Through the glass darkly

As I have for the past couple of weeks, I spent most of my game time this weekend continuing to chug away at leveling my Void Elf arcane mage. I thought maybe as I got more into the leveling mindset, I might come to appreciate the finer points of Blizz’s throwback leveling mechanics.

Nope. I find it needlessly tedious and stupidly boring. Blizz has changed or varied some of the quest lines, it is true, so those are of very mild interest when I encounter them, but I am finding a lot of quest lines designed to force you to spend inordinate amounts of time simply shuttling back and forth:

  • Get a quest.
  • Go far away and do the quest.
  • Go back to turn it in.
  • Get newly available quest from same quest giver.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • zzzzzzzzzzzz…….. hmmm, what did I do with my toenail clipper?

I would have abandoned this whole project days ago if it were not for the fact I have all the Pathfinder achieves and thus can at least fly rather than gallop about. It seems clear that the “new” leveling protocol is all about stretching out the process as much as possible. Blizz can bray all they want about “restoring the experience”, but trust me, there is nothing interesting about commuting back and forth along the same path multiple times just to turn in and get new quests. (I am actually waiting for the change that will prevent us from skipping cutscenes, it seems almost inevitable it will happen. 🤨) Still, I suppose I am helping to contribute to Ion’s annual bonus by cranking out some MAU numbers for him, so at least that’s something.

Anyway, this post is not a rant about the ridiculous leveling changes (that will come later). It is about looking back and seeing expansions with the benefit of perspective.

I started playing WoW sometime around the very tail end of Burning Crusade. (I think I must have been about level 50 or 60 on my then-main hunter when Wrath of the Lich King went live.) One of the positive things about leveling my Void Elf is that it has given me a kind of retrospective on my history in the game. As I have gone through zones from each expansion, I am reminded of my first time through them years ago, and it is interesting that the things I see about them are not necessarily the things I would come up with if asked to list the highlights (or lowlights) of each expansion.

For example, if asked about Wrath, I think I would have remembered only two things. One, it was where I began my years-long search for Skoll and Arcturis. And two, it was where I finally found a guild I fit with and began regularly running instances and raids. That, and the Amberseed poop quest in Grizzly Hills.

What I would not have remembered, but which came back to me like a load of fresh Amberseed material falling on my head, was how much I detested nearly every quest in Zul’drak. Especially the seemingly-endless quest line where you put on that Ensorceled Choker disguise (you know, the one that keeps falling off exactly when you are surrounded by mobs that will kill a squishy mage in an instant) and run around playing with the Scourge. I hated it the first time I did it, and I hated it this time, too. If I had remembered how awful it was I would not have selected that zone to level in this time, but I only remembered about halfway through. I gritted my teeth and did most of it, but finally abandoned it prior to completion. It was just too long and annoying.

The main things I remember about Cataclysm are the zones — I hated the undersea one and loved Uldum. I spent hours in Uldum every week — even after leveling — gathering herbs and ore, and fishing. It was some of the most laid back, relaxing time I have ever spent in the game. I was having quite a bit of stress in my own life at the time, and putting on some music and flying my gathering routes was exactly what I needed to decompress.

I skipped all of the Cata zones leveling my Void Elf, opting instead for staying in Northrend until level 80, then going directly to Pandaria. I considered moving to Uldum, but I think I was loathe to overwrite what I want to keep as a sort of hazy pleasant memory.

The surprise revelation I got as I was leveling through Pandaria and now Draenor is this: I love the idea of a personal homestead in the game. When I got to Valley of the Four Winds, I couldn’t wait to get my cozy little Sunsong Ranch home. It was stupid, as I did not need to do any of the Tiller stuff for leveling purposes, but it was weirdly important to me to get a little place of my own.

Similarly, when I got to Draenor, I made sure to do the quest line to set up my Level 2 garrison. I did this mainly to be able to get the vendor for the XP potions, but I was astounded at the happiness that ran over me when I first walked into the gates of my Level 2 garrison. Yeah, I complained as bitterly as everyone else during WoD about the garrison burden, and if asked, I would have never listed garrisons as a plus for WoD. But there is no denying how good it felt to see this familiar scene of safety and sanctuary and know it was my own place. If I do anything with my Void Elf once she is leveled to 110, it will probably be to go back to Draenor and build up my garrison.

I am certain I will never have the same “coming home” feeling about class halls once Legion is finally history. I still do not understand why Blizz is so adamant about any form of player housing. They came so close with garrisons, but in typical fashion completely ruined the experience by ramming them down our throats. The unfortunate thing is, they now hold this venture up as an example for why player housing would be a bad thing — “See, we tried a prototype of it in WoD and you all complained bitterly and loudly about it! So no more of that, we promise you!”

Anyway, the best thing so far about leveling my Void Elf is that I am getting a renewed perspective on my history in the game, one that is frequently a surprise to me. Memory is often like looking through the wrong end of very dusty binoculars. We see tiny imperfect images and have a tendency to interpret them imperfectly, too.  And while we can never really go back, sometimes we get a brief chance to turn the binoculars right way round, and we can see the past a bit more clearly, and we can apply a proper perspective.

R&R

I don’t know about you, but after two expansions of The Great And Final™ Battle Against <insert name of evilest evil the universe has ever known here>, I need some down time. I want to have an expansion where the worst monsters I have to fight are some local badass tribes, not an entire mighty armada. I am sick of being invaded. I am depressed by the thought of space travel and worlds being torn apart. I am weary of always having to establish hasty and primitive military outposts.

It’s time for some R&R in WoW.

The last time we had any respite was in Mists. The enemies we fought were home-grown: mogu and sha and such, and none of them came from another planet or seemed capable of assembling vast armies. Even Garrosh was just a local boy gone bad. Mists allowed us to take a breather from saving the universe, and I think we need to do so again.

I have no idea what the setting of the next expansion will be, but I really want it to be back on good old Azeroth, with no interplanetary or time-warped excursions. (And, since I am wishing, no underwater zones either, please.) I mean, there is an entire half of the planet we have not even seen — surely there are land masses there we have not yet discovered.

You may have guessed where I am going with this, and of course it is a lost cause, but  my R&R wish for the next expansion comes with the The Great WoW Untouchable Subject: player housing. We have been fighting unbeatable enemies nonstop for two expansions now, and dammit we deserve to come home to a cozy fire, take off our boots and smelly socks, have a beer and some hot stew, and relax a little. Maybe putter in the garden or play with one of our hundreds of pets.

Blizz officially detests this entire idea, though I cannot for the life of me understand why. Every time a dev is asked about it, they do everything but spit to express their disdain. This, in spite of the fact that garrisons gave us proof of concept — separate instances for individuals or invited groups, the ability to have collected pets and mounts wander about, a productive garden and fishing area, even the ability to decorate and select guards. Garrisons were player housing in all but name (and of course they lacked an actual commander’s house).

Where Blizz went wrong with the whole garrison idea was that they — typically — went way overboard with them, requiring them for every player and making them the focal point for the entire expansion. But they could easily use the basic technology in the next expansion for player housing. Here’s how:

  • Make them entirely voluntary. Players wishing to obtain one could either do a quest line for them, or purchase after getting some faction rep, or purchase outright, whatever. Players not wishing to bother with them would not be disadvantaged, in the same way that players currently not opting to do pet battles are not disadvantaged in the game.
  • Severely limit the perks. A good model for this might be Sunsong Ranch, which offered a few gathered items if one “worked” the ranch, a mailbox, and a hearthstone. No profession huts, no auction house, no bank, no quest hub, no garrison-type scenario battles, and definitely no content gating.
  • Make the whole endeavor a kind of mini-game, like pet battles. Encourage special quests to obtain various cosmetic enhancements — interior design, bigger yard, picket fence, barbecue patio, stable for your mounts, permission to allow your pets to wander around and curl up by the fire, etc. Attention Blizz: Just think of the “content” potential, think of all those additional player hours!
  • Adapt the current transmog system to add a sort of transmog ability to the player housing, allowing cosmetic changes to suit the player’s mood. Whatever items you have collected would appear in various housing slots in a collection tab, and you could save entire sets and modify them at will.
  • Include the garrison ability to invite other players to your house, because what good is a house if you can’t throw a party now and then?
  • Allow players to choose from a small range of architectures for the housing — night elf, some kind of horde, worgen, etc. Along with the selected architecture would come appropriate landscaping to match.

Yeah, I know. It will never happen, even though there is exactly zero reason to not do it. Of course it would take dev resources, but honestly even if it cost “a raid tier” I think it would be worth it. Maybe not to the 1% hardcore players, but probably to the other 99%, though of course Blizz is not all that interested in them. Honestly, though, it would be a nice change if Blizz stopped designing for the minority of hard core players and threw a little love towards the great unwashed majority. No, it doesn’t lend itself  directly to esports, but it might keep enough people interested in the game itself to nudge them into esports spectators.

Come on, Blizz, we have all been good soldiers, we have fought every battle you asked us to fight, we have saved Azeroth over and over again, we have spent nights in cold, austere military camps, we have gone everywhere you have ordered us to, hopped from invasion point to invasion point, galloped miles and miles over fel-scarred hellish rockscapes. We have done everything asked of us. Is it too much to ask you for a little R&R in a cozy home of our own? I mean, when it comes down to it, what else are we fighting for?

So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

Mists of memory

What was your favorite expansion in WoW? Mine — and I know lots of people will disagree with me on this — was Mists of Pandaria. Looking back, it was the expansion where everything seemed to mesh in a seamless game experience.

Start with the story line. I am someone who is generally completely uninterested in the lore of this game, but I was intrigued by the whole Pandaren story, and honestly the pop culture pseudo-Eastern philosophy touches enhanced the experience for me. I rolled a panda monk, and I remember being delighted when the initial quest line revealed the nature of the starting island. I am an Alliance player through and through, but I liked the idea that Pandaren could choose their faction path upon leaving the island. I became very intrigued with the whole Wrathion enigma, and I am sorry we have not seen him since — I found him to be a compelling character.

I enjoyed — and still do — the racial “personality” of the Pandaren. It seems that Blizz really put a lot of effort into giving them a depth and complexity beyond anything I had experienced with other races in the game. Many of my characters are Night Elves, but honestly I never really gave much thought to them as a distinct people in Azeroth, for some reason they just have never made much of an impression on me beyond having a certain cosmetic look that I like.  But Pandaren are wonderful — individuals can be good or treacherous, fiercely loyal or despicably traitorous, wise or vapid. They are fierce fighters and make great soldiers, but they also love the hearth and make equally great innkeepers. They like good food and good beer and sharing it with any weary traveler.

I thought the monk class introduced in Mists was one of the most innovative Blizz has ever come up with. Each of the specs had unique and intriguing mechanics that were not just variations of every other class. My Panda monk was a mistweaver, and I really enjoyed the healing play style that was completely different from any other in the game at the time. She was also powerful enough in her damage dealing that I leveled as a MW and never had a problem. Legion’s Demon Hunters and the hunter Survival spec, in my opinion, pale in comparison to the creativity we saw with the monk class.

Starting the expansion, I remember being just blown away by the graphics. I found Pandaria to be breathtakingly beautiful. Every zone had one or more areas of surpassing wonder, and I still visit them when I need a break from the grind that has been WoD and Legion. I still enjoy swooping and soaring over the amazing beaches of Krasarang Wilds, and the windswept vistas of Kun-Lai Summit are balm to my soul. I have a particular fondness for Zouchin Village — something about the colors, the setting, the ambient sounds always makes me think of one of those glorious days in early spring, when you can smell the earth as it warms and see the first signs of new growth even though the air still has a slight taste of winter chill in it. If I ever quit this game, I will take each of my characters to Zouchin Village and let them end their existence there.

Certainly there were down sides to Mists, but in retrospect they were pretty tame. I thought the quest lines were coherent and connected with each other nicely. With the exception of Heart of Fear (I called it “Bugistan”), I liked the raids. I enjoyed scenarios. I loved that you could actually earn gear, not just roll the dice for it. I did not especially like the long rep grind that served as a gate to other aspects of the game, but in retrospect that was a piece of cake compared to Legion’s approach of making every character have to raid or run Mythic instances in order to advance any aspect of their end game play. I even kind of enjoyed the chase after the legendary cloak (except fo the PvP requirements), so much so that I got it on all but one of my alts.

Speaking of alts, I thought Mists was perfect for alt play. There was incentive to level them, because that is when you got flying for each, and I thought that was a fun reward for reaching level 90. There was also ample opportunity to actually play your alts, without the pressure of having to run instances or raids in order to do so. There were dailies, scenarios, and eventually there was Timeless Isle, where you could run dailies in 30 minutes or so — enough time to get some proficiency with your alts, but not so onerous as to feel like a grind (except for the frog killing zone, that is). You could max out alt professions with a single grind for faction rep, and then you could actually *gasp!* get some good out of your professions by crafting items or gathering mats for decent profit in the auction house. And you did not have to gear them all up to raid level gear in order to enjoy them.

I liked a lot of other miscellaneous things about Mists. I thought the Noodle Cart was fun and different, and I really liked being able to provide my raid group with noodles. (I think we could have predicted problems with Nomi, given what a little smart ass he was in Mists: “Who are you supposed to be?”) I actually liked getting individual rep with the Tillers in Valley of the Four Winds, and all of my alts became Besties with every Tiller, spending hours zooming around looking for dirt piles containing the treasures so dear to each of their hearts. I think much of this particular attraction for me was the reward of adding enhancements to Sunsong Ranch, a place I still like to spend a night in once in a while. It is the closest we have ever come — or sadly are likely to — to player housing in this game.

Mists was when I really came into my own as a Survival hunter. I spent hours practicing in front of the target dummies, I played with lots of rotations and talent builds. I learned how to configure and use Weakauras. I finally mastered the iconic hunter “turn around jump shot” by repeatedly running along the front of the Shrine, first practicing the “reverse disengage” mechanic — run, turn around and jump and DE and turn around again before landing — then adding in a Concussive Shot after the jump but before the disengage. I regret that this skill has deteriorated since then, but for a while I was pretty damn good at it. Survival was fantastic fun to play back then, possibly the zenith of hunter play in WoW. It makes me sad to compare it to BM play now in Legion.

So, yeah, I think Mists is the best expansion Blizz has given us. Unlike WoD and Legion, it seemed “finished”, like a well-designed final product, not like a drawing-board concept constantly being adjusted. I know a lot of people were frustrated that it dragged on for so long, but I was never bored with it, not even in the waning months. It was an expansion where I felt like all my goals were attainable, where I felt like I could set my own play parameters and have fun, whether it was in advancing my main or practicing with an alt or making some gold or just admiring the artwork. It seemed like an individual game back then, not like an assembly line.

Enough reminiscence. Time for a holiday weekend, with Zouchin Village spring weather.

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.