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The Fun Quotient

Tobold’s post quite nicely explained why our little group is looking outside of WoW for group fun.  Frankly, there is nothing in the world that is particularly fun for a group to do.  Even if the mobs weren’t trivial, XP is diluted in a group (versus bolstered in other games) and if you want to enjoy the actual quest content, you can’t increase your level of challenge by playing in red zones since you can’t get the quests!

Several of the commenters somewhat snarkily chided that somehow that viewpoint is tainted if one of your reasons for saying WoW no longer lets people play together is “lower efficiency.”  What is lost in the discussion is what efficiency really means.

On its face, most people assume that “efficiency” means simply the shortest path (time-wise) to the level cap.  Personally, I think that’s too narrow.  In my mind, that’s only looking at one narrow aspect of the entire picture.

A better measure is the amount of reward you receive from participating in group activity– whether that is gold, xp, loot or unquantifiable fun– in a given play session.  The unstated denominator in all of these things is time.  The fun quotient.

When you add time or proportionately reduce your numerator, the fun quotient decreases and the overall entertainment experience is diminished.  Its in that sense that it becomes “inefficient.”  Its suboptimal entertainment measured against the potential you know is there.  Its worse in a game where alt-itis is rampant since its likely that you may have experienced the content more than one time on different characters.

Its gets more complicated when you start adding in the impact of “group generated” rewards– the fun stuff that people bring to the mix extrinsic to the game itself– conversation, jokes, humorous mistakes and yes, the sense of a shared experience that is unique to that group. Even if its a well known encounter or challenge, your group attempt(s), successful or otherwise, are still unique.  These group benefits (and detriments) can add to and substract from the numerator in the fun quotient.

How we perceive the value of rewards is measured against what we had to invest to get them– time, mostly.  Even the other things we “invest” in them are still just proxies for time (even consumable items from a cash shop, the cash is still a proxy for RL time).  In our MMOs the progression element (whether level, gear or otherwise) is almost universally the main reason we play.

We ding therefore we are.  Anything that slows down the ding (in the broadest sense) without adding something else to the mix (recognizing that is entirely subjective) frankly makes the process less fun than it could be alone and hence less efficient from a “fun” perspective.  A lower fun quotient than soloing.

WoW grouping for open world content suffers from all of these ills.  XP is diluted, so time to ding is extended.  The challenge of fights is completely trivialized since there really is no open world group content.  Collection quests in a group multiply the time it takes to complete them.  Finally, mobs may be killed so quickly that a group experiences increased downtime waiting for them to respawn and all of these aspects feedback on themselves as well further exacerbating the problem.

At some point, the additional time to gain meaningful progression or the diminution of the challenge in gameplay simply becomes much less fun per session in a group.  Lower efficiency in the broadest sense, means less fun.  Azeroth in a group just isn’t that much any more.

At this point in WoW’s evolution, I often wonder why it isn’t a local client or individually instanced world with a global chat server and matchmaking lobby much more like Guildwars or DDO.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in World of Warcraft

 

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Around the virtual world, again

Haven’t had much to say of late, because, well, I haven’t had much to say.  Seems most of the sentient universe is spending some time in Rift.  As I noted before, I’ve decided to pass on Rift for now, though I’m not getting into the Rift/Not-Rift flame wars.

I beta-ed Rift and like it quite a bit.  But for some reason, it just didn’t quite grab me though I have nothing but good things to say about its production quality.  Given what we’ve seen in recent years, it restores my hope that the industry can actually produce a game that is worth buying on day one.  Unfortunately, that is saying a lot.

Likewise, after an initial bout of new MMO expansion enthusiasm, the obvious flaws of Cataclysm have left me little enthusiasm to spend much time there.  I got my non-instance group “solo” character to the cap in the middle of Twilight Highlands and stalled.  The linearity and the excessive phasing sucked out any enthusiasm I had for feeding my alt-itis.

I like to explore.  I like to explore the game world, I like to explore what other classes play like and I like to explore how virtual economies work, etc., etc.  Gating off parts of the world behind quest phase walls is the antithesis of a virtual world to me.  If there is a far off, dangerous and exotic place to visit, I want to be able to make my adventure getting there whether I’m a level one noob, level capped or anywhere in between.  Playing with friends or guildies, even in the same zone, is nearly impossible.

Returning to EQ on the time locked Fippy Darkpaw progression server has been a breath of 12 year old fresh air.  Experiment has turned into a bit of an obsession as Wilhelm and I have re-immersed ourselves into the EQ of old.  As a concession to our play budgets and the game mechanics, we are both dual boxing the game which adds its own new experiences.

Its a worldly world.  It takes time to progress.  Combat is slow enough and unpredictable enough to require you to make interesting choices.  Including the choice to run like hell to the zone line.  Death hurts and fear is a powerful motivator.  While on Fippy Darkpaw the death penalty is not the 1999 naked corpse run version, loss of XP and respawning at your bind point makes you more thoughtful.

There are dozens of places I can go to explore and go hunting.  The general freedom from quest driven content has actually been liberating.  Its been a while, but I’m finally beginning to understand what folks like Saylah and Tipa and others have been talking about for the past few years.  Group experiences are still fun, tactics matter and you get to see and experience the world as a living place– with your friends.

A number of explorer types are reporting good experiences with Rift, especially at the higher levels, but I’m still curious whether that will hold up longer than the three-month windows folks have been discussing in the blogosphere.

I hope so, because at this point, there is very little in the MMO space that looks like it can offer the kind of experience I’ve been craving.   I’ve got high hopes for Guildwars 2 and am cautiously pessimistic about SW:TOR since it will likely be fourth-pilloried on its story heavy construction.  But for now, I feel like I’ve been all the way around the MMO-sphere and ended up right where I started 12 years ago.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2011 in Everquest, Rift, World of Warcraft

 

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Fear the Chicken

After about a month of various interruptions to our Azerothian adventures (travels, weather-related power problems, etc.), our instance group was able to reconvene Saturday.  No doubt Wilhelm will chronicle our adventures in detail later, but dinging a level on my Worgen Druid got me the talent point I needed for Moonkin form.

Who's the Chicken Now?

In all my years in WoW, I’ve not actually played a dps character, and a druid caster was one of the few paths I had not explored.  I’ve been playing him straight as a caster and frankly a bit underwhelmed since the lower levels seem very heavy on feral skills and there seems to be relatively little leather caster gear.

With Moonkin, aside from looking like a chick-a-lope, comes a spellpower buff and a group haste buff as well which is a nice addition.  Its also getting easier to tell us apart given we are a group of four male worgen and a female gnome.  I’m the one with the horns now.  As the character is verging on level 30, gear choices, spells and talents are starting to make me feel like I’m playing a more unique class.

Before the short hiatus, I had been working my way through Cataclysm with my hunter and managed to cap out about 1/2 way through the Twilight Highlands.  The new excessively linear quest model was really starting to wear on me a bit, so it was time for a break.

Along with World of Tanks, Everquest launched the new progression server Fippy Darkpaw which Wilhelm and I got sucked into, so much so that we both resubbed for at least the next month.

The return to Norrath has been quite a contrast from Azeroth and definitely not an unpleasant time.  As many have said, its not the graphics, its the game, and indeed after a short period of visual readjustment, Norrath seems a place again in my mind rather than a series of low fi 2d screen shots.  I’ve been having a very good time there.

During the brief hiatus from WoW, I had not even logged in, so I was expecting the contrast in returning to Azeroth after spending quite a bit of time in Norrath to be a bit more jarring.  I was afraid I’d either be really disappointed in WoW or the return to playing with the group in Azeroth would be so much fun that it would smash the idea of the fun I’ve been having in Norrath.

Fortunately, neither was the case, but for me, its an interesting exercise in my own tastes and what I enjoy in an MMO.

Norrath, with its vast open spaces and limited means of travel (not even mounts on Fippy Darkpaw) speaks to my longing for a worldly world.  Places that are far away are indeed far away, exotic and dangerous.
Part of what underscores that feeling is the death mechanic.  While not quite 1999 with its naked corpse runs, the current death mechanic in EQ reinforces the world feel.  When you die, you return to your bind point.  That could be a loooong way from where you were playing which certainly makes you think more carefully about how you play.

Couple that with the fact that mobs will follow you to the zone line means you better not overcommit or wait too long to stage a tactical retreat or you might be looking at a long hike back.

Azeroth on the other hand, has progressively shrunk over the years.  Mounts, more and more flight points, and now the dungeon finder leave the world feeling more like a world of boxes.  The new phasing mechanics introduced in Wrath and used heavily in Cataclysm only make the situation worse.  If I were to explore the “world” of Cataclysm, which world would I be seeing?  If I haven’t done a specific series of quests, I will see a different world and if my friends or group mates are on a different phase than I am are literally in a different world.

The tension of course is that being able to gather the group quickly and to be placed into reasonably challenging content (as long as we’re fighting red mobs) is a huge boon to those of us with limited play time.  To most of us who have tramped the old world of Azeroth, up hill in the snow both ways, the DF feels a bit like a convenience overlayed on top of a world we knew.  For newcomers that never had to explore the world, I wonder what the place feels like.

Progression is another start contrast.  Leveling in EQ is by any measure slow.  Some would say VERY slow.  After rerolling characters for a dual box set up, I’ve only just reached level 5 after maybe 8-10 hours of play (play sessions all in, not just grind time).  That actually doesn’t feel too slow to me.  The slow rate means I have an opportunity to make money, learn to actually play my character(s) and become intimately familiar with the zones I’m working in.

WoW progression has gotten faster and faster.  Saturday’s session saw me grab almost two levels (28-30) and completely run out of rested XP bonus in about a two hour session.  Even when we first convened the instance group pre-TBC, we hit 60 well before we had exhausted the old world instances, let alone the old world quest content.  Frankly, now its hard to do anything in Azeroth that doesn’t give you XP!  Exploration xp, resource gathering xp, battleground xp, archaeology xp, etc. etc.

Progression is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m increasingly of the mind that its a bit of a binary proposition– it either needs to be slow and shallow or almost non-existent.  Anything in the middle seems to just get in the way of people being able to group and play with each other.

I’m interested to see whether my impressions change as we continue progressing through Norrath.  At some point in all games, the grind just feels like the grind, but for now I’m enjoying the more leisurely approach tramping the plains of West Karana again.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Everquest, World of Warcraft

 

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Musings on Azeroth Lost

So now that Cataclysm has been out a while and the instance group is back in Azeroth, my general impressions are starting to coalesce.  Suffice it to say, Azeroth has indeed been shattered though perhaps not in the way you’re thinking.

The best way of summing it up is probably to describe how our little group used to play.  The stated goal was to adventure through Azeroth experiencing all of the instanced dungeons at level and with a static group.

Back in the day, that typically involved questing through a zone or series of zones following a line of quests that ultimately led you to some confrontation with enemies in a challenging instance.  The dungeon could be run just once or multiple times as you saw fit before you moved on to another area or followed a quest story line to another area with another instance.

A perfect example of this at the low level in Ye Olde Azeroth was the defias quest line through Elwynn Forest/Westfall/Redridge/Stormwind that culminated in the Deadmines instance and continued through to the Stockades, etc.

Was a time when we planned our adventures to gain experience, explore new zones and pick up the lead in quest lines to the next dungeon.  Travel wasn’t trivial (remember those long mountless runs from Southshore to Scarlet Monestary?) and coordination was at times essential so all group members were on the same stage of a key quest.
Dungeons were spaced out enough to require gaining in-world experience and without instant travel to dungeons, running instances took on something of an expeditionary quality.  Each dungeon was the culmination of a chapter of a shared adventure for our group.

With the advent of the meeting stones (2.0, the summoning version rather than the group matching version), the world shrunk, but not so much that you never actually knew where the dungeon was located.  It was an accomodation to facilitate coordinated play and generally a good thing.  A few party members had to travel there, and once there the group could explore the zone, run the dungeon, etc.

As a result, pre-DF, Azeroth and its dungeons were still part of a cohesive whole.  My memories of those instance runs are inextricably intertwined with the lore associated with them and the zones surrounding them.  Sharpbeak anyone?  The Onyxia line?

With the addition of DF, dungeon crack became cheap and accessible.  Of course, the first iteration didn’t really change anything other than travel time.  Now with refinements, the typical dungeon experience looks something like this:

$11 for popcorn and a soda!?

Dungeon finder into a dungeon, stop by the quest/concession stand, go in and enjoy the show.  Quest progression mechanisms no longer even require returning to the quest giver for a turn in– some “communication” device typically permits you to get the quest update to kill boss 2 after killing boss 1 without having to retrace a step.

As our recent adventures have shown, the difficulty/level spread of instances and the rewards gained from them means that our group will likely have difficulty staying at level experiencing the game ONLY via the dungeon finder.

Post-Cataclysm, post-DF, WoW and Azeroth feels like at least 3 distinct games:  The zone-based contiguous world, the PvE instanced world and the PvP instanced world.
Even further, with the Cataclysm changes, the PvE zone world has really become an individual-only quest/story space.  With Lich King the addition of phasing really took the last vestige of worldliness and isolated the PvE player in his or her own story box.  The even more excessive linearity makes the possibility of coordinated group play even less likely.  When I never have more than three quests in my log at a time for the new zones, the likelihood that a guilding or friend has any of those at the same time is minimal.

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to play with friends and guildmates in the “open” world who are in a different phase.  Below the level cap, your choices now seem to be either solo-exclusive or anonymous group.
The new Cataclysm zones/experience takes this to a new extreme.  While entertaining at one level, I almost can’t imagine trying to drag a coordinated group through the new content with all of its phasing and cut scenes.  That situation is further compounded by the fact that there is essentially zero group required/desired/necessary content in those zones.  Frankly, why Blizz decided to require players discover the new dungeons is beyond me other than to impose some kind of a time tax to avoid trivializing the expansion even more quickly than it has been.

So for now, I’m still enjoying Cataclysm, but I’m waxing nostalgic for Azeroth-lost.  Like Wilhelm, I’ve come to the conclusion that to get the most out of new Azeroth, I’ll have to consciously experience it exclusively in each of its accepted modalities– or I’ll just have to emulate Bhagpuss and just go play in the world the way I feel like when I feel like.  Words of wisdom.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in World of Warcraft

 

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Random Shattered Thoughts

1.  Not paying attention, I didn’t realize the shattering was occurring on the anniversary date weeks ahead of the release of the cataclysm expansion date until yesterday.  I guess I picked a good day to “work from home” on this holiday week.

2.  Also file under not paying attention, all the portals are gone from Dalaran and Shattrath (replaced with class trainers).  If I’d known, I’d have leveled a mage or two and just sat around collecting portal fares.

3.  I’m glad I upgraded my system (ostensibly in advance of Cataclysm, but also in time for the shattering).  Win 7 64 bit, 8GB ram, a new 1 TB drive and a new but very affordable (1GB, GTS 450) video card and a completely fresh install of WoW which I haven’t done since release.  I was a bit surprised to see frame rates actually dip to unacceptable levels (<30) in a few of the new/revamped areas when the settings were on “Ultra”.  Most other areas, were in the hundreds.  I suspect future optimization will even that out.

4.  I respecced my level 80 priest holy (from discipline).  While I still need to road test it, I’m liking the Chakra/chastise mechanic so far.  Looks like it will make for some interesting situational decision making.

5.  Apparently I some how missed the existence of Baconnaise(tm) though my wife wouldn’t let me buy any while shopping for Thanksgiving necessities.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2010 in World of Warcraft

 

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