Category Archives: Cooperation

Dual Wielding LFG Edition: Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

About two weeks ago I got into a lengthy twitter conversation with fellow bloggers Mersault and Ironweakness about good and bad ways of forcing or facilitating group play in MMOs. I believe Black Desert Online might have steered us there, being this very playing alone together experience so far. As more voices joined the conversation, we decided to re-visit this difficult topic on our blogs individually as part of an ongoing inter-blog tradition between Mersault and Ironweakness, which they call “dual wielding” on their respective blogs. I am actually quite fond of this idea and so I was happy to chime in for this one.
Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

Forced Cooperation versus Fostering Community in MMOs

I usually feel trapped in a dilemma when talking about group content in MMORPGs: on one hand I am a big fan of the cooperative aspect of the genre and would call it one of its most defining factors – on the other hand, I value the freedom of playing when and where I want to without games forcing party and setup restrictions down my throat all the time. There’s a time for all things I suppose, today I am fed up with appointment gaming. And I’ve never actually believed that some of the restrictions/requirements forced upon raiders in early WoW, for example, made for particularly good as in genuine and lasting cooperation. Raidguilds were based around common goals for sure, yet as soon as those goals were removed or someone left the community, people and relationships faded away. Game mechanics do not actually hold the power of connecting people; only people can connect to people. What games can do better or worse is set the stage for interaction.

And interaction may or may not occur more depending on whether an MMO “requires” coop. BDO is an interesting example in so far as actual game mechanics discourage many forms of social interaction (partying penalties, trade and chat restrictions) and yet, despite all of this has created a playerbase in desperate need of their fellow comrades’ knowledge. That’s what hardship can do, bring people together to share information and cooperate. The beauty is that it can happen in completely unforeseen, possibly slightly unflattering ways for developers. This could be an opportunity to talk about how MMOs can be too polished or too convenient, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

So how do you get players to play together in MMOs, assuming that’s what you want, and what’s the preferable way of doing so? My personal answer is less clever than I would wish; naturally you do it by creating content and challenges that are balanced around group numbers, be it dynamic FFA grouping or traditional partying. That doesn’t necessarily mean dungeons and raids either, it includes questing, shared crafting, trade, building effort and guild progression. The all important distinguishing factor to me across all these activities is access and this is where MMOs vary greatly in execution.

Bad examples of facilitated group play come down to a majority of linear, gated content that’s enforcing group play in a certain inflexible way – or else face the consequence of all progress coming to a halt. I would call out all of WoW’s early endgame here; it was difficult to find and set up groups outside your guild and even running successfully with guildmates required considerable logistic effort. Yet run you must, attunements needed to be followed and exact numbers met. This worked for about 2% of the playerbase back then, so not that great. Everyone else was leveling alts and complaining on forums.

What WoW did was exact punishment in form of restricted access unless all criteria were met. The rigid regimen didn’t just cause discontent outside the few hardcore but caused considerable amounts of pressure for guild recruitment too as well as downtimes from hell when trying to set up balanced raid groups. I would therefore call this a malus-system for group play. It did very much kill communities as much as the other way around, so hardly a winner in fostering community, either. The great hardcore vs. casual divide was born in vanilla Warcraft and our spoils and victories were all satisfaction, rarely fun. Not a brilliant way of handling group content and cooperation.

Social Engineering and the Freedom of Choice

What I generally like to see instead of mechanics that punish players who won’t meet grouping requirements, is systems that will reward them for doing so, as in bonus-systems. Whenever you are awarded more loot, experience or reputation for grouping up with others in an MMO, that is one example of a bonus-system at work. Players should feel motivated to cooperate not because they fear failure otherwise, but because it makes for the better, more rewarding overall gameplay experience. This may be a small difference to some, yet it matters greatly to everyone flying solo and to bigger, more diverse communities that operate on the premise of individual freedom and respecting real life. And no one likes to pay for a game that’s denying them access to either content or one another as soon as they can’t party up or meet exact requirements.

Thinking of FFXIV’s story dungeons here, I believe we’re in somewhat of a grey area in that particular MMO. While the game clearly dictates everyone run a dungeon at least once with others, it also makes the whole process easily accessible. The 4man dungeons generally aren’t very hard, queuing is simple and the great majority of PuGs in the game are surprisingly friendly (my experience anyway). This seems like a compromise to me, in a game that already features a lot of social engineering done right via bonus systems (newcomer bonuses in parties, wide range dungeon roulettes etc.). If players are presented with feasible tools and solutions, I can get behind an enforced dungeon run every now and then.

The Real Thing is still on us

As for actually fostering community and people hooking up in MMOs, I’m afraid to say I don’t believe any game can achieve this for you. The best and worst games have brought people together and probably produced MMO babies somewhere around the world. Social games may set an accessible stage for meeting others but the magic spark, the moment when we cooperate for no reason at all other than enjoying someone else’s company, that’s not something we can expect to be “facilitated”. Nor do we need to – being social is a free choice that’s up to the individual and fortunately it is one we can always revisit. Cooperation opportunities in MMOs should therefore be an invitation – a door that is always open, either just for a run or whatever else we want it to be.

MMOs are Here to Stay. And: Black Desert Online’s Singleplayer Experience

The last week wasn’t an enjoyable one for MMO fans and much more devastating for developers. Between Wildstar’s layoffs and Everquest Next being shelved for good, people worry about the future of the genre as we know it. I am using that phrase very consciously because massively multiplayer online games will always be a thing – we just don’t know what thing. Or in Scaurus’ words: “we are old fogies holding onto old definitions”. I am pretty sure that the fascination of chasing virtual dragons (or zombies) with other people is not particular to only my generation. MMO angst has gone from an annual bloggers favorite to a quarterly one and yet somehow, we are still here. I’ve been called overly optimistic about the genre before; I decide to remain so until proven otherwise. The fact is when we look back on MMOs an awful lot of things have gotten better over the years, and some have gotten worse or just different. Every time the wheel turns there’s what we leave behind but there’s also what’s yet to come.

And so I came across Russel Shanks giving an interview on EQN’s cancellation over at, with particular note to this segment:

MMORPG: Do you think the genre of MMO, MMORPG, MMOG, or whatever you want to call it is just in a different place these days? There are a handful making a lot of money, and plenty of smaller niche titles carving out their own fanbase. But where you do you see the genre headed, as a company and as a fan?

RS: I believe the magic of MMORPGs and MMOs in general has not been diminished.  In fact, games like Destiny incorporate many of the compelling elements of classic MMOs, which expose them to a new generation of gamers.

Good MMOs bring players together. The activities within the games provide social opportunities, as well as challenges and achievements that build lasting friendships, camaraderie, and long-term enjoyment.  These elements, combined with scale, differentiate MMOs from most other forms of entertainment.  I don’t see them going out of style, ever.

Moving on to playing Black Desert Online, right now I have a few minor gripes from within the realm of polish: the fussy submenu handling and mouse cursor switch, the weird auction house, not being able to buy multiple items without choosing a separate buyer’s option and then confirming choices over and over (YES okay??), overly complicated dye management…and so forth. Am sure these are fairly popular annoyances with hopefullly fixes down the road.

Black Desert Online's singleplayer experience

“You have to enjoy solitude to be a friend of the sea.” ..quoth the sea otter.

If we are thinking more longterm however, there is one thing on the forefront of my mind since the beta: BDO is very playing alone together. There is not just very little opportunity to cooperate with other players, the game actively discourages player-to-player interaction on several levels:

– Restricted ability to speak in global channels (due to goldspam)
– No player to player trading other than potions (due to goldspam…it didn’t work because the shop allows gifting)
– Experience penalties for grouping up above five levels difference
– Guild size capped at 100 people
– Guild leaders having to afford all fees/money costs themselves
– No shared nodes / looting in FFA
– No way to share housing or crafting installations

Given there is also little traditional cooperative PVE content (not complaining), it would be nice if there was at least the basic social experience of you know, sharing your resources or housing with somebody else or within guilds. It’s also not exactly easy to group up without EXP penalties or meet new people in the game, although I have that same complaint for FFXIV which doesn’t even offer global channels. I fully understand publishers trying to fight the goldseller plague but the player base is paying a very high price for it considering it’s not working?

I realize this isn’t an issue for everybody. To me, cooperation is still to some degree a core mechanic of MMORPGs and it feels like a more sandboxy title should allow for that and not actively penalize it. Random acts of kindness between strangers go a long way. Maybe I am missing something here. All I know is further down the road, Black Desert Online’s singleplayer experience might get real lonely pour moi.

Recap: Playing Alone Together

After a somewhat contrite tweet of mine asking why anyone wants to play MMOs only ever to run solo (although I did not specify this very well), my twitter started buzzing with different reactions ranging from introvert personality to time management issues and maybe most popularly “having other people around you for feeling”. One tongue-in-cheek reply suggested other people were the better NPC AI.

The question is obviously close to the dilemma many of us are feeling towards MMOs nowadays, and it spurred two excellent elaborations by Wolfy and Gracie who can identify with the soloing aspect. Naturally so can I and if you’ve been following this blog in more recent times, you will remember me rambling on about how, as aging players, we probably have to accept that many MMOs won’t accommodate our busy schedules and unpredictable game time. There is a younger voice inside of me who judges the slacker I have become; 12 years ago I would have hated being guilded with myself. Actually, I wouldn’t have accepted myself as an applicant. “You want community, people to be around with, learn from, progress with? Put in some goddamn effort!” That’s me. Even as a much more casual player these days, I will not expect MMOs to go all solo-friendly and it vexes me to hear others demand it should be so, as if that affected nothing.

The thing about community and cooperation is that it only thrives as much as people are willing to actively partake. That doesn’t mean you have to group up or socialize around the clock in MMOs, far from it, but it requires a degree of willingness to contribute more regularly. Playstyle variety is fine, pottering by yourself is too – MMOs would be horrid business if soloing was no option whatsoever. And yet when it comes down to it, the soul of the MMO experience has and always will lie in the cooperative aspects for me personally. It’s what sets the genre apart from so many others. I know a blogger or two like Bhagpuss who would vehemently disagree on this point with me. That spares them my particular torment.

To play MMOs only ever to see people run around you that aren’t quite as scripted as NPCs sounds like a dreadful reduction of social engagement to mere window dressing. Does this experience really offer so much more than big-world RPGs such as Skyrim or The Witcher 3 would? Or is it maybe just a shadow of a memory now, a mere habit to log into MMO worlds to solo when you could be soloing anywhere? To turn your back completely on the MMO genre is tough for anyone who has loved it. Keeping at least half a foot in the door means you’re not quite gone, still a part.

I am not judging that and I am hardly innocent; I am however very torn about going against the very thing that defines MMOs for me by mostly soloing and not contributing to server culture and community much. One could take the unadorned and sober stance that as long as I’m the paying customer, I can do and demand whatever I want from my MMO time and of course I can. I can also open the goose’s belly to see if there’s more gold inside but alas, that’s when all the magic’s gone. As much as I love exploring my virtual settings, the music and character progress, MMOs come alive when that unscripted, genuine social magic is happening. I doubt that I can ever stop chasing that.

Straight Talk: Tired of Social Rants

Important notice: This is a rant about rants, wooo! Also: I have adjusted some of my opinions on this blog over time, as some of the links provided illustrate. That’s because I am old and fickle!

One of the great MMO blogger evergreens is the (anti-)social debate; with the genre becoming ever more accessible and mainstream since its earliest beginnings, players new and old keep musing on the pros and cons of MMO gaming allowing for increased flexibility and playstyle variety. Stuff like removing role restrictions or shared loot, are dividing topics. Depending on where you stand, your “more social” is someone else’s “anti-social” and it’s very difficult to reach any kind of consensus. I hold with what I’ve said in the past, that the two approaches to MMOs can’t reasonably co-exist. A lot of this stuff is mutually exclusive and even when it isn’t, solutions are usually too complex for practical application. LFG tools in many MMOs are ‘optional’ but we all know what happens once they are introduced: they impinge on everybody.

Roger recently deliberated whether he has become a more anti-social gamer over the years. This struck a chord with me because I find myself in the company of many 35-45ish players who have at some point gone through that stage of self-evaluation. As commented in Roger’s thread, I personally do not believe he’s become more anti-social; what I believe is that MMOs have stopped enforcing planned cooperation via game design. I have made this case before at length and I still don’t buy into the whole altruism spiel, nor will I ever. Being “social” is absolutely an intrinsic quality – you either are or aren’t social. The rest is facilitated gameplay.
Then today, Eri followed up with a similar post, professing her disdain for shared loot in GW2 and the “entire shift” to self-centric gameplay in MMOs. I’m rather sure that even in my most hardcore raidleading days, I was pretty darn self-centric in pursuing my dreams of raiding and loot and whatnot. I faintly remember removing players who weren’t up to the task. But anyway, these posts made me realize something: I am so done with the (anti-)social rants. It’s like we’re stuck and never get beyond them.


Year 4 in “A Decade of Love and Hate” – the natural progression of the MMO player.

I carry as much MMO nostalgia with me as the next veteran player, heck sometimes I miss the good old, bad days. They were bad a lot more than good but I am not always rational. In truth, I understand why things are different today and like so many older gamers, I need them to be different. My investment choices like anyone’s, shape what MMOs may or may not become. Inevitable fact: MMOs that are trying to survive, have to be financially viable. MMOs that introduce gatekeepers, forced grouping, fixed setups and any variation of limiting factors, are very likely not going to make as much profit on today’s saturated market. And no, don’t look at WoW – look at Wildstar or ESO instead. I am sure all of us would prefer having both: the freedom/flexibility and the social bonding experiences but it doesn’t work that way. Not in the traditional sense we are so used to anyway, where game design pushed us into talking to strangers, grouping up with strangers, cooperating with strangers longterm until they were strange no longer. Maybe in this new era we need to explore different ways, make more conscious efforts?

There’s a significant percentage of 30+ players populating MMOs today, players with bigger pockets, and they need gaming to fit around their lives, not vice versa. That’s okay! I’m not saying I like quiet party chat or mass-zerging so much either but any solution to these issues will have to either address that reality or remain fictional. If you’re against the social shift in MMOs, great! The solution however, will need to be more original than returning to what we already had. Today is not going away.

P.S. Don’t miss the full strip on “A Decade of Love and Hate” over at Dark Legacy Comics!

Running & Screaming in Terror: 7 Days to Die and individual Survival Instincts

I’ve been playing 7 Days to Die again this past week and everytime I return to the game, I find myself thoroughly hooked in that “ooops it’s already past midnight??”-kind of frenzy for a time. Really, survival games are the worst for time management, one minute you’re planting potatoes on your farm – the next, four hours have passed and you still didn’t take that shower before bedtime.

7 Days to Die is one fine title for anyone into survival and building sims, in fact the zombie apocalypse part is only about one third of that experience. Zombie encounters get more intense after a while but the balance between different activities is what makes this such a fun title. Survival is rough but not too rough, especially not in coop, and the dev team keeps putting great effort into making the game ever more interesting (and smooth looking!), adding more and more features and sites (air drops are fun! army camps are not!) as well as complexity to the already very accomplished crafting system. Whatever you decide to do, progress feels very rewarding.


Improved graphics, weather effects and much more

Similar to DayZ which I have been duly impressed with in the past, 7 Days to Die is primarily also a game about atmosphere – maybe even more so. The sounds of the wilderness have been improved tenfold since the earliest builds and I get goosebumps regularly sneaking about towns or running from bears in the forest (I need a rifle!). The dynamics of the game change considerably once you got a team of three together for exploratory ventures and like with DayZ too, there’s some intriguing group psychology unfolding once several people start playing a fresh build together. Where DayZ was all about unspoken rules of conduct, 7 Days to Die coop mode is an entertaining experiment in terms of which measures of survival individual players will prioritize. In my own steady group’s case, the same scenario keeps repeating itself (Bee and Tee being my mates here):

  • Tee instantly starts base building: fortification is important, so a forge must be established immediately for things like iron doors and better defensive mechanisms. Also, we need firearms as soon as possible.
  • Bee is all about the farm and mining: we need crops for independent food resources and as many tunnels as possible down to the bottom of the world.
  • Syl starts hunting game and cooking: we need food and drink supplies. Also our entire storage unit needs to be organized and labeled, omg chaos!

I feel like such a cliché whenever I fall back to cooking for everyone but on my personal list of survival prios, food/drink are the most immediate. No potential death could be dumber or more embarrassing than dropping dead somewhere out in the wild, pockets bursting with loot, because you ran out of food or water. At least when you keep your character fed, you can run off to wherever and start building a new base there. Dunno, maybe that’s just me. I definitely enjoy how the game inspires everyone to play to their strengths (mine seems to be foresight and organization in this case) and take on different roles for the team.

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

7 Days to Die is officially still in alpha which gotta be the most consistently playable alpha development I’ve ever encountered. Build 13 is about to drop soonish and looking incredibly good, so if you ever thought about checking this title out, now is the time! Immersive survival sims don’t get much better than this.

In which I respect the Holy Trinity and solve the DPS issue!

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to yet another post on the holy trinity on MMO Gypsy! It never gets old!

For some reason a recent tweet of mine on sitting in boring DPS queues in FFXIV ended in a 100+ tweets-or-so conversation with all kinds of folk about why dungeon queues are broken in MMOs and how to fix them. Of course it didn’t take long for someone to suggest that DPS suck, or then healers suck, or something, and from there it was a lot of mix’n match between the “significance” of the three roles vs. their relative playstyle difficulty vs. responsibility and punishment. All rather interesting topics in their own way, also vastly different from one another. Alas, twitter is great to spark discussions but not so much for finishing anything.

The debates around DPS queues inspired Murf to go on a rant on his own blog and profess profound hatred for everything DPS in MMOs. He plays a healer of course (correction: he also plays everything else, including self-loathing DPS!). As a longtime ex-healer myself, I find this both entertaining and missing the mark although in the end when tempers have cooled, we probably agree that there’s a problem with how DPS work and get to coast in many MMOs. Or rather how I would put it, there’s a problem with the way many encounters are designed to put more pressure on tanks and healers, with less unforgivable mechanics for DPS. It is by design that tanks and healers are made to care because immediate and fatal repercussions (this is also how players get weeded out early on). By the same virtue these two roles get a lot of praise, sometimes far more than they deserve because everyone needs to thank them for still being alive. Nevermind that bosses don’t get killed by either of the two in any half-respectable showdown. DPS whether good or bad, can’t ever do enough in MMOs and they’re the ones that get haunted by meters in WoW and other games because of it.

But this discussion is far more interesting even: at its core it raises the question of how much holy trinity we truly want and can tolerate in MMOs (“we” as in the general “we” – I have not been a fan of the trinity in a looong time). Nevermind the great ideas of giving DPS “more responsibility” as in crowd control (tanks ARE crowd control), buffs/debuffs or ressing mechanics. While these assumed fixes sound fine in theory, they’re at best cosmetic – in reality it’s the trinity itself that needs fixing. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Taking the Trinity Seriously

If we actually believe in the holy trinity, we must accept that at a most basic and philosophical level even, the three roles are all equally important and co-dependent; they are three parts of a whole. I have written before about how each of them takes a specific role in regards to time/life in MMO combat. Assuming balanced encounters, all three of them are necessary (yes, I can come up with lots of fights where either DPS or healers or tanks are allowed to die, ignore that). Tanks and DPS are more enemy-centric, healers are ally-centric. Tanks and healers are directly supportive, DPS more in-directly which makes them no less part of a cooperative trio.

Now Murf came up with the following analogy in his post to illustrate the status quo of the three roles in MMOs:

“Imagine a family vacation. The two parents are your Healer and your Tank. The three kids in the backseat of the car are your DPS. Whether those kids behave and make it an easier ride to their destination or not, it is still entirely up to the two parents to get everyone there.”

This is sadly very often the case, although both FFXIV and Wildstar are good examples for sometimes more complex DPS encounters (endgame). The correct analogy if the trinity wasn’t in fact broken, should be this:

Dad drives, mom makes sure everyone’s good on food and the kids are the ones that run the engine. The car does not move without the three kids – it shouldn’t.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: there is no combat in any game ever without damage dealing. I realize that the obvious frustration with DPS is based on how the roles have played out in daily MMO reality, nonetheless it’s encounters that are the problem. Stripped down, every game that includes combat *is* a DPS game. Even MMO combat can do without tanks and healers but not damage dealers. The first role that gets cut from farm raids are healers (tanks are next).

Tanks and healers are an artificial institution; they are created by taking away means of self-sustenance and control from a more well-rounded or self-sufficient damage dealer. You only introduce them once games decide to slow down combat and/or make it more tactical or cooperative, the way it happens in traditional or round-based (J)RPGs that generally have specialist/trinity roles too or unit-centred games (RTS) or MMOs. Take away Link’s shield and a good portion of his HP, his buffs and potions on the other hand and transfer each to separate characters: you create a holy trinity Zelda! Now, which role is the central one? Which came first? Is any of them negligible?

Solving the DPS issue

Encounter design is one issue but hybrid skills are an even greater problem. The answer cannot be to increase hybrid abilities across the board – unless you would like to go down the GW2 path. GW2 came out making every class equally feasible and self-sustained with “tankier” and “healier” bits and pieces. Combat was criticized as zergy and lo and behold, few years in there are suddenly raids and traditional roles because players presumably want a role focus and more co-dependence to warrant cooperative play. Okay.

Likewise, Wildstar came out with an incredibly high bar set for everybody but especially its DPS. I have written about how this MMO in particular has pushed healers on the backseat and given DPS real responsibilities. How many have reached WS endgame and passed the nauseating attunement though? How many have said the dungeons were too hard and too unforgiving until stuff got nerfed and the game almost burned? Okay.

There is a common thread here: some players like specialized roles but still want “some” self-sufficiency. They want cooperative play but not the kind that makes you “carry” anybody. Different roles yes but god forbid they are not exactly the same in terms of difficulty or punishment. Oh man, tough times developers!

I want everything in MMOs!

I want everything in MMOs! (click to expand)

There’s hyperbole in all caricature and also a grain of truth. The above strip is my friendly (limited-skill) attempt at demonstrating this issue. Which is not to say that it is entirely unsolvable: I do in fact want better holy trinity encounters myself (either go big or go home). The radical solution?

  • Remove all damage dealing skills from healers and tanks
  • Remove all half-assed healing skills and crowd control functions from DPS

That’s right! You want a holy trinity, then get it for reals! Cooperation, shared responsibility, shared pressure, equal stakes, equal punishment – you have it! Never again finishing encounters without everyone alive and well. Also, no more hybrid solo time where everyone can quest on their own or level up, heck scratch leveling entirely (I concur with this post)! Proper cooperative MMOs are about grouping and it creates all kinds of balancing issues when they need to simultaneously serve as solo adventure parks and multi-player venues (and PvP arenas).

This is the only consequent move towards a holy trinity that respects its three roles equally. Do I want to play this game? Probably not for long. But I sure as hell would enjoy egomaniac tanks and healers shutting up about not requiring DPS when their own existence is based on intentionally crippling a more well-rounded character.

P.S. Once upon a time. Happy weekend everybody!

[FFXIV] Random Acts of Kindness are Contagious

“The unkindness of your own relations has made you astonished to find friendship any where.” [Sense and Sensibility; J. Austen]

One of the few things that weren’t tuned down in FFXIV compared to its more unforgiving predecessor FFXI, is that dying still remains a firmly inconvenient affair in terms of getting your character resurrected. Granted, the harsh EXP penalty is gone but in lieu of graveyards or self-rez options in FFXIV, players can either return to their homepoint (which is frequently on the other side of the world because you only die on those field trips off the beaten path) or well, lie around and hope for someone to rez them that has the required ability. In order to be found, a shout in zone chat is necessary together with <pos> to tell potential saviors of the day your exact position. This is of course fairly embarrassing but will save you time and money in case you are heard.

And to my great astonishment, I am always heard. No matter what time of the day, no matter the zone I am in, ever since embarking on this journey the community in FFXIV has been nothing but quick to respond, friendly and supportive. The few times I have died on my glass cannon caster, it took no more than 20 seconds for a player to get back to me via whispers, letting me know they are “on their way”. Never have I been mocked, always am I being welcomed to the game and buffed up by the usually far more advanced players. I don’t know if it’s just Cactuar or the general culture in this particular MMO but yes, everyone is suspiciously nice in FFXIV and I can’t help but wonder along with my fellow bloggers: what makes this one so different?

A typical FFXIV encounter.

A typical FFXIV encounter.

The player from above conversation who rezzed me so graciously, then also went on to invite me to their linkshell and insisted I accept a 25’000 gil welcome present to help this newbie on her further travels. I cannot remember the last time this happened to me in an online game; it’s both humbling and sad to realize I’ve forgotten how such random acts of kindness feel in MMOs.

What influences server culture? Is it about content and game mechanics, the way social play is encouraged or rewarded? Is it about more niche audiences versus jaded mainstream ones, as suggested by Liore? No doubt, it’s several factors come together that must work in unison longterm to make cooperative culture a thing – and yet, as a newcomer who knows precious little about rewards and the social engineering in FFXIV at this point, all it takes is a handful of positive experiences to make me want to become active part of a better community! I want to add my share not because of tokens and rewards and achievements but heck, because this feels like a world of human beings and I’m learning how to be one again myself. That’s awesome! Need a rez, anyone?

[WoW] Where Meters Reign Way Past Their Glory Days

In her latest blogpost “Living by Numbers”, the ever-enthusiastic Mistress of Faff deplores the meters game and status quo of hunter DPS in Warlords of Draenor. This struck a particular cord with me because ever since returning to WoW, I perceive this dissonance more strongly than ever – a dissonance between what is essentially a very casual-friendly game and a rabid, vocal group full of stat zealots. Naturally, the latter is hardly new: WoW has been heavily modded and then datamined, optimized and cookie-cut from the get-go. Yet, having been away for three years and finding things unchanged in that last department strikes me as more incongruous than ever.

I’ve been playing my shadowpriest since the expansion, mostly because I am over healing in WoW and so far it’s been very enjoyable. I run no mods whatsoever and until yesterday, I had not looked into shadowpriest state of play or rotations for Draenor. What I have noticed however is that my DPS seems lower than some people’s I met during quests and dungeons, that it’s hard work for me to get all my DoTs running before everyone else has already killed half of our enemies and that getting silver in Proving Grounds at ilvl 600 wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for my untrained DPS muscles (I did it on third try but without much time left).


Me, looking damn sexy in shadow. Anything else I should know?

And that’s okay. Or should be, but it didn’t stop an overeager ingame buddy of mine, coincidentally a MM hunter, to comment on my damage during an Auchindon heroic run, where my DPS was apparently around 10k when his was at 22k. This was a contrast to all the PuGs I have run since returning to WoW and that have been shockingly friendly, successful (not a single disband) and meters-free, to a point where I am tempted to declare the state of PuGs today a 180°-turnaround since I shared my passionate “no-pug policy” on World of Matticus in 2011. The continuous changes that have made this a way more flexible and accessible game over the years have clearly helped turn things around in LFG, color me impressed.

Yet, meter culture persists in some corners of the player base. WoW oldtimers especially and grumpy veterans who have never left the game or never smelled the meter-free roses in other MMOs like GW2 sometime, are clinging to an era where WoW endgame was firmly ruled by numbers and raidguilds. I hate to break it to all the elitist jerks and e-peeners out there but: meters are over. For anything outside minuscule, competetive top-tier raid content, optimizing specs and rotations are not a requirement in order to beat anything in WoW. Players can play whatever spec they enjoy. They can run whatever rotation feels most natural. They don’t require epics with enchants and gems (thankfully both abolished) in every slot of gear. Welcome to World of Wacraft, 2014 edition! Maybe it was time Blizzard did away with these mods altogether? What purpose do they serve exactly?

On the bright side, my brief brush with the meters-nostalgia in WoW has benefited me in two ways: I went to check out current shadowpriest guides and realized that there’s nothing I am “doing wrong”, not even according to those that spend copious amounts of time on numbers. Draenor or not, priests remain late bloomers early into an expansion (as it ever was), struggling with ramp-up time in fast 5mans and versus single-target and multi-phase encounters. I simply don’t compare unless I unleash risky AoE on every single occasion. On the bright side, I never die and make the healer’s job a lot easier.
The even more important realization for me was that I really don’t give a toss. This is a trap that I am simply over. Thanks to so many experiences with other games and communities, I am a better and smarter player today than I ever was and most certainly a happier one. I am playing this for myself and that’s what an increasing number of players in WoW, be they in PuGs or elsewhere, have come to realize as well (shocking truth that it is).

It’s okay WoW players, you can have fun already! Maybe it’s time we re-defined our idea of success.

Introducing: The Gaming and Entertainment Network

There seems to be a natural transition of the gaming blogger into other venues, such as streaming, vlogging or podcasting. The MMO blogosphere has seen a good portion of its longterm residents take up new projects over the years, sometimes leaving altogether to write for bigger sites or then, creating their own independent channels and collaboratives. For a while now we’ve seen an increase of great MMO podcasts hailing from our own neighbourhood, some of which I feel closely related to. I am therefore very excited to announce the launch of The Gaming and Entertainment Network – a new podcasting network by gamers for gamers, bringing the following independent podcasts together under one roof:

TGEN is a collaborative relationship between like-minded podcasters and serves as an aggregator for general MMO/gaming themed podcasts that fit together from a synergistic perspective. It’s meant to make discovery easier for our individual audiences and helps spreading the word across different shows. All podcasts remain independent in their current form. In the future, TGEN may also host regular cross-podcast, round-table discussions between its members.

I want to thank Braxwolf for inspiring this collaborative and doing the lion’s share in terms of communicating between many different parties, conceptualizing and creating a shiny and functional layout for the TGEN homepage.

Another big thanks goes to all our regular listeners of Battle Bards who have been following our quirky little podcast since April 2013 and made this such a fun and rewarding experience: Thank you for your continued support and spreading the word about TGEN. We hope you’ll stick with us on our musical journey and discover some more great and new podcasts on the way!

Links: TGEN webpage and twitter account.

[Wildstar] Of Unfun Raids. And: That Attunement just got Nerfed

Following up on Monday’s post about the complexities of healing Wildstar dungeons, which clearly doesn’t entice everybody, I came across this interesting link on Wildstar’s raiding being a major pita (my words) by one who seems to know what he’s talking about. Now clearly, no raider speaks for everybody but it’s rare to find one of the cool kids looking back and saying”yeah, that sucked” or “I don’t miss it one bit”.

To paraphrase some of Fevir’s points in the video, raid encounters are such hectic and constant telegraph dodge-fights that everything else that’s usually fun and rewarding about raid challenges – such as employing different tactics, improvisation and saves – has no room whatsoever. Fights boil down to dodging 40+ mechanics per boss while staring on the ground, or alternatively looking for healers so you can position yourself in green telegraphs. The unforgiving survivability test requires such a degree of focus that multi-hour raidnights are mentally draining and exhausting. Not to speak of the blame-game.

To be honest, I don’t fully buy into Fevir’s commentary. Much of it sounds like 40man vanilla WoW style raiding where raid nights were as draining at times as they were rewarding. At the same time, 40mans were great because there was actually room for error and creativity, and room for carrying people. And they were far, far from being mobility checks. Once more, I am getting the impression Carbine are out to combine everything other MMOs are already doing in terms of difficult mechanics. That makes Wildstar a game of grim satisfaction a lot more than lighthearted fun. It sure feels that way to me.

Not that I’m particularly fussed about raiding at this point. If we can’t make it, there are plenty of other games to play.

Raid Attunement going Bronze

I’m not going to fake surprise at this week’s news in terms of the Wildstar attunement. I put myself on the spot declaring the chain over the top and snottily giving Carbine six months to reconsider some of the hefty requirements, so three months it is. No condemnation from me for evaluating player concerns, the way they did for more varied body types, too.


The related forum topic is naturally, already 46 pages long and consists largely of whining about whiners. To clarify what really happened: silver dungeons runs (with timer) weren’t nerfed – instead, the attunement requirement was dropped to bronze mode (no timer). To some kids who clearly don’t belong to the hardcore who have already begun raiding in Wildstar, that is the end of the world as we know it, despite the fact that you can still do silver (and gold) runs and best timers for feels and extra loot. That last point demonstrates the underlying motive of exclusivity over actual content difficulty; you can still do ‘better runs’ but the fact that the attunement just got nerfed, mildly, means endgame has become just a tad more accessible. Amagad.

As far as skill checks are really concerned, Carbine’s primary reason for the change was timers not effectively serving as such. That’s the actual development team saying “yeah, not really working as intended”. Timers promote rushed runs, skipping trash and risky pulls that put most of the onus on yes, the healer. No biobreaks allowed, no disconnects, no swapping specs manually (thanks to the inane interface), not even time to sit down for consumables. Raids are just like that?

What “remains” now are difficult veteran dungeons full of running, dodging, frantic resource management and wipes, only without people hating each other as much afterwards. Anyway, given Wildstar’s current raiding difficulty, I’m not sure how much more accessible raiding really got. There is however value symbolic or otherwise, in being allowed through the door, sniffing some of that endgame air for yourself. What’s the harm?

For the more hardcore players both imagined and real, there’s mostly this concern: now that they’ve nerfed / showed sense on the attunement, Carbine might adjust more things about raids in the future (noes?). I’m sorry for the lack of empathy in this case because MMOs constantly evolve, balance and change their content. They already do that! Also, I lied about being sorry! Life is too short, yo.

This week in Wildstar: Common Sense 1 – Vainglory 0.