onsdag 24. juni 2009

Moving on to greener pastures

Turns out that for all my fuzz about emo bloggers, I quite like it. So, I decided to upgrade!

Follow the rest of my ramblings at: Ask in game


onsdag 10. juni 2009

The end of WoW?

No game company will tell that they are on the decline, no company will say if players are leaving. So how can we know when a game looses its potency?

Wolfshead has used the tool Alexa to determine the use of the official World of Warcraft webpage, and looking over the last 22 months there has been a decline in the use of the webpage. So, does this mean that the peak has been reached? Is the largest MMORPG on the market ready for retirement?

The use of this tool is quite fascinating, and good effort on Wolfsheads part on trying to think outside the box. But what has he really found?

The use of the american World of Warcraft webpage has declined.

As Tobold commented, thats only one segment of the WoW player base. The European playerbase might be different, and who really knows whats going on in China.

All MMORPGs have fluctuations, simply cause very few people limited themselves to one playstyle during their "playing career". Due to change in game design, a change of RL situation or perhaps a wish to explore the game in a different way (or all three) a player will change. It is very possible to spend years beeing a casual gamer, then decide to go hardcore. Just like someone who has never tried RP before decides to give it a shot, and someone who spent all their time playing cuts down to a bare minimum. If it is one thing that is predictable about MMORPGs and their users is that it is not static...

The use of a webpage doesn't tell about the use of a game. Since WoW was launched, a massive quantity of other online foras have emerged. If you want news, sites such as MMO-Champion or WoWInsider will be just as updated. If you have questions about your character, go to the Elitist Jerks forums rather the the official forum. Then there is ofcourse the many bloggers, tweeters etc etc. It is very possible that what Alexis.com is charting, is a change in where players find their information about the game.

mandag 18. mai 2009

What to study? How your love for games will confuse you

Games are captivating, facinating and thrilling - both to play and study. I should know, it's what I do. However, I also know that it can be confusing to study something that engages on so many levels. There is a million things I wish to look into, and another million or two that I have already seen and want to write about.

In the last week I have been speaking to two students who are both in the process of formulating a topic for their master thesis, and both of them got directed to me cause they have an interest for games. When talking to them and desperately trying to part with some wisdom, I got confronted with many of the choices I made and the things I wish I knew when I started out.

For what they are worth, here it is some of the things I wish someone told me when I started out:

1) If you think something is cool and interesting as a gamer, it will be interesting for an academic audience. All you need to do is make that idea/concept/thing into a research project. That's what your counselor is there for, so bring it to him/her and see what you can make out of it. The Game Studies field is populated with people with a passion for games, so don't be afraid to draw on your gamer experiences.

2) Think about what you would like to write about the most, not what you think makes a "good" master thesis. When writing you will find that your theme will end up relating to the current body of academic work in some way or another, so go for a story you want to tell rather then the one you think the audience (aka your sensor) want to hear. Lots of people, inside and outside academia, want to know more about computer games. Your thesis will have an audience regardless, so focus on having a story you wish to tell them.

3) Write lots of notes. If you want to study a game you are playing, write down things happening in game that you find fascinating. Its not about generating empirical data, but giving yourself a chance to get some distance and have a look at what actually grabs you when you play. Regardless of what data you choose, such notes will help you understand the game better - and can be useful in supporting other data.

4) When you find clippings, newpaper articles, blogs etc. that tells stories about games that you think are bad, that tells a story about games you don't think is write, that is ignorant etc etc, but is not related to your topic - don't use your thesis to prove them wrong. If you write about gender in games, and you find an article about kids beeing addicted - don't try to argue against it in your paper. Its off topic, and even though it would be nice to prove such false claims wrong, the thesis is not the place. It cant be about everything related to games, or correct every wrongful myth. Just get a blog and QQ like the rest of us.

5) Dont be afraid to be an expert. Your topic will interest many people, and you will often find yourself discussing your thesis at parties, family gatherings, lunchbreaks etc. You WILL have unique knowledge about games, even though someone else have played more/longer/at a higher level - and your knowledge is academic even though lots of people can talk about it.

6) Whatever game(s) you choose - play lots. Get involved with the community, try things that you normally wouldn't. Never tried strategygames? Give it a go! Never contacted support? Call them! Never made machinima? Try it! Remember that studying games isnt just about telling your story. Finding out what other gamers experience isnt just useful for your work, its also fun.

fredag 1. mai 2009

The adventures of Martin Fury

Scene 1: Player1 looses character to a keylogger who hacks the account. Player1 is very sad, and petitiones Blizzard to have it back. Nothing seem to happen.
Scene 2: Player1 is in contant with Blizzard about a looting error, and brings up this issue once more. The lost characters are restored with random low level items, including a Martin Fury.
ITEM: Martin Fury. A GM only item that will kill all monsters in the area when used.
Scene 3: Player1 joines his guild on a few raids, and decides to use it for comedy value and to see if it actually does what's expected.
Scene 4: At Blizzard headquarters someone falls off their chair when they see a tiny unknown guild achieve several world firsts within a very short space of time. Time to investigate!
Scene 5: Player 1 as well as Player 2- 20 from the same guild, gets banned for beeing part of an activity breaking the EULA. Sad music, and broken hearts. Is this justice?
Scene 6: The internet gets on it and starts sharing the news, flaming, supporting and digging out the details.
Scene 7: Blizzard gets worried and starts deleting all threads on their official forum regarding this story. Masked people in dark corridors.
Scene 8: Silly game researcher decide to also get on the bandwagon...

End Scene:
So, what is the most engaging here? That a person got a GM item and used it? Clearly realizing that it probably wasnt right? Or that Blizzard decided not ban, not only him but everyone around him as well?
Personally I think the best part is how Blizzard is now trying to hush it up, deleting all threads with any mention of it. And that others couldnt care less and getting their scoops

torsdag 30. april 2009

Achievements and how they made me care.

Sicne the introduction of the achievementsystem in WoW, I have been rampantly against it. I find no enjoyment in fulfilling random tasks to be awarded points, which in turn can only be used on vanity things such as titles or mounts.

Its just not my cup of tea.

If we have an instance on farm, I much rather just farm it quickly - so I can return to doing something else. Like making money, lvling alts or grooming my giraffe. Making encounters unnecessary difficult (by f.ex. not killing the adds) just dont sit right with me.

Now it turns out I kinda have to care.

When ranking guilds achievements are counted. Sites such as http://wow.guildprogress.com/ will rate guilds with more achievements higher then those without. Regardless of who first got the kill.

So, to achieve our goal of beeing a top guild on the server - we need to complete achievements.
Just like that - a ranking system that I do care about, forces me to care about achievements - a system I dont care about...

tirsdag 28. april 2009

And then you get the boot...

Continuing on the whole process of joining and leaving guilds, I wish to bring up a few examples of different ways I have seen people leave guilds I have been in. I think they exemplify how differently how people seem to think about what a guild is, what commitment is and what the community is expected to do. In many cases it reminds me of bad break-up scenes on TV.

"Nice fooling around, but I got other stuff going on"
This is the most drama free of all gquits. This is players who realize for some reason or another that they are going to quit the guild, and often quit the game as well. Chance of this happening is greatly increased when a new girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other is put into the equation.

"I think we should see other guilds"
A classic. Trialists who dont say anything during their trial period, weeks pass, shows up steadily to raids, never posts on the forum or say anything wrong. Everything seems fine until one day a brief post states that this is not the guild for him/her. Thanking for the time together, in a few lines he/she explains that we just didnt get along, and he/she will leave the guild to find his/her real soulmates.

"Cpt Emo"
This is a common one. Often comes from players who are not really that good at the game, and who dont have much experience with either the game or with online communities in general. After beeing told that they don't really belong here, and that perhaps they should find another guild (they dont meet the standards, dont raid enough, dont get the jokes or is simply too weird) they respond with what seems like grief. Often resulting in a forum post stating how they feel injustified, that this has been a huge personal hit and that they feel betrayed. "Why me?" is a likely response, not understanding that none of the readers will sympathise.

"Fuck you BITCH!"
This is a personal favourite. The people who just get really angry when you tell them that they will have to leave now, very often cause they are behaving inappropriate. Like a drunk guy shouting outside your window, he will blame you for beeing inside listening (thus making you a BITCH) rather then realizing that the drunken, shithead behaviour is the real problem at hand. Extensive use of caps, and will take any opportunity to slag you later on to anyone who is willing to listen.
In the desperate attempt to disprove the person removing him/her from the guild, he/she also fails to realize that any possible supporters he/she might have had is now gone. Noone wants a guildie who spams "FU I dotn neeD tis SHIT!!!U dont hav a LAIF"

"I am quitting now. Honest."
In most cases, they end up leaving eventually - but will then fall into one of the above categories when it actually happens. Before that it is simply several long emo posts saying how they dont enjoy the game anymore, and how they might not be around any longer. That they feel unappreciated and that things arent like they used to be. Keeps talking about how things were better in the old days, and dont get that the more they talk about it - the less people will care.

Application: Strongsquig [declined]

One central point of raidingguilds is the churn of members. Ofcourse there is a steady core that keeps on going, that keeps the guild together, does the work etc. But there is always some kind of flux when it comes to members.
I have always had a facination for this particular aspect of running a guild. Not cause what happens is unique, but because it is a microcosmos of people trying to make the best out of it.

Joining guilds
When I first joined my current guild, I simply chatted for a few minutes with the guildmaster. He didnt seem to think myself and my friends were absolute retards, so we got in no problem and only minutes later we were in on our first raid in Naxxramas. A few months later, the guild has grown steadily and we have weeded out members who are not up to the standard we want. Ulduar has gone well, and we seem to be a wellfunctioning raidingguild. Atleast for the moment.
Ofcourse this has massivly effected our recruitmentstrategies and policies. Where before we would take pretty much anyone who could spell their name almost right, and were not walking around naked and drooling (not in game atleast, we still suspect several current members to do that IRL) in on trial - we now only bring on board the ones we really like. Why? Because we have that luxury. Atleast 4-5 people apply to the guild on a weekly basis, and since we are not in dire need of any classes right now we can simply pick and choose from the ones we really like. Even as a casual guild we dont want to bring aboard more fail then we need to.

Its quite basic isnt it.
A guild does well, and everyone wants to join. You can choose the ones you want, and awesome breeds more awesome. A guild runs badly, and you will get crappy applicants you are forced to take to fill up raids.
Like anything else in this game: it works exponentially.

As most other raidingguilds we get people who want to join to write applications on our forums. And this is quite a study of human nature. Our appliation template is quite standard, its about a dusin questions asking about experience, raidingtimes, references, UI etc. The stuff you would ask anyone you would employ, any stranger that you were going to put some amount of trust in.

What people do with these few questions varies greatly. And even though a few get accepted, we declined even more.
So, here is a short list of things that is a good idea when applying to a raidingguild. Based on the last few weeks applications, some guidance is needed:

- Answer all the questions. If you dont know the answer to things like "What is your experience in game?" you should probably not apply in the first place.
- If your UI looks like shit, then we will assume you dont know the basics such as how to install addons. Basic UI with threatmeters slapped in the righthand corner wont impress anyone.
- If you used to be a member of the guild you are applying to, its probably a smart thing to mention. You are likely to still get declined, but its common curtesy.
- Answering requests in your application thread with snotty rembarks will not make you look any more charming.
- Give good reasons for why you left your previous guild. Things like "They sayded i didn raid enuf" wont convince us. Neither will "they were shit".

Good luck.

onsdag 1. april 2009

When Azeroth is too big.

People who have bothered themselves with trying to find out the actual size of Azeroth (the gameworld in WoW fyi), have concluded that is quite small. If you use people and buildings as the items setting the scale, each continent is about the size of Manhattans (Aarseth 2008).

Its tiny.

So why am I having such a hard time to get to terms with it?
Looking forward there seems just too many things I wish to bring forward to the academic limelight, too many people, practices and technologies I wish to discuss. On these small digital islands size does not seem to matter.

Perhaps its exactly because of the "small space" that they end up being so closely linked, so hard to untangle and separate.

It does sometime feel a bit crowded.

Aarseth, Espen (2008): World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice in Rettberg og Corneliussen (ed): "Digital Culture, Play and Identity. The World of Warcraft reader."

torsdag 12. februar 2009

Wrath of the Casual King

With the release of WOTLK WoW took at distinct step towards a MMORPG that caters for casual gamers. Where will it go next? Who is the game designed for?

As a backdrop for this you find the endless arguing simply referred to as "casual vs hardcore". The grife bewteen casual gamers and hardcore gamers has raged since... well forever. Long story short: Casual gamers complain that too much content is designed so that only no-lifers and social clients gets to enjoy it, it's too hard and too timeconsuming. The Hardcore gamers complain that the game is dumbed down and changes are made that is ruining the game, simply cause people are crap at playing.
That these will ever make peace is quite unlikely, you might as well put money down on pigs flying. However, what's getting interesting is that these two groups are getting harder to seperate. In early WoW days someone with an epic item was hardcore, cause that meant that they had either been in a raid (something reserved for the few and brave) - now you can roll through 5 man heroic dungeons withtout any issue and there has been a severe inflation of the value epic items from rare to standard. Moreover, a hardcore player used to be the one that knew their way around dugeons, about what specialisations were worthwhile and of the underlying mechanics. Now, this is something expected from everyone. Even the most casual of players is presumed to know about their classes abilities, to know of moneymaking schemes, instance strategies and patch updates. So is this still a valid distinction?

There is still arguments raging on most forums about upcoming changes and persistant problems, calls for nerfs or buffs to classes or content. Some say that the current content is too easy, while others are cheering about the chance to finally get access to parts of the game that previously were only avaiable to a minority group and a ceritain playstyle. However, it's not a clear divide between the two groups. It is true that the current content has taken a surprisingly short time to overcome, however as a entry level raiding dungeon: Naxxramas (which comprises most of the current raidingcontent) is alot more advanced then Molten Core (one of the first raid instnaces in early WoW) ever was. The community as a whole is more educated about game mechanics and strategies, regardless of the hardcore/casual distinction.
What's been removed is the elements that earlier were central in making the distinction between casual and hardcore: fights were you needed a strange raidcomposition (like 8 tanks on Four Horseman), gearchecks (fights that required the entire raid to be max-geared), resistchecks (fights that required a ceirtain type of gear to give survivability, like fire resist gear in Molten Core). With these timeconsuming and committing elements gone from the game, the focus is now on the fights themselves.

A bit of a roundabout way to my point, but I think I am getting there:

Our perception of new content is colored by our previous experiences, but we seem to forget the advancement of the player community when making such comparisons. Gameplay isnt just about what is designed, it's also about what the player brings to the table. With the aveage player beeing more knowledgable then before, new content ends up beeing perceived as easier - but in reality it's more complex then ever before.

torsdag 29. januar 2009

Twinking - an introduction

"Twinks are player characters who have gained the best powerful gear for their level ... Twinks are mainly used in PvP fighting and Battlegrounds. Twinks obtain their items through rare drops, drops off of bosses in instances, rewards from quests that are difficult to complete at their level, and from the Auction House. Twink items on the Auction House can be expensive. Twink enchantments can only be performed by high-level characters. Therefore, twinking usually requires significant assistance from high-level alts, friends, and/or guild members." (From Wowwiki.com about Twinks)

Twinks represent a special type of playstyle. While the majority of players will aim to be the highest level, to get the best possible gear in the game and conquer now content - following the ideal of beeing on the bleeding edge - twinkers decide to be somewhere else.
Instead of reaching for the most powerful character in the game, a twinker aim to have the most powerful character at a given level. Since Battlegrounds (zones where you fight other players) are bulked together in level brackets of 10-19, 20-29 etc Twinks will be 19,29,39 etc.

So, whats the challenge then? Why not go all the way to 80? Certainly it makes no sense staying at such a low level?
For twinkers, evolving the character represents a different kind of challenge. While leveling most people will go for things that are available or doesn't require too much effort to get, as soon you will level on and items will be outclassed fairly soon. Twinkers however put just as much effort into getting their gear as raiders would. Since a twink will stay a ceirtain level (like 19,29,39 etc) with no intention of moving on, its more then anything a game about finding the most suitable items possible for that exact level - even if that item is ridiculously expensive or hard to get.

Twinking is an oppositional reading of the games script, where they generate goals and procedures clearly not intended by the designers. They are bordering the line of cheating, always looking for loopholes in the game system - ways to get items or advances through neglect on the programmers side (such as lack of level requirement on items or quests). Since time and money is not an issue, it sometimes leads to slightly absurd projects. The Furbolg Pouch is one of these. Basically, you will need a friend (or alternate account) til kill 1157 furbolgs for you while you wait around dead, so that you can buy this item through reputation. 1157 isn't THAT many, but its many enough...

Opinions about twinks does differ. Some describe them as cheaters, ruining the game for others as in PvP situations a twink will outperform non-twinks to such an extent it can not be seen as a fair fight. In Battlegroups that have high population of twinks, playing PvP as a non-twink will then mean little chance to impact the fight and a great chance of spending the majority of your time on the graveyard.

"Wow, I hate twinks so much. 06/05/2007 11:05:09 AM PDT
Seriously, shut up about your leet x9 battle groups. You play a twink because you failed at 70 and everybody knows it. Have fun playing against people with 1/3 your HP/dmg/crit or w/e you stack.
Failures, quit plaguing our Battle Group forum
Noxousx on Vindication Battlegroup Forum

For all the flaming and QQ around twinks (and how they are changing the nature of Battlegrounds), I have deep respect for how they are making the game their own. Twinks is relate to the script in a more proactive way then other playergroups. By choosing to stay at a certain level, they are not prone to constant changes as more content is added - and with a smaller selection of items and talentpoints to choose from: The potential for reaching the ultimate potential of the character is actually achievable. And this is a conscious part of the twinking community:

"Re: Wow, I hate twinks so much. 06/05/2007 01:23:16 PM PDT
IMO the only way we twinks "fail" at is being mindless drones who run on Blizzard's XP treadmill to get progressively better and better gear so that you can go to progressively harder and harder instances to get progressively better and better gear so that you can go to progressively harder and harder instances, etc. etc. etc.

If "failure" means that I'm off the levelling treadmill, then I am a failure, yessir! I'm quite happy to be a failure, running around at 19 and 29 having fun; isn't that the point of this exercise? Anyway, at the very least I am no Blizzard sycophant like you seem to be.

Tamlan in Vindication Battlegroup Forum

This ended up longer then first intended, but I guess that shows what potential is there. Twinks touch so many aspects of the game;
-Ethical: Is everything the game allows ok, or does it go against the "spirit" of the game?
-Techosocial relations: Twinks are co-constructing a new arena for developing characters and achievements by making characters outside the mainfocus of the producers.
- Production of knowledge: They also gather information and develop theories for areas of the game usually overlooked, as breakdown of parses for level 19 character will be pointless to someone who is going to level beyond 19.

Right now level 80 is keeping me more then busy, however I am sure I will be back with a twink in a battleground near you.

Fail and Meme's: About politically uncorrect visual humour

One of the views that STS provides (when putting on the STS-glasses, hats or any other suitable pedagogical headgear-metaphors) is how technology enables or disables certain actions. Lately I have been fascinated by how imaging and visual representations have become modifiable and spreadable by pretty much everyone. In the development of better internet connections, as well as better PC processing power; You don't need fancy or expensive websites in order to hold the space that images takes, sending emails with large attachements wont slow down your working day and lots of sites are now providing free hosting of your pictures. In addition programmes such as Photoshop have opened up the image to modifications, for play and making images your own - adding comments or morphing pictures to tell other stories.

One trend in particular is the meme's in the form of running jokes, through images - on the internet. A particular feature of these is the need for them to be completely politically incorrect.

Whether this is a sign of increased discrimination, racism, lack of tolerance - or simply a "We don't care" statement I am not so sure, though I lean towards the latter. Either way it shows a new area where the layman can tell stories (and in this case jokes) through a visual medium. No need to be a great artist, or even a master of cameras or Photoshop. In many cases all that is needed, is helping the spread and recycling of these images - ensuring their place on different forums, boards and websites.

I guess I now will do my part. Here is a small sample.