Monday, February 24, 2014

The WoW Infographic Puzzles Me

If you've not seen the infographic that showed up the other day, you can find it here.

While on the face of it the infographic is a celebration of the 800 lb. gorilla that is WoW, my first thought wasn't "Woah", but "Hmm...."

It began with the very first datapoint.

More than 100 million accounts have been created over WoW's lifetime, which includes trial accounts. My first thought was "Why doesn't WoW retain more subscribers than the measly amount they have now?" My second thought was "Just how many of those accounts are spammers and gold farmers?" And my third thought was "How many of those accounts are owned by the same person?"

I don't think Blizzard has the answers to #1 and #2, but they probably can take a stab at #3 if they were interested in data mining.  But #1 is probably the most vexing problem Blizzard has. It also explains why Blizzard isn't really bothering to bring in new players* but instead focusing on getting lapsed subscribers to come back.

The next puzzler for me was a bit farther down, in the "Every Day in Azeroth" section. On the face of it, it would seem that far more people engage in PvE activity than PvP, and the number of Pet Battles alone would appear to make it the single most popular thing to do in WoW. But I suspect the data is a bit skewed based on what is presented.  It doesn't show who does what, only that these things are. A person could quite easily login, engage in a Pet Battle or three while waiting for a raid, and maybe finishing it off with a couple of 2s. Think of all the people who used to fish in the Dal fountain while waiting for their weekly raid group to show up, and you get the idea. Perhaps a better use of the data is the amount of time the average toon spends doing each activity as well as the time spent logged in. If there are long periods of toons not doing any of the listed activities, that's probably the time spent BS-ing with Guildies, questing, gathering, and other non-instanced activities. That will give people a better sense of how players spend their average time in Azeroth.

The last puzzler for me was the challenge mode data. Now, given the number of PvE instances run on a daily basis, that so few people have gotten challenge mode rewards is surprising to me. By comparison, Garrosh had been offed 400k times in a very short period of a few months, or 100k times less than the number of Bronze challenge mode achievers throughout all of Mists. That seems to make challenge modes far more of a niche than anything else, unless I'm missing something here (like that the majority of 5-man instances are for challenge mode runs or something).

There are things that I read in the infographic and I want to say "tell me more!" Like the 400k kills of Garrosh, for example. How many of them are via LFR? Or the 9 million guilds created. How many have more than the minimum number of toons needed to create a guild? How many different guilds is the average account a member of?

Yes, I'm aware that the infographic was designed to get people interested in playing WoW. Still, for someone who has been playing the game for 4+ years now, the infographic doesn't seem to tell the same story I see when I'm out and about in Azeroth. That Azeroth seems much emptier and sedate than the bustling game that is presented in the infographic.

*If they really wanted to bring in new players, they'd work a bit harder on making the storyline from L1-80 line up properly. A neighbor tried WoW recently, and one of the things he said stuck with me: "I couldn't figure the story out; it made no sense to me."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Miscellaneous Thoughts on a Saturday Night

You'd think that I'd have learned by now that a lot of MMOs are in "easy mode" compared to Age of Conan. Unless you're deliberately pushing to level through questing and you jump straight into a new expac*, the average MMO's quest mobs are easily handled.

But nooo...  I have to go login as my Barbarian and rush right on into the first mob I see.  Which, in traditional AoC fashion, will also cause a nearby mob to also aggro and swoop down on me.

Scratch one Barbarian.

What was that line Conan said when he was praying to Crom? "And if you don't grant me this, then to hell with you!"

Yeah, somewhere Crom is laughing at me.


After my previous post about the Love is in the Air event on WoW, I discovered that Aion has a similar event. Curious, I tried searching for info on it, and discovered that you can exchange gifts as well as buy items from the store. The F2P nature of Aion does make the promotion of buying items a bit more front and center than in WoW, but it isn't too badly done. Now, if they'd get rid of the spamming...

Anyway, why don't MMOs have some events like the Olympics? Sport is fairly universal, and PvP and other competitions would seem natural for an MMO's special event. As for those who would claim that you'd want a special event to be open to even the purely PvE people, I'd also point out that the WoW events haven't exactly changed much over the years. Given their prevalence and PvE orientation (with the notable exception of one item in Children's Week), it would seem that a PvP oriented event would be a natural thing. In pre-Cata times I'd have suggested races at the Mirage Raceway, but of course that's under several hundred feet of water now.


I was perusing the materials for the D&D Next adventure "Murder at Baldur's Gate"** when I was struck by nostalgia. The Bioware classics Baldur's Gate I and II invigorated the CRPG genre, and reading about the history of the city in the game materials was like a stroll through the past. I spent many an hour working my way through the game, enjoying where the story went, and I can still see the influence of this game on Bioware's later works (including SWTOR).

But seeing the statue of Minsc and Boo among the artwork brought a smile to my lips.

"Go for the eyes, Boo!"
From Murder at Baldur's Gate, Wizards of the Coast.

*This is what happened when I jumped straight into Mists of Pandaria when I hit L85.  I'd just entered Uldum at the time and had maybe a couple of pieces of gear that were better than Hyjal/Vash'jir greens. For an underpowered Rogue, jumping straight into the Jade Forest was a brick wall.

**It is not edition specific, so you can play it with D&D 3.x (and, presumably, Pathfinder), D&D 4e, and D&D Next.  D&D Next is still in development, and will be released officially later in the year.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Time for that Love Thang

Ah, February.

The time when a young man's fancy turns to college basketball.* Bitter rivalries in league games are played out throughout the month as teams jockey for position for the upcoming conference tournaments in early March.  The NCAA Tournament is on the horizon, and who gets in and who is left out becomes watercooler topic #1.

What, you were expecting something else?

Oh, THAT.  With three kids in the house, Valentine's Day does NOT mean love and kisses, it means cards. Lots and lots of Valentine's Day cards. And the "who is going with who" and "who sent who an anonymous Valentine's Day card" drama.  Certainly not romance.

If there's one event that seems out of touch with your standard MMO fare, it's the Valentine's Day events.

You could make arguments about the global appeal of festivals surrounding the Summer and Winter, Harvest and the New Year, and even the Spring and Brewing (another Harvest Festival, really), and I'd only point out the Western origins of most of them.  Still, most cultures do have festivals covering topics such as those listed above.** But Valentine's Day is so much a holiday rooted in Western Civilization that any reference to it in a Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO unintentionally breaks the fourth wall.

That's doesn't mean that it's not possible for another society to have a holiday based on love and courtship, but a lot of cultures do tend to combine Spring festivals with fertility rites.*** Festivals grounded in sexual desire and a big fat party (/cough Spring Break /cough) are distinctly different than the modern Valentine's Day, yet we see the latter in MMOs (Brewfest) as opposed to the former.

You won't be seeing this sort of art out of the official
Love is in the Air material,  but it makes
for inspired fan art.****   (From Wowhead.)

WoW's Love is in the Air event doesn't change much at all from year to year. Much like the modern Valentine's Day, you're sent scurrying around for cards and candy for different people.  There's also the everpresent questline to defeat the purveyors of the "love sickness". But that's pretty much it. Kind of cute, kind of harmless, and right in line with the expectations my kids had when passing Valentine's Day cards around at school.*****

And it is soon forgotten.

It's too bad, really, because WoW is so caught up with chasing the next expac that events like this are on autopilot. I'd argue that a Valentine's Day festival really doesn't fit in with what they're trying to do with WoW (as far as squeaky clean image goes), but if you're going to do it, make it different than something my kids do on February 14th. Make it an Azerothian event, something that you don't just put a thin veneer on and call it good enough.

Hallow's End, while keeping a lot of the modern trappings of Halloween, is Azeroth's. The Midsummer Fire Festival is Azeroth's. Love is in the Air, not so much.

Now that I think about it, a lot of what I think of the Valentine's Day problem is simply that Blizzard never bothers to show us the parts of Azeroth that festivals like Love is in the Air and Noblegarden are about: love, marriage, spring renewal. They just don't exist in Azeroth. Oh, they could, but they don't.  The middle school humor surrounding the occasional marriage/courting questline (the Troll one in Zangarmarsh, for example) deflects any reality behind the curtain. Aggra and Thrall's questline in Cataclysm (4.2) is distinctive because it shows Aggra's devotion to Thrall; it is the outlier in the World of Warcraft game.

Blizzard does get into love and marriage, but not in the game itself. You have to hunt down the novels and comics to find those topics, but they are distinctly separate from the actual game.

But it doesn't have to be.

Ironically enough, one MMO that integrates love/marriage into the game story is SWTOR. Bioware has had plenty of practice in integrating relationships into storylines, dating back to Baldur's Gate II, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they did it in their MMO. Even so, it's mostly an interaction with your companion(s) where the questlines come into play. Yes, you can flirt with NPCs --and that does have an impact on relationships with your companions-- but it's not at the same level as companion interaction.

Could Blizzard incorporate a SWTOR-esque interaction in WoW? Only surrounding a questline, such as the Goblin intro story, and even then their options are limited. And to be honest, I doubt they'd even try, since they've already got a formula (raiding and PvP) that makes them money.

Therefore, if love/marriage/romance is going to be injected into a world such as Azeroth, it would have to be done by the players.

And now that I think about it, relying upon the players to fill that void is both blessing and curse. While you may have true RP interactions like that found between Vidyala and Vosskah, you also get... Goldshire.

In the end, I guess the best thing to do in this situation is to just carry on as you were, with the MMO version Valentine's Day festivities pretty much optional.

*"And woman's!" my wife called from the other room.  She grew up in Louisville, and the UofL Cardinals ("GO CARDS!") are in her blood.  As is horse racing, but that's another post.

**Brewfest is kind of the outlier here, but if you acknowledge it is more a harvest festival than anything else, then yeah, it fits.

***But not found in MMOs such as WoW very much, since they avoid the topics of sex and fertility like it was some plague, going with the squeaky clean version of Noblegarden and Love is in the Air instead.

****As someone who can sew, I'd like to point out that the open heart makes for a problem with the rest of the front of that outfit. The top would need stiffer support material built in or the heart covered in mesh to support the top edge properly. What? Never heard of a guy who can sew?

*****I'd even argue that the "love sickness" questline could have originated in discussion among boys about "girl cooties", but there's no proof of that. ;-)

EtA: Updated the pic from a link, as that pic may disappear.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Keeping your Internal Clock Going

If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners.
--Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman), Hoosiers

Before Christmas, I spent one evening watching my youngest in her elementary school's Winter music program.  Being in 5th Grade, she was allowed to take lessons in a band instrument (woodwind, brass, or percussion) at the school, so she leapt at the chance to learn the snare drum.* That particular evening, she stood in the back as the school band's lone percussionist, keeping a steady beat for the rest.

Late in the show, just as the band was to start another piece, her music stand tilted and her sheet music went splat on the floor.  Her music teacher, her back to us, looked over at her.  I could tell by the teacher's body language that she asked a question: do you want to go get your music?  My youngest, her face dead serious, shook her head once.  I recognized that face from having played against her in chess: Don't worry, I got this.

The teacher waved her arms, and the band began playing.  My youngest never missed a note and kept up with the rest of the band without a problem.

It was at that point, in a completely out of the blue moment, that I realized part of the reason why she loves playing tanks.

She has the internal clock that all tanks need.

A tank has to have an internal clock that allows them to know when certain things are coming.  Sure, add-ons are nice, but the reality is that a tank is watching a lot more than just what the timers are.  And if you play an MMO that doesn't allow add-ons, then you absolutely have to have a great sense of time.  

When I play an MMO and things seem to be going south during a fight, time for me seems to slow down. Those procs can't come fast enough, and I'm constantly spamming buttons until something happens.  But someone with a good internal clock allows the fight to operate at its own speed; in sports terms it is called "letting the game come to you". Don't press. You can be quick, but not too fast. And if that sounds weird as hell, remember that there is a difference.

Have you ever had nights where you seem to be CC-ing everything in sight, your procs are coming at just the right time, and you've got this rhythm going?  But on another night that you seem to be just off, no matter how hard you're trying, and you just can't get into that groove? That's when you're pressing. You need to back off, relax, and let your internal clock take over.

And if you can do that, you don't need add-ons. Or sheet music.

*One of her goals is to play "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, because "the drummer for the band is a girl." She also loves the music, which never hurts.