Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The MMOs of 2007: Year End Review

I wanted to do a post about the big MMOs that are being released next year but during my writing I kept referencing games from this side of New Year's Eve. I realized that as much as I wanted to avoid a year end review, it was probably best if I organized my thoughts. Despite what a lot of people are saying 2007 wasn't that bad of a year for MMOs. True we had at least one horrible disaster but the majority of games released were highly polished.

The New Games


The only game that seemed to purposely ignore the lessons of the last three years was Vanguard. Sigil originally intended to release Vanguard as a hardcore raiding oriented game but changed gears when they saw how successful World of Warcraft was doing. Unfortunately, the company didn't have enough money to do the full circle redesign they wanted and the game launched filled with bugs and with fun not included. In the end the game went where most independent MMO failures go, the SOE all access pass. Reports are coming in that SOE has a small team slowly but surely fixing Vanguard but most of the original fan base seems to migrated to EQ2.

Lord of the Rings Online
Turbine got much needed respect with the launch of LOTR especially after their so-so work on the Dungeons and Dragons license. Many people loved the game in beta and signed up for lifetime and special rate memberships when it went live. The Shire has often been quoted as being one of the best looking and well designed newbie zones ever created for a MMO. However, everything in the game which attracted people to it at first seemed to disappeared after a 3 month period. Most reviewers attribute the declining subscriber numbers with problems that don't really become apparent until late in the game.

1) No class customization system like talents/achievements.
2) Small number of dungeons for a fantasy MMORPG
3) Questing becomes group required in the higher level zones.

Tabula Rasa
This was a very high profile game that had repeatedly had its release date pushed back over the years. Initial beta reviewers gave it mediocre reviews and proclaimed it only held their attention for a short period of time. Richard Garriott was the lead developer for the project and had often called it revolutionary and genre breaking. In the end the bullshit and bad beta reviews affected how many people picked Tabula Rasa. However, the game seems to be picking up the pace a bit as people remark the game has improved greatly since beta testing. Tabula Rasa seems to be the polar opposite to LOTR in terms of how its subscription base started out small but is slowly growing.

The Sequels: Current Market Leaders

Guild Wars: Eyes of the North
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Everquest 2: Rise of Kunark

The sequels of 2007 either sold more units or kept more subscribers then any new entry into the MMO market. This might be the reason why some gamers look back negatively on the year. It seems as if new MMO games haven't really improved that much overall except that "most" of them now released polished and mostly bug free. This was especially obvious when a sizable portion of World of Warcraft fans left the game to explore Lord of the Rings when it first released. Several sources tracked a dip in subscriber numbers for WoW and later on a corresponding increase three months later as these fans returned.

This seems to highlight a trend of the current market leaders really having perfected their games since 2004/2005. If subscribers do leave them for a new game it seems that its mostly because they want new content and not a new game. A World of Warcraft clone is never going to be better then the original but it might steal some subscribers because it has new content. However, once players get to the end of the content they are going to choose the better game. A game that has three years to perfect its design is always going to win over one that has just released.

As I see it there are only going to be two ways to break this trend. One is to make a game that is clearly better then the current market leaders, probably not going to happen. The other is to focus on areas which are ignored or done poorly by the current market leaders. The second one is where I think we'll start seeing some rising stars. Tabula Rasa might even become one since it combines FPS elements into its game play in a way clearly superior to Planetside. The only other game on the radar that is attempting the same tactic is Huxley which has been extremely secretive on details or a firm release date.

Next Post: The MMOGs of 2008: The Coming PvP Storm

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Did WoW's success cause MMO's to become Mainstream?

I've recently mentioned in a couple of my posts that the MMO market was in its infancy and a lot of design elements have been reused from earlier iterations of role playing games. Multi User Dungeons, Console RPGs, and D&D have all had major design elements used as building blocks to fast track the development of MMOs. As time goes forward though we are starting to see developers replace major parts of the standard MMORPG design. What used to be a niche market is expanding and flawed design elements are being reworked to appeal to more people.

World of Warcraft is probably the MMO out at the moment with the broadest sense of appeal and has the subscription numbers to prove it. While there are many casual MMOs out there with larger followings, their numbers don't reflect a large monetary value like the subscription base for the AAA games. Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin, and other ammunition in the casual MMOs are more popular argument only have monetary values in viral and web marketing. While these areas have grown in popularity and will probably replace traditional media advertisement in the future they are still a long way from beating the value of a large subscription base.

This is good in the current market since casual games just don't produce large enough revenue to justify mainstream advertising to investors. In the past, hardcore MMO's were limited to numbers in the low 100,000's which restricted traditional advertising to only well targeted avenues. Thus before World of Warcraft you were only ever likely to see a MMO advertised on Comedy Central, Adult Swim, or G4TV. Nowadays we have commercials where a warlock kills a dragon using a Tacoma truck coming on during prime time football.

Also important to note is that references to MMOs have started to creep into prime time television shows. This is a result of the broader appeal of modern MMORPGs working their way through the population and eventually reaching a writer here and there. Within the past year I've spotted references to MMORPGs in How I Met your Mother, Chuck, South Park, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and Stargate. In the days of classic Everquest/Ultima Online such references would get a blank look from most t.v. viewers. Nowadays though most people who follow pop culture or the news know what a online game looks like and that its somehow connected to the acronym MMO.

Its important to note that MMOs with players in the millions did happen before World of Warcraft. Games like Runescape and Lineage have long had a multi-million player base. Runescape did this by being playable over a web browser while Lineage was created in the most game crazy country in the world. Neither's success did much to push MMOs into mainstream awareness though. It was World of Warcraft hitting the 1 million subscriber mark in North America and then again in Europe that gained the attention of investors.

They approved the budget to improve the game and eventually to advertise it like a modern product. Mainstream awareness is a result of two things; media coverage and advertising. While corporations can run advertising until they dry up the budget it takes the other side of the coin to make a name on the tips of every one's tongue. Unfortunately for MMO's most media coverage has been negative news stories but times are a changing.

Positive stories about MMO's improving leadership skills, online friendships, and business acumen have started to emerge. Also despite being consider a "free votes" issue by most politicians some presidential candidates like Fred Thompson, Barac Obama, and John Edwards recently made it clear to Common Sense Media that they don't support legislating game content. We might be seeing a turning point where all video games stop being the easy to hit pinata for politicians. A lot of this has to do with high profile games becoming more mainstream and less scary to the older generation. After all its a lot harder for someone to be fooled into thinking a game is a murder simulator when they see footage of it advertised during the latest Patriots game.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How fast should MMO expansions be released?

The number of MMO's released is surprisingly high for a form of entertainment that is only just now approaching its ten year anniversary. Numerous and wildly differing MMO's have been produced over the past ten years but if there is one constant its been that they all offer players a persistent online world to explore. This exploration doesn't last forever though since these worlds all have finite lifespans dependent on how much content they contain. When the first MMO developers realized that their customers wanted their favorite worlds to continue forever it became apparent that expansion was needed. Thus most popular online worlds began to have teams of developers not only working at maintaining the current world but also growing it.

The problem of course was knowing how fast to grow their worlds. Quality content generation was always going to be a step behind the players especially in the early days when the vast majority were more fanatic about playing long periods of time. This resulted in some developers cutting corners in an attempt to keep up with their player's demand. Other games used a more layed back approach to expanding their worlds by offering constant free updates in hopes of keeping a stable subscriber base. Still others decided to skip the entry barrier of a subscription fee all together and just charge a one time fee for each expansion.

Out of all these methods a few proved disastrous but the majority of them had at least a minimum amount of success. Players tend to establish deep relationships with these persistent worlds and the friends they made in them. Thus the basic rule of thumb for expansions seems to be, keep a steady stream of new content incoming over time without changing the basic game play too quickly or charging too much. Of course too quickly and too much are relative terms but I'm going to give some examples of where it became obvious that companies broke this rule.

Chart of Expansion Rates and Quality

1 - Horrible (Timing: Bad, Cost: Bad, Quality: Bad)
Star Wars Galaxies

I almost hate to use SWG as the poster child for bad expansions since it gets brought up so often but there are just several factors that make it stand out. The first box expansion Jump to Lightspeed was so filled with bugs that it took months for the developers to get the major "selling points" working correctly. Later on the infamous CU patch completely rewrote the combat system of the game with very little warning to the players. If that wasn't enough the NGE patch introduced just 7 months later rewrote combat again combined with every other game system. While the overall quality of the content was okay it was effected by a very unstable player experience.

2 - Mediocre (Timing: Bad, Cost: Bad, Quality: Okay)

After the third expansion Everquest really tanked in its quality department. It soon became apparent that the expansion team was stealing developers from the maintenance teams. Bugs started taking longer to fix while expansions started being announced almost back to back. In the expansion Planes of Power a guild actually made it to the highest zone in the game only to find it only half way completed though developers originally denied this fact. It all culminated in a player organized boycott of EQ expansions until bugs were fixed.

3 - Okay (Timing: Okay, Cost: Okay, Quality: Good)
World of Warcraft, City of Heroes

It was at this point that companies started learning from the earlier SOE dominated days. World of Warcraft regularly held back specific content to make sure it was bug free before release. It was slightly annoying to buy a game that advertised Black Temple but didn't patch it in until 3 months later. Still holding back content until it was perfected is a better approach then fast tracking expansions filled with bugs.

City of Heroes never really could grow their player numbers with their constant release of small amounts of new content. City of Villains did a lot to fill out the game play by giving an opposing side and introducing PvP elements. Still in general while continuous releases every 3 months is nice its seems that its more effective have a longer production cycle which can produce more content.

4 - Good (Quickness: Okay, Cost: Good, Quality: Good)
Guild Wars

Guild Wars has followed a okay production timeline for its expansions which fall into either a 6 or 12 month cycle and reportedly contain a good deal of content even when compared with the market leader, World of Warcraft. Since the game doesn't require a monthly a fee it can even be thought of as the better deal. Unfortunately, each subsequent Guild Wars expansion has been rated less then the previous one. Reviewers have pointed out that Guild Wars is probably due for an huge overall especially in its chat system and introducing a persistent overworld. However, the box only revenue for the game has limited what the developers can afford tp do in a expansion. As a result the latest full expansion Utopia was cancelled in favor of creating a sequel to the franchise.

5 - Excellent (Quickness: Good, Cost: Good, Quality: Good)
Everquest 2

This might be a controversial choice but I believe Everquest 2 really epitomizes the perfect release schedule for an MMO expansion. They follow a steady 12 month cycle and with the last two expansions included all previous game content. Since Guild Wars is dependent on box sales they are unable to follow the same practice. Quality wise each expansion in EQ2 has introduced a sizable amount of content for solo, group, and raiding game play. In fact I believe they do a better job of balancing new content for different play styles then any other current game. So what hurts the top rated releaser of MMO expansions? Well one was first impressions since EQ2 in the style of SOE was very bug filled at the initial release. Two is definitely the UI which is still ugly and not as easily customizable as newer games such as WoW and LOTR.

6 - Godly
Theoretical Category made up of the best qualities of several games.

Quickness: Everquest 2
Cost: Either City of Heroes or Guild Wars
Quality: World of Warcraft without the wait

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Relmstein's Guide to Poaching Raiders

With the start of arena season 3 its becoming harder and harder to fill all the spots in the nightly raid. When people do log on their talents are all wrong like enhancement or retribution. What's a hardcore raiding guild to do? Well you could advertise by running dungeons or questing with random strangers but then you might get noob all over your boots. No the only obvious answer is to slip into secret agent mode, start making conversation with other raiders, and link the hell out of your gear. After all once they know how much better your guild is then their current one they'll be dying to join up.

1) Accidentally link your best guild weapon whenever you send someone a tell.
* "Opps I'm sorry was that the Twin Blade of Azzinoth I just linked. Sorry we just got our ninth one and we're having to force a hunter to take it."

2) Next time before your guild kills Kazzak or Doomwalker yell out "This villainous speech brought to you by ".
*There's no such thing as too much advertising especially when it signals a zone wide buff.

3) Brag about how quick your guild can kill Gruul/Mag.
* "Oh, your guild can kill Gruul in less then a hour. That's nice. I think it once took us 15 minutes but of course our mage was tanking."

4) Be that Creepy Tier-6 guy who hangs outside of Karazhan.
* "Hello, newbie raider. How would you like to hang out with the big boys." Its a lot like a 30 year old trying to get a date outside a high school except in WoW it doesn't lead to restraining orders.

5) Post Anoymously on other guild recruiting threads.
* Make sure to spread lots of rumors on other guild forums also imply that they follow the FOUL loot system. You know the First Officers, Underlings Later dkp system.

6) Link your guild's YouTube Illidian kill video as a low level alt.
*Make sure to link it with comments like "Look how quickly they do it." and "I heard they're recruiting" Bonus points if you point out how good your main character peforms in the video.

7) Drop hints that your guild leader works for Blizzard.
* "Yeah, we don't like to brag but our GL is Eyonix." You could also try Tigole but everyone knows he runs Nihilum now.

8) Talk about how your guild doesn't force people to raid if they don't feel like it. Maintain straight face.
* Also make sure to follow up quickly with "Offer to pass on raiding void for all level seventy shamans, druids, paladins, priests or warriors."

9) Vaguely describe you DKP system as giving epics to those who most deserve them.
*Details will kill you here since most people just blank out when you describe a DKP system. Instead by just saying it gives epics to those who deserve them you make the recruit think "Hey, who deserves epics more then me? This system sounds cool."

10) Two words ... "Punch and Pie".
* punch = potions, pie = stat food. free stuff = new recruit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Items keep players coming back

One of the primary reasons for the popularity of modern day MMOs is their heavy reliance on statistical combat and items. While its not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your favorite game feature it has a huge impact on player involvement. In most games there is a baseline system for improvement which all players can max out on. Usually this system is comprised of experience points which are used to grant statistical improvements in the form of levels or skills. However, its after this system has been maximized that the importance of items really becomes a factor in whether players stick with a game or leave.

The truth is that even back in the days of text based dungeon games the item centric ones tended to be the most popular. Many a university computer ran a multi-user-dungeon back in the early 90's which players connected to by paying outrageous fees to their phone company. In the midst of such high prices the item (DIKU) based games emerged as the most common type since players stuck with them longer. Just ask any of the MMO old timers or MMOOTS as I like to call them and they can tell you the sordid tale of how the DIKU model took over like kudzu.

The reason items keep players in these types of games is that they form an easy reward system which can be used to reinforce a player's perception of improving at the game. Most players realize that the only reason they are hitting for 50 more damage is because they just won that new sword. However, over time that improvement becomes associated with a player's perception of how good they are in the game and not the item itself. A week after getting the item a player has mentally switched from "this sword really kicks ass" to "my warrior really kicks ass". This does a lot to keep people involved in the game since they feel they are getting better at playing it.

Games that don't allow items to influence the main game system (usually combat) have to depend on actual player skill improving at the same pace as the game's challenges. City of Heroes is a good example where their was a huge disparity between player skill and the game's challenges. At the time of the game's release most of the MMO market were from the hardcore games like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot. Players from these games had no problems learning how to use the power set system in City of Heroes and quickly mastering it. This fact combine with how easy it was to get enhancements, the only item in the game, created a perception that the game had no challenges. In general games that have no challenges are not considered fun. Thankfully the character creation system combined with high role playing potential kept the game alive.

Ultima Online can also be used as an example though I have less experience with it then the other first generation MMOs. If you back track the history of the game though you can see Ultima Online had very little reliance on items and depended on a fluid skill system. The only real challenge in the game was staying alive since it was filled with dangerous exploits and armies of people who wanted you dead. As soon as the game allowed people to choose to get out of the PvP realm the only real challenge in the game was eliminated. The game bleed subscribers quickly after that since most people found the PvE challenges very easy compared to dealing with the sadistic player killers.

These examples show how hard it is to balance game challenges on something as ephemeral as player skill. With the amount of money MMOs take for their development cycle you can see why most developers would rather tune game challenges to something they have more control over, like item power. Luckily, while developers feel like they are locked into an item based genre they are experimenting. Games like Pirates of the Burning Sea and Tabula Rasa have introduced wildly different combat systems compared to most other games. While neither has gathered critical acclaim it at least proves that item based games don't all have to be based on sword and sorcery combat

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Why I Love the Daily Battleground Quest

I must say the introduction of the new daily quests have had a huge impact on World of Warcraft. A lot of people seem to like the cooking one and I already see people running around with the "Happy" buff from the new cake recipe. The heroic daily quest also seems popular with groups actually using the LFG tool. I almost died of surprise when I got invited into a heroic group and found out they weren't doing the Mechanar. The normal dungeon daily quest is a lot less popular on my server and I usually only see one group forming in LFG for it. I'm guessing the reward probably needs to be adjusted a bit or perhaps people are unfamiliar with the purpose of the etherium prison keys.

Despite that one small set back Blizzard more then made up for it with how they implemented the daily battleground quests. The reward of 400 honor and 11 gold is nice but what I really enjoy is the effect its had on queue times for my battlegroup. Basically after the patch all battlegrounds in my battlegroup are being played equally. Even during the Eye of the Storm holiday not a single queue had over a 10 minute wait time. Plus the rewards for the daily quest seem to be influencing the drive to win in most battlegrounds. This weekend I didn't hear a single person shout out the Alliance motto of "Just let them Win". It seems a decent percentage of people in each of my battlegrounds also had the daily quest and thus needed to win.

The next part of this post is conjecture but I believe its probably similar to how Blizzard actually assigns the daily battleground quest in each battlegroup.

1 Battlegroup = 10 Servers = 20 factions
20 factions / 4 Battlegrounds = 5 factions per Battleground

If you have noticed, everyone on your server and faction will have the same daily battleground quest that day. This was probably done to encourage forming pre-made teams but in reality its helping each faction in another way. Its basically guaranteeing that people play that games to win rather then try to farm honor. Since battleground teams are form from different servers chances are that at least some of the people in your group have the quest requiring them to win. This was just the encouragement players needed since some people had very negative outlooks on being able to win. Nothing worse then spending a entire game guarding a flag only to lose and gain little honor. This is why just farming honorable kills became standard practice.

I honestly don't think the daily battleground quests would have had the same effect if Alterac Valley wasn't changed at the same time though. Both sides now use a much stronger defense in the game and as a result usually only the captain and the first few objectives are destroyed. Choke points have become widely used and every game I've been in but one has had victory decided by reinforcements. This makes the game about whose defense can hold off the attackers without dying. Unfortunately in this new Alterac Valley having level 61-66 players on your side becomes a huge disadvantage since they tend to explode against level 70s with epics.

However, while all of these changes make this battleground tougher on the lesser geared side it does have the effect of discouraging the farming of Alterac Valley. If Alterac Valley still gave bonus honor just for killing elites the alliance probably would not have dispersed to all the other battlegrounds even with the new daily quest. This is great news since I am seeing less people leave in the middle of the other battlegrounds because their AV queue popped. With the win/loss ratios getting better in the other battlegrounds the honor rate doesn't seem to have changed as much as I was worried about. Now whether the new system will continue to work after everyone has bought their Season 1 arena gear I don't know. But at the moment the battleground system seems to be working like a well oiled machine.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Class Systems and Player Identity

After playing a couple rounds of Arathi Basin last night I came to the insightful conclusion that every class but my shaman was overpowered. My constant deaths were in no way related to me only hitting 70 last month and everything to do with the developers favoring other classes over mine. I mean sure enhancement shamans got buffed but that was a "just reward" for being under utilized in raids for so long. We're still the only class without any crowd control and .... It was about midway through this thought that I realized that I had somehow switched over from my paladin concerns and was now a full time supporter of shaman rights. It's amazing how quickly you can be sucked into the viewpoint of the class you play.

I think one of the strongest draws for a class based system has to be the strong connection players start feeling towards their characters. Sometimes this can cause problems as players become very touchy over balance changes to their class but in general they keep it on the forums and out of the actual game. Plus the positives for using a class based system seem to outweigh the negatives. For one its an established system with documentation going way back to the beginning of Dungeons and Dragons. While its not the most innovative system it does allow the introduction of whatever new combat or spell systems you might want to introduce. Take a look at Guild Wars or Dark Age of Camelot to see an impressive assortment of classes which stray from the standard mold.

Skill base systems on the other hand are a little more vague in defining a role for a player. This tends to give you more freedom in deciding how you want to play the game but can often leave people adrift in a sea of choices. Also its very hard for a skill base system not to penalize new players. Eve Online which is probably the most popular skill based MMO out right now and its very brutal on players choosing the "wrong" skills when starting out. Often this results in new players being obvious to recognize and easy pickings when they venture out into PvP space. Plus until a new player has joined a corporation (guild) they don't really have an identity they can associate with their character.

In most class based games a new player who is familiar with the Internet can find the official forums and just ask for advice on being new to a class. In most cases they will get a plethora of real information and useful advice in addition to the standard troll bait. I think this has to be one of the main reasons why we see so many class based games out right now. MMO's are still a young industry and we're continually getting new people who are unfamiliar with how an online RPG works. Classes provide an easy way of organizing information for new players. How many people do you know who are experts at all 9 classes in World of Warcraft? It much easier to compartmentalize and focus abilities in groups so that you play the game without information overload.

Still you want a little information overload for those players who want the freedom to slightly change how their class is played. Its because of this reason that World of Warcraft has talent trees which work like a mini skill system. It makes balance a little bit harder but adds a degree of complexity that actually allows customization. I think the talent system combined with the very distinct classes in WoW contribute a lot to its popularity. It may not be the main reason behind its success but I do like it better then the Alternative Advancement points of Everquest or the limited class abilities of LOTR.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Effects of the 2.3 Spell Damage Bonus for Healers

In the upcoming patch its been widely touted that healing gear will also start providing a partial bonus to spell damage. This change is intended to offset some of the woes healers had when trying to experience any other part of the game besides grouping. Having no damage output is a serious handicap when trying farm, grind, quest or simply survive on a PvP server. Most healers still have access to some damage spells when they are heavily holy/resto but their gear simply has no effect on improving their dps. What use is it to have a full set of Karazhan epics when it still takes you four minutes to kill a level 68 mob?

Now with patch 2.3 coming out one third of all +healing bonuses will also give spell damage. This means that a lot of healers will be getting a serious boost to their offensive spells. This should make it more easy to quest without having to spend a large amount of gold on talent build changes. Also as a side effect it should reduce the number of gear arguments between healers and dps classes. Since healers are required for raids they often gain DKP points a lot faster then other classes which sometimes results in epic fights, especially over weapons.

For an example of how the change to +healing gear will effect an average healer I'm going to use the stats of my paladin.

1450: Healing Bonus
224: Healing/Damage Bonus
1226 Pure Healing Bonus

On average my holy shock spell does a minimum of 660 damage and I believe its base is around 540 damage

660 Average Damage done by Holy Shock
540 Base Damage of Holy Shock
100 Damage applied to Instant Spells

Based on my 224 Damage Bonus I can assume around 45% of it is applied to my instant cast spells. Since paladins don't have any damage spells with a real cast time I can expect this bonus to be the same on all my spells. Of course spells with longer cast times get more of the Damage Bonus applied to it. Healers like Shamans and Druids will see a much higher increase on their spells like Wrath and Lightning Bolt.

Since my healing gear will give 1/3 spell damge I'll end up with an increase of 409 spell damage. Thus my paladin's new spell damage should be around 633 after the patch. Applying 45% of my new spell damage to my instant cast spells mean that I can expect my holy shock to hit around 825 after the patch instead of 660. This means that the change increased the damage of my offensive spells by about 25%. In general expect healers to be hitting about 25% harder then they used to before the patch. This could be especially important in arenas where healers will often throw out instant cast damage spells on stunned targets.

Calculations for New Base Damage
1226 / 3 = 409 Increased Spell Damage
224 + 409 = 663 Total Spell Damage
633 * .45 = 285 Instant Spell Damage
540 + 285 = 825 New Damage on Holy Shock

Calculation for Overall Increase
825 - 660 = 165
165 / 660 = .25 (25%)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Will the Alterac Valley changes hurt the Alliance?

Alterac Valley has long had a reputation for favoring the Alliance with geographic advantages that give an edge in conquering the Horde's graveyards and bunkers. In reality the edge is very small but it became exaggerated in player's minds over time until it became an accepted fact that the Alliance would win a majority of the Alterac Valley games. This mentality of losing started to affect the Horde and a lot of players begin to use AFK bots and simply hung out in the starting cave until the game was over. This further contributed to the Horde's losing record and the queue population for AV became unbalanced resulting in long wait times for the Alliance.

With the introduction of the AFK reporting feature in the last patch the queue for Alterac Valley has become more balanced between Horde and Alliance resulting in reduced wait times. The Horde now get a full forty active players on their side which has greatly increased their win/loss ratio. Despite the increase in Horde wins the Alliance continues to favor Alterac Valley over the other battlegrounds. This would seem a bit counter-intuitive but can be explained by how honor is distributed in the other battlegrounds.

Warsong Gulch, Arathi Baisin, and Eye of the Storm all award bonus honor directly based on competition with the opponent. The more you kill your opponents and take the flag the more bonus honor you get. Alterac Valley on the other hand rewards bonus honor based on how many elite NPC's your side has killed and how many bunker/graveyards they own. In general only the graveyard closest to the offense is well guarded thus allowing the Alliance to back track and recapture them after the main Horde offensive has passed.

Now why do the Alliance prefer to not directly compete with Horde to get honor? In general its simply a matter that the gear of the average Alliance is a lot worse then the average Horde player. Mainly this is a result of the difference in queue times with the Horde having near instant queues in most battlegroups because of unbalanced populations. This has resulted in the Horde being able to gain battleground gear at a much quicker rate then Alliance. Now other factors such as organization, maturity, and racial abilities get thrown around a lot when discussing the Horde's pvp abilities. But in truth these probably only matter as much as the terrain does in Alterac Valley. These factors may cause a slight disadvantage for the Alliance but most of it's in the player's head.

Now the changes to Alterac Valley on the PTR make it more like the other battlegrounds with a scoring system called reinforcements which will act a lot like the battle points used in Eye of the Storm and Arathi Baisin. This scoring system is directly impacted by players dying in the battleground thus you can count on gear inequality greatly effecting the amount of bonus honor awarded. Now in general if you are going to award items for PvP in battlegrounds it make sense to encourage direct competition instead of the race to kill elites that Alterac Valley had become. However, the current changes on the PTR could turn the battleground into something similar to Warsong Gulch where the out geared side loses with little bonus honor and very few honorable kills.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Getting the New Arena Shoulders: Now Its Personal

Ever since Blizzcon the announcement of a rating requirement for top-end arena weapons has been met with disdain by the World of Warcraft community and labeled as red tape. Some players compared it to the hour long wait on auction house sales which was recently implemented. Most players saw it as another annoying rule being put into the game which could easily be gotten around by those who wished to exploit. After all wouldn't people just simply buy a one week spot on a top arena team so they could get the weapons? Well it seems as if Blizzard has uncharacteristically put more thought into rating requirement then originally suspected.

Basically the developer's hope to prevent farming the arena system for high quality weapons by implementing a personal arena rating which is associated to a single character and not a team. This prevents players from saving up points while doing badly in the arenas then purchasing a spot on a high end team. While a week on a high end arena team will probably improve your personal arena rating it wouldn't effect it enough to allow you to buy a restricted items. Also in a move which is sure cause some drama they decided to put an even higher rating requirement on the new arena shoulders.

While nothing specific has been revealed on how the personal arena rating will be calculated it's probably going to be similar to how team ratings are turned into weekly points. This means that winning a lot of 2v2 games will probably effect your personal rating less then winning a lot of 5v5 games. Also you can probably expect Blizzard to put a hump into the formula so that making a new team to reset your rating to 1500 has only a minimal effect on your personal rating. Don't expect that joining a 1200 rating team and winning 10 games in a row to effect your personal rating that much.

With all this math going into the arena system we're lucky that Blizzard is going to show our personal arena rating through the pvp tab. Hopefully it will be updated after each match since its a personal rating and should only be dependent on the matches you participate in. However, since this is a counter "exploit" feature it might be that Blizzard decides to only update it weekly to slow down the min/max number crunching crowd. Whatever time schedule they go with, the idea of a personal arena rating is a good idea. I can already see it being invaluable for teams trying to find a replacement for a lost member.

About the only thing I don't like about the personal arena rating is that its going to be used to restrict the new shoulder models. I can only assume that Blizzard caught on that the shoulders are every one's favorite piece of set armor and they decided to make it the "big reward" of the arena system. I blame all the forum whiners who bugged the CMs and developers when the shoulder models started shrinking on the public test realms. Now that they know we really like big, scary shoulder pieces of course they're going to put them behind a 2000 personal arena rating.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bringing Decent Players back to PUGs

I had just recently leveled my shaman to 70 and this weekend was the first time I tried doing some dungeon runs to improve my gear. The only problem was of course that most of my friends don't have any alts who just hit max level like me. As a result I was basically asking for 1-2 hour commitments without any benefits for their characters. Now most people don't mind helping out a friend but you can only bug them ever so often before you start to become a pest. After all most players fall into the achiever category and they also want to improve their characters. Unfortunately, the only other option left to me was to use the LFG tool and try to find a pick up group.

Weekend PUG Attempts

Attempt 1: Shadow Labs
Our tank would only use sunder on one mob in a single pull. Our healer eventually asked him why he wasn't thunderclapping and he replied "I have to tank in defensive stance and can't use it" Could only kill the first boss. Rogue continuously went afk without telling anyone but was always back in time to roll on armaments.

Attempt 2: Mana Tombs
Our dps was comprised of me and two mages who continually broke each other's sheep. As a result the ethereal casters that summon mana elementals continually killed us. Eventually the priest left after dying five times before getting to Tavarok, the second boss.

Attempt 3: Durnhold Keep
Once again we had two mages in the group but this time they knew to coordinate crowd control. However, our paladin healer continuously went afk and died during the escort of Thrall because of it. When he came back to the keyboard he exclaimed "WTF" and left even though we were just waiting for him to start the Epoch fight. Still the most successful pug attempt this weekend.

Most of the people I grouped with were moderately skilled players but the problem was of course that it only takes one bad player in the group to cause a wipe. A lot of times this player was someone who was obviously unaware of the abilities and skills to use in group content. Other times a player was just completely rude and lacked any sort of group etiquette which eventually rubbed someone the wrong way. Percentage wise it seemed like about 1 out 4 players in a pick up group were either unskilled or a complete jerk.

So where are all the decent players and why aren't they using the LFG tool?

Why Decent Players avoid PUGs?

1) A large number of level 70 players can no longer get any upgrades from dungeons. The epic items for badges of justice are only about equal to Karazhan loot thus most raiders in a guild that can beat Nightbane don't even bother with heroic dungeons.

2) Good players mostly depend on guild members and friends to form dungeon groups. They might use the LFG tool to fill in that one last spot but they tend to avoid using it.

3) A lot of players only do PvP nowadays since a combination of arenas and battlegrounds can get you better loot then any 5-man instance in the game.

Blizzard has noticed the decline of players participating in group instances and has planned out several changes in the next patch which should encourage people to return. Most of the changes seem oriented at offering a reward to higher geared players for doing normal and heroic dungeons. Now most of these people are going to try using guild chat first to start a group but chances are some of them will end up in the LFG channel. This should do a lot to flush out the average pick up group since one well geared player can make the difference especially if its your healer or tank.

Patch 2.3 changes for 5-man instances

1) New Daily Quests for a random heroic and normal mode dungeon.
Earn gold and reputation by helping out your lesser geared brethren

2) New Armor Set available via Badges of Justice
Should encourage the running of Heroics, Karazhan, and Zul'aman

3) Heroic Keys now only required Honored faction
Now alts wearing half Karazhan hand me downs can be useful.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Small Example of Paladin/Warrior Numbers

Gwaendar raised an issue on the last post that the popularity of the warrior/paladin combination could be more of a urban legend then a reality. He could be right since paladins are under represented in the 2v2 teams though this could be because they can easily get spots in the higher point brackets.

A quick look at the top 5 teams in the 5v5 bracket for four battlegroups show that warriors and paladins are present in a majority of the teams. Since I think players try to earn the most amount of points by getting into a 5v5 team I think this bracket heavily influences how people perceive the popularity of classes in arenas.

Data was pulled 10/15/2007
Teams with less then 5 members are not counted

1)FapFapFap Boom: 1 paladin, 2 warriors
2)TwopointoThreeFourfive: 1 paladin, 1 warrior
3)Jolly Asian Clams:No paladins or warriors
5)Steam Rolled: 2 paladins, 1 warrior
6)Narutards: 1 paladin, 2 warriors

1) Clan Hex: 1 paladin
2) Lucky: 2 paladin, 2 warriors
3) Team NoobSauce: 1 paladin 2 warriors
4) Pento Supremo: 1 paladin, 2 warriors
5) Arena Point Bandits: 2 paladins, 2 warriors

1)Mein Kampf: 1 warrior
2)Nerve: 1 paladin, 1 warrior
3)Jenox and the Pooteytats: 1 paladin, 1 warrior
5)Team AG Carnage: 1 paladin, 2 warriors
6)Who Knows: 1 paladin

1)Pretty Standard: 1 paladin, 3 warriors(2arms, 1fury)
2)Trounce: 1 warrior, 1 paladin
3)Jonald Danklin be Ballin: No pallies or warriors
4)Game Over: 1 paladin, 2 warriors
6)IDK my BFF jil: 1 paladin 2 warriors

Teams with no paladins or warriors: 2
Teams with paladins but no warriors: 2
Teams with warriors but no paladins: 1
Teams with paladins and warriors: 15

I think these numbers are going to be the same in most battlegroups with about 75% of arena teams having both a warrior and paladin. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that they are better or more popular then other classes since most teams are going to have a full 10 members. However, from what I've seen in the arenas, warriors and paladins tend to be the classes that are played more often while the other three spots are switched out. Then again as you can see two teams made it into the top five without either class. Skill at crowd control and coordination with your team members also plays a important role.

In the end the only conclusion I can really make is that the warriors probably scale quicker in arena gear when compared to others classes. Paladins on the other hand don't really scale in power quickly with arena gear especially since resilience is missing on their set. Instead its the functionality of being able to throw off dps concentration with shields that makes them so desired for arena teams.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Paladins and Warriors rule the Arenas

If you have spend any amount of time in the arenas in World of Warcraft then you have gotten the feel for the popular class combos that players like to use for making teams. Some of these combination revolve around class tricks like stealth while others go for strategies like massive crowd control or insane burst damage. Yet despite all these gimmicks almost every arena team with a rating over 1600 is going to have one thing in common. They are all going to have a charging juggernaut with a huge 2-hander who wants to introduce you to Mortal Strike.

Not since the days that the Arcanite Reaper ruled the battlegrounds has World of Warcraft seen such a multitude of mortal strike warriors. They are the number one class in all three brackets of arenas right behind their bosom companion the paladin. Rogues with their healing reduction poison are also in high use but lack the survivability of a warrior when focused on by multiple dps classes. Thus you often see rogues in 3v3 teams but they tend to become a little sparser in the high end 5v5 teams.

Still as most teams have found out through trial and error their chances of winning are highly effected by whether they have a mortal strike warrior in their team or not. The ability itself is not as efficient as some of the fury ones for dealing damage on targets but in the dynamic and fast moving world of PvP it's king. Unlike standard PvE fights, targets do not stay in one place which makes melee damage very spotty unless it can be concentrated into a burst. Mortal strike fits this requirement and also reduces healing by 50% on the target which is vital if the other team has a healer.

From my experience having 50% reduced healing on a target is enough to allow any two competent dps classes to kill it as long as there is only one healer on the opposing team. If the opposing team has two healers then there is a chance that they can keep the target alive. If one of the healers is a paladin then they can usually interrupt the 50% debuff with a blessing of protection. This is especially devastating when there are multiple melee dps on the target since they often go into a feeding frenzy and don't notice the target is immune to physical damage.

Just like in world PvP the one thing that makes paladins so hated in arenas are their bubble spells. Though whether paladins deserve the disdain for using a cheap spell or whether melee dps deserve disdain for not switching targets is debatable. Either way the one sure-fire effective way to negate Mortal Strike is to have a paladin healer in your arena team. I've made a little ladder that shows the stereotypical advantage one team has over another based on mortal strike and healers.

2 Healers (paladin) and Mortal Strike
1 Healer (paladin) and Mortal Strike
1 Healer and Mortal Strike
1 Mortal Striker
1 Healer
0 Healers or Mortal Strike

* This ladder is built on the assumption that mortal strike allows a team to negate the effects of one healer while a paladin negates the effects of all mortal strike warriors. Two mortal strike warriors do not negate a paladin simply because dps must focus to be effective in arenas and blessing of protection blocks all physical damage. Also in my experience most healing priests are not quick enough or reluctant to spend the mana for mass dispel so I chose not to include their effect.

Now there are a couple of ways to combat the juggernaut that is mortal strike and paladin healing but most of those ways revolve around classes that are easy to kill by focusing your dps on them first. The number one example I can think of is using a shadow priest to mana burn the paladin constantly. A more conventional team that uses mortal strike might be beaten by such a tactic if the paladin runs out of mana before the dps can kill the other team's healer. However, this usually only works once since the next time the team will focus on the shadow priest first. Well I've gone off enough on mortal strike and paladin shielding and I think next time I will talk a bit about other interesting class combinations I've seen.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Law and Order uses MMO as a crime scene

If you were watching this week's Heroes episode then you might faintly recall a commercial for the next Law and Order: SVU episode. The teaser made heavy use of pixelated strip clubs and the well endowed avatars which most MMO fans automatically recognize as coming from Second Life. This bizzaro virtual world has become the Grand Theft Auto of the MMO universe where practices that would earn a banning anywhere else are commonplace and profitable. Still Second Life's unique entrepreneurial opportunities and wild west atmosphere has often garnered it free advertising from the press who for the most part ignored its huge red light districts. It looks like the cat is out of the bag though as it seems to be the main focus for this episode.

Of course whenever mainstream television mentions gaming its usually in a bad context and it looks like Law and Order isn't setting out to disappoint. Its very ironic how television almost always portrays gaming in a bad light while movies are a little more forgiving. Its almost as if television shows see themselves in direct competition with video games while movies know they rule the weekend. Also it could be because movies tend to get video games and the Internet mixed up whenever they write a script. Its like they can't differentiate between a MMO and cyberspace, its all just the Matrix to Hollywood.

Still anything is better then the drek these crime shows tend to come up with when they talk about video games and virtual worlds. A couple of years ago it was CSI: Miami that had a video game episode which was straight from the daily diary of Jack Thompson. In it fans of a popular FPS were modding the game as practice for a real shooting they had planned out. If you look in the archives from you'll find a couple cases of teenagers being expelled when they modded Counterstrike with they layout from their school. Not a really smart move but hey they're teenagers. None of them were ever charged with anything or found to own a gun or live in a house that had a gun.

Now not having watched this episode of Law and Order yet I can't tell you for sure that they will portray MMO players as creepy people with the urge to kill. But based on the teaser it certainly seems this is the direction they chose. In my past posts I've made fun of residents of Second Life for all the weird things that go on in that game but honestly killing demons in the Outlands is just as likely to get looks from non gamers. I recall one quote from the teaser that was along the lines of "And now she's dead cause of your sick fetish." and I can't help but wonder if they are aiming it at all gamers in general.

P.S. In the episode they never actually name the game as Second Life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blizzard Boosts the smaller Arena Brackets

One small item from the patch notes states that once again Blizzard has increased the amount of weekly points earned in the 2v2 and 3v3 arena brackets. Its unclear at this moment if this means that weekly points have been reduced for the 5v5 bracket though it wouldn't be a big surprise if this was a case. Ever since Blizzcon several developers have highlighted their concerns with the reward system for the arena system. Most of these concerns seem to involve practices commonly seen only in the 5v5 bracket.

One issue has been discussed here before involves the practice of simply reforming an arena team once its rating has dropped too low. In this manner many raiders were getting top tier weapons from the arena system without seriously competing. It got so bad that the developers decided against resetting all ratings back to 1500 at the end of season 1 which was the original plan. The developers are so set against the top tier weapons being available to point farmers that they are introducing a rating requirement for next season's weapons.

The other issue which hasn't been discussed here before is the practice of players selling temporary spots on their high end 5v5 teams. The amount of points a high end team brings in each week runs in the range of about 1,000 points. These teams quickly earn more points then they can spend and thus are open to selling spots on their team on a weekly basis and risking a small loss in their rating. The actual risk of their rating dropping is very small since 4 experienced PvP players can usually carry an average game with one payed tourist along for the ride. The 2v2 and 3v3 brackets have less room for error and reports of selling spots in those brackets are almost non existent.

This practice of selling spots is slowly changing how Blizzard thinks arena points should be distributed. Originally the thought was that smaller brackets should earn less points since its harder to organize a full group each week for arenas. However, since arenas have quickly gained in popularity its become very easy to find active team members for the smaller brackets. Yet some players are finding it even easier to simply buy a spot on a high end 5v5 arena team for a week or two rather then spend 7 weeks playing on an average 3v3 or 2v2 team. As a result Blizzard has slowly been increasing the amount of points awarded for the ratings in the 2v2 and 3v3 bracket.

This strategy is similar to how Blizzard introduced daily quests in an attempt to reduce gold buying. Most of the daily quests don't require a player to be good at DPS thus even healers and tanks can complete them for gold. Increasing the points for the smaller brackets is similar to this since it make it easier for non PvP specced classes to earn arena points without thinking they have to buy them. Who knows if it will work in the log run though since some people would still rather just pay gold then practice their PvP skills.

P.S. Had a chance to examine the new formula and Blizzard basically made it so that 5v5 bracket teams recieve less points if they were under 1500. The rest of the brackets seemed to have come away with a higher point gain based on their ratings. Check out the new formula yourself at

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lessons Learned from Leveling on a PvP server

Having finally accepted the fact that Blizzard wasn't updating the paladin retribution tree anytime soon I started leveling a Drenai shaman so I could experience dps once again. Compared to my holy paladin my shaman found it easy to grind experience and quests by himself. The combination of earth shock and grounding totems made it easy to deal with casting mobs and I still could easily heal myself after battles. Before I knew it my shaman had gotten high enough to go through the Dark Portal and play in zones which actually had other people in them. While this makes it easy to find groups for dungeons and elite quests it also opens you up to the world of ganking on pvp servers.

In general I play on pvp servers since it adds a touch of excitement to the end game. Once your level 70 a lot of fun can be had from taking the spirit towers in the bone wastes or capturing the town of Halaa. Add in the occasional attempt on your life by a ganker and you got some major adrenaline by selecting a pvp server. However, when you are actually leveling a new character it can be a major pain in the ass. A small portion of players on each faction get their jollies by sneak attacking characters who are 20 levels below them. This has nothing to do with skill or proving their worth through combat but more in line with the weird fact that some people are just jerks.

Taking my shaman from basically 0-62 within the last two months has taught me a couple of general guidelines about what to expect from characters of the opposing faction. Unlike what you may suspect both factions are about equally likely to attack your character in an unfair manner. When my shaman got to 60 I decided to test out my equal level horde warrior and rogue in Hellfire Peninsula and see if there were any major distinctions between the horde and alliance gankers. I really didn't find any evidence that one faction was nicer or more fair in pvp then the other. I did however discover some guidelines for the next time I level up an alt on a pvp server.

1) Members of the opposing faction are more friendly when they are soloing.
*Its amazing how quick the /wave emote will be thrown around when your enemies know its a 1 on 1 fight.

2) To automatically summon a member of the opposing faction simply be below 50% health and engage two mobs by accident.
*Guaranteed to work every time.

3) All level 70 rogues and hunters you meet in the old world will attack you.
*The amount of level 70 hunters and rogues messing around in the old world is simply astounding and they could probably fill up 15 Alterac Valley queues. However, since they only know how to farm and gank level 40s it would make for some pretty boring games.

4) Warlocks and Rogues tend to always attack you no matter the level difference.
*Warlocks mostly do this because being feared while in an area with lots of mobs guarantees you get aggro and die. Rogues are just demented and will follow you around stealthed until .... well you read guideline number 2.

5) Paladins, Rogues, and Druids were the only classes that tried to run after a fight went bad for them.
*(Sprint + Stealth) = (Bubble + Hearth) = LAME.

6) Mages and Hunters like high places. Don't grind next to walls or buildings with accessible roofs.
*Just like in the horror movies, death comes from above.

7) Warriors who are leveling are probably the least aggressive class in the game.
*I only ever got attacked by warriors who were lvl 70 with mortal strike epic weapons or in a group.

8) Blood elf paladins are a lot more likely to attack a member of the opposing faction then alliance paladins.
*I am not sure but I think this might be related to their racial abilities which seem pvp oriented. Or it simply could be that there are more people leveling blood elf paladins then alliance ones at the moment.

9) Stranglethorn Vale ought to be napalmed to flush out the million asshats that make that place home.
*Its kind of obvious but don't go here on the weekends, or during the day, or during a holiday. Honestly you're only going to be able to quest here between 4 and 7am in the morning.

10) A group of more then two members of the opposing faction will always attack you.
*Three is the magic number where you become free honor and they have no risk.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Is WoW causing punctuated equilibrium in MMO release dates?

Punctuated Equilibrium is a theory that evolution is a relatively steady process punctuated by sudden spikes of change in a species. I'm using this theory as a example since I think its a good parallel to how World of Warcraft has effected the MMO market. Since the release of World of Warcraft in 2004 there has been a dearth of new MMO releases and a couple of really spectacular failures. While not everything can be blamed on the release dates of these failures enough evidence exists that publishers are now wary of releasing new products before World of Warcraft next expansion.

Pretend that World of Warcraft is a relatively slow and steady force of nature. They release content in 3 month patch cycles and seem to be adopting an expansion cycle of 18 months. Their subscription numbers tend to slowly grow or remain stable during the patch cycles while greatly jumping during an expansion release. New MMO's released during the patch cycles of World of Warcraft never seem to gain as many subscribers as their publishers predicted. In fact the only weak point in World of Warcraft seems to be the first patch cycle directly after a major release of content.

Taking advantage of the Slow and Steady
In May 2007 Blizzard patched in the Black Temple about three months after the released of the Burning Crusade. To prevent criticism against favoring raiders they also included a small amount of quest hubs where players could grind faction or gold. This was the perfect time for Lord of the Rings to release since the amount of new content they had was much greater then that in the WoW patch. Lord of the Rings actually convinced gamers to cancel WoW subscriptions and join up with them. This was one of the only times the subscriptions numbers actually dropped for World of Warcraft.

A similar success story was in February 2005 when Guild Wars released about 4 months after the initial World of Warcraft launch. It was a very polished fantasy MMO with free online play which allowed many players to buy the game and still maintain their World of Warcraft subscription. Even if Guild Wars was subscription based it probably would have achieved some moderate success. But by having a different pricing structure then World of Warcraft it sold even more boxes.

Being steam rolled by the Slow and Steady
Everquest 2 has probably suffered the most from World of Warcraft. Since they released at the same time many gamers had to make a choice between one or the other. Blizzard patched in new content like Maraudon, Dire Maul, and Battlegrounds on an almost military three month cycle. During the same time Everquest 2 was mostly redesigning itself to be more accessible and squashing bugs. In 2007 the same thing happened with Vanguard trying to compete directly with the Burning Crusade expansion and losing big time.

The other big losers to World of Warcraft's steady pace were the casual MMO's designed to be simple and more fast paced then the standard fantasy MMO. Games like Auto Assault and City of Heroes have constantly bleed subscriptions with one of the most common complaints being not enough depth in the game play or content to justify a subscription. Reviews of Tabula Rasa seem to be going the same way with most gamers giving the same complaints. The interesting thing is why NCSoft didn't follow a similar pricing structure with these games that they used with Guild Wars.

WoW players tend to be the most likely to switch games 3-4 months after a big content release.
New MMOs will probably start timing releases after World of Warcraft expansions.
More alternative pricing structures such as box only costs and lifetime subscriptions are coming.

Age of Conan does not want to release before the next WoW expansion.
Tabula Rasa will sell a lot of boxes but not pick up many subscriptions.
Hellgate London will do better then Tabula Rasa with its alternative pricing structure.
Warhammer might be ballsy enough to release against Wrath of the Lich King but would probably be better off waiting.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What do WoW's numbers mean?

I recently got dragged into another debate on how much money Blizzard makes each month from World of Warcraft. I'm getting very tired of this argument mostly because I hear so many different numbers. Most players know that the pricing structure differs from region to region and that its not a straight (total subscribers x 15$ a month) formula. Still the specifics of the game's monthly subscription revenue remains mysterious and allows many a bored player to constantly argue with his fellow nerds.

Its funny but if you take some time to research the pricing structures of the different regions then you can actually get a well educated guess on how much monthly revenue World of Warcraft earns. In past interviews the developers have given rough estimates for the population breakdowns of each region. If you use some logic you can assume those numbers for Europe and North America have increased because of the expansion release and mostly stayed the same for China because of its hourly rate.

So based on past developer comments and some educated guessing I get this breakdown.

North America: 2.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million
China: 4.5 million

After breaking down the populations I tried to define the different pricing structures of each region and convert them all into one currency. North America is the easiest with a simple 15$ a month fee and no additional taxes effecting the price. Europe is a little harder to calculate since it has a 17.5% tax on online game subscriptions. The monthly cost of a European subscription is 12.99 Euros which is about 17.70$. If you subtract the tax though it comes out to around 15$, the same rate at which Americans are charged.

China is a even harder nut to crack since they pay by the hour and you have to guess the average amount of hours they played each week. The company that handles the fees for Blizzard in China charges about .04 cents an hour. According to Nick Yee's demographics the average player spends about 22 hours a week in game. This number could differ for a region that uses an hourly rate but I think its a good average estimate for our purposes.

So based on my online investigations I get these three pricing structures.

North America: 15$ a month per subscriber
Europe: 12.99 EU = 17.70$ - 17.5% = 15$ a month per subscriber
China: .04 per hour x 22 hours a week x 4 weeks a month = 3.53$ a month per subscriber

Combine the population with the pricing structures and you get the total.

North America: 2.5 million x 15$ = 37.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million x 15$ = 30.0 million
China: 4.5 million x 3.53$ = 15.89 million

Grand Total for Monthly Subscriptions ~ 83.39 million

Interesting side notes.

1) Game Cards on eBay seem popular for European servers.

Can you avoid the online tax by buying game cards from eBay?

2) China pays the least but Blizzard lets the local company The9 handle servers and customer support.

Is the percentage The9 charge so low that Blizzard actually makes more profit from China?

3) If you assume that box sales payed for intial servers/support/development and that monthly subscriptions are almost pure profit then World of Warcraft is more profitable then some of the lower end Fortune 500 companies.

To turn a profit over 80 million most Fortune 500 companies have to make over 5 billion in gross revenue. What does it mean that a video game which cost around 300 million and probably payed for itself with box sales can earn the same amount of profit?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What matters more in WoW machinima? Production or Script

If you are like me and check forums and websites related to your favorite MMO then you've probably stumbled across more then your fair share of machinima videos. A few years ago these videos mostly consisted of people putting together clips of their greatest in-game kills while playing Linkin Park in the background. This has been slowly changing as series like Red vs. Blue showed that game engines could also be used to tell a decent story.

With the release of World of Warcraft many machinima enthusiasts made use of the extensive emote system to produce better quality videos. Instead of threatening lawsuits Blizzard embraced the use of their game engine and created several contests for machinima videos. This practice caught on quickly and now several different gaming companies sponsor machinima contents each year. All of this attention has been great for the budding art form and numerous new studios and individuals have gained Internet fame.

Studios tend to have many people to work on a machinima video and they split the work between puppeteering, voice acting, and special effects. Individuals tend to work on a funny and zany script while leaving most of the production work to a simple fraps capture. Both styles of making machinima have merit though studios tend to make videos nicer on the eyes and ears. Still, individual work often seems to capture a classic Space Ghost/Adult Swim feel to it that can make it beloved by many fans.

Now I'm going to stray from general comments and go into a specific example here of where the two styles can clash. Specifically I'm talking about a machinima video called Time Gnomes 2 where the director made fun of the studio Myndflame for spending an absurd amount of time on production for their Escape from Ogrimmar video. Perhaps one of the most popular WoW machinima series out there Illegal Danish: Escape from Ogrimmar has been in limbo for over a year. The studio founders have often been criticized for releasing very short but highly polished videos while fans wait for the release of a video originally promised more then a year ago.

Recently at Blizzcon sever members of Oblivious films, who release under Myndflame, criticized that the fast release of machinima like Time Gnomes without polish was in poor taste. Some people agree with this sentiment while others continue to stress that special effects and polish take a back seat to a original script and a fast release. One has to wonder though since over the last year the rough style of WoW machinima does seem to be getting rarer as more people join studios/groups.

So I'm ending this post with a question of what sort of WoW machinima do you favor?

Videos without much polish like Big Blue Dress and Jimmy a World of Warcraft Story
Semi-professional Studio work like The Grind and Snacky's Journal.

P.S. All films can be found on Google Video or

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Will Wrath of the Lich King hit the gear reset button again?

I've been hearing a lot of speculation about the future WoW expansion especially with the tidbits released by the developers over the last couple of gaming conventions. Most of the player discussion has revolved around the new hero class, the death knight, though some discussions on dungeon design have been making appearances as well. Still the one issue I haven't really heard brought up is how much more powerful the gear in Northend will be compared to that found in the Outlands.

In the Burning Crusade we saw a huge increased in the power of items. Randomly dropped greens from the first first zone were often on par with old world raiding gear. Quest rewards earned at 61 would replace epics that had required countless hours of raiding or grinding battlegrounds to attain. Blizzard developers had announced this jump in power in advance but it still came as a shock to many. Truthfully though the disparity between raiding and non-raiding gear had become so pronounced that it was impossible for non raiders to participate competitively in player vs. player combat. With the introduction of the arenas and more world PvP objectives it became imperative for Blizzard to balance the playing field. However, many players saw this as a blow to the amount of time they had invested in their characters.

Fast forward six months and most players now feel safe that the great gear reset of 2006 will never be repeated. After all casual players can now keep up with raiders by earning decent epics through arenas, heroic dungeons, and battlegrounds. So chances are high that the expansion will only have progressively better gear instead of the huge jump we saw with the release of the Burning Crusade. Yet this is based on the assumption that raiding and arena gear stays balanced as higher end zones are introduced.

What troubles this assumption is that some Blizzard developers are pushing for changes to the arena system to extend the time it takes to earn rewards. The original design for arenas called for a low time investment but a high degree of skill to earn rewards. However, with the introduction of daily quests developers forgot that the cost of forming a new arena team isn't really that high. Now what we have are a lot of players who simply reset their rating by forming a new team whenever it drops too low.

This is incredibly ironic because the majority of players who do this are mid range raiders who simply desire the arena weapons. Hopefully, the developers don't overdo the nerf to the arena system or we could see the same disparity in gear quality we saw back before the Burning Crusade. If a situation like this arose in the months before the WoW expansion then we could see another gear reset especially with Warhammer putting pressure on Blizzard to maintain the PvP side of the game. After all any real or perceived favoritism of raiding is going to make it hard for Blizzard to hold onto players against a shiny new MMO with the same style of artwork.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Top Ten Dangers of a 48 hour Server Maintenance

10) Your significant other mistakenly believes you have finally quit and un-installs WoW from your computer.

9) You log into the forums and pass out from exposure to high doses of stupidity.

8) You call your friends on the phone only to discover that their servers are still up and running. You spend the entire next day answering questions for the police.

7) You emerge from your room only to find out that you have been declared legally dead and your younger siblings now own all of your stuff. You are really pissed about it for about 2 days.

6) You attempt to organize a raid in real life but are thwarted by the federal government. Oh well its not like Canada would have had any good loot.

5) In the off time you make the tragic discovery that you now suck at arm wrestling because of muscle atrophy. You spend the next two days hiding from your sister who just won't let it die.

4) You get drunk and make a naked, level-1 gnome named "Shortnsexe" on one of the few realms that is up and running. You wake up the next morning with 400 gp, a severe hangover, and a dirty feeling that even the shower won't clean away.

3) You go outside and are mistakenly attacked by a Vampire Hunter since you now have no pigment in your skin. Fortunately, for you the Van Helsing wannabe notices your "Rogues do it from Behind" t-shirt and figures you for a WoW player.

2) World of Warcraft terms start to sneak into your normal everyday conversations at work during the 48 hours. Luckily the boss laughs his ass off when you accidentally suggest "It melts faces" as a new product slogan.

1) Bored to tears, you log into your blog and post a top ten list.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Would SOE misuse Micro-Transactions?

While Blizzard was holding its ritual display of product teases and developer roasts called Blizzcon another major MMO publisher was doing the same. I speak of course of SOE's Fan Faire which has been an annual tradition since the early Everquest days. But while Blizzard focused on actual products, SOE introduced yet another method to show how devoted they are to getting your money. Their new plan involves a virtual card game where players can buy booster packs online and compete in a game which sounds a lot like Magic the Gathering.

For those of you who never experienced the money sink that was Magic the Gathering, I'll go ahead and explain the basic premise. Basically players could buy a 15 card package that was guaranteed to have a ratio around 1 rare, 3 uncommon, and 11 uncommon cards. Rare cards were needed if a player wished to have a competitive deck since they tended to be overly convoluted and powerful with effects that often modified the basic rules of the game. If you've every flipped to FOX in the afternoon think of the last card that spikey haired brat, Yugioh, always pulls out at the last second.

Unfortunately for most players half the rare cards in these types of games tend to be useless or only useful in a very specific and unlikely scenario. Thus players are forced to buy more packs or try to trade with other players until they can get the collection of rares they need. Companies have perfected this formula into a science over the years as Magic, Pokemon, Yugioh, and others have robbed players of their cash in 3$ intervals. What makes SOE's online card game one step worse is that players won't even be able to trade cards with each other only buy them in virtual packs from SOE.

The truth of the matter is that if you look closely enough at collectible card games you see the father of the micro-transaction. Anyone can start playing a collectible card game at almost no cost but to actually compete you need to spend a lot of money in small transactions to raise your chances at winning. This is the exact type of payment plan that some MMO publishers would love to push on us if they could get away with it. I see this virtual collectible card game being hosted inside a MMO as SOE testing the waters for a micro-transaction market.

Now I can see some areas where micro-transactions might be a useful payment method. Twitch based MMO's like Auto Assault and probably Tabula Rasa would definitely benefit more from a hourly subscription rate then a standard monthly fee. Other games like Second Life seem to make a decent living by selling virtual land (piece of the golden gate bridge anyone?) and cosmetic changes to their avatars (genitalia anyone?) by using micro-transactions. It works well for games that are based on players only spending a small amount of time in the game each week.

However, the incorporation of micro-transactions into a long term MMO where most players put at least 12 hours a week into the game is only going to result in people having to pay more money to get the same amount of entertainment they get now. They are a million ways a smart and greedy publisher could incorporate micro-transactions into a game without seeming to give an advantage to the rich. Imagine having to pay a quarter every time you killed a boss who dropped loot. You're of course guaranteed one rare item but who knows if its a pair of leather pants of the Bandit or Spirit. One's useless but the other would start a fight to the death between the rogue and feral druid. Sounds a lot like opening a booster pack doesn't it?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Changes Down the Road for WoW PvP

I've been reading several articles and posts coming from people who attended the different Blizzcon panels. Most of the the discussions seem like they were insightful and provided a multitude of facts on how Blizzard approached class design, dungeons, lore, and future content. My eyes caught several nice tidbits about upcoming changes for the different PvP systems in the game. With such a wealth of information out there I thought I would draw attention to these tidbits since some of them will probably be introduced much sooner then the expansion.

Just like any other list of changes in a MMO there are some negative and some positive.

The Good

1) First Tier of Arena gear will be available through the honor system in Arena Season 3

2) An Alterac Valley Anti-AFK buff. Will use a method similar to the spam report option. Once enough players have reported a person as AFK, a short debuff appears on that person. If that person doesn't move during that time (perhaps a minute) then they gain a very long debuff which prevents honor gain.

3) Looking at making battlegrounds playable at 15v15 or 20v20 brackets.

4) Honor Distribution changes: Battleground objectives will start rewarding more honor towards the end of a battleground. Developers hope this will encourage players to finish battlegrounds.

5) The option to join Alterac Valley as a group will be put back into the game.

6) Developers are looking at putting in a guild versus guild battleground option and perhaps some system to track each guild's wins/losses.

7) Siege Engines are coming to the new Outdoor PvP zone in the next expansion. Developers are also looking at reworking old battlegrounds so siege engines can play a role.

8) Some Arena Class Balancing. Rogue's viability and mobility in Arenas are being examined by the developers. Expect something to help them deal with range dps. Prot Warriors and Ret Paladins told that Arenas are still not for them. Mana regeneration (Spirit) will eventually be improved which should help the offensive casters who aren't Warlocks.

The Bad

1) Developers think Arena loot is easier to get then Raiding loot and that is bad. Instead of increasing the amount of drops per raid boss they are going to be looking at the rate at which arena points are gained. In the future look for an increase in the cost of Arena gear or a reduction in the amount of points earned per week.

2) The developers feel that too many raiders are simply saving up points just for the Arena weapons and this is also bad. I guess they feel that they are not actively participating in Arenas if they are just getting their 10 games a week for one item. Whatever the reason expect a minimum rating requirement for purchasing Arena Weapons in the near future.

Thanks again to WoWInsider whose Live Blogging provide a majority of the information here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Guesses About the next WoW Expansion

The excitement players experience when a MMO expansion is announced can sometimes start a chain reaction of speculation which can easily get out of control. With World of Warcraft the announcement for the next expansion hasn't even been made yet and already every MMO site is guessing on what title, races, and classes will be in the game. Rumours are flying around the Internet at light speed and some have already traveled so far they've become facts. The amazing thing is that this feeding frenzy of gossip and bad investigation was sparked by just the vague assumption that an expansion will be revealed at Blizzcon this year.

True this assumption makes so much sense that its 99% likely that Blizzard will unveil the next chapter in Warcraft this weekend. But some of the other rumours making their rounds through the Internet are considerably less certain. Still its fun to gossip and add your own opinions to the melting pot of the rumour mill. Since I'm not one to control my impulse to have fun I guess I'll join in. I've divided the most common guesses about the expansion into the three categories and given reasons why I think they are likely to be implemented or not.

1) Likely to be Included in the Expansion

- At least one new class
Probably the most desired feature by players. The sales numbers for the expansion would suffer horribly if no new classes were included.
- Level cap raised to 80
I'm afraid raising the level cap by 10 each expansion is now part of the formula. Blizzard has stated before that they have a formula for increasing the power of gear for several hundred levels.
- Takes place in Northend
Hints about the Northend continent have been appearing for the last 8 months.
- Death Knight as a new class
This class has a relation to Arthas and the Scourge plus it might provide an outlet to the scorned retribution paladins out there.
- 3 month extension on the announced release date
Its Blizzard.

2) Might be Included in the Expansion

- New races
A new race would require a new starting zone. This was done in the last expansion but home cities take up a decent amount of development time so Blizzard might not want to repeat the same process.
- Multiple new classes
Blizzard might try to achieve class balance by introducing multiple classes to counter balance one another. God knows they have enough class ideas to pull upon.
- Necromancer as a new class
Fits with the Northend and Arthas theme but might play too much like a warlock. Then again most players would simply appreciate the newness factor.
- New content for the mid-levels
Very desired by players and necessary for once again leveling up new characters without going crazy in Stranglethorn Vale.

3) Playable Murlocs more likely to be Included then

- Blizzard stops making raid zones only 2 guilds per server can do
Jeff Kaplan still works there, right? Unfair to Jeff but the upper raid zones are a waste of development hours when only 2 out of 100 of your players can ever see it.
- The Expansion releasing this year
The time tables would probably make the expansion available February 2008 at the earliest. Plus Blizzard might want to time the expansion to compete with the Warhammer release.
- Hero classes making an appearance
The balance necessary for allowing a class to transform into another would probably be overpowering and give an advantage to long term players. Eventually I suspects Hero classes from Warcraft 3 might come into the game as entirely new classes.
- 40 man raids making a come back
Blizzard can be stubborn and the breaking of almost every major guild on the shores of Karazhan is still recent. Since development of this expansion probably started before the release of TBC, I'm guess that Blizzard hasn't made a decision to bring back the larger raid size yet.