Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blog 2008 in review

This isn't a post about games, at least not directly. I'll not review the games of 2008, and I'll sure not make any predictions for 2009. We live in a difficult economic period, and while there are some interesting games in the pipeline, there might well be delays and cancellations out of purely financial reasons. So in this post I'll just talk about the development of this blog in 2008. So as that probably doesn't interest you, you can stop reading at this point.

This was an extremely interesting year for me as blogger. I got 1 million visits, resulting in 1.3 million page views; as all the new content is on the main page, few people read more than that. The number of site visitors was pretty much constant over the year, but I gained in RSS feed readers. Besides the 3,000 daily visitors, I get over 2,000 RSS feed readers. There is probably some overlap, but as you can read the complete content on the feed, lots of people prefer to read my blog via their newsreader and only visit the site if they want to leave a comment. For a blog about a relatively narrow subject, that is quite a lot of traffic, although of course commercial gaming sites get a lot more.

So as result of that traffic, the major change in 2008 was that I got a lot more official recognition of my work. And that makes me very proud. Which is important, because this blog runs on vanity, and isn't creating any sort of income for me. At least that business model is pretty much recession proof. The official recognition allowed me to interview people like Blizzard's J. Allen Brack or Mythic's Paul Barnett. I even got interviewed myself on WoWInsider. And it got me various goodies, like a press pass to the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational 2008, and free subscriptions to Warhammer Online and Puzzle Pirates. The only downside of this was that sometimes I had to fight to get people to realize that this is still just a personal blog, and not a professional site.

So for me and the blog it was a very good year. And it wouldn't have been possible without *your* support: your visits, your comments, and the high level of maturity and intelligence you've been keeping up in the discussions. I want to thank you for all this, and wish you a happy new year, and a glorious 2009.

BattleForge

I'm in the middle of a two-week christmas / new year holiday, and thus have a lot of time to play. I'm doing a lot of World of Warcraft, but not all day long, so I have time for some other games. As a subscriber to Fileplanet, I got an invite to the beta of BattleForge, and it is interesting. BattleForge combines elements of trading card games with a real-time strategy (RTS) game. You have a "deck" of up to 20 cards, all of which are useable, but only if you have enough power and orbs. And the orbs, as the cards, come in 4 colors. So you start out with a color of your choice, and can only use relatively weak units which only need 1 orb of that color. Capture a second monument to build a second orb, and you can add another color, and play all cards that use either the first or the second color. And there are cards that you can only play if you have 2 orbs, the second of which can be any color, so now you can play those cards too. Lose monuments, and you lose the ability to play the corresponding cards.

You learn all this in a well-made tutorial, and then you are on a world map, where you can play various scenarios, which if you win them unlock other scenarios. There are single-player scenarios, cooperative multi-player scenarios, and of course you can also fight against other players directly. Winning scenarios also gives you gold and lets you upgrade your cards to more powerful versions. But if you want more cards, you have to either trade them with other players, or buy "boosters" with 8 random cards, just like in most trading card games. Well, in return you get to play online without a monthly fee.

The RTS part can be quite challenging, and through the endless combinations of cards into decks that are possible there is a big replay value. So if you are into RTS games, you might want to check this one out. Me, unfortunately, I get quickly overwhelmed in RTS games when the action starts happening on several corners of the map at once. So I find these games too stressful. But I recognize the novel approach, and think that this could become quite a success for EA. I hear they desperately need some of those.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Good dailies, bad dailies

Apart from raiding, heroic dungeons, and achievements, the life of a level 80 player in World of Warcraft consist mainly of doing daily quests. Unfortunately all dailies aren't created equal, there are differences in both rewards and how fun the quest itself is. Which is okay if the quest isn't fun and the reward is bad, because then you just skip that one. But some quests have "must have" rewards, and are badly designed and annoying to do.

My least favorite daily quest in the game is Blowing Hodir's Horn, a quest in which you need to kill 5 Niffelem Forefathers and 5 Restless Frostborn. Sounds easy, you say? Well, it would be, if not every other player on the server would be needing the quest too. The Niffelem Forefathers don't have a fast respawn rate and are usually completely overcamped. And because everyone needs the Sons of Hodir reputation this quest gives, there is an enormous amount of killstealing going on. So much that I decided the best change in patch 3.0.8. for priests will be that if you pull with a debuff, the mob will now count as tagged for you. No more me pulling with Shadow Word: Pain, and getting the mob killstolen away from me. You know a place is bad if the priests start pulling with Shadow Word: Death. The Hot and Cold quest nearby isn't much better, you can even see people stealing the smoldering scraps another player has cooled down (bad design that this is even possible).

Good daily quests are those with useful rewards beyond money, and which don't involve competing with other players directly. The cooking and jewelcrafting dailies for example are well done. Not only are there less jewelcrafters than players, but the quests ask you to "kill any Northrend iron dwarves" or other mob types, and you can easily find a place not already camped. And then there are the fun quests, like Overstock, where you have to construct a minefield to blow up an invasion, or The Way to his Heart, where you have to mate a sea bull with a sea cow. Those only give money, but at least they aren't the usual kill 10 mobs quests, and you're not fighting other players for some mob spawn.

So, which are your favorite daily quests, and which are the dailies you hate?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shooter thoughts

There was a thought provoking comment in yesterday's comments, so I decided to bundle the answer of that one with other thoughts on the shooter genre. The question was whether I, as German national, wasn't having problems with World War II shooters, where the player is killing Germans all the time. Answer: No, not really.

Well, the one thing that is bothering me is that some people could get their history knowledge about that period from this kind of game. Nazi Germany certainly was in need of what nowadays would be called a "regime change", but believing that every German soldier was an evil Nazi personally responsible for the Holocaust is just plain silly. But World War II shooters aren't about history or reality, they are pure fantasy. Just have a look at the facts: There were 100 million soldiers overall participating in WW2. And there were 20 million military casualties, plus 40 million civilian casualties (which includes war crimes, the Holocaust, millions of people dying of disease and starvation in the Soviet Union and China, and the atomic bomb). But if 100 million soldiers kill 20 million soldiers, statistically most soldiers didn't even get one kill in. The number of kills with guns that single characters are depicted of achieving in a shooter game is totally unrealistic. You're killing more enemy soldiers with guns in a single mission than any real soldier did during 6 years of World War II.

Which leads directly to the next thought, of *why* you get so unrealistic high numbers of kills in a WW2 shooter game: Difficulty setting and save/reload. If you want a more realistic view of WW2, you should play on the highest difficulty setting, in a mission you don't know yet, and end the game when you get shot for the first time. Because at that point you're either dead or getting sent home with a serious injury, probably some body parts missing. Call of Duty 2, which I'm playing, has frequent automatic save points, and on easy settings you can withstand several hits before actually going down, which then automatically reloads your game at the last save. Great fun in a game, but nothing at all to do with the real horrors of war. Real war is "long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror", and the shooter games just skip the boredom part and give you several hours of the terror part in much diluted form.

Which brings me to my last thought, the number of hours in a shooter game. Which is typically around 10. In about 10 hours you can play through the whole single player campaign. Which is why this isn't going to be my new hobby, I've spent thousands of hours in World of Warcraft, and a game that is offering tens of hours of entertainment is just a short diversion. As I said, I'm bad a shooters, so I'm playing at low difficulty settings. So playing any of these games in multiplayer would just be an exercise in frustration, which I'm going to spare myself. I want to play Battlefield Heroes when it comes out, but not any of the more serious shooter games in multiplayer. A singleplayer games shooters can be fun, but they are far shorter than MMORPGs.

Call of Duty

There are certain types of games I generally don't play, due to a lack of both skill and interest. First person shooters fall into that category. I tried some of the early ones in the 90s, but didn't like the lack of story, and the first person view was causing me video game motion sickness. But occasionally I have the feeling I'm losing out on a whole genre. I read PC game magazines, and apparently the FPS genre has much improved, both technically and in story-telling. So I decided to try playing a shooter during my christmas holidays. I was looking for a game which wouldn't cause me nausea, and which was easy enough for a total noob.

Well, typing "world's easiest shooter" into Google didn't help, but looking at various reviews of various series of shooter games, it appeared as if the Call of Duty series was quite easy, at least on the easiest setting. Call of Duty 5 just came out, so I had a range of different titles to choose from. To test for possible video game motion sickness induction, I downloaded demos from Fileplanet. Check, I can play those without getting nauseous, and I was actually having fun in those demos. So which one do I buy?

More checking of reviews revealed that Call of Duty 2 is considered better than the original, Call of Duty 3 only came out for consoles, and Call of Duty 5 didn't get quite as good reviews as Call of Duty 4. Call of Duty 4 seemed especially interesting, due to having a better connected story through all missions, and being the only one not playing in World War 2.

Then I was surprised about the huge difference in prices for Call of Duty 4. Steam sells it for €37,49 in a "25% off christmas sale". The box sells for up to €60 in the local shops. Finally I found Amazon.co.uk selling Call of Duty 4 for just €16.50, but having only 2 copies left. So I quickly ordered it there. Which still left me without a shooter to play, as it'll take another week or so for me to get the game. So I ended up buying Call of Duty 2 too, for €14.99 from Steam. Still a good deal, because now I'll get both 2 and 4 for less than the second-lowest price I saw for the 4 alone.

I started playing Call of Duty 2 last night, and did the first couple of missions in the Russian campaign. Much fun, and very atmospheric. There isn't much of a connecting story (CoD 4 is supposed to introduce that), but there are tons of very tense scripted moments, like tanks rolling over your head while you are crouched in a ditch. I'm still playing on the easiest setting, but might replay it at harder setting later. Not that I'm going to change this blog to Tobold's FPS blog, but with their more visceral combat shooters are a nice break from long MMORPG sessions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pirates of the Burning Sea Free Trial

I liked this game during the beta, but got tired of it quickly in the release version. Nevertheless Pirates of the Burning Sea isn't dead, and is even promising a complete rework of the not-so-good avatar combat part soon. Meanwhile you can test the game in 14-day free trial, or even 21 free days if you are Fileplanet subscriber.

Spore without SecuROM

I don't generally subscribe to the general gamers paranoia regarding digital rights management (DRM). I don't think SecuROM was designed to blow up my computer or spy on me, and only consider it a minor annoyance. Nevertheless I was annoyed at EA when hearing the news that Spore and other EA games are now available without DRM, if you buy them via Steam. This is kind of unfair to people like me, who bought Spore and Mass Effect before. So I'm a good little customer and rush out and buy EA games right when they come out, and for that I'm punished with SecuROM? And those who hold out and don't buy get the game without DRM?

EA, please, if you remove DRM from your games, make that valid for *all* customers. Offer a patch for Spore, Mass Effect, and the other games which removes SecuROM from the original version. Otherwise you're just teaching people to not buy your games when they come out, but wait until you publish the more consumer-friendly version.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Healer competition

In the recent Blame the Healer thread, Markash linked to an interesting discussion that originally happened on the WoW forums, and was archived at MMO-Champion. And what I found especially interesting was the first part, quote: "Healer Competition: While most of PvE is cooperative, raid healing is stupidly competetive with poor support mechanics for multiple healers healing the same damage. It also creates an environment where faster spells are artificially more valued because it means your heal actually works. To overcome this with communication and mods takes an unproportional amount of effort."

In other words, if 3 dps classes hit the boss mob simultaneously for 10k damage each, it all adds up to 30k of damage. If 3 healers hit the main tank simultaneously with 10k heals, chances are that half of that is lost in "overhealing". The reason for that is basic math: A raid boss mob in Wrath of the Lich King has several million health. A main tank only has somewhere between 30k and 40k health. My priest currently heals for up to 9k with a Greater Heal, up to 14k on a crit. In other words, my crits heal a main tank for between a third and half of his total life. But with a casting time of over 2 seconds, I'm not waiting for the main tank to be below half before starting to cast. And if the main tank *was* down to half, another healer in the raid would probably start healing the main tank too, as even with healing assignments you never know what happened to the other healers. So overhealing happens all of the time, even in the best raid groups. Damage comes in irregular chunks, so healers need to keep everyone at or close full health, and that means that a good part of all heals is wasted. DPS is rarely wasted, because the best damage ability anyone has is still doing far less than 1% of the boss mobs health.

It would be wrong to judge healers on how much or little overhealing they dealt. Overhealing is the lesser evil, much better than letting the main tank die. As holy spec priest I'm often on raid healing duty nowadays, where I can use the "smart" spell circle of healing (until the nerf next patch), which automatically chooses wounded targets if in range. Way less overhealing, and much higher up on any healing meter than lets say a discipline priest keeping the main tank alive. But it would be silly to believe I would be doing a better job because of those better score. Healing meters are misleading. The only important thing is whether everyone is alive at the end of the fight. Avoiding overhealing ultimately falls under the category of mana conservation, which is important for long fights, so somebody who is overhealing far too much risks letting his target die later when he is out of mana. But trying to heal in a way which completely avoids any overhealing is ultimately the bigger risk. The 2 to 3 seconds a priest's greater heal needs as casting time is a long time in a raid, and from the moment you decide to start casting to the time the spell lands, a lot of things can happen. Using faster heals is less mana efficient, so avoiding overhealing that way won't help either.

I'm not sure how Blizzard could redesign healing to be less competitive, to avoid several healers working at cross-purposes to each other in a raid. I'd love a talent that gives me back part of my wasted mana when I overheal, but that would take away a lot of the skill currently needed for healing. Having some sort of display of which healer is casting what spell on what target sounds nice, but is probably too confusing in the heat of the battle. Maybe one interesting option would be to convert overhealing into temporary health. Lets say half of the points I overheal, up to a certain limit based on the total health of the target, remain on the target as damage shield, lasting 3 seconds. That way the points aren't totally wasted, because at least they enable all the healers to heal a bit less for the next 3 seconds on that target.

How would you redesign healing, or add new talents and abilities, to avoid overhealing?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

A merry christmas to all my readers and their families! Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy yourself!

Negative network effects

If I wasn't playing World of Warcraft, I could totally imagine to play one of the other games out there. Lord of the Rings Online, for example, or Warhammer Online. So why am I playing WoW? One of the major reasons is that all of my friends are playing. That is called a network effect, games or services with a strong social component get more attractive the more people there are already using it. The downside of that is the negative network effect: The fewer people are playing, the less interesting a game becomes, with players quitting when their friends quit.

One game that suffers from that very much is Jottonia, a virtual country, a massive multiplayer nation simulation based around stock trading and related businesses. Besides stocktrading, players can become journalists, lawyers, or politicians, and might ultimately even be elected president. It's a bit like EVE Online without the space ships. Or the graphics, Jottonia is completely text-based. Jottonia used to have around 2,000 players, but now it is down to 240, with only 50 or 60 being active. In a game that has such strong elements of politics, it is hard for new players to make a place for themselves in a community full of veterans. You know how MMO players are, not always very helpful to newbies. But there is a newbie forum with an active moderator, Mr. GoodStuff, who is hoping to get the word out and revive the game if only more people would join.

My 15 minutes of fame on WoWInsider

Lisa Poisso from WoWInsider did an interview with me for her 15 Minutes of Fame column. It's been up for over 15 minutes, so I'm not famous any more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Eye of Divinity

Monday our guild had a party. One guild member was hiding in Azeroth (with an unguilded alt, of course), and gave out clues on how to find her on the guild forums. I had guessed that she was in Arathi Highlands, but when trying to sneak there before everyone else, I triggered the "explored Arathi Highlands" achievement announced to all guildies, and gave my position away. I won first prize for finding her first anyway. Then when everyone arrived we were first just celebrating a costume party, until somebody mentioned how he hated that patrol on the road of Arathi Highlands. So we went and killed that patrol, followed by a raid on Southshore, for good measure. And then we decided to go to Molten Core.

Molten Core was silly easy with level 80s, the only difficulty being to find enough people who still had the water to douse the runes and summon Majordomo. We killed him, and the Eye of Divinity dropped. Doh! I had wanted that one for months back then in 2006 and never got it, but then got the Will of Arlokk instead, and lost interest. Well, we went on and killed Ragnaros, and got the Molten Core achievement done, because WoW had forgotten that I had already killed Ragnaros several times.

Anyway, now I had the Eye of Divinity, which with a complicated quest and a lot of farming gives Benediction / Anathema, a dual-function staff which used to be quite good for level 60. Totally useless at level 80 of course, but I decided to do the quest anyway. I managed it on the second try, because even at level 80 that quest isn't easy. The adds are less of a nuisance now you can just blow them away with a single Holy Nova, but healing 50 peasants before 15 of them die to a combination of disease and unattackable skeleton archers is still not trivial. On the second try I used the Shift-V function to see their health bars, and that made it easier.

Now I just would need the Eye of Shadow. That used to drop of Lord Kazzak in the Blasted Lands, but that boss mob moved to Outlands. So to get the Eye of Shadow, you need to kill level 60 elite demons in Winterspring or Blasted Lands, which drop the eye with a lousy 1% drop chance. Well, I tried. But after 2 hours of farming I grew bored and joined a guild group doing an heroic dungeon instead. Maybe if I have nothing else to do one day I'll try again, but it would just be for nostalgia. The level 60 content is truly dead and only serves as party entertainment nowadays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Game over and the economy

There is an interesting phenomenon going on in the World of Warcraft economy: Deflation, prices of nearly all goods are falling. The WoW economist and the Greedy Goblin have different explanations for it, but I think they are both wrong. Both are far too much looking at the WoW economy like a real economy, and forgetting that World of Warcraft is first and foremost a game.

The reason why one would expect inflation in Wrath of the Lich King is that players can now make even more money when doing daily quests. And there are less money sinks, WotLK flying is 5 times cheaper than the TBC epic flying mount. So people could grind 25 daily quests a day, and spend that money on crafted epics, enchantments, potions, special buff food, and whatever else there is that can make their characters stronger. Which is what they did in The Burning Crusade, so why wouldn't they do it in Wrath of the Lich King?

Because in Wrath of the Lich King they don't need to. In a real economy it makes sense to get as rich as possible. In a game economy virtual gold is just a means towards a final goal: The game over screen. Wait! World of Warcraft has a game over screen? Not a real one, no. But at some point in time you will feel the game is over for you. Either because you just didn't have fun any more. Or because you reached something which is as close as it gets to a game over screen in a MMORPG: You killed the final boss and got the final gear, with no way to further develop your character any more before the next content patch or expansion adds more. And in Wrath of the Lich King that point is a lot closer for all of us than it was in the last expansion.

Nihilum famously "finished" Wrath of the Lich King just 65 hours after it was released. But even regular raiding guilds like mine cleared already most of the currently existing raid bosses. Not yet 6 weeks into the game I'm already wearing 7 level 80 epics, and getting full epic is only a matter of time. And as long as we are making good progress, why would we want to push much harder? The kind of effort where raiders were grinding all day to get the very best in enchantments etc. is simply not necessary any more. Be Imba! tells me that not all my gear has the best possible enchantments or gems in it, but I'm so not going to put an enchanment that cost several hundred gold on one of my remaining blue armor pieces! And I believe that most people think that way. If you can reach your goal with a reasonable effort, why would you want to make an exceptional effort, and grind money for hours for a small incremental effect? Especially if you can expect to soon find better gear, spending too much money on enchantments is just a waste. It is only when raid guilds get stuck that they go into overdrive, and try to get past the blockage by using every tiny little advantage. In Wrath of the Lich King most people simply don't experience that blockage yet, and depending how hard the future raids are, they never might.

Raids being easier and the end of the raid progression being so close right now has a profound effect on the WoW economy. Green Armadillo helpfully lists all the options you have to get an item-level 200 cloth robe, and concludes that by far the easiest way is to get it as drop in a raid. My mage is tailor and made a moonshroud robe for my priest, and an ebonweave robe for himself, but because of deflation and not needing the mage robe right away (mage is still 70, robe is 80), I'm trying to sell it on the auction house. No takers, although I'm just asking for a bit over the AH prices of materials. Because anyone who feels he would actually *need* such a robe, is probably in a position where he could get it easier as a raid drop. Why farm money or grind reputation if the same reward can be had with a bit of luck on your next raid night?

So I think inflation isn't happening because people just don't see the need to farm money to buy things. And WoW being less of an end game grind is totally fine with me. The current deflation is from prices falling towards a reasonable level from an initial "oh, new, shiny, I must have that immediately" level. The huge inflation in lets say enchanting materials that the WoW economist expects might still happen, but only if the next raid dungeon is a lot harder.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blame the healer

I got quite annoyed yesterday about a stupid pickup group. It started with some warrior looking for a healer in trade chat for Utgarde Pinnacle heroic. I hadn't been to that place yet, so I asked whether I could join. Got a reply that sorry, they had already found a healer. Well, no problem. 5 minutes later the same warrior sends me a tell whether I would still be interested. I get invited and find out that the warrior kicked out the previous healer before they even started, because the warrior didn't like the healer's looks. I should have left right there and then.

We make our way to the first boss. That boss has a special ability where sometimes one player is teleported to an altar, unable to do anything until the others in the group kill the three adds that channel the spell that hold them. So I get bound like that, and can't heal, and the rest of their group takes their time freeing me, getting seriously hurt in the meantime. So once I'm able to cast spells again, I find all 4 group members seriously wounded, and not close enough for a Circle of Healing. I do my best with Prayer of Mending, but need a lot of time to keep the tank alive, during which the dps are killed. I keep the tank up for a long while, but with just the two of us we finally wipe. And of course the dps guys blame me. Why didn't I heal them, yadda yadda yadda. I try to explain, but they won't listen.

So far, so usual. We rez, go back, and manage a perfect fight, due to me not getting stunned this time. Everyone at full health through the whole fight. And as soon as the boss is dead, the warrior says "bye healer" and kicks me out of the group, and puts me on ignore. After a successful fight of perfect healing! What an asshole!

Why is it always the healers that get blamed?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

The open Sunday thread is the place for you to discuss what interests you, or to ask questions and propose subjects for me to talk about during the week. So get going, comment!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Improving my furniture

One day Blizzard is going to add player housing to World of Warcraft, and I already picked up this lovely chandelier called Charmed Cierge from Naxxramas last night. Prettiest staff I ever had, with 3 burning candles, the flames of which are always pointing correctly upright, no matter how you hold the staff. Very fitting for a priest.

I think that means I can abandon my efforts to gather the materials for a Titansteel Guardian. Yes that mace is only 1-hand and has better +spellpower. But the staff has better stats boni, and the mace is going to be nerfed in the next patch. Fully buffed I'm close to +1600 in healing now, and I still have lots of blue items.

Goal for today is doing the quest series that gives me Wand of Chilled Renewal, as I'm still wielding the level 70 badges wand. If anyone has other ideas how to get an awesome priest wand, they'd be welcome.

Is gambling virtual currency bad for the children?

A concerned reader alerted me to some changes in Wizard101, which introduces an arena including the option to place bets on the outcome of the matches there. Now Wizard101 is usually an extremely child-safe game, with a safe chat system and everything. So having gambling in that game raises an eyebrow.

On the other hand most games, even child-safe ones, have some elements of chance. While there is no gambling, strictly speaking, in World of Warcraft, you are taking a gamble every time you, for example, go for a raid and hope for an epic drop for your character. Many loot systems are specifically designed to use dice rolls to resolve issues of who gets an item. Would betting some gold pieces on an arena event be much worse than that? I'd have more concerns that betting on a PvP event could be too easily manipulated than it being a slippery slope to children getting addicted to internet gambling. What do you think?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A tailoring adventure

And you thought that crafting in World of Warcraft was staid and boring...

I haven't played my level 70 mage a lot in Wrath of the Lich King yet, and that won't change anytime soon. But he does have inscription and tailoring, and so I've been leveling his tradeskills. Whenever frostweave cloth was reasonably priced (30 gold or less per stack), I bought it and skilled my tailoring with it. So I arrived at the point where I can make level 80 epics out of the new WotLK specialized tissues: Ebonweave, moonshroud, and spellweave. As you can create those tissues only once every 4 days, I thought it would be a good idea to start making those now.

But then I discovered a small problem with that plan: To make the special cloth, you need to be at special locations. And while you can make all three types with any tailor of the right skill level, you will produce 2 cloth per recipe in the one field you specialized in. My mage had chosen shadoweave tailoring in the Burning Crusade, so now I need to make ebonweave for maximum efficiency. But to do so, I would need to be at the Altar of the Ebon Depths in the Forgotten Depths under Icecrown Citadel, a hard to reach place in a level 80 zone. One would need to be ridiculously stupid to try to get there at level 70, without a flying mount. So, of course, I went.

I made my way without problems to Crystalsong Forest, and entered Icecrown from there. But the only way to get to the Icecrown Citadel from there is to do a huge semi-circle around Ymirheim, crossing a large plains full of level 80 undead armies. So of course I died. And died again, and again, and again. Every time I rezzed a little bit further towards my goal, using blink and invisibility when possible to approach further. After a long and gruesome journey I finally reached Icecrown Citadel and jumped into the Forgotten Depths. But approaching the altar I aggro one of the level 80 lurkers there, and can't get rid of him. No problem, I'll just die once more, right? Unfortunately it turns out that when you die in the Forgotten Depths, you don't turn into a ghost that can travel back to his corpse. You just pop up alive in Ymirheim, a long way from Icecrown Citadel.

At that point I gave up my plan to make ebonweave. The ebonweave epics will be nice one day for my mage, having spell hit rating, but aren't useful for my priest who is already 80. The big change in Wrath of the Lich King crafting is that the epics you craft aren't restricted to the crafter any more. So I traveled to Shattrath, paid 170 gold to change specialization from shadow to moon, got the mats for moonshroud, went to the much easier to reach location in Dragonblight and made the moonshroud there. I also picked up some cheap moonshroud on the AH, and already made the gloves and sent them to my priest. There are only 2 epics of each type, gloves and robe, and in comparison with the AH prices for a single cloth like that, respecialization is cheap. I'll just go back to shadoweave tailoring when I need it.

Nevertheless I'm wondering what design genius decided to make the crafting of spellweave (near Nexus in Borean Tundra) and moonshroud easily accessible for level 70, but making the crafting of ebonweave virtually impossible without at least having level 77. Aren't the three specializations supposed to be equal?

Bribing Tobold

Before anyone starts shouting, let me say that of course I'm kidding when I use the term "bribing" in the title, it is a deliberate exaggeration. This post is to tell you that I received another free game account, in this case for Puzzle Pirates. That should be less controversial than the last one, but I'm trying to remain consistent with my policy here, and disclose all free game accounts (not necessarily beta accounts) I receive. I know that some people would prefer me not to accept anything, and others would prefer if I accepted such gifts without saying anything, but this policy of disclosure is what fits best with my personal ethics and values.

I am happy to receive free accounts for MMORPGs, and wouldn't protest if "give a free account to Tobold" became a trend. It isn't about the money, I can well afford typical monthly subscription fees. But I do like the "official" recognition. Yeah, so I'm vain, what's new in that?

But what exactly could you "buy" from me by offering me a free account to your game? Not all that much. I'm getting several mails every month from small game companies who want me to check out their games, and in many cases I don't get further than to their website and screenshots. If a game isn't interesting, even a free account won't make me play it. I've also had cases where I installed the game and played for example the beta or a free-to-play version, and the game was so bad that I thought I'm doing the publisher a bigger favor by *not* writing what I think about it.

In the case of interesting games, especially those I have some prior knowledge of, like Puzzle Pirates, of course I'm more likely to play it when I have free access. And if I play it, and I like it, I will write about it, or mention it in other posts where some feature of that game appears relevant. But the only thing you can ever get out of me is my honest opinion. Does anyone here think I am praising Warhammer Online too much on this blog, because I received a free account? Don't think so, I'm getting more often accused to be a WoW fanboi and WAR hater (neither of which is strictly true, it is just the latest WoW expansion that fits my personal preferences very well for the moment).

For me that is just part of blogs and games becoming more mainstream. Book reviewers don't have to buy the books they review, game journalists get free advance copies of games, and now bloggers are recognized as being some sort of reviewers too. So I'm not surprised if DM Osbon gets a free collector's edition of Wrath of the Lich King. (For the record: I paid for the expansion, and I'm paying for my WoW account too. I used to pay for my wife's account too, but after 4 years I was able to persuade her that she should pay for herself. :) Blizzard wisely figured out that I'm going to write about them on my blog anyway.) Getting the occasional freebie doesn't mean bloggers are being "bought" by game companies. In the end you're more likely to find an honest opinion about a game on a blog than on a professional game site or game journal, which has to survive from advertising revenues paid for by the same companies whose games they review. And if you don't believe that, at least my disclosure gives you the opportunity to disregard anything I say about the game in question in the future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Helping others

I was looking for blog on WoW economics, like the WoW Economist, and found a blog called Greedy Goblin. Some useful stuff, but unfortunately people who call themselves greedy goblins don't tend to have the most altruistic of dispositions. So posts like this one, explaining why you shouldn't help others in an online game kind of annoy me.

I regularly help guild mates. Just thinking back over the last few weeks, I've given away for free cut gems from the jewelcrafter and glyphs from my inscriber, I've helped guild groups do dungeons and group quests which I had already completed, and I ran a low level alt through Ragefire Chasm twice to get him geared up, to name just some examples.

One objective reason is that I think the greedy goblin is wrong when he says that helping weaker people weakens the guild, because it transfers resources from the efficient to the less efficient. Fact is that WoW is a game of diminishing returns, where at the level cap it becomes increasingly hard to advance your own character even by tiny amounts, while with the same effort you can advance a lower level character by huge amounts.

But I think the main reason is a subjective one. I do not consider virtual wealth and achievements to be real, but I do consider the people behind the avatars to be real. Many of the people in my guild I know for years now, and helping them to achieve their goals has nothing to do with min-maxing my or the guilds overall performance. It just feels good to help a friend. I play to make myself feel good, and if I achieve that goal by helping others, that works at least as well for me as having fun by advancing my own characters. I rather spend time helping somebody complete a quest he couldn't solo, than earning 10 virtual gold pieces and 500 points of reputation with some NPC faction in the same time from doing a daily quest.

I am in a good guild, "good guild" being defined as there being a lot of people who are willing to help each other, as opposed to being defined as the guild that kills some boss mob first on the server. I don't keep score whether I get more advantage out of help from my guild than I put effort into helping them, because that isn't what a guild is about for me. By helping others I contribute to an environment which is simply nicer, and more pleasant to spend my virtual life in. A bit of my time and some gold that isn't even real isn't too much to spend on that.

Going Softcore

I was reading the comment of a hardcore MMO player, who proudly declared himself to be the "core user base" of Blizzard, with the usual threats of "you piss me off, and your game will go under". And strangely that comment didn't even make me angry any more as it used to. In fact it seemed rather quaint, and a bit funny to me, ringing hollow. From the time of Everquest to the Burning Crusade I was complaining of devs designing MMOs mainly for the hardcore, but I don't think that is true any more.

What changed, I think, is scale. If you have a small, independent game, catering to your most hardcore users is probably a good idea. A game like Darkfall would be completely unknown if it wasn't for their highly dedicated fan base spreading word of mouth. But when games go mainstream, that approach stops making sense. Blizzard spends more money on a single games convention than the whole marketing budget of Aventurine. The Wrath of the Lich King expansion is discussed in the New York Times, not just on fan blogs and game forums. And the more mainstream you become, the more you have to go for your average customer, not your most extreme ones. The argument to play WoW is "everybody plays it", not "the cool people play it".

The major evidence of change is of course the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. I don't think anybody believes that this expansion is catering to the hardcore, just the opposite. In both marketing and fact the target audience for WotLK has clearly shifted away from the hardcore focus of the Burning Crusade.

But another piece of evidence is the botched and confused statements on the business model of Star Wars The Old Republic, the "next big thing" MMO from Bioware. It will probably be a "mid-session game", which is an EA term basically defined as "a game you buy more of in the middle of a play session". In other words, the more you are into the game, the more you pay. Which to anyone except MMO players makes sense. Who do you think is the preferred customer of an all-you-can-eat buffet: The guy filling his plate once and then leaving, or the guy who doesn't stop shoveling it in from opening to closing hour? Hardcore players of MMORPGs profit from the current flat monthly fee model. They pay as much as everyone else, unless they multi-box, but use more resources in terms of server capacity, bandwidth, and customer support. The more casual a player is, the less bang he gets for his buck, up to the point where for some people $15 per month just isn't good value for money, because they would play too few hours. Having a business model that scales better allows companies to grab those players who currently are reluctant to pay a monthly fee.

Early attempts of pay-per-hour MMOs have failed, but mostly because of ridiculous prices, like $9.95 per hour. World of Warcraft runs perfectly well in China on a pay-per-hour business model costing 5 cents per hour. And other forms of "pay more if you play more" are also feasible, for example giving away the game for free, but limited to some small selection of zones, and then selling access to the other zones. I don't know what business model SWTOR will end up having, but the very fact that they are obviously thinking about other models than the monthly flat fee suggests that they are thinking in mass-market terms, and not just what business model will please the hardcore most.

Of course the hardcore players will complain loudly when the design focus of a game moves away from them, when they stop being the "core user base", and if somebody would make them pay more to play more. The question is whether anyone will notice. The hardcore have been complaining loudly about everything even *when* they were the core user base. There is no indication that hardcore players drummed up a lot of business for WoW in the last four years, or that they are even widely known outside the circle of WoW players. Which is probably for the better, because the hardcore players aren't necessarily the best ambassadors for MMORPGs: They tend to be haughty and elitist, making fun of new and inexperienced players rather than helping them. Their function as a role model only existed in their own minds.

This was especially evident this year when Warhammer Online came out, followed shortly by Wrath of the Lich King. WAR had more success with hardcore players, while WotLK was a bigger hit with the casual players. In spite of all the hype on many blogs and game forums on how superior WAR impact PvP would be to the carebear version of WoW, in the end the casuals didn't follow their "role models" to WAR. They checked out WAR, found it not quite as good, and went back to WoW when the expansion came out. The opinions of the hardcore had a negligible effect on subscription numbers. Just the opposite, the news that Nihilum condemned Wrath of the Lich King as too easy only encouraged more casual players to resubscribe. If Nihilum would tomorrow announce that they will quit WoW en masse, that'll get them a headline on WoWInsider, but will not make any noticeable dent in Blizzard's subscription numbers. Hardcore players might still be in a prominent position in some cases, but they just aren't the core user base of big games like World of Warcraft any more. In the long run they'll drift towards smaller games, where they can wield more influence, happily ignored by large companies and everybody else.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Tale in the Desert IV

Ooops, I missed it by a few days: The third telling of A Tale in the Desert recently ended, and last Saturday the fourth telling has begun. So, if you are interested in a brand-new and improved version of A Tale in the Desert IV, now would be a good time to check it out. Only MMORPG I know which has a beginning and an end, and introduces lots of changes in restarts, instead of patches and expansions.

Being a healer

Not that I'm all that likely to produce many, but sometimes it is the shortest blog posts that make you think most. Rohan from Blessing of Kings posted a short update, saying "So I'm guildless, and have been trying to PuG as Retribution. I've done a couple of heroics, but it's quite hard to get groups as DPS. There's a significant healer shortage. It's driving me closer and closer to Holy. I don't really want to, but going Holy just makes so much sense." Now this is interesting because it reveals a completely different attitude to being a healer than I have.

Me, I like being a healer. I even leveled my undead priest with a holy / discipline build to 80, just so I could heal the occasional group while leveling, and only ever played shadow in betas or on my alliance priest. I very much enjoy healing in PvE, both in small groups and in raids. Don't get me wrong, I'm fully aware and enjoy the advantages of the healer shortage, being able to get a group or raid slot easier than most other classes. But I'm not playing that class and build just to get invited. I'm just being lucky that my personal preference happens to coincide with what everyone else wants me to be.

But I do understand the "I don't really want to, but going Holy just makes so much sense." problem, because just like Rohan I prefer cooperative group play to solo play. Retribution paladin is great for solo and PvP, but for groups players are divided into three classes: tank, healer, random; and a retribution paladin or shadow priest would find himself in the least favorable random class. Yes, a group only needs 20% of tanks, and 20% to 30% of healers, which makes it appear as if random dps classes with 50% to 60% would be most in demand. But on the supply side there are far more than 60% of players that play dps classes or dps builds, so in most cases groups find the dps easily and then have problems getting a tank or healer. Since WotLK the tank shortage has receded a bit, due to some death knights tanking, but that only increases the healer shortage. So for people who prefer the dps build, but have a healing build available for their class, there is a difficult decision to make: dps and solo mostly, or heal and group much more.

And Rohan says he is unguilded. Getting into a guild is a *lot* easier if you are willing to heal. Even me, casual as I am, once got picked up by a serious raiding guild at level 60, and got up to the end of BWL with them, just because of the healer shortage. I have no doubt that Rohan, who knows the paladin class better than most, would make an excellent healer, and would have no problem at all to get into the guild of his choice, if only he wanted to heal. On the other hand, he doesn't appear to really want to heal, so in the end he is screwed either way: Play a way he doesn't like in groups / raids he likes, or play the way he likes in hated solo. If your personal preference of how to play isn't all that compatible with your personal preference of what to play, you have a problem.

So as I mentioned in the previous post, I think that Blizzard will add a healer hero class in the next expansion. And before that they plan to add dual spec, allowing healers to have both a healing and a dps spec. But will that help if people simply don't want to heal? Or are just plain bad at it? I'm not underestimating the skills of non-healers in a raid or heroic group, but I can assure you that the skills a healer needs to have a *very* different. You can't just say "today I heal" and expect to be very good at it without much practice. The best thing this can possibly achieve is some more people realizing that healing isn't quite as easy as everybody else seems to think.

Design the next WoW hero class

The third expansion of World of Warcraft hasn't even been announced yet, and is unlikely to arrive before 2010. But we can be pretty certain that it will contain at least one new hero class. And it will probably be a healer class; Blizzard said they designed the death knight to fix the tank shortage, so a healer hero class to fix the healer shortage would be a logical next step. We also know some other hero class design principles: They should feel epic, but be more or less equal to the existing classes in power, thus they shouldn't make existing classes obsolete. And they can be somewhat more complicated to play, as new players won't be able to choose such a class for their first character. So how would you design such a healer hero class for the next expansion?

The first question to answer is how the new healer hero class would power their heals. All existing healing classes in WoW use mana for heals. And just like the death knight doesn't use mana or rage, but a completely new mechanism, it would probably be a good idea to design a new healing mechanism for the new hero class. That would have the added advantage that you could base the power of that new healing on a stat different than spellpower, and wouldn't need mana regeneration, thus avoiding the new class to compete for the same gear as the existing classes.

A related question is what else but healing the new class should do, and what connection there will be between his healing and his damage dealing. WAR has healing classes which in various ways power their healing by dealing damage first. Something like a melee healer, who collects something similar to a warrior's rage by combat, and then uses that for healing would be one possibility. The downside of that would be that such a system would probably not be sufficient for being the main healer in a group, so maybe we need to come up with something else.

The hardest design question is how to balance that new healer hero class against the other existing classes. A lot of healers solo in a different talent branch than the healing one. But if you give the new class one or two dps talent branches and one or two healing talent branches, you risk getting a lot of new dps characters, and not as many new healers as you wanted. It took me some time to realize that Blizzard did a clever thing with death knights, enabling them to tank in any of their three talent branches, being frost doesn't make them much better tanks than being blood or unholy, it just changes the way they tank. So I think a class with some close connection of healing and damage dealing would be good, having no clear healing and not-healing talent builds.

So how would you design this class? Ranged or melee? What kind of armor? What kind of damage and healing? How would you make sure that the class heals good enough to be main healer, without being gimped for damage? And how would you make sure not every current healer deletes his character and rolls one of the new class? Go ahead, post your ideas!

Eliminating levels and gear

On the open Sunday thread there was a discussion on whether it would be a good idea to eliminate leveling, to go back to a system like Ultima Online, where your had a character skill build instead. And recently in every thread where I mention epics one of my readers, who is more adept at inventing new words than explaining what he means, calls gear-based advancement "terribad". So why not eliminate levels and gear progression from MMORPGs? Because probably there wouldn't be much of a game left.

There are lots of computer games, starting with Pong, in which you don't have a level or stats or gear. The only way to advance in this kind of game is by getting better at it, by improving player skill. The downside of that is that sooner or later you arrive at a point where you aren't getting much better any more, or only at an infinitesimal slow pace. Which is probably why we aren't playing Pong any more. The other problem is that different people end up having different degrees of skill in any given game. People who play a lot of video games together usually soon find out that some games one of them "always" wins, and other games are mostly won by the other person. As player skills only develop slowly after an initial learning phase, that discourages playing together.

Roleplaying games deliberately eliminate much of the need for player skill for the pleasure to play together. Especially in a pen & paper game the playing shifts away from having to do anything with performance, and becomes more about interaction and doing things together. The performance of your character is determined mostly by his level, stats, and character abilities. This not only allows people to play together regardless of player skill. It also allows everybody to continually progress. The level and stats are numerical, and can be endlessly increased. Although you might already have learned everything there is to learn about how to play your character, you can still have character development in the form of experience points, levels, and better gear. This constant stream of rewards is fun for most people, and enables the game to go on for years and years.

Computer roleplaying games, and most MMORPGs, inherited those principles. Whether you can kill a monster in single combat is mostly determined by your level, stats, gear, and character abilities. Player skill only plays a minor role. Let's face it, killing a single mob of your level is trivially easy. MMORPG combat doesn't require very fast reaction time, nor great tactical thinking. You could level a mage in WoW from 1 to 80 using nothing but the frostbolt spell, one single button to hit over and over. There are classes that are less complicated and classes that are more complicated, but even the most complicated classes end up having some sort of basic spell rotation that maximizes damage. Only rarely does the type of monster you are playing or your surroundings make much of a difference in solo combat. In spite of being trivially easy, we play these games for hundreds or thousands of hours (a friend on mine has over 6000 hours of /played time on his main). And the reason we can do that without getting bored is character development, the fact that our characters always get stronger.

Levels are the most obvious ways to increase the power of your character, so making new expansions that raise the level cap is easy for the game companies. There is nothing which would prevent Blizzard to raise the level cap by 10 in the next dozen expansions, except for the fact that at the current speed that would take them a quarter of a century. But getting to the level cap (over and over again with each expansion) is just the start. Increasing your stats by gear isn't very different from increasing your stats by leveling up. So once you can't level up any more, you can continue reaping rewards and making your character stronger by getting better and better gear. And when you are bored by solo gameplay, you can go to dungeons in groups or raids, and start playing encounters which actually require some coordination and tactics.

Remove the levels, stats and the gear from World of Warcraft, and what remains is a rather boring game. Even Ultima Online had "fake" levels, by letting you start with 0 skill points, and allowing you to gain skills by doing activities, but capped at a total of 700. Each skill could get up to 100, and the higher you got, the harder it became. So having 14 skills at 50 was easy, having 7 skills at 100 would take considerable time. But once you got there, there was no way to develop your character further, except by unlearning those skills you worked so hard to acquire. So making a game based around character skill would end up with something that plays exactly like a leveling game until you reach the skill cap, and then stops rewarding you for whatever you do. In UO the most cherished rewards ended up being fluff, like having a big castle as your house, and decorating it with rare, but totally useless, items, like some sandals that spawned only once per server restart. There are certainly people who would play such a game, but it is hard to imagine it getting millions of subscribers.

Players in games like WoW are very much driven by rewards that increase the power of their characters. That is what a MMORPG is about. If you remove the levels, the stats, the gear, all rewards that influence the power of characters, you get a completely different type of game. Even if you keep character classes, skills, and talents, people will quickly tend towards a few character build templates, and then stagnate. How many people would raid if there weren't any epics or similar rewards to gain? Why would you want to clear the same raid dungeon more than once or twice? Without rewards, people would play the same game a lot less long, and they probably wouldn't be willing to pay $15 per month for it.

But if you absolutely want to play a game without levels and gear, I can recommend games like A Tale in the Desert, or Puzzle Pirates. They offer more variations of gameplay, often depending on the skill of the player, with little or no influence of the character's skills, and no levels or experience points at all. But you'll probably find that they won't hold your interest quite as long as a game that keeps up a constant stream of rewards which make your characters stronger. And by not having those rewards, these games don't even feel as if they were MMORPGs.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My first level 80 epics

After collecting the tokens from the Dalaran jewelcrafting daily quest for 10 days, I spent them for the recipe and materials needed to make a Titanium Spellshock Ring, my first level 80 epic. That was a hard decision, because otherwise I could have used the tokens to learn new jewelcrafting recipes, which now will have to wait. Then I went and bought a second epic, a Wispcloak, for 999 gold from the auction house.

The reason why I suddenly felt the need for more epics was that our more dedicated raiders in the guild are unhappy. Two left for a more advanced guild because we weren't doing Naxx25 yet, and from those who remained there was some grumbling of how people shouldn't come raiding underequipped. Quote: "A non-defense capped tank, a healer who goes oom after 2 minutes or a DPS who misses half of his attacks are totally useless in a raid and will only cause hard feelings to the team. Why is he/she even in raid ? Why doesn't the raidleader ask him to leave ? Why isn't he replaced yet ?" While I know how to conserve mana and play my priest reasonably well, it is true that my gear still needs improvement. So to avoid the humiliation of being kicked out of a raid for underperformance, I really feel the pressure to gear up quickly. I already carry flasks and the cooking quest ultra-food buffs, but I haven't had time to run all that many heroics, especially since I don't necessarily want to do those in pickup groups all the time. Isn't it ironic? Instead of raiding for better gear, we need better gear for raiding.

While I do my best to try to conform to the standards of the raiders, I'm not totally happy with the attitude. Being chided for bad gear or raid performance is a bit like getting bad grades at school, or a bad performance review at work. Somebody is pointing a finger at you and telling you that you are sub-standard, and that hurts. Which is kind of silly, because obviously your raid performance doesn't even have a fraction of the importance of your performance at school or at work. I'm certainly not going to pull a lot of WoW all-nighters to improve my game at the detriment of my job. Isn't the purpose of a game to have fun, to relax, and not to add more stress to your life?

And me, I'm totally happy with my guild's raid progress. We already cleared half of Naxxramas, including some "gear check" bosses like Patchwerk. Not having done Naxx at level 60 or in the beta, it'll take some time for everyone to learn the various bosses, but that is what the fun of raiding is about. If I had already killed the last boss of Naxx25, I'd be less happy, because then there would be nothing else left for the moment. The top raiding guilds are clearing all existing raid dungeons once a week for gear, just so that when the next raid dungeons come out they can rush to finish it again, and again be stuck with nothing to do but farming. Why would anyone want to stress himself and spoil his fun for the doubtful achievement of a "server first", followed by months of complaining that Blizzard doesn't add even harder raid dungeons? If your style of playing doesn't make you happy, then why do it that way? Wrath of the Lich King is a great opportunity to approach raiding a bit more relaxed, as hanging out with friends and having fun, instead of constantly having to judge them, and kicking them out if their performance isn't up to top standards. I certainly don't want to be a burden to my guild in a raid, but I'm content if I'm well equipped enough for Naxx10 to do that for some time, instead of rushing to Naxx25 undergeared.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

The holidays are approaching fast. I hope you still have the time to leave some comments here, about subjects you'd like to have discussed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My first Naxx raid

... happened over two years ago, at level 60, but at that time we only killed some trash. So last night was my first "new" Naxx raid. We killed Patchwerk on the second try, and Noth on the second try too. That was a guild first, and the first try on Noth only failed because we hadn't realized there was a door, and managed to lock out 2 raid members. We spent the rest of the evening on several wipes at the 4 horsemen, but I don't think we have the optimal strategy for that one yet. Do you split DPS in half for Thane and Rivendare, or do you put more DPS on Thane to kill him first? When switching, do you only switch tanks and leave the groups in the corners, or do the groups move with their tanks to minimize meteor damage? There are a lot of alternative strategies floating around for this encounter.

Anyway, I would say that my guild is pretty much typical for a raiding guild, not casual, but not Nihilum either. And for us the difficulty level was just right. Bosses don't drop on the first try, everyone needs to learn the various dances of where to stand and when to move, and killing a boss for the first time feels like an achievement. I could even see how more casual guilds would struggle with some encounters. So personally I think Naxxramas is well done, with a good design of difficulty level for the first raid dungeon. And it's big, so even if you visit it repeatedly you're not always on the same sequence. I like it!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

At Blizzard even the microtransactions are bigger

So with everyone launching itself into microtransactions this week, Blizzard decided to join. Only there is just one thing on the menu, and it isn't all that cheap: You can buy a complete character customization, including name and gender change, for $15. You can't change race or class. And you don't even get any hairstyles that aren't available to everybody else at character creation. Well, at least this is the safe option: Nobody gets an advantage by paying extra money, this is purely a service for people who aren't satisfied with some aspect of their existing character.

If I'm not doing it, then it can't be epic

Syncaine considers that today's raids aren't epic any more. Why would that be? Because he isn't raiding any more of course! With impecable logic he concludes that if he isn't doing it, then it can't be worth doing, and definitely can't be epic. I mentioned the Zen koan about the tree falling in the forest before, and here is a great example: The epicness of this or that activity isn't so much defined by how easy or accessible it is, but by whether you're doing it or not. Not raiding at the moment? Then raids must be worthless, of course!

So what was so epic about the raids that Syncaine did back then? Quote: "Officer chat was one long bitch list about how our members are a bunch of babies, and what we would do for just a few people who could focus for longer than 10 minutes. At the time, it was a lot of fun, in that odd “I hate you” kind of way." So doing things you hate is epic, as long as it gives you the opportunity to trash talk about the serfs behind their back. If the serfs start to raid on their own, it's time to leave and trash talk about them on your blog.

I agree with Syncaine that times have changed, but I'd say for the better. He is exactly demonstrating what I always hated about the old style of raiding: It wasn't so much the fact that it wasn't accessible to everyone, but more the incredibly annoying attitude of superiority of those who raided over those who didn't. I *did* get up to the last boss of BWL pre-TBC, but I never considered raiding to be any more than one alternative mode of gameplay among many other equal possibilities. So I'd answer Syncaine's question of "What is raiding in WoW today?" with: What it always was; a raid dungeon is an instance into which you can (and usually should) bring more than 5 people. If anyone thinks that he is superior to somebody else, just because he had more success in a game, should seriously reconsider his life priorities. Even considering that skill might have been involved, in the end your skill in playing a video game gets you exactly nowhere in life.

My life at 80

I haven't been playing all that much this week, having been somewhat busy with work. But the weekend is approaching, and I'm making plans what to do with my freshly minted level 80 holy priest. There is so much to do, and so little time!

One thing to do is certainly raiding. I signed up for the first time for a raid to Naxxramas, but am not sure I'll get a raid spot. Which isn't a problem, I'd just try again another day. I'm not in a hurry, I think the Wrath of the Lich King endgame will be with us for at least a year and a half.

Easier to organize and to get into a group is heroic dungeons. I already tried a few of those, won some, and failed one, on the last boss of Halls of Lightning. Apparently there is no correlation whatsoever with how easy a dungeon is in normal, and how hard it is in heroic. Anyone know of a list that lists heroic dungeons by difficulty? I'm still a bit undergeared for the hardest stuff. I'd also be willing to do normal dungeons, to help out guild mates for example.

When not in a group, I still want to finish the quests in Storm Peaks with my priest, so that he'll have all quests done in 4 zones. Because one other big project now I hit the level cap is to play the next character. As the warrior turned out much better than I had feared, I'll level him next, and do the 4 zones I haven't visited with the priest. Then I'll still have a mage to level from 70 to 80, and maybe a death knight from 55 to 80.

I already leveled up most of my tradeskills, but gathering more recipes is on my to do list. That involves not only dungeon runs, but also daily quests for jewelcrafting and cooking, and daily or weekly "research" for inscription and alchemy. Some people don't like that it takes at least 170 days to learn all jewelcrafting recipes, but I like the daily quest way of handing out tokens for quests. Jewelcrafters are now actually different from each other, not everyone has the same recipes.

I don't think I'll do much PvP with any of my characters. Occasionally Wintergrasp, for fun, yes. But no arenas, and no grinding of battlegrounds for PvP gear, even if I'm sure there will be nice stuff patched into the game soon for PvP. But PvP is just not my preferred style of playing.

EVE 3 trillion ISK exploit

Via Brokentoys I read that CCP confirmed having banned 70 accounts over several allied corporations, who had been exploiting the game for 4 years unnoticed, producing nearly 3 trillion ISK in the process. One of the exploiters thanks CCP for making it possible to buy game time cards with ISK, he had been paying his account for the last 4 years with duped ISK. A 60-day game time card apparently goes for around 600 million ISK, so the complete amount of duped money could have paid for 5,000 months of EVE and thus been worth $75,000. But probably CCP can't do anything beyond banning those accounts, as duping virtual currency isn't illegal, even if you can "pay" something with it that normally costs real money. Otherwise that would have been one quite interesting lawsuit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Main tanks and the financial crisis

I was discussing the current financial crisis with some friends recently, and we came up with a rather simple truth: The underlying problem of the crisis was too many people spending more money than they earned, living on credit and investment gains that only existed on paper. Thus now they'll have to save for a while, to pay back debt and accumulate a real financial cushion, before they can go and spend again. And when we were discussing guild policies on how to distribute raid loot, I suddenly realized that the same simple truth is also valid for that situation: If you give your main tank first choice of all loot, and equip him faster than everyone else, then at some point he'll have all the loot he can get with your guild at the current level, while the rest of the guild is still catching up. Just as in the long run you can't spend more money than you can earn, in the long run you can't always gain loot faster than your guild. At some point the main tank will have to wait for everyone to catch up, so the next raid dungeon becomes accessible.

That explains a lot of things. For example why it is usually the main tank who is at some point complaining that the guild isn't advancing fast enough: He got used to fast track gearing up, and is now unhappy with the inevitable wait for the others to catch up. It also explains why main tanks are quite often among those who hop from their current guild to the next higher guild: By simply exchanging your guild mates for a better equipped lot, you can get back onto the fast track again.

So for a guild to equip their main tank first is only a good idea if the guy is extremely patient and helpful, and doesn't mind to use his thus gained gear to help everyone else get equipped as well. If the main tank is highly ambitious on the other hand, giving him loot priority only prepares the next guild drama, where he either complains, or leaves, or both. Just like you can't escape basic economics and live beyond your means in the real world, a guild can't live beyond their means by equipping only a few people well, not in the long run. Albeit as Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead.

No dps needed for Naxxramas heroic

This post would have fit better into the Naxx theme of yesterday, but I've only read this news today: 2 German players 2-manned Loatheb on heroic. One tank and one paladin healer sneaked past the trash using invisibility potions, and then killed the probably easiest boss in Naxxramas in heroic mode. Slight disadvantage of not bringing 23 friends for dps: The fight took 3 hours and 12 minutes.

Teut worries that if raiding becomes to easy, WoW players would lose their role models, because the elite players quit the game out of boredom. But I don't think there is a huge risk of that, because somebody is always going to be "the best". If the top players quit, the second rank will simply become the new top, fulfilling the same role model function. And as this news show, if beating the game in a regular way isn't challenging enough, you can always make it artificially harder. Be leet, solo Naxxramas on heroic.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Everquest I & II go microtransactions

SOE just announced their newest venture, called Station Cash, offering microtransactions, the ability to buy in-game items for cash. Most are vanity items, but there are also xp potions, which give you a buff that increases the rate in which you level up. Some people like the idea, others give a neutral overview, with a third group not being happy about microtransactions in a game you already pay a subscription for.

Me, I wouldn't mind the vanity items for cash, but am highly critical about those xp and achievement potions. The potions that increase adventuring xp, or achievement points, or crafting xp by 50% for 4 hours cost a whopping $10. Two-thirds of a monthly fee for a potion that only lasts about one typical daily gaming session? Pricey, for what some people will consider to be a must-have item, and which is less good than WoW's free rest xp bonus.

Personally I simply wouldn't buy the stuff, but I'm sure some EQ / EQ2 players will. Somebody playing every day and wanting to be with a 50% xp bonus all the time could end up increasing his monthly bill from $15 to several hundreds of dollars, depending on how much he plays. In a way you could consider that as a tax on the hardcore players, assuming that you'd need to be very dedicated and highly interested in leveling fast to pay that much extra for a 50% boost. And while I personally couldn't care less how fast the player next to me levels, I know that others will feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, further increasing SOE's sales. A ripoff, if you ask me.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Distributing Naxx loot

So today our subject is Naxxramas and the "new raiding". Some guilds already started, others aren't too far from their first Naxx raid. And sooner or later the raiders will find themselves confronted with the question of how to distribute the epic drops. Of course established raiding guilds have systems to do that, but they might find some new complications: Wrath of the Lich King blurred class roles and stats to some extent.

Imagine you have a raid with 10 players, one of each class (yeah, I know, probably not the perfect setup). An epic piece of plate armor with +defense bonus drops. Do you automatically give it to the warrior, or would the paladin or even death knight have the right to roll on it too? Even more tricky, what if a cloth epic drops, giving +int, +sta, +spi, and +spellpower, and it would be an upgrade for the priest, the mage, and the warlock. The time where healers had a separate healing power is over, so what would make such armor "healing gear"? The spirit bonus is probably slightly more useful for a priest, while lets say +spell hit or +critical might be slightly more useful for a mage. But would you automatically assign all gear with spirit to priests, or would a mage have the right to roll (or spend DKP) on that gear too?

Leather and mail are somewhat less complicated, because there are less classes needing it, and in some cases there is still only one class who can use it; for example leather with spellpower is a druid exclusive. Of course a rogue and a druid could be interested in the same sort of dps leather armor, but there is less overlap than for plate or cloth. I don't really know how raid composition will work out in Wrath of the Lich King, but of course it is totally possible that a raid has 4 or 5 cloth wearers, or some other accumulation of people vying for the same loot.

And of course the old loot distribution problems haven't gone away: Do you try to spread gear as evenly as possible, which slows down progress? Or do you concentrate gear on some strategically important characters, which speeds up progress, but risks huge setbacks when somebody leaves the guild or stops playing. So guild drama isn't going to go away anytime soon. But there is some hope that with Naxxramas being somewhat more accessible than Karazhan, plus all the other ways to gain epics from badges etc., random raid epic drops aren't the one and only way to upgrade your character. We'll see.

How far are you in Naxxramas?

After Nihilum "finished" Naxxramas 3 days after Wrath of the Lich King came out, there was some discussion of whether raiding was too easy. But then there was a long silence, and while some other top raiding guilds repeated the feat, the majority of players hasn't even seen Naxxramas yet. My guild did their first raid last Friday, before I was level 80, so I didn't even sign up. And on that first trip they killed one boss (Patchwerk), and got the second boss (Grobbulus) of that part of Naxx to 25%. Which, in my opinion, is quite reasonable. Kill the first boss on the first trip, but don't immediately have the place on farm.

So from this and similar anecdotal evidence it seems that Naxxramas is well enough balanced. A typical raiding guild (not the ultra-leet) will find the encounters challenging, without them being frustrating.

So, how far are you in the "new raiding"? Visited Naxxramas yet? Found it too easy, just right, or too hard? Would you say that, provided Blizzard adds some much harder raid dungeons to the game afterwards, Naxxramas is at the right difficulty level for an "entry level raid dungeon"?

Trade war

It's WoW PvP on Tobold's blog today, but in this post I'm going to talk about a very different kind of PvP. Because while my priest is doing Wintergrasp, one of my bank alts is involved in a trade war with another player, or possibly his bank alt.

The story started shortly after WotLK came out, and I was leveling up the alchemy skill of my warrior, and the jewelcrafting skill of my priest. It turned out that to get alchemy up, you could make uncut meta gems, out of green gems and eternal elements. And to get jewelcrafting up, you could cut those uncut meta gems. And of course my priest, who is also miner, was gathering the green gems and eternals needed when mining in Northrend. Great synergy, priest mines ores and prospects them, warrior turns them into meta gems, priest cuts the meta gems, both level their tradeskills up. As a bonus, the warrior has transmutation mastery, and once I even got 5 meta gems instead of one out of a single transmutation.

While I was primarily interested in the skill gains, it turned out that the cut meta gems are quite valuable. You don't sell a whole lot of them, but they do sell for up to 200 gold on my server. After finding out how good a business that was, I used my Dalaran jewelcrafting tokens to buy more meta gem recipes, and produced more meta gems, just for the money. Send them all to the bank alt, who I log on once or twice a day to look after my budding jewelry business.

What quickly became apparent was that there was one other player in the same business. I would put up my gems for 200 gold, and next time I check he had put up his gems for 199 gold and 99 silver. So I put up the next batch for 199 gold 95 silver, and so on. A genuine trade war, and always with the same guy. With time more people get hold of the rarer recipes, and profits collapse, but while the expansion is still young, the profits are great. I must have made over 4000 gold just with meta gems, after expenses and buying some eternals I didn't have enough of. There will be more demands for meta gems when more people reach the level cap, but I'm afraid supply is rising faster than demand, and ultimately meta gems won't sell for much more than the cost of materials. If not less, because some people don't mind to operate at a loss as long as they gain skill points.

The kind of trade war where you continuously try to underbid the other crafters is due to the relatively primitive auction house system of World of Warcraft. There is no blind auction house system, like in Final Fantasy XI or Pirates of the Burning Sea, where you only see a historic of previous prices, but not the exact sales price of the people offering goods. And there aren't any buy orders, like in EVE Online. So unless the fees for putting up a ware on the WoW AH are great compared to the sales price, it is often a good idea to cancel your auction and underbid the underbidders, driving the prices to the bottom. The same happens in other systems, but usually slower. The WoW system, where every seller sees the prices of every good on auction and can thus underbid them, deteriorates profits the fastest. So I'm pretty sure that while I'm cursing about that other guy ruining my sales, he's having some choice words about me as well. That's why I'm using an unguilded bank alt for such activities in the first place. :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winning Wintergrasp

After reaching level 80 yesterday, I did various "endgame" activities: Trying heroics, doing daily quests, and also a trip to Wintergrasp for some PvP. My priest isn't really a PvP character, he never ever has set foot into a battleground. But Wintergrasp is a lot of fun, and the use of turrets and vehicles helps characters who don't have the talent build and gear for PvP. So I went to Wintergrasp at 80, and by a strange series of coincidences ended up playing a major role in winning it.

It started with me being in Dalaran, and checking the Wintergrasp battle master when the next battle would start. He told me that a battle was currently in progress, so I clicked on the portal next to him and teleported to the Horde flight point in Wintergrasp. The battle was in full swing, only 15 minutes to go. I would have loved to grab a siege engine, but to do so one first needs to have 2 honor kills, which gives you the corporal rank, and access to the smallest catapult vehicle. 10 more honor kills gives you access to all vehicles. I passed by the vehicle shop anyway, and there was another player rolling out with a big siege engine. Great, those have several spots for up to 4 players. I jumped on, and manned the turret, the driver only has control over driving and the ram in that one.

Several walls already being down, the driver drove right up to the final door of the fortress, trying to batter it down, with me using the turret to shoot other vehicles and players running around. But Alliance seriously outnumbered us, and even with 11 tenacity buffs the siege engine was soon destroyed. But then some sort of bug or glitch happened. When a vehicle is destroyed, you are ejected, and can fight on on foot. Only that my siege engine was in close contact with the final fortress door, and I found myself ejected INTO the inner sanctum. In there is a huge orb, clicking on which for several seconds wins the battle. Only because the door was still closed, the orb wasn't active yet.

Well, I could have tried to get out again, but as the battle was close to the end, I decided to just stay in the inner sanctum. I met two Alliance players there, one after the other, and killed them both. The first one was even worse in PvP than I was (normally a holy priest shouldn't stand a chance against a druid). The second player had run inside because he was already seriously wounded, and my Smite killed him before he even knew what was happening. But other than that, I was just waiting.

And then it happened: 1 minute 30 seconds before the battle timer ended, some Horde player with a siege engine broke open the door. I was standing *behind* the orb, so the Alliance players coming in didn't see me immediately. And I clicked on the orb, and after seconds that seemed endless, managed to activate it and capture the fortress. Yay, I won! Nice feeling, but due to lack of honor kills I never even got the tokens for winning, just some honor. But hey, it was great fun!

Ding 80 !

My priest today dinged 80, the first of my characters to do so. That relieves me a bit from the feeling that I "have to" catch up with everyone else in the guild.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Open Sunday Thread

You know the drill by now: Propose subjects for discussion, ask questions, and discuss among yourself on my Sunday off from blogging.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The history of IGE

Whatever you think of RMT, the selling of virtual currency for real money, there is no denying that it exists, and in a big way. So it can only be helpful to be better informed about that business. On Wired Julian Dibbell does a great job of chronicling the history of IGE, which at one point was the world's biggest RMT company. And for those who hate gold sellers, well there is a happy ending in the fact that it ends badly.

Darkfall Online release date announced

This just in:
Audio Visual Enterprises SA and Aventurine SA in a joint statement today announced that their highly anticipated MMORPG title Darkfall Online will launch across Europe on January 22nd, 2009. North American players are also welcome to participate in the European launch of Darkfall which will precede a North American launch. More details to be announced as they become available.
Take that "highly anticipated" with a large grain of salt, the game *is* highly anticipated, but only by a rather small crowd. A much bigger crowd is extremely sceptical. But naming a precise release date at least seems to move Darkfall from my vaporware list. I wish them good luck, but I would be surprised if Darkfall came even anywhere near 100k subscribers. Hardcore PvP is a niche.

Pictures on this blog

Today's screenshots about the WAR exit survey surprised some readers, who thought that I never put up pictures on my blog. But I do, only I do it rarely. I value good gameplay more than fancy graphics, so I don't usually use screenshots to make a point about the quality of a game. And, badly kept secret, most of my readers do read this blog on their office computer, so my design is deliberately safe-for-work, non-flashy, looking serious if your boss catches a glimpse of your screen.

But I'd welcome your feedback on pictures on this blog. Do you think I should use them more often? Or even less often? Or is the current way okay with you? On what kind of posts and subjects do you think pictures would be helpful?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Replacing epics with quest greens

You know the old stereotype that a new expansion makes you replace the epics you worked so hard for with green quest rewards. Only I found that this isn't true at all in Wrath of the Lich King. I'm not wearing a single green quest item; in fact in spite of being a priest I now got into the habit of always choosing the quest reward that is either a weapon or plate armor, because I sell them anyway, and weapons and plate sell for more cash.

That isn't to say I'm still wearing my level 70 epics. There are only one or two left, the rest is replaced by blue gear from dungeons. I replaced my first epics with blue quest rewards I received from quests which required me to kill bosses in Utgarde Keep. The only quest rewards that are worth wearing are those you get for group / dungeon quests, usually at the end of a quest chain.

One other thing I noticed is that *if* you wouldn't do dungeons, but rely on quests for your gear, you'd be better off as a cloth wearer than as a plate wearer. There is usually one item of each on offer, but every cloth wearer can nowadays pretty much use every cloth item. They all give the same sort of spellpower, and while stats like haste rating, hit rating, crit rating, intelligenc, stamina, or spirit, are somewhat different in usefulness for the various cloth wearing classes, they are never completely useless. Not so for plate: As protection warrior a piece of plate armor with intelligence and spellpower bonus is completely useless. And I'd guess a retribution paladin or death knight wouldn't be too happy with a piece of plate armor that increases defense rating and shield block value.

So, what kind of gear are you wearing while leveling up through Wrath of the Lich King? Or are you already in full Naxxramas epic gear again? How about the various pieces of gear you can get from crafting, or buy with various tokens, PvE or PvP?

Your feedback is important to us

Or maybe not ...
Survey closed *on the same day* as I received the invitation to participate. GOA at their finest.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Approaching 80

Wrath of the Lich King has an extremely flat leveling curve, you only need 10% more xp to level from 79 to 80 than it took from 70 to 71. As the xp for quests and monster kills rise somewhat faster than that per level, leveling up gets actually *faster* the closer you approach 80.

My priest is level 78, and just started questing in Storm Peaks. I'll probably reach level 80 this weekend. Just by regular questing you easily make 300 kXP per hour, and as one level only takes between 1.5 and 1.7 million XP, it takes only 5 to 6 hours to level up, unless you are busy doing stuff that doesn't bring experience points. So I'll be 80 in less than 4 weeks after release, and that is still slow. Last night, according to WoWCensus, a third of all Horde players online on my server were already level 80. My guild is planning the first Naxx raid for Friday. Is leveling in Wrath of the Lich King too fast?

That question can only be answered with a counter-question: Too fast compared to what? It isn't too fast compared to the amount of leveling content offered. I'll probably hit 80 about the same time as I finish all the quests in Storm Peaks, which would be my 4th completed zone. So if I then play my next character from level 70 to 80, I can reach 80 by playing 4 completely different zones, and not do a single quest twice. Awesome! That is something I'm looking forward to.

What I'm not looking forward to is what to do once all my characters are 80. Yes, there will be heroics, raids, and other fun stuff to do. But after leveling to 80 in less than a month, chances are I'll be stuck for over 20 months *at* 80. So, compared to the time it takes Blizzard to release an expansion, that is to say the time you spend at the level cap, leveling *is* too fast. Even if I consider alts, I'll have seen all the zones and all the quests in two months, which is too short compared to a two-year expansion cycle. Blizzard would need to pull a rabbit out of their hat and release the next expansion in a year, but even the most ardent optimists don't believe in that one.

But then many people seem to enjoy fast leveling. With the reduced xp to level up to 70 now, you can create a level 1 character in World of Warcraft and level him to 80 faster than you can create a level 1 character in Warhammer Online and level him to 40. With a "the game begins at the level cap" attitude, faster leveling is better. But then, if leveling is just an obstacle on the way to the cap, why do we need it at all? Why not make a game like Guild Wars, where you can immediately create a max level character? I think in their haste to level up, a lot of people are missing a major fun part of the game. For me personally, leveling a bit slower would have been fine.

Is the WAR endgame technically possible?

I was reading an interesting article on Keen & Graev's blog about a WAR fortress siege that was extremely laggy and ended up crashing the server when over 200 people turned up. MMORPGs in general get laggy and prone to crashes when there are too many players in the same zone. The WoW world event of opening of the Ahn'qiraij gates was a horrible lagfest, and even nowadays I have significantly more lag in overpopulated places like Dalaran. But generally WoW does a good job of dispersing people, by sending them off in various directions with quests. And especially if you consider the WoW endgame, people will be in groups of 10 or 25 people in a raid instance, a sufficiently small number to not cause big lag problems on half-decent computers. The endgame of WAR on the other hand is about capturing fortresses and cities, with no limit to participation. The more people reach the level cap in WAR (which appears to be a relatively slow process), the more likely it becomes that hundreds of them will turn up for a battle. These large-scale battles are the USP, the unique selling point of WAR. But are they actually technically possible?

The problem appears to be the amount of data your computer needs to process when there are hundreds of people around you. The problem is worse in a MMORPG than in other multiplayer games, because in a MMORPG every player looks different, with the avatar you are seeing on your screen representing his race, class, and equipment. So I was wondering whether to reduce the lag it would be possible to switch to a display mode where you see everyone with much simplified avatars. Like one avatar for every class/race combo, with no display of what color of armor he is wearing or whether he wields an axe or a sword. It's not as if you'd care whether you are being hit by a sword or axe. Yes, if you were fighting several Ironbreakers they'd all look like clones, the only difference between would be the name floating over their heads. But if that reduced lag considerably, and made crash-free fortress battles possible, wouldn't that be a price worth paying?

I remember Final Fantasy XI where the lag problem was solved by simply *not* displaying everyone immediately. You'd walk onto a crowded space in front of the auction house and at first see nobody, until they one after the other popped into view. Obviously that isn't a feasible solution for a PvP game. So if you need to see every other player, friend or foe, in your vicinity, the only technical solution I see is to reduce the amount of data necessary per player. I remember having seen a cartoon once, but can't find it any more, from somebody who buys a new first-person shooter game, swoons for 5 minutes about the spectacular graphics and effects, and then turns the resolution to minimum and all effects off to be able to actually be fast enough to win. Couldn't WAR introduce a simple toggle switch which you use when you start to experience lag and which reduces graphics to an ugly minimum, but allows you to continue playing without (or with less) lag? Pretty is good, playable is better.

Download Only Gamer

Just a quick link to an interesting new MMORPG blog: Download Only Gamer. The blog is relatively new, and mostly posts about Everquest 2 right now, but isn't really a blog specific to one game, EQ2 is just what the author is playing right now. There is also an interesting post about building your own MMO, where he could use some more participation. I didn't even know there was a MMO Tycoon game! So check it out, and give the new guy a chance!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tanking and healing ain't trivial

I dinged 78 yesterday with my priest in Gun'drak, while on the last quest of the Zul'drak zone. I was in my second pickup group at that point. The first group had a rogue and three plate-wearers: An arms warrior, and two Death Knights, blood and unholy. All of which thought they were tanking. So at the first boss the 4 melee guys all kept slashing at the boss, nobody took care of the adds he summoned, and I died lonely in the back. We still won, because dead holy priests still keep healing in angel form, but it still left me with the impression that none of the three "tanks" really knew what tanking was about. But then that group fell apart, and I had to look for another group to get my quest finished. It just happened that there was a group of 4 desperately looking for a healer. And it turned out that besides a warlock, the other 3 in the group were all healer classes: A druid, a shaman, and another priest. Oh great, first I get a group with three tanks that can't tank, then I get a group with three healers that can't heal. Fortunately the druid was okay as feral tank, the shaman, shadow priest, and warlock were good damage dealers, and with me healing we finished the dungeon with ease.

Nevertheless I couldn't help but wonder what all of these guys were planning to do at level 80. I hear that among the heroic dungeons there are some quite tough nuts. If the players who leveled to 80 with a dps spec stay dps, we'll probably have shortages in tanks and healers. But if the dps warriors, death knights, and paladins switch to tank spec, and the feral druids, enhancement shamans, shadow priests, and some other paladins switch to healing spec, I'm worried about the quality of their performance. If they think that a simple respec and switch of gear will turn them from a dps character into a tank or healer, they are sadly mistaken. Just having the right stats and the spells and abilities isn't enough. You need to *know* how to play a tank or healer to be any good in that role.

That is why personally I level my priest in holy spec, and will level my warrior in protection spec. I'm sure that slows me down somewhat whenever I'm soloing. But in every group I join on my way to 80 I not only do a much better job tanking or healing than somebody with the wrong spec and gear; I also get constant training on how to use my tanking and healing abilities to maximum effectiveness. Both roles take a lot of skill, and constant judgement calls, unless there is just one simple tank'n'spank boss. If you fight several mobs, keeping all the aggro on the tank isn't trivial, and keeping everybody alive when several people are getting hit at once isn't trivial either. Someone who is only familiar with the damage dealing capabilities of his class won't be able to do a good job of tanking or healing on his first try. And even if someone already did some tanking or healing at level 70, there are quite a number of abilities that have changed, and getting rusty on your skills while leveling as dps isn't a good idea.