Sunday, November 30, 2008


My priest visited the new open world PvP zone Wintergrasp for the first time at level 76 this weekend, then again at level 77 with a flying mount. Which didn't help much, as it is a no-fly zone. Anyway, besides just running around and getting my mining skill up to 450, I also participated in two keep defense battles there, and one attack. And got a strong reminder how Blizzard is making life so difficult for the competition: They "borrow" the ideas of others, and implement them better. Yeah, I know, I'll get another bunch on anonymous people accusing me of having a hidden agenda to destroy WAR. But Wintergrasp is an excellent version of PvP keep battles.

One major difference between previous versions of keep battles and the WoW version is that in Winterspring you can drive around with catapults and other moving war engines, not just fixed siege engines. And in Wintergrasp the towers and walls of the keep are destructible, not just the doors. There is even a buff for the less numerous side to avoid the outnumbered side being steamrolled! And while of course there is no RvR in WoW, the Wintergrasp keep capture gives a server-wide buff for the winning side, for +5% xp and the opportunity to gather Stone Keeper's Shards, which can then be used as currency to buy various recipes and other stuff. Winning also gives access to a raid instance, and to added monsters in the zone that can be farmed for expensive elemental tradegood drops.

It is totally possible that a keep falls at 3 am to a group of attackers with no defenders in sight. But during the day the battles are better populated: They only happen about every 3 hours, for up to half an hour. If the attacker takes the keep, the battle is over sooner, and you'll have to wait two-and-a-half hours for the next battle. As there is only one keep in the game, the people who want to do keep warfare are all concentrated at this one place, so even in the morning there is enough action in those keep battles. And for those, like me, who aren't big PvPers, the turrets and vehicles allow you to make an impact in the battle, even if you aren't a trained player killer.

World of Warcraft is not a PvP game, and it is unlikely that the addition of Wintergrasp will make a lot of people quit their more PvP-centric games to play WoW instead. But for those of us who just want a fun keep battle once in a while, with good rewards and some varied gameplay, Wintergrasp is a lot of fun. You can find a detailed description of the rules at Moonfire, and a discussion of the incentives over at Player versus Developer.

Of course you could argue that Wintergrasp is as unoriginal as a fake Rolex. But if you could get a fake Rolex with more features which actually looked better and ran better than the original, how much would originality be worth to you?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

I have my usual day off from blogging, and you have the field: Use this thread to suggest subjects for blog posts, or to discuss anything remotely MMORPG-related.

WAR is shrinking

Yesterday I wrote in a post on a different subject about Warhammer Online that WAR was shrinking. Somebody with not a lot of reading skills read that as "WAR is sinking", and asked me what evidence I had for that. So, for the record, I don't think that WAR is sinking, but I do think it is shrinking. Evidence, besides servers being merged, is for example from XFire, where the hours of WAR played by XFire users is steadily declining.

Of course now somebody is going to say that this is again just evidence, not proof. Which opens up the question how you could possibly prove that a game has a decline in subscription numbers. The only one who has that information is the game company itself, and they aren't going to publish numbers unless they look good. An absence of press releases about growth is an indication, but not proof, of decline.

So the only thing one can do is look for indirect evidence: XFire numbers, number of servers and whether they are full or empty, and so on. This opens up ample opportunity for fans of the game for the first stage of grief in the Kübler-Ross model: Denial, usually quickly followed by Anger. So "you have no absolute proof" is followed by "you only report negative things about that game because you hate it". All perfectly natural.

I have no agenda, hidden or otherwise, whatsoever towards WAR. I would have liked it to succeed more than it did, for the simple reason that I think more competition in the MMORPG market would be a good thing. I do think Mythic and EA made a nice pile of money with WAR, so all is not lost. The "miracle patch" 1.1 looks promising, and even Wrath of the Lich King won't hold players forever in WoW. Having said all that, I will continue to report any news about WAR, positive or negative, as well as my opinion about WoW, positive and negative. You just can't reduce these incredibly complex games into simple formulas like "WAR good, WoW bad" or the other way round. They both have their good and bad sides, and their strengths and weaknesses appeal to different kinds of players.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dual spec thoughts

I was reading on WoWInsider that dual specs will not necessarily be in patch 3.1. Part of me thinks that would be a pity. The other part says "it doesn't matter anyway". Apparently patch 3.1 isn't expected before March 2009, and even if it had dual spec included, it would be too late to help me leveling my characters. My Priest just hit level 76 yesterday, and by March I'll certainly have both the Priest and Warrior at level 80. Maybe not the Mage and the Death Knight, but I don't see the Mage gaining a lot of utility from the dual spec feature anyway. I guess most of the people who are against the dual spec feature are playing one of the classes it doesn't help much. Most Warriors and Priests I know would be delighted when it was introduced. Well, it might still help at level 80 for soloing daily quests etc., but I'd much rather have had it already for leveling up. Unfortunately leveling in WotLK is too fast. And with "too fast" I mean you spend just one month to get to level 80, and then nearly 2 years *at* level 80, unless you play a *lot* of alts.

At least if Blizzard takes more time to implement this feature, there is a good chance that they get it right. Everyone has a different idea of how the dual spec feature should look. Personally I hope that it isn't *too* easy to switch from one spec to the alternative. I wouldn't want to be able to switch while in a raid dungeon, depending on what boss we face. And I'd especially wouldn't want my frost Mage to be able to instantly switch to fire Mage while in combat and just having noticed that the mob I'm fighting is resistant to frost. So my proposal would be to do the switch with the help of a class switch NPC, found in every major city, including Shattrath and Dalaran. Doing the switch only at the class trainers would be tad annoying, as there aren't any in Outlands or Northrend. If spec switching would be too easy, raiders would be under some pressure to choose two different raid builds, and still end up with no build for soloing. So having to travel to a city to switch specs is better.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Does WAR calculate contribution?

There is a nasty rumor floating around about Warhammer Online. It is said that the famous Vegas loot system, in which your reward is calculated as sum of your contribution and a random roll, is a scam. The contribution part isn't really measured, but just another random roll, making who gets a reward at the end of a public quest or keep capture completely random and independant of contribution. I can't confirm that, because I'm not playing WAR any more, but even the allegation is already a public relations desaster.

We all know how players react to reward systems that don't measure contribution: They minmax the fun out of it, by just doing the minimum to qualify for a reward, and then go to have a coffee and let the other players do the hard work. The same guys who were afk in the cave of Alterac Valley now afk in keep captures and public quests in WAR.

Mythic will have to take serious action to either rectify the situation, or prove that contribution is actually taken into account in the Vegas loot system. WAR is already shrinking at an uncomfortable pace, and can't afford this kind of story. MMORPG players are to a huge extent driven by incentives and rewards, and flawed incentive systems can be absolutely deadly for a game.

You can go to jail for lying on the internet

Via Kill Ten Rats I got the news that Lori Drew has been convicted of violating the Terms of Service, by setting up a fake MySpace account. She has not been convicted for driving a girl to suicide, which is probably a good thing, because you don't want to find yourself in the situation where you e.g. dump your girlfriend, she commits suicide, and you end up in jail. So the court decided that the only thing illegal going on was lying on the internet about your identity, and breaking the Terms of Service.

Hmmm, I better head for the hills. I must admit that the name in my passport is *not* Tobold, thus I'm apparently committing a federal crime right now. My only chance is that the US will run out of prison space rather quickly if they enforce this. Because not only lying on the internet is a federal crime according to this, but any violation of a Terms of Service. If you named your World of Warcraft character "Ipwnyou", spam in trade chat, or use any vulgar language for example, you are breaking the Terms of Service of WoW, and are thus by this ruling committing a federal crime. Is that a knock at your door? Must be the FBI! But if you're lucky they'll start with MySpace first, and jail the 100 million users that weren't entirely truthful in their profile there first.

Fact is that Lori Drew played a rather evil prank on a teenage friend of her daughter, with tragic consequences. It is understandable that many people have a gut feeling that she should somehow be punished for that. But there is no law against what she did. And the district attorney, jury, and judge bending a completely unrelated law into shape just to punish that women, without thinking of the consequences, is reckless and stupid.

Tabula Rasa - The end of the shooter MMO?

As I mentioned recently, the basic principle of combat in a classic MMORPG is a comparison of numbers: health vs. damage over time. Other games with combat, for example typical shooters, don't have such a huge influence of character stats on damage. In a shooter whether you hit or not is more often a question of how you aim than the results of some stat-based formula. Nevertheless some games tried to combine shooter elements with MMORPG elements, for example Hellgate London or Tabula Rasa. Hellgate London will close its servers on January 31, Tabula Rasa one month later on February 28. Are shooter MMOs dead?

The problem with questions like these is that there are relatively few games, and thus relatively little data points. It is totally possible that there is a large demand for good shooter MMOs, but neither Hellgate nor Tabula Rasa were good enough. But then, I kind of liked Tabula Rasa, especially the instances, and wouldn't say it was a terrible game. Is it a statistical fluke that over the last 10 years games with swords sold better than games with guns, or is there a fundamental incompatibility of MMORPG gameplay and shooting?

The reason why that question could be important is future games. The Agency will be a shooter MMO. Star Wars: The Old Republic will have both (light) swords and (laser) guns. Are these future games going to take a hit just because of the weapons they use, or will we see a game break the curse of the shooter MMO? What do you think?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not a Freezing Jihad

In March 2007, long before Wrath of the Lich King was even announced, I wrote a parody of the announcement, calling the new expansion "The Freezing Jihad". It was basically a comment on how little The Burning Crusade really added to World of Warcraft, and how easy it would be for Blizzard to make lots of "more of the same" expansions. When WotLK was announced, the feature list looked surprisingly similar to my Freezing Jihad parody: Level cap raised to 80, new icy continent, one new class, one new tradeskill, one new battleground. But after actually playing Wrath of the Lich King for 2 weeks now, I am happy to say that WotLK is not a Freezing Jihad. I'm not saying it is perfect, but it is a huge step up from Burning Crusade, and not just a simple extension of the same principles.

The biggest improvement I've seen up to now, compared to Burning Crusade, is the quality of the quests, especially of quest lines. I just read Keen's report on resubscribing to WoW: Keen hadn't played TBC, now made a Death Knight, and immediately noticed the drop in quality when leaving the (WotLK) Death Knight starting zone to enter the (TBC) Hellfire Peninsula. Don't despair, Keen! Experience points needed to level to level 70 have been halved, and once you leave Outlands and enter Northrend you'll notice the jump back up in quest quality level. Not only are quests in Wrath of the Lich King more varied than in Burning Crusade or the original World of Warcraft, they are also better integrated into great quest chains. There is a lot less of random strangers asking you to kill 10 foozles, and a lot more of quests that have a close connection to the lore. And quest chains are now closer together in level, so no longer will you have your quest journal filled up with half-finished quest lines for which you need some more levels to be able to do the end. Plus there are scenes with important lore NPCs at the end of several quest chains. I already met the Lich King three times, just from doing the quests in Howling Fjord, Grizzly Hills, and Zul'Darak.

In Wrath of the Lich King you even gain the power to change the world. That is hard to believe, and of course there is a trick behind it: Phasing. You and the player standing next to you will not necessarily see the same thing before them. For example in Conquest Hold in Grizzly Hills there is a series of quests which ultimately lead to a "regime change" in that place. And depending on whether you did that quest series or not, you will see a different chieftain in the palace. So at least *for you*, the world changes when you take part in a story. Great stuff, and very convincingly done. Different players just might see different phases of the same place.

Wrath of the Lich King also offers a lot more replayability than the Burning Crusade. At least to level 75 you can get by 2 completely different ways, via Howling Fjord and Grizzly Hills, or via Borean Tundra and Dragonblight. I hope I can get from level 75, where I am right now, to 80 in 2 completely different ways too (e.g. Zul'Darak and Storm Peaks vs. Sholazar Basin and Icecrown), but I'm not completely sure of that yet. In any case leveling is relatively fast: I ran CensusPlus and found that there are already more level 80 players than players at any other given level. That still means the majority of players is distributed between 70 and 79, but I guess even I will be 80 before Christmas.

One huge change, already implemented in patch 3.0.2., but more part of WotLK than TBC, is the power level of characters. Everybody is stronger now. I had originally toyed with the idea to retire my Warrior, due to being outdated by the introduction of Death Knights, and suffering from the eternal problem of how to level up with a talent build that is more group-oriented than solo-oriented. But that Warrior in full tank spec and full tank gear is now killing mobs much faster than before, and in my case particularly noticeably faster than my holy Priest, and is so much fun, that I've decided to level the Warrior before the frost Mage. But personal consequences aside, all character classes being a lot more powerful has important consequences to gameplay: You have more choice with whom you want to play. I mentioned a dungeon trip where the tank was a Death Knight with a dps spec and dps gear; and yes, that was harder to heal than a Warrior with tank spec and tank gear. But the important point is that it was *possible* to beat the whole dungeon with that setup. Even simple 5-man dungeons now have more skill checks and less gear checks, making fights more interesting, and doable with a wider range of character classes and talent builds. And apparently that change at least survives into the first raid dungeon, Naxxramas, although that up to now is just hearsay, I haven't visited the place yet. That would have huge social consequences: If "bring the player, not the class" becomes even a partial reality, the very structure of raid guilds and how raids are set up would change for the better.

Nevertheless Wrath of the Lich King also has retained some old flaws. As far as I know raid dungeons still have lockout periods, preventing players from mixing freely on raid nights. In spite of having more zones to level up in, Northrend is still in many places overpopulated, and the same rampant kill-stealing that made Hellfire Peninsula so unpleasant at the start of TBC still continues into the new zones. Now that a significant number of players reached level 77, and re-gained the ability to fly, the flyers ninjaing your ores or quest items while you fight the mobs next to it happens again. But that is more a problem of some players being jerks, and on the positive side of the same coin I've seen multiple situations where players first invite everyone into a group before attacking a named mob, making quest progress faster for everyone.

And in spite of all improvements, Wrath of the Lich King is still World of Warcraft at heart. It is still a game which is very much about gear, and not skill. It is still a PvE game, with some minor PvP elements. It is still a game with comic graphics designed to run well on an old computer, not the latest in high-end graphics effects and photo-realism. Wrath of the Lich King is a very good expansion to World of Warcraft, but it is an expansion, not a fundamental change of the game. Which is good, because fundamental changes of the NGE kind aren't all that appreciate in the end.

So, if you ever liked World of Warcraft, you will probably like Wrath of the Lich King. If you prefer a very different kind of game, WotLK won't change that. And even if you like WotLK, there is realistic chance that you will grow bored of it after a few months. But a few months of fun for under $40 plus $15 per month still sounds like a good deal to me. I have no idea what I'll play in a year, but right now I'm playing this! For me Wrath of the Lich King beats expectations, and that is quite a feat.

Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery

Hello, my name is Tobold, and I am the author of this post. Why the heck would I need to introduce myself on my own blog, after 5 years and over 2,000 posts? Because there is a significant chance that you are not reading this on my site, but on somebody else's site who simply copied and pasted my content. If you are reading this on a site whose URL is not or or some RSS feed reader pointing to these sites, then you are reading a copy. Not necessarily an illegal copy, because my terms of service that clearly state: "You do have the right to quote me, and use my posts partially or in full, as long as you attribute them correctly as having been written by "Tobold" and link back to the source.". But if you read this on a website which is making money by advertising, or selling gold, or any other means, I can assure you that I won't see a single penny of that money.

There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that dates from before the digital age. Why imitate if you can simply copy? Internet traffic is driven by content, so people who want a lot of traffic, which can be turned into some revenue stream, but are too lazy to create content themselves, simply copy the content of others. Happens to a lot of bloggers. As this blog is not a commercial venture, and I'm mainly interested in getting my ideas out, I'm making life especially easy for the copiers: I have the full content of my blog posts on RSS feed, so people who can't access the site itself (usually due to a firewall at work) can still read my posts via a feed reader. What I write in my terms of service about copying doesn't really matter, because even if I explicitely would forbid copying my content, I would not have the means to enforce that. If I was a bit more childish I could find the sites that copy me, and make blog posts saying "<insert copiers site here> is a bunch of ripoff scumbags", just to see that post copied on the site I'm insulting, as this copying is nowadays fully automated in most cases. But honestly, I don't really care if somebody copies me, as long as I get full credit for having written it. So as long as whereever you read this is linking back to my blog, I'm fine with it. If you see this on some site under a different author's name and no link back to, then it is real plagiarism, and not just a copy.

But whether the copy is legit or not, you have to ask yourself why you are reading a site that doesn't produce its own content. Is it some sort of "news aggregator" site, making it easy for you to read the posts of several blogs at once? Wouldn't you rather set up lets say Google Reader to follow all of your favorite blogs? Are you aware that even if you don't click on the ads of that site, you might create some advertising revenue for somebody who isn't the author of the content you are reading? Are you comfortable with directly or indirectly financing plagiarism?

There are ethical forms to link to the content of others. All blog entries in the form of "I've read an interesting article on XXX's blog. "<Quoted Paragraph>". And here are my own thoughts on the subject." are perfectly fine. But if a site basically just consists of some code that automatically creates a page from the RSS feed of others, the ethics are a lot more questionable. And if the name of the original author and link back to source are suppressed, the action becomes downright plagiarism. There are even sites that copy my content, run it through a parser which replaces some words with the help of a Thesaurus, and thus create a less traceable copy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Ding World on Chronicles of Spellborn

Apparently there is an open beta going of for Chronicles of Spellborn. Hmmm, I could have sworn I signed up for the beta, but never got an invite. Anyway, I'm kind of busy right now, and couldn't play much, so it's all good. Especially since I found this excellent Chronicles of Spellborn preview on A Ding World.

I like the idea of getting a stat bonus for not dying. And of course the rotating hotkey bar is an interesting combat mechanic. But when I read that you'll have to move in combat to avoid blows, I'm not so excited about this game any more. I'm too old for "action combat" with lots of button mashing, that idea already killed Age of Conan for me.

Well, we'll see how it goes with Chronicles of Spellborn at launch, and maybe I find the time to test it next year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Agency on Construed

DM Osbon, whose blog currently is named Construed is running a multi-part interview with Matt Staroscik from SOE on their upcoming MMO The Agency. Part 1 here. This MMO is announced to be released simultaneously on the PC and Playstation 3, which would be an interesting novelty. Gameplay is similar to a shooter, in a setting borrowed from James Bond or Austin Powers movies.

Check it out, DM Osbon is putting a lot of effort into his blogs. The only risk is that by visiting his blog you'll cause him to move to a blog with a different name and URL. He always does that when he gets more than 3 readers a day. :)

WotLK Quests: Evolution and Limitation

My priest reached level 75 this weekend, mostly by questing. In Wrath of the Lich King there are achievements you get when you finish nearly all of the quests in a zone, and I got that achievement for both Howling Fjord and Grizzly Hills. Next step will be Zul'Darak. Thus with over 200 WotLK quests done, I can confidently say that Wrath of the Lich King improved and evolved quests beyond what the original WoW and The Burning Crusade offered. In this post I'd like to discuss the evolution of quests, and one major remaining limitation.

I'm enjoying questing in Wrath of the Lich King even more than in previous versions of World of Warcraft. While there are still plenty of "kill 10 foozles" quests, Blizzard made a huge effort to offer lots of other quest types too. It now pays to actually read the quest texts, because not only has the storytelling improved, but also quite often you need to follow more detailed instructions than just going somewhere and killing something. Another improvement to storytelling is that quest series now often can actually be done one quest after another, without a too steep increase in difficulty forcing you to stop and level up before you can do the end. The quests in one quest hub are also better related to each other, both from a point of weaving a coherent atmosphere, and from the practical point of several quests sending you in the same direction. There are still a lot of quests where you need to go back to the quest giver, only to be sent to the same quest location again for the next step, but the quest givers are usually relatively close in those cases.

Quests in WotLK have also evolved into being better integrated into reputation and crafting. Dungeons aren't related to a specific faction any more, so you don't grind reputation by doing a dungeon repeatedly any more. At level 80 you can gain reputation by dungeon runs, but the faction you are working for will be determined by the tabard you wear, not by which dungeon you visit. For factions that don't have a tabard, quests are the *only* way to increase faction. For tradeskills, specifically for cooking and jewelcrafting (not sure about the others), there are now daily quests which award tokens which you can spend on learning new recipes. Great idea! Much better than having to hope for a 1% drop chance from some boss mob in some dungeon.

So quests in WotLK are better than ever before, in variety, usefulness, and storytelling. But there are still serious limitations to the whole quest system, one of which becomes obvious if you follow the discussion about a "torture quest", which has been discussed on several MMORPG blogs. In that quest you are asked to torture someone, to extract vital information. And some people were shocked by the evilness of that. Now I can agree that this wasn't a clever move on Blizzard's part, as this could easily lead to negative publicity. But to me the quest is more an example of the limitations of the quest system than a moral problem: There are no meaningful moral decisions in World of Warcraft.

The thing is that there is only one possible solution for any given quest. I did a series of morally dubious quests killing trolls for their mojo to summon some troll spirit, who at the end was revealed to be a servant of the Lich King, having duped me into helping the enemy. But the only other option for me would have been not doing the quest series, which would have robbed me not only of the quest rewards, but also of the "do all quests in this zone" achievement. In most cases in WoW you don't have to make any ethical decision at all. And if you have to decide (Aldor vs. Scryer, or D.E.H.T.A. vs. Nesingwary), you probably make that decision on the basis of which side offers the better rewards for your class. Or worse, first work for one side until you have all the rewards, and then work for the other side. In the destiny quest series for starting Death Knights you are even *forced* to switch sides, first doing evil deeds before becoming a good guy.

And evil quests aren't anything new. The first day of playing an undead character you probably killed a bunch of pumpkin farmers. And even supposedly "good" Alliance characters spend a lot of time killing various forms of wildlife, or persecute other humanoids for no other reason than them being a different race. If you made a completely pacifist character, who only accepted quests that didn't involve killing, that plus all the exploration xp possible wouldn't net you more than a handful of levels, and leave you totally stuck long before you could reach the level cap. World of Warcraft is a game about killing, and mass murder isn't an inherently good activity.

In my personal point of view, being evil only matters if you actually had a choice. Many single-player games like KOTOR or Fable or Black & White offer you moral choices, and the chance to develop your character to a saint or ultimate corruption. And even there you can't jump to conclusions and say somebody who made his Fable character evil must be an evil person. Games and virtual worlds give us the chance to experiment with morals, something that isn't advisable in the real world. In real life I wouldn't even kill a rabbit or deer, but I have no problem whatsoever with WoW quests asking me to kill lots of virtual animals or even humans. I'd like to see a MMORPG that involves meaningful moral choices (SWTOR?), but the evil deeds of my WoW characters don't cause me sleepless nights. Real evil usually lies in the suffering of the victims, and virtual rabbits don't suffer.

Cruel experiment

While thinking some more about questions of class balance, I came up with an interesting thought experiment: Imagine you took 30 equally skilled players at the start of WotLK, 3 players of each class, with the 3 players of each class each choosing a different talent tree, and putting all talent points into that. So you have one frost mage, one arcane mage, one fire mage, one arms warrior, one fury warrior, one protection warrior, and so on. You level all of these characters to 70, and equip them with equal item levels of gear. And then you start a race: Each player plays the same amount of time per day, lets say 4 hours, has free choice of whether he wants to solo or group (but only with some of the other 29, no power-leveling), and we'll check which character reaches level 80 first, and which character reaches it last.

What I was saying in Saturday's post was not that my holy priest was impossible to level. But I'm pretty sure that in our little thought experiment the holy priest and some other healing specs would be among the last to reach level 80.

Now we come to the cruel part of the experiment: The 30 players form a guild, and *YOU* are the guild master and chief raid leader. Which 10 of them do you take on a 10-man raid? Which 5 of them do you *not* take on a 25-man raid? You should choose the raid composition in terms of maximum efficiency, so what classes and specs are in, and which are out? I'm not posting my list, because that would be a bit too cruel, and I'd get too many angry letters. But feel free to post your two lists of which 10 talent branches would together make the best 10-man raid, and which 5 specs you would need least.

Whether you post your list or not, you might come up with the surprising conclusion that some builds who finished the leveling part of the thought experiment last would nevertheless be the first when it comes to raid invites. Which probably explains why people play those builds at all. And of course I didn't specify which raid dungeon we would be going to, because if the raid dungeon would be sufficiently easy, your selection wouldn't matter so much. Which, some would say, is one of the big advantages of having easier raids: You don't have to select your friends by their character class and talent build any more.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Are Death Knights overpowered?

Taking up a subject from the open Sunday thread, and with an obvious fit to today's class balance post, I'd like to discuss whether Death Knights are overpowered. That is not an easy question. One problem is that if you only play a Death Knight to lets say level 60, you might well conclude that he is overpowered, but a good part his power at these levels comes from his starting gear. We instinctively compare the new class to something we know, how our previous classes played up to level 60. But of course *all* classes got boosted with patch 3.0.2., and when we reached level 60 back in the days before TBC, we didn't have the uber gear the Death Knight receives as part of his starting quest line.

So before we can actually make a valid comparison, we would have to play a Death Knight to level 70, and see how he fares in Northrend, in comparison to our current level 70s+. There have been reports that even there the Death Knight deals more damage than any other class, dealing more damage while tanking in a group than other classes that are pure damage dealers.

Tanking is an art that consists of two parts: Damage mitigation and holding aggro. My Priest was healer in a group with a level 75 Death Knight tank, and they are clearly inferior in damage mitigation to the other tank classes. The problem of DK tanks is that they don't have as many and as good taunting abilities as the Warrior has, they hold aggro mostly through damage dealing. But if you hold aggro by dealing damage, you need gear that gives bonuses to damage, and come up necessarily short on classic tank stats like defense. I haven't seen a frost DK in tanking action yet, everybody is unholy or blood for better damage output. I could imagine that a frost DK with 490 defense, and high values in stats like dodge, and parry, would be much better in damage mitigation, but I'm not quite sure yet how he would hold aggro when he deals less damage.

Of course when talking about "overpowered", we will have to ask "overpowered compared to what?". Up to now I don't have the impression that Death Knights are overpowered compared to Warriors, in a tanking role. In my currently still limited experience as healer of Death Knights, if I had the choice of tanks, Death Knight would rank at the bottom, below Warrior, Druid, and Paladin. But apparently the people complaining most about Death Knights are the dps classes. Undoubtedly Death Knights have far better damage mitigation, and depending on spec also self-healing capabilities than lets say a Mage. So if the Death Knight deals more damage than the mage, I can understand why the Mage would be unhappy, even if the Mage remains king in aspects like crowd control or AoE damage. Maybe the better comparison would be with a Rogue. Are Death Knights making Rogues obsolete?

And then of course there is PvP. The arena is currently in suspension, and most people are busy leveling instead of doing PvP, so there hasn't been all that much PvP involving Death Knights yet. But classes with a high damage output are potentially very powerful in PvP, especially if you add all the other goodies, like damage mitigation, self-healing, and pets to the mix.

So in summary I'd say it's still a bit early to say for me whether Death Knights are truly overpowered. Feel free to post your experiences with Death Knights here. Do you think they are overpowered?

Class balance

In its most basic form, combat in a MMORPG is a simple comparison of damage versus health. If you do 500 dps (damage per second), and the monster you are fighting has 10,000 health, you will need 20 seconds to kill it. There is some random variation, but it is relatively small. So to find out whether you can kill a mob, you just need to figure out how many seconds it takes you to kill it, and reversely how many second it takes for the mob to kill you. The one killing the other first wins.

No imagine another character having half your dps, but twice your health. Any monster you can kill, he can kill too, only it takes him twice as long. This consideration was often the basis of class balance in MMORPGs when comparing for example Mages and Warriors. They could both kill the same mobs, but the warrior dealt less damage in exchange for surviving longer. Over the years the problem with this type of balancing became obvious: Yes, the damage dealing classes were exactly as able or unable to kill a specific mob as the tank classes. But as they killed each single mob in less time, they killed 1,000 mobs in much less time too, and advanced in level faster.

In it's latest incarnation, World of Warcraft changed to give the armored character classes more damage: Paladins, Warriors, and Death Knights now don't lag that much behind Mages, Hunters, or Warlocks in the time it takes them to kill 1,000 monsters. But while that balances leveling speed, automatically the survivability becomes less balanced. Thus my Warrior can solo mobs 7 levels higher than him, in non-epic gear, while my spellcasters have a lot more problems, in spite of their epics. So now Mages complain when they group with a Death Knight, that the Death Knight is dealing the same damage as they do *and* is harder to kill.

The matter gets even more complicated once we consider groups and healing. Even the simplest tank'n'spank instance boss will, during the time a group needs to kill him, deal more damage to the tank than the tank has health, often several times more. The reason the group still wins is that there is a healer, who constantly refills the health of the tank. For the boss to win, he not only has to remove all the health of the tank, but also all the points the healer can heal, which can be 10 times more. So if you consider points healed as additional health, in solo combat you could say that a healer has far, far more health than even the sturdiest warrior. The problem is that while the tank health and damage mitigation is passive, leaving the tank free to deal damage, the added health of healing is only achieved by active casting. In group combat a healer might deal no damage at all. In solo combat my priest can survive 100k of damage (if it comes in a slow enough stream), but only by constantly healing himself, thus dealing no damage at all, and thus ultimately losing the combat. For a healer to win a solo combat, he needs to balance healing with damage dealing, using part of his mana and time for either activity. If you made a healer deal as much dps as a mage, again the mage would justifiably complain that while the classes are balanced in how much time it takes to kill 1,000 mobs, they aren't balanced in survivability.

And I haven't even touched the even more tricky problem of PvP and crowd control. My priest recently got attacked by a retribution paladin in PvP, got stunned and died before being able to cast even a single instant spell. A tank with passive damage mitigation survives such an attack much better than a healer, who needs to be actively casting to heal himself.

So the fundamental underlying problem of class balance is that a MMORPG is not just one activity, but many. It is hard enough to balance classes for one activity, but downright impossible to balance them for all activities at once. By increasing the damage output of the classes previously specialized in tanking and healing, Blizzard is laying itself open to criticism from classes specialized in damage dealing. If everyone deals the same amount of damage, then why do some classes have damage mitigation or healing or both, and others don't?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

Another open Sunday thread, where you get to choose subjects to discuss, ask questions, or propose themes for future blog posts.

Pondering Death Knight faction

I still haven't actually *played* with a Death Knight since release, but I just *created* a second one, and entered the game with him to accumulate rest xp. My first Death Knight was a Tauren, on the server where my level 70+ characters are, and where my guild is playing. The second is a Gnome, on the server where my wife is playing. And at some point I'll have to decide which one of the two I want to actually play.

The advantage of the Tauren would be that I could send him all sorts of twinking stuff, and potentially play with my guild. But as I'm not planning to make the Death Knight my main, it could be that I never get around to play with guild mates. The reason why I made the Gnome is that I have done Outlands with Horde characters three times, and now will Northrend with three Horde characters. I never did Outlands or Northrend with an Alliance character, my highest Alliance is level 60. Right now I'm tending towards the Gnome, but I'm not sure yet. Well, I first play the other characters anywyay, so I still have time to decide.

A reversal of fortunes

Through all of the original World of Warcraft and the Burning Crusade, I was playing a holy priest and a protection warrior. As I'm mainly interested in group play, I wasn't interested in dps specs for those classes, as I didn't want to constantly respec. I accepted that both would be leveling slower than for example my frost mage. And I observed that the holy priest was leveling somewhat faster than the protection warrior. Now patch 3.0.2. brought a lot of changes to all classes, and Wrath of the Lich King some more. And curiously now my protection warrior levels much faster than my holy priest.

The holy priest admittedly now can kill a single mob faster than before, by putting two DOTs on it, then burning it down with Smite, Mind Blast, and Holy Fire. But that method isn't terribly mana efficient, after two mobs I'm out of mana. So I spend a lot of time sitting and drinking to get ready for the next fights. It's getting a bit better since I put points into Spirit Tap, but its still slow. My warrior on the other hand is herbalist / alchemist, and has lifebloom, mixology, and newly created eternal healing potions. And just using both lifebloom and the eternal healing potion whenever the cooldown is over is enough for him to keep killing mobs of his level without ever needing to sit and eat to regain health. And since I discovered that Berserker Rage now can be used not only in Berserker Stance, I never run out of rage either. Even in defensive stance I'm a killing machine, due to Shockwave and Sword and Board.

So I'm wondering whether Blizzard kind of "forgot" priests in their review of making every class great damage dealers. Or will I have to wait for the promised dual-spec feature, so I can solo faster in shadow spec without losing holy spec for groups.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Designing difficulty levels

This week I have been playing a lot less World of Warcraft than I wanted, due to various work and private other commitments. That causes me some unhappiness, as I get a feeling of falling behind in my guild, a fear of not even being level 80 yet when the guild starts raiding. That fear is certainly to some extent irrational, as my guild in the past did a very good job of integrating the more casual players into raids. But if even I can feel it, I can understand under what amount of pressure somebody from a top raiding guild must feel to keep up.

The whole thing becomes absurd once you consider that Nihilum already clearly demonstrated that there is no reason to hurry. Unlike the previous expansion there is a considerable risk that if you play at the fastest possible speed, you will run out of raid content before Blizzard can patch in new one. Over the last week I had several comments from raiders (curiously mostly anonymous) expressing their fear that Wrath of the Lich King simply isn't made for them any more. Now imagine that would be true, Blizzard really changed their ways, and made an expansion which is less suited for the hardcore and more suited for the casual players, what would happen?

Imagine I could measure the skill/dedication/hardcoreness/whatever-you-wanna-callit of every single WoW player on a scale of 0 to 100, and make a graph of the number of players in every skill category. Such a curve would most likely be a Gauss bell curve, with lots of players of average skill, and decreasing numbers of players toward very high and very low skill levels. Now consider having to design an expansion, and having to choose a difficulty level. Unlike single-player games, which often have a selectable difficulty, the difficulty has to be the same for all players. You can try to cover an as wide range as possible, but it is impossible to design a difficulty which is both challenging and achievable by everyone. The Burning Crusade, pre-patch 3.0.2, was designed in a way that even the most skilled and dedicated player would find the raid endgame challenging. Lowering that difficulty level in Wrath of the Lich King would make the raid endgame more accessible to more of the average skilled players, but risks making the game too easy for the most hardcore players.

The question is whether that would be so bad. Ideally WotLK would just wided the skill range for which the game is fun. But even if it just kept the width of the range the same, and moved it lower, the nature of a bell curve dictates that you'd cover the maximum number of players if you move the range into the middle of the curve, away from the high end. For every player for whom the game now becomes too easy, there are several for who raiding becomes newly accessible. Which means that in terms of subscription numbers, a move of difficulty towards the average skilled can only help.

In terms of public relations the story looks a lot different. Average players are often a lot less visible than hardcore players. If Nihilum makes true their April's fool joke and quits WoW because it became too easy, that would cause a lot more news reports than if a number of average Joes quit because they never succeed in raiding. But even then it would remain to be seen how much of a role model these hardcore raiders really are. If the top guild on your server quits, that just means that the second-best guild now becomes the new top guild, changing nothing in the aspirations of the average player.

And it isn't as if a top raiding guild has many choices of other games to go to. WoW is the top raiding game in the MMORPG market place. A game like the original Everquest might be even more hardcore, but it is also somewhat outdated, and most of the remaining players are rather hardcore, which would make it difficult for a WoW guild to move there and make much of an impression. If there is a continueing trend towards MMORPGs that are more accessible for the average player, and thus too easy for the top players, maybe in the future we will see specialized niche games for hardcore raiders. If game companies produce hardcore PvP games, why not hardcore PvE games for a similar niche market as well?

So overall I think Blizzard isn't risking too much by making raiding more accessible in Wrath of the Lich King. We might see forum post for many years to come with people claiming how WotLK "ruined" WoW, just like others say Trammel "ruined" UO. But for subscription numbers a move to open up the endgame for more players can only be good. And in the end, subscription numbers and profits count for more than the bruised egos of some raiding divas.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mines of Moria

Somebody was complaining that I didn't cover the new Lord of the Rings Online expansion Mines of Moria on this blog. Well, even if I would buy it, I couldn't possibly play it, as I don't have any LotRO character at the level cap. Besides the two new classes, the majority of the content of the expansion is for high-level characters. So, I don't have the time to play this, I don't have the level to play this, and I don't know anyone who plays this. I haven't even read anything about Mines of Moria on any of the MMORPG blogs I follow. How am I supposed to cover this?

It is as if this expansion didn't exist. Maybe they shouldn't have released that expansion in the same week as Wrath of the Lich King.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Darkfall beta comments

Aventurine, the makers of Darkfall Online, "selected" quotes from Darkfall beta testers and posted them in a forums thread. Then they asked every blogger and games site to link to that. Well, I'm willing to do that. But of course I have some remarks to make: Reading cherry-picked quotes from beta testers isn't likely to give you a fair and balanced view of the game. Aventurine has obviously not used the more negative kind of quotes. And the beta testers are players who are fans of the game anyway, not a representative sample of the MMORPG population.

I still don't know whether Darkfall will ever come out. But I'm absolutely certain that it will get significantly less subscribers than even Age of Conan, not to mention WAR or WoW. Darkfall is hardcore PvP, where you can not only attack anyone anytime, but you can also loot his complete gear after killing him. Which basically means no gear progression at all, lots of player killing, ganking etc., just like in the "good old days" of pre-Trammel Ultima Online. I'm sure the small handful of pre-Trammel UO fans will enjoy Darkfall, but there just aren't all that many of them. Hardcore PvP is a niche in the MMORPG market, at least in America and Europe. As Darkfall Online has been in development for over 7 years now, it isn't even obvious whether they'll ever get all that development cost back.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wired for sound

Music is not a big part of my life. I don't even own an iPod or other MP3-player. I only use iTunes because my ISP subscription comes with 5 free songs per month, and those are pretty much all I ever downloaded. But yesterday I was listening to a Cliff Richard song on the radio, "Wired for sound", and couldn't help but notice how the technology of music had changed since he sang that first. He's singing of "casette in my pocket", and "power from the needle to the plastic", but both casette recorder and LP players pretty much went the way of the Dodo. The "AM, FM, I feel so fantastic" technology of radios is still around, but nowadays Cliff would have to sing of "power from the iTunes to the iPod", and "MP3 player in my pocket". And there is a good chance that in a few years we won't even be "wired for sound" any more, because our headphones will be using some wireless technology like Bluetooth.

Personalized WoW recipe site?

Even before World of Warcraft introduced the Armory, there were websites where with the help of an addon you uploaded some sort of character profile, and they used the date to give you advice for example on where to get gear upgrades. Since the Armory, there are a lot more sites like that, BeImba, Wowjutsu, Talentchic, and so on, either giving personalized advice or doing data mining on trends. What I haven't found yet, probably because the info isn't on the armory, is a personalized site dealing with WoW tradeskill recipes. Sites like Crafter's Tome do a good job listing all recipes in the game, but it is still a lot of work to find out what recipes you are still missing, and what you'd have to do to get them.

So I was wondering if any of you know a site that does that: I upload my character information which I extracted from WoW with an addon, and the site tells me all the missing recipes for my tradeskills, and how I could acquire them. Are they random world drops, which I can only get with luck or the Auction House? Do they drop in specific dungeons? Do they come from the new WotLK research features? Are they gained by reputation? Or, another new WotLK feature, through tokens from daily quests? All this information can be found somewhere, but I'd really like a site that gathers it all together.

On leveling speed

Rohan from Blessing of Kings has a brilliant short post on leveling speed, in which he observes that everyone thinks he has exactly the perfect balance between being a no-lifer and not being dedicated enough to be leet. But while that is as funny as it is true, I nevertheless think that there is also a good amount of personal choice involved.

My priest is still level 73, in a guild where the highest level guild member is 78. And I only got to 73 by taking Thursday and Friday off from work, and playing WoW all day. I draw a line at playing all night, I need my beauty sleep. :) But it is certainly true that I gain less xp per hour played than some other players.

I could cite many reasons for that, like me being an explorer, or me spending time to do things like leveling up tradeskills, or just traveling around, or doing other activities which might not have the perfect xp per hour ratio. But the fundamental reason behind all this is that I see WoW more like a game, or even toy, than like work or a sport. It is not that I wouldn't be capable to gain xp at a faster rate by doing more research, or concentrating on certain activities; it is that I wouldn't have that much fun doing so.

Nevertheless I totally understand the motivation of those leveling much faster than me, the achievement of server firsts, or wanting to get into raiding as fast as possible. I also understand the other extreme, for example my wife, who since I installed WotLK for her is soloing elite quests in Nagrand, saying that she doesn't like Northrend as long as it is so crowded. The thing is that there is no "one true way" to play World of Warcraft. In fact it is a big strength of the game that it can be played in so many different ways. Now if everybody understood that, and stopped calling each other no-life or slacker, WoW would be an even better place.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Keeping market leadership with an old game

Before Wrath of the Lich King came out, I had a generally negative outlook on the future of World of Warcraft, thinking that its population would slowly decline with time. After having played the expansion for a couple of days, I'm not so sure. It is obvious that new games have an advantage of better use of progressing technologies, and in that they can innovate more. Innovation to World of Warcraft is limited, as total revamps of a game like the NGE of Star Wars Galaxies do more harm than good. So how can WoW compete with those new games? The answer is quality.

I did over a hundred quests (and have the achievement to prove it) in Howling Fjord, and I visited five 5-man dungeons, and I must say the quality of Wrath of the Lich King is excellent. Of course there are still "kill 10 foozles" quests, but not exclusively, and the variety of quests has grown tremendously. I've shot a giant with a cannon from a ship, mated a sea bull with a sea cow, disguised as a wolf, fed a pirate captain to his pet bear, and controlled an abomination to kill monsters by exploding. And that's not all, and all that in just one starting zone, with my next character being able to start in a completely different zone. In dungeon boss fights I fought the mirror images of my whole group, got transformed into a skeleton, had a fight in which I had to move a step after every spell cast, and explored a dungeon in which there were as many bosses as trash pulls. And through 4 days of intensive playing I had not a single crash, nor experienced any bug more serious than a graphics glitch.

I prefer the term quality of execution over the term "polish", but however you call it, Wrath of the Lich King has oodles of it. And if I compare it with the last two major MMORPGs released, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, I can only say that Wrath of the Lich King wins easily in the quality department. That isn't to say that somebody can't prefer the faster combat of AoC, or the PvP of WAR. WoW remains WoW, and if you prefer a fundamentally different sort of gameplay, WotLK won't deliver that. But at no point in Wrath of the Lich King does one have the impression that one is playing an outdated game.

The only problem that remains for Blizzard is the quantity of content. Wrath of the Lich King has plenty of content, and if you foresee the addition of some already promised content in future patches, there is certainly enough content to play this for a year. But nobody expects the third expansion in a year. With 2 expansions in nearly exactly 4 years, the average right now is 2 years per expansion. And there simply aren't 2 years worth of fresh content in WotLK, even with typical added content patches.

But most people I know are having a lot of fun right now, and that fun will last at least for a couple of months. I'll probably stop playing WoW at some point again, but if a third expansion promises to be as good as Wrath of the Lich King, I'll buy it again. If Blizzard would manage to bring out one expansion like this per year (and I know thats a tall order), they could probably keep me playing their game pretty much permanently. Because the PvE type of gameplay is exactly what I'm looking for, and I don't see any other game around that offer this type of gameplay in this degree of quality. If they keep up this level of quality, there is no reason why World of Warcraft couldn't keep market leadership for several more years.

Embeded commenting is back

Second try with embedded commenting. The first one ended due to a problem with Blogger, where the dropdown menu disappeared, and people couldn't comment at all. Now this seems to be solved, and most readers preferred embedded commenting to a separate comments page.

If this breaks again, please send me a mail to

Death Knight Chronicles

The Wrath of the Lich King is an opportunity for plenty of new beginnings. One player, Scott Goldie, decided on a project where he plays a Death Knight and chronicles his adventures on a website called DKayed. There is not only a blog, but also a Twitter feed, a YouTube channel, and a Picase image gallery. Multimedia Death Knight chronicles, the sign of the modern age. I'm old-fashioned and stick to blogging.

I created a Tauren Death Knight, and didn't even enter the game with him. I plan to play him much later, when I've seen enough of Northrend and wouldn't mind another tour of Outlands. I only created the character now to reserve the name, Bullerich. The name is based on a German word, "bullerig", meaning sour-tempered, but in German the "ig" is often pronounced close to "ich". And of course the "bull" part is nice for a Tauren.

Apparently naming a Death Knight is a problem. I've seen lots of variations of anti-heroes of fantasy literature (Elric, Kane), often using special characters like "ä" or "é", which makes it quite difficult for other players to type those names for sending a tell or invite. And there are thousands of Death Knight called Death-something, like Deathmoo, Deathnight, and so on (I found Deathnought funny). That must be a bit annoying for those players who called their character Death-something years ago, and are now swamped by lots of other players with similar names. How did you name your Death Knight?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Better-Not-Recruit-a-Friend program

When Blizzard releases a new expansion, lots of players who had previously cancelled their accounts resubscribe to World of Warcraft. The older a server is, the more people have once played on it and cancelled, so the higher the chance that too many of them come back. Thus many servers experience login waiting queues during prime time these days. Now some players used Blizzard's Recruit-a-Friend program to make a second account, as "trial" account, for getting both the Zhevra mount and the triple leveling speed. And those found that when they log in both the paid-for and the trial account at the same time on two PCs, the paid-for account gets through the queue a lot faster, while the trial account even gets pushed *back* in the queue. Of course the would-be dual-boxers are furious. And if their server is really, really crowded, creation of new characters on it is disabled, so even logging in during less crowded times doesn't help.

While "do not dual-box when the server is crowded" could be considered a reasonable rule, the current situation totally fails if you consider new players. If somebody actually uses the Recruit-a-Friend program as intended to get a new player into World of Warcraft, and play with him, that new player will be seriously disappointed. He'll wait in queues for hours, and then find out that he can't even create a character on the same server as his friend. The only way to play together for the two would be to both make brand-new characters on one of the emptier servers, which is probably not what the veteran recruiter had in mind. So if you are on a crowded server, you better not recruit a friend until the server populations have gone down again a bit.

Wrath of the Lich King - The easy expansion?

You might have heard about the world's biggest WoW-braggard getting to level 79 in 13 hours, before being banned for exploiting. Or the guy who then reached level 80 in Wrath of the Lich King in a legit way, in 27 hours. That all was to be expected, after similar stuff happened in The Burning Crusade. But what came as more of a surprise was Nihilum going together with another hardcore raiding guild, forming TwentyFifthNovember, and clearing Naxxramas on heroic difficulty after only 65 hours and 30 minutes. Now their raid progress will have to wait for Blizzard to patch in the harder raid dungeons.

On a more personal level, I noticed that the non-raid PvE content is much easier now too. My level 70 warrior soloed level 77 mobs. My priest made it to level 73 this weekend, and was playing catch-up with his loot: I had already done several dungeons with guild groups that were up to 4 levels too high for us, and carried around several pieces of loot where the level-restriction prevented me from wearing it. I still need one more level before I can wield the staff I found in Drak'Tharon Keep.

So, is Wrath of the Lich King the easy expansion? It certainly seems so right now. But is it too easy? I don't think so. The dungeon runs I did were certainly challenging, with the 5-man bosses having far more "raid-boss-like" abilities, combat in multiple phases, and skill checks. And of course the people I played with were experienced raiders, and wearing TBC epic gear. These dungeons would have been a lot less easy wearing greens.

Naxxramas is only the first raid dungeon. It *should* be easy, even on heroic, so not-Nihilum guilds have a decent shot at it in both 10-man and 25-man mode. The harder stuff will be patched in later. Sorry, TwentyFifthNovember, Blizzard can't design difficulty just for you, they have to design around the majority of players. If that means that raiding isn't just for the elite few any more, but accessible to a much wider audience, so much the better. Well done, Blizzard!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

I know it's the first weekend after the release of Wrath of the Lich King. But in this open Sunday thread you can discuss other games as well, ask questions, or propose subjects for future blog posts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

WotLK experience points

Just two short observation on gaining experience points in Wrath of the Lich King. The first one is probably not new, but I simply didn't have the opportunity yet to observe it. It turned out that my newly improved protection warrior at level 70 can solo level 77 mobs, I once even fought a 77 and a 76 at the same time and survived. Barely, and with the use of potions and everything, but I survived. And then I was sorely disappointed by the lousy xp I got. It turns out that the WoW xp formula gives you a certain amount of xp for killing a mob of your level, and only adds 5% per level difference to that for higher levels. Thus the level 77 mob soloed with my level 70 warrior only got me 35% more xp than a level 70 mob would have done. But of course farming lower level mobs is a lot faster, so for fastest xp the lower level mobs are much better. I like the WAR system better, where you get little xp for lower level mobs, and a lot of xp for higher level mobs.

The second observation appears to be new: Dungeons seem to give a lot more xp now. Clearing out two dungeons with my warrior, and doing nothing else, gave me over a quarter of a level from 70 to 71, and only part of that was with rest bonus. Elite trash mobs give 2k xp per group member, which is far more than the "double xp plus group bonus" they used to give. So while grinding dungeons for reputation is out, grinding dungeons for xp is totally feasible. Not that I want to grind anything, but I happen to like dungeons, so I like this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

First day of Wrath

I was having a lot of fun on my first day of Wrath of the Lich King. I went to a shop, bought two copies of WotLK (one for the wife), went home, and installed it without any problem. I got the impression that even if a downloadable version would have been available, the data transfer method of "DVD in car" is probably faster than the download would have been.

Anyway, I entered Northrend with my priest, and immediately looked for a group to Utgarde Keep. By the end of the day I had done 5 dungeon runs: Utgarde Keep twice, and The Nexus once, with my priest. And both dungeons once with my warrior. Lots of fun, interesting boss fights, and generally well made dungeons. Quest rewards included my priest already replaced three epics by blues, and he is still level 70.

XP in dungeons are good, but leveling isn't all that fast. I made half a level on the priest, a bit less on the warrior. What caught me a bit by surprise is that Blizzard completely changed their faction design: Neither dungeon gives any reputation points for any faction. So apparently I don't need to get to honored with some faction before I can do heroics, or run a dungeon just for reputation. I still might make more dungeon runs today, just for the fun, and the experience points.

I did a bit of questing on my priest, and some profession skilling up. Tradeskills in the release version are much harder to level up than in the beta. It used to be that recipes went from one color to another only when your skill reaches a number divisible by 5. Now you can go from orange to green in just 5 skillups.

All in all I'm quite happy with the expansion, even if I'm not sure how long that will last. But there is lots of new content, and only the burned-out see it as "more of the same".

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WotLK mudflation

I will go out and buy Wrath of the Lich King later today, didn't want to queue up for it at midnight. And then I'll install it, and start playing, doing quests, and trying to get into dungeon groups. And in a few levels my current epic gear will be replaced by a mix of green and blue items with better stats. The process in which new items in a MMORPG make old items obsolete is called mudflation, and it will apply to just armor, but also some tradegoods in WotLK. I sold all my gems, as I'm expecting the gems of WotLK to be both better and cheaper than current rare socketable gems.

For characters currently still in green or blue gear, Wrath of the Lich King will bring a huge step up very quickly. Even early quests and the first dungeon run at level 70 in Northrend are likely to yield some gear upgrade. Most people will enjoy that, because a quest that yields some better gear is always more fun than a quest that just yields vendor trash.

Players with characters in epic gear are likely to have somewhat less fun. For a few levels the quests and even dungeons won't bring any upgrade to their gear. And once you get gear with better stats in the mid-70s, it will probably look less good than those epics you had. Apparently Blizzard made the typical Northrend armor somewhat more stylish than the Outland quest rewards were, which often made you look like a clown. But I'm pretty certain that the really good-looking shapes and textures will be reserved for the level 80 epics. Fortunately I'm not much of a slave for fashion, I'll wear whatever has the better stats.

I don't think that mudflation can be avoided with the current "add 10 levels" model for WoW expansions. If level 71 greens were only slightly better than level 70 greens, and much worse than level 70 epics, then the players who are already wearing the epics wouldn't get any better gear until much later in the expansion, maybe even only at reaching the level 80 dungeons. The big step up in item quality also allows to level the playing field: Players currently in epics enjoy an advantage of better stats and thus faster leveling for a while, but the other players will catch up on gear quickly. After all, Blizzard has to think of new players starting World of Warcraft only now, and of Death Knights, all of which will arrive in Northrend without ever having had the opportunity to gather level 70 epics.

Mudflation isn't necessarily a bad thing, although there is a risk of demotivating a certain type of players. Some players see the value of raiding in getting the epic gear, so making that epic gear obsolete somehow diminishes their achievement. But for those who can't bear to wear the same gear as everybody else, there is always the possibility to rush to 80 and work on the next set of epics. I'm afraid that is what far too many players will do.

Raiding thoughts at the end of TBC

My guild is doing a farewell tour of Burning Crusade raid dungeons, including places we haven't been to yet. So I had the opportunity to visit the Black Temple for the first time. We killed 4 bosses, each on the first try, of which the third and fourth boss were "guild firsts". The third boss, Shade of Akama, was so easy after the recent nerf that he dropped dead before we had really started. The fourth boss was a bit harder, but we managed very well, and he dropped a robe for my priest. So now I'm running around in a fancy BT robe, which wasn't a huge upgrade for me, but looks a lot nicer.

I wonder why exactly Blizzard made raiding so much easier, so late in TBC. Just to give everyone the chance to see the places he couldn't visit before? I'm all for accessible raiding, but isn't it a bit late for this? Furthermore, while I think that Karazhan 3.0 is about as difficult as a starting raid dungeon should be, Black Temple 3.0 is too easy for a end raid dungeon. If raid dungeons had been this way all the time in TBC, most guilds would have finished Black Temple and then Sunwell Plateau long ago. Guilds generally shouldn't be able to one-shot a new boss the first time they see him. I'm not saying that wiping 10 times is fun, but wiping once or twice before learning the encounter heightens the achievement of finally beating the boss.

This close to WotLK I obviously wasn't raiding for the gear. It was nice that I could get that robe because nobody else wanted it, but in this case it wasn't gear that was needed to advance further. Gear will be more important when Wrath of the Lich King raiding starts. What worries me a bit is that in our raid we had 5 priests and 7 mages, and due to the changes of spellpower we all needed the exactly same gear. I'll be competing for gear with every other priest, mage, or warlock, because there isn't anything like "cloth healing gear" any more. I hope Blizzard considered that when itemizing those new raid dungeons.

The hardcore raiders often talk of raids being all about "skill checks", or even "idiot checks". But if every guild suddenly gets much further in the raid circuit after the nerf, it proves that much of the raid difficulty is strictly numerical. The bosses all still have all of their abilities, they just have 30% less health. So if guild which couldn't kill them before now can kill them, it is hard to argue that these guilds suddenly acquired a lot more skill, or that they were "idiots" before to not be able to kill that boss. One good example for a pure gear check is the first boss in Black Temple, who hits the whole raid for 8,500 damage. If you don't have 8,500 health, there is nothing you could do, you simply need the gear with the stamina that gives you enough health to survive. Of course there are other cases where you can compensate lack of gear by playing better. But I haven't seen any encounter yet which can't be made trivially easy by being much overgeared.

And as outleveling and outgearing a raid dungeon makes it trivially easy, this is also why the proposal to train raiding in raid dungeons 10 levels below you can't possibly work. That is why the initial raid dungeon has to be easy enough to train average player in raiding, without completely frustrating them. I certainly don't expect to clean out Naxxramas on the first try, wearing still green quest armor. But a casual raiding guild with people in blue gear should at least be able to down some bosses after a few tries, gear up by that, and then slowly advance further. Later raid dungeons can then be harder, and I don't mind if the last raid dungeon in WotLK will be as hard as Sunwell Plateau before the nerf. There should be raid content that is challenging for many different types of players, not only casual or only hardcore. The important thing is to get people into raiding in the first place, even for those who won't be able to raid several nights per week, so that they can develop from there. We'll soon see whether Wrath of the Lich King manages that trick.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The nicest pickup group ever

Yesterday I was playing with what was probably the nicest pickup group ever. We were doing the daily heroic, Underbog, and everything went just very smooth. The tank and druid were extremely well geared, and while my mage and the other two players weren't quite as well geared, we all knew how to play well. And suddenly we had a surprise drop from a random mob: A Blade of Wizardry, a bind on equip epic sword. I hesitated, then asked the group whether I could roll need on that, it being much better than my currently equipped sword. And not only did they say "sure", they *all* passed and let me have it. And that although they could have rolled need as well, and sold the thing on the auction house for around 1,000 gold. I immediately equipped it, to show that I wasn't planning to sell it, and it is looking great, like a lightsaber. Was too busy to really check the proc rate, but I was very happy.

Did you ever meet a pickup group as nice as that?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Which class to level first in WotLK

Taken straight from the open Sunday thread, we had an interesting discussion about somebody with 4 level 70 characters, who was asking himself which character to level to 80 first in Wrath of the Lich King. Good question, I have 3 level 70s myself, and as even my ultra-casual wife has 2 level 70 and one level 68, I guess there are quite a lot of people with several 70s around. So which one of them is your "main", which one to level first?

Of course I can't pick a class and say "play that one". But I can give advice on how to choose. And my advice is about the fact the same character class might be fun in different degrees depending on what you do with it: Leveling up, grouping, raiding, PvP, or whatever. And I'd strongly urge you to consider what your main is going to do the most over the next 2 years, and take the class which will be most fun for your long-term main activity, not just for leveling.

That is why personally I will level my holy priest up first, in spite of the fact that since the patch 3.0.2 even my warrior is more fun to level up, and the mage would even be more fun. But leveling up is something I will only do for a relatively short time, several weeks, a few months at most. But with nobody seriously believing that Blizzard will bring out another expansion next year, I'll be stuck at 80 for a much longer time. And there I mainly want to group and to raid, and that will be more fun for me with a priest. I like healing, I like group play. The fact that holy priests still have one of the most boring ways to solo combat (pull - bubble - wand) shouldn't stop me from playing my priest first. The characters that are more fun to level, I can still level as alts later.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Looking back at the Burning Crusade

If you followed this blog over the last two years, you might have noticed that I was never a huge fan of the Burning Crusade expansion. I mostly criticized it for being too little, too late, not enough content for 2 years, plus having a raid endgame that wasn't accessible for a large enough number of players. So I have taken several breaks during that time, and not played WoW all the time. But today I checked my level 70 characters, and just adding up the time spent at level 70, adding a bit for leveling from 60 to 70, plus the complete /played time on my blood elf mage, I concluded that I have played the Burning Crusade for about 1,000 hours.

Now if I look back at the Burning Crusade, and forward towards Wrath of the Lich King, my point of view hasn't changed much. I think WotLK is late too, and I don't think it will have enough content, even with added patches, to last us for another 2 years. And while I have hope for the new raiding game, I'm not taking it for granted that it will really be better for casual raiders. But having said all this, I think I could play another 1,000 hours in Wrath of the Lich King. And that can't be all bad. How many single-player games would I have to buy to get 1,000 hours of content?

So, looking back, what do you think about the Burning Crusade? Was it everything you wanted, or hoped for? Do you think Wrath of the Lich King will be the same, better, or worse?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

Anyone realize how difficult it is to come up with a new introductory phrase for the open Sunday thread every week? :) Anyway, this is the place where you can ask questions, suggest subjects, and discuss topics between you. Enjoy!

Path of a Hero

Some time ago I discussed achievement systems and said how sad it was that your character's development wasn't better recorded. Now I received a mail from a new website for World of Warcraft called Path of a Hero, which serves exactly for the purpose of keeping a record of your character. You sign up (*not* using your WoW password), make a screenshot of your character on the WoW character selection screen, and upload it. The site then also uploads your gear from BeImba, including a gear score. And you can add a short blog entry describing your character.

Then every time your character develops, like gains levels in WotLK, or finds new raid loot, you repeat the above procedure, and end up with a photo diary of your character development, including a record how your stats and gear score improved. Pretty cool!

Friday, November 7, 2008

FreeRealms is accepting beta signups

SOE's next virtual world, FreeRealms, is accepting beta signups now. FreeRealms is obviously targeted at a younger audience, and will have a free-to-play option, as well as optional subscription and microtransactions. But from what I can make out from the videos, there are also MMORPG elements to the game, fighting monsters, puzzles, mini-games, even a trading card game. If SOE gets the mix between virtual social space world and MMORPG right, this might become a huge hit.

The importance of being epic

Whenever a discussion about raids starts to get a bit more heated, the argument of "you just want more epics" gets tossed around. Hardcore raider leaving his old guild to join a more advanced one? "Just wants more epics". Casual raider arguing that raiding should be more accessible? "Just wants more epics". Someone in guild chat complaining he didn't get a raid spot? "Just wants more epics". This often repeated argument gives epics a bad name, and leads to even more derogatory terms like "welfare epics". So everyone claims he isn't doing whatever he is doing "for the epics". Only that isn't true. Epics are an important part of the raiding game. Not to strut around with in front of the auction house, but as entry ticket to further raids.

The larger part of most raids depends very strongly on the numerical stats of the participants, not their skill. Yes, there is skill involved in learning how to react correctly to every special ability of every boss. But the better your stats, the easier it gets to get it right, and the better are the raids chances of survival if things go wrong. The abilities of Moroes and his henchmen in Karazhan are still exactly the same as they were when TBC came out. But his health got nerfed, and many raiders visiting him now have much better epic gear than the first time they met him. So suddenly you don't have to set up crowd control for every henchman up, you just put the skull raid mark on the one who heals, and AoE the others. Moroes's Garrote still does the same damage as before, but due to epics players have a lot more stamina, and survive it a lot easier. And due to epics the damage output of the raid is generally much higher (and, as I said, the mobs health has been lowered), and the fight is over sooner.

Special abilities of bosses aside, a raid combat isn't significantly different from any other combat in WoW: The players' dps is measured against the mob's health, while at the same time the mob's dps is measured against the players' health and ability to heal. As epics increase the players' health and dps, they automatically make the fight easier for the players, and increase the chance of the raid to down the boss. A guild advancing through the raid circuit from one boss to the next, and from one raid dungeon to the next higher one, is not just due to players learning the boss encounters; it is also very much a function of the players equipping themselves better, and everyone having better epics.

So of course everyone who wants to raid will want epics. They are his ticket into the raid. Without a certain level of gear the player will not be accepted into the raid group. For the casual raider being invited into a raid means not only that he'll learn the encounters better than he possible could by reading tactics on some website or watching a YouTube video; it also means he'll end up with some better gear that will enable him to be more useful for a future raid. The hardcore raider who feels he needs to leave his guild to advance further is not just frustrated that his guild is getting past raid dungeon X, he is also stuck because he already has all the gear from dungeon X, and needs to visit dungeon X+1 if he ever wants to have a chance to see dungeon X+2. Even the best raiding guilds in TBC all had to start with Karazhan and follow the same raid circuit from there to Sunwell Plateau. Without the right epics, visiting Sunwell Plateau just won't work, even if you are a great raider.

And this is the reason for much guild drama: If you don't get invited into a raid in the first place, or you participate but don't receive the epics, it becomes even harder for you to get invited into the next raid. Every guild has different rules, and some even rather complicated DKP systems, on how to distribute raid spots and epics. But no system is perfect, and none removes the fundamental problem of whether it is better to concentrate the epics in the hands of a few, who will advance faster, or whether it is better to distribute them as widely as possible, to make raid attendance easier, and thus more widespread and stable, but slow. Giving somebody epics opens access for him to harder raid dungeons, but that access is a personal one, and there is a risk that the receiver uses that entry ticket not in the guild he is currently in, but in the next one. Concentration of epics, quite often in the hands of a main tank, can propel the whole guild forward, but also set them back significantly if the MT defects.

Badges help to spread the rewards. But Wrath of the Lich King also introduces one BoE epic on the loot table of every raid boss, which has certainly advantages, but also a huge guild drama potential. Do you give it to somebody in the raid for whom it is a minor upgrade, or to somebody who wasn't in the raid due to lack of equipment, enabling him to come next time? Some guilds might even have rules in which regular raiders not in the raid have priority on BoE epics over casual raiders in the raid.

In summary, epics are important, as they give access to more raid content. And it is often the raid access people are after, not the epic itself. What looks like a petty squabble over loot might well be a much more fundamental argument over the opportunity to participate in guild events. And what looks like a simple problem of rewarding people for their raid participation by handing out epics can well lead to problems with raid participation in the future. If you can't get a raid full, are the other players in the guild unwilling to help, or are they simply unable, having never received their entry ticket of epics?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

4,000 copies of Age of Conan stolen

So bad is the reputation of Age of Conan nowadays, that bloggers greeted the news that 4,000 copies of the game had been stolen in Bradford with ridicule or bad reasoning. Massively thinks the heist was pointless, as anyone wanting to play a stolen copy of AoC would need to register with a credit card, and would be easy to find. I'd say the thieves themselves aren't going to care about that, as they certainly didn't steal a lorry load of computer games to play them. The games will appear on flea markets all over the UK, and even if the police catches a final buyer, it would be hard to track back to the thieves. And it is totally possible that even Funcom doesn't have a list of the 4,000 account keys involved.

Melmoth thinks the thieves should face the maximum possible sentence under the law: up to three years mandatory subscription, implying that nobody would want to play Age of Conan voluntarily. As far as I know there are still a couple of hundred thousand players in AoC, and the game will remain viable and profitable, even after WAR and WotLK. Age of Conan is certainly one of those games that just weren't for me. I didn't like the button-mashing combat, the crafting system was way too boring, and there were too many bugs. But for some people the action combat was more fun than the slower combat of WAR or WoW. And while the post-20 content of the game was a bit bland, the destiny quest series to level 20 in Tortage was excellent. I'm pretty certain that Age of Conan was more profitable for Funcom than Anarchy Online ever was.

So I don't think the theft was silly or pointless. They'll only get a few bucks per game, but a few bucks multiplied by 4,000 is already a tidy sum. But of course I don't condone theft, and I'd be careful before buying a computer game for half-price at a flea market. Especially an MMO, because you might well fall for a completely different sort of crime, and buy a game where the key has already been used.

New spells in Wrath of the Lich King

In a week we will be able to install Wrath of the Lich King and start leveling up from 70 to 80. But already since patch 3.0.2 the level 71 to 80 new spells and abilities are visible on the class trainers, if you set your filter to "show unavailable". So yesterday I had a look with my three level 70 characters to check what new spells and abilities await me. And the answer was: Nearly none. The number of really new spells and abilities is tiny, most of what the class trainers have on offer is higher ranks of already existing spells. That is somewhat disappointing, but understandable.

The problem is that Blizzard can't simply add a one new spell or ability per new level to the game, because then quickly you would have far too many hotkey buttons. I'm already using 5 hotbars with 12 spells, abilities, or items on each of my characters. And those characters who have different stances have even more, because the basic hotkey bar changes when you change stance. Blizzard did generally a good job on making well recognizable icons, but at some point there are simply too many of them. Especially when some of them aren't used very often, you have problems finding the button in a hurry when you actually need it.

And then of course every class has a specific role, and it wouldn't be a good idea to give a class new spells and abilities that used to be reserved for another class. But if you say "no big dots for a mage, because dots are for warlocks", then what new spell *can* you invent for a fire mage? There are only so many ways you can make a spell deal fire damage, and mages already have all of them. What new way to heal do you want to add to a holy priest?

Unless the combat system is completely reworked (which I wouldn't recommend, as it wasn't exactly a success with SWG's NGE), I don't see how Blizzard can add lots of new spells and abilities in this and future expansions. We'd only end up with more buttons doing more or less the same.

What is possible, and there are already signs of it, is the use of more combinations of spells and abilities, especially via talents. My frost mage can now sometimes cast a fireball for free and instant, or get a "frozen fingers" effect with which his next spells treat the opponent as if he was frozen, which gives an added effect to spells like ice lance. My protection warrior can sometimes get a shield slam for free, or if he would spec arms sometimes use execute in the middle of the combat instead of just at the end. Random bonus effects like these break up the monotony of combat a bit. Just right now the standard UI of WoW isn't all that great in informing you about them, but I managed to configure SCT to give me very visible warnings every time I have the option to use such a combo.

So while lets say my frost mage isn't really gaining many really new spells in Wrath of the Lich King, at least he isn't just using frostbolt-frostbolt-frostbolt-frost nova-frostbolt any more. What he got in new abilities was mostly patched in by the changes to the talents tree in patch 3.0.2., the level 71 to 80 spells won't bring much newness. The one thing that is a bit annoying about that is that there are no class trainers in Northrend, just like there were no class trainers in Outlands, and every level you have to travel back to old Azeroth, just to get a boring added rank to some old spell, and then travel back to Northrend to level up again. As Dalaran won't be immediately accessible, like Shattrath was, that'll be even more annoying for the first couple of levels. At least my mage can teleport, my priest and warrior will be more annoyed by having to do trips like that every level.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Virtual crime is on the rise

Just a quick link an article on virtual crime, written by a senior lawyer in the Australian paper The Age. It covers subjects like virtual theft, virtual sex crimes, and virtual fraud, and is written from the point of view of a non-gamer. An interesting read.

You can't test everything in a beta

The beta for Wrath of the Lich King just ended, and I consciously didn't play it all that much, wanting to keep the content for the release version. I mainly leveled a Death Knight from 55 to 58, the main conclusion of which exercise was that it was a great experience until level 57, and not so great to do old Azeroth and Hellfire Peninsula again. And I looked at various professions, mainly inscription and alchemy. I had copied my alchemist warrior to the beta server, and was delighted to find that alchemy gets a new recipe for "research", with a 7-day cooldown. I find this is a great way to learn recipes, much better than having to repeatedly do some dungeon and hope for a 1% rare drop.

But as I didn't do a single Northrend quest, I was still level 70 at the end of the beta, and getting the herbs together for that research recipe wasn't all that easy. I first had to gather Goldclover in the Northrend starting zones until I made skill 420, and then go to zones with mobs level up to 76 to gather the other herbs. And that was where I realized a big difference between a beta and a live version: In the live version I will probably be able to buy those herbs on the AH. Overpriced, for sure, but they will be there. And as I plan to level my priest first, that might be the better option in the live version, except for the Goldclover. On the beta servers there were no herbs on the AH. Basically there was *nothing* on the AH. The player economy didn't exist on the beta servers.

The thing is that players behave differently on a beta server than on a real server, because their motivations are different. Why care about gold on a character who is going to be deleted at the end of the beta? There are various motivations to play in a beta: Wanting to help testing, seeing new stuff before everyone else, preparing for the release version, trying things out with less consequences, having fun. But by definition the long-term goals players often pursue on real servers aren't part of the equation on beta servers. Some fundamental parts of the game on the real servers just aren't important on the beta servers.

Other people already remarked that Warhammer Online was a different game in beta than live. People wanting to experience all of it, and testing the new things, lead to far more players doing public quests or open world RvR. Once the game went live, habits changed, because for the long-term goal of reaching the level cap fastest, grinding scenarios was a better strategy. One could say that without the carrot of the endgame dangling in front of them, players did what was most fun for them. Once the stupid idea of "the real game is the endgame" grabbed them, they optimized the fun out of it, reducing a huge game to a very small number of scenarios.

All this has consequences for beta testing itself. If people on a beta server behave differently than on the live servers, then what the devs can learn from the beta test is necessarily limited. Even if Mythic had added an auction house to the beta earlier (it was only put in last minute), not all that many people would have used it during beta, so we probably still would have had the current sub-par system. In the beta the balance between PvE and PvP, instances and open world, looked fine, it was only after release where it broke down. And Blizzard didn't notice anything wrong with retribution paladins on the beta servers, where very little PvP was played, only to have to nerf them "to the ground" repeatedly after patch 3.0.2.

So, are beta tests useless? Certainly not. They may not be a good indicator of player behavior on the live servers, but with beta testers trying all sorts of crazy stuff they are more likely to find obscure bugs. And for things like stress tests and server stability tests you simply need a large number of beta testers, using just a small team of in-house testers won't suffice. You just need to be aware that a beta test can't test everything, because in a beta the goals of players are different.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

POLITICAL: Congratulations, America

Note the clear warning in the title that this isn't a game post.

Congratulations comrade Obama for winning the chairmanship of the freshly renamed socialist U.S.S.A. :) Joke aside, I think that one thing this election showed is that smear campaigns and disinformation don't work as good any more in the internet age, and simply attaching a false "communist" label to your opponent doesn't suffice to win. And that is a good thing. Whatever you think of the outcome, I think the high turn-out, clear mandate, and increased political awareness are all things to celebrate about this election.

The immediate effects of Obama becoming the next president will be mostly an improvement of the image of America, which could and should be better. But America will not change all that much. There will still be US soldiers stationed in Iraq in a year, although we might get a better idea of when they will be leaving. We might see universal healthcare introduced, but propaganda aside that is actually a good idea from a capitalist point of view: Treating sick people only once they reach the emergency room is neither cheap nor effective, but that is the current policy. Letting poor sick people die is a lot cheaper, but fortunately even capitalist America doesn't do that. So once we accept the fact that the state can't let people just die, the question is simply one of how to provide them with healthcare in the most efficient way.

I must admit that I'm not the world's biggest Obama fan. I don't think "hope" and "change" are suitable political programs; I'd like to see a bit more substance in the future. But McCain clearly disqualified himself by veering to the right after his nomination, and going for the Republican base instead of all America. So I do congratulate Obama on his clear victory, and hope he will make the best out of it. As he has a clear majority in the House and Senate as well (albeit not filibuster-proof), he should have all the tools available to implement his ideas. He will be judged on how well he achieves that. I wish him luck.

Neither WAR nor WotLK are a failure

There is a famous Zen question which goes like this: "If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?". Like all Zen questions, you aren't actually supposed to answer that one, it is just a starting point for pondering reality. Does reality exist in absolute terms, or do we all live in our personal little universe, and nothing outside our mind exists? Too philosophical for you? Don't worry, I'm getting to the MMORPG point: A lot of MMORPG bloggers and commenters of various game sites seem to be of the personal universe persuasion. We are the centers of our own little universes, and our own perception matters more than absolute reality.

A typical example is several blogs quoting Mark Jacobs who said before WAR launched: "Look at us six months out. Look at us six weeks out. If we’re not adding servers, we’re not doing well." As it is six weeks out, and WAR isn't adding servers (just the opposite, it offers transfers away from underpopulated servers), the conclusion is that WAR is a failure. This inevitably comes from people who either stopped playing WAR, or haven't started in the first place. It's the personal universe again, in which WAR is a failure, because it failed to excite *you*. Well, WAR failed to excite me too, although I was maybe better prepared for the possibility of me not liking a PvP game, and thus didn't suffer a big disappointment. But in the real universe, the one of facts and figures, Warhammer Online is doing well enough: 1.2 million copies sold, 800,000 subscribers. Yes, the game is far from perfect, and yes, there are a lot of WoW players who tried it out, and are now leaving for patch 3.0 and WotLK, but none of this was actually unexpected. And there is still a good chance that WAR passes the 1 million subscribers mark, if not by christmas, then somewhere next year. I bet EA would love to have more "failures" like this.

The same personal universe view is often applied by bored World of Warcraft players to WoW, or the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The game is boring, lots of grind, the expansion isn't original, same old, yadda, yadda, yadda, a complete failure. Back in the real world WotLK will sell several million copies next week.

Our comments on various games often reveal more about our personal little universes than about reality. WoW isn't boring. WoW becomes boring after you have played it for several thousand hours, or if you try it and were really searching for a complete different game. And many of the people who got bored by WoW this year did so simply because the expansion took too long to come out, they didn't want something new and different, they wanted more of the same, which is exactly what WotLK will deliver. It is hard to blame Blizzard for delivering exactly what most players want. We still manage to blame Blizzard by looking at WoW only from our own personal distorted view. I've read one blog where somebody threw away years of work on WoW tools just because the Deep Freeze talent for his frost mage was changed during beta from dealing damage to doing a stun. Yeah, that one little change totally turned WoW from a great game into a complete failure! Not.

I'm certainly not innocent of this. I catch myself sometimes reporting on games I played using the past tense, although the game is still around. And when I rant about this or that feature, or report how much fun I'm having with this or that other feature, that is all totally subjective. There are certainly people out there for who WAR would be a better choice than WotLK, I just happen to be not one of them. I just can't be bothered to write "In my subjective opinion" in front of each of my sentences. And that causes trouble sometimes, when I say something like "feature X sucks", and it sounds like an absolute statement of truth, when in reality it is just a truth in my personal universe. Then somebody else comes along in whose personal universe feature X is the greatest ever, he states that like a fact, and then suddenly I have a thread with 50 comments argueing in a bitter tone. But then, if we would only state objective facts, there wouldn't be much discussion at all. Blogs aren't exactly designed to be objective.

So I can accept that some people are disappointed with Warhammer Online or with Wrath of the Lich King, for various reasons. Their failure is often one to live up to the hype: We were promised the greatest PvP game ever, and then we got this? We waited 2 years for another expansion, and then its only that? Those failures can be powerful feelings, and determine of whether we personally subscribe to one of these games. We just have to be careful how we phrase our disappointment, because by more objective measures like sales both WAR and WotLK are doing great. Just wait until Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out, gets 5 million subscribers, and bloggers quote them on that "bigger than WoW" announcement and call them a failure.