Friday, June 30, 2006

The end of evil

When last year Edward Castronova argued on Terra Nova that Horde characters in World of Warcraft are evil, he was widely ridiculed. There is no "evil" in World of Warcraft, players of either faction are constantly on quests that are helping somebody else. Whether you are a holy paladin or a demon-summoning warlock, it doesn't change the way in which you help the farmer get the deed to his farm back from the evil bandits. There is no moral choice, no option to sell the deed to the highest bidder instead of returning it for a lousy reward. Even the undead are "good" undead, fighting the evil scourge undead.

If a game like Black & White, or Knights of the Old Republic, or Fable, gives you the option to play good or evil, that is just a thinly disguised way to enable you to play the game twice. You chose evil or good by what you think is more useful to beat the game, and then if you play it again, you chose the other side, just to see something new. It is not a moral choice, but a tactical one. We don't feel that burning down a virtual village in a game world and killing the inhabitants is an evil act, after all those are just colored pixels that don't feel anything. Advancing in the game is the most important, even that means that in the next mission we have to throw Napalm on that Vietnamese village to continue.

All that ends us in a total inability between gamers and anti-game advocates or politicians to understand each other. The gamer picks up minor points that the criticism got wrong, like "there are no points in GTA for shooting and raping hookers", and fails to see that the criticism otherwise wasn't all that unjustified. Most of what you do in GTA *is* a depiction of very, very evil behavior. By the time you finished the game you have committed more crimes than any known peace-time gangster. The anti-gamer fails to see that all these crimes are virtual, and don't lead to you going out and doing the same in real life.

"Evil" has become a joke. In Dragon Quest 8 one of the heroes has a special combat move with whirling axes, called "Axes of Evil", har, har, nice joke on George Bush. But I wonder if all this making light of evil, all this gaming without true moral choices, is not making the medium of video games poorer. Fact is that in the real world there is real evil, guys like Sadam Hussein, Kim Jong-il, or Robert Mugabe aren't just "misunderstood". And evil isn't limited to crazy dictators, there are people everywhere that like to be cruel to others. And ordinary people have to make hard moral choices sometimes, between good and evil. Previous entertainment media understood that, and made good and evil a major recurring theme in many books and movies. Only video games present the end of evil, a world in which neither good nor evil matters, where "evil" is just a thin plot element to explain why you as the hero have to go out and kill that boss. We end up with players in online games doing evil things that actually hurt real people, if just in a minor way, and not even realizing the difference. GTA won't turn anybody into a mass murderer, but it is hard to believe that hundreds of hours of inconsequential evil and violence should have no effect whatsoever on how you perceive evil and violence in the real world.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Traffic report

June 30, the last day of the first half of the year. So I'm checking how the traffic on this blog developed over the past months, and the growth is astounding. I had more hits in this half year than in all the time from 2003 to 2005.
Instead of 2,500 average visitors per month in the last half of the previous year I had an average of about 5 times that per month in the first half of this year, with the month of June seeing 20,000 visitors.

Despite these large numbers, the readers I value most are the small handful of faithful who read my blog regularly, and who are leaving feedback in the comments.

Wifi on the train

Yesterday I spent half an hour on a train in northern England. And there I found out that the local railway company GNER is now offering Wifi on their trains. As I had my laptop with me, of course I had to try that.

The result was mixed. Half an hour of Wifi cost me £2.95 ($5.35), which isn't the most horrendous charge I've seen, but still not cheap. And then the connection was rather slow, and sometimes just stopped. Still I managed to make a move in Travian, and to read my e-mail. But I wanted to write this blog entry *on* the train, and couldn't get connected. For 5 minutes I couldn't get anywhere, and then I got a slow connection again when approaching my final destination, and it was too late to blog.

I'm sure that with time we will see more Wifi connections in public transport. I've heard they are working on solutions to offer Wifi in planes, which for intercontinental flights would be really nice. But right now Wifi coverage both mobile and at places like train stations or airports is still patchy, and often too expensive.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

WoW paid character transfer started

The paid character transfer from one World of Warcraft server to another went live. Conditions are found in the official FAQ. But up to now this only works on the US servers, and the list of eligible realms is still rather short.

Blizzard is obviously still a bit unsure about how much demand there will be, so they are phasing in the service slowly.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WoW Journal - 28-Jun-2006

Not much to report today, except that I finally found a good group for the Stockades and managed to do all the quests I had there. The only quest I didn't do is the one that starts in the Wetlands, because it has a stupid level 30 elite quest as prerequisite to be allowed to go on a level 25 dungeon quest. So I guess I'm finished with the Stockades, it is one of the most boring dungeons in World of Warcraft. And I never found any blue loot in there. Next stop: Blackfathom Deeps, a dungeon with a lot more character, and much better loot.

In other news my priest made level 26 by handing in the quests, and he will remain there until the weekend. This evening and tomorrow I'll be out on a short business trip to Newcastle. I hope the hotel has internet access and I can at least make a move or two in Travian, but I certainly won't have the time to play WoW on the laptop.

Nintendo wins console wars

For christmas I am going to buy a Playstation 3 for myself. I'll buy it because it is backward compatible with library of PS2 games, and because the Playstation historically has the best selection of strategy games and role-playing games, and I expect the PS3 to follow the same trend. I want to play Final Fantasy XIII on the PS3! But at the same time I am aware that I am not a typical consumer. I'm adult, have a good job, and spending $600 for the better version of the PS3 console isn't killing me. The average consumer will be a lot more price sensitive.

The XBOX 360 in the better version (with hard drive) costs $400.

The Wii will cost "less than $250", lets say $200.

Now if you were a parent with your children pestering you for new game console, and a tight budget, would you buy the console for $200, the console for $400, or the console for $600? The PS3 just isn't a simple game console anymore, it is a complete home entertainment system with Blue-Ray DVD player, online capabilities, and everything. Most people simply don't need all of that, thus they will buy the console that they understand, and which is affordable. And that is the Wii. By the end of 2008, unless Nintendo has production problems, the Wii will have outsold the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Nintendo wins this round of the console wars.

Individual vs. Guild

Alan was writing me about an interesting subject, the tension that sometimes arises between the general good of a guild, and the wishes of the individual guild member. That happens most often when raiding, when it turns out that the perfect raid group and the reality of people actually showing up are two very different things.

The perfect raid guild has exactly 40 members, with a perfect mix of classes, and all of these members turn up punctually for every raid and never have to leave early. Hands up who knows such a guild. Nobody? Thought so!

The first problem for a raid is getting 40 people together at all. Now if your guild only has 40 members, you can be sure that less than 40 will turn up. Not everybody can raid every night. So what most guilds do is having more guild members eligible for raiding than raiding slots, in the hope that 40 of them will turn up for the raid. If just 38 or so turn up, that is still okay, but if you fall below 30 you might have problems with encounters that would be easy for 40. The problem starts when more than 40 people turn up for the raid, because then somebody has to decide who goes and who can't go.

Most guilds have some sort of sign-up system, either on their website, or using addons like the Guild Event Manager GEM. So if in doubt, the first 40 people to sign up get a spot in the raid. Unfortunately that isn't ideal either. Why should somebody who just happened to be around when the raid entry was put on the calendar have priority over somebody who happened to not log on that day? Besides sign-up systems lead to perverse incentives, people signing up "just in case", and then not showing up for the raid, while somebody who would have had time didn't sign up, because the raid was shown as full. The next problem is what to do if among the first 40 people that signed up there are 10 hunters and not a single priest. If more than 40 people show up on time for the raid, it might be better for the guild as a whole to take some priest from the waiting list in preference over some hunter who signed up early.

Probably a better system is a blind sign-up system, where nobody gets a guaranteed spot. When the raid begins, the raid leader has to make some tough choices based on optimum class mix, competence of the players, who signed up when, and who didn't get a spot in the last raid. Very difficult to handle, but unless somebody comes up with a brilliant raid-spot-distribution point system, there is no easy way. Actually I find raid-slot distribution more difficult than loot distribution.

A related problem pits the player's right to play what he wants against the guild's need of certain classes. I have both a level 60 warrior and a level 60 priest, but as the guild usually has a lot more warriors than priests in any raid, it would create some tension if I would chose to bring my warrior. And imagine if a guild's main tank declares that now that he is full epic, he doesn't have any interest in coming to raids with his warrior any more, but wants to come with his rogue alt.

World of Warcraft raiding guilds are often more a confederation by necessity, than a band of brothers. Churn rates are high, and few people are willing to put their individual goals behind the greater good of the guild. That is only logical if they don't know if they will be with the same guild in half a year. On the one side a guild needs to be fair to everybody, because otherwise people simply leave. On the other side a raid leader needs to be able to take decisions like who to invite with a view to maximizing the raid's chance of success, and not only on perceived "fairness". The more people learn to trust each other, and to look out for the good of the guild, the easier it becomes. A guild full of egoists is bound for failure.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Travian review

What do you get if you cross "Age of Empires" with a Tamagotchi? A game not unlike Travian probably. Travian is a brower-based strategy game, which you can play for free, or get in a luxury version with added tools for a very modest fee. But unlike other games which hold your attention intensively for a short period of time, Travian belongs to a category of games you could call passive web gaming. It only needs your attention for a minute or two, but that once or twice per day, for a period of weeks or months.

In Travian, you are the chieftain of a small village in Roman times, with a choice of playing a Roman, a Gaul, or a Teuton. You control the village and a fixed number of spaces around the village. The spaces are used to gather resources: wood, clay, iron, and crops. With these resources you can either increase your resource production, or you can build buildings in the village. Just like in Age of Empires or similar RTS games, there is a building tree, containing both peaceful buildings like granaries, and buildings like barracks which allow you to build troops. Once you have troops, you can raid other villages and steal their resources, waging war against the thousands of other players on the same server.

Technically you could call Travian a real-time strategy MMO. Only that the "real time" is very, very slow. When you start any action, like increasing your resource production, it will tell you not only how many resources that action needs, but also how many minutes it will take. And during that time you can't build anything else, although you can do other game actions like sending messages to your neighbors. Then you build the next thing, and the next, and soon you will run out of resources. Looking on your map you will get an information of how many resources you gather *per hour*, and then you quickly realize that it will take a couple of hours before you have enough resources to continue.

That is where the "passive gaming" part comes into play. Most of the time Travian plays by itself. Once or several times per day you just log on, check what has happened, and use the accumulated resources to build the next thing. Now if you ever played play-by-mail games you will be familiar with that concept, and actually think of Travian as being fast. But in comparison with normal RTS games, Travian of course is extremely slow. Playing Travian is a bit like checking your e-mail, you do it regularly, but it only takes short bursts of activity.

A game of Travian takes a very long time. Your goal is to become big and powerful, maybe form an alliance with other players, and control a huge empire of many villages. The game ends when one alliance builds a level 100 Wonder of the World, but the average player will not "win" the game, just like you can't win WoW. Neither can you lose, your last village can't be taken away from you, and you will always have some minimal production. In your first 7 days in the game you can't be attacked at all, and during that time you can build a cranny, a place where you can store resources that other players can't steal from you, no matter how big the army is they raid you with.

Travian has over 100.000 registered players, with a few thousand online at any given time. Which isn't half bad for a game with simple non-animated 2D graphics. Although it doesn't take much of your time, it is strangely addictive. Check it out, it's free!

WoW Journal - 27-June-2006

I've had one of the most disappointing pickup group experiences in the Stockades last night, making me really angry. The group consisted of my priest, a mage, and three warriors. One of the warriors tanked, the other two dealt damage, so it went quite well. We first took the left branch, reached the boss at the end, and wiped while killing him. Only one guy in the group got the quest item. When we zoned back in, the mobs in the hallway had respawned, and we couldn't get back to the corpse to loot him before he despawned. So we went right, to the tougher boss, Bazil. In spite of 3 warriors in the group, they didn't manage to taunt Bazil off me, and I died. But everybody else survived, looted Bazil's head, and then they all just left. Nobody stayed to help me get through the respawned trash mobs, so I never got the quest item. :( Two bosses downed with no quest item for me, and in the second case I would just have needed a bit of help to get it. Really disappointing how people aren't willing to help other players who helped them.

Afterwards I did some more quests in Redridge, and leveled to 25. But then I found a group to Shadowfang Keep and went there for loot and xp. Excellent group, we cleared SFK very fast and without any wipe. But none of the drops were useful for me, Arugal dropped his belt again, and so I only ended up with loot for selling.

WoW Journal - 26-June-2006

The journal for this weekend is a tale of two priests, one high level and one low level. I like playing both, for maximum variety, but somehow this weekend I had a lot more fun with the low level one.

My level 60 priest started the weekend by checking out the new Scourge invasion related quests in Light Hope's Chapel. Best summary I found was, as usual, on WoWwiki. But basically the quests are based on a looooong grind. You need to either hand in expensive crafted items or monster body parts to get insignia, and then you can exchange the insignia for rare or epic items. The better your Argent Dawn reputation is, the less insignia you need for the hand-in. So you shouldn't even think of trying this unless you are at least revered with Argent Dawn. But even at revered, to get an epic item will require you to kill several *thousands* of monsters (estimates range between 5,000 and 10,000 kills per epic). So I decided to drop that idea and just ignore the quests.

I can fully understand why you can't hand out epic items for killing 10 foozles (foozle = some generic monster in a MMO). But I find killing 10,000 foozles for that epic is too much. To get one epic for every member of a raid group, you need to clear out Molten Core twice, Ragnaros not included. That you can do in two weekends, in less than 20 hours. Killing 10,000 foozles at a rate of one foozle per minute will take you nearly 200 hours, and then most foozle spawns will be contested, because many other players are on the same quest. I think Blizzard is making gaining epics by players who can't spend several hours in a block in a raid group too hard, there is too much of a "grouping bonus" for raids.

Well, as the Scourge invasion turned out not to be an interesting way to advance my character, I returned to my "normal" weekend program of raiding. I missed the first MC of the weekend due to Real Life ®, but was able to participate in one Onyxia raid and one raid of the second half of Molten Core. Unfortunately neither were particularly successful.

On Onyxia we wiped three times, before the dreaded Real Life ® struck again and I had to leave. No success, although we got her down to 15% or so. Not bad for less than 30 people. If enough players would have had the Onyxia key, we would surely have beaten her. As a priest this encounter is a lot more interesting than with my non-MT warrior. Besides the healing to be done, I also participate in putting dots and wand damage on Onyxia during the second phase. On all three attempts I only died in phase three, surviving several hits of Onyxia's deep breath in phase two with the help of Greater Fire Protection potions.

In Molten Core we found that Sulfuron had been made considerably tougher. Our previous strategy of killing his four healers by bundling them up and killing them with AoE spells simply didn't work any more. We tried another strategy, but didn't come up with anything working, and decided to try it another day. It isn't quite clear on the comments I read on different boards whether that change was intentional, or whether that encounter is bugged and will be fixed later. We did manage to kill Golemagg. No epics for me, but that was to be expected when only one boss dies.

When not raiding with my level 60, I was leveling my low level priest on the new server, who has now reached level 24. I did one pickup group to Shadowfang Keep, which was just brilliant. All good players who knew the place well, no wipe at all, even Arugal posed no problem. And I won both a blue pair of caster leggings, and Arugal's belt. Besides that group I mainly did quests, in Ratchet, Stonetalon, and Redridge. Mostly soloing, except for two groups killing elite orcs in Stonewatch Keep. I'll need to go back there when I'm 2 levels higher, the final boss is level 26 elite and has too many other orcs in his castle.

I got my tailoring past 150 and learned how to make 10-slot silk bags. I checked the auction house and the only silk bags on offer were totally overpriced at 1 gold. But silk cloth was reasonably priced, so I bought silk cloth and made a lot of bags. I put them up for 30 silver bid, 40 silver buyout, which would just get me 5 silver profit when bought out, but of course I skilled up tailoring that way. This went well for a while, but Sunday evening other tailors were starting to undercut me, offering silk bags at 30 to 35 silver buyout. The annoying thing is that I'll probably lose the 12 silver auction house fee on the bags that I still have for sale, because there is no way to lower your price afterwards. That is the problem with crafting that some people will always be willing to craft and sell items at a loss, just for the skill-ups, thus making it hard to make a profit from crafting.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Time to 60

Yesterday my new server saw the first level 60 on the Alliance side. The guy is the head of the most uber guild, and managed to level to 60 in just 11 real days, 8 days of /played time (I asked him). Meanwhile my priest after the same 11 days has not even 2 days /played yet, and is only level 22. But somehow I don't regret not being that other guy.

I can see why somebody would be proud of being the first level 60 on a new server. But unlike winning other contests it doesn't prove that you are playing any better, it just proves that you play World of Warcraft for 16 hours per day. Even if I was on holiday I wouldn't want to play that much.

The other problem of being the first level 60 is that a) you need to solo all the way there, and b) you'll be soloing for a long time to come before there are enough other players to group with. Even longer before the first MC raid. You can grind Argent Dawn or Cenarion Circle faction and farm money meanwhile, but that isn't as much fun as leveling up more slowly and in groups.

Friday, June 23, 2006

WoW Journal - 23-June-2006

The great thing about making plans in a MMORPG is that things never happen as planned. I logged on my level 19 priest yesterday, planning to do quests in Ratchet and Stonetalon, but I never made it there. I hadn't arrived at the gryphon master yet when I already got a tell from somebody I knew whether I'd like to join a Deadmines group. Hey, I *made* this character to join dungeon groups, so of course I went.

The group was interesting, with no warrior, but a paladin who was tanking quite well. And somebody in that group taught me a trick I didn't know yet: if on the ship you jump on the big wheel, mobs can't reach you (except for the parrots, they fly). You can't hurt the mobs either, they just evade, but after some time they lose interest and go back to their initial positions. Thus we were able to avoid two wipes after bad pulls, by going to this safe spot and "resetting" the encounter.

After killing Van Cleef, I spotted Cookie down on the other side of the ship, and told the others to jump down with me and kill him while he was alone. Bad idea, I should have coordinated that plan better. One group member jumped too far to the right, thereby pulling another group, while the others jumped belatedly. So we wiped. Well, I thought, no problem, we had basically finished the dungeon anyway, and I just spirit rezzed at the graveyard. That got me some nasty comments about "I hate people leaving groups early after one wipe". Hmmm, I didn't think we would have run all the way back just to kill the last mini-boss.

By doing Deadmines again, I had dinged to 20, and I went to Stormwind for training. Ouch, at level 20 there are a lot of priest spells, and at 27 silver per spell the total training cost is huge. The money I fished in Stranglethorn in gone, I don't even have 1 gold any more to buy the level 20 fishing book that would allow me to further increase my skill.

So I came back to my original plan and travelled via Booty Bay to Ratchet, and took the flight point there. Seeing how the flight map showed Auberdine, I decided to fly there and then go to Darnassus to tag the midsummer bonfire for the quest there. Mainly because I wanted to see which route the gryphon would take. As I had feared, Ratchet is only directly connected to Theramore, so taking the gryphon from Ratchet to Auberdine involves first heading straight south until reaching Theramore, and then going northwest to Auberdine. Long flight.

While on the gryphon, somebody from my guild asked me whether I wanted to go to Deadmines. Well, that was my first opportunity for a guild group, most of my guild mates are already above level 30, because they can play much longer hours than I can. So from Darnassus I hearthstoned back to Stormwind and went to the Deadmines again.

This group was funny, with 3 gnomes, two rogues and a warrior. Then there was a paladin and me, which all together gave quite a good group mix. Levels were 18 to 21, but the gnome warrior was already level 29. Another good group of competent players, and we finished all the dungeon, Cookie and Van Cleef included. I won Van Cleef's blue cloth chest, but I'm not yet sure if that one is worth wearing. I basically need to chose between +5 int on my old chest piece and +11 spirit on the new one. I know that spirit has a bigger effect on mana regeneration for priests than for other classes, but I'm not convinced that spirit is already useful at level 20.

So after a bad start with pickup groups, I now killed Van Cleef three times, and I think I've done enough of Deadmines for now. Unless a guild group desperately needs a healer, I'll move on to the next dungeon. I have all the best loot from there anyway, Cookie's wand, the blue +6 int ring, Van Cleef's cloth chest, and the Staff of Westfall for handing his head in. I also earned tons of xp, loot, and many stacks of linen and wool cloth for my tailoring. I turned the wool into green woolen bags, and hope I can sell them for 15 silver each, to finance my fishing book. Once I have the fishing skill cap raised, I can do another tour of Stranglethorn fishing this weekend.

Pagerank 5

I noticed that my blog is getting more visits lately. Sitemeter told me that these aren't coming from a particular link, but mostly from Google. So I looked up my Google page rank and found it has increased from 4 to 5. Wow, pagerank 5 is already pretty impressive for a blog, as I am not using any "search engine optimization" aka "cheating Google" methods.

To keep an eye on my page rank, I now installed a small pagerank display faaaaaar down on the bottom of the page, next to the blogger button. If you have your own site, clicking on that pagerank button will lead you to a website where you can check your pagerank for free.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Paid character-transfers in WoW

Blizzard is just about ready to start with their paid character-transfer service. Details at Atomic, interview on Gamespot, film at 11.

The transfers will cost $25. This price is purely designed to be a barrier, so that Blizzard isn't overwhelmed with a million requests, and not based on cost. There are some sensible restrictions, like you can't move characters less than level 10, you can only take a limited amount of gold with you (although the limit at level 60 is high with 5,000 gold), you can only move the same character every 6 months, and you can't be leader of a guild. A bit more disputable is the decision to allow transfers only between servers of the same type, or from PvP to PvE servers, not the other way round. This is because PvE servers are considered easier to level on, and Blizzard considers leveling on a PvE server and then killing people on a PvP server with that character to be unfair.

What worries me a bit is that you can't move to a server less than 90 days old, and you can't move to a server which is "at capacity". Now if I look at the list of realms in Europe, basically every server is either flagged as "full", or less than 90 days old. I wonder if there will be many servers available that are older than 90 days, but still underpopulated.

I don't think I am going to use this new service much. The main use I see is when you find out that people you know are playing on a different server than you do, and you want to join them. Moving away from a server to escape lag and hardware problems is probably not a good idea. Chances are that the server you moved away from is getting upgraded with better hardware, and the server you moved to is becoming overpopulated soon, and then you are stuck because you can't move that character for six months. I have a level 40 gnome warlock on a French PvE server which I might be tempted to move to an English-speaking realm if I ever want to play him again, but then I would probably wait the 90 days and move him to the new server I'm currently playing on.

I wonder if it would be feasible to persuade Horde players from different realms to all move to the same server, and thus create a realm where the number of Horde players is at least equal to the number of Alliance players.

Raise or fold

There is a gigantic poker game going on behind the scenes between the giants of the computer game industry. When talking about World of Warcraft I often mention Blizzard, but Blizzard is just a game studio wholly owned by Vivendi Games. And in the five-card stud poker game between the big PC game publishers, Vivendi has three face-up aces in the form of World of Warcraft, undeniably the strongest hand visible. So it is to the other players to raise or fold.

THQ just announced that they are folding in this particular game. CEO Brian Farrell said "To come out with something competitive now I think would be misguided for anyone, including THQ."

But EA refuses to fold, and has raised the stakes by buying Mythic Entertainment. Thus Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning will now be published and developed by Electronic Arts. That is certainly not a bad business decision. Of all the contenders for WoW's throne in a few years, WAR is one of the more promising ones.

Blizzard still has some time to reveal a 4th ace, by showing how they will develop World of Warcraft further. WoW is currently stagnating at around 6.5 million subscribers, the time where Blizzard announced rising subscription numbers every month are gone. Of course the stagnation is at a very high level, but for every new customer they are winning, some existing player cancels his account. And that is mainly because WoW shipped with a huge, but not infinite, amount of content, and people have consumed this content in the last 20 months, until they had nothing new left to see. Now Blizzard must show that in the expansion they can add enough content which is accessible to the average gamer, and will keep him playing until the next expansion after that. If the second expansion takes another 2 years to get out, and content patches only add raid dungeons for a small minority of uber guilds, the subscription numbers of WoW might well start declining from the inevitable spike at the release of Burning Crusade. Blizzard needs to add content faster, and the content has to be more accessible to the millions, to keep them p(l)aying.

EA has a dismal record in the development of MMOs. They failed to grasp the full potential of Ultima Online, and then started and shot down the development of a sequel not once, but twice. Their other MMOs, "Earth and Beyond" and "The Sims Online" flopped. Nevertheless they obviously have the cash and the will to succeed with their next attempt. Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot was a solid competitor to Everquest, with a quarter of a million subscribers, although it is in decline now. DAoC is by many people considered to be the top title for PvP, their realm vs. realm combat beats WoW PvP hands down. So WAR is hoped to be WoW with good PvP, which could certainly be a winner. In any case, competition between companies is always good for the customers. We, the players, can only win if the game publishers don't all fold and leave the MMO market to Vivendi.


Cap'n John asked me for a blog entry on griefing, which is an interesting theme to discuss. The case he was telling me about was some Horde rogue on a PvE server who used a PvP flagged level 1 character in Goldshire as decoy. When somebody nice passed by and buffed the level 1, that would inadvertedly trigger the nice person's PvP flag for 5 minutes, and then the high level rogue would stab him in the back and gank him.

In a way that is a credit to Blizzard: Griefers need to come up with quite ingenious ideas if they want to gank somebody. World of Warcraft is grief-resistant to a remarkable level. You can't gank somebody on a PvE server if that person doesn't have a PvP flag. You can't killsteal. And your possibilities to ninja-loot are much more limited than in other games. But in any game that has social interaction, griefing exists.

A recent story that was widely told all over the internet was of a World of Warcraft player who died, and his friends held a funeral to his honor in the game. But as they were on a PvP server, the funeral procession got attacked and slaughtered by a bunch of griefers who had heard of the event. That seriously destroyed the solemn nature of the event and thus made other player-organized events less likely.

My personal theory on griefing is that it is a bit like children destroying toys. Basically the child has either become bored of the toy, and just pushes the envelope of "normal" usage of that toy by disassembling it out of curiosity, or the child is aggressive for some other reason and the toy ends up as punching ball. Little Timmy pulling off the arm of his GI Joe action figure isn't terribly different from Little Timmy griefing somebody in World of Warcraft. The normal, standard game of WoW has become boring, and Little Timmy is experimenting to find out where the borders of the acceptable are. Ideally, just like Little Timmy's mother would scould him for having broken his toy and thus teaching him that this is not acceptable behavior, a GM should slap a 7-day ban on Little Timmy to teach him the same lesson.

Unfortunately while parental supervision of children playing with toys is not always optimal, GM supervision of players in WoW is far, far weaker. Chances are that Little Timmy will never be hit with any negative consequences from griefing, and thus will never learn that this isn't something he can do. And then there is lots of griefing which isn't even a bannable offence. A PvP attack on a funeral procession is totally within the legal limits of the Terms of Service and EULA. And if you get tricked into turning your PvP flag on and then get ganked, there is nothing that a GM would be willing to help you with.

The other problem is that even perfect GM supervision could only ban griefers after the fact. As the griefer is most probably somebody who has grown bored of the game and is somebody who is likely to leave the game anyway soon, banning him isn't really effective punishment. Older children still destroy toys, fully knowing that afterwards they won't be able to play with that toy again. But the questionable "fun" of the destruction beats the limited future interest of the toy that the child has played with for long enough. Breaking the toy is a form of closure, of ending the relationship with that toy. Griefing and getting banned for it is the same for a MMO. The bad thing is that while GI Joe doesn't mind getting his head ripped off, the other player behind the avatar who got griefed is understandably upset.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

WoW Journal - 22-Jun-2006

So I come back from work and look forward to experience how the new Blizzard patcher with the preloaded patch is working. Turns out it isn't working. Sure, 127 MB of the 150 MB patch are already preloaded on my computer, but the rest just doesn't want to come. After 15 minutes I have only 128 kbyte of patch downloaded and give up. I head over to WoWWiki's excellent list of patch mirrors, and download the patch from there, the complete 150 MB in 10 minutes. As the patch system has changed, I now need to unpack the patch into a different directory, and then manually run the BlizzardUpdater.exe to apply the patch.

First character I log on is my level 60 troll warrior, because his inventory is always full, and I want to see how many slots I gain with the new keyring. I find the keyring button next to the bag slots, and pressing it opens a 12-slot bag for keys. Unfortunately it turns out that I can only put 5 keys in there. There are only 8 keys in the game which would fit in the bag, of which one is for Alliance only. And the prison key for BRD and workshop key for Gnomeregan I've thrown away long ago, being no essential. Okay, 5 free slots more, better than nothing. I was a bit disappointed that the "keys" to Onyxia and UBRS wouldn't fit in the bag. Neither do key items like the sceptre for Maraudon or the mallet for Zul'Farrak. Guess there will be more keys in the future, if the keyring already has 12 slots and only 8 possible keys to put in.

Being herbalist and alchemist, I didn't gain anything from the bigger stack sizes, which are reserved for leatherworkers, enchanters, and rogues. But in general I can only applaud bigger stack sizes. Although the line in the patch notes telling you that "Encrypted Twilight Texts now stack to 250" seemed to indicate a very grinding-oriented mindset of the developers.

After my keys were sorted, I took the next bat to Light's Hope Chapel to have a look at the world even and quests there. The place was crowded, which resulted in some lag, but it was still playable. But seeing how overcamped the invasion circles were, I decided to try this another day.

So I switched to my level 18 priest and checked what the Scourge invasion did for low level players. Not much, is the answer. I got a quest to have a look at the invasion circles in front of the city, killed a few level 6 mobs to get 3 dim necrotic stones, and handed in the quest. 40 xp and 1 silver, and no follow-up. Guess the event isn't really meant to be doing much for people below level 60.

So I headed to Westfall and found a corner with level 18 gnolls in the southeast of the zone which wasn't camped at all. I also visited the southwest of the zone, and finished two murloc hunting quests for the ghost at the lighthouse, dinging level 19 in the process. Near the coast I found a midsummer festival fire. Touching the fire erases all your buffs and debuffs. And there is a ribbon pole, where if you can get several players to use it at the same time you can gain some fire resistance buff. Unfortunately there was no other player, and I wasn't really interested in fire resistance at level 19. I've read there are some other midsummer festival quests, but I didn't see them. Please drop a line in the comments if you know where to get them.

Then I finally found a good pickup group for the Deadmines. Two warriors, both of which wanted to tank, a feral druid dealing insane damage in cat form, and a hunter who was 5 level higher than the rest of us, which sure helps. We just cruised through the place in record time, without a single death, and we killed Van Cleef without problems. I won a roll on a blue ring with +2 Agi and +6 Int (yeah, I know, Agi is not for priests, but +6 Int is nice at that level). And for Van Cleef's head I got the Staff of Westfall, another blue item with good stats.

I think I'll head over to Ratchet next, to get the new flightpoint there, even if that one is apparently only connected to Theramore. Makes you wonder what happens if you want to fly to Auberdine from Ratchet, will you first fly all the way south and then turn around? There are some Ratchet quests Alliance can do, and then I could head over to Stonetalon Mountains. I remember a very nice "James Bond" parody of a quest against the Venture Mining Co. for Alliance in Stonetalon, where you blow up a wagon with explosives to distract them and then steal some secret documents from their place. And then next stop is Redridge Mountain. So I'm currently full of plans of things to do, lots of fun ahead of me. Just that my plans don't really involve the patch 1.11 added content, which failed to really excite me.

How not to improve communication

One of the major flaws in the otherwise great game of World of Warcraft is the social user-interface, especially the Looking for Group functionality. Games like Final Fantasy XI introduced improved LFG systems years ago, and compared with other modern games like Dungeons & Dragons Online, WoW's LFG system is downright primitive. Bad group-finding mechanisms are in part responsible for people ending up soloing to level 60, and then being unhappy about the forced grouping in the endgame. So if Blizzard could come up with a way to make finding groups easier at the lower levels, the transition to the endgame wouldn't be so harsh.

Unfortunately the Blizzard game developers are at times surprisingly naive. Thus in patch 1.11 they managed to change the LFG functionality in a way which in a perfect world would be an improvement, but which in the real world is actually worse than what they had before: They made the Looking for Group chat channel global.

Now if everybody was just using the LFG channel to look for groups, and for nothing else, that would be good. If you were advertising that you are a priest looking for a Deadmines group in Westfall, players already in the Deadmines, or those still in Stormwind, are able to hear you and to invite you. So what could be wrong with that? ... Human nature.

The WoW chat channels are not moderated, you can chat about anything in any channel. You *should* put your general comments in General chat, your trade offers in Trade chat, and your LFG requests in LFG chat. But nobody can force you to. So if the patch just broke your addons and you have the sincere wish to announce to the world that "Blizzard sucks", which channel do you chose? The General chat, which would be the most appropriate, but which is only visible to the people in the zone that you are in? Or the LFG chat, which is visible to all of the players of your faction, wherever they are?

So you can guess what happened yesterday, when everybody realized that the LFG chat is now global. An orgy of spamming, general chat remarks, trade offers, and lots of people adding to the chatter by complaining about it. Soon most sane people just turned off the LFG channel, because it was just too much. Unintended consequence: if you are looking for a group now, you are actually *less* likely to get a response in the LFG channel. Because either your target audience has turned the channel off, or your LFG request got lost in other people's spam. The sure sign of ultimate defeat of that global LFG idea was when people in Westfall started using the General chat to look for a group for the Deadmines.

I minimized the damage by creating a new chat window, and putting the LFG channel there, and only there. So I can still have a look at the LFG channel when I am in need of a group, but it doesn't clutter up my standard chat window. I hope Blizzard realizes what damage they did and come up with a better idea. Global chat channels, with up to 2,000 people in them, are *not* a good idea.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Take a survey

Chris Dodds, one of the editors of the art-game portal is doing a research degree on MMO surveillance, and needs the help of gamers to fill out a survey.

Statement on the purpose of the survey here, but basically it is just a few questions on the player's experience with GM's. If you don't mind helping spending a few minutes to help somebody get his MA in "creative media", take the survey and clock one good deed for your karma.

WoW Journal - 21-Jun-2006

My brilliant plan to play on a new server and group a lot hit the first bump in the road: the PUGFH, pickup group from hell. I keep forgetting how bad pickup groups can be. I hit level 18 with my priest yesterday, and did three groups to the Deadmines, without ever arriving at Van Cleef.

The first group was the best of the three, although there were players for who it was their first character and their first instance. The warrior didn't taunt much, and when asked to do so more often seriously replied that it was impossible, because he couldn't use taunt in the more offensive battle stance. Doh, Einstein! Fortunately the paladin was tanking well, and with two hunter pets for off-tanking we didn't notice the bad warrior all that much. We managed to make it to the ship, with some difficulty I managed to persuade them to do Cookie before Van Cleef, and then I got lucky and we found Cookie's Stirring Rod, which is probably the best wand a level 18 priest can get hold of. After that the group went downhill, we wiped on the way up the ship, the paladin left, people decided to hearthstone out due to destroyed gear. We planned to come back, but one of the hearthstoning guys was bound in Loch Modan, and by the time everybody was back and we had a rogue to replace the paladin, all the mobs had respawned. Then without the pally tanking, and the warrior still not taunting, we didn't make much progress and abandoned.

The second group didn't even make it into the non-instanced area of the Deadmines. I thought I had just left warrior stupidity behind, when in that second group I met the warrior who beat them all. The group leader did a short assignment of roles, priest heals, warrior tanks, etc., when the warrior interrupts and said that he wouldn't be tanking. He had tried tanking in a previous group and found that it lead to a too high repair bill, so he wouldn't do it any more in the future. We tried to explain him that tanking was his role, but he categorically refused. So the group leader kicked him out, but then couldn't find a replacement, somebody else left, and the group abandoned before even the first kill.

By the third group I was already a nervous wreck. That group made it into the non-instanced part of the Deadmines, but two people absolutely wanted to go to the non-instanced undead part to collect miner's cards for a quest, while the other three wanted to do the instance. The people wanting the miner's cards swore that it would take only 5 minutes, and managed to get the group there, but with so many players being in this level range now, the place was totally overcamped, and after 10 minutes we hadn't even found one card, needing 4 per person on that quest. General bickering occurred, with lots of swear words, until I couldn't stand it any more and left the group to go to bed.

I am sure that the new server is full of experienced players, but it seems I missed the boat somewhere. The server is just one week old, and the experienced players are mostly already above level 30. Sorry, I just can't play that many hours to be level 30+ in a week. And besides what would be the point to reach level 60 in a month and having missed most of the content level 1 to 59? I already have a level 60 priest, I made the new priest to visit the lower level instances, not for getting to Molten Core again. I just hope I get a bit more lucky with lower level people from my new guild being online, or finding better pickup groups. Playing with people that refuse to learn how to play better is not fun.

Incoming! Patch 1.11

According to WoWInsider the patch 1.11 is being applied today. Or tomorrow if you are playing on an European server like I do.

It will be interesting to see how the world event goes this time. The last world event, opening the gates of Ahn'qiraj, wasn't a big success in my opinion. By having most of the action happening in one zone, Blizzard only managed to demonstrate that if half of the players online assemble at the same place, you get unbearable lag and server crashes. But apparently they have learned and the Scourge invasion will take place in many different zones at once.

The biggest chunk of added content with the patch is the Naxxramas dungeon, which 99% of the players won't see before the end of the year, when going there with level 70 characters is hopefully feasible. So for casual players and weekend raiders like me, the big changes are the reworked talent trees for mages and shamans, the added flightpaths for Ratchet and Un'goro, and most important: the keyring. All of which are very nice. So let's hope for a smooth patch process and a lag- and crash-free world event, and everybody should be happy for a while.

Hardcore on Vanguard Silky Venom

The Vanguard fansite Silky Venom has an interesting article and discussion about what hardcore is, and whether Vanguard is hardcore. As usual nobody comes up with an easy answer to that, because there *is* no easy answer. Many people think of themselves at being not hardcore, while others think of them as hardcore, which doesn't make classification easy.

For me "hardcore" has always been about dedication. But at Silky Venom there is far too much talk about "challenge", which is a very misleading term. In terms of intellectual challenge, there is not a single mass market MMORPG in existance or planning which is too challenging for the average gamer. Anyone who played World of Warcraft to above level 20 will be able to play Vanguard as well. But while he will be able to play, it is totally possible that he won't be able to have fun.

The two main barriers to success in a MMORPG are total amount of time spent, and dedicated time for grouping. Note that both of these barriers are about time, and thus often related more to what is going on in your Real Life ® than to how well you play in the game world.

Regarding the total amount of time spent barrier, you can look either at the time it takes to gain one level, or the time it takes to go from level one to the highest possible level in the game. The time to reach the top is relatively easy to measure, as most games have /played command. If you take all players and measure their /played time at the moment where they hit the top level, you get a remarkably narrow distribution. For example in WoW the average time to level 60 is 500 hours, but even skilled players would have problems cutting that time to less than half (unless powerleveled), and even the greatest slackers don't take more than twice that. A much bigger difference exists between the number of hours different players play per week, which can range more than one order of magnitude from less than 10 to over 100 hours. Which means that even the worst possible player who plays 100 hours a week will reach the top level earlier than the best possible player who plays 10 hours per week.

When looking at the time needed for one level, the barrier becomes more visible. Nearly all games have a leveling curve which gets steeper and steeper towards the end. You get from level 1 to 2 in minutes, but from level 59 to 60 takes many hours. But people tend to measure their success not in relation to the hours they spent, but in relation to the days and weeks that went by. If you didn't level up in several weeks, you tend to become extremely frustrated, and might well quit the game. World of Warcraft takes on average 15 hours from level 59 to 60, which means that even somebody playing just 10 hours per week will never go two complete weeks without leveling. Thus everybody reaches level 60 eventually.

We don't know yet how many hours it will take to level up to the top level in Vanguard, but we do know that the number will be closer to the old Everquest average of 2000 hours than to the WoW average of 500 hours. On Silky Venom somebody mentioned 1500 hours. Which means that in Vanguard it is totally possible for a player on a 10-hour-per-week schedule to get stuck somewhere in the second half of the game, and not have a motivating leveling experience for a month. Furthermore at 10 hours per week, a 1500 hours game takes 3 years to complete, and that is just with one character, which might well be too long for some people. Of course if you play 50 to 100 hours per week, a 1500 hour game might be just what you were looking for. This is the first reason to think of Vanguard as a "hardcore" game.

Related to the amount of hours is the dilution of content, where players are forced to kill the same mob over and over. Nobody really believes that Vanguard will have three times the amount of content than WoW has, a more likely scenario is Vanguard being the same size or smaller than WoW, and the players having to stay in each zone three or more times as long as they did in WoW. Now imagine having to stay three times as long in Stranglethorn Vale, and you'll be probably running away screaming.

The other barrier I was talking about is the dedicated time for grouping. For some types of content you need to find a group, and then stay with that group for a continuous block of time. The most extreme is a 40-player raid, where you probably have to reserve that time in advance, subscribe to the raid, and then be online for over 4 hours. World of Warcraft is a curious case in that respect, because until level 60 that barrier doesn't exist, you can make level 60 without grouping once, and thus it doesn't matter much how long your play sessions are. But *at* 60 World of Warcraft turns into a raid game, which needs a maximum of preplanning and time spent in continuous blocks coordinated with 39 other players. Thus for example if for some reasons you could only play during morning hours, you would probably never be able to raid, and the dedicated time for grouping barrier becomes impassable.

Vanguard will go back to the old Everquest model of "forced grouping". That is after a certain level it will be impossible to gain levels when soloing. And if you can't solo, you will need to play when other people are playing, and you will need to have blocks of time of over one hour in which to group. Again that will not be a problem if you are playing many hours per week. But if somebody plays few hours per week, and those in small packages of half-hours, or with lots of interruptions, he won't be able to group much, thus he won't be able to advance. That is the second reason to consider Vanguard as a "hardcore" game.

Unless you play in a "virtual world" without a game, like Second Life, character advancement is important. But unfortunately your character advancement in a MMORPG depends mostly on the time spent in the game, and the length of the blocks in which you spend that time. Playing skill is nice to have, but is not the determining factor to character advancement. Instead of saying that WoW is casual and Vanguard is hardcore, it would be better to state the total number of hours to reach the highest level, and the shortest continuous play session in which that would be possible.

Blake from asked me to have a look at his site. Guildmates is an online community for MMORPG players. You can create a profile, and list all the characters in all the games you ever played. And somebody who used to play with you in another game can then find you and see what you are currently playing, and thus maybe you can reconnect with old friends.

The idea is very good in principle. But it is a typical example of an application with a strong network effect: As long as there are few users, the application simply doesn't do anything useful. Only if tens of thousands of players would sign up for it, would it become really good. I sure would like to find back some of the people that I played Everquest with in 2000/2001, but it is highly unlikely that they are on that site. And if I would find them, they would most likely be on a different server than me, and one of us would have to change servers to play together. Multi-game guilds, while having other problems, are still your best chance of playing different games with the same people.

Another possible problem is anonymity. Once burned, twice shy, I'm not even mentioning my characters names on this blog any more. The last thing I want is somebody who flamed me in my last guild drama being able to find me on the new server I moved to. If somebody *wants* to play with me, he could always send me an e-mail, and then I can decide whether that person is somebody I want to tell my current server's and character's name.

But for people who don't have a multi-game guild, or a blog and visible e-mail address where others can always find them, Guildmates might be at least worth a try. As I said, network effect, the more people that actually give the site a try, the better it will work. The service is free, financed by harmless advertising. So go ahead, and check it out!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Back to the roots

Twice a month I'm spending the evening playing pen and paper roleplaying, Dungeons & Dragons v3.5. My character is a wizard, now level 8. The other players are all also playing WoW, but on different servers, and not all with the same intensity, we got everything from the ultra-casual to the Blackwing Lair raider. So we play D&D, swap WoW stories, and have a good time. And I was thinking how different the experience between WoW and real roleplaying is.

Yesterday's D&D story was that we had to foil an assassination attempt. So my mage cast a Disguise Self spell on himself to look like the intended victim, cast a Stoneskin, and lay in the victims bed to draw out the assassin. Worked like a charm, but then we still had to fight and kill the assassin, who was rather tough.

The first big difference between WoW and D&D is that disguising as the victim was just one of many possible ideas to start the fight. In WoW there is not much room for creative solutions. Any assassination story in WoW would be an event where you speak to somebody, triggering either the assassin arriving, or you having to escort the victim past the assassins location. Even on a roleplaying server there isn't much opportunity to roleplay interaction with the environment, you can only roleplay inter-character situations.

The next big difference is the time scale. A group of adventurers killing a single assassin of higher level than they are would take less than 1 minute. In D&D it took us about 2 hours, because the players act one after the other, and the telling of players actions and DM's response, plus rolling a lot of dice, takes time. My mage took over a year to level up to level 8, but has a lot less "kills" than a level 8 WoW mage, who can get to that level in one evening.

Another big difference is positioning. Since the third edition, D&D has gone back a bit to its tabletop roots, and the placement of your characters on a grid is very important. There are zones of control, different forms of spell areas, concealment, cover, and other factors that make fighting an assassin in a house much different from fighting him on an open field. WoW doesn't have much tactical combat like that, there is no equivalent of a fighter blocking a doorway in WoW, you would just run right through him, without him even getting an extra attack or something. I suspect that one reason why people like raid boss fights is that they are basically the only fights where it actually matters where you place your character. Related to that is that in D&D my mages fireball has to be carefully placed, to not burn my friends, while in WoW a mage can do an AoE spell right into the middle of the melee and as if by miracle hit only the enemy.

The "roleplaying" and the time scale will always be different between a pen & paper game and a MMO. But I hope that combat will become more tactical in future games. Something like a "zone of control", where you can't move in and out without penalty is definitely necessary, the current WoW PvP looks extremely silly with people hopping around in plate armor, running through their enemies and similar unrealistic moves. I don't know how popular mages would be in WoW if their fireballs were able to hit their own group. :)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

WoW Journal - 19-Jun-2006

Yesterday afternoon, after my Stranglethorn fishing trip, I switched back to my old server, and went raiding with my level 60 priest. Raid composition was slightly sub-optimal, with only 3 priests, and we wiped more often than usual. But in the end we managed to kill Sulfuron, Golemagg, and Majordomo. As the third priest had even less DKP than me, and the first priest is already nearly full epic, I even won the Mantle of Prophecy. Wow, two epics on the same weekend!

Now I *should* be overcome with "purple fever", but strangely I'm not. Compared to fishing in Stranglethorn at level 16, raiding MC at level 60 is a lot less exciting. Everybody except the raid leader is just a small cog in a big machine. You are basically expected to do what you are told and not goof up, and if everybody manages to do that, all goes well. Even when you meet a new boss, there is not much strategy discussion including all 40 raid members, that would be too chaotic. Usually the raid leader and class leaders have read up on how to beat that boss on the internet, and the troops just have to learn to get the execution of that right after a couple of wipes. I will continue to sign up for weekend raids, just for variety, but at the moment my low level priest is a lot more fun than my high level one. There is not much room for creativity in a raid.

After Majordomo my raiding guild decided to take a short break and then go hunting Onyxia, as we are a lot closer to killing her than to kill Ragnaros. But after hearing some unpleasant discussion on the subject of Onyxia keys, in which I kept mostly silent to not draw too much aggro, I excused myself and logged off. The guild has too few people with Onyxia keys to have a realistic chance of downing her. But as most of the people who got the keys arrived there without help from the guild, they now don't want to spend valuable "raid evenings" going to LBRS and UBRS to help the others get their keys. That is rather stupid, because it leads to an impasse. The more hardcore players can't do Onyxia due to lack of numbers, and the less hardcore players can't get their keys, as arriving at Wyrmthalak in LBRS with a pickup group isn't easy, most groups disband before getting there. If we would just skip one raid and divide those 40 players into groups doing LBRS, UBRS, and Test of Skulls, we could easily get a lot more keys and kill Onyxia the weekend after.

So, as I said, the most fun this weekend came from playing my low level priest, who just hit level 17 in Westfall. My plan to remain guildless didn't last more than 3 days, it seems I am addicted to guild chat. :) But I managed to find a guild that does not do random invites, which is serious about playing, but not fanatic. I feel most comfortable in one of those "second best" guilds, where the other players know how to play well, and how to get things done, without kicking you out of the guild because you don't raid 7 nights a week, or go on a summer holiday.

Besides leveling up fishing in Darkshore (Auberdine has 3 good fishing quests), I spent most of my time in Westfall since I finished Elwynn Forest. I did lots of quests, and have the quest chain done which leads to the "main quest" for the Deadmines, where I plan to go a few times from level 18 on. Westfall is full of humanoids, both bandits and gnolls, who drop lots of linen cloth, and the occasional wool from the higher level ones. So my tailoring is up to 105, and I still had linen to spare to skill up first aid. My level 60 priest doesn't have first aid, but sometimes having a method of healing that doesn't use mana is useful even for a priest. The only disadvantage of Westfall is that it is crowded with other players. Humans are one of the more popular races, and even the other Alliance races quest there in preparation for the Deadmines, the first dungeon an Alliance player can go to. But I learned to work around overcrowding, taking all available quests at once, and switching from quest to quest if one hunting location becomes too crowded with other players.

It is astounding how similar soloing with a level 60 priest is to soloing with a level 17 priest. Shield up, Mind Blast, Shadow Word: Pain, and then shoot the mob to death with your wand. The only difference is that with the level 60 I would do it only for small gains in gold or faction. With the level 17 I do the same thing with a horizon of reaching a level that will open up the first dungeon to me, and then the next, and the next, until I reach level 60. A lot more motivating when you really see your character advancing.

Innovation in payment methods

Credit cards are a very American thing. The USA has more than 10 credit cards per household, while in the UK there are "only" 1.5 credit card per household, and continental Europe has even less. Which means that many European households don't have a credit card at all. Unfortunately many MMORPG need a credit card for opening an account, even if later payments can be made with a game time card. Thus some Europeans are excluded from playing, because they don't have a credit card.

Now Codemasters announced that from now on you can pay for Dungeons & Dragons Online without a credit card, using an online micropayment system named Click&Buy. Quote:
From 16th June players from the following countries will be able to use the Click&Buy payment solution; Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, UK and US.

Click&Buy offers a wide variety of alternative payment methods such as direct debit, ELV for German customers, as well as online bank transfers for other countries too.
Good idea, that. In the long term the number of credit cards in Europe is on the rise, but for the moment it is still a barrier of entry which is worth removing.

Getting rich from fishing

I made level 16 with my priest on the new server. And as always on a new server, where money is tight, I came up with a crazy get-rich-quick scheme. But strangely this time it actually worked, and I'm probably the only level 16 running around with nearly 5 gold pieces in the pocket. And the secret is fishing in Stranglethorn.

The original idea was to skill up fishing to 150, participate in the Sunday's Stranglethorn fishing contest, lose, and hand in the Tastyfish at 23 silver per stack of 5 to the apprentice angler quest. But I started early, and swam around the coast of Stranglethorn to find good fishing spots, where a level 16 wouldn't be eaten. And there I found lots of "Floating Wreckage", which you can fish in and find iron and mithril trunks, containing all sorts of goodies. The highlight were a level 38 green leather pants, and a level 40 green mail coif. But I also got everything from bolts of silk to bolts of runecloth, heavy to rugged leather, and a bunch of healing and mana potions up to level 35. I vendored the greens (the stats weren't that good, and there isn't a market for level 40 items on the server yet), as well as the bolts of runecloth and rugged leather. That plus the money from the fishing event made me over 4 gold, so I'm feeling rather rich for my level.

Fishing at level 16 in Stranglethorn is exciting. :) Worst are the crocodiles and naga, who swim out to kill you. The dinosaurs and basilisks can't swim, so they might prevent you from standing at the shore to fish, but at least they don't kill you. But there are a surprising number of places where you can fish without aggroeing anything. And as the fishing rewards are obviously made for level 40 characters, they are extremely good for a level 16. So that gives me an unusual and dangerous activity, with a huge reward. What more can you want from a game?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

WoW Journal - 17-Jun-2006

Just a short notice to say that yesterday night I got the pants of prophecy in Molten Core. We are still using the stupid top-down DKP system, but we were only three priests, and even with me being the third, the pants just trickled down to me, because the other two already had them.

Yay! My first MC epic on that character. But I have 3 other epics, that are not from MC: Flarecore gloves and Truefaith Vestments that I tailored, and the tier 0.5 gloves that I quested for. Nevertheless the pants of prophecy are very nice, because they replaced some spiritshroud leggings from UBRS which were less good in all stats.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World of Starcraft

Lots of action in the past couple of day on speculations about Blizzard making more MMOs from their other franchises, like World of Starcraft. The speculations were kicked off by a PowerPoint presentation from Vivendi, who owns Blizzard. Then Blizzard says on their forums that Vivendi has been misunderstood, and nothing is being worked on. Finally Blizzard asks the fansites to take down copies of the PowerPoint presentation, citing copyright violations. Latest development is a comment by SirBruce cited on Cesspit, who points out that the PowerPoint presentation is on file with the SEC, and thus available for everyone. SirBruce isn't the most popular guy in the MMO world, as he is a bit of a stickler, but he is great at finding information and defending the facts. I like him.

So, hopefully in his sense, here are some facts: The Vivendi presentation lists in a table on slide 8 crossing "product development per game" and "Blizzard" a cost of "over 50 million Euro" (about $65 million at todays rate). This has been interpreted as having been the cost of WoW, although I'm not quite sure whether this isn't the projected future cost of a similar MMO, based on a slightly lower cost for making WoW in the 25 to 50 million Euro range. Why do I think that it could be a projection for the future? Because it says under development time on the same table "2 to 4 years", which looks a lot more like a projection to me than a report of past performance.

Slide 12 lists 6.5 million customers, of which 4 million are "East". Slide 14 lists the different business models in the different countries, which shows how much less the "East" customers pay: $3.72 for 60 hours in mainland China, $9.00 for the same in Taiwan.

Slide 14 talks about the lifecycle of a MMO, saying "all other major MMORPG's are thriving 5 years after launch". And obviously at least Vivendi knows how: "Compelling new content is key". I couldn't agree more, although I have my differences with Blizzard's lead developers what exactly "compelling new content" is. (Hint: Naxxramas isn't). The slide after confirms the release date for the Burning Crusade expansion to be Q4 2006.

Slide 17 is interesting, as it talks about WoW marketing strategies. One future option: "PC and equipment OEMs". Wanna buy a PC with World of Warcraft pre-installed? At currently 6 GB footprint on the hard drive that isn't such a bad idea.

But the slide that caused all the uproar is slide 19. A simple table which has the three core franchises of Blizzard, Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft crossed with MMO, PC, and console games. And basically everything which isn't marked as existing, is marked as potential, including a Diablo or Starcraft MMO. Quote:"We are investing right now in developing new executions across multiple franchises ... Put investments in place for numerous future Blizzard products ... Due to long development cycles, for competitive reasons, we do not disclose releases far ahead of street date."

My interpretation of that is that we *will* see World of Starcraft, but it hasn't even been started yet, and with a projected 2-4 year development cycle we won't see anything before 2010. Which is fine. There is no "clash" or "power struggle" between Vivendi and Blizzard. Vivendi just lists possibilities for the long term investment future, and Blizzard said that no other MMO is currently being worked on. While a Diablo MMO is also listed under "potential", I think it is less likely, as it would be exactly the same genre as WoW. Starcraft is a safer bet. I think everybody is confident that Blizzard could make a better SciFi MMO than Star Wars Galaxies. But we also know that they can't do it fast. So I'll go on record with a prediction that somewhere in the period between 2010 and 2015 we will see a MMO developed by Blizzard based on the Starcraft franchise. And frankly, that isn't really exciting news, but more a statement of the obvious. So you can all calm down now, people.

WoW Journal - 16-June-2006

My apologies to all readers who unanimously advised me to delete my human priest and do a dwarven priest instead, but I will stick to the human. I do believe you that fear ward is awesome. But a dwarf in a dress? I think I've done too much old school roleplaying to be comfortable with a dwarf being a cloth-wearing spellcaster. In fact my very first WoW beta character was a dwarven priest. At that time I was totally unhappy with that class, because coming from D&D I had imagined a priest to be a plate-wearing healer, and had problems playing him as cloth wearer. Not being aware of how to solo a priest using a wand at that time, I discounted priest as being bad to solo, an opinion I reversed since then. But dwarves in cloth still sit uncomfortably with me. Feedback is obviously much less useful than fear ward at level 60, but at least I can argue that for leveling to 60 feedback is more useful. Very few mobs outside raid dungeons fear you, I only remember Overlord Ror and Sian-Rotam being really annoying with it. But spellcasters you meet a lot more often.

On the other racial abilities humans and dwarves are about even. Dwarven stoneform is more useful than human perception. The dwarven +5 to guns is useless for priests, but the +5 to maces humans get isn't much better, my priest is using a staff for better bonuses. Dwarven +10 to cold resistance doesn't become useful before Naxxramas, I prefer the +10% human faction bonus, although that too is more for higher levels. The dwarven treasure finding is fun, but for a priest I'd say the +5% spirit bonus is better. But all in all not a big difference. So it really is more a question of my personal preference to stick with the human.

Yesterday I made it to level 11, doing quests in Elwynn forest. The bag business is still flourishing, and I got my tailoring up to 70. I was lucky to win a 4 silver bid each for two stacks of 20 linen cloth, meanwhile the linen is getting rare and expensive on the auction house. Then I squandered my fortunes by blindly learning all the recipes available at the tailoring trainer. Stupid, many of the low level recipes are for non-magic items that I will never produce, and spending 20 silver on recipes at this low level is just a waste. I spent the rest of the money wisely, somebody had put up a greater magic wand for just 25 silver on the AH. I will only be able to use it at level 13, but at least my firepower for the next 10 levels is already assured and paid for. I wonder if there would be any money in tailoring cloth armor, but at the moment I'm out of linen cloth, so I can't try this.

I'm a bit at a loss to what to take as my second major tradeskill. Currently I have skinning, which is useful to add a small amount of extra loot to each beast kill. But about everybody has skinning, and stacks of light leather sell for less than 3 silver on the auction house. So I wonder if I should just take this small income now, or hoard the light leather for the Ahn'Qiraj war effort event, which I believe starts one month after the server opens. Alliance needs to hand in 180,000 light leather, so prices will rise in the AH. But probably 3 silver now is better than 6 silver in a month, World of Warcraft characters suffer from "personal inflation", where money at earlier levels is much more valuable than the same sum later.

But I could also ditch skinning and take something else. Taking another "producing" tradeskill like alchemy or blacksmithing isn't feasible, as I wouldn't have the relevant gathering skill. Taking herbalism or mining seems to be even less profitable than skinning at the low levels. That would leave enchanting, a classic combination with tailoring, but making money with enchanting is extremely difficult. For reasons unknown to me the normal forces of market capitalism don't apply to enchanting. People expect you to pay 400 gold for a crusader recipe, and then cast crusader for free for everybody who supplies the materials. Thus enchanting is mainly useful for disenchanting your soulbound items, and at the low levels on a young server there isn't money in that either. I think for the moment I'll stick with skinning.

I'm still determined to stay guildless until the right guild comes along, but I'm looking around which guild that might be. Censusplus is useful in that it tells you which guilds are powerful, how many people of them are online, and what classes they are missing. More for fun than for really believing it I started at the top and asked somebody from the most uber Alliance guild for the URL of their website. Hehe, "recruitment is currently closed" says the website, 2 days after the server went live. You're invited to leave an application, but only if you are willing to play every day to reach level 60 in record time, and have solid previous raid experience on other servers. Guess I don't qualify, I'd get kicked out when I go on holidays for three weeks in July. Unsurprisingly it is this guild that has the first level 30 character after 2 days on the server, and a large number of players over level 20 already. I'm looking for a serious, but more casual guild, with a fair zero-sum or similar DKP system for the future, but concentrated on doing instances and playing together on the way to 60 without being in a terrible rush. That pretty much described my first European WoW guild, until the "epic corruption" or "purple fever" (I'm stealing this expression) set in. But as the majority of players on the new server are alts from other servers, I'm not sure whether such guilds still exist. I only see uber raiding guilds, and doomed-to-failure random-invite wannabe-future-raider guilds right now.

I'm in no hurry to reach level 60, I already got a level 60 priest on my old server. He is currently parked in front of Molten Core, and on a waiting list for tonights MC raid, which given the fact that priests are rare in the guild alliance still gives me a solid chance for an invite tonight. Maybe the variety of play styles I'm craving, from 5-man groups to raids, can't be achieved with a single character. I'm looking forward both to tonights possible MC raid and my new priests first Deadmines run with equal anticipation.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Changing your mind

Do you want to play on a PvP server or a PvE server, or maybe on a roleplaying version of either of this choices? Which server exactly? Alliance or Horde? Which race? Which class? How should your character be named? Before even killing the very first level 1 wolf in World of Warcraft, you need to take quite a number of important decisions. Of course there are no really "wrong" decisions, but given that you need to decide before you even know the game, it is quite possible to take a suboptimal choice. And changing your mind later isn't made easy.

Even if your decisions were perfect at the time, developing demographics or changes to the game might make you change your mind. For example when the game came out, there were no battlegrounds, and lots of people preferred PvP servers as the only way to do battle against the other faction. Today most PvP is taking place on the battlegrounds, on both PvE and PvP servers, and the only added "feature" of PvP servers is being ganked. Or maybe the server you chose turned out with time to be particularly overcrowded, with lots of login waiting queues. Or maybe you discover that a real life friend of yours is playing on another server. It wouldn't be surprising if some people now wished they had chosen another server.

Right now changing servers is only rarely possible. Only selected servers at very restricted times can have people move to a specific other server to relieve congestion. For "this summer" Blizzard announced a paid character-transfer service, with yet to be announced restrictions. The "paid for" bit is not only for covering the cost, but is supposed to be priced high enough that people only switch servers if it is really necessary. And there might be limits to what you can take from one server to another, so as not to ruin the economy of a new server with gold from an old one. I just hope that moves between different server types will be allowed, although some people are opposed to people leveling up on a PvE "carebear" server and then moving to a PvP server when they are level 60.

But the choice of server is only one decision that you can get wrong. I don't think I made a bad choice when I went for a PvE server in February 2005, even if by June 2006 I'm not really happy with the demographics of it. Switching to a younger server with more low level players would be helpful for my level 42 shaman alt, but the demographics are similar on different servers. Alliance outnumber Horde everywhere, and if you like playing in groups, Alliance would have been the better choice. I doubt Blizzard will allow me to "character-transfer" my orc shaman to the Alliance side. :)

I'm reasonably happy with the character classes of my two level 60, warrior and priest, which are a good choice for my preferred group play style. But one of my alts I started on the Alliance side on another server, a hunter, turned out to be not a good choice. There are too many hunters, and people mistrust them in groups, so they are a good class for soloing, but bad if you like grouping. The bad thing is that in World of Warcraft, as in most other games, your choice of character class is final. If you want to play a different class, you need to make a new character. I much preferred the system of Final Fantasy XI, where you could go to your house and change to another character class. Wouldn't that be nice if this was possible in WoW? You would still need to level up the new class from level 1, but you wouldn't need to relearn tradeskills, rebuy a mount, get all those keys, or grind all that faction again. Instead of having several alts of different levels, you would have one character who mastered differenct classes at different levels, and could switch from one to the other at some place in the city, depending on what was needed.

Even in FFXI you couldn't change your race, with the obvious disadvantage that if you had taken a magical Taru Taru as race, changing you character class to warrior was not really a feasible idea. But my Taru was both white mage and red mage, with even some levels of black mage, and that worked very well, and gave me access to different play styles on the same character. Final Fantasy XI also had "advanced classes", which you could only chose with a character after having done a level 30 quest to unlock it for him. Now *that* would be an idea for WoW: once you hit level 60 you can unlock a "hero class", lets say assassin for rogues, or bishop for priest, which you can then level up to 60 again, without having to make a new character. The hero classes wouldn't be much more powerful, but be different and thus offer more variety. And you could always switch back to your old class and level. Unfortunately the originally promised hero classes have been postponed to who knows when, and we haven't got a clue how they will be working. My guess is that they'll be added in the second expansion, but if Blizzard keeps working at the same pace that will be for christmas 2008.

So right now your only option for changing your mind is making a new character. If your choice of server was satisfactory, at least you can twink your alt. If you want to change server, your new character only comes with better knowledge of the game. Nevertheless that can be fun too, especially if you can find a very young server for your new character. I kind of enjoy the economy of a new server, finding ways to make money with bronze daggers or linen bags. And of course if everybody around you is low level too, being low level isn't so bad.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Social engineering a fresh start

I'm still looking for a better way to play World of Warcraft. My problem is that I'm a bit bored during the week, because I can't find a group. I play from 6 pm to 10 pm continental European time, that is 5 pm to 9 pm UK time, and the majority of other players are playing later than me. At level 60 getting a group together and finishing a dungeon in 4 hours is already not easy, but add a bad time slot, and the fact that I'm playing on the less numerous Horde side, and I'm reduced to soloing most of the time. Soloing at 60 isn't really all that interesting, I make good money by farming or gathering herbs, or gain a bit of faction, but I don't really advance my characters any more. I raid with my guild alliance on the weekends, which is kind of okay as an experience, but due to the DKP system I'm not getting any epics and character advancement there either.

The obvious solution are alts. I have a level 42 shaman on the same server as my two level 60s, but again the same problem: Horde side, too early time slot, and on an old server where not many people are playing characters lower than 60 any more. Twice I tried to make Alliance alts on new servers, a hunter and a paladin. But the hunter couldn't get into groups at all, and even the paladin wasn't exactly a class favored for groups.

Yesterday I read the Warcraft Weekly, where there was a comment from the US WoW forums that the Euro WoW forums had such a nice thread with recommended servers, and why didn't the US forums have that? I followed the link, and stumbled upon an entry that there was a "brand new" Euro PvE server. I checked it out and found that the server was less than 24 hours old, having come online just 6 hours before the maintenance window. Highest level character was level 19.

Brand new servers are always interesting. So this time I decided to try social engineering to get the maximum of fun out of WoW. I didn't take a class that I hadn't played yet, but I chose the class where I would find a group fastest: the priest. Good that I like priests. I chose Alliance for being more populated, and because I know the Alliance quests less well than the Horde quests. And I chose human as a race, for the useful spirit and faction bonuses, and because my last two Alliance characters were elf and dwarf.

Up to now I am having fun, although I'm only level 9 yet and haven't really grouped by now. I first did all the newbie zone quests, but then shortly after arriving in Goldshire decided that doing what everybody was doing was not the most clever of ideas. Finding a kobold in the kobold mine was hard, because there were so many other players there, and doing my quests there was rather slow. So instead I decided to go after the Defias bandits in Elwynn Forest, which are less hunted, because there are no quests to exterminate them.

Hunting bandits had the big advantage that they are dropping linen cloth. And while crafting armor on an old server is often not worth it, such crafting can be quite profitable on a young server. So I went for tailoring, and quickly had enough linen from the bandits to get the 45 tailoring skill needed to make linen bags. So I checked the AH to see how the bag market was. There I found out that either the other tailors are stupid, or they were trying to scam their customers, selling linen bags for 8 silver pieces. As NPC vendors sell 6-slot bags for 5 silver pieces, asking for more than 5 isn't realistic. So I ran around and offered making bags for people for the 6 linen cloth needed and 1 silver. As that cost me 30 copper for the thread, I still earned 70 copper per bag, and I got my tailoring skill up further. And with the linen I farmed myself, I made more bags and sold them easily for 4 silver on the auction house. My thanks to the other tailors trying to sell the same bags for twice that, they made me look positively cheap.

By the time I was level 9 I not only had all of my training paid for, but also had over 30 silver left. And then I saw another intelligent crafter offering his wares on the auction house, an enchanter selling lesser magic wands for a totally fair but profitable price of 30 silver (others were trying 40 silver and more). So I bought the wand, which is totally unbalanced and uber for that level. The mace I was wielding had 3.0 dps, the wand has 11.3 dps, better than any melee weapon I can get for the next dozen levels. Having already leveled one priest to 60, I know that pulling with a damage spell, putting a shadow word pain on the mob, protecting myself with a bubble, and killing the mob with a wand is the best soloing strategy. In fact that works so well that I'll probably spend my first talent points in Discipline, for improved wand and improved bubble, instead of the conventional wisdom of going shadow priest.

So right now I'm having lots of fun with my new priest. I'll have to see how long that remains fun. My characters tend to get stuck shortly after level 30, in what I call the "Stranglethorn Hole". But what I'll try with this priest is more grouping, starting when I'm the good level for the Deadmines. I will probably do less questing, just doing the quests I don't know yet, plus the quests I know that they are fun or give good equipment. And instead of chasing after every available quest when soloing, I'll do some intelligent grinding / farming, as long as it doesn't get too boring, and gets me more xp and loot (e.g. cloth) than the less good quests. On the weekends afternoons / evenings I can still go raiding with my level 60's. I have enough money and potions in reserve that I don't need to solo them during the week.

There are already lots of guilds on the new server hiring about anybody. But I've decided to remain guildless for the moment. I don't want to join another impersonal guild with hundreds of members, most of which are never online. If I ever meet a particularly nice guild with selective recruitment, I might join. Otherwise I'll just level up, and if I ever make it to level 60 I count on being able to pick a guild with a fair DKP system. Every guild will be looking for priests at that point.

You would think that more people would have the same idea that I had, and that on a new server there would be more priests. But no, history repeats itself every time. I did a first census and again priest is the least numerous class, with only 8% of Alliance players having one. So I really should be able to find groups easily as soon as people reach the dungeoneering levels. I'm looking forward to that.


What skill is useful both for writing a blog and for playing a MMORPG? Typing! A quarter of a century ago, when I was still a teenager, I had a course in typing on a mechanical typewriter in evening classes. What motivated me then was that I hated handwriting. I finished with a score of 170 CPM (characters per minute). Not so much later I got my first computer, a ZX81, and thus my first computer keyboard, and I've been typing ever since. As I spend much of both of my working life and my leisure time on a keyboard, learning to type has been incredibly useful to me. I have colleagues who never took a course in it, and some are quite jealous when I type fast without even watching my fingers. :)

So today I wondered if I was still typing at 170 CPM, or faster from practice, or slower from getting old. I found a nice website,, where you can take a free typing speed test without installing any software, just using your browser. I was quite pleased to score 270 CPM now, or 50 WPM (words per minute). That is far from what they show in their "top 100" list, where the current highscore is 150 WPM, and the average of the top 100 is around 100 WPM. But for not being a professional typist, 50 WPM is still quite fast.

So now I can claim that World of Warcraft helps my real-world skills. ;) But in reality I have the impression that MMOs are the death of orthography. People might learn to type faster, but usually that involves spelling badly, or abbreviated. My wife sometimes calls me when somebody sends her a message like "cu l8r m8", and she needs a translator to tell her what that means in English. MMO chat already often has "bad word" filters, so maybe the next generation will add a spell checker to chat. :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gnome warriors and class balance

Passing through Tanaris with my troll warrior, I saw a gnome warrior in Gadgetzan. And I have to admit without jealousy: plate armor loots a lot better on a gnome than on a troll. But gnome warriors are relatively rare, a bit of an oddity, and that made me wonder how Blizzard designed the possible class / race combinations.

Every single race in World of Warcraft can be a warrior. Even races which in other games are more likely to be spell casters than warriors, like gnomes. The blood elves from the expansion set, whose lore clearly makes them a magical race, will be able to become warriors. Furthermore in WoW your race has very little influence on how good you can play a certain class. A gnome warrior is pretty much identical in strength and stamina to a tauren warrior of the same level, although the body mass would suggest otherwise. The difference in stats is tiny, and just gets lost in the stat bonuses from equipment. From the racial abilities I would prefer a troll (berzerking, regeneration) to a gnome (escape artist) warrior, but even that just makes a small difference.

The other extreme in classes is the druid, only one race from each faction can become druid, tauren and night elves. Again that seems arbitrary, why should for example a human druid not be possible? In between warriors and druids, the other classes can be played by from 3 to 7 of the 8 races. The distribution between Horde and Alliance isn't always even, for example the Alliance has more classes able to play priests than Horde, but Horde has more hunter-enabled races than Alliance.

Unsurprisingly the number of races that can play a certain class has a big effect on the number of players playing that class. PlayOn shows that warriors are the most played class for both Horde and Alliance, while druids are least played Horde class, and second-least for Alliance. The data are old, and they probably vary a bit from server to server, but if you browse through Warcraftrealms or WoWCensus, you pretty much get the same picture: lots of warriors, few druids.

The expansion will add two more warrior races and no new druid race, so the gap between those two classes will increase. The only good thing is that both new races will be able to play priests, so that hopefully will increase the number of available priests. But frankly, I would have preferred the new races to be not able to become warriors, and to be able to become druids instead. You can justify a blood elf druid as easy as a blood elf warrior, and it would be a lot better for class balance.

Guild = Raiding ?

Sad post with an interesting question on Mystic Worlds. Quote:
Some of the posts were a bit insulting. Especially those that asked why anyone who didn't want to raid wanted to be in the guild. I'm not sure when the two became the same thing. Or why so many guilds are electing to place such a narrow focus on guild activity - end game or nothing.
Good question, is raiding the only viable purpose of a guild? Unfortunately lots of guilds are behaving in a similar way. Helping newbies? No way! Your value to the guild is measured in the rarity of your character class and the amount of your DKP points.

I think it is all a consequence of the majority of players now having reached level 60 and being stuck there. I remember guilds being a lot friendlier, and more helpful, when we all were still advancing together. Some months ago I talked about epic corruption, and I see it spreading.

My hope is that everybody lightens up a bit when the expansion comes out and we are all back to the happier times of leveling. Worst case scenario is that this won't last long, and quickly people will be back into a new raid grind, just 10 levels higher. Best case scenario is that the current raid content serves as a training ground for raiding, with places like Molten Core becoming a less serious, but still interesting, playground for level 70 players. But what do we do until then?

MMO addiction on International Herald Tribune

The International Herald Tribune has two articles about addiction to massively multiplayer online games. One is the classic story about South Korea, with nothing new, including the story of the Koreans who played until they died, one guy playing 417 hours in 20 days. Must have been on his way to rank 14 in WoW PvP. ;)

The other story is slightly more interesting, an addiction treatment center in Amsterdam now treating online game addicts. Now there is a profitable secondary MMO market, treatment costs $350 to $442 per day for four to eight weeks. You could play WoW for 2 years for the cost of one day of therapy.

Obviously the problem is not with WoW, you can become addicted to about anything which offers escape from the real world, for example TV. But I wonder if one day games in the USA or Europe will have the same sort of addiction-prevention mechanisms that are already installed in China, that you get less xp after playing for over 3 hours, and after 5 hours you don't get anything any more. Does the Chinese World of Warcraft already have such stuff installed? Should be easy to port to the western versions of the game.