Monday, March 31, 2008

Blizzard raises WoW monthly fee to $20

Starting from today the monthly subscription fee for playing World of Warcraft in North America has been raised to $19.99 if you pay month by month, $18.99 per month if you pay per 3 months, and $17.99 if you pay per 6 months. Reasons given by Blizzard are rising cost, especially for energy, and the weak dollar. Due to the latter the monthly subscription rates for Europeans rise by only 1 Euro, to €13.99 / € 12.99 / € 11.99.

I really don't see why this was necessary. World of Warcraft made $520 million of profit in 2007 on revenue of $1.1 billion. Did they really need to raise their profit margin to over 50%? I can only conjecture that this in a reaction to the announcement of Mark Jacobs that WAR might well cost more than $15 per month. People get an impression that something which is more expensive is also more valuable, and thus it would make sense for Blizzard to try to have the most expensive MMORPG on the market.

A reader provided me with an excellent link explaining the economic theory behind choosing a price. In this case the math is simple: even if half a million of the 2.5 million North American subscribers leave because of the price increase, the remaining 2 millions times $20 is still more than 2.5 millions times $15, so Blizzard is making more money, while reducing cost and server load. And by doing the price increase half a year or so before the next expansion, Blizzard has a good chance of regaining many of the people who quit now when WotLK comes out.

So even voting with your feet won't get Blizzard's attention this time, it's already accounted for. So I think the only course of action we have is to swamp the official forums and protest in the strongest possible language that won't get you banned. This is a capitalistic monopolistic outrage, and we shouldn't let them get away with it!!!

The Solofication of MMORPGs

Once upon a time there was a MMORPG called Everquest, and it forced players to group to progress. For most classes you could only solo the newbie zones, and starting from about level 10 or so you would discover that the lowest level mob that still gave experience points to you was already too hard for you to kill alone. But a few classes could use special tactics to solo anyway, druid were kiting mobs after them, and necromancers were fear kiting mobs away from them. (I played a quad kiting druid.) And it turned out that soloing was popular: far more people played druids or necromancers than playing any other class.

So every new generation of MMORPGs made soloing easier and easier, because that was what the customer wanted, until we arrived at World of Warcraft, where every single class is basically expected to solo all the way up to the level cap. There are differences in the speed at which the different classes and talent trees can solo, but even least soloable class can kill mobs and do quests of his own level. And soloing is still popular, with classes that solo faster being played more than classes that solo slower.

And as soloing was what the customer wanted, some unknown developer at Blizzard came up with a brilliant idea: What if PvP could be made soloable too? That sounded crazy, because by definition you need at least 2 players for PvP, and if you wanted more than just duels you needed large groups on both sides of a battle. But that unknown dev realized that it wasn't necessary to have players actually form pre-arranged groups to do PvP. It wasn't absolutely necessary for players to cooperate in PvP. Sure, a group that cooperated would beat a group that didn't, but you could very well create a balanced battle between two groups as long as both of them were equally unorganized. And thus battlegrounds were born, and once Blizzard tweaked the PvP reward system they were extremely popular. And the majority of people basically solo battlegrounds, that is queue up for them alone, and then do whatever they want once inside. I call that pseudo-solo. This goes so far that people actually complain if they end up against an organized group.

I don't know if that unknown developer switched from Blizzard to EA Mythic, or whether EA Mythic had their own developer realizing that this solofication strategy could be applied to PvE raid content as well. Because what they did was they invented the "public quest". Which works basically like a battleground, just for PvE instead of PvP. People just join, without arranging groups, everyone does what he thinks is best, while a few frustrated players try to shout orders and are generally ignored. Pseudo-solo large group PvE content, where everyone gets rewarded, I'm sure people will love it. Soloing is what the customers want.

But a MMORPG has a large and diverse base of customers, and not all of them prefer solo play. As early as Everquest some people noticed that a group is stronger than the sums of its parts. The larger the group, and the better it is coordinated, the greater the challenges it can overcome. Moving from open world to instanced content, developers were able to limit how many players could attack a specific challenge. But they couldn't prevent players from organizing themselves better and better, training each encounter for hours and hours, until even a large raid group moved with a coordination that would make the bolshoi ballet green from envy. And thus an arms race evolved, on the other side of the MMORPG from the solo content, a race in which developers would design harder and harder challenges, and raiders would again and again prove that these challenges could be beaten with perfect coordination. To understand that arms race, Blizzard hired one of Everquest's top raiders as lead designer, and consequently spent a lot of development effort on designing ultra-hard raid content. There were clearly *some* customers that wanted this, and not solo content. And while the number of top raiders wasn't large, they were deemed to be influence leaders, the kind of people that other players looked up to, and also the kind of players who were most likely to post a lot of comments on game forums or other places of the internet. And it worked! While the number of players actually experiencing the highest level of raid content is still tiny, the desire to be a raider is certainly far more wide-spread.

The problem is that these two parts of the game are drifting further and further apart in World of Warcraft and the MMORPG genre in general. Soloing becomes easier and easier, the need to group during leveling up has been nearly completely removed, elite mobs turned into soloable non-elites, and the rewards for pseudo-solo PvP have been much increased. It is now possible to go from level 1 to level 70 and full epic gear in World of Warcraft without ever joining a group once. And the classes who are best at soloing fast or best at PvP are the most popular and most played. Meanwhile raiding remains hard, because that is the very reason of being for it, and even harder raid content as added to the end with every content patch. But to overcome these challenges, people need to learn how to play in a coordinated way. And the mix of classes, talents, and gear required for raiding is very different from what is most popular and easy to achieve in the soloing part of the game. Slowly but surely the two modes of gameplay drift so far apart that cracks begin to appear, threatening the whole model. From a raider's point of view the leveling game now fails to fulfil it's function of getting people ready to raid. Sure, they might be level 70 and have epic gear, but they might still be totally useless for a raid: they have not even the most basic training of how to play their class in a group, and they are of the wrong class, wrong spec, and wearing gear with the wrong bonuses to succeed in raids. If the 40 people in an average Alterac Valley group decided to kick out the 15 least suitable among them and take the remaining 25 to any one of the 25-man raid dungeons, they would not be able to get past the trash mobs. The average player who soloed up to 70, invested some effort in PvP to get epic gear, and now wants to raid, will find himself rejected and laughed at by the top raiding guilds on his server. He'll complain about them being elitist, but in fact it is game design that created the gap between average player and raider. The solofication of MMORPGs creates a large number of characters who simply aren't viable for the top end raid game.

What needs to be done is to rethink the concept of solofication. Why is soloing popular? A part of it is due to Real Life ® contraints, if you solo you can play in smaller bits and bites, group play needs longer periods. But another part of it is just a Skinner box: people like soloing because the game teaches them that soloing is the easiest way to advance. So even if they would have the time for a group, they rather keep on playing solo, because setting up a group is so not worth it. Assembling the group is made complicated by a bad LFG system in WoW. Doing quests that aren't marked a group quests in a group is often bringing less experience points per hour than soloing them. And WoW's concept of teaching players how to group is equivalent of throwing them into deep water to teach him how to swim: some people learn it that way, but many get hurt and frustrated in the process.

Solofication not only opens up a gap to end game raid content, it also moves MMORPGs in a direction where they become vulnerable to competition from single-player games. When I recently asked whether people would play a single-player version of WoW without monthly fees, I was surprised of how many people would prefer such a game over an online MMORPG with monthly fees. If game design minimizes your interaction with other players, then why pay $15 a month for that interaction?

I think that it is time for the pendulum to swing back towards MMORPGs being more about groups again. Not enforced grouping, nobody wants that. But to a situation where even during the leveling process forming a group would actually be easy and the incentives would encourage it. Where people would learn to cooperate, because it would be to their advantage, and where due to that cooperation they would make more friends and develop stronger social bonds. Where players would arrive at the end game and already know how to play well in a group. Where playing a "support class" like tank or healer was a reasonable choice, and not a niche way for raiders to gimp themselves for the rest of the game. Where MMORPGs would be massively multiplayer again, and not massively singleplayer in parallel, as they are now. Here's hoping.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

WoW Journal - 31-March-2008

Before talking about my adventures in World of Warcraft this weekend, I'd like to say grats to my wife: Mrs. Tobold dinged 70 for the first time, also the first time she hit the level cap in three years of playing WoW. She has about a dozen characters, but most of them were given up a few levels before the cap. But then she discovered stealth, and first leveled up a rogue to 68, and now finally a druid to 70. Too bad she's running out of stealth classes now. As she neither groups nor does PvP, it isn't clear what she'll do next.

Me, I'm still playing three characters. Although I must say I'm playing my warrior less and less. At least I managed to get him up to another 9k honor, so he could buy the off-hand epic sword. As my tanking career is less than satisfying, and the welfare blues provide a good start for a dps gear set, I might respec to dual-wielding dps fury and see if that is more fun. Or I'll park him in a cupboard and only let him out when I need potions made.

My mage is coming along nicely, now level 67. I'm at the last quests in Nagrand, and plan to go from there directly to Netherstorm, because I haven't really quested all that much in that zone. This weekend I found a group with guild mates and a stranger to do a whole bunch of group quests in Nagrand. The demon quest series, the end of the Nessingwary hunting quests, everything except Durn the Hungerer, because we didn't have a full group. Doesn't matter, that quest doesn't have good mage loot anyway. I had great fun with AoE in Sunspring Village with the murkbloods, and just have to finish the Warmaul ogres before moving on.

The character I spent the most time on this weekend was my priest. I did every available Sunwell Offensive daily quest with him every day, plus several Magister's Terrace (MrT) runs. The funniest run was a heroic MrT run with a tank, two mages, and a hunter, all very well equipped, and playing well. With lots of crowd control even heroic is relatively easy, and we got to Kael'thas without many problems. But in heroic Kael'thas occasionally puts up a 10k health shield, and starts casting pyroblast for 50k damage. You need to take down the shield and interrupt the spell, which seems pretty much impossible. So you just have to wipe a couple of times until you get lucky and manage to get to phase 2 without him having launched a pyroblast. So we did that, Kael tosses us around with gravity lapses a couple of times, I desperately try to keep myself and everyone alive with prayers of mending and renews, until I find that everyone but me suddenly is dead. I target Kael, and find him at 1% life. So I cast a shadow word: pain and a disease on him, start blasting him with a wand, and somehow manage to kill him. ROFL, holy priest soloes Kael'thas on heroic!

If you have a good group, heroic MrT is nice, because it gives you 5 epics and 4 badges of justice. I had the impression that the loot table for MrT has an above average amount of weapons on it, heroic Kael'thas dropped two epic weapons for us, for example. My priest got an interesting epic trinket from the third boss, which gets one charge every time I cast any healing spell, up to a maximum of 20, and I can discharge it instantly and heal a target for 100 health per charge. An instant 2000 point heal can be rather useful, and you can charge the trinket before combat by spamming cheap renews.

With all this activity my priest is half way through honored, just 6k more reputation until revered, where I can get the jewelcrafting recipes I want. I think I overestimated the effort needed, I'll have the jewelcrafting recipes for epic gems long before the server reaches phase 3 and I can actually buy the uncut epic gems for badges. Not that it was a waste of time to do all those daily quests, they padded my wallet quite nicely. But I'm wondering if maybe I should stop with my priest at revered, and either do the dailies then with my warrior, or level up my mage and do them with him. Right now I don't see the use of getting my priest to exalted, while the warrior or mage could get some nice gear for reputation.

The last thing to report is a raid to Serpentshrine Cavern, where we killed the Lurker, and tried our hand at Leotheras the Blind. That was fun, and interesting to see for the first time for me, even if ultimately we didn't kill him. What was somewhat less fun was an episode where my guild wanted to start another SSC run, I didn't feel like going there, and their raid didn't get off the ground due to lack of healers. Talk about peer pressure. I sometimes get the impression that some raid healers go deliberately into hiding, log off, and don't even play alts around the time raids are formed, to avoid being pestered into raids they don't want to go to. Is it just me or are raid healers burning out faster than other raiders?

Magister's Terrace and crowd control

I like the new 5-man dungeon, Magister's Terrace. But having run it repeatedly in normal and heroic with various groups, I noticed that our success was pretty much determined by the amount of crowd control we brought. If besides a tank and a healer you have 3 dps classes with crowd control, like mages, warlocks, hunters, and rogues, the dungeon is totally doable. If you bring lets say an enhancement shaman, a retribution paladin, and a fury warrior and thus have no crowd control except tanking, doing Magister's Terrace becomes nearly impossible.

That makes me wonder why not all classes get *some* form of crowd control, so they can perform a useful role beyond pure damage dealing in a group.

Philips DVDR3597H region free

I bought a new Philips TV recorder this weekend, with a 250 GB hard drive and a DVD+R drive to make permanent copies of whatever you recorded and want to keep. Its a Philips DVDR3597H/31 to be exact, the big brother of the DVDR3595H. Installing it was easy, upgrading the firmware to version 1.61 from the Philips support website somewhat more difficult. And then in spite of what the vendor had told me, even with the firmware upgrade the DVD drive wouldn't play my region 1 DVDs I bought in the USA. So I searched the internet for a region free hack, which would make my machine multi region capable. And I found one that works:

1) Turn the DVDR3597H on, with no DVD in the drive
2) press HOME, so the browser appears
3) press PLAY. The display on the machine should say "BROWSER"
4) Slowly enter the following code: 159121212005255 (the numbers should appear on the display)
5) press PLAY. Done!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Switching gear

A reader sent me an interesting idea to solve the problem of tanks and healers being unpopular because hard to solo: What if there was gear which had different stats depending on whether you are alone or grouped? That way you could for example equip a tank with gear that helps tanking in a group, but increases his damage output when he is questing alone. Or healing gear that has more spell damage and less healing bonus whenever the healer isn't grouped. What do you think?

Tiger Woods raids the Black Temple

One of my readers, Ben, left such an excellent comment on a recent thread discussing the different motivations of casual and hardcore raiders, that I decided to copy and paste it into this new thread:
This whole argument becomes a lot more absurd if you use a different context as an analogy. Let's go with golf. Golf is a sport with a very low barrier for entry. People of all ages and skill levels play and enjoy it, but there are those who play at a high enough level to compete professionally. Let's say you and your friends have a regular game you play every weekend. You don't have the skill to enter any PGA tournaments, but you're respectable amateurs. One week your friend announces that on an upcoming vacation you'll be given the opportunity to play at Augusta, a world famous course that's beautiful and requires strategies beyond anything you've seen in your golfing career thus far.

You've seen the pros play this course, so you're vaguely familiar with how it works, and you've talked to a few friends who've been there before. Still, nothing quite prepares you for the actual experience. You struggle through it and eventually sink your putt on the 18th green. Your score isn't pretty, but you've finished successfully, and you feel like you've grown in skill slightly for the experience. If you did this every week you might not be half bad at this course.

As you're walking toward the clubhouse, Tiger Woods comes running toward you, wearing his green jacket, medals around his neck, brandishing his most expensive club. He's yelling that you're a bunch of noobs and it's not fair that you got to play this course. He points out that since you got to start from a closer tee than the professionals you didn't actually accomplish anything of value. He goes on to say that he played through Augusta years ago and he's done it many, many times since, so he's clearly better than you. Finally, he insists that none of you is allowed to buy anything from the gift shop before storming off the way he came.

The idea of this happening is ridiculous, and yet it's exactly what's happening in WoW. The high level raiders are the WoW Pro Tour. The rest of us are just amateurs. What's really sad though is that the analogy can continue to another level - we play for fun while the complainers seem to treat it like a job.
This is exactly why I think that raiding should be made more accessible, not more elite. Enjoyment of raid content isn't limited to people who can spend 40+ hours per week raiding. Raiding isn't just about the epics, it is a different mode of gameplay. Sometimes it is just plain fun to hang out with a larger group of friends and try to figure out a new boss encounter.

The ideal MMORPG offers a large range of different modes of gameplay: PvE, PvP, solo, small group, large group, combat and non-combat. And it gives out rewards in a balanced way based on time, effort, and skill, with each activity being worth pursueing and offering its own rewards. Unfortunately World of Warcraft is moving further and further away from that model, and towards a far less attractive model of compartmentalization: Instead of having players able to do a bit of everything, they are encouraged to excel at one single activity, and then rewarded in a way that makes all other activities not worth doing any more. That not only diminishes the scope of the game, it also leads to situations like the one in the analogy, where the top dogs in one activity feel they are superior to the players pursueing different goals, and try to shoo them off their turf.

Welfare Blues

I can't remember when I've been so angry the last time about a minor design decision by Blizzard. I was shaking my fist with rage at an NPC vendor, of all people; fortunately he didn't appear to have suffered lasting emotional damage from that. I was angry at him for a strange reason: he wanted to sell me dps gear which was better than what I had for a very low price. Blizzard in patch 2.4 introduced what I can only call "welfare blues": a set of excellent blue dps gear, great stats, set bonus, gem slots, and you only need to be level 70 and honored with some common factions to get it. The whole set costs only about 100 gold for all 5 pieces together, and can be gotten from the quartermasters of Thrallmar, Cenarion Expedition, Lower City, Sha'tar, and Keepers of Time at honored reputation, for all classes.

The purpose of the welfare blues set is easy to see: if you just leveled up a new character to level 70, you probably already got most of the rep you need for this, and you can buy this set of blue armor to be well equipped for your first PvP battles. In fact only the legs from the Keepers of Time will require you to visit a dungeon. If you skip those, there is no reason whatsoever to ever visit a normal 5-man dungeon again, unless you need gear for tanking. You just do one evening of daily quests, and you have enough cash to buy a complete set of blue gear that is better than most of items you could hope to find in a normal mode dungeon. With one stroke Blizzard made most normal dungeons completely obsolete. What the heck were they thinking?

I can only assume that Blizzard feels somewhat threatened by the PvP MMORPGs coming out this year, and are moving World of Warcraft towards being a game that is completely about soloing and PvP in response. What they fail to see is that the PvP fans will switch to AoC or WAR anyway, and that the changes do more harm to group PvE than they help PvP. Group PvE by definition is a group activity, and thus has strong network effects. By removing the incentives to go to dungeons for many classes and specs, it gets even harder to find groups for those who love dungeons.

And it would be so easy to give PvP players good gear that doesn't make dungeon PvE loot obsolete: Simply hand out stuff that has low stats when used in PvE, but gains bonuses whenever the user is in an arena or battleground. We already have potions and stuff that only works in battlegrounds, why not PvP gear that only works in PvP? Making welfare blues that make PvE less attractive is a really, really bad idea!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

PvP cheating

Keen and Graev have an interesting post about WoW PvP cheating in arenas. Apparently a 2v2 in really bad gear was found to have won 20-0 on an extremely high 2627 team rating, the second highest 2v2 ranking in the world. Which is pretty much impossible unless they cheated. I don't even know how all these cheating methods in arena I hear about, like win swapping or smurfing, work, but apparently there is a lot of cheating going on. Which doesn't bode well for WoW as an "e-sport".

Keen doesn't normally post anything about WoW, and I had the impression he was gloating a bit. And then he was really crushed by the news that WAR was delayed again. I couldn't help but wonder if Keen is under the impression that there will be no cheating in WAR PvP. Because I'm pretty certain that there will be. After all, WAR looks more and more like DAoC2, and people cheat in the original DAoC. And if players don't outright cheat, they still often use underhand methods, like attacking an enemy keep in the middle of the night when the enemy isn't logged on, and you can avoid the actual "PvP" part of PvP and just deal with NPC guards. There would have to be a miraculous change in human nature for no cheating or complaints about other players underhand tactics to occur in WAR.

And in a way cheating in WAR PvP is worse than in WoW. That WoW arena team that got a high ranking without ever encountering a real opponent thus never influenced the score of a real opponent. Besides possible jealousy of their rank and the PvP rewards they can buy with the points those guys acquired by cheating, their cheating doesn't harm any other player. But if you have a game where non-instanced PvP objectives really matter, and somebody cheats, it comes to the detriment of the players of the opposing faction. That increases the chance for detection, but it also increases the chance of somebody complaining about "cheating" in cases which could still be labeled as "clever tactics". I mean, I find attacking a keep at 3 am cheesy, but I wouldn't want anyone to be banned for that. So I'm pretty certain that there will be a lot of heated discussion in the future.

As for Blizzard, they should scan their own Armory for suspicious data like that, then verify that the players involved really cheated, and then ban them. If they don't go after PvP cheaters early and hard, their e-sports idea is dead in the water.

Do you play on a PvP server?

As everyone knows I'm a carebear it comes to no surprise that I'm playing on a "normal" server, not on a PvP server. I was chatting with a friend today, exchanging our experiences of patch 2.4, and his take was radically different from mine, because he is playing on a PvP server: He couldn't do a single daily quest for the Sunwell Offensive, because he kept getting killed before he could kill the mobs. And when he and his fully epic geared friends decided to do Magister's Terrace instead, they died 4 times before even reaching the instance. Fortunately he is a warlock, and they could summon inside. But groups who needed the summoning stone in front of the instance died a lot more often before they could actually start.

To me (carebear mode again) that doesn't sound a lot of fun. I tried a bit of open world PvP last weekend trying to take Halaa, but as there are twice as many Alliance than Horde on my server (according to Warcraftrealms), you're always the underdog if you do open world PvP as Horde there.

And it is not as if by playing on a normal server I couldn't do PvP. Duels, and the battlegrounds, and arenas, and open world PvP objectives are available to me. PvP on a normal server is a positive sum event, where everyone involved gains some honor points, victory marks, or arena points. The only difference is that I don't have to fear getting ganked if I don't want to. I am honestly surprised that so many people play on PvP servers and apparently prefer the danger of being ganked. It makes me wonder if the people on PvP servers are more hardcore, and playing more hours than the people on normal servers. If you are on limited available play time, getting a group together and all transported to the start of the instance is already hard enough without getting killed repeatedly on the way. And obviously players on PvP servers get less daily quests done and need more time to farm the same amount of gold. What is the attraction?

I'd be interested to hear whether you are playing on a PvP server or a normal server, and why. Was that a conscious decision, or something you regret? Have you moved from a PvP server to a normal one, or considered it? Or do you consider rerolling on a PvP server if you are currently on a normal one? What do you think is the attraction of a PvP server in World of Warcraft?

Encouraging playing a healer or tank

Group combat in World of Warcraft is a mix of damage dealing, aggro management, and healing, with different classes being specialized in those three aspects. But in soloing and PvP only damage dealing really counts. Most aggro management skills to increase or reduce threat don't do anything solo or in PvP. Healing is nice in solo and PvP, but not downright essential. Especially in soloing, healing doesn't get you anywhere, you need to deal damage to kill the mob to do the quest. So from the three different specializations, the damage dealers have obvious advantages: they can use the same talents, gear, spells and abilities in group combat, in solo combat, and in PvP. Meanwhile somebody who specialized in aggro management, like a tank, or in healing, is penalized. Either he has to collect several sets of gear and pay for respecs when he wants to move from grouping to soloing and PvP, or he has to live with being less effective in soloing than the damage dealing classes. Sometimes even both, there is simply no way that you can make lets say a paladin deal as much damage as a rogue or mage in similar quality gear.

Yesterday I was hanging out in the looking for group chat, before I found a guild group going to Magister's Terrace, the new dungeon. And the chat was full of half-complete groups shouting for a healer, a tank, or both. Even in guild chat we regularly have the same problem, healers and tanks are in short supply. Everybody wants a healer and tank to group with, but too few people want to actually play one themselves. For me that is a classical case of people voting with their feet: Everyone knows that by playing a healer or tank you are gimping yourself for solo and PvP, so they tend to rather play classes that are easier to solo.

What I think Blizzard should do is making playing a tank or healer more attractive. That would not only help the players who have a tank or healer, but it would over time also increase the number of tanks and healers in the game, and thus help everyone to find a group. And the key to encouraging people to play a healer or tank is certainly to improve their soloability. Making healing bonus count also as spell damage was a good move in that direction. But patch 2.4 was sadly devoid of any further improvements, especially for tanks.

And of course one frequently discusses point here is the cost and ease of respecs. Patch 2.4 slightly reduced the cost of respecs, you don't have to pay training costs repeatedly in addition to the respec cost. But respec'ing having a cost at all isn't affecting the different classes in the same way. If I would respec my mage from frost to fire, that would be purely for the fun of getting to use different spells. The mage would still be a damage dealer, and in most cases he could still use the same gear. For my protection warrior, a respec is something completely different: I basically switch from being a group character to a solo character. I need two sets of gear to be efficient in both forms, and whatever spec I choose, I become inefficient in the other mode. Nobody wants a fury spec warrior as a tank, they are just not good enough for the job, unless they are completely overgeared for that specific challenge. And the same is true for healers, groups don't want to rely on shadow priests or enhancement shamans for their healing. So why does Blizzard want to have a barrier preventing healers and tanks to switch easily between group and solo mode? It just discourages people from playing one of them in the first place.

Of course playing a healer or tank has one indirect reward: ease of finding a group. As a healer (not necessarily as tank) there is also a good chance that you'll get a raid spot easier than a dps class. But World of Warcraft is not a highly group-centric game, and lately the rewards for soloing (daily quests) and PvP have been significantly improved, while the rewards for grouping didn't get all that much better. And then a vicious cycle kicks in: People find it easier to do PvP, thus groups aren't needed that much, thus healers and tanks aren't needed as much, further reducing the appeal of those classes, making it even harder to find them for a group, which increases the appeal of PvP even more. Unless Blizzard wants to turn WoW into a game which is all about soloing and PvP, they should improve the appeal of playing a healer or tank, as long as there are still some of them left.

WoW Journal - 27-March-2008

So patch 2.4 hit Europe yesterday, causing the sort of chaos that is considered normal in these cases. Most people reported easy patching, but from the three computers I patched one managed to crash during patch application, and I had to run the Blizzard repair.exe to fix the installation again. Then of course many addons refused to work any more, and the big WoW addon sites like were down. It is strange how different the game feels if you don't have your usual addons working.

Once in the game, I followed advice from guild chat and first took the relevant quest from the middle of Shattrath, before using the portal to Silvermoon and flying to the new Sunwell island north of it from there. This being the first day, the place was still in it's first phase, with only two daily quests available. One was easy, killing 5 robots and reactivating them. The other was more annoying, because you needed to collect 4 quest items, which appear to have a drop rate of about 10% from the Wretched Fiend, possibly a bit higher from the Wretched Devourers. And of course the place was swarming with players, there were more players than mobs at some areas. There was also a non-daily quest, which teleported me to the Throne of Kil'Jaeden, where I got two more daily quests. I grouped up for those with a guild group, because they were there and we had to kill some elite mobs, but as you first have to weaken the mob before killing them, that might be possible solo. The other quest there was extremely easy, because you have to charge up a summoned pet by leading it next to dying mobs, but mobs killed by other players work. After doing those quests I noticed to my annoyance that there was no teleport back to the isle, so I had to fly back to Shattrath. I saw more daily quests there, but didn't get around doing them.

Instead I joined a guild group to visit Magister's Terrace, the new 5-man dungeon. Very nice place, I think of it as a raid dungeon for 5-man groups. The first boss is a bit similar to the last boss of Steamvault. The second boss is a mini-Curator. The third boss is a mini-Moroes (or mini-Maulgar) encounter, where you have to fight a whole group of different classes. And the last boss of Magister's Terrace, Kael'Thas is a complicated encounter in several phases, which took us a couple of wipes to learn. There were some other interesting features in this dungeon: as part of the quest to kill Kael'Thas, you get to use a scryers orb, showing you a nice cut scene preview of what I presume is Sunwell Plateau. Except at character creation World of Warcraft isn't using cut scenes otherwise, and everyone in my group agreed that it was a nice addition. The other interesting thing was that to unlock heroic mode for Magister's Terrace, you have to finish the quest to kill the last boss in normal mode. Very good idea, and much more logical than unlocking it with some reputation. Not that I'm planning to do much Magister's Terrace in heroic, because even with a raid-gear equipped guild group the place wasn't trivial in normal mode, especially Kael'thas. Although beating him was more about learning the encounter and finding out where to to "swim" in gravity-free mode, and not necessarily a gear check.

Well, handing in the head of Kael'thas made me ding friendly with the Sunwell Offensive. And this morning phase 1 was already 48% complete, so there is visible progress. The most often asked question in chat was where the badge loot vendor was, but apparently he only appears in phase 3, and wasn't available yet. The Sunwell Offensive quartermaster was up already, and I could see that my priest needs revered with the Sunwell Offensive to get the recipes for the epic gems. My warrior alchemist would need exalted to get a recipe for a nice alchemist stone trinket, but grinding a reputation to exalted for 1 item seems excessive. Not sure if I am going to do that, I'll start with the priest. But with the warrior I'll be able to do the fishing daily quest, which I haven't had time for yet.

I finished the evening in Karazhan, short run from start to opera, so I'm at 138 badges now. I haven't checked the various sites what exactly the badge loot for priests is, I'll check it out directly once we reach phase 3 and the vendor is up. I'll be speeding that process along by doing lots of daily quests and Magister Terrace runs, probably in normal, for the reputation. Once I get the hang of that place, it might even be good to visit with my warrior, for loot drops.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Warhammer Online delayed until "fall"

This just in from Eurogamer: Jeff Hickman from EA Mythic told the press today that WAR will be delayed until "fall" of this year, no exact date given. At the same press conference the content of the collector's edition was revealed. Curiously that package contains "access to the open beta", there must be something I don't understand about the term "open". Or maybe this is just about you being able to keep your beta character for release, as many games do now.

Scott Jennings says it better

I'm just a humble disciple of the original MMORPG blogger Lum the Mad, who manages to summarize the whole patch 2.4 changes to raiding in a simple diagram, while I spent two longs posts discussing design progression.

Virtual economics

Just a short link to an article in Scientific American, who report about the Ph.D. economist that was hired to look after the economy of EVE Online. Interesting, but the article doesn't contain much news.

The further you go, the harder it is to progress

I was chatting recently with a reader about WoW when he made a good remark: "The further you go, the harder it is to progress". That pretty much sums up the whole character progression game from level 1 to full T6 epic gear. It includes my wife complaining how slow it is while she approaches the level cap for the first time in 3 years of WoW. And it includes much of the whole raiding discussion on this blog.

From a game design point of view, that kind of exponential increase of difficulty with progress makes a lot of sense. Instead of having a linear progression ending at a hard wall, a "game over" screen, you get a MMORPG that appears endless, because the closer you get to the end, the slower you progress, asymptotically, so you never actually get there. Given the fact that developers can't create content as fast as players can consume it, this method is the only way to keep the illusion of endless progress up.

The disadvantage is that everyone gets stuck on that progression curve at some point, but all on different points. It becomes difficult to discuss where you are stuck, or to advise people how to progress further. Just as example, there was a recent discussion going on in some thread of how important it was to spend a thousand gold or more to gem up and enchant your blue gear to be able to progress further into heroics and raids. For somebody playing a lot, a thousand gold is probably a reasonable amount to spend towards progress at that point. But a lot of players who are more casual, or on alts, find a thousand gold to be a hurdle as difficult to overcome as beating a heroic or getting into a raid.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that there are more than one path of progress, all with different difficulties, often changing with time, and sometimes not equally valid for every character class. Sometimes you can overcome a hurdle on one path by switching to another and progressing there, like when you get some PvP reward epics to progress in heroics or raids. But that isn't an universal recipe, other players might be better off to be helped by their guilds through Karazhan, or to grind materials for crafted gear. You need to know a lot about someone to be able to give him proper advice on what to do when he is stuck.

The most fundamental change to those exponential progress paths are the expansions, which completely reset it. The day before the expansion is released you were stuck somewhere and felt you couldn't progress any more with effort that was acceptable to you. The next day you're back on easy street, with 10 levels of fast progress ahead of you. And as much as that fast progress feels good after having been stuck, it also makes you question your previous progress. Why did you spend so much time getting that one epic item at the level cap, only to replace it with a green random drop in the new expansion?

Therefore it is important to overcome the illusion of progress and achievement, and to concentrate on the fun you have playing. Goals are important as check boxes, as temporary objectives. There is nothing wrong in wanting a specific piece of gear, or a specific level of equipment which opens up new content to you. It is fun to pursue some goal, and to clap yourself on the shoulder once you achieved it. But progress by itself in MMORPGs isn't real, and if going further becomes too hard for you, doing something else is totally viable. If you ditch your friends and guild just for the promise of more progress in another guild, you'll risk finding yourself at the start of the next expansion with just hollow progress and no friends, and burned out from the effort it took you. Maximizing fun is a better strategy than maximizing progress.

<N00b Inc> beats Black Temple in badge loot

Excuse the hypothetical sensational headline, but it seems some people get all excited about the new badge loot introduced in World of Warcraft patch 2.4. You can now buy for badges of justice some epic pieces which are roughly equivalent to T6 loot. Which means that theoretically a guild could do nothing but Karazhan and heroics, equip themselves with badge loot, and then jump directly to Black Temple, Mount Hyjal, or even the new Sunwell Plateau, skipping Tempest Keep: The Eye and Serpentshrine Cavern. And some elitist raiders feel threatened by that development.

Of course, as already mentioned, this is all just hypothetical. One pseudo-T6 badge loot chest piece costs 100 badges. That is 20 evenings of daily heroics, or 5 complete Karazhan clears, or a combination of the two for just 1 piece. To get a full 25-man equipped in badge loot would take many months. Even longer on a casual "n00b" schedule: Since I rejoined WoW in November my raiding priest made 156 badges of justice, of which I spent 25 for a wand, and still have 131, just enough to buy maybe one piece of pseudo-T6. And I'm not even sure I want that for my priest, with whose gear I'm satisfied enough. Now if I could send the badges to my warrior, that would be a different story, but they and the epics you buy with them are soulbound. The only alternative to spending them on gear is to spend badges on epic gems and selling those gems for gold. I'll watch how the prices for that evolve, and decide then whether I want better epics for my priest or more gold for my other characters.

So we won't be seeing guild moving directly from Karazhan to Black Temple, but behind the outcry of the elitists lies some real fact: Advancing through the raid circuit post patch 2.4 will be faster than before the patch. Guilds will still follow the same trajectory from Karazhan to ZA, SSC, and TK. But by doing all the stuff just like before, they will now collect badges everywhere. And when their gear has the inevitable hole from that one piece that never dropped, players will be able to fix that hole with a good piece of badge loot. With more badges gained and better badge loot, people will simply gear up quicker than before. And they will arrive at the Black Temple having "worked" somewhat less cumulative hours than the leet.

Of course I'm all for it. The low number of players having seen the top raid dungeons after over one year of TBC was just plain silly, and not an efficient use of development time, which apparently is a scarce resource at Blizzard. It is much easier to live with the devs adding yet another top raid dungeon, Sunwell Plateau, when at the same time they speed up everyone's progress through the raid circuit. Removing Karazhan attunement and making badge loot more valuable even somewhat lowers the barrier of entry into raiding, giving hope that some previous non-raiders will try it. Moving raiding from an elitist activity to something more suitable for the average player is a slow process, but Blizzard at least is moving in the right direction. I hope they are applying these lessons learned when making the raid dungeons for Wrath of the Lich King, and provide us with one "introductory" level raid dungeon.

But whenever devs make something easier, the "when I was young we walked bare-foot through the snow to school, uphill, both ways" crowd shows up booing. For some people it isn't enough to have achieved something first, they must also make sure that nobody else gets there, or it tarnishes their leet shine. Blizzard should ignore these people. Yes, having top end content might be good marketing, attracting people looking for a long-term goal. But that only works as long as these people think they will actually make it to that goal one day. At level 60 so few people made it to Naxxramas that Blizzard is now recycling the place for the next expansion to not totally waste the effort of creating it in the first place. It would be great if more than 1% of the player base would actually kill a boss in Sunwell Plateau before Wrath of the Lich King comes out. The new badge loot is speeding up the way there, and that is a good thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brutally honest

The San Franscisco Chronicle yesterday wrote:
"This means that rather than simply repudiate, we must try to understand people whose views may shock and offend us. It's a common politically correct trope today that whenever someone is "offended" - especially about an issue of race or gender - the conversation stops and the offending parties must repudiate their statement. But sometimes offending people is productive: Honest dialogue about difficult and often personal issues will necessarily involve some bruised feelings."
Of course they were speaking about Obama's admirably gutsy speech about race, where he finally realized that "don't ask, don't tell" won't work for race issues. But of course the comment reminded me strongly about the recent discussions here, where some people were "offended" by me writing about controversial issues, and asked me to repudiate. So I'm following the advice from that newspaper, and will consider some bruised feelings a necessary and productive part of honest dialogue.

Anonymous commenting back on

I hope the trolls have gone, and regular readers were complaining about not being able to comment any more without having some Google or OpenID account. So I turned commenting back to "Anyone - includes Anonymous Users", as it was before the fake ID troll attack. I do get e-mail alerts on any comment, and I will wield a heavy ban stick on any troll rearing his head, especially anonymous ones or those pretending to be other people.

If you want to comment here and become part of the community, I really recommend thinking of a pen name for yourself and using the "Name/URL" option with that name (URL is optional) instead of posting under anonymous. Not only are anonymous posters easy to confuse with trolls, there is also no way to tell them apart. Do you really want to post some intelligent comment, just to have it followed up by something moronic from another guy who also calls himself "anonymous"?

Patch 2.4 this week

Via WoWInsider comes the confirmation that patch 2.4 will arrive today on the US servers, and tomorrow on the European servers. I'm certainly going to discuss what I like and dislike about the patch in the coming days. But here I am just going to state something very fundamental: This patch is very essential to World of Warcraft for the simple reason that it adds more content. A lot of people suffer from WoW burnout, and have either already quit or aren't playing all that enthusiastically any more. The Burning Crusade has barely enough content to last the average player one year, but certainly not enough for nearly two, if we assume that Wrath of the Lich King won't be out before Q4 2008. Patch 2.4 is not so much patching the game but more patching the gap between TBC and WotLK. And that is a very good thing.


A guy we've been playing with for years left our guild this weekend because he was annoyed that he never could find any guild groups for 5-man dungeons. Pretty mild stuff as far as guild drama goes, but it made me think about guild groups. And in a way he is right, "Looking for guild group" (LFGG) is becoming harder and harder.

As usual when looking for reasons for player behavior, it is worth while to look at the risk to reward ratios. Normal mode dungeons are easy enough, but most people don't really need the loot from there any more. Following the advice of my readers I did some more Black Morass that weekend with my warrior, but none of the pickup group people involved needed any of the loot, it was just about the reputation, and about helping out somebody with his Karazhan key. I also did a guild group to Steamvault, which was the daily dungeon quest, and again most items got disenchanted, except for a chest piece for our pally, and me rolling a lucky greed roll on an Ace of Blessings. So with few people interested in the rewards, it's hard to get a normal dungeon group going.

Heroic mode dungeons are even worse. Either I'm extremely unlucky, or I always get a combination of too hard dungeon and too weak group. I tried Auchenai Crypts heroic this weekend, with a competent but not epic equipped guild group, and we failed miserably. We totally hated the place, with its invisible adds, 1-minute unbreakable possessions, getting kicked of the bridge by random explosions that can't be stopped, and we never managed to even kill the first boss. But the same people have no problems getting epics from PvP or even contributing reasonably well to a guild Karazhan run. So why go heroics when there are easier options that give better rewards?

The principal design problem here is that raids, PvP, and heroics should run parallel, so people can decide what they want to play and in all cases get similar rewards for similar effort. But in reality the rewards from heroics are somewhat below those for PvP and raids. Sure, at the start of TBC going to heroics first to gear up for Karazhan was a good plan. But a year later it is easier to find a "mixed" raid, with some better equipped people helping guild mates through Karazhan, and heroics are a far worse option. Heroics would be easier if you could get those well-geared people to help, but why would they want to do that? After a couple of Karazhan runs, nobody needs loot from heroics any more, and the few badges aren't worth the time. And if you can't get your guild to run you through Karazhan, PvP is now a better option than heroics, because PvP rewards improved and heroics rewards didn't.

Added to that is the problem of organization. World of Warcraft doesn't offer a guild very many tools to work with. Guilds need to find their own forums, their own event calendar applications, their own DKP or reward systems, and organize everything outside the game. Finding a guild group would be a lot easier if there was a LFGG functionality or an in-game guild event calendar for planification of raids and 5-man groups. The only thing a guild has is guild chat, and that isn't really a good tool to organize something. You can just state your request and hope that enough people are online who are interested in the same dungeon or just willing to help.

I love the small group content of World of Warcraft, small groups are so much more personal than big raids. But I think the concept of adding heroics dungeons to gear up for the first raids wasn't perfect. Given the competition from raids and PvP now, either heroics would need to be a bit easier, or the rewards would need to be increased to make them attractive even for people in raid / PvP gear. Are you still doing heroics regularly? And how do you find a guild group for them?

Monday, March 24, 2008


I find Nagrand one of the prettiest zones in World of Warcraft. It combines a green lush environment with fantasy elements like floating rock islands and waterfalls. The points taken over by demons and having been corrupted make a really interesting sharp contrast, giving motivation to fight the corruption (not that this really would be possible). But right now I'm doing quests with my level 66 mage in Nagrand, and I must say from the quest design point of view, Nagrand isn't perfect. There are far too many "kill 30 talbuk, 30 windroc, and 30 clefthoof" quests, and once you did the first series, you're told to kill another 30 of each of slightly higher level. So you basically go somewhere and kill everything that moves for an hour, which isn't all that interesting or different from grinding.

The most interesting quest in Nagrand is probably the one with the trampoline. You spend more time trying to figure out how the trampoline works than killing stuff. I had some problems with the summoned bird being bugged and evading me, but a friendly shaman helped on the second try. The background story of the weak Mag'har leader is also interesting, leading to a visit of Thrall to his grandmother. But there are many, many quests that are just about killing X of this and Y of that. A bit more interaction with the environment or background story would have been welcome.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Virtual property rights

I'm trying to split off the discussion of the Blizzard vs. MDY lawsuit away from the short posts where I just linked to the court documents. Because I don't really want to talk about Glider, which anyway is a program I need about as much as a machine that watches TV for me. For me playing World of Warcraft is entertainment, and having a bot do it for me is counterproductive. But I am interested in that lawsuit, for the simple reason that if it actually gets far enough in a court, we might get some interesting rulings on virtual property rights.

If you look up "trespassing" in law books, you will find a wealth of information and law that developed over hundreds of years. You can find out exactly what your rights are to for example cross somebody else's land which is the only way of access to some landmark. Property rights are one of the oldest forms of law. But virtual property laws are new, and jurisdiction hasn't really evolved all that far yet.

At the heart of the virtual property debate is the question of whether you actually own your character and his possessions. Most players instinctively think they own their characters. Game companies think they don't, players only have limited use rights for anything that happens on the company's servers, including characters. If you really owned your character and that gold in his pocket, then who could legally stop you from selling that character or gold? Or who could stop you from running a program that plays your character 24/7 to level him up to 70, if getting to 70 is all you are interested in? The horror vision of a game company is a court decision that says that virtual property is property of the players, which would mean that players could sue the game companies for decisions that affect the value of said property, for example shutting the game down, or causing virtual inflation.

So you might have noticed that in the lawsuits of Blizzard vs. Peons4Hire or MDY the game company is careful not to invoke any virtual property rights directly. They claim, and with some justification, that the actions of gold farmers and botters have a negative effect on players, and thus on Blizzard's business. The goal is to either reach an early judgement in favor of Blizzard to shut the small company disturbing their business down, or if that fails, to scare them into a settlement. That is why Blizzard is asking for several millions of dollars of damages from MDY, but would probably settle for Glider just going away and MDY stopping to do business. But such an outcome would leave the underlying question of what exactly you can and cannot do in a virtual world unresolved. And that wouldn't be the best possible outcome, so I kind of grudgingly have to admire the fighting spirit of MDY.

Companies shouldn't be in the business of making laws. Sure, there have to be rules. If I enter a McDonald's restaurant, there are certain house rules I'll have to obey or get kicked off the premises. But there are also laws and rules of the real world that take precendence over the house rules. Virtual worlds aren't any different. I totally agree that Blizzard should have house rules for World of Warcraft, telling people how to behave, and threatening to kick them off the premises if they don't. But I do not think that real world laws don't apply at all in the virtual world, and I do not think that Blizzard could make any sorts of rules. Just like McDonald's can't refuse to serve someone based on his color of skin, religion, or sex, Blizzard isn't the final judge of what is and isn't allowed in World of Warcraft. There are limits where their jurisdiction ends, and the real world jurisdiction starts. If the CIA is looking for terrorists in World of Warcraft, they clearly think that this is outside Blizzard's jurisdiction.

We just don't know where exactly these limits lie, because they haven't been explored very well yet. This is why lawsuits like these are important, no matter on which side your sympathies are: If there is no law of the land, you'll one day do something that you considered totally okay, but the game company didn't, and is banning you for. Can a game company delete your character which might be worth $10,000, or do you have real world rights that could prevent that?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Can't find Blizzard's e-mail

Several people suggested that if I visit the Blizzard 2008 Worldwide Invitational, I should apply for a press pass. So I spent this morning on a easter egg hunt, trying to find out how to do so. And it turns out that Blizzard doesn't have a publicly available e-mail address for press support. They give the postal address for Blizzard Europe, but the Blizzard site only posts the e-mail address for job applicants, and the World of Warcraft site only post the e-mail addresses for account and technical in-game problems. I couldn't find either a general nor a press specific e-mail address. Strange!

Blizzard documents in the MDY case

I'm awfully sorry that these documents can only be found on the Glider website, but here are the legal documents asking for summary judgement filed by Blizzard themselves: version 1 and version 2 and exhibit 1. Most of Blizzard's statement seems quite clear to me, describing the damage that Glider bots cause the game. The strange part is the one about copyright infringement, where Blizzard says that Glider creates a copy of WoW in the computer's RAM, and that it is this copying which is the copyright infringement. That confuses me a bit, because every time I play WoW I create a copy of it in my computer's RAM and I wasn't aware that this could be a copyright infringement. Without loading WoW into your RAM, WoW is just another shiny coaster.

WARNING!!! Troll attack on the MMO Blogosphere

I was reading through some of my favorite blogs and noticed that on Bildo's blog there was a comment signed Tobold that I hadn't written. And on my blog there was a fake Bildo comment, totally trollish and insulting. Somebody is using the comment functionality where you can use any name you like to post troll comments under false names. I have no idea how many of the other string of troll posts of the past days are from fake IDs. I'm afraid I will have to turn off anonymous commenting for the moment, you'll now need a Google account or any other OpenID enabled account to post comments here. I will also delete several troll comments.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Blizzard vs. MDY (MMO Glider)

I'm afraid this will cause another big debate, but this is actual news: Both Blizzard and MDY Industries, the makers of Glider (previously called WoW Glider) filed motions for summary judgment yesterday, another step in their ongoing legal battle. You can find documents on the MMOGlider website: version 1 and version 2. I'm not legal expert enough to even explain what a "motion for summary judgement" is, I figured it is a request to find for or against before a real trial even starts. But what is interesting is that these documents are relatively readable even for a non-lawyer, and contain a range of interesting facts.

For example there are interesting details on how Blizzard's Warden software and another utility called Scan.dll work. It also contains this interesting tidbit on banning: "Blizzard does not ban, nor has it ever banned the licensee itself. If Blizzard bans a licensee’s account, the licensee may immediately sign up for a new account using the licensee’s name and same credit card number that it previously used for the banned account." People don't get banned, accounts are.

Blizzard is asking for damages because:
a) Because Glider can help advance a character’s level faster, Blizzard loses revenue from a licensee who uses Glider because of a shortened monthly subscription time;
b) Because a portion of Blizzard’s licensee’s oppose the use of botting programs such as Glider, many people quit in frustration thereby causing Blizzard to lose revenue;
c) Because the gaming world perceives people who use Glider as having an unfair advantage, many potential WoW players choose not to play WoW thereby causing Blizzard to lose revenue;
d) Glider users can use the software to “farm gold” in WoW, which damages the WoW game economy thereby causing people to quit the game;
e) Blizzard must pay employees to deal with complaints about bot programs; and
f) Blizzard must pay employees to locate Glider users in the WoW game environment and verify Glider detections from Warden so Blizzard can ban such accounts.
Blizzard's expert witness Dr. Edward Castronova argued that these bases damage Blizzard in the amount of twenty million dollars per year. Obviously MDY's expert witness doesn't agree, pointing out that not only is there no way to quantify these damages, Blizzard themselves recently shortened the time it takes to reach level 70. They also say that Glider is not the only unauthorized third party program, and Blizzard can't just sue one of them for all the cost for employees hunting down all of them.

Even more interesting is MDY's claim that while the use of Glider is cheating and breaks the EULA and TOU, it is not a copyright infringement, because a) WoW can be copied freely anyway, and b) Glider doesn't make unauthorized copies of the game or circumvents any sort of copy protection measures. They say that Glider only does things that somebody playing 24/7 could also do, it's just a "bot", not duping or hacking anything.

The legal outcome of all this, if there will be one, should be interesting to watch.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I just paid Blizzard 140 Euro for cool in-game items

Or in other words, I bought 2 tickets to the 2008 Worldwide Invitational which will happen end of June in Paris. That's only like 2 hours away from where I live, so I couldn't possibly not go. While the tickets aren't exactly cheap, I do expect Blizzard to give me a bag of swag in return, most likely including a code for a unique in-game non-combat pet. There will also be a chance to play Wrath of the Lich King for a few minutes, and Starcraft II if I wanted, as well as discussion panels with Blizzard developers. Now I just need an oversized butterfly net to catch one of them and give me an interview. :)


I am not going to comment much on the EQFlames interview on Massively, because one of the SOE people involved is somebody I consider to be a friend and totally upright and honest person, Grimwell. So it would be hard for me to say anything nice or balanced about the insults and nonsense that "LFG" is spouting in that interview.

I'm just writing this to remind you that of course the whole EQFlames issue is very much identical to the beta leaks issue I reported on not long ago. If you consider beta leaks to be bad, then what can you possibly think about somebody breaching both his contract and the trust of the game developers he was giving access to? Even if he claims to be just whistleblowing, the creation of a site named EQFlames doesn't exactly suggest an objective attitude. No wonder SOE kicked him out from that special access program!

Zen of RMT Design

Damion from Zen of Design wrote an excellent article about RMT and basic fairness. Quote:
Most current MMO players perceive buying power as cheating. Even the ones who are doing it do. These same players do not bat an eye at mailing some unused gear to an alt, or dropping a hundred gold into the mail for their girlfriend’s brother. But if the brother buys it from Goldfarmers R Us… well, that’s just DIRTY. At it’s core, it makes achievers feel that other achievers got handed what they had to WORK for.

Is it entirely rational? No. But the concept of what is right and wrong is, ultimately, a societal concept, and ultimately, while designers can try to change player perceptions of what’s fair, there are also times when the community makes the declaration, and the company is forced to respond, or risk becoming irrelevant.
Brilliant! He also mentions that "the debate about RMT is ultimately a debate between those who have money, and those who have time" and that the perception of fairness and acceptance of RMT could possibly change if the demographics of MMORPGs shift towards the over-30 players who have more money and less time.

I just want to add that the eternal "casual vs. hardcore" debate is actually very much related to a similar problem of perception of fairness as the RMT debate. If you consider MMORPGs totally objectively, they are not fair games. Damion has a comparison with baseball, but in baseball one team doesn't get to go out on the field and play and score while the other team is still sitting in their offices working. "Achievement" in MMORPGs is very much linked to time spent in game, and as some players spend a lot more time in game than others, comparing their achievements is inherently unfair. Of course RMT is still cheating, and overcoming one sort of unfairness by trying to balance it with another sort of unfairness is never going to achieve a fair result.

Lots of people call me pro-RMT, a label I can just shrug off. I'd prefer to call myself anti-pseudo-achievement. An epic mount or full epic gear is fun, but *not* a life achievement you should put into your CV, regardless of whether you achieved it by spending hundreds of hours or hundreds of dollars. Buying yourself an epic in-game "achievement" is like buying yourself a huge plasma TV: it'll cost you a lot of extra money without adding all that much to the entertainment value, as you'll still have the same TV program / game in front of you. Only that building that plasma TV yourself in hundreds of hours of work isn't any better.

Casual Gemology

My first epic flying mount was financed to a large percentage by me mining or buying adamantite ore, prospecting it, and selling the rare (blue name) gems after cutting them for about 50 gold each. Haven't done that for a long time, so yesterday I tried it again to see where the market had evolved. Adamantite ore has remained pretty much constant in price on my server, between 20 and 30 gold a stack. But the prices for gems have changed a lot, and not all in the same direction. I sold two cut red gems for 75 gold each, while cut green gems went as low a 15 gold, and uncut green Talasites for less than 10 gold in some cases. So not only has the chance to find a rare gem from prospecting been nerfed by Blizzard, there is now also a chance that the rare gem you find is worth less than the ore you prospected it from. My try ended with me making just a small profit, and that was with being lucky with the colors I got.

The reasons for this price difference is that most people went towards a strategy of ignoring gem slot colors, because the bonus stats you get if you follow the colors is too small. So people advised my warrior for example to ignore all colors and fill up all my slots with blue +12 stamina gems. Blue and red gems are popular for this, yellow gems less so, and except for the red/blue Nightseyes all the mixed color gems are totally out of favor.

The upside of that is an opportunity for people with little cash. Mixed color gems aren't really all that bad. Two green gems for example will give you exactly the same stats as one blue and one yellow gem, but you might be able to buy them for less than half the price. And sometimes mixing stats is better than taking all the same kind. I'm not going to follow that advice to use only +12 stamina gems, because then my defense would drop even further below the magic 490 limit. So a cash-strapped warrior might be well advised to go for Enduring Talasites (+4 defense, +6 stamina) at 25 gold each instead.

I expect rare gem prices to drop in the future, especially the expensive ones. The demand is driven by the kind of people who have sufficient gold and want the very best gems possible. But with patch 2.4 the very best gems will be epic ones. The uncut gems will be sold for badges of justice, and the jewelcrafting recipes for reputation, so epic cut gems will soon be available. As for the common gems, which are already trading only at pitiful low values, apparently there will be recipes to combine them into more valuable stuff in patch 2.4. So maybe jewelcrafting can become profitable again, in spite of the usual differences of getting people to pay anything for cutting a gem. ("Looking for jewelcrafter who has a recipe that costs 1,000 gold on the AH, is willing to travel to my location, and then cuts my gem for free." -Pause- "Hey, why are you jewelcrafters so uncooperative?")

Judging Karazhan

By my latest calculation I now got about 140 Badges of Justice from Karazhan, that is more than 70 boss kills there, having killed every boss repeatedly. So in view of this grown experience and the changes the place and the environment has undergone in the last year, I'm reviewing my opinion on Karazhan. It used to be more on the negative side, but now it is broadly neutral. The key question for me still is how useful Karazhan is as an entry-level raid dungeon.

Most of the negative points of Karazhan haven't changed much, there are only some minor improvements: The attunement is going to be removed in patch 2.4, making Karazhan slightly more accessible. And while in my opinion Karazhan is still too hard for a *first* raid dungeon of a level, the level of gear people have on average has gone up, which ends up making Karazhan easier in an indirect way. You just have a better chance of having somebody with epics in your first Karazhan group nowadays, be it from raids or from PvP.

One of the biggest complaints against Karazhan is now just an historical footnote: Many guilds had a hard time moving from 40-man raids to 10-man Karazhan and then onwards to 25-man raids. The raid ID lockout system is largely responsible for the organizational chaos and guild drama that many people experienced due to this bottleneck. You simply couldn't take a successful 40-man raid and make 4 successful 10-man raids out of it, visiting Karazhan several nights a week until you ended up with 40 well equipped people from which 25-man raids could easily be formed. In many guilds a separation into A-teams and B-teams took place, with the A-team advancing faster, then getting impatient while waiting for the B-team to catch up, and quitting the guild to join the A-team of other guilds for 25-man raids.

But now we come to the positive points of Karazhan: the small raid size does have its advantages. One immediate effect is that Karazhan bosses drop 2 epics for 10 people, thus giving a 20% average chance to get an epic per boss kill, while the 25-man raids give 3 epics for 25 people, which is just 12%. Not only are you more likely to get an epic from a Karazhan boss than from a 25-man boss, you are also certain to get both reputation and badges of justice, so you'll never come out completely empty-handed from a successful raid. It is a good thing that patch 2.4 introduces badges for 25-man bosses, and adds even better badge loot. The badges have the positive effect that it is far easier to find an experienced raider willing to join a Karazhan raid group, even if there is no more epic drop loot for him there, than it was pre-TBC to find experienced raiders willing to go to Molten Core again. The small raid size also makes it easier for smaller guilds to get the necessary numbers together, although there isn't much flexibility in class choice. You really need 2 tanks, 3 healers, and 5 dps classes with a good class mix to get far in Karazhan.

My last point is totally subjective: I've killed the first bosses of ZA, TK, and SSC, but somehow Karazhan felt more "fun" to me. Karazhan has a lot of character, while I found other raid dungeons, especially Tempest Keep, a bit bland and unoriginal. Last night I finally met the third opera event, the Big Bad Wolf, and getting chased around as little red riding hood was incredibly funny. The night before I had killed the Void Reaver and Astromancer in Tempest Keep, and although we one-shotted them, I found the fights more annoying than fun. Moroes' "How terribly clumsy of me" or the comments of the concubines on the way to the Maiden have more character than anything I've seen in the 25-man dungeons yet.

Anything I missed? What is your opinion of Karazhan, and why do you like or dislike it?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What does the Internet know about you?

While I'm battling anonymous trolls on my blog, the BBC is reporting about the opposite problem: an interesting analysis of somebody who put too much information about herself on the internet. Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the prostitute that brought down Eliot Spitzer, had pages on sites like MySpace or, and once she got famous through her connection with the governor of New York, the press was able to get all sorts of information about her, including photos, and publish it. Now she and her lawyers are trying to put the genie back into the bottle with legal action, but that's too late.

Me, I'm afraid of offering too much private information of myself on the internet. There is no MySpace page about me, or Facebook, or anything. On this blog I'm not using my real name, and I'm keeping information about myself to a minimum. If I get caught in bed with the governor of New York tomorrow (which is admittedly unlikely), the press won't find photos of me on RateMyBody (I'd be afraid of the rating anyway) or the story of my life posted anywhere. The worst they could find would be this blog, leading to the obvious "he plays video games, he must be a mass murderer" conclusion. :)

But others, including my readers, aren't that careful. Half of the e-mails I get are from people using their real name, and a good number are using their company e-mail system to send it. The one that cracked me up most was the one to which the company mail system had automatically attached a request to comment on my satisfaction with the guy's mail to his manager, linking the manager's mail address (Don't worry, I didn't reply). If I know your real name, what info can I find about you on sites like MySpace or Facebook? I googled my real name and to my satisfaction there are other people who have the same name as I do, and they come up higher in Google. So if your name is relatively common, you might preserve some anonymity that way. But other than that your MySpace page is only anonymous as long as nobody looks for it.

Beta Leaks

The issues we discuss around MMORPGs are often similar, if smaller in scale, than the issues of the real world. One hotly discussed issue of the real world is leaks and whistle blowing: should people reveal secrets if they think that the revelation is in the best general interest, and should journalists report those leaks? If a chemical company is poisoning the ground water, Enron is fiddling their accounts, or the CIA is falsifying data on WMD or torturing people, would it be better to reveal that, or should they be allowed to keep those things secret? The equivalent subject in MMORPGs is leaking information from beta tests: If a game sucks, should beta testers leak that information, or should they keep mum and let the company make money by selling lots of games on the day of release before people realize how bad it is? Vanguard apparently sold over 200,000 copies before crashing to under 50,000 subscribers, should beta testers have warned potential players earlier?

It is easy to claim that "you signed an NDA, you shouldn't talk about that beta". Obviously the people who alerted the authorities and press about the Enron account fiddling also had a contract with Enron forbidding them to pass on secret information about the company. Making a bad game is not as bad a crime as ruining your investors, but then an NDA is not as strong a contract as an employment contract. Both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online have been announced for May, just two months from now, and unless they are postponed there isn't much time left before release, and neither game has even announced an open beta yet. Either there will be no open beta at all, or a rather short one, with very little opportunity to spread the word about possible flaws in these games. But as especially in MMORPGs the drive to be in the game right from the start is strong, that can lead to many people buying the game without being able to test it before, and then being disappointed, having wasted $50+ on a flawed or incomplete game.

A reader alerted me to a site called Beta Leaks, which does exactly what it says in the title: it is a forum for leaking information from MMORPG betas. And I was reading a thread called "AoC Beta Leak FAQ" there which gave me a lot of information I'm sure Funcom doesn't want me to have, and especially not write about. Now I never signed an NDA with Funcom, but that information is obviously tainted by coming from somebody else's breach of his NDA. So I'm not going to report it. But although I'm sure I'll get another one of those idiot comments that me linking to that beta leaks site is already breaking a taboo, I would at least like to start a discussion here about how legitimate beta leaks are. The people who leak obviously think that it is in the better interest of the players to have that sort of information, while the game companies obviously think this stuff shouldn't be public knowledge. Where do you stand in that? Could you imagine to ever leak information from a beta, if you thought the game was really, really unacceptable? With companies buying favorable reviews from bigger game sites, at which point does revealing information become a legitimate guerilla tactic instead of just a breach of contract?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nobody forces you to read this blog!

I'm getting sick and tired of people telling me what I am not allowed to write about on my blog! There was that wave of people telling me that I couldn't interview the gold seller because that would be advertisement. And there are some people (or one anonymous guy posting several comments, who knows?) telling me that I should stop asking questions about my warrior. Newsflash: You don't get to tell me what I can write about! If you don't like a particular post subject, don't read it. It is not as if the content of a post with the title "interview with a gold seller" could come as a surprise to anyone. Of course the gold seller is pro-RMT and would like to advertise his business. And the same is true about the "WoW warrior question" thread, you could see the subject from the title and if you don't want to read about that, just stop reading!

For all I care, if you think that my opinion on a subject, or me asking questions sometimes instead of preaching invalidates my whole blog, feel free to not read anything here. If all you do is complaining, you are not a valued customer of this blog. I'm not making a lousy cent of any of my readers. I am writing my blog for those readers who value my opinion, and especially for those readers who are willing to engage in intelligent discussion about various subjects, mostly centered around MMORPGs. Posting about controversial subjects and asking questions is very much part of trying to engage my readers in that intelligent discussion, and not an invitation to trolls to tell me that I'm not allowed to post that stuff.

My opinion on RMT has remained broadly neutral and unchanged over the now nearly 5 years of existence of this blog: I would like RMT to disappear by better game design. If grinding an exchangeable currency wasn't part of MMORPGs, RMT wouldn't exist. Having that sort of gameplay element and then trying to forbid RMT is hypocritical and doesn't work, because game companies basically try to regulate something that happens outside of their sphere of influence. If I send you 1000 gold because you are my mate, it is perfectly legit. If you in return and outside of the game give me $50, both of our accounts theoretically should be banned. But first of all the game company has no right whatsoever to meddle in the real world relationship between you and me, and second they have no way to control whether you gave me $50 or not. As it is, game companies make millions of dollars from gold farmers replacing banned accounts, and nothing ever changes. If Blizzard or any other game company really wanted to stop RMT, they could easily do it. Hey, my warrior got 3 epic flying mounts, one for gold and two for reputation. If mounts never had cost gold in the first place, and you would have to grind only non-tradeable reputation to get one, instead of tradeable gold, the RMT companies would have lost millions of dollars of business. So I do think that the responsability for RMT is a shared one between the game designers, the gold selling companies, and the gold buyers. Making that a taboo subject on which there either is no talk at all allowed or only rants against gold sellers is counterproductive. After all the RMT debate touches on the much deeper subjects of virtual property rights, and the influence of game design on player behavior. This will come up again and again on this blog, so if you don't like it, feel free to either ignore those posts or leave. But if you are willing to argue your point about the evils of RMT in an intelligent and polite manner, you are more than welcome to do so.

On the subject about me asking questions, about my WoW warrior or other things, I actually think that the threads evolving from those posts are among the better ones of this blog. I certainly don't want a blog about me preaching ex cathedra and declaring my limited knowledge and opinions to be absolute truths, with my readers all posting "I agree" comments. Even after spending thousands of hours playing a wide range of MMORPGs, there are still a lot of games I haven't played; and even in WoW there are a lot of classes I only played through to level 30ish, so I can't possibly know about lets say paladin raid healing. And I'm only human: I do arrive at situations in game where I don't know what to do, feel a bit lost, or could use some help. Admitting that one doesn't know and asking for help actually takes more balls than keeping up an illusion of being all-knowing (which is actually a typical immature teenage behavior). And I am quite proud about the high quality of the responses I got to my questions, revealing that my readers are no less knowledgeable than me. It also revealed how easily some people are willing to accept simple messages as gospel, like "you need 490 defense", and are also willing to spread these simple messages as absolute truths. Only a few people did dig deeper and came up with a more nuanced message of how you could replace one point of defense by two points of resilience and still remain uncritable. Both the subject of resilience (why is this considered to be a PvP-only stat?) and me asking questions will come up again in the future. If you think that me asking questions is so lame that you don't want to read my blog any more, bye bye, and don't let the door hit you on your way out. If you just aren't interested by detailed theorycrafting, just skip those posts. And if you have detailed knowledge and are willing to share it, it is that what makes you a MVR, a most valued reader. :)

WoW Warrior questions

My apologies to those of you not interested in the subject, but as I mentioned before a good part of this blog is just me writing about the things that preoccupy me in whatever game I'm currently playing. And as you might have noticed, my current preoccupation is about my warrior in World of Warcraft. That doesn't mean I'm not playing my priest or mage any more, I pretty much play all three evenly. It is just that priest and mage are both playing more or less "on rails", on a well determined path, the priest in the raiding circuit and the mage leveling up. You don't want me telling you how my guild killed Hydross or the Lurker, because surprise, surprise, we killed them exactly like everyone else does and blogs about. And my mage, now 65 will level to 70 doing the same quests everyone else did. It is only the path forward for my warrior that I don't have a clear vision of yet, and so it is him I tend to think about most, and thus write about most.

The recurring question for my warrior is what I should do with him in the level 70 end-game, given that I don't want to raid with him. I already did an endless amount of daily quests with him, leading to me having 3 epic flying mounts now, the normal one, the Netherray, and the Netherdrake. Of course I didn't do the quests for the mounts, as three of them aren't any more useful than having only one. I did it because every quest gave around 10 gold, thus hundreds of quests give thousands of gold. I will most likely continue to do that after patch 2.4 doing the Sunwell daily quests, unless that turns out to be impossible because every single player on the server is camping the same spawn for the same quest. :)

Unfortunately that gold didn't improve my warrior; most of it was spent on my second epic flying mount, for my priest, the rest is mostly used to finance my priest's expensive raiding habit: repair costs, potions, and large sums for gems and enchants for the epics he finds. Even if I had more gold, I wouldn't want to buy epics for thousands of gold from the AH for my warrior, at least to me it appears as if grinding gold and buying epics for it is the least efficient way to get epics. So I'm looking for other ways to improve my warriors gear. And that is where most of the questions arise, because I'm not really good at theorycrafting, and don't really know what I'm shooting for.

For example my warrior has 480 defense, and I know that I should be shooting for 494 defense to be immune to critical hits. What I don't know is how important the last 14 points are, with 480 am I significantly too low in defense? Or are the last 14 points just bringing me from 99% uncritable to 100% uncritable?

I am even less sure about the relative importance between health, armor, and defense. For example I could improve my armor by over 1000 points if I exchanged my Ogri'la Aegis by the PvP season 1 reward shield if I gathered the honor for it, but would lose 23 defense and gain some resilience instead. So I'd be even further away from the 494 target. Same consideration with the rest of the honor-bought season 1 plate armor: I could gain lots of strength, some stamina, and a good amount of armor, but I'd lose a lot of defense. I'd hate to spend many hours doing PvP for epic gear, only to find that I'm shooting myself in the foot with it lacking defense. And everyone I ask tells me a different story. Some people swear you can tank in PvP armor, others say you need 494 defense first, and everything else is secondary. How many points of health or armor is 1 point of defense "worth"? (If I understood it correctly 1 point of armor is more or less worth 1 point of health, the two are nearly equivalent). And in how far can I replace defense with resilience?

Anyone know of a tank calculator where you can enter your stats and it calculates a single "survivability" score out of it? As long as I don't know what gear I'm looking for, it is very hard to know what I should be doing to find it. Right now I'm just randomly doing a bit of everything, but that isn't neither efficient nor fun. I much rather have a clear goal and path towards that goal in front of me.

Spore preview

I'm subscribed to a magazine on PC games which comes with a video DVD with about one hour worth of games previews, reviews and similar stuff. This month a good part of it was a preview of Spore. In case you live in a cave and haven't heard yet, Spore is the game Will Wright, the Sims guy, is currently developing, to be released in September this year. And the game is heavily hyped. Which makes people wonder whether the game can possibly live up to the hype. So it was interesting to have a look at gameplay footage and see what the hype is all about.

Spore is actually not one game but five. Or a game in 5 separate phases with little connection between them. You start out the game as an amoeba in phase 1, develop into a creature in phase 2, form a tribe in phase 3, found a civilization in phase 4, and move on into space in phase 5, which is more or less endless; that is there is a final goal but you aren't forced to go for it and can just keep playing. In every phase you interact with or fight against computer-controlled NPC amoebae/creatures/tribes/civilizations/spaceships, Spore is a single-player game. But, and that is the main source of the hype, you can connect Spore with the internet. In which case Spore is *still* a pure single-player game. But the NPCs are downloaded from the internet using the player created creatures of the other Spore players. So not only does Spore allow you to build your own creatures, structures, and spaceships with an extensive editor, your creations can end up as NPCs in somebody elses game. Which basically makes for a game with an infinite number of possible NPCs in infinite variety, from minmaxed for optimum performance to just plain wacky. Apparently one dev made a set of creatures formed like the letters of the alphabet, and that's just one possible idea. Apparently there will even be "themes", so you could play a game in a winter environment, or one with an Egyptian theme full of animal-headed bipeds and pyramids. Or you could create such a theme yourself, the creative possibilities are endless.

And there's the rub: infinite possibilities for creative toying around. Spore is not in the strictest sense a game for gamers. The footage I saw and the comments that went with it showed that Spore will the ultimate casual game. There is no way you can lose, just like with a MMORPG you simply get reborn if you die. And the actual gameplay is relatively simple. In the early phases you just swim or run around and eat smaller creatures, avoid bigger creatures, and try to find bits of "DNA" which allow you to modify your creature with new features. Yes, in the later phases you'll have a civilization or space empire, but do not expect the complexity level of a Civilization or Master of Orion.

It is no wonder that EA loves Will Wright: Spore is a game that will sell millions of copies, and that's just on the PC / Mac. There will also be spinoffs on the Nintendo DS, mobile phones, and the Wii. And who knows on what other platforms, now that consoles are often connected to the internet, and how many expansions. EA milked The Sims for all its worth, and Spore will be no different. But how many hardcore gamers play The Sims? The main demographic for Spore will be the same as that for The Sims: casual gamers. So expect lots of "Spore is boring" comments not long after the game comes out. Me, I'm looking forward to toying around with Spore for a while, it looks really nice. But I don't foresee me spending hundreds of hours on it. Just like I didn't spend hundreds of hours with Creatures or Black & White. Spore will be a toy, not a game.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Paladin heroic healing

I'm a bit confused. Some time ago I read that in some major raid guilds paladins heal and priests do damage. I never played a paladin beyond level 30, so I have no first-hand experience in pally healing. But I wasn't too worried when last night we formed a group to Blood Furnace heroic, with my warrior as tank and a paladin as healer. The guys had a 50/11/0 healing spec, and was wearing healing gear, so what could go wrong? Well, everything. The harder hitting trash mobs hit me for 3k of damage, while the fast heals of the paladin healed me for 1.2k (1.9k crit), and his slow heals for 3k (5k crit). What gives? My priest in equivalent gear has fast heals for 2k (3k crit) and slow heals for 4.5k (7k crit). Plus the priest has a heal-over-time, plus the instant Prayer of Mending, not to mention minor stuff like Lightwell. Is a priest really healing over 50% better than a healadin? What are the healing paladins among you healing for, and what variety of healing spells do you have?

It was a bit annoying, because my tank kept dying, and we didn't manage to complete the event before the second boss. Now my warrior is certainly not the world's best equipped (12k armor, 12k health, 480 def unbuffed), but that's the kind of gear you get from normal difficulty dungeons. Without heroics I can't get better gear, so I don't know what to do if that gear isn't good enough to tank in heroics. I looked for PvP reward gear, but there isn't anything useful for a tank, except for a shield without defense bonus. Am I just out of luck, or do I just need a priest for heroics?

Is AV fun?

On average the quality of comments from readers of this blog who sign with some sort of name is much higher than the quality of the anonymous commenters. So it came to some surprise that my last post had an anonymous comment of surprising insight:
"I think it's telling that you didn't mention that Alterac Valley was fun (if it was), but instead focused on the reward side of doing it."
Telling it is, most certainly. But of what? It is no secret that I am personally not a big fan of PvP, so one could be tempted to conclude that it's only me doing PvP just for the reward. But then you'd still need to explain why the percentage of people playing PvP has constantly increased in parallel with Blizzard increasing PvP rewards more and more. So I'm pretty comfortable in saying that it's not just me, it is a large number of casual players doing PvP for the epics. Not because there is any "welfare" involved, but because you can do PvP without the organization of a guild. (Note that my priest, who is raiding, doesn't do any PvP, because he gets his epics from raids, and my guild is shorter in raid healers than raid tanks.)

So is Alterac Valley fun? For the first couple of times, yes, even for me. But the fun ran out long before I reached the 18,000 honor points, and that was mixing all 4 available battlegrounds to varying degrees. There are very few battlegrounds, far fewer than 5-man or even raid dungeons. Three of the four battlegrounds date back to summer 2005, the fourth was added with the Burning Crusade. Anyone who likes battlegrounds now knows the inside out. And while player behavior is somewhat unpredictable, over time there are certain repeating patterns in the behavior of groups in battlegrounds. So following Raph's Theory of Fun, I usually only have fun when I try something new: doing PvP with protection spec, or playing AV as premade.

So how about you? Do you have fun in Alterac Valley or the other battlegrounds? Or do you "grind" them for the rewards?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Alterac Valley premade

You probably know already that in patch 2.4 World of Warcraft will add the ability of joining the Alterac Valley battleground as a group. If you can't wait that long, you can do like me and download an addon called Preform AV Enabler. It doesn't work 100% reliable but with a bit of trial and error you can manage to get a large group of up to 40 people into the same Alterac Valley battleground. Someone on my server was promoting that idea, it being double honor weekend in AV, and I joined that AV raid and did a couple of runs with them. We won every single one of them, which is unusual, as on our server cluster Horde usually loses.

I made about 10k honor that way Friday night and Saturday afternoon. So I got my Gladiator's Slicer, a huge upgrade damage-wise to my old Crystalblade of the Draenei. And that still leaves me with nearly half of the honor I need to get the off-hand version of the same sword if I want to spec Fury.

Talking of spec, I was Mortal Strike arms spec on Friday for PvP, but then noticed that in battlegrounds my ability to deal damage wasn't strategically important. I weakened the enemy side much more by rushing in and keeping several opponents occupied for a long time. So I respec'd back to protection, but improving my build using my reader's advice. It is mainly a build useful for heroics, but taking all possible spell damage mitigation, spell interruption and deflection talents. And funnily enough it works great on battlegrounds. With my arms build I had problems killing paladins, but with this build I kill them much more easily, reflecting their damage spells back at them and interrupting their heals.

So now I got a better sword for soloing, and a spec that is useful for groups and PvP. I'll stay like that for a while, but will probably do more PvP for the second sword and some dps gear.