Back when I was a mid-30′s scrub serving my enlistment in the Argent Dawn, my squad got reassigned to Silithus. No, not in the battle taking place there, but as support, and by support I mean scrubs – we scrubbed things, we cleaned, we picked up the grounds, we groomed the horses – anything that needed done around camp while the "real heroes" went out and gathered Slithyst.
We were the first such scrub division sent there. Things were pretty rough in camp before we got there – they were even using latrines and eating out in the open. We brought tents, lumber, craftsmen, and, most importantly, good Dwarven outhouses. I guess you could say we were among the first to post a head in Silithus.
Among the duties we had, none was more loathsome than working in the mess tent. Nobody liked the scullery, nobody liked food prep, nobody liked provisioning, and, most loathsome, nobody liked to cook.
Whoever got the job usually took it out on his mates by making the most horrific food of all time. It was terrible. We’re talking goblin water … dog-bottom pie … basilisk gizzards … I mean, it was terrible!
It was so bad that they had to decree that whoever complained the most about the food would get stuck with the job.
Yep. You guessed it. That was me. Ol’ Crockolisk Mouth. On one fine evening I bit into a Silithid egg tart that was still squirming, and could take no more. I let loose with a torrent of abuse that brought me to the attention of the archbishop later on. The local authorities were no less annoyed. "Okay, smart guy", they said. "You do the cooking, see what YOU can do!"
Well, like those before me, I set about the task of getting out of the job. All I had to do was get somebody else to complain about my cooking, and I’d be out of the kitchen.
I went out into the wilderness and scouted for something suitable, and wandered by a pen full of Kodos we had captured up in the Barrens on our way down from Ratchet. As I watched these huge beasts, one of them let loose with what kodos do best. As it splattered on the ground, it caused a miniature gust of rancid wind, and I had a great idea – I’d make them some Kodo Turd pie!
So I fetched a pail and a shovel and a clothespin for my nose – the Light wouldn’t help me on this nefarious task – and gathered up my mats. There was plenty there, enough for several pies, and it was ripe – a real steamer!
I got back to the kitchen and did the deed – nice flakey crust, whipped creamy topping, festive dates and pecans to give the pies an allure that belied what they were.
And then it was supper time.
The dinner bell went off and the scrubs came piling in. One sergeant – a veteran of the Silver Hand, I think – went straight for desert and grabbed him a nice big slice of pie. He plopped himself down like a fool on the stool, and took a big bite. His eyes bulged out and he leaped to his feet!
"BY THE LIGHT!", he cried, "THAT’S KODO-TURD PIE!!"
Everybody turned to look at him … he took a deep breath …
"It’s good, though," he said meekly, and sat back down.
I was stuck with the cook’s job for six months. I still won’t speak to the man.
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The Godmother mused on anonymity in the game space, and Matty riffed on it some more vis-à-vis our virtual personas. You should go read them. Go ahead. I’ll be here. I’m just a digital amalgam of personality traits and pixels.
… or am I?
An underlying theme of this sort of discussion is that games like WoW affords one anonymity, and they feel emboldened to therefore do many terrible things to people around them. In short, griefers.
This is well summarized in Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, captured so well on Penny Arcade.
I want to focus on that so-called "normal person" for a moment.
What is it about The Internets and a venue that creates this "fuckwad" shell around that person?
If you answered "nothing", you win the prize.
One is never truly anonymous on the internets. One is merely hoping not to be discovered.
In other words, that "normal" person is in fact a total fuckwad, and he just found the means to express himself in a manner that he felt he could get away with.
None of us is truly anonymous. We can change our names, address, even our appearance, but we are still who we are. If we act up on the internets, well, that’s us. Pure and simple.
You are everything you do, and that includes the time you were a total douchebag to the loser in the starting zone on the Azuremyst realm.
You may be the greatest raider of all time. You may lead your guild in an exemplary manner and your guildies may gather once a month to sing songs of praise about you. You may write blog posts that make Glenn Greenwald weep with envy.
But that time you were a dick to a baby space goat … that’s with you for life.
Nobody else may know, but you will.
And it’s not your virtual presentation that gets sullied with this. No, it’s the real, elemental, essential you that has to carry this around.
The same applies to those griefers out there.
They go day to day being "normal" people, but at night when they think nobody knows them, they’re being total assholes. And that, too, is "normal" for them.
This talk of the duality of the online and offline personality sometimes gets carried away. At the end of the day, the online personality is actually the offline person, wearing a pixel suit. I’m not a max-level dwarven hunter. I’m a middle-aged out of work software tester that also plays several other characters, some of them female, on the same game system. None of them is me, and yet all of them are within me, come from me, and are expressions of the essential me.
This isn’t a matter of people "becoming" dickwads. This is a matter of people letting their inner dickwad – the part of them that they were too timid or sensible to let real-life people see – out to play, to be a sadistic, brutish bully. To be a rat bastard. To be an illiterate schmuck.
We don’t act this way in real life because we will be held accountable. Ideas of an improved accountability system should be explored and implemented if we want to see this game improved as a social entity.
[KNOCK AT DOOR]
/Bob opens door.
Man at door: "Are you PunchyBooBoo?"
Bob: "Um …"
MaD: "PunchyBooBoo the warrior?"
BoB: "Um, well, …"
MaD: "PuchyBooBoo the Orc warrior on Medivh realm?"
BoB: "Yes, that’s m –"
/Man at Door punches Bob in the face
MaD: "THAT’S FOR MAKING MY LITTLE SISTER CRY, YOU SADISTIC BASTARD."
[A FEW HOURS LATER]
[KNOCK AT DOOR]
/Bob opens door
Another Man at door: Are you PunchyBooBoo the Orc Warrior?
Bob: MOM, IT’S FOR YOU!
Wouldn’t that be grand.
Any time you think you can get away with something awful is a test of your character. Maybe it’s a twenty dollar bill that dropped from a man’s coat as he rushed past you … you can keep it, he’ll never know. You found an exploit in the game that lets you use engineer’s grenades as construction devices. Somebody accidentally lists a 10,000 gp staff for 10 gp. You find a lone flagged low-level Hordie in your territory.
This is your time to shine; do the right thing, and all you’ll probably get from it is a sense of accomplishment. But karmic debt has been repaid, if you believe in such things.
Everything we do in the "real" world and all the "virtual" worlds are just expressions of our true selves. There is no true anonymity. Just opportunities to temporarily avoid the effects of your actions. Eventually, you must pay the toll.
Exact change, please.
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Every now an then I have to spring Illume out of the glyph shop and drag her around the countryside to remind her what it looks like. I don’t mind this, I consider this a service to her and the people around her. She still doesn’t seem to appreciate it. Like that’s ever stopped me.
On this occasion we were tromping around the ruins in Shadowmoon Valley, just for old times’ sake. Since it was a special occasion, I let all the demons out to play around. To you and me, it’s a burned out wilderness burning with Fel energies. To them, it’s Disneyland.
We were sitting around the campfire, enjoying a few moments of relative quiet, when Illume broke out laughing. Looking over my shoulder, I saw why. My imp, Fuzzbutt, was running by wielding a whip and cackling manically. After a moment, he was followed by my succubus, Bronwyn, waving her fist in the air and cursing in a language few on Azeroth or Draenor have ever heard without bursting into flames. I’d forgotten how much Fuzzbutt loved to torment her.
I let out a heavy sigh and Illume looked concerned.
“Something wrong, Flora?”
“Nope,” I sighed again. “Just one damned thing after another.”
Illume didn’t speak to me for a month.
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(Fifty quatloos to the person that knows where that title came from – no cheating with Google!)
It is with a heavy heart we report the retirement of Warcraft Hunters Union and Frostheim’s time at the blogging wheel.
You could kind of see it coming; entries there were light at best. There was no MoP Hunter Guides for many months after the expansion went live. It was getting a bit dusty and tatty around the edges.
But there was a robust and active culture of fellow hunters there that just couldn’t be beat.
He and I didn’t always agree on things. But, you can’t really engage as a writer without, as he says, having an opinion. He’s no BRK, and thus sometimes his opinions were delivered with a bit less subtlety and a lot more noise. Then again, nobody ever WILL be BRK, just as there will never be another Frostheim.
I’m not sure where our next premier site of Hunter Goodness will be. What I do know is that the Hunter class is just too awesome not to have one before too long.
I’ll see you there when that happens, and we might even bump into ol’ Frosty.
Stoke me a clipper.
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By now, if you’re dedicated enough to read even this blog, you’ve seen this announcement from Activision / Blizzard. To wit: Activision / Blizzard has bought its financial independence from its corporate masters, Vivendi Universal.
I’d like to point out a few things.
First of all, note that it’s still Activision / Blizzard. Not just Blizz. Blizz is still joined to Activision via a cash-transporting umbilical cord. The pernicious influence of Activision and Bobby Kotick is still very much an active part of Blizzard’s future. Vivendi didn’t once enter into things, but Activision, well, that’s a very active threat to Blizzard’s moral well-being, and has been. I have no idea if they’ve managed to hold the line against the darkness over there at Pasadena, but here’s hoping they can continue, if so.
Second of all: I don’t care who they are, if they were valuated at EIGHT BEEEELYUN dollars and have over THREE BEEELYUN in cash reserves after that, they are not an "indie" company, any more than EA is. "Independent" and "indie" really mean two different things, and the people calling the A/B monstrosity "indie" should be hauled through the internet into 4chan by their lower lip and left there to suffer. Independent is fine. Indie is not.
Finally, this should send chills through anyone’s heart:
"The transactions announced today will allow us to take advantage of attractive financing markets while still retaining more than $3 billion cash on hand to preserve financial stability."
– Bobby Kotick
"Attractive financing markets" sounds suspiciously like "we’re going to invest our capital in things other than producing games." There’s an accountant in there somewhere urging little Bobby to put cash on derivatives or something.
Well, I hope not. But anything that is other than a direct investment in the game studios’ health is a misuse of funds, in my opinion.
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
– Mark Twain, who attributed to Benjamin Disraeli
You may have also noticed that in the same conference, they quietly released the subscriber numbers for 2013Q2. Aaaand the numbers are down again, down to 7.7 subs, which haven’t been that low since before BC launched..
These are based off of Blizzard’s reported subscription numbers, and represent roughly the paying player base – though the numbers leading up to MoP are probably artificially inflated by the annual pass numbers – though they seem to be interested in good-faith estimates, so maybe they’re based off of active logins or something.
But the interesting thing is, as you can see, the numbers form a bit of a bell-curve formation. If you fit a trend line to this, you end up somewhere between 2015 and 2017 for the day that the final WoW player logs out of Azeroth, never to return. This is of course not a real date, because this would never happen – Blizz would pull the plug at 100 players, obviously, and they’d all log off at once. Or something like that.
The variation on the curve depends on whether you take the whole data set, or start at 2010Q4 when WoW was peaked. One is an overall dataset, one is just a map of the decreasing trend. Take your pick, but I tend to favor the latter because it takes less of old and obsolete data into account. The fact that it yields the more favorable 2017 date has nothing to do with it.
Something else jumps out if you cook the data in a different manner.
This is a chart explicitly showing gains and losses, rather than just bulk numbers. Here are things about this chart.
- Up through the start of Wrath, the rate of growth was flat; that is to say, the numbers kept growing, but at a more or less steady rate – no glitches that weren’t understood.
- One of those understood glitches was the start of BC, when we got what is now considered the traditional "expansion bump". We see this throughout the game’s history.
- Sub data for most of Wrath is missing. In that gap there IS one quarter reported, and it had zero growth on the previous quarter (11.5 mil).
- From the start of Cataclysm, it’s been more or less a steady down trend, though I caution that the biggest down spikes are outnumbered by lesser down spikes (or one upward).
- But the data do suggest a pretty profound downslope, nonetheless.
It’s also impossible to say when Blizz started to sweat the losses. The huge gaps in the Wrath period reveal nothing. Maybe they saw a down trend at that point and decided to start compensating by nerfing up the game in Cata. Or maybe they thought of nerfing up the game as part of a grand strategy that started to be realized in Cata.
Either way, it’s pretty obvious where the decline really starts to gather momentum. So what are the possible reasons for this? Here are some possibilities.
- Players are getting bored and just come back for the new content. This seems like it would be a more gentle downturn, with sharper uptake and more gentle dropoff in between expansion lines. And we do see some of this, but it’s not the overarching pattern.
- Players don’t like the changes to the game’s difficulty. i.e. "Azeroth has been nerfed!"
- Players hate casuals. This goes with the above. Sure, I’m part of the quested-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways crowd at times, but I don’t begrudge others the less difficult climb. I don’t need others to suffer to feel better about myself. But the haters, the ones that hate "casuals", well, if I hadn’t seen it myself I would say it was impossible for people like that to exist, but they do. WoW has its own virtual Civil Rights movement, in which the haters are played by Archie Bunker and the "casuals" are played by, well, actual people. More on this anon.
- Other games have come online that are clearly as good or better. I don’t know about better, but many have come online that might be as good in many ways. I’ve personally experienced Eve and Neverwinter and feel both hold up well. Where they don’t hold up is the people, in that the people I like to hang with aren’t in those games. I’m such a camp follower. And STWOR came out right in the middle of that big decline, so it’s not so much a "trigger".
- Free to play games! This too is a big one, and probably one of the biggest. Back when WoW came out, you could pay money to Sony or to Blizzard to get your fantasy on; these days, fantasy MMORPGs are all over the place, and free-to-play. Neverwinter, Rift, Aion, GW2, and more are out there just waiting for you to download a free client or buy one and then play for free. Even STOWR made the transition (not very well, I hear.). More on this in a minute, as well.
- WoW is old and crufty. Well, that’s about as subjective as it gets. I’ve played other games that have "better" graphics and I can’t really say there’s a lot going on there. I will say the armor and weapon models are, a lot of times, a lot more interesting to look at. The toons – player and NPC – however often hit that "uncanny valley" of near-realism that just turns off the brain. WoW makes no pretenses about how it chose to depict its characters, and it’s paid off again and again. Just … hurry up with those player model improvements, guys? Thanks.
So there’s two things I want to focus on.
The Nerfing of Azeroth
Over time, Blizzard has done a lot to nerf things in the game. I’ve generally felt it was a bad idea.
This harks to the recent Blog Azeroth shared topic of "is leveling too easy?". A lot of people confused "too easy" with "easier". Can we agree that the two aren’t equivalent? Yes? Good. Let’s proceed.
If you accept that "easier" and "too easy" aren’t the same thing, then you won’t feel locked into asserting that leveling in Azeroth is NOT "too easy" but it IS "easier". I can think of dozens of examples.
- Mor’ladim is a joke compared to his past self, who terrorized the Raven Hill cemetery with an iron fist. You always had to work your questing around his whereabouts or suffer the consequences. And don’t give me any guff about "it’s subjective". He was an elite.
- Stitches‘ epic journey from Raven Hill to Darkshire put terror into the hearts of travelers. Many’s the time I stopped to help someone else bring him down. Also many’s the time I hid to one side of the road until he passed. You needed a group; now the game supplies you with one.
- That horrendous run from Menethil to Ironforge so you could take the tram to Stormwind if you were an Night Elf or Draenai.
- That horrendous run to Booty Bay. Back then there wasn’t a Rebel Camp with a gryphon. And, as I found out on my first outing, even the grass was deadly.
- Even Princess was painful.
- You didn’t just waltz into the area outside of an instance; it was full of elites. People forget how terrifying it was to go into Deadmines the first time to do that quest for the miner’s guild.
These were all painful rites of passage that those of us that leveled up in early WoW remember and understand. They are all gone the way of the dodo, either because of new flight points, or new boats, or nerfed zones, or even nerfed NPCs. There are hundreds more examples like this, things that are absolutely, indisputably easier than they were prior to Cata. Anyone that says it’s just my experience in the game making it SEEM that way isn’t thinking it all the way through. There were real challenges that simply aren’t around anymore.
The question of whether it is too easy is another matter because it addresses Blizzard’s actual decision to make the leveling game go easier at lower levels. Starting as far back as Wrath, maybe sooner, they started taking the starch out of expansion zones as we got near the end of the expansion. A journey that might take you all the way to Storm Peaks at the start of Wrath, for example, might end somewhere in Sholazar – if you got that far, even! Faiella managed to get to 80 in Dragonblight.
Did they go too far? There is a fine line between challenge and chore; did they cross it? That’s at the heart and soul of this issue, I think.
When they redesigned Azeroth for Cataclysm, many zones were reworked completely – quests redone, levels changed, elites nerfed, and so forth. And yet people felt like they were on a conveyor belt; you couldn’t start quests at hub "B" until you finished all the ones at "A" and were directed to "B".
My feelings are that they went too far, and did a poor job on the redesign of Azeroth, and that this legacy has carried forth into other aspects of the game, including MoP.
They’re *trying* to understand user feedback, but I think they’re letting their game designer’s instincts be subverted by management’s insistence that they "make the game more accessible", and it’s backfiring because people don’t want to be spoon-fed stuff. After all, if you just want to look at the assets, there are tools that let you do that without actually playing!
Here’s an example of a designer going against what he knows is right; flying mounts take you out of the world and make you an observer of, rather than a part of, that world. When he speaks elsewhere of the importance of "exploration", he’s referring not to the act of flying all over the place to clear areas of the map – that’s "mapping" – but being down in the world’s nooks and crannies and discovering things about it.
Granted you can’t currently fly in a zone until you hit max level. But even that’s an arbitrary rule imposed to overcome the hinkyness of being able to just fly all over the place. It was a bad idea in BC, it was a hakneyed idea in Wrath, and it was a hideous idea in Cata, so now that we’re in MoP, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to get it one way or another.
When we played one of the old Gold Box or Black Box series, exploration – the peering into corners, the poking at things and the pulling of levers were integral parts of the games. This is part of what made them fun. Games without a few dead ends and red herrings were generally received with a gigantic yawn.
Blizzard game designers know this, but in an attempt to make the game "more accessible", some of this aura of mystery and magic may have been lost.
I think that if they plan to turn things around, they may have to address this. Put back some of the danger. Make a few things not pan out exactly the way the user wants. Require a little bit of effort in some (non-critical) places. Give people a reason to want to explore places like Winterspring, which is otherwise pretty useless since nobody ever sees it.
Answering the Threat
The one-two punch of new and prettier games, along with the F2P model, are another concern, and one which I think Blizz is dealing with.
Improvements to the gaming assets – character models, scenery, and so forth – have been taking places incrementally since Vanilla. But to many, that’s not good enough. They look at the character models presented in Neverwinter, for example, and complain that "all they have to do" is add some polygons.
But overall, I don’t think anything major will happen in WoW concerning the game engine. They’re working hard on "Titan" for the next big thing, but since it’s been set back, don’t look there for help.
For good or ill, we’re going to have to make do with incremental improvements in our game assets until WoW is sunsetted.
The other threat is the F2P model.
Early on, F2P pretty much meant "free to play but don’t expect much in the way of updates". I encountered F2P first in Anarchy Online, which is still going strong on that model – well, as strong as an out of date game can go strong.
The advantages of F2P is that the barrier to entry is pretty low. All you need is a game client and an internet connection. In some cases you have to pay for the client, but that’s a one-time expenditure that few would argue with. Others will even give you the client for free. Some have turned that around and give you the client but charge you to play – we won’t talk about them for now, they’re small and okay with that.
How does a F2P game keep the servers running? Well, there are a few ways, such as ads in-game (I first saw this in AO), and, and … well, there’s the "cash shop".
The "cash shop" is usually an external web site that you go to to purchase items to use in-game. In most cases you buy currency, then use that currency in-game, such as "Zen" in Neverwinter. For the most part you can only purchase cosmetic and non-game-changing items, though in some very poorly implemented instances, that’s not necessarily true.
So what have we seen implemented recently? A cash shop.
I know dozens of bloggers and opinionators have said that Blizzard would never go F2P. I have never heard anyone from Blizzard say that.
WoW is Blizzard’s "cash cow". For those that have never heard of such a thing, a "cash cow" is something that’s not really top of the line, but keeps bringing in money in a reliable stream. So you keep "milking" it until it runs dry. For example, at one place that Grimmtooth Actual worked, he worked on a lot of bleeding edge server systems, but over in a dark corner was a guy named "Dave" that worked on some pretty archaic looking stuff. He explained, while it was far from state of the art, it was being used by thousands of banks across the world, and any time one broke down, they needed a replacement. So he was the guy that farmed our cash cow while we went and burned off that money with our splashy R&D.
So WoW’s kinda like that right now. And Blizz wants to keep that cash cow on the farm for as long as possible. With today’s numbers, that’s over 100 million bucks a month of solid income. At TWO million players it’s 30 million a month, so even that can’t be sneezed at – would it actually cost that much to keep the servers up?
Unfortunately, that’s where I run out of steam, sort of. I have no idea of what kind of numbers a big F2P title brings in. I don’t even know how to guess. SWTOR claims that shifting to F2P "doubled" its income, but given its draconian implementation, let’s hope for better if WoW ever goes that route.
At the moment I think it’s likely they will, especially since the wait for "Titan" is probably going to be well past 2015, and possibly even 2017.
The question becomes, then: will I play an F2P WoW?
It’s going to depend on the implementation. A Neverwinter-like implementation MIGHT work, assuming the restrictions aren’t too annoying. One like SWTOR would see me drop out in a hurry, however.
At the moment we can only hope for the best.
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I love it when bloggers post search terms that brought people to their website, and express awe / incredulity / outrage / amusement at the outlandish terms that often bring people to them.
But what of the spammers? Nobody loves them, and yet they submit such masterful examples of the language – whatever it might be.
So, to be different, let’s share.
I do not even know the way I ended up here, however I believed this put up was once great.
Yes, our heyday is long past, and now we’re wallowing in mediocrity.
I do not recognize who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already. Cheers!
I once almost met BRK in real life, this is true. Perhaps there is another famous blogger I will go to someday. Ratters, you up for a double date?
This write-up very pressured me to check out and do so!
That write-up pressured me to check out as well.
Your writing style has been amazed me.
Again, clearly we’re past our prime. All but called has-beens!
You recognize therefore significantly with regards to this topic, made me in my view imagine it from numerous various angles.
I am imagining several angles as well, trying to parse this one.
Your individual stuffs excellent. At all times handle it up!
If you don’t handle it up, you won’t get gas.
I am sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you to your sweat!
My sweat says "your welcome". My sweat is trolling.
I’ve added a rotating wall of spam to the blog. Don’t tell Grimm, let’s see how long it takes him to notice!
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For one that knows where to look, Stormwind has something for every appetite, things that would make a pimp in Booty Bay blush, even. In the past it was a lot easier, truth be told, but even after Good King Varian came along and asserted himself, there is perversion and skullduggery a-plenty, some of it even under his nose – the departure of Miz Prestor did not flush out all of the corruption in the royal court.
Even before, a general nexus of seediness existed in and about The Slaughtered Lamb, where the Warlock Council orbited, and the criminal underground’s diminutive overlord, Milo Oddcog, pulled on strings from the dark corners.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to go there, as I came close to setting Milo on fire last time we crossed. I think he knew that, since the note left at the dead drop in Halfhill told me to go to the Shady Lady and see the bartender there, rather than my usual chat in his office.
Fine by me. His place always has a whiff of sulphur about it.
Not that the Shady Lady is much better.
I rolled in to Stormwind early enough to beat the nightcrawlers out of their pits, but not so early as to be accused of being a morning person.
It was good to be back. A faint haze of wood and coal smoke hovered over the place, giving it a dreamy quality that held up until you flew into that haze and tried to breathe.
Viewed from the rooftops it looked like the kind of place the Priests and Paladins told you it was. Getting down to the ground, it took on a whole new character; a busy metropolis filled with people trying to get things done, whether it was banking, buying, selling, stealing, or begging.
Raiders posed and preened on the bank steps, blocking the guards’ view of the courtyard below. I decided to blow a charge of my precious cache of Baby Spice. I walked away with the sound of guffaws fading behind me (and one outraged yelp). Waste not, want not.
Good form is to stop by the Lamb to check in, but the thought that that insufferable Gnome might already be up and poking around sent me the other way, to my assigned rendezvous.
It’s a nice walk, along the canals, just taking it all in; Stormwind is above all other things vital, alive. Children running through the streets, vendors hawking their wares, adventurers selling off their booty. There’s an energy here that makes you feel alive.
The acrid smell of coal burning gives me a general idea that I’m getting close to the Dwarven District. When I walk into The Shady Lady, a whole new selection of scents assaults my nose – stale ale, half-burned tobacco, mostly-cooked meals. This is just the sort of place Milo would send me, the bastard.
The bartender barely looks up when I belly up to the bar and order a cider – reasoning that’s the least vile drink they serve here. I drop one of Milo’s tokens with my payment, and that gets his notice.
"Yarp. Milo said you knew someone."
"Corner table, next to the stairs."
Grabbing my drink, I made my way to the table, watching the local "color" for any red flags. Fortunately, it’s early enough that the serious lushes aren’t up and about yet, but that leaves a more dangerous form of scum to deal with, and they’re less likely to miss an opportunity.
Sitting down at the table, I scan around for the likely candidate. Nobody seemed to be moving towards the table, so I wonder if I have the wrong one.
"My eyes are down here." A scratchy voice that can only belong to a Dwarf comes from across the table. Readjusting my gaze – how embarassing! – I realize there’s a Dwarf sitting opposite me He’s wearing a wide brimmed hat, and has a well-worn stogie clenched in his teeth, but even in the dingy lighting of the Lady, the glowing red eyes clearly show that I’m talking to a Dark Iron.
"Wow, I didn’t realize Milo had branched out into comedy."
"Watch your mouth, lady. Dark Irons are part of the Alliance now, like it or not. We’re not too pleased about it ourselves, but it is what it is. I was told you were a professional."
Sigh. "Fair enough. Just wish he’d've warned me." Milo, I’m gonna kill you. THEN set you on fire. "What’s on your mind, aside from amicable diversity?"
He grinned. Even in this lighting, it was a bit unsettling. "Good. Down to business."
He quaffed a bit of I knew not what, and began.
"When we left Shadowforge City I was caught outside the city and never had a chance to gather my belongings. Most of it can be replaced, but one item is special and has great sentimental value. It’s a wand, it’s special to me, and I want it back."
"Why didn’t you go back and get it?"
"Those of us that followed the Empress to Ironforge were put on notice. We’re not welcome back, and by ‘not welcome’ they mean ‘shoot on sight.’ So I need someone capable to get in without, in fact, being shot. And getting back out with the prize."
"What makes you certain it’s still at your place?"
"Oh, it’s not. I have friends on the inside, and they mapped out where it’s at for me. And that’s the other kink in the line."
"Oh, tell me, I can’t wait."
"It was claimed by the chief warlock that remained. It’s been locked up in her vault since then – she doesn’t use it, as it’s not that powerful in anyone’s hands but my own. The catch is, it’s in a place that only a Warlock can get into without raising an alarm. I don’t want an alarm. You’ll probably not get out if there is one, and they might trace this back to me – and I’d rather not find out if we have any Shadowforge spies in Ironforge in that particular way."
"Here’s a map, a drawing of the case, a drawing of the wand. Are you in?"
A job’s a job. "Sure, let’s settle on price."
He grinned, and offered me a stogie. "Great. Name’s Jenkins."
"Any relation to Leroy?"
He made a face. "Jenkins Direflame."
Getting into the depths of Blackrock was a bit easier than it used to be. The fall of the Emperor and the subsequent departure of the Empress had shifted things somewhat, and not always to the better. There were new ways into the city, and some of the old ways were forever closed. The map I had didn’t help with that, since it assumed that I could get to the Grim Guzzler myself, and at that point I could start following it.
The Guzzler’s patrons were, as usual, indifferent to the presence of a Human in their midst. Well, except for Nagmara, who gave me a wide berth. She knew a warlock when she smelled one, and wasn’t buying what I was selling.
The map took me in a direction I’d never been in the city. Usually, I was looking for a way to the throne room. This time, I was headed to a part of the city that, to be honest, had a very comfortable vibe to it, but which would have been described by anyone that wasn’t a Warlock as "foreboding", "dark", "brooding". Seemed like I was headed the right way.
There were patrols to avoid, but plenty of warning and plenty of places to hide. I cursed that I hadn’t worn my black velvet robes just this once; besides being warm in this dank cavern, they’d be decent camouflage.
There were a few casualties, but no alarms. At least, not yet.
I eventually made it to the vault, which had cheery green lighting, making everything look like it was on Draenor. I closed the door most of the way, but wedged it slightly open so as to not become part of the treasures therein.
First rule of vault-raiding: always make sure there’s a way back out.
Second rule of vault-raiding: don’t get distracted.
There were treasures a-plenty in here, and truth be told plenty to tempt even myself. But years of retrieving items for people have taught me that keeping focused on the objective is important. Start window-shopping, and something nasty usually catches you with your hand in the fel cookie jar.
Scanning the shelves, I spotted the case that Jenkins described. It was locked, as expected, but the combination he gave me (667 – "The neighbor of the Beast", he said cryptically. How odd.) popped it right open. The wand itself was within, in fine condition.
I jumped maybe ten feet straight up and scanned the room frantically.
"Hello?", I ventured, hoping to buy some time.
"I’m right here."
I looked about. Nothing.
"In the case."
I looked down at the wand.
"Aye, ya git! right here!"
"Um, you’re the wand?"
"Aye! How can someone so tall be so dumb? Are ye an ogre?"
"No, I’m –" deep breath; "I’m sorry, do you have a name?"
"Aye! I’m Wanda!"
"Yes, you’re a wand. Do you have a name?"
"My. Name. Is. Wanda! Are ye thick?"
"Oh! Okay, Wanda. Sorry about that." Jenkins hadn’t mentioned that his bauble could talk. Something that was going to cost him.
I started to place the wand in my bag. "I wouldna do that if I were you."
"And why not?"
"I’d have to give the alarm! You canna just come in here and steal things anytime ye want, ya know!"
"Aye, then put me back in my case."
I put her back in the case and closed it.
"And don’t cheat and put the case in the bag."
I could hear her clear as a bell. So much for that idea.
"Listen, I can’t let you give the alarm."
"Then put me back on the shelf and leave this place."
"Well we have an impasse, then."
"I don’t normally threaten inanimate objects, but I may make an exception in your case."
"Oooo, how scary! But why would you do that, if you wanted ta steal me, I wonder? Destroyin’ an item ya came here ta steal – now that’s daft!"
"Ever been through the insides of a Felguard? I could have mine swallow you and let you enjoy a slow drift through the alimentary canal. I’m sure you’ll wash up nicely, and I doubt anyone would hear you."
"Might ye be knowin’ what effects I have? Shadow? Flame, Fel Flame? Maybe I shoot bouquets of Peacebloom, so that wouldna hurt your wee Felguard. But that’s a gamble, isn’t it?"
Had me there. Wait …
"Apparently that case is proof against whatever you do."
"Aye, it is. And can your wee beastie swallow the case?"
"He – " Damn. No, he couldn’t.
Thinking for a moment, I remembered seeing some sort of sleeping quarters just a couple of rooms down. "Wait right here."
A couple of minutes later, I was back with a pillow from one of the beds. Slitting the end open, I stuffed the case with Wanda in it into the innards of the pillow, then tied it shut.
"Can you hear me, Wanda?"
"MY CMMAH HRR ROO"
I’m sorry, Wanda, I can’t really hear you that well."
"MM SOO GMMA GBBA AWMM"
"Be my guest."
"AWWMWM! MMM BMM STWM!"
I peered out the door, up the hall, down the hall. Not a creature stirring.
"Sorry, Wanda, nobody can hear you."
"LLL GTTCHOO FRRR DSSS"
The trip back out was pretty much the same as the trip in, except fewer casualties since nobody had noticed the ones I had left earlier. Looked like I was going to make it.
That is, until I set foot back in the Grim Guzzler. One of the patrons popped up from her bench and pointed at me.
"HER! SHE’S THE ONE STEALING OUR PILLOWS!!"
Oh, bother. I’d forgotten about that.
I reached into the pillow, grasped Wanda’s case tightly, and pulled the other end of the pillow real hard. In a flurry of down feathers, I headed out towards the exit as fast as I could, summoning a Felguard as I did. Kil’jaden’s Cunning, don’t fail me now!
As I headed out the way I’d come, Wanda was egging my pursuers on.
"Hey, did ya know she stole a wand from the Warlock’s Vault as well? Aye, that’s me! I’m sure there’s a big reward to the one that brings me back!"
"Shut up, Wanda! I’m not stealing you! I’m retrieving you!"
"Aye, that’s what the others said, too."
"Oh, shut it."
"You go that way? That’s a lot slower! I’m sure they’ll catch you now!"
"Very funny. The other way leads to a chasm of lava."
"Oooo, so sorry. Maybe I’d survive that."
"You’re lucky somebody wants you intact."
"Aye, that’s a kindness. Not sure they want you intact, though."
Jenkins at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. "I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that they had put a geas
on her to give an alarm. I didn’t even realize they knew she was more than just a wand."
"More than ‘just’ a wand?"
"Why, yes. Wanda’s my wife."
"She angered Thaurissan a few years back; I begged him not to harm her, so he promised that she’d be mine forever. Then he imprisoned her into this form and presented it to me for our anniversary."
When I looked at the fel crystal on the end of the wand, I realized it was in the shape of a female dwarf’s head. As I watched, the head swiveled to look at me.
"Aye, and I’d been with him ever since. He left the city for ONE HOUR without me and see what happened? That should teach him!" The crystal grinned at Direflame.
"Empress Moira promised me she’d have a go at fixing her, or finding someone that can, in exchange for my allegiance, so I’m hopeful, now that I have her back!"
"One last matter."
"Payment. Of course!"
"No, besides that. Wanda mentioned that there had been others that had attempted to retrieve her … obviously they failed. Is that true?"
"Aye. Close to a dozen times I’ve tried enlisting from the best and the brightest of Ironforge, and not a one has ever returned."
"These were dwarves?"
"Some, but not all."
"So, you sent dwarves …"
"Into a room of treasure …"
" … aye."
"And told them to come out with JUST ONE item."
" … aye … OH!"
"Yep. I’d say they were genetically predisposed to fail."
"Oh, my. What have I done?"
"Given yourself an object lesson, is all. Never send a Dwarf to do a Warlock’s job."
The money was good, I was able to give Milo hell about a number of things, I enjoyed a good night watching fights at The Brawlers Guild, and I got to spend the night in my favorite Stormwind inn afterwards.
It’s not an easy life, but it’s a good life. As I’m sure Jenkins would agree, the little things are what’s best.
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Something said at Be MOP reminded me of somewhere else that I had read of a hat-based business model.
So this probably happened at Blizz:
Note: this webcomic is by the same team that does Penny Arcade, plus one, which may turn some people off. So, avoid if you are ethically inclined to do so.
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So, as posted on the EU community website, Cosmetic helms are now for sale in the cash shop Blizzard Store. And if you’re into gaudy, they’re not bad.
First of all: 15 US dollars is not a microtransaction. I don’t care what your favorite omnibus WoW website says, I don’t care what your favorite MMO forum site says. The cost of a month’s game time is not a microtransaction. So don’t call it that, and we’ll get along fine.
Next item: will it affect the game at all? I can’t really see how, other than consuming precious frame rate. Seriously, what would a 25-man raid look like with these on everyone? Will a new Alliance battleground strat involve wearing these and lagging the Horde out? Considering that it’s gotten zero beta time, these are actually kinda relevant questions. But I’m SURE they’ve gotten EXTENSIVE testing in-house.
Item the third: when will this hit the US? Days? Hours? Before this post goes up? Update: I found out at 2 PM (two hours after publish) that they’re now available in the US.
Item the fourth: what next? Will we see matching robes, shoulders, cloaks? And sidebar: will the WoW punditry also insist on calling those other items "microtransactions" if they cost 15 bucks?
The big one: how long until we see pay-to-win items? And does this indeed signal the final death rattle of WoW?
Oops, sorry, accidentally plugged in to a forum.
The personal one: I’d almost buy the Firelord helm for Flora if she was into gaudy baubles. But in general none of this stuff speaks to my nature. I seriously doubt that they’ll ever introduce a mog set that says "I work for a living" rather than "I’d like to think that I raid stuff you can’t even imagine."
The thoughtful one: It’s not just this stuff. So much WoW raiding tier and its predecessor gear looks so hideous to me. It’s covered with horns, and glitter, and flanges, and glitter, and orbs, and glitter, and ropey things, and glitter, and then they add glitter. SOME of the old vanilla tier stuff is okay but for the most part, Blizz is in love with its art department, and its art department all apparently majored in "Ming the Merciless’ Court Trappings".
But the thing is, they wouldn’t keep getting more ridiculous with every tier if it weren’t for the users wanting, or at least encouraging it. Those of us that want a more functional approach to awesomeness are not as vocal or as profitable.
I am very much of the opinion that awesomeness is not a function of frills and special effects. The most iconic weapons are often very much, shall we say, to the point.
Rather than …
Maybe Ming wasn’t at fault after all.
If you can’t please everyone, the best you can do is give them choices, and that’s where mogging came in in the first place. You may recall my own mogging preferences are somewhat more functional than what my armor actually looks like. And there are others that go the other way – well, I can certainly see the attraction of some Ulduar and Icecrown gear.
The Cheap One: What I would love to see with this sort of throwaway mog fodder is for it to (also) be sold for in-game currency of some sort, especially near the end of an expansion when people have piles of tokens and nothing to blow them on. It would be a great JP dump, or Greater Tokens, or Halfhill Tokens, or what have you.
An even better approach would be to (a) make the items purchasable for a new special token type, (b) make it so you could buy that token in the cash shop (e.g.Neverwinter Zen), and (3) then also make that token purchasable for varying amounts of other in-game tokens, such as JP, Darkmoon tokens, etc. That way, if one particular faction grind was "your thang", then you could, oh, I dunno, enjoy yourself while playing a game.
Because here’s the bottom line for me: they could make the perfect Hunter garb of all time available, and I’d not buy it for cash, not ever. I’m paying that much a month already. I’m not even sure I’d pay for it if it was F2P. Virtual items are pretty much gone as soon as you stop playing the game. Game time, for all its ephemeral nature, gives you a month’s worth of enjoyment, whereas a hat isn’t even usable unless you pay more money.
But I might grind for it.
The Final One: The Godmother over at Alt:ernative had an interesting thought (or a dozen) about the cash shop, one which was the sale of armor dyes. I do want armor dyes. I especially want one like the one in Diablo III that makes your shoulder pieces go away. But I categorically do not want them to be part of the cash shop. Special colors? Possible. In general? Not. It might be close to a deal-breaker for me, a last sign of cynical money-grubbing from a company that swore up and down that Activision wouldn’t do that to it. I can only swallow so much hypocrisy, and that would probably mark the high water line.
Doing so would also eliminate one of the potential fun elements in-game: making of dyes. I personally think this would be a great product for Scribes to make since they already have all sorts of dyes in the bank. I think it would be great if they managed to exploit ALL of the herbs from Peacebloom to Golden Lotus to make different armor dyes. They could just keep adding different shades of dye as new herbs came into being. Heck, Ghost Mushrooms would be perfect for making armor invisible!
I kind of doubt that will happen, though. I could be wrong, but they seem to be pushing down hard on the crafting game, and it’s starting to look like there is either a paradigm shift about to happen, or they’re starting to dismantle crafting as an mainstream part of the game. Certainly, it has problems.
It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. At least the potential cash mounts will give us more people to admire as they preen on the bank steps and RP walk around Stormwind.
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In part one of this mini-series, I worked up to a more-or-less raid-ready user interface. In this part, we’ll fill in the blank spots with the UIs that make your life less tedious and/or boring in-game.
BetterFont does one thing – gives you a better default font to use in the game. People with bad eyes such as myself are usually quite grateful for little visibility tweaks like this.
eAlign is one of those addons that you don’t use a lot, but is very useful for tweaking sessions. It puts a grid up on the screen against which you can align your UI elements so that they’re in a straight line. One chat command brings it up, and banishes it again when you’re done.
Mik’s Scrolling Battle Text is a replacement for all scrolling battle text; if it only did that, I wouldn’t use it, though, since I prefer to keep the default battle text (damage appears over the head of your victims, rather than in one place, which MSBT does). I turn off the scrolling battle text overrides but keep the additional features that it adds, such as telling you how much of a thing you have in your bags when you collect one (such as herbs).
Que’Level just sticks the level of a quest in front of its description, so as to help you sort out which ones to do first (like, before they go gray).
TipTac totally replaces the default tooltip feature of the game, expanding it so that NPCs will also display debuff and buff icons and so forth. One of those generally invaluable tweaks.
Finally, kgPanels doesn’t do much in the way of functionality, but it does help you spruce up the appearance of your UI. I presented one example here.
There are many auction-specific addons, but I prefer AuctonLite to others due to its smaller footprint and quantity-specific buying features. However, it lacks a number of advanced features, which others bring to the table. I’ve taken a different approach will be explained later. For the time being, keep Auctionator and Auctioneer in mind if you need more powerful features.
Trade Skills / Professions
Big in MoP is farming, and Farmhand brings very useful features to the table, affording one-click planting, trouble crop tracking, and auto-discard of farm implements when you leave Halfhill. The trouble crop tracking annoys at times because it always only marks ONE example of any particular trouble type, rather than ALL.
Hand in hand with farming is fishing, which is used to get raw materials for cooking along with your garden vegetables. Fishing Buddy offers several convenience features, such as auto-lures, easy casting, and stat keeping. Its only real weakness is that it doesn’t know how to work with the new feature that allows you to fish without having a pole equipped.
Archeology Helper offers many convenience functions that speed up surveying and digging; however, since I haven’t done any archeology since MoP launched, I don’t know if it still works.
Gathermate2 and Routes go hand in hand to help you manage your herb, fishing, and ore farming. Routes … doesn’t appear to be actively maintained, but it’s hanging in there for now, so fingers crossed.
Reagent Tree is great for figuring out what recipes you and your alts know, what mats you need, where they are, and how to get them.
Skillet, and its relative Advanced Trade Skill Window, provide means to queue crafting tasks, determine what you can and cannot make, and otherwise make the trade skill window a lot less painful to use. I started using the former when the latter developed serious lag-inducing behaviors.
Postal automates a lot of the tedium of opening lots of mail, mailing it off, etc. For example, when I cancel all my glyph auctions that have been undercut, I generally have 400-500 mails in my inbox; this automates opening them and sorting them into the bags.
TradeSkillMaster is a suite of tools that makes it easier to auction things off, find mats on the AH, track where items are, how much they generally bring, and so forth. It’s a complex little beastie but our glyph business would be dead without it.
Finally, The Undermine Journal’s addon provides you with up to date prices on items, what they’re actually selling for rather than what they’re vendoring for. There is a general purpose version available on Curse, or you can download a realm-specific version that updates many times a day, guaranteed to have the most accurate prices of all. We’ve created a Python script to automate this task.
Managing bag space is always a joy, right? And addons that make it easier, moreso.
AdiBags is my current weapon of choice. A while back we reviewed this addon and were not as impressed, but we got feedback and gave it another try. If it stopped working, I’d quickly go back to TBag.
One of the things that AdiBags was missing at the time of its review was a way to view other toons’ inventories. BagSync provides this utility in a bag-addon-agnostic fashion.
Finally, failing to keep consumables stocked up can be embarrassing, though not as much as it used to be with Warlock shards and Hunter bullets and other reagents. Steal Your Carbon automates the task of buying these whenever you open up a window at the appropriate vendor. Do note: it is not 100% reliable, so make sure it works reliably. My experience is that it fails on a per-character basis, rather than pre-account.
Rating Buster come to my attention when it was recommended by BRK back in the day. It’s a tool that compares an item’s stats with your own gear’s. It’s still trundling along, though it’s not current with MoP (last update was for 4.3.4). I use it for rough estimates, with custom weights, and my own tool for final decisions. The beta version is more up to date, so if you use the Curse client, you can select that.
Pawn is a more current addon, but doesn’t directly interface to the tooltips like RB does. It uses weights from WoWHead or allows for custom weights. When an item that’s a definite upgrade for you appears in a loot roll, it makes real sure you know it with bright colored arrows. Naturally, it doesn’t agree 100% with the other tools, so you’ll need to use your judgment. It also provides guidance on reforging, gemming, and enchanting.
VendorBait is useful when leveling; quest rewards that are an upgrade are highlighted. If no upgrades are available, then the one with the best vendor price is highlighted. Unfortunately it doesn’t offer an option as to which would DE to a better enchanting mat, but there are addon for that if you need them.
MogIt is more a social app in that it merely allows you to browse different gear and model it on your character for purposes of finding the best (for you) transmog set. I usually disable this unless I’m in search of mog fodder.
There has been nothing even close to the legendary Cartographer for map managment, but Mapster plus TomTom (or TomTomLite) provide a lot of its features. I haven’t found anything else to fill that gap.
When Squeenix finally kicked the bucket, Chinchilla Minimap was more than a replacement, and a lot less “weighty” than some of the other minimap replacements such as SexyMap.
Ara Broker Guild Friends is an addon that puts two displays up on your LDB display (such as ChocolateBar) and shows how many of your friends and guildmates are online. Hover over either display, and a dropdown panel appears showing details related to your friends and guild. A lot more convenient than the full-on friend and guild displays.
Friend & Ignore Share basically propagates your friends and ignores across all of your toons; friend someone on one toon, and it automatically friends them on your alts when you log in.
Chatter is one of two good chat replacements; I was using Prat until it broke, then changed to Chatter because I was impatient (Prat’s back up to date again). Both offer similar features, such as colorization based on class, guild rank, faction; timestamp and level tweaks; chat tab management and filtering.
WIM is a small IM-like window for private chat, including your battle.net and RealID friends. It can even notify people when you’re in the middle of a fight.
Rares and Reputation
NPCScan (and its map overlay companion) notifies you whenever you come within range of a rare spawn, and optionally marks it with a symbol. Hunters of rares will use this or Silver Dragon, depending on your preferences.
Ara Broker Reputations provides a convenient drop-down interface to the reputations panel, providing a quick overview of where you stand with various factions.
Pets and Mounts
I haven’t touched battle pets since Cata first came out, so I’m not going to pretend to know what’s good in this regard any more.
GupPet is a random pet and companion summoning tool; it allows you to filter out those mounts or companions you don’t want to summon, if you feel so inclined. It does tend to lag behind the state of the game with regards to what is available to summon, so you may need to hack it yourself. We have a guild on how to do that.
Addon Control Panel (ACP) helps you keep addons turned off until you need them, or turn them off when you don’t need them any more. It also provides useful information such as how much memory the child addons of an addon suite (such as all 40 parts of Pitbull) are consuming when loaded.
Better Blizz Options is a quiet little addon that just tweaks the Blizzard option panel a little, such as making it movable and resizable.
BugGrabber will intercept those error windows that appear when one of your addons dies; BugSack will collect them and let you browse them at your leisure.
WoWHead Looter is part of the WoWHead client, and basically collects stats on what you loot, gather, or otherwise come across. It does nothing for you directly, but does feed back to WoWHead, thus making it more accurate, which benefits us all. Consider it a way of paying WoWHead back for the years of useful data you’ve pillaged.
That’s a Wrap
Aaaand that’s all! Probably around 80 or 90 addons accounted for. I hope this has proven useful to you. I don’t think I’ll try this again!
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