Category Archives: WoW

[WoW] Where Meters Reign Way Past Their Glory Days

In her latest blogpost “Living by Numbers”, the ever-enthusiastic Mistress of Faff deplores the meters game and status quo of hunter DPS in Warlords of Draenor. This struck a particular cord with me because ever since returning to WoW, I perceive this dissonance more strongly than ever – a dissonance between what is essentially a very casual-friendly game and a rabid, vocal group full of stat zealots. Naturally, the latter is hardly new: WoW has been heavily modded and then datamined, optimized and cookie-cut from the get-go. Yet, having been away for three years and finding things unchanged in that last department strikes me as more incongruous than ever.

I’ve been playing my shadowpriest since the expansion, mostly because I am over healing in WoW and so far it’s been very enjoyable. I run no mods whatsoever and until yesterday, I had not looked into shadowpriest state of play or rotations for Draenor. What I have noticed however is that my DPS seems lower than some people’s I met during quests and dungeons, that it’s hard work for me to get all my DoTs running before everyone else has already killed half of our enemies and that getting silver in Proving Grounds at ilvl 600 wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for my untrained DPS muscles (I did it on third try but without much time left).

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Me, looking damn sexy in shadow. Anything else I should know?

And that’s okay. Or should be, but it didn’t stop an overeager ingame buddy of mine, coincidentally a MM hunter, to comment on my damage during an Auchindon heroic run, where my DPS was apparently around 10k when his was at 22k. This was a contrast to all the PuGs I have run since returning to WoW and that have been shockingly friendly, successful (not a single disband) and meters-free, to a point where I am tempted to declare the state of PuGs today a 180°-turnaround since I shared my passionate “no-pug policy” on World of Matticus in 2011. The continuous changes that have made this a way more flexible and accessible game over the years have clearly helped turn things around in LFG, color me impressed.

Yet, meter culture persists in some corners of the player base. WoW oldtimers especially and grumpy veterans who have never left the game or never smelled the meter-free roses in other MMOs like GW2 sometime, are clinging to an era where WoW endgame was firmly ruled by numbers and raidguilds. I hate to break it to all the elitist jerks and e-peeners out there but: meters are over. For anything outside minuscule, competetive top-tier raid content, optimizing specs and rotations are not a requirement in order to beat anything in WoW. Players can play whatever spec they enjoy. They can run whatever rotation feels most natural. They don’t require epics with enchants and gems (thankfully both abolished) in every slot of gear. Welcome to World of Wacraft, 2014 edition! Maybe it was time Blizzard did away with these mods altogether? What purpose do they serve exactly?

On the bright side, my brief brush with the meters-nostalgia in WoW has benefited me in two ways: I went to check out current shadowpriest guides and realized that there’s nothing I am “doing wrong”, not even according to those that spend copious amounts of time on numbers. Draenor or not, priests remain late bloomers early into an expansion (as it ever was), struggling with ramp-up time in fast 5mans and versus single-target and multi-phase encounters. I simply don’t compare unless I unleash risky AoE on every single occasion. On the bright side, I never die and make the healer’s job a lot easier.
The even more important realization for me was that I really don’t give a toss. This is a trap that I am simply over. Thanks to so many experiences with other games and communities, I am a better and smarter player today than I ever was and most certainly a happier one. I am playing this for myself and that’s what an increasing number of players in WoW, be they in PuGs or elsewhere, have come to realize as well (shocking truth that it is).

It’s okay WoW players, you can have fun already! Maybe it’s time we re-defined our idea of success.

Treasures of Draenor

It’s about the little things. It always has been. Whether it was finding Sheddle Glossgleam in Dalaran for shiny shoes or so many other secrets in World of Warcraft safely hidden away. Draenor is a beautiful world with its long leaves of grass moving in the wind and snowflakes swirling across the plains of Frostfire Ridge. There is more treasure to find these days than ever, with a map for achievers or without for the more exploratively inclined who’d like to think the world an endless place of mystery.

secrets

And then there’s the secrets. The things only found by chance that someone had to come across, maybe on an errand or erring with nothing in particular on their mind. I love early expansions; between exclamation marks I’ll make time to follow the footprints in the snow, climb a mountain, swim out to the sea. Or levitate, rather. That’s how I came across and island to the southernmost edge of Nagrand and on that island there was a path leading up to something –

robinwilliamstribute

It’s the little things – an odd scenery where you least expect it, mementos thrown away, curious and without explanation. Finding a magic lamp hidden in the grass right next to them, letting you activate whatever is stored inside. Maybe a cloud of dust, a string of words long forgotten or a dark spell? Or a wink from far away, a well-known phrase by a genie called Robin.

Maybe a wish that some things could be preserved forever when memories are all that remain. Life is a treasure. Happy weekend everybody.

Returning to WoW: Everything is the same, everything is different

It is a mixed bag of feelings going back to an MMO you convinced yourself never to return to for lack of better judgement. An MMO you once called home and then were absent from for three years, maybe looking for closure. When I played WoW between 2004 and 2010, I did like so many of us in our mid-twenties, with passion and zeal and an exclusive all-or-nothing attitude. All or nothing, that also means quitting when you feel things ain’t going your way any longer.

Warlords of Draenor is nothing I had planned on; that too was a mixed bag of spontaneous curiosity, lack of content in new MMOs like Wildstar and winter is coming. And I made it very clear to myself: This time around, it will be about me taking my time re-discovering Azeroth in peace. I will sub for one month and find out if I still like this, no pressure. I will enjoy running around incognito after all this time, minding my own business.

Or something.

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Where do I go from here?

Everything is the same
WoD was off to a rocky start with DDoS attacks and massive server queues (how very vanilla!) making it impossible for many players to log in during the first week. After I spent launch day re-installing the game, it took another day before I managed briefly to log in for the first time in three years, finding my character standing in front of the Dark Portal, lagging horribly. After ten seconds of being unable to move like this, I got my first whisper from a very old guild mate from vanilla WoW: “SYL!”.

I disconnected right away. My game wasn’t stable and I really didn’t expect to be discovered so early into my return. But this is how it’s always been on my server – those who have been on Stormrage since 2004, the early guilds and raiders, they remember each other. And so many have come back for Draenor, it is bewildering. My friendlist shows names online I had never expected to read again. Already I find myself guilded once more in the very same raidguild I helped build in vanilla WoW, with almost its entire core and founding team back. A decade later it’s as if no time had passed at all. Sure, everyone’s gotten a bit older, some are married now and some have kids or better jobs. Everyone definitely agrees they won’t be raiding ever again but there’s much else to be enjoyed nowadays.

The player base has aged and so have Blizzard with them. Yet, on the surface everything about WoW feels and looks exactly as before. I spent my first week in Draenor getting used to and then charmed by the beauty of its dated graphics (especially in the old world) and cringing over its messy, gargantuan UI that has been so aptly compared to the old “Weasley’s house” in a conversation between Rowanblaze and Belghast. After I discovered void storage in combination with transmogging, I wasted another day on costumes until I finally felt prepared to see the world, which is why I ran straight into Elwynn Forest, love of my life. To my delight, it was not deserted and not any of the old zones I went to visit from there were either – Duskwood, Redridge, Burning Steppes, everywhere I went I saw players. After 10 years, there is still life in these old zones, I have no idea how that works.

As is tradition, I went to pay Ragnaros and Illidan my respects and announced my coming. They still dropped hunter loot mostly, so nothing has changed in that respect either. Even on the auction house, the same items that used to be expensive in vanilla are still on top of the list today (who would buy a Burning Brightwood Staff today is beyond me but I still want that blasted Greenwing Macaw!). So far, so familiar.

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Draenor is beautiful.

Everything is different
In their mushy Looking for Group documentary from this Blizzcon 2014, which has played no small part in bringing more WoW veterans back to Draenor, Chris Metzen talks about how WoW really has always been about two entities – the world and the player, and he couldn’t be more correct. The successes of this MMO are as much thanks to developers trusting their instincts as to a very passionate and creative player base that has an undying love for Azeroth. This huge and rich canvas of a world with its plethora of maps and music has been such a welcoming and ever more accessible home to players of every color and creed for years.

All the while, Blizzard have continued to re-invent themselves and I believe this is the secret of WoW’s long lasting success. With every expansion, they pushed further to offer something new to more people without dismissing the hard core entirely. Comparing WoD today to when I left three years ago, I can confirm that WoW is a changed game in so many ways, trying to keep up with increased standards, never daring to rest on its laurels. This is apparent in today’s casual and solo-friendly approach to grouping, dungeons and raids for one thing, with flexraids and bronze, silver and gold heroics. It’s the democratic spread of loot and gear models, combined with all the tier look-alikes available. It’s adding small stuff like treasure hunting similar (but more involved) to Rift, jumping puzzles like in GW2, pet battles à la Pokémon and a pseudo-housing system with private nodes, the way Wildstar has them (only in WoW, the Garrison is actually a lot more useful). The talent system has been simplified to match modern MMOs with more minimal action bars and while quests and loot aren’t FFA, important quest mobs are shared nowadays.

All of these changes and additions make WoW not just one of the most approachable MMOs today but the richest in terms of content diversity. Draenor is the pinnacle of that philosophy: jump in right away as a level 90 character, learn basic skills and talents from scratch by playing through the intro scenario (which for once ain’t in a cave!). Get some money and bags to start with and oh, we also boosted your professions so you can join for all these new quests! As for the Garrison, it might be the first example of useful ‘player housing’ with meaningful choices in over a decade.

The genius of Blizzard
In a competitive industry as this, Blizzard’s achievements are really twofold:

  1. Making a niche genre more accessible and creating their own faithful player base in the process.
  2. Continuously re-inventing themselves rather than resting on the laurels of vanilla WoW.

Some will say this is the mark of smart decision making and market observation over at Blizzard. However and without denying the aforementioned, another more simple answer also lies in the Looking for Group documentary where an aging core of lead designers and developers is still creating for a game “they themselves would like to play”, more casually now than in their late twenties. More mature too, giving more thoughts to their diverse target audience than before. It’s not just the players in WoW that have grown older.

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And so it’s the greatest irony of all that, while so many MMO developers raced to emulate what was essentially vanilla WoW’s successes, Blizzard themselves moved on and branched out, leaving their past to others. According to the latest news WoW is back to 10 million subscribers, something that is difficult to swallow when new and shiny titles like Wildstar are struggling to maintain an audience. But who is to compete with a ten-year old AAA-fantasy themed MMO this rich and loaded on diverse content? Comparing other titles to WoW is never fair.

To be continued
As for me and Draenor, two weeks in I admit that I am charmed once more by the world of Warcraft – more patiently this time, more laidback and happy to smell the roses on the way. There is so much to do and learn for me after three years and I am not rushed to get anywhere with anyone. Most of all, this explorer is enjoying the vistas of Draenor (and there are so many beautiful ones nowadays) and a soundtrack so reminiscent of our vanilla days. Yes, for now I believe I do like this again and that is all that matters.

[Wildstar] Of Unexpected Turns and Raiding Pains

My recent blunders into Wildstar’s raiding scene were more of a happenstance than anything, a surprise to myself first and foremost. At the end of 2013 my plans for this year were quite clear: play TESO, ignore Wildstar. Fast forward, I find myself not only among few remaining bloggers in our blogosphere still subbed to Carbine’s MMO, but attuned to raids and geared for endgame. I’ve written about my first raiding experiences here but having gone through a streak of heavy back pains these past weeks, I’ve decided to put an early end to a raiding career that I never meant to have. Too scary is the prospect of another episode of what I have come to call my “post-WoW raider back” since I left WoW in 2010.

A passage dearly paid.

Not many MMO raiders and ex-raiders (myself included) speak of whatever physical backlash, temporary or permanent, they may have experienced due to their focus on top tier PVE/PVP endgame. I’m not saying that every MMO player or raider is like me in terms of poor posture control, but I suspect that there are many among us who come to know such side-effects after reaching a certain age latest. If you’ve raided in a competitive and dedicated manner consistently over several years, it’s hard to avoid any form of physical repercussion for so much sedetary amusement. I remember a time when my youth would cradle me in blissful ignorance of such concerns, yet after I had turned 28 years old with five years of WoW raiding (12 hours a week on average) on my literal back, the physical reality of my hobby caught up with me. I’ve always had issues with my neck but from that point in time my back pains took a life of their own and spread to the rest of my body in one neurological fun fest.

Combined with was generally a deeply troubling and stressful time in my life, a fact that must be emphasized, my unhealthy way of slouching through long-session gameplay (during which I ignored all warning signs for lack of judgement) turned into a chronic pain condition that, after the usual series of medical examinations, is fair to say will never leave me. After quitting WoW and spending considerably less focus time in front of the computer, as well as regular massage therapy and healthier living, I’ve been able to recover slowly from the more acute and crippling pains that used to overshadow my life for at least three full years. I know I have partly my lack of discipline to blame – I have never been great at self-control when it comes to the things I love doing (and I am hardly a sports-fan either). I also realize that many people gamers or not, deal with backpains which are always multicausal; in a way, what happened five years ago opened my eyes to a variety of issues I had ignored for too long in my life. Treating myself better in every sense was one consequence, so in retrospective I’d like to see my time spent raiding as a catalyst, rather than the root cause of all the pain.

Nonetheless, my gametime is something I will always have to control in the future, no matter how tempting some aspects of MMOs might be. I’ve tried the whole “getting up during biobreaks”- and “loading-screen workout”- routines and for me, they simply don’t work. I can spend half a day casually at the PC, blogging, podcasting and carousing Steam, but raiding puts me into a state of emergency in which I grow tense and too absorbed to notice lousy posture. I don’t think there’s any gaming activity quite like online coop when it comes to demanding exceptional focus from each individual. If you ever get up from such a session and feel the pang in the back of your neck, don’t ignore it.

Alas, I have been there, done that and no epic pixel nor fleeting friendships were worth the physical pain that was caused or amplified. I love MMOs and the competitive aspects of online games but if beating endgame and obtaining shinies require me to sit still and focus in front of a screen for 3-4 hours on end, then I am happy to leave such feats to a younger generation – a generation hopefully wiser than me. Hindsight is 20/20 – and the story of how much their bodies must hurt is never told in Surrogates or similarly intriguing movies about virtual life.

Thus my raiding chapter for Wildstar is officially closed.

So, why is Wildstar not doing better?

Yesterday, Rohan tried to put a finger on why Wildstar isn’t doing so well only 3 months into launch. Wildstar the great AAA-hope of 2014, the polished, cartoony WoW-esque holy trinity, theme-park MMO that appeared different yet similar enough to accommodate the mainstream. I agree with Rohan that WS has a higher difficulty level than WoW, although the leveling process never struck me as hard or tedious on my Esper. WS is packed with some fun quests and a very linear, well-paced progression to level 50. I’d happily place bets on FFXIV:ARR being grindier than WS, only FFXIV is so fortunate to have a faithful, asia-based community on top of all the western influx since revamp.

However, it’s true that WS dungeons are tough and by the looks, raids even tougher. Even if you’re not after the attunement, bronze runs are a tricky to pug. That said, I don’t think endgame is the problem either – at least WS has an endgame that poses a bit of challenge and brings guilds back to the table. What does GW2 have? No endgame, failing guilds and not even great housing. Somehow, there’s always something to complain about.

My veranda in Wildstar.

I’m not convinced anymore that WS would be faring better if endgame was toned down to accommodate pugging. What I will say is that like ANet before them, Carbine took their good time to fix long-standing player concerns as far as the UI, submenus and other optimization concerns went and they are still far from done in my book. I personally know three potential subbers that still cannot run WS smoothly on their machine and have therefore given up playing. Then there’s players like this one who believe Carbine aren’t doing such a great job in marketing their title to a wider audience – but how big an issue is this, really?

Maybe it’s just that simple: WS isn’t WoW just like none of them are. And we have crossed the notorious 3-month mark. The dwindling player base was to be expected. Today’s MMO market cannot reproduce the successes of WoW, not with titles that are “similar enough” and not with titles that are completely different or exactly the same. Even if you own a niche like EVE does, you need to content yourself with 500k subscriptions. And while some WoW attachment still lingers on and declines only gradually, the rest of the market must cope with grazers and players opting for f2p or b2p over subscriptions.

Wildstar is a fine game. It can’t be helped that it wasn’t released in 2004. We’ll see if mega-servers are a blessing or curse for its core community. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.

[Wildstar] Silver Dungeons and the Return of the DPS

(Is anybody still playing Wildstar out there? Well…I am!)

Before disappearing from gaming for the past few days due to real life, I got my Esper in Wildstar ready and prepped for silver dungeon runs. No doubt the bronze patch is incoming soon to speed up that attunement process somewhat but silvers are still on the table for many players and frankly, I was curious about difficulty compared to WoW heroics. Turns out, Wildstar silver runs are really more like mini-raids than WoW-style 5 mans. There’s no way a random group of mostly inexperienced people will finish anything for hours and hours.

Silver progression goes the same for most groups and guilds: STL first, then KV, SC and SSM, that last one being a nightmarish place created around a jumping puzzle. There are only four dungeons to run in WS albeit in three different modes. In no way can they be compared to adventure difficulty. Silver comes with a timer and extra objectives/bosses compared to bronze. Gold on the other hand, comes with everything and zero deaths. So far the theory.

I’m halfway through silvers now myself, thanks to running with experienced groups and vocal leadership. It still took several attempts per dungeon due to the unforgiving mechanics, yet that is nothing compared to what early progression teams had to go through. Even if you keep the same people around to crack a dungeon, and that’s what anyone does who wants to reasonably progress, you’ll spend entire afternoons learning WS dungeons before silver. You’ll be resetting over and over, going again after an early wipe or unlucky deaths slowing you down. You’ll consider mastering single bosses a success, rather than entire dungeons. You’ll be back after dinner. Persistence is the only one way to crack silver dungeons, so you better bring a good-humored bunch of people.

Ready for battle! Well...sorta.

We’re ready for battle! Well…sorta.

Or maybe you just get very lucky sometime and have a team invite you that’s already done most of the work together, with willing leaders and/or imba DPS (or the stars will align for you once every 100 years while pugging). At encounters like Stormtalon your damage dealers easily decide over make or break – a difference most acutely felt by healers.

Bringing DPS back to the Table

There is something that dawns on the traditional healer in WS at silver runs latest. It’s an obscure hunch the first few times you keep dying horribly during an encounter, a hunch that solidifies once your group keeps going on without you for minutes on end, sometimes until the boss dies. A guildie of mine condensed it best in a related forum topic on healing, a comment that hit a nerve for me too –

Tank is most important
Dps need 2 out of 3 good
Average healer = complete adventure/ dungeon.

the worrying thing is that in every other MMo I have played the healer was rated as important as the tank now with the interprets we are last even behind the Dps. imho.

WS is a game of self-sustainability first. Even if the healer dies, at least half of the encounters allow for the party to continue (and DPS finish fights). That doesn’t mean healers should die by any means or that bad healers cannot still screw up your silver runs – they definitely can. However, nothing is quite as devastating as missed interrupts in WS, the mechanic all major encounters revolve around thus far. And the responsibility of timing and rotating interrupts is almost exclusively on tanks and DPS, even if every class can theoretically do them. Needless to say, I concurred with my guildmate’s points although way more cheerfully so:

WS healing is indeed quite different to the position it holds in many other MMOs. I’ve been a healer in many games and I agree with you on this. the reason is Wildstar’s game / encounter design:

Mechanics are more unforgiving and a lot more about individual survival skills (dodge that shit, use a pot) than in other classic MMOs (not GW2, GW2 is more similar and has no roles anyway). I was used to being able to ‘save’ most of my party members all the time in WoW – you can’t do this so much in WS. People die quickly if they screw up and so does the healer, so your overall playstyle needs to be a lot more centered around your own survival + MT. There’s less leeway for the ‘extras’ (not the normal damage but the unnecessary one) in WS than in other games that I’ve played (and then there’s also the telegraph / cone thing that gimps healing). Sure, once a healer has better gear, stats, etc. he/she can make up for more screwups but still, many mechanics are just unforgiving and up to the individual player. You can’t save a one-shot, and depending on the situation not a 2-shot either.

And that’s why you feel the healer matters ‘less’ in WS which is true; because the onus of survival is more well-spread in Wildstar. So really, think of it as a good thing. The fact that even the healer is allowed to die first sometime (for some encounters it doesn’t matter), is a good thing. It means responsibility is shared more evenly, which is also true thanks to the interrupt mechanics in WS. So, imo we are more even now / not less. DPS finally aren’t just being carried in this game. [Syl]

I love it. I love the fact that DPS don’t get the back seat in a trinity-based MMO. Enrage timers aside, there was never a time during my WoW era (up to Cataclysm) where pewpew were nearly as much on the spot as they are continuously in Wildstar’s encounters. The scales have evened out and while some oldschool healers might feel that sting of lost power, they should also feel the relief of shared pressure.

Wildstar silver KV - cheat when you can!

Wildstar silver KV – cheat when you can!

Tangentially, I realized that there’s still a strong WoW healer beating in this chest; I installed GRID right away and am still working on “untargetting” my healing style. And I still die way, way too often because I choose to try save others over ruthlessly minding my own six. That simply doesn’t fly with heroic telegraphs – it’s be there or be square for each and everybody!

Your last MMO ever and the Troubles of Aging together

I am a 30+ MMO player with a history. I don’t speak for all 30+ MMO players with a history. This post is about many things at once.

Not too long ago I had an interesting discussion with an old gaming buddy reflecting much of the current MMO malaise that seems to have struck several bloggers around the blogosphere lately. The most memorable statement in our conversation was this: “Wildstar is going to be my last MMO” – something that I’ve heard several times now and keep reading on the official forums. Clearly MMO culture is in a phase of re-evaluation both on a personal level and otherwise.

On the surface, such final player declarations appear singularly odd and certainly unique to the genre; never would you hear anyone say “this is going to be my last RTS ever” or any variation thereof. Why would anyone make plans for their last MMO ever?

Of course the answer is simple for those among us who have been there – played MMOs, breathed MMOs, lived inside the same MMO for years. This genre is not like other genres and neither is its commitment. Players are passionate about their character progression, their guilds, their dramatic quitting gestures. And sure, there are exceptions to the rule, players content to solo and never invest in any type of cooperative endgame. Yet, there is still a consensus, spoken or unspoken by developers too, that the heart of the MMO experience lies in cooperative multiplay. A big chunk of content gets created entirely for this reason, for better or worse.

And multiplay takes extra time, in fact not just when you’re in the middle of it but way in advance. Looking for guilds, spending time getting to know a community, working around timezones and schedules in order to group up and advance together, that’s a type of effort that asks for special dedication. For the more fatalistic among us that don’t do casual solo even when they aren’t hardcore, this also means the decision to jump into a new MMO is one that must be carefully considered. There is no time to waste or something, it’s either all or nothing.

All of this resonates with me given my early WoW history. However, there are times when I wonder if it’s really such a good thing to make one’s own happiness so dependent on other people (it’s not like that ever works out in real life). I love the cooperative aspect of MMOs but they are also virtual worlds, canvases of beauty I’d like to travel and explore. The older I get, the more there is compromise to my own time spent in games. O tempora, o mores, I guess.

The Troubles of Aging together

That said, I’m a player who is still counting on social ties for longterm dedication and so many times since WoW have I been flustered about MMOs not bringing back the “good old times”. Of course there’s a pattern here; you’ll never hear an early player talk about the good old times because there are no such times (yet) to make flawed, subjective comparisons to.

The only reason I’m probably still playing Wildstar every night and enjoying it immensely is social environment. I’d still be paying a sub and exploring the maps of the Nexus but as a solo player or member of a dwindling group of peers, I would never have bothered to acquire the Genesis Key, step one of the attunement of doom. Wildstar might actually be another MMO on the shelf already, as it is for others that used to be more excited for launch than myself. I’m still in though and wondering about the reasons, knowing at least half of the answer:

I started playing Wildstar with three old WoW buddies of mine, all of which have drastically changed weekly schedules now that they’re in their 30ies rather than early 20ies. So do I, despite all of my personal time still being my own. I am not 23 anymore, I need more sleep than I used to (it’s true and I hate it), I don’t do rushed PC dinners any longer and I have no wish to be in charge of anything or anyone else than my virtual self when online. I’m still looking to be a regular in an efficient and fun guild though, one that manages to balance the hardcore casual for lack of a better word.

Facing the fact that a group of ex-WoW raiders now all in their early thirties don’t stand a chance lasting in Wildstar’s endgame (we’ve tried and failed before), I soon resolved that our small guild needed to move on and reinforce a bigger team run by fresh people full of “MMO-oomph”. It’s been the best decision possible both for my own enjoyment (and hopefully theirs too) and dedication to the game. More importantly maybe, hearing others talk about the game made me realize that MMOs are as new and wonderful as ever for players of another generation – the players we used to be ten years ago. In no way is Wildstar inferior to WoW when it comes to how it’s handling group content. Nothing has changed in that department – we have. The people around us, our original peers have.

Early MMO enthusiasm is contagious. So is dwindling enthusiasm.

Truthfully, every MMO since WoW was a game I tried to re-connect to together with my ever less active WoW buddies. You could say I’ve kept trying to recreate my old communities elsewhere, as so many of us do. A guild’s greatest virtue which is bonding with others, becomes it’s greatest peril in the long run when communities get so insular that there’s hardly room for new blood, not even across games.

Yet the more we kept to ourselves and didn’t mix, the faster we dwindled. It’s a downward spiral and it doesn’t work. Soon everyone’s frustrated that they can’t ever seem to get a full group for anything. Maybe somebody out there knows a critical mass of 35-year old MMO veterans that are mostly regulars but I do not – and you need a regular (slightly nutty) core to run a guild effectively. Now that I’m in a way more mixed guild with dedicated leadership, I feel completely boosted by their enthusiasm. Who are these people and why are they having so much fun? Oh wait, I used to!

sylvs

Luck and then some

There’s always an element of luck and timing involved when we start out in new games and looking for a new guild can be tough. I’d certainly call it a piece of luck to have chanced upon an active bunch of people with so similar a player ethos to my own. It would be amiss and incomplete however, not to try analyze things beyond luck.

Mingling with a wider age range aside, the choice of RP server and faction is probably crucial. On the only EU-RP server, Dominion side is a very calm and underpopulated place to be a Cassian, with dead zone chats and limited wares on the AH. My first instincts were calling it a bad choice when in fact, it’s the most beneficial thing to guild life. Players need their guild. Already this community feels tight-knit, the way it only happens in MMOs after launch rush is over and grasers have moved on. It’s the people who stay behind that you want to guild with.

And so maybe, it all comes down to this: staying behind and choosing to be part of a new, active community rather than maintaining an old one. Rolling on a cosy low-pop server. Sticking with that choice past launch rush. Not so different from ten years ago. We blame design a lot of the time when it comes down to frustrating social factors that ultimately, we’re both in control of and aren’t. Even if an MMO facilitates group play, and I believe Wildstar does, commitment remains a choice and unfortunately it’s not enough to make that decision yourself, you need others to make it with you. So maybe new blood is where the aging MMO player needs to start focusing his or her attention, if future gameplay experiences are meant to outlast a brief visit. I am guilty of having lived in the proverbial past.

For the Record

I love MMOs and I intend to play them for the foreseeable future. I believe that my generation of gamers especially, born in the 70ies and early 80ies, have an important and unique opportunity to be rolemodels for everyone else to come, doing away with gaming misconceptions and stigma. Yes, you can be an older gamer! No, gaming doesn’t have to stop at 30! If we can embrace ourselves and let go of the good old days in favor of new ones, new people and new experiences, there’s nothing to stop us from becoming the first gamers to happily make it to retirement (just think of all the free time!). Loving this place that is the MMO blogosphere, I hope to see you there.

Second Skin: The perfect MMO Gear and Impact on Longterm Commitment

The other day, I had a bit of an argument with my significant other concerning folk who like to transform themselves with help of expressive or more unusual attire, often in their private time. The topic wasn’t so much cosplay but people generally wearing clothes that come with a certain message of affiliation or membership, to name more flamboyant members of the goth/black metal scene as one example. This type of expression isn’t limited to the rock’n rollers among us though; it can be found anywhere, even for more conservative interests such as golfing or hiking. Dressing up for the occasion plays an important role in many social activities and for some people it’s an integral part of who they really are.

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Probably not on their way to the golf course. (www.timeslive.co.za)

At a first glance, this might strike you as a very superficial approach to identity. Why do you need to wear a certain style to feel part of a social group or (in some cases) to communicate associated belief systems? Isn’t our heart the place of true identity? Strictly speaking that is true – it doesn’t make you any more or less of a “punk” whether you’re wearing torn jeans and a mohawk or not. Clothes and looks are deceptive and they should never be a requirement for someone to belong to whatever culture or creed they relate to. I can be committed to a set of beliefs without looking a certain way.

At the same time, clothes can be a powerful catalyst of self-expression, even self-discovery and confidence building. There’s a reason why many actors, especially method actors require authentic clothing that goes with the character they’re not just playing but becoming. Inner and outer transformation go together. There’s also a more common phenomenon of someone cutting their hair after ending a longterm relationship or getting tattooed after a great cesura in their lives. Our body is a reflection of the things that are happening to us. Some people, not all people, simply choose to include that part of themselves more actively.

Loving variety, I hold a torch for people who go for the so-called deviant styles in our society, be it a part-time thing or fulltime commitment. It takes guts to go against social conformity and nobody deserves to be written off on account of green hair or piercings. That’s one of the criteria I try to push as a recruiter too, by recommending clients keep an open mind to more colorful candidates rather than blindly trusting another picture in a grey suit and tie. At the same time, I’m trying not to fall prey to inverted snobbery; I admit I have a soft spot for people who don’t fit the corporate cookie cutter.

The perfect MMO gear

I’m neither the most imaginative nor boring dresser in real life but when it comes to my MMO avatars, I’ve always cared a great deal about customization options and cosmetics. I don’t know if this interest is more prevalent among players that treat their avatars like an alter ego but I am guessing most of us have preferences regarding their MMO character'(s) looks and have things that can throw them in/out of immersion. Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with the sub-par customization options of some games and the often lackluster or ill-conceived gear choices. And so I wonder: how have my past avatars’ looks, more specifically gear approach of the MMOs I’ve played the most, affected my playing longevity? Where and when did I truly feel at home gearwise?

World of Warcraft

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I played WoW for over 6 years and would call my experiences with its gear a very mixed bag of hits and misses. WoW made me feel epic spellcaster and disco clown in equal amounts and even the better sets I collected over that time were more hyper-stylized than I would have wanted, glorified leotards with near-zero extra customization options. Transmogrification was added just after I left and to this day Blizzard haven’t added a dye system. I guess this means gear wasn’t an integral part of my character immersion in WoW despite a few definite favorites.

Guild Wars 2

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To this day I’ve never played an MMO with more beautiful, aesthetically pleasing gear than GW2’s, certainly none with a better dye system. While ArenaNet could’ve offered more variety in their initial character selection, there’s not much left today that you cannot do with cosmetic and town gear. And yet, despite loving the different looks of my Elementalist, I cannot exactly claim to have been immersed in my alter ego. This is tricky to explain: to me, GW2’s gear is almost too beautiful, like a painting or wonderful piece of art to admire from afar without wishing to take it home with you. I love looking at my character but she isn’t really me, not the way I think of myself as an adventurer. What can I say, it’s complicated!

LOTRO

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I’ve never written a post on LOTRO’s gear. Instead, I’ve praised it frequently as my personal winner of immersion in so many ways – from scale to atmosphere, scenery and sound effects. There’s an authentic quality to online Middle-Earth that’s never been reached in other games. It’s therefore probably no surprise that my favorite MMO gear too, is in fact my Lore-Master’s humble Ferrier’s Robe with its leather straps, stitched pieces of fur and merrily dangling satchels (I imagine they would dangle). Combined with a simple hood and backpack, I never felt better dressed or more ready for adventure than in LOTRO. There is countless lovingly detailed gear in the game like that, with the kind of commitment to practicality that may only be found in ESO right now. I love my character’s looks in LOTRO – more importantly, this could be me tomorrow!

Sometimes less is more, especially where immersion is concerned. However awesome gear or not, it’s probably fair to say that it’s not our character’s looks or customization options that decide over the longevity of our commitment. That doesn’t mean they do not add a lot of enjoyment to the games we’re playing though or that there aren’t certain breaking points. Playing Wildstar right now, I am back to hyper-stylized but also practical gear. Mostly, I am happy that the game doesn’t make me run around half-naked.

What was your perfect MMO gear of all time? Do you feel your character’s looks have any bearing on how much you can enjoy a title longterm? I wager more customization is always popular in MMOs, no matter how much we love cosmetics. There are limitations to what I can wear or get away with in real life, so it’s all the more important my online selves enjoy that unlimited freedom of self-expession.

Weekend Wildstar Wrap-up: It’s all Blizzard’s Fault

If there is just one observation or rule that, after almost four years of meta blogging, I may declare applies without fail when there are two sides to a passionate debate, it’s the following:

Both sides of the argument want exactly the same. That’s been the case each and every time I’ve experienced engaged and complex discussions on this here blog or elsewhere; two or more people arguing for the same thing but believing in opposite ways of achieving it. Your prime example for this is the ‘grouping and facilitation’ debate where some will argue pro enforced grouping for more community while others believe grouping, in order to be the real thing, needs to happen naturally and dynamically. It’s important to understand that on the most basic level, these players all want the same thing.

Quite an entertaining phenomenon in retrospective, it usually takes a moment to sink in. Once you’ve distanced yourself from a topic, you’ll detect such patterns a lot more clearly even if that won’t bring you any closer to a satisfying solution.

In which Blizzard gets all the blame

In what has proven to be a universally divisive topic for Wildstar this week and probably for a while to come, I argued that the 12step attunement needs toning down in order to accommodate a wider variety of both casual and hardcore players. While my argument in favor of inclusion wasn’t my only point, it’s as important to me as it is obviously to others. Liore followed-up disagreeing with pretty much most of my logic, explaining why to her the attunement chain adds direction, content and more playstyle variety. Bottom line: we both argued in favor of diversity/freedom, albeit for different target audiences that are sadly all too often mutually exclusive in MMOs.

That brings me to a second, more vexing matter: World of Warcraft’s continued influence on our perception of design dynamics and as a consequence, its impact on our not-so carefree experiences of new games such as Wildstar. Liore makes an explicit WoW reference in her article, in which she equates not having hard attunements with “being just… like… WoW” because well, like me she’s played and seen a lot of WoW. Just like that, I referred to WoW attunements in my own post and ended up responding (guilty..):

Funny enough unlike for you, to me this [read: the current status of the attunement] is all exactly like WoW and not unlike WoW. I raided in vanilla and it was considered hardcore, the way WS raiding seems right now.

And today, in an interesting update over at Tobold’s, the comment section is full of arguments, speculations and assumptions inspired by past experiences in – you guessed it – WoW. All the while, somewhere else an anti-Wildstar brigade is forming within WoW’s disgruntled and bored community as we speak, because apparently Wildstar is appealing to many of that same demography. Shocker.

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Our WoW glasses need to be smashed.

….It’s all WoW. WoW, wow, wow. Whether we’re for something or against it, whether it’s totally cool because different from WoW or dangerously close to being like WoW, WoW is the all-encompassing factor and ultimate perspective. Apparently we cannot free ourselves from the mind print that this MMO has left in our collective memory. If something happened in WoW, well it’s probably gonna happen in Wildstar, right? Wrong!

To close a week of intense feels: it’s clearly all Blizzard’s fault. Happy weekend everybody – to the Nexus as well as Azeroth! Stay classy!