Casual Friday

The following post starts out as specific to a particular MMO. Normally I try to avoid that sort of thing (working on one tends to make you a wee bit gunshy about talking specifics), but in this case, the specific example is World of Warcraft, and pretending that issues brought forth within the most popular MMO on the planet by an order of magnitude have no impact on development discussions is just rather silly.

One of the more interesting arguments on the World of Warcraft forums is that of “Casuals vs. Raiders”. It’s caused so much argument, in fact, that the WoW community managers will often lock posts on the subject, simply because it’s been driven into the ground at this point. To summarize the points:

Casuals: “I bought this game because I wanted a game I could play. I have a life, and don’t have the time to spend 12 hours a day staring at the screen hitting buttons hoping I get a shot at a +12 Krang of Otyugh Slaying. World of Warcraft was perfect for me… until I hit level 60 and had to get into raids to do anything. I hate raids. Fix the game so I can get my Krang of Otyugh Slaying just like everyone else, because I pay for the game too. Thanks!”

Raiders: “omg learn2play nub. OK, that’s out of the way. Seriously, raiding is the end-game of World of Warcraft. It’s the most challenging stuff in the game. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. We beat it anyway, because we’re hard. So beating the most challenging stuff in the game gets you the best stuff. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? What, you just want stuff from Ragnaros or Nefarion handed to you? What is this, World of Warcraft, or World of Government Cheese?”

I’m reminded of this due to Seth Scheisel’s recent sports piece (no really! it was in the sports section!) where he asked Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan “What are you doing for US lately“. Us being raiders. Seth says it flat out –

Casual players complain that they can’t get rewards comparable to those earned by hard-core raiders, like the Claw of Chromaggus or Mish’undare, Circlet of the Mind Flayer. Raiders like me often respond that casual players just want a handout.

Pause to reflect on a staff writer for the nation’s newspaper of record being able to correctly spell “Chromaggus”, and no doubt without looking it up, either. And they said we’d never amount to anything!

But the money paragraph follows:

Q. Why not just let casual players get rewards comparable to those from raids?

A. It would be almost impossible for us to do, and this is a philosophical decision. We need to put a structure in place for players where they feel that if they do more difficult encounters, they’ll get rewarded for it. As soon as we give more equal rewards across the board, for a lot of players it will diminish the accomplishment of killing something like Nefarian. My favorite times in the development cycle are when there are encounters that are close to being defeated but have not yet been beaten. It really creates a sense of awe among the players that there is something big and truly dangerous in the world. But it would be very disappointing if the items found on Nefarian were the same thing you could get in your nightly Stratholme run.

Well, yes. Regardless of whether you’re a raider outfitted in Tier 3 gear or a level 10 gnome cursing the spam in Westfall, you’d think this would be somewhat obvious. Unless you follow the World of Warcraft forums!

This is no longer the case. In order to compete, or even advance your character, you are forced to schmooze the end guilds undergoing their stupid hazing only to find out that they have plenty of your class. You have to sell your soul to whatever whim the guild comes up with or risk being kicked from the guild.

I have not heard one person on the forums say they want easy epics. This is in fact the worst argument Raiders have against fixing the itemization problem. We want difficult dungeons, long difficult chains so that we too can have accomplishment when we finally get items. This article is a joke and is truly damning on how clueless Blizzard is.

Did you say you game was “casual” tigole?

YOU ARE A LIAR.

Go raid.

Read between the lines. He said casuals arent getting Epics. Even your little PR spin cant save you here. Raiders get epics, period.

I would like to believe the CMs, but us casuals are led to believe that additional patches will address our concerns and NOW we are hearing ,” Well additional armor sets(no mention of weapons, mind you) and the expansion will address our concerns. I don’t want to wait til the expansion for casual friendly content. I don’t want to grind millions of bugs or Furblogs. I want content that will provide me positive advancement with-out relying on 39 other people.

Tigole, in response, posted:

While I understand that a certain audience would rather hear about more ‘casual’ oriented content, I cannot force the hand of a journalist to skew his story. In fact, I think its pretty cool that someone who writes for a newspaper as esteemed as the New York Times shares a common interest with us as World of Warcraft players. Its refreshing to talk to someone from the mainstream press who is intimate with the issues we face as players and developers of this game. It speaks to this community as a whole.

So I think its very important not to get up in arms over the fact that the article focused on part of the game that you might not necessarily be interested in. Were definitely committed to supplying content for all audiences of this game . Its not an argument as simple as ‘hardcore versus casual’ — it goes way beyond that.

For the people who seem to be upset, you might find it encouraging that a big focus of patch 1.10 is supplying more content for casual, max-level players. While I cannot promise ‘the ultimate fix’, I can at least hope to show you guys that were working on making things better. I think it also needs to be mentioned, that players need to keep in mind that by railing against content that you dont personally enjoy — whether it be raids, casual content or PvP — it wont improve anything. In fact, its detrimental to our community. As a development team, were going to add content for everyone. Just because we might be adding PvP content in a certain patch, does not mean were forgetting about PvE players. What is helpful to us, is when you identify what you liked and want more of. But leading a crusade against something which other players enjoy nightly is counter-productive to everyone involved.

You mean MMO players resent any development time and effort put into a playstyle they don’t personally engage in? O RLY?

So then, here’s the problem. World of Warcraft is TOO accessible. By that, I mean, it’s possible for someone who hates the MM part of MMOs – other people – to progress through the entire game without ever needing to, well, group. Eventually, in the 50’s, they might start getting pick-up groups for the lower level “end-game” instances or more difficult quest sequences. But the wall between “LFG Stratholme” and “finding a guild that will get me into MC/BWL gear” is abso-freakin-lutely HUGE. And it’s quite obviously a leap of design. It’s a very clear point of departure – once you get to this point, you’re no longer casual. Your character won World of Warcraft. You got level 60. You got the powerup. YOU WON THE GAME.

It’s no coincidence that Blizzard, no doubt driven by their community people (all of whom I really need to FedEx bottles of hooch for taking more bullets than we in other games can ever imagine – email me your preferred flavor plz) put up a page on their website detailing exactly what to do when you, well, win. “Hey, you can… uh… do PVP? Raid? Roll an alt? Play our expansion?” Kind of obvious stuff – unless you have a player base composed mostly of people for whom this is their first MMO, and definitely the first MMO they’ve reached the endgame in. They want more stuff. They want more stuff like they already played.

They absolutely do not want different stuff. They want stuff like they liked. If they wanted that other stuff, they’d have not quit that other MMO they tried for a month. They want more stuff like the old stuff.

And… they ran out of stuff. And Blizzard can’t make enough stuff. And most of the stuff they are making… uh… it’s not that stuff. It’s the other stuff. The high-level raiding stuff that, to keep a tradition in every other MMO alive, wasn’t included with the original game, but was PatchedInLater.

So until the expansion comes later this year, which will deliver a DVD full of MORE STUFF, you have millions – millions of players who are out of stuff. It’s getting pretty ugly. And most of those have no interest in being in the top 25% or 10% or whatever of the pyramid of players that enjoys organizing raids to whack the most powerful foozles. They feel bait and switched. They had a good year or so of stuff. They want more stuff.

But every game eventually runs out of stuff. There’s never enough stuff. What’s left at the end – the endgame – is what the players can come up with to make their own stuff. Be it PVP or high-end complex PVE raiding until their fingers bleed (to quote the nightly conversation at the Casa Del Lum: “In Molten Core again, hon?” “YES.” “Tired of Molten Core?” “YES.“), every game eventually has to figure out how to keep players happy – either in cranking out More Stuff on a regular basis (/wave Everquest) or in keeping people happy in making their own stuff. Thus why PvP is such a common end-game goal for designers – hey, people have an endless appetite for beating each other over the head with sticks.

But if you play WoW, and you got to level 60, and you don’t like raiding, and you don’t like PvP, and you don’t particularly want to level up a new character… well, you’re out of stuff.

And that’s where some people get REALLY ANGRY. Because they have a lot invested into their characters, their friends and the connections between the two, and they REALLY. DO. NOT. LIKE. BEING. TOLD. NO. Queue the hundreds of threads on the WoW forums. All of which boil down, in the end: “More stuff, plz.”

Because, despite the claims by both sides on the forums, the “casuals” don’t really want free government cheese from Nefarion. They want more character development. They want to get to 70, or 80, or 60.0009. They don’t want to feel like they’ve reached the brick wall of character development that, well, they have. They don’t want to completely switch their playstyle to keep developing the character they’ve grown attached to. They don’t want the game to end.

And that sentiment is universal to all games. The fact that we’re seeing so much of it expressed in World of Warcraft bespeaks more of its success than its failures.

Fine, newb. How do you propose they fix it then?

The task of the WoW designers – should they choose to accept it, and it’s quite likely they won’t, being that it’s Different and thus Scary – is to move players from a developer-driven character development model to a player-driven character development model.

Whether it’s through PvP (a “cop-out” that many players won’t accept), some form of guild-based PvE advancment that even the smallest guilds can participate in, or something entirely new… maybe a dancing contest! Everyone loves dancing. Really. But the point is that the life cycle of the character has to move beyond the racetrack that the quest lines and character levelling aims the player down. And the only way for further points in the life cycle to self-perpetuate is to enable the players to make, and track their own goals. There are five million WoW players. While there are probably a lot of WoW developers, there most assuredly are not five million of them. Numbers are not on their side.

And yes, this means getting more “world-ly” and less “game-y”. But games end, and worlds don’t. And players who are demanding that their character’s life cycle not end… are demanding more world. Not necessarily more content – but more ways to participate.

But that would require a good deal of thought, and development work. Maybe even an expansion! Never seen those before. But in the meantime, we’re seeing what happens if, in the days of Everquest pre-any-expansions, somehow five million people managed to cram into Lower Guk. Demanding more stuff.

Comment spam is teh sux0r

In the past week or so I’ve gotten TONS of comment-spam. I suspect there’s a new “be an annoying prat when marketing your freaking useless product” software package out there now. My anti-wacky-useless-drug spam filters are catching a lot of them, but not catching more. So I’ll probably be doing something drastic soonish.

Yes, but will Station Exchange advertise on PC Gamer?

John Smedley, on his new “Hm, I think these blog things might catch on!” site, gives a shoutout to PC Gamer for /rude-ing IGE. (Note to SOE’s web team: permalinks are cool.)

Let\’e2\’80\’99s face it\’e2\’80\’a6farming does happen. People do get cheated. I\’e2\’80\’99m not going to suggest that IGE or any of these companies cheat people, because I don\’e2\’80\’99t believe that. What they are doing however is saying, \’e2\’80\’9cIt\’e2\’80\’99s ok to break the rules, as well as the EULAs,\’e2\’80\’9d which I think is just plain wrong. It\’e2\’80\’99s like being a fence for stolen merchandise.

(To be fair, IGE does insist they don’t break any rules. It’s just that, well, no one believes them!)

While Station Exchange’s introduction rubbed me in several wrong ways (since as an MMO player RMT trading makes me ill and as a developer I see people trying to buy their way past a game as the ultimate symptom that the game has issues), at the end of the day it’s SOE’s game to run. They – and they alone – have every right to run an RMT exchange from it; they suffer the economic and CS decisions from it and they presumably out of enlightened self-interest, if nothing else, have the game’s best interests in mind. And since they’re the ones who sunk money and sweat equity and their own ideas and labors into the game, for some reason I think they and their customers should be the one to see the financial benefits from it.

With outside arbitrage dealers such as IGE, none of the above applies. And interestingly, despite IGE’s initial “Gosh, Station Exchange is great, it legimitizes our business model, happy happy!” press releases… oddly enough, IGE still sells things on non-Station Exchange EQ2 servers. Funny how that works. I guess the people who specifically chose to remain on non-RMT enabled servers for that game? Yeah, they shouldn’t get to make that choice. It should be made for them. Yeah.

I’d go on, but I’d just start spewing random obscenities at this point, and I’m trying to quit.