Category Archives: Questing

Fly, my pretties!

SL Flying

Here we are, in only the first content patch for Shadowlands, and I have flying in Shadowlands. How is this possible?

Turns out all you need to do is to get to Renown of 44 or higher with your covenant, and then finish up the 9.1 quest line through the point of freeing the Primus, about which I will say no more in case we have Spoiler-Sensitivetm people reading.

Besides this, we also get a couple of other boons in 9.1.

  1. Along the way we get to kill The Eye so it isn’t stalking us in The Maw.
  2. We also complete a quest that gives us the means to mount up (but not fly) in The Maw.

Not being a raider or PvPer or whatever, I have to say there’s precious little else other than additional padding for my covenant.

A note of caution for the 9.1 quests, especially assaults in The Maw.  Be informed. At least two of the quests I needed to do were bugged, and it wasn’t until I researched them via a combination of Reddit and WoWHead that I figured out that (1) for one, I needed to go to Stormwind, go into War Mode, go back to the quest, and then I could complete it.  And (2) only Elite mobs were suitable to feed Kevin.  Yes, Kevin. No, I won’t tell you who Kevin is.  But you need to feed him.

I am somewhat put out that the “optimum” covenant for BM Hunters shifted from Ardenweald to Bastion. I’ve got 45 levels of covenant love here, what am I supposed to do, start over? Eff that.

The whole Sylvanas … thing.  I’m just not going there.  I’m in the “Fry her, fry her now, and then fry whatever’s left” school.  I haven’t forgotten Teldrassil, and neither should  you.

Neighborhood of Warcraft

50 the dudeI’ve often said that the people claiming that leveling up a new toon were making too much of a big deal out of how long it would take to get from level 1 to max (currently 50). So I rolled up a new toon just to measure how long it would take.

I was also curious about the leveling experience once Shadowlands rolled. Shadowlands was our first ever level squish, meaning we start Shadowlands at level 50, and everything else is squished in between level 1 and 50.  So this experiment is also commentary on that.

The toon in question is a Night Elf mage named Tride (I tried, er, tride to get the name Trial, or Trile, but they were taken).  I went with Frost spec as I felt that would be more challenging than Fire, and I know squat about playing Arcane.  As it turns out, that choice was revelatory.

The rules are simple: leveling at the most casual rate possible.  No dungeons or raids, no instances of any kind that WoW didn’t railroad me into. Follow the natural progression of the questlines only.  No special events.1

Getting Started

03 Shadowglenn

The starting experience posed an immediate choice to make. In Shadowlands they introduced a new, generic starting area for all new toons.  So I had a choice between that and going old school. While I was curious about this new starting area, I elected to go old school and start in Teldrassil.2  By the time I was level 10, I was camped out in Darnassus.

Once based out of Tree City, I had a few decisions to make. The results were as follows:

  • Mining and Herbing, because raw materials always sell.
  • No to fishing, I don’t need to give up a bag slot and it’s a waste of time.
  • Maybe on cooking, to keep a little buff going.3

There was a little bit of cheating. I logged in on Jasra and bought myself some good healing potions and bandages with her money.

10 Teldrassil

Darkshore

13 Lor'danel

Once out of the Tree, it was time to get moving.  I’m still annoyed that we’re dealing with the post-Cataclysm world here instead of based out of Auberdine, and the broken landscape is beyond frustrating.4

However, even at level, this part of the world doesn’t pose too many real issues.  There was some dying, yes, especially when I got my aim off and blinked into something nasty.

The Tower of Athalaxx was the only intractable quest in that zone, and this illustrates the first problem with the new leveling experience. Namely, scaling.

In all zones now, mobs are scaled to match your level. If you’re level 25, expect to see level 25 mobs all around.  And that’s fine, to an extent, but in the case of elites like the denizens of that tower, you either need to group (a no-no for this experiment), or get beefy and outlevel the boss.  And now … that’s not possible. Blizz need to tune some of the beefier mobs out there to work better with the leveling experience.

Ashenvale

28 Ashenvale

In Classic, one of the quests that gets you out of Darkshore and into Auberdine is “The Sleeper Awakes” or something like that. I am glad that one’s gone. Hella annoying it was, and on several toons in Vanilla / BC / Wrath, I just skipped that one completely.

Another difference is that pre-Cata, you get sent to Astranaar first thing, but post-Cata you get sent to Orendil’s Retreat for a mini quest-hub and then it keeps progressing you further in until you do end up in Astranaar.

31 astranaar

This is where your home base will be for a good 15 levels at least.

Chromie Time – I hit a wall

30 Stonetalon

Here’s where a big disconnect happens.

Pre-SL, progression in these zones progressed normally.  Post-SL, when you hit level 30, everything just … stops. No XP from killing anything. All mobs are level 30. Quest completion offers a fraction of what it did.  And this applies to all mobs, in all eras. Go to Shattrath, and everything’s level 30. Go to Northrend, same dealy.

There aren’t many bread crumbs here, but the answer is that you really need to be on Chromie Time. What that is is that you speak with Chromie in Stormwind5  and select an era that you want to play in. You then get an introductory quest to get you started in the era you wish to quest in, and then off you go. So if you choose Burning Crusade, for example, you could proceed immediately to Hellfire and start leveling there.

And if you choose not to go to Hellfire, well, all mobs in all zones now scale from levels 7 to 50.  So you can continue to level on Azeroth.  One annoying thing about this is that Chromie doesn’t offer this as an option, you just have to guess. The other is that if  you don’t start in Exile’s Reach, you end up having to figure this out on your own – the Command Board did not light up with a quest marker on the map, but it DID have the quest available to go see Chromie.

So I’m not sure at what point you’re supposed to pick up Chromie Time, but I do know that you have to do so no later than level 30.

This throws a huge error into my numbers – I spent over an hour figuring this out.

I got better

One reason I chose Frost for my spec was that canonically, right now it doesn’t hit as hard as other specs, and, as I mentioned, I had no clue how to play Arcane (I’ve tried in the past). And I did, I struggled a lot early on, even using some Fire spells out of desperation.

But as I progressed, so did my toolbox. The big one was when Brain Freeze became available, this opened Flurry as an insta-cast, and later on that allowed it to buff Ice Lance. Between those two, as well as the Frozen Orb, by level 35 I was really kicking butt.

So this underlines a huge flaw in the Frost spec, and maybe others – at lower levels they’re really not up to the task that they’re assigned. It isn’t until you’re halfway through the talent tree that you can really feel like you’re getting somewhere, and, I suspect, all zones are currently designed as if you have access to all talents and spells.

Bottom line: that was a lot of work, retuning the old world to work with the level squish. But you really need another pass, Blizz, this time with toons at appropriate level.

Desolace

41 Desolace

Having gotten my leveling thing worked out, I finished off Stonetalon6, and forayed into Desolace at level 39, where I dinged level 40 and quickly ported over to Stormwind7 to get my fast flying8.

Again, as I gained levels I gained in power. This is one good thing that Blizz has accomplished, is the notion of spell ranks once again, but this time it isn’t just scaling – each spell rank can (and usually does) bring additional effects with it. So, as you progress in levels, you genuinely do feel more powerful, one of the key values of leveling.

As a result, clearing out Desolace was a pretty trivial task, though I did bite off more than I could chew on the ghost magnet quest. Other than Stupid Hunter Tricks (as payed on a Mage), Desolace was a cake walk.

One thing that puzzled me was that while I was expecting to be sent to Feralas once I completed that zone, instead I had no choice to go resume my questing in Southern Barrens.

Southern Barrens and Theramore

49 Theremore

As I completed the final quests of Southern Barrens, I dinged 49 and was directed to Theramore, where I picked up a bunch of quests to go kill things and save a surprisingly ancient hermit and come to the rescue of some Goblins (no, really!). My journey to 50 was almost complete, and I realized at this point that I had been cheated.

Specifically, the World of Warcraft had shrunk.  I had slavishly stuck to my home continent as I leveled up just to see what would happen. What happened was that I only barely saw Thousand Needles and Feralas in passing, with Tanaris, Un’Goro, Felwood10, Azshara11, and Silithus completely missing from my quest log. I suspect that the same would have occurred had I chosen Ironforge or Stormwind as a starting point.  And that’s really sad.

While the level squish is mostly done well, barring a couple of technical issues which I suspect will never be fixed, it emphasizes exactly why I was against such a move.  The problem I just described above has always been there since Cataclysm. When they revamped the zones for Cataclysm, then never went back and adjusted things so that you could visit the whole world. Quests would go gray before you were finished a zone, and you’d be off to Outland long before you completed other zones. Hell, Winterspring was so infrequently visited that I even forgot about it in the previous paragraph.

And that was never addressed, and that will never be addressed. The World of Warcraft is reduced to your general neighborhood. The Neighborhood of Warcraft.

Thoughts and Conclusions

49 Feralas

At the end of the day, I ended up at 54 hours /played to get to Level 50. Subtract an hour for my confusion at level 30 if you wish, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.

What this adds up to is if someone played 8 hours a day it would take just under a week. A more realistic 4 hours and we’re talking around two weeks.  I’d call it three weeks of dedicated playtime to get to the point that you’re ready to start leveling on whatever the new expansion is.

My conclusion here is that while it’s certainly not a gigantic burden to level up to 50 in a reasonable time, three weeks is probably longer than the endgame-eager “hardcore raider” mindset. Hell, ONE week is probably longer than they’d be willing to put in, and any time put in for this sort of thing is probably done grudgingly.

I still think that paying for a boost is appropriate in this case. I am forever worn out and tired of Blizz bending over backwards to a tiny sliver of the population and wish they would spend time making the journey to endgame more interesting. There are years’ worth of adventures locked away behind a poorly designed and paced leveling experience, and it’s a damned shame that nobody has any reason to visit them – much less enjoy them – other than the completionists out there dragging their max-level asses through content that they don’t even appreciate because how can you if you’re life isn’t in danger?

Tride the Frost Mage’s days are over, and I thank him for his service. I understand the process better now, and will no longer feel that people that don’t want to do even this  little bit of leveling are necessary lazy or unwilling to put in the time. It’s a not insignificant amount of time that obviously I don’t begrudge12, but others might.

A new player just getting started will forever be missing what the rest of us experienced, for good or ill. How to explain to someone in the future that all these Chromie Zones were once played in sequence?  I’ll leave that up to wiser heads than myself.

My adventures as a leveling toon ended when I dinged level 50. Chromie let me know that I was about to be kicked out. She gave me a countdown, and then booted me to present day, at the courtyard of Stormwind Keep.   When I tried to port back to Darnassus, I was dropped at Darkshore, where all that was once our home lay smoking on the horizon13.  With a heavy heart, I sighed and ported to Ironforge where I sold all my stuff, mailed the cash to Jasra, and quietly ended the enterprise.

50 this dude


  1. Okay, the Lunar festival was running at one point and I cleared a few Elders because those unanswered quest markers on the map were driving me MEGA HELLNUTS CRAZY.
  2. So sue me, the War of the Thorns is still fresh for me, OKAY?
  3. At some point I did cheat and bought stuff off the AH to level cooking.
  4. Why is it that the Night Elves are getting it in the teeth every other expansion and yet somehow we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Orcs and be okay with them cutting down every tree that they can see and then some? Give me a break.
  5. Of course, Stormwind. Always, of course, Stormwind.
  6. Having never visited the peak, once a must-have! (addendum: a later quest took me there. Duh.)
  7. Of course, Stormwind. Always … wait, I’m repeating myself.
  8. No, that’s not cheating – neither the teleport, which is a Light-given Mage perk, nor the fast flying. The assumption here is that I’m leveling an alt for … whatever the leveler needs that level 50 toon for. One assumes that the leveler already has mounts, and, as you are well aware now, SIR, mounts are account wide9.
  9. If someone was leveling a new toon, this would be very, very sad.  I’ll essplain later.
  10. Where even is the bread crumb for that zone?
  11. Same question.
  12. Obviously not, I just blew three weekends on a silly experiment.
  13. As I said, War of the Thorns is still a bitter memory for me.

Dragged it out, but here I am

image

Roughly a month after Shadowlands released, here I am at 60. I was in no particular hurry and have probably been left far behind by my guildmates. However, if you gulp you can get indigestion, so I’ve been chewing slowly and steadily.

My approach has been to take one toon up a level, then another, and then another, with a level’s separation between Grimm / Illume / Jasra / Floramel. So, today I popped 60 on Grimm which means when I next level Illume, she’ll pop 59, and so forth.

This has worked pretty well before, but there’s a problem with Shadowlands.

In the past, there has been a barely-visible set of railroad tracks under your feet, but they took multiple paths to max level. In BC we all started in one place, then took multiple paths out of there. In Wrath we started in two different places. Same for Cataclysm, with a reversion to the BC model in MoP and WoD and BfA, and a great multiple entry model in Legion (the best IMO).

But here, in Shadowlands, we’re locked on to very strong tracks, and they will not abide deviation from a given path.  You don’t advance from one zone to the next without achieving certain key points – Maldraxxus is the most blatant, with its five runes.  Get all five and you’re off to Ardenweald.

I do see that there are flight points available to all zones at some point, but I’m not sure if you can actually fly to one out of sequence.  Something to look into.

So, overall it’s been a slice, but it’s been an increasingly boring slice. Hopefully once I complete all the storylines I will have more choice in what I do next, but right now it feels like some bloke in Irvine is playing the game for me. The levelling game feels like it’s been written out of the story so we can rush into endgame.  Seriously, why not eliminate it completely if that’s how you feel? Publish a comic book and be done with.

I’m pretty sure that this game would be a lot more playable for my alts if I maxxed out one character before levelling any of the others, but that basically means I needed to have foreseen this and adjusted my playstyle before I ever played. Pretty stupid assumption if I’m honest.  Never trust a software engineer – or game designer – to be particularly smart.

The most annoying part of this is that Shadowlands would be easily playable as a four-starting-zones game, ala Legion. But they chose not to do it that way. Reflect on that.

It is Done

flying bfa

Tonight I started at just over 2,000 reputation short of being Revered with the Mechagon Trudgniks. I wasn’t expecting to get all that rep in one night, but the “find the chests” WQ was up so I popped it with a quest to spare.

So I’m flying in the current content once again.  I wish I could say it wasn’t a slog this time, but it really felt like a slog.  This “pathfinder” business started, what, in Draenor? I think it was Draenor.  And the funny thing is, it took a month, grinding as fast as I could.  I think it took less time in Legion, and it definitely took less than a month this time.

But it FELT like a slog through two pointless rep grinds.

I wonder if others feel the same way about the duration and pointfulness.

It’s funny, in that it feels like it was deliberately time-gated to drag things out. But if it takes less than a couple of weeks before you see people zipping around on flying mounts, how much of a delay was it?

I know I’m not alone when I say that I feel that Blizz is introducing time-wasting content to try to engage players longer – by “engage” I mean “engage players in time wasting activities”.

Okay, listen. Nobody’s kidding anyone here. Of COURSE they’re trying to drag things out, keep you involved longer without any real reward.

But what Blizz needs to do at this point is maybe put more effort into making it look less like they are.

Next up: something like 1000 manapearls to max out my benthic gear.  And maybe by then they’ll have new content.

Ephemerality

Aggramar Attacks!

There’s a questline in Krokuun where you take down the big bad in Nath’raxas Hold, and right after you do that, there’s an awesome cut scene.

After that, there’s this awesome cut scene. I’ll put in a break to keep from spoiling it for anyone.
Read the rest of this entry

I’ve got the tools, but …

jas-disco-look

Maybe you’ve seen this quest …

01-quest-text

The critters in question look like this …

02-kitten

And they run like the dickens when you get close …

03 Kitteh runs!.jpg

So why can’t priests use their natural talents for this quest?

04 Mass Completion.jpg

I mean, seems like it would be a nice nod of we got to use Psychic Scream to just gather up a bunch of them and be done. Consider it a Priest Perk.

Is that too much to ask?

By the Numbers

By now, if you’re dedicated enough to read even this blog, you’ve seen this announcement from Activision / Blizzard. To wit: Activision / Blizzard has bought its financial independence from its corporate masters, Vivendi Universal.

I’d like to point out a few things.

First of all, note that it’s still Activision / Blizzard.  Not just Blizz.  Blizz is still joined to Activision via a cash-transporting umbilical cord.  The pernicious influence of Activision and Bobby Kotick is still very much an active part of Blizzard’s future.  Vivendi didn’t once enter into things, but Activision, well, that’s a very active threat to Blizzard’s moral well-being, and has been.  I have no idea if they’ve managed to hold the line against the darkness over there at Pasadena, but here’s hoping they can continue, if so.

Second of all: I don’t care who they are, if they were valuated at EIGHT BEEEELYUN dollars and have over THREE BEEELYUN in cash reserves after that, they are not an "indie" company, any more than EA is.  "Independent" and "indie" really mean two different things, and the people calling the A/B monstrosity "indie" should be hauled through the internet into 4chan by their lower lip and left there to suffer. Independent is fine. Indie is not.

Finally, this should send chills through anyone’s heart:

"The transactions announced today will allow us to take advantage of attractive financing markets while still retaining more than $3 billion cash on hand to preserve financial stability."

— Bobby Kotick

"Attractive financing markets" sounds suspiciously like "we’re going to invest our capital in things other than producing games."  There’s an accountant in there somewhere urging little Bobby to put cash on derivatives or something. 

Well, I hope not.  But anything that is other than a direct investment in the game studios’ health is a misuse of funds, in my opinion.


"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

— Mark Twain, who attributed to Benjamin Disraeli

You may have also noticed that in the same conference, they quietly released the subscriber numbers for 2013Q2.  Aaaand the numbers are down again, down to 7.7 subs, which haven’t been that low since before BC launched..

Sub Numbers

These are based off of Blizzard’s reported subscription numbers, and represent roughly the paying player base – though the numbers leading up to MoP are probably artificially inflated by the annual pass numbers – though they seem to be interested in good-faith estimates, so maybe they’re based off of active logins or something.

But the interesting thing is, as you can see, the numbers form a bit of a bell-curve formation. If you fit a trend line to this, you end up somewhere between 2015 and 2017 for the day that the final WoW player logs out of Azeroth, never to return.  This is of course not a real date, because this would never happen – Blizz would pull the plug at 100 players, obviously, and they’d all log off at once.  Or something like that.

The variation on the curve depends on whether you take the whole data set, or start at 2010Q4 when WoW was peaked. One is an overall dataset, one is just a map of the decreasing trend.  Take your pick, but I tend to favor the latter because it takes less of old and obsolete data into account.  The fact that it yields the more favorable 2017 date has nothing to do with it.

Something else jumps out if you cook the data in a different manner.

Gains and Losses

This is a chart explicitly showing gains and losses, rather than just bulk numbers.  Here are things about this chart.

  • Up through the start of Wrath, the rate of growth was flat; that is to say, the numbers kept growing, but at a more or less steady rate – no glitches that weren’t understood.
  • One of those understood glitches was the start of BC, when we got what is now considered the traditional "expansion bump".  We see this throughout the game’s history.
  • Sub data for most of Wrath is missing ((I’m guessing that Blizz thinks of reporting sub numbers in the same way it thinks of Blizzcon – if too busy, just skip it.)).  In that gap there IS one quarter reported, and it had zero growth on the previous quarter (11.5 mil).
  • From the start of Cataclysm, it’s been more or less a steady down trend, though I caution that the biggest down spikes are outnumbered by lesser down spikes (or one upward). 
  • But the data do suggest a pretty profound downslope, nonetheless.

It’s also impossible to say when Blizz started to sweat the losses.  The huge gaps in the Wrath period reveal nothing.  Maybe they saw a down trend at that point and decided to start compensating by nerfing up the game in Cata. Or maybe they thought of nerfing up the game as part of a grand strategy that started to be realized in Cata.

Either way, it’s pretty obvious where the decline really starts to gather momentum.  So what are the possible reasons for this?  Here are some possibilities.

  1. Players are getting bored and just come back for the new content. This seems like it would be a more gentle downturn, with sharper uptake and more gentle dropoff in between expansion lines. And we do see some of this, but it’s not the overarching pattern.
  2. Players don’t like the changes to the game’s difficulty. i.e. "Azeroth has been nerfed!"
  3. Players hate casuals.  This goes with the above.  Sure, I’m part of the quested-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways crowd at times, but I don’t begrudge others the less difficult climb.  I don’t need others to suffer to feel better about myself.  But the haters, the ones that hate "casuals", well, if I hadn’t seen it myself I would say it was impossible for people like that to exist, but they do.  WoW has its own virtual Civil Rights movement, in which the haters are played by Archie Bunker and the "casuals" are played by, well, actual people. More on this anon.
  4. Other games have come online that are clearly as good or better. I don’t know about better, but many have come online that might be as good in many ways.  I’ve personally experienced Eve and Neverwinter and feel both hold up well.  Where they don’t hold up is the people, in that the people I like to hang with aren’t in those games.  I’m such a camp follower.  And STWOR came out right in the middle of that big decline, so it’s not so much a "trigger".
  5. Free to play games! This too is a big one, and probably one of the biggest.  Back when WoW came out, you could pay money to Sony or to Blizzard to get your fantasy on; these days, fantasy MMORPGs are all over the place, and free-to-play. Neverwinter, Rift, Aion, GW2, and more are out there just waiting for you to download a free client or buy one and then play for free.  Even STOWR made the transition (not very well, I hear.). More on this in a minute, as well.
  6. WoW is old and crufty.  Well, that’s about as subjective as it gets.  I’ve played other games that have "better" graphics and I can’t really say there’s a lot going on there.  I will say the armor and weapon models are, a lot of times, a lot more interesting to look at. The toons – player and NPC – however often hit that "uncanny valley" of near-realism that just turns off the brain.  WoW makes no pretenses about how it chose to depict its characters, and it’s paid off again and again.  Just … hurry up with those player model improvements, guys?  Thanks.

So there’s two things I want to focus on.

The Nerfing of Azeroth

Over time, Blizzard has done a lot to nerf things in the game.  I’ve generally felt it was a bad idea.

This harks to the recent Blog Azeroth shared topic of "is leveling too easy?". A lot of people confused "too easy" with "easier".  Can we agree that the two aren’t equivalent?  Yes? Good. Let’s proceed.

If you accept that "easier" and "too easy" aren’t the same thing, then you won’t feel locked into asserting that leveling in Azeroth is NOT "too easy" but it IS "easier".  I can think of dozens of examples.

  • Mor’ladim is a joke compared to his past self, who terrorized the Raven Hill cemetery with an iron fist.  You always had to work your questing around his whereabouts or suffer the consequences. And don’t give me any guff about "it’s subjective".  He was an elite.
  • Stitches‘ epic journey from Raven Hill to Darkshire put terror into the hearts of travelers. Many’s the time I stopped to help someone else bring him down.  Also many’s the time I hid to one side of the road until he passed. You needed a group; now the game supplies you with one.
  • That horrendous run from Menethil to Ironforge so you could take the tram to Stormwind if you were an Night Elf or Draenai.
  • That horrendous run to Booty Bay.  Back then there wasn’t a Rebel Camp with a gryphon. And, as I found out on my first outing, even the grass was deadly.
  • Even Princess was painful.
  • You didn’t just waltz into the area outside of an instance; it was full of elites.  People forget how terrifying it was to go into Deadmines the first time to do that quest for the miner’s guild.

These were all painful rites of passage that those of us that leveled up in early WoW remember and understand.  They are all gone the way of the dodo, either because of new flight points, or new boats, or nerfed zones, or even nerfed NPCs. There are hundreds more examples like this, things that are absolutely, indisputably easier than they were prior to Cata. Anyone that says it’s just my experience in the game making it SEEM that way isn’t thinking it all the way through. There were real challenges that simply aren’t around anymore.

The question of whether it is too easy is another matter because it addresses Blizzard’s actual decision to make the leveling game go easier at lower levels.  Starting as far back as Wrath, maybe sooner, they started taking the starch out of expansion zones as we got near the end of the expansion. A journey that might take you all the way to Storm Peaks at the start of Wrath, for example, might end somewhere in Sholazar – if you got that far, even!  Faiella managed to get to 80 in Dragonblight ((The plural of data is not anecdote, of course, so take that for what you will.)).

Did they go too far?  There is a fine line between challenge and chore; did they cross it? That’s at the heart and soul of this issue, I think.

When they redesigned Azeroth for Cataclysm, many zones were reworked completely – quests redone, levels changed, elites nerfed, and so forth.  And yet people felt like they were on a conveyor belt; you couldn’t start quests at hub "B" until you finished all the ones at "A" and were directed to "B".

My feelings are that they went too far, and did a poor job on the redesign of Azeroth, and that this legacy has carried forth into other aspects of the game, including MoP.

They’re *trying* to understand user feedback, but I think they’re letting their game designer’s instincts be subverted by management’s insistence that they "make the game more accessible", and it’s backfiring because people don’t want to be spoon-fed stuff.  After all, if you just want to look at the assets (("Asset" in this context is the artwork, character models, sounds, music, and anything else even remotely "arty" used by the game itself.)), there are tools that let you do that without actually playing!

GC and Flying Mounts

Here’s an example of a designer going against what he knows is right; flying mounts take you out of the world and make you an observer of, rather than a part of, that world. When he speaks elsewhere of the importance of "exploration", he’s referring not to the act of flying all over the place to clear areas of the map – that’s "mapping" – but being down in the world’s nooks and crannies and discovering things about it.

Granted you can’t currently fly in a zone until you hit max level. But even that’s an arbitrary rule imposed to overcome the hinkyness of being able to just fly all over the place. It was a bad idea in BC, it was a hakneyed idea in Wrath, and it was a hideous idea in Cata, so now that we’re in MoP, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to get it one way or another.

When we played one of the old Gold Box or Black Box series, exploration – the peering into corners, the poking at things and the pulling of levers ((Wait, no, not THAT one!!!)) were integral parts of the games. This is part of what made them fun.  Games without a few dead ends and red herrings were generally received with a gigantic yawn.

Blizzard game designers know this, but in an attempt to make the game "more accessible", some of this aura of mystery and magic may have been lost.

I think that if they plan to turn things around, they may have to address this. Put back some of the danger. Make a few things not pan out exactly the way the user wants. Require a little bit of effort in some (non-critical) places. Give people a reason to want to explore places like Winterspring, which is otherwise pretty useless since nobody ever sees it.

Answering the Threat

The one-two punch of new and prettier games, along with the F2P model, are another concern, and one which I think Blizz is dealing with.

Improvements to the gaming assets – character models, scenery, and so forth – have been taking places incrementally since Vanilla. But to many, that’s not good enough. They look at the character models presented in Neverwinter, for example, and complain that "all they have to do" is add some polygons.

But overall, I don’t think anything major will happen in WoW concerning the game engine. They’re working hard on "Titan" for the next big thing, but since it’s been set back, don’t look there for help.

For good or ill, we’re going to have to make do with incremental improvements in our game assets until WoW is sunsetted ((It’s a word, now.)).

The other threat is the F2P model.

Early on, F2P pretty much meant "free to play but don’t expect much in the way of updates".  I encountered F2P first in Anarchy Online, which is still going strong on that model – well, as strong as an out of date game can go strong. 

The advantages of F2P is that the barrier to entry is pretty low. All you need is a game client and an internet connection.  In some cases you have to pay for the client, but that’s a one-time expenditure that few would argue with.  Others will even give you the client for free. Some have turned that around and give you the client but charge you to play – we won’t talk about them for now, they’re small and okay with that.

How does a F2P game keep the servers running?  Well, there are a few ways, such as ads in-game (I first saw this in AO), and, and … well, there’s the "cash shop".

The "cash shop" is usually an external web site that you go to to purchase items to use in-game. In most cases you buy currency, then use that currency in-game, such as "Zen" in Neverwinter.  For the most part you can only purchase cosmetic and non-game-changing items, though in some very poorly implemented instances, that’s not necessarily true.

So what have we seen implemented recently? A cash shop.

I know dozens of bloggers and opinionators have said that Blizzard would never go F2P.  I have never heard anyone from Blizzard say that. 

WoW is Blizzard’s "cash cow".  For those that have never heard of such a thing, a "cash cow" is something that’s not really top of the line, but keeps bringing in money in a reliable stream.  So you keep "milking" it until it runs dry.  For example, at one place that Grimmtooth Actual worked, he worked on a lot of bleeding edge server systems, but over in a dark corner was a guy named "Dave" that worked on some pretty archaic looking stuff.  He explained, while it was far from state of the art, it was being used by thousands of banks across the world, and any time one broke down, they needed a replacement.  So he was the guy that farmed our cash cow while we went and burned off that money with our splashy R&D.

So WoW’s kinda like that right now.  And Blizz wants to keep that cash cow on the farm for as long as possible. With today’s numbers, that’s over 100 million bucks a month of solid income.  At TWO million players it’s 30 million a month, so even that can’t be sneezed at – would it actually cost that much to keep the servers up?

Unfortunately, that’s where I run out of steam, sort of.  I have no idea of what kind of numbers a big F2P title ((That doesn’t suck.)) brings in. I don’t even know how to guess.  SWTOR claims that shifting to F2P "doubled" its income, but given its draconian implementation, let’s hope for better if WoW ever goes that route.

At the moment I think it’s likely they will, especially since the wait for "Titan" is probably going to be well past 2015, and possibly even 2017.

The question becomes, then: will I play an F2P WoW?

It’s going to depend on the implementation.  A Neverwinter-like implementation MIGHT work, assuming the restrictions aren’t too annoying.  One like SWTOR would see me drop out in a hurry, however.

At the moment we can only hope for the best.

This is either ironic or the Best Thing Ever

Grimmtooth hit level 90 in the Wastes.

Jasra hit 90 while flagging goat turds.

Flora hit 90 while flagging goat turds.

I hit 90 turning in the goat turd quest.

I think Blizz is having a little fun at our expense, in response to our complaints about poop quests.

Well played, Blizz.

But remember: he who lives by the goat turd, dies by the goat turd.

Indirect Leveling

One of the benefits of having multiple max level toons on the team is that each contributes in his or her own special way.  I make flasks and potions, and do transmutes for sale.  Illume makes glyphs for sale and our own use.  Jas runs the auctions and provides bags.  Each of us provide armor and weapons as we can make them.

Illume has some pretty sweet items in her bag of tricks -  the fan is already mine, but the staff requires Spirits of Harmony, an item you can’t just go buy or mail to an alt. 

So, what to do other than start grinding with the mage and get her inventory full of Spirits.  The goal is to get her to 90, then get her grinding the Tillers so she can plant songbells. This will keep things moving along for future stuff as well.

The point of this is to get my iLevel up to where I can queue for things like daily heroic scenarios and stuff. I’ve been grinding the Darkspear weekly when it makes sense, but weapons are not part of the rewards, alas.

It’s kinda weird going at it from two fronts like that, but whatever works, works.

I guess I made an impression

I was saying just the other day how the game can catch you unawares with little things that make you chuckle or simply laugh out loud. I’m going to classify the quest Hozen Love Their Keys as one of those. I can help but wonder if the end of the quest was a subtle nod to the ending of a certain movie that came out this year.

poot-poot