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Raid Finder: Day One

I used the Raid Finder for the very first time on Monday night. It was an… instructive experience.

Dogpile.

Dogpile.

One thing that I learned about myself is the fact that I felt compelled to seek out raid videos/strategies even for LFR difficulty. It is not (just) about insulating myself from group embarrassment, it is about mitigating that awful feeling of not knowing what I am doing. I hate that feeling. At first I believed the feeling to be unique to multiplayer games, as I certainly do not hit up GameFAQs or Wikis the moment I get to a boss fight in a single-player game. Indeed, wouldn’t that be cheating? Or, at least, cheating myself from the actual game.

But you know what? I hate that feeling even in single-player games. If I am dying to a boss repeatedly and have no idea why, or there does not seem to be any clues as to different strategies I could try, I most certainly hit up Wikis. I enjoy logic puzzles as much as (or more than) the next guy, but I must feel certain that logic is applicable to the situation. With videogames, that is not always a given: quests that you cannot turn in because you didn’t trip a programming “flag” by walking down a certain alleyway or whatever. There was a Borderlands 2 quest that I simply looked up on Youtube because I’ll be damned if I walk across every inch of a cell-shaded junkyard for an “X” mark after already spending 10 minutes looking it over. Playing “Where’s Waldo” can be entertaining, but not when you have to hold the book sideways and upside down before Waldo spawns… assuming you are even looking at the right page.

I digress.

Hey, it could happen to anyone!

Hey, it could happen to anyone!

Things got off to a nice start in LFR when the dog fight consisted of just tanking all three dogs in a cleave pile the entire time. The second boss seemed to have an inordinate amount of health, but he too dropped without doing much of note. I died twice to some insidious trash on the way to the troll boss; those bombs are simply stupid in a 25m setting, as I found it difficult to even see them among all the clashing colors and spell effects. Final boss dropped pretty quickly as well, although I almost died a few times towards the end once people stopped coming into the spirit world with me.

By the way, the queue for the 1st raid finder was 15 minutes for DPS. Might have been a “Monday before the reset” thing.

I joined a guild healer for the 2nd raid finder immediately afterwards, although the average wait time of 43 seconds was a bit off. Was killed by a combination of friendly fire and damage reflection during the first boss, but he otherwise went down quickly. I managed to avoid falling to my death during Elegon (thanks Icy-Veins!), but was killed by an add the 2nd tank never picked up; that will teach me to do something other than tunnel the boss. The third boss… made little sense. I spent a lot of time killing adds, as I could not quite understand what was up with the Devastating Combo thing other than I must have been doing it wrong. Eons later, the bosses died.

It is becoming somewhat of a running joke for my guildies since coming back on how much random loot I pull in. The prior week I got ~8 drops from my first 5 random dungeons, for example. This time around I got three epics from my first two LFR forays, all three of which came from the bonus rolls. I was not around for the Cata LFR days, but suffice it to say, I would not have likely came away with that much loot in a more traditional PuG.

Overall, LFR was a pleasant experience. While I can certainly empathize with the criticism of LFR – it was pretty ridiculously easy – I can definitely see the logic behind Blizzard’s moves here. Some raid is better than no raid, low-pop realms like Auchindoun-US wouldn’t support a robust raid PuG community, and to an extent even the “nothing ever drops!” LFR sentiment encourages organized guild raiding in a roundabout manner. Whether this remains satisfying in any sort of long-term manner remains to be seen, but honestly, it is better than the alternative of… what else, exactly? Running dungeons ad infinitum?

Things Are Looking Grim

Yeah… I’m not sure about this whole WoW thing anymore. Again.

I have not really bothered logging in since the last time I wrote about it, which means I am less than 10 quests into the expansion on any character. On Tuesday, I had an extra long length of time available to play, so I buckled down for the long-haul. Before heading out of Stormwind again though, I decided to continue feeding Auctionator some additional data and perhaps looking into pimping my 85s a bit with some blue gear. Or, hey! I have alts with professions that need leveled, so why not kill half a dozen birds with some AH stones in the form of buying some crafting mats?

Let’s see here… wait a minute…

Wait, that's TOTAL?

Wait, that’s TOTAL?

I thought Auctionator was bugging out on me when it completed the AH scan in literally two seconds, while also stating there are 52 epic items scanned. “That can’t possibly be correct… can it?” Yes, in fact, it can. A generic search for epic items in all categories reveals a total of 137 auctions (presumably 52 unique items). Now, it is certainly possible that I have missed a major announcement when it comes to scaling back BoE epic items, and Wowhead is telling me there are are only 134 epic non-BoP, non-heroic raid items in this expansion.

But what is being presented to me here is truly ridiculous. Aunchindoun-US was always a low-pop server, but as my early posts under PVsAH demonstrated, there was at least a functioning marketplace where you could be a big fish in a little pond. What I am seeing is not a little pond, it is moist patch of earth. Checking even the expansion staples like Ghost Iron and Green Tea Leaves only confirmed my suspicions. My faction’s AH officially qualifies as a failed state.

This discovery completely killed the mood, and I logged off. It is obviously possible to level up and even raid without a functioning economy, but why would you? I have mentioned before that I want to play games I can invest in, or at least feel the simulation of investment. Knowing the economy is dead, knowing the server is dead, and knowing that Blizzard isn’t ever going to bite the goddamn bullet and put realms like Auchindoun out of its misery means my incentive to push forward is dead. Server transfer, I hear you ask? Literally $250. Otherwise, if I have to abandon all my alts with all their professions (and pay $25 on top of it all) just for opportunity to have fun playing your game on one character… well, I politely decline.

For the past three expansions, Blizzard has been solving all the problem elements of low-pop servers except the one that matters: the server itself. Play BGs with everyone else, run dungeons with everyone else, raid with everyone else, and now even quest with everyone else. Isn’t it about time you let us be with everyone else?

Chicken & Eggs, PlanetSide Edition

I have been playing around with PlanetSide 2 (Ps2) for the past couple of days.

As far as initial impressions go, the “introduction” to Ps2 is uniformly awful. Oh, hey, they lifted the character creation head presets from Fallout. Pick a faction and server without knowing anything about either. And before you even get a chance to check out character/class settings and such, you are launched via drop pod into the heaviest fighting on the map and, in all likelihood, killed immediately. Now that you have some free time, go ahead and look over the thoroughly unhelpful menus while trying to ascertain to what degree SOE is set to gouge your wallet (spoiler: the Nth degree).

Not that it really matters, but hey.

Once you finally respawn, things do not get much better that first day. Coming from Battlefield 3 and even Tribes, killing people seems to take 1-2 seconds of full-auto fire more than it should. It is also difficult to tell who the enemy actually is – while you get a No Smoking sign on your crosshairs when aiming at a friendly, everyone has the same profile and even colors at first glance. Character animations look stiff, and the models seem lifted from Natural Selection, that Half-Life mod from a decade ago.

I respawned time and time again, courageously throwing myself in front of bullets intended for players actually capable of accomplishing something, while I returned fire with my Nerf Gun that shoots wads of wet tissue paper. In a lull in the dying action, I tried deciphering the stone tablet hieroglyphics that was my minimap. “Generator destroyed.” “Generator repaired.” Was that a good or bad thing? Whose generator? When the the vehicle I was spawning at finally got destroyed, I found myself literal miles away from any discernible action, with no way of knowing where to go, what to do, or why I was doing this instead of finishing packing.

I was lost and alone in the blinding snow.

Forever Alone…

The second and third days, by contrast, were infinitely better.

It took a lot of outside research, but I started understanding the pros and cons of the various classes. I learned enough about Certs (i.e. upgrade points) to know what they are, how to get more, and good places to spend them. I used Reddit to find a Google Doc that explained what the symbols on the map are, how to properly assault a Bio Dome, and some tricks for getting around. I learned enough about the weapon shop to know how badly SOE is gouging me (way worse than Tribes: Ascend, by the way)… but also the cool bit where you take a new weapon out for a 30 minute test-drive without paying anything.¹

On the third day, I found one of the best features in almost any game I have ever played:

Please make this the future.

I called this post Chicken & Eggs because games like PlanetSide 2 (and nearly all MMOs) require you to have social structures in place before you can really start having fun. Social structures which, incidentally, seem like a waste of time to seek out/develop when you aren’t having fun. “Join a guild to have a good time.” Why would I, if I’m not having fun currently? Which is supposed to come first? I am not necessarily suggesting that fun should occur without effort, but let’s be serious for minute: there are a hundred different games you could be playing right now that are fun from the word Go.

While I still believe the First Day experience in PlanetSide 2 is pretty awful, I absolutely love this grouping system with descriptions they have in-game and hope this sort of idea is lifted wholesale by every MMO multiplayer game. Why can’t there be some sort of in-game bulletin-board-esque system that allows like-minded individuals find each other in every game? Why do socially-oriented games basically require out-of-game social structures to work at all? I have always enjoyed the no-obligation/instant grouping of LFD, but I still recognize the existence of a social hole it cannot fill. Yet here, in a single simple feature, I can differentiate between the friendly strangers, the SRS BSNS folks, jokers wanting to recreate that helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now, and more.

So come on, social game designers, this is not that hard a concept. If the game is made better by playing with people we know, make it easier to get to know people in your own goddamn game. Nearly 99% of everyone I know online I originally met through WoW or blogging about WoW. Make your game a foundation for new friendships (by making it easier to do so) and people will continue coming back. We get the opportunity to express ourselves and meet new people, and you (likely) get a pair or more of multi-year customers.

¹ This feature is cool, but it has a 30-day cooldown on that specific weapon, and starts up an 8-hour cooldown on every other item. Apparently this cooldown is per character though, so you can cheese the limitation by rolling a new toon, trying it out, and then deleting it later.

Counter-Intuitive Insights

While providing a very similar experience, what Rift has going for it is a smaller community.

Keen

At first, I could not help but laugh. There is context for the quote, sure, but it struck me as funny regardless to take what would normally be a negative quality (few people are playing your game) and spin it as a positive. Especially when it is an MMO one is talking about, where the whole idea is the “a lot of people” part.

But… hmm.

It is undoubtedly true that an MMO “community,” such as it is, has an impact on one’s enjoyment of a game. I read threads like these on the Guild Wars 2 forums, and the sort of hyper-competitiveness inherent to the dungeon-running culture presented there makes me not want to bother at all. The people running these dungeons are getting them done in 20 minutes, whereas it will take me hours to get a similar level of competency all while I slow them down (assuming I am not kicked to begin with).

Incidentally, this is why you have LFD tools: there will always be abrasive social encounters when grouping with strangers, but at least with LFD you are not dependent on their goodwill to zone in at all. As long as you have reasonable expectations (i.e. not expect four strangers to wait while you soak up the atmosphere), you will be fine.

I believe that Keen is probably correct that Rift’s smaller community is a positive, assuming you are into that sort of thing. Fewer people means less of an audience for trolling, more reliance on social contacts to get things done, which probably all contributes to a Cheers-esque atmosphere. Or at least a “we’re in this foxhole together” atmosphere. So… yeah. The fewer people that like your MMO, the more you will like it. And the converse – the more popular your MMO gets, the less you enjoy it – is probably true for many as well.

All of which means you can never say bad things about hipsters ever again.

Collective Individualists, or Individual Collectivists

I usually do not participate in theme weeks, but Stubborn’s recent Individualist vs Collectivist post struck a chord. A discordant one.

But first, as always, we have to define the terms of the debate. Throughout Stubborn’s post, for example, he seems to be using “grouping” as interchangeable with Collectivism. While grouping is certainly something Collectivists do, that is like calling me a Landscape Artist when I mow the lawn. The intention matters.

But rather than get too philosophical about it, I have an easy quiz you can take to determine whether you are a Collectivist, or at least have Collectivist tendencies. Have you ever felt:

  1. Shame, or
  2. Guilt, or
  3. A sense of obligation

…to do or refrain from doing some action in an MMO? If you answered “yes,” congratulations comrade, you are a Collectivist!

I knew the precise moment my WoW days became numbered: six weeks after having killed the Lich King in ICC. There I was, logging on at 9pm sharp, trying to drum up support for yet another ICC run that I did not want participate in, let alone tank and raid lead. So why did I do it? Because I knew that 4-5 of my guild mates wanted to do it, that if I did not personally pull the group together the raid would not form, and that each raid which failed to form would drive said guild mates further and further away (into other guilds, or simply away period). Collectivism is about putting the needs of the Collective ahead of your own. You sacrifice your own enjoyment for the benefit of the whole, because the guild/group/corp/etc is intrinsically linked to your own enjoyment.

Contrast the above with Stubborn’s assertion that Diablo 3 ranks highly on the (arbitrary) Collectivist scale:

D3 gets the most collectivist score because it has no add-ons, heavily emphasizes grouping at harder difficulties, and has individual loot.  I’d give it a 5, but I have hopes for more collectivist MMOs to come around, and besides, it stinks.

Do you care about the other people you group with in Diablo 3 beyond their potential function as loot efficiency creators? Do you feel guilt for leaving such a group, or a sense of obligation to stay, or shame when you “fail” them? Probably not.

But… maybe you do. In which case, this debate becomes even more abstract as we are awkwardly forced into quantifying how much a game may or may not encourage Collectivist tendencies in players. Is the game anti-Collectivist, or are the players simply pro-Individualists (read: rational entertainment consumers)?

Here is how I see it: Collectivism is something you bring into the game from the outside.

A game can force you to group with other people in order to play, but whether you identify with that group is 100% up to you. Everyone readily agrees that WoW’s random LFD groups are five individuals looking for loot, but Trade Chat groups were not the opposite by default. Did I have a higher tolerance for failure back in TBC? Yes… because if I did not carry that terrible player through heroic Shadow Labs, it meant I was playing zero dungeons tonight. Walking that player through detailed text explanations of each boss encounter was necessary like wearing a shield and pressing Consecration was necessary – in both cases I was simply pressing buttons, not connecting to another human being.

Perhaps I should just quote Samus, who needs nominated for Best Metaphor of the Year:

Any social element is IN SPITE OF the design of these games. You are sitting in a room with all the chairs facing the wall, praising the room for the great conversation you still managed to have.

Having said all that, I can still agree with Syl vis-a-vis being glad that MMOs like Guild Wars 2 are moving towards “bonus instead of malus” incentives for grouping. If I wanted to be social (the most important step!), many MMOs would make being social difficult; simple things like penalizing group XP, throwing quest barriers up, and placing people in awkward Mineral Rights scenarios (“You take the Copper node.” “No, you!”). These days, I would also include general looting rights, even in raiding. While loot system is traditionally the backbone of a raiding guild’s identity – Loot Council vs DKP vs Main spec > Off spec rolls, etc – it can also be divisive. I might like playing with Bob, but if he is in a guild with Loot Council… well, we can no longer be friends raid together.

Ironically, in a certain light, relaxing these grouping barriers actually seems to make games more Individualistic. And it does. Everyone says LFD is the most Individualistic, community-destroying feature ever… and then praise GW2’s auto-grouping, auto-scaling, individual looting, no-words-necessary Dynamic Events in the same breath¹. And the multiple guilds thing, which is great, but sort of undermines the whole guild loyalty/identity thing though, right? Maybe, maybe not.

I feel like this is one of those rare situations in which the otherwise terrible relationship cliche of “set the bird free, and if it comes back, it was meant to be” is applicable. After all, even a sociopath can fake relationships long enough to get the loot, so to speak. A Collectivist cares about the Collective, and will return even if they are not penalized for leaving. A closet Individualist on the other hand… well, they need the handcuffs in spite of themselves.

Of course, the thoroughly legitimate fear is that there ain’t that many Collectivists after all. And I am inclined to agree. So it is simply up to you to decide whether or not the chance of fake becoming real via going through the motions is worth all the cognitive dissonance and hand-waving.

I say open up that cage and let’s see what happens.

¹ LFD might be worse for basically never grouping the same people together again, but simply seeing the same few dudes in Events multiple times is not all that more social by itself. It is the difference between paying for gas at the pump and paying the cashier inside.

More Blizzard Heart to Heart

Remember last time when WoW lost a bunch of folks? It appears that we have another data point on the graph indicating that subscription totals and surprisingly frank design discussion are inversely related, at least as far as Ghostcrawler is concerned.

Spinks already pointed out this gem, but I will do so again for mine own posterity:

No developer wants to hear “I want to play your game, but there’s nothing to do.” For Mists, we are going out of our way to give players lots to do. We don’t want it to be overwhelming, but we do want it to be engaging. We want you to have the option of sitting down to an evening of World of Warcraft rather than running your daily dungeon in 30 minutes and then logging out. We understand we have many players (certainly the majority in fact) who can’t or aren’t interested in making huge commitments to the game every week and we hope we have structured things so that you don’t fall very far behind. The trick is to let players who want to play make some progress without leaving everyone else in the dust. (source)

Now, actually, I found an earlier line item from the list preceding the above paragraph to be more interesting:

— In Mists, we want to provide players alternative content to running dungeons. The dungeons are still there, but even with 6 new and 3 redone dungeons, you’re ready for something else after a while.

That is… kind of a big deal. I could maybe see an argument that things were different in TBC, but dungeons being default endgame for the majority of the playerbase (i.e. the 80% non-raiders) has been Blizzard’s modus operandi for the last two expansions. For, by all appearances, good reasons! How else do you get someone to log on every day? Dailies alone were not that compelling, precisely due to the factors Ghostcrawler points out: reputation grinds were undermined by tabard’d dungeon runs, as were Exalted faction rewards by dungeon loot.

De-emphasizing dungeons is a paradigm shift and Grand Social Experiment all rolled into one. Think about it. Who are the individuals most likely to exhibit anti-social, anti-noob behavior in a dungeon setting? The people who don’t want to be there, but feel they have to be there. Well, now they don’t. Go run Scenarios with your two dickish DPS cohorts and never haunt the halls of LFD again. Alternatively, just as Children’s Week floods BGs with players who never cared for PvP, perhaps allowing normal daily quests to adequately satisfy one’s need for gear progression means there will be less noobs looking to be carried by raider alts through LFD.

Most people would agree that the friendliest LFD “community” is generally in endgame normal dungeons. Why? Because it is filled with players who actually want to be there. They could be getting better gear in heroics, but choose not to. Maybe not at first, but over time do you think we could gradually see LFD populated only with people who enjoy that experience?

Of course, I can see this whole thing going down in the flames too. Although LFD and LFR has minimized the necessity of forming social relationships in the endgame, this sort of re-emphasis on flying solo could not come at a worse time, e.g. as 2+ million players snap social ties. Or maybe this is a catering to the audience as it exists now, instead of the hypothetical historical. Or perhaps I should believe what I said before vis-a-vis seeing all the new opportunities to be social via running dailies/Scenarios in small groups with people I actually care about.

I mean… this is Guild Wars 2’s entire model, right?

Population vs Community

Population is the antithesis to community.

In other words, the bigger a community grows, the more it ceases to be a community at all.

com·mu·ni·ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee]
noun, plural com·mu·ni·ties.

3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists

A lot of words have been said regarding the degradation of the “MMO community” or a community specific to an MMO, typically in the context of developer mistakes decisions. While my argument technically supports those who claim that, for example, WoW devs killed the WoW community by pooling the population together via LFD and the like, the actual mechanism of community destruction was simply the existence of more warm bodies.

The more people you get together in one place…

  1. The lower the chances you have of seeing any individual again.
  2. The easier it is for good players to get lost in the crowd.
  3. The easier it is for extremely bad behavior to get noticed.
  4. The more incentive someone has to behave even worse (for attention, or other gain).

You may have heard about Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory. I suggest the “Anonymity” component is redundant with Crowd. In sufficient numbers, even one’s real name becomes irrelevant, assuming it isn’t duplicated to begin with, i.e. John Smith. Think back to the cliques that formed in high school. Chances are that the negative behavior of the members of the clique did not persist on the individual level when they were split up (beyond, perhaps, a catalyst). For myself, I distinctly remember the dichotomy between how much the football team could be assholes during lunch, but how well behaved (and friendly!) they were in Art class, including the ringleader (so to speak). Even if we assume that such a clique required X amount of sadism in order to remain a member, the fact that it was apparently modulated on the basis of number of witnesses is telling.

I bring all this up as a means of arguing against Milday’s mourning of the loss of “community activism,” for lack of a better term. To her, things were better when people behaved out of fear of Scarlet Letters and social ostracization, rather than behaving well simply for lack of griefing tools. It is impossible to steal a resource node or ninja a dungeon drop in Guild Wars 2, for example, and that is apparently a bad thing. Better that someone could behave badly and such behavior be punished, than a world with no wrong to be done.¹

And, hey, perhaps Milady is even right. Maybe that is better.

The problem is that social ostracization only works on a community level. Could a ninja get blacklisted in the “glory days” of vanilla and TBC? On smaller servers, sure. Or maybe even on larger servers in the “community” of people running dungeons at 3am. But then again… were they really blacklisted? Paid name changes were rolled out in October 2007; server transfers existed since mid-2006. Alts existed since Day 1. And, let us be serious here, social ostracization only works anyway when both A) the entire community acts as one unit, and B) the target even cares. Your “xxIllidanxx is a ninja” spam might have inconvenienced xxIllidanxx for the 30 minutes you posted in Trade Chat², but what about the rest of the time? Chances are that he still got a group eventually, either because someone was really that desperate or they simply did not know. Or perhaps enough of his ninja friends logged on today.

The flood of LFD strangers circa end of Wrath makes social ostracization in WoW dungeons moot, of course. But I would say it was moot to begin with, given the size of WoW as a whole and the underlying level of persistent churn. There will always be more people. Even if you stopped xxIllidanxx in his ninja-looting guild-hopping TBC tracks, such that he reformed or quit the game entirely… xxArthasxx is right behind him. And xxDethwingxx. And xxlegolasxx. And so forth and so on ad infinitum. Not necessarily because there are infinite jerks/morons in the world (there is), but because the underlying incentive to behave badly still exists.

In the land of law-abiding citizens, the one criminal is king, to bastardize a phrase.

Should we simply throw up our hands and endure bad behavior? Of course not. But with games of sufficient size, the only solution that works is a systemic one. Guild hopping a problem? GW2 lets you join multiple guilds. Ninja looting and/or Need Whoring getting you down? Individual loot has rolled out in Diablo 3, GW2, and is coming to a LFR near you. Even Copper Ore nodes cannot be stolen in GW2, only shared.

The only downside to systemic solutions is what Milady refers to as the Automatization of the Social. In other words, if you provide in-game incentives to positive social actions – such as getting XP for helping resurrect dead players – one can no longer tell whether the action was performed for altruistic reasons, or selfish ones. I might suggest there is no difference between the two (altruism typically feels good), but I also recognize the potential pitfalls – I hardly ever thanked a stranger for rezzing me in GW2, whereas it would have been a bigger deal in WoW.

The key though, is simply recognizing all the new opportunities be sociable. Ever do Diablo 3 co-op and then stop and ask if your wizard partner needed the rare staff you picked up? Would Need vs Greed been better there? I say that voluntarily giving up a “secret” item is more social than simply not hitting Need. I have mentioned GW2’s resource node sharing several times now. In WoW, maybe there was social interaction is letting the other Miner grab the ore when you both show up. Or maybe you ganked them/stole it while they were in combat. In GW2, since you both can take the same node, you have an incentive to work together to kill the spider guarding it. That’s more social than what came before, IMO, because even if you gave the stranger the node in WoW, it allowed you to get to the next node faster, or the knowledge to move to a less-farmed area to maximize your own gains.

In Conclusion…

Any non-static community will “degrade” over time as the benefits of bad behavior naturally escalates with each additional member. The only real solution is changing the fundamental interaction between members, such that the more odious bad behavior becomes more than disincentivized, but impossible. With each additional participant in a Prisoner’s Dilemma, the more likely the worst possible outcome comes to pass. Ergo, it is best to never present the Prisoner’s Dilemma at all, if you can help it.

Out of all of the social engineering experiments we have seen in the MMO space, the results of individual looting/resource nodes is the one I am looking forward to seeing the most. It is a fundamental shift away from zero-sum – I win the item, you don’t – to win-win. At least in theory. Maybe it will turn us all into asocial solipsists playing our single-player MMOs.

In which case… well, I still consider that a win-win compared to the current paradigm.

¹ Which should make one question one’s assumptions about the desirability of Heaven, eh?
² Ironically, xxIllidanxx would have a good case against you for in-game harassment.

On (or Off with) Their Head(s)

Aside from the things I previewed already, there was another dimension to the Guild Wars 2 beta: the turning of most of the classical MMO arguments on their head. You know the types, the ones that start perennial flame wars on forums? Nearly every single one showed up to the party, and Guild Wars 2 spilled its beer all over them. Stodgy old classics like:

1. Portals ruin exploration and make the world smaller!

Guild Wars 2 features Waypoints which, once discovered, can be instantly teleported to from anywhere in the world for a small fee. Here is a piece of the starting Norn zone:

Flight paths are sooooo 2004.

If portals truly do make the world smaller, you will be looking at Guild War 2’s map from an electron microscope. There were 17 Waypoints in the beginning zone alone; even assuming that number is inflated due to its newbie zone status, the World Completion box indicates there are 477 such Waypoints overall. There were more than a dozen in Divinty’s Reach, the human capital city. And keep in mind that Waypoints make portals feel like a trip to the DMV in a convenience comparison: you actually have to walk up to portals (how quaint), whereas you can teleport to Waypoints from anywhere.

My very first gaming blog post ever (originally posted on Player Vs Auction House) was a guide for people stuck in Dalaran when Blizzard removed the Stormwind/Orgrimmar portals circa beginning of Cataclysm. At the time, I felt like I was pretty clever coming up with a method that got you from point A to point B in seven and a half minutes. And it was clever, when the (solo) alternative could potentially take over ten minutes if you missed the boats. Yes, I’ve heard stories about 30 minute boat rides in older MMOs too.

With the extremely notable exception of WvW, there shouldn’t be an inch of the Guild Wars 2 world that cannot be reached in less than five minutes provided you have been there previously.

I have always argued that you make a world bigger by putting more stuff in it; size should be judged not by distance, but by density. Otherwise we can make a world 5% bigger by having players move 5% slower. Whichever argument reflects the truer nature of things, we will never get a more on-the-nose test case than when Guild Wars 2 launches. We are literally at the bottom of the slippery slope, two steps away from player omnipresence.

2. Points for losing?! Why don’t we just mail them epix?

Log in, press H, collect full suit of (legendary?) PvP gear.

This may not be an entirely fair comparison, as the implicit objection is towards “cheapening” gear progression by making it inevitable. Also, I am assuming that none of us gets uber-gear simply for turning 80 on the PvE side of things. There is something to be said though, about eliminating mechanical rewards (e.g. gear upgrades that increase performance) and focusing almost entirely on cosmetic ones. Will the PvP side of things stay fun enough in the long-run without the “crutch” of progression? Time will tell.

3. Guild leveling was needed to make guilds important again.

You can join multiple guilds simultaneously, no problem. Guild hopping to the max.

4. LFD has destroyed the sense of server community!

Server community? What community?

When Guild Wars 2 launches, you will also have the option to play with your friends on another world with our free ‘guesting’ feature. With guesting, your characters can play on any world where you have friends – with certain restrictions. For instance, you will not be able to participate in WvW while guesting. (source)

I suppose it will come down to how important WvW ends up being to you – I don’t think it’s quite the killer app, as others might – but otherwise there is no other reason for you to “stay” on any particular server. It is not entirely clear if you can “guest” yourself on just any random server, or if you have to be “invited” by friends, or join their party, or whatever. In any event, I would actually suggest this is about as close to “serverless” as a themepark can get.

5. No one talks in LFD, it’s like they’re all mute AI/bots.

Outside of WvW, this was about as chatty as I saw anyone:

Sir Booyah makes a point.

Different servers are different, betas are different than Live, and I don’t even know if that log was from the equivalent of Local Chat or Trade Chat, etc etc etc.

From my experience in the beta however, Milady is correct in being a little apprehensive about the Automatization of the Social. ArenaNet has eliminated kill-stealing and loot-ninjaing, they have incentivized resurrecting one’s fellow players, and they have successfully turned WvW into a Us vs Them affair in hiding the names of opposing players (“Green/Red/Blue Invader” is all you see). Emergent social interactions in Public Questing Dynamic Events have been so streamlined that no dialog is necessary.

And that… is kinda the rub.

I am not a huge fan of the blunt social engineering seen in old-school MMOs – “make friends or never hit level cap,” “play nice or get blacklisted and never run dungeons again” – but I am cognizant of how little purpose chatting in Guild Wars 2 will be, even in the middle of a impromptu 10-person group. Out in the world, it almost felt like I was in an LFD for questing.

In retrospect, perhaps Guild Wars 2 isn’t necessarily turning this argument on its head. What it is demonstrating is that the issue isn’t the random, transient nature of your group in LFD. Rather, it is the lack of necessity to interact that is the cause. Even the most mute LFD group in WoW had to coordinate who was standing in what beam during the 2nd boss fight in Blackrock Caverns, for example. Perhaps high-level dungeons will perform the same role in Guild Wars 2, and perhaps the nature of WvW will lead to the formation of like-minded individuals.

Out in the open world though, other players may as well be bots.

If it was not otherwise clear, I am not implying that Guild Wars 2 necessarily refutes all these classical arguments simply by existing. Rather, it merely appears to openly mock the collective wisdom of forum heroes everywhere. If things turn out well for ArenaNet’s gamble, there will be much soul-searching in the months following release. If not? Well… I’ll think of something.

Bold and Spectacular… Server Merges?

This news is technically more than a week old, but there was a blue post made by Zarhym that really struck me as… well, read for yourself:

Having said all that, yesterday we discussed low-population and faction-imbalanced realms with our developers. They have some pretty bold and spectacular plans for addressing this in anticipation of implementing some of the features we plan to in Mists. I just don’t have a lot of information to share with you at this stage of programming and development.

My first reaction is in the title: bold and spectacular… server mergers? Assuming that is not what they are doing, well, what are they doing? What could they be doing?

I believe it was in a recent episode of The Instance that the hosts were talking about the concept of moving towards a server-less solution, or perhaps more accurately a “dynamic server” solution. We can imagine that instead of always logging onto Auchindoun or Earthen Ring or wherever, you simply log into a server. Once that server starts to fill towards capacity, people will start logging into a new server. This essentially eliminates low-pop and/or faction imbalanced servers entirely, aside from very last server booted up.

There are several obvious downsides to such a method. First, everything will be like LFD for servers; the likelihood of you making friends “in the wild” is severely diminished since you probably won’t ever see them again. A possible counter-measure would be to weight the system so that you are nearly guaranteed to be placed in the same “server” as people on your Friends List. Think that DK was a pretty cool guy when you were doing dailies? Add him to Friends, maybe see him again. What happens, though, if your Friends List network splits off to different servers based on their Friends Lists? Even if you make it possible to change servers through the UI or whatever, other issues crop up. For example, how will the AH be handled? One mega-AH, ruled by botters?

Aside from the dynamic server idea, I had the thought about simply moving towards LFR-ifying everything – not with queues, but with phasing. Imagine the following: you’re on a low-pop ghost town (i.e. Auchindoun), and you walk into Westfall for some alt questing. Instead of the place simply being dead, it is fairly vibrant… with people from other low-pop servers. Instead of an empty Auchindoun Westfall and an empty Dragonmaw Westfall, there is a kind of meta-Westfall that both servers share. Their AHs would remain separate, their Stormwinds would remain separate, their Tol Barads would remain separate, but any kind of dead zone would be shared. If a bunch of people congregated in Westfall for some reason, the servers could simply phase out the other side.

Or maybe “bold and spectacular plans” is simply LFD scenarios, or LFR Tol Barads.

All I know is that low-pop and/or imbalanced realms is a huge, systemic problem in two-faction games. In my four years, I never played on anything other than low-pop realms; any time I heard excitement over Sunwell-esque unlocking of vendors or world raid bosses or WG/TB-based PvP objectives, I always rolled my eyes. Those things do not work on Auchindoun, nor on many other servers. Fundamentally, you and I may as well be playing entirely different games.

If Mists is really focused on getting people out of cities and back into the world, Blizzard is going to have a big problem in low-pop realms when everyone is outside and they still can’t see each other.

Everything But the Dance Studio

Once you get that knee-jerk reaction out of your system, the design announcements currently going on at BlizzCon are pretty interesting.

Yeah, Pandas. They really did it. I owe someone $20. But what about the rest?

Monk Reactions

  • Every race but goblin and worgen… interesting.
    • Does this mean new animations for all those older races?
  • GG tank balance, once again. Historically, Blizzard has never balanced tanks correctly, ever.
  • “No auto attack! Devs want you to have this street fighter feel where you punch a lot.”
    • /facepalm
    • Seriously, that won’t work. Blizzard has spent years increasing the passive damage of every melee class because front-loading them in actual attacks leads to 3.0-era Ret paladins murdering everyone.
    • Nevermind how Blizzard specifically changed Heroic Strike and other on-next-attack abilities to be more normal abilities specifically because warriors were getting carpal tunnel. Now they want Street Fighter?

Okay, fine:

Panda Reactions

  • /facepalm
  • Those racials suck. Nothing like how blown away I was at Goblin/Worgen racials.
  • Wonder about what their racial mount will be…
  • All that aside, I’m one of “those guys” whose overall opinion on the race will be determined by how the females look. My paladin is a draenei female despite it being the worst race in the game simply because I like the look, for example.
  • After the disappointing direction of Worgen females, I fully expect to be similarly disappointed here.

Talent Tree Revamp Reaction

  • Change is scary!
  • Actually, this sounds fine.
  • These choices are actually interesting. Some of them will be extremely difficult.
  • Here are some examples of good ones:


Those are some interesting choices. The rogue spread boggles my mind with the possibilities, for example. Shadow Focus would presumably let you Sap, use Tricks of the Trade, and so on without any Energy cost. Meanwhile, Nightstalker would also be useful in a more general sense. Subterfuge seems bonkers to me. Can you imagine? You’re healing some dude from the bushes, and all of a sudden you get a Garrote, Eviscerate, and Mutilated before you even see where it came from. And I have to assume that Stealth breaks immediately if you start capping a flag or whatever, otherwise… very OP.

And look at the tanking spreads:


Those… are actually pretty crazy choices. The “obvious” paladin tank choice would be Ardent Defender, but I have never thought it was a compelling button to push every since it was redesigned from its (admittedly OP) passive ability – it was essentially Divine Protection v2, now with triple the cooldown. Now I have choices! Sacred Shield as a Prot tank looks really juicy even with the 60 second internal cooldown, for example. And if I were questing or facerolling through obsolete heroics, Blessed Life would let me unleash some burst DPS with all that extra guaranteed Holy Power.

Here is an example of what NOT to do though:

Yes, I noticed that Repentance technically has no cooldown and is essentially a paladin polymorph. Yes, I also noticed that “Fist of Justice” (lol) is a 6-second stun on a 30-second cooldown, ala early Wrath. Choosing between those two will be absurdly difficult… unless you are Ret paladin, in which case you are just fucked. Holy paladins never could get Repentance, so a “default” HoJ at half its normal cooldown is pure bonus, nevermind the strategic implications of trading it for a spammable CC on a different DR from normal CCs. Similarly, Prot paladins experience pure bonus. Ret paladins though? They lose either their stun or their incapacitate (e.g. their only “gap-closer”), and lose even the lame-ass snare capacity they had previously. More demoralizing is that the mere continued existence of Seal of Justice means there won’t be a snare for Ret paladins for yet another expansion.

There are probably other class examples of options actually being taken away in this revamp, but the Ret one jumped off the page and cock-slapped me. Anyway, back to talent impressions:

  • Apparently Blizzard wants you to be able to change talents at any time, ala glyphs.
  • Some of those talents are obviously dungeon talents, obviously PvP, etc. Not sure how that eliminates cookie-cutter builds.
  • Perhaps a secondary effect of having more difficulty levels in dungeons/raids is that cookie-cutter builds would be less relevant.
  • Actually, no, cookie-cutter builds will always be relevant. See: rise of GearScore in late Wrath despite high GearScore being 100% irrelevant to the actual difficulty.

Dungeon/Raid/Scenario Reactions

  • “Heroic dungeons [in this expansion] will largely be tuned to be about as difficult as they were in Wrath of the Lich King, allowing players to fairly quickly down bosses in PUGs and hit their Valor Point caps.”
    • Told you so.
      • Okay, technically I predicted Firelands would be easier, which didn’t happen. Not my fault Blizzard is so damn slow.
  • Scenarios sound interesting. The lack of a trinity requirement is pretty novel, WoW-wise.
  • Hopefully Scenarios will be a frequently-updated feature, since it doesn’t technically need lore or even bosses to support it.
  • Dungeon Challenges, eh? Good luck.
  • Christ, they put Challenges in the LFD feature?! Are they insane?
    • Okay, it only matches you up with other people flagging themselves as Challenge. Not quite as crazy.
    • Actually, completing a successful gold metal Challenge run entirely via LFD should be a tier higher than doing it in a premade group, don’t you think?
  • I think Challenges are a pretty interesting feature, but what’s more interesting is how they “normalize” the gear. Seems pretty dangerous for a MMO to even tangentially introduce a feature that makes gear progression irrelevant.
  • After all, if they can make gear irrelevant there, why not make it irrelevant everywhere?
    • Other than the obvious “it removes replay value.”
  • “We are currently not planning to have 90 normal dungeons in MoP.” Ballsy. Or lazy, depending.
  • That seems like a clear signal to solo to cap, then group.
  • Or continue soloing forever, by getting VP from questing.

Misc Reactions

  • Pet Battling = Path of the Titans, Dance Studio. I predict vaporware.
  • Then again… they did play the panda card so who knows anymore?
    • “Oh my God. I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. [screaming] You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
  • If Pet Battling is real, $10 says the store pets are more powerful than normal pets.
  • “Pets will be account wide.” Really? Huh. Then I guess the BoE Disco Cub isn’t such a rip-off than it was before.
    • You know there will be pissed-off people who bought more than one to have on multiple characters.
  • “The plan is to get people back into the world, instead of having players roam around Stormwind and Orgrimmar all the time once they reach max level.”
  • And yet no real concrete plans on how they expect to accomplish that.
  • Hell, Scenarios and LFR and Challenges all push people back into instances.
  • Maybe daily quests with VP will get people outdoors, but that certainly isn’t much of “out in the world.”
  • Interesting how there was no mention of new Wintergrasp/Tol Barad-esque zone.

In any case, that about sums it up for now. While a lot of these things sound interesting, Path of the Titans sounded interest too. Time will only tell how many (if any) of these features actually make it to live servers.