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The Cape of Stranglethorn July 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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8 comments

Once there was a zone called Stranglethorn Vale.  It was a place of jungle and raptors and trolls and missing pages from books and that bastard Hemet Nesingwary who would continue to haunt our existence through every expansion with his wildlife slaughtering requests.

It was a large and somewhat controversial zone… though some appreciated the quest design… that would try your patience for endless running (you didn’t have a mount when you got there back in the day) and managing your bag space.

It was where the Horde and Alliance really started to merge.  Before Stranglethorn Vale, each side had most zones to themselves.  Afterwards, everybody ran down the same list of zones.

And it was placed right in the middle of the leveling curve, in that danger zone when the fun of the first twenty or so levels had receded from your rear view mirror, but the level cap of 60 (way back when) was still somewhere over the horizon.

At one point I had five or six characters stuck somewhere in their mid-30s, bags full of pages from The Green Hills of Stranglethorn and logs full of quests with horrible drop rates, congested “kill a single named mob” choke points, or more variations on slaughter for hire, unable to progress due to a desire never to see that jungle again.

Stranglethorn Vale that was...

Stranglethorn Vale that was…

From the rebel camp to Booty Bay, from the Vile Reef to the Venture Company sites, from Kurzen’s Camp to the Nesingwary Expedition, from the Gubashi Arena to the pirates off the the southeast coast, Stranglethorn Vale has a lot going on.  And while you can blue sky daydream about the good old days in the Vale, you have to remember that Blizzard felt it had to boost the questing experience in Dustwallow Marsh, adding in Mudsproket and a whole range of additional quests around Theramore and Brackenwall.  At the time this was pretty much a mea culpa from Blizzard that old STV might be a bit more of a pain than the expected.

And then came the Cataclysm.  The zone was split into two, with the top half becoming Northern Stranglethorn Vale and the bottom becoming the Cape of Stranglethorn, which strikes me a bit like having North Carolina and the Carolina Strand as states… you tend to call out “north” only if there is a “south” right… but then the whole continent is called The Eastern Kingdoms, which is a vague, hand waving description more than a name in my opinion, so my problems with the geographic naming conventions of Azeroth are long standing.

I had already wrapped up the Northern Stranglethorn achievement with my warrior, Makarov, way back in March of last year when I was back in the game on a seven day pass and still not over my post-Cataclysm malaise.

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

Northern Stranglethorn Vale

But for whatever reason, Makarov moved on to the Plaguelands (of which there is an East and a West, so there), leaving the Cape of Stranglethorn untouched.  And so it remained, until I decided to go for the Loremaster achievement this summer.

More after the cut.

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You Get to Decorate the House You Have, Not the House You Might Want July 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Runes of Magic, World of Warcraft.
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22 comments

Housing is one of the great line-item features that a lot of people think every MMO should have.  There is a strong desire to have a place to call your own in what tends to be an unchanging and unalterable virtual world.  There is some need within us to leave our mark somewhere in the game.  I get that.

And companies have responded to that over the years, offering up various forms of housing.  Housing was a big part of Ultima Online back in the day.  Housing was part of the attraction of WildStar, which just launched a few weeks back.  And over the years I have explored various implementations.  If I play a game long enough, and it has housing, I am usually there to give it a try.

But how well it sticks for me… well, that is another story.

Rift offered up housing with the Storm Legion expansion, but it was so free form that I barely did anything with it.

Dimension by the Sea

Unfurnished Dimension by the Sea

People have done amazing things with dimensions in Rift… they were even doing so back during the Storm Legion beta… but, like most of Storm Legion, it just didn’t hook me.

Lord of the Rings Online, by comparison, offered some very pretty housing that was, in fact, a house.  A house on a lot even.

A house in Bree

A house in Bree

But the options for it were so limited that I ended up letting it lapse.  There wasn’t much advantage to having the house and the customizations were limited to just a few locations within the house.  You could hang up things from the world… taxidermied monsters or fishing trophies… but it still felt very generic.

And then clipping issues...

And then clipping issues…

And while I liked the idea of there being a yard, the instanced neighborhoods were somewhat awkward.

Elves and their damn monuments

Elves and their damn monuments

And it was tough to find a neighborhood where all of us could find a house we could afford.  In the end, the minor storage benefit of my house in LOTRO meant I let the lease lapse.

EverQuest actually threw down and added housing with the House of Thule expansion.  It borrowed a lot from its younger brother, EverQuest II, while using the instanced neighborhood model similar to LOTRO.  And I was reasonably impressed with SOE’s ability to overlay yet another complex interface onto the aging EverQuest client.  Plus the houses looked good.

A more complete development

A Norrathian housing development

The problem there was that I was pretty much done with EverQuest as a main game by that point.  I like to visit old Norrath, so I had to go try it out, but I had nothing really to put in the house and the upkeep, which was aimed at those who had kept up with inflation, was well beyond my means.

And there have been others.  Runes of Magic offered housing that gave you some form of storage, along with a woman in a skimpy French maid outfit.

Go Google the outfit

Go Google the outfit

Landmark seems to be all housing.  It is about as free form as you can get. no game at this point.

Behold Zuul's Sky Altar

Behold Zuul’s Sky Altar

The pity is that there is no actual game around it yet.

Meanwhile, in EVE Online, the Captain’s quarters… the start (and probably the end) of housing in New Eden… allowed you to see your full body at last, and then park that body on a couch to watch something boring on a screen.

What is on Space TV today?

What is on Space TV today?

That might be too meta for me.

And since I am on about different flavors of housing, I will mention Star Wars Galaxies before some fan comes in to remind us all that this was the greatest housing ever.  We will have to agree to disagree on that point.  Yes, it gave you your own little spot in the real world where you could open a store or whatever.  But it was a visual blight on the game,  with huge clumps of houses strewn across the open landscape, encroaching right up to the edge of any in-game landmark.  It made the game look like a Tatooine trailer park.

Looks like a Star Wars trailer park

Literally a Tatooine trailer park

But after having gone through so much in-game housing over the years, I have to say that there has only been one housing model that has really suited me.  And that is the EverQuest II model.

Yes, you do not get your own house in the midst of the world.  At best you share a door to a stately home or guild hall with everybody else who has rented the same facility, so you all live there in parallel in your own instances.  I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps away the blight problem, and while there is the problem of finding somebody’s house from a listing at a door, one of the bragging points I have heard about the SWG model was that finding people was difficult so that knowing where a given person lived and set up a store gave you power.  I’ll take the less blight version.

But the key for me was that EQII housing gave me exactly what I wanted, which was a simple house where I could hang trophies and other rewards from my travels.  I had the option to decorate, and at times Gaff, who had a carpenter, would send me some neat furniture to spiff up my home, but mostly I just decorated with things picked up as I played.  And the important part was that somebody at SOE foresaw that need and provided me with plenty of items to stick in my home.  In fact, whoever came up with the reward of a weapon you could mount on your wall for the Lore & Legend quests was a genius, followed by the person who decided to make heritage quest rewards displayable in your home.  I went through and looked at every character I had played past level 20 the other night, and every single one of them has a house and has at least some Lore & Legend quest rewards hung on the wall.

Weapons on the wall

Weapons on the wall

There are other aspects about it that make EQII housing good.  The interface is simple.  The house models themselves come in a variety of designs, from simple box flats to a whole island if you want a big guild hall.  And the base models are cheap.  You can have a house in any city for five silver a week, which was inexpensive back at launch when SOE was working very hard to keep a lid on inflation and no mob in the game dropped actual coin.

EverQuest II housing is really ideal for my desires. It is just a pity that it is in EQII.

It is a pity because I do not play EQII.  I don’t play it because, for all the little things it does right, I don’t enjoy the main game.  I don’t enjoy the main game, the character progression and zones and levels and what not for various reasons.  Some of the reasons are pretty concrete, such as the fact that none of my close friends play the game anymore.  It is on the official “never again” list for the instance group.  Some of the reasons are very subjective.  I really don’t like the 50-70 zones all that much.  Everything after Desert of Flames makes me yawn, and even that expansion still strikes me as “the new stuff.”

After all of the above, I am finally getting to my point.

Despite the fact that EverQuest II has pretty much the ideal housing setup for me, I do not play EverQuest II.  I don’t play EverQuest II because I don’t play MMOs for the side features, I play them because I enjoy the overall game.

So I love housing in EverQuest II and the music system in Lord of the Rings Online and the old world of EverQuest and the OCD inducing find all the points of interest apects of GuildWars 2 and… hrmm… I am sure sure there is something I could inject here about Rift if I thought about it… but I don’t play those game because the main game just doesn’t click with me.

I play World of Warcraft and EVE Online which, respectively, ten years in has no housing at all and possibly the most useless housing in the genre.  I play them because I enjoy the main game, or the part of the main game in which I indulge.

So if you are out there trolling for page views by raging about garrisons in one breath because they didn’t meet your unrealistic and unsubstantiated expectations, after making it clear you never cared about housing being brought to WoW in the previous breath, in an environment where housing was probably a slip of the tongue to describe the feature, because Blizzard has been pretty clear in the past about their views on housing in WoW… well… I guess I got the punch line at the start of this sentence, didn’t I?  Those who get paid by the page view…

Would I like garrisons to be EQII housing brought to Azeroth?  You bet!  That would be a dream come true.

But unless you have a compelling argument that garrisons are so bad that they are going to ruin the main game, there isn’t much drama to be had in my opinion.  We can talk about how better the developers might have spent their time I suppose.  But this is a pet battles sort of feature.

In the end, I am buying Warlords of Draenor for ten more levels of World of Warcraft and all the zones and stories and pop culture references and silly shenanigans that goes with it.  And I suspect that will be the story for most people.

If garrisons have any merit, people will play with them and maybe even stay subscribed a bit longer.  Or if they have any achievements… and of course they will have achievements… people will play with them for that.  And if garrisons are truly the waste of time and effort as described, then people will use them to the extent that they need to in order to get to level cap and grab the achievements, at which point they will be forgotten like many a feature in the past.

Is somebody going to try to convince me that this was a make or break feature for Warlords of Draenor?

Or, if you want, just tell me about your favorite MMO housing.  Somebody will anyway, so I might as well invite it!

The tl;dr version: If housing really is a must-have important feature for you, you probably aren’t playing WoW now and you probably won’t be playing it in the future.

Anyway, back to happy pictures.  I put a gallery of my housing collections in EQII, plus a bit of the Revelry & Honor guild hall (which is huge), after the cut, because it really is my ideal housing plan.

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Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers July 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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6 comments

One of the questions that comes up all the time in the EverQuest forums is when will SOE launch the next progression server?  It may be the most popular question on the Progression Server sub-forum.

Second place goes to people asking for a Classic server, though those questions are somewhat undermined by both the fact that they are off-topic in that sub-forum and that there is nothing like an agreed upon definition of what a Classic server would actually include.  It ranges from just launch content out to the Planes of Power expansion, though there are a couple of voices that would stretch thing to just shy of Gates of Discord.

So the two most popular topics seem to be about getting a new special EverQuest server from SOE.

And why not?  SOE has something of a history with special servers for EverQuest, going all the way back to the initial PvP server to the first progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out in June of 2006, to the Mayong 51/50 server back in 2009, to the current Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr servers, with their time locked rule sets, which went live in February 2011.

Foggy, foggy Fippy

Foggy, foggy Fippy

So the assumption is that of course SOE is going to roll another one, it is just a question of when.  When will SOE roll out the next progression server?

My gut response to that is “never.”

There are lots of arguments for such a server.  It brings people back to the game.  It rewards long term fans.  It is popular, illustrated by the fact that both times they have done a progression server they have had to roll a second server to accommodate demand.  And in a time when the game is free to play, a luxury item like a special nostalgia server seems like a reasonable way to boost revenue.

On the flip side of all of that there is the problem with nostalgia.  That driving sense of nostalgia often doesn’t last long beyond the point when you return to the time/place/song you were nostalgic for.  I have read a couple of articles about how the internet is going to kill nostalgia as a sensation before too long.  When you have access to what amounts to a historically unprecedented amount of information in the comfort of your own home, the moment you feel nostalgic for something, you can track it down on the internet and watch/listen/read all there is available about, to the point that the sensation is sated.  Having access to the thing for which you are nostalgic replaces nostalgia with reality.  And, often times, the reality includes the downside, the reason the world moved on or the series got cancelled or that you never bought that band’s second or third album.

After "Vacation" there wasn't much point...

After “Vacation” there wasn’t much point…

So while the progression servers… or any special servers… tend to start off strong.  Things taper off over time.  Fippy Darkpaw was packed when it opened and remained popular for the first few expansions.

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

After a while though, the feeling begins fade.  Potshot and I joined in on the fun and were quite invested for a while, visiting many old locations in the game.  And while the great PSN/SOE hacking episode of April 2011 knocked us off the path, that episode might have done us a favor.  We ran around a little bit more after that, but for me at least, content after Kunark is still flagged as “that new stuff” in my brain, so our progress was arrested before we made ourselves sick on nostalgia.

But nostalgia does wear off.  And so it is that the question “When will Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr be merged?” might be the third most common question on the progression server sub-forum.  In hindsight, SOE probably should have just bit the bullet and stuck with a single server, especially based on the history they had with The Combine and The Sleeper, which had to be merged less than a year into their lives, because now things are very quiet on both servers.

Unless you are in one of the raiding guilds.  They still play, racing to unlock each expansion and then hanging around, farming gear, until the next expansion.  But they are playing their own game and the rest of the server could be empty and it would not bother them.

So nostalgia wears out or the server advances to the point where the current expansion is no longer nostalgia and you end up with something more akin to a special raiding preserve as opposed to a home for old school players.

Thus I think that, given the cost of maintaining such a server and the limited pool of personnel that SOE has to devote to such tasks (as opposed to working on EverQuest Next) I think we may have seen the last special EverQuest server out of SOE.  Smed isn’t going to overtly point you to Project 1999, but SOE hasn’t shown much interest in stamping out such private servers of late either.

And what other game would be prime for such a nostalgia server?  EverQuest is somewhat unique in that not only were there a lot of expansions, but that expansions tended to leave old zones alone.  Blackburrow today looks pretty much like it did back in 1999.

Certainly World of Warcraft would spring to mind for many, but Blizzard effectively shut down that idea when Cataclysm reworked the original game.  There are parts of the old world that were no doubt better for the change, but you cannot go home again.  There is nostalgia for original vanilla WoW in part because you can’t go there any more, and Blizzard isn’t going to support two clients just so you can go back in time.

And what other games would be prime for nostalgia.  RuneScape has an old school server up now, and Dark Age of Camelot did one in the past.  But most other MMOs are too young or have changed so much that the work to create anything like a nostalgia server would make the whole thing a non-starter.  Lord of the Rings Online still delivers about the same experience for the first 40 levels, so who needs a different sort of server.  A few people pine for the early days of EverQuest II, but how would you even roll back to that?

Then there are games like EVE Online, where there is only the one server.

I asked in a post just about two years back if SOE was going to be the sole vendor of a nostalgic MMO experience.  Now I wonder if even they will keep that up.

But then there will be nostalgia.

Maybe, at some point, way down the road, nostalgia will become a viable business decision for some MMOs.

What sort of special server would you want to see?  What game should have a nostalgia server some day?

What Does It Mean to be a “Subscription MMO?” July 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft.
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24 comments

I am on the press release list along with a lot of real media outlets, so my inbox is often stuffed with the raw material that is barely recycled for content a lot of places around the web.

I skim through them every day, but don’t bother to mention 99% of them as they tend to be rather thin on things worth talking about.

This morning through there was a press release from SuperData Research pointing at their June factoid report.  Lots of little bits of data in that from which you can barely come up with to points to draw a line about anything.

The highlight of the report though was a chart listing out revenues for the top subscription-based MMO titles for 2013, worldwide.

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

Top Subscription MMO Revenue

The top spot is unsurprising.  WoW, even down to something like 60% of its peak, still rakes in money like no other.  Then there are a couple Asian MMOs which you might have heard of if you have been paying close enough attention.  Lineage 1 is still NCsoft’s biggest money maker.

And then you come to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Lord of the Rings Online, where you might legitimately ask a question like, “Hey, aren’t those free to play?”

As the title of this post asks, what makes for a subscription MMO these days?  Because if we are talking about needing a subscription to play, several of those titles fall off the list immediately.

But if, as the list here suggests, merely offering a subscription option is enough to be called a subscription MMO, then aren’t we missing a title or two.

Specifically, I would expect EverQuest II to make the list.  I don’t have any hard data to back up that expectation, but my gut impression of the game is that it ought to be somewhere on the list ahead of Lord of the Rings Online, something that is backed up, in my mind, by the fact that EQII has no problems cranking out expansions and interim content for all ranges of player while LOTRO is publicly giving up on raiders for now and doesn’t seem to be able to scrape it together for an expansion in 2014.

But maybe EQII isn’t doing as well as I thought.  Or maybe SOE’s model somehow falls outside of what SuperData considered a subscription MMO.  Or, most likely, maybe SOE just didn’t cooperate with SuperData and its information requests.  And one could also ask about Final Fantasy XIV.

Otherwise, I am somewhat surprised at where LOTRO ranks.  SWTOR is still popular, if not WoW popular, and that its revenue is only 1.65x what Turbine gets for LOTRO seems odd, given the downtrodden way Turbine seems these days.  And Rift seems way down the line.  But that does seem to mostly line up with the 2013 end of year summary for the Digital Dozen over at The Nosy Gamer.  EVE is generally higher on the list than LOTRO, but otherwise it seems about right.  Does that give this chart more validity?  Or the Digital Dozen?

And, of course, one key item missing from this chart is how much subscription revenue played into the totals listed.

Because the follow up chart points out that subscription revenues have been decreasing since their peak in 2010.

Subscription revenue

Subscription revenue

Subscriptions are trending down, while microtransactions are… well…  sort of flat really if you look at that line.  They are not not rising up sufficiently to off-set the loss of subscription revenue overall, which seems to go against what some cheerleaders for the model would have us believe.

Which might be why we saw a couple of subscription based launches this year.  SuperData pulled out the very exact number of 772,374 for The Elder Scrolls Online subscriptions.  That would make for a nice revenue stream.  WildStar was mentioned, but since it just launched in June, there were no numbers.

I would really like to know how much of the revenue for a game like SWTOR or LOTRO comes from subscribers.  If that chart is to be believed, subscriptions still make up most of the revenue.

And what does all of this mean?  This isn’t the range of data I would like, but you look at the industry with the data you have, not the data you want.  But I am not prepared to go all Massively comment thread, where the trend seems to be “lying liars lie!” for everybody whose pet theory is not supported by the data provided.

Anyway, as noted, the full report is here.  If you want more data, you have to pay.

Addendum: Azuriel makes an interesting comparison between the above chart and other MMO data available.

Addendum 2: And Flosch takes the numbers and extrapolates a bit.

Winterspring, Swamp of Sorrows, and The Blasted Lands July 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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7 comments

My summer Loremaster project moved its first character out of vanilla WoW… well, post-Cataclysm vanilla WoW… or whatever we want to call the 1-60 part of the game these days… and into The Burning Crusade content.  Trianis, my night elf rogue, started off on these three zones at level 53, but by the time he finished up the last one he was level 61 and ready to go through the dark portal and into the Hellfire Peninsula.

Looking out from the Portal

Looking out from the Portal

Last time around he had finished up Felwood, run through the Timbermaw tunnel, and had emerged into Winterspring.  Taking that on was just the natural progression, so in I went.

Winterspring

Winterspring Map

Winterspring Map

More after the cut.

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A New Player in Azeroth! July 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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21 comments

When it comes to World of Warcraft, I can divide my friends and acquaintances into two groups:

  • Those interested in playing WoW
  • Those not interested in playing WoW

The former group is mostly made up of those who currently play the game, those on a break but who know they will come back for the next expansion, and those who once played and still have some interest in the game and who might come back some day.  The union between that group and the group made up of those who have played WoW would make for a Venn diagram that would almost completely overlap.  Being a member of that first group almost requires that you have already played WoW at some point.

The second group is more diverse.  It includes people who played WoW and didn’t like it, or who felt betrayed by some change along the line, as well as those who don’t like the MMO genre, or didn’t like some other game in the MMO genre and are thus soured on it forever (EverQuest being the primary source of those people), or people for whom video games are pretty much a game console only thing, or, of course, people who just don’t play video games.  Lots of those out there.

Basically, nearly ten years into the life of World of Warcraft, most anybody I know who is going to play WoW already has.  The pool of people who haven’t played WoW, but might at some point, has basically dried up.

Or so I thought.

The other day a friend mentioned that he and his wife had started playing WoW.  They downloaded the very limited Starter Edition, of which I wrote recently, rolled up trolls, and started in on Azeroth.  He reads the blog occasionally, so I’ll have to ask if that post planted a seed.

WoWStarterEdition

In hindsight, I suppose them picking the game up wasn’t a huge leap.  They play Diablo III and StarCraft 2, so have Battle.net accounts already and probably the Blizzard Launcher installed as well.  It is just a short step from there to having WoW installed.

And they are both MMO players.  He played EverQuest at launch with a big group of us from work way back in the day, though since then he and his wife have trended more towards free to play titles like Runes of Magic and Rappelz.  Their free time can be “bursty,” with stretches of not being able to log on being common, which tends to make a subscription game something of a drag.  You hate to pay if you aren’t going to play.

But the fact that they picked up WoW… so technically there are TWO new players in Azeroth… got me thinking again on the whole MMO lifecycle again.

At the start an MMO is nothing but new players, and new players drive the game and are its life’s blood.  You basically fizzle on the launch pad if that is not so.

Then at some point there is a transition, a time when the audience for a game is primarily people who have played the game.  New players are still important, but maintaining a loyal installed base becomes a primary mission.  EverQuest has been in that zone for about a decade.  WoW, while still seeking new players, is clearly past the tipping point and catering to the installed base, and keeping them subscribed is the primary business model.  It is certainly no coincidence that housing (of a sort, in the form of Garrisons) is coming now, as Blizzard probably hadn’t felt the need to play that card until Cataclysm.  Given their speed of development, it wasn’t going to happen for Mists of Pandaria, so Warlords of Draenor becomes the expansion where Blizzard finally responds to the realization that their business model needs people to settle down and live in Azeroth.  The game needs to be a bit stickier.  Dailies and faction and things like Timeless Isle aren’t quite enough if the content gaps are going to keep getting longer.

Of course, stickiness and people living settling down to live in a world is great for the game of choice, but is another problem with the genre.  I won’t play the fool and say that the potential market for MMOs is only n players big, as some have in the past.  The potential MMO audience is big and probably getting bigger.  But we also, as a group, tend to stick with our MMOs over time.  I remain interested in the next new game, but when it comes down to playing, I spend my time in WoW, which is about to turn 10 years old, and EVE Online, which is now past 11, as do a lot of people. (And I pine for EverQuest now and again, though so much time has elapsed that I probably will never really go back.  Maybe there is an expiration date on MMOs if you’re away too long.)

As a group, we don’t jump to the next game so much.  That Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Dark Age of Camelot remain viable, money-making enterprises in this day and age speaks to that as much as those of us who try the next new thing, only to return to the game we feel is home.  It isn’t that the genre doesn’t have a big enough audience, but that MMOs are like sponges.  They soak up players and hold onto them.  Even after all these years sitting in a corner, EverQuest is still moist, just to push the sponge metaphor a step too far.

Anyway, I was happy to hear about friends starting off playing WoW.  I was careful not to smother them with a burst of welcoming gifts.  When somebody is discovering a new world, it is often better to let them explore on their own rather than jumping out from behind a bush and shouting, “Come to this server! Join our guild! Have some free stuff from the guild bank! You should really go here and do this and kill that mob and get that drop and run this dungeon and blah blah blah…”  I’ve killed games for people doing that, and have had the same done to me.

So we shall see if a new seed grows in the game.

What do you think?  Do you know anybody who hasn’t played WoW who might still be interested in playing it nearly a decade into its life?

Felwood and Un’goro Crater July 9, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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5 comments

I like having a goal, but I don’t want a friggin’ mortgage!

-Piacenza, on hearing about my Loremaster aspirations

The run for the loremaster achievement continues, though I am starting to feel a bit of the weight behind the task at this point.  I keep thinking “I am almost done with Kalimdor!” forgetting how much else was on the list.

And being done with Kalimdor got two zones closer since I last wrote on the topic.

After finishing up Thousand Needles I sent my rogue, Trianis, up north to Ashenvale again so he could make the run to Felwood, the next unfinished zone on the list.

Felwood Map

Felwood Map

Felwood, another long, narrow zone, wedged in between Darkshore and Mount Hyjal.  Oddly, Mount Hyjal has always been there on the map as I recall, though it only became an accessible zone with the advent of the Cataclysm expansion. (There is a good description of the old version of the zone, including the original map, over at Giant Bomb.  I only found that after I wrote 90% of this post.)  It had been a long, long time since I stalked the length of Felwood.

More after the cut.  Many words.

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In Which We Feel Smug Relative to Raiders for Just a Moment… July 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft.
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55 comments

“…matchmaking systems never work…”
“…players never believe they work.”
“Nevertheless everybody believes…”

-Tobold, in comments on his own blog

There is a natural tendency in human beings to project their view of the world on others.  I had a professor back in college who called it the “like me” phenomena, the belief that we’re normal and that most people are like us and view the world the same way.  The Tobold snippets above just happened to be handy, as they showed up just when I needed them, from a post that is, from my point of view, flawed in its very premise.  I have the first comment on that post, asking for a supporting argument which Tobold singularly failed to deliver in my opinion.  He went on, in response to others, in an absolutist tone that spoke for everyone.

Person speaks for a whole group and makes assertions unsupported by the evidence on the internet!

Hardly a special moment.  It happens all the time.  I slip into that mode myself on occasion even though I try to make a conscious effort to speak only for myself and not a wider community onto which I have projected my views.  It is easy to do.  Hell, I used “we” in the title of this post?  Is that a royal “we” or am I speaking for me and somebody else. (I am just assuming some non-raider besides me is going to feel smug, but I am getting ahead of myself now.)

But less often do people get put in their place by somebody with the numbers to back things up.

Last week over at Massively, Syp had an article published which I suspect gave him great joy, in which Lord of the Rings Online community manager Rick Heaton told raiders exactly where they stood in terms of the LOTRO population

Raiders comprise the smallest, by far, group in our game. PvMP players are far larger and even they are small. in fact together the two groups wouldn’t comprise 10% of the total player base and never have (this is important. it’s not a new thing, it’s a long standing historical fact).

Forum posters comprise a slightly larger group than the combined group of PvMP and Raiders. However, Raiders and PvMP players make up the overwhelming majority of forum posters (More than half. Though raiders are the smaller group of the two (PvMP/Raiders)). So you have a tiny group, inside a small group that is grossly disproportionately represented on the forums.

Raiders and PvPers make up less than 10% of the population of Middle-earth, but tend to be vocal (and heavily invested) groups and are thus over-represented in the forums.

Doesn’t this just confirm something you have long suspected?  (Unless you’re a raider/PvPer.)  Haven’t there been times when you have just prayed for somebody from any given MMO developer to show up and say that?  Raiding and PvP aren’t the most popular activities in the game, so stop bringing them up in every single thread.  A bit of the total perspective vortex for a group in need of a being brought down a notch, right?

And you are only 4% of "Here"

And you are only 4% of “Here”

Having long since left raiding behind me, and never having been much for PvP, I feel more than my fair share of that warm schadenfreude glow on reading those words.  In your face, forum loud mouth!  You can bet that those words will be echoed for some time to come.

And yet, the words are incomplete.

All things being equal, Turbine probably shouldn’t spend time working on raid content to the exclusion of other areas if only a small percentage… let’s call it 4%… of their players raid.  Seems fair.  And I am sure that this reinforces what some of us feel, at least at a gut level, that resources are lavished on raiders out of proportion to their numbers in the game.

Unless, of course, we were to find out that raiders made up a greater percentage of paying customers.  Rick Heaton did say “total player base,” which in a free to play game has to include a lot of people paying little or nothing to play the game.  In the free to play market, 4% of your total player base might be a very large number when compare to total subscriber player base.  So if we found out that raiders, as a group, had VIP status… what they call the $15 a month subscribers in Middle-earth these days… at a much higher rate than the player base as a whole, then they might actually be more important than was made out.  And do raiders stay subscribed longer and play more and get more involved in the social elements of the game, including the forums?  Are they more committed to your game than other groups?  And what value does that have?

Basically, Rick Heaton slammed raiders and PvPers without really putting a nail in the coffin.  Turbine not building more content for 4% of their total player base sounds reasonable.  Turbine ignoring a significant portion of their long term paying players might not.  But we didn’t get those last bits as no doubt that would give a greater insight into Turbine’s business than they want to people to know.  I am honestly surprised a community manager came out and said as much as Rick Heaton did.

It also might be interesting to know just how “good” the raiding content in LOTRO really is?  That is a very subjective things, certainly, but does LOTRO raid content attract raiders?  I know that the PvP content has a small, dedicated following that is hampered quite a bit by Monster Play being sort of a side show of the game, but I have no real way to judge raiding in LOTRO, as I have never tried it nor do I know anybody who has.  I cannot name a single raid in LOTRO.  Does that mean raiding isn’t important to players or that Turbine hasn’t done a good job?

And there will be the temptation to generalize from this single statement and to apply it to what is generally terms “end game content” in other MMOs, with the first stop being WoW.

That is, I suspect, destined to a tragically flawed endeavor.  There are the general arguments I already made… who subscribes longer and is more committed.  Plus, I am going to guess, in the absence of any hard numbers at hand, that World of Warcraft sees a much larger percentage of players accessing raid content due to the much-maligned (by “real” raiders) Looking for Raid tool.  That is a matchmaking tool that works… just to circle back to those quotes at the top… for the specific purpose of giving lower commitment player the ability to experience the end game content.

Meanwhile over in EVE Online, where “end game” is a slippery concept, there is always the temptation to rage about null sec and sovereignty warfare getting more than its fair share of attention relative to the population involved.  There is the much quoted “most people never leave high sec” thing (though there is also the “most people who subscribe just leave after their first subscription cycle” thing as well, so most players never seem to get a reason to leave high sec) and the various constituencies throughout the game, most of which are not sovereignty holding entities in null sec.  But even its detractors have to allow that null sec gets press outside of gaming circles.  A giant battle like B-R5RB boosts new account generation.  It is hard to have a more tangible impact on a game than that.

And I suspect there are such arguments to be made around other MMOs and their end game content.  Not all of it is as focused on raid content as, say, the EverQuest time locked progression servers, which are raid driven by design, that being the way the next expansion vote is unlocked.  But end game, and keeping players playing once they reach the level cap is still a concern.  Longevity is tied to profitability in MMOs.

So as amusing as it is to point and say, “Hah, raiders got totally burned!” on that comment, I am still not sure what one should really take away from that particular statement.

Desolace, Feralas, and Thousand Needles July 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , , , ,
5 comments

The Loremaster summer project continues.  I think I have been able to carry on with it as I have in part because of the nature of a quest driven goal.  It is very easy to log on, advance through some quests, then go away, only to pick things up again later.  And then there is the whole tourist aspect of running through zones to see how they have changed since back in the day.  That works well now, but once I advance into Outland and The Burning Crusade content, things having changed won’t be part of the picture.

Anyway, since last time I have managed to pop through three more zones with my rogue, starting with Desolace.

Desolace Map

Desolace Map

I apparently have to open each of these zone descriptions with a statement about not having fond memories.  So much Kalimdor hate.  I think, deep down, I resent that Kalimdor has a name, while The Eastern Kingdoms is just a description.

My earliest memory of Desolace involves running.  This is a mid-30s zone, so back in the day it might have been one of the last you went through before you got a mount.  I remember running from Ratchet in The Barrens through the Stonetalon Mountains, to Desolace, and realizing that the trip took me nearly 45 minutes.  That is almost an early EverQuest length cross-continent trip.  And then once you got there, you ended up running all over the zone again and again.  I particularly remember that skeleton infested canyon down in the south end of the zone.

Now though, there are several flight points in the zone, you get a mount at level 20 so you don’t have to run, and upon entering the zone, you even get a free lift to Nijel’s Point, the Alliance base in the zone.

Why walk when you can fly?

Why walk when you can fly?

The zone itself, despite being one of the featured “changed” zones for the Cataclysm expansion, hasn’t changed as much as you might think.  Yes, there is the big green patch in the middle now, and you spend more time with the nagas and less time with the centaurs (and that “choose a faction” deal is all history), but as a whole it still has something of the same feel it had for me.  And, for the most part, the quest chains have been tightened up and improved.  There are fewer “just go kill some things” quests, though a few of the old ones still linger at the start of the zone.   And there are the requisite vehicle quests, which I often find a pleasant change.

Centaur as vehicle

Centaur as vehicle

The zone also feels a bit more tied together with a story.  Cataclysm might not have added any new zones that I really like, but if you wanted zones to feel more cohesive in terms of story, you got that at least.

The zone ends up with a minor boss fight that uses a creature model from The Burning Crusade if I recall right.

Was she ever in vanilla

Was she ever in vanilla?

Nicely, I got the quests achievement just as I was wrapping up the last few quests in the zone, so I did not have to trace back my steps to find the missing quest.

DesoQuestAchi

That put me on the road south out of the zone and into Feralas.  Though first I had to head back to Darnassus, as I also hit level 40 at the end of Desolace, so I was due for a mount upgrade.  But then it was off to the green zone of Feralas.

Feralas Map

Feralas Map

Of Cataclysm updated zones I have been through far, Feralas has seen the least changes.  The zone is pretty much intact from pre-Cataclysm days.  Yes, the west coast and Sardor Island were damaged, there are more flight points, and the storyline there has changed, but a fair number of the old quests remain.  You will go hunting for yeti pelts.

But other aspects have been trimmed quite dramatically.  You are flown out to Sardor Island for a couple of quests that barely last long enough for you to make a Thomas the Tank Engine reference before you are winging your way back to the mainland.

Farewell Thomas!

Farewell Thomas!

The majority of the quests are concentrated in the stretch of land between Feathermoon and Camp Mojache, the Horde base that straddles the main road through the zone.  As is custom, I managed to wander into range of the Camp Mojache NPCs and get myself killed.

I did run into one quest issue.  I do not think the quest was bugged, but I could not figure out how to get Might of the Sentinels to complete.  I gave it a couple of tries, dropping it and picking it back up again, but it never wrapped up for me.  So I kept it in my quest log to return to if I needed one more quest to finish the zone.  The quest itself is memorable in that it features a globe of Azeroth, which seems to be missing Northrend.

The globe in Feralas

The globe in Feralas

As it turned out, the quest was not on the main thread through the zone and I ended up at New Thalanaar just two quests shy of the 40 needed, and there were four quests waiting for me at that end, so I was able to get the achievement without having to return for the unfinished quest.

FeraQuestAchi

Which put me on the boat to Thousand Needles.  Literally.

When you wrap up at the eastern end of Feralas the lead-in quest puts you on a boat that runs you through most of the zone… submerged in water since Cataclysm… out to Fizzle and Pozzik’s Speedbarge.

Thousand Needles Map

Thousand Needles Map

If you can question how much Desolace and Feralas really changed with Cataclysm, with Thousand Needles it would be tough to find much that remained the same.  Once a dry, desert area of tall mesas and a salt flat that was home to the Mirage Raceway, the whole thing is now a lake, and the speedbarge, floating in the middle of it, is the first quest hub.  Occupied by goblins and gnomes who have an uneasy truce, you end up helping them secure themselves from the pirates on the east coast of the lake.  Oh, and you salvage things for them.

The one quest that remains from the old days of Thousand Needles involves salvaging rocket car parts.  You only need to find 10 now, as opposed to 30 back in the day, but they are the same parts strewn about the same raceway.  It is just under water now.

Once I ran a raceway...

Once I ran a raceway…

Water is the focus of the first half of the quest chain in the zone.  Fortunately, they give you underwater breathing so your many ventures at the bottom of the lake that is Thousand Needles are a little easier to deal with.  You also get a boat.

On a boat yeah...

On a boat yeah…

This is your zone-specific mount for Thousand Needles.  And while I had the azure water strider, the water walking mount, to get around on, the boat seemed to be faster.  I was passed by a couple of people.  That included Horde players, because Thousand Needles looks like the point where the Alliance and Horde quest lines unite.  The achievements for previous zones were separate for Alliance and Horde.  From Thousand Needles forward both sides get the same achievement.

There is much to be zone around the speedbarge.  As I mentioned, there is salvage and pirates, plus some more centaurs who are sitting on some oil reserves that the combined gnome/goblin forces want to exploit.  And there are plenty of sights to see.

That is a big, dead whale shark

That is a big, dead whale shark

Eventually, about 30 quests in, the speedbarge quest chain runs out and you are done there.  That puts you at the half way mark for the quest achievement.  Fizzle gives you one more quest, which sends you back up the lake towards Freewind post.  There, the war against the Grimtotem tauren commences… though I could have sworn the Alliance was supporting them back in the Stonetalon Mountains quest chain.  You end up fighting across the various mesas and then across the south bank of the lake from Highperch, where you free some adorable baby pridelings, down to Twilight Withering.

A dozen pridelings in tow

A dozen pridelings in tow

The quest chain on the mesas includes an NPC tagging along for the whole trip, so as a rogue you want to stealth past things, but you have this fully visible dolt next to you who might as well be shouting, “Hey, are you being stealthy? That is sooo cool! I can barely see you sneaking up on that Grimtoten warrior!  Hey, warrior, can you see my friend here?”

Still, she was a good fighter as well as being a mobile quest dispenser, so at least I did not have to do a lot of back and forth to advance the quest chain.  Along the south bank you lose your NPC shadow and the situation becomes ideal for a rogue.  There are a number of quests where you can just slip on past all the bad guys and ambush the one guy you want.  I ran down the quest chain and hit the 60 quest mark only a couple quests shy of being done.  Again, excess quests, so no need to go back and find quests I missed.

Achievement and level

Achievement and level

I also hit level 47 with that turn-in.  I ran down the last couple of quests, which ended up back on the speedbarge, where Fizzle gave me a nice blue item.  In addition to going for the quest achievements, I have also done the whole thing so far with gear from quests or drops.  Every time I think I might want to buy a new weapon, I go look at the auction house and the prices drive me away.  My sense of value in the game has not kept up with inflation I am sure, but I still don’t think 300+ gold for a level 50-ish weapon that my character will out grown quickly is a good deal.  I am tempted to just get him an heirloom dagger this weekend when Darkmoon Faire pops again.

The final quest pointed me towards Tanaris.  But I already have the quest achievement for Tanaris via my monk, who is almost ready to wrap up Un’goro Crater as well.  So my rogue will be heading to Felwood next and then to Winterspring.  And when those two are out of the way, I will only have the Draeni starting zone, Bloodmyst Isle on my list for Kalimdor.  I had originally thought I would roll up a Draeni to run that… in fact, I already rolled him up… but with only that zone on the list, I might just go back and twink it with the rogue.  Or maybe not.  I still have a bunch of work in the Easter Kingdoms before I move on to Outland and The Burning Crusade zones.

June in Review, This Time for Real! June 30, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in World of Warcraft, EVE Online, entertainment, Month in Review.
3 comments

The Site

I do not have anything special to grouse about this month… WordPress.com hasn’t mucked anything up and the spam assault from last month has tapered off… so I thought I would go for an informational topic this month.

All the ways you can follow this blog.  Or all the ways I can think of.

As part of the “be the blog you want to read” philosophy here, I have tried to make it easy for people to be able to keep track of posts by connecting up the site to give people the option to use the feed that makes the most sense to them.

Possibilities

Possibilities

  • The Site Itself – You can come here and read the blog at the blog. Imagine that!
  • RSS – The site actually have not just one but two RSS feed which you can use to read full posts, but one seems to behave oddly now and again, so I have stopped publishing it.  That leaves the one here.  That feed provides the full content of each post.  But if you want the other one, it is here.
  • Twitter – The site publishes a link for each post to Twitter when it goes live, or when I accidently push the “publish” button when I mean to hit “save.” (Did that earlier, what a mess.)  My Twitter name is @wilhelm2451 and my feed is available here.
  • Facebook – As with Twitter, the side publishes to my Facebook blogging profile here.
  • Google+ – My updates are also published to my Google+ feed, which is about all that appears in my feed there.
  • Tumblr – If your main focus online is Tumblr, the site publishes an exerpt from the post there.  The feed for this site is so-so, formatting doesn’t always work out, but the feed for my other site, EVE Online Pictures, looks kind of neat with the current theme I think.
  • Flipboard – If you have an iOS or Android device, there is an app called FlipBoard, which I highly recommend for reading news and such.  In that app, you can search for either of my blogs and add them to your reading list. (But don’t add that “magazine” with the same name as the blog. I created that when tinkering and cannot delete it for some reason.)
  • WordPress Reader – If you have a WordPress blog, you can follow other WordPress blogs and view them in the reader that WordPress.com had.  I am not exactly fond of it, but it is better than it used to be and it serves the purpose of reminding me when people post.

Those are some of the methods you can use to keep track of the blog.  There are probably a couple other (what did I miss?), but those are the ones I use to follow other people.  But I tend to follow people only on one or two of those channels, so if you’re wondering why I may follow you on Google+ but not Twitter, it is likely because I am already looking at your stuff through one source already.  Doubling up doesn’t always add value.

I originally started thinking about this as a possible Newbie Blogger Initiative post, but never quite got around to it.  Maybe next year.

One Year Ago

At last year’s E3, Sony certainly seemed to have won the marketing war against Microsoft and the XBox One.

In EVE Online, the war for Fountain began, which currently looks like the peak of my null sec career.  The CFC invaded the Fountain region to take it from former member TEST in order control its economically valuable moons, something triggered by the release of the Odyssey expansion.  A side effect of all of this was that the “blue donut” chanting peanut gallery was shown yet again that war was possible. That did not stop them from moving straight to “not winning fast enough” as their next chant.  I suppose that gave TEST some comfort though.

I got a special BMW in Need for Speed World.  That 180 journey about finished that game for me.  I have had no real urge to go back, and with a couple of auto based MMOs coming this year, the next time I want to drive online I will have other options.

TorilMUD offered its own web client to connect to one of the older MUDs left on the internet.

Rift went free to play, and the instance group met up to give it a try.

I was wondering about feedback that MMOs give about equipment, wondering if we could use that as opposed to lots and lots of stats.  Also, something about equity.

And I finished up the Evendim zone in LOTRO for the nth time and sat, as usual, wondering how to bridge that awkward gap between levels 40 and 50.

Five Years Ago

People were upset about Blizzard not including LAN play in StarCraft II.  It looks like Blizzard stuck to that plan, as there will be no such feature when the game ships at the end of July.

The NeuroSky MindSet was released, but I still cannot cast fireballs in WoW using only my brain.

Then there was that Wii Bowling Ball controller.  Seemed more like a lawsuit magnet.

There was a new definition of hard core gamers.

I was complaining about the local newspaper being made up of 8 pieces of paper.  I have since stopped getting the daily paper.

There was an attempt to get Age of Empires II: Age of Kings going while people in the instance group were on vacation.  We did end up getting connected via a service called Game Ranger.

And then there was World of Warcraft.  They changed when you got mounts in the game allowing people to (literally and figuratively) fly through the Burning Crusade.  There was that whole WoW/Mountain Dew cross promotion which, if nothing else, got me another in-game pet.  I spent all my gold on the artisan flying skill, and then they lowered the price with the mount changes.  I got the achievement The Explorer.  And I bought an authenticator.  Viva account security.

New Linking Sites

The following blogs have linked this site in their blogroll, for which they have my thanks.

Please take a moment to visit them in return.

Most Viewed Posts in June

  1. Kronos – The Last Big EVE Online Expansion
  2. The Mighty Insta-90 Question – Which Class to Boost?
  3. Blizzard Isn’t Giving You a Free Copy of Warlords of Draenor
  4. Running Civilization II on Windows 7 64-bit
  5. Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What?
  6. Authenticators… Are They Still a Thing?
  7. Civilization – Operation Torch and the Russian Front
  8. Quote of the Day – World of Darkness, World of Chaos
  9. Civilization – Embracing Spanish Confucianism
  10. On the Darkest Shore
  11. Should Blizzard Expand the Starter Edition?
  12. Civilization – Autocracy and the Pursuit of Happiness

Search Terms of the Month

mmos where you can gank people
[Oh, the places you'll go...]

timeless isle mobs hit hard
[Why yes, yes they do.]

does everyone die on timeless isle
[Yes, see above.]

emerald dream server shut down
[It looks like it. #PrivateServerProblems]

eve online mining nothing in null sec
[I have been mining nothing in null sec for ages!]

wow how many 90s do you really need
[All of them.]

Civilization V

Our ongoing multiplayer game of Civ V continues to grind itself to some sort of eventual end.  As noted in a post last week, we are determined to play this until somebody wins, but once that happens we will likely have had enough of Civ V for a while.  When we first started on Civ V, we would also run single player games just to get our fill.  Now though, I think the one game is enough for us.

EVE Online

It has been a quiet month in New Eden for me.  There haven’t been a lot of ops running in my time slot, so aside from a couple jaunts down to Delve mid-month, I haven’t spent a lot of time in space.  But I did come up with a long term training plan, so that will keep me going.

World of Warcraft

The long wait for Warlords of Draenor continues.  I have a little box at the bottom of the side-bar counting down the time to the last possible date for WoD to ship.  Five months to go.  Not that I do not have anything to do except sit and stew.  My Loremaster project has kept me busy for a few weeks now as I try to knock out all the zones on Kalimdor.  And it has been fun sticking with each zone until the end of the quest chains.  Most of these zones I haven’t touched for years, and almost none of them since Cataclysm.  I just hope I don’t run out of steam.. or unfinished zones… too soon.

Coming Up

The summer continues.  For those truly feeling the pain of waiting for WoD to show up, Blizzard started sending out beta keys for the expansion.  I will have to keep my hands over my eyes (and probably stop following WoW Insider) as I want to come into this expansion fresh.  Still, I peek between my fingers now and again, and what I have seen looks okay.  Must stop peeking though!

My daughter though… she started asking me “Are we in beta yet?” right away.  She wants to go see the new expansion… with a pre-made raid geared character.  I know how that works out however.

The instance group isn’t quite on hiatus.  We get four of us most weeks, and all of us every so often.

EVE Online… without the prospect of a summer war, the long training plan and the occasional homeland defense fleet is all I have going for me at the moment.

And… and… no other MMOs really interest me at the moment.  I just stopped logging into Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I have a seven day key for WildStar from Liore that I keep telling myself I will use “soon.”  Common summer destination Middle-earth hasn’t been calling to me.   And SOE may have successfully beat all of my nostalgia for old Norrath out of me by this point, while the “next” version is beyond the horizon.  So, for MMOs, it is the one I have been playing since 2005 and the one I have been playing since 2006.  Strange, that.