World of Warcraft Isn’t a Social Game Anymore

That’s right; I’m going to say something bad about World of Warcraft. Shoot me! Many people think that WoW is the be-all end-all game of the last decade and that all new releases are clones. In a sense, that’s true because Blizzard paved the way for other games and it would be very hard to come up with entirely new concepts in terms of mechanics, user interface and general utilities. In short, Blizzard made MMO’s popular and accessible for the masses.

That’s all fine and dandy, but it seems to me that they’re taking it one step to far. I’m talking about the Looking For Group-system (LFG) and the Looking For Raid-system (LFR). LFG and LFR allow a player to queue up and specify their role in the group (Damage, tank or healer); they end up in the queue and wait until a group has formed for a normal instance, a heroic instance or a raid encounter. In my eyes, there are several flaws in these systems that are related to population and the amount of tanks and healers in relation to the amount of DPS. Players with a damage specialization (DPS) will always have to wait far longer than healers or tanks for their group to be formed. This is due to the fact that there are far less healers and tanks than there is DPS. I’ll pull a number out of my hat and say that there’s at least 10 times more DPS than healer or tanks.

That’s a first problem with those mechanics. The second one, and this is the main point of this post, is that this mechanic makes people act like assholes. That’s harsh and very sad, but also the truth I’m afraid. There have been numerous times when my group fell apart before the first boss of an instance was downed. There’s basically one main reason for this: It’s too easy to get another group. What I mean is that if this group doesn’t go fast enough or isn’t good enough for someone’s taste they’ll just leave the group and queue up again rather than try again. Or, even worse is when a group falls apart because they just don’t like the instance. It usually goes something like this: “Oh god, not this place again!! /leave group”. That’s just extremely unpleasant, especially for DPS who have to wait 10-30 minutes before they get a group.

Also, just as a side note: the LFG system is a Blizzard conspiracy! I swear the queue always pops up when I’m on the toilet!

Furthermore, people don’t know boss strategies anymore, and this is especially apparent in LFR. LFR is just too easy. People just stand in fire because they can’t be bothered to move, or don’t even know that they should move. Of course, this puts extra strain on healers (and they usually aren’t the best kind of players … birds of a feather you know) which often results in a wipe even in LFR! And then the shitstorm begins: “Fucking DPS! You all fucking suck, kick the slackers!”. Suffice to say, many more colorful words often follow. Then, after waiting another 10 minutes for a new tank and a couple of healers you finally get that boss down (let’s say it’s Spine of Deathwing, wipes often happen there it seems) and the looting can begin. There are people needing for all kinds of things they don’t need. Needing for off-spec, needing for downgrades (what?!), needing for Tier tokens they already have, etc. This results in another shit storm of “FUCKING NINJA OMG! KICK!).

 

And then finally, perhaps the biggest issue I have with this is that complete absence of the social aspect. Doing heroics used to be fun, you’d meet new people, have a chat, etc. and perhaps even add them to your friends list, but since the dawn of the LFG system the social contact with your group doesn’t go any further than “Hey” and “Thanks for the run, bye”. Well, I’m lying … there’s more chatting (read: name-calling) if you wipe on something). With almost every group member being from a different server there’s virtually no chance of meeting the same people twice. As a comparison, it would be the same as saying “hi” to a random stranger on the street and following them around for half an hour and then leave. This only promotes anonymity and in turn has the adverse effects I mentioned earlier in this post.

The LFG and LFR system can be a thing of beauty and could help stabilize the decline in subscriptions, but it needs some polishing. Perhaps some sort of penalty for leaving a group before completing the instance? I don’t know, I’m not a developer and I have no idea what would work. All I know is that I miss the social aspect of the game more than anything, and Blizzard would do well to attempt to bring it back in some form.

That’s my ranting done; let me know what your thoughts are in the comment section below!

PS: is it me, or is the player base exclusively casual these days? On my server at least there’s very little actual real or ‘hardcore’ PvP or PvE going on :S

Star Wars: The Old Republic Captures My Attention

Right, it’s been just about a month since I last posted, and there’s a couple of reasons for that:

1)      I’m pretty busy with work, college work, applying for a job and the job application training for students that I lead.

2)      I started playing SW:TOR with a couple of friends

Yes, I know … after spending the better part of 5 years on World of Warcraft I went and started playing another MMO. I promise I won’t get crazy addicted to this one … maybe.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is a very enjoyable game really, despite what the recent internet chatter is implying. Below Is an account of my impressions after a couple of weeks of gameplay. Keep in mind that this is my opinion and does not represent anything else but that.

Alright, I fired up the game and downloaded the patches. First thing I had to do was put the graphic settings on very low. Frankly, that’s not normal. Granted my pc isn’t great, I know, but it should at least be capable of running the game on medium. I have extremely long load times (everyone seems to have that for some planets). This appears to be a problem that some players have despite the quality of their rig.

                       

So, I made myself a Pureblooded Sith Warrior (advanced class is Marauder – Favourite of the month apparently) and started my trials on Korriban to become a true Sith complete with red Lightsaber, Force Choke and a seething hate for everything alien or Republic. The story missions are awesome. The class story sucks you in right away and the trademark BioWare speech choices are flawless. It’s almost a direct copy of the Mass Effect speech system really. The only problem I really have is that I just can’t be arsed to watch every single cutscene for every single quest (no matter how short those quests might be). If you watch everything you’ll ‘lose’ hours of your day. Don’t get me wrong though, I like it but sometimes I’d prefer the good ol’ quest text.

Furthermore, as I advanced in levels I was and still am baffled by the extremely large amount of cash sinks in the game. You have to pay for extra bag space, mounts, repairs, legacy rewards, respecs, skills and lots more. Skills especially get insanely expensive for the cash flow you receive around level 25. An augmented item on the Galactic Trade Network will easily set you back 250 000 credits. Level 50 mount skill is also around 250k, not counting the mount itself. One of my friends said that BioWare overrated the potential in-game economy, and I reckon he’s right.

Finally, the PvP is great fun, it has to be said. There’s basically 4 warzones – the usual really; 2 warzones where you cap and defend bases, a Strand Of The Ancients-type warzone and a Capture the Flag warzone in the form of Huttball. Which warzone you get is completely random which is great, no more abandoned battlegrounds like sometimes happened to me in WoW.

Also, there are only 2 level brackets: Pre-50 and 50. Pre-50 everything is peachy and I felt like a goddamn battering ram playing my Marauder. But once I hit level 50 I only encountered fully equipped PvP steam trains and all I could do felt like hitting them over the head with my limp red noodle (read: Red Lightsaber). The difference is mind-boggling and very sudden. But, that is not a flow only this game has. Truly, I have no idea how to fix an issue like that other than give some basic PvP gear to every fresh level 50.

In summary, it’s a good game if you’re able to look past the (many) flaws like I did. I’m having a lot of fun for my money and in the end that’s all I really care about. I don’t sit around whining and crying in trade chat, and if you are doing just that you should really go play a different game because you’re ruining my fun, you asshat!

Niels Van Hellemont

PS: May 4th is Star Wars day so May The 4th Be With You!

70 Year Old Grandma Leading Her Own Raiding Guild

That gaming is for all ages is once again proven by this very interesting article over on WoWInsider. This article is a beautiful example of that. A 70 year old grandma wielding a legendary weapon and leading her own raiding guild. Turns out that not all grandma’s sit in front of a burning stove knitting socks for their husbands who’s reading the newspaper. Read the full article/interview below.

Today, we press forward from the warm, fuzzy territory covered by the Knitting Grandma with two window-rattling volleys in the battle against gamer stereotypes:

  1. You don’t have to be a granny to knit and play World of Warcraft. Even the author of Clique, the preeminent click-casting addon, gets his knit on.
  2. Whether they knit or not, even grannies can be GMs. Of raiding guilds. Who’ve raided since original Molten Core. And top the DPS meters. Wielding Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa’s Rest. (So yes, that does indeed qualify her to tell you kids to “GET OFF MY LAWN!”)

Meet Marthazon, the 70-year-old GM of Spartans on Dalaran (USA).

MarthazonMain character Marthazon
Guild Spartans
Realm Dalaran (US)

WoW Insider: Level 70 in real life — and of course, GM of a raiding guild in game … That’s not a usual mix! Take us back to how you got started in this crazy WoW endeavor we all love.

Marthazon: I started playing the game on the Alliance side as Marthazon in January of 2005. I had played for about a month earlier as Horde in order to play with my daughter. She had an undead warlock. My daughter, who is 33, knew that I enjoyed the genre of swords and sorcery in literature and movies. I had read Lord of the Rings to my three children as a nightly ritual when they were young. She had bought World of Warcraft when it came out and kept nudging me to give the game a try because she “knew” I’d love it.

And obviously, you did! Coming into the game via grown children who play is a pretty common method of entry for older players, although most folks your age seem to stay on the casual side of things. How did you make the jump into raiding?

I joined Spartans at level 15, and I think that our GM at the time was at level 40 and the highest level in the guild at the time. We did every dungeon in the game as a guild, but our first venture in Molten Core hooked me on raiding. I really loved learning the fights, learning to figure out the most efficient and safest way to down each boss. At the time, the guild was using signups to fill the 40-man raids, and many raid nights we struggled and watched the time tick away before either filling our raid or cancelling the raid.

I turned to PvP when raiding slowed down or stopped. The fact that I managed to reach the PvP rank of Marshal prior to the first expansion says a great deal about the difficulties of filling a 40-man raid.

Marthazon in action

Old school! And now you’re the GM …

During The Burning Crusade, our GM found that he had too much going on in his real life to continue playing, and he passed GM to me in December of 2007. Suddenly I was responsible for enabling every player in the guild to meet their own raiding goals. An in-depth discussion between all officers led to the same conclusion: Move the guild to a set team format and maintain a roster of raiders able to commit to three nights a week. Acknowledge that real life is the more important factor for all players, and do not penalize players when real life prevents participation in the game.

Topping the meters That sounds like a pretty typical raiding guild, then — nothing granny-style about that!

We raid three times a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and we end the raid week with the Monday raid. As I said, we raid with a set team – slightly more than 25 players to hopefully cover players that need to post out. We try to hold to a 25-man raiding format but when we can’t field 25 players, we are able to quickly form 10-man raids — two 10-man raids, usually. We are recruiting and hope our future holds a third 10-man — and give the 25-man raid a better chance at filling spots.

Our members all have my phone and text number, and they are good about keeping me informed about being able to play as I’ve scheduled them. I set the entire schedule up every month and adjust it as players call when they can’t play. Working the schedule every day is the first thing I do in the morning. In addition to the Dragon Soul raids, we also play two ad hoc Fireland raids on the weekends, helping several other guild casters get their own Dragonwrath staffs.

What is the guild currently working on?

25-man Ultraxion; Spine of Deathwing and The Maelstrom in 10-man. The holidays cut into our raiding quite a bit, along with demands for overtime at many workplaces. With the economy so slow, many players relish the extra pay.

Oops

And on top of all that, we spy a Dragonwrath in your inventory — congratulations! Tell us a little bit about the long road to achieving your legendary.

Dragonwrath was quite simply a gift from my guild. I only had to run around a pick up the various items while they killed or after they killed the bosses. The process of collecting the various items takes so long that it requires dedicated raiders willing to show up week after week to make those collections possible. The one solo part of the quest line — the Nexus dungeon — was amazingly fun to do, but nothing compared to the work the guild put in.

Now, your husband doesn’t raid, so when do you get to play with him — or do you?

We do dailies together, and we farm for those ever-needed mats that raids require. It is very rare that we miss a day of playing together. We play together mostly in the morning, logging off around noon. I might return in the afternoon for some randoms and those ever-needed valor points, but I also work at our family genealogy. Afternoons often have me playing, as their ads say, family detective at Ancestry.com.

When it comes to raiding, I like fielding dedicated, knowledgeable people that have that singular desire to figure out what the developers are throwing against us and how to most efficiently down the fight. My husband enjoys the storylines and leveling, but says he has no patience for raiding and the seemingly endless wipes.

Getting ready to raid

Sounds like a perfect blend. So has Marthazon always been your main? Do you play any significant alts?

Marthazon has always been my main. I do have alts — I leveled most races and classes to enjoy their storylines and zones. I have a priest that I can raid at need for the guild when we are short healers. She’s fun … but she’s not my mage. The others are only farming alts and taken down for a spin when I need some mats for something.

What’s the average age of your guildmates, without considering you and your husband?

Average age is around 28 to 33. We have a number of husband/wife players and many with young children and several with children almost ready for college.

Do you find much of a generation gap in social interactions with your guildmates?

Not really. Now and then, someone will say something (especially in trade channel) that I don’t quite understand … I just ask in guild and someone will (usually with much laughter) tell me.

Probably the biggest generation gap I experienced was back when I was around level 40. I should paint in a bit of background first. When I first joined this guild, I was thrilled that so many of the other guildies — the toons — were women. I remember thinking that that held great promise for women being involved in technology. The day came when the guild was running Zul Farrak and one of the players, a female night elf, typed something out in chat that made me say in chat, “That sounds like something a man would say.” The run came to a standstill as the other players took great pains to explain to me (with much leet laughter) that I was the only woman in the guild at that time and why they played female avatars.

Daily quests

Were you comfortable with computers before you started playing World of Warcraft, or has playing been an introduction to that world as well?

Computers have long been a part of my life. My father worked with early computers for the GSA as a data programmer after he retired from the Army in the ’50s, and I’ve always been fascinated by the technology. My last job before retiring was computer tracking a large fleet of commercial trucks and their deliveries. I helped design the in-house program to track the data we needed to maintain, and I acted as the office IT.

When my children were toddlers, we bought a VIC-20 and a handful of text games — you know, the kind where you get a clue like “The bear is sleeping in the clearing. What do you do?” The kids would offer suggestions, and I’d type each suggestion in until we got the right one and the game responded. Two of my children went into computer technology fields.

So you’ve been at this a good, long while! Is there anything in World of Warcraft you feel you’re slowing down at or getting less efficient or effective at as you get older? Would you say that your age is affecting your game?

World of Warcraft is sort of like the French Foreign Legion of games when it comes to age. As long as you can do your part, it’s rare for someone to ask “How old are you?” As long as I can maintain the same focus and the awareness that I want from other players, I feel that I can hold my own.

I’m not the oldest, by the way, in my guild. That honor goes to my husband, who is 72. He doesn’t like to raid, however. He is our AH king, keeping our raiders in repair gold. WoW is an excellent and inexpensive recreational outlet for us old codgers. A lot less expensive than golf.

Marthazon at work

Fair enough! That said, what’s the continued draw of World of Warcraft for you? What keeps you playing?

Living on a fixed income, World of Warcraft provides a lot of entertainment that is fun and affordable. At the same time the game doesn’t require using the car, fighting traffic, crowds, or weather, buying tickets or paying fees. I have to think about what I am doing in game. I’m not a couch potato just watching a cartoon on the TV. Blizzard’s work at keeping the game open-ended and providing new content keeps me coming back.

–End of WoWInsider article–

So what do you think? Personally, I’d like to think that I’d still be so active in the gaming community when I’m 70. It would be quite interesting to see the changes along the years. Furthermore, I reckon that her years of experience (both in real life, and in the virtual world) would give her an edge in several aspects of being a Guild Master, such as people skills and insight. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!

PS: Sorry for the absence (again), I’ve been quite busy and I’m working on a few new projects … albeit outside of this website. Stay tuned though!

/Niels

30 Day Game Challenge # 30 – My Favourite Game From My Country

Well, welcome to the very last day of the 30 day game challenge. It’s been a great series and it brought up a lot of memories from my childhood, both good and bad (ahem, Pac-Man World). I hope you enjoyed it as well!

But, before we end this series we have one more game to show you of course. Now, I don’t actually know any games that have been developed or released by a Belgian developer. So I chose the next best thing, a game from a neighbouring country, The Netherlands.

I chose KillZone on the PS2 for this day. The game was released by Guerilla Games if I remember correctly, and it was my favourite FPS back in the PlayStation 2 days. I’m sure you’ve played it already so you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t played it before than why the hell are you still here? Go to a shop and buy it! Also, while you’re there … pick up KillZone 2 and 3 as well!

Anyway, that concludes the 30 day game challenge. But don’t worry, there will be plenty more content coming up!

/Niels

30 Day Game Challenge # 29 – Game Which I wish I Played The Main Character

Well, I’m a huge fan of the Wild West and thus it is not a surprise that I’d want to be John Marston from Red Dead Redemption. John Marston turns out to be a rough cowboy with a consience in a world full of badasses spitting bullets and shooting spit. Too bad he gets killed in the end … oops, should I have mentioned spoiler?

Anyway, join us tomorrow for the very last day of the 30 day game challenge!

/Niels

30 Day Game Challenge # 28 – Game That Angers Me The Most

Aaaaaarrrgggh, there has only been one game that angers me as much as Pac-Man World. It’s probably not so hard now, but when I was a kid I regularly swore and cursed this game to the plains of Oblivion. There was one level that I never got through, it was some boss battle in the space section and I just couldn’t get past it no matter how hard I tried. I can’t say how many times I threw down my controller and nerd raged for a bit.

Hmmm … I might have to plug in my PS1 again and play this again, banish my childhood demon …. uh spaceboss.

Join us tomorrow for day 29!

/Niels

30 Day Game Challenge # 27 – Game I Can’t Wait For

Well, the only game that had me sitting on the edge of my chair so far (that hasn’t been released in the meantime .. *ahem* Skyrim) is Star wars: The Old Republic. BioWare’s new MMO has me so excited because I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, BioWare and MMO’s. After I quit WoW I need something new to fill the void, and to get my mind off of real life stuff for a while.

I have faith that The Old Republic (TOR) will do that, and deliver a very enjoyable experience where I can reconnect with friends from other games. Sith, here I come!

Alright, watch the footage below and join us tomorrow for day 28!

/Niels