Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't Be That Player: The Beggar Police

Shoeless Bob is in need.
Many of us have been That Player at one time or another. From toxic players, oblivious raiders, elitist jerks and beyond, Don't Be That Player is a series that looks at different scenarios we've all encountered, and how they might be approached differently. 

You're at the mailbox in front of your faction capital's auction house, cleaning out expired items and sales from the day before. Trade chat is buzzing, your mailbox empties, so you head into the auction house. You notice a level 9 character trailing you, and he stops just behind you as you interact with the auctioneer.

"Can u spare some gold," reads the white text above the player's head. Before you have a chance to respond, several nearby players do it for you with the likes of  "lazy noob is lazy" and "go quest and get it yourself getting gold is easy." Ah yes. That age-old MMO sin called laziness.

Don't be any of those players. Well, if you've gotta be one of them, be the beggar. But don't throw in with the Beggar Police.

Before I get into it, please know I'm not oblivious to the fact that the act of begging is perceived negatively. I recall one instance where I'd simply logged on to post auctions only to be hounded by a low-level player who wanted me to run them through Molten Core. That was mildly annoying.

On the flip side, I've given away tens of thousands of gold to so-called beggars, sometimes thousands of gold at once, mainly because I can remember what it was like to be in their shoes: facing either a return to town or the destruction of items mid-quest because of inadequate bag space; being unable to train a certain riding/flying skill because gold reserves wouldn't allow it; seeing the chasm between point A and point B and having no idea how to reach the destination.

So what is the difference between the beggar and the person in genuine need? There usually isn't one...

Could they reach their goal on their own without a handout? Unequivocally, yes. Could you assist them in reaching that goal much faster than they would've alone? For most of us, yes. Sure, the begging player could really be a sleaze who preys on the kindness of others with the intent of saving up enough money for a Grand Expedition Yak. But how likely is that? If that's what keeping you from helping another player out, that's some Alex-Jones-level paranoia*. If you're worried about it, fine, but by god don't try to prevent someone else from helping because you see things a certain way.

In fact, I dare you to help out next time you encounter a beggar, but don't just give your money away. Ask them what it's for. Gear? Maybe they aren't aware that they're better off questing and running dungeons since any purchased gear would be quickly replaced. Gold? Turns out they want to buy bags, and you've got a tailor sitting on a ton of extra cloth. Either way, nobody gets hurt, a random player gets a little help, and you get to go to bed knowing you've made Azeroth better place for at least one person.

Occasionally, I'll hear back from a player I helped. One returned two and a half years later to repay a substantial sum I'd given him to train flying (back when it was expensive). The other told me how my generosity inspired him to do the same when he encountered other players in need.

The intended takeaway, and this can apply to many other scenarios: if you're actively going to try to prevent a player from doing something you don't like, but causes no harm to another player...just don't. Especially if all they really want is help.

On the Flip: Becoming a Better Beggar

Begging for stuff will be inherently seen as a bad thing in a game where nearly anything you'd possibly want to acquire can be earned through a bit of work. Being an MMO though, there's still a lot of room for players to rely on others, and asking for some assistance via way of a few gold coins or satchels doesn't seem outrageous to me.

So beggars, next time, don't beg---which in Warcraft we've loosely defined as the act of asking a stranger for something that you could easily acquire or achieve by yourself. Instead, ask for help. Going from player to player with a direct question tends not to yield positive results. Unless you're lucky enough to find me. Instead, make your appeal a general one. What you'd really like: four 16-slot bags and maybe 10g. How you ask for it:

"Just re-rolled on this server, curious if anyone would be able to help me with a couple of things. PST!"

Though you didn't ask for bags and coinage directly in the question above, you've positioned yourself as a player in need instead of as a beggar. This is an extremely important distinction. By controlling this small-but-significant perception, I find you're much more likely to get help. And if you are a player in need, remember the kindness done to you when you have the opportunity to help someone else out later on down the road.

Is there a subject you'd like to see me tackle in Don't Be That Player? Email me.

*no true offense meant by the Alex Jones dig. Occasionally the man produces a content gem, he's just a bit too antagonistic for my tastes. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

WoW Weekly: Paid the Legendary Price...Thrice

WoW Weekly is a biweekly-ish, self-absorbed look into the things I've been doing -- or not doing -- in the game. From auctioneering and pet battling to mount farming and raiding.

Boy-oh-boy have many things happened since the last WoW Weekly update. I'm one of those folks who's still playing Warcraft, albeit less, but I find myself with goals outside of the guild's organized activities. There's that cutie up above, for one. But I'll get to that in a sec.

Last week holds the highlight of this update, when I finished the legendary quest chain on my priest, the third of my characters to have done so. The buff to legendary drops came in handy and I was able to finish what is arguably the most grueling aspect of the journey in two weeks' time. While the Gaze of the Black Prince is nice for folks playing catch-up, I don't see myself earning a fourth legendary cloak. But I also didn't see one year of Siege of Orgrimmar, so who friggin' knows at this point.

Outside of guild raids, play time has been pretty casual, and even then I've been mostly focused on playing the Auction House. In addition to goldmaking:
  • Shadowmourne is mine through the grace of dedicated guildies (still) searching for Invincible's Reigns! However, I'm not quite done with my quest for Legendaries: I've got two characters sitting with the right half of the Bindings of the Windseeker, and the Fangs of the Father are on notice. 
  • The guild has spent approximately two hours on Heroic: Immerseus to date, with this week (hopefully) involving our next foray. Brutal, but fun, and nice to have a challenge.
  • I'm leveling a monk to 80 in order to participate in a guild Herald of the Titans run. There was a rumor going around that if you simply zerged the boss dead within 6 seconds of the encounter's start, the achievement would be awarded erroneously because of faulty coding. While this may have been the case at one point in time, we went ahead and did some research and can confirm this is no longer true.
  • I've pushed a massive update to my Free Battle Pets. My plan is to keep this open until Warlords of Draenor drops, and then I'm going to turn what remains into gold.
  • One of our guild members won the Tusks of Mannoroth during last week's Normal raid. Lucky duck. They should rename the shoulders to Tusks of Jealous Whispers, because that's all he's been subjected to since he equipped that mantle. 
What about you? How are you staving off boredom at the expansion's end?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Branding: Why the Warcraft Movie Logo Makes Sense

img: Legendary
I had a three-year stint working for an ad agency that provided branding services for clients. A caveat: I was more of a wordsmith and an IA designer, so not an expert in all-things branding. Still, we launched several companies from the ground, one of which in particular is experiencing impressive success in their state and beyond. Granted, we thought they were selling a pretty sweet product, but still their message had to be tailored, packaged, and distributed through the smartest channels.

It has been over a year since I left the agency, but some of the mixed reactions to the logo from the upcoming Warcraft movie got me thinking about my old job. Re-branding---the act of updating, changing and retooling current brand assets---can be extremely risky. Generally, it's done to freshen up or give a face lift to a company or product aiming for greater appeal among a wider audience. Of course there's been a rich history of re-brandings that didn't go so well.

But Blizzard isn't re-branding. They have no need to. So why isn't the Warcraft movie logo the logo we fans have become accustomed to over the past twenty years? The answer is simple: audience. 

Warcraft: the Movie needs to make money, and in order to do that, it's going to need to be seen by a much wider audience than the one currently invested in the Warcraft franchise. While it's unclear just how much of a budget the Warcraft movie has, director Duncan Jones is surely working with more than the $5 million he had for Moon. If every current and former player saw the movie in theatres twice and then bought the DVD, it wouldn't guarantee a profit. Not even close. 

So how do you entice people to see your action-packed, drama-infused, visually stunning film that's based on a game universe when they have no interest in it (and in fact, may hold an unfavorable opinion towards video games in general)? You get them to forget it's based on a game and promote like it's just another action movie. I may eat a hat on this one, but I fully expect that most---if not all---of Legendary's promotional efforts once trailers are out will conveniently leave out the fact that the movie derives its plot from a video game. 

I think at this point, a good portion of the movie-going public have seen a Warcraft commercial; remember, the ads were pretty popular a few years back when they had all those celebrities sitting in. Heck, some aired during the Super Bowl! Chances are that tens, if not hundreds of millions of people who don't play the game have already formed an opinion about it. And as Legendary Pictures sees it, that just may not be the right opinion.

Maybe each and every trailer will include "Based on the #1 Best-Selling MMO of All-Time," but I highly doubt it. Blizzard and Legendary Pictures already have the majority of us---fans of the Warcraft franchise---in their pockets. We'd see the film even if the logo would've came to us in pastel-colored comic sans. It's the rest of the world that Legendary needs to capitalize on, those who've maybe seen a commercial once or twice, have a friend who plays, or know nothing altogether. They need to be convinced this is a movie proper, and not just some video game brought to screen, made just for the game's fans. The logo is part of that. 

What do you think? Agree, disagree, or request my address in the comments so you can send me a hat to chew on.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

30 Minutes of Beta

img: Blizzard
I freely admit I'm a bad beta tester. My wish for new content is in direct conflict with my desire to avoid spoiling the story before the expansion actually drops. It was the same with with the Mists beta: I played through the entirety of the Pandaren starting experience, logged in on a max-level copied character once or twice, but didn't do much beyond that. This time around, I've reached a compromise: I've played through the starting experience on my max-level Orc shaman decked out in fully upgraded Normal SoO gear, then used the template system to create a max-level Dwarf shaman to play through the Alliance starting zone.

Surely there are game-wide spoilers to be seen with the completion of Shadowmoon Valley, but I'm hoping I'll be able to shield myself from some of the Horde-specific ones until launch. So far, I've only played for about 30 minutes: through the Tanaan Jungle with the Orc, and partway through again with the Dwarf. Still, I've seen enough to share a few observations and opinions.

Squint to See the Squish

I've grown accustomed over the years to playing with combat text turned off; I'm not so much a big numbers guy, more a is-the-raid-alive-and-the-boss-dead guy. Unless you're looking for the stat squish, you won't see it: this change doesn't affect how the game plays one bit. In full-out raid gear mobs vaporized before my shortest cooldowns refreshed. With the templated shaman, it wasn't much slower.

Selectively Enchanted

I saw enchants for necklaces, cloaks, rings, and weapons, and they added secondary stats like Multistrike, Readiness, Spirit, Armor, Haste, etc. I haven't yet seen what end-game professions will look like, but Blizzard being more selective with which armor pieces can be enchanted gives me hope that we might see some really unique (and cool!) enchants at max level. 

UI & QoL Upgrades

There's that glow (red, green, sometimes yellow) that surrounds an NPC when you mouse over them indicating their level of hostility towards you. When I was told to find some guy, he was easily spotted from a distance because of the soft yellow outline that enveloped him. I understand this feature can be turned off if the player desires so.

Quest items no longer taking up inventory space is another welcome change. When I was instructed to put the Iron Horde's huts to the torch, there wasn't an item in my inventory, but when in close proximity to the huts an Extra Action Button popped up in the middle of my screen where it was easily clickable.

The Toybox feature is neat and provided a bit of relief to my overstuffed inventory, but I was surprised by some of the items that were deemed unworthy for the Toybox. Also, if you're super anal about how your bags are organized, take care before you push that "Clean Up Inventory" button. 

See It to Believe It

The visuals so far are stunning. The character designs remind me a bit of what Blizzard is doing with Heroes of the Storm, and that's not a bad thing. My Orc shaman feels like there's more substance, more weight to him when he runs or swings an axe. There are some really nice spell effect upgrades that grant a new sheen to spells many of us have been using for years.

I did bristle at the face Blizzard gave my Orc shaman, and at this writing I'm still not fond of it. It doesn't match up with the way I've come to view my shaman, my main character since the Burning Crusade. It is my deep, deep hope that Blizzard is going to surprise the hell out of all of us by offering a robust variety of face customization options. Given the vast array of choices players are given by Blizzard's competitors, I just don't see how they couldn't.

Hear It to Believe It

At last year's Blizzcon I attended a panel on the sounds of Warcraft; they've not only updated elements of the game visually, but they've also attacked the audio. Part of what I experienced may have came via the sheen of new content, but things sounded more immediate and more chaotic when running through that first zone. Some of the new spell effect sounds are plain badass.

The Ability Prune

Clearly, some classes are seeing much more than others. Enhancement shaman received a few tweaks, but no large overhauls. For enhancement, I feel the changes didn't go far enough, but the ones they've made I completely agree with. However, that's a subject for another post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Letting Go of the Loot

Two weeks ago, history was made. Though the significance of such can vary from person to person, and I suspect you, the reader, have little vested interest in what took place, this history involved both a personal milestone as well as a guild milestone: we ran our first 25-player raid, each slot being filled by a member of Sapere Aude. For me, it was the first time I'd actively organized a raid of that size.

And it was work. Normally, we run a 10-player and a Flexible group that tends to skew into the high teens. While I've had experience working with a larger group, there was one element I hadn't considered: loot distribution. As leader of our raids, and since my role as a damage-dealer wouldn't be terribly missed for a couple of minutes, I never gave a second though to not dishing out loot myself---until we encountered the increased amount of loot drops in 25s. Distributing the spoils became more cumbersome, and then there was the task of tracking who won what so that our loot rules could be properly enforced. That, in addition to making sure the run continued on without delay.

The group is at the point where it can pretty much run itself through SoO. Still, come Warlords of Draenor, we'll have new challenges, new packs of trash, new bosses and possibly a greater need for raid direction in the immediate aftermath of a boss kill. I realized it was time to find a new Loot Master.

It was a small yet significant change, and I don't miss handling the loot one bit. I'm freed up to keep the raid slashing its way towards the next encounter while another player loots the boss, calls for rolls, distributes and tracks loot. You know those times when you discover a new way of doing something, and after the discovery you can't believe you'd been doing it any other way? Yeah, this is one of those times. I'm an advocate of the non-Raid Leader Loot Master, and feel every organized raid should have one.

How does it work in your raids? Are leading and loot two separate domains, or does your leader shoulder both responsibilities?