Category: Community in WoW


A lot of us are struggling to find things to do in WoW at the moment. I’m not at the point where I feel I have to cancel my sub, because we’ve started an alt raid, treating SoO as new with a different bunch of characters, some of us in completely new roles. And while this has injected a bit more excitement into raid nights, it’s only for a couple of evenings a week. Those of us who habitually log on most nights, if only for an hour or so, have found there’s no reason to do so. All our alts are 90 – and the few that aren’t we don’t have the enthusiasm to finish off – reputations are done, gear attended to. Transmog sets are completed, and rare mounts and pets have dropped obligingly. I have no desire to run LFR, starved now as it tends to be of competent players, in order to gear up alts I’ll never raid with properly. The ones I’ve already geared a bit will suffice for our guild alt runs, and the rest just have the odd piece here and there, plus Timeless Isle stuff, to take them into WoD leveling without too many tears. Yes, I’m ready to move on.

We’ve recently merged with another guild on our server – a bunch of great people who are much like us, being older players with busy real lives who just want a comfortable home in Azeroth and laid-back raiding. We were really lucky to join with these people, since if you hunted on your server to augment your roster by other means, I imagine it’d be nigh on impossible to find nearly a dozen or so individual players you get on with so well. But even with this influx we’re fed up with the dearth of new content in WoW. A lot of us dribbled over to Diablo to play Reaper of Souls together, but most of us have now got bored with the constant grinding to improve gear, which comes desperately slowly at top level in that game.

So, what to do? After Blizzcon last year I was convinced we’d see a Beta for WoD by January 2014 at the latest. All that buzz, that build up… the excitement. Yay! But now it’s May and not even a whiff of the Beta, and many of us are beginning to think it’s going to be the end of the year before we’ll see any new content. As a guild leader, that worries me. We’ve run out of things to do… almost. Is it feasible to run a third SoO alt team once we get to the end of it on our second? I think realistically we’ll be looking at a gradually diminishing roster until pre-patch 6.0 at the earliest. I think something went wrong with WoD, or changed drastically, and this unknown thing has caused the delay. Given the atmosphere at Blizzcon, (which I attended ‘virtually’), I’m quite sure Blizzard themselves intended for WoD to be nearer to release now than it’s turned out to be. But I doubt we’ll ever get to hear what caused this hold up. Once 6.0 hits, I expect people will be back in droves, but if that’s not till after the summer – well I’m sure many guilds and their officers are a bit concerned about the health of their guilds.

Like me, a lot of my WoW friends are reluctant to try other sub-based MMOs. Because we *are* still raiding a bit, and therefore don’t want to unsub from WoW, for many it’s not feasible to pay monthly for more than one game, and in any case, from experience I know it’s not easy to fully immerse yourself in more than one MMO – the games aren’t really designed for ultra ultra casual: you have to invest a fair bit of time to get the best out of them. But maybe… for a few months… it’s worth dabbling in another one, while we wait for WoW to be lifted out of the doldrums. Diablo was great while it lasted, but as that’s now petering out, I’m looking at other things to keep our group of friends entertained and playing together.

I’ve played a fair few of the ‘free to play’ MMOs, and most of them haven’t held my attention for very long. Some were just far too reliant on the misnomered ‘micro transactions’, which usually means you end up paying more than you would than if you paid a sub. Measly inventory and bank space, slow leveling… etc etc. In many F2P games, you have to pay real money to free yourself from such inconveniences. The best of the crop were Aion and Rift, and I know some people loved SW:ToR (although just about everyone I know who started playing it no longer do so. I never tried it myself, not being a fan of the franchise.) Aion – for me – lost its appeal when my characters reached around level 30 and I realised that PvP is forced upon you, with players of the rival faction literally dropping out of the sky to slaughter your lower level chars. No fun. End of Aion for me. Which was a pity, because I liked the way the game played and the way it looked.

I’ve dipped in and out of Rift since it was launched a few years ago. I lost interest when I reached top level in the original game because I couldn’t raid in there – not having the time to get my characters raid-worthy, or being in there enough to warrant joining an active guild. Sadly, the best of the MMOs seem to model themselves on WoW – end game is forced teaming if you want anything to do. When Rift went free to play, and their new expansion came out, I started playing again, and after a juddery start got back into it. Then there was a new content patch for WoW, and there was plenty to do again in there, so I stopped playing Rift. I’d always subbed to it, since I had a founder member’s really cheap deal, but I even cancelled that. Now, because on some nights I really feel like I want to potter around in a virtual world, I’ve gone back to Rift and taken up where I left off. It’s quiet in there. I’ve only seen a handful of other players, but then I am in the starter areas of the expansion and the majority of players will have long moved on. The original cities are full of tumbleweed, but the new one, the Dalaran of Rift, is buzzing. As all the crafting dailies are now based there too, it’s obvious why the old cities are empty. Tempest Bay is the new central hub, for players of both factions.

As it *is* now free to play, and after I’ve given it a few days to see whether my interest keeps up, I intend to tell the guild about it on our forum, and see if any of the bored people want to come and dip their toes into Telarian waters too. Yes, there is a game shop, with many enticing things in it, but it’s still possible to play the game without touching it. If you ever subbed to Rift in the past and come back, you’re given a generous amount of free tokens to spend in the shop, which could net you a mount or two, or a couple of armour sets (the transmog of Rift). The clothes department is massive, and the armour sets fairly priced. I worked out that a single piece of armour in the Rift shop works out at about 38 pence, as opposed to the £15 Blizzard tried to charge for those hats some time ago (do you *ever* see people’s characters wearing those?) There is also a very big mount store, including a great deal of the ones available in the game (not extremely rare ones, of course). However, in game they cost a fairly big chunk of platinum, yet some are sold for mere pence in the shop. As player housing is quite a big feature in Rift now, there are also lots of items to buy for your ‘dimension’, as the housing is called.

But anyway, cosmetic temptations aside, Rift is genuinely free to play. The two new continents are each around the size of Pandaria, so there is a ton of content to take you through to whenever Blizzard get their act together. While there are ‘story’ quests to reveal the ongoing plot line, just about every creature on the map has a kill quest associated with it. This means there are oodles of quests all over the place. You only need to kill one creature for a quest to pop up to kill some more of that type. So while you’re doing the regular quests, and killing mobs to get at your objectives, you’re also doing these secondary kill quests. Lots of experience, and loot to sell, or to salvage or equip. The one downside I’ve come across is that is that some of the dynamic quests, such as defending outposts from invasions, aren’t easy to do on your own, if not impossible. As few players are around in the areas I’m questing in, this means I have to ignore those quests and leave the outposts to their fates. Again, this might be down to the gear I have. I don’t do dungeons and I don’t raid in Rift, so my gear is only adequate at best, picked up from quest rewards and from crafting. Admittedly, crafting is really good and actually useful in Rift, but still not as good as gear you would get from multi-player activities.

This brings me on to something I’ve thought about concerning *all* MMOs. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s more relevant now than ever. MMOs, by their very nature, are games designed for group content. But the problem is, group content is only viable while a particular zone or patch is current. Once the players have moved on, the content needs to be soloable, otherwise it’s redundant. To a large extent, this has been addressed in WoW, concerning earlier areas of the game, but more solo content would prevent much of what we’re seeing in the game now. Just because players are offered this kind of play doesn’t mean the social side of the game will be detrimentally affected. You’re still playing in a virtual world full of people, but are free to do things on your own if you want or need to. In Diablo, for example, players still talk a lot to each other in the general chat channel, even though the majority are playing alone. In an MMO, solo content would prolong the life of a patch or an expansion, and people would still interact, either in their guilds or, as now, in General chat. If you’re restricted by needing more players to do anything interesting, and those players aren’t available, or simply don’t want to do what you want to do, then that means you’ve got nothing to do at all, so just log off. Not everyone wants to risk teaming with strangers, offered by the various tools for herding random people together. You could end up with incompetents who can’t play properly, social inadequates whose only relief in life is to insult others, or elitists who call you on your actions every moment of the way, unless you conform to their unrealistically high standards. Or – most likely of all – you could just a get a silent group who blast through the activity without any communication, so you might as well be on your own. Faced with that, I’d rather go play another game, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I don’t know why MMO developers are so hung up on forcing people together, even when it’s unreasonable or impossible. Solo dungeons, (as seen in a couple of other MMOs I’ve tried, though not in plentiful enough supply), or dungeons for two or three would be great. Yes, scenarios are for three, but there’s no loot from mobs, and once your character is geared up and you no longer need valor points, there’s no incentive to visit them again. They are, in fact, rather boring. The ultimate MMO would have group content that’s accessible to *any* size of group, whether that’s a person alone or a group of 25. Of course, the mechanics of working out that scaling in terms of loot might not be easy – I’m no game designer so can’t say – but the minute some game cracks this perennial problem of content running out, simply *because* you need other people who aren’t there, will be the game that everyone will want to try. I wonder what the result would be if, on WoW’s log in screen, every player had to answer the question of whether they would like more optional solo content or not? I’m betting the vast majority would opt for ‘yes please’.

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On the whole patch 5.4 has been a big success for our guild. We’ve teamed up with another guild to do Flex raiding and our two visits so far to Siege of Orgrimmar have been a lot of fun. We’ve got the first couple of bosses down and nearly got the third the other night before people had to leave because of work the next day. For a new team getting used to working together we’ve done really well, and most importantly we’ve had some enjoyable evenings’ play and have made some new friends on the server. While we’ve struggled over the past few months to get 10 people together for a raid, this Tuesday we had 19 in the team. Some people who’d given up formal raiding in favour of LFR have come back to the team and because people can come and go from the raid without affecting everyone else, guildies who have to start late or finish early could also join us. The difficulty of the encounters adjusts to however many are in the team. This is such a great feature for people who get home late from work, or have kids to put to bed or, at the other end of the night, have to leave especially early for whatever reason.

As well as getting together with another guild who’d been suffering the same problems as us, we’ve also picked up some new guildies who are friends of existing members. I know from experience that the state of guild rosters can – time and time again – change dramatically for the good and the bad, and I’m happy we’re now going through a good time once more.

The Timeless Isle has also been fun to explore and at the start was an absolute gods’ send for alts. I’ve geared up quite a few already with the bind on account epics that can be found in treasure chests and from mob kills. It seems now the drop rate for epics has dropped quite a bit, but the initial week was great. The only thing that’s spoiled the island for me and my friends is the PvP aspect. Yes, we get that Blizzard loves PvP and occasionally, (legendary quest line, Long Strange Trip achievement), likes to force it on players who hate it, and yes, we get that many players actually like it and want it, and we also get that the Timeless Isle is supposed to have a world PvP element to it. But the amount of griefing that goes on does nothing to change my mind about mixing PvP with PvE. For example, late the other night a couple of friends and I decided to team up and find some rare mobs. As we were killing random creatures around us, a group of Horde, all flagged for PvP and all riding huge Traveller’s Tundra Mammoths, congregated on top of us as we were fighting, clearly with the aim of making one of us accidentally hit them. They were taunting us as much as possible with emotes, supposedly to make us even more annoyed with the situation. When these tactics failed – we simply moved to a different area – they followed us and grouped up on our kills as we were looting, again with the clear intent of making someone click on them by mistake and thus initiate combat. There are enough Alliance actually wanting to get involved in PvP, so these idiots should go and pester them instead. If this is world PvP then I don’t think it belongs among PvE players. Also, how brave they are in numbers! It’s not something they’d try alone or in a small group. Cowards.

But anyway, apart from that aspect, which if you don’t like PvP you just have to take a little extra precaution to avoid, the island is a fun addition to the game. Not sure how long that fun will last, but there are at least a lot of pets to collect off rare mobs, which will extend the interest for some. For those not into pets, I don’t imagine there will be much left for them to do once they’ve earned the timeless coins to buy the items they want. As with all content, the island won’t have an infinite allure – things get used up and players move on. I’m trying not to use it up too fast. Some people are obsessed with grinding the rep for the Emperor, and that’s all they do. But once it’s done, and if done too quickly, what will be left for them? I think it’s better to pace yourself and make the most of the content, rather than gobble it up and then complain about having nothing to do.

I’ve not tried the Celestial Tournament pet battles scenario on the island yet, as I want to get more of my pets to level 25 before embarking on it. Also, you need to put aside quite a few hours to do the scenario while you’re learning it. Friends who’ve done it have taken up to six hours to complete it, (not necessarily succeeding on their first attempt either) and at the moment I don’t have such a chunk of time to devote to one activity. One friend had got almost to the end – bearing in mind you cannot heal or revive any of your pets throughout the scenario – and then failed on the last fight because he literally ran out of level 25 pets to do it. (He has around 100 of them.) He’d spent four hours getting to that point. You can’t ‘save’ the fight – you have to complete the whole scenario or start again. Another friend, who completed it on the first day, has 250 level 25 pets, so as I only have 70 or so, I know I need a far bigger stable of available pets before I attempt this challenge. Once you have learned the fights and if you have enough of suitable pets for the battles, then it takes less time to do the scenario. One friend completed it in 40 minutes today, when he was taking hours to do it last week. I dare say more and more strategy guides will appear for the fights as people complete them, and I’m content to wait a while until others, through trial and error, work out the best teams. I’d rather do the scenario in a couple of hours than in the equivalent of a working day!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for my WoW blog – mainly because I’ve been playing the game less and had little to say that wouldn’t just be repeating what I’ve said before. Like many, I’d run out of things to do in WoW, found playing alts rather a pain, and was often logging on only for raid nights. I’m happy to report we’ve managed to keep our raiding going, when many other guilds have had to give up for a while. We’ve had few cancelled runs, even if we’ve been short of people, because it’s possible to do Mogushan Vaults now with a diminished team of well-geared characters, and we could often take an under-geared guildie along with us to help get them some shinies.

Like just about everyone in the game, I’ve been waiting for the next patch 5.4, not least because of the Flex Raiding it will provide. It seems that at last Blizzard will accommodate all those guilds who want to do proper raiding rather than the jerk-pit of LFR, but who have found Normal raiding too taxing, simply because they cannot field 10 perfect players and/or have had problems with team consistency and numbers.

There has always been conflict between the so-called hardcores and casuals, with both sides screaming that Blizzard caters more for the other side. Reality is that the ‘not hardcore’ element is far more numerous than the ‘not casual’ element, yet even so, despite the ‘not casual’ carping that the game has been dumbed down and ruined, raiding has actually become more complex and difficult over the years. It seemed insane to me that Blizzard could countenance the crumbling and dissolution of numerous guilds, simply because Normal raiding was tuned too high for their raid teams of mixed ability. Surely Normal was meant for those people who weren’t expert enough, or couldn’t devote enough time, to attempt Heroic mode? But even within that broad band of ‘casual raiding guilds’ there would be teams of differing skill and team consistency. For some the current Normal mode tuning was fine because their players could handle it and they had the time each week to tackle it effectively, with a consistent team. For others Normal was a trial, because runs often had to be cancelled due to a lack of people, or different people went each time and fights had to be learned over and over. I assume it was intended that all these players should be herded into LFR and be happy with that, but of course this didn’t happen. They might have accepted the herding, but this didn’t mean they were happy. Admittedly, in most LFR runs, you’ll only have 2 or 3 jerks mouthing off. The other 22-23 players just keep their heads down and keep quiet. I was given some advice very early on – never engage LFR jerks in conversation. Ignore what they say, no matter how offensive or wrong or unfair. Don’t even stick up for anyone, no matter how incensed you might feel on their behalf. It will just bring the jerks down on you like a ton of silage. Consequently, I saw cruel bullying happen, but said nothing. Neither did anyone else: including all those players who would no doubt rather be doing Normal raiding with friends, but whose guild rosters had diminished beyond the ability to raid.

Because for many players Normal raid progression was so slow, or wasn’t happening at all, LFR felt mandatory to gear up characters for when raiding was possible. It was good for getting valor points, and of course essential for those stalled in Normal mode who wanted to pursue the legendary quest and its rewards. I’m really hoping that Flex raiding will offer a sound alternative. I believe surviving guilds will do more to ensure they can attempt this mode, whether that’s allying with others in the same position as they are, or else picking up a couple of random people by advertising in Trade. If you have a group of 3 friends who want to join you for a run, but you have 8 people from your own guild in the team already, you’ll now be able to take those 3 extra people. That just opens up huge possibilities for alliances with other guilds that previously had been constrained by the 10 player limit – too many people for a team – or the 25 player limit – too few. There will also be more incentive now for people to join guilds again. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds and I sincerely hope it offers a new lease of life for raiding – and perhaps more importantly for guilds – in WoW. More to report once we’ve tried it!

A couple of subjects I want to touch upon in this post.

After getting a *tiny* bit tired of the new dailies on Isle of Thunder, I wanted something different to do when I stopped work on Tuesday evening. I reviewed my languishing alts and decided ‘I choose you, Jassenah!’ my Priest. Poor old Jass. He was the bee’s knees in TBC and Wrath when he raid healed a lot. Well, I did, but it was on Jass. (He’s not *REAL* you understand.)

Anyway, after I felt he was well and truly thrashed to a pulp by class changes and dungeon/raid changes in Cata, and never enjoyed healing on him then, he was shelved for a while. Shame, because he was actually the second character I made, after Velaxis, all those years ago, and for a long time was even guild leader, before Vel pushed him off the cliff, being played more.

Happily, MoP has brought Priests back with a vengeance. I should know, because on a couple of raid runs we actually had four of them in our team – a healer and 3 Shadow Priests. OK, that’s really pushing it, and far from ideal, but we lacked bums on seats and wanted a run. What more can I say? Jass is a little powerhouse for levelling. Well he was, because I hit 90 on him the other night, so for him the levelling is over. I’d got him to the Shrine of the Seven Stars a while ago, because I hate having characters wallowing about the landscape with no true city to live in, and no portals to anywhere else in the world, and you have to be level 87 in Pandaria to get to the Shrine. (Not counting the creative jumping off the Wall to get there, but I like to do things proper.) Over the last couple of days, I bit the bullet and pugged relentlessly on Jass in Normal dungeons. No blood was shed. He was easy to play, did good for himself in respect of DPS, so no goggle-eyed pugger was going to shout at him, and I got 3 levels in two nights, plus a ton of gear, so he can laugh in the face of the tough level 90 mobs, which we face when we begin our reputation grinds with dailies. Happily, for alts, that is much easier nowadays, so I don’t mind doing a bit of it.

I can see why so many people want to play Priests in Shadow spec at the moment. It really is a walk in the Heartland, and although Jass wears cloth armour like other caster classes, he is so durable he might as well be in plate. I love it when I don’t have to be mincingly careful around mobs, which with so many caster classes in MMOs you have to be. I’ve already said on this blog I’m rather impatient when it comes to levelling quests and dailies, so if I can shoot a lot of mobs in the face in one go and survive, that’s dandy. Mind Sear, the Priest AOE skill is marvellous. It hasn’t been emasculated like my Hunter’s AOE, and I can use it a lot. I know Hunter players who have abandoned their main characters because they hate the focus mechanic so much. Plus Hunter AOE is a shadow of its former self in the glory days of Volley. But I digress…

Jass has been a dream to level from 85 to 90. I won’t really be able to use him much in the guild since we’re swamped with Priests already, but I’m not shy to pug with him, because in comparison to a few other classes, (notably DPS melee), I’m not going to play him badly and get yelled at. I’ve dropped into the rotation of Shadow Priest really easily. Whether I will heal with him or not is another matter.

I’ve already written on here about the problems with tanks and healers in the game at the moment. I’ve taken Ysobi, my Druid, into LFR raids up until the second part of Throne of Thunder. After seeing the new third part on Vel, I wouldn’t take Ys in there yet. On Vel, (like two thirds of the raid group I was part of), I struggled with the mechanics on Durumu, which I found as hard as Normal raiding. I don’t want to try healing when I’m still being killed by the floor. That’s just not fair to my team mates. Once I have my head round it, I’ll risk taking a healer in there. Healers have to be focused on the raid frames to heal. Skipping around the shit on the floor is a tiresome addition to all the other things they have to do. I need to be 100% on avoiding the purple maze before I can heal. It didn’t help that when I first did Durumu in LFR we had some comedians in the group, who had clearly benefited from practicing the raid relentlessly when it was on the PTR. That is, they knew it very well, even from day one. Smugly, these people took delight in calling other players ‘retards’, because they were struggling with the mechanics, which in my opinion are badly-designed. Why on earth should players have to turn down their graphics settings on their computers in order to be able to deal with an encounter? Shouldn’t that encounter really be designed so any level of graphics can deal with it? If it isn’t, isn’t it just, well, too gimmicky? Anyway, I’ve read today that Durumu and his floor have been hotfixed a bit as the LFR posse have been struggling with them so much. If I get chance to go in there this week, I’ll be able to see if the changes have made that much of an improvement.

I’ve not tried a Priest as a healer for a couple of years now. Our best healer in the guild is a Priest, but during Cata I felt the class had become more complicated to manage. Druids are really easy to heal with, once you know the lay of the land. Still, I will give it a try, preferably in a guild group first, if I can get one. And that is another story…

Things are a little quiet in our guild at the moment. We’ve had a couple more people drop out of raiding, and it’s nigh on impossible to get any group activities going outside of raid nights. We lost a couple of good social members, because raid drama spilled over into guild chat and the public part of our forum, which they found distasteful, and not something they wanted to see after a day’s work, when they were intending to relax. This is not good for a guild that has prided itself on its mature atmosphere and lack of drama, but still… Nothing incites drama in WoW more than raid politics. I figured all this was a message from the universe to get over my fear of WoW strangers and pug more. If I want to play the game, and take part in activities that need a group, I have no choice. Hopefully, I might meet some new friends, who might even join us.

People have said to me before, and I have found it to be true, that joining random dungeons on the way to top level is a far more relaxed and friendly experience than when you are at max. I really enjoyed the two nights I did this with Jass, talking to people who were bringing alts up as tanks and healers, and everyone being somewhat forgiving of mistakes. Once you hit heroics at 90, (and of course the Normal dungeons are no longer available to you then), the atmosphere changes radically. This is probably because people simply regard them as an inconvenience they have to suffer to get their Valor Points, and they have no interest in socialising or taking things easy. Many have no patience or tolerance either. I really wish the WoW community didn’t have its toxic elements, because when you come across the best of it, it’s a great way to spend an evening. And unless we get a few new people for our guild, or I resign myself to more solo play, I have to brace myself to face that community and hope I find more good than bad.

Every guild goes through hard times. Some survive, some don’t. We’ve been through worse than this since we began in Vanilla, including two mass exoduses of players, with such a high amount of drama involved, I was moved to write stories about them. On at least two occasions, disgruntled people have flounced off and also attempted to take a lot of guild members with them. Poison whispers; don’t you love them! Both attempts failed – ultimately all that those people could take with them was the friends they’d brought in – but it wasn’t nice to experience, and for a while thereafter a hollow wind always blows through a guild as the dust settles and the departures are accepted. It’s interesting that in the two cases I mentioned, the exoduses occurred after one person brought a lot of friends to the guild, then (certainly so in one case) attempted a coup to oust the existing officers. The first time it happened I was horrified people could behave like that in a game, the second time, (which wasn’t so much a takeover bid, but more of a poaching extravaganza), just wearily resigned that the worst in human nature showed through again. But because we have weathered such storms, I have no fears about us surviving. But, yes, a couple more good people on the roster would be nice. Here’s to positive thinking.

I know a lot of guilds have suffered from game decisions, as they always do. There’s always something that drives players away for a while. At the moment, it is the over emphasis on dailies, and the fact that Normal raids are really hard for people who can’t commit more than a few hours, two nights a week to it. Frustration sets in, because progress in raids is slow, or even stalled, and people become more upset about issues, which if things were better in the game they wouldn’t worry about so much. The annoying thing for us is that we have the personnel, even with the recent departures, but because of real life family and work commitments, it’s incredibly difficult to get 10 on at the same time. Hence, I think we need a couple more people to get over that problem. But recruiting is a nightmare at the moment, because every guild is recruiting. We’re trying, and will continue to try, but we can’t just accept anyone who applies. They have to fit well with us, for their sake and ours. One thing we don’t want to do is compromise the atmosphere of our guild just to get more raiders. We know from experience this never works. And at worst, you end up with the sly snakes, who will turn on you with a poisonous bite some way down the line. We really don’t want any more of those, thank you.

I’m not sure where the title of this post comes from – a film, a book, a tract, some dodgy political manifesto? It’s just familiar to me, and works for this particular post.

What I’m reading in the ethers this week has got me thinking. I’m reading more and more forum threads and blogs about the evaporation of the raiding pool on realms, and the shrinking amount of guilds. A veritable drought, it seems. Some posters provide statistics drawn from various sources that allegedly demonstrate that there are now fewer guilds raiding than there were at the pinnacle of it, which apparently was in Wrath.

I’m also reading a lot from maturing and mature players who say they now simply don’t have the time to commit to strict raiding schedules, and that LFR works better for them. It’s simple logistics.

I think what us veterans have to face and accept is that the game, nearly ten years old, is the not the animal we encountered when we first played. Whenever we fetched up on the shores of Azeroth, be it in Vanilla, TBC, Wrath or even Cata, it is not now the world we knew. Like the real world, it evolves and changes, and not always to our liking. Time moves faster in a virtual world. Generations can pass in relatively few years, well per expansion, probably. So it takes far less time for us to become grumpy old gits.

That said, we have to applaud the fact that this frontier world, perhaps even Brave New World, (who knows what might follow in our life times), not only survives but evolves. The players coming to it now don’t arrive with the baggage of memories and experiences that older players have. To them, it is fresh and new, and, as in real life, we can only envy the young for whom each new experience is a thing of wonder and discovery. Who can forget the first love?

The fact is we are at the vanguard of something wondrous, which is humanity venturing into the New Frontier of virtuality. It’s primitive in comparison to what science fiction writers might dream about, but it is, without doubt, the start. Azeroth lives, in its own way. It has community, an economy, and even a feudal government in the form of its developer, Blizzard. This entity might also be regarded as the prevailing deity of Azeroth, since its whims dictate how the world rises and falls, and the fate of its inhabitants. Plenty for Pop Culture magicians to work with there – and believe me they already have.

All of these concepts are extremely interesting, not only to creative writers like myself, but also to academics in the realms of many observant and scientific disciplines. What we have in Azeroth is a model to study; humanity’s first steps beyond the material world. But that said, evolution can be painful, especially when it’s experienced in such an accelerated form as we find in Azeroth and its ilk.

I’ve written here before of my concerns about the activities within WoW that for nearly a decade have kept people playing. The end game content was The Grail that few players could reach. It was the Mystery, the Heart of the Rose, whatever mystical tag you want to give it. But as time has passed, the mysteries of the game have slowly blossomed, become available to more than the privileged few, and that unfolding was both exciting and curious. Now the rose is open wide, and perhaps, some might say, tending to discard its dying petals. There is no mystery now. All is revealed. But some people prefer this carpet of bruised petals. The rose is not going to rot more than this, simply lie there, open, dismembered, to be trodden upon, its fragrance released by whoever treads upon the fallen petals.

You old ‘uns know what I’m talking about. You know we might be facing the demise of the game as we knew it, the community (warts and all) as we knew it. Even guilds as we knew them might not be the same in the future. Much as I might grumble about some of the changes, I also think the Great God Blizzard has to be brave here and continue to expand frontiers. The veterans of WoW can be regarded as its priesthood, and to them alone were once revealed the secrets of the gods. Now, the common people are given access to what was once the divine. The priesthood are appalled. Obviously. But they cannot fight progress.

So, how do we carry on, us veterans? Simple. Accept what is. We do, after all, have the choice to leave this virtual world, or we can continue with it to see where it heads. Pointless to complain, really. For me, I’m still fascinated by the discoveries, because I don’t just spend time in Azeroth to be a gamer. I’m also a writer and a practitioner of magic. What I see there is of interest to those sides of my being too.

Let’s, just for a moment, imagine the petals of our Heart of the Rose are fractals, a dizzy, unending kaleidoscope of possibilities. Some people might subscribe to WoW simply to play a game, perhaps mostly oblivious of the world of it around them. To others, the world itself is mostly the point, the intrigue, the pull. The petals might have fallen, but within each of them are countless other worlds, other possibilities, the future. I’m along for the ride. Are you?

If you saw an advert in your local paper saying ‘free Ferrari to whoever can get to this map reference first’ you’d expect a mass of people descending in that map point and many arguments to ensue.
Rare mounts are the sports cars of WoW. Let’s get that said first.

Secondly, we shall say Zandalari Warbringers.

All the good work Blizzard has done on the Isle of Thunder has been pretty much invalidated by the bloody warfare engendered by the Zandalari Warbringers. For the uninitiated, these difficult elite mobs spawn all around Pandaria all the time, and if you fight and kill them, there is a 1 in a 100 chance of them dropping a much desired sports car, sorry dinosaur mount.

While Blizzard has done a lot of work to lessen player hostility, it somehow forgot all that with the Warbringers. They are not tag to faction. They can only be tagged by one person or group and – huzzah- that tag can easily be stolen. The fact these mobs drop a mount has, as usual, brought out the worst in greedy players.

The horror stories you’ll read on forums are too many to mention, but just a few… Large guilds will place 5 players on each spawn point in every zone of Pandaria. Their warlocks and mages will be spamming AOE spells to guarantee their group gets the tag when the Warbringer spawns. This is wearisome. It’s constant. If you should be lucky enough to get a tag, you will see a lot of other players around you waiting for you to fail. If you don’t have friends along, for most classes these elites are fatal. The minute you fall, after perhaps 20 minutes of hard work, another player, usually with friends, will gleefully hop in and take over your fight.

Because mounts are involved people will not share. It’s amazing how these bunches of pixels can turn people into monsters, but they do. Only the other night, a guild mate and I were at a spawn point and saw a mage struggling badly with a Warbringer. I whispered them to say we’d be happy to help if we could all roll fairly on the mount should it drop. No answer. Not even a ‘no thanks’. Stupidly, I even killed all the wildlife in the area around the elite to make things easier for the mage, as there were grubs and deer all over him. Moments later, guild mates of the mage turned up to aid him and the mob was dead. But not even a thank you or an acknowledgement. I’m absolutely sure if it had been the other way around, that player would not have offered to help us. I also read a thread on a forum where a player spoke to a group of campers, asking to join in, and was told ‘sod off, we all want *all* three colours of the mount and we’re going to get them.’ Sadly they probably will.

All of this stinks highly. If Blizzard is intelligent enough to emulate the GW2 model of anyone involved significantly in a fight to get loot, why not extend this to the Warbringers? While we see community improve 10 fold on the Isle of Thunder, it is still being destroyed by the greed of players over mounts concerning the Warbringers. It really is ridiculously simple. Even the most disgusting player will be turned into part of the community if their reason to be hostile and greedy is removed. I see it every day on the Isle of Thunder. Rather than players shoving others aside or worse, they are calling out map co-ordinates, because other players will only help them, not hinder. I hope Blizzard reads blogs like this and sees what I’m saying. It is the simple truth.

Some time ago, I wrote a post concerning community in WoW and its rather execrable state. All sensible players bemoan the fact that behaviour from others is often disgusting, and many bloggers have been musing about how it could be improved, myself among them. But what I saw tonight made me feel positive about the WoW community for the first time in years.

Blizzard’s decision to allow the powerful rare mobs on the new Isle of Thunder to be taggable by faction, and thereafter available for fisticuffs to any player of that faction, is a marvellous one. Tonight, a few of us in the guild decided to do some group work on the Isle. We’d hunt rare mobs, help each other out with a few quests requiring more than one person and so on. First thing we noticed was how many players were around and not only that… they were talking. We didn’t have to greet the sight of dozens of other players of our faction with a despairing sigh, thinking ‘oh well, there goes my chance at the rare’. Because everyone could join in on the event and get loot from it, there was no need for anyone to be unpleasant or selfish. While we waited for spawns we could… mingle. Unheard of, I know. I chatted to a few people about the new mounts they were on, and about various aspects of the area. I really applaud this new feature and think it should have been instituted well over a year ago, like when Rift appeared with this feature at launch. GW2 took it further. Albeit that game does not have factions, but even so, *any* mob in that game works like the rares do on Isle of Thunder. There is no competition whatsoever for quest mobs. You can casually work with any player who’s around without even having to team with them to share mobs. You can also heal each other without teaming. Admittedly, more of the mobs in GW2 require this type of co-operation because they are not pushovers, but I really think Blizzard should go further than they have and implement similar in WoW. Also, let’s do the same with resource nodes while we’re at it. If you harvest a node of any type in GW2, it disappears for you for a while, but not for other players. How is this not a great thing? Reasons for players to be mean to each other are swept away entirely and if there’s one thing WoW needs it’s those reasons to be swept away.

Another thing occurred to me as we were messing around on the island tonight. If a server has a population imbalance in respect of factions, the lower populated faction will be disappointed and frustrated by the new area, simply because the more numerous faction will control all the tagging on rares, and even if they don’t, if a player hasn’t got a lot of friends around to help with the mobs, they won’t survive, so the larger faction will simply take over once they’re dead. It’s really going out on a limb to suggest this in respect of WoW, I know, given how deeply the faction rivalry is embedded in the game, but I did think about how it wouldn’t hurt for the rares to be taggable by *anyone* who’s there, irrespective of faction, such as we find in Rift.

WoW really needs something to improve its community spirit, and what’s happening now is a small step towards that. Perhaps Blizzard is experimenting and observing the results and will take it further if it appears to work well. I really hope so. All I know is that I had a fun night with far fewer reasons to get angry and annoyed at other players. I spoke to people I didn’t know in a way I never do. The opposite faction was a minor annoyance, since we outnumbered them so much, (must have been crappy for them, though), and some of them did try to get their sport by messing up our fights if they could. But if there’s only 2 or 3 of them against a couple of dozen of us, even if they tag a rare it’s not going to be tagged for long. That’s why I think the faction aspect should be approached differently, but that would be game-changing in the extreme. The lore of WoW, and its (virtual) thousands of years of politics would be challenged, to put it mildly, if Horde and Alliance became more co-operative with each other. I’d quite like it, but a lot wouldn’t. I have noticed though that for one of the dailies in the Court of Bones you are asked to free captives of either faction: those poor sods in cages. That’s another little inch towards what I’m talking about, isn’t it?

We also visited the Isle of Giants tonight, the new Jurassic Park of WoW. Love all the massive dinosaurs and tamed myself a couple on my Hunter. Pity they shrink like socks in the wash once you’ve tame them, but never mind. My only complaint is that the flying pterrorwings aren’t tameable. They look amazing and do turn up as temporary, secondary combat pets when your Hunter uses the Dire Beast skill. So why they’re not tameable I don’t know. The new dino non-combat pets were virtually spilling from the corpses of the dinomancer Trolls too. We all came away from the place with a nice haul of goodies, not least the dinosaur bones you have to collect to buy the white raptor mount there. I expect the drop rate for the mini pets will take a bashing very soon, so get them while you can. Best to go with at least one friend though, because all the mobs on the island are level 90-91 elites and pack a hefty punch. The immense Primal Devilsaurs do a lot of AOE damage, so it’s advisable to go with a fairly organised group if you want to take those on, including a tank and a healer. You don’t have to fight these big ones, and can avoid them, but one reason you might want to fight them is that they drop a lot more bones, and as you will need 9999 of them to get the mount, that’s as good a reason as any. There’s also a rare mob to be found on the boat that’s moored off the island. The boat has a big Devilsaur on the lower deck and an awful lot of dinomancer Trolls all through it before you even reach the rare. They respawn quickly too, and caused us inconvenience while we were fighting the Big Bad. Fun fight though, and this island is certainly worth a visit for Friday night fun.

For those not yet initiated into the mysteries of this island, it’s found off Kun Lai Summit, north of Zouchin Village. You can’t fly all the way there, and have to watch out for fatigue setting in once you’re unceremoniously thrown off your mount and dumped in the ocean, but it’s not too difficult to reach dry land before the fatigue kills you. If you have the Anglers’ Water Strider mount even better, or of course Death Knights can use their Path of Frost for themselves and team members to travel over water quickly.

I really love the new zones, and am looking forward to more of the Isle of Thunder opening up as time goes on. I especially love the Saurok quest area where you become a Saurok for the duration, along the lines of how we became Nagas in Vash’jir in Cataclysm. Only this transformation happens every day for your quests. And it’s not just one appearance either. You can have the big lizard ruff, or one of the metal masks they sometimes wear, or a fairly regular lizard face minus ruff or mask. There might be others, but so far have just noticed these three. The Saurok can leap miles and I mean really leap miles. Be careful when pressing the space bar to jump; you never know where you might end up. But they’re very agile so take no damage when falling off that mountain you just landed on. I defy anyone not to want these saurians as a playable race after doing these dailies. Try out some of the emotes on them; it’s great fun. They can’t dance, which we found really funny. If you type /dance, they stand up straight and look sort of stunned, as if they can’t bear the humiliation of dancing. But they can do quite a few of the emotes, such as /cower and /flex, both of which are hilarious. As I’ve written a story in which the Saurok make a kind of appearance, though somewhat changed and not called Saurok, (as it’s not a WoW story), I was delighted to find these quests. Just have a soft spot for the race and am really pleased they’re included in this way for players now.

So, 10/10 for the Isle of Thunder. I really look forward to going there and doing my dailies as and when I can. And it’s not often you’ll hear me saying that about dailies!

As I’ve already said, in a previous post, I tend to avoid PuG situations where I don’t know people. But tonight late on, being on my Horde characters, and on the whole finding Horde players somewhat more mature than those found in the sewers of Alliance PuGs, I thought I’d risk LFD on my level 41 Druid tank. I have a level 85 Druid tank on Alliance, so am used to playing the class. I thought it won’t be too much of a trial to do a lower level dungeon on this character: I know the class well, what can go wrong?

Enter: humans.

I found myself thrust into Dire Maul in the middle of a fight, literally. Their previous tank must have left in a hurry. Perhaps a bad sign? OK, got bearings, sorted it, recovered and fought. Told the group, it’s been a long time since I was here, guys, really can’t remember the way, and I know a lot has changed, so please guide if you do know it. Seemed to be no problem. No one actually answered, but also no one actually swore at me.  We went our way through the place, a rogue also saying he was not sure of the way, and we went to a place where something used to happen, but doesn’t now, but still all was good. Then there was this one team member. ‘Why aren’t you keeping up, tank? You are a slacker. FFS’. And so on. At first I said, jokingly, my bear’s legs were too short, I was too heavy, but humour simply bounced off this delightful player with no effect. I wasn’t deliberately slow, but this guy was zooming ahead like there was no tomorrow. After a few rather heated exchanges I just said, ‘look, you are rushing like this is the end of the world or something. Chill, maybe? Wait the 3 seconds for me to catch up?’ Then, after more abusive comments, I simply quit group with the remark to the silent other team members, who had elected not to stick up for me, or even to agree with my detractor: ‘really can’t play with adolescent males, cheers guys and good luck.’

I wouldn’t mind if I was crap as a tank. I’m not. I wouldn’t mind if I stood in the fire, did stupid things, pulled unwisely and all the rest of it. I am a competent tank. But being competent is not enough now. I didn’t rush fast enough in an instance I didn’t know. That was all.

All this just goes towards my opinion that Hell is Other People. I love MMOs. I actually do want to play with others, not all the time, but a good part of the time. If I had a lot to learn, fair enough, I’d be armouring my back for the abuse, but even if you know your class and perform well, it’s still not enough to ensure an easy, insult free run. Now I’m feeling like I won’t poke my head above the ramparts again and dare to PuG on my Horde tank. My thicker-skinned friends tell me I should ignore the occasional knob you get in PuGs, but sadly I find it hard. I want to enjoy playing, and you can never guarantee the team you end up with in a PuG comprises decent human beings. At least this recent event is pale in comparison to the one where I had to endure a whole instance of expletives against me because I tried to help a team member with an achievement.

But I’m still here, still playing. Our guild is tiny on Horde, so if I want to progress PuGs are the only way. I expect my skin will thicken again over the next few days and I might try again. Erm, this is supposed to be fun, a game you play for pleasure, right? I know what my Alliance guild mates will say. ‘Why the hell are you bothering?’ I’m bothering because I want to believe MMOs have more decent players than sociopaths. I want to believe we don’t have to exist in gated communities, i.e. guilds. But, by all the gods, it’s hard to keep that belief alive sometimes. Referring back to my earlier post: something has to change, surely?

On a more positive note, have seen the good side of Cross Realm intimacy tonight. Our guild went to Ironforge after our mount runs, and typical Friday night old raid stuff, because someone told us this city was open to Cross Realm. We found players from several different realms there, who were mostly pretty open to interacting, chatting, having fun. At one point we had a little camp of cooking fires, parasols, archaeology toys, other gizmos, and so on, with everyone dancing around them. Made a few new friends too. Really like this aspect of X Realm and hope it stays. Someone told us the quieter cities being X Realm is a bug that will be fixed, but I hope not. There are several things I really don’t like about X Realm, but this new sociable aspect in the quieter cities makes up for it. Hope it’s here to stay.

It’s quite obvious, when you talk to people who play MMOs, that a large percentage of them prefer solo content, unless they’re with people they already know and trust. Even when they do have a lot of friends in-game, quite often there will be times when they simply want to do their own thing, on their own. Many are glad when difficult content becomes soloable as they level and gear up and don’t have to team with others to conquer it, if they’re after mounts or achievements from such endeavours. I’ve seen the rather baffled objection, ‘but surely, if you play an MMO, a Massive Multi-Player online game, other people are part of the deal. If you don’t like playing with others, go play a solo game.’ But that’s missing the point.

I don’t like playing solo games. I actually enjoy being part of a dynamic, well-populated virtual world. I’m probably less tolerant of badly-behaved players than others might be, and I do tend to avoid situations where I have to be exposed to players I don’t know, in potentially volatile situations, such as pickup groups for dungeons. But conversely, I want to be playing in a world full of other people. Sometimes, I just don’t want to mix with them. It’s not as if, in real life, you do every single thing, every day, with everybody else on your street, is it? But it’d be pretty horrible (for most, anyway), if your house was the only one occupied on that street, or even in the neighbourhood, or the whole town… That would get pretty lonely to say the least.

The thing I dislike most about the majority of MMOs I’ve sampled is the aspect of ‘enforced teaming’, where in order to progress significantly you have no choice but to rely on the co-operation of other players in formally organised teams. But I have seen alternatives, in both Rift and Guild Wars 2, which demonstrate what could be a better way forward for MMOs. Rift didn’t and doesn’t have it down perfectly. The big public events were great when I first played the game, but they got old, simply because they don’t advance your character that much. To be able to tackle even the end game dailies (or some of them), you need dungeon or raid gear, which means taking part in formal team events, which inevitably require research, precise gearing etc etc and all the crap that comes with dipping your toes into PuG waters, never mind the time commitment. Unfortunately, the innovative public events that set Rift apart, and which anyone can join, don’t award much at all. I thought this was a great shame, and it’s contributed to me not playing Rift much anymore, simply because I don’t have time to raid in two games, nor even be part of an active guild in my secondary game. The end zone of Rift, the new island that was introduced in a content patch some time ago, is painful unless you have really good gear. All the mobs are two levels higher than max level for characters, and Rift mobs typically have a lot more bite than WoW mobs, even at equal level. Ouch. Other MMOs I dip into, I do for fun, on a very casual basis. WoW is where I raid and do more ‘serious stuff’. I don’t want that anywhere else. Some players don’t even want that in one game. They love playing MMOs, but they will never be raiders, and why should they be? The most ground-breaking MMO, should it ever appear, will not just revolve around raiding, which comparatively few players see.

So far in GW2 the public events seem better than in Rift. They are more like quests, or scenarios, rather than the Rift model of everyone just piling in and galloping across the landscape, killing various mob groups and bosses. There are objectives to follow, and you don’t even have to team with the others doing it as well. You can all help each other out, for example, by popping down a healing AoE, as my Ranger can, since I’m currently using that particular healing skill for him from a choice of a few. All characters get such choices. AoE effects heal allies, regardless of whether you’re teamed or not. It’s actually fun to join in, because there’s no stress about who’s tanking or healing, or how much dps anyone’s doing. It’s just a case of going for the objective, with as many or as few as you have with you and, from what I’ve perceived so far, the events seem to tailor themselves automatically, difficulty-wise, depending on how many are involved. While you don’t get gear rewards from such events, you do get karma points you can spend on buying gear from various NPCs, as well as fairly decent experience and cash. Quite often, completing the objectives will also help with a task you might be engaged in for an NPC; i.e. the mobs you might have to fight off will be the same as for the task you’re on. Two birds with one stone is always handy!

I really like this way of working. You can solo as much as you like, then take part in public events if you happen upon one, or you could spend an evening actively tracking them down – they are going on constantly throughout the world of Tyria. But it is down to choice. If you don’t feel like it, you don’t have to take part. Rift had this too, while levelling, but in that game the casual player does run into an immense progression wall at top level. Even though Instant Adventures were introduced, which were instanced scenarios for one to four (I think) players, frankly they are not soloable with the kind of gear I had. The cool thing about them was that you could join a queue, like LFD, to do them. When you joined the queue, there was a countdown to the adventure starting, and ideally others would be queuing too, so you’d have help to do them. An entire zone would be instanced for you, with several objectives to complete. Sadly, the few times I put myself in a queue to do them, I rarely had other people joining me, so it was just a pointless wipefest. The times I did have companions it was great fun. It’s a pity, but Rift’s population has declined significantly, I think. In a well-populated game like WoW those Instant Adventures would be great.

In Rift, playing at top level grinds to a halt, unless you’re willing to take the game more seriously and commit to the activities that are de rigeur for most MMOs at the moment: raiding and heroic dungeons (or the equivalent). I really think this has to change. I would go so far as to say that Rift has foundered – and perhaps others MMOs too – because it has designed itself primarily around raiding as end game content, presumably emulating WoW with its vast subscribership. But Rift has nowhere near the population of WoW to sustain it. As has been amply demonstrated, raiders comprise a minority of MMO gamers; they just happen to be the most vocal on the Internet. I’ve no doubt that if Rift had been less focused on this activity, and its small, non-raiding end game content had been less punishing for those who hadn’t got really good gear, (or could at least have worked for that gear through other means that weren’t rep grinds from hell), the cities would not be so dead now. (Just as a note, the rep grinds for factions was approximately twice what it is to reach exalted with one in WoW, and with rather meagre ways to earn it… outside of dungeons and raids, of course.) I believe that in any MMO, group activities should be there for those who enjoy doing them, but for the vast army of players who like to do things alone, teaming with others occasionally with no pressure, there should be other avenues at end game.

So far, in GW2, the gear I’ve bought with karma points gets better as you progress through higher level zones, although you do have to keep on top of it, and make sure you upgrade your gear by playing in zones appropriate to your level, otherwise your major ‘personal story’ instances become more challenging than perhaps they need to be. But if you do keep abreast of it, the gear in the zones seems to me to be the equivalent of dungeon gear in other MMOs. There is even, once out of your starter areas, two levels of gear to buy, one more expensive, and better, than the other. NPCs who give you tasks around the landscape will each offer a particular piece of gear. They’re not rewards. You buy them with karma points, which are bit like valor points, only gained through doing tasks and solo instances. Group instances only become available at level 36 – or so I’m told! The instances I’m doing at the moment (level 33 on my Ranger) are story-based, per character, and soloable, although I believe you can team with others of your class to do them. I’ve not tried that. I’ve treated GW2 rather like Diablo 3. Keep plugging at it, even if I wipe a bit!

The one thing that dynamic public events need to work is a healthy player base. If the zones are empty, they are useless. No one can solo the end parts of such events with elite mobs to fight. So while these dynamic events are a fantastic idea in a thriving realm, if numbers are down they are just redundant.

I know Blizzard is doing much to implement end-game-changing aspects in Mists, but until we play it, we won’t really know how successful that is. The bottom line is that raiders are a minority in any game, even if they tend to have the loudest voices on forums. While I personally love raiding in WoW, as I’m sure raiders in all other games love it as well, I don’t get why big teams should be the only way to go in MMOs. In real life, someone can work alone somewhere and produce an amazing invention that changes the world, or produce incredible art, or any number of world-enhancing things. It seems odd to me that in MMOs, virtual worlds that in many ways mimic reality, we are forced into certain ways of advancement. Surely, the most innovative virtual world will see beyond this. The whole model of MMOs at the moment breeds among players disrespect, resentment, anger, selfishness, and as many other bad traits as you might care to mention. It’s because of the way they’re designed, with competitive acquisition being the ultimate goal. There must be a way to encourage co-operation without all that fallout, so that people enjoy the company of strangers, and perhaps make new friends, rather than reach for the Ignore button with a weary sigh. Well, there are ways, such as Rift’s Instant Adventures, but you do need a healthy population for those. They are not about epeen, just teaming informally to have… well… adventures. What’s not to like?

Both Rift and Aion have solo and duo dungeons, which again are a great idea, but of course take resources to create. The proposed idea of Proving Grounds in WoW is equally good, should it see the light of day. As described by the developers, these will be solo events, tailored so that participants will be encouraged to use every aspect of their characters – perhaps even skills they didn’t even know they had. As it’s so easy to get to top level in WoW now without learning your class in the greatest of depth, this is a superb idea. What would make it perfect, in my opinion, is a tutorial mode for it, so that all those hapless newbies are given an easy version that introduces them to all those skills they never use. Once they’ve tried that, and emerge victorious, then throw the hard stuff at them. They should have the tools to tackle it then, even if it requires a lot of trial and error to succeed. Difficulty is fine, as long as the education is provided to help people deal with it. WoW doesn’t actually educate its players much at the moment. If Proving Grounds could be entered at different difficulties, top level players could test themselves there to see how they’re doing and newbie players could learn their class. These could be far more creative ways of testing your ability and judging whether your gear is appropriate than using training dummies. A far more interesting way to prepare yourself for other group activities, such as dungeons and raids, in that newbies could then approach such activities with more knowledge of how their class works, and therefore be less subject to abuse from the contingent of PuGs who are eager to criticise others. For veterans, they would simply be a way to judge how their characters are performing and perhaps to help with fine-tuning.

The best thing about MMOs is the fact you share the game with perhaps millions of others, but that is also the worst aspect of it. You can’t guarantee meeting the people you’d like to meet while playing. And everyone has different aspirations in a virtual world. Hell is other people. Too many with different goals, desires and requirements. I believe Blizzard is trying to address this difficult issue – let’s face it, it’s never going to be easily solvable – and I think NCsoft/ArenaNet are too. But there’s still a long road to travel.

As a businesswoman supplying a product, how would I feel if a small percentage of my customers came to me saying, ‘Due to changes you’ve made, your product is now appealing to more people than before and that’s not right. You’re just not listening to me! This is not what I want! You have to change your product back to what *I* want, or else I won’t buy it. I’ve stuck with your product for years. I invested more time in it. Why should others who haven’t invested that time be able to enjoy it as much as I do? They shouldn’t have that, and also I should have privileges. Give them to me now.’

The obvious answer to this of course, (accompanied by an appropriate flippant hand gesture), is ‘off you fuck, dear’, perhaps followed, (if they don’t go away), by a more measured response, ‘I’m running a business, I’m aiming to be successful. You don’t like my product? Too bad. Lots of others do. And no, you won’t be getting privileges. If anyone does, it’ll be the silent majority who simply buy and enjoy what I produce. Bye.’

I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of treatment from a small percentage of customers, and thank the gods (touch wood) I’ve never had to, but this is the situation I’m seeing when, on my Internet ‘car crash spectator’ journeys, I stumble across Blizzard community managers attempting on official forums to deal with the entitled swarm of mannerless nincompoops who are invading these forums to complain about the current and forthcoming changes to WoW. You know, those changes that make more people get to enjoy more of the game? Really bad thing, obviously. It’s best to make people pay a monthly sub to look through a window at a wonderland they’ll never visit. That’s a popular leisure activity, I understand.

What amazes me, and in fact produces awe, is that the community managers don’t turn round and tell these idiots where to go. They are polite and measured. They ‘listen’ and respond with far more respect than is deserved. If it was my business, knowing these complainers are only a minority of my customer base, I probably wouldn’t respond at all, or if I did it would be with the sharp edge of my tongue. Perhaps Blizzard community managers are all on calming medication, or have undertaken rigorous personality tests before they’re let loose in the job. I just couldn’t be that polite to such … well words fail me, or rather civil ones do.

I was told a lovely fact by a guildie tonight. It involved the whole casual vs hardcore conflict, which centres around such sublime assertions that Naxxramas 40 was a great idea; you know, that old raid only 1% of players got to see? 1% of players back when Naxx original was current was around 30,000 – 40,000 people. It’s amazing that the current 1%, i.e. around 90,000 players, laments the loss of this raid they so enjoyed. Hmmm. I’m no mathematician but… The fact is, the figures are bogus anyway. Of that 1% playing in Vanilla WoW, and who raided, how many of those are still raiding now? We can only assume that at least some of them have left the game.

I can only come to the conclusion that a lot of these people sounding off on forums, about WoW dumbing down/becoming too easy/selling out, and being rude and disrespectful to the patient Blizzard community managers, don’t actually attempt (nor ever did attempt) the hardest content themselves. They just like the idea of doing so, spouting off about it makes them look cool, or so they believe, and let’s face it, on a forum no one can tell what you might or might not have achieved within the game.

There are some things that Blizzard does to WoW that I don’t like, and there are other things that I really do like. But at the end of the day, it’s their product, and they are free to do with it what they will. As long as I’m getting pleasure from it, Blizzard will continue to get my subs. If a day should come when that changes, I’ll take my money somewhere else, but I certainly won’t be bleating on a forum, or making videos to display on You Tube, demanding that a successful company should change their product to suit me. I just can’t dispel the nagging suspicion that the majority of people who genuinely go off WoW, or become disappointed with its direction, simply leave the game quietly and do something else that pleases them more. What we are seeing in this tiresomely raw red maw of complaints at the moment isn’t that at all. Is it.