World of Warcraft: A Proposal for Better Social Mechanics

I have to constantly come back to the topic of social mechanics inside of World of Warcraft since it’s such a prevalent issue that comes up all the time. On one of the forum topics, I think I came up with an interesting idea that I wanted to expand upon here. But we have to start from the beginning of how the social aspect in World of Warcraft needs a massive overhaul.

First, we must start with addressing the notion of how World of Warcraft as an MMORPG emphasizes not just having players within the game, but fostering a sense of community. People from Vanilla often complain about the move towards solo content, LFG, LFR, and ease of leveling has created a detriment to the general community for servers. That’s the primary issue at stake and what we’re seeing is bad behavior and lack of accountability due to anonymous grouping.

I think when Vanilla came out, community had a larger impact because less servers existed, the content was fresh, the number of websites containing information were non-existent or poor in quality and certain other in game tools were not available. As the game exploded, more servers were necessary and the certain lessons were learned over time such as logistics in grouping. Also, sites like wowhead, youtube, etc. made content easier to tackle to the point where people essentially are forced to study beforehand for encounters. In addition, as the game has aged, people who, had the time to play or were involved much more heavily, more than likely have moved on, thus shrinking existing communities over time while new players of all types entered into the picture.

When you look at these elements, the community aspect has taken a massive back seat for convenience and just the maturity of the game. Despite that, community still needs to be considered a huge aspect to the life of the game. Community is what will ultimately determine the life expectancy of the game.

I feel that the motivations in the game at the moment do not provide a lot for much outside of raiding and PVP with regards to harvesting a social environment. Part of the problem in the game is that the way social mechanics are enforced are through the dynamics of the game rather than the UI itself.

What do I mean by that? Well, take raiding and dungeons for instance. These require numerous people to complete. If you do not belong to a raiding guild or lack people inside of your guild to do any of these activities, you’re practically forced to use tools like LFR and LFG. If you do not like LFR nor LFG, then you need to find a guild. But the Looking for Guild tool requires that you do not belong to a guild. It would be nice to explore guilds while belonging to a guild.

But that’s the point of this. We need to improve these in game tools. I think using 3rd party resources demonstrates the weakness of the game. It’s easy to tell players to go Google something these days, but we cannot make any assumptions about the player’s knowledge of the game. The game in that regard has to presume that someone starting out has absolutely no knowledge of the game and needs to be introduced to all the different aspects. While the game play itself with regards to interfaces is a topic in itself, I think what hasn’t been emphasized so well is the social/community aspect. So this is where I have some ideas.

The first is that each server needs to have a topic. They need personalities. There’s only a few that have real distinct personalities like Mal’Ganis or Moon Guard. Other servers are just too simplistic. Imagine a new player starting out and looking at this overwhelming list. When they see things like PVP, PVE or high/medium population realms, will it be clear what they’re getting into? Do they know what kind of people exist on the server?

Here, we need clear definitions of what these servers imply. Take for instance, Oceanic servers. The time zone difference is one contributing factor that may not be clear at the start. But add the actual players on that server and it might be a big selling point for those who want to interact with people from Australia or New Zealand.

In this regard as World of Warcraft is a goal oriented game, we need to define the goals of each server and the player. Perhaps, you could have a realm defined as a high end raiding realm where top guilds exist. Or a hardcore realm where competition is cut throat. Or maybe a very social realm where people who want to meet like minded gamers exist. Maybe quiet servers where players who prefer solo play can exist on a low population area.

Again, I must emphasize that the game needs a match making type of service at the realm and guild level at the very start. This is where the community can contribute in helping to define the goals of the realm. A survey which accurately describes players’ goals on a server can then define how the realm’s behavior is.

Guilds have this function but I don’t think it’s all that useful. For instance, I see requests all the time but there’s no easy way to invite people when they’re off line. So most of the time, these requests seem like a waste. Either that or the players end up finding another guild. Part of my criticism is that what gets defined in that aspect I believe can only be set by the guild master. Yet just having a bunch of check boxes really doesn’t provide enough information for an accurate match making service. It really doesn’t allow for easy inspection to determine if a guild is right for that person.

One thing to do is take the guild activity feed and make it more public. That along with seeing the number of people in the guild, the people online and general participation. You need some indicator to demonstrate if the guild’s description accurately is backed up. I think people might waste a lot of time guild hopping without finding something that suits them. Having a public sampling can provide insight as to if a guild is worth joining.

The other thing is that there’s little within the guild feed itself that’s useful. There’s no interaction. I feel that it’s just a gratuitous vanity feed that probably can be depressing for less active guilds. Also, the items that do get promoted are pretty selective like winning an epic or hitting a major level milestone. When that occurs, people might not even offer a “grats!” in the game.

So with regards to the feed, there really needs to be more involved. Make what people do more significant. Then provide something like a “Grats!” button to up vote the activity. Perhaps add a comment field and other Facebook-like features. I might even go as far as to say that they should integrate this into Facebook and/or Twitter. One feature that might be cool that goes along with this is a replay feature showing just how someone received that achievement. Perhaps it could be a micro clip that can be shared to one’s youtube channel or some other video sharing service.

Another thing discussed on the forums was improving Cross Realm Zones. I feel that the only major use for myself was when my friends on Stormreaver could join me and vice versa. Now, that feature is disabled as a result of the time differential, I feel that it’s just a buggy mess. My big problem with Cross Realm Zones is that the intent is screwed up. The only thing that the designers seemed to want is more people in a zone. But what’s the real point of that unless there’s positive consequences? For PVP realms, it’s utter hell. For PVE realms, you get resource nightmares potentially. Either way, it looks like a negative to me.

The problem I see is that people are forcibly dropped into a zone. But there’s no possible long term consequence. Sure, you *might* meet up with a player you like. However, I suspect that most end up just trying to solo content or battle for resources. My feeling is that your only mechanism for social interaction is a lame chat interface. The chat interface is too old and needs a massive upgrade. Anyone can start going /1, “Trolollololooolloll. umadbrah?” But what’s the point?

I’d like to see more of an in game bulletin board where people can show activity. For instance, let’s say there’s a central place where players can access a BBS (faction specific). That BBS would act like an advertisement. You can have things like, “Person XXX is on quest chain YYY.” Then like my improved feed idea, you could have people give +1, comments, an invite to group option, etc. Perhaps, there’s even an option to add as friend.

Either way, that dramatically improves using a crappy IRC interface for looking for people. Maybe the bulletin board can have a calendar feature similar to the calendar aspect on the map window. Let’s say you’re in Dragonblight and you pen in something like, “Nax run” which is then scheduled for Saturday at 2pm PST. When the event is about to happen, it’ll send you an invite alert. If Blizzard was smarter, they’d make this into a mobile feature which could notify your phone.

More complicated things could be taking the raid and putting up achievements that people want to accomplish as part of it. You could have +1 to vote on those who want to go for those achievements. Or maybe the goal would be just transmogs and/or legendaries (in the case of a Black Temple run).

When you sign up, you might have your profile linked. So here you can get a group that matches what you might describe in a profile you set up on your toon. I know RPG realms have profiles but these should do more than just have flat text description boxes to fill in what your toon is about. But once you have that information, players can then be grouped together based on goals and personality types. Overall, that might help in providing a better overall social experience.

 

World of Warcraft: How I Am Preparing For Patch 5.2

More than likely Patch 5.2 will be released next week. Today, Blizzard released a new preview video of the upcoming patch and many articles in the past week have set the tone in getting our appetites wet for battle. Yet, the question is how one can prepare for the upcoming patch.

Most of the patch will be geared towards the new island, world bosses and raid content. So everything is going to be high end. With all of my alts on the sidelines, I decided to pursue leveling as opposed to dailies. Having two toons, one ranged and one melee, minimally geared for the upcoming LFR, I felt that I had room to focus on leveling. My paladin is mostly geared with just a weapon that needs a major upgrade while my hunter is someone that I’ve been struggling with in terms of finding a few more upgrades. At this point, I just felt it wasn’t worth spending more time than necessary doing dailies and just have them queue for LFRs to obtain whatever last minute items that they can.

In the meantime, I will focus on leveling the rest of my alts as much as I can prior to the patch. The idea is that I figured with the upcoming crafted PVP gear shifting to 458 ilvl, it might just be better to wait a little bit until the end game patch to really push into high gear (yes, pun intended). More than likely, a few more patches will introduce 1-2 more tiers of crafted PVP gear. Unless they make those purchasable via gold rather than Spirits of Harmony, I see no reason to spend any effort until the last patch is announced to gear my remaining guys via the crafted PVP gear (except through AH means). If the gear is cheap on AH, I may consider but more than likely it’ll be expensive initially.

But having 10 90s once again will provide numerous benefits. One, I’ll eventually be able to have all professions maxed out and covered. Two, I will be able to select and choose which alts can do LFRs for a given week. Three, I’ll have more farms available and more selections of materials overall. Next, I’ll have more people who can get into Sha of Anger raids. Every week that a toon does not participate is a loss in easy potential loot and gold. In addition, I want to get people potentially prepared for the next release. One thing that I do like about Mist of Pandaria was the addition of a useful vender in the Jade Forest which sells decent green gear. It’s unknown if Blizzard will implement a similar device for the next expansion. I wouldn’t count on it, so I think it’s better to go in with the expectation that you might need decent gear to survive. Lastly, I won’t have to make a desperate push at the end of the expansion and waste too much time on leveling and last minute gearing. It’s better to get everyone up asap than doing it late in the game.

One thing I’m discovering as I level is that the leveling process overall, while monotonous, has gotten a lot smoother. I still die on occasion but because the questing experience is fresh, I can zoom through each zone knowing what to expect. The other benefit is that I’m noticing where to spend my time. Some areas have optional quests. I realize that I can be a completionist in doing each section, but in the end, this can be a complete waste of time. The reason being that once you reach sufficient experience and gear, the next zone ends up providing more. For instance, in the Krasarang Wilds, the little island in the south eastern section is completely optional. I find that doing this island is unnecessary except for a minor experience boost. Same with the Hemet Nessingway safari (unless you’re a skinner). However, you’re really better off just moving to Kun-Lai Summit (in that situation) since the experience and gear is far better.

That isn’t to say to completely skip an entire questing hub once you hit a certain level. Some aspects might be required to complete so that you can access more of the high end zone stuff (such as doing most of the Dread Wastes). You can always go back to finish up the zone, but understanding what is important and what isn’t helps in the efficiency aspect. The main concept is to minimize wasting time.

One thing that I’m discovering is that you can probably hit 90 in roughly 5 days time with reasonable space in between. Once you get into a groove, it’s really not that hard to burst through each zone rapidly. Again, the key aspect is to avoid being a completionist and strive to push through. Set goals like achieving one level/day or completing a zone per day. When you do that, it makes the whole process a lot faster.

I probably won’t finish some zones like Dread Wastes nor Townlonge Steppes for all my toons. My reasoning is that I prefer to focus on getting most people to 90 asap. I want to have that flexibility in choosing which class to play and go with in any group. Lastly, if and when an expansion occurs, I won’t have to backtrack as much. Most certainly, there will be experience nerfs for older content to get people into the newer areas but it just doesn’t feel the same.

 

World of Warcraft: Death Knight at 90 and Moving Shaman Up

I managed to hit level 90 earlier on my death knight. I figured that it was important to get a few more toons up to 90 before the next patch hits just to start preparing them. I quickly got some PVP gear, along with the 476 chest piece and the crafted 2 handed weapon. Also, I managed to do a last minute Sha of Anger fight, which was good since that gave him some nice entry level epic boots. As of now, he’s sitting at ilvl 451, which isn’t bad considering he just hit level 90.

Although I was tempted to get him started on dailies, I thought better of it. I noticed that you can probably do 1 1/2 toons with regards to dailies. Probably, you could do more but it’s mentally very taxing to run the gamut. The minimum you should focus on are the Tillers, or at least working on your farm to get motes (especially for crafting professions). I think outside of running Sha of Anger, I’ll probably keep him on the sidelines for a while until I have a few more level 90s.

More of my focus is going to be gearing my druid since she’s closer to getting into Heart of Fear as well as my hunter. My hunter now is at ilvl 480, so he’ll meet the bare minimal requirements of getting into the next LFR. For my paladin, I’ll probably just run Terrace of Endless Spring in the hope of obtaining a weapon. It’s pretty hopeless but a friend of mine managed to secure his weapon for the first time. So I’m praying that I’ll get it in the next run or two.

In the meantime, I think I’ll level my shaman. One thing I did learn just recently was that enhancement shamans are pretty much shafted with regards to gear. Crafted gear in particular. I’m a little miffed about the situation as I prefer playing enhancement over elemental. So I’ll have to figure out what to do when the time is right. Overall, it looks like I’ll be force to use suboptimal gear when starting out with a dagger and the 450 weapon from the Arena of Annihilation. Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of great hope in pushing him forward quickly for the current patch. However, with the 458 crafted gear coming out, I might be able to just get a few pieces here and there then purchase whatever is needed to get the bare minimum for Mogu’shan Vaults LFR. That said, I might do other things with him since he is my primary enchanter and has max level enchanting already. I hope to build rep so that he can eventually receive the high end weapon enchants. But that might be some ways away.

The rest of my classes will end up fairing better. All my spellcasters already will have an epic weapon, which is great. If I switched my shaman to elemental, I could use that as well. But I probably won’t since I’m not as familiar with elemental as I am with enhancement. I heard that elemental had some issues soloing in Mist of Pandaria. I’ve had a lot of problems initially with my boomkin and it wasn’t until I obtained better gear that she started to do okay for herself. I imagine that elemental has the same issues.

If I manage to level my shaman to 90 soon, I’ll probably switch over to my warlock or warrior. I am somewhat interested in playing a spell caster outside of a boomkin since it’ll be my first class that I’ll craft my own cloth gear. I’ve heard good things about warlocks but haven’t had an opportunity to give mine a try since Cataclysm. I haven’t decided whether to go demonology or afflication. But a lot of people have said that the new demonology spec is a lot of fun. At least, I’ll have a good weapon by then.

World of Warcraft: Tank or DPS for Leveling?

Currently, I am homing in on level 90 with my death knight in World of Warcraft. That’ll mark my 4th level 90. It took me slightly longer to work on my death knight as I had prioritized my other 3 90’s much higher. However, getting slightly bored of dailies and with the patch approaching quickly, I figured it might be better to spend time on developing my other toons rather than focus completely on gearing at this stage.

That said, the other major issue I had in being somewhat hesitant in leveling my death knight was getting occasionally frustrated during the leveling process. Having already gone through every quest a few times, there’s nothing really new to excite me. More than that though there are certain areas in the game that I completely dread. But in a few instances, I pretty much was ready to throw my keyboard against my window.

Most of my frustration revolved around choosing a leveling spec. Since I primarily DPS, I went with frost especially since I geared him more heavily during Cataclysm. While the gear lasted up until Kun-Lai summit, some areas were tougher as a pure DPS class. Areas with high mob density would slow me down since I would attempt to maneuver around mobs to avoid unnecessary fights. Yet in some instances there wasn’t any possibility to avoid them. More than once I found myself running back to my corpse as the mobs ganged up on me and I found that my death strike wasn’t doing enough to keep me alive.

As I moved into Kun-Lai summit, there was one area I knew which had some nasty high density mob action. So I switched over to blood, having selected both DPS and tanking gear as I quested. Lo and behold my problems instantly went away. Not only was I surviving with ease, I could bypass certain quests several times faster due to the fact that I could group up mobs without worrying about dying. My DPS did take a slight hit but overall I found myself progressing faster because I no longer worried about survival.

That leads me into the theory that tanking specs tend to go a bit further because of the survivability factor. Part of the problem is accidentally pulling mobs or being quickly overwhelmed. While a DPS spec can down mobs faster, I feel that the overall time in comparison is comparable because you have less down time either healing yourself or resting.

Now, this may change a bit depending on the class. For instance, at one point, I ended up switching my pally from protection to retribution in the middle. I think his damage output wasn’t high enough and that I still saw him taking a fair amount of damage. I might have to experiment with this a bit when I get the chance to level my warrior. I did level her mostly as protection back during Cataclysm and found the spec to be loads of fun.

Regardless, this is primarily for leveling. Once I hit 90, I’ll switch back over to frost for gearing since I don’t want to enter instances as a tank.

Why We Need to Move to Micro Thinking Rather Than Macro

Something hit me the other day when a friend of mine sent me an article about the way Japan’s economic situation in reality is better than people feel. The article in question was more of an economics one and uses numbers to paint a rosy picture. However, the article itself is flawed in its approach by using data and looking at long term projections rather than anecdotal aspects. As a result, I feel that this type of thinking, viewing “big picture” elements is actually hurting the world and people. This is why I believe we need to move from the “big picture” thinking, or macro elements, to micro elements, which is geared towards individuals and very concrete depictions of reality.

My belief is that the world and humans are by nature fascinated more with macro or large scale as opposed to the micro elements. Macro implies epic, vastness, empires, massive progress. However, I believe that such lofty thinking puts too much emphasis at such a level of abstraction that it ignores the tiny cracks that slowly whittle away at this superstructure notion of thought.

Going back to the article on Japan’s economics, I feel that based on conversations with numerous friends that there’s still quite a bit of problems that can subvert empirical models. For instance, many foreigners that I know are trying to leave Japan. The work environment, high layoffs, job moves, language barrier and radiation especially are all elements that are making Japan an extremely unattractive place to be. Once the foreigner workforce leaves Japan, other markets will begin to prosper and make Japan even more unattractive for the short term investor.

Another example is corporate structures and “too big to fail” systems like banks. Having worked at Citigroup in the past, I came to realize that companies like that end up having problems of progress because of all the regulations and internal bureaucracy. Citigroup’s original vision was akin to the portal concepts of the late 1990’s internet like Yahoo. The problems in attempting to grow to a monolithic structure is that Citigroup faced all the regulations from each business unit. So the banking aspect would be forced to be compliant equal to their equities side as a result of their Solomon Smith Barney acquisition. The net effect was the sheer tar pit engendered, unending levels of paper trails, nightmarish audits and a general lack of transparency at all levels. While the vision was ideal, in practice it was a disaster.

Next we come to countries like the US which is facing turmoil on numerous fronts. The biggest two issues are economics and ideologies. Within the US, there is an even greater fracturing as states themselves like California find unenviable problems attempting to govern their own budgets. Yet when you drill down to some of the lowest levels like handling someone with disability like my mom, the government demonstrates that it’s out of touch because people like my mom become just a number to them.

Yet we face this as individuals too. I’m certain many people out there prefer to look at life from the 10000 perch from an ivory tower. We like to plan long term, believing that some day we too will be the traditional rock star on stage with our babes, fancy cars, heroin parties and Walk of Fame moments. Of course, reality is that most of us never will accomplish any of that (although most probably will attempt to live like that and end up broke, dead or in jail).

This is why as a species we must move away from this train of thought. It’s deadly and impractical. We need to look at things in front of us, deal with those problems immediately and concentrate on what’s around us. If we don’t, we end up crashing into a bus that blindsides us from out of nowhere. I think Yoda said it wisest when he warned Luke Skywalker about his little futile expedition in trying to save his friends; more specifically how Luke needed to worry about everything right now and what’s in front of him rather than looking to the future. Of course, Luke got his hand cut off from being impulsive so Yoda was right after all.

But like what Yoda was saying, we need to look at things right here in front of us. Focus on smaller things with more details to really figure out better solutions. I’m a huge fan of Jean-Jaques Rousseau on his view of socialism. His belief was to focus on smaller communities as the intimacy between people would prevent hostility and create understanding. Large systems lack transparency because of the numerous levels of elements that clutter things. In turn, people quickly become confused or overwhelmed (this is why divide-and-conquer solutions are popular in programming)

I think if society starts focusing on the concrete problems in people’s daily lives as opposed to get rich pyramid schemes, which seem all too common, things will gradually improve. We need a stable system in place before we can start worrying about the future.

World of Warcraft: Improving the Valor Point System Numbers

With patch 5.2 around the corner, one major retraction Blizzard has incorporated is removing the upgrade system. The way Blizzard discussed this situation is that it’s more or less a temporary removal so there’s a chance we’ll be seeing them in the future. I think that the upgrade system is an interesting one, but the big problem is that the numbers involved in the upgrade system are wrong. In fact, Valor Points in general are handed out at a stingy rate. It’s so bad that a few instances will now reward bonus Valor Points for completing them.

The problem in general is that the amounts handed out are incorrect. Blizzard’s whole “slow down” approach for Mist of Pandaria has been enforcing grinding on too many levels. The reward system in place is so miniscule compared to the effort placed into the game that when you do actually win an item or purchase something, the psychological effect of obtaining that item is lost. The issue is that the time and effort to reward in place at the moment is completely skewed and must be fixed.

One earlier proposal I had was to change dailies into weeklies and providing a larger flat bonus for a faction. In that manner, the amount of work to complete each hub is reduced so that a player does not feel overwhelmed and can manage their time more effectively.

Another suggestion that I am proposing here is to increase the Valor Point reward for dailies from 5 to 15. The problem with dailies is that there are essentially two primary reasons to do them: faction reputation and valor. Gold is a consequence of the dailies and only factor in as an effect of doing large quantities. However, gold is something that is easily obtainable, therefore I believe that not everyone would be motivated in doing dailies just for this aspect.

Valor works like gold in this respect but is more important as it offers people the ability to purchase better gear that is exclusive. However, the key about Valor Points is that it caps and is limited in the methods by which you can obtain it. Therefore, it is a motivating point in terms of doing dailies. Yet the current amount is pretty tiny compared to the amount of time certain dailies require.

Reputation is pretty much a must have for all intents and purposes. So people will do dailies to get the reputation to push into higher content levels. Once you hit the max reputation though, I feel that the reasons to do dailies drastically is reduced, leaving only Valor Points as the key aspect to do them.

However, with the current model, the Valor Points of 5 is just too low to do quite a few of them. If the 15/daily sounds high, my suggestion to Blizzard is to raise the point total upon reaching exalted with a faction. That way the grind isn’t as horrible and provides more motivation to continue running dailies once you hit your reputation cap.

The other aspect for Valor Points I want to discuss is the upgrade system. As of now, the upgrade system provides another way to spend Valor Points. It feels as though the system was primarily aimed at high end raiders who manage to obtain gear from raiding and end up with an excess of Valor Points. Despite the intent, this system pretty much took the carrot-on-a-stick concept way too far. The biggest issue is that even if you raid, there’s no guarantee that an item you truly need will drop. So your Valor Points end up becoming a compensation device to purchasing slightly worse statistic gear.

As a result, someone who wishes to really push their toons out never can reach this lofty goal since they won’t be able to accumulate enough points to maximize each slot. Secondly, the other problem is that the gear ends up going to waste if say you obtain one item one week, you upgrade it then find an upgrade the following week. This system might work for heroic gear since Justice Points pretty much are worthless. But again the cost-to-work ratio on higher end gear operates on skewed level.

The proper value point level for Valor Points upgrades is 150 per upgrade. The thing is that gearing will take a considerable amount of time no matter what. With RNG at work, it can take longer than one may like. You can easily go several weeks without a single drop, even with bonus rolls. But your compensation point is being able to purchase Valor gear.

That makes your Valor Points critical in terms of usage. Everything must be pre-planned far in advance before you can use them. That 750 point upgrade won’t get you as far as a 1250 ring, for instance. Getting 500 more points for a piece of gear psychologically is far easier than blowing the current 750 points you have. So then the actual usage might not be as significant for this feature (hence why they are going to hiding).

150 points though does make upgrading gear seem worth while. If you’re currently walled behind reputation but somehow obtained a few or two of epics, then 150 points would be worth spending if it means that you can get into the next LFR content if you’re missing a few ilvls.

For myself, I find obtaining Valor Points quite difficult overall when you’re starting out. And it can be difficult in sustaining that pace because of everything you have to run to really maximize your amount. The only way to make this more feasible if by not being cheap.

One last thing regarding the whole notion/myth of epic equipment. A lot of people complain about how epics have lost their meaning over time. Most of the people who do the complaining are vanilla players. The truth is that epic gear has no meaning symbolically because there’s a clear function behind it, which is the relevancy towards progress. When Vanilla came out initially, I don’t think Blizzard had a clear understanding of what it could evolve into and as a result created an extremely stingy system that over time is gradually improving. I feel that Blizzard acted conservative in the early days in fear over subscription loss. But because of the game quality, Blizzard saw an increase in subscribers.

Because of this increase, Blizzard really should stop fearing loss of subscribers due to quick content consumption. Part of that fear is handing out epics in greater quantity. If epics had merely a symbolic significance, I would agree with their viewpoint. That’s why Legendaries exist. But epics themselves are pretty much a requirement for doing game content as they aid in expediting what one can do within the game.

I feel that these Vanilla players ended up getting brain washed on how MMORPGs should behave. The problem is that games are just games and are there for entertainment. However, games should not impose extreme time dedication to perform at an adequate level. In short, those people really just need to get out more often and find a real job then come back and see how the game feels. Same with Blizzard employees.

World of Warcraft: Ganking, World PVP and Solutions

There has been a lot of heated debate on the forums regarding World PVP and ganking. Ganking boils down to camping, picking on lowbies and ganging up on people or in general griefing others. While Blizzard has a limited stance on defending ganking, the truth is that it won’t go away. However, sadly enough there isn’t much to discourage camping and lowbie griefing and that’s where a better solution overall is needed.

I used to belong to a PVP server, Ner’zhul because my friend was there. I had little idea what PVP meant at that time since it was my first time playing through. While leveling, I found it incredibly difficult at times since people would occasionally camp me or interfere while I was questing. As a result, I ended up grinding most of my levels via dungeons and lost any opportunity to experience most of the vanilla content, which still bothers me to this day. I think if I had a better idea at the time what PVP meant I probably would’ve started on a PVE server.

But the whole experience left a terrible taste in my mouth. I’m still very hesitant about joining a PVP server for that reason. I think that World PVP has it’s place but the reality of what goes on is something I’m not certain Blizzard intended. I think originally Blizzard felt World PVP was, “Hey, there’s a mining spot. Some asshat is stealing it. I’m going to kick him in the shin and get it back!” In other words, what you see in normal Warcraft. Either that or “There’s 10 guys over there. My 10 guys will then meet them in the middle!”

Unfortunately, neither scenario is what PVP really is. PVP brings out the worst in people and surfaces the lowest of the low. It is the lowest common denominator in mankind and it rears its ugly head at all turns whenever brought up. Yet it exist and we have to figure out how to make it less detestable in its current form. I mean, essentially you’re enforcing gang mentality in World PVP, so the way I see it Blizzard is advocating gangs. That’s why I think they need to re-think the way World PVP works because it does contribute to a mental sickness.

Going back to the forums, the main thing discussed has been a penalty for ganking. The best thread I found talked about the idea of bounty hunters. In short, rewarding those who manage to kill people that rise up in infamy. It’s a really good idea and is something I considered in my own RPG that I’m developing. The primary difference is that in my RPG you could become a traitor to the alignment/faction you belong to, causing others to hunt you down. Here, the proposed idea was a reward in getting rid of the ganker with a point system.

Someone countered that the system would eventually lead to point trading. I can certainly see something like that occurring on a server. Also, how would this work for Cross Realm Zones? Thus, I came up with a one up solution that is similar to that and the older dishonorable kills. The idea is that consistent griefers need to be handled. That’s where the real trouble lies. To do this, I would create a 3 strikes type of rule where the griefer in question would essentially become a red mob to all if they grief someone more than 3 times in a row for a certain period. They lose the ability to communicate with their faction and can be attacked by their faction. If they are in their own faction’s zone, all NPCs for that faction will become hostile towards that person and attack on sight.

This would only occur outside in the world, not in battlegrounds nor in major cities since there is the city defender aspect. The penalty will occur for level disparities and whatever the top level is for that expansion and anything lower. For instance, a level 90 who has top PVP gear would receive a penalty even against an 89. The idea is to ensure a level playing ground.

Those who might ask why a person would be ostracized from their own faction. It’s simple: they dishonored their faction. Even Garrosh would frown upon ganking. I would impose this penalty for about an hour. That way they can still gank but won’t be recognizable from a hostile mob. I think that has some interesting consequences.

Blizzard: Where Does It Go from Here in 2013?

Today, Blizzard announced that the current PVP season for World of Warcraft is ending on March 5, creating speculation that the new patch most likely will be in effect about the same period. If, indeed, the patch does get deployed during that week, we should think about how this unfolds, considering that the next expansion for Starcraft 2 will be released the following week.

With the Starcraft 2 expansion on the horizon, much of Blizzard’s marketing campaign will most likely be covering the expansion over the next patch. While the patch is a major one, it merely signals the next tier of raiding content but does not conclusively end the current World of Warcraft expansion. As a result, it begs the question how long the current expansion will last and what other plans Blizzard will have for 2013?

Outside of the Starcraft 2 expansion and Blizzcon, which is scheduled for November now, there have been no other major releases for this year. Usually, Blizzcon ends up being a major marketing campaign for Blizzard as they use it as a platform to announce the next generation of games and expansions.

So far, what we do know concretely is that Blizzard does intend to eventually follow up with Diablo 3 in terms of an expansion and that Blizzard is secretly working on a project, only known as Titan. Where Titan falls in terms of a game genre in the Blizzard universe is anyone’s guess at this point. Could it be a possible futuristic MMORPG that will some day eclipse World of Warcraft? For that I have little answers as of now.

The rest of the year more than likely will see most of the focus go to Mist of Pandaria and the salvaging of the disaster called Diablo 3. Mist feels like there’s a lot of life to the game since it heavily emphasized a more grinding aspect compared to Cataclysm. Story-wise, the game is far more open ended and without naming an ultimate end game boss, it allows itself to progress as far as it needs to. At the moment, the only thing we can assume is that Hellscream Garrosh will most likely be the closest thing to an end game boss for this expansion as Blizzard admitted themselves.

In between that point and patch 5.2 is where we’re allowed for some degree of speculation. Considering that a new island is being added in patch 5.2, I’m certain there’s even more room for growth in Pandaria as a continent and certainly from a storyline viewpoint. In looking at how Wrath of the Lich King provided roughly 4 tiers of raiding, we potentially could see a similar amount here before addressing Hellscream Garrosh as a raid boss. With patch 5.1, we’re only dropped tidbits of the developing storyline, which alludes to how the horde leaders start expressing their dissatisfaction with Garrosh. Also, we get to see Thrall make his long awaited return in a cameo.

I think patch 5.3 might return back to that storyline and merge the next tier of raiding towards the other aspects being hinted at here and there. For instance, the Klaxxi, upon reaching exalted, reveal that the “old gods are not the gods you think of”. Could this aspect allude to something that will occur in this expansion? What does the Thunder King have to do with this? How does the Sha forces work along these lines? And what about the Mogu? Lastly, how does this tie into Garrosh’s admiration for the Mogu and wanting their artifacts?

I feel as though the expansion will probably come to a close around Blizzcon just so that they can announce their next major expansion. I don’t think we’ll see anything new on the World of Warcraft front in the form of an expansion for the rest of the year so most of the content coming out will be major content releases.

Then there’s Diablo 3. Diablo 3 feels like it’s in a state of limbo. While the latest patch 1.0.7 finally introduces a player vs player system, it’s not the one that everyone really expected. However, I felt that this patch was an experimental one to see how the Diablo 3 PVP world would react. Unfortunately, the way it was setup honestly does not provide a lot of staying power since there was little compelling elements to it. I do think that we will see an arena system this year but it might not be for a few months while Blizzard gathers data on the current PVP parts.

Beyond arenas, I can’t see much that Blizzard can do to improve the game outside of adding more drops to the game. The crafting aspect shows that Blizzard can easily add simple stat content. Outside of the horrible DRM online-all-the-time system, the game’s other massive flaw is the terrible drops and overall RNG.  I think Blizzard needs to combat this even more since top players end up copying each other around specs and gear. I think the talent system is pretty deep rooted which leaves the gear aspect that can be improved. I feel other types of legendaries that are useful should be added to the game. Move away from Witching Hours, Mempos, etc. and provide more gear that adds a variety of flavor to a stagnate game.

Overall on the Diablo 3 front, Blizzard really needs to address those issues before focusing on the next expansion. The arena thing should be something they deliver sooner than later as they had promised that at the beginning of the game. They would certainly lose a ton of faith if it becomes part of the next expansion.

Lastly, there’s Titan. All we have is a title and tons of speculation. Some say it’s an existing IP linked to a current title. My belief is that we’ll finally the connection between the Tarren and Tauren along with the perpetually non-existent but always mentioned infamous Cow Level.

World of Warcraft: Adding Age Based Realms

There was an interesting question posted on Wow Insider today about possible age limits in the World of Warcraft. While there was no real definitive answer in the post itself, people who responded (mostly a mature audience and some with children) had strong feelings about how this should be handled if imposed.

My feeling is that there really should be realms that are age based. I would like to see more kid friendly, teen and adult/mature realms made available. This element probably would resolve a lot of issues with regards to the disparity of people on a realm. One of my guildies commented that on our realm, Saurfang, there seems to be more mature people. I have met a few younger players, but the immaturity level feels far below that of a US realm. Another guildie agreed and shared her sentiments.

Yet I still see the usual immature posts and trolls on my realm from time-to-time too. It just occurs at a different time. My GM mentioned it occurs “when the kids come home from school.” Mostly, a ton of anal jokes and whatnot. So the issue is not exactly as US only problem.

Thus, I want to see more realms with an age barrier. Maybe they could have a free-for-all type of realm, but age based realms should be an option. Outside of the age aspect, I would have other age based features enabled like enforced language filters, toned down violence (like blood, etc.). Probably to enforce this I would have certain questions that the player answer prior to being allowed to create a toon on the realm. For instance, a person’s credit card, authenticator, date of birth and other questions to validate the person’s age.

Obviously, such a system won’t be without flaws but I imagine that the community should have some control to monitor their population. I think RP servers do perform certain levels of monitoring on their player base. Similarly, an age based server should reinforce certain standards by the community as well.

Some people may think this idea is a form of censorship. I think there’s a fine line between censorship and creating more appropriate communities. We already see labels on games with ratings. Why not something within the game? I mean, considering some of the chats that go on in trade, I feel that those aspects are not good in exposing to younger people.

At the same time, if younger people feel that they can perform maturely within a community that might be allowable. But the person should gain the trust of the community over a period of time.

Conversely among of all this is preventing something like pedophilia in the game. Naturally, if a realm is defined as a children based zone, there needs to be ways to safe guard the realm from crazy adults. With this regard, it might be slightly harder to enforce because adults might have better access to information and be more savvy in terms of locating information to fool any questions for a screening. Also, the community itself would not be able to reinforce proper behavior since the adult in question might be good at persuading those that he/she is a child. The game still runs this risk in the present form, so I think Blizzard might eventually want to consider additional measures in preventing something like child abductions, etc. from occurring by somehow enforcing a method to properly identify players and creating a safety zone for children.

At any rate, the looseness of the game at present is a major social issue. I think Blizzard has done a poor job creating social bifurcations based on age. There needs to be more done for everyone practically. While there is some level of reinforcement at the personal level, there are little to no mechanics within the game to handle this aspect. And this should be addressed some day.

Game Design Theory: Working with the Environment

I came back reading yet another massive complaint regarding Diablo 3 from someone who is a fan of Path of Exile. While I have become disillusioned with Blizzard these past few years, the thing I started to think about was how to improve the ideas in a game like Diablo 3. The truth is outside of the just re-inventing Diablo 2 with better graphics, you cannot easily progress a game series without touching off the legions of fans. Still you can innovate on different levels and today I came up with one such idea: increased interaction with the environment.

Diablo 3 made the environment destructable. It was a pretty cool feature that ended up not having as much impact (pun not intended) as the game designers probably intended towards the end. But the idea of doing things to parts of the environment is a great idea for any RPG style game. Part of the problem in RPG games is that there’s a lot of focus on abilities, which end up becoming +/- damage modifiers. The actual descriptions of these abilities may seem cool are merely reflections against other modifiers in the game like armor, resistances, etc. In the end, this aspect of the game becomes a complex version of rock-paper-scissors, which is why it grows old after a while.

However, what we don’t see enough of in games, especially environmentally aware games, is how these abilities affect the world around us. Most game engines that have some environmental sentience deal more with physics than actual consequences to an environment. For instance, let’s take the fireball spell. If you were to cast this spell in an enclosed area, the blast would set afire anything it touches, including yourself. While paper and pencil games can easily account for these affects via the imagination and the mercy of a DM’s discretion, most game engines do not.

This is a huge area of exploration for actually making abilities more meaningful. What if you cast a frost bolt at a beer mug? Shouldn’t the beer instantly freeze? When you create a flame wall inside a building, shouldn’t the entire building burn down? What if you’re inside a town and this is done? Shouldn’t the residents get pissed, take up arms and ban you from the town? What about taking a huge hammer and repeatedly smashing it against a wall? Wouldn’t that eventually break the hammer or the wall with enough persistence? Couldn’t a person doing this build up strength and constitution?

The other aspect is the way one can interact with the environment. Right clicking or hitting the space bar once your character is adjacent to an object has become more or less the de facto manner in which you manipulate your surroundings. The best we get is some visual cue from the result of that. I can see from a developer’s point of view how this eventually became the most efficient way of conveying how one interacts with objects. Yet it feels so limited and there rarely are cases in which the game provides additional methods to work with the environment. A good example of where this works is in how Skyrim handles lock picking. Most games that have locks pretty much rely on a character’s skill or inventory item (such as lock picks, keys or spells) to get passed this. Skyrim did a great job in simulating a lock pick exercise while combining the other factors in determining the ease of bypassing the lock.

Obviously, you can go overboard with this design. I believe herbalism in early World of Warcraft days had some chance for failure of PICKING A FUCKING FLOWER. Now, this wouldn’t be an issue if picking something off the ground involved more than a simple right click. But doing multiple right clicks because someone lacks the skill is not an environmental enhancement.

There’s also making the environment interactive beyond quests. Perhaps, I’ve just been playing World of Warcraft and Diablo too much lately. But it feels that items are either quest based, combat based or useless. But take a bucket in Ultima 6 where you can milk a cow, then churn it and convert it into butter. If you go through the whole process, you can make cheese and sell it, creating your own sustainable economy. It could still be a grind but there was a logical harmony in that environment.

Another thing is self-created quests. Imagine that you are grinding in an area and manage to kill off a population of spiders. Perhaps, another creature depending on those spiders for feeding ends up dying off slowly so you must do something to correct that. You can artificially create a specific area, spider and creature to do this quest within the game, but I’m talking about far more complex ecological mechanics.

Or what if you’re a wizard who drained all the water from an oasis in order to cast a spell? Perhaps other denizens of that oasis require it. So players might have to figure out how to restore the oasis.

Part of the problem with games these days with regards to RPGs is that they’re almost exclusively combat oriented. As a result, the world gets largely ignored in favor of killing things and increasing the efficiency of killing those things.  The world itself isn’t dynamic enough and relies on illogical mechanisms like respawning to keep the game active for traditional deficiencies (e.g. killing a boss over and over for loot, progress and boredom). I want to see more reactive environments with logical and dire potential consequences arise in games. Not just shoehorned plots that allow someone to work an environment just once, but a constant evolution of a world based on what someone does to it.