Q&A – informative for a change

Yesterday I had a lot going on and was not able to watch the Q&A live, so I watched it this morning. I kind of wish I had made some time to watch it yesterday, because for a change there was quite a lot of very good information in it, and if I had had a few more hours to think about it I would probably be able to make some more thoughtful comments about it today. As it is, here are some of my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on it. And you can check out both the full video and the text summary courtesy of MMO-C here.

Allied races. There was a lot of discussion about these. To me, it was all of passing interest, but I know there a lot of players for whom this is an extremely exciting part of the game. I think the bottom line here is that Blizz will be introducing lots of new allied races over the course of possibly years. Though Hazzikostas did not admit it, the major reason will be to entice players to level new characters (and thus possibly beef up MAU numbers over an extended period of time).

How best to communicate with Blizz. Basically, don’t whine and don’t try to pass your comments off as representing all players. Meh.

Class balance. I thought this was a decent discussion because it did yield some insight into Blizz’s current guiding principles for class design. Hazzikostas reiterated the idea that the goal is to “make each class unique”. (And by “class” I am pretty sure he meant “spec”.) I do not disagree with the goal, but he failed to address the related designs. For example, it is all well and good to make a class that excels in the ability to DoT targets, but if you design raids and dungeons that only make this a valuable trait for a couple of bosses, then the “unique” aspect of the class is not worth much. Blizz has thus far not shown much success in coordinating raid and dungeon design with class abilities, and every expansion they end up creating winner and loser classes because of this failure. Thus, the idea of “class uniqueness” sounds good, but only if your class is one of Blizz’s design winners.

Similarly, he did not address the idea of “utility” balance — that is, some group utilities are way more valuable and widely useful than others. A combat rez, for example, is probably always useful, whereas something like a hunter Tranq shot is highly specialized. Not all “unique” abilities are created equal, and this again leads to winner and loser classes. Will Blizz realize this and develop a system to minimize it? I doubt it.

Gear. This is where there was some good news, on several fronts. It was apparent that Hazzikostas fully understands the mess Blizz gave us with Legion gear. He said no one should have to sim gear before they can determine if it is an upgrade for them, and he also said they had gone too far with secondary stat importance in Legion. He did not promise that all gear with higher ilevel will be an upgrade every time, but he did say most of the time it will be, and he also said the calculus of determining the worth of gear will be considerably easier. We will see, but to me it sounded positive.

Loot. Somewhat related to gear is the question of loot in group situations. It sounds like the only option in BfA will be personal loot. Some guilds will not like this, but the change has been coming for some time. I know with my own guild, at the start of Legion we tended to prefer a system of Master Looter with rolls, along with a very light determination of who could roll on a piece. Very shortly, however, we saw that Personal Loot dropped significantly more gear (a design by Blizz for Legion), and we switched to that and have not gone back.

Hazzikostas came right out and said the BfA move to all Personal Loot is being made mainly to reign in the top guilds, the ones who routinely game the world-first Mythic competitions by using group loot runs to overgear their main raiders before they even start Mythic runs. This practice has meant Blizz has to compensate for the idea that the professional guilds will be overgeared for Mythic raids at the start, thus they need to make the raid difficulty with that in mind. This has a cascading effect, because it means the raid bosses — particularly the end ones — end up being overtuned for everyone else.

Anyway, it looks like Group Loot will be a thing of the past come BfA. What Hazzikostas did not address, but what I would like to have heard him on, is whether there will be some adjustments to the more annoying parts of Personal Loot. For example, a user-friendly interface for sharing loot. Something like a pop-up loot roll window similar to what we now see in dungeons, except in this case it starts with the person who got the loot selecting if they want to offer it up and checking a simple yes/no. If they do offer it up, then a loot roll window automatically pops up for all players eligible for the loot, maybe a need/greed kind of thing to also allow for people to roll on it for transmog.

Another Personal Loot improvement might be a refinement of what loot is shareable and what is not. There is a lot of loot that may technically be an upgrade for a player but in truth it is useless to them, and currently they cannot offer it up for trade.

Talents. Lots of discussion here, but the one thing that gave me cause for optimism was the statement that the idea of selecting either the AoE or the Single Target talent in a tier just feels bad, and in fact it doesn’t make anyone actually choose, rather it just makes them burn a tome to adjust for each boss fight. Hallelujah.

The other interesting thing about talents in BfA is confirmation that Blizz will use them as a sort of testing ground for baseline abilities. That is, if one talent for a class is always selected by most everyone, then that begins to look like something that should become a baseline ability, and Blizz may change it to that in a patch. We kind of suspected this is what they were doing in the latter parts of Legion, but now we know that is indeed the case.

Mission tables. This was probably the most disingenuous part of the Q&A. Hazzikostas blathered on about how they will not serve as time gates in BfA, that they are more for auxiliary game play, they add a nice dimension to the game, they fit with the BfA story line, blah blah blah. What he did not admit was the obvious — that it is a mini-game within WoW that works well with the mobile app, and if they get rid of it then they might as well trash the app, too. And of course, every time a player logs in on the mobile app it counts towards MAU for the game.

Mythic+. Without saying so outright, it was pretty clear that Blizz sees this part of the game as increasingly important going forward. Hazzikostas was at some pains to explain that raiding is still important, but it was obvious that Blizz is looking to Mythic+ as the main end game group activity at some point. Just my opinion, of course, but I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of raiding and I did not.

Professions. There will be some changes for the better here, I think. The change to having professions grouped into expansion-specific ones is a good move. Also good was the comment that crafted items need to be more relevant throughout an expansion, not just at the beginning. Last, on a less optimistic note, I am not really a fan of the recipe-leveling mechanic introduced in Legion, but it sounded like we are stuck with that for BfA.

Alts. Sounds like what we have now in Legion will be what we have in BfA in terms of alt-friendly or alt-hostile (whichever side you come down on). There will be some concessions to alts in terms of grindiness — like we have now for AP catch-up — but Hazzikostas is digging his heels in on his personal conviction that the only reason to have alts is to play them as you would a mini-main. Playing them to farm items for a main is strictly frowned upon and Blizz is doing everything they can to make that as hard as possible for you.

Guilds. The introduction of “Communities” is interesting to me, and honestly I do not know if it will spell the virtual end of guilds or not. Likely I will be writing a lot more about this as we learn more of the specifics. Of note, Hazzikostas did not indicate there would be any new perks to guild membership, only that guilds would have “all the same things as Communities”, plus a guild bank. This is one that bears watching.

Anyway, those are what I saw as the highlights of the Q&A yesterday. I did think it was one of the more informative ones lately. If you find yourself with some free time it could be worth an hour to watch.

Speaking of free time, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.

Antorus the Marathon Burn

Well, last night we dipped our collective guild toe into Antorus the Burning Throne. Following our usual approach of running Normal a couple of times before we pare down the raid team and start progression at the Heroic level, last night’s run was Normal and we had 22-23 players for most of the night. In a four hour raid, first time through with many of us hazy on mechanics and positioning, we only had time to down seven bosses and wipe a few times on the eighth. (More on this below.)

My biggest impression so far is, this is a long, muddled raid with no clear theme other than “here’s a whole bunch of bosses to keep you guys occupied for many months”.

Start with the name of the raid. I know this is petty, but in an era of clipped social media speech, this raid name does not in any way lend itself to a shortened reference. I suppose the WoW model would indicate AtBT, but that seems pretty cumbersome. ABT might end up being the acronym of choice, but something about that seems off to me. I was calling it Ant in guild chat last night, and was — weirdly — corrected that we are calling it Anthony or Tony for short. (Yeah, not sure I get it, either.)

The long and rather cumbersome title seems oddly appropriate, though, in light of the fact the raid itself is extremely long — 11 bosses in what seems at first experience to be a very large indoor/outdoor setting that is pretty stunning in terms of its artwork. (When you go in, you really owe it to yourself to take a good look around — the Blizz art team did a great job on this. At one point I looked up at the sky box and actually missed the pull countdown because I was so blown away by the view.)

The various regions of the raid are so diverse (beautiful sunny outdoor unicorn-and-flowers areas juxtaposed with dark rocky fire-and-brimstone platforms and caves) as to make one wonder if the whole raid setting was designed by a rather inattentive committee unwilling to say no to any suggestion. However, I suppose one could also look at it as a tour of the entire planet of Antorus, taking the fight to the Legion generals in every corner of their home world. The raid environment is stunning, but very confusing.

There seems to be no logical path or flow from one area to another. There are places where we had to jump off rocks to get to a boss, some where we had to go through a portal, others where we had to use Vindicaar-style transporters. Dying and running back was easy and quick at times due to rez locations and handy portals, while at other times it seemed needlessly long and annoying. I am sure much of my utter confusion is due to it being my first time in the raid, but I had a very strong impression that it was designed by throwing together a whole bunch of scenarios and then figuring out technical ways to get from one to another.

As to difficulty, I was surprised that we sailed through the first few bosses one-shotting them, and wiped only a couple of times on the rest. Of course, it was Normal. (I think Heroic will be very different.) Our raid average ilevel was something like 936, which is a few ilevels above the average successful kill for this difficulty, so that may have something to do with it. On the other hand, we certainly did not do much prep for it. A few people had watched some videos, one or two had some web site cheat sheets up for reference, but we worked out superficial strategy on the fly. (That’s one of the reasons it took us 4 hours to down 7 bosses — we discussed strategy for several minutes before each one.)

The interest level of the bosses was for me mixed. Some had some fun mechanics, others just came across as dull and tedious. For what it’s worth, we ended up one-shotting the multi-platform Eonar encounter I described in my last post. However, most of us had zero idea what we were doing, and spent most of the fight running/jumping/flying about trying to find where the targets were, responding to someone crying, “Top level! Big add!” or “Middle! Fel Hounds!” Et cetera. Total chaos.  I really cannot imagine it on Heroic.

(For context, we one-shotted Garothi, Felhounds, Portal Keeper Hasabel, and Eonar. We wiped once each on Antoran High Command and Imonar, and four times on Kin’garoth. We also wiped 4 times on Varimathras but did not kill him before we called it for the night.)

All in all, though, it was a good raid night and we had a great deal of fun. I do think, however, this raid is a bit too scattered and cumbersome to wear very well — for many guilds it will turn out to be a one and done. It does have the standard quest to get 4 gizmos from a late boss and be able to skip parts of it eventually, so that might turn out to be more useful than it has for other raids. But the sheer immensity of it, combined with the mixed bag of bosses and the rather puny loot tables, will tend to put many guilds off. Perhaps that realization is why Blizz introduced the Antoran trinket grind, which is primarily done by defeating the last raid boss over and over again. A few guilds will consider this reason enough to keep running the raid, but I think the majority will judge it not worth the effort.

As always, YMMV.

That one guy

Short post today, because to be honest there is almost zero going on in WoW until the main part of Blizzcon starts.

Today’s topic has to do with how to deal with “That One Guy” in your guild or raid team that drives you up a wall. You know the one. The guy (generic gender usage here) that insists on inserting himself into every conversation, that lets you know how insulted he is that he was not asked to join your instance group, that gets Terribly Hurt Feelings when told his damage numbers (below the tank’s in spite of very decent gear level) need to improve, that takes umbrage when asked to not make extraneous comments during combat in the raid voice channel, that feels slighted if lots of people do not LOL to his “witty” comments in gchat or any of the dozens of cat videos he spams the guild Discord channel with. He natters on for weeks before his birthday about how he doesn’t want anyone to make a fuss over it, he continually whines to everyone about his constant “migraines” or his mysterious sicknesses or perpetual tiredness and uses them as an excuse for snarky behavior. He is a professional victim of constant misunderstanding. He uses every gchat or voice channel comment as a springboard to “prove” his intellectual depth and knowledge. You know the guy. His picture is posted in the dictionary under “passive-aggressive”.

Usually if we think about it, the problem is not so much with That Guy as it is with our own response to him — lots of different kinds of people in this world, and we all have to learn how to deal with them in a civilized fashion, sooner or later. We need to adopt a mature, reasoned approach to the problem. We should be compassionate and allow for the possibility that maybe he has a real psychological problem. (Although we are not sure if there is a medical term for Compulsive Asshat Syndrome.)

But deep down what we are really thinking is, “I want to fling a mud pie in that guy’s face!”

Every time I have run into this situation — and it has not been often in my time in WoW — I feel like every solution is unsatisfactory. That Guy is so pervasive that it is virtually impossible to just not pay attention to him, he is the virtual equivalent of always in your face. Putting him on /ignore in gchat works to an extent, but there is the nagging feeling that you should not have to do that with a fellow guildie, that we should all be adults and just politely get along. Putting him on Local Mute in Mumble — or some equivalent — is possible, but you run the risk of wiping the raid because he might actually say something important to execution. Unlikely, but possible.

Responding to him — taking the bait — is not going to accomplish anything other than a drama situation for the guild, which is even worse than suffering this fool. Complaining about him to a guild officer or the GM just paints you as a whiny snowflake — they may actually feel the same way about him, but if he walks a careful line and does not technically break any guild rules, they would appear arbitrary if they kick him, and that perception is not good for a guild in the long run. (Although one wishes it were possible to establish an objective Jerk standard and anyone who met it could clearly be kicked …)

So there really are no good solutions. Unfortunately, the continued existence of That Guy can have subtle effects on a guild — we may decide to no longer log in on Wednesday and Friday nights, for example, because we know that is his prime game time. We start to think up excuses to call out on raid nights. We politely decline Mythic+ invitations if we know he will be one of the group. Et cetera. Over time, one person can in fact contribute to a guild’s decline, even in the absence of overt drama. The situation can be insidiously damaging.

Luckily, these situations often self-correct — That Guy decides he is not sufficiently appreciated and leaves the guild, or he initiates an obvious drama situation that causes him to be kicked. Still, it is uncomfortable until that happens.

Meanwhile, I think I may have a conflict with next week’s raid ….

Childhood and journey

I remember when I rolled my very first WoW character and lost myself in the game. It was my night elf hunter, back when hunters didn’t get their first pet until level 10, and by the way level 10 took a lot longer than the twenty minutes it now does. I remember those early quests in Teldrassil, figuring out how to move around, getting the concept of “targeting” something, coordinating that with a standard key bind to “shoot” the mob. I remember the surprise I got when eventually the target mobs actually attacked me if I got too close, rather than stand passively and wait for me to kill them. I remember getting almost hopelessly lost in my first cave quest, and to be honest I have disliked caves ever since.

When I made my way to Darkshore as a level 7, I got in a bit over my head and learned the tried and true technique of dying, getting back to my corpse, resurrecting at the absolute edge of where it was possible, and running like hell for about 5 seconds before dying again, then repeating the process until I made it to a safe area. It was harrowing.

I had been blow away when I discovered Darnassas — surely it was the game’s largest, most beautiful city? (I remember those ?level 60? NPCs majestically patrolling the road to the city on their gorgeous white tiger mounts, and I was in awe of such a high level. I could never aspire to that!) But then I accidentally got on a ship that took me to Stormwind, and an entirely new continent, and that was my first glimmer that the game was vastly larger and more complex than I had ever imagined.

Still, I was not intimidated by it. I loved that it was virtually infinite, that there was always something new to discover, something new to learn about the game, another level you could progress to.

I remember when I learned about groups. There was a Looking-for-Group chat channel, as I recall — some sort of very primitive precursor to the LFG mechanism we have now. I subscribed to it for weeks before I got up enough nerve to actually join a group for an instance. I think I was about level 20, but I am not sure — it was such a horrible experience that I have blotted it from my memory. I had no concept of group roles, so I immediately shot at anything that moved until some kind soul said something in chat like, “Hunter making it tough for the tank,” a hint that I was — thankfully — smart enough to take.

About halfway through (I think the instance was Gnomeregen, but as I said I have tried to block it all out) I ran out of arrows and was reduced to melee weapon and fists. Yeah, that was when hunters had to carry arrows in their bag in order to use their bow. If you ran out, shame on you. That was also when you could actually level your fists as weapons — you did this by unequipping all your weapons (hunters had both ranged and melee back then) and killing mobs until your fist proficiency level matched your character level.

Back to the group, there was some sort of mechanism where we had to jump from a machine to a specific spot, and of course I missed and died. I was told to run back, and I got so lost that I never did find the group again. I just ran around periodically aggroing mobs and dying and running back again. And again. And again. Sometimes it took me forever just to find my corpse. Eventually they kicked me, I guess, because I was no longer part of the group. I am surprised they had such patience, really. Not one of my best moments in the game…

It was even later when I learned about gear. By this time I had joined a guild, and I was invited to quest with some of the guildies. One of them noticed that I was wearing very low level vendor gear and was horrified. He opened trade and gave me a bunch of green gear closer to my character level. I honestly had never even considered that gear made a difference. I was perfectly happy with buying a bow or whatever from a vendor. I had no clue there was a difference between the stuff labeled in gray and the stuff labeled in white or green. (I had never seen anything blue or higher, so that was not even a question for me.) The notion that green gear could help you kill stuff faster was truly a revelation to me.

I won’t even discuss my epiphany when I realized that cloth or leather gear was worse for a hunter than mail. Or that eventually you had to repair gear or you couldn’t use it. Yes, I really was that clueless.

I am not sure I have much of a point here, but it strikes me that that kind of innocent discovery and leisurely exploration are really no longer part of the game. The days of it being all about the journey, not the goal, seem over. As vast and complex as I thought the game was then, it is immeasurably more vast and complex now. It is also more fast paced, players as a group seem to have little tolerance for anyone who exhibits ignorance of the game’s traditions and mechanics, and Blizz seems to design now mainly for the end game, not for the process of discovery.

Think about it, when is the last time you saw a guild advertising itself as a “leveling guild”? For that matter, when is the last time you actually ran across a low level player who was experiencing the game for the first time, without a RL friend to help and guide them?

Like Thomas Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again — the bygone days of youth, whether real or virtual, are — well — gone by. I know I can’t recapture the innocent wonder and joy of my early days in WoW, I know too much about end games and Wowhead and how to develop professions and how to use heirlooms and what to expect at every level of a character. I have chosen to raid on my main, and so I am now completely steeped in the endgame gear chase, in getting to the next gear goal as fast as possible. I no longer take the time to discover, I just look it up on Wowhead or some place and get it done, then move on to the next thing.

So yeah, I have done this to myself, I admit it. But I also think Blizz has encouraged me, along with a lot of other players, in this mindset. They are fixated on the end game, on an endlessly-expanding artifact weapon, on accumulating legendaries and tier gear and battle pets and mounts. They seem to promote a sense that leveling a character is only a means to the end game, and they — and we — have lost the joy of the journey itself. I can’t shake the feeling that WoW, while never a “sandbox” game, was once a game of process and discovery, but that it has morphed into a Type A personality kind of game, where getting to the end is the sole definition of “winning”.

To quote that noted American philosopher, Louis L’Amour, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”

And try to remember to stock up on arrows before you go.

Guild-y thoughts

Nothing of great interest in this post. It is just a sort of history of my guild journeys. You can easily skip it and you won’t miss anything.

As we seem to be in a pause in the pace of Legion just now — a good thing, in my opinion — I have been thinking a little about the role and nature of guilds in WoW. I will admit up front that I am a big supporter of them as a structure in the game, but I also know there are pros and cons to belonging to one. At times I envy the independence and freedom of those players who eschew guild membership, and to be honest I rather admire them for their willingness to play — and enjoy — the game completely solo. But when I weigh everything, I personally come down on the side of belonging to a guild.

In my very early days in the game (I started playing at the tail end of Burning Crusade) — when I had only my hunter character and was leveling up, I joined a couple of guilds randomly, stuck around for maybe a week or so, then left. I had no ties to them, I had only answered their chat spam. Once I was in them, I could really see no benefit for me — their guild chat was not especially friendly or welcoming, and the players that were around my level all seemed to have their own set little questing groups. So I didn’t stick around long.

My first real guild experience came when a RL friend of mine invited me to a guild he belonged to. That was where I began to appreciate some of the fun parts of guild membership, and where I got my first taste of how much more fun dungeons and quests were with a group you knew. Unfortunately, the guild was in its waning days, and it dissolved within a couple of months of my joining.

My friend found another guild (one his ex belonged to, but that’s another story) and I was invited to join it. The members were nice enough, and we ran a few dungeons together from time to time, but my strongest memory is that it was just weird, in a funny-strange sort of way. I play on what is ostensibly an RP realm (almost nobody RPs on it except the perverts in Goldshire), and apparently the people in the guild thought RP required a certain manner of speaking. Mind you, they did not really do RP, just enforced what they thought was a speech requirement. It consisted almost entirely of using the pronouns thee and thy and their variationsand sometimes throwing in a few ye‘s and yonder‘s along with some random uses of doth, dost and hath.

It was hysterically ridiculous, not only for the stupidity of the rule, but also because no one in the guild had the slightest idea how to properly use these words. Thee was always used as the subject of a sentence (not properly as an object) in place of “you”. The proper nominative usage, thou, was never used. Thy and thine were used interchangeably and at random as possessives, with no regard to the similar a/an usage today. Egregiously, ye was used not as the second person nominative plural but as a substitute for “the”. Doth and dost were also used pretty much at random, rather than as the third person singular and second person singular, respectively. It was at once painful and hilarious. Some actual examples from guild chat:

  • “Thee can repair thine gear at ye armorer in yonder shoppe.”
  • “Thee needs to hurry, we art in ye dungeon already.”
  • “Thine chat comments dost not conform to our guild rules. We hath these rules because we art on an RP server.”
  • “Doth thee have a cat pet thee couldeth use?”

Yeah, that guild, too, soon disintegrated. Not such a bad thing…

But I digress. By this time in my guild career, my friend had stopped playing the game and therefore — possibly for the best, given his track record — I was on my own to find a new guild. As all my previous guilds had been relatively small ones, I started to look for a really large guild, figuring that even if there was some drama, that it would affect only some of the members not the entire guild. Also, I felt like in a large guild I would have a better chance of finding a sub-group I was comfortable playing with.

Thus I joined what was at the time the largest guild on my server. It was a social guild, but it had a reasonable raid team. There were always organized guild activities, and a lot of people playing on any given night. I was completely oblivious to guild politics, so when there was a dead-of-the-night coup that resulted in a new GM and a whole new slate of officers, I just took it in stride. Eventually I became an officer in this guild, and I stayed with it for almost five years. But it, too, withered. Shortly after the “coup”, guild policies became more and more restrictive, and it lost many of its members. In short order it was no longer even close to the largest on the server. The GM and co-GM held power tightly centralized, so that even the officers had very little say in shaping of policy. For about a year, officers were not even allowed to invite people to the guild without GM approval. Still, I really liked the people in the guild, including the GM and co-GM, so I stayed. Also, I have this damned loyalty gene, and I will not abandon something I have committed to until the situation becomes intolerable.

Eventually the rather repressive nature of the guild, combined with the ravages of WoD, took its toll. We could no longer field even 10 people to raid, and nightly activity dwindled to maybe two or three people on at a time. I wanted to raid on my main hunter, but there was a rule that we could not belong to another guild on the same realm, even with alts, we had to fully commit to this guild all or nothing. I lobbied hard for several weeks and finally won permission to take my alt hunter and a druid alt to another actual raiding guild, as long as I did not say anything about it in guild chat. This of course should have been a final straw for me, but like I said, overdeveloped sense of loyalty….

I finally did leave that guild, though — with a great deal of guilt and angst — and took my main and all my alts to the raiding guild. Sadly, within a couple of months this guild, too, pretty much stopped raiding. (WoD was truly a guild-killer.)

While I had been with my long-term guild, one night during Mists I answered a trade chat request to cut a gem for someone. The person came to me and had mats, so it was nothing for me to cut it. When it was done, they wanted to give me a 100g tip (lot of gold at the time), but I refused because it had been so trivial a thing for me to do. We chatted for a bit, and the person said they were an officer in a certain named guild, and if I ever decided to change guilds I would be welcome there. I filed the guild name away and pretty much forgot about it for a couple of years.

Thus, when I found myself once again guildless, I researched this guild and found they were still very active, had an excellent raid team, and were accepting new members. I applied, was accepted after a short in-game interview, and so that is where I landed, and where I have happily been for almost two years now.

There is no real point to this post, I guess, except to say that sometimes it can take a while to find your niche. In my case, a long while. In my guild journeys, I have discovered a few things about myself. One is that, while I am rather passionate about hot-button topics IRL, I absolutely abhor discussing them in WoW. It just is not the place, in my opinion. I have seen drama tear a guild apart, and nothing induces drama more than arguments about politics or religion or social issues. Just not worth it.

Another thing I have learned is that I need to choose a guild methodically and wisely, because my stupid loyalty fixation will force me to stick with it even if I am miserable.

Last, I know for sure that belonging to a guild — even though there can be drawbacks to it — really enhances the game experience for me. My hope is that Blizz will also rediscover this notion and maybe implement some guild-promotion mechanisms in the next expansion. They have done it before but suddenly backed off. I would like to see them go back to it.

Thee shouldeth giveth me thy opinions on ye guild structure in WoW.

WoW as a personality mirror

Yesterday, according to MMO-C reporting, there was a dev pseudo-interview about raid and encounter design. I did not know about it in advance, and I would not have watched it even if I had known. If you are interested in it you can read the crib notes here. I would say you can also watch the video but apparently some of it is “proprietary” so not available unless you go to the Snotbag Slootbag Twitch account. I am only guessing about this, as I was not interested enough to track it down.

You may have surmised I am not a big fan of Slootbag, and you would surmise correctly. I do not know the guy personally, I only know my impressions of his public persona. He may be a fantastic human being in person, but in my opinion he presents the public image of a supercilious, slick, weaselly, chiseler out to advance his own name at any cost, to get all he can while the gettin’ is good. The “interview” yesterday was less about getting encounter design info out than it was about Slootbag tooting his horn about how connected he is and what a fantastic interviewer he is, not to mention what a great raider and gifted player he is. He has been a part of a slimy world-first guild that looked the other way while he and others almost certainly crossed the line in their game play. So, yeah, I am not a fan, but that is neither here nor there. I suspect he is not a fan of mine, either, if he even knows much less cares that I exist. Trashing him is not the focus of this post, but his public persona serves as a jumping off point for my real focus.

I have a theory that you are who you are in WoW. I know there is another point of view — that WoW and similar games are where people try out alternate personas and experiment with psyches that may be the polar opposite of who they are in real life. I suppose some of that happens from time to time, but I think over the long run such pretense is very hard to maintain, and people revert to their real selves even in their avatars.

I think the anonymity of MMOs encourages the real core personality to emerge. You are free from normal social restrictions on behavior, and you act according to your own internal morality code. If that code is based on empathy, kindness, trustworthiness, honor, etc., then that is how you interact with others in the virtual world. On the other hand, if your core morality is based on personal resentment, unfettered ego, greed, or other less attractive human qualities, then that, too, is what emerges in your online persona. Virtual anonymity assures us that no one will report our behavior to our parents or our significant others or our close friends, so we are completely free to be exactly the person we are with no fear of censure from those we care about. It is at once liberating and frightening.

WoW is a microcosm of this greater virtual uninhibited world. You see true unfettered behavior in activities like trade chat, pugs, LFR, and chance world or quest encounters. Some players prey on the weak, others go out of their way to help. Interestingly, I think guilds tend to moderate this Lord of the Flies behavior, because they add a certain amount of social accountability back into the equation. You are no longer completely independent of organized society — you are held to some standard of behavior codified by the guild, and you know there is a chance that if you violate this standard you will be held accountable for it. In other words, guild membership establishes a kind of non-anonymity in an otherwise anonymous virtual world, and some of the social restrictions of the real world start to apply.

I am someone who wants to believe most people are good at their core, that given a chance they will nearly always try to do right by their fellow human. Sadly, I am coming around more and more to the realization that a sizeable number of people will only behave honorably if there is a punishment for not doing so. In the real world, that punishment is frequently social or family censure, but it is also more concrete reactions like a guaranteed punch in the nose or legal punishments or losing one’s job.

In WoW, this was driven home to me with Blizz’s fairly recent reaction to the toxicity of trade chat. Left alone, that channel became a cesspool of spewed hatred, vile language, and implied threats of extreme violence. It was run by bullies and trolls, and they stomped down anyone daring to speak up against them. Then about a year ago or so, Blizz announced they were implementing a system of immediate and graduated bans for reported bad behavior in the game, including in chat. And they followed through. Miraculously, trade chat improved almost overnight. This is a good thing, but it is sad that it only happened because suddenly there was actual punishment for bad behavior. It does not give one great faith in the innate goodness of humanity.

So, even though it depresses me a little, I still think you are who you are in WoW. And if you are the self-aware, introspective type, that can help you to become a better person, to see yourself as others see you. When I look at my WoW characters and how they interact with other players, I see someone who basically would never cheat others or berate them for their play style or gear, someone who is happy to give mats and crafted items to guildies and donate to the guild bank, someone who can be relied on to show up for raids on time and be prepared, someone who values her word and would never go back on it. Someone you can trust. That is really who I am. But I also see someone who can be snippy and snarky, who has a quick temper, who lacks confidence, and who frequently obsesses over imperfections in the game. That is also who I really am. A mixed picture, but a picture nonetheless, and one I can use to improve myself.

And now, I will further improve myself by enjoying a beer on the front porch and starting my weekend. You enjoy yours.

Cheats and chiselers and lines not to be crossed

Blizzard just announced that they had “taken action” against some players who were accepting real world currency for in-game assistance, such as carrying players for raid clears. You can read the Blue Post here, courtesy of MMO-C.

This is absolutely reasonable action from Blizz. The activities were clear violations of the Terms of Service agreement, and some forum posters claimed it was getting out of hand — blatant advertisements abounded. I wouldn’t know about that, I tend to be quite naive about these matters. Still, there is a line between the in-game economy and the real world one, at least as far as players are concerned. Blizz went to some pains to point out that raid carries for gold, for example, are perfectly legitimate. It is just when actual rent-spendable money enters in that it becomes illegitimate.

In-game gold versus real-world money is a line most of us can understand, but I wonder if Blizz itself has not blurred that distinction a bit with their introduction of the token. By becoming their own gold seller, they have legitimized a direct connection between real world money and in-game gold. If you have the money, you can pretty much amass as much gold as you want in the game. Yes, you have limits placed on you in terms of how many tokens you can buy over a period of time, but if someone is patient and well-off, they can easily max out gold on every character on every account.

Not that having millions and millions of gold gets you much in the game nowadays, beyond a certain Scrooge McDuck feeling of wallowing in wealth. The reason Blizz’s gold selling has not become pay-for-play is that they have severely curtailed the number of game-enhancing buyable items available. In WoD, for example, you could buy competitive high-level crafted gear, but you were limited to equipping just three such items, thereby ensuring players with a lot of gold could not immediately outfit themselves with raid-level gear. In Legion, Blizz allows unlimited pieces of crafted gear to be equipped, but they prohibit selling (thus, buying) such gear above level 815. It can only be upgraded if it is soulbound — again, prohibiting wealthy players from easily (if expensively) outfitting themselves with high level gear.

Another thing the token has done is give everyone a quantitative way to value in-game items and activities. In the U.S., one token currently buys you approximately 90k gold, and it costs $20. Thus, if for example a guild is selling Nighthold clears for 200k gold (I have no clue if this is the going rate or not), a player contemplating buying the service can know that this means the true cost to them is $30-$40. (If the player is an in-game buyer of tokens as a way to pay for their subscription, then the cost is approximately $30, or two months’ play time. If the player is an in-game seller of tokens for gold, then the cost is $40, or about two game store token purchases.)

Similarly, if a piece of BoE gear is priced at 100k gold, a player can evaluate whether or not it is worth one month’s play time ($15), or $20 of their hard-earned cash from the other perspective.

Still, even if the real world versus game world line has become a bit blurrier, it is still there, and it certainly does not justify crossing it.

Which leads me to the other aspect of Blizz’s announcement that gave me pause. Of note, they indicated some of the presumably-banned players were members of world-first guilds. This is troubling, for basically the same reason I discussed in a previous post: that is, it indicates a lack of high standards of integrity in these guilds. Let’s be honest — there is no way guild management could have been unaware of the money-grubbing actions of the members engaging in this illicit business. But for whatever reason, the guilds these players belong to chose to do nothing about it — the best you can say is they gave tacit approval, and the worst is that they may have shared in the profits.

I know I will get hate mail for this, but given the apparent high profile of some of the guilty ones, I think in this case a bit of naming and shaming might have been in order. If not the actual players involved, then maybe the guilds they belonged to. “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.” Maybe a little guild embarrassment would be good incentive to police their own members in future.

How much better it would have been if, when the guilds suspected some of their members were doing it, they issued explicit instructions to knock that shit off or face expulsion. At the very least, they might have taken a page from professional sports and benched the offending players for some amount of time or levied a fine of some sort. Any guild sanction would have demonstrated these professional guilds are serious about policing their own, serious about upholding high standards of behavior. Sadly, insofar as any of us knows, they did not.

I am certain I could play this game forever and not give a flying fig about world first achievements or the inner workings of the professional guilds. I do not care about the pseudo-celebrity players in them. But I do care that some of the players and guilds I encounter in the game seek to emulate those semi-pro players and their guilds. If their role models are cheats and chiselers, then that attitude may well spread down through the game, and it will take away from my enjoyment of it.

In a perfect world — or even an above-average one — guilds would be incensed if their members cheated, and they would take drastic and public action to ensure everyone knew such behavior was unacceptable, to uphold the rules of the game they play, indeed the game they are leaders in. But sadly this is not the case, and we are left with some guilds that get while the getting is good, knowing they need take no responsibility because Blizz will step in and police their players for them. Well, good for you, Blizz. And shame on you, all you who know who you are.