Assholes and idiots

So over the weekend I tried to run a few alts through Antorus the Burning Throne LFR. Okay, I know I was pretty much asking for it by running LFR at the end of the week, but holy guacamole what a loony bin it was. Every time. All I wanted was some gear and AP, maybe some essences for legendary purchase.

Every group was like a remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. People running around with no clue how to kill a boss, tanks rage quitting, people yelling in caps at dps below a million, kick votes every few minutes, people afk apparently on purpose, people begging for every piece of gear that dropped even if they were equipped with better stuff, some people trying to explain fights and getting yelled at for it, and trolls all over the place spreading debuffs and pulling early.

I don’t mind when there are people in LFR who do not know the fights, as long as they speak up and say so. I am happy to throw out some quick instructions like “kill adds over boss, stack on purple circles, spread on orange, stand in green, and avoid the flame that comes out of his claw hand” — I mean, that’s really all damage dealers need to know for Kin’garoth. I am even happy to type out instructions for the add groups coming up in Coven — “Get out of middle!” or “Slow/trap adds in corners” etc. And if we wipe once or twice just because it’s a lot to remember and some people just haven’t got the hang of it yet, no big deal. It’s LFR after all.

But what really trips my mad trigger is when there is an asshole in the group purposely causing wipes and killing people. For example, someone deliberately running around tagging people with the one-shot flame debuff in the trash leading to the Burning Throne. We actually had someone doing that yesterday in a group I was in. Luckily, I was healing and also for some reason the only one with a mass rez ability. I tried to get said asshole kicked, but no one was interested enough to follow through, so when we got to the bosses, I simply put him on focus and gave him no heals. To my surprise and delight, no other healers seemed to be very interested in him either, and he died quickly every time. Then after we either wiped or killed a boss, I methodically rezzed everyone individually instead of casting mass rez. He was the only one who had to run back a few times, and we didn’t always wait for him. He was pissed and called me out on it, so I explained gosh I thought he loved dying because he was so keen on causing it, dear me did I misinterpret his actions? He thought it was funny when he was causing it, why was he not amused now?

I’ve written about this before, but for the life of me I just cannot understand why some people do this kind of thing. Why join a raid if you have no interest in doing anything but deliberately screwing it up? I just do not see the attraction in spoiling the game for others. Blizz needs a “group troll” category for reporting these asswipes. LFR is challenging enough usually, without jerks adding to it.

Anyway, like I said, it was a very bad weekend for LFR. All I can think of is the little kids were bored already from spring break and decided to be bratty in WoW. (Trade chat was also worse than usual, so I am assuming the children were all showing off the naughty words they know, always a surefire way to impress others with how grown up you are… Pretty sure lots of them got reported.) Or maybe it was the full moon that brought out the trolls. Whatever, it was not enjoyable.

So much for the “assholes” portion of the post, now on to the “idiots” section.

Another phenomenon I just cannot wrap my head around in WoW is the selling of crafted profession items at prices below — sometimes far, far below — the cost of the mats to make them. And I am not just talking about mats someone can gather — more about that in a bit — I am also talking about mats that have to be purchased at significant cost from a vendor, like the ones for the engineer-made chopper.

I suppose a certain number of these bargain basement items are part of cheating scams — illegal digital clones or being fenced from stolen accounts. There are also a  few items (mostly gems and enchants) sold this way in order to drive competitors out of the market. But there are a huge number of these items coming from people apparently too stupid to understand the concept of profit. They think, for example, that if they spend 6 hours gathering herbs and other mats to craft something, that those mats are “free” and if they sell the item at a few hundred gold, that is clear profit.

I get that WoW is basically a way to waste time, so I suppose there is a certain amount of logic in the idea that your time in game is worthless. But the people who do a lot of time-consuming gathering are not smart enough to see they could actually make more gold by selling the raw mats than by crafting them into an end item. Or maybe they just don’t care about gold and can’t be bothered to do anything other than dump goods as quickly as possible.

But here’s the thing. Constantly underselling items undermines the entire profession system. Even if you yourself don’t give a rat’s ass about profits, there is a significant portion of the player base that does care, for whom professions are the most engaging part of the game. Players who vastly undervalue the market price for their goods are no better than the wipe trolls in LFR. The fact that they may do it out of ignorance or stupidity instead of malice does not change the result: deliberately ruining the game for others.

Early in every expansion there are clear profession winners and losers, and the winners’ products are often sold at outrageous prices. I am not a fan of this, either, but at least that phenomenon is a textbook example of the law of supply and demand. It is true that as the expansion goes on there will be greater supplies of items and for some things (like gear) possibly less demand, a situation that will inevitably result in lower prices and lower profit margins for sellers. But deliberately dumping goods on the market at a net loss is detrimental to the entire system, akin to real world dumping practices. It skews the profession system, and it makes that part of the game less enjoyable for many.

I have no idea how the macro WoW economy works. Blizz would have us believe it is simple market forces, but they have never been shy about putting their thumb on the scale if they think it necessary. Almost certainly, they try to regulate it to one degree or another. They have stated that in BfA they will try to make crafted items relevant for a longer period than they did in Legion (where crafted gear was worthless almost as soon as it could be made). If they are serious about this goal, they will have to implement some mechanism to seriously discourage selling at a net loss. I don’t know what such a mechanism would be, but if they do not do it then anything else they do to extend the relevance of crafted items will fail.

So yeah. Assholes and idiots. Quite a weekend.

There is an “I” in “raid”

I have previously expressed my dismay at the extreme class pruning that has resulted in hunters having a diminished role as an all-purpose raid utility player. In both Mists and WoD, I loved being the raid DLJ (Dirty Little Jobs) player — the one who always either volunteered or was voluntold to take care of extra duties like flamethrower duty in Highmaul’s Brackenspore or belt duty in Siege of Orgrimmar’s Siegecrafter Blackfuse.

But even if hunters are no longer the automatic go-to player for these extra jobs, I still like doing them and will usually volunteer if given a chance. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to do something extra for the raid team, not to mention the chance to break from what can often be pretty boring pew-pewing? Well, to my surprise, it turns out that many damage dealers avoid these duties like the plague — when the raid leader asks for volunteers, there is often deafening silence, and you can almost see people studying their shoes and doing anything they can to avoid virtual eye contact with the RL.

I am, as I have mentioned several times, quite naive about a lot of things, and this is one of them. It turns out that some significant number of damage dealers do not want to do these extra duties because it can diminish their DPS numbers. These are the same players who want live logging because it allows them to immediately and compulsively check their ranking after each boss kill, who humble-brag about their numbers by sending DPS results out in raid chat and “complain” they only barely edged out the number 2 guy or their numbers are slipping or whatever. They demand certain team assignments when the raid needs to be split up, based not on where they might be most effective due to class abilities but where they can maximize their personal damage numbers.

Now, of course there is an argument to be made that maxing out DPS is the best contribution to the raid, I get that. And there is certainly a very understandable desire to be the best you can be. But this is different — this is a pure ego thing that places personal performance above all other considerations. This is the equivalent of the ball hog on a sports team, the high-paid star that demands to be the one who gets the carry over the goal line or refuses to make a sacrifice bunt.

I bring this up because of the now-infamous actions of one Adois, a mostly-benched healer on Limit’s Mythic raid team. This pathetic person actually DDOS’ed other healers on the team so that Limit was forced to call him off the bench for some of their final Tomb of Sargeras kills. Limit management was quite indignant about this heinous breach of trust and — I presume — kicked him as soon as they discovered what he was doing.

But there is a rather ironic what-goes-around-comes-around aspect to this. Limit is doing a good imitation of Captain Renault in Casablanca, in that they were “shocked, shocked to find out” cheating was going on there. Uh huh. This is a guild that had had its Helya mythic kill disallowed for pretty blatant bug exploitation, and that actually withdrew from world-first competition for Mythic Tomb of Sargeras because, in their own words, they had had too many of their raiders banned and/or quit the team as a result of being caught in the big selling-carries-for-real-money scam. Sorry, but when you promote a culture of cheating, you should hardly be surprised when one of your cohorts does it better than you do. I am in no way condoning Adois’s actions, but honestly he and Limit kind of deserve each other.

Please do not get the idea that I am equating a run-of-the-mill DPS whore with Adois, but I do think their motives are similar: me, me, me, always and only me. It is a mindset I can comprehend intellectually, but which I cannot understand at the gut level. I know this is a particular bias of mine — I am almost exclusively motivated by internal ideas of right and wrong, honor and responsibility, caring little for the approval or adulation of others. Though I pay serious attention to criticism, I do it from a desire to improve my internal compass, not because I care about others’ opinions of me. As a child, I did not need the affirmation of parental approval or good grades or awards, and in my adult life measuring sticks like performance appraisals have likewise never made much of an impression on me.

All this is by way of scratching my head over people who place their own goals over those of a team, or over what may be the goals of their teammates, in a computer game. My experience in this game is that people actually revert to their true selves in it, that many feel free to act without the normal social constraints present in real life. We are free to indulge our inner toddler, I suppose. I don’t condemn the DPS whores out there, or the braggarts who insist on advertising every high damage number or piece of luck-derived gear they get, or the shirkers who never volunteer for extra jobs in raid. I don’t condemn them, but I think less of them, they are not the kind of person I would ever trust to have my back in real life.

Meanwhile, I will continue to volunteer for extra duties, and I will happily go wherever I am assigned. Oh, and I promise to refrain from DDOSing anyone on my raid team.

Of greed and morality

A few days ago the Washington Post published an investigative piece about World of Warcraft. Well, it wasn’t exactly about that — it was about Internet Gaming Entertainment (IGE) and that company’s involvement in what we can most charitably call the gray market of internet gaming — gold farming, maxed-avatar selling, gear selling, etc. And of some interest, but I fear not surprise, the current chief advisor to the President of the United States, Steve Bannon — odious enabler of American Nazism and white supremacy — was one of the company’s executives.

Bannon saw so much opportunity in the prospect of game cheating that he persuaded Goldman Sachs and a consortium of Wall Street investment firms to invest $30 million in the company. Thirty. Million. Dollars. Eventually, IGE went out of business (I think — it is hard to track corporate restructuring and acquisitions and such), but in their heyday they did up to 8-10 million dollars of business per month.

The Post article was actually old news — similar shorter pieces have been appearing in online gaming news sources and blogs for a few months now — but it had some new details and gave a good picture of the seamier side of internet gaming. If you have some time, I recommend you give it a read.

At any rate, my point today is not that the President of the United States places faith and trust in a sleazy cheater, nor even that American economic policy is now being controlled by former employees of firms eager to invest in exploitation of game cheating. Rather, I would like to examine the notion of morality in the current world of internet gaming, using the IGE saga as a vehicle and Blizzard as one of the principal protagonists.

First, who were the winners and losers in the IGE morality play? Clearly, IGE was ultimately the loser — they went down in rather ignominious fashion, not with a bang but an impoverished, debt-ridden whimper. At their profit zenith, they had tried to buy off Blizzard and other game companies by offering them a share in the profits if the companies would legitimize IGE’s activities. As WoW represented a huge share of IGE’s business, Blizzard’s decision here was key and likely the deciding factor in IGE’s final demise. Blizzard said no, and in my eyes that makes them — and WoW players — the winner.

I don’t actually know why they refused, but I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and attributing it to a sort of foundational morality, a gut instinct that selling advantages in a game is just wrong. The real answer, of course, is more complicated, I suspect. A lot of factors persuaded Blizz to go after IGE with a vengeance rather than be co-opted.

One factor may have been that Blizz touted the game as one of merit not money, and they set up the subscription model to support this. Gaming companies need to make a profit, and selling subscriptions rather than virtual gear or gold was a good way to make money, especially in the early days of the game before spinoffs and endorsements and T-shirts and the like bring in much. To allow players to buy their way into max levels or high gear — without experiencing the game as intended — was contrary to everything Blizz had advertised about WoW.

A second factor was that the WoW player base was overwhelmingly against “pay to play”. Almost certainly, had Blizzard opted to throw in with IGE, they would have lost millions of players. Such a decision might have actually resulted in the destruction of the game. There is no doubt that this kind of strategic assessment played a part in Blizz’s final decision. They might have increased profits in the short term, but in the long run there was a good chance they would have caused the death of the game.

Other factors were subsidiary to the two I have just mentioned. For example, a sudden and significant influx of easy gold would likely have caused rampant inflation in the virtual economy of the game. Similarly, gear that players had to be proficient and persistent to obtain would lose its value if anyone could plunk down $20 and get the same stuff. Back when IGE was active, it was more rare to have a max level character than it is today, and the notion that anyone could purchase a max level with real money would have cheapened the accomplishment.

So I give Blizz props for turning IGE down, and for working to eradicate gold sellers and the like from the game. I don’t care what their reasons were, they did the right thing. And they continue to do the right thing today when they go after bots or when they punish players for selling services for real money. Yes, you can still cheat in WoW — the cheat sites are out there — but Blizz is continually refining its detection methods and imposing punishments, such that players really have to think twice about whether or not it is worth it in the end.

Now, of course one of the ways Blizz used to defeat gold sellers was to institute the WoW token — basically legitimizing the practice. I am still not sure if this was a good move, but it was undeniably smart business. Making it two-sided (turn real money into WoW gold and turn WoW gold into playing time) was genius and addressed two player markets — those who had time but not money and those who had money but not time. Additionally, Blizz controls the availability and price, so they can put brakes on undesirable results such as rampant inflation. As an added bonus, every player using gold to get play time has garnered a $20 per month subscription for Blizz rather than the standard $15 one. Genius. But I still think it was a minor backing off from one of the game’s founding principles.

The last thought I have on the whole IGE story is this. Internet gaming, even though it has been around for years, is still in its profit infancy. How the industry — players and spectators as well as developers and investors — deal with cheating will set the standard for the rest of its existence. Thus far Blizz has acted responsibly, I think, although they have been a bit easy on high-profile cheaters. Still, I believe they are on the right path. But the industry could go either way — it could go the route of professional wrestling or it could go the route of the NFL. There is big money in both, but one at least strives to be honest and competitive, and the other — not so much.

I am not so naive as to think greed is not a business motivator, but I am still naive enough to hope there is room for morality, too. For knowing and doing the right thing.

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.