Daily Archives: December 11, 2013

Quote of the Day – CCP Layoffs and World of Darkness

CCP today made strategic adjustments to the staffing on the team working on the World of Darkness project in Atlanta that resulted in the elimination of approximately 15 positions at the company.  The change was due to our evaluation of the game’s design and ongoing development needs.  While this was a difficult decision, CCP remains committed to the franchise and our promise to make a compelling, rich, and deep World of Darkness experience.

Ned Coker of CCP, following rumors of layoffs

Not much to be said except that there is no “good” time to be laid off.  I have been down that path a couple of times myself, though never right in the teeth of the holidays.

The move was focused on the World of Darkness team, which also faced a cut back in October of 2011.  The 2011 cut reportedly reduced the team working on the project to 60, and now 25% of that group has been cut.  No matter what mollifying phrases are used, this cannot be seen as a positive spin for the future of a game based on the franchise.

World of Darkness

World of Darkness

CCP bought White Wolf, the creators of World of Darkness, back in 2006, and have been working on an MMO version seriously since 2009.

Diversion to Mount Hyjal

It looked like we might get a third straight week of the whole group on together, but Ula was not feeling well and had to bow out.

That left four of us looking for something to do.  The group, as it stood on Saturday night:

  • Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 82 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS (Out, not feeling well)

All of us had managed to make it to level 82, which was our max level target.  So the first thing we did was head off to find the NPC who turns off experience so that we would not inadvertently rise too far in levels before we finished off the Cataclysm instances.  Skronk had scouted this out previously so we all met up in Stormwind keep where the XP guy resides.  I actually couldn’t find him at first, and needed to go stand by Skronk before I saw him.  You see, the NPC is a rogue who is in stealth mode… so you cannot really see him until you are close to him.

So, you're hiding from who now?

So, you’re hiding from who now?

I am not sure what message Blizzard is trying to send with that NPC.  Are they saying they put this feature in but are not really happy about it?  Or that you just need to work/suffer a bit if you want to turn off their highly tuned vertical character advancement system?

Anyway, we found him and all paid the 10g fee to turn off experience and saw our XP bars vanish.  Now the question was, how important is such advancement when playing as a group?  We decided to test that out by taking a trip to the other early Cataclysm zone, Mount Hyjal.

We chose Mount Hyjal for two reasons.  The obvious first one was that we were all in sync in Vashj’ir after last week, so we didn’t really want to mess that up.  The second reason was that there was not a lot of enthusiasm to head back to Vashj’ir.  There were some complaints of disorientation and a touch of motion sickness after last week.  The idea of going back under the sea was one of the reasons Ula decided to sit out, as she felt that another run at the zone would just make her feel worse.

Fortunately, the Throne of Tides instance appears to be dry land under the sea as opposed to a 3D swim-a-thon, so I think we’ll be okay doing that.  But we might otherwise be done with Vashj’ir.  A couple of us can, if need be, swim out there and bring the rest out using the summoning stone.  Dry land for us.

First we had to get ourselves lined up and out to Mount Hyjal.  As it turned out, each of us was at a different stage in relation to the zone.  Bung hadn’t started the quest chain to get there yet. Earl had started it but then moved on after arriving in Moonglade.  I had brought Alioto out there to harvest herbs and had done the first couple of quests.  And Skronk had started on the Mount Hyjal quest line a while back and was a ways down the line.

So Bung and Earl started off getting to the zone, which didn’t take long, while Skronk and I took the portal out.  Then the group started doing quests, with people joining in as it hit where they stood.  All in all, it went pretty well.  The quests seemed to work when run as a group, with almost no cases of updates not being shared when it might have been appropriate to do so. (I can only think of one point when that happened.)

There were even some nice touches, such as an escort quest that three of us were working on, along with a couple of other players players, where each of us could only see the NPC that was specific to our version of the quest.  Games have often enforced this in the past by simply allowing only a single version of the NPC to exist in the game.  The Pengail quest in the Lone Lands springs to mind.  While you could get the quest as a group, if somebody else was shepherding him through (or directly into) the goblins, you had to wait your turn.

Pengail Attacks!

Pengail HATES Goblins

So that went really well, with a pile of people able to do the quest in parallel without the obvious hitch of multiple versions of the NPC in question wandering about. (Though there is always that awkward moment where “your” version of the NPC spawns while the original is still visible, so for a short bit there are two of them.)

That was also the only point during our evening when phasing split the group.  Everybody on the escort quest was phased into a different version of the underground area until the NPC was delivered.  Skonk, who had done the quest, remained in the original version of the area.  However, once the quest was completed, we were moved back into the same version of the zone as Skronk.  It seems like they went for a lighter touch with phasing, at least with what I have seen so far.  Nobody has been stuck on the wrong side of a phase wall so far.

I had also forgotten how much being able to fly in Mount Hyjal affects the zone.  Since it, along with Twilight Highlands and Uldum, are just adjuncts to the current world, as opposed to being new continents, if you can fly in old Azeroth you can fly there.  So it is easy to just skirt danger and set down close to where you need to be.  We just fly off here and there, dropping in only where we had to.

That is the flip side of flying, as it really cuts back the bite any zone has unless the zone is designed well.  It is always a double edged sword.  Flying is wonderful and really sets you free while at the same time trivializing and ground obstacles.  I was happy enough when I couldn’t fly in Pandaria until 90 and I hope we won’t be able to fly until level 100 when Warlords of Draenor comes out.

I was also a bit surprised at how crowded the zone was.  Sure, it was a Saturday night and there has been the whole soft server merge thing going on.  But still, this is one of the starter zones for Cataclysm, which is now three years old and hasn’t been the new thing since Mists of Pandaria rolled out a year back.  But I have seen some of the same thing in The Burning Crusade; overland content isn’t that well populated, but you can get into a Dungeon Finder group… even as DPS… pretty quickly even on a weeknight.  So Blizz seems to be doing okay on making the world seem alive, at least in the server group where our server,  Eldre’Thalas, resides.

And, as it turned out, we were fine moving along through the zone with experience turned off.  Gold was made from quests, equipment upgrades showed up now and again, and there was some resource harvesting on the side.  Plus, there was still advancement of some sort.  While our experience was turned off, we still were generating experience for the guild.  The guild had just hit level 10 earlier in the day… up from level 3 when we rolled back into the game about a month ago… and our evening worth of work put it about half way to 11.

I find the guild experience mechanism mildly interesting as a design choice.  Essentially, the prime way the average guild member earns experience for the guild is by completing quests.  But quest completion gives a flat rate return of 60K guild experience.  So if I do a level 90 quest in Pandaria, the guild gets 60K.  If I roll a new character, getting him in the guild, and do the first “Hi, hello!” quest, it also earns the guild 60K.  So if you are not doing other things as a guild… raids, challenges, scenarios, or whatever… everybody can contribute at the same rate via quests.  It is very egalitarian, and certainly makes it more likely that we will have a level 25 guild some day.  Was it always this way, or was that a change that came in after we left for greener pastures?

Anyway, we ran through maybe a third of the zone living… or reliving… the content.  Eventually we hit a boss-like mob on one quest chain that seemed like a good end point.

He is an elite... and looks like a boss

He is an elite… and looks like a boss

After that we did our semi-traditional group shot just to commemorate the evening.

Four of us under Mount Hyjal

Four of us under Mount Hyjal

So that was our Saturday night run.  Hopefully everybody will be in good health and ready to tackle our first instance next time around.

We’re Having a Sale on Pets and Mounts! (and we put a cash shop in the game)

Well, that is a corner turned.  Blizzard has followed the rest of the industry and put a cash shop directly in the game.

While they have sold special mounts and pets for World of Warcraft for some time, there was always an out-of-game aspect to them.  You might see them advertised on the launcher, but if you wanted to buy one you had to wander over to the Blizzard store.  You certainly didn’t see ads or pricing or a store front actually in the game.

It is there now.

Sure, it is just a tiny little button down there between the dungeon journal and the game menu/connection status buttons.


But it opens up a store front.

Mounts for Sale

Mounts for Sale

And there it is, real world money in Azeroth.

I suppose it is something that they did not also introduce an RMT currency as well.  Baby steps down that path I guess, because I hardly think they are done on the in-store shopping front.  I doubt Blizzard would intend for the store only to sell pets and mounts and then leave a line item like “consumables” in the screen shots for the official store announcement.

Coming soon?

Coming soon?

Now, the sky isn’t falling, the end of the world is not at hand, and World of Warcraft isn’t going to go free-to-play with the next patch.  But you can hardly see something like this happen without wondering where it is going.  So I am marking the date when the boundary was crossed, when you could buy things in World of Warcraft for real world cash.

And where do you think this will end up?

Addendum: After a bit of experimentation, I will add the following:

You can turn off the store interface if your account has parental controls applied to it.  By default the store appears to be off with parental controls.  I happened to have parental controls turned on with my account to ensure that RealID was, and remained, off.  When off, the button (which is tiny to start with) is grayed out and informs you that it has been turned off via parental controls.

The store check-out interface makes you enter your password, but then uses what it considers to be the default credit card for your account.  For my account, that happened to be an expired card that I probably ought to remove, but never got around to killing off.  The transaction stopped there, as there is no way to select an alternate payment method.

The store failing to check out seems capable of messing up the game client.  A friend of mine was also trying out the store and reported that she had to eventually exit the client and log back in after a failed transaction.  In-game assets… NPCs, critters, and her own mount… started disappearing from the game.