My secret tips of raiding

It seems I am only able to be truly active on one written online arena at the time. Lately its been my internal guildforum, however some possible wisom have been shared there – wisdom that might deserve a bigger audience.

There are several things you need in order to get raiding to work well. However, some are quite easy to do  they just tend to be overlooked – even in big theorycrafting threads or impressive compilations of facts. When advising my fellow players on how to tweak their performance (without improving gear or changing rotation), this is what I tell them:

  • Mobility is everything. Unless you are planning to fight Patchwerk all day every day, you will be required to move – even if it is only between mobs on a AoE pull. Make sure to put Tuskars Vitality on boots (unless you spec for increased movement speed) so you get where you need to go faster.
  • Unless you need to move, dont move. Standing still = the best condition to dps, heal and tank. Spasticated playing might be pro in PvP. In PvE it only makes you perform worse.
  • Have startattack macros and chained macros for all central abilities. Doesnt matter if your fingers are fast, macros are the best way around server/interface lag.

For melee: Macro all central abilities to /startattack
f.ex
/cast Sinister Strike
/startattack
This means that if you are low on energy (or rage or whatever you use) you will still start attacking. White damage is also damage.
For casters: If you have abilities that you use after eachother on a regular basis, macro them.
f. ex:
/cast Shadow Word: Pain
/cast Mindblast

  • Use cooldowns early and often. They are not there for a rainy day, they are there to be used. Use them straight away, and they will cool down and can be used again. F-ex: Lay on Hands. It gives mana, heals for lots… just whack it on there when you see a tank/healer on less then 40% health. The long CD is there cause its powerful, and things that are powerful are OP and things that are OP should always be used.
  • Dying is not ok. Might seem obvious, but its a mentality that too few have. If you need to blow a super-imba-cooldown or use the-most-expensive-consuamable-ever in a situation where you risk going to 0 health – DO IT! Dont hesitate, just blow it. Its better to be alive with a uber ability on CD then beeing dead on the floor. Bamdages, healthpotions, healthstones are your friends. While a healer might heal you, you are guaranteed health if you fix it yourself.
  • Use the down periods to think ahead. All fights fluctuate, they will get more intense then they slow down a bit, then change pace again etc. Its swings forth and back. Remember to use the “down” periods in that cycle to assess your own situation. Do you have enough mana? Are you standing in a good spot? You know a phase is incoming where you take dmg? Make sure that you start it on full health. You know of an effect that will force you to move? Have a place spotted out that will be save to move to.
  • Be competative and be proud of your achievements. Did you do 6k dps? Make sure the other  dps’ers noticed. Get them fired up and help push them towards doing the same. Farming and boredom will make anyone perform worse, so make sure its always a competition.

Hardcore revisited: Hardcore as normative play in WoW

After my initial musings on hardcore gaming in WoW, I feel its time to make another attempt. Perhaps one that isn’t so broadly sweeping in random directions.

Lacking a definition – because its hard to define the majority?

Hardcore is one of those words that is used by gamers all the time, but seem to hold quite different meanings depending on who you speak to -something the insightul comments made to my previous post reminded me of. To me, hardcore carries much of the same distinctions as those founds within the powergamer and hacker concepts. In such hardcore is recognized by a instrumental attitude towards the game. It is not enough just to play the game, a hardcore player needs to understand what makes the game react as it does. There is a sense of professionalism, where efficiency and productivity are key elements of how the hardcore gamer structure his/her playtime. Playing the game is not just about experiencing new challenges, its about setting goals and being able to fulfill those goals.

From the hacker and powergamer heritage comes a sense of minority. It is an expert group that has knowledges no one else does, a group that relates to the technology in a different way then the “ordinary user”. The problem when talking about such a definition in a WoW setting, is that it is not necessarily seen as “hardcore”. Knowing what you want from the game, researching select topic to gain expertize about them, then working hard to reach these set goals – is simply playing the game.

Perhaps the exact reason for the “hardcore” concept to hold so many understandings in the WoW community, is because a hardcore approach to the game is not something done simply by a small expert group – it is a way to relate to the game that the majority of players use at some point or another.

Part-time hardcore

One of the exiting aspects of WoW as such a popular game, is that it caters for many types of play. From the raider to the soloquester. Whether the game is truly successful at either is another discussion, but what is interesting is that the approach usually only held for those at the forefront of the game (the expert group, in WoW that is the raider) is being used in various other aspects of the game. Its not unique to WoW, but its large and overly active community makes all these different hardcore approaches visible.

By working with a definition that highlights instrumentality and goal oriented play we find many ways to be hardcore. The goal can be anything from making gold, completing achievements, twinking, to collecting pets or winning arenas. To select an area of the game and getting good at it has become natural within WoW, and thinking of it as hardcore might seem a bit odd. Especially for someone that has “grown up” as a gamer in WoW. So, what does it mean to not play hardcore?

The flipside of hardcore

Playing other MMOs or speaking to other MMO players that you dont play with (after all, hardcore and casual players never seem to get along too well) the hardcore becomes more visible. After all, not all tanks in all games will think in terms of avoidance or threat output. To quote a friend who plays a raiding tank in LOTRO about how he gears: “I have heavy armor, and heavy shield. Thats about it”…

The alternative to hardcore is to just go with the flow of the game, to not really care what is the fastest or best route forward. If the game takes you to X, going to X is valid in itself – even if it means that getting to the next level will take longer. The flipside of hardcore is to indulge in what the game tells, the immersion the game brings -without making any effort to understand its underlying mechanics, without researching (through blogs or databases f.ex) what items will grant a 0,2% increase in dps.  I think Gevlon tend to refer (falsely) to this group as M&S (Morons & Slackers): they don’t know the best way to do things, they only do what they want and dont seem to care that it only brings them a mediocre result. They dont care about beeing on the top of the pile, or think that the top of the pile should be reserved only for someone who needs to spend 5 hours outside the game in order to be successful for 3 hours inside it. They will gladly spend time with someone who slows down progress, just cause they think some company is nice – or cause it doesn’t matter to them that its slower.

In WoW, this attitude towards the game is seen as “noobish” at best. Its not an approach that is revered or really accepted. In WoW: the hardcore attitude is the norm, it is what we expect from other players.

What makes a hardcore gamer?

The conflict between hardcore and casual gamers has never really stopped, as I have argued before the divide between hardcore and casual player in WoW got blurred with WOTLK. Now more and more of the playerbase is raiding, epic quality gear is easy to obtain and the average player knows more about the game then ever. It made me wonder: What is it that makes a hardcore gamer now?

When trying to define hardcore I find myself in a mindset of “before and after”, though I am not sure exactly when the before ended and the after started. I do know that the “before” was sometime during vanilla WoW. If I was asked to define a hardcore gamer 2-3 years ago I would have put up the following points:

  • A hardcore gamer was someone who raided. Raiding in this context is only referring to 40 man raids, as 10 man pugs were quite regular to places such as Stratholme and Blackrock Depths without getting the tag “raid”. Also these did not provide epic quality gear.
  • A hardcore gamer had good gear, including epic quality gear. Since epic items were only available in 40 man raids, this was a easy tell tale sign of who was actually raiding.
  • A hardcore gamer knew things about the game. Not only would a hardcore player know what specs were good, they would also know how to solve quests, what items dropped from various bosses and what abilities certain bosses had.

There was also other hints that could tell if someone was hardcore, like having an epic mount, but all in all hardcore gamers were quite easy to pick out from the crowd. Today that isnt quite as easy.If looking at the same traits in today’s playerbase we find that:

  • The majority of players have engaged in raiding. Numbers from sites such as WoWJitsu confirms this.
  • Epic quality gear is now trivial. It is so easy to obtain it has become a standard.
  • Being knowledgeable about the game is expected. If you don’t know what spec is best, what glyphs to use, what enchants are good, where loot drops, how to solve quests etc. you are more likely to be labeled “noob” then “average”. Knowledge is highly revered in WoW. The game will through its design reward players who understand the underlying mechanics (the theorycraft) so to best utilize what abilities they have, but the culture of the game also encourages those who want to learn. Be it how to make money or how to top the damagemeters. This drive has lead to the average knowledge level to be quite high, and concepts like spell coefficient, weapon speed, procbased and diminishing returns are all commonplace in game. Its quite a step away from “What is a talent point?”

Are we dealing with a new kind of hardcore?

Just cause the old definition of hardcore no longer applies, don’t mean that there are no longer a “hardcore” user group. Hardcore players today will still be raiding, have good gear and be knowledgeable players. It simply seems that these traits have been assimilated by such a large proportion of the player base that new traits needs to be picked out.

However, herein lies my (and probably others) problem. Hardcore guilds are quite closed,  and with few exceptions they play with their cards close to the chest. We can theorize about what makes them different, but few of us can actually say if its actually the case.

My research project deals with hardcore gamers, and I am very keen to get in touch with someone who plays in a hardcore guild. I am currently looking for informants to better understand what it means to “be hardcore”. See here for details.

Even though I cant say I have a definition of hardcore gamers that is deducted from actual data, I clearly have a  vision in my head of what it means to be hardcore today:

  • A hardcore player is fighting for world-firsts and server-firsts
  • A hardcore player is in a top ranked guild in the world
  • A hardcore player is taking part in developing strategies (as opposed to reading them on the internet and then copying them)
  • A hardcore player puts the game over other commitments
  • A hardcore player aims for professionalism in the game

Fighting for world/serverfirsts is to me the most defining feature of what I see as hardcore today. What do you think?

How to cooperate in Gulch aka. Are you sure your Gulch buddies are the retards?

Everyone agrees that cooperation in PvP is key to winning. But, getting a team of Gulch-hippies to cooperate will often seem like herding cats. Everyone is pulling in their own direction and everyone tries to be a general, so how do you turn this around? How do you get a PuG PvP group to cooperate?

Based on a series of different attempts in the Gulch in 10-19 bracket I have compiled a list of tips. I am sure they wont apply to all BGs or grouping situations, but I don’t think they will ever hurt.

Setting the scene: If you want credit, take credit for wins and losses

The Greedy Goblin did some “experiments” in 10-19BGs.He came to the conclusion: When I lost it was cause the rest of my team sucked. When I won it was because I was doing something right. Even though twinking  and Gulch strategies is clearly outside Gevlons field of expertize, I found his attitude resonating with how people speak of PvP and grouping in general. Its always someone elses fault. This is ofcourse, only a partial truth. As pointed out, others failing more then you is simply cause there are more of “them” then you, and in such its statistically more likely that “they” will screw up rather then you.

Facilitating groupplay should not be confused with beeing social or handing out winning games to unskilled players. The fact is simple: Get cooperation to work and you are more likely to win. In such, cooperation is a goal for any group. If you plan on winning, the best way is to make sure your team is all pulling in the same direction. Dont see it as a necessary evil, see it as part of the challenge.

The point is quite simple: To get cooperation, you need to facilitate it. You dont have to lead anything (actually I would recommend you dont try to be another general), you just have to play your part in the team and help others do the same.

For this I will instruct a stereotypical fictional player, lets call him Bob. He has a semi twinked rogue, and he’s had a hard time in BGs. Noone listenes to him when he suggest strategies, he dies alot and he dont have friends to do premades with. He is not a bad player, but he just dont seem to get it quite together. He thinks the BGs are filled with retards, and if they only would listen to him they would win alot more. He’s the kind of player that reads Gevlons post about twinking and goes “Right on man, thats exactly how it is!”.

1) Action speak louder the words

Bob wants to team up so to get support and he tells people in /bg when he is charging – asking for other players to team up. It happens every blue moon that he gets a few players together, but for the most part he is left to his own devices. What Bob is failing to see here is that if he want people to team up with him, he needs to make it easy for them to team up. That means that instead of shouting about how they are on the wrong side of the field, he needs to go to where they are and ensure that they stay alive. Not aiming for killstealing, just tipping the edge in their favour (a stun, debuff, cc goes along way), so that after his teammates are done fighting it will be natural to continue to fight together.

If Bob wanders across the field and yells to people that he needs help, he is ignoring that the other players probably have their hands full. By going to them first, ensuring a win in that skirmish he is communicating quite clearly that he is a team player. Much better then a “FFS team up gais!!!” in /bg. Action does speak louder then words in groups where you have no way of knowing who is worth teaming up with. So when Bob wants to team up for a proper team effort, the first step is for him to team up with someone. Not the other way around.

2) If you want specific, be specific

Bob thinks he can get the flag back by stealthing into the enemy base and hopping the enemy flag carrier (EFC). Stealth is the key word here, so he dont want the rest of the team with him. Another rogue however would make things alot better. Bob then types in /bg “Going 4 flag, one more rogue come”. A few minutes later he finds himself at the EFC quite alone, and is not able to retrieve the flag. Didnt the other rogues read his message in /bg?

The other rogues did read /bg, but they all presumed that it was not about them. Matticus pointed out that this as the bystander effect: the more people are present, the less likely they are to intervene. The other rogues simply thought they had other more important jobs (defending the flag carrier, thinning out midfield or whatever) and thought that someone else would do it. What Bob needs to do is pick out the person he wants to go together with and use the wonderful command /whisper. With that he can coordinate where they should meet, where they will attack, who will attack what etc, but most importantly – he will know if that person has any intentions of coming with him.

3) Inform, dont command.

Bob is starting to come around to my way of thinking, but he is adamant that /bg is there for a reason and it needs to be used. I couldnt agree more, the problem is that /bg is often used in a non productive way and is too often expected to have a clear and visible effect. Bob tells how often he has taken the flag and used /bg chat to say “Flag carrier needs support!!” when he was attacked. Noone answerd, and when the opposing team cought up to him he was dead meat.Why didnt they come to his aid?

Point 1) and 2) aside, when using /bg Bob needs to write things that will help other players do their job well. Information such as “FC going tunnel” or “EFC on roof” or “EFC supported by priest and druid” is useful for other players, it will help them assess their own situation better as well as getting the bigger picture of how the battle is going. After all there is only so much of the field you can see, as well as read out from map and healthbars.

4) Dont presume they are in it to ruin your game

Bob tends to attribute failure to a personal vendetta against him. He will often verbalized in BGs through comments such as “gg on support guys….” or on bad days “FFS!!! WHY DIDNT I GET NY HELING?!!!??”. What Bob is failing to see is that not every move is made by a mastermind, with an ultimate purpose – but its usually for a reason. Just cause that reason wasnt visible to Bob, doesnt mean that it wasnt there. So the healer that was behind him before he charged wasnt there after the charge. Was it to insult Bob or to ruin his charge? Unlikely. Perhaps the healer saw someone else who needed help, perhaps she got attacked, perhaps her giraffe was set on fire IRL and she had to go AFK. Point is, Bob dont know either way and he cant change the past – so he should not get annoyed by it.

Thinking that it is always someone elses fault when things fail will never cause good group play, even though it is the truth. The point is that the scoreboard wont care whos fault it is. Using /bg to take it out on people will only distract the team, and its not worth it.

5) Identify key players, and stick with them

Its an obvious one, and I think even Bob understood this one without too much of an explenation.  If your BG is filled with names you dont know (as trying to remember the names of players you have had succes with will make this alot easier), using the scoreboard + raid frames (healthpool is a good indication) to find key players in the team is important. You dont want to end up supporting the keyboardturning paladin with 250 hp. He is not irrelevant, but probably not the one that is going to win you the game.

Some times Bob might be that key player, some times he wont be. To make it work he needs to understand when he is the one people should follow (and thus wait up for them before charging, talking to a healer to back him up etc), and when he should follow others and willingly sacrifice himself so that they key players can keep on fighting.

The myth of grouping being dead

From amu's world

After my longwinded comments on Psychochilds post “Punishing Grouping” I realized I should (wo)man up and say what I meant here, possibly in a more coherent way. Reading a bit around on blogs discussing this such as Wolfshead talking about the glorydays of EQ2, Stylish Corpse on why soloing is not to be frowned upon- I do sense a common goal: We all want group play to be fun and rewarding.

However, along the way alot of presumtions are made, presumptions that is steering the discussion a bit of track. Some I have identified are:

  1. That grouping happens less today then in earlier MMOs
  2. That grouping in itself enhances gameplay
  3. That all is needed is better game design

So, lets debunk them one at the time. Or atleast poke them a bit.

  1. Grouping is still prevolent in MMOs, however what the groups are for, what kind of interaction is between players when grouping, how long they last etc might not be the same as earlier. The real problem with grouping today seems to rather be that it doesnt fit with the idea of what grouping should be. Or, the many ideas of what grouping is about. It is clear that we are not even talking about the same kind of grouping. Some seem to talk about the decline in grouping as a lack of interaction between random players in the world (aka a lack of easy-to-get-and-enjoyable-PuGs), while others talk about lack of incentives for friends to play together. Even though they are both related to grouping, they might not be caused by the same problem. We no longer warmly greet anyone we come across online (which to be fair was quite normal in the early days of MMOs about 10 years ago), possibly cause we have been told that strangers on the internet are pedophiles and massmurderers. In such, the issues of PuGs might not be solely due to game design, but actually a change in how we conduct ourselves while online. Furhter more, they might have very different solutions. What supports grouping between friends might be at odds with features supporting PuGs. So, what kind of grouping is it we really want more of?
  2. Some enjoy soloing, some enjoy grouping. Grouping in it self isnt something that makes a game better, or an encouter more enjoyable. For grouping to have that effect you must like grouping, have a group you want to play with and a challenge that is good to solve as a group. In many ways, good group play is at odds with solo play due to the complexity that is needed for a challenge to be posed to a group. The easy solution is to make games for solo players and games for group players, however that makes noone happy. Solo players like the persistance of MMOs and group players often want to be able to do things on their own. I believe the solution lies in dynamic content, that content will adapt/or can be changed depending on you beeing alone or in a group.
  3. Users dont always do what the designers intend them to do. This seems to go double for gamers ;) We find alternate goals, we try things just to see what makes it tick, we try to break the rules. A good design alone wont change how grouping works, it needs to work in tandem with players appreciating this feature and giving it positive meaning. To take one example: The LFG tool in WoW. Its a welldesigned tool. You can set up which dungeon you want to go to, and you can even mark what role you will have (healer, tank, dps). However, many groups are still beeing formed through public channels like they used to before the LFG tool. The idea of the LFG tool was great, however in practice the users didnt use it as the designers intended- and we now see it as a underwhelming feature. In the same vein, a good design idea for how to get players to group – might not actually get them to group.

Disruptive play: When breaking the rules is the point

In the wake of “The Curious Case of the Poorly Behaved Professor” a discussion about social rules vs game rules have emerged. While Myers, the professor in question, still holds up that he was not griefing other players he is perhaps in a minority at this stage. However, as often before,  disagreeing with someone helps sharpen own opinions and understandings. What do I label as griefing?

This is an attempt to outline my understanding of different types of play that doesn’t confirm with established rules (that be game rules, meta rules, social rules or any other kind). It is mostly to put order in my own mind of what these concept holds, and in such not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I would love the opinion on others on this.

  • Griefing: Play with the intention and goal of disrupting and lower other players experience. The emphasis is then put on the player doing the griefing, and the meaning that player gives to the game. Everyone will at one point or another have made the game less enjoyable for others (getting to a node first, training some mobs onto another player etc.), but unless it is done willfully and with the purpose of ruining the day for another player- it cannot be termed griefing. Griefing can happen within the rules of the game (referring here to EULAs, the code itself etc), or it can breach these. In such griefing is only about the social rules, the social conventions of the game, it is about knowing the social rules well enough to turn them against other players.
  • Trolling: Even though trolling is perhaps best known from forums, blogs, discussiongroups etc, they also exist in game. Compared to griefing, trolling can only happen through communication while griefing is by and large about actions alone. Again, it is the social rules that are in focus. The goal of trolling is to take a stand that will cause disruption and have people waste their time arguing against a false presumption. To know what topics as suited for trolling, a “good troll” will also know the social rules well to know what topics to push.
  • Exploiting: Using flaws in the code to gain benefits. The rules that are to be broken (or some will say, just bent a bit) are the rules of the code. Exploiting is about personal benefits, and little about affecting other peoples play. As mentioned, exploits can be used in griefing, but exploits in it self has nothing to do with griefing. In regards to social rules exploiting has a more ambiguous role. Some exploits get house warm, while others are labelled as cheating. A quick example: In WoW was seen as “cosher” to use the “unstuck” feature as a second hearthstone (teleport to home). This feature later got changed, but the way players were using it was a type of exploit. They were taking advantage of a weak point of the code, that it didnt understand if you were really stuck or just wanted a free ride. This example shows how exploits negotiate both social rules as well as game rules, and that individual exploits are given different meaning.
  • Hacking: Breaking the rules of the game (both code and EULA) by bringing own rules in form of own code. Frowned upon by other players, I have personally a hard time understanding the players that hack. I often heard people talking about hacking, but in my many hours in MMOs in the last few years I have only witnessed a handful of events where hacking have been involved. All have been in PvP situations, often by using hacks to gain extra speed and in such win the game without giving the opponent a fair chance. Since it is not about getting a fair fight (or even good fight, fair fights are rare in MMOs) I presume the goal is winning over the code, not winning over other players. Based on other accounts of hacker activity, I theorize that meaning comes from being able to break the system, as well as breaking the rules.  Though hacking is generally seen as bad, there are still borderline cases. Some mods/addons give information that would normally not be available in game (a wonderful mod that would play Mortal Combat music if I was targeted in PvP comes to mind), but mods dont seem to undergo the same kind of scrutiny. Unless the game company labels the addon as illegal, it is seen as fair play.

To return to Myers and the case of Twixt, one of his major arguments was that the nature of MMOs was a conformist one. That the social pressure forces all players to game on the same premises, to adopt to similar types of playstyles regardless of intentions from designers and what the gamecode allows for. While I agree about social norms being strong in places such as MMOs, the conclusion I disagree with. By reflecting on different types of disruptive play, its already clear that while social rules are strong they are under constant negotiation. What is seen as “good play” is not given.

EDIT1: After comment from Myers I wish to emphasise that this is indeed only my own thoughts and reflections on the topic. It is not based on any particular type of data, or previous research (though ofcourse influenced by it). As Myers have proved himself, the lines between gamer, blogger and researcher can easily get blurred – and this is perhaps a time when such differences should be made clear. So with that in mind, feel free to treat this as just another piece of random “QQ on teh interwebz” ™, its only a blog :)

Science, griefing and ethics: The case of Twixt and implications of his work

Long story short: Mass communication professor David Myers conducts a experiment in City of Heroes (CoH) concerning social rules. He does this by PvP- griefing players in CoH over a period of a few months, checking and logging responses to him and then writing a paper about it.

First a thanks to Spinksville for making me aware of this event. After reading several accounts of this story including Broken Toys critique, David Meyers own accounts as well as the paper the study resulted in, I am left with a bittersweet experience.

His topic is excellent, his findings interesting – but, the way he reached them is far from admirable. When your field of research is other people, you are obliged to evaluate what impact it has on them. As far as I can tell he has not openly reflected on what this experiment will have on the CoH society. Its only a conference paper and its possible that some questions will be answered in his forthcoming book, but when choosing methods that have such important ethical implications as closed observation (as opposed to open observation when his intentions and goals are known), they need to be discussed and reasoned. From a games researcher point of view I have some issues with how this has been done:

  • Was closed observation the only way to investigate griefing and breaking of social rules? In most social sciences closed observation it is a “last resort”, something you do only when open talks or observation proves unfruitful. This is because informed concent lies at the basis of studying other human beings, and researching on people without their explicit permission is problematic. What he has done is not illegal, but it requires a good reason. Reasons I have yet to see or understand.
  • At what point did he inform the community about his research, and how did he do this? From what I can tell he is defending his position and his work, which is understandable. It is his right to defend himself from critique, but has he apologized to the community for “playing them”?
  • How will this work affect other game studies researchers? A wellknown scholar: Constance Steinkuehler commented after her participatory observation in Lineage II how important it was for her not to breach the trust between her and the other players. After all, there will be other researchers arriving after her, and if she does not conduct herself properly – the next generation of researchers will have a hard time getting informants and gaining respect in games. Speaking for myself, I am finding it difficult to gain access to hardcore guilds, responses beeing that they dont have time or simply dont trust me as a stranger. I am sure that the case of “the griefing scientist” will not help myself or any other that wish to learn and study gaming communities.

All in all I find that his research show little respect for the people that he observed, and from his response in his own blog I am surprised over his lack of understanding concerning the community’s outcry. Ofcourse people will feel cheated, ofcourse they will not like him. He presented himself as one thing, and did something else. Doing it “in the name of science” doesnt make it any better, it actually makes it worse.

Reading his paper he does present interesting finds. T.L Taylor in Play Between Worlds brings up reputation as an important as a social filter, and vital when it came to accessing high end guilds, getting good groups etc. What Myers show is the opposite end of this reputationbased network, he shows how you can ruin your “good name” and be harassed by large community. Further more, as he states in his blog, it shows how other rules then those imposed by the game itself are important when playing MMOs. His findings are relevant and interesting as there are so far very few that have studied the breaking of rules and how gaming communities deal with them. The outcry and insults he experiences talks about a society with very definte ideas on what is right and wrong. He also shows how difficult it can be to change such a “current of thought” after it has gained hold, and his account of having to turn off communications in order to play the game, due to excessive harassment from other players, is telling of how high emotions can runeven in virtual worlds. However, I am not sure if these findinds are worth the cost.

Hopefully the good work done by other scholars will eventually overshadow this case, and the ghost of Twixt dont get to last.

Twinking – Playing for the game

Having given an introduction to Twinking after my first meeting with the twinking community, my revisit promts a further dive into the twinking ideas and mentalities. With 3.2 Blizzard will introduce the ability to turn of XP gain. It has caused a new stir amongst the twinkers, and a revived discussion about what twinks actually are about.

Twinks still host a bad rep. Twinks are seen to destroy BGs cause they apparently replace gear with skill, and give their opponents little-to-no chance of survival. Further more they are blamed for graveyard camping, unsportsmanship and other dishonorable activities. To give some examples of the lack of love:

It always made we laugh how twinks claimed it’s all about the challenge as they spawn camped the graveyards. Twinks have ruined the low level battlegrounds ever since the cross-servers were introduced so this is long long overdue. (Comment on Tobold)

I was pissed off untill he said they would be separated by Non-XP gain and XP gain because i really really really hate twinks (Comment on Projectlore)

Though it’s true that twinks arent always a knight in shining armor upholding the battlefield chivalery, their efforts seem to be often misunderstood. My argument is that for all their hate, and claims of ruining “the fun” ™:  twinks are the only ones who are in it solely for a good game.

Emergent gameplay

I always found Twinks facinating from a user-producer perspective. After all, the game is designed for you to level up, gain gear and wang around at max level. Yet, at some point someone decided to go against that.  Someone went “Waaaait a minute. What if I DONT level up, and make THIS my max level?”. Twinks find other goals then those originally designed. In fact, twiking is much about finding the loopholes of the game; ghostgrinding for rep, entering the fishingcontest for rewards etc. Twinking at its core is about maximizing a character potential at a point where maximizing werent intented. That Blizz now decide to make changes in 3.2; giving the option of not gaining any XP, I see as an aknowledgement of twinking as a way of playing the game. An aknowledgement of a playstyle that came from the players not the designers. A style appreicatied by some, and hated by otheres. However, twinking is more then just finding loopholes. The emergent gameplay carries other implications too.

In it for the game

To argue that twinks are the only ones in it for the play itself, in it for the good game experience, might seem a bit counterintuitive. After all, the big buff against them is that they are using gear to cheat and unbalance fights.  However, to understand twinks you need to approach them from the perspective of emergent gameplay, cause they are not playing on the same terms as most others.

  1. Gear and play is seperate: While WoW (as other MMOs) is defined by constatly releasing new content, new tiersets, new loot – twinks deal in absolutes. For twinks there is little loot to choose from in the first place, and new loot is rarely added. The gearcap doesnt move with each major patch, it stays the same. While new content promises players new and better loot if they just keep playing, no such additions are made for twinks.Twinks are as geardependant as anyone else, but dealing with a gearcap that is fairly easily attainable gear actually becomes quite irrelevant. While raiding, arena and other kinds of PvP is much about playing and gearing up at the same time, for twinks gearing and playing is seperate. First you gear up. Then you play.
  2. Twinks dont get rewards: While all other types of play have rewards available, there are none for twinks. There are ofcourse some simple rewards to buy with honor, but those are so cheap (cause they are designed for non twinks to gain after a few games) and often bad (cause twinks have better alternatives) – that in reality there is nothing to gain from twinking in terms of in game rewards. If you PvP at level 80 you can save up honor and badges to buy a full set. Imagine playing hours and hours every night without actually getting closer to any reward (1), cause thats what most twinks do.

So, why do twinks play? They dont get rewards for doing BGs and they are not really that fun to make (anyone on their 13th ghosted boostrun in Deadmines can attest to this), yet there are twinks all around. The answer is: they do it to simply play. Because of the gearcap twinks are inducing a type of FPS play, where everyone is somewhat fair and equal standing (problems with classbalance aside) and the enjoyment is simply going from fight to fight, flag to flag, and see if you can improve on your own and the teams skills.

Its not about rewards, its not about loot – its about honing your skills, about getting a good team to work together.  It is about getting a good fight.

(1) I will admit that getting enough honor to buy both the insignia and the battlestandard takes some time if you dont buy Wintergrasp Accomodations with your level 80, but compared to the many choices of weapons, armor and trinkets there is at max level – those rewards pale in comparison.

Trying MMOs: Wizard 101

Wizard 101 Duel

Wizard 101 Duel

Harry Potter meets Collectible Cardgames (CCG) meets World of Warcraft. I think.

Wizard 101 is a free MMO designed for children. The free part is in reality a everlasting trial, so if you want new areas and access to rated duels you need to start forking out some dollars. I only tried the free version, however it did capture me and made me think a bit differently in regards of how MMOs could look and play.

My meeting with the game

The charactercreation is done like a personality test with questions along the line of: Which season is your favourite? Which of these animals do you prefer? On completion it assigned you a type of mage based on the questions. You could ofcourse skip the test and choose for yourself, however I was entized by this somewhat fresh approach to character creation. The look of the game was cartoony, and graphically impressivly similar to larger games such as WoW for beeing a free and small game.

The game is quite simple: You are a wizarding student who is exploring the Wizard City, solving quests and developing the character. Compared to other MMOs the structure of quests and areas offers nothing new, however it does have several unique features that leaves some to be desired from the “grown up MMOs”.

- CCG combat: Combat does not happen in realtime, its turnbased and locks your avatar in a duel with a monster (see picture of what the duelling looks like).  You dont have set abilities, but instead build up a deck of cards wich are drawn on random and opens up spells for you. In such it plays like a very simple CCG game; build deck, duel, draw card, choose card and play it. After each card is drawn a nice animation then plays out what the card says, f.ex a big beetle appears and charges the opponent or a goblin slides down a rainbow and fling coins at your enemy.

- Minigames: To fight others you need mana, so far the only way I have found to gain mana is to gather floating balls of blue – or to enter the faireground to play minigames. The Faireground holds a set of minigames (mostly puzzlegames) that will reward you with mana and some cash if played for 3-4 minutes. This broke up an otherwise singular game, and the minigames were fairly entertaining.

- Its a childrens MMO: The need for communication was put down to a minimum. You needed to be over 13 (if I remember correctly) to be allowed to use the chat function. Alternatives were using a menubased /say system, but it was obvious that the communication all in all was limited. There was no trade channel spamming my screen, nor people chatting away about things in area chat or in groups. The design allow for players to join other players battle without invitation or grouping, so the need for communication with other players have been minimized. I can see the importance of this when making a game for kids, for a “grown up” however this meant that the MMO part got a bit dulled down. Further more, it meant that learning was slow and lonely. While usually reading area/general chat you can pick up many pointers about how the game plays, and even ask your own questions from time to time, the silence meant I had to figure it all out on my own. I am sure there are solution to some of the annoyances I found, but who was I supposed to ask?

All in all combat was easy – but felt very different then other MMOs I have tried, the game looked pretty and had lots of heart. Its a game I wished I had a chance to play when I was a kid. After all its an immersive world with many other players where you get to be a heroic wizard! There were however things that annoyed me: Areas beeing locked out cause I didnt pay for extra stuff (excluding me perhaps from the parts I would enjoy the most), recovering from death was slow and it took a very long time to find your way back to where you were trying to complete a quest, the ccg aspect of combat was intriguing but far from challenging as most cards did the same thing, and returning to the Faireground for the minigames (even though I liked the idea) got annoying after a while if only cause it was time consuming. I am sure that the game could feel different if I decided to pay for extras, including group play and ranked duels with other players – but so far the game just seems a bit too slow and simplistic for me to really sink my teeth in.

What can I study in Wizard 101?

- Children and MMOs: This is a fresh area with few people having any data, perhaps cause its so new. How do children use games? How to they interact? With limited poosibilities (and abilites) to communicate through text, how do they facilitate cooperation? What aspect of the game is it that engages them? Who do they play with?

- Familyplay: Wizard 101 have a family discount package deal. It would be very exiting to talk to a family who all play this game together. How did they come across the game? What do they do together in game? Does the parent/child dynamic stay the same? What importance does the game have for family time/family life?

WoW Rants: Cruising in the Aura of Command

Several posts have been made about what makes a good raid leader good. Matticus recently wrote about Aura of Command, commented to be a further working on Mirror Shields “Raid Leader Auras”. They both highlight the raid leaders need to band people together and get them to work towards a common goal, and that can happen through different strategies. There is more then one way to lead a raid to victory.

Leading raids can be challenging at best of days. Matticus highlights this with the many choices that needs to be made, and that they need to be made fast and competent.  Too rarely we look at what makes a good raider. Not to say raiders aren’t discussed, but more often stories about raiders are about their fail: how they are standing in the fire and how they dont know whats going on. Raiders deserve an equally reflected and appreciative reflection as the raid leaders, and how they become good raiders from a pure RL perspective. Its within this context I will talk about the raider who is “Cruising in the Aura of Command”.

Whatever raid leader you have, and regardless of it being a knowledgeable and talented person, there are steps to take as a raider to help that person herd you in the right direction. After all the worst thing that can happen is that no one listens to the RL and everyone becomes their own raid, a lonely raid where no progress is made except on the QQ front. Perhaps that raid leader you didn’t like too much, is more then qualified – you just got on on the wrong foot? If you are wiping, is it really cause of bad leading – or is it due to bad following? (1)

If you want to cruise along to awesome, you need to get behind your captain. Here is a few tips on how to make the RL job easier from a raiders point of view.

Be a teamplayer: Sounds simple, but in reality it can be hard. Raiding is involved, and can get passionate. Not passionate as in “getting down, hot and dirty” – but simply that you are investing time and emotions into the game and you want it to go well. But, since its a group effort it means you gotta suck it up go at 100% even if you dont like the direction. This means following strategies you think are inferior, beeing handed assignments you dont like. No whine, but job well done, will make you a valuable player from a RL perspective.

Take initiative: Waiting while the raid leader assigns roles can be mind blowingly dull, and I can tell its not any more fun from the RL side of things. So, suggest yourself. You take charge! If f.ex someone is pointing out that we need a rotation for healer cool-downs, just set it up. Don’t QQ when the raid leader missed that comment and then needs a while to sort it out. Take initiative and bam! 3 minutes saved cause the RL can then focus on other things when setting up the fight. Multiply that over a whole night of raiding, and see that you can speed it up. Its the little things that will help smooth the raid and make farmruns faster, most of those are not about the raidleader doing things different.

Be patient: There will always be lots of things going on in a raid that the average raider don’t see. Officer Chat is usually active, people are asking things (“Who was I targeting?”), giving important info (“Gotta leave, my GFs car broke down”), coming with suggestions (“I saw a video on Tankspot where they were standing in the northwest corner”), chatting on VT (“Schpooopel!”) etc. Your raid leader will mostly be in the middle of all that, with lots of people wanting attention. If the raid gets held up, presume that its cause someone needed the raid leaders time – not that he/she is deliberately wasting yours. Again, someone urging people to buff and clear more trash rather then sit around and mope, is beeing proactive and is likely appreciated by the RL.

Know when to whine: This is a difficult one, but as a general rule – its never in the raid itself. If you have issues with a strategy, ask nicely. Criticizing existing strategies left right and centre will only get your RL annoyed and stressed out. Use humour, make sure to be polite. Then perhaps the info you had and the ideas you had can get across. Comments like “Why the hell are we doing it like that? Its much better if [insert strategy here]” will only push the RL on the defensive. After all, your raidleader doesnt have any superpowers (if so they would all employ anti-emo-shields), and can get stressed and insulted just the same.

Don’t take it personal: When assessing a situation, the RL will have limited information. Of Course some are better then others when it comes to utilizing addons, logs etc, but when raiding the RL wont have the chance to look through these in peace and quiet. Its about getting an impression, and making decisions based on it. Some of these impressions might not agree with what you experienced. F.ex the RL can say something like “The tanks needs to pick up those adds faster, slack playing” or “Rogues wake up! We need those interrupts!”. If you were a tank picking up adds, or one of the rogues actually interrupting – don’t bother pointing it out. Just cause you did your job, are you sure that all the other players did theirs? Best thing you can do is look closely at that aspect during next attempt, and if the RL was wrong you can give accurate info. A “but I was interrupting all the time!” wont help anyone. Observing that part of the fight and saying with certainty what happened, is always valuable.

(1) I am of course presuming here that the raid leader is not an absolute, drooling retard, but is prepared, more charismatic then a cabbage and wishes the best for the raid.