Thursday, January 31, 2008

MMO marketing and target audiences

I just received the latest Warhammer Online monthly newsletter. It is very long, as usual, with lots of text describing features, design drawings, and even two videos: one showing gameplay footage, the other being the usual Josh and Paul discussion show. All in all great marketing. Compare the WAR newsletter to the WotLK newsletter. Ooops, there isn't one. You get my point. Wrath of the Lich King's latest marketing operation is opening up a bestiary website, with only two mobs shown yet, the rest is still greyed out. I've seen vaporware games with better marketing than Wrath of the Lich King.

I couldn't help but think that Blizzard considers marketing Wrath of the Lich King to be a waste of time. World of Warcraft players are going to buy it anyway, no need to advertise it much. Instead of that Blizzard is spending their advertising budget on getting non-players into World of Warcraft. Just look at the recent TV ads, showing Mr. T. or Shattner playing WoW. The message was clearly "cool people play WoW too", targeted squarely at non-gamers, trying to overcome the prejudice that only dorks play MMORPGs. For people already playing MMORPGs but having chosen a different game, lets say Everquest 2, the WoW TV ads contained nothing that would have enticed them to switch games.

Warhammer Online marketing is just the opposite. Show the WAR gameplay video to a non-gamer without telling him what it is, and he'll think it is one of many WoW YouTube videos. It has the same blurry low-res quality, and the characters don't look all that different. Only a gamer can appreciate the differences. The Josh and Paul podcast is even worse in that respect: all a non-gamer sees are two guys sitting at a table holding an incomprehensible dialogue. For a gamer it is much more interesting, because the dialogue contains interesting tidbits like how some public quests open up only once one side has conquered the main city of the enemy. In an earlier video podcast Paul's "bears, bears, bears" monologue became an instant classic for gamers, but it is hardly likely to seduce somebody to try WAR as his very first MMORPG. He is a man with a passion talking about arcane game features which only a true gamer could possibly be interested in.

Of course marketing WAR to bored WoW players isn't a totally bad idea. Given the churn rate of WoW and it being in its fourth year, there must be millions of ex-WoW players out there. Blizzard was able to get many of them back by releasing its first expansions, only to lose many of them again a few months later. If you aren't a fan of the WoW endgame and are mostly interested in the leveling game, the idea of buying an expansion every year just to play another three months until you hit the level cap again isn't very appealing. WAR has a good chance to pick up a lot of those ex-WoW players, to appear as the "next big thing". But I sure hope that closer to the release date WAR is also going to market itself more to non-gamers. If WoW had only targeted gamers with their marketing, it would never have grown to where it is now.

Meanwhile Blizzard really needs to put a bit more effort into marketing Wrath of the Lich King. Where is the video podcast with Rob Pardo and Jeff Kaplan? Where are the flash videos showing us all the new Northrend zones and dungeons? Where are the detailed explanations on how the deathknight class is going to work? Based on how scarce information on WotLK is, people are beginning to lose hope that the expansion will even be ready for christmas. Nobody suggests that WAR will be a WoW killer, but if even just 100,000 WoW players quit the game to play WAR because they are getting bored waiting for WotLK, that is already $20 million a year less for Blizzard. You should be able to make a video podcast with that budget. :)

Let loose the mods of WAR

In a recent Warhammer Online dev chat it was confirmed that "The UI will be totally customizable in terms of appearance and utility. For folks who understand what it means: It’s all Lua-based, so experienced modders will be right at home in WAR." Or to be even clearer: the WAR UI will be as easy to modify as that of WoW. Hmmmmm. Is that good news or bad news?

Nobody remembers it any more, but World of Warcraft shipped with a pretty bad UI. For example there was only one hotkey bar, and no way to add more of them. So some of the first UI mods added more hotkey bars, everybody used those mods, and Blizzard adapted the idea and patched additional hotkey bars into the standard UI. There are actually quite a lot of features of the WoW UI that started their life as player-made UI mods, until they were so popular that Blizzard adopted them. It is classic "Web 2.0" of user-created content, and World of Warcraft is a better game because of it.

There are quite a number of mods that make the game a lot easier for their users. Most raiding guilds require players to use a set of specific mods, like CTRaidAssist, Decursive, and some threat meter. I also use mods like FishingBuddy, which makes fishing a lot easier, Gatherer, which makes herbalism and mining easier, Recount, a damage meter helping me to optimize my dps, and Auctioneer, which helps me make money on the AH. Many of these mods are quite complicated, Auctioneer for example can search through all of the listed goods in the AH and propose underpriced ones for you to buy or bid on. Decursive and FishingBuddy reduce a series of several mouse clicks to a single click or double-click.

When exactly does the use of such addons cross the line to where it becomes cheating? I'm not talking about the legalistic view of "if Blizzard doesn't ban it, it's not cheating". I'm talking about the point where one player wins over another player because he uses an addon the other player didn't install. To give just one example, the effectiveness of a Warlock with his damage over time curses is much diminished if the enemy team is using Decursive. In PvE few people might mind if somebody else advances faster due to the use of addons. But in a PvP-based game like WAR one side having an advantage over the other due to the use of addons is more problematic. Yes, in principle everyone could download them and even the score. But if the UI isn't provided by the game itself, and you are forced to keep up to date with various addons from various mod sites, there are always some players losing out in that particular arms race.

And of course mods can influence the balance between classes in PvP. If a dev decides how powerful to make a damage over time ability, does he consider the use of addons to dispel them faster or does he balance their power with only the regular removal speed in mind? PvE balance is also affected; how far would all the WoW raiders be now if they didn't have raid healing or boss ability warning addons?

Mods create an additional layer of haves and have-nots. Game companies need to be very careful what exactly they allow addons to do, because otherwise the negative effect of being able to "cheat" outweigh the positive effects of improving the UI slowly for everybody.


Recently, when my mage was level 48, I visited Azshara, a rarely visited zone situated north of Orgrimmar. The zone has one of the most profitable quests, especially if you are a mage. You just need to collect 4 tablets in some ruins, avoiding or fighting level 48 to 49 nagas. And then you need to deliver them to 4 different places and come back. Three of these places are Orgrimmar, Thunder Bluff, and Undercity, while the fourth is in Azshara. With a mage's teleport, that is quickly done, and all the quests together give over 40k experience points.

But besides that quest series, there isn't much to do in Azshara. There is a group of shipwrecked people hidden in a canyon on the coast, which you need to protect from a nage attack, but the quest leads nowhere, and few people ever even find it. There is another quest to kill some blood elves, some quests involving the Molten Core faction, and some quests about finding the sceptre that opens Ahn'Qiraj. But as these quests require the effort of a whole guild, and AQ is open since a long time on nearly every server, nobody does that quest line any more. Not even sure if you could still start it.

Other than for quests Azshara is a good place for collecting herbs, from Sungrass to Dreamfoil. And there are some ruins populated by demons, which used to be a popular place to farm Felcloth. As neither level 60 herbs nor cloth are very interesting any more, Azshara is pretty much deserted right now.

And when you rid through the zone, you pretty much can't help the feeling that the devs had plans for that zone which were never realized. There are corners populated with various monsters to which no quests point. There are wide empty spaces that could be used for all sorts of things. There is Ursolan, an area full of timbermaw furbolgs with a gate to what appears to be a big furbolg city or dungeon, but the gate can't be opened. There is even a non-functional PvP battleground, a kind of hollow mountain with entrances clearly marked for Horde and Alliance, but no actual instance connected to it.

I wonder if Azshara will ever get the "Dustwallow Marsh treatment", adding a village or two, a few dozen new quests, and opening up Ursolan and the battleground. Problem is that this isn't very likely. WoW doesn't have a huge shortage of level 50 zones or quests. And patch 2.3 adding content to the old world was an exception, normally Blizzard adds content mostly to whatever the current level cap is, as it is there where most of the players are. Azshara exists in its half-finished state for three years now, and it might remain that way forever.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Playing games with links

Via Grimwell I found the web-based game MyMiniCity. Well, it looks like a game, a bit like Sim City. Only there is no gameplay. The only thing you can do is to post links to your city in your blog, your forum sig, or wherever you hang out on the internet. At first you can only use a link that increases population, but then a link that increases industry becomes available, then transport, security, environment, and business. You are trying to get the biggest city possible, but of course your population needs all these things, and you need to get people to click on your link for your city to grow. And only one click per visitor per day counts. The only thing you get out of that is a ranking, you can try to have the biggest city of your country.

As Grimwell so correctly remarks, "Once you get past the goofy side of things though, there is a serious and almost smart business model here." It's the old "eyeballs are money" philosophy. Users are motivated to link to the site, creating lots of page hits, thus creating lots of views for the small banner ads. Note how I put lots of links to my city in this post to get you to click on them. I'm just fooling around here, but if I really wanted to grow my city, I would consider putting some link in the sidebar of the blog. MyMiniCity even offers XML and RSS feeds to support such things! Unfortunately besides growing your city and a small chat interface there is nothing you can actually do with your creation. It is social networking at it's most basic level, far, far away from Facebook or MySpace.

So would you buy single-player WoW?

After a day of interesting discussion on social aspects of World of Warcraft, there remains one question: If World of Warcraft would exist as a pure single-player game, without servers, nor monthly fees, would you buy it? Single-player WoW would be exactly like World of Warcraft now, only that there are no other players. Auction house would be randomly seeded with goods, and all elites would be removed from the game, even from instances, so you could solo them.

Would you buy single-player WoW?

The flexible solution

In the third and last article on how to solve the problem of new players solo rushing through old content to reach the level cap and then not knowing how to group once arrived there, I'm going to talk about flexible levels. The last group I did with my mage was running a level 11 warrior and level 14 shaman through RFC. Seeing how a high-level mage with AoE kills a whole room full of mobs at the same time is fun, but of course the dungeon trip was very short and didn't teach the low level players anything about real grouping. But what if I could have lowered the level of my mage to 14, and get some more players of other levels to join us in a level 14ish group? Similar systems have great success in games like City of Heroes.

Rushing through a dungeon with a character of too high a level isn't all that exciting. The challenge is missing, and there are no rewards. Nevertheless level 70 players visit low level dungeons more often than you would think, to help friends, out of nostalgia, or because they are bored of the limited number of level 70 dungeons. It would be easy to increase the participation of high-level players in low-level content if we just added some challenge and rewards.

Adding challenge is easy enough. Most stats, spell effects and abilities are numerical values and can easily be scaled. Blizzard already changed most low-level dungeons to have a less wide level range. For example Shadowfang Keep used to have mobs from level 18 to 26, but now all bosses are level 20 to 21. Thus we could downscale everyone joining a Shadowfang Keep group to level 21, and make the dungeon interesting for everyone in the group. Of course that will need some intelligent design decisions from Blizzard, deciding whether people lose spells or talents they wouldn't have at the lower levels, and how to downscale the effect of equipment. I think it would be best if a downscaled character wasn't any more powerful than a real character of that level, even if as level 70 he was wearing full epics. The purpose after all is to keep it interesting.

Adding rewards should be possible too. We already have a faction of time travelers, why not add a new faction of level travelers? Whenever a higher level player would join a lower-level dungeon group, he would gain reputation points for every kill and badges from every boss to make up for the lack of interest in the low-level loot that drops. The players in the group that are actually of the level of the dungeon don't get the points and badges, but the loot should be more interesting for them. The reputation and badges could then be used in the usual way to buy recipes and gear for the high-level characters which is actually useful at their high level.

Giving people the possibility to downscale their level and join groups of lower level players fulfills several purposes. For the lower level players it makes finding a group easier, because there are now more people interested in joining one. It is to be hoped that by mixing veterans and new players there will be some transfer of knowledge, with the veteran players teaching the newbies how to group. For the high level players the possibility to revisit old content in a non-trivial way opens up more possibilities and choices. The more choice a player has on what to do next, the better.

The gathering solution

If you don't want to fast forward the lower levels, but still want people to group for the fun and learning experience of it, you need to find a solution which makes grouping at the lower levels more frequent. For this we need to look at the reasons *why* people don't group at the lower levels.

The problem has two parts: grouping at lower levels nowadays (compared to the time when World of Warcraft came out) is more difficult because there are less people of the lower levels around. And second it isn't profitable enough to group to be worth trying to overcome this higher barrier into grouping. The solution thus has to be to make it easier to find a group, and to make grouping more worth it than soloing, even counting the time it needs to set up the group.

One interesting solution I proposed before was to create cross-server dungeons. If cross-server battlegrounds can work, then why not cross-server dungeons? You'd need to put up the same restrictions on trading, but otherwise it should be possible. You just need a queuing and automatic grouping system like battlegrounds have. A bit more elaborate to make sure each group has a tank and a healer, but otherwise similar.

But that alone wouldn't suffice. You'd still need to increase the rewards for grouping to make up for waiting in a queue and potentially being grouped with nitwits. I'd keep the gear rewards as they are, the loot dropping in low-level dungeons is already good enough. One could think of adding something like a badge system, giving every player some sort of points or tokens to buy gear with in case nothing useful for him dropped. But otherwise the dungeon loot is okay as it is. What needs to be improved is the xp you get in a group. Right now the xp bonus for grouping is small. The xp for a mob is divided by the number of group members, and then some small bonus is added, around 20% if I remember correctly. Unless you have the world's most efficient group gathered together in zero time, your xp per hour in a group are notably less than your xp per hour when soloing. That shouldn't be the case. Joining a cross-server dungeon queue and doing a dungeon with a bunch of strangers should on average bring more xp per hour than soloing. Nobody wants to eliminate soloing from the game, it should always remain a viable option for people who don't have the time required to group. But soloing shouldn't be the fastest way to level up, because that teaches people to *not* group, which is counterproductive.

MMORPG players in general react strongly to rewards. Making grouping more easy and at the same time more rewarding can save the low-level game from irrelevance. Expansions should expand the game, not shorten it or make the old content useless. Cross-server dungeons with higher rewards could well keep the old content alive for new players and veterans with alts alike.

The fast forward solution

Blizzard has already started to tackle the problem of new players, and they did it by speeding up the progress of new players to level 60. Since patch 2.3 quests up to level 60 give more experience points, and you need less xp to level. Thus the number of hours to 60 has been significantly shortened.

The question is where we go from here. People who played the original Everquest will remember the term "hell level", describing levels in EQ where due to the complicated formula used to determine how many xp you need to level you suddenly needed far more xp to get to the next level than you needed for the previous level. Blizzard inadvertedly introduced hell levels into WoW. For a new player, who didn't spend many months at level 60, the current level 60 must appear like a hell level. He got used to leveling quickly all the way up to 60, and suddenly progress slows down significantly. You need nearly three times more xp to get from 60 to 61 than you needed from 59 to 60, while the quests and mobs do not give significantly more xp now (only item rewards are better in Outlands, of course).

Rohan from Blessing of Kings suggested to keep time to max level constant, regardless of how high the max level grows. Thus when Wrath of the Lich King comes out and sets the level maximum to 80, Blizzard would have to speed up leveling from 1 to 70 by as much time as it takes to level from 70 to 80, hopefully smoothing the leveling curve while doing so. The problem with that approach is that levels aren't infinitely compressible. Zones have a certain size, and you need a certain number of quests and time to see all the corners. If every expansion raises the level cap by another 10, we are heading towards a situation where you do less and less quests in a zone before you outlevel it. And the new levels added in the latest expansion would always be hell levels, being much slower than the way up to them, because you don't want to rush people through the new content, only through the old one.

But speeding up leveling is not the only fast forward solution Blizzard offers. The new deathknight class will not even start at level 1, but directly at a higher level, probably level 60. And apparently previous ideas of having to do a level 80 quest to be able to play a deathknight have been discarded, new players will be able to play a level 60 deathknight on their first day. Which then of course raises the logical question of why only deathknights? Time to max level could easily be held constant if new players could start any class at max level minus 20. That of course would make the existing level 1 to 60 content even more deserted and useless, but at least there would be a reasonable chance to find a group with your freshly created level 60 character right from the start.

If World of Warcraft is designed as a game where the fun and the social activity is by design concentrated at the level cap, it makes sense to fast forward new players to that level cap. The disadvantage is that you are losing something when you shorten all the old content, regardless of whether you speed it up or just skip it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WoW Lite

I leveled my mage up from 51 to 52 last night by soloing Jinth'Alor. On the one side that was fun, and only the Vile Priestess Hexx posed any problems (she has an instant spell that turns you into a frog, and just kept me permanently frogged while she killed me, I got her on the second try by using my water elemental). On the other side it was sad to see the closest thing World of Warcraft had to a non-instanced dungeon turned into a solo encounter. I barely ever got the opportunity to group in my whole mage career, and seen only very few dungeons. I think I only did one regular dungeon group with people around my level, the other runs were all "boosted" by higher levels. I recently even boosted some low level guild mates myself through RFC. My warrior recently helped a warlock get to the place in Scholomance where he needed to go for his warlock epic mount quest, and the warlock didn't even know where Scholomance was!

If you look through PC games sales charts, you'll find that World of Warcraft has been consistently been in the top 20 since end of 2004. Some financial analyst calculated WoW's churn rate to be 4% to 5% per month. That is nearly half a million new players in WoW every month, or over 200,000 in the US and Europe! And I can't help but feel that these new players are not playing the same World of Warcraft that we played back in 2004 / 2005. They are playing a massively singleplayer game, WoW Lite, which has them soloing all the up to at least 60, if not 70, before being able to find groups. And then of course the groups suck, because the warrior is fury spec and never bothered to even put taunt on his hotkey bar, and the priest is shadow and hasn't got a clue about effective healing. Not their fault, how are they supposed to suddenly know all about grouping if they never had the opportunity?

World of Warcraft as a singleplayer game isn't actually a bad game. But between servers that are sometimes down, lag, and monthly fees, players must ask themselves why they are playing a game online when there is so little interaction with other players. The multiplayer aspects of MMORPGs are generally more interesting, and more likely to keep players in the game. The attraction of WoW to new players is likely to diminish. When Wrath of the Lich King and Warhammer Online come out, presumably not far from each other, new players have the choice between one game where they will have to solo now to 80 before they can group, and another game where they can play with lots of players of their level. That won't be the only criterion of choice, but it sure can be an important one. Cooperative multiplayer games are more fun than singleplayer games, because they add all the social aspects of popular applications like chat or MySpace to the game. It is sad when new players of WoW miss out on all that.

So today Tobold's MMORPG blog is dedicated to ideas on how to make World of Warcraft more social, and by that more interesting, to new players. New players are important to a MMORPG, because it is them that need to replace all those veterans that burn out sooner or later. It is in the interest of everyone that new players to WoW not only have a good time, but also learn how to play in a group.

Losing the faithful

Remember I sent you over to Keen and Graev's Blog if you wanted to read more about Pirates of the Burning Sea? I'm not sure that advice is going to be good much longer. Keen posted an article about risk and reward in PotBS which sounds as if he won't play much longer. Great analysis by the way, of what I call negative sum PvP and other situations in PotBS which lead to Keen risking and losing his ship often, for very little reward. No wonder he is unhappy.

The funny thing is that I'm not having fun with PotBS because I'm evading all risk and just cash in the rewards for free. I'm not even moving any more, I just log on once every other day, produce my goods and put them up for sale in the same port. That gives me about 10k profit per day, for 10 minutes of "work" and zero risk. Profitable, but boring.

I'm sure that somewhere the devs think that people like me would give their money to people like Keen. That way *I* would contribute something to the struggle of my nation against the others, and the Keens would have ships to use in that struggle. Problem is that it doesn't work like that. Unless you pay him in dollars (Chinese doubloon farmers?), why should one player give ships for free to another player, just because he is from the same nation or in the same guild? There is nothing in it for the freetrader. If the player didn't care about doubloons, he wouldn't have rolled a freetrader in the first place. It remains a mystery to me how freetraders and other classes are supposed to work together and both have something from it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Do the most active players shape the opinion of the rest?

A reader wrote me about a comment he had read on my blog, in which someone said that the hardcore players matter because they influence who buys and plays the game. The players who spend the most time in the game, the raiders, are supposedly also the guild leaders, the bloggers, the forum commenters, and so on. The theory is that if Blizzard wouldn't cater towards them, wouldn't spend more development time on their need than their number would suggest, they would leave and take everybody else with them. Do you believe that theory?

I never attributed Blizzard's focus on raids to them wanting to please a small number of opinion shapers. I think the reason is far more mundane, they hired Tigole, who was a big raid leader back in the days of Everquest as their lead designer. Tigole developed the game *he* wanted to play, without spending much thought on what other people wanted to play. If they had hired lets say me, WoW would have a wonderful economy and crafting system. If they had hired Marc Jacobs WoW would have Realm vs. Realm PvP. MMORPGs aren't just one game, they are a collection of many games, and everyone has his favorite.

But because everyone has his favorite and everyone in playing WoW in a different way, I don't believe that there is much of an influence of one group over the others. I do believe that if Blizzard made raiding much, much easier, some hardcore raiders would have all the raid dungeons on farm by now and might quit because there was no more challenge left. But I do not believe that everybody else would follow them. Just the opposite, they would keep playing longer, because suddenly there were all of these easy raid dungeons accessible for them. And I can even argument this assumption with an example from World of Warcraft history: PvP.

Before patch 1.12 PvP used to be just for the hardcore. As there was a relative ranking system, only a small handful of the most dedicated PvP players could rise to the highest rank and get the good rewards. The regular players were condemned to be stuck in the middle ranks forever and didn't get PvP epics. Then Blizzard changed the system and made PvP far more accessible, and with every patch it got easier and easier to get PvP epics. The real hardcore PvP players must find PvP far too easy now, and probably quit. But did that lead to an exodus of WoW players? Not at all. PvP is as popular as never before, and many, many players are in the battlegrounds and arenas for the epics. And they aren't there because they like PvP much more than group play or raiding. They are there because it is currently the easiest way to get rewards. If raiding was made easier, they would go raiding. For every one hardcore player leaving because of boredom, there would be several players swarming the new easy raid dungeons for easy epics. The average longevity of subscriptions would go up, not down. Players are far more easily swayed by in-game rewards than by what somebody says on some game forum.

Is your opinion of World of Warcraft influenced by the opinion of the top guilds?

25-man raids and skill checks

Ontherocks wrote me and asked for my opinion on 25-man raids versus 10-man raids. He has a small guild, and he likes 10-man raids much more than the level 60 entry-level 40-man raids. I haven't done much 25-man raiding yet, but recently I was at Gruul and SSC with my guild. We killed Maulgar, who dropped the T4 shoulders for me, and Gruul. Funnily we wiped once on Maulgar, due to an unexpected pull, and didn't wipe at all at Gruul, although Gruul is supposedly much harder. We then went to SSC and wiped repeatedly on Hydross. I have problems comparing 10-man and 25-man raids in TBC, because the 25-man raids are harder. Going to SSC was certainly less relaxed than going to Karazhan, but that might well be because we have Karazhan "on farm" and are still struggling with SSC.

Some commenters were recently argueing whether raiding required skill or was just a gear check. I don't think the answer is simple, it depends very much on the specific encounter. Killing Hydross definitely requires a lot of coordination, thus is more of a skill check. Hydross has two different modes, water and poison, and due to a debuff you can only tank him in one mode for a limited time, and then need to drag him over a line to change his mode. Whenever he crosses the line he spawns 4 elementals and loses all aggro. Thus if somebody still damages him from his old side of the line, he goes right back to where he was, spawning another 4 elementals. So if the damage dealers, and especially dotters, don't watch very, very, very carefully what they are doing, Hydross crosses the line several times and deluges the raid with a large amount of elemental spawns, and it is game over.

Gruul on the other hand isn't all that complicated to kill. It is much more of a gear check. Gruul grows and grows, but if the raid group does enough dps, they'll kill him before he grows unmanageable. As our excursion showed, if your raid group is really well equipped, the Maulgar encounter can become more difficult than the Gruul encounter. But normally you can beat Maulgar with a bit of practice and not so much gear, while all the skill in the world isn't helping you much with Gruul if you aren't well equipped enough.

In general both skill and gear help most of the time. And in many cases you can to some extend replace one with the other. I remember doing a retro raid to Molten Core at level 70, and gear made some encounters very easy, which previously required a lot of skill. For example being turned into a bomb at Baron Geddon used to require you running to a safe spot, because otherwise the explosion would kill you and your neighbors at level 60. At level 70 we had a couple of people not knowing where to run, but due to much higher health they just shrugged off the explosion and nobobdy got killed by it.

It isn't necessarily the total number of people in the raid what counts. For skill checks it is more important whether the encounter is designed in a way that all of them need to do it right, or whether only X people need to do it right and the others don't have to play perfectly. If everyone needs to play perfectly, a higher number of raiders makes encounters *more* difficult. Imagine everyone has to do something relatively easy, for which he would have a 90% success chance. Take 10 raiders in an encounter where only one has to make a mistake for the raid to wipe, and the chance of success drops to 0.9^10 or 35%. If you need everyone in a 25-man raid to not make a mistake, the success chance is down to 0.9^25 or 7%.

Depending on how the encounter is designed, and what everybodies gear is, it might not be necessary that everyone in the raid is on the top of his game. The old 40-man raids certainly had some room for slackers. Then raids get easier, especially if for some roles (like dps) you can replace one guy with top gear by two guys with lesser gear. If you've been in WoW long enough, you might remember that it used to be possible to raid Scholomance and Stratholme with 10 people, UBRS with 15 people. Patch 1.10 changed those caps to 5 and 10. And although the mobs were made slightly easier, going to UBRS with 10 raiders was more difficult than with 15. The 5 extra people before weren't strictly necessary, but helpful.

When I first entered Karazhan in March last year with my previous guild's B team, we were all so badly geared that everyone of us would have had to play perfectly to succeed. And as we all had very little or no practice either, we only managed to kill Attumen, and just wiped over and over again on Moroes. When I went to Karazhan with my current guild (which is actually the guild I started the game with), I went with people with much better gear, and much more practice. And suddenly Moroes was easy. I was still wearing the same gear, and probably played with similar skill in the two raids. But probably my raid skills aren't perfect (I'm too slow for split second button mashing) and it is well possible that in the first raid I contributed to us failing, while in the second raid the degree of perfection needed from me was lower and I passed the skill check.

So instead of thinking in terms of gear check and skill check, I'd say that every raid encounter is a skill check, but the degree of difficulty of that skill check varies with the specific encounter, and can be modified by everybodies gear and the skill of the other players in the raid.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Extreme specialization

My mage in World of Warcraft is an exercise in extreme specialization. He is specialized in frost damage, and nothing else. I hit level 50 during the weekend, which meant that he can now use Flasks of Supreme Power, giving +70 to spell damage. Expensive, but it's okay, my warrior can make them and gather the mats. So with the flask, the wizard oil, and all of the "of the frozen wrath" armor my mage is wearing, he now has over +350 to frost spell damage. My frostbolts do over 700 points of damage, nearly 1500 for crits, and as mobs of my level have less than 3000 health, I can kill them with 2 to 4 bolts. They rarely ever reach me.

I have an addon named Recount, which measures damage per second. Funnily my level 50 mage does more dps on a level 50 mob than my level 70 protection warrior does on a level 70 mob. Because the warrior is also specialized, but in tanking. That works well in groups, but not all that well in soloing and PvP. Soloing with the mage is very easy, I'd guess he'd be very useful in a group, and in PvP as well.

Why is it that of the three group roles: tanking, healing, and damage dealing, only the damage dealing is really good in soloing and PvP. The other two abilities seem like support roles, and when there is nothing to support (solo) or very little cooperation (WoW PvP), these characters aren't quite as good. No wonder tanks and healers are always in short supply for groups, people prefer classes that solo better. Is the future hybrid classes like druid healers and death knight tanks, who can then easily switch to damage dealing when soloing? Or will we see better damage abilities for holy priests and protection warriors in the future?

Friday, January 25, 2008

How to interpret WoWJutsu numbers

WoWJutsu is a third party website that uses World of Warcraft Armory data to rank guilds. On it's front page it proudly proclaims 2.4 million total players ranked, of which 98% are said to have visited Karazhan. This has been widely interpreted as 2.4 million players having seen Karazhan, which is about half of the total population of 4.5 million US and Euro players. Other people said that this number seems to high, and various arguments went back and forward on who to interpret the numbers. The Wowjutsu FAQ isn't all that precise on who exactly is counted. I had started using guarded phrases like "according to the most optimistic interpretation of Wowjutsu data", because I wasn't sure which interpretation was correct, and constantly got attacked for my numbers being wrong. Enough of that! Lets find out how Wowjutsu REALLY counts raiders.

The trick to find out the truth is to drill down to a level of which you are absolutely certain. On the Wowjutsu site you can click on "Realms", choose US or Euro, choose your realm, and finally choose your own guild to see detailed stats about your guild. And then you can go to WoW and compare the Wowjutsu numbers with the WoW numbers. To be very exact in my case I even submitted a "manual update request" to Wowjutsu, so I have scanned Wowjutsu data of today from my guild.

The result: In WoW my guild has 394 members (characters, not players), due to most of us suffering from altitis. Of these 394 characters, 164 are level 70. On the Wowjutsu site my guild is considered to have 164 raiders!

Wowjutsu considers every level 70 character in a ranked guild as being a raider!

A ranked guild is a guild in which at least one person has Karazhan loot. But that doesn't make every level 70 character in that guild a raider! In the case of my guild I went through the rooster on Wowjutsu, which has detailed information on who has loot from what raid dungeon. I counted 73 players with at least one piece of raid loot. Due to my guild having Karazhan "on farm" and being generous with raid epics towards newbies, I do not think we have many raiders with no epic loot. Thus in the specific case of my guild, Wowjutsu overestimates our number of raiders by a factor of over 2. Wowjutsu counts us as 164 raiders, when in reality we only have 73 people who ever visited Karazhan. It even counts my warrior as a raider, of whom I am 100% certain that he never set a foot into Karazhan.

There are far less than 2.4 million players who visited Karazhan. Far less than 50% of the player base ever got the chance to raid.

By counting every level 70 character in a guild with raiders as a raider, Wowjutsu seriously overestimates the number of raiders in WoW. There might be tightly organized guilds in which every character is a raider. But in general more guilds are like mine, having a mix of raiders and non-raiders, and Wowjutsu counts them all as raiders. By extension that means that not only the assumption that 50% of players already visited Karazhan is too high, but also there are less people who have visited the Black Temple. Wowjutsu counts every level 70 character in a guild in which at least one person has Black Temple loot as having visited the Black Temple, and thus lists 7% of their 2.4 million "raiders" as having gone there. But there are certainly guilds in which people are at different stages of the raid circuit, and only the top guys have visited the Black Temple. Raiding remains far too inaccessible to WoW players, and the top level raid dungeons have only been visited by a far too tiny number of players.

Tobold's Theory of Relativity

It doesn't matter how much fun a game is in absolute terms, it matters how much fun it is relatively to the other games you might be playing instead.

Or, in other words, I just cancelled my account for Pirates of the Burning Sea. I'm having a really, really good time in World of Warcraft right now. Not only because of raiding and epics, but in general: playing my level cap characters in guild groups, daily quests, leveling my mage alt. Compared to that, when logging into Pirates of the Burning Sea, doing my daily production is all I can stomach before logging out again. Ship my goods across the Caribbean to sell them? Takes 20 minutes in which nothing interesting happens, unless I get attacked by NPC pirates, then it takes 30 minutes and still isn't interesting. PotBS has the most boring NPC pirates you can imagine: at my level and with a freetrader ship I don't have any chance to sink them. And they are always placed in a way that I can easily escape, it just takes so much time. NPC pirates aren't a plague, they are an annoyance. And in many places there are so many of them that you can't really do clever maneuvering to avoid them.

Pirates of the Burning Sea of course is a PvP focused game, and I'm not the world's biggest fan of PvP. But even if I would do PvP, I'd rather do it in World of Warcraft, where I'd actually gain something by doing it, and I would face an equal number of enemies. Except for the final port battles, which are 24 vs. 24, the rest of PvP in PotBS is not balanced. People only attack you if they are far superior in level, ship type, or they brought more friends than ships of your nation being visible in the vicinity. Flying Labs recently "fixed" an "exploit", where some lonely ship would cruise up and down in front of a port, and when a group of 3 enemies would come and attack the ship, the 5 friends of the lonely ship would come out of hiding from the port and join the battle. The gankers ganked, I liked that as a feature, too bad it's gone. Ganking is now nearly risk free. And PvPers can annoy non-PvPers by conquering their ports. I should recommend the game to Syncaine, he'll probably like it better than WAR. :)

While my Pirates of the Burning Sea review gets a lot of hits lately via Google, probably from people who saw the game now in the stores, my PotBS posts get very little response or comments. So I'd ask my remaining 3 readers interested in Pirates of the Burning Sea to head over to Keen and Graev's blog. Currently there is a daily PotBS journal, and even a complete port battle video. On this blog PotBS reporting will slowly grind to a complete stop soon.

I'll still be logging into PotBS from time to time until my free month runs out. But I'll spend most of my time playing World of Warcraft, which is the better game, relatively speaking.

Gaming as a problem

A reader, Sare, wrote me an e-mail with a link to the latest Penny Arcade comic on WoW addiction. He asks "Game addiction, does it really exist or is it just a myth? I found myself wondering about this as I sat on my computer and played World of Warcraft for the 10th hour straight trying to get attuned to karazan and farming gold and gems for the guild bank trying to prepare everybody else for it as well."

I think one of the major flaws of the whole game addiction discussion is that people see it too much in terms of black and white: Either you are addicted or you are not. Such a yes/no addiction might scientifically exist for addictive substances like heroin. It doesn't exist for video games or other forms of entertainment, like the fabled TV addiction. The Scientific American says "The term "TV addiction" is imprecise and laden with value judgments, but it captures the essence of a very real phenomenon. Psychologists and psychiatrists formally define substance dependence as a disorder characterized by criteria that include spending a great deal of time using the substance; using it more often than one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce use; giving up important social, family or occupational activities to use it; and reporting withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it." The same is true for video game addiction: imprecise and laden with value judgements, but describing something which is nevertheless a real phenomenon. That article also says "That said, we need to be careful about overreacting. Little evidence suggests that adults or children should stop watching TV altogether. The problems come from heavy or prolonged viewing.", and again the same thing is true for video games. The same is *not* true for addictive substances like heroin, where even trying once is likely to start an addiction.

Television and video games both offer escapism. Wikipedia lists among forms of escapism "Principal amongst these are fiction literature, music, sports, films, television, roleplaying games, pornography, religion, recreational drugs, the internet and computer games." and quotes C.S. Lewis saying that "the usual enemies of escape are jailers". The problem is not the exact means of escape, one shouldn't join Karl Marx in condemning religion or Jack Thompson in condemning video games. The underlying problem is some unhappiness with our real lives which leads us to search for something better in a virtual one. Not lucky in love? A romantic novel or movie (or porn if it was more the physical part of love you were after) offers a brighter view. No success in your studies or job? But at least your guild downed Illidan! You're a fat couch potato? Compensate by watching sports all day on the TV. It is evident that all these are just false solutions. After all that you're still lonely, unsuccessful, and fat.

As long as you are aware of it, and don't confuse the false solutions with a real way to improvement, escapism can be fine. Sometimes our real world problems are temporal, and there is nothing to be said against a little escape to help us deal with the pain. Why not be a hero for a while in World of Warcraft after a bad day at work? You just need to stop yourself from the escapism adding to the problem. If you neglect your studies or work because of WoW, or TV sports replaces all of your physical activity, you have a real problem. Only such things are usually gradual, shades of grey, not black and white. You can't take the 10 million WoW players and say 40% of them are addicted, or give any other number, that is just nonsense talk. There are some players that play WoW only very little and if they have nothing else to do, some players that dropped out of school or quit work or left their family to play WoW, and all the shades in between. Most people are somewhere in the middle, where they might have the occasional minor real life problem due to WoW, like a late night playing session leaving you tired and without an ironed shirt to go to work with the next day. And with most of them that varies over time. Just take myself, I lived perfectly well without WoW for 7 months last year, and this week I'm a bit tired because I spent several nights raiding. There will be weeks in the future where I will play very little WoW. The need for escape comes and goes. And for the large majority anything you could describe as game addiction only happens in a very mild and not really problematic form. You could compare it to people that might get drunk once in a while, but are far from being alcoholics. It is better to watch yourself, because the border isn't very well defined, and of course you should avoid the problematic forms of addiction. But saying that a particular form of escapism is responsible and should be regulated against is just targeting the symptoms instead of the underlying causes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Epic to wipe ratio

Of course it is an extreme oversimplification, but besides the fun of hanging out with friends, seeing new places, or vanquishing new bosses, the epic to wipe ratio plays a large role in how much "fun" raiding is for people. Last night my guild did another Karazhan run, second half from Curator to Prince, and my epic to wipe ratio went through the roof. I got the shoulders from the Curator, boots from Aran, and T4 helmet from the Prince. Only Illhoof and the chess event didn't yield anything for me. And only the Prince put up any serious resistance. [From all the encounters in Karazhan, the Prince is the most luck based. The "safe spots" are a myth, because what was safe last run won't necessarily work next run. You can either go for a high risk strategy and tank the Prince in the doorway, and if you get lucky and no infernal drops on the position of the healers and ranged dps the fight becomes nearly trivial. Or you can tank the Prince along the wall, which gives you somewhat more options in case of bad luck with infernal drops.]

But I'm well aware that three epics in four hours with few wipes isn't "normal". This isn't how Blizzard designed it, the credit goes completely to my guild, because they are willing to take a few newbies with them on every Karazhan raid. Kudos to my guild, both for being nice and for being intelligent. Showering newbies with epics like that beats disenchanting said epics, especially in TBC where the market value of the void crystals you get from disenchanting epics has hit rock bottom and is now *below* that of the large prismatic shards you get from disenchanting blue gear. And I fully intend to repay my "debt" to the guild by using my new gear to either help them advance in the next level of the raiding circuit, or by helping the next generation of newbies to get through Karazhan. I just need to set some priorities and do either the one or the other. After 3 Karazhan raids this week I'm signed up for a SSC raid tonight, and I'm starting to feel physical exhaustion. I'm not a young man any more, staying up until midnight every night and getting up at 6:30 am in the morning isn't something I can do several times a week any more without feeling tired afterwards.

In a normal raid progression the epic to wipe ratio is much lower. Either you have a raid dungeon "on farm", but then you already have most of the epics from there and just hope for luck on finding the last one or two missing pieces. Or you go to a new raid dungeon, where you will wipe much more often and not kill all that many bosses. Note that when calculating epic to wipe ratio, I only consider epics that are actually an improvement. Thus going to ZG or AQ20 with a group full of level 70s has an epic to wipe ratio of zero, because nobody is going to find anything useful there.

So while I am in "fast forward" or "easy" mode, the raid progression for the majority of World of Warcraft players remains too slow. Even by the most optimistic interpretation of the WoWJutsu data only 50% of players in Europe and North America have ever seen Karazhan, and only 3% the Black Temple, after one year of TBC. Come patch 2.4 with an even more difficult raid dungeon Sunwell Plateau, and we are looking at a raid dungeon that only 1% of the player base will ever see, because Wrath of the Lich King will come out before many people reach the top raid dungeons. That is silly, an inefficient use of resources. Raid encounters are a lot more complex than regular mobs, and take up a huge chunk of development time. I'm pretty certain that the WotLK raid dungeons are a major contributor to the fact that the expansion is coming out so late. The resulting raid encounters are way more interesting than regular 5-man dungeons, and great fun. They should be accessible to a far greater number to players. After one year 50% of players should have seen the *last* raid dungeon, not just the first one.

Somebody is going to be disappointed by WAR

We're just not sure yet who. Syncaine has a Warhammer rant on his site complaining about people who are looking forward to WAR, but aren't big fans of PvP. Which would include me. He says: "I sincerely hope you HATE Warhammer. I mean absolutely HATE it. Because if carebear Joey likes Warhammer for its fun questing, crafting, and easy solo nature, that means everyone looking forward to Warhammer for it's impact PvP will hate it." And while I of course hope that it will be me who likes WAR and him who hates it (just kidding), I totally agree with his analysis that it is nearly impossible that both of us will like it. One of us, and by extension the two groups of people that like similar things than we do, is going to be severely disappointed by WAR.

I have a grudging admiration for the camp that Syncaine represents, because they are so passionate. They love what Syncaine calls "impact PvP", that is players being able by means of PvP to change the virtual world, to control parts of it, to affect what is going on for everybody. You just need to poke one of them and they will wax lyrically about how great Ultima Online was before Trammel "ruined" it for them.

Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for me, history is against "impact PvP". Reality shows that it is impossible to have impact PvP unless you allow a small minority of extremely dedicated players to dominate the less dedicated masses. It also shows that the less dedicated masses react to that by quitting the game in question, because nobody wants to pay $15 a month for being ganked and relegated to the bottom of the pile. UO didn't introduce Trammel to ruin the game for the PvP fans, they introduced it as an emergency measure to keep their game from dying, because they were bleeding subscribers. Over 90% of the UO player base ended up on PvP-free Trammel, while the mirror image Felucca with its free-for-all PvP was pretty much deserted. Other MMORPGs that tried to attract players with impact PvP, like Shadowbane, Archlord, or Fury, ended in dismal failure. There are passionate PvP fans out there, but there aren't very many of them.

It is theoretically possible that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is all that what Syncaine desires: impact PvP, hated by "carebear Joey". In that case WAR would be one of the greatest financial flops in MMO history, failing worse than Vanguard. While some players and game developers might prefer PvP purity over financial success, I'm pretty certain that the business managers of EA see the matter differently.

I'm somewhat a cynic regarding statements by game developers. To me the most likely outcome is that WAR will offer fake PvP: something that looks like impact PvP, but is in reality limited to special areas, with carebear Joey being well protected and able to do the "fun questing, crafting, and easy solo" gameplay he wants. The PvP fans would conquer their keeps, proudly lording it over the lands, and hopefully not notice that they aren't actually lording over anyone, because the people they'd love to rule just stay outside their reach. And to me that sounds like a great solution.

In other words: I think WAR will be for PvP fans what WoW is for raid fans. In WoW the hardcore raiders think they are the elite, but their actual impact on the lives of the non-raiders is minimal. I think in WAR there will be PvP elite guilds capturing keeps and thinking they are the elite, but have little actual impact on the lives of the non-PvP players. Once in a while one side will capture the capital city of the other side, but then the map resets a few days after, and the whole system is set up in a way that casual players don't suffer too much for not having access to that city for a few days. And to make up for that little hardship, all players of the winning and of the losing side will receive some rewards, even if they didn't participate in PvP at all. The winners for having won, and the losers for balancing the sides out so that the same side isn't winning all the time. The developers will do their utmost to reach "well balanced" PvP, but well balanced isn't all that much difference from the static situation of a pure PvE game. I'm sure I can live with a balanced "fake impact" PvP like that. I just hope Syncaine will learn to love it too. Because if you want real impact PvP, you're forever condemned to low budget niche games. You can't have both impact PvP and a million subscribers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I found my ticket

As I remarked in a previous comment, raiding is not looking for loot just for loot's sake. It is looking for the ticket that allows you entry to the next level of raiding. And last night I found my ticket: the Shard of the Virtuous from the Maiden of Virtue in Karazhan, a one-hand mace with a huge bonus to healing. As I had already previously found a off-hand healing item from Aran, the two items together increased my +healing bonus by 200 points. On my first Karazhan raid I had under +1200 healing buffed, at the end of last night I had +1515 healing buffed. And as one of my readers remarked, once you have such a nice epic weapon, you are willing to spend the ca. 500 gold to enchant it with the +81 healing bonus enchantment, which would get me up to nearly +1600. There isn't a fixed number of how much +healing you need as a priest to visit Tempest Keep, Serpentshrine Cavern, or Zul'Aman. But I'm pretty certain that 1200 was too low, and 1600 is more like it. I'm feeling more confident, and less than a burden to my guild, if I sign up for a raid now.

One nice thing about the growing healing bonus is that due to recent patch changes one third of the healing bonus is also increasing my spell damage. That doesn't do much in raids, but it does make my soloing life easier. I'm not greedy, I pass on all damage caster loot I find in a group or raid. It is nice to know that by concentrating on the stats that help my priest most to become a useful raider, I'm not gimping myself for soloing. I just wish Blizzard would come up with a way to introduce something similar for protection warriors. The gear I collect with my warrior has armor, defence, and stamina, and is only marginally helpful for soloing.

Last night's raid was a blast, not only because of the loot. We had an unusual raid composition, as we were the "B Team", the second Karazhan raid group formed that night by my guild. We had 4 druids in the group, one healing, the other three switching between tanking and melee dps as required. 2 hunters, me as only priest, one healadin, one shaman, and one mage. Kudos to the guild officers of managing to balance the two teams so well, we actually finished our planned "first half Kara" before the first group. Well, they had the Wizard of Oz in the opera, and we had Romulo and Julianne (again, grrr, third time opera, third time Romulo), and apparently our encounter was easier. But we were really on a roll, killed Attumen, Moroes, the Maiden, and the opera event on the first try, and only wiped once on Nightbane before downing him too. And it only took 3 hours to do all this.

Playing whack-a-mole

No, this is not about raid healing. ;) I'm talking about gold seller comment spam on my blog. I'm playing a game of whack-a-mole with them, deleting all of their comments that try to direct people towards some gold selling website. This month has been particularly terrible, I'm getting several comment spams every day, and I wonder what I can do about it. I would hate to have to turn comment moderation on, or even turn commenting off, because I think the intelligent discussion of subjects by my readers is at least as valuable as my posts.

I don't understand why these gold sellers are so persistent. I have comment e-mail notification on, so I delete their comments several times a day, they are never up for more than a few hours. Even if they'd manage to get in just before the Google search engine scans my site, they wouldn't get any page rank from Google, because Blogger comments are automatically flagged as , denying them any search engine value.

The latest WoW gold seller is even leaving a sentence each on my posts that indicate he at least read what I was writing. Then he asks people to visit his blog, which contains only one entry which links to the gold selling site. I can't imagine that technique to bring him many visits, and I'm deleting his comments as well as the more direct ones.

The PvP-free PvP of Pirates of the Burning Sea

Yesterday Pirates of the Burning Sea was officially released, and port contention PvP was enabled. Which lead to a lot of ... PvE. Because curiously port contention PvP contains very little actual PvP, but instead has hours of PvE grind. To put a port into contention you need to attack NPC merchants of the defending nation close to the port you want to take over. So if for example the Spanish want to take the British port of Belize (which is probably happening right now on every single server in PotBS), they have to sink British NPC merchants in front of Belize. Now you would think that to defend Belize, the British would need to sink the attacking Spanish players. But no! To defend Belize the British would need to sink Spanish NPC merchants in front of Belize, of which there aren't many, because the current nationality of a port determines what NPC merchants are around. The British could also run special defensive PvE missions, or hand in crafted goods to defend the harbor. But gaining contention points for the attacker is fast, and there is nothing to gain from defending, so nobody bothers. Especially not with Belize, which is far from the British starting area.

Why do the Spanish attack Belize? Because it has a strategically important resource, fir, and is conveniently close to the Spanish starting area. So is this economic warfare, the Spanish depriving the British of fir? No, Pirates of the Burning Sea doesn't work like that. When Belize becomes Spanish, the British fir log camps there pay a higher tax on production, and so the British players might be tempted to leave. But in all likelyhood Spanish players will build fir logging camps at their place. And for the players just wanting to buy fir, nothing changes. A freetrader can buy fir in the auction house of any nation, and there is no penalty or higher cost involved in buying from the enemy. The Spanish don't sell fir for more than the British did, so for the buyer nothing changes.

As a freetrader I actually prefer Belize switching to Spanish and staying there, in contrast to the British trying to take it back. Because only if the port is in contention do I risk to be attacked by player pirates and privateers when transporting goods to and from that port. If the port is firmly in enemy hands, it is totally safe for me to go there and buy my fir.

24 hours after the Spanish reach a certain contention level in Belize, there will be a port battle of 24 Spanish against 24 British players. In theory the British could defend Belize at that point. In praxis Belize is still far away from the British starting area, there is still nothing to gain from defending the port, and there won't be enough British turning up to defend the port. The Spanish will continue to attack British ports on the left side of the map, the British will attack Spanish and French ports on the right side of the map, and rarely do the nations ever meet. Now my judgement might be clouded by me not liking PvP in general. But I'd say that the PvP system in Pirates of the Burning Sea is particularly stupid.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Should I keep enchanting?

Not a rant. Please try for once to take this post as what it is: a honest question!

The story starts with the release of TBC. My priest gave up enchanting at that time to learn jewelcrafting. While leveling up jewelcrafting I produced a lot of rings and necklaces, and because many people did the same these crafted goods were impossible to sell on the auction house. So I created a blood elf mage, leveled him up to level 11, learned the enchanting profession, shipped all the jewelry to him, and started disenchanting.

Fast forward to 2008, the mage is now level 47. The priest started raiding and was using a lot of superior mana oil. Hey, I said to myself, no problem, oils are the one thing that my enchanter mage can make and ship to my other characters. For superior mana oil you need 310 skill, but due to a racial bonus the blood elf mage can get to 310 already at his current level. He was at 293 yesterday, and it turned out that getting to 310 is expensive. You need illusion dust and eternal essences, neither of which comes cheap. I managed to get part of the way with slightly cheaper wizard oil, but then spent like 200 gold in materials to get to 310. Learned the recipe of superior mana oil, and found out that I'd need a fel iron enchanting rod to produce the oil. For making that rod I'd need to get somebody to portal me to Outland and learn the recipe in Thrallmar. But even worse, I need the arcanite enchanting rod as well to make the fel iron rod. Together that is again more than 200 gold in cost.

So I didn't spend the money yet, I'm a bit low in funds right now, and first stopped to consider whether I really, really wanted to invest further into enchanting. My warrior is herbalist / alchemist, and my priest is miner / jewel crafter. Both of them can produce stuff that my other characters can use. My mage has tailoring, which I would like to keep to make things for himself and the priest, plus bags. But his enchanting profession isn't useful for my other characters, because they are on the same account and I can't have them logged on at the same time. I could pay to move him to my wife's account, but then I couldn't play the mage any more when my wife is playing her toons. The only useful thing as enchanter I can do is the mana and wizard oils, and those I could easily get for not much more than the cost of materials from the auction house.

One option, the cheapest, is to keep enchanting as it is now, at 310, and not invest in it any more. That would basically make my mage a disenchanter, not an enchanter. With 300 skill you can apparently disenchant all items in TBC, even epics. The advantage of having such a disenchanter is that usually the dusts and shards you get from disenchanting bind on pickup items sell for much more than vendoring those items. As many quests yield bop rewards you can't use, you'll at least squeeze a bit more of a monetary reward out of them. In groups it is good to have at least one disenchanter, for bop items found in dungeons that nobody can use. That isn't for personal profit, the shards are rolled for, but it's nice to have it available.

Another option is to ditch enchanting and take up something else. As I already have mining and herbalism on other toons, only skinning would make sense as a gathering profession. Could be profitable for selling the leather, especially as a mage who is good in mass killing animals. And some leather is used for tailoring, though not much. Or I take another crafting profession, but there only engineering would make sense. That is probably expensive to level up, and again not producing many useful things for other charactes. I loved having engineered bombs when I tried paladin once, but for a mage bombs aren't all that useful. There are some good goggles, and a lot of items that are just plain fun. Who wouldn't want to fly around in a helicopter?

The most expensive option is to level up enchanting to 375 and try to get as many good recipes as I can. I had a look through the TBC enchanting recipes, and it appears that very few are available from the trainer. Buying the more useful recipes from the auction house would cost thousands of gold. And then I'd still need to grind reputations and dungeons to get hold of the other recipes. I'm just not sure that this is worth it. I haven't seen any official Blizzard announcements where they state they are planning to change enchanting so that you could mail enchants to your alts or sell them on the AH. And standing in Shattrath or Orgrimmar for hours, peddling enchants in the trade chat instead of playing isn't really my idea of fun. Call me selfish, but why would I want to spent thousands of gold to get enchantments that only other people will profit from?

So I'm looking for advice, especially from people who leveled enchanting to 375. Do you feel the effort and gold spent was worth it? Or would you recommend just being a disenchanter? Or switching to engineering? Tell me what you think!

WoW hits 10 million on the rebound

Blizzard announced that they now have 10 million players. And they were even willing to give us a bit more detail, stating that of these 10 million 2 million are in Europe, 2.5 million in North America, and 5.5 million in Asia. Please keep in mind that the Asians only pay 6 cent per hour, and that the Chinese distributor The9 grabs a big share of the profits, so Asia isn't as profitable as it might look. In fact, if we assume that each western subscriber is worth $200 per year, for one expansion box and 12 monthly fees, the 4.5 million US/Euro players already bring in $900 million from Blizzards stated earnings of $1.1 billion. Which would lead us to the conclusion that Asia "only" earns Blizzard $200 million. Which is still quite a package.

Blizzard is telling us the US and Euro numbers because they don't look so bad any more as they still did in September. WoW is on a definitive rebound in the western world, as seen on the Warcraftrealms activity chart. December had the highest number of primetime players since March. Apparently many players, like me, got a bit bored of WoW, tried some other games, and then came back because the other games weren't any better.

WAR is expensive

Sorry for today's deluge of post, I'm reacting to mails and comments. Due to popular demand from the one reader I have whose name I can't pronounce, I'm linking to some old news from Keen and Graev: Warhammer Online will quite possibly cost more than $14.99 per month. Insert huge outcry and everybody quietly paying up here.

Fact is that $14.99 is a completely arbitrary number. There is no relation whatsoever to cost. From financial data from Blizzard we know that about half of the monthly fee is pure profit. World of Warcraft would still be quite profitable at $10 per month. World of Warcraft would also still be quite profitable at $20 per month, even if that would obviously cause some people to quit. WoW is even profitable at 0.45 Yuan / RMB per hour (about 6 US cents), which is what the Chinese players pay. I pay €12.99 per month for WoW, which at the current exchange rate is $18.86. The choice of payment model (monthly or hourly) and price is done by marketing people based on local customes, economy, and historical developments. There is nothing whatsoever which would make $14.99 per month the one and only possible price for WAR.

Making WAR more expensive as WoW could even be a subtle marketing trick. "Look, our game is better, that's why it costs more!". If the price difference to WoW is small, lets say WAR costs $16.99 per month, EA can probably get away with it and lose only a very small number of potential customers. If you buy a MMORPG and play it for a year, you still pay less money than if you buy a regular video game every 2 months. Counting on a dollar per hour of entertainment basis MMORPGs are extremely cheap. Even watching paint dry is more expensive, if you have to pay for the paint. Movies, books, magazines, everything costs more per hour of entertainment than World of Warcraft does. Total profits of the video game industry are declining, because too many people spend too many cheap hours in WoW instead of buying new expensive video games that can be played through in 10 hours. And then of course there is inflation, prices go up all the time, although if you are young and only interested in the price of computers you might not have noticed. Expecting the monthly fees for MMORPGs to remain stable forever isn't very realistic.

Gold sellers in PotBS banned before game is even released

I already mentioned it below, but I keep getting e-mails asking me to write about this piece of news: Flying Labs already banned the first gold sellers in the pre-order period, before the game was even fully released (release is today). The only thing I am surprised about is that you are surprised about this. Let's relist a couple of things I already said about Pirates of the Burning Sea, and put them into the context of RMT.

1) PvP in Pirates of the Burning Sea is negative sum, it consumes virtual currency. And you don't even get phat epics in return. If you were to play PvP all the time, because that is what is fun to you, you'd run out of doubloons pretty quickly. And thus might be tempted to buy them from a gold seller.

2) All the doubloons in the game come from loot and mission rewards, but that doesn't say that doing missions and sinking NPC ships is the fastest way to wealth. Considerable wealth can be created by setting up some production chain and selling the goods produced with it. You can also make large amounts of doubloons by buying something cheap in port A, transporting it to port B, and selling it there for twice the price you paid.

3) Unlike WoW there is no direct link between level and income. This has two reasons. In WoW a level 1 quest gives you 12 copper as reward, and a level 70 quest gives you 12 gold as reward. As 1 gold is 100 silver, that is 10,000 copper, a level 70 player earns gold 10,000 times faster than a level 1 character in WoW. All gold farmers first level up to 70, and then start farming. In Pirates of the Burning Sea the difference between mission rewards from level 1 to level 50 is less than 10. Second reason is point 2, mission rewards and sinking ships aren't necessarily the fastest way to make money. If you play just until level 21, the pre-order level cap, and you have a freetrader, you have already access to some of the best cargo ships in the game. You can do fast smuggling operations and blockade runs with a MC Bermuda, or transport huge amounts of cargo on an Atlas bark. You can also already produce 95+% of all the production structures in the game.

Forget the WoW gold farmer! The PotBS doubloon producer isn't leveling up to the level cap and then repeatedly grinding the same mobs over and over. More likely he bought himself multiple accounts, leveled them all up to only 21 in a week, built 10 production structures on each of them, and plays every account only 2 hours per day, running his productions, shipping the goods to where they sell highest, and doing some buying, transporting, and selling of other player's goods as well. If he wasn't banned yet, he already has the first million doubloons in stock (I have 100k with just one account, and I barely played). And today with the release of the game the port contention PvP part of the game will be enabled, and regular players will start to lose money on that. The doubloon producer should be able to find customers quickly. The only problem is that he will have to meet his customers personally, because there you can't mail money and the auction house has a blind system which isn't well suited for money transfers (It is possible, but not safe). But in all other respects Pirates of the Burning Sea is an ideal game for gold sellers. There is no bind-on-pickup loot, and nearly everything is player made and tradeable. And the end game is a big money sink. RMT is a direct consequence of game design, and the PotBS game design encourages RMT very much.

Instant classic Q&A from Sanya

Did you always want to know why game developers and customer service representatives of MMORPGs seem to hate you? You'll find the answers in this instant classic Q&A session written by Sanya. I especially liked:
Q: Why do you hate me personally?

A: We don’t hate you. This fifty page log of all the crap you spew in open chat channels, and the two thousand people who reported you, would suggest that a large number of the people on your server do in fact hate you. But we don’t personally care. We’ve seen worse. Amateur.

The games I play and those I don't

A reader was asking why I didn't post about LotRO any more, and so I thought I'd better give you all an update on the games that I'm currently playing, and what I am currently *not* playing. Plus what I'll be playing in the foreseeable future.


World of Warcraft: It is easy to get misunderstood on the internet. I do try to write in a balanced way, not like blind fanboi. Which means that when writing about World of Warcraft I do mention all its shortcomings. No game is perfect! What people don't realize is that I write about WoW because I play WoW. And I play WoW because it is the very best game out there. Miles ahead of the competition. And the same thing is true in the details: I write about WoW raiding because I love all sorts of WoW group play, including raiding. The complaint is that raiding isn't available to enough people, not that raiding at the core is not fun. I'm currently very much at "the fun part" of raiding, killing bosses for the first time, getting phat loot, hanging out with friends in a relaxed raiding atmosphere, the lot. But that doesn't turn me blind towards the flaw in raiding design, the barriers of entry, the slow progress, the endless repeats necessary to advance. If I write about it, it is because I would love to see the system improved, not abolished. I think WoW could be even more awesome if raiding was more accessible to a larger percentage of the player base, and involved less "work". Your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, I'm having more fun in WoW than in any other game I have access to at the moment. Point.

Pirates of the Burning Sea: I just paid for the game including the free month, and I'll decide whether I'll keep playing at the end of that month. I do love ship combat, and I do love the PotBS economy system. Unfortunately the rest of the game is at best mediocre. And the nail in the coffin for me is negative sum PvP. To describe it in WoW terms: Imagine you wouldn't get any epics or other rewards in WoW raids, only the repair bill and the satisfaction of having beaten some boss. PotBS has PvP and port battles instead of raids as end game. But you can only lose stuff in them. Your ship sinks, your outfittings are gone, you blew through your ammo and consumables. And then you need to grind to make money to replace the stuff. The first gold sellers have been banned already, and that was before the release date, which is today! So I'm just playing my freetrader, playing with the economy to make lots of money, doing the occasional mission to have fun with the ship combat, and try to avoid PvP as much as I can. And you know what? If my side happens to win the map (which is likely given the fact that I joined the biggest faction), I'll get the same reward for that as everyone who lost lots of ships in PvP. Sooner or later the players are going to notice that PvP is a fool's errand in PotBS, and there is nothing else in the end game. And then they'll all switch to Age of Conan or whatever the latest game is that promises great PvP.

Not Playing

Lord of the Rings Online: LotRO is a good game. But it isn't quite as good as WoW, and in particular it has a lot less of content than WoW. I do think I did the right decision to take a lifetime subscription, because this is a game I plan to pick up again at a latter day, when I'm completely bored with WoW. But right now LotRO is on hold for me, while Turbine is busy adding content.

EQ2: After having tried it twice, I pretty much gave up on this game completely. Again not a bad game, but not accessible enough. I always feel that to play this I would first need to study various guides for half a year, EQ2 is so full of highly complicated features with little or no explanation in-game. If there were no other games, I would probably play it and take the time to learn all about these features. But when I just jumped in it left me in a state of permanent confusion, feeling lost and without a plan.

Any betas: The only beta I would have access to is Mythos, and that one is fun, but not something you'd want to spend large amounts of time on, as it gets a bit repetitive. I would love to get into betas of upcoming games like Age of Conan or Warhammer Online, and I applied, but never got an invitation. Guess I'll need to wait for an open beta, if there is one.

Will Be Playing

Wrath of the Lich King: Another $100 for Blizzard, two copies of WotLK for Mr. and Mrs. Tobold. Again, I love how Blizzard is producing excellent content and am looking forward to playing it. I don't love that they take far too long to produce an expansion, and I find the currently known list of features too short and unimaginative. But as I am sure that what little content there is in WotLK will be good, I'll certainly be buying and playing it.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning: My hopes for this game are very different than those of most people. Most people want another DAoC, I want another WoW. More specifically I have hopes that WAR will have an excellent PvE game, with 24 different classes to play through, lots of fun content, and some innovative new game concepts like public quests and the tome of knowledge. I do hope that I can avoid PvP for the most time, especially that I'll never be forced to do it, nor that WAR allows other players to gank me. I can see me trying out WAR PvP just for fun, but knowing myself I don't think I'll do it a lot. I don't think WAR will be quite as good as WoW, but it should provide an interesting diversion for a couple of months and be well worth the price of the box plus monthly fee (and yes I know the monthly fee will be higher than WoW's).

Age of Conan: I hope this game has an open beta and I won't be forced to buy it. But I do consider AoC important enough for me to have to at least try it. Even if I'm pretty sure I'll hate it. I don't like excessive violence, I don't like PvP, I don't like twitchy gameplay. I do like exploring new virtual worlds, and studying how game systems work. Enough to at least try it, but it would take a major miracle for AoC to distract me from playing WotLK and WAR.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The BBC has news on virtual worlds

Diem alerted me to two articles from this week on the BBC news: The NASA wants to build a virtual world which would "simulate real NASA engineering and science missions". Apart from getting young people more interested in the NASA, the virtual world would also be used for training purposes of new personnel.

The second article is about EA's new online game Battlefield Heroes. Think the comic look from Team Fortress 2 (out of the Orange Box) combined with the gameplay of the old Battlefield games. Simplified play, low system requirements, and all financed by advertising and micro-payments. As the advertisments would look odd in the game world, they will be placed on the game's website and the launcher program. Battlefield Heroes is supposed to come out later this year, and will only be distributed online, no boxes in stores. I might have a look at that one.

Finished Karazhan

Last night my guild did an impromptu mini-raid on Karazhan, finishing off the last two remaining optional bosses: Illhoof and Netherspite. I came along, we killed both on the second try, and I have now downed every boss in Karazhan, if you count the opera as one boss. I still need to see the other two opera events, having only done Romulo and Julianne twice. I picked up a shiny new epic belt from Illhoof, and some more badges of justice. I think I need to spend an hour looking through WoW-Loot and make a list what items I need from what boss. But up to now the difference between "good blue" gear from dungeons and "average purple" gear from Karazhan isn't that great. I haven't had a single epic yet which was just plain better than what I was wearing before. It was always improving one stat by a little more while lowering another stat by a little less. The difference between T0 gear from Scholomance/Stratholme/UBRS and the epics from Molten Core was bigger.

I must say my guild is doing an excellent job of getting Karazhan raids together with a good mix of noobs like me who can still use most of the loot, and experienced raiders who make sure we don't wipe too often. On the more complicated encounters we might wipe once until the players there for the first time understand how it works, and then we down the boss on the second try. The easier fights we manage on the first try. Wiping repeatedly on the prince was really an exception. For once the small raid size of Karazhan is an advantage, because you need only a handful of experienced and well equipped raiders to complement another half consisting of new raiders, people who know their stuff and are equipped in decent blue gear but don't know Karazhan yet. And the badges of justice system helps there, because even somebody who has every single piece of loot in Karazhan can still use the 20+ badges from a complete run.

The downside of the raiding system for me comes now: X weeks of doing Karazhan over and over, until I have a set of gear that allows me to participate in the next stage of the raiding circuit. I am not saying that you don't need any skill to raid, but the real obstacles to raid progression are more often gear checks than skill checks. The whole system is designed to keep people occupied, to slow down their progress and force endless repetitions, because otherwise players would "finish" the game too fast. I'd much prefer a system where you'd advance a bit faster through the raid circuit and then the next expansion would come out faster. Blizzard being unable to produce expansions in a year or less is directly responsible for the raid grind system.

Guess the WAR and WotLK release dates!

As a blogger one often finds oneself in the situation to post some predictions. But as Niels Bohr said, "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.", and with my blog in it's fifth year you'll be able to find numerous occasions where my predictions turned out to be dead wrong. I'm not selfish, so I want to pass on this opportunity to make an ass of yourself by predicting something totally wrong. The occasion is that I noticed in the discussion of the AoC release date that people have widely different opinions on when WAR and WotLK will be released, which obviously will have a huge impact on the success of other game releases this year. So tell me, when do YOU think that Warhammer Online : Age of Reckoning and the second World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King will be released? To kick off the discussion, I'll start with the following predictions:

WAR: October 2008 (I don't believe in the official Q2 2008 release date.)

WotLK: December 2008 (And then they'll list TBC 2007, WotLK 2008, and claim to be right on target for their stated goal of one expansion per year.)

What dates do you predict?

Age of Conan delayed until May

Several readers alerted me that this weekends news of Funcom confirming a March release date for Age of Conan was already outdated by Monday. Age of Conan has now been delayed again until May 20. As Funcom still holds the record for the "worst MMORPG release ever" with Anarchy Online, I can understand why they don't want to risk a repeat performance. Beta testers leaked that some of the main features of AoC aren't yet implemented in the beta, so two more months can do the game only good.

Karazhan chess

As part of Saturday's Karazhan raid I had the opportunity to participate for the first time in the chess event. That was a lot of fun, even if I just stuck to the pawns, me being a noob. In the chess event you control a piece on a big chess board, where 16 Horde pieces face 16 Alliance pieces. You can only move from square to square, but combat is done with the pieces hitting each other with attacks and spells, trying to bring down the other piece's health just like regular WoW combat. Every piece has different abilities, and you win by killing the enemy king piece.

The Karazhan chess event is very easy, our guild refers to it as "free epics". Blizzard had to hotfix Karazhan once, giving stealth detection to some trash mobs on the way, after videos appeared on how to solo the chess event in an uncleared Karazhan by sneaking there. Apart from a joke on how chess was too hard for Alliance and would be changed to checkers, most guilds consider the event as a light entertainment interlude between harder fights. The strategy required is very basic, just kill the healers first and then concentrate on the king. And the pieces always have the same stats, so the players' gear and buffs make no difference whatsoever.

What did strike me most about this event is that I can't see any reason why it should be reserved for raiders able to get past Curator and the trash mobs. The chess event is a complete game inside the game, which obviously took a lot of effort to program, even more than a regular raid boss. And the ability of a raid group to win the chess event is in no way related to their ability to beat other bosses or trash. If they could just get there, any group of players could beat the chess event and get the epics. It is welfare epics for raiders, plus a free fun game thrown in. And the reason why it is so easy is that the pieces are well-balanced, but one side is controlled by a relatively stupid AI, while the other side is controlled by the players.

The same chess event would be a lot better if it was a 16 vs. 16 PvP battleground. Instead of choosing their piece, players would be randomly assigned one piece to control. As both sides would be controlled by players, and the board is symmetrical, the outcome just depends on player skill and a bit of luck. This would be the one PvP encounter where playing an overpowered / underpowered class or wearing full epics / only greens wouldn't matter. It would be real Player vs. Player, not Avatar vs. Avatar. Of course there wouldn't be epics at the end, but some honor points for both sides depending on how well their side fared, plus the usual victory marks. As a "free epics for raiders" thing the chess event is wasted, as a PvP battleground it would be extremely popular.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Does sex sell MMORPGs?

Adolescent boys feel a great curiosity towards the naked female body and depictions of sex. That is totally normal, a primal urge that goes back to a time where humans procreated with 15 and died at 30. Although video games generally have very little to do with sex, they often target a young male audience, and sex is an sometimes used marketing ploy to attract them. Just take E3 booth babes as example, although that practice has stopped with the reorganization of that video game trade show. Up to now there hasn't been much sex in MMORPGs, at least not officially, just some people having cybersex which is mostly text-based, with a couple of emotes. You can't even strip totally naked in a typical MMORPG, and the anatomy of avatars is of the Ken and Barbie kind. This is going to change when end of March Age of Conan comes out, the first MMORPG with a mature rating and naked female avatars as a major feature in marketing. Is that going to sell?

First of all, besides the marketing, there are perfectly good artistic reasons to have this sort of mature content in the Age of Conan game. The Conan the Barbarian stories and books of Robert E. Howard date back to the 1920's and 30's, and are sexist by modern standards, although they contain also strong female characters. A politically correct Conan would jar, you can't be both a barbarian and politically correct. But one man's laudable sticking to the source is another man's cheesy marketing ploy. By stressing the "mature" rating of the game Funcom obviously hopes to attract some people that are only interested in the mature parts of sex and violence.

But I have my doubts whether being the "MMORPG with boobs" is going to be such a strong selling point. If somebody under 17 wants to play a mature ratings online game, he obviously needs unsupervised internet access. And if he has that, Age of Conan might not necessarily be the most titillating content available. Why look at pixelated boobs of female avatars in AoC if the internet is full of free porn pictures and videos? While some people claim that social networks are now more popular than porn, the actual "percentage" of porn on the internet is disputed, as it depends on whether you count sites, visitors, or amount of data transfered. For example one study found porn to be 13% of all Bittorrent traffic, while another government study found only 1% of sites indexed by Google being pornographic in content. But I think we can all agree that there is plenty of pornography on the internet, and that an average teenage boy would have no problem finding it, even if his parents wasted money on some filter software, which never works.

So funnily enough it might be more the violence and gore part of the mature rating that will actually sell Age of Conan. The sex part will result in a couple of headlines and protests from attention seeking politicians, but I don't think it will actually drive the sales of the game. In the end much will depend on whether Age of Conan is any good, and not on how many naked pixels it contains.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Second half Karazhan

I haven't exactly "finished" Karazhan yet, but now I visited the second half of it, and killed the end boss, the prince. Now that felt more like a real raid and not easy mode raiding, because it took us about 10 attempts before the prince died. In the end we managed it, by letting our druid tank instead of our paladin. I might be prejudiced, but I'd say that we were missing a warrior tank. Anyway, the whole raid from Nightbane to the prince took 7 hours, including having to clear respawned trash mobs again.

I picked up an off-hand healing item from Aran, and a necklace that was more a damage caster one from the prince. I would have loved the priest/warrior/druid helmet token the prince dropped, but our druid needed it too and well deserved it. I don't know what it is, but I found that strangely in this round of raiding I care a lot less about loot than back in the days of Molten Core and Blackwing Lair. I'd rather not fight and see everybody get something and be happy.

Wiping didn't bother me. But I must admit that after 7 hours of straight raiding I was knackered, and my performance in the last fights was probably less than optimal, due to fatigue. And I had run out of potions, in spite of having brought 14 each of elixir of healing power, elixir of major mageblood, and 10 super mana potions. Are there any flasks that give healing bonus? For repeated wipes that might be better than elixirs.

I am going to spend this Sunday farming gold and herbs with my warrior, to finance the expensive raiding habit of my priest. You might have heard the news that some guy discovered the hard way that the maximum amount of gold you can have in WoW is 214,748 gold. But I can assure you that the guy was not a raider. Only casual players ever get rich in World of Warcraft.

Age of Conan release date

Nobody believes in the release dates that game shops list, those are often just rough estimates. But for once they got it right, Funcom confirmed the release date for Age of Conan to be March 25. The guys from Funcom obviously share everybody's belief that there will be a major clash of release dates between WotLK and WAR in the second half of this year, and are trying to get their game out well in advance of that. Which can work if, and only if, Age of Conan is polished enough and fun on release. Unfortunately there are rumors to the contrary. And being the "MMO with boobs" isn't going to save them if they release a game of Vanguardian state of readiness.

Spending Badges of Justice

There are so many things you can buy for badges of justice, you end up having difficulties to decide. But for once I indulged myself and instead of saving for some healing item, I took something that will help my priest a lot when soloing: the Carved Witch Doctor's Stick. The stats are okay-ish for a healer, but the important thing is the 175 damage per second. My previous wand only had 125 dps. As soloing with a holy priest consists of bubbling up and killing mobs with your wand, wand damage is extremely important. This wand is excellent for me. I'll buy some healing stuff with the next batch of badges. :)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Looking epic

Another Karazhan with my guild, who has done that far more often than me. Thus for me it is kind of an "easy mode" raid. Which doesn't mean I'm slacking, my healing and shackling went pretty well. We went until the Curator, and included the opera. Romeo and Juliet again, but apparently these two like me, because last time I got a healing trinket from Romulo, and this time I got the Masquerade Gown from Julianna. Good run for the guild insofar as nearly everyone got something, and we didn't need to disenchant or vendor anything.

For my priest the main effect of his new robe is that as epic robe the thing just looks better than non-epic stuff. Which made me think of this cartoon. How important is looking epic to you?