Mar 11 2013

Not You


Dear Blizzard. It’s not you, it’s me. Truly. I am very fond of you, and we’ve had some fun times, but I just can’t seem to find the excitement any more. You are still really pretty, and vivacious, and have great hair, but I think I need to see some other people now.

Yes, this is the fairly common ’hiatus’ post. I’ve invested a lot of time, and I guess by now a lot of money, in the game, all the way from vanilla:

Giladris (parked in Darnassus), level 70 rogue, bank alt, and my first character. 40 days, 19:38:04

Belmann (parked beside Giladris), level 90 priest. Second character, rolled when opening the gates of AQ crashed Kalimdor on Amun’Thul. 85 days, 20:53:44

Morkhaeus (parked beside Belmann). Level 85 fire Mage, rolled for Burning Crusade. 25 days, 16:33:20

MacMorris (sitting in a damp tavern in Menethil Harbour). Level 85 DK, rolled for Lich King. 10 days, 18:53:31

Glymly (resting with his bear, Cuddles, in Paw’don village). Level 85 BM hunter rolled at the end of Lich King. 7 days, 6:07:57

Maarisuu (lonely in Dalaran), Level 71 protection/arms warrior, rolled at the same time as Glymly. 4 days, 22:40:42

Kareline (also hanging out in Paw’don). Level 85 warlock and worgen, my Cataclysm baby, levelled to 85 about a week before Pandaria. 4 days, 17:57:15

Haanaargh (Light’s Hope Chapel). Level 46 gnome rogue, rolled toward the end of Cataclysm for the heck of it. 1 day, 16:55:21.

Fenggan (Stormwind, beer in hand). Level 40 brewmaster panda monk. 1 day, 0:54:39

And I have a low level Tauren paladin tucked away somewhere, and have had some other short lived toons probably amounting to about 36 hours played. Adding all that up, rounding it around, gives something like 183 – 185 days. Call it 26 weeks and change. Half a year. That’s a serious time investment. A very rough cost over the years would be something like $AU1,500.

But my enthusiasm has definitely waned. The reality of course is that WOW, like any other RPG, is often a grind. Usually a grind. But the thing that used to ameliorate that was the culture and the social interactions. I met a lot of cool and fun people, and we had great times together. Then I moved country, and time zone, and found I seldom ran into those guys anymore. I saw little end-game in Cataclysm, and as my time became more and more constrained, descended into chasing achievements. Pandaria made this more obvious: the first run through the story content with Belmann was fun, and some of the visuals are jaw-dropping (and on the whole this expansion has the best writing to date). When I looked at levelling other characters, it felt like a chore, and finding out that the amount of grinding needed to be able to even glimpse end-game content had increased? Well, straw, camel, one applied to the other.

Blizzard has gone to great effort to provide a very wide range of daily quest activity for the grind, and mostly it’s fun rather than just damned annoying (although kill-ten-rats on a healer is always hell). The truth remains though that most of the grind needs to be done through endless instance running. And with my shift of time zones that means endless PUGs. Therein the true hell.

Trite but accurate, Sartre’s comment that hell is other people. For instance running in WOW pickup groups, hell is other players. I am sure that the majority of players a not pimply faced youths with personality disorders. But dear God, it doesn’t show. The best instance experience is carried out in dead silence, with no social interaction, and each player mechanically competent. And that’s rare.

More usually as the healer I see a tank racing to get it over as quickly as possible, making it everyone else’s problem to deal with the pace he sets. I see DPS not even trying to avoid standing in the fire. And I watch the DPS  bitching at the tank to go faster and faster. And inevitably the tank does a stupidly large pull, and the DPS are standing in the fire, and dealing with the mobs that got away from the tank, and the healer goes OOM – and the abuse starts. Poisonous, vicious, nasty.

It’s been worse with the two baby tanks I tried to grow. The only place to learn to tank is in the instances, but it’s impossible to learn when the hunter decides you are not going fast enough, and starts tanking. Or the Mage decides you are not pulling big enough, so unleashes AOE to aggro more mobs. Or the rogue in quest greens and blues and heirloom items stands in front of the boss, pouring stupid amounts of DPS on, distracting the healer… And you know how it goes. And then the abuse starts again.

Look, it’s inevitable in a way. The end-game is marketed as the ultimate goal. The only important way of demonstrating your stature. So for the pasty faced youths, the justice point grind through instances is not just a game. It’s vital, the only way they have of growing their e-peen bigger than the next guy. It’s not a Skinner box, it’s the dominance wars of a band of chimps.

The easy accessibility of the game is both it’s strength and weakness. On one hand it provides a fantastically well designed and graded difficulty curve for new players, and a hugely rich world to play in. On the other hand it allows players to entirely disregard the mechanics and story of the game, and focus on the single goal of biggest iLevel on the block. To have the biggest e-peen to wave around.

If I had to point at a single feature that promotes the rampant unpleasantness, I would say that it is because WOW has no serious negative consequences. You cannot lose gear or experience or characters, and gear designed to be at the correct level for content is easily and quickly accessible (this is even more so with Pandaria, where you can buy complete sets of kits for Alts for a few hundred gold that will see them through entire expansion, other than end-game).

I am sure that in Blizzard’s head the mechanisms to control player behaviour, and provide meaningful consequences, were intended to arise organically out of the player community. But that never happened. Maybe if there were mechanisms to black list players, or penalise them in game for being douchebags. Maybe if being a member of a guild provided serious enhancements, but forming guilds was expensive and difficult. Some way, anyway, for the silent majority of inoffensive players to apply a real, meaningful consequence.

Oh, yes, ok, Blizzard has mechanisms for banning players, but really that’s damned rare, and seldom applied for simply being an antisocial little twerp.

So really, the choice is obvious. Sink money and time into a grind that longer provides much fun or try something different. Which is what I am going to do, and see how Eve works out for me. So far it’s been interesting, although I am aware I am nowhere near the content or play that can be considered to be “end game”.

Tentatively I would identify three core differences. First, the bulk of the story in Eve is whatever the players want to tell them selves. Second, the learning and difficulty curve is extreme. Third, the game play is structured so that your in-game behaviour will have in-game consequences. Time will tell whether I find less discomfit in a game structured to deal with the reality that people can be distinctly unpleasant, rather than one that assumes people will play nice and cooperate without incentive.