We’ve Been Busy

Killing bosses, that is. Over the last 3 weeks, we have seen the fall of 4 more bosses marking the halfway point through Siege. We pummeled Pride, Jabbed Juggernaut, Slain the Shaman, and Nixed Nazgrim.  Garrosh, we’re coming for you!

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Pride? Yea we're proud.

Pride? Yea we’re proud.

Heroic 2/14

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A mere two weeks after returning to 25 man raiding, Civilian showed its strength by completing the first two heroics in the same night, defeating Immerseus and The Fallen Protectors. Great work!

Back in Business

Now to execute some heroic strategies

We don’t usually post when we kill a boss again but this one deserves merit. Civilian is back to 25 man raiding with our first 25 man Garrosh Kill! Thanks to our new Civilian brothers and sisters who mostly joined us from Casual Slander, we swiftly cut through the Siege of Orgrimmar like a hot knife through Yak butter. Great job everyone!

We’re still looking for capable raiders to join our 25 man roster. Inquire today!

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Immerseus Sunk

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We’re not really sure what happens when Immerseus is defeated. Does he drown? Evaporate? Does he go back to his underwater home because we just annoyed him too much? Either way, he’s been heroically defeated. Nice work everyone!

Civilian Coup: Garrosh Dethroned

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With a heart pounding finish, Civilian chalked up another end boss kill to open up the gates to heroic modes.  In classic Civilian fashion, a few deaths (including the tank!) in the last 1.5% made for an exciting night. Don’t take my word for it though – check out our kill in full gloriousness here: http://www.twitch.tv/cg_zafo/c/3300892

Next week we will be heading straight into heroic modes so check back for more frequent announcements!

Two Games in One

I wonder why Blizzard doesn’t get rid of leveling completely.

I mean, they keep making leveling faster and faster, with more xp at lower levels and all sorts of ways to get xp boosts on top of that. Then they add additional shortcuts like Scroll of Resurrection, Recruit-a-Friend, and the forthcoming “Instantly level one toon to 90, with gear”. Those changes acknowledge, if only tacitly, that for many (most?) players the game doesn’t really start until max level. Anybody who has leveled a toon since Vanilla has seen this: almost everybody you encounter is simply racing for 70, 80, 85…whatever…so they can start raiding or PvPing or whatever.

So why not get rid of levels completely? Just make every new toon max level, which means essentially no levels.  You could call it “Level 100″ or you could call it “Level 1″…or you could just remove the term from the game. Sure, there’s the learning curve of all those keybinds, but they effectively solved that for Death Knight and are incorporating it in the new Instant 90 feature: you run through a class specific chain of quests that lasts at most a couple hours where you learn what the buttons do.

Now, in Blizzards collective mind levels still serve a purpose: in each xpac getting from the previous current max to the new current max (e.g. 85 to 90 in MoP) is a vital part of the new game; they want you to enjoy the story arc. But: a) Lots of players don’t care at all about the story…they just click through quest text as fast as possible…and, b) the story arc could be imposed without levels being utilized. They could, for instance, bring back long quest chain attunements, so you can’t start raiding (or even doing arena, etc.) until you’ve completed the quests, earned the rep, whatever. They could also use gear levels as a soft-attunement: you’ll want to do all the content because you’ll probably need the new gear. Having quest chains end in nice blue gear, and their new feature of quests randomly giving epics as rewards, could reinforce that.

But that solution, or the suggestion of it anyway, reinforces a complaint I’ve made repeatedly: once you reach max level your “character development” isn’t really your character at all, it’s just gear progression. (What if Conan were only Conan because he had the best armor and weapons? Totally lame.) Soul-binding, of course, makes gear progression sort of like character progression, but it feels hollow. So making new toons max level, or even requiring a few hours of pre-questing, throws out the baby with bathwater.

The real solution is to eliminate levels and gear-based progression. That is, all characters are the same level, and the progression you work on is  skills, talents, reputations, relationships, and attunements.

Not that I think Blizzard will ever take WoW this route, but that just makes their changes to the game ironic.

Warlords of Draenor

Of all the official information to come out of Blizzcon, the bit that most caught my eye wasn’t a specific feature or change. It was this comment:

World of Warcraft is a game you play with friends. WoD will remove barriers that stop you from playing with friends and encourage you to make new friends.

This could be just mindless blather, but I’m hopeful that it reflects an new understanding  by Blizzard that their path of the last several years, of ever-increasing convenience for pugging, wasn’t actually making the game more fun. That what makes MMOs great is the social interaction, and that the easier it gets to play pick-up games, the less interaction is required. Blizz often pays lip service to guilds and friends and cooperation, but their behavior since Vanilla, in terms of changes to the game, says otherwise. Giving bonus rewards for x-server pugging in leveling dungeons (on top of the innate reward of efficiency) says it all: “We want you to group with total strangers you’ll never see again. Feel free to be rude and ninja loot.”

While they’ll never admit that was a bad idea, or probably even change it, maybe they are at last acknowledging that they need to push the pendulum the other way.

Some of the features seem to be backing up the rhetoric. Certainly Flex is a huge boon for social gaming…as Blue says, both for the friends you have and the new ones you can make. And making the fixed size for Mythic smaller than the maximum Flex size (20 vs 25) was inspired: it means that guilds can maintain a roster slightly larger than the Varsity team, giving J.V. players a way to participate. And Flex is perfect for try-outs.

There was also this, I hope related, blue comment:

“Group Finder will work cross realm and work for many different types of groups. Finishing Shadowmorune, RBGs, Raids and more!”

Is this going to be “OQ” kind of functionality, but with stronger social tools? In other words, optimized to not just assemble x-server pugs, but to build friendships. In a previous post I laid out suggested functionality for this kind of group finder, most notably incorporating a reputation system. OQ is a great tool, and a great prototype, but where it fails is that it does nothing to encourage persistent friendships. You join OQ, kill some bosses, and then go your own way. So it’s like LFR but with a raid leader.

The success of a cross-realm LFM/LFG tool should be measured not by it’s overall use, but by the percentage of group members that have worked together previously. If that number trends upwards it will be a positive indicator for the WoW community.

Looking For More

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, even though the original quote is misattributed:

        “Those who would trade a little community for a little convenience deserve neither.”

Random queues, including cross-server queues, have a great benefit: they make it easier to find a group for what is supposed to be a social activity.

But when you randomly throw people together you have to set the skill bar pretty darned low to avoid failure and frustration. That’s how we get Raid Finder mechanics, and the elimination of any cc in heroic 5-mans. It’s a curious phenomena that when we wipe repeatedly with friends it’s fun; when we wipe once with strangers we nerdrage.

The problem is that the specific nerfing needed for PUGs to succeed is to not require cooperation. That’s too bad, because cooperation is, really, the essence of social gaming. Yes, in Raid Finder you’re technically in a group with others, but the only cooperation is tacit. It requires no communication. The tank pulls, the healer heals, somebody who knows what’s going on clicks on the orb, etc.

And as we all know, when you’re never going to see these people again there is no incentive to behave nicely.

“Single player, with strangers.”

Let’s rewind to the days when you had to form your own groups, and even pugging meant invites, friends lists, loot rules, etc. Instead of eliminating that system, how about we improve it?  Here’s what I envision:

  1. We revive the short-lived LFG tool that simply posted your name in a list so that somebody forming a group could invite you. Yes, I know nobody used it, but that’s because of a lack of information.

  2. Instead of just name and class, this new tool would include more information about each player. Such as important achievements and titles. (I hesitate to include iLevel.)

  3. Whenever you group with somebody you have the option of rating them, on a scale that ranges from negative to positive, on both attitude and ability. Those ratings show up on the LFG sheet.

  4. When players are on your Friends (or Ignore) lists, that information is also displayed. But here’s the kicker: when somebody is a friend-of-a-friend, that fact appears, along with the ability and attitude ratings given by the mutual friend.

There are a couple more features I’ll get to in a second, but that’s the core of it. Basically we’ve created a tool to help players do what we do in real life: get to know people, try to remember their strengths and weaknesses, and ask trusted friends for their opinions.

In Vanilla WoW we did just that, but it was hard. Hard to get to know people, and hard to remember every player we encountered. But, again, instead of getting rid of that system, let’s build technology tools to make it easier.

We can make this more sophisticated:

  • When there are multiple mutual friends we could average the ratings, or perhaps weight them by the strength of our own ratings. (That is, if you gave a friend very high scores for ability and attitude, his/her ratings of player X would count more than the ratings of somebody you barely know.)

  • The game could keep track of how many times you’ve grouped with somebody, or how many bosses you’ve killed, PvP matches you’ve fought, etc., and both display that number and use it behind the scenes to weight ratings further.

  • Additional degrees of separation could be used, e.g. “friend of a friend of a friend.” Algorithms get complicated, but it’s doable.
  • Attach notes on players, giving more detail than just two rating numbers. Notes would help remind you how you know them, and give your friends additional insight.

  • Achievements and titles could be included, perhaps listed in order of rarity/difficulty.

Now instead of joining random queues, or spamming channels with “LFM”, you would look through lists of players looking for invites, with enough information to make good choices. The rating system would encourage people to both play well and behave well.

For players without strong social networks, you might have to be a little patient to get into a few groups. Or maybe you make some friends while leveling up. But you’ll have a strong incentive to make friends and impress people. If you do, you’ll get more and more invites. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself blacklisted.

Yes, this is a bit more work, especially for raid leaders, than random queues. But it would strengthen instead of erode community.

And there’s one other really nifty feature/benefit: when clicking on names in the list to see their stats, you would also see a large picture of the player, similar to what the player himself sees on the login screen. It’s always bugged me that we put all this work into our appearance (such as with Transmogrify) but for the most part nobody can see our choices.

Players could also choose titles or achievements to display (instead of letting an algorithm choose them), and have out favorite mounts and pets. Even choose a few notes that other players have written about you and make them public.

In other words, encourage everybody to “RP” a little bit, and express their individuality.