Settling into a rut

Warlords of Draenor is not yet two months old, and I find myself settling into a routine already.  This is way early for me, as I normally only get to such a point in an expansion at about the time everyone else is whining about there being nothing to DOOOOOOOOO. And I can’t decide if the routine is boring or comfortable.

Let me first explain that I am a goal-oriented person. Process usually holds way less interest for me than the end state. If an activity is very process-oriented I usually invent a goal for it. That way, I actually enjoy the process because it leads to attainment of a goal. Example: In Mists the Sunsong Ranch routine very quickly turned into drudgery, especially with 8 maxed alts. Even if it took only 10 minutes each to complete your ranch chores, that was still an hour and twenty minutes of game play every day. I would have quickly given it up if I had not set a goal for myself to amass one million gold on my account. Sunsong Ranch then became part of the means to the end, and it stopped being drudgery. (For the record, I did not get there — I am not much of an AH goblin — but I did have fun trying.)

The point is, what had been a boring routine became a comfortable one for me once I was working towards a goal. Another example: I do not generally enjoy soloing old content, but I did it in Mists for a couple of goal-oriented reasons. One was that it provided gold both directly and through selling of loot, which furthered my million-gold goal. Another was that I was looking to score the rare Astral Light Bow for my Worgen hunter, so I actually looked forward each night to running and resetting Drak’Tharon Keep the max number of times. The anticipation of eventually getting that bow was fun. (I did finally get it, although not from running the instance. Someone posted it in the AH  for an insanely low price of about 100g, apparently not realizing many hunters would pay thousands for this unique black bow.)

All this is just to explain that a routine can be either boring or comfortably exciting to me, depending on whether I am working towards a specific goal.

I have settled into a routine in WoD. I log on to each of my characters who have garrisons — two level 100s, a level 92, and a level 97 — and do my missions, gathering, new work orders, and profession cooldowns, mailing mats as necessary to the appropriate alts. In the case of my two hunters who have level 3 barns, this includes a trip to Nagrand to trap elites. Only after these chores are done do I consider things like joining groups — world boss, garrison apexis daily, LFR — and I really only do so if I absolutely have to for things like the legendary or to get gear. Otherwise my only activity beyond garrisons is raiding with my two guilds and slowly working to level alts.

So far, my routine is not exactly boring, since I still have goals. I do want to level all 8 of my characters, and I have 6 to go. I also want to gear them as quickly as possible, so that makes mat gathering and profession cooldowns somewhat interesting still. So I guess I would say that I am comfortable with my routine for now.

But not for long. I can see that very soon it will just become drudgery. I have a hard time imagining managing 8 level 3 garrisons, it will be just way too time consuming. My Mists strategy of using them to make gold will not be viable, as by then the excess mats I have will be fairly worthless. Blizz has ensured that crafted items are profitable only when no one but AH goblins has the mats for them — by the time normal players can craft enough to sell, gear levels will have moved past them. Not to mention only 3 total crafted items can be equipped, an insane limitation obviously designed to further devalue crafting professions. And the soulbound restriction on critical mats is ridiculous — there is no reason whatsoever to not at least make them BoA. I get angry every time I receive SB mats on a character that can’t use them and have to vendor them for almost nothing, when I have alts with the appropriate profession in desperate need of them. Another great idea brought to you from the geniuses in Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department.

With the demise of valor points, running raids/instances quickly becomes useless once you have the gear you need from them. (It’s another inexplicable design “feature” that Blizz went to all the trouble of denouncing and removing VP as a gear currency only to replace it with Apexis Crystals, with very limited ways to earn them and insanely high numbers needed to redeem them for gear. WTF, Blizz, if gear buying is so awful why did you remove one kind of currency only to replace it with another?)

Absent some pretty dramatic and timely patches, this expansion seems to be awfully shallow and devoid of content. Speaking as someone who was never bored, even at the end of Mists, I think WoD is already boring.

2015 — Year of Civility?

World of Warcraft is getting more toxic each year. I do not think this is just me getting more sensitive, I really believe the player base is getting cruder and ruder as time goes by. I do not understand it, maybe some social scientist out there can explain the phenomenon, but I know it is happening.

I don’t know how — or if — the trend can be reversed, but I do know it is starting to limit the things I do in the game. Things like skip the whole Winter Veil tree mess on all my alts, because as I wrote a couple of days ago it was just not worth the annoyance. Things like avoid any group — LFR, randoms, world bosses, garrison dailies — if I don’t absolutely have to run them for some gear or currency or quest. Luckily, WoD makes it easy to pretty much just hole up in your garrison and work on some solo achieves, venturing out only to raid with a known guild group. Which of course is a sad state for an MMORPG.

Worse, I fear the toxic environment is starting to make me a more selfish, untrusting, coarse player. If this continues, I will just have to stop playing, because I do not want to become that kind of player.

I remember the very first group instance I ever ran, as a level 20? 30? something player, back in the early days of Wrath. I was terrible. I did not belong to a guild, joined a pug — knowing nothing of group etiquette — and started by charging in killing every mob in sight. Someone took the time to ask if it was my first time in a group, then told me I should always stay behind the tank and wait for him to attack first. I apologized profusely, and was told “That’s OK, that’s how we learn.” Nicely. I followed instructions, we finished the instance, and a new game activity opened up for me. Today such action would earn me some vile names and an immediate kick, no questions asked, and I would probably never again try to join a group.

Group dynamics have changed a great deal since then. Somewhere along about midway through Mists, I think, I started to see more and more groups become toxic. They ceased to be about working together for a common end and became all about blasting through at breakneck speed to grab gear or currency, spamming Recount to brag about your own (padded) numbers or belittle others for theirs, or even joining for the pure “fun” of deliberately causing as many wipes as possible.

Some, but not all, of the reason group dynamics changed can be laid at the door of Blizzard’s game design. The legendary cloak quest, for example, required many many raids. Most guilds could not provide enough raid opportunities, so players were forced to run LFR. This brought in a large pool of players, some of whom did not like raiding, some of whom were not good at it, and some of whom were very good at it but had no patience for others. It also created a large new audience for social misfits and bullies to draw attention to themselves. As the legendary quests dragged on, people became frustrated at what seemed to be very stingy drop rates, so they had less and less tolerance for anything that added more time to a run. Blizz helped ramp up the frustration when they designed some bosses to be insanely hard for large groups of players who never worked together before, likely would never work together again, and who probably did not want to be there in the first place.

Basically, group raids and instances stopped being fun because they were almost requirements. People did not join because they wanted to have fun, they joined because it was a necessary evil to a very selfish end. And with LFR, especially with CRZ, you would likely never see these players again, so there was no social penalty to being downright nasty. And on the other side, you likely would never have to deal with the same nasty players again, so there was no benefit to wasting time taking them to task for their actions. Just get through it, get your required token or quest drop, and move on.

I do not want to lay the entire blame on Blizz. Granted, their game design had some very serious unintended consequences. But some players used it as an excuse to give in to their baser motivations, and they have carried that over to nearly all aspects of the game. For this, they need to bear the responsibility, although unfortunately we all bear the consequences. The very worst part of all is that once bad behavior happens with no evidence of penalty, others — especially new players, the young, and the easily swayed — begin to act in similar fashion, and the whole thing snowballs. You get widespread toxicity, not only in raids and instances, but in questing, in chat, and in special events like Winter Veil.

Trade chat has become a cesspool. I know, I know, it was never the place to go for enlightened discussion, but I have noticed it becoming not only vile but scary over the last few months. At the start of Mists, I had maybe 10-12 people on ignore. Now I routinely bump up against the max and have to cull my list, hoping whoever I remove has stopped playing or at least has shut up. Trade chat is no longer just stupid or just contains a few rants or people with bad language or some largely innocuous flaming. There is now a strong undercurrent of real hate directed at anyone who disagrees with or does not belong to the hater’s social group. Gays and women, in particular, are targets. Both are reviled, and often used as the springboard for truly offensive, threatening, and graphic sexual discussions. Reporting these people for language has zero observable effect. And there really are no other categories for reporting them. Blizz would not stand for even a hint of such language in their forums, but they seem to be fine with subjecting players to it in chat channels.

No one who knows me would ever describe me as a prude, but much of what I see now in trade chat crosses a line. (There is one trade chat troll who, after every comment anyone makes, responds with the single word “penis”. This goes on for an hour or longer, several times a week. Or did, until a spot opened up on my ignore list. Now, I grant you, if you are 10 years old, this might be amusing for a few minutes. But it very quickly becomes supremely annoying.  I am certain this troll has been reported numerous times, yet he is still at it. No consequences to rude behavior.)

Questing is also becoming a contest of outwit the griefer. I noticed this last week when I was doing some trapping for my garrison barn. Two players (Alliance, no less, and I am on a PVE server to boot) were following me around, jumping in every time I tagged a beast for trapping. One was a Guardian druid, and every time I got to the point of trapping, he would seize aggro, then the two of them would kill the beast. The first time it happened I thought they were just trying to help (silly naïve me), so I thanked them and said I was trapping and could deal with it myself. I got the picture when they kept at it. Annoyed, I moved to an adjacent area. They followed me and kept up their actions. Since I knew what what was going on, I refused to loot the dead beasts, denying them any chance at skinning, so clearly they derived no benefit from their actions other than screwing with me. Seriously, what is wrong with people? How is this fun?

Eventually I just gave up and went back to my garrison. Before I did so, I called them very rude names, thus lowering myself to their level, and in fact giving them what probably counts as a victory in their sad little perverted world.  I am not proud of this.

The game is coarser and ruder and consequently less fun than it was only a couple of short years ago. I don’t know how or if this can be fixed. But I do know that the longer it goes on the more it spreads. I would like to think that a small group of civil players could make a difference, and start a trend that would also spread. But I am not hopeful. People will always be quicker to indulge their baser instincts than their finer ones. But my one game resolution for 2015 is to try and start a civil trend. You all are welcome to help.

Blizzard’s Christmas Tweety Bird

Every year, players trying to get to the Winterveil tree in Ironforge on Christmas must suffer the pointless chaos and annoyance of being hindered and/or blocked from the event by the usual group of big-mounted small-brained jerks who apparently can only have fun in the game by making sure no one else can. As this happens every year, this year Blizz anticipated it and took appropriate steps — putting the NPCs into Khadgar-like no-mount bubbles, spreading the trees out to all the capitol cities, reminding players in advance that hindering game play would not be tolerated, etc.

HAHAHAHA, no just kidding, don’t be silly. Never missing an opportunity to really screw with the players, not only did Blizz fail to anticipate the problem, but when players complained, basically flipped us all the bird in the form of a tweet, saying just suck it up.

And I quote from @BlizzardCS on 25 December.

Mount blocking your path? Zoom into 1st person view to move through them & get your gifts under the tree. CS can’t assist with crowd control

As an added jab, Blizz Customer Disservice systematically locked down the forum threads where players dared to complain. (Apparently it was annoying to have a crowd of people clogging up the forums, which is an entirely more serious annoyance than having a crowd of people clogging up the in-game event area. Also, some of the posters were rude, which cannot be tolerated when directed at Blizz but is encouraged when used as a game play style to prevent players from enjoying the game as intended.)

There’s just so much wrong with this entire scenario, I hardly know where to begin.

First, let’s stipulate that even though this was a major game annoyance, it is of zero consequence in any kind of bigger picture you want to draw. It’s a game, it’s not nuclear nonproliferation talks. It means even less than nothing when viewed in comparison to international economic troubles, Ebola, world poverty, or your grandma’s latest hospitalization. And even within the microcosm of Warcraft, it’s an event of little or no importance — you will not level, or get gear or an achievement as a result, and to be honest the presents were pretty yawn-inspiring anyway. It’s just a cool little fun thing for the players. Kind of brings back, just for a moment, that wide-eyed excitement you had back when Santa Claus still answered your letters.

Next, what is wrong with players who can only enjoy the game by spoiling it for others? I’ll save a more thorough treatment of this question for another post, but this is just baffling behavior to me. I understand the humor in a good prank, but yesterday’s actions by the dim witted jerks blocking access are not even close to the definition of prank. It went on for hours and hours. It was accompanied by boastful gloating in chat about how proud the idiots were of doing this, and Blizz can’t do anything about it, neener neener neener. On my server, one of our more odious trolls kept advertising he would give free tents to anyone wishing to use one to block access (mind you, he was too cowardly to do it himself, he is after all just a chat-lurking troll). I did report him for spamming, as I thought he was advertising the tents a bit too often, thus hindering chat. Won’t have any effect of course but it gave me a brief moment of satisfaction.

And let’s see, “CS can’t assist with crowd control”? Uh huh. So what pray tell is the no-mount zone around Khadgar? What was all that with the login queues for days and days at the start of WoD? What’s with the Ashran queues? What’s the purpose of CRZ?

Come on, how about a tiny bit of honesty? How about coming out and saying the truth, which is “We can’t be bothered to fix this, we really don’t give a crap that you are annoyed about it. We are barely treading water to keep this expansion going.  If we have nothing better to do we might think about some mitigations for next year.” Not “CS can’t assist with crowd control.” Because that is a lie.

I know the zoom-in tricks to nullify the actions by these pitiful bully wannabes, but after getting the presents on my main, I decided all things considered it just was not worth it. And thus they won. They succeeded in ruining for me a part of the game that should have been a fun diversion.

And this is why Blizz should care about what happened. They should care that a small number of idiots ruined an event, intended to be lighthearted and fun, for many, many players. They should care that rude behavior was allowed to run wild to the extent that it prevented normal game enjoyment for others. They should, but they don’t.

And I quote from paragraph 7 (“Code of Conduct”) of the official World of Warcraft Terms of Use:

. . . Blizzard reserves the right to determine which conduct it considers to be outside the spirit of the Game and to take such disciplinary measures as it sees fit up to and including termination and deletion of the Account. Blizzard reserves the right to modify this Code of Conduct at any time.

. . . certain acts go beyond what is “fair” and are considered serious violations of these Terms of Use. Those acts include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

. . . (iii) Anything that Blizzard considers contrary to the “essence” of the Game.

It’s a matter of interpretation, I grant you, as to whether yesterday’s actions were a violation of this Code of Conduct. Blizz chose — apparently — to consider the activity in keeping with the “essence of the Game”and to be fully within the “Spirit of the Game”.

Really? So the whole point of the Winterveil gift day is for jerks to have perverted fun at the expense of the majority of players? Well, thanks Blizz, in that case the event was a roaring success. I was thinking it was yet another misstep by Blizz management, but it turns out it was a true representation of how the game should be played. The fun never stops.

Merry/Happy to all

Not wanting to offend anyone by *gasp* wishing them the wrong flavor of seasonal greetings, let me wish all of you a very merry and/or happy winter whatever. There. Consider good will to have been thrown your way.

Rant warning!

Really, when did we all become so thin-skinned that we take offense when someone wishes us Happy Hanukkah if we ourselves only celebrate Christmas? When and why did we start becoming indignant that stores refuse to be reverent about our personal religious beliefs this time of year, and why do we feel we must be insulted when they dare to wish their customers the evil “Happy Holidays”? Sheesh, we all need to just relax a little bit, the world is bad enough these days and personally I think we should be grateful for any expression of good will we can get.

End rant.

Anyway, this would all be completely off the subject if I had a subject for today, which I don’t. I intend to enjoy whatever good will comes my way, throw some at others, laugh with friends and relatives, and eat Christmas turkey and cookies. And possibly finally find out what’s in that gigantic package under the tree. Too big for a sweater, too small for a BMW.

Be safe, be warm, be loved, be happy. And do what you can to help others be the same.

When I am wrong, I am wrong

I am almost speechless, but here goes (deep breath):

Yesterday I posted a pretty rough indictment of Blizz (again!) regarding their seeming inattention to detail over fixing their little oops from the first week of Highmaul wing 2 LFR. Basically, they fixed it for one of my hunters but not for the other, and my theme was that this seemed to be yet another example of how they really don’t grasp the idea of customer service.

At the end, I said I would happily post an addendum if my second resubmitted ticket yielded any results.

Never let it be said that I hesitate to admit when I am wrong. Today, when I logged on to the alt that had not received any seals, I found an in game email from Blizz that basically said:

Hello!

Very sorry this character was missed, but I was able to get you all sorted. You should see that you are now at 4 seals on this character instead of the 2 you were at ^_^

I hope all is well now but definitely get back to us if there are any further issues.

I was dumbfounded. Still am. They responded to my second ticket in a little less than 24 hours, and they did the right thing. So I will say it now —  Blizz handled this problem with grace and efficiency. This is what customer service is supposed to look like. They had a problem, they quickly advertised they knew about the problem, and they came up with a decent solution, which they then implemented rapidly and I think fairly. Clearly they devoted extra resources to handling the fallout, and it paid off.

Even though I think I had plenty of historical examples to be skeptical that they would do the right thing, in this case they went and proved me wrong. To be honest, I couldn’t be happier to have to eat some crow. Maybe, just maybe, they are starting to figure it out.

Ya did good, Blizz. Keep it up.

Missed it by thaaaaaat much!

Blizz, Blizz, Blizz. You’re making me crazy! You just never seem to really grasp the point when it comes to public relations. Sometimes you get maddeningly close, then at the last minute throw in an inexplicable gotcha.

I know, I know, what am I talking about, right?

Some of you may have read about the semi-big oops that happened last week when the second wing of Highmaul opened for LFR. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec 16 and 17, the first and third bosses (Tectus and Ko’ragh) were not dropping any loot, not even gold. To their credit, Blizz hopped on this right away, posting a couple of things quickly that said they were trying to figure out the best way to remedy the situation for those who lost out. There was really no good way for them to do a mass restoration, so they announced that if you ran that wing on those days, you should submit a ticket.

Figuring it would be an exercise in futility but being a basically gullible optimistic person, I submitted a ticket. Well, two, actually, since I had run LFR during that time on both my level 100 hunters. I made sure it was two separate tickets, as I did not want to confuse them by mentioning two character names in the same ticket.

Surprisingly, within two days I received an in-game notice that my ticket had been answered. Even more surprisingly, the resolution was actually appropriate to the problem. I had been expecting at most maybe another useless free day of play, a paltry amount of gold, or some stupid pet. But no, Blizz awarded me two free Seals of Tempered Fate. Holy moly, I thought, now this is beginning to look like customer service. This was clearly a good response — my hunter had missed out on two chances for loot (ok, most likely gold given my RNG luck, but still), and Blizz gave me those two chances back. Wow.

But this is where they missed the point: I logged on to my other hunter only to find the exact same “Your ticket has been answered” notice and no additional seals for that alt. Apparently Blizz decided that a total of two seals per account was enough, no matter how many alts had missed out on the loot due to their screw-up.

AAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHH! Another triumph brought to you by the innovative staff at the Screw With the Players Department.

Tech Staff: Well, because of <technobabble technobabble technobabble> the best we can do is add a couple of seals to the inventory for the affected players.

SWP Staff: OK, but how about this — only give them 2 per account, no matter how many alts were affected! Hee hee hee hee! Is this a great job or what?

Manager: Umm, sure, whatever. Are we done, I got a Hearthstone meeting to go to.

Blizz, do you not see that every alt that ran Highmaul those days missed out on two chances for loot? This is not a difficult concept to grasp. So why why why would you start to do the right thing, then get miserly and not do it for every alt?

Again, zero adult supervision, no one in upper management in Customer Service looked at the big picture of the message being sent. No logic check, no putting themselves in the place of the players who subjected themselves multiple times to LFR to get alts through. Once again, the message was less “We sincerely apologize and are doing what we can to make it right,” and more “Another shitstorm, give them a couple extra seals but no more than two per account, see if that will shut them up.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy for the seals. But Blizz, you were so close! You were almost responsive, almost a real grownup company. Just not quite there yet.

(I did go ahead and resubmit the ticket for the alt that did not receive seals, and I will happily post an addendum if that results in additional seals for that alt, but I do not expect it will.)

Holiday Break

The winter holidays have officially kicked into high gear, and I find myself relying more and more on scribbled notes on tiny pieces of paper to stay organized. OK, to retain the illusion that I am organized. I am talking about IRL here, but the same ditziness is affecting my game play. I feel like my garrisons are becoming centers of chaos, my followers assigned to supervise buildings complain all the time, and Croman what the hell! Put some clothes on, no one wants to see you walking around in your underwear all the time dude!

I say this all to explain in advance this will be a pretty disorganized post. Sorry, you can stop reading now if you want.

We’ll be taking a short break from raiding in both of my guilds, and while I am enjoying Highmaul a break will be welcome. One less thing to have on my already stuffed calendar.

I am hoping to transition into a somewhat calmer pace in Draenor over the next couple of weeks as well. I think I finally have a decent understanding of the relative pros and cons of garrison buildings. I am — finally — starting to get some Savage Blood production, which should help both my crafting and my gold making.

Main goals over the next couple of weeks:

  • Consolidate my processes on my two level 3 garrisons, get them on a regular production schedule. At some point some of the currently useful buildings will be marginalized and I will replace them, but that likely won’t happen for several weeks. I hope.
  • Level up my monk and my lock. Get their garrisons to level 3 and productive. Get them going on the Legendary Ring quest lines.
  • Get my remaining 4 alts into Draenor and up to level 92 in order to start getting their professions going.
  • Maybe try to squeeze in some actual fun while I am at it.

So that’s it. If you are a regular reader of this blog (and there are not many of you hardy souls, but thank you each and every one), posts will probably be a bit spotty for the next week or 10 days as I concentrate on fixing Christmas dinner, entertaining friends and relatives, and attending various holiday celebrations. But I look forward to seeing you in 2015. Have a very nice winter holiday!