A place for us

A couple of disconnected blogs I recently read got me to thinking about the human need to feel at home, an innate need identified and studied by psychologists, behaviorists, architects, interior designers, novelists, retailers — the list goes on and on. Think back to your Psych 101 class and you will recall this need is so basic it was identified by Maslow in his Hierarchy. (I suppose there are psychologists who take issue with Maslow’s work, but it always made sense to me. If you were not paying attention in Psych 101, you can get the gist of his theory in this totally unofficial Wikipedia article.)

The first blog I read that started me on this chain of thought was Matthew Rossi’s regular Blizzard Watch Q&A from yesterday. One of the questions was from someone complaining that the Blizz crossover promotion between Heroes of the Storm and WoW was ruining HotS for him, because there were all these scrubs jumping in and being stupid about how they played.

I have never played HotS, never intend to play it, and getting some big old ugly chunk of 1’s and 0’s to ride in WoW does not make me want to try playing it. But I can sympathize with the questioner. Remember back in Mists when everyone had to win some number of PvP battlegrounds as part of the quest line for the legendary cloak? (Now that’s when legendaries meant something! And you kids get off my grass!) Anyway, I always thought this was a terrible idea — the regular PvPers hated amateurs coming in and ignorantly screwing up established tactics, and the non-PvPers resented having to be there doing something they had no interest in learning or ever doing again.

Here was a prime example of Blizz deliberately messing with the basic human need to feel at home. The regular PvPers felt their space had been invaded by ignorant and clueless strangers — like when your in-laws suddenly show up at your door — and the non-PvPers were thrust into a situation where they did not know the rules of behavior or the terrain or how to interact with others. Neither group felt at home. It was a guaranteed lose-lose situation.

Now, I suppose Blizz did it because having a robust PvP play option attracts more people to the game, and maybe they were losing these kinds of players so they thought if more people tried PvP they would actually like it, thereby increasing this aspect of the game. I have no idea how it turned out, probably some players did in fact decide PvP was kind of fun. No matter. The point I am trying to make here is almost everyone involved in this activity at the time disliked it. Why did they dislike it? Because suddenly a part of the comfortable little niche they had made for themselves in the game was gone.

I would argue that much of the angst we players express with Blizz is due to the sudden removal of some aspect of the game we have come to feel at home with, in the Maslow sense. This is deeper than just stodgy old players uncomfortable with change, this is akin to having your home destroyed by a tornado. More than once.

Each of us defines the central aspect of WoW differently, or to put it another way, we each establish for ourselves what we believe to be our “home core” in the game. We may not even know that we do this, and we might be hard put to describe what that core is, but it is there for all of us. When that core is shaken or demolished, especially if it seems to happen frequently, then we start hollering. This I think is why the hunter changes of the last two expansions have seemed so heinous to me — prior to WoD, I doubt if I would have defined being a hunter as the home core of my game, but when Blizz began to demolish first the SV spec and later the entire hunter experience, suddenly I realized the very foundation of my game enjoyment had been removed. I was left to find another home core or rebuild on the old one. For humans, both these situations are difficult, just ask Maslow.

Which brings me to the other blog that got me thinking along these lines — a piece by Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full on player housing and the dilemma MMOs face on the subject. The quick summary is that there likely is a Goldilocks solution as to whether or not to have player housing and if so how much or little it should affect the game, but that this solution is difficult for most game makers to arrive at. In fact, recent history for MMOs shows that few companies have succeeded.

As some of you may know, I favor the idea of player housing. I really liked my little Sunsong Ranch home. In fact I still go back there every couple of weeks, just as a place to log off from, with a cozy bed and a bubbling pot of stew on the stove. It gives me a peaceful feeling of being at home, of taking off my boots and warming my tired feet by the stove, anticipating supper and reflecting on the day’s adventures.

If we had had just a few opportunities to customize that space — beyond becoming bff’s with whoever that was that decorated it for us — Sunsong Ranch would have been close to perfect as player housing in my opinion. It was completely optional, it did not in any way affect your game play beyond the initial zone quest sets, and it was instanced so that it was really just your own.But Blizz took this notion of an instanced individual space and made it into a monster in WoD in the form of garrisons, and into an annoyance in Legion in the form of class halls.

Anyway, my point is not to rehash all the problems with garrisons or class halls. (However, for crying out loud, can we get a lousy place to sit and maybe be able to buy a beer in the hunter hall??) My point is that some players — maybe even a lot of players, who knows  — really enjoy having a small space of their own, a place they can call home, even in a computer game. And Blizz has demonstrated they have the technology. The garrison technology was great — an individual instance that you could invite groups to, a few chances to do limited customization — it was just the typical Blizz overreaction that made it bad by requiring every player to have one and to develop it and make it the central jumping off point for an entire expansion, and by offering amenities like a bank and an auction house and portals so that you never had to leave it.

Maybe if Blizz gave us some decent optional and limited player housing — a place of our own — we would not be so quick to yell at them when they make huge changes to our class play style or professions or gear. No matter what they did , we could still come home at the end of a long day questing or raiding, kick off our muddy boots and put our feet up by a nice fire, and feel at home.

Maybe Blizz should dig out their old Psych 101 textbook. It might make them realize that always screwing with core player engagements like class and spec identity is more disruptive than it is helpful, and that maybe if they were to let us have a tiny space of our own in the game we might be happier. Just a thought.

Sunsong swan song

“You can’t go home again,” so said Thomas Wolfe. Last week I decided to test that philosophy by returning to Sunsong Ranch on each of my characters. The experience has made for kind of an interesting study in economics as well as in psychology (mine — ymmv).

It was my new rogue that gave me the idea. I boosted him once I got to level 60, so I have been going back and doing some of the 60-100 level pieces he missed out on. Just the fun or required ones, not all of them. And one of the ones I consider fun is the whole Tillers/Sunsong Ranch series. I have done it now on 9 characters (only part way done on the rogue), and I never tire of it. Which is strange, because I am not usually one who likes — or even tolerates — repeating content. But something about the whole Tillers and farm saga fascinates me. I even actually enjoy spending hours searching for those little dirt mounds to find gifts for the eternally needy Tiller clan. I love it when I finally become Best Friends with Tina, and my barn of a ranch house becomes a cozy retreat. I like working through the quests to where I actually own it and can set my hearthstone to it. (Although that huge book lying open on the floor does offend my sense of tidiness, I keep wanting to pick it up and put it on a shelf.) I am delighted when I get my own mailbox, and my orange tree, chickens, dog, cat, everything.

Anyway, as I was working my way through the series on my rogue, I decided to have each of my characters go back, dust off the agricultural equipment, get rid of the crops that had been rotting in the fields for lo these many months, and make the place a working farm again. I had no idea what I might plant, or if I would be able to do anything but vendor the stuff once harvested, but still I thought I would give it a try.

It has been fun, in a nostalgic sort of way. Some things, like Golden Lotus and Motes/Spirits of Harmony,  do still actually sell on my server’s auction house. Not for great sums, but for a few gold. I am amazed people still buy them, but they do.

I couldn’t help but compare my feelings upon returning to Sunsong to my feelings for my garrison. Strangely, and in spite of the fact that I have spent much, much more time working my garrison than I ever did working Sunsong, I find I have zero emotional ties to the garrison. But as soon as I went back to Sunsong, saw all my animals happily doing their thing in the farm yard, and saw that cozy bed and bubbling pot in the house, I actually felt like I had come home after a long trip. Nothing before or since Sunsong has given me that feeling in the game. And I know with absolute certainty that I will not get that feeling from Legion’s Class Halls.

Why is it that Blizz stubbornly refuses to give us player housing? Sunsong demonstrated that they have the technical wherewithal to do it, garrisons demonstrated that they can make individual instances at least somewhat player-customizable. Surely the devs cannot be such soulless automatons that they do not feel the universal pull all humans have for a place of their own? As complex as they made garrisons, why did they not give us a small place inside them to call home? Everybody but the commander has their own place in the garrison, from the troops’ barracks to the gardener’s cottage, for crying out loud! And in Legion, they expect us to live with a bunch of smelly hunters or holier-than-thou priests or keep-your-hand-on-your-wallet rogues?? It’s not the same.

I am poking fun, but truly it is a serious question that I would love to have answered. What is the real reason Blizz digs in their heels and refuses to give us player housing? I want the actual reason, not some horse hockey about “We are at war, and no one gets to enjoy the comforts of home while it is so.” Does Blizz feel like adding player housing takes away from the hard-gamer illusion they have of the game? (Because, if so, then those ridiculous foofoo pet battles should never have been introduced. Real gamers don’t raise fighting poodles.) Is there some insurmountable technical problem with player housing? If so, I would like to hear it, and maybe in that case the Blizz devs could go take a training session from someone like the Wildstar devs who have figured it out.

After all Blizz has put me through with the disaster that was WoD, after they successfully and completely destroyed the one class I loved to play, after they managed to make raiding largely inaccessible to a large group of casual players, after they forced thousands of us to grovel and beg for weeks to reinstitute flying, they owe me!

I want player housing, dammit! I want to be able to go home at the end of the night. I want to have a place that I don’t share with every nutcase trade chat denizen on the server. Virtual or real, people yearn for their own private space. Why can’t you understand that, Blizz? More to the point, why can’t you do it?

See, I think Thomas Wolfe was wrong. I think you can go home again. But you have to have a home to go to. Sunsong taught me that.

 

 

 

It’s the little things

Yesterday and over the weekend I played WoW quite a bit (spousal unit is out of town). And my conclusion: it’s still a fascinating, fun game. Who knew? More importantly, why did I enjoy it so much the last couple of days, when for almost the past year it has seemed like an August slog through a mosquito-infested Louisiana swamp? I’ve thought about this quite a lot, and I think I’ve come up with some reasons.

First, through a bit of phenomenonal — for me — luck, I finished my legendary ring on my mistweaver. Last Tuesday I needed 9 more tomes, and wonder of wonders I got them in just 10 bosses. This in itself was pretty impressive, since I had been averaging about a 50% drop rate for the first 24. So I was really happy when I finished that part of the final stretch. But I was nowhere near finishing the shipyard portion of it. I was not close to the level 3 shipyard, and I was a couple of weeks out from getting the necessary Tanaan rep to circumvent the need for a carrier by substituting Unsinkable gear. Which meant that as soon as the final Master and Commander quest popped, I would be stuck, no chance of successfully completing it. Which in turn meant a long slow grind to get to where I could actually complete it.

Well, long story short, the final quest popped, the best I could manage was a predicted success of 81%, and I just said what the heck and went with it, no unsinkable, no carrier, just damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.

It worked. For once the RNG gods smiled on me, and I got the quest item. Finished up the other minutiae for the ring and did my happy panda dance.

I was absurdly happy about this. Not because of the ring — as I have said before its design makes it not worth putting any effort into getting it. I was happy because for once in this game, after almost a year of really really bad luck, I finally got a break. I was not broken, demoralized, and mentally exhausted by the time I finally reached a goal. I was actually energized to spend more time playing, because it was suddenly fun again.

This is the thing Blizz completely fails to understand about the wholesale crap shoot approach they have implemented for nearly every aspect of the game: repeated failure in reaching a goal, whether that is gear or something else, does not make people keep coming back. It grinds them down, they almost dread playing because they feel like they are doomed to endless disappointment. No one likes all their game outcomes to be solely at the mercy of chance. People like it when their actions have a direct result on the outcome of an endeavor. They do not like it when they feel like no matter what they do, they have no control over a result. Winning is more fun than losing, and there needs to be a safety net that prevents continuous losing due solely to bad luck. 

The second thing that contributed to my fun was the new garrison holiday decorations. Players have been asking Blizz for years for a space of their own that they can personalize. Lots of us hoped that garrisons would be that space, but we were sadly disappointed, and Blizz’s attempts at personalization have been downright dismal. Those stupid monument pedestals for weird achievements? Please. Jukeboxes? Spend hours — on every alt — chasing down multiple tracks of elevator music and hoping again for random drops, nope, not  my idea of personalization and definitely not my idea of a fun way to play. Get a random drop of an archaeology trophy to place in a specified spot in a cold, bare, ugly room you never use? Still nope.

But something about the decorations I liked. For one thing, they are easy to get — a few minutes even on my squishiest alt gave me the necessary coin to get them. (This is the next best thing to making them account wide.) For another, they really do perk up the place. Even though I know that tens of thousands of garrisons on every server look the same, still for some reason I feel like I have done something to make my garrison my own. If there were more decorations I could get by doing dailies, I would be out chasing them. It is something I enjoy working for, it gives me the illusion that I am personalizing my own space.

Again, this is something Blizz completely refuses to understand. People like having some place to call their own, to make cozy and personal in whatever way that speaks to them. Yes, I am talking about player housing. But we are not even close. And Legion will take us even further away — I guarantee you I will not be interested in fixing up a class hall. Sadly, the closest we have come to player housing was probably the little house on Sunsong Ranch. 

But I suppose player housing has nothing to do with raiding and eSports and megabucks, so in Blizz’s mind screw it. God forbid it might “cost a raid tier”. (Still, and this is meant for you, Michael Morhaime, I bet it would increase the active play time for many…. Just sayin’, you know, in case you are interested in some bonuses come quarterly report time….)

So I had fun the last couple of days, and the reasons were small and unrelated to Blizz’s notion of a proper end game. It boils down to a sense of player control, not in the big things but in a few small things. The modern world is so vast and complex that many people feel they have little control, and they find their comfort in the small things they know they can influence — dinner, a garden or potted plant, posters or paint on the walls of a room, tattoos, purple hair, whatever. And this game — founded on the idea of social interaction and meant to offer a respite from all that we cannot control in the real world — needs to offer small and meaningful controls, safe havens, to all its players.

I had fun this weekend, and I think I know why. Too bad Blizz neither understands nor cares about those reasons.

Odds and ends

No great topic for today’s post, just a bunch of thoughts, most of which are unrelated, but none of which are well developed enough to merit a separate post.

After a huge amount of dithering about my hunter spec — for both hunters — I finally just decided to stick with Survival as the main spec for both, with Beastmastery as a secondary. Much of my gear on one hunter has mastery as a secondary stat instead of multistrike, but I’ve decided to pretty much ignore secondary stats, certainly not going to go to any great lengths to get 670 multistrike gear  if I already have the same piece of 670 gear with mastery. It’s just not worth the annoyance for a few hundred or a thousand DPS difference. I would rather spend my time honing my SV skills than chasing gear I may never get. In my opinion Blizzard has completely screwed up the whole stat system. I need to take my own advice, which I always give to other hunters when they ask what spec they should play, that is, play what you love.

Think I posted that I did finally pick up a secondary spec for my destro warlock. Went with demonology, but I gotta say I am having some difficulty getting the hang of it. It seems very complex to me for some reason, whereas destro seems very straightforward. Most of that is due to practice I am sure — I mean I did the 5.0.4 Green Fire quest which required in my case over 100 battles that used every talent and spell a warlock has, and I did it as destro, so I am very well practiced with that spec. More quality time with the target dummies is clearly in order before I even venture into LFR with my demo spec.

We are having what is becoming a huge debate about loot in one of my guilds. Most of the raid team favors personal loot, but the Raid Leader is bent on group loot. I see the pros and cons of both opinions, but what it comes down to for me is that personal loot eliminates the drama. Period. The RL insists that group loot will ensure more equitable distribution of loot and improve the raid team overall. In theory this is correct, only it never ever works out that way. Our raid loot system is roll 300 for main spec, 100 for off spec, and you only get one successful main spec roll per night. Loot master reserves the right to redistribute as he sees fit. But one problem is that we typically only down 1-2 bosses per night, sometimes not even that. We have some people who are uncannily lucky and some who almost never are — the lucky people pick up loot every night because they always get a main spec roll every raid night, the unlucky people tend to go weeks without getting loot. We also have some people whose only gearing up mechanism is guild raids, so they are always pitifully undergeared and of course are the ones who need gear most. The people who work hard at gearing up outside of guild raids tend to get penalized for doing so because someone else always needs the gear more. We also get people who do not normally raid with us but like to cherry pick bosses they need gear from, so they will jump in on a night they think we’ll down that boss and get the same chance at group loot as the ones that have spent hundreds of gold on repairs after several nights of wiping.

So our group loot scheme is really no better than random luck, except when the loot master intervenes to award one of the slackers with gear “because they need it more.” My point is, since it is really no better than random luck anyway why not eliminate the drama and go with personal loot?

Speaking of loot, it looks like I have just as rotten luck with follower gear as I do with my own gear.

And speaking of follower gear, I think I read that in patch 6.1 the Salvage Yard will no longer award follower gear. You will only be able to get it from the Dwarven Bunker. Which begs the question, why even have the Salvage Yard any more? The odd transmog pieces, crummy personal gear, and paltry few mats along with all the grey junk just don’t justify it any more. I wonder if Blizz is planning on increasing the drop rate of follower gear from the bunker as compensation?

And while we are at it, why can’t we trade in all those useless 615 pieces of follower gear for 630 or 645? Or trade a weap upgrade for an armor or vice versa?

Still haven’t worked up the courage to go back to healing with my monk after my disastrous effort in normal Skyreach. Got to make myself do it, but I am not looking forward to it.

Finally started to level my mage. As Frost, but I am not liking it. Think I will go back to Fire/Arcane spec sets. Kinda the same thing as my SV hunter decision. I just don’t enjoy playing Frost, never have. Not that I am very good at any of them, mind you. Mage is not really my thing, but I have to admit they still have some of the coolest visuals of any class.

Thinking about starting a melee alt. Every time I’ve tried this before I have deleted them by about level 30, just can’t seem to like the whole  melee play style. But humans are basically optimistic creatures, so maybe this time it will work??  I suppose I could just configure a Windwalker spec for my monk, maybe that would work out better for me. I’ll see.

My new computer arrives today, excited about that. But I know it will take a couple days to set up, not really excited about that part.

Took a couple hours last week and went back to Pandaria. Needed some ghost iron, so I went back and flew some of my old mining routes. It was great! I swooped and soared and had more fun than I’ve had in weeks in this game. Blizz really has to bring back flying, I miss it tremendously. Also stopped in at my humble little abode in Sunsong Ranch, got kinda nostalgic. It was never fancy, but it was cozy and it was mine. I miss having my own place and no, garrisons are not the same. Not even close.

Oops, UPS guy was just here with my computer. Later, all!