Sunday, July 15, 2012

Attitudes in gaming and where WoW is going

An old enemy has reared it's head as it often does. This is a long one, but hey - if I'm returning to blogging, might as well get back to some old habits eh ;)

I Saw a video the other day about the difficulty (or lack thereof) in World of Warcraft these days, and the poster's opinion and perception about what this means for WoW in general. Here's the vid. It's a good video, it's well presented, and supported with solid facts. And the poster obviously feels passionately enough about the subject to risk the flame war it will inevitably start (that or he can see dollar signs from all the ad revenue lol - ohh I'm a cynic at times :P) I don't 100% agree with it, but for the most part I do feel WoW has become too easy, hell if I can sleepwalk through most of the game I think that's a sign it's too easy. I'm not saying it's not fun or entertaining, I wouldn't still be playing after 7+ years if it wasn't.

Now it's not only the video and the points it's made that I want to draw attention to, but the attitudes of the people commenting on it. As you can expect with this subject it's drawn up some pretty passionate debate - I myself have gotten involved, but on reflection, I find that my position in the comments is not where my mind really lies.

As with many things, I find myself sitting at the balancing point. To examine this - I'll highlight the two main arguments in this case, and give my reasoning with both. As well as go beyond and give my thoughts on all the expansions from a casual's point of view. Before I start however, I'll introduce myself a little. I've been playing since Vanilla, and in that entire time, I've been an officer in the same guild. The Ice Drakes on Draenor EU. The guild has undergone several changes in it's history, starting as just a social/levelling guild and remaining that way all the way through Vanilla. We started raiding mid-way through TBC, and since then have maintained at least 1 raid team throughout each expansion, in some cases we've kept several running at once. Raiding and endgame has never been part of my gaming experience in any real fashion, I was a stand in raider during Wrath, and raided as a social member during TBC when the raiders offered to run scrubs like me through Karazhan. Great fun as an occasional thing, but not something i'd like to do every week.

With that waffle out of the way, on to the points of view expressed in the video. 

One point of view is that WoW is too easy - that TBC was the golden age for the content. Wow's subscriber base grew more in this period than at any other time in it's history. And the Bosses took a hell of a lot of work to take down. Some of them not being taken down until weeks after the next major patch.

These two facts may well be true - though not necessarily related. By TBC the game had been around long enough to really get it's way into the public conscience. TBC fixed a few things, introduced new races and new class combo's, and it was a well done expac. The raiding was fantastic, as were the 5-mans. I can't comment on the PvP - as it's really not my thing. But TBC felt very good. Especially to the folks like me who'd been there since the launch of vanilla - if all my friends hadn't already been playing, I'd have been getting them all playing.

The other point of view was that WoW sucked when the endgame stuff was so hard, everyone pays for the same content and thus everyone has the right to see it. Now - I do not believe this to be true, if I buy a single  player game and can't finish it, it's because I'm not good enough, so I keep playing and get better (Or as is more likely - I give up and go do something else, and come back to it later with a fresh mind).

Now I kind of sit between the two extremes. I actually liked seeing people wearing gear most of us would never see. It was inspiring, but I've never been someone to get jealous or resentful of other people's achievements if they are deserved. Just because I've never been able to show the dedication and skill needed to get those items, doesn't mean that I can demand that the game be brought down to my level. If I want that stuff, that notoriety and prestige. I have to Raise my game.

That is an attitude that seems to have disappeared in gaming. And it seems to have happened since gaming became a more widespread pastime. Desiring challenging gaming seems to be viewed as the domain of lifeless friendless geeks who do nothing but sit on their ass and play games. Trust me folks, there's not many of them left, certainly not so many that we would see the amount of them actually vocal about the games they play - hell who would want to be, given the venom with which responses are often loaded. 

Gaming should have challenges, if it doesn't then everything feels flat. If it doesn't then frankly what's the point, why not just sit and dribble in front of your TV if you're not going to be challenged and engaged. The Endgame of WOW feels kind of weak now - it's not got enough challenge, and it's not enough to say that Heroic Ragnaros and Sinestra are still hard EVERY BOSS should be challenging. You shouldn't be able to steamroll your way through the first 4 bosses in a new raid on your first night. 

Another issue I have is the fact that you have to complete the normal modes before you can do Heroics, so the Hardcore have to sleepwalk through the easy content before they can actually get any kind of challenge.

This situation can be fixed, and the infrastructure is already there to allow it to be fixed. Here's my ideas on a few things Blizzard could do.

1. KEEP LFR - make it easy, make it introduce raid mechanics and some fights that need co-ordination, throw some neat gear in there, but keep it Blue - no more welfare epics, make Epic gear mean something again - hell the gear could still be of the same iLvl as the epics, just keep it blue, so you know that those with the epics, have earned it by raiding at Normal difficulty or higher. Give LFR it it's own tier of achievements - distinguish it from Normal and Heroic. Maybe cut some of the encounters, or have a couple of different encounters - so LFR tells a slightly different story to the other modes.

2. Normal should be a challenge, but not spine-breakingly so for most raiders. Bosses should take a couple of weeks at least of trying to get own. Make it worthwhile and fun for raiders gearing up, and a challenge for those who want to step it up from LFR. And just good for those who are happy to just raid normal. It has to be a worthwhile experience in it's own right, as all three difficulties should be. This for me will be the hardest tier of content to balance. As it could potentially have people from all 3 tiers of difficulty.

3. Heroics should be available from start, without having to do Normal first. Make the gear requirement the same, re-introduce lethal encounter mechanics that can't just be powered through with overwhelming gear, make it more punishing, and more reliant on skill and co-ordination. Make it hardcore, this is the mode for those who really want the challenge, who really want to prove themselves as the Elite (Just a note Blizz, and anyone else - Allowing people to be among the Elite - does not equal elitism, Elitism is ONLY allowing the elite to feel rewarded, but to reward the greatest among us - that is worthwhile). Add additional encounters that aren't in Normal or LFR, both to make Heroics tell a different story, and to add encounters that can't be rehearsed in Normal mode.

Now - I said I was on the fence on this, and thus far I've not shown much evidence of that. So here's the other side, and this is where my personal experience can come to bear.

I am a lifelong casual player, I play wow because I find it to be an enjoyable storytelling experience. Both in the stories Blizzard tell through the quests, and the stories I make for myself while playing. I have lost count how many characters I have rolled, levelled and deleted (and in some cases rerolled and re-levelled all over again). And I can say without any doubt, for casual players with little or no interest in the endgame - wow simply has never been better. The storytelling in the game is brilliant, new remade zones flow well, and the new zones for lvl 80-85 are fantastic fun. For a casual player, the game is great fun. Hell even the Profession levelling seems not to be such an exercise in frustration now.

I think the problems with the perception of endgame and challenge in WoW comes down to a couple of things.

1. Blizzard listened to the vocal minority way too much. There are some very very loud and persistent people out there, who feel that just because they play the game, they are entitled (and in fact demand) to see all of it. People who don't want to put in the effort, but want the shinies, and the titles, and the prestige that goes with completing the content. Sorry but no - that is like passing your GCSE maths, and walking into the HQ of a major bank and demanding the Director's job (though I will admit given the exploits of the UK's bankers over the last couple of years, a GCSE student might actually do a better job - but that's a rant for another time). You aren't qualified for a position of that prestige, you have neither the experience, or the skill. Go away, play more, get better - and then earn it - and trust me, it feels a hell of a lot better that way. If the entitled casual attitude went away, the community would be just a nicer place to be (same goes for the other extreme, the up-their-own-arse Elitist dickheads who think you are nothing, a failure in both gaming and life without the top tier of gear on your character, min-maxed to all hell, with a fortune's worth of enchantments and gems hanging off it like a jeweller's clearance sale, and certificates of awesomeness signed by at least 3 deities).

2. Blizzard don't actually provide any real alternative at endgame to raiding currently. Daily quests are dull (with the exception of the scarlet slaughtering in Icecrown - I never tire of that), even the heroic versions of the 5 mans provide no challenge or fulfilment, PvP is ok for those who like it I guess. But there's just nothing else to do. Now for this point, I have little idea what else I'd like to see. But from what I've heard about MoP - the endgame experience seems to be a little broader, there are more dailies than you can conceivably complete in a day, there's other stuff to be doing (like pottering around in your very own garden for example). These seem like small, insignificant things to the hardcore raiding corps - but to social and casual players, who make up a large amount of WoW's subscriber base. These could feel a little more fulfilling than endless pointless heroic runs, or just sitting on your latest shiny flying mount in Stormwind or Orgrimmar cluttering up trade chat with general conversations.

My main point when I started this, was also to examine the attitudes present in the comment threads - this has long long been a problem. Especially on Youtube and the Blizzard forums. A lot of people still cannot express an opinion without resorting to insults, trolling, belittling the opinions of others and in some cases outright bullying. It's this kind of bullshit that get's gamers a bad name, the fact that a discussion rarely occurs online about anything divisive without swearing, insults and generally prickish behaviour is sad. having different opinions is not a crime, even if they are dumb and ill informed, so long as you can actually appreciate an opposing argument, and be convinced by it, and take correction and criticism (so long as it is given politely or constructively) with good grace.

Sadly though - a lot of people don't seem able to hold an opinion, without considering it an unbending truth, and considering all who do not hold the same opinion to be witless fools or heretics. An opinion is something that can be changed, it is not a weakness to be convinced by an argument, it's a strength, it shows strength of character that you can put aside something you previously believed, and be convinced by a well reasoned argument, adaptability and an open mind. This is not just a problem in gaming. It's a general problem anywhere there's a place to discuss anything on the net. Polite discussions evolve into brutal flame wars, and all it takes is one comment to spark it. Because people are too willing to see an insult in a comment that's just not quite so well written.

I shudder to think what life would be like if people reacted in real life to things the way they do on youtube. A terrifying thought.

So in closing, some people need to be more open minded, just because someone disagrees with you, doesn't make them an idiot. Just because someone wants their game to be challenging, does not make them an elitist arsehole. Also bear in mind, that the best thing to do if someone tries to call you out with insults - ignore them. Remain polite, if they continue to be a dick. Just stop responding, they ending up wasting their time and effort shouting into the void - and you save yourself the stress of trying to explain something rationally to a fuckwit.

That'll do for now i think

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Fresh Start

I've archived all my old posts.

I was reading through them and found it frankly somewhat toe curling to read.

So I'll start again.

I've got unstarted blogs dotted all over the place, idea's half formed. I might as well put them all here and tag them instead of having loads of empty blogs.

I'll not bore you with a 'life update' except to say things are going well, and I'm happy and content (hence the lack of rage posts or pathetic emo "I'm lonely" style whining :P

So there will (hopefully) be a mix of different posts here.