Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chronicling a personal history

It just so happened that the first request on yesterday's open Sunday thread was also on my personal list of things I planned to post about, so as requested, here is my view on the new Armory activity feed: For those who haven't heard of this new feature of the World of Warcraft Armory, there is now the possibility to create a RSS feed which reports the main items of a characters activity, that is bosses killed, epic loot gained, and achievements gained. Thus if you would take for example the Armory activity feed for my priest, you would see that over the last week he ran Forge of Souls on normal 15 times, before giving up on the bracers that Ick & Krick never dropped, buying crafted epic bracers instead to get the Epic achievement.

The catch is that to access that feed you only need to know the name of the character and the server he is playing on. Thus everybody who knows that information can follow your activity. Although normally that shouldn't cause much of a problem, because for example your boss is unlikely to know your character name and thus can't find out what you really did when you called in sick, some people are worried about privacy issues. Blizzard should have been more privacy conscious on that one, and have at least an option to disable your activity feed if you don't want others to see it.

Nevertheless the Armory activity feed is interesting, because it gives us a hint of things to come. Game developers are slowly realizing a simple truth: People are more interested in their own characters' history than in the history of some NPC. What would *you* rather have, a website with the complete history of Arthas, or a website with the complete history of *your* characters? Just imagine a complete history "book" of your character, the times he leveled, the challenges he overcame, sorted by date, and clickable for how your character looked in his gear at that time. In a time and age where people feel the need to Twitter what cereal they had for breakfast, the heroic tales of you fantasy avatars make for a much better story. So I'm sure that the activity feed isn't the end of that trend. I don't know if it will be WoW or another game, but some time soon we will see a MMORPG offering a complete chronicle of your character's history.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The return of the open Sunday thread

I'm not promising to make this a permanent institution again, but apparently some of you would like a place where they can suggest subjects for me to write about. Well, there is always e-mail, but nevertheless here it is, another edition of the open Sunday thread: If you have any questions for me, or any suggestions on themes I should write about, you can comment here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

500 gold per hour for doing nothing much

Warcraft Econ has a very interesting short post up, in which they did a rather simple experiment: They stood motionlessly for 1 hour near some pool in Wintergrasp and fished, and then sold all the fish on the auction house. The result of that was an astounding 500 gold. And I suspect you could further increase that amount by turning those fish into fish feasts if you have cooking skill as well.

With the glyph market on many servers being shot to pieces, fishing might actually be more profitable than making glyphs right now. In fact, as I recently discovered on a level 59 death knight alt, inscription can be extremely profitable if you don't make glyphs. I haven't timed it, but I'd estimate I made a similar 500 gold per hour through the simple process of buying herbs, milling them into pigments, and turning those pigments into inks that I sold on the AH.

So why is it so easy to make lots of gold with activities which require basically no effort at all? Economic theory would suggest that people take the path of least resistance to earn money, and would be all over gold-making opportunities like this, thereby destroying the market for fish and inks. The reason why that doesn't happen in World of Warcraft is that fundamentally boring activities like fishing and milling herbs just aren't fun, and people value fun higher than currency in a virtual world. In WoW gold has the curious property that it suffers from strongly diminishing returns, much more so than money in the real world. The more gold you have, the less an additional 500 gold buys you. Even if you, like me, use flasks, fish feasts, and runescrolls of fortitude in heroics, where they ain't strictly necessary, a single hour of fishing for 500 gold would finance those consumables and repairs for a whole week.

With people valueing fun over gold, economic activity in World of Warcraft is ruled by somewhat different rules than the real world economy. The basic principle of "opportunity cost" still applies, but now that "cost" is calculated in "lost fun", not in time or effort. Some WoW economists get all upset when people say they "farmed something for free", but that notion isn't all that stupid as it appears: If the activity of farming for some reason is not boring, but actually fun to the person doing the farming, his opportunity cost as calculated in "lost fun" is really zero. Thus it doesn't really matter whether lets say killing elementals to farm them for eternals yields you more or less than the 500 gold per hour from fishing. If killing elementals is fun to you, and fishing is boring to you, the elemental farming is simply the better option.

And that is actually a good thing, because it avoids everybody rushing into the most profitable economic activity. Different players find different activities in the game fun. One guy likes to buy and sell goods on the auction house, another likes to make a thousand glyphs, one guy finds fishing relaxing after a stressing day at work, another prefers doing daily quests for gold. It is of absolutely no use to tell the guy who is doing daily quests or farming elementals that his activity isn't the most profitable, and that he should do fishing or AH camping instead. If the former is fun for him, and the latter isn't, the "fun opportunity cost" of doing something boring is simply too great to be viable. The homo economicus is alive and well even in virtual worlds, it is just the concept of what exactly "utility" is to a MMORPG player that is different in the virtual world compared with the real world.

Aion refund petition

Inktomi is upset about a recent wave of Aion accounts being hacked, which apparently orginated from NCSoft's account website not being very safe. A bug on that website could result in you ending up on the account management site of another player, where you could easily change his password and then proceed to log into the game and steal all his stuff. NCSoft first denied the incident, then updated the website security, but now is slow in restoring their customers lost virtual goods. So Inktomi is starting a petition to get a "time refund".

While I do think that NCSoft is at fault here, and I'm willing to help out with that by linking to it, of course I have to remark that A) getting 3 months of free subscription from NCSoft for being hacked will never happen. And B) the reasoning behind this demand comes from a common misconception, a logical error which leads to much of what is wrong with MMORPGs today. So let me state this crystal clear:

Playing a MMORPG is not work. You do no deserve anything, neither in the form of virtual goods, nor in the form of special consideration or status, for having put in lots of hours into a MMORPG.

A MMORPG is a game. The basic financial operation going on here is YOU paying the GAME COMPANY money to be ALLOWED to play the game. You pay money for entertainment hours. You do not pay money for the virtual rewards that result from those hours of entertainment. If you lose those rewards through an error of the game company, of course the game company should do their utmost to replace those virtual goods, which with them being virtual can be done by a simple copy & paste operation. You do NOT deserve your subscription refunded, because you did NOT lose the hours of entertainment you paid for. If you consider the hours spent in a MMORPG to be not entertainment, but work, you are effectively working for a negative salary. Duh, dude!

The negative consequence of this common misconception is that some people think that for having spent a lot of hours in a MMORPG, they are now somehow superior human beings compared to the "noobs" who spent a lot less time in the game. Obviously that is not the case. At best by playing a lot a player can gain knowledge and skill, but this knowledge and skill is extremely limited, and apart from few exceptions not applicable in real life. Video game skills figure pretty low on the long list of things that really count in life. And in a meritocratic society, where people supposedly get ahead by putting in a lot of REAL work, spending a lot of time in a video game is regarded by many as suspicious. Of course the "basement gamer" is as much of a myth as the "elite gamer". But you do need to consider whether by playing a lot you aren't neglecting something in real life which might be less immediately rewarding than purple pixels, but nevertheless ultimately more important. If that "leet" gamer status did actually come from you having neglected your studies, your work, or your family, then you are nothing but a loser. Being hacked, and having been robbed of all those purple pixels, or the game you are playing shutting down and you losing everything, should serve as a reminder that all those virtual rewards and leet skills are just an illusion.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Redesigning MMO combat with poker

When we recently discussed how we could make MMORPGs more challenging and interesting, we listed things that had been tried before, from forced grouping to death penalties. But I believe that the answer is not twiddling with numerical parameters. The fundamental problem of MMORPGs today is that combat is based on a system that lacks interactivity and is completely pre-determined. You can go to a website like Elitist Jerks and find out exactly which combination of keys you have to press in what order to deal the maximum amount of damage for your class and build. And that same spell rotation will be valid for most fights in the game. Hence there is no need for players to make decisions, the only "skill" lies in the flawless execution of a predefined script. To make MMORPG combat interesting, interactive, and by forcing players to make decisions automatically more challenging, we need to introduce some sort of randomness.

Giving myself a generous game development budget of $5, I'll develop in this post a new MMO combat system which is inherently more interactive than what exists on the MMORPG market today, and more tactical, through the use of randomness. For my $5 I'll buy a standard poker deck, and turn it into the base of a MMO combat system. Obviously a real MMORPG would use computers and random number generators and fancy graphics, but this is just a demonstration of principle.

So first I shuffle my poker deck, and then I draw 5 cards. What I get is some sort of poker hand, but thinking outside the box I can also see that I have 5 different "icons" in front of me. If I imagine those 5 icons in a row on the bottom of a screen, the upper part of which shows a 3D virtual world with a monster about to attack me, I can easily make the connection between "playing a card" and "pressing a hotkey", which is the typical way to interact with a MMORPG.

So lets say each card is some sort of attack. To keep within the spirit of both regular playing cards and MMORPGs, lets say that the lower card values are cheap, weak attacks, and the higher card values are more mana-consuming, more powerful attacks. Thus in my first iteration of my combat system I simply play a card, the card "deals damage" to the monster, and I redraw a new card to fill my hand up back to 5 cards. So far, so boring.

But now it gets interesting. In a MMORPG when I press a button, the hotkey goes through some cooldown and is available again. In my poker MMO combat system the card I played is now on the table, and I drew a different card. So unlike in a classic MMORPG, I can't use the same ability again. So now I play a different card, and notice something: The two cards that are now on the table can have some sort of relationship with each other. They could be the same suit, the same value, or they might be of values following each other. What if we integrate this relationship into our MMO combat design?

So we make a new rule: If the new card played is of the same suit, or same kind, or forms a direct sequence, the amount of damage the card deals to the monster in front of me increases, without that its cost increases. For the next card the same thing will be true, but we'll consider longer "X of a kind" and flushes too. Thus playing a 7 of spades, 8 of hearts, and 9 of diamonds in this order deals *more* damage than playing them in 7-9-8 order. Now we'll just need to devise a table, similar to poker hand rankings to list exactly what kind of damage bonus what sequence gives, and our combat system is up and running.

It is easy to see that through the randomness of the shuffled deck the player is unable to say what cards he will play before he actually draws his hand. And as he draws a new random card every time he plays a card, he can also not know exactly what cards he will hold next round. But just like in a poker game, he can make tactical decision. If he is for example just holding a pair in his initial hand, he can play that pair right away, or he can first play the other cards, hoping to draw a third card of that kind. That decision will not only depend on his cards, but also on what monster he is fighting in our MMORPG: For a weak monster a quick burst of damage might be sufficient, for a stronger monster and longer fight it might be better to first build up some combos.

Now while this poker combat system would already be tactical, we can still improve its interactivity. So lets add resistances and vulnerabilities to our monsters. Keeping with the theme of randomness, lets have the monster from time to time exhibit either a resistance to certain types of cards, or a vulnerability to them. So for the next 10 seconds our monster could be taking only half damage from queens, or it could take double damage from hearts. That creates new decision making points for the player. He was maybe holding 2 heart cards in hand, trying to build a straight flush, but now the monster is vulnerable to hearts he rather plays those cards immediately. And what if these resistances and vulnerabilities aren't completely random? Lets say players learn with time that wolves more frequently have a resistance to spades than to clubs, or undead are often vulnerable to kings, that would change their planning depending on which monster they fight.

To wrap it all up, and turn this poker combat system into a MMORPG, we just need some polishing. Maybe change hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds into air, fire, earth, and water. Maybe not give a full deck to players at the start of the game. Maybe allow "deck building" between fights. Maybe not use a simple Ace to Kings sequence, but make up new card values with new tables of interaction. We could even think of turning the whole thing into a "trading card game MMO", which then opens up the door to interesting business models beyond monthly subscriptions.

Of course this is just a skeleton of a combat system, what did you expect with a $5 budget? But once you start thinking about this system, you'll realize that the existing system of static abilities isn't the only possible one. Chronicles of Spellborn tried putting static abilities on rotating wheels, but I think a truly random system has a lot more potential. By varying the rules of how the deck looks, how many "cards" you have in hand, how the interaction table looks, what other abilities than damage you add, you can create thousands of different combat systems from this basic poker idea.

Core hounded

We just talked this week of bloggers changing their mind, and here is one thing where I changed mine: I bought and applied a Blizzard authenticator to my World of Warcraft account, netting me a cute core hound pup pet. But I didn't get the authenticator for the pet, but because of more and more people swearing that their account got hacked *without* them having been careless with their passwords. Now I still believe that a large percentage of that "hacking" is not due to high-tech methods, but to rather low-tech scams, like the scammers who set up a fake WoW armory site and managed to get on top of the Google search for "wow armory" by paying for the link. Nevertheless I can't totally exclude the possibility of various other vulnerabilities like the recently reported Flash vulnerability compromising the security of my account.

Note that this isn't simple loss aversion. Sure, I don't want to lose my carefully hoarded gold, nor see all my gear vendored by some hacker. But by all accounts I hear, getting all or at least most of your stuff back is actually the common outcome of being hacked. So what I am trying to avoid by using the authenticator is the hassle, and the feeling of vulnerability that automatically results from being hacked.

Buying the authenticator was easy, and now that the shipping costs for them are waived not overly expensive. *Applying* the authenticator to your account isn't quite that easy. The thing comes with a leaflet sending you to a site with all sorts of explanations, but the description on how to apply the authenticator are badly done, and the link given there leads you to the wrong page on the account management site. You're told to use the apply authenticator function under "Free Services", but the option simply isn't there. What you need to do is first press the "home" button on the upper left corner of the page, then find the "change security settings" link among lots of small print on the middle right side, and THERE you can apply the authenticator to your account. Not very user-friendly at the moment, if Blizzard really wants to make the thing mandatory, they'll have to streamline the process and put a big colorful button AUTHENTICATOR USE HERE on the first page.

Once the authenticator is applied to the account, things get easy again. You simply get a little popup window every time you try to login into World of Warcraft, and only need to press the single button on the authenticator to get a number to enter into that field. Really only takes a few seconds more per login, which unless you got disconnected in the middle of a fight, is unlikely to bother you. The main disadvantage is that you have to more carefully plan where and when you want to play WoW, and for example take your authenticator with you on trips if you want to play WoW on your laptop. I do not recommend the common practice of temporarily uninstalling the authenticator when wanting to play elsewhere, as I'd say you are more vulnerable when playing on somebody elses computer or unsecured WiFi network.

If you don't hear from me about the authenticator any more, it'll be because it is working just fine. I can assure you, the day the authenticator stops working and locks me out of my account, getting me into all the hassle with customer service I was trying to avoid by buying the thing in the first place, you'll be reading about that on my blog.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Raid gap analysis

World of Warcraft has its ups and downs, which are to some extent reflected in activity numbers, but are mostly visible to people playing the game and noticing servers being full, "additional instances cannot be launched" messages, and activity on the auction house. By this anecdotal evidence I'd say that WoW is in one of its "ups", easily explained by the extreme popularity of the Dungeon Finder. Now that heroics are chock-full every evening, and people collect tons of emblems, a lot more characters are running around in T9 gear or equivalent. Not just the characters that raid, but also players who never raided, and non-raiding alts.

It is easy to see that this situation isn't stable in the long term. Sooner or later two things will happen: People got all the gear they can buy with emblems of triumph (and while they theoretically could go for full sets of T10 gear from emblems of frost, collecting 400 emblems of frost at 2 emblems per day is a lot less attractive); and people will get bored of running the same Northrend heroics over and over. Inevitably people will start to ask themselves what is next, after heroics. And the current answer is that there is a gap, because the transition from running heroics to doing raids is not an obvious one.

Now some raiders will tell you that this is because "raids are hard". That is a somewhat outdated myth, fueled by the need of some raiders to feel "special". In reality the hardest current 5-man dungeons, the three Icecrown dungeons on heroic, are actually harder than several of the fights in Naxxramas. So, given how people in T9 gear are certainly well equipped enough to run Naxxramas, and that doing raids like Naxxramas and Ulduar not only give emblems too, but also drop epics for slots that aren't that easy to fill with emblem gear, why aren't more people doing the transition from heroics to raids now?

I think that the main obstacle is one of organization. Traditionally raids are being organized by guilds. Now I'm in a really good guild, which does a tremendous job of spanning the bridge from running heroics with everyone to raiding Icecrown, but even our organizational energies are limited. The raid calendar is used mostly for "progression raids", and if you are trying to progress with the guild as a whole through the raid circuit, it is obvious that you'll want to do it with everybody's "main" character. Setting up for example a raid for alts to Naxxramas isn't that easy, because you don't want to do it on the 5 progression raid nights, leaving not many time slots for alt raids. And with the administrative charge of the raid leaders and officers already high, setting up a second, parallel raid organization for alts and raid newbies isn't really all that realistic.

Now what could Blizzard do to solve this, and help people over this gap from heroics to raiding? As the problem is one of organization, the solution has to be one that makes organization easier. I can think of several possibilities:
  • Expand the Dungeon Finder to raids, beyond the current limited functionality of the /lfr command. This involves some tricky decisions on raid lockouts, and thus might be limited to only a few raid dungeons, lets say Naxxramas, Ulduar, Sartharion, and VoA.
  • Enable "dual guild" functionality, to make it easier for people to organize their alts into a separate raid pool, without forcing them to leave their main guild.
  • Create an intermediate step by chopping up Naxxramas into 5 parts (the 4 wings and the central part), and having a cross-server Raid Finder for 10-man groups covering only these 5 new mini-raids.
Unfortunately the more probable outcome is that Blizzard will simply not do anything, being fully busy with patch 4.0 and Cataclysm for many months to come. In that case it is extremely likely that we'll see a decline in activity over the next 6 months. You can only run heroics so often before becoming bored, and I don't think that the currently available 5-man content will last that long. It would be in Blizzard's own interest to bridge the gap to raiding, to keep people playing. And just handing out better gear so nobody is "undergeared for Naxxramas" apparently didn't do the trick.

Is that still the same Gevlon?

People on the internet love nothing more than a good conspiracy theory, a subject on which my blog is notoriously short of. So to fill that gap, here is a thought: Is the person currently writing the Greedy Goblin blog under the name of Gevlon still the same Gevlon who started that blog? What if, like the Dread Pirate Roberts, the original Gevlon handed his blog over to somebody else, the only requirement being that the new author, in the words of Hobbes, must be nasty, brutish, and short?

The evidence for that theory is found in the very much changed writing on Gevlon's blog. Less than a year ago the original Gevlon wrote a very insightful post on when dps is Good Enough. In that article he calculated how much damage per second a dps player needed to produce to kill Patchwerk, and that doing that number would be "good enough". Quote: "If everyone else makes 5K DPS, they are still not carrying you, as you still put in enough effort. The fact that they do much more effort does not change the outcome of the fight, just the time spent."

Now compare that to his post of yesterday, where he argues the exact opposite point. He is in a random pickup group, finds that some dps are lower than the tank on the damage meter, and tries to force the pickup group to vote kick those dps, ending with him being vote kicked himself. Because, as the other players realize, the "bad dps" are in fact good enough (and funnily enough one of the guys Gevlon wants to kick does MORE dps than the "good enough" number he calculated in last years post). Kicking bad dps would just slow the pickup group more than "carrying" them.

Other evidence for "Gevlon" not being Gevlon any more are the relative lack of WoW economy posts, other than posting reader screenshots from economic "morons". The current Gevlon obviously doesn't share the old Gevlon's interest in virtual economics, but is more interested in group content and raiding. Which are inherently social activities, and thus not at all aligned with the interests of the original Gevlon.

And if you believed all that, next up my theory how Syncaine is in reality Tasos Flambouras.

Serial Ganker on PvP

Serial Ganker sid67 wrote an interesting blog post on the many faces of PvP. I do agree that there is not *one* PvP, but that for example battlegrounds, arenas, and castle sieges are very different from each other, not only in gameplay, but also in purpose and to what kind of player they appeal.

I don't agree that "griefing" is not an important motivational factor in PvP. While sid67 is right that you can grief players of your own faction by blocking the mailbox or similar stunts, PvP griefing does happen all the time. Even me, playing on a PvE server, just this weekend got griefed by some enemy faction rogue who found it funny to kill all the auctioneers in the city where my bank alt was parked. My limited attempts on PvP servers ended with me being corpse camped by somebody many levels higher than me, until I just gave up.

So why do some people like the ability to grief so much? The answer, curiously enough, lies in the original Everquest, a game which did not have PvP on the overwhelming majority of its servers. But what EQ had was extremely harsh PvE, with extreme "impact", as sid67 calls it, when you lost. As a reaction, people banded together *against the game*, to survive. That is a basic human instinct, going back to the Neanderthals: When things get rough, you better find some friends to help you. The negative consequence of "no impact" PvE in games like World of Warcraft was that it degenerated MMORPGs into massively single-player games. Thus the fans of impact PvP, who hope that introducing impact PvP can replace impact PvE in its function to make people band together.

Unfortunately that simply doesn't work. Everquest worked because at the time there weren't so many alternatives, and the existing alternatives weren't any less harsh. But the so-called "Vision" of bringing back a harsh environment, PvE or PvP, to force people to band together against it, nowadays only results in that harsh game becoming extremely niche, with less than 100k subscribers. The large majority of MMORPG players simply do not accept harsh any more.

PvP in MMORPGs is further hindered, as sid67 alludes to, by the fundamental problem that fairness in PvP is incompatible with the basic game principle of character development in MMORPGs. Take away characters getting stronger through gear and levels, and you don't have a MMORPG any more. Allow character development, and you'll always end up with a huge range of problems of stronger characters "ganking" less strong characters. And, again sid67, the more "impact", that is negative consequences from losing, PvP has, the more likely it is that the loser will find himself in a downward spiral. In the real world a cornered rat might turn into a ferocious guerilla fighter. In a virtual world the rat just logs off and either creates a new character on the winning side, or quits the game. Thus you end up with the somewhat perverse notion of "reverse impact PvP", where the *winning* faction gets penalized in the next round of fights.

The only viable solution for PvP in mass market MMORPGs is positive sum PvP, with basically no impact at all, but with both factions being rewarded for participating. In that option the rewards are totally artificial, handed out by the devs so to say, and thus the developers can reward the kind of PvP which is least likely to drive other customers away. In games which have both that sort of positive sum PvP *and* impact PvP, the majority of players will drift towards the positive sum version, which is one of the reasons why WAR failed. Ultimately game developers need to consider the question of whether the old mantra that "players want PvP" is really true, if you can only get them to participate in PvP by handing out better rewards than for PvE.

[EDIT: As if to prove my point, SOE just announced battlegrounds for EQ2.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Raid invites and achievements

A reader suggested I turn this into a separate discussion thread, which is an excellent idea. I was talking about my T9-geared protection warrior with 35k health unbuffed having problem getting into a raid.
Recently, in the streets of Dalaran:
[2. Trade] PuGRaidleader: LF1M tank ToC 10-man
Tobold: /tell PuGRaidleader Invite me, I'm a tank with 35k health unbuffed
PuGRaidleader replies: Link achievement
Tobold: What achievement?
PuGRaidleader: The achievement proving you completed ToC
Tobold: But I've never been there!
PuGRaidleader: Get lost, noob!
And it isn't just the hardest raids. This week on my server the weekly raid quest is to kill Malygos, and my tank couldn't get a pickup raid invite, because he didn't have the achievement of having killed Malygos before. Malygos certainly *used* to be a hard raid, but even then the problematic part wasn't the tanking, but the dps, and the flood of emblem epics certainly solved that problem.

What use is getting all those epics from heroics if you still can't get into a raid, even one you're overgeared for? I really think Blizzard needs to give their raid dungeon finder the same functionality as the 5-man dungeon finder, so we can get raids together without some overdemanding PuG raid leader kicking us out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tanking history and thoughts

Via MMO-Champion I found this highly interesting quote from Ghostcrawler, in which he explains why we all just AoE in heroics nowadays.
Long-term, the paladin manner of generating AE damage and threat is probably too good, especially given how simple it is. To be honest, we have very mixed feelings on the whole AE tanking game. We brought the druid and warrior more in line with the paladin for fear of recreating the Shattered Halls / Mount Hyjal experience, where other tanks just weren't competitive. What that has led to of course is the AE tank + AE style of damage for almost every pull. You need the tools to be able to tank legitimate adds fights (imagine lots of incoming mobs), but does that mean every pull needs to devolve into that? We'd like to see less AE overall, so buffing everyone's AE tools isn't going to be tops on our agenda. That does however mean that we really can't afford to have a "best AE tank", and while things are more fair there than they were in BC, they aren't fair enough.
So basically, once they gave AoE tanking to one class, they had to give it to all, and now it has become too good.

Personally, my tank just reached a level of gear I'm really happy with. Some guild mates helped me run the Halls of Reflection on normal, until I finally got the Splintered Door of the Citadel shield I had been trying to PuG for in vain. And I'm wearing 4 pieces of T9, shoulders of equivalent iLevel, and the cloak you buy from emblems of frost. Only the jewelry and trinkets are still iLevel 200, but good ones for that level. Even with not putting a pure stamina gem in every slot, but looking for things like hit rating, parry, and dodge as well, I have 35k health unbuffed, and get up to 45k fully buffed, depending on buffs, while of course being defense capped. So running heroics is really comfortable now, especially since I did it a lot and now know them well. I'd love to try him out in Naxxramas, but nobody goes there any more, except for weekly quest.

When running pickup group with my other characters, I have the opportunity to see other tanks in action. Curiously (and I know I will get complaints about this comment), all pickup groups which ended due to wipes had a Deathknight tank. When I play my healer, the DK is hardest to heal too. That missing shield really hurts. But then of course the DK and paladin tanks deal over twice the damage of an equally geared protection warrior tank. Having a paladin tank for me is easiest. Not sure about druids, because all those druid tanks seem to have disappeared, I only see trees and boomkins any more.

Excuse the lack of focus of this post, this is just a random bunch of thoughts on tanks, not leading anywhere. Feel free to add your own thoughts on tanks to the discussion.

The addons I use

Ashlandur asked me two things by e-mail: 1) What my policy on post requests was, and 2) what World of Warcraft addons I was personally using. My policy on post requests is that since I abandoned the Open Sunday Threads, you can request posts from me by e-mail. And as Ashlandur had just done that, here are the addons I use in WoW, in alphabetical order:

AckisRecipeList: Tells me for each of my profession whether I have all the recipes, and if not, where I can get the missing ones.

AdvancedTradeSkillWindow: Only using that because the "Glypher" subrouting of Auctioneer requires it.

AllPlayed: To count my virtual gold, which is distributed over many characters, on two different servers. Also tells me that I'm playing too much WoW. :)

Auctioneer: The standard auction house interface of World of Warcraft is too limited if you want to start any sort of business. Auctioneer allows you to post many auctions at once, allows you to undercut the lowest price by a fixed amount or percentage, and stores prices to give you an idea of the average value of goods, among other things.

Deadly Boss Mobs: The "You Idiot, you are standing in the fire, get a move on!" addon, which replaces whatever situational awareness skill I would otherwise have needed to play in dungeons and raids. ;)

Decursive: Another dungeon/raid addon, to quickly dispel magic or cure diseases with my priest.

FishingBuddy: Reduces the amount of clicking to fish in WoW.

GatherMate: Marks herb and ore nodes you found on your mini-map for future farming.

GearScore: Reduces a person to a single number, to be laughed about.

Healbot: A click-to-heal addon without which healing in raids would be a lot harder.

Telo's Info Bar: Shows some interesting information like fps, bag space, gold, lag, and coordinates on top of your screen.

LilSparky's Workshop: This is supposed to list the cost to make and market price of items in your tradeskill window, but unfortunately is extremely unreliable on the cost column, for example by taking extremely high pigment costs for glyphs instead of counting the much lower and more direct ink costs.

Omen: A threat meter.

ORA2: A raid organization addon.

PallyPower: Manages paladin buffs.

Postal: Your 1,000 auctions of glyphs expired. Use this to empty your mailbox, or get carpal tunnel syndrome trying to do it manually.

QuestGuru: Alternative quest journal, giving you added information like level of quest, as well as a list of which quests in each zone you already did, and which you didn't.

Recount: See Gearscore, but only works for dps classes after having grouped with them. A damage meter.

Scrolling Combat Text: If you like numbers for damage and healing in the middle of your screen instead of in your combat log.

TauntMaster: The Healbot for tanks. Shows who in your group has aggro, and allows you to taunt the mob of your group mates with a single click. Note that standard configuration for protection tanks is badly done, and there is no in-game menu to do better, but you can edit the lua file to fix that.

And that is it. Already quite a long list, and it reflects my main activities in the game: crafting and playing in groups. Bad jokes about reducing people to numbers apart, I'm using Gearscore and Recount to improve my own gear and performance, not to judge the gear or performance of others.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Could you play WoW without addons?

We have become so used to the addons in World of Warcraft that it would be hard to imagine playing without them. I think the leveling game would still be playable enough without addons. But could you imagine raiding without addons?

Although this appears to be a different subject, it actually links to the discussion of last week on the difficulty of WoW. Blizzard could make WoW, especially raiding, significantly more difficult in one stroke, by simply disabling addons. Several readers here commented that the kind of "hard" they want is the one requiring situational awareness and fast reaction to the events around you. That would obviously become harder if you hadn't got an addon warning you that the boss is about to launch this special attack, or even tells you to step out of the fire. And can you even imagine healing and removing debuffs in a raid without addons like healbot or decursive? My warrior significantly improved his tanking by using an addon called Tauntmaster, showing him which other group member got aggro. Take all these addons away, and grouping and raiding would become significantly harder.

Isn't it somewhat embarrassing if you are loudly shouting how easy it is to ride a bike, and then somebody points out that you still have the training wheels on?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Printing the internet

There is an old joke about some CEO who heard about how the internet was going to be the next big thing and asked his secretary to print it out for him so he could have a look for himself. I was thinking of that joke when Blogger waved an advertisement for Blog2Print under my nose. That service takes any blog RSS feed, and converts it into a printed book. So if I wanted, I could print out my blog.

Sounds nice, but there are some problems. The obvious one is volume of content, leading to cost. I created an example "book" from my blog feed just for one year, 2009, without comments, and the book had over 500 pages, and would cost $200 in soft cover to print out. Then of course the entries of a blog in their original order do not make a good book at all, because for example the chapters on my characters in WoW aren't subsequent, but interrupted by blog entries on other games, or about blogging, or other subjects.

The less obvious problem is intellectual property. Morally speaking the content on my blog is my intellectual property, but technically it is in the public domain. Thus if YOU want my blog in print, there is nothing to prevent you to pay those $200 to Blog2Print to have all my posts of 2009 in a nice softcover volume to read in the train. But I wont see a single cent of that money, it will be the Blog2Print people who keep it all. That seems somewhat unfair to me, even if legally there isn't anything I could do about it. And technically the only thing I could do to prevent it is to shut down my RSS feed, but that would close out half of my readers.

Thought for the day: Hard solution

Isn't the solution for people who would like World of Warcraft to be harder actually quite easy? Simply play one of the harder to play roles! For example if you think that WoW is missing challenge in requiring situational awareness, play a tank, and you'll see how that requires a ton more situational awareness than other roles.

Friday, January 22, 2010


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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hard, seriously

If you have to give a talk in real life, it is often a good idea to start it with some humor before going on to the serious stuff. On the internet, starting a serious discussion with humor works less well. Some people never get past the "Huh? Is this for real?" stage, others want to contribute to the fun and answer the question humorously. So, while I want to express my thanks to those few who took up my Rise of the Leet King challenge, I'm afraid I have to pose the question again, seriously:

When you say World of Warcraft is too easy, how exactly should a good, hard game differ from that?

The problem here is that there isn't one single agreed upon definition of what "hard" is in the context of a MMORPG. Imagine a typical situation, a player in the mid-levels, on a quest to kill ten foozles. Making the game harder for him could mean one of many things:

Hard could simply mean long, that is we change the quest from kill ten foozles to kill a hundred foozles for the same xp and reward. That is extremely easy to implement, but will be the first thing players complain about. Every review would mention "the grind", and players would generally not be happy about this. Funnily enough it turns out that it is the more hardcore players who most detest slower leveling, due to their belief that "the game starts at the level cap", while the more casual players actually like leveling, and often make alts when reaching that cap.

Hard could also mean requiring knowledge that the player doesn't initially have. He'll be asked to kill ten foozles, but not where he can find those foozles, so he would have to search for them. The problem with this approach is that players tend to circumvent the problem by using third-party websites or addons to tell them where the foozles are, or how to solve the puzzles, or anything else requiring learning and knowledge. Note that learning is one of the principal reasons why the people who complain about a game being too easy are nearly always veterans of that game. Every MMORPG has some parts that need to be learned, like how to play some specific character class, and once you learned that, the game appears to be easier than before.

Hard furthermore could mean having a significant risk of failure. The player arrives at the foozle camp, and finds that due to their stats or their improved AI the foozles kill him if he isn't playing perfectly or isn't lucky. Unfortunately it turns out that players of MMORPGs are extremely risk averse. If doing a level-appropriate quest solo has a significant risk of failure and death, players will react by doing the quest in groups (which is good), but then complain about how this game has "forced grouping" (which is bad).

Hard could also mean that while the risk of failure isn't all that high, the consequences of failure could be harsh. Death could carry a penalty ranging from perma-death, to level loss, or item loss. The problem with that is the extreme attachment players have to their virtual avatars and goods. Any actual occurrence of perma-death makes a player consider quitting the game instead of starting over. And losses of xp, levels, or items are also viewed quite negatively, because of loss aversion. Instead of being a fantasy world full of adventure, a virtual world with harsh consequences of failure ends up with players being not adventurous at all, and avoiding the places with high risk, like dungeons.

Thus ultimately it turns out that my personal vision of a good, hard game would not be radically different from easy World of Warcraft, but rather tune each of these settings to somewhat harder. Leveling could be somewhat slower than World of Warcraft. Gameplay could require more tactical thinking and learning, preferably using random factors, so the learning experience can't be trivialized by using third-party sources. Risk of failure at the low levels could be similar to World of Warcraft's, but then slowly and gradually increase with level, so killing a level 80 mob at level 80 isn't as easy as killing a level 10 mob at level 10. And the death penalty could increase slightly from World of Warcraft, having some minor xp loss, and include item degradation (which has the added benefit of improving the player economy and crafting part of the game).

How about you? How would you design a MMORPG to be both good, and hard? How would you make your game attractive in spite of being hard, so as to not only attract a tiny number of potential customers?

Which one is the fake?

I received the following letter from Atari today:

New York, NY (January 21, 2010) Atari, Inc., one of the world’s most recognized videogame publishers, and Del Taco, the nation’s No. 2 Mexican quick serve chain, announced today a special promotion allowing eager fans early access to the highly anticipated MMO, Star Trek Online. Created by acclaimed developers Cryptic Studios™, Star Trek Online for PC is set to release on February 2, 2010 in North America.

Customers who purchase a Macho-sized drink at Del Taco will receive a free limited edition Star Trek collector’s cup and a free trial of the Star Trek Online while supplies last. Each collector’s cup will have an individual peel code that can be redeemed for a 48-hour free trial of Star Trek Online at Customers can redeem up to four codes and receive 48-hours of gameplay with each code. As an added bonus, customers that redeem the maximum four codes will receive an extra 48-hours of access to the game for a total of 10 full days.

Additionally, if consumers choose to purchase the game after their free trial, they will receive a free Type-8 Shuttle "pet" add-on for their Starship, available exclusively from Del Taco.

“Early response to Star Trek Online has been tremendous,” said Jim Wilson, CEO and President, Atari, Inc. “Our partnership with Del Taco brings this unique sci-fi massively open online game to an even broader mainstream audience as well as avid Star Trek fans.”

“We’re excited to be partnering with Atari and the Star Trek franchise,” said John Cappasola, vice president of marketing at Del Taco. “We think our customers are going to enjoy the collectible cups as well as the opportunity to get a free trial of the Star Trek Online game.
And now the quiz: I posted two letters from two different game companies today, both looking rather suspicious. But only ONE of them is a fake. The other, as unlikely as it may look, is real. But which one is it? You decide!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rise of the Leet King

I received the following letter from Blizzard today, and I need your help to decide what to answer them:
Dear Blizzard Customer,

We are writing you because you are, or have been in the past, playing World of Warcraft. We also know, thanks to our Warden spy software we installed on your computer, that you have been complaining on some blog, or forum, about World of Warcraft being too easy, and having become even easier during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Well, as you are on to us, and we need your help, we decided to tell you a secret: Making World of Warcraft easier in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was a deliberate business decision based on our design for our upcoming second MMORPG. That second MMORPG, working title "Rise of the Leet King™", is going to be a very hard MMORPG. That way we'll cover all the MMO market, having one very easy and accessible MMORPG for the mass market and new players, and one very hard and challenging MMORPG for the veteran players.

Unfortunately our design team has run into a problem: We have some ideas, based on our experience as serious Everquest raiders, on how to make a MMORPG really hard. But some of the team say that certain features of Everquest wouldn't be acceptable any more for our Rise of the Leet King MMORPG. Thus we are sending out this survey to all of you who complained about World of Warcraft being too easy, so you can tell us exactly in which way you would like your dream MMORPG to be much harder. We compiled a list of possible options, and would like you to tell us which of these you would like to have in a hard game (multiple mentions possible), or, if you have any idea how to make a MMORPG hard that isn't listed, please tell us that one too. The options are:
  • Slower leveling: Make the time to gain a level or any other reward much slower, so it takes about 2,000 hours to reach the level cap, like in Everquest.
  • Experience loss death penalty: Lose about 10% of a level every time you die, including the option to lose levels, taking you days to recover.
  • Item loss: The possibility to lose items, either through death or from wear and tear.
  • Harder soloing: Making mobs much more powerful, so that soloing an even level mob is likely to end up with your death.
  • Faster reaction times required: A combat system in which you need to press the correct blocking key to mitigate damage in fractions of a second. Repeated failure to do so will end up in your certain death due to that lack of skill. Everquest didn't have that, we came up with that one by ourselves, based on the popularity of fast reaction requirements in raids.
  • No instances, slow respawn times: Every mob and raid boss only exists in one copy per server, and only respawns after several hours. If you want to kill a raid boss, your guild better be there before any other guild.
In expectation of your answer what exactly you want when you complain about World of Warcraft being too easy, yours

I think they sent that letter to me by mistake, I want neither of these options, having already experienced most of them in Everquest. So I'm passing the buck to you: If you have ever been complaining about World of Warcraft being too easy, please tell me, how exactly should "hard" look? If you are a reader, you can answer in the comment section. If you are one of many blogger having complained about World of Warcraft being too easy, how about putting your answer on your blog? Just mention the Rise of the Leet King, so we can find your blog post on Google.

MMOCrunch Fallen Earth Review

As I am not covering Fallen Earth on my blog, but some of you might be interested in that game, I'm linking here to the Fallen Earth review on MMOCrunch. I gave up on Fallen Earth very early, but what little experience I had with that game corresponds to what is written in that review.

My reasons for not playing Fallen Earth are totally subjective: I don't like FPS games in the first place, so a MMOFPS is already less likely to interest me than a game with a classic, slower form of combat. And I've grown less tolerant over the years of what is called in the review a "rough" game, as opposed to a "polished" one.

In what are probably equally subjective opinions, several other bloggers do like Fallen Earth very much for being different. This game certainly is not a "WoW clone". Thus if the basic description of the game sounds like something that could interest you, it is probably best to check out the game for yourself. Last thing I heard they were offering a 10-day free trial, which should be time enough to form an opinion for yourself.

EDIT: A reader proposed the Fallen Earth review on as being more representative of the game. Always a good idea to read several reviews, although playing the trial is still the best way to find out whether you like the game.

Scaling the trinity

I was telling about my experiences with overpowered dps in a heroic group yesterday. But last night I grouped with a nearly as well geared healer, and the poor guy was bored to death. Even my priest, with a far more mediocre gear score only needs to be half awake to heal through heroics. Any even more geared healer has to actually hope that the dps pull some aggro, because otherwise there is nothing even remotely interesting or challenging to do in a heroics group.

That got me thinking about how differently the three roles of the holy trinity of MMORPG group combat scale. DPS is pretty straightforward, the more powerful they get, the more damage they deal, thus the faster the mobs die. But there is an important relation with the power of the tank: For a group to support high dps, the tank needs to be able to hold aggro. Fortunately holding aggro is a function of the tank which isn't always gear-dependant. Many abilities of tank classes to "taunt" grab aggro in a way that does not depend on the damage output of the tank. Fortunately, because otherwise we could all just shoot our protection warriors, as they only deal half the damage of an equally geared paladin or death knight tank.

The other function of the tank, the one that scales a lot with gear, is to survive. Better gear mitigates damage better, and gives the tank a bigger buffer of health. So, the more powerful the tank, the less likely he is to die. Which is good, because when the tank dies, the wipe often isn't far behind. But this leads to a rather strange situation, because a tank isn't actually even watching his own health bar in a fight. The health of the tank is the responsability of the healer, not the tank. Thus a tank who is overgeared for an encounter makes life easier for the healer, not for himself. The tank's main activity is holding all that aggro, and that depends more on taunting the right targets, using the right increased threat abilities on the right targets. As some people remarked in a comment on a previous post, the tank is fighting more against the dps classes in his group than against the mobs. The more powerful the dps, the harder the job of the tank.

Thus even in a completely overgeared group doing heroics, both the tank and the dps are still keeping busy. The dps have a competition among themselves to top the damage meter, and the more damage they deal, the faster everybody gets his emblems. The tank is rather busy trying to compensate for all that aggro the huge damage produces, especially since the dps to top the damage meter are likely to jump into the fight too early, and not allow the tank to properly grab aggro before launching their aoe.

The odd man out is the healer. If the dps kill the mobs ultra-fast, and the tank is skilled enough to hold all the aggro and geared enough to mitigate much of the damage, then healer just has to throw the occasional heal over time on the tank. Otherwise there isn't much to do for him. He could try to add to the damage, but the damage he can do with a healing spec and gear ends up looking ridiculously low on the damage meter, even compared with the tank. Dealing damage for a healer in an overgeared group is more an occupation to keep him from falling asleep, not something that would actually be really useful. The most important addons for a healer in heroics are becoming Peggle and Bejeweled.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Physics of Space Battles

As I mentioned, the best part of Star Trek Online is the space battles. But one eternal problem of science fiction is that it relates to real science, so people have a tendency to compare the fiction of science to its reality. That big space ship explosion you saw in that sci-fi movie or game? Not physically possible. An explosion in space would be much smaller, because it would quickly consume all the oxygen the space ship brought with it, and then stop. Due to the vaccuum of space there wouldn't even be a shock wave. And so on.

So how would a space battle look if the physics were all correct? Nils sent me this story from Gizmodo, explaining the physics of space battles. It is an interesting read if you have an interest in science. But as we haven't detected any aliens in space yet, you are unlikely to get into a real space fight anytime soon. And I doubt that Star Trek Online or any other sci-fi game will replace their fictional battles by physically correct ones.

Please, take away our gear

I'm still doing a lot of random dungeon runs in World of Warcraft, with guild mates if possible, with pickup groups if not. This weekend my mage got grouped with a dps warrior, fury spec. As I'm still working to optimize my gear and my damage output, I'm running addons like Gearscore and the Recount damage meter. Not to judge people and tell them how their gear or dps sucks, but for comparison and self-improvement. And this dps warrior had a very high Gearscore, 6k, the kind of gear you can only get from running high-end raids a lot. And his damage output was 6k too.

Now a regular level 80 mob, not elite, just a normal mob running around in a level 80 zone in World of Warcraft has 12,600 health. With 6k dps you'll kill that mob in 2 seconds. A freshly minted level 80 character who hasn't run any heroics yet, and who is in a typical mix of green and blue gear from questing and normal dungeons will need around 10 seconds to kill that same mob. It appears likely that the mob was designed around such a 10-second fight, not around a 2-second fight.

A factor of around 5 or 6 in damage output between somebody just arrived at the level cap and somebody at the highest end of endgame content appears to me to be somewhat problematic the day the next expansion comes out. Blizzard needs to think of the future, the day where somebody reaching level 80 will NOT stop and run heroics and raids, but will continue directly in one of the new level 81+ zones. Thus a level 81 regular mob will have slightly more health than a level 80 mob, but not 5 times more. The fight will still be designed to last about 10 seconds. And our 6k dps warrior will be completely overpowered for that and consequently bored by much of the content in Cataclysm.

The basic idea behind a MMORPG based on levels and gear is that you improve your character, which opens up new content for him, which was previously unavailable because it was too hard. You can't solo Hogger at level 1, or quest in Westfall, you do the level 1 quests first, kill the level 1 mobs, get the gear they drop, level up to level 2, and so on, until you are finally strong enough to deal with Hogger and Westfall. If it was possible to twink up a level 1 character to already be strong enough to solo Hogger and kill mobs in Westfall, bad things would happen: The player would find that level restrictions on quests would actually prevent him from getting quests in Westfall, even if he can kill the mobs. And the player would find that even if already strong, he'd still want to level up to get even stronger. Only that the available content would be even more trivial than it already is for a regular character, and none of the loot rewards would have any use. Remove challenge and loot from a MMORPG, and there isn't really much of interest left (which is exactly why people who become good at playing MMORPGs are then the first to burn out of them, while the casuals can keep having fun).

I am certain that the 6k Gearscore, 6k dps warrior had to put in a lot of time and effort into getting that far. He isn't alone, but he is somewhere in the top few percents of the player distribution. Which is why Blizzard will ignore him, and design Cataclysm around the median player. Or actually BELOW the median, because the content has to fit the fresh level 80 characters, while most of the real level 80 characters will have grown in power beyond that through gear from heroics, even if they don't raid. There will be quite a number of people wearing T9+ gear, and encountering content which was designed to be beaten with green / blue gear. That leads to the perverse situation that the more effort you put into your character now, the less fun you will have in the next expansion.

I don't see a way to have both the green / blue gear guy and the 6k dps guy do the same level 81 quest in Cataclysm and both have fun, and both get a nice reward. Chances are, based on the experience with previous expansions, that the green / blue gear guy will find the green / blue quest rewards at level 81 to be a huge upgrade to his level 80 gear, while the 6k dps guy won't find any upgrade to his gear before running level 85 heroics and raids.

So I am proposing a radical idea: Let the Cataclysm be accompanied by a magical explosion of disenchanting, which removes all the magic from our gear. Every player would find himself in his level 80 gear, same look like before, but now the stuff has a grey name and no stat bonuses at all. And the armor value of gear of the same basic type, lets say two plate chest pieces, is exactly the same, regardless of previous iLevel. Now previous 6k dps guy will probably still be more skilled and a better player than previously 1k dps guy. But the difference will be significantly smaller, and both can play through the same content and both have fun, and both get upgrades to their gear from quest rewards.

Note that the more likely stat inflation of the next expansion amounts basically to the same thing, leveling out the 6k dps guy and the 1k dps guy. Only that it'll take longer, probably until level 85 heroics, before the two find themselves in roughly the same gear. By that time the 6k dps guy already has missed most of the content of the expansion, because he just rushed mindlessly through and never got a reward. Taking his gear away from him at once might feel harsh, but in the end it is the better solution. You can still leave him an achievement reflecting his gear score at the end of Wrath of the Lich King.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Votes are in

So the votes are in, and the overwhelming majority is for keeping comments on, with comment moderation. So that is what I'll do. Here are some of my comments to your comments in that poll:

its your blog after all
Not 100%. Without readers this blog would be nothing. That doesn't mean I need to listen to every vocal minority, but listening to the wishes of the majority is certainly a wise thing to do if I want this blog to prosper.

That said, I will say that there is something definitely missing with the delay caused by moderation. In my case, on the west coast of the US, no comments are approved after Noon. The net effect is that the topic is pretty much closed and very few replies are posted after that break. You DO need to sleep, so it's completely understandable. But it is different -- and not in a good way. Still, some comments are better than none -- which I suspect is your point here.
My apologies for the delays in comment moderation, but they are unavoidable. I sleep, I work, I play, and in the breaks between I moderate comments.

allow for trackbacks (links to here from another blog)
Trackbacks are on, you can see them in the "Links" section at the bottom of the post. But they are automated by Blogger, and I sometimes think that doesn't work very well.

Wasting your energy on the drama and fallout over not publishing comments is not worth your time. You dont have to explain to anyone why you choose to publish a comment or not.
Will do. The unfortunate consequence is even stricter moderation, because now I don't just delete the offending comment, but also the comment complaining about the moderation.

I would prefer the comment not to be moderated beforehand and any black sheeps picked out afterwords because as it is now the possibility to get a conversation going is a bit limited.
I tried that before. The problem with this approach is the delays in moderation as mentioned above. As I mentioned before, my main problem with bad comments is not that they are insulting to me, but that they tend to derail the comment thread. Somebody says "You WoW players are all just idiots", and then the WoW players respond with counterattacks, and by the time I come to moderate I have to delete 90% of the comments.

I very rarely read the comments. The vast majority of the time I only read what shows up in the RSS feed.
You sure aren't alone there. According to Feedburner and Google Analytics, half of the people reading my RSS feed never visit the site itself. You can read the comments via RSS feed as well, but either you get a feed that isn't sorted by thread, or you have to manually set up a feed for every post, neither of which is a good option. Nevertheless the other half of readers, who do visit the site and not just the feed, apparently prefer the site WITH comments.

I don't really enjoy reading these blog-about-the-blog metaposts, which are almost exclusively about the comments.
This blog isn't exclusively about MMORPGs, it is also about remotely related stuff that interests me. So sometimes there are reviews of board games, or I talk about a single-player computer game, or if I buy a new computer you'll hear about that. Now blogging, unsurprisingly, is a strong interest of mine. As it occupies a good portion of my thoughts, I will never stop blogging about blogging. I think some people read too much into those posts; yes, they are personal and self-reflective, and some people get uncomfortable when reading somebody else's more personal thoughts. But these posts aren't really as negative as some might think. By talking about the problems of blogging, I am dealing with those problems. If you want a blogger who never has problems with blogging, you'll need to look for a blog written by a machine.

As an alternative, you could add a few of your more trusted readers as authors, with the understanding that they won't create new posts but will only serve as moderators.
There is no technical way to hire somebody as moderator only, without giving him the possibility to also post, delete posts, or do something else with the blog. Thus getting another person in is equivalent to giving somebody else your userID and password for your MMORPG account, including access to the guild bank. That *can* work, but it also can lead to disaster. There is nobody I trust that much. And I don't think anyone would want to do that job on a permanent basis, hired hands on a blog will realize quickly that opening up their own blog is the better option for them.

I also think in general you worry far too much about what other people are saying about you.
Agreed. I guess that is part of my character, and unlikely to change completely. But that vote in favor of comment moderation helps me feel more secure about dealing with the trolls. In the end it is a two-part deal, I need to learn how to handle the negativity, you need to learn how to handle my sensitivity. Because the alternatives, which are no comments or no blogging, aren't what either of us wants.

Poll: Comments Yes or No?

I moderate comments on this blog. I explained the reasons for that multiple times, but if you don't remember my arguments, there is one long comment from me in the previous post which sums them up well. Nevertheless comment moderation invariably leads to people complaining about the restrictions.

Thus I would like your input on the options: Do you prefer comments in the current form, with moderation? Or would you prefer if I had no comment section at all? This is a simple "comments yes or no" question, there is no third option of "I would like comments without moderation", because I simply couldn't stomach that one (and I tried).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I don't like bananas

I don't like bananas. I do like apples, and I eat one every day.

This is post #3000 on my MMORPG blog, so why the heck am I talking about bananas? The statement above is a simple statement of preference, and you probably couldn't be any less interested in what my personal preferences for fruit are. No banana fan is going to turn up to try to show me the error of my ways, telling me how the magnesium in the banana is good for me. No fans of apples are going to agree with me, or start calling the banana fans "a bunch of monkeys". We all understand that different people like different fruit, and there is absolutely no reason to get all excited about that.

I don't like Star Trek Online. I do like World of Warcraft, and I play it every day.

This is obviously the same template of a simple statement of personal preference. It is equally true. But suddenly I get commenters trying to explain to me how wrong I am, that I just happened to miss the good parts of Star Trek Online, or any other game I don't like. And I even get people accusing me of being paid by Blizzard to promote their game [For the record: I am not paid by Blizzard, nor do I receive any form of freebies or other goodies from them. I got a press pass to a Blizzard convention in Europe from them. Once. Two years ago. Travel not included.]. So why is the same type of statement of preference suddenly leading to so much more emotional reactions? The answer is in social identity theory. It describes the, quote: "natural tendency to construct identities based on group membership. Part of who you are –and how you communicate that to others– is defined by what groups you belong to."

When you pick a fruit out of a fruit bowl, you don't feel you joined such a group. Picking a MMORPG however requires a somewhat higher degree of commitment. There is usually a higher cost involved. And if you want to get anywhere in that MMORPG, you need to commit a serious amount of time to that game. Thus we perceive this choice as more important than choosing a fruit, and it is important to us to believe that we made the "right choice". We effectively joined the club of those haven chosen the same game as us, and those who choose a different game are a different group, and it becomes "us" against "them".

Because having made the "right choice" is important to us, anyone having made a different choice is perceived as a threat. At the very least we feel a need to demonstrate that the other guy's choice was "wrong", because it was obviously "us" who choose the "best" game, and not "them". That gets considerably worse if the other guy is a prominent blogger. Look, Tobold is one of "them", writing about the "wrong" game, quick, let's launch some personal attacks against him, some slander to discredit him. If Tobold plays a game with millions of subscribers and says he likes it, then obviously he was bought to influence those millions of mindless sheep, those dumb lemmings going for the lowest common denominator, the McDonalds of MMORPGs. We need to strike fast and hard to make people see the errors of their ways, how "our" game is so far superior, because there can be only one! It couldn't possibly be that a company managed to design a game which is appealing to so many people, and that Tobold just happens to be one of those many, there must be some hidden agenda!

Me, I'm standing there with that apple in my hand, scratching my head, and thinking that all these attacks, all this excitement about which is the "best" game, the "right choice", is getting old, fast. I made a choice, based on my personal preferences. Not only does nobody else have any business in telling me that my choice was wrong, not any more than they can persuade me to eat bananas. But I don't even see why everybody else is getting so defensive. My personal preferences of MMORPG features have been discussed at length, so that for example I don't like excessive instancing and soloing, or I don't like PvP, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Nor should it surprise anyone if my likes and dislikes for specific games are based on those personal preferences of this feature or another. What your "right choice" for a game is depends totally on your personal preferences, not on mine.

And I do not have an agenda in promoting one game or another on this blog. I don't make any money with this blog. I don't go begging to MMORPG companies for freebies, or offer them deals to promote their games. When companies send me stuff, I accept it, but publicly disclose what I got. That disclosure was policy on my blog since my first freebie, long before the FTC made this a rule. I simply play the games I like, then, having an analytical mind, playing makes me think, and then I blog my thoughts. It is as simple as that. I might sometimes make mistakes in my reasoning, just like anyone does. But my choice of game I play, based on my personal preferences, is certainly not an error. Believe me, after 5,000 hours in the game I would have noticed.

People who think they need to attack me for my personal choices and preferences, out of some outdated tribal thinking, make me sad. I'll stick to apples.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lifetime subscription thoughts

Atari and Cryptic announced the subscription options for Star Trek Online. Besides a classic $14.99 monthly subscription, you can also get one of two "special offers", which are only valid before release day: A 12-month subscription for $119.99, or a subscription "for the life of the product" for $239.99, one cent more than two 12-month subscriptions. After February 2 you can *still* decide to buy a lifetime subscription, and it'll cost $299.99. Game not included. Is that pricey or what?

If you play the open beta and like Star Trek Online, to a degree that you want to play it for a long time, the 12-month offer looks like a good deal. It's a third cheaper than the monthly subscription, and it is reasonable to believe that STO will be around for at least one year. To make the same cost saving on the cheaper of the two lifetime subscription deals, you'd need to play for two years. In my opinion Star Trek Online doesn't have sufficient depth to make it likely that a lot of players keep playing that game for several years, but of course I haven't even seen the endgame, and more content will probably be added over time.

The $299.99 "standard lifetime pricing" without preorder bonus is interesting, because so few games offer this still after release. As you'd buy that only after the two cheaper promo offers have expired, we'd have to compare this to the standard $14.99 price per month, which makes the standard lifetime pricing break even after 20 months, for people understandably reluctant to pay so much *before* release.

So I was asking myself, what game am I still likely to play in 2 years? And that turns out to be a difficult question. While patch 3.3 certainly was a shot in the arm for World of Warcraft and considerably revived it, and Cataclysm this year sounds attractive as well, my interest in this game has its ups and downs. I love running dungeons much more than playing solo, but obviously the number of dungeons is limited, and once you ran them all a dozen times, even the Dungeon Finder is losing its lustre. So would I pay $300 for a lifetime subscription for World of Warcraft? I think yes, for two reasons: I'm absolutely certain that World of Warcraft will still exist in 2 years, which isn't necessarily true for every other MMORPG out there; and a lifetime subscription would be more convenient, freeing me from the stress of cancelling my account when I lose interest and resubscribing later.

So how about you? Would you pay $300 for a lifetime subscription for an existing MMORPG? Which one would that be?

Friday, January 15, 2010

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Due to the Dungeon Finder a larger proportion of World of Warcraft players is now spending a larger proportion of their time in dungeons, running 5-man groups. The group composition is fixed by the Dungeon Finder to be one tank, one healer, and three dps. And because success of a random pickup group is extremely likely, there is very little bickering about whose fault it was that the group wiped. But of course some people like bickering for bickerings sake, so a discussion has popped up in various forms about who in the group is "carrying" who.

Gordon from We Fly Spitfires made a very controversial guest post at World of Matticus asking whether tanks and healers shouldn't get extra rewards for joining a pickup group, as they were the ones carrying the dps. If you look at a simple tank'n'spank combat without an enrage timer, it is possible to do that fight only with a tank and a healer. If it's a boss fight that will obviously take forever, and then you'll post the video of it on YouTube, but the basic impression is that the tank and the healer are the mandatory parts of the 5-man group, and the dps are the optional parts which just server to shorten to time.

Of course you can take the same line of thinking and reverse it, to show how this isn't proof of anything. I still have bad memories of Malygos, because I went there with a group where the tank and healer (including me) were good enough to keep the aggro all the time and keep everyone alive. But then the enrage timer kicks in and the raid wipes, because the dps didn't collectively do X million points of damage in the given time. So already for timed encounters you could say the dps carry the healer and tank. And obviously if the damage output is high enough to kill the mob before it can do serious damage, no tank nor healer is needed at all.

As I mentioned in my previous post, tanks and healers only need to be "good enough" to beat a given encounter or dungeon. But there being 3 dps in a 5-man group, somebody is always running a damage meter, and there is some internal competition. So the guy doing 4k dps says he was carrying the other guy who did only 2k dps. But as Chastity from Righteous Orbs remarks, it is rather his gear which is carrying the 4k dps guy. One person dealing more damage than another is not necessarily due to him trying harder or being more skilled. It can also be due to difference in gear, or even class balance. And in some cases the race to top the damage meter can get the group wiped, because people start blasting away before the tank has aggro, or they AoE where they shouldn't have AoEd.

I do have addons like Gearscore and the Recount damage meter installed, for my own information, with the goal of helping me improve myself. But in my guild the public display of damage meter data is frowned upon, and in raids such "piss-o-meter" data display can get you kicked. Because while these addons have some limited use, using them in a pissing contest of who is better ends up reducing people to a single number, which is not what cooperative multiplayer games should be about.

Instead of demanding higher rewards for those "carrying" the others, or kicking the underperformers directly, we need to realize that we need the other players, and that everybody is carrying everybody else at some point. That undergeared healer and the top dps might look at each other and each think they are carrying the other, but in the end they both need each other. If you could set up the Dungeon Finder to only group you with people with a 6k+ Gearscore, doing at least 5k dps for the dps roles, you'd quickly find that the 5 minutes you'd save on every dungeon run would be more than compensated by the far longer waiting times for each group to form.

In a cooperative multiplayer game it is reasonable to demand that everybody make an effort, but neither gear nor dps are a good measure of effort, nor skill. You can't use the damage meter to judge a person. Do you think less of yourself if you are playing a lesser played, less geared alt? So maybe the person you are looking down upon today will group with you again next week, only that this time *he* is on his main and *you* are on your alt, on the bottom of the dps table.

We play MMORPGs to have fun, to pursue our own personal goals in the game. We play together because some of these goals can't be reached alone, and the social experience of playing together adds to the fun. Instead of worrying that you might be carrying somebody else, sing with the Hollies: "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thought for the day: DPS is like PvP

Playing a tank or healer is like PvE, you only need to overcome the specific, fixed challenge of keeping aggro or keeping the group alive. Playing a dps role is like PvP, you are fighting to keep on top of the damage meter, to do better than the other dps in your group. Discuss!

The other point of view on STO

Common Sense Gamer Darren is back from a blogging break, and he likes Star Trek Online. Nevertheless he has to resort to an analogy of an awkward highschool date with acne turning out to look like a supermodel 20 years later to explain his attraction. Quotes:
"The ship combat is a bit awkward to deal with in terms of camera and movement, but everything else about it feels bang on….at the very least, the ship combat that is in there right now is a great starting point for STO to grow from. Land combat is the black sheep, but why wouldn’t it be since it is Star Trek and we don’t see land combat that often in that universe….it’s all about the pew-pew in space."
"Technically speaking, the game needs some work. Keep in mind, that it is open beta…the FIRST day of open beta…so I expected the usual gremlins to pop in and say hi. Lag, disconnects, stutter-like gameplay, unfinished content. We’ve been through this song and dance before and we will again. Some are making conclusions based on this and again, we’ve seen that kind of behavior from gamers before too….but I’m thinking they will wish they stuck with the awkwardness at the end of the day."
I've read other comments along similar lines, saying "Admittedly STO sucks for the first 10 levels, but it gets better after level 12 (or some say 20)". Not having played STO past level 12 or 20, and not being in the possession of a functioning crystal ball, I can't say how Star Trek Online will turn out in the long run. Maybe in half a year all the technical problems will be gone, and people will be extremely happy with Star Trek Online. Or maybe not.

From the point of view of both a reviewer and a potential customer, I would still say that *even if* Star Trek Online would improve a lot in the coming months, and play much more interesting in the higher levels, that sort of design / business decision has serious flaws. For the review I simply didn't have the opportunity to play much more than I did, as I only got into the closed beta late as a Fileplanet subscriber. And then of course you want to publish something when the NDA drops, not 3 months later when maybe there are less bugs and the game improved, but nobody wants to read a review of the game any more. I checked various blogs, and game sites, and the reviews on several of them were obviously based on even less play time than mine.

But it isn't just reviewers with real or imaginary publishing deadlines. The majority of players reacts in exactly the same way: Test the game in the open beta, or buy it and play the first free month, then unsubscribe if the game didn't live up to whatever you hoped it would be. A "the first 10 levels suck" design, and a release date prior to "when it's ready" are creating a barrier to entry that a lot of potential customers won't get past. If I had absolutely nothing else to play, I might stick with a flawed game and hope it improves over time. But the number of games to choose from is still growing at a fast pace, so chances are that a game which makes a bad first impression won't get the opportunity to make a better one later.

Of course that is somewhat superficial, and by not testing every game long enough I might have missed some really good ones. For example I hated the original tutorial of Fallen Earth in the beta so much that I never gave the game a real chance, but lots of bloggers report it is in fact a good game (and apparently they even redid the tutorial completely). But as long as I'm having fun with whatever else I'm playing at the moment, me having missed a game is the loss of the game developer, not my loss. Thus I think that the MMORPG industry really has to think their business and design practices over, and make a bigger effort to create games that are fun from the first minute you log on, and run reasonably well. The "it's just the beta" excuse isn't really working well in the open beta three weeks before release. You'll only end up with bad reviews and cancelled preorders, which are going to hurt the game for a long time.

Arcane vs. Frost in heroics

So I spent several hours studying builds and spell rotations for my freshly minted level 80 mage, visiting sites like Elitist Jerks, specialized mage blogs, and looking into programs like Rawr. The result of all that research went into two builds, so now I'm dual-spec Arcane and Frost. The Arcane build is a very standard 57/3/11 build, with a standard spell rotation of 4 x Arcane Blast, followed by Arcane Missile, augmented by Icy Veins whenever possible. The Frost build is a 20/0/51 build, with a minor modification to *not* use Brain Freeze, because a) Elitist Jerks claim that Brain Freeze isn't all that good as it appears to be, and b) there is currently a bug with Brain Freeze not appearing in the combat log, thus any addons alerting you to the possibility of casting that free fireball not working right now. The Frost build is using the Glyph of Eternal Water, thus all measurements were taken with a permanent water elemental.

I then went to test the two builds. First test was against target dummies, using all available self-buffs, but no flasks, food, or buffs from other classes. As expected, Arcane performed better than Frost under those conditions. With my 4k Gearscore, I ended up doing 2.5k dps in Arcane, and 2.3k dps in Frost.

But then I went doing heroics to do a more realistic test of the two specs, and the situation reversed. Of course in a heroic the overall dps depends on the dungeon itself, especially for a mage, because some dungeons have more opportunity for AoE than others. And the result also depends on the rest of the group, because if your tank can't hold aggro, you're not doing as much damage. Nevertheless after repeated runs the overall result was very clear: In heroics I ended up doing more damage with my Frost build than with my Arcane build.

The difference was not due to AoE, and surprisingly not even due to mana management issues, even if the Arcane build is more mana hungry than the Frost build. But the main difference in heroics turned out to be whether you were able to pull your spell rotation off. The Frost build conveniently doesn't really have a spell rotation: You use Frostbolt all the time, and sprinkle in Icy Veins, Deep Freeze, and Mirror Image whenever you can. The Arcane build isn't really complicated either, but depends on building up a stack of 4 Arcane Blast buffs and preferably the Missible Barrage buff to fire off a very powerful Arcane Missile spell. That works fine on target dummies and some bosses, but not so well on trash and some other bosses. On trash the problem is the trash being dead before you get to use your Arcane Missile, and the buff ending before the next pull. On some bosses the problem is various boss abilities either interrupting your spell rotation, e.g. with some form of pushback or stun, or forcing you to interrupt your sequence yourself, by having to move into safety. The effect is the same: You're not getting to cast a fully buffed Arcane Missile as often in a heroic as in on a target dummy.

Now add the additional "safety" features of a frost build, like Ice Barrier, and the AoE being somewhat better due to slowing effects, and the conclusion is that for heroics the Frost build is performing better than the Arcane build overall. Better overall dps, better survivability. The Arcane build would probably improve in comparison if I were doing raids, at it will perform better on some big bosses, but in heroics at the moment it isn't really the boss fights that are slowing the group down.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In case you wondered

Somebody was asking for my FTC (it's FTC, not FCC) disclaimer on my material relationship with Cryptic for the Star Trek Online review. There was none, because I do not have a material relationship with Cryptic. The only thing I received from them about STO was press releases and screenshots for publication, which aren't a material advantage. I didn't even get a closed beta invite from them, I got in the old-fashioned way by buying my way in via a Fileplanet subscription. I do not have, nor was I promised one, a free subscription to Star Trek Online, nor did I receive money or other material considerations for writing a review on STO.

And hey, I didn't even recommend the game, being disappointed in it, like so many other beta players were. Nevertheless I still think it isn't all bad, it just didn't live up to the hype and hopes of many. STO is a simple game, much simpler than lets say World of Warcraft, more linear, more scripted, less open world and different possibilities of gameplay. And as for some people even WoW is too simple, there is no chance they'll be happy with STO. But tastes differ, and if you are looking for a game that doesn't overwhelm you with lots of options and possibilities, maybe STO isn't so bad.

Star Trek Online beta review

I had great hopes for Star Trek Online. But when I played the beta I was disappointed and didn't like the game all that much. Thus I decided not to buy Star Trek Online on release.

You might be surprised that I start this review with the conclusion, but actually most reviewers form an opinion first, and then write a review to fit that opinion. This is my very personal impression of Star Trek Online as experienced in the late closed beta, with no claim to either completeness or impartiality. I played about 12 hours, distributed over three days, which was enough to get a good general impression of the game, but certainly not all the details, thus this is just a "beta review".

Star Trek Online is based on two different engines, one for the space part, in which you control a ship not unlike the USS Enterprise, and one for the ground part, in which you control your avatar, and quite often a crew of NPC as well. Now you might remember reviews of Pirates of the Burning Sea telling you how nice ship combat was in that game, and how badly done the avatar part was. Star Trek Online unfortunately has the same problem. The space part and ship combat are nicely done, and different from classical MMORPG combat. But the avatars aren't pretty to start with, the animations especially in combat are wooden, and ground combat isn't much fun. One gets a definitive impression as if Cryptic Studios started with the design of the space part, did the avatar part much later, and ran out of time before they could make that part as good as the space part.

The world of Star Trek Online consists of various sectors of galaxy. In each sector you can see players flying around, stationary star systems, and mobile encounters. Thus gameplay consists of flying to one of these star systems or encounters, and entering its instance. Everything in Star Trek Online is instanced, even the galaxy sectors or the space stations exist in several parallel incarnations with a maximum number of players per instance. When you enter a star system or encounter instance, a scripted mission starts consisting of some sequence of space and ground tasks, which can be solo, group, or public quest. This is completely linear, you have to follow the script or the mission doesn't advance. For example you enter a system, get hailed by a freighter in distress, do space combat against some pirate ships attacking the freighter, beam down to the freighter to do some ground combat against the pirates in the ship, beam back up to the ship to fight off some more pirate ships, and mission done, warp back to the sector. If you enter the same sector again, the exactly same script starts, and you can do the mission again, over and over if you want. But you can also either hail Starfleet command, or visit them in the Earth space station, and get quests there. There are two sorts of Starfleet command quests I found, one a bit more elaborate versions of scripted missions, the other "visit X star systems in this sector and do the local missions there".

There are different types of rewards, two sorts of xp, two sorts of currency, two sorts of gear, plus you can get crew members as a reward. Experience points can be either for you, or for your crew. Your xp gain you levels, and every 10 levels a new rank, plus you can buy skills with them. The crew xp are a pool shared between all crew members, and it is you who decides the skills of which crew member you want to raise with them. Currencies are either energy credits to buy various gear with, or Starfleet merits to buy crew members and train them. Gear can be avatar gear to equip yourself or your crew members with, or various weapons, shields, consoles and devices to equip your ship with. Thus there is a lot of stuff to collect. You can also gather resources like alien artefacts from "anomalies" appearing in space systems and on the ground, which are used in "research" to upgrade existing gear.

Star Trek Online is not a bad game. It is somewhat unfinished in its current state, and still has some bugs, but that unfortunately appears to be the industry standard for MMORPGs on release. The space part with its ship combat is nice enough, and the general gameplay of doing missions, exploring systems, doing the two sorts of combat, and cashing in the rewards works reasonably well. However with everything being instanced, and the missions being heavily scripted, Star Trek Online feels very much like playing on rails. While theoretically you have the freedom to visit whatever star system you want, practically you'll only want to visit each system once, and that preferably as part of some patrol mission for greater reward. Thus you end up with a very linear checklist of things to do: Accept patrol mission, visit systems A, B, C, and D for that patrol, do the predefined script in each of the systems, get the reward, spend the reward on making yourself, your crew, or you ship better, and start over. This gets boring, repetitive, and "grindy" pretty fast.

The biggest disappointment for Star Trek fans is that STO reduces the drama, dialogue and interaction of characters of the series to combat. Star Trek Online is a simple combat game; the only non-combat interaction possible in the game is getting close to an object or person and pressing "F". In most cases there are no dialogue options beyond the choice to either accept or cancel quests; there are very few quests in which you have to talk with NPCs and do a little multiple-choice dialogue to solve the quest. There is nothing to do on the bridge (as of the beta), nobody to talk to, and if you want to sit in the captain's chair you need to stand on it and use a /sit emote. And instead of boldly going where no man has gone before, we will quickly see some website listing all the quests on all the systems.

So while Star Trek Online is certainly playable, there is a chance that you might be disappointed by its linearity and shortcomings. I am posting this review at the time where the NDA drops and the open beta starts. So I can only recommend you play the open beta yourself, and form your own opinion of Star Trek Online.

How the Dungeon Finder beat Gearscore

Imagine for a moment that you could for any given group in World of Warcraft use a miraculous addon which would exactly tell you the overall power score of that group. Being miraculous the addon not only counts measurable things like level, class, talents, group composition and gear, but also harder to impossible to measure things like skill and cooperation into account, and transforms all that into a single number. As that number tells you absolutely everything about a group, you can now compare it to a given difficulty level of a dungeon, and come up with an accurate prediction of that group in that dungeon. The scale would look something like this, from lowest group power score to highest:
  • Group wipes on trash
  • Group manages trash, but wipes on bosses
  • Group can finish the dungeon, but only after repeated wipes
  • Group finishes dungeon without wipes, by using all available means including crowd control
  • Group finishes dungeon without crowd control
  • Group uses AoE on trash
  • Group uses AoE on boss
  • Group finishes dungeon in record time
Now personally I would say that at least for a first attempt on a new dungeon, the middle range of this scale is the most fun, where you use all the available possibilities of your character and your group, and have to figure out how things work. But obviously the further you proceed on that scale, the faster it goes, so with people trying to get the most emblems per minute of repeated heroic runs the AoE end of the scale is preferred by most players. The more powerful the group you bring, the faster you get your rewards.

Now that miraculous group power score addon doesn't exist, and can't exist. However there are addons like Gearscore who at least try to measure the power of an individual character. Take 5 characters with a high gearscore, apply some common sense on group composition, and you end up with a high group power score. This is why Spinks thinks that Gearscore is necessary to evaluate PuGs. The same thinking goes into various other requirements people advertise when putting together a pickup group, whether that is achievements or gear checks.

There are two major problems with the approach: One is that with players preferring faster rewards, the highest score is always the best. The other is that whatever existing score you use, measuring skill correctly is impossible, so group leaders tend to overestimate the need for gear and achievements to compensate for the possibility of low skill. In the extreme somebody organizing a Naxxramas pickup group will only invite people who can demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing in Naxxramas that would still be an upgrade for them. That is completely counterproductive, and excludes players trying to gear up from such pickup groups.

Funnily enough the Dungeon Finder looking-for-group tool introduced into World of Warcraft with patch 3.3 uses a basic form of Gearscore, whose exact workings are secret to prevent players from manipulating it. But what you can do is open the Dungeon Finder (or its hidden brother, the Raid Dungeon Finder with /lfr) and go to the page where it allows you to select a specific dungeon to go to. If you are undergeared, you will find a little lock symbol on the harder dungeons, that is neither you nor a preformed group containing you will be randomly assigned these locked dungeons due to you not having good enough gear for it.

But there is an important difference between the Dungeon Finder and a PuG leader using Gearscore: The Dungeon Finder isn't all that worried about the possibility of somebody having very low skill, nor is being able to finish the dungeon in record time a requirement. Skill in playing World of Warcraft, like many naturally occuring things, is distributed over a bell curve, a Gaussian distribution. That means the chance that somebody is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad at something is very, very small. A random group will nearly always find their skills grouped around the average (in spite of how skilled the individuals think they are). And it will be symmetrical, with good and bad players balancing each other out. In one extreme case I visited at level 79 a normal dungeon where the damage meters at the end revealed my mage in the middle of the 3 dps, with one level 80 full epic hunter at 4.5k dps at the top, and one level 79 death knight with a measly 0.5k dps at the bottom. Due to at least the dps part of a group being a shared responsability, that group did just fine, even with me doing AoE and not being too slow finishing the dungeon.

In short, the Dungeon Finder is balanced enough to put a group together which even in the less ideal cases will finish the dungeon in good time and with few or no wipes. And due to putting the requirements less high, there is even a good chance that the people involved can use some of the loot that drops, which after all used to be the purpose of a dungeon before we got emblem rewards. In spite of putting a group together that few PuG group leaders using Gearscore would have invited, the Dungeon Finder has a very high probability of finding a group able to finish the dungeon successfully, often even in good time.

Now, while I do see the added difficulty when going from 5-man leveling or heroic dungeons to 10-man or even 25-man raid dungeons, both from a point of having a balanced composition and the issue of raid lockouts, I do wish that Blizzard would extend the Dungeon Finder to a fully operational Raid Finder, and not just the hidden and unused fragment they have up to now. There is currently a big hole in the end game content with the Dungeon Finder having filled up heroics, and the guilds mostly doing the higher up raid dungeons, with few or no people visiting Naxxramas. Some further work on the Dungeon Finder tool could make finding a raid as easy and fun as finding a heroics group. And then we would find that in fact you don't need full T9 gear to do a wing of Naxxramas, as the PuG raid leader with his Gearscore addon demands.