Category Archives: World of Warcraft

Back In Time

Three years. Three and a half years, almost. More than once I thought I ought to mothball this blog and replace it by some statically-served websites, so links from other blogs with more stamina won’t break.

But it’s still there. So why not write something? Doesn’t hurt. Don’t expect many people to still have this in their RSS aggregator, but hey. As people say who kept at this longer than I did: in the end, you write for yourself. And what better time to write than on the Eve of Classic, considering my blog started with walking away from The Game, what it had become, and the things I disliked about it.

So, I haven’t really read much about WoW Classic. I followed Wilhelm, as I always do. (I still follow a few more more… hey Bhagpuss!) but this post, short as it may be, came out of a comment I wanted to write on Azuriel’s blog and a post he wrote about how he won’t join in on WoW Classic, for completely understandable personal reasons. But then, something happened, something that had happened before: my comment grew and took a few turns. And then something happened that hadn’t happened in a long time: the comment wasn’t even that long, but suddenly I thought: why not put it here? why not put in on my own blog? Why not start this again? Give it a try? If it’s a one-off, nobody will judge too harshly. Just another blog that went dormant, came back for one hooray, then slumbered again.

So, to answer to Azuriel’s post, and to kick off my own:

I completely understand his point. Our memories of vanilla (though, for me, when it comes to social connections, TBC is much stronger one in that regard) are definitely not only about the gameplay, but also (and probably, considering the gameplay isn’t that riveting) about the people we met; and, not to forget, about the people we were back then. Can’t have that back ever. Can’t turn back time. Can’t be young again; skip classes and enjoy life except for those two weeks of panic-filled cramming before exams; lose 20 pounds with the snap of a finger; sleep 4 hours and feel fresh next morning.

But my excursion to private servers made me feel like there actually is something in that game that still tickles me. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, and it will wear off, but maybe I just liked the simplicity of the game. Maybe I’m just old enough now that all these newer games don’t appeal to me any more. Maybe I should just go to Arathi Highlands and shake my walking stick at all those youngsters. Or maybe I’ve actually become one of the Undead in Westerd Plaguelands, like the Felstones, just damned to do over and over again what I’ve done before. I would hope for the former. I’ve always figured stick-waving isn’t all that bad!

I intend to have fun. I have unfinished business in vanilla. My guild killed Nefarian just before 1.12 hit and then crashed and burned before TBC. My “real” life with WoW started after I re-rolled. Add in a restless life between the US and EU region[*], and I don’t expect to meet anybody I know. I reached out to a few, but nobody seems to play with anybody else I know, and most of them on PvP servers to boot (never liked them). I will end up being lonely, at least in the first few weeks, grinding levels, listening to podcasts. But you know what? That will be fine as downtime after work. I just started a new job, and I don’t know how much time I’ll have anyway.

So I’ll roll a character. I’ll play with the limited time my job will allow. I won’t roll a paladin (because they are different from what I remember them in TBC), and I won’t roll a warrior (because I don’t feel like I can commit to the time investment that a good tank needs). But I’ll roll… let’s say a Human Mage, maybe. And I’ll see whether I’ll be able to find a guild and have fun. And I’ll see whether I’ll be able to kill C’Thun this time around or not. If not, oh well. At least I gave it a shot.

[*] I feel morally obliged to mention this topic every time it comes up in what I’m saying. Blizzard’s decision to split WoW by regions, not allowing any transfers between them, no friends lists, nothing, was the single worst decision I had ever to suffer through in all of my 30 years of gaming life. I don’t think there’s anything that caused me more annoyance, and even, at the risk of sounding overly emotional, distress or even suffering. I ended up with distinct groups of friends on both sides, and never the twain shall meet. Every time I want to play WoW, I effectively have to decide which friends to abandon. It’s like C’Thun came to life in the real world!

edit: in the unlikely, but welcome event that anybody wants to comment on this post, please don’t be alarmed by an error message. The comments go through, they might just end up in the moderator queue. I haven’t been able to figure out yet what exactly the problem is… stuff is a bit rusty after all that time.

edit2: I really like the classic feel, but I think they’re going a bit overboard with it… it is currently impossible to renew your subscription. After about an hour of plain 404s, Blizzard has now at least gotten around to slap a “currently undergoing maintenance” page on their account management. So not only will I not play tonight, I won’t even be able to make the obligatory “lol look at my queue number” picture tonight. Clearly Blizzard is right; nobody would ever want to play Classic.

Only Paying Bodies Count

This post started as a reply to a post by Azuriel, but got out of hand quickly. So I made a blog post out of it. Since it’s a reply though, you won’t be able to understand much unless you go and read Azuriel’s post, which is a followup on Wilhelm’s post, which in turn looked at a report by SuperData Research. Go and read the two blog posts (they’re worth it) if you haven’t already done so, I’ll wait.

Now, I think Azuriel makes one mistake. The report mentions a data set of  36.9 million users, but it doesn’t say anywhere that all these users actually played a subscription MMO, let alone pay for any subscription in that time. I don’t think there is a direct relation between market share and those user numbers. What counts is the money. Look at the revenues, and you can try and “guess backwards” to figure out the number of users.

Now, I have to warn you: there is very little data available on exact subscription numbers and how they contribute to revenue. So at many points, I had to try and guess what I considered reasonable. It’s not quite as bad as a Fermi estimation, but the numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt.


An example: what is the average monthly spending for a WoW user? Last I checked, the US subscription rate was $15. Some players will pay more, some will pay less. That’s due to currency conversion rates, long-term subscriptions, or buying a sparkle pony. (The fine print seems to say that item shop revenue is included.)

If you now take WoW’s $1.041 billion, and divide that by $15, you end up with 5.78 million users on average over the year. That’s too low on users. Conversely, if you take the 7.6 million users that Azuriel mentions, you end up at an average of $11.41 per user per month. That’s too low on per-user revenue.

Or maybe it isn’t. There was probably a bunch of people on the Diablo III annual pass for a good chunk of the year, which they had paid for in 2012. I have no numbers on how many of those passes were sold, but I remember huge invite waves for the Mist of Pandaria beta (which was part of the annual pass package). So let’s just say 1 million users did not pay at all for their WoW subscription in 2013. That’s handwavey, because probably, most users who were interested into the annual pass probably bought it early on, and the annual pass was released in October 2012 (if I remember correctly). But that means even those people didn’t pay for subscriptions for 10 months during that year, so close enough.

That leaves 6.6 million paying customers. Which means $13.14 per user per month. Now we’re getting close. A 3-month subscription is $13.99 per month. Some will have 1-month subscriptions and pay more, some will have 6-month subscriptions and pay less. There will be some revenue from the item shop, but I can’t imagine that the big revenue generator for WoW. So this sounds reasonable.

edit: I was an idiot and off by a year on the annual pass thing. MoP was released in 2012, so handing out an annual pass in late 2012 with the prospect of a beta invite isn’t such a good deal if the expansion is already released… let’s look at the Chinese/Western split instead.

Or maybe it isn’t. WoW, more so than many other Western games, has a strong foothold in China. Or at least it used to have. The number thrown around is typically 50% of the players being in China. I tried to find numbers for that, but I couldn’t really, which is a bit disappointing. What we do know is that the Chinese market has fared considerably worse than the Western recently. There are two articles in Forbes from 2013 that Chinese players have been leaving in droves to other games. That’s good news for Blizzard, because the market isn’t nearly as profitable. Let’s just assume that, of the 7.6 million players, 5 million at this point are from the West and pay the monthly subscription. At an average price of $14/month, that provides a revenue of $840 million. Still $200 million short.

That leaves us with 2.6 million players from China. In China, players pay by the hour in the form of prepurchased game time cards. By poking around on the Chinese website, I found out that the often-quoted price of ¥0.45 per hour is still the current rate. Taking the average conversion rate for 2013, that translates to about $0.073. To produce a revenue of $200 million from 2.6 million players, they would therefore have to have played a total of 2.7 billion hours, or just shy of 3 hours per player per day. That lines up almost perfectly with the values from Nick Yee’s study. However, we have to be careful here, because those numbers are from a different point in time, on a different audience (Western vs. Chinese), and may suffer from selection bias. If I had to guess, I feel like 3 hours/day is a bit on the high side. Then again, there are revenue paths that I didn’t touch (server transfer fees, sparkle pony sales), which might make up for the difference.

EVE Online

A second example. Let’s look at EVE, whose user numbers looked way off by Azuriel’s estimation method. Their subscription is similarly priced, with longer subscriptions being cheaper than WoW’s. Then again, EVE gouges European customers more so than WoW does; in 2013, a Euro was valued, on average, at about $1.30; so EVE cost a whopping $19.50 per month on a 1-month recurring subscription, and still $14.30 at the yearly rate.

In addition, EVE’s subscriptions are supposedly funded indirectly for a significant part of the user base: older and richer characters with lots of income prefer to buy PLEX, which newer and poorer users buy sell for in-game money. However, PLEX comes at a premium: two month subscription worth of PLEX come at between $35 and $46 (=35€), so that’s between $17.50 and $23 per month.

Let’s make a really rough guess and assume that, on average, a direct subscription earns CCP $16 a month, while a PLEX subscription adds $20 to their coffers. For the next step, we’d need to know what fraction of accounts are paid by either option. I don’t think there’s any such information available. Sure, you can look at the amount of PLEX traded each day in Jita, but there are probably rich players playing the PLEX market, so not each sale will end up in 30 days of game time. Probably not by far. Besides, I don’t have historic trading volume values for 2013. However, these days, about 2500–3000 PLEX are traded in JITA each day, sometimes more. So that gives us something of an upper limit. (Station traders inflate the volume; however, back then it wasn’t unheard of to buy PLEX to fund your own subscription, because you could get in-game kickbacks from licensed PLEX-selling sites; those PLEX never showed up in the trading statistics.) Let’s say 60 000 accounts are paid by PLEX every month. That means about $15 million in revenue through PLEX.

That’s still not even close to the $93 million, of course. I was surprised myself how little of the market seems to be covered by PLEX. It certainly ties in with the claim of the “silent majority” that just flies in space for some missions and doesn’t have time or interest in making enough money to fund their game via PLEX. To cover the remaining $78 million, you’d need another 400 000 users by that calculation.

That gives us a total of 460 000 accounts, and that’s actually pretty close: in February 2013, CCP announced that they broke the 500 000-subscriber barrier. Who knows for how long they kept above the watermark; if the number of concurrent users is any sign, then probably not for long. (You can check those at Chribba’s EVE Offline.) But they probably didn’t plummet completely, either.

Time to Get Rid of my Authenticator

Even though I haven’t played WoW in ages, I still have my authenticator on my key ring. My office key ring, to be exact. That might be weird, carrying it around at work, but it had something to do with load balancing. I hate large key rings, so I have several small ones. At the time I picked up my authenticator, I had recently gotten my office keys, and that key ring was still mostly empty. That’s also the reason I never removed the authenticator, even after I stopped playing: it gave the keys some extra weight and volume that made me feel less likely to forget or lose them (it has worked so far!). Naturally, after all these years, it’s become a bit worn:

I'll use the chance to show off my keyring.

I’ll use the chance to show off my key ring.

Note the nice electronic office key that says “I’m a computer scientist, I use doors that need almost a second of thinking time before you may turn the key after putting it into the lock!”. One second doesn’t sound like much, but try it… nobody waits that long before turning a key unless they have to. It’s surprisingly disruptive. Oh, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all and you need to pull it out, wait 5 seconds, then try again. There’s also a MacGuyveresque mini ballpoint pen in a tube on the key ring. Because you never have a pen when you need it (naturally, now that I do, I never have paper to write on). Also there’s a bottle opener. Nice during the day for the few soft drinks that come with crown caps and even better during the night for beer. We tend to work long enough in summer that we sometimes end the evening with a beer or two at work, on our terrace. Actually, sometimes we have one even before we’re done… Hey, it’s Germany! Besides, the opener was a promotional gift by Opera (the web browser developer). They got cheated by their supplier though, I think. Their logo and slogan (“opening the web”) wore off within weeks.

But back to the authenticator. It still works and the front doesn’t look too bad, either. However, the back makes me worry a bit more:

I think that number might've been important...

I think that number might’ve been important…

Removing a broken authenticator from your account seems to be an obscure work of black magic. At least processes how to do it seem to change over time. At some point, I’m pretty sure that code on the back side, which you needed when you registered the key fob, was also required to remove it again, or at least saved you a lot of hassle (there still must’ve been ways to deal with lost or broken authenticators). These days, it doesn’t seem to be strictly required any more, but if your authenticator breaks, it’s still a lengthy and annoying process to get rid of it on your account. Seeing how I haven’t logged into a Blizzard game in months, I don’t see much reason to keep it secured with this authenticator. In fact, at the moment, the risk of getting hacked worries me less than the risk of locking myself out of an account I might want to use again at some point in the future.

Speaking of authenticators, do they even still sell the key fobs? I couldn’t find them in the store. Is it all smartphone apps these days? I’m a bit paranoid about the Android one, not the least because I imagine it can spectacularly break (like other such apps) if for some reason you lose the random seed or need to reinstall. I also heard it goes all crazy and judgmental on you if you use it on a rooted phone. Most importantly, it feels a lot less secure than a stand-alone key fob. Finally: can the app manage more than one account at a time? I have two accounts, one for each side of the ocean, with different games bound to them. If I get around to them again, I’d prefer to have an authenticator that can manage both accounts.

Motivation By Singing

The other day, I spent a long car ride with a couple of colleagues, and we talked about this and that. Among other things, about singing and about unusual motivational techniques. That reminded me of a story from my WoW raiding days, and with the help of some friends from back then (oh Facebook, glorified White Pages of the late naughties), I was able to reconstruct most of the story from memory.

*   *   *

Raid leading is a lot like herding cats. Every guild seems to have a few people who are constantly late, unprepared, didn’t bring consumables, or are simply incapable of following even the easiest instructions. Nevertheless, everything can go exceedingly well some nights. Other nights… not so. In addition, every guild seems to have bosses it nails with just minimal efforts, while it struggles with others every week. And while some bosses are more notorious than others, it seems every guild picks its personal bogeymen without much rhyme or reason.

ICC was the last raid instance our guild did before it folded in the autumn of 2010. We were quite successful as a close-knit 10-man group, but suffered from the all-too-common problem that our 25-man’s progress was always lagging behind. 10 dedicated raiders, and 25 people with time constraints or no interest in harder raiding rotating in and out of the remaining 15 slots. In ICC-25, we struggled the most with Saurfang and Sindragosa (ok, and with Arthas, but final bosses don’t qualify for the bogeyman list). This story happened on one of our 25-man raid nights in ICC. We had already spent half the previous night struggling with Saurfang, mostly due to Blood Beasts eating the raid, before we finally killed him. Bashing your head against a wall is never fun, especially when the wall comes with an unskippable cutscene long enough to become its own meme. (“We named him Dranosh. It means ‘waste 90 seconds’ in Orcish.”) In the end, our raid leader got people to focus, we killed him and moved on.

The next night, our main raid leader was unavailable, so I had to lead the raid, something I hate to do. At least the night started well, but soon enough, we faced Sindragosa. Spreading out for Frost Beacon so that the ability couldn’t chain to unaffected people turned out to be as problematic as ever. On more than one attempt, instead of the targeted 5 people, we ended up with half the raid frozen into ice blocks and dying. It was a massacre, and the mood tanked almost as badly as I did (I’m not good at tanking when I have to raid lead at the same time). After half a dozen attempts and telling people off, I decided it was time for special measures. The stick hadn’t worked, so maybe the carrot was in order?

“Alright people. Focus. I want y’all to focus. No lollygagging, no clusterfucking, no 15 ice blocks after each Frost Breath. I’m tired of this shit. You know what? Here’s a reward. If you focus, and we kill her now, I’ll sing ‘Amazing Horse’ to you over Vent, both male and female voice.” (In case you don’t know it, here’s the song. Not safe for work, children, or mentally stable people, you know the drill.) Weebl’s songs had been a staple of jokes in the guild for some time, so everybody knew which song I meant.

The mood changed. People chuckled. The sheer weirdness of that “reward” seemed to be incentive enough.

We killed Sindragosa the next pull. And yes, I gladly sang. It ended up being a moment all of us still remember to this day. It’s the stuff nostalgia is made of.

Belated Obituary for an Unloved Ability

I follow the RSS feed for WoW Archivist. It’s a fun read most of the time, and as someone who has stopped playing WoW, I like being reminded of the “good old times”. While I was on vacation, they published an article called “Spells we’ve lost” which I enjoyed very much. So many memories:

  • Eyes of the Beast for hunters. I remember pulling Shazzrah into Garr’s cave in Molten Core. 15-20 seconds of running through the tunnel. Then dodging trash groups. Then body-pulling Shazzrah with your pet, which invariably took one for the team, aggroing the boss. Then waiting another 15-20 seconds for him to make his way back through the tunnel. Hoping you didn’t pull anything else with him. I also remember this hilarious pull where a fellow hunter announced, “uh… I think I pulled some trash with him…”. Tense silent seconds. Then one trash group appeared. Then another trash group appeared. Then Shazzrah. Then yet another trash group. Then Baron Geddon. Of course it was a wipe, but I don’t think we laughed that much for a long time after. The hilarious double-boss-triple-trash pull became the stuff of legends in our guild.
  • Amplify/Dampen Magic for mages. Mages buffing the whole raid with one of the two, depending on which boss we would fighting, to get that small additional benefit of less damage taken or higher received healing. One of those great little quirky spells was removed.
  • Detect Magic, again for mages. An ability that didn’t do anything for most of its existence. (Orignally, buffs were hidden from view, and you could only see them when you cast Detect Magic. That limitation was removed very early on, but Detect Magic stayed around for much longer.) But as one of the few debuffs that would show up on the debuff bar, but not aggro the target, it was great before target markers were added to the game. Mages used it to show which target they would sheep. Every now and then, we used it for Garr’s adds which were constantly moving in a close group, to assign them to a warrior. (Most of the time we used a priest with Mind Vision.)
  • Divine Spirit for priests. The one redeeming feature of speccing Discipline in the early days. One priest was assigned to take one for the team, spec Disc, gimp their healing throughput, but provide this oh-so-yummy mana regen buff, to be used with the five-second rule that was still around back then, and gave casters another fun mechanic to play around with.
  • Curse of Doom timing for warlocks. Cast now, see massive damage in one minute. Time it so it hits when it’s most convenient (final enrages, annoying phases you want to get through as fast as possible).

Some people in the comments added their favorite spells that were removed. There were some paladins who bemoaned the demise of Righteous Defense.

Wait. Really? You cannot be serious.

Righteous Defense was probably the most annoying ability with the most misguided implementation in the history of WoW that I can think of. It’s a poster child of what happens when you try to give an ability to another class, but want to make it different for the sake of being different.

Righteous Defense was given to paladins in the Great Paladin Revamp of TBC. It was their taunt. Only, it wasn’t. Take the warrior taunt. You need to peel a mob off a fellow tank (think boss trading), or a DPS or healer (think overzealous DPS, or threat resets). A warrior would target the mob, hit taunt, the mob would come to them. Easy.

Righteous Defense worked the other way round: instead of targeting the mob, you cast Righteous Defense on its target. It also worked on up to three targets. So if your fellow raid member had more than one mob on them, up to three (randomly selected) targets would be “taunted” to you.

Three mobs taunted for one cast. That’s three times as good, isn’t it?

Not really. If you had to trade mobs between tanks, but you had more than one on you, you couldn’t taunt selectively. You had to work with your fellow warrior to taunt back the ones you didn’t want to take off him in the first place. And pray he was a warrior. If he also was a paladin… well, good luck.

Even worse, the ability didn’t work properly for the longest time. (I can’t remember exactly, but I think by some point through WotLK, they had gotten it to work, for the most part. That’s 1.5 expansions.) Part of that was due to the unique “redirect”. If a mob was out of control after a threat reset, chances were it would ping-pong around like Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil. So you targeted the mob, hit your “follow” key, and Righteous Defense. Only, by that time, the mob would have chosen a new target, and your spell would fizzle. Congratulations, you were now useless for the next 8 seconds looking at your gimped taunt button counting down. 8 seconds is a hell of a lot of time for a boss to chomp through your poor DPS. Even if you macro’d the follow-and-then-cast, it would still happen. I blame lag for that (when you cast it, all was fine, but by the time your command reached the server, the mob had changed its target).

It was, by and large, one of the most painfully broken abilities that I had to endure as a Tankadin. Mostly because of its propensity to fail when you needed it the most.

So, to all who say that Righteous Defense is a missed ability: No. Screw you.

That’s all.

So… It’s Kung Fu Panda After All?

Horde and Alliance fight each other. But worry not, they will band together against the common evil… the Pandas which will destroy them all. But hold on, Pandas are cute, so we are evil? I’m confused. Blizzaaaaaaard! Don’t do that to me! You know, your game should be accessible, not make me think and fail at it!

Anyway. Let me compose myself.

Unfortunate Focus

Going by the news, one of the topics of the next expansion supposedly is broader focus. Diversification. Alternate ways of advancement. I would’ve expected to see this focus on less focus in the trailer. Instead in the trailer for Mists of Pandaria, you see mists, and you see a panda. (I didn’t see a “ria”, but that might be because I don’t know what that is.) That’s about as much focus as you can put on one thing. It’s basically the title of the expansion in video form. The strong focus on one thing, the Big Bad at the end, was in line with the previous expansions, but that also means that by extrapolation, Mr. Panda suddenly gets cast into this weird role as big-bad-but-wait-not-really.

Unfortunate Reference

When I say, “it’s Kung Fu Panda after all”, that is not only because kung fu and pandas is all we really see in the trailer, except for the stock Horde and Alliance poster children. As an aside, why is none of them female? Maybe I shouldn’t ask, because all we’d get is a scantily clad woman with clothes ripped off in strategic places from her unfortunate boating accident. (Also, I guess she wouldn’t fit in, because women obviously can’t wear real weapons, so she would have to be a mage,  like all important human women in MMOs always are, and how would a Kung Fu Panda be able to beat a mage? ) Note: WoW needs more female orcs! Rawr! In your face!

No, the reason I saw Kung Fu Panda in that trailer was a very specific scene. Remember the scene where unnamed Panda #1 returns the decorative headpiece to its original place… then realizes it’s slightly askew and adjusts it with his staff? Here.

The movement, the sound effects, the timing, the comical effect… I don’t know whether I’m imagining it, but this felt so evocative of Kung Fu Panda. Now, don’t get me wrong, Kung Fu Panda is an enjoyable movie. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the “even more inter-faction war” vibe that I heard Blizzard was trying to push. Instead of downplaying the Kung Fu Panda angle with “but there’s so many more cool things waiting!”, they embrace it.

Unfortunate Use of Rhetorical Device

The first statement by Mr. Panda was that the question “why do we fight?” is a stupid one. He then proceeds to smack the previously brawling human and orc until they band up, then smacks them a bit more, then stops. Then we realize it seems the question actually might be “why do we fight?” after all, because that is what we’re given the answer to. Huh? Is it OK to be confused by that? Maybe Mr. Panda had a bit too much to drink. The answer he gives is “to protect home and family and blabla something harmony”. Well, that’s nice, I guess. I assume that is also the answer to the “real question”, as Mr. Panda puts it,  that he then rhetorically asks: “what is worth fighting for?” That must be the reason why six weeks from now, all those Pandas will randomly choose either Horde or Alliance as faction, so they can proceed to smash each other’s heads in. Wait, what? That doesn’t make any sense in light of that trailer! The sad thing is, this trailer projects a relationship between the factions that I would have enjoyed a lot more than what we will get. The pandas stay together, the Horde and Alliance band up, and all need to go after the Big Bads.

Unfortunate Target Group

Well, at least for me, in a sense. Because I’m not part of it. (Whether that’s unfortunate or not might be up for debate.) I knew that beforehand. I actually watched the trailer with very low hopes. That, funny enough, often works for me like a reverse prejudice: because I go in with low hopes, there’s a decent chance I might be pleasantly surprised because I’m at least not totally disappointed. Sadly, it didn’t work this time.

Oh well. There’s other games to play. I might check out MoP once it’s in the virtual bargain bin, just for the hell of it.

On Dungeon Design, or: why dungeons became boring

Like many another among us bloggers, I have lamented the passing of the good old times more than once. Coming from WoW, it will remain my gold standard for the foreseeable future to gauge every other MMO, for better or worse; and if anything, at least its still immense weight of millions of subscribers makes sure that this comparison can’t be completely useless.

Dungeoning is one of the most discussed parts of WoW and other MMOs. Typically though, this discussion focuses on how to create crate groups, and how WoW’s cross-server dungeon finder has transformed dungeon runs from social experiences or recruitment opportunities for raiding guilds into asocial speedruns. On the other hand, among those that are playing SW:TOR, the dungeon finder makes an unlikely comeback as blogger favorite and favorite wish for the next patch, because without this tool, it seems nigh impossible even for socializers to coax other people into dungeon runs. What with all the, I don’t know, talking, and inviting, and god forbid, running to the dungeon entrance being so last decade!

Two Types of Dungeons

However, I don’t want to discuss the dungeon finder in detail, other people have done that enough recently. There is a different topic, though, that goes hand in hand, and that’s dungeon design. For WoW, the largest shift in design came actually long before the introduction of the dungeon finder.

In Vanilla, dungeons were typically one of two types: either linear, or open and non-linear (or somewhere in between). Let’s look at the original endgame dungeons:

  • Scholomance was linear with some nooks and crannies, and an optional portion (Jandice’s basement) that you only did if someone needed the warlock shoulders.
  • Stratholme was non-linear, though in practice, it was split into two sub-instances of which you only did one (live or dead side), and either of them seemed to have a “preferred path” (though different from server to server) to go through that you typically didn’t extend or deviate from.
  • Dire Maul was non-linear, to the point that not only each of the three official sub-instances was non-linear, but there were even connections between the three that were very convenient for some of the quests.
  • Blackrock Depths: WoW’s poster child of non-linear dungeons, this was a massive dungeon crawl that was either admired or feared (or both). It was a whole city, actually larger than many of the horde and alliance cities that you could visit, with several subareas that you might not have seen even after a dozen runs.
  • Blackrock Spire: the two parts (upper and lower) looked similar, but in fact their design was vastly different. Lower was a non-linear group instance, while upper was a mini-raid with what probably was the most linear path through a dungeon in vanilla WoW.

Compare that to Burning Crusade:

  • Hellfire Ramparts, Blood Furnace, Shattered Halls: corridor-room-corridor-room.
  • Slave Pens, Underbog, Steamvault: room-corridor-room-corridor-room.
  • Auchenai Crypts, Mana Tombs, Sethekk Halls, Shadow Labyrinth: room-corridor-room. In spite of the name, Shadow Labyrinth was one of the most linear instances in the expansion, it didn’t even feature any views of the outside, or an illusion of vertical depth. It was a flat sequence of rooms connected by exactly one corridor each.
  • Mechanar, Botanica, Arcatraz, and, lest I forget, Magister’s Terrace: I think you can guess by now.
  • Escape from Durnholde and The Opening of the Dark Portal are fully scripted and therefore linear, even though Durnholde should get an honorable mention for the attention to detail and the fact that you could just go and hang out in old Southshore before or after your dungeon run.

With the introduction of heroic dungeons, we got more choices at the level cap – if you could finish them; some, like Escape from Durnholde were notoriously difficult and almost impossible without raid gear. However, from a dungeon design point of view, there was less choice, because they all followed the same pattern. And I can think of only two Lich King and Cataclysm instances that were not completely linear: The Nexus, where the decision was simply whether you wanted to clockwise or counter-clockwise, and the Halls of Origination with their optional wing.

Dungeon Design and Automated Groups

This simplified dungeon design predated the LFD finder, but it was necessary for it. Without dungeons that were a) of roughly equal length and b) linear, the dungeon finder wouldn’t have been accepted that easily.

If the dungeons are of greatly differing length, a player doesn’t know how long a dungeon run will take, and if you ever played in a dungeon finder group, you know that speed is of the utmost importance. Every minute spent in a dungeon without rushing to the end reduces the badges/time ratio and is frowned upon.

If the dungeons are non-linear, you will have different goals in the group. Some will want to do an optional area, others want to take a specific route to pick up something on the way. Only a completely linear dungeon ensures that the goals of all group members are the same.

So there you have it. Dungeons need to be all similar to each other and highly linear to work well with a fully-automatic LFD. On the other hand, even if you had 50 dungeons available, if there’s no variation in the design, they will become boring. So, in fact, the dungeon finder requires dungeons to be boring to work. Those old vanilla dungeons? To homogenize their length, they got split into several dungeon finder parts. And good luck getting people to continue further after you got your loot bag. Or remember Oculus? Most of my groups lost at least 1-2 people before the first pull, because people hated it for being so different. Oculus was like the blank in the dungeon lottery.

A pack of Haribo Color-Rado.

I hated these as a kid. 50% yummy, 50% eww.

LFD requires you to hit one button, then rush through randomly chosen content. People don’t like variety if they don’t have choice over it. If your only input is hitting a button, you expect homogenized output. Everything else is frustrating. Ever had one of these packs of sweets that are half gummy bears and half liquorice? The difference is that you don’t grab stuff blindly and have to eat whatever you grab, even if you hate liquorice. (Yes, I hate liquorice! There, I said it.) It doesn’t work that way with the dungeon finder. You have to eat whatever dungeon dinner is chosen for you, so it better be always the same so it doesn’t offend anyone.

I just wish the SW:TOR players that the introduction of a dungeon finder won’t make liquorice out of all their dungeons.

Small Annoyances: Online Game Updating

This is one of the things that have always slightly annoyed me. Not enough to go into a rage, but enough to probably cause companies some financial loss here or there. The problem is that there are games that I can’t update if I don’t have a current subscription. Example: RIFT. I have to log in first, then I can update. But if I don’t have a subscription, I’ll get an error message when I try to log in. So if I wanted to play the game again, I’d have to resubscribe first, then update the game, then play. Seeing how I have no idea how much of an update that would be, I skipped the resubscription on more than one occasion because I feared that I’d spend all night updating. Same with SOE’s games (though with EQ2 now being subscription-less, this isn’t as much an issue any more than it used to be).

In fact, the only game I can think of that has a monthly subscription, but allows you to update regardless of your account status, is WoW. Blizzard got it right, yet again.

I don’t understand the reasoning behind the “no update without a subscription” policy either. Companies save some network traffic, but I would strongly assume that’s negligible compared to people creating traffic by a) playing the game, or b) downloading the whole several-gigabytes game (which you often enough can do without a subscription).

I regularly update my online games, even those that I haven’t touched in a while. Actually, especially those. Because I don’t want to have to wait through 3 hours of updates when I get the itch to play them again. Game companies, mark my words: if I want to play your game, I don’t want to wait through hours of updates.

Give me the option to update when I don’t want to play, so I don’t get discouraged by updating when I want to play.

No WoW Motivation

I got a mail from Blizzard while I was in Japan. It was a promotional offer for 7 days of free game time, to be redeemed until 21st of December. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who got it.) I decided, ah, why not, it’s free game time, and I still can not play afterwards.  So I signed up for it on the 21st, the day after I returned.

I realized today that I hadn’t played at all. I had updated WoW (I had updated all my online games when I came back), but I hadn’t logged in. So I fired up WoW to play. Then I remembered I would need my authenticator. It’s on the shelf in the other room.

I decided I was too lazy to get up and get it.

I think that sums up my motivation for the game right now.

Mana as the Easy Way Out

I’m a bit behind because I was ill last week, and then had to catch up on work, so it might take a bit until I’m actually talking about news again. Right now, I’m just going through everything I missed, and this quote from Blizzard caught my eye:

As a Monk you can heal competitively without ever having to target a friendly player.

Monks will be similar to how a Discipline Priest can heal or cast Smite.

Balancing a non mana using healer would be too hard, so Monks are going to use mana to heal.

All Monks (DPS, Tank and Healer) will use the “dual combo point” resource (Force).

Monks are getting less and less interesting with every news update. I wonder whether they’ll ever reach the greatness of Vanguard’s disciple. It sounds like monks will just be a mobile healing stream totem, or restricted to the equivalent of atonement spam. I’m not sure what to make of the last quoted point. Will monk healers have some interesting mechanic to manage, or just some blue Chi bar, and the “force” just being neglected?

Besides, wasn’t there some developer discussion a while back when they said that Mana was a somewhat annoying mechanic, because it wasn’t as easy to balance as energy and similar ones that deplete and refill faster?