Archive for May, 2016


wrongThe toxicity of the World of Warcraft community has been obvious to all since the game was released. Back in vanilla we had hardcore RPGers getting in early, setting up, then running and controlling guilds, telling people how to play, shouting and abusing new players, excluding, banning and black balling people that didn’t know, fully understand or accept the online etiquette that no one would explain. The situation didn’t really improve it simply changed. Aggressive, rude and exploitative guilds must still exist. They must also be in a minority. Most guilds seem to have a level of sociability these days, because hardcore RPGers have most moved on and were always in a minority. Even in vanilla I remember people complaining about how mainstream and dumbed down World of Warcraft was as an MMORPG. If you can’t find a friendly guild, with people who are happy to befriend you and help you reach your goals, then the problem is you.

In the cesspool that is LFR I’ve heard the same scum that make LFR so unpleasant berating guilds. I suspect that they simply want people in a guild to give them what they wanted, help, boost, mats, gear…without ever putting anything in. Even the most patient and generous will stop giving after a while.

games-world-warcraft-disc-broken-role-action-fiction-wow-hd-wallpapers-1920x1080I was angry and disappointed with Warlords of Draenor at release. Some people seem to forget now, or simply weren’t there. The release was buggy, we saw realm queues back again and people couldn’t get into their new garrisons which were the number one new feature of the expansion. Whatever went wrong in WoD development went wrong very quickly and Blizzard bailed on further development and switched immediately to Legion development. (Indeed that also begs the question why we’ve had another 14 month content drought at the end of Warlords, when all of the largest World of Warcraft dev team switched all it’s focus to the new expansion, but just let it go).

It didn’t take long after cancelling my subscription to release that a large part of the anger was sadness and a little grief that something I had been emotionally invested in for ten year was over. I wish the shrill and hysterical in our community could release and accept this, then they could slowly go through the four stages of bereavement and move on. I returned because I missed everything about WoW I found compelling. When I returned I found I was right, Warlords had all the failing and inadequacies I had described in these posts but Azeroth and the game I used to play was pretty much still here and available.

Some members of the community had been self righteously banging that drum all through Warlords of Draenor though. Even when things were at their lowest ebb (perhaps Cory Stockton celebrating the major content patches we clearly never had) some people were banging the drum for Warcraft. Good for them. Good for anyone who has struggled to maintain their World of Warcraft blog, podcast or vlog during WoD. Good for you if you can post a blog every day.

Ranting

What irritates me about these people is not that they’re right, and they are – partially. What annoys me is their lack of understanding of their own psychology or others. I get why Az from HeelvsBabyface is frequently shrill and ranting on his YouTube channel every time Blizzard make an announcement about Legion. He feels bitten by Warlords and once bitten twice shy. However, AlternativeChat‘s self righteous evangelism that there is so much to do in the game it is not possible to be done, finished, lacking anything to do, is just as wearing now.

I’ve been slowly finding things to do outside of my garrisons so recently I’ve been playing the game and not just harvesting the prison. It started with fishing which had me travelling around Draenor quite contentedly fishing up Enormous fishes. In two days I had Nat Pagle handing quests and rewards in my garrison. I could start grinding coins for fish pets. Another new task on the list. Poking around in the Achievements tab I wondered what could be missing in the Exploration section, I love exploring, simply wandering around the world, I always have. I discovered the Field Photographer achievement and although the S.E.L.F.I.E. Camera had not been attractive to me travelling around to locations all over the world (taking selfies) did appeal. So I added it to the list.

Arriving in Northrend I took a look at the map and noticed the patrol paths of several rare spawns placed by _NPCScan.Overlay, some of which had a skull and crossbones next to them – killed / completed. So I added Frostbitten to the list and turned the Achievement Tracker on.

At that point I can just imagine Alt bouncing up and down going “Yes. Yes. Exactly. There is so much to do in this game.” However, what are you going to say after playing, creating and planning content, writing a daily blog and recording regular podcasts for the Starting Zone and guesting on others? After ten years World of Warcraft is going to be harder to let go of for Alt than it was for me and I came back after six months.

Blizzard have been very clever with their MMO over the years. They’ve always been adding new features and game mechanics than often have nothing to do with the core gameplay: questing, combat, dungeons, raiding or PvP. Take Pet Battles. A mini-game with absolutely no value or relevance to the core game. Transmog is another perfect example. Achievements too. Achievements are clever as they can be based like the Loremaster challenges on the existing levelling and questing systems – you just need to complete a given number in a zone. So you can either spend longer in a levelling zone finishing quest lines and achieving Loremaster of your current zone or you can return later and finish them off. Exploring all the areas, experiencing all the lore.

This massive amount of back story, content and things to do has always been there in Warcraft. Back in Wrath there was vanilla content and places in Outland I had never fully explored. Three expansions later there is (ahem) almost twice as much again. Let’s get one thing straight though: the back story and all the places you skipped or missed for one reason or another, all that legacy content was only exciting, only valuable when there was fresh new content as well.

forksThe beauty of legacy, end game (non-raiding / PvP) content was that it was something fun and interesting to do as a break, in some down time, from doing the new core game content. Whether or not there is always something to be doing in game, whether or not that content is challenging, time-consuming, or satisfying it’s not genuinely compelling if it’s not new, fresh and advancing the dynamic open world story of Azeroth.

The Celestial Tournament pet battle at the end of the Mists of Pandaria expansion was epic and compelling – and still is, especially if remain unconquered. However, it doesn’t make up for the fact that there is such a dearth of content in Warlords, going back and finally conquering the Tournament won’t make you feel better that the end game was so lacking in Warlords. Finishing all the Argent Tournament reputations in Icecrown is something to do and the jousting is fine. The dailies are lot better and more varied than most of dross in Tanaan. None of these things are substitutes for new content.

When Azeroth was expanding and growing the old, legacy content was there and it was with nostalgia and fondness that many of us returned to Thandol Span for no other reason than crossing that bridge (without any kind of mount) for the first time was an epic, decisive and memorable moment in our past. It was no surprise to me that along with Blackrock Mountain a plain, apparently unmanned crossing point between Arathi Highlands and The Wetlands would be commemorated in the Field Photographer achievement. Especially if you remember that the Horde‘s next questing zone was south, all the way through The Wetlands and Loch Modan all the way to The Badlands.

Thandol Span_0Azeroth was fun, dynamic and ever changing place hitherto. That’s would made us value history and tradition. If there is nothing new what is old starts to tarnish and fade quicker. We become jaded and tired faster. The problem in Warlords was never that there was nothing to do, the problem was that there was very, very little that was new to do. That is the frustration and disillusion of those that bemoaned the lack of (new) end game content. In the good old days when this stuff was new it was great, in the recent past when this stuff was ageing it was great and we still loved it. Today when there is nothing new we are dismayed by people who point to the old, legacy stuff and tell us there is so much to do. This other stuff was always extra stuff, more things…it became devalued the moment you tried to elevate it to the thing, the main thing what you were doing because the new content simply wasn’t there.

So I’m calmly waiting for Legion, time-filling as enjoyably as I can, but marking time none the less. A few new garrison table missions will be fine if they one of number of new things to do. As will dipping a toes into the new class, Demon Hunter, and seeing how the new talent trees of old classes work. If this is another one of many new things to try. New profession paths, even gathering will be an interesting rebirth…if it’s one of many new things to do. Variety, in Azeroth, was the spice of life and adding a lot of new content in Legion will refresh and re-enervate all that wealth of back story and content in Azeroth. Nothing makes an old continent look fresher and more interesting than a new one.

dev upateI like Ion Hazzikostas, when he was talking about the community reaction to content patches in Warlords of Draenor (6.1 wasn’t really a .1, .2 major content patch and should’ve been called something like 6.0.8) he was reasonable and corporate bs lite. Cory Stockton talking up both of the expansions “major” content patches was bs of the very highest order. Sorry Cory. So when I saw Hazzikostas ready to update us with the state of play with Legion development and the Devs thinking on the new expansion I was interested.

I was not disappointed. This Dev Update was wide ranging and open. I’m loosely sticking to the order that the Update presented, which can perhaps give us some idea of the relative importance attached to each area by Blizzard.

Lock Order Hall It was no surprise to me that the first thing on the agenda was Class Order Halls. Some members of our community have been shrill, bordering on hysterical, on the issue of Order Halls. When Order Hall follower missions appeared in the alpha dollies were thrown out of prams. “Garrison 2.0”, “followers have more fun than players”, “Facebook game content light”. Recycling all their well used arguments from Warlords. Tell us something new, please.

I get it though and Hazzikostas appears to as well. The problem of Warlords of Draenor was not the mission table game mechanic or indeed garrisons per se. The issue was that garrsions and mission tables were such a large part of the end game and there was very little of anything else. Apexis blue bar fill was the unappealing alternative.

paladin-class-hall-headerClass Order Halls will be a social hub for all members of a class. This has got to be better than the isolating, solo experience of garrisons. Plus there are far fewer followers and the mission rewards are far less compelling and so Order Hall shouldn’t not negate professions, either gathering or manufacturing. The main draw of the Order Hall will be the forge for upgrading your Artefact Weapon and as a jumping off point for missions that take you out into the world.

“It’s a much smaller piece of the overall experience. I know there are people that feel somewhat scared by the Mission Table…overwhelming a lot of the other features…” Ion Hazzikostas

Legacy Servers were discussed next, while conversations appear to be being held within Blizzard. Ion, addressing the issues I raised in my last post, said that whatever the arguments, pro or con, Legacy or Pristine Servers, the Devs are not thinking about that, they’re wholly focused on Legion. I found that statement very reassuring. As long as they don’t impact current content development then Legacy Servers can go ahead…or not.

nostralriusOne of the issues brought up in reference to Legacy Servers was the low level, legacy content as it exists today. Hazzikostas said the experience in low levels zones is broken. “It’s not just difficulty, it’s pacing.” Even without heirlooms the starting area experience is not rewarding. “You spend less time in combat than you do running around.” The pacing of the game needs to be addressed, this is not to make the combat brutally hard, however combat times of three seconds are not satisfying either. One button level 3 hunters are one shotting mobs, what’s that even about?

This is an issue I’ve often reflected on since Catacylsm. The entire 1 to 60 levelling experience has become derisory, changes to talent trees and abilities have made 60 – 100 content almost as problematic. Problems with barriers to entry for a new or returning player: having bought the game a new player must level up to the current expansion which could. potential. take weeks. People wanting to play with friends and jump into current content can be put off by this. The Character Boost removes the need to streamline content: “There isn’t the need for us to rush people through the levelling experience any more…you shouldn’t be out levelling a zone before you’ve finished the whole story. “The game should be a fun epic experience at levels 100, 110 and 27…at 27 it isn’t always now.”

So there ought to be a challenge and some fun to be had levelling up to the current expansion, as much as there is levelling through that expansion. We should have the opportunity to take our time and fully explore everything a zone has to offer since there is now no need to facilitate a rapid charge to the entry level for current expansion content.

Demon hunters, if you’re interested in a new class. From a lore perspective it only makes to have Elven Demon Hunters but expect that to change as the title goes forward because we’ve seen how much lore really counts for historically. Hazzikostas did rule out some class/race combos and specifically Tauren Rogues. Oh Byron.

Artefact Weapons are going to be transmog-able. Which as a warlock I’m super happy with because a green wand twig would be better than Ahune’s Sythe or whatever that lawnmower is we’ve got.

grimbatol

Mythic plus dungeons were met with a audible meh from the community. For once I’m interested. Collecting stones which change the level and difficulty in a 5 man with rewards scaling with them. Mythic plus works in a similar way to Greater Rifts in Diablo 3. Rather than a hectic speed run, if you can clear the dungeon at that level they’ll move you up to the next level, part of the challenge will either be more trash mobs, or more difficulty in maintaining aggro, Ion even referred to waiting for three Sunders. If Mythic is not the timed speed run of Challenge Modes and can actually scale, and be relevant right into the last content patch, what a great compliment to raiding we’ll have. If it can also make crowd control, mana managemnt, aggro and controlled pulls a thing again all, well my cup may runneth over. As Mythic plus will be a high level raiding alternative, hopefully it can exist as old school 5 man dungeoneering without generating a community backlash that difficult normal and (heroic) level Cataclysm dungeons did. You have your simple, accessable content we can have our elitist, exclusive, difficult and challenging content. Well, maybe until 7.1…

This positioning of Mythic dungeons as a compliment, or even alternative progression path to raiding is all about choices. Choices and satisfying challenges, storytelling and encounter design. It all appears to be falling into place for Legion, but please, please remember the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Legacy Servers

Logo.png.024fcfc382d1b66d7b09f177b2d24cb9saltSalt, drama, vitriol, hatred, abuse, accusation, counter-accusation…yes Legacy Servers are the new flying. I’m sure there are some very nice and reasonable people on both sides of this debate, but it’s difficult to hear them when so much reactionary and irrational crap is sloshing about. Online anonymity gives people licence to rant scorn and hatred at one another without repercussion…so they do. If Official Legacy Servers were ever brought online I can guarantee that 75% of the most rabid supporters will last a very short time in the legacy environment. Many of them will never even roll a character on a Legacy Server. Like flying there is no way it’s as much fun as being toxic and ranting incoherently on some gaming forum.

So where do I stand? Well, to be honest, at the back not really bothered one way or another. Like with flying. Leave it out, put it in…whatever, it’s not a game breaker. I remember a time without it, a time where it was only possible in one area (7 zones) and the moment it went world wide and you could fly everywhere in Azeroth…except Ghostlands, Eversong Woods, Quel’Danas, Azuremyst and Bloodmyst Isles. Flying is convenient and fun, but it shrinks the world and makes everything easier and more trivial. If you include it you need to design content around it and that folks is more difficult. Leave it out, put it in…meh.

The Barrens

Legacy Servers? I don’t understand all the love, the first iteration of World of Warcraft (“the dumbed down RPG”) was glaringly incomplete. Blizzard made the RPG more accessible by making death less damaging: rez – run back. On the down side the graveyards could be spaced further apart than the mailboxes. The horde had two mailboxes in Kalimdor, as I remember: one in Orgrimmar, outside the bank, and the one in Crossroads (that’s comedic hyperbole before someone picks me up on it). The Barrens was too big and notoriously two zones. Quest chains ended and gave you absolutely no idea where to go and what to do next. Whole character levels had no content written for them so you had to grind mobs or take on quests that were technically to high a level for you (Egg Hunt, see previous references). Now admittedly what was frustrating and challenging about vanilla some people liked. Well, they found the frustration and incompleteness just as annoying as we did, they just went out into the world struggled, discovered and then bragged how good they were and how n00bish those who didn’t have unlimited time (for mad grinds) and experience (of World of Warcraft from the beta or other RPGs more generally) were. Then there was the raiding…I don’t think toxic and elitist is too strong.

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Due to Blizzard‘s back breaking progression system, and the need to bring 40 people to every raid, guilds developed a tightness, unspoken rule set and etiquette that was incomprehensible to new players…I understand it now, but still find it, for the most part, incomprehensible, elitist and exploitative. People bemoan that Blizzard slowly and deliberately eroded the power of guilds and allowed people greater freedom in creating groups to conqueror content but this is why. Guilds in vanilla fell into two categories elitist and vitriolic and the not so nice ones. Allegedly there were some really nice, tightly knit guilds but honestly if you joined these guilds it was almost impossible to break into their cliques or penetrate the mystery of “things you weren’t allowed to talk about”. If you loved your guild in vanilla you were on the inside, in the club. Those of us with less positive memories were on the outside, excluded, passed over or simply ignored.

So people want to recreate this? Honestly the anger and vitriol I’ve seen directed at people who have demurred doesn’t surprise me at all. That’s the dark side of vanilla I very much remember. For everything that was good in vanilla two things were broken or incomplete. It was a great game, but we knew no better and most of us welcomed all the changes Blizzard made, first in The Burning Crusade expansion and then in Wrath of the Lich King. That’s why people came to Azeroth, stayed and brought friends until the subscribed base swelled to ten million where it plateaued to the closing of WotLK. With every expansion Blizzard have tidied up their core game, in Cataclysm they simplified the levelling process and quest chain linkages so the Azerothian section, from 1 – (58) 60, worked as well as the expansion content and benefited by all they’d learned.

World-of-Warcraft-CataVanilla was the egg and a fine dragon grew out it. However, that’s not why I don’t think Legacy Servers would be a great idea. It’s not even that we’d get all those lovely gamers back (maybe). It’s Warlords of Draenor that stops me from welcoming the Legacy Server choice. Here we go again, but Warlord‘s didn’t receive any new content after it’s release. Blizzard white knights will immediately point to 6.2 and Tanaan and the raid content. Well, no one has ever questioned Blizzard‘s raid content (some instances have been better than others but we can’t question the work). Three raid tiers: check. Some of the best raiding ever the raiders tell me. However, non-raiding end game content? Nothing. I am dismissing Tanaan because it was designed for a release with the expansion as a 98 – 100 levelling zone. It would’ve made sense as such and looks like it would’ve had the all atmosphere and popularity of TBC Shadowmoon Valley. Allegedly it wasn’t finished in time, so they held it back and redesigned it as a Timeless Isle style rep grinding zone and it’s horrible as that. I’m sure the planned TBC Netherstorm zone we were told about (not promised) at Blizzcon, Fields of Farahlon, would’ve worked much more like an Isle of Quel’Denas zone. Essentially, Tanaan Jungle was already mostly done by expansion release which supports the argument that no non-raiding end game content was developed and added to Warlords of Draenor after it’s release.

cancelThis is why so much rides on the release of Legion. Blizzard brought back over three million subscribers for the release of WoD, reversing all of the post-WotLK losses! Almost eleven million people bought Warlords – that’s the largest number of people playing World of Warcraft ever! That’s a big deal, the Dev Team (largest ever remember) had been working on WoD for fourteen months (since Siege of Orgrimmar was released). We lamented the long last patch of expansion content drought again (see multiple previous posts), but allowed that if Warlords was as good as we were told at Blizzcon then it’d be a worthwhile investment. I won’t comment on the quality or quantity of end game content any more, the subscriber base voted with it’s feet (and cash) subscriptions were cancelled and in stark contrast to the slow, ageing MMO subscriber attrition we had seen since Catacylsm, 7 million people cancelled their subscription in six months, that’s twice the number of subscribers Warlords hype had wowed back.

So Blizzard inches slowly towards Legion with a skeleton crew subscriber base of 3.6 million. Well, that was the last time Blizzard published figures, do you think it has gone up or down since then? Blizzard have one last opportunity to restore their mature MMO, to recover the kinds of subscriber numbers in it’s declining dotage that fresh and successful MMOs can only dream of. Legion and it’s subsequent content patches need to be of high quality and convincing quantity or World of Warcraft is finished. This is clearly not the time to be discussing niche, Legacy WoW Servers. This is no time to be suggest we distract any of the World of Warcraft development and support teams for a side project of limited appeal and audience (however large, or aggressively vocal, this minority audience are). So while in principle official Legacy World of Warcraft Servers are an interesting idea, something Blizzard should perhaps try at a later date, not now, not at this critical period. Not until after Legion releases and we see if there is any game and subscriber base left.

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