Tuesday, February 28, 2012

One-a-Day Plus Something or Other

After spending much of the Cataclysm expansion playing BGs, I've recently returned to my questing roots.

Sure, I've squeaked in BGs, but I've been recently cruising through Azeroth, working on that Alliance Loremaster for Tomakan.  I figure he'll have it by the end of the NCAA Tournament, when most of the people at work seemingly disappear into the ether and I can take a few days of vacation.  (Okay, I'm not going to take vacation days just to play WoW, but it is something to chill out with.)

Horde Loremaster Quintalan has been operating in semi-retirement, occasionally dropping in to Silvermoon or Eversong Woods to stroll the area.  There's always some smart-ass lowbie toon who thinks it's funny to challenge Q to a duel if he's on Sunstrider Isle, but I always refuse those requests.  I've been tempted to send him into AV, but right now he's content to relax and fish for a while.

In Q's absence, Neve has taken over the Horde toon mantle for the time being and has been running both Firelands and Quel'Danas dailies to keep herself busy.  I'm not exactly sure why I decided to start both at the same time, but a mage's teleport ability is invaluable for handling this task.

Comparing the two sets of dailies has been very educational, even though Neve can sleepwalk through the Q'D dailies given the level imbalance.  In fact, the two sets of dailies have demonstrated the evolution in daily design over the lifetime of WoW.

The Quel'Danas dailies came at the end of BC and featured one big element found in some of the more vexing pre-Cata Vanilla questlines: trooping all over the Continent just to kill or collect something.  Does anyone remember the questline that the ghost in front of Stratholme sent you on?  First you had to collect stuff to assemble the ghost detector in order to contact him, then he sent you on quests all over Azeroth (and several times into BRD) to assemble what you needed to defeat the monster in question.  Finally, after crisscrossing Azeroth numerous times you were able to complete the quest chain and return to the capital city for your reward.  While about half of the Quel'Danas dailies were in Q'D proper, the rest sent you all over Outland to collect and/or fight things.

Most people who come to Quel'Danas these days see the sunny location and the numerous dailies to choose from, but it wasn't always the case.  Q'D as released was a rainy beachhead that only changed as enough dailies on a server were completed.  The Shattered Sun gradually retook the island, more dailies opened up, and skies cleared.  It was a great idea in theory, but in practice what happened was that on some servers people were in such a rush to unlock more content that they blew through the daily requirements and unlocked everything in record time.

The next major set of dailies, for the Call of the Crusade patch in Wrath, improved on things a bit by removing the world trigger for a change in the dailies.  Instead, the player progression unlocked the next level of dailies, and the player could move at their own pace.  The variety of locations you could be sent to was reduced to a more manageable level, with the implication that you could do the dailies and then go about your raiding (or whatever).  The trouble was that the same 5-8 quests got monotonous after a short while, and each time you tried to become a champion for another race in your faction you had to go do this all over again.

Blizzard apparently learned from these issues when they designed the dailies for the Firelands, because they brought back the world effect changes, but tried to keep the character oriented approach.  Firelands utilizes phasing to separate out the world event changes, from the growth of the tree at Malfurion's Breach to the addition of different quest types in an effort to prevent stagnation.  This allows the dailies to take place in a more limited locale, reducing the monotony of travel time and increasing the amount of in-game activity.

Variety?  Check.
World altering events?  Check.
Small locale?  Check.
Time length?  Um.....

I've discovered that the Firelands dailies take a lot of time --and I do mean a lot-- when compared to their predecessors.  Even though you can one-shot mobs in Quel'Danas, you still take about 10-20 seconds fighting monsters in Firelands on average.  You'd also have to consider that Firelands is still active as a quest hub, so there are enough other players there that your way from one location to another isn't hindered by having to mow down excessive mobs.  Quel'Danas probably would take about 10 minutes longer if I were at-level, but that still doesn't take as long as the 45 minutes for me to clear all of the Firelands dailies, and I haven't even unlocked everything yet.  Blizzard didn't eliminate the time factor, they just tweaked it so that you had to do more dailies at once for fewer days overall.

The current state of dailies rewards persistence, not skill or gear level.  While persistence in and of itself isn't a bad thing, too many people who don't value persistence at the level required of the Firelands felt obligated to run those dailies to get the rewards at the end, and people don't like being forced into anything.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What's That About Wrestling With a Pig Again?

Most of the time my battleground chat is restricted to announcements.  You know the sort:

"3 inc TP"
"3 to Farm, no 4"
"SHB is secure; need 1-2 more for def"

That's what you see in BG chat, anyway.  I might be shooting the bull with people while holding down a location, but I never stick that in BG chat.  I figure there's no reason why I should clutter up the channel further when nerd ragers are doing that all the time.

Well, last week in an IoC run I broke my rule.

I was on Neve, which must mean something, but I'm not sure what.

Things were not going well for the Horde in this run.  While our D had taken out the glaives early, the Alliance's D inside the keep was doing a good job of preventing us from breaking through.  I was staying put at the Workshop, waiting to escort the siege engine once it became available.

Ding!  One siege engine rolled out into place.

There was nobody around to drive it.

"Need someone to take engine."

"Got an engine ready to go."

Finally a Pally (unfortunately) came riding up, hopped in, and began driving toward the Alliance keep.

We'd all been going to the East Gate, but this guy drove straight to the Main Gate instead.

"East Gate!  East Gate!" I said, then said it again when he started to go to the West Gate.

He pulled the engine out and rotated it toward the East Gate just as the announcement that the Alliance had broken through popped up.  I knew we had a chance if our D could hold just a bit longer, but we needed speed and firepower.

The Pally then started wiggling the engine as if he were dancing.  "Don't I have a hot body?" he yelled.

I gritted my teeth.  "And no brains," I typed as I was dumping all my CDs trying to distract the Alliance defenders.

"Nevelanthana is either a guy or a really ugly bitch!"

Another guy piped up.  "Why don't you STFU and drive the damn engine!"

"You're just jealous of my abs!"

Thankfully, the Alliance slew Agmar a half a minute later, so I didn't have to see his idiotic comments any further.


You know how I've mentioned in the past that if you're a newbie to BGs that AV is an ideal starter because one person isn't going to make that much of a difference?  Well, I've noticed something the past month or so in AV that kind of disproves that assertion.

Whether it's due to sloppy play or some other issue, I've notice that the majority of runs are almost completely of the zerg variety --where the pull starts with two towers/bunkers down-- with almost nobody playing any sort of defense.  In a pure sprint, you're totally  dependent upon things such as Crusader Aura, and that nobody on the other side is setting up any sort of defense.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

If you've got all your CC available, you can hide out in TP or IWB and do just enough to throw the other side off schedule so that your side can pull first.  The last AV run I won on Neve I did just that, hiding out in TP alone, and when the Alliance stormed up the tower I cast Invisibility, drawing them in, and then unloaded with every CD I had.  In a tight area with three mirror images of myself as well as a water elemental, chaos ruled.  Sure, I went down after about a half a minute, but it was just enough of a nudge to throw the Alliance off schedule so we won.

I'm not very proud of that, given that I prefer the turtles, but I'll take the victory.


Free Hint:  If you're a stealthie, dismiss your companion.

I was on Tomakan in AB, holding down the Lumber Mill, when I saw a Perky Pug walk by.

"What the--" I began when a Rogue materialized and began slashing me.

Thankfully, he was an undergeared Rogue, but once I realized what was going on, I kept close tabs on the location of that Pug.  Sure enough, he was lurking out there, waiting for the two of us to drop our guard.  Twice he tried to get the drop on us, but that pug gave us enough warning to lay down some AoE of our own.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How do Cross-MMO Guilds Work?

The advent of TOR and the subsequent creation or TOR branches of WoW guilds has gotten me to thinking. How much to the WoW guilds share with their TOR counterparts?

If you want to use Venn diagrams then so be it:

Just what is inside that intersecting area? Web sites? Vent/Mumble? Just a spot on a guild’s forums? Nothing at all?

The thing I can see is that --even with the best of intentions—the two guilds will grow separate over time. Members may join for one MMO but have no inclination to join the other. Perhaps a guild may have a rule that only their WoW members are allowed to join the TOR guild, but that will create a subgroup within the larger WoW guild that may eventually seek independence from the larger organization.

If both groups are large enough, does it make sense to maintain a single Vent/Mumble server or subdivide into two separate servers? If you’re recruiting for your TOR guild, is it really smart to just have a single section on your guild’s Forums for TOR, or should you create an independent website? (Or something in between?)

I’d imagine that the answers are a whole lot of “it depends”, but I’m curious as to how this little social experiment pans out.

(Side Note:  I'm trying to track down the source of a potential issue with the blog.  At least one blog reader has informed me that some browsers are showing some of the words without spacing between them.  Instead of "this and that" they read "thisandthat" instead.  If you see that issue, let me know so I have a better idea how to fix it.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

The F2P Field is Getting Crowded

Not only is the original EQ going F2P, but Rift is following Blizzard's lead and releasing a Rift Lite, wherein the first 20 toon Levels are free.

To quote that German guy on Laugh-In:   Velly interestink!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

That Great Gig in the Sky

"Nature just gave up and started again.  We weren't even apes then.  We were just these smart little rodents hiding in the rocks.  And when we go, nature will start over.  With the bees, probably.  Nature knows when to give up, David."  --Stephen Falken, Wargames

Lately, I’ve been wondering how WoW will end.  Not the storyline, mind you, but how the game itself will shut down.

(In February, you get some serious brooding done.  Either that or I’m listening to too much Dar Williams and Pink Floyd these days.)

How will it look to those of us who have been around for a while?  Will we know the contraction caused by lost subs when we see it?  I’m reminded of what it would look like for people living in the decline of an empire, and whether the citizens would recognize the decline around them. 

I suppose the first sign would be the lack of activity on the servers themselves.  Of course, at this stage of an expac it would be difficult to notice real subscription loss versus the ‘end of expac blues’, so it would be quite easy to ignore the wide open spaces and empty zones.

But it wouldn’t be easy to ignore server shutdown.

I imagine there’s a certain level of subscription loss on a server that, once crossed, would place the server on a path to consolidation.  Corporations do this all the time to save money; they will go through periods of server expansion up until someone finally checks out the amount of support they’re paying for each server.  Once that happens, a corporation will consolidate as much as it can to retire old and underutilized servers.  Electrical costs, maintenance costs, and other items affecting the bottom line will push Activision, and they will in turn push Blizzard into making their server farm more ‘efficient.’

Eventually, that will happen with the WoW servers.  One day you’ll wake up, login, and find a message stating that Wyrmrest Accord is being folded into Argent Dawn.  Then it will hit you:  WoW really is contracting.

The large population servers may not even notice this contraction going on; they have, after all, a huge number of toons on them, and they wouldn’t have any mass migrations of their own.  It’s only when you check to see server availability on Patch Day and you mutter to yourself that the server list looks smaller than it used to be that you’ll start to wonder.

Tools such as LFR and LFD will hide declines very easily too, giving the appearance that server activity is up when the reality is quite different.

If server activity declines and consolidations occur, what about character/faction transfer?  Those will already be in decline due to LFR and LFD and cross server grouping, but as fewer toons are being played there is less incentive to take advantage of these offerings, so Blizz will see revenues fall in this arena too.
Once a decline begins, it is very difficult to stop it.  Typically, a corporation will cut staff in response to a lack of funding, causing development staffs to scale back release schedules and content, which only creates a feedback loop, accelerating the decline.

But at this critical period a development team needs more funding, not less, to dampen the subscription loss and reverse the long term trend.

In the end, if this cycle goes on for a while, the product will limp along with a small amount of hard core players, until some corporate boss will pull out a PowerPoint stack and demonstrate how cost effective it would be to simply shut the servers down.  People have moved on, he will say, and our resources would be more efficiently deployed on other teams.  Or maybe the corporation would be best served selling the product to a third party who would be more focused on the business than they can hope to achieve.

Such a spinoff, if any, might give an MMO a second chance at life, but these divestitures are often a complete crapshoot.  Either way, it may only stave off the inevitable for a few years.

And then the ghosts of SW:G and other defunct MMOs will gather on a specified day to watch their most well known cousin finally join them in the graveyard of software.  The cycle will be complete, and another will have taken WoW’s place.

(Hopefully I’ll come up with something a bit more uplifting next time, like people acting stupid in Isle of Conquest.)