Saturday, May 23, 2015

Yep, We're Still Talking About Flying

I know. I'm sorry. It's happened so I may as well just out with it.

This post doesn't try to convince you what's wrong or right, good or bad about the fact we won't see flight in Patch 6.2 or beyond. It's more about how I went from praising the removal of flight with open arms to biting my nails in shock when the truth was realized: flight is really gone. And then how after more thought, even though I'm quite concerned about the ways this might change the game for me personally, I have a faint feeling that this will truly be better for all of us...once it all plays out.

When I learned that flight was not a guarantee at max level this time around, I was in the welcoming party. It'd be a refreshing change, even if we've been leveling up without flight since Vanilla (sans Cata). No flight at max level for an entire patch, possibly more? The world will be more alive, as they say, just begging to be explored. Treasures, zone events, hundreds of rare spawns, players out and about! Danger danger!

But I look now at the number of guildies online, and the number of friends in-game through and I notice two very interesting things: both numbers are much, much smaller than they were two months ago. Secondly, oftentimes half or more of those online are in their Garrison while half of those don't stay logged on for much time at all. A lot of people simply aren't getting out.

I think unconsciously I must've expected that, eventually, flight would come to Draenor. Perhaps an unconscious thought that was further reinfornced by leveling this expansion. Don't get me wrong---I loved it! While made to be explored, Draenor is definitely rugged, unforgiving terrain, something we did know going in. Somewhere in my noggin it just made sense to me that, come time to level alts, the journey would be made easier by being granted greater freedom on the z-axis.

I've now come to realize I wasn't really OK with the idea of no flight ever. I was OK with the previous status quo of leveling without flight. There's been a lot of discussion for and against the removal of flight; the one thing I can say is that, if you're of the disposition that you've never seen a convincing argument from the other side, you should probably open your mind a bit and/or look harder. And remember, convincing doesn't have to mean satisfying. We can agree to disagree while we all get to keep our heads.

You Can't Fix What Ain't Broke...

In the wake of this announcement, and without being privy to where Blizzard's planning to take us next, this is the bit I'm struggling with the most. To me, it seems Blizzard had the whole flight deployment thing figured out, if prior expansions are any indication. I know we cannot always rely on the past to properly inform the future, but the system that awarded flight at max level seemed the perfect answer. Hell, they even teased players for a bit in Draenor with the notion that flight could be added in a future patch. 

But it's come down the pipeline official, as it has before, that the ability to fly doesn't mesh with the vision Blizzard has for Warlords of Draenor---and apparently all expansions moving forward. The problem is, Blizzard has been piss-poor at articulating this vision. I've seen "sense of exploration" tossed out again and again, but by and large players don't seem to be swallowing that.

At the end of the day, I can't agree with Blizzard's vision here solely because they haven't offered me a coherent one. I won't even lump an imaginary group of players in here, but I bet they're out there. If you'd like to see PR speak justifying flight removal, Exhibit A.

The World Didn't Get Bigger, Only More Hostile

Imagine, for a moment, that flight did not exist in Mists of Pandaria. Seriously. Take a moment, go over those zones in your head: Valley of the Four Winds, Krasarang, Townlong Steppes, etc. Think of the rare spawns, Warbringers, and the like. Think about how, if at all, the lack of flight in Mists of Pandaria would've affected your approach to the game. 

It's this thought exercise that helped me realize that flight is inherently tied to how I enjoy this game, even if I don't fully understand how. What I do know is it allows me easier access to do what I want to do when I'd like to do it.

Psychologists probably have a better idea, but we don't have the time or money for that. But from what I gather, it's a risk vs. reward thing, or in this case, time/energy vs. reward. Draenor holds the same sort of content MoP did in terms of rares, treasures, achievements and the like. It's just that now, it takes a significant amount of additional effort to chase after it.

It's not that the world gets bigger when you remove flight, but rather, it becomes more hostile. Hostile in the sense that it's all of a sudden going to take a significantly larger amount of time and effort to get to that dig site on the other side of the continent than it did previously. And that seems to go against the process they've undertaken since the beginning: that of easing access to content, previously seen with heirlooms, group finder, LFR and oddly, garrisons.

This world may be hostile enough that a lot of players simply aren't bothering, and instead staying in the safe, cozy walls of their garrison with resources aplenty to be gathered, and no game play or interaction to be had. At least there it's easy to measure risk vs. reward. 

But Flight Was Always Optional

This was the argument I was the most tired of hearing from the pro-flyers, initially. "For those against flying, you never had to fly. You always had the option to travel by ground." In other words, YOU don't have to use it, but that doesn't mean it should be taken from me!

But let's be real here: did anyone, after learning flight for the first time at level 70, really say "ok but this breaks game immersion for me so I'm not going to use it?" Would anyone truly look at traveling the distance between Hellfire Peninsula and Shattrath City by ground once they had the ability to traverse the distance in a fraction of the time, and as the crow flies?

We do know players who deliberately challenge themselves above and beyond what's considered normal, such as a player who level-caps without harming anything, or a player who level-caps without leaving the Pandaren starting zone. But those are few and far between. The vast majority of us, I'd argue, will favor the path of least resistance when it comes to open-world PvE content. After all, I'd bet those who weren't hot on the idea of flight back in the Burning Crusade, but not upset enough to quit, have favored their flying mounts over ground travel since.

Was the introduction of flight nearly ten years ago truly a mistake? If it doesn't currently fit their vision for Draenor, just how does that vision differ from the vision they had for Pandaria? And once again, I want to know more specifically why the existence of flight kills that---because clearly, with Aviana's Feather, Goblin Glider Kits and the like we can still fly almost everywhere in Draenor. It seems like persistent, at-will, controlled flight is what's at issue. And that makes interpreting their vision no simpler for me.

If air dropping into a camp to rescue a prisoner vs. fighting through the camp for the true experience is trumped by flight, that's not flight's problem. That's a problem for the quest designers. At the end of the day, I think this was a bad decision. Unless they've got something better planned...

But You Can Stand on the Shoulders of Giants...

Old habits die hard. It's like if I had to drive six miles every night to play soccer, and then I lose my car. Now I'm faced with the prospect of biking. I'll likely cut down on the number of nights I'll play soccer, just to save time and energy. So it is with flight for me, I've realized. I've been conditioned to lean on the ability to take to the skies when it comes to how I interact with damn near everything in game. It's a practice I've been utilizing fully for nine years. That's a long friggin' time.

Then I saw the above tweet and had to take a step back. For argument's sake, friends, let's say we're split 50/50 on this. Why would Blizzard choose to remove flight, something that deeply upsets half of us, and makes the other half shrug? It doesn't seem wise...unless they've got something better planned. Improving upon existing systems or ideas is something that Blizzard is famous for. They've got the shoulders of their own giant, World of Warcraft, to stand on, in addition to the slew of other MMOs and RPGs that have come and gone (and remained) since.

As much as I really don't agree with this choice right now, I'm eager to see what they're going to do next. I really don't think we're looking at the removal of flight anymore; I think we're looking at the replacement of flight.

At least, I really hope we are.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Legacy Raid Mount Farming: Clear Once and Never Again

A while back, I was informed via Twitter that it was possible to share legacy raid lockouts between characters on the same account. At first, I was perplexed. With the way shared raid lockouts work, you would need to have one character on your account invite another character from that account to a party. Meaning, you'd have to have two characters of the same license online at the same time.

Enter the Group Finder.

Because of how the Group Finder works (and whose inner workings I profess to know nothing about), players can invite their alts to parties they've created with a little bit of work. It's not exactly straightforward, and it might annoy your guildies if you're farming with multiple characters due to the logon/logoff spam (which you'll understand shortly), but it translates to a significant amount of time saved each week. This, of course, assuming you are running this content with multiple characters.

We'll use the Lich King 25-H as an example---these steps must be followed exactly.

1. First, you'll need the lockout. Clear ICC through Sindragosa with any character---I chose a lower level toon who could handle 10-N but couldn't actually kill the Lich King on 25-H without assistance. I'll explain why shortly. Notably, the lockout can be secured on either difficulty mode at either raid size. 25 will afford more rewards in terms of take-home gold, while 10 while take slightly less time to clear.  

2. Start a Legacy content group with your lockout character in the Group Finder for Ice Crown Citadel - 25H. Name this group whatever you'd like---I generally go with "Private," though that won't prevent you from receiving random invite requests. Once the group is listed, log out of the game and onto an alt you'd like to share the lockout with. 

3. Now on the second character, open the Group Finder and search Legacy groups. The group started by your first character will be right at the top of the list, as it takes a few minutes for the group to be removed from the system after the group leader goes offline. Request an invite, log out of the game and back in with the lockout character.

4. Once back on the lockout character you will hear that familiar ping indicating you have an invite request. Now who could that be? Invite your alt, immediate log out and back onto your alt. 

5. Upon logging in with the alt, you will receive a group invite. Accept the invite and wait a minute or two for the game to pass you Group Leader. Once this happens, set Raid Difficulty to 25-N. Enter Ice Crown Citadel---you'll get a warning that 10/12 bosses have been defeated (or 11/12 if you did the Valithra encounter). Now inside, set the Raid Difficulty to Heroic and voila! Head on up to the Lich King. Killing the Lich King will not affect the lockout of the character who initially cleared the instance.

6. For multiple alts, repeat the previous steps!

Now, to preserve the lockout week to week, simply never defeat the target boss with the original character who got the lockout. After server reset, simply toggle the Raid Info tab in-game on that character, select your Ice Crown Citadel lockout, and click Extend. I currently have four level 100 characters that I try to run through each week. To secure the initial lockout, I used a level 87 Death Knight on 10-N mode and now share her lockout with alts each week. 

This method should work for any legacy content you'd like to farm---Ulduar, Mogu'shan Vaults, Firelands and the like---happy hunting!

Thanks to @Shapingus for this tip!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Time for Better Guild Recruitment Tools

shot: Hestiah
I was browsing the Guild Recruitment forums as I often do, and I came across a thread called "A Note to Blizzard." Since the title promised a departure from the LFG/LFM content found in most threads in the forum, I ventured in. The "note" turned out to be a suggestion, and by the looks of the responses, a quite popular one: 12 pages (and counting) of assent. How the hell have the forums survived? I had to chime in myself.

The author points out how Blizzard is attempting to make the game more social. They cite the S.E.L.F.I.E. camera and Twitter integration, but go on to assert that Blizzard has overlooked a key step in this process. They feel Blizzard needs to provide players better tools to find others with shared interests in game.

I have to agree.

I play in a small, casual guild that's been around for about a year and a half. We established who we wanted to be early on; the challenge was connecting with other players who wanted what we offered (and what we offer is still fairly niche). For that, we had some tools provided by Blizzard at our disposal: in-game chat, in-game guild finder, realm forums, and guild recruitment forums.

We've never utilized Trade Chat to promote our guild. To me, it's kind of like walking into a bar at closing time and asking if anyone feels like driving you home. You might get a taker, but you probably won't. If someone jumps at the opportunity, you might get the designated driver, but you're more likely to get some inebriated jerk.

No thanks.

That leaves the guild-finder tool and the forums. The guild tool is sort of just...there. If used, players who know of the tool's existence can find you, but there isn't a lot of space to describe your guild and thus may be difficult to convey what you're all about. As an individual player, you can't use the tool to put yourself out there like guilds can; your only option is to browse the guilds who've listed themselves.

The forums have brought us the most success, but that involves a hands-on approach. We'd monitor our posts---both on our realm and the guild recruitment forums---on a daily basis. At the same rate we'd also trawl the forums seeking out players who expressed a desire for something that resembled what we have. Part open-call, part head-hunting.

We've had greater results with the thread on our realm forums; part of that is because our server has a high-population, so the pool of players is pretty large. That, and the fact that almost all of the players who see the thread will already be on the realm, meaning they won't have to consider the cost of a server transfer to join up.

The guild recruitment forum is nice in that unlike the realm forum, everyone who visits the guild recruitment forum will have a shared focus. But it has its drawbacks, with competition being one of them. The forum is a constant stream of new posts by guilds looking for more, or by players looking for guilds, as well as old posts being "bumped" for visibility. A new post might enjoy an hour or two on the front page, but it will soon be buried in pages of pages of advertisements and requests, some months old.

Sadly, there are no sub-forums, either. Categories like Horde, Alliance, PvE, and PvP would go a long way. This only contributes to the noise that interferes with guilds and players finding what they're looking for.

I think a player's guild can be a major attraction in this game. I know I've stayed active during content lulls partly because of the people I play with. I'd imagine it's the same for a decent portion of the player base. I'd love to see more robust tools to help players with shared interests connect more easily. As the author of the thread that spawned this post said, some simple filtering options (like this player created on his own time) would be a good start if a complete revamp of the process isn't something easily accomplished. Players and guilds alike could find better fits with greater ease.

It seems like a win-win for both Blizzard and the playerbase.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WoW Weekly: Ready, Not Ready for 6.2

shot: @Manech
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.

I'm just going to come out with it right up front: I cannot remember a time in the nine years I've been playing World of Warcraft when I've felt less engaged. The garrison, as it's panned out, hasn't worked for me. I know, I know---I don't have to take advantage of any aspect of the garrison if I don't want to (for garrison progress is required for Patch 6.2 progress). But not utilizing the resources in the garrison clearly leaves a player at some kind of disadvantage, even if a relatively small one. 

Still, I don't often leave my garrison to explore Draenor. My main still has treasures and followers to collect, achievements to complete; I actually enjoy running 5-player content, yet Blizzard's offered little incentive to a decently geared max-level character. The last time I asked a guildie if she wanted to run a dungeon with my main, she asked if something was wrong with me. Why would I even want to do that? 

So if I'm not in my garrison, or in a guild raid, I'm not even on the continent of Draenor. I've spent more time on the Timeless Isle than Ashran by a factor of 10, at least. I've managed to complete a couple of legendary weapons from legacy content. If I'm not doing that---I'm likely engaged in some Heroes of the Storm play. Oftentimes, it's in the company of Warcraft guildies. 

The scenario reminds me of the type of play style I engage in at a very specific point each expansion: the late-expansion lull. I'm playing like I've exhausted all there is for content in Warlords when that's absolutely not the case. Hell, we haven't even seen the final raid tier. 

I think there are a few things at play, the first being a lack of time---that's on me. In past years I have had more time to play the game; with less time, I'm forced to choose which activities are the most important to me. Tidying up the garrison isn't something that's important to me, but it's sure easy to do, even if it does eat up precious time. With limited time, raiding becomes my main focus and sometimes the sole activity in game each week. It also doesn't help that I've got a step-brother who's neck deep into Heroes and always looking for a partner. 

I think the lack of story has also affected me on some level. This expansion, outside of raiding perhaps, feels a bit stagnant to me. We dealt with the major opening threat of the expansion---the Warlords---quite early on in the expansion's life. Now we're tasked with remaining in this alternate timeline to hold fast against the Burning Legion. I say let the Legion have Draenor. History in that regard is bound to repeat itself. This Draenor, too, will shatter. I'm not interested in fighting the Legion on this front when I know we'll have to fight (a version of) them on our home turf someday soon.™

I think we always secretly hope that the current expansion will be the best expansion---or at the least, live up to the previous expansion(s). And don't get me wrong: Warlords of Draenor isn't crap. But it also isn't great---it just isn't as appealing as I thought, or hoped it would be. I'm ready for 6.2 in that our raid group will be ready for what comes next. Beyond that, I'm ready to move beyond Draenor and on to the next adventure. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fool Me Once...

It's probably safe to say that most people who were queuing up to purchase a ticket for Blizzcon 2014 felt a bit nervous. Breaking the mold of previous years, Blizzard contracted a third-party vendor---Eventbrite---to facilitate ticket sales. Granted, one can hardly blame them for this choice. Not only does it likely save them time and money, but it passes the headache of coordinating such a high-demand sale to an entirely different entity.

Googling "Blizzcon ticket fiasco" tells a story. The articles and blogs from this year haven't yet broken to the top of the results, but you'll find a lot of info on what's known as the Official Fiasco of 2008. There's another article on the 2012 process on the first page, where Blizzard's own ticketing site was down for hours, leaving people who set aside time unable to buy tickets.

Last year, I was a first hand witness to Eventbrite's systems. While many people reported issues with the queuing system, my friends and I were able to get through with relative ease. We weren't deaf to the plight of others, but luckily hadn't experienced the same issues other people were having.

Blizzard acknowledged last year's problems. In fact, we were assured Eventbrite had looked into the causes of the bottlenecks last year and would be prepared. Then Wednesday happened. Long story short, Eventbrite admitted there was an error in the Waiting Room system, but they believed they'd returned it to full functionality by the Saturday sale.

Unfortunately, that did not happen. The issues experienced Saturday were, for one, much worse and more widespread than last year. Additionally, the issues experienced on Saturday were much worse and more widespread compared to Wednesday. It was an actual regression. Some players got to the purchase screen only to submit their order error out. Other people, myself included, had the order error out, yet received an e-confirmation that indeed, our transaction went through.

Perhaps the most common problem was being placed into a Waiting Room that truly lived up to its expectations; you literally just waited, and for too many people nothing happened. Meanwhile, the savvy/less-patient of us out there opened new browser windows and were able to nab tickets almost instantly.

That's two years now. I think Eventbrite has had their chance to prove whether or not they're capable of handling the type of demand Blizzcon sees. It's not about having the ability to do better; it's about actually doing better. Blizzard would be best served by another vendor.