Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

… in which Hoern is a terrible killjoy

Scientists, We Need Your Swords! writes John Bohannon and calls for a “Conference” in World of Warcraft on May 9-11, called “Convergence of the Real and the Virtual“. Organized is this event by a William Sims Bainbridge. And this here cow isn’t quite as overjoyed as someone might assume, even though we’re Horde, we’re academics, and we’re on Earthen Ring (US) where this event will take place.

First, dear John, I will be a massive killjoy and explain something massively basic to you – any “scientific excursion” should be led by someone with, at least, a basic understanding of the terrain he or she excurses into. You exhibit all the signs of someone who is – at best – innocently unfamiliar, at worst, unscientifically indifferent to the world you pertain to be taking this excursion into.

How do I know? Well, for starters, let’s look at your … gasp[1] …  Level 20 Hunter “Gonzorina”. You see, Earthen Ring is a so-called RP server, a place people converge to Roleplay. Your excursion, the setup, its premise, its participants, even your character’s name are essentially contrary to the RP element of the server and, in the case of your guild and character name, violate Blizzard’s RP policy. I am sure HST takes a massive left spin in his grave over your naming yourself a “Gonzo” something, but unlike him Blizzard can act. In fact, me being a massive Killjoy Cow, I’ll make sure to log on and report your name and guild name as well as names like “Mynameisman” right then, and there, for said violations. Or Mr. Bainbridge’s character names, Sciencemag, Computabull, and Price. I bow before your understanding of RP and WoW-RP in particular. I am massively interested to hear all I can about this “convergence” of your “Computabull” Level 30 Elemental-specced Tauren Shaman. Or your Level 20 Hunter, another fine example of your understanding of the environment and theorycraft behind it.

Let’s be clear on this… I am no rabid RPer. I usually don’t get my virtual panties into painful wads over naming convention breaches. But I do, call it a weakness, get annoyed at “scientific” excursions exhibiting massive, even dangerous, flaws like yours. This alone could – and should – call your understanding of the Virtual Ecosystem you claim to be familiar enough to lead through, into question, but it gets better.

One of my absolute favorites in your sessions is the “Anti-capitalist, pro-environmental values in the picture of a priest fighting a deforestation machine.” The priest shown is a Blood Elf, who – according to lore – couldn’t give less of a flying gnome about “anti-capitalism” or “pro-environmentalism”. Oh, you don’t care about lore? Get your pixelated behinds off that RP server, pronto.

Another one is almost as funny – your “undisclosed Alliance location”  which you will attack (iow, grief) after the “sessions” are concluded. I just hope you have a good RP backgrounder for this one, because it’ll be hell to explain why a bunch of Level 5s got two-shot by the spawned guards in Sentinel Hill (yes, it’s kind of dumb to discuss the “undisclosed” location on the same page…). Crushing blows are teh suxz0rz.

In short, this “conference” is ill-conceived. Not something I’d have expected from someone with a email address, and definitely not something that will yield any true scientific results. “It appears,” to quote a guildmate of mine, “to be a boneheaded attempt at starting a guild.” Is it? I don’t know, but Mr. Bainbridge and Mr. Bohannon don’t particularly exhibit an understanding of the very Virtual Ecosystem they’re taking their conference into.

[1] Level 20 can be, easily, reached within 5 hours /played. Anyone claiming to know anything about any ecosysstem after spending five hours in it (and having been exposed to less than ten percent of its extent) needs a serious scientific attitude re-adjustment.

Hero classes coming?

I found this over on Tobold’s site, and it purports to be leaked information from a play-tester explaining exactly how Hero classes will work. The explanation is similar enough to how classes work now–and it’s kind of unimaginative and dull–for me to believe that this is how they will be, or at least very close to how they will be.

Here’s a snippet:

Firstly each of the nine base classes can branch out to exactly three hero classes. For example, Druids can branch out to Druid of the Talon (nuking), Druid of the Claw (feral), and Keeper of the Grove (healing), while Paladins can be Champion of the Light (healing), Mountain King (defense, and yes they twisted lore here), and Knight of the Silver Hand (offense). More details on specific hero classes later. As you can see, each of the three hero classes plays to the strengths of that classes’ three talent trees. However the main purpose of Hero Classes is to allow players to tangibly improve their characters at max-level through means other than gear. Since Hero Classes will be released after The Burning Crusade, they will be obtained at level 70. Surprisingly they’ll not only be available to every player, without a quest, but they’ll either be trainable for free at the corresponding class trainer, or require a simple and straightforward quest. Blizzard’s reasoning is that Hero Classes should be a natural progression and reward for all players who have achieved max-level, rather than a grind for only the “hardcore”.

There’s two catches though: 1) specializing in a Hero Class is like specializing in a profession – you’re stuck with it forever, and 2) you won?t immediately have access to all hero skills. Think of it as starting a new class – you start off with a couple of base abilities, you get a few more from class quests, and the rest come from your class trainer. The same applies to hero classes; picking a Hero Class will start you off with two new hero skills, and the rest will come from hero class training (called “hero talents”) and hero quests. Here’s the interesting part: hero talents uses Hero Points, rather than currency or regular talent points. Blizzard hasn’t finalized how Hero Points will be earned, but they will most likely be obtained through a combination of experience/honor, and unique items that give you one or more hero points when used. Most likely those items will be given as both quest rewards, and drops off legendary mobs like Illidan and outdoor raid bosses (emphasizing the “heroism”).

It sounds like it will lock you into one role pretty hard and also perpetuate the boring (to me at leats) Raid-or-Die paradigm. Yay? Click through to see the big list of what spec becomes which Hero class.

The Armory: prepare to judge everyone

Blizzard has rolled out a new site that has some players shouting with joy and others cursing loudly. It’s The Armory. And it will let anyone on the internet evaluate your character and judge you.

Click here for my profile.

The Armory lists every character and shows their equipped gear, profession evls, guild and guild roster. It shows your reputations with every faction, your talent build, your skills and your PvP record. It shows everything about you, except maybe what’s in your bags.

The first and most obvious question is: why? Services that do this have been around from the start (RPQoutfitter, for example) but they have all been opt-in services. Blizzard gives us no choice. We can’t opt-out of this. Everyone now knows that I have been ignoring my Sporeggar rep and that my gear is pretty crappy.

I expect the forum trolls to start using Armory to attack anyone they disagree with any second now.

How do you feel about this? Excited? Annoyed? Couldn’t care less?

Book Review — Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot

playmoneyThis book probably wouldn’t have shown up on my radar had it not been for the fact that the author, Julian Dibbell, made it available as a virtual book inside Second Life. I bought the virtual edition for the equivalent of about US$2.50 — using in-game currency I had acquired simply by joining and having an account for several months — then I proceeded to read it within the virtual environment. There is a hardcover edition available if you like that sort of thing.

I Always Feel Like …

INV_Misc_Spyglass_01.jpg… somebody’s watchin’ me.

INV_Misc_Spyglass_02.jpgRockwell references aside, this slightly paranoid online survey might be worth a few minutes of your morning. What’s the point? I’ll let the surveyor explain …

“I’m conducting an investigation into surveillance within massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft and SecondLife. The questionnaire will take between 2 and 20 minutes to complete depending on how much information you’re willing to supply. I’m interested in stories and observations so feel free to ramble.” *

INV_Misc_Spyglass_03.jpgThere you have it. Interested? Go answer the MMO Surveillance Questionnaire.

To me, this doesn’t seem to be so much of an issue for WoW as it might be for a game like Second Life. Gnomes are pretty industrious, but none of us are actually inventing in-game devices that monitor or record the activities of other players. The mechanics of the game just don’t allow it.

And yet, if you knew that Blizzard was actively monitoring your online behavior, taking note of your habits and logging your chat, how would that make you feel?

6.5 Million

The latest revision of the MMOG Chart has been released. World of Warcraft is reported to be at 6.5 million subscribers. (via Waxy)

Lineage and Lineage II are the only current competitors to WoW, but even they are showing weakness in the face of WoW’s amazing growth. Browse around and take a look at all the different way the subscriber data has been sliced and presented.

Faster, Azeroth! Kill! Kill!

Hey mac users… ATIccelerator II can change ATI graphics cards frequencies live, on-the-fly, under Mac OS X. Imagine up to 20% faster WoW!!!

But remember….If you destroy your costly 9800 Pro or your now worthless Rage 128 because of a bug in this program or your careless utilisation of it, you’re on your own!

LFG Higher Learning PST

When my peers of the class of 1995 were choosing the location of their next academic foray, they used rather diverse metrics.

Most sought qualities of a scholastic nature: professor/student ratio, program depth, academic reputation, etc. Some looked for the legendary appellation of “party school,” seeking to broaden their social horizons. But another quality, perhaps less obvious and rarely listed in brochures, was the diversity of peer groups.

I went to a big state school with 26k students, so finding a group that fit me wasn’t difficult. The internet was just getting its legs – chat rooms, email – these things suddenly became pastimes, though there were still few of us aware of it. Somewhere in my Sophomore year, my friend started playing Ultima Online – it had a small online population then, and I doubt many students of West Virginia University were playing it.

Things have changed. Not only do universities probably boast a rather large number of World of Warcraft’s 8 million players, but now you can actually get a vague idea of what schools have the most players.

Are we seeing another new metric for selecting college? Are you, gentle reader, planning on enrolling in Washington University because 1.7% of the traffic to originates from its servers?

If so, you should probably not tell your parents.

The Wisdom of Rob Pardo

[Cross posted from my blog]

Chris Anderson asked me to participate in giving a toast at the Wired Rave Awards dinner about why WoW was so great and giving a Raver award to Rob Pardo, Lead Game Designer of World of Warcraft (WoW), and his team. I had my own opinions about what made WoW so successful, but I asked Rob with whom I had the opportunity of sitting next to at the dinner. We had a longish conversation about games and WoW and was impressed by Rob’s insights and practical experience.

Rob was a guild leader of a hardcore raiding guild on Everquest. Rob is a hardcore gamer. He loved the game, but realized that there were things that could be better designed. He looked at all of the MMOs and together with his team, built a game that was better in each of the different components than any of its competitors while keeping the core culture and functionality of MMOs. They added some important new features including the rest system, team PvP without segregating players from the opposing factions, and a completely quest driven experience, which were new innovations. They also paid attention to issues that existing games experienced or they anticipated would experience and designed WoW to deal with them.

For instance, WoW does not allow buying and selling game gold. However, according to Rob, it doesn’t break the economy as some people think. The game is designed to minimize the negative impact of “farmers”. The quests and and equipment are designed so that there are many key things that you can’t buy with game gold. The issue of gold buying is primarily a matter of players feeling that it is unfair – the great thing about WoW and similar MMOs is that everyone starts equally regardless of what they do in real life.

Although Rob was a hardcore player in Everquest, he designed WoW so that it allowed casual players to have as much fun as hardcore players. It really shows and as a guild custodian of a guild that has many casual players, the ability for casual players to have fun in WoW is very important. Rob mentioned that one of they keys to success of a game is to make sure that the game is fun in the first 5 minutes. I think many game developers forget this and focus on gamers who are “serious” and willing to invest significant time to learn to play or wait a long time to have their first “fun event”. I think it is the breadth and diversity of the players that Rob tried to appeal to that is the key to success of WoW and he did it through attention to detail and trying to get each part right rather than focus on a single killer feature.

It reminds me a bit of the book “From Good to Great”.

More Blood Elves Info

In addition to the screenshots I took of Blood Elves at e3 yesterday I was able to get one of the Blizzard guys to show me some of the production art for the racial specialties, such as the Blood Elf specific mount. This is concept art but you’ll get the idea, I think it’s pretty much what we were expecting but very cool to see it actualized like this. And no, there is no way I’m giving up the name of the leak for fear of his job and future tips. So anyway, here is the image.

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