demo of the game out, I'll try if Oblivion causes me nausea as well. But with my time tied up solidly in WoW, and the risk that I can't play the game, I'm not going to spend 50 bucks on it now. I'm afraid you will have to look for a review elsewhere.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Raid loot

I spent an evening playing D&D, but as all of the members of my D&D group now also play WoW, we talked a lot of WoW as well. Two of my friends are in a raiding guild which already got Ragnaros to below 20%, and has Onyxia on farm status. And they were telling about 6 of the most hardcore members of their guild leaving, over some issues of raid loot distribution. The last couple of days discussion about raid loot distribution is all I hear, everywhere.

The clash is basically always the same. Player A goes on 4 raids per week, player B only on one of them. In that one raid an item drops that both player A and player B want. Who gets it?

There is no easy answer to that question. There are basically two extreme positions, with a lot of possibilities in between. One extreme is a simple loot roll, giving both A and B the same chance to win the item. The justification for that is seeing every raid as an isolated event, with every participant having equal part in its success. Or in other words, player A, by doing 4 times more raids, already has 4 times the chance of finding and getting something good. But in each individual raid he only gets a 50% of winning a loot roll against player B.

The other extreme position is saying that the player with more raids gets priority on all items, so if both A and B want the same item, A automatically wins. The justification for that is seeing the success of each raid as a result of the practice acquired in previous raids. Player A spent a lot of money on repairs, potions, etc. in the other 3 raids, and if he didn't find the item he wanted in those raids, now he gets absolute priority. That helps the whole guild, because that item will be used in more future raids than if it went to the casual raider. So in this case player A gets a 100% chance of winning the loot against player B.

Of the intermediate versions there are too many to count. In my guild player A would have gotten 40 raid points for attending 4 raids, against the 10 raid points of player B. Thus having more raid points, he would have received a +50 to his loot roll. The math is a bit tricky, but the chance of player A winning a loot roll with +50 against player B is 87.5%, or 7 in 8. If there is a whole troupe of casual raiders rolling against player A, he still has a chance of over 50% (he just needs to roll 51 to be unbeatable) to win, while the casual raiders have a less than 50% chance divided by their number.

I like our system, but there is no way I could say whether a 87.5% chance of winning the loot is the optimum point between 50% and 100%. What I do know is the consequences of either extreme: If player A has 100% chance to get the loot, player B will turn up once for each boss fight as a tourist, to have seen the boss mob, and then never go again. If the guild has enough hardcore raiders and few or no casual raiders, that is not a problem. But if there are casual raiders in the guild, whenever player B turns up at a raid, due to having been excluded from looting in previous raids, he won't have the gear which would enable him to contribute as much to the raid as player A, even if he played equally well. Thus the two groups develop away from each other, and sooner or later the guild splits up. Another disadvantage is that if you give all the loot to player A, and player A for some reason decides to leave the guild, the guild as a whole suffers a huge setback.

If player A only has 50% chance to get the loot, the progress of the guild as a whole will slow down. If it takes dozens of wipes against the same boss mob to be finally able to beat him, and being wiped isn't rewarded at all, there will be not much interest in the harder raids. You try the hard boss after killing the easier boss in front of him, wipe three times and go home. While the loot is more evenly distributed than in the other extreme case, player A still has more loot and definitely more experience than player B. So A, who will most likely think that 50% chance is less than his fair share, is likely to leave the guild for a more dedicated raiding guild, further hindering or even throwing back the progress of the guild as a whole.

If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny that whatever system you install, you have *both* players A and B accusing the other of being greedy and wanting to grab more than his fair share of loot. Even with my support for the 87.5% chance for player A, while being more a player B type of player, I'm still accused for wanting too much loot. I sure want *some* chance of getting loot, even if it just a 1 in 8 chance. Guess that proves that greed rules the virtual worlds as much as it does the real one.

Raiding skill

You might sometimes have heard me say that playing a MMORPG requires no skill. That isn't really true, it is just a black-and-white statement in a world of grey tones. In fact playing a MMORPG gets incrementally more difficult from day one. But in a game like World of Warcraft, the difficulty level raises very, very slowly until the day you hit level 60. If you were able to defeat a skeleton at level 9 in Tirisfal Glade and level up to 10 from the xp that encounter gave you, you will also be able to kill a very similar looking skeleton in the Plaguelands at level 59 and level up to 60.

Playing in a group is more difficult. Playing in a high-level raid group is extremely difficult. Killing a boss in Molten Core is like being part of a ballet of 40 people, with everyone having to work in perfect harmony at the best of their abilities, for the raid group as a total to succeed. And unlike the level 1-60 game, every boss is harder than the previous one, a group good enough to kill Lucifron is still a long way from being able to kill Ragnaros. Blizzard designed the high-end content deliberately to become harder and harder, making progress slower and slower, so that no matter how many hours somebody spends in the game, he never reaches the "end".

Where I am sometimes a bit dismissive of raiding skills is due to the fact that skill isn't the only factor for success. Killing a raid boss needs three things: skill, practice, and equipment. And if you have enough of the latter two, you need less of the former. And just skill won't get you far, nobody ever beat Molten Core on the first try.

Both practice and equipment are largely influenced by the amount of time you can spend in the game. Practice is a bit like beating a boss in a single-player console game: If you haven't read the strategy guide, he might surprise you with some unexpected move, and kill you. Try again a couple of times, and you know all his moves, you learn what works against them, and sooner or later you beat him. Equipment means that besides raiding you still must have time to spend in smaller dungeons, or grinding PvP, or farming money or faction, to get the high-level gear together that will make your fights so much easier. You could try to get all that equipment from raiding, but that will even take more time.

There are games that I totally suck at, for example first-person-shooters or racing games. I could train Counterstrike for a year and still play rather badly. With a game like WoW I don't have the impression that I am lacking the skill to succeed (although I might be deluded in that). If I gave up my job, left my wife, started a new character on a brand new server, and played for 12 hours a day, I could be among the first players on that server to hit level 60, get into an uber guild, raid every night, and one day kick Nefarion's behind. I just don't think I would enjoy that much, I'd rather keep my job, and I love my wife. Okay, the quitting job/wife part was exaggerated, you can probably succeed in raiding with just neglecting them a bit (which I don't think is a good idea either). Nevertheless I see raiding more as a matter of dedication than of skill.

Added to the difficulty of raiding is that besides the individual participants needing skill, practice, and equipment, the raid as a whole needs organization. Already getting 40 people online at the same time for a lengthy stretch of hours isn't easy. But the much bigger problem is that you will have to do that repeatedly, as the raid group needs to go to a dungeon many, many times before beating it. You need to design a loot distribution system, which both motivates the players, and channels the items to where they are most efficient. And these goals might be mutually exclusive: It might be most efficient to give the best armor to the main tank, but then the other warriors in the guild start getting demotivated. And the day the main tank quits the guild for some reason, the whole raid group suffers a big setback.

So when I see the rules that some of the uber guilds have set up, I *do* understand their purpose. Mandatory raid participation, getting kicked out of the guild for prolonged absences, a full DKP loot distribution system, mandatory installation of certain addons and voice chat, all of this helps to succeed in raiding, and advancing faster through the raid content. But at the same time such rules restrict the individual freedoms of the guild members, which is something I would have problems to live with.

I prefer 5-man groups and small raids. These still need skill, practice, and equipment. But generally they need a lot less practice than raid bosses. And thus they don't need the long term organization of the big raids. Many a dungeon I succeeded on the first try, when I was in a good group, and going back is more for fun and loot, and not for beating that boss we failed to beat before.

But that is a personal choice of play style. I'm not much of an "achiever", speaking in Bartle types. I go on raids, because I like most of my guild mates, and want to hang out with them. Beating a new boss together is fun, getting the occasional phat loot is fun, but I'm not really worried if we fail somewhere or I don't win that loot roll. I would like to kill Ragnaros and Onyxia one day, but if that only happens after I hit level 70, that is okay with me. I respect the better knowledge of the game, skill, and dedication of the serious raiders. I just chose not to go that way.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

WoW Journal - 27-March-2006

I didn't play all that much this weekend, but at the times where I played, I was quite successful in my endeavors.

I don't know how other people manage to save enough cash for an epic mount, I always spend my money for other things that I find more important. Raslebol just spent most of his money, 180 gold, on a recipe for Greater Nature Protection potions. I had tried to farm for that recipe myself, killed hundreds of nature elementals in a slime-infested cave in the plaguelands, and finally given up. Now I was happy enough to buy the recipe, I don't see it in the AH very often.

I think the problem is that the drop rate of 1% listed on Thottbot and Allakhazam is wrong: the data collection program they are using only counts drops *if* the mob drops something. If there is loot, there is a 1% chance of the loot being the recipe. But in over half of the cases there is no loot at all, pushing the chance of finding a recipe per kill to far below 1%. By the way, these databases are even more wrong if you look for drop rates of quest items. If 90 people kill the mob without having the quest, and 10 kill it with the quest, and the mob drops the quest item every time for people who have the quest, the database will show a drop rate of 10%. Which doesn't tell you anything about the real drop chance, as you don't know how many people had the quest at the time of killing the mob.

Anyway, now Raslebol has the "greater" versions of the potions that absorb nature, fire, arcane, and shadow damage. I'm just missing the frost potion, for which I will need help. It is dropped by level 59 to 60 elite giants in Wintersprings. I tried soloing them, but barely survived and spent far too many potions and bandages to beat just one of them. I need at least a second player to help if I want to farm them for the recipe.

Saturday I joined a guild raid group which was supposed to try to kill Onyxia. But only 20 people turned up, as not everybody who was interested had the key. At least I could enter Onyxia's lair, and use a potion of Dream Vision to sneak into her cave, have a look around, and do a screenshot. But then the raid group wisely decided to try AQ20 instead. Ahn'Qiraj was a success in that we were finally able to vanquish the first boss, Kurinnaxx. In previous tries my priest had tried to run around a lot to avoid sand traps, which turned out to be futile. Now I doffed a Greater Nature Protection potion and stood still, only running if I noticed a sand trap appearing next to me. Standing away from everybody else, behind Kurinnaxx, helped. Even that running didn't succeed all the time, but the potion kept me alive, and 15 seconds silence just served for mana regeneration. Another winning factor was that our tanks switched aggro much more often, basically after getting one or two debuffs. If you wait until the main tank has 4 debuffs before switching to the next tank, it often is already too late. No loot for me, but the satisfaction of having killed another raid boss. We then worked out a strategy to deal with the waves of mobs coming before the next boss. That worked well enough for the first two waves, but something went wrong on the third wave (are they getting harder?) and we wiped. As you then have to start over from wave one, we decided to try another day.

On Sunday I played Waldin, my shaman, and hit level 35. So I went on a voyage to different engineering trainers. I learned artisan engineering, raising my skill cap to 300, and gnome engineering. It is possible that goblin engineering might be more useful for leveling, by having better recipes for bombs and mines. But I was mainly interesting in the silly gnome gadgets. I already built some, like the Gnomish Battle Chicken, or the Gnomish Death Ray, but have yet to try them out. I'm aware that gnomish gadgets have a chance to backfire, and thus might not be the thing to use in a group, where you could hurt other people. But for soloing it might be fun, even if you end up hurting yourself. Now my only problem is getting to 300 skill, after using all my hoarded resources I only got up to 265. Many engineering items use a lot of different resources, thus are expensive to make, and as only other engineers can use them, they usually don't sell well. I leveled a lot making mithril bullets for guns, but ended up selling most of them to a NPC vendor, as all the high-level hunters use the better thorium bullets.

We held a guild meeting on Sunday, which helped to resolve some conflicts, but not all of them. I wasn't really surprised when that resulted in some people leaving the guild. There are so many different goals and play styles in World of Warcraft, it is impossible for one guild to make everybody happy.

After the guild meeting there were two events, a high-level raid, and a smaller 10-man raid to BRD to help some people get their attunement to the core quest finished. As BRD is going to change to be 5-man only in the next patch, we took the opportunity to get 6 people attuned in one run while it was still easy. And easy it was, I buffed everybody with a Prayer of Fortitude at the start, and that buff still had 6 minutes going when we reached the crystal for the attunement, thus only 54 minutes from start to end. We didn't lose time killing any unnecessary bosses, just the ambassador and the hall of seven, which you can't bypass. I played raid leader with Kyroc, we had one experienced warrior as main tank, and one hunter with lots of raid experience as main assist. So we basically pretended this was a serious raid, and taught the people in the group who hadn't done much raiding before how to wait until the MT gets some aggro, and then attack when the MA acquires a target. That wouldn't have been strictly necessary, but it served as good training, and we sliced through BRD like a hot knife through butter. I was rather pleased with that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Intellectual property in game hints

CNET has an interesting story about Blizzard being sued by a guy selling hint guides for WoW. Basically the guy put together a "book" in pdf format, with hints on how to level and make gold faster, and was selling it on EBay. Blizzard was trying to stop him, by claiming copyright infringements, and made EBay stop the auctions and ban the guy as seller. So now he sues Blizzard, claiming that the use of screenshots etc. in his guide constitutes "fair use".

He is supported by a public interest advocacy group, who argue that "in effect, if the video game industry's actions are upheld, then selling a how-to book about Microsoft Word would infringe Microsoft's copyright, especially if the book contained one or more screenshots of Word's user interface."

Now I'm not a big fan of people selling unofficial hint guides, because they usually just have a bunch of information that the buyer of the book could have gotten for free from a number of fan sites, or even by reading this blog. But I do agree that writing *about* World of Warcraft is not a copyright infringement, even if screenshots are used. Sites like Thottbot or Allakhazam make money by advertising revenue or premium subscriptions, and all they offer is secondary information about games. Just like the guy selling a hundred copy of a $15 hint guide, just in a bigger style. I don't think that can be illegal. And going after the small guy is a sure way to bad publicity.

WoW raid math

Getting a level 60 character equipped with tier 0 armor and equivalent blue items isn't exactly a fast process. But compared to getting tier 1 armor from Molten Core, it is fast. So many people whose guild is finally strong enough to tackle Molten Core have unrealistic expectations of the purple loot they are going to get. But Blizzard designed getting equipment from raids to be slow, very slow, so as to keep hardcore gamers playing this part for a very long time. How slow? Well, lets do some simple math:

A WoW character has 17 item slots in which he can put items with magical bonuses. The other two slots, for shirt and tabbard, aren't filled by raid gear, so we can ignore them. A Molten Core raid has 40 people. So if an ideal guild has 40 players repeatedly going to MC to get themselves equipped with purple stuff, how long does it take before they are all "full epic"?

40 players times 17 slots makes 680 epic items you need to find. A complete Molten Core raid, killing all bosses, will give around 20 items, depending on how generous the trash mobs were with dropping epics. You can only complete Molten Core once a week, because even if you did it in a day, you'd still need to wait for the reset. Thus 680 divided by 20 makes 34 weeks, that is 8 months before your guild is equipped.

Of course not everybody needs purple items in every slot. But realistically you can't expect guilds to already earn 20 epics in their first MC week. And in later raids you'll often find items that nobody needs any more, so there are diminishing returns versus the end. If your guild farms about 10 epic items per week from MC, you'll still need a full month before everybody even gets one single purple item from the endeavor.

I see Molten Core as a good place for big guild events. You can have a large number of guild mates working together, and if you don't take wipes and lack of progress too serious, everybody can have a lot of fun. Going from being pwned by Lucifron to farming him status can be an inspiration for the spirit of the guild. But planning on using MC as the main way to get great equipment for people who just arrived at level 60 is bound to fail, because it is just too slow. And going to Molten Core too often, repeatedly wiping against the more difficult bosses, is wreaking havoc with the morale of a guild. Better do more smaller guild events, "farm" the smaller dungeons to get everybody in tier 0, and soon tier 0.5 gear, and see the few epic items the guild gets from MC as a bonus, not as a goal by itself. Just like in real life, if you continually push yourself to the limits, you carry a great risk of breaking down one day.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Raph Koster leaves SOE

Gamespot reports that Raph Koster is leaving his post of Chief Creative Officer at SOE. His blog isn't saying anything about the move yet, at the time of writing.

Raph is one of the influential game developers in the MMORPG business, having worked both on UO and SWG, and has written a book about the Theory of Fun. Unfortunately many people confuse "Chief Creative Officer" and "Game Developer for SWG" with "person responsible for everything which is bad about SWG", which clearly can't be true. So Raph gets a lot of bad flak that he doesn't deserve.

I don't know if there is a place in the MMORPG industry for "star designers". WoW is doing well enough without one. In a $25 million project it is obvious that no single developer can have designed all of the game elements. And things like bugs, or crashing servers, which tend to annoy the players the most, are totally out of the reach of game developers. In my humble opinion the problems that SOE has with their games (SWG, EQ2) are more related to sloppy execution than to inherently bad design. Sure, Jedi were probably a bad idea from a design point of view, but I found the bugs of SWG, and the bad user interface, a lot more annoying than Jedi.

Still game developers have some influence on gameplay, and it will be interesting to see what Raph is going to do next.

Leading a guild is good for your career

Now I know why my otherwise mild-mannered guild master is taking upon himself the stress of trying to herd this particularly unruly bunch of cats: It is reported to help your career.

Sounds logical. A guild master has considerably less means to get people to do what they should than a manager. To lead a guild you need to exercise a lot of soft power, which is an excellent training for becoming a great boss in real life. If you can resolve a guild drama, there is no people situation in your company you can't handle.

Me, I'm not destined for leadership, neither in a game nor in Real Life ®. I'm more comfortable with an advisory function, and a lot less stress.

Guild drama

Of special interest in the "MMG for Dummies" book I recently reviewed is the chapter talking about guild drama. It says that guild drama is inevitable, and lists lots of examples. I totally agree. My guild has no less than two dramas going on at the same time right now, one involving me.

The drama that does not involve me is a simple question of message board etiquette. Player A posts a stupid spam comment in an otherwise intelligent thread on the guild forums. Officer B deletes the post. Player A gets angry, saying that posts should never be just deleted without notification of the owner, and that he would leave the forums. Some players try to calm him down, saying that effectively it would have been better if the officer just edited out the spam and replaced it by some "edited for spam" notification. Now officer B feels attacked, and announces that he will leave the guild. *Sigh*

The drama that does involve me is more serious, and harder to resolve. We previously had a larger alliance between guilds, where practically only the most hardcore raiders from each guild in the alliance went raiding together. The less hardcore people simply couldn't get into the raids, because raid slots were distributed on a first-signup-first-serve basis, and the hardcore raiders camped the signup calender and always got in first. Much unhappiness by the people who would have liked to go raiding as well sometimes, even if they aren't as hardcore about it. Also one of the three guilds involved was decidedly less nice and less competent than the other two. So the system was changed to now raid partnered with only one guild, giving each guild more slots, enabling other people to participate.

What the hardcore raiders didn't foresee was that the people who hadn't gone raiding before were a) less well equipped, and b) less experienced in raiding, for obvious reasons. Thus in the "new" raids we failed to kill bosses like Geddon, who were previously considered as "easy" by the hardcore guys. That already caused some big resentment from the hardcore towards the n00bs, who had "destroyed" their previous cushy raid arrangements and now messed up their raid success.

Then I dared to suggest that our guilds Geddon strategy wasn't optimal. We are standing in a huge circle around Geddon, thus half of the raid is always out of range of my healing or decursing spells. When the priest in one part of the circle is out of mana (which happens easily if you don't have all that nice purple +int +spirit gear), dead, or is turned into the bomb and has to run, there is nobody who can decurse the people in his group. Thus the casters who get affected by Geddon's debuff which drains their mana and turns it into damage all quickly either die or become completely useless without mana. Thus I informed myself of how other guilds are doing it, and they usually huddle much closer together, and have everybody within spell range.

Of course me being a raiding n00b, suggesting that the hardcore raiders strategy wasn't perfect caused a huge outcry of consternation from them. They claim that this strategy worked perfectly before, and just the n00bs being too stupid to run when they were the bomb caused our wipes. When I didn't shut up, one of the hardcore guys resorted to slander, and claimed that I had exploded in my group 3 times. Well, I might not be an experienced raider, but I sure to have the CTRaidassist Boss mod installed, which warned me every time loudly when I was the bomb, and I'm absolutely sure that I ran each time to the maximum distance that the cave wall allowed me from achieving. So now I'm pretty upset about people telling lies about me. Anybody know a way to log your combat messages in WoW, so you have proof of what actually happened? If me exploding ever hurt anybody, that person must have been close to the cave walls as well. One more reason not to have the hole raid lined up in a huge circle. Being grouped and having a marked bomb explosion spot would be a much better strategy.

My guild suffers from a serious dichotomy of being by design a mature, casual players guild, and having some people who tasted blood in Molten Core who would like to head towards Ragnaros. Delusions of grandeur, in my opinion, we need 5 hours to kill the first three bosses of Molten Core. That is far, far away from being an efficient raiding guild, especially since we don't even use voice chat. So now we have unhappy hardcore people who think the n00bs destroyed their raiding pleasure, and unhappy casual players who resent being shouted at for incompetence.

I hope that situation will resolve itself. Last time when we had a bunch of officers who were only interested in raiding, and the bulk of the guild wasn't following, we had a kind of a putsch: The officers nearly destroyed the guild by all simultaneously resigning. We somehow recovered from that, but it took some time before we were back in shape. I have some doubts about the wisdom of our policy of making all the people who are good at leading raids officers, in a guild which isn't a dedicated raid guild.

The ideal solution would be if the people who love raids would realize that the less experienced raiders will need some help with getting better gear, and some training, before we can hope to achieve more in the raid dungeons. As I mentioned previously, going to Molten Core is not a good way to improve your equipment, the lesser dungeons improve your gear more reliably. And just taking somebody with you on a 40-man raid isn't the best way to teach him raiding either. There needs to be a lot more communication and explanation to make people understand what is going on, if you expect them to behave in an optimal manner. If the hardcore raiders would help the less well equipped, less well trained people in getting better by going with them to the lesser dungeons, it would help both sides in this matter.

Roma Victor

I got an e-mail with a press release from Red Bedlam, makers of Roma Victor. It is always nice if some PR guys thinks that I am "press", thus I'm always blogging these press releases, which is obviously what the PR guy wanted. The whole public relations business is about flattering people into spreading the news about your product. And it works! :)

The press release is about a particular form of "ban" for a player who was found guilty of ganking other players: virtual crucifixion for one week. I'm not sure how it works, but I guess his avatar is visible to everybody nailed to a cross, whether he is online or not. And if he *is* online, he sees himself nailed to the cross and can't move or do anything for a week. Temporary bans in MMORPGs is a good idea, some "crimes" are just not serious enough to deserve a permanent ban for the player.

Roman Victor will officially launch on July 1st 2006, and as you might have guessed is a MMORPG with a Roman theme. As the FAQ is dated 2001, you can see that the game has been long in the making. Roma Victor has a new Virtual Economics Revenue Model (called VERM), which is similar to the Doubloons Oceans of Puzzle Pirates: You buy an account for £20, and get virtual currency worth £10. From then on the game is "free", there is no monthly fee. But you will most likely find that while playing you don't earn enough virtual currency (sesterces) to pay for all the nice virtual stuff you want to have. Then you can buy sesterces directly from the game company.

I think that this is in principle a good concept, we'll have to see how it works out in practice. It means that when you don't play, you don't need to cancel your account, you aren't billed anything. And if you play, you can choose how much money you want to pay for it. If you want to have the nicest possible gear, without earning it yourself, you can have it, but it will cost you cold hard cash, which then enables the game company to pay for their servers etc.

I don't know if I'm going to try this. Roma Victor has free-for-all PvP, with the possibility of robbing somebodies stuff, a concept of which I am not in favor. Just like EVE Online, there are safe zones, like Rome itself or Londinium, where a heavy presence of police forces prevents players getting ganked. But I'm an explorer at heart, and don't like being forced to stay behind walls to avoid being griefed and robbed. Of course if you love free-for-all PvP, this might just be the right game for you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

No guarantee of content

Imagine Hugh Hefner developed a sudden passion for knitting, and when you buy a Playboy magazine, and open the fold-out, you find a knitting pattern there instead of a centerfold. :) Not very likely, because a print magazine rarely changes its subject matter. But a blog does not have such a guarantee of its content.

I write this because I noticed that my blog has changed during the last year. I used to have more game reviews, beta reports, and general MMORPG articles. But nowadays I'm much more monogameous, excuse the pun. I play World of Warcraft nearly exclusively, and thus my writing also is mostly about WoW.

I just got an invite to beta test World of Qin 2. But instead of downloading and trying that game, I just looked at the trailer. World of Qin 2 is a Chinese game, based on Chinese culture instead of Tolkien, but otherwise it looks very much like some sort of Diablo multiplayer game. 3D avatars on 2D isometric backgrounds, and a gameplay consisting of endless point-and-click combat. I'm just not even tempted to try it, even if the game promises to have a tradeskill system with endless possible combinations of stats. I'm just not interested in most of these Asian MMORPGs, I gave up on the RF Online beta after 15 minutes.

So I'm probably failing the expectations of some of my readers, as I'm not keeping up with beta tests any more. I'm just still too busy with my different World of Warcraft characters. And that might well continue for another year or more, if the Burning Crusade expansion is any good.

On the other hand I'm not giving a WoW content guarantee either. I always write about what I play at the moment. One day I will lose interest in WoW, play something else, and write about that instead. I just don't know when that day will come. If I count the September 2004 beta, I'm now playing WoW as long as I did play Everquest, and there is a strong possibility that it will become my longest played MMORPG ever. But long doesn't mean forever. I played Magic the Gathering from 1994 to 2000 with paper cards, and the again from 2002 to 2003 in the online version, but have lost interest in that game pretty much completely. My old MtGO FAQ and Guide web site is out of service.

So I give my excuses to anybody who was expecting some specific content and instead got something else. I'd give you your money back, if you had paid me in the first place. :)

The danger of predictions

Nobel laureate Niels Bohr once said that ""Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." That makes me doubt my wisdom of having posted my prediction of the WoW patch 1.10 release date. Because checking my blog stats with Sitemeter I found that this prediction is currently the most popular entry page of my blog. I'm the top Google hit for "WoW patch 1.10 release", and on the front page when looking for "WoW patch 1.10".

The problem in that is that it's just a prediction, based on the fact that Blizzard Europe is running a "play patch 1.10 on the test servers" contest until the 28th of March, and the 29th of March is a Wednesday (European server maintenance day). So guessing that the patch is scheduled to go live on the 29th is a reasonable assumption, but there is no guarantee. Blizzard could have decided that between the test realm run and going live they still need a week or two to digest the results of the test. Or the test could show that there is a problem, and Blizzard needs some more time to fix some bugs.

So if a week from now you see a horde of people with torches and pitchforks heading in my direction, you know why: Patch 1.10 didn't go live as predicted. That is the danger of predictions. :)

Guide to grinding xp in WoW

Grinding is repeatedly killing the same monster over and over, for experience points (xp), money, or reputation. In World of Warcraft I wouldn't generally recommend grinding for xp, as quests are usually the better alternative. But if you already know all the quests available to your character, because you already played several character of the same faction, grinding might be a quicker way to level.

The advantage of grinding over questing is that you don't lose time traveling from and to the quest givers, or searching your quest target. The disadvantage is that you don't get the quest rewards, nor the reputation that quests give. But if you are already equipped with the very best gear, financed by your higher level characters, chances are that you don't need the quest rewards. And the reputation with the major cities that quests give isn't strictly necessary either.

I'm currently grinding xp with my level 34 shaman, because he is the third Horde character passing this level range, and I just can't stand questing in the Stranglethorn hole any more.

The idea of grinding xp is to get the maximum xp per hour. If that sounds bloody obvious to you, you'll be surprised of how many people don't grasp the "per hour" part of it. Many people try to grind monsters of their level, or even a level or two above them, because these monsters give the most xp *per kill*. But if you do that, not only do the fights take longer, you are also likely to end the combat with less health and/or mana than you started with, necessitating some downtime between fights. So the most important grinding advice is trying to find mobs a bit lower than your level, which still give good xp, but which you can kill a lot faster and with less downtime.

For grinding, you might also need to change your tactics, especially if you are a spellcaster. For example my priest could kill a monster with spells, but at the end of combat he would be low in mana, and thus need to sit down and regenerate it, which takes valuable time. So instead of using spells all the time, he starts the combat with spells (Mindflay, Shadow Word:Pain), then shields himself and finishes the monster off with his wand. That takes a bit longer for the kill, but during the wand phase he regenerates mana, and ends combat with full mana, directly ready for the next pull again. My shaman only uses melee combat and lightning shield to deal damage. If he finds a spot to which he can pull several monsters one after another, he also plants stoneskin and healing totems, which again reduce downtime, by making him have more health at the end of combat. If you have a warrior, experiment with the different stances, sometimes using defensive stance is a good option, because again you end the combat with more health, and have less downtime before the next combat.

I'll not give out a list of monsters to grind, because the perfect target for you will depend on your level, your class, and how crowded the most popular grinding spots are. There is no use in trying to grind against strong competition: if your downtime is caused by there not being enough monsters to kill, move somewhere else. There are some easy principles that make a monster good for grinding: The mob should not be "social", that is you need to be able to pull them one by one. You should choose a mob which does not run away when low in health, because chasing after mobs costs time, and risks aggroing other mobs. Humanoid monsters are often preferable, because they drop cash, and less item loot. If you want to grind beasts, do it not too far away from the next vendor, because you'll lose time when your bags are full and you need to sell your loot.

If you can, grind mobs which give reputation points, for example the furbolgs which give Timbermaw faction. Unfortunately there aren't all that many faction giving mobs, and they are ususally heavily camped. A good place to look for mobs to grind is the various caves, for example with yeti or ogres, because the mobs there are often quite close to each other, so you don't have to walk far between two combats. If you happen to be a miner, these caves often also have mineral ores in them, for an added bonus. If you happen to know a quest that requires killing exactly the mobs you wanted to grind anyway, take the quest as bonus reward.

There are a couple of addons, like Telo's Infobar, which are able to tell you how many xp per hour you gained in your current gaming session. These are valuable tools in getting grinding right. Finding the optimum between killing speed and xp per kill isn't always easy, you'll better experiment a bit. You might need to quickly logout and log back on to reset the counter if you want to test xp per hour of a particular batch of monsters.

As I recommend grinding only if you already have some high-level characters, one of the best tricks to speed up leveling is *not* to play with the character you want to level. Just go dungeoneering with your mates using your high-level characters for some days, and then come back and grind your alt using the rest xp bonus he accumulated, thus doubling your xp per hour. If you grind your low level character all the time, not only will you get less xp per hour, you will also quickly become terribly bored.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

World vs. Game

The Grimwell Online gaming forum restarted as if the 9 month of shutdown didn't happen. The big advantage of discussing there is that you meet people preferring different play styles, and see how they see things. While on this blog the discussion rages around hardcore and casual gamers, on Grimwell Online it is often between "world" and "game" style MMORPGs.

I'm definitely on the "game" side of that discussion, with WoW being very much a "game" MMORPG. But a lot of people prefer a different style of gaming, "world" style, where the interaction between players is more important than the interaction between the player and the game environment. Not only in PvP, but PvP is usually a part of it. Typical "world" MMORPGs are EVE and SWG. While in a game MMORPG your level and equipment is most important, in a world MMORPG it is your social network, be it your network of suppliers and customers, or the army fighting at your side.

Of course every game has both game and world aspects, just to varying degrees. Everquest tried to start out as game, and gradually lead people into a world style, by making the difficulty raise faster than the players power with level, forcing people to band together first in groups, then in guilds. Dark Age of Camelot is a good example of a MMORPG which gets the compromise between game and world nearly right, having a lot of game PvE for leveling up, plus world-changing realm vs. realm PvP battles. If Mythic learned something from their DAoC and Blizzard's WoW, the upcoming Warhammer Online could be a very good game. My ideal game would be "game" in the combat aspects, playing much like WoW PvE during the leveling part, but have much more "world" aspects in the economy, resource gathering like in SWG, a much more intricate crafting system, and a trading and market system much like EVE. The advantage of this would be the ability to switch freely between game and world aspects, and the fact that economic competition is a lot less frustrating than getting killed in PvP.

A quick look at subscription numbers shows that "game" MMORPG are a lot more popular than "world" MMORPG. In fact when people complain about certain aspects of WoW, like high-level raiding or PvP, it is often the world parts which fail to please. But it is also often world parts of a MMORPG, like guilds and social interactions, which keep people playing a MMORPG for a long time. Social interaction is like chatting on a party, there is no inherent end to it. "Game" is about the consumption of developer created content, and once you saw all the content, the game is over, only the world remains.

While the longevity might be more limited, the advantage of the "game" MMORPG is that it is easier to get ex-players to resubscribe. Many people quit WoW after having reached level 60, and running out of content, not liking the "world" style raid or PvP game. With the Burning Crusade expansion, many of these people will be back, either just continueing to play their old level 60 up to the next level cap, or creating a character of the new races, playing in the new low to mid level zones. If you didn't like participating in guild politics, PvP, or raids, having been gone from WoW for a couple of months is no disadvantage at all. You can just restart where you left off. Compare that to my experience when I received a free 10 days retry of SWG some time ago. My armorsmith couldn't just restart: My house had evaporated, which also destroyed my stored resources. But more importantly my network of clients, my guild, my social network were gone. If the MMORPG is about your interaction with other players, a couple of months absence basically destroys everything you had built up.

There is a market for both "game" and for "world" style MMORPGs. But the "game" market is much bigger. If you want to have both aspects in a single MMORPG, you better put them in in a way where they don't depend too much on each other. The old "level up by gaming, then enjoy world interactions at the highest level" concept that many games inherited from Everquest is unfortunately flawed. It just leads to people who hate having to grind the gaming part to get to the world part, and others who complain that the game ends at the highest level and only the world part is left. The world part would much better be in parallel to the game part, and not depend on your PvE leveling at all.

WoW Journal - 21-March-2006

In the last couple of days I did a surprising amount of raiding. I visited Molten Core twice, and Zul'Gurub once. As guild event, for hanging out with friends, these raids are fun enough. I'm just still not convinced of raids being the "purpose" of the game, the pinnacle for which the whole leveling up thing is just the preparation. And of course for loot raids suck.

I usually get nice loot in smaller dungeons, because there is lots of it, and the group size is small, so you are bound to receive *something*, even if it wasn't what you had hoped for. In the two Molten Core raids, each taking 5 hours, I got basically nothing. The first raid got me one "Burning Pitch", grey item of about 5 silver piece sales value. The second raid netted me a piece of coal, worth even less. As each of these raids cost me over 10 gold for repairs and potions, I need to farm gold just for being able to pay for my raids.

That isn't because my guild is so bad that we don't get any epics, or our loot system is so bad. We killed 3 bosses on the first MC run, and a 4th on the second run, and only failed to win against Geddon. But from all the epics that dropped, only one was useable by priests, and that was a wand with 72.3 DPS, which all casters wanted. 4 of the 12 players who wanted it (me included) had the maximum number of raid points, but somebody else won the roll, and I went empty. Basically raid loot is a lottery, few loot of very high quality, divided by a large number of people, resulting in a very low chance of getting anything. I'm generally not lucky in such lotteries. The best loot I got this weekend was a nice casters ring from Dire Maul West, because rolling against 2 other casters in a group of 5 is a lot easier than rolling against 11 other casters in a raid.

In Zul'Gurub I didn't get anything either from the 2 bosses we killed, because I passed on the Primal Hakkari item, which could theoretically have gotten me some epic priest armor item from a quest. But for that quest I would need to have revered faction, which I probably never will achieve, so I passed in favor of somebody who used it for an enchantment quest, which only needed friendly faction. But as I said, going raiding with friends from the guild is fun, even if I'm not lucky with loot.

To pay for these raids, I'm on several "get rich quick" schemes at once, as I dislike the monotonous monster farming method of making money. One scheme is trying to buy cheap resistance rings for arcane or frost protection. Having seen how high the prices for fire, shadow, and nature resistance rings went up when people started visiting the dungeons that needed those resistance, I figure it is only a question of time until Blizzard makes a dungeon which needs frost or arcane resistance. Of course that is more of a "get rich slow" scheme, as I'll have to park the rings on some alt for a couple of months before making money from them.

A similar scheme, with a much quicker payout, is hording volatile rum for making goblin rocket fuel. The rum and fuel are currently very cheap, between 30 and 80 silver. But supply is low, as you either need to buy the rum in limited amounts from the drunk in DM North after a successful tribute run, or you will have to slaughter lots of pirates in Stranglethorn, where the drop rate of the rum is very low. So now I hope that when patch 1.10 comes, presumably next week, and goblin rocket fuel is needed for an early part of the tier 0.5 upgrade quest, I can sell the fuel for at least 2 gold each, tripling my investment.

Of course those schemes are all speculative, and could go horribly wrong. So I did have to find a way to make money more reliably, but without farming monsters. It turns out that I enjoy gathering herbs with my warrior alchemist, and that gathering high level herbs pays as well as farming mobs. But the only alchemy I'm still doing is transmuting essences into more expensive other essences, and making greater fire protection potions. Making standard potions is downright stupid, I just buy them from the auction house. For example I just bought a bunch of major mana potions for 1 gold each. If I made the potion myself, I would need 3 Dreamfoil, 2 Icecap, and 1 vial. Each Dreamfoil sells for 60 silver in the AH. Add the price of the Icecap and vial, and making the potion costs me twice of what I need to pay somebody else to make them. What a borked economy!

Gathering herbs isn't that easy as you would think. Of course at level 60 I rarely have any problems with the monsters running around the herbs. But I *do* have problems with other people gathering herbs as well. There is a huge difference in my yield depending on time of day. If one or two other players are gathering herbs at the same time as me, gathering herbs isn't all that profitable. If I'm the only herbalist in the zone, it is jackpot time, with half a hour of gathering netting me up to 20 gold.

My first instinct was gathering herbs in the early morning, on weekends, because I'm an early riser, and the server population at that time is low. That turned out to not work well. Server population is low, but of those high-level players that are on, most are doing solo activities for gathering money and stuff for their group activities later, and there are lots of herb gatherers around. Then on Sunday, after finishing our MC raid at 10 pm, I go picking flowers and find Azshara totally deserted. All the high-level players are busy in a group or raid, and nobody is gathering herbs, so I'm able to gather loads of them. The trick is to pick *all* herbs you see in a zone, even those with a lower market value. Due to the way respawns work, it seems that clearing out an area of herbs totally increases the chance of something respawning, which could well be something of higher value. And even a lowly Sungrass sells for at least 10 silver, so bowing down once to pick one, netting you up to 3 of them, is still faster and more profitable than killing an average mob in that zone.

Well, at least now I know what to do during week days when my guild is raiding and I don't participate. Due to my guild not using voice chat, our raids last too long for me, starting only at 8 pm. As I have to get up a 6:30 am, I just can't raid until around midnight on the night before a work day. And with part of the guild living in the UK, one time zone earlier than me, we can't start much earlier. So my usual weekday play schedule from 6 pm to 10 pm doesn't quite fit into my guild's raid schedule of 8 pm to midnight. And I thought I had escaped time zone problems, when I quit the US servers! I'm afraid I didn't account for the "personal" time zone of the many people that get up later and go to bed much later than me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies

"Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies" by Scott Jennings, aka Lum the Mad is a book for beginning MMORPG players. Makes you wonder why I review it here, neither me nor the majority of my readers are beginners. But the book is actually quite interesting even for the MMORPG veteran, no, make that MMG veteran, the abbreviation the author prefers.

About the author, Scott Jenning, using the name Lum the Mad was the worlds first MMORPG blogger. And that at a time when the word "blog" didn't even exist yet. So you could say that if I am "standing on the shoulder of giants" with this blog, they are Lum the Mad's shoulders. He then moved on to be first a database programmer for Mythic Entertainment, and recently a game developer for NCSoft. Which is a good thing, because Scott has a lot of very sensible ideas about MMGs, which could use some representation among game developers.

The book is part of the "for Dummies" series, published by Wiley Publishing, and follows certain convention of that series, like starting each chapter with a "The 5th Wave" cartoon. Like most of the "for Dummies" books, it gives an excellent introduction into the subject, even for people that start out with zero knowledge. The book comes with a DVD with demo versions of Dark Age of Camelot ® and Shadowbane ®. The sad thing is that on one place in the book it is mentioned that there would be a World of Warcraft demo on the DVD, which would have been a much better choice for beginners than Shadowbane, but obviously the publishers couldn't get Blizzard to allow them to do that.

The book starts by giving an introduction into what MMGs are, what you need to play, why you need to pay a monthly fee, and what games there are. In spite of having worked for the company making Dark Age of Camelot at the time of writing, Scott remains surprisingly neutral in his descriptions of the different games in the book. There are more DAoC screenshots than the market share of that game would justify, but no blatant preference of DAoC over other games.

The second part is about your first day, and your first week, in your chosen game, explaining character class archetypes, quests, and how to get customer support when stuck. Part three then goes on to explain how to group, and how to behave in relations with other players. Part four explains guilds, from their use to all the dramas that can happen in them.

Part five is especially interesting for veteran players as well, as it talks about the endgame. Scott has a concept of a MMG being two different games, one about leveling up, and one about what to do when you are at the top level. While it might sometimes feel like that, I don't totally agree with that, I see the endgame more as leveling up your meta-level with other means. But that doesn't invalidate Scott's options about what to do at the top level: being an online merchant, roleplaying, raiding, or PvP.

The book finishes with parts six and seven talking about the game outside the game, message boards, blogs (Damn, he didn't name me! Just kidding, I didn't expect him to. :) ), and the like. It does a couple of lists of ten, like "ten things I wish I knew when I played my first MMG", or "ten proudest achievements in an MMG" by some other people. A glossary of MMG jargon, index, and a chapter on how to install the DVD end the book.

I really enjoyed reading this book, because I agreed with most of what Scott Jennings is saying. There are some minor mistakes (e.g. he recommends looking for people with a question mark over their head to find new quests in WoW, when in fact its an exclamation mark.), but those are just minor niggles. For the most part it is surprising how Scott manages to describe things in a way which are true for many games at once, be it DAoC, SWG, EQ or WoW. It just shows how little variation there is between underlying game principles in the different MMGs. Even the description of human nature revealing itself in things like griefing or guild drama are spot on, and true for many games at once. While the games described are those of late 2005, most of the book will remains true for many years to come, until somebody comes up with a completely new way of doing a MMG.

I recommend buying this book, even for a MMG veteran. You will enjoy reading it, and you can still pass it on to your little brother, or significant other, or whoever else you think needs some more education on the basic facts about massively multiplayer games.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The mark of the hardcore: Voice chat

If you had to find out whether somebody is a hardcore MMORPG player by looking at one single fact, you should look at whether he uses voice chat or not. The correlation between "being hardcore" and "using voice chat" is pretty solid, all the uber guilds use it, and nearly no casual players ever even tried.

Voice chat correlates to hardcore by two ways: dedication and effect. It requires some dedication to set up a voice chat server, and have all the guild members buy the necessary hardware and install the necessary software. But as this investment has a huge payback in terms of MMORPG effectiveness, it is well worth it for the hardcore players, for who effectiveness is important.

I know my guild isn't hardcore, and isn't even a real raiding guild, because we don't use any voice chat at all. So while for example on Friday we did a Molten Core run which wasn't bad, killing Lucifron, Magmadar, and Gehennas, due to lack of voice chat that feat took us over 5 hours. As we killed both Magmadar and Gehennas on the first attempt, I'd say that we didn't use much more time in the actual boss fight than other guilds. But getting people organized between each fight, even on the way through the trash mobs, without voice chat takes forever. Distributing loot can also take quite some time when you discuss by typing. Two of my D&D friends are in a hardcore guild with voice chat, and killing the first 3 bosses of MC takes them less than 2 hours.

A quarter of a century ago (oh my god!), when I was a teenager with his first ZX81 computer and a dislike of writing things with a pen, I took classes in typewriting. I still got a nice diploma stating that at the end of that class I was able to type 170 letters per minute, error-free, on a mechanical typewriter, without looking at my fingers. By now, with years and years of computer practice, I type probably even faster than that. But I'm well aware that very few other people around me ever formally learned how to type. That makes chat by typing in a hectic situation pretty impractical. By the time the priest types "Help! I'm being attacked", he is already dead. The fact that while typing chat you can't use your keyboard to enter game commands doesn't help. Voice chat is much more efficient, because you can use your mouse and keyboard with your hands while speaking. And whatever the group size, 5 to 40, improved communication leads to better results, less delay, and less deaths due to misunderstandings.

One reason I don't do PvP in World of Warcraft is voice chat. If you are in a group, pickup or even guild without voice chat, and you are paired against a guild using voice chat, the difference in efficency is so huge as to make the whole exercise pointless. Some people see that the people that repeatedly beat them wear epic gear and think that they got beat by the better equipment. But in fact the other side has both better gear and a much better PvP success rate because of voice chat.

Unfortunately voice chat isn't for everybody. I personally dislike wearing headphones, I can't stand prolonged pressure on my ears. And speaking in voice chat is quite annoying to whoever is living with you. My wife absolutely hated it when I tried it. And you can just imagine the casual player dad who can only play after bringing his children to bed doesn't want to wake them up by shouting "Heal me, heal me!" into a microphone. If my guild ever introduces voice chat, I would just let it run over the loudspeakers, as pure listener, and not talk. But even that, having one or two guys in a raid give orders, and the rest listening, would increase our efficiency a lot.

Grimwell is back!

While I was considering making my own forum to get some place for intelligent discussion of games going, something happened which hopefully makes that unnecessary: Grimwell Online is back in business. Including the forums, which used to be one of the best places to discuss MMORPG without getting flamed for your opinion. Please, check them out, start a thread, participate in the discussion. The forums have been down for 9 months and need some resuscition.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Who's my main?

In general I'm pretty happy to have two level 60 characters now in World of Warcraft. The idea is to play both, and switching as needed. I can join a guild group and ask as what I should show up, warrior or priest, depending on what classes the other guys play. When soloing, I would do different things with the two characters too, for example picking flowers with my herbalist/alchemist warrior, or farming reputation for an enchantment recipe with my tailor/enchanter priest.

But the prospect of patch 1.10 coming soon made me realize that new content will force me to make a decision of who of my characters is my "main" and will do the new stuff first, with the other character either doing it later or not at all. Who will finish collecting his tier 0 set and do the quest series to upgrade to 0.5 first, and do I really want to do that twice? That will become extremely relevant when the Burning Crusade comes out, and I will need to decide who to level to 70 first.

Right now the sign point towards Kyroc the priest being my "main". I don't really have a personal preference between tank and healer role, and like both equally well. But in my guild groups a priest is much more welcome at the moment than a warrior, due to a relative oversupply of warriors compared to priests. Actually quite a lot of my guild mates with warriors made a priest or mage as alt, so there is little chance of there ever being no warrior available, somebody can always log on his alt.

Raslebol will always have a special place in my heart, being my first character in now 7 years of playing MMORPG who ever hit the level cap of the game I'm playing. And I'll certainly level him up to 70 too. But I guess he'll come after Kyroc in that, and I think I'll skip the tier 0.5 upgrade quest series for him.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Do I need a forum?

I am absolutely delighted about the high quality and quantity of the discussion in the comments here recently. Okay, people don't always agree, sometimes there are some heated words, but generally we are approaching a discussion level last seen on the defunct Only that I'm the only one able to start topics right now, which doesn't seem quite fair to you guys.

Should I look into ways of getting a forum running, where we could have both threads discussing my blog entries, and you would be able to start threads too?

I'm not a programmer, and haven't got a clue how easy or hard that is to do. But I would like at least to hear your feedback on whether you would like to have a message board here. And suggestions on how to do it, if you happen to have more knowledge in this area than I do.

Loot distribution systems

Some of my blog entries are totally spontaneous. Others have crystallized in my mind over a longer period, and sometimes I even do some proper research on the issue. I had planned for some time to write something about loot distribution systems. I did find one nice blog entry from Chrismue on it; I can give you the link, but the blog is in German and thus you might not be able to understand much of it. So I'll go ahead and give my own view on the subject.

In a perfect world, where greed doesn't exist and nobody makes mistakes, you don't need a loot distribution system. In the real world it turned out to be very necessary, as earlier games often had problems with "ninjalooting", people grabbing more than their fair share of loot in a group by being always the first to loot, often even looting before the combat was finished. The invention of items which are "bind on pickup", that can't be traded, made loot systems even more necessary, as sometimes people would accidentally pick up an item somebody else could have used better, and then were unable to pass it to him even if they wanted to.

World of Warcraft already has a quite advanced loot distribution system built into the game. Free-for-all is possible, but it is not even the default mode. The default is called group-loot: Grey and white items are looted by taking round robin turns. Green and better items are displayed to all group members, who then can decide to pass, roll need, or roll greed on it. If you pass you don't get anything. If you pick need, a random dice roll for everybody who picked need determines who gets the item. Picking greed falls in between, stating that if nobody wants the thing, you'd take it for selling. If nobody selects need, a random dice roll between the people who selected greed determines who gets the item.

Group loot is a sophisticated enough system for most pickup groups. Most people are willing to select "need" only on equipment which is really better than the piece they are currently wearing. So usually the blue bind on pickup gear is needed by somebody, and the green stuff is distributed by everybody selecting greed. Worst case scenario in a pickup group is somebody selecting "need" on everything, at which point you either kick him out of the group, or everybody starts selecting "need" all the time.

As soon as you start forming groups regularly with your guild, instead of with random people, other considerations come into play. If you are reasonably sure that you will group with the same people again and again, it makes sense to consider who in the group would benefit the most from some item. For example the tier 0 set items are not strictly class specific, and a priest could wear Devout items as well as Magister or Dreadmist and profit from them. But as Dreadmist for example has relatively high bonuses to stamina, which is very useful to warlocks, but less useful to priests, it would make sense for the priest in the group to let the warlock have the item. That way the warlock gets stronger, which will help the priest in the future, and if later the Devout piece drops, the priest can assume that the warlock would pass on it.

That works pretty well in my guild. Recently we looted some leggings which were an upgrade to three of the spell casters present, and we ended up comparing what we were currently wearing, and giving it to the guy who had the worst legs, for whom it was the biggest upgrade. Unfortunately even my guild is not living in a perfect world, and the "common sense" loot distribution doesn't work in all cases, because sometimes people don't agree what common sense is. My warrior lost a roll on Drakki's shield in UBRS against a shaman, where the shaman argued that for him it was a big upgrade, and I argued that a shield with +10 defence skill is a warrior shield and he should go looking for a shield with +int instead. Even if you are in "master looter" mode, where one guy has the final decision on who gets what, these situations aren't easy to resolve, and put a lot of stress on the one master looter.

Things become even more complicated when raiding places like Molten Core. Many trash mobs don't have any loot at all, while the bosses drop 2 epic items. So after a typical raid you might have some people with no loot at all, having to pay for their repair bill by farming gold, while a few of the others got one or more highly valuable epic items. In one recent MC raid I participated in we only had very few druids, and by a statistical fluke found lots of druid gear, so that of 8 epic items in total one druid received 3 epics, while there was absolutely no item for the many priests and warriors present.

One of the reasons why there are very few to none pickup raids to Molten Core is this unbalanced loot distribution. It simply doesn't make sense to spend 4 hours with strangers and ending up in the negative, just for having a small chance to be the lucky lottery winner. A guild raid to MC is more interesting, because you can count on everybody gaining more know-how of how to beat, and even if it isn't you who gains the epic items, somebody else getting stronger will help you the next time around.

But even in a guild raid to Molten Core, neither the built-in loot system nor "common sense" will always be enough. As these places don't have enough loot to give something to everybody, you might well have one guy going on half a dozen guild raids to MC and never seeing an item for his class drop. Then when an item he could use finally drops, he would be pretty upset if that item is given to somebody who is on his first raid to there. Argueably the guy going on many rights has contributed more to the continued success of the guild in MC, and deserves the item more than somebody of the same class who rarely goes raiding. That is why most guilds that raid regularly have some sort of raid point system, which is managed internally by the guild, with no support from the game interface. (I wonder if anyone ever wrote an addon to handle this)

One fairly typical system is the DKP (Dragon Kill Points) system, which dates back to Everquest, but is used by many guilds in World of Warcraft as well. In that system everybody who participates in a raid receives a number of points for participation, or a number of points per boss killed. And when an item is dropped that several players want, the item is auctioned off to the highest bidder of points, who then loses the amount of points bid, and thus has less chance to get the next item.

My guild uses a different system, developed by our guildmaster Wivelrod with input from other guild members: Like in a DKP system you get points for every raid you participate in. But you don't bid points for an item, you can only use either all of your points or nothing. The player(s) with the most points gets a +50 on his /random 100 roll, and is thus very likely, but not absolutely sure, to win. Only if he wins, he loses all his raid points. The system isn't perfect, and we use it only for Molten Core now, but it avoids some of the problems a full DKP system has with collusion in auctions, and not giving casual raiders enough hope to gain anything.

The advantage of such point systems is that it can encourage people to go on raids even when they already have the loot from that particular raid dungeon. And everybody gets the feeling that even if he didn't win anything this time, at least he improved his chances to get something the next time. The disadvantage of raid point systems is that they all overly favor people who go on raids more often. Because even without points, somebody doing twice as many raids already has twice the chance of getting something.

This is a fairly difficult policy option for a guild. If you distribute loot on a "who needs it most" basis, the newer players are favored. If you distribute loot with a raid point system, the players being longer in the guild and those who participate most often in raids are favored. Both ways have dangers in their extremes: If the newer players get most of the loot, it is difficult to persuade the more experienced guildies to lead the newbies through places that the older players have already visited far too often. If the older players get most of the loot, then there is a risk that the newer players never go on raids, or even leave and split the guild to effectively reset the raid point tables. Guilds have a natural attrition at the top, with older players becoming bored after some time and leaving, thus they have an interest in bringing a steady stream of new players into their ranks, before their numbers shrink so much that nobody can go raiding any more. But at the same time you need to keep the older players happy, so they don't leave all that fast.

Getting a raid together is already not easy for a guild. The fact that different players are differently far advanced in their meta-levels and the progression from UBRS raid via ZG and MC to one day Onyxia, BWL, or AQ, makes this even harder. Those who drove the progress of the guild as a whole will, when the guild arrives at BWL, think that they deserve the tier 2 loot more than somebody who just made level 60. But these newer players will not be motivated to go to places where they can't play a major role in the success of the raid due to their lower meta-level, if they obviously don't have a chance to get loot there due to some DKP system.

Loot systems are evolving all the time. World of Warcraft has this need/greed system that evolved in previous game integrated in their game already. That makes me wonder if one day games will have integrated loot distribution systems for guilds, with the game itself counting raid points. As advanced WoW is with group loot, as backward it is in everything concerning guild management. EQ2 for example has far better web-based guild management tools than WoW. On the other hand the interface of WoW is pretty flexible, and has already been improved several times, so maybe one day even a guild raid point system will be integrated.