Archive for January, 2011

[WAR] Nothing Good to Say

Posted: January 28, 2011 in WAR

My mom always told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”  My mom wasn’t a blogger.

If you still wear your rosy glasses when looking at WAR, that’s cool.  I respect that. It may not seem that way, but I do.  Anywho, I wanted to take a little bit of time to dissect the Producer’s Lettter.  I’ve done this in the past, so this ain’t my first time to the rodeo.

Our first patch for the year (1.4.1) will be a smaller version dedicated to bug fixes and a few new features. Amongst those features will be a new way to claim account entitlements (such as the Snotling Herald Pets). This new interface will replace the current method of delivering account entitlements via the in game mail system. We did this for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that in-game mail expires by necessity. The new claim interface will allow you to claim the items anytime. The second reason is that we wanted to give you an easier method to recover lost items that you may have misplaced over time. For items that don’t have charges or function as a ‘currency’ item, such as War Tract scrolls, players will be able to reset those account entitlements at their leisure without having to contact customer service. This new feature will cover all item based deliveries from account entitlements whether they are paid items like you can purchase on the EA Store or marketing rewards from events or the collector’s edition.

Really?  This is a high-priority item?  I’ve been reading the forums rather religiously over the past couple months, you know, with the WARdrobe and all.  I don’t think I’ve ever read that someone was missing this.  It boggles my mind that resources are being put into things that don’t directly contribute to player retention.  I’ve not seen an “I quit, I lost my snotling!” post.  Really, I’ve looked.

Another feature of the patch is a re-structuring of our Scenario line-up. We’ve monitored feedback and statistics over the last year and decided to shake up what scenarios are available all the time for each Tier. The current structure of the Scenarios will remain unchanged, but the Scenarios themselves will be different. Some scenarios stayed where they are, some changed what tiers they are available at, and some are gone and replaced by other classic scenarios. For example; The Maw of Madness will be making its return to the Tier 4 scenario Queue. We’re going to be closely monitoring the scenarios when 1.4.1 goes live and will make further adjustments in later patches as go through the year based on your feedback.

I remember the lashing out the last time they tweaked Scenarios.  And then they put in the Weekend Warfront.  Is anyone else out there tired of getting rehashes (if that) of existing content and calling it “new” ?  People want NEW scenarios.  Just one would pacify the masses for quite some time.  It shouldn’t be a shocker that this part is going to piss people off, almost as much as the first.

We have plans for major features for each of our numbered patches this year. The plans include expanding existing areas and features as well as new concepts to the Warhammer Online experience. With each subsequent producer letter I plan to share more of these plans.

This is more of the same “We have a promise that we’re going to do something, and eventually we’re going to tell you about it.  Maybe.  Unless we decide not to do it.  Yeah, then we’ll just move on to rotating scenarios again.”  I’ll put this in Bold in Italics:  You are not doing your customers a service by dragging them along in the dark like this.  You are hurting yourself.  When you start to realize this, and do something about it, you will see an immediate change in your customers’ attitudes.  Until then, you can expect to see the same type of apathy, anger and lack of trust in you, the provider of our paid services that you see today.

We’ve been down this path of rhetoric before.  Nobody buys it.  If you’re telling us that you have nothing of significance that is in a format that is concrete enough to talk about, then you have bigger issues than just your communication.

Shifting gears a bit, I’d like to tell you about our plans for Live Events. We have eight Live Events planned for this year. Some of these are returning favorites (like the recently completed Keg End) and the forthcoming Night of Murder in February. Others are new ones we have planned to fill in some of the calendar gaps. Along with the Live Events, we’ll continue to support Weekend Warfronts with plans to introduce some scenarios that haven’t made their debut in the Warfront format. We also have some very special plans for Grovod Caverns.

I’m actually somewhat enticed by this one.  I like Live Events.  They’re pretty fun. Recycled ones…are not fun. How many times have you completed Keg’s End?  The new ones better be sweet, and better encourage PvP. And the WW is going to likely bring back the current SCs we play, which are retiring in 1.4.1

Along with the patches and live events, we also have plans to expand our services and Account Entitlement offerings this year. This includes introducing paid name changes, more pets, and more ways to personalize your character.

Lump this into the whole “Stuff that should be developed when the game is in a polished state.” You’ve made it no secret that developer resources are INSANELY hard to come by.  Like… don’t bother asking for em.  Yet, they’re spending time doing more pets?  Name changes?  When you have to dedicate an entire patch cycle to fixing bugs…don’t you think you should put all those developer on them?  Just a thought.

Finally, I’d like to address a topic that I’m sure is close to everyone’s hearts; server population. We’ve been monitoring the situations on each of our servers in every market. Our current situation on most of the servers shows us numbers that fall within traditionally acceptable parameters, notably our peak population values. Peak population is where we see the most activity on the server; during what is considered prime-time for the server or ‘peak’ hours. However, we understand that population is a key component to enjoying the game. As part of an effort to ensure off-peak hours are as enjoyable as peak hours can be, we are actively discussing our plans for lower population servers. If you haven’t heard anything to this effect by the time this letter sees print, you should see something very soon. We are committed to ensuring that we do what is needed to make sure players enjoy their experience in WAR.

This one is a real punch in the gut for quite a few players.  For a fee, you can make sure this issue isn’t close to heart.  Unless you can’t afford to pay MORE to play the same game as everyone else.  It may not be Mythic that is directly causing the population issues.  Players leaving lower population servers just to play the game is a HUGE factor.  The fact that Mythic takes too long to react to a sinking ship (Here’s looking at you, Vortex) is another factor.  If you don’t see some server consolidation coming soon, I think you’re going to start losing servers at a time.

My personal take on this whole thing is… I feel sorry for James.  This is your first time out in the public eye like this, and your superiors didn’t give you jack crap to talk about.  Look at the image rape that Carrie has gone through.  I wish you didn’t have to go through the same thing, but it’s looking like you will.  It would have been nice if you could have come out of the door swinging, rather than limping. 😦

[WAR] And it has Come to this…

Posted: January 25, 2011 in WAR

After the Great Blackout of 2011, Andy is back.  He was welcomed back into open arms of a patient community that had been waiting with baited breath.

Not so much.

On one hand, I feel bad for Andy.  It appears that the higher ups really don’t give a rat’s ass about community.  I mean, I think they did at one time.  These days…not so much.  There used to be an actual community team.  They’d gather feedback, respond to posts, spread a passionate vibe all around.  They’d frequent various boards including WHA and VN.  It felt like a community.

Those days seem to be gone, though.  The last time Andy posted on WAR’s VN was August of last year.   Since July of last year, he’s only posted on WHA twice.  Not everyone reads the OF, especially after the transition to the Bioware forums.  The original OF were bad.  These are abysmal.  This isn’t a post about forums though.  It’s a post about community.  Forums are merely a subset.

On the other hand, I think the lashing out is deserved.   Not at Andy personally, though.  I don’t fault him for what he’s doing.  He’s doing what he’s told.  He works a shit-ton of extra hours.  I’ve talked to him at 11pm quite a few times (which is midnight there) while he’s editing up patch notes, and various other stuff.  I think the lashing out speaks more to Mythic’s ineptness at dealing with the community, not Andy’s.  He only tells us what he can. For all you nimrods out there calling for his job, read this:  If Andy is fired, he will be replaced by someone who is tasked with the same job description, the same handcuffs on what they can say, and the same lack of information to share.  Calling for his job is pointless.

The biggest question is:  Why is Mythic coming off so inept when it comes to community management?  In a day and age where projecting your community image is key to retaining subscribers, how did they manage to drop the ball?  You can blame it on the Shaman Mechanic Fiasco, you can blame it on lagging subscriptions.  The source of it is mostly irrelevant, though.  The effect is this:  Your patient community, who has stuck with you through thick and thin is getting tired of waiting.  They’re tired of getting lead around in the dark, not knowing where they’re going.  They’re tired of promises to reveal info “when things are more set in stone” or “when they are ready.”  There’s two methodologies in this game.  Full Disclosure, and No Disclosure.  The first didn’t work.  You got bit.  Naturally you picked the second.  That isn’t working either.  Patience is running out, people are moving to other games, and the players that are left are hopping off lower population servers to higher ones, just to keep playing the game.  That screws other players who may not be willing to pay to make the leap, especially considering there’s no concrete future for this game.  Paying an additional $20 to keep playing a game that has a future of “bug fixes and class balance” is a tough pill to swallow.

It would make sense to find a middle ground between No Disclosure and Full Disclosure.  Right now….it isn’t working.

[Web] The Numbers Game

Posted: January 18, 2011 in Web

Yesterday I took part in a bit of masochism.  I argued on Twitter.  Quite frankly: Twitter sucks for a debate.  Organized thoughts are often truncated and cut into multiple snippets, which are often interrupted and interjected.  You have to be insane to try to carry on a meaningful conversation on Twitter, but here we are.

At heart of the lively debate was whether or not X-Fire stats mean anything.  Some say they do, but I disagree.  Sure, they mean something to the users of X-Fire.  More people using X-Fire means just that, and only that:  more people using X-Fire.  Anything other than that is merely inference.

The crux of that opinion comes from a single word: Representative.  In order for you to be able to extrapolate bigger numbers from smaller numbers, the smaller numbers have to be representative.

For example:  If you know that 3,800 people using X-Fire play WAR, it is impossible to infer the number of WAR players unless you know what % of WAR players use X-Fire.  3800 = Y * X (where X is the percent of players and Y is the total players).  The problem with X-Fire is, you don’t know what X is.  X varies from game to game. X varies from month to month.  X can even vary from day to day.

The fact that X can change without adding/losing a subscription makes it hard to rely on those numbers as fact.  The “Number of X-Fire users playing WAR” simply represents…wait for it…. the “Number of X-Fire users playing WAR”.  That’s it.  If that number goes up, it may mean more subs.  It may not.  What if an entire guild is told they should be running X-Fire?  They all install it.  That number goes up. Does it mean more people are using X-Fire in WAR? Yep.  Does that mean more people are playing WAR?  Nope.  See where I’m going?  The same argument can be used for polls conducted on the forums.  Do they represent the players on the forum? Yep.  Do the represent players overall? Newp.  Quite a few developers have outright stated that a majority of players don’t use the forums.

Now let’s get back to the word “representative.” I used the Nielsen ratings yesterday in my argument.  They’re a truly representative system, if not a very small subset.  What they lack in numbers, they make up for in accuracy.  While everyone has different viewing habits, the fact that they proportionately depict the overall makeup of the US and A makes it a meaningful statistic.  Sure, you may not like or agree with the results of the Nielsen ratings, but they’ve proven to work in the past, and are overall reliable.

How X-Fire differs though, is that you don’t have equal representation.  You have a particular sect of gamers. While albeit 17 million is a beefy subscriber base, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the casual gamers out there.  It may, it may not.  It may not reflect the players who have crappy machines and don’t want any overhead running.  It may…it may not.  The only thing X-Fire accurately depicts….is the number of players using X-Fire.

[WoW] Surviving

Posted: January 12, 2011 in WoW

It’s no secret that I’ve been playing WoW for almost a month now.  As much as I hated to throw in the towel on WAR, I felt I had to.  This decision raised a lot of questions for me.  There’s one big one though:  “How does a WAR-type player survive in a WoW-type game?”  WoW and WAR have always been compared, and the resulting flamefest is only a small indication of just how different the two games and playerbases are.  Oil and Water is an understatement.

There were three and a half metric shit-tons of things I hated about WoW when I last played it, prior to Burning Crusade.  Going back to WoW with a free-trial, I figured I’d give it a shot and see how things have changed.  Here’s what I hated, and here’s how they changed it up.

  1. Grinding

      * Then – I always felt like I was just doing the same ol’ thing.  Killing five million Murlocs was awful.  Really awful.
      * Now – After getting to level 61 last night, I can honestly say that I’ve never grinded.  Not one time did I feel I had to sit there and farm a mob over and over again.  Sure, there are times when you need to find a random drop from mobs, but it isn’t audaciously bad.

      • Questing
        * Then – Questing wasn’t innovative.  Kill 20 of these.  Farm 5 feet from bears.  Give Sammy Hagar over there some new threads.  Boring…boring…and boring.
        * Now – Things have gotten better.  There’s a bit more variety.  You still have the ol’ “Verb Number Noun” quests, but there’s some other *fun* ones too.  Flying above Booty Bay dropping bombs on pirate ships was pretty enjoyable.  Adding in the Phasing aspect greatly increased the believability that I was doing something important.  Additionally, the quantity of most quests has gone down.  Where you’d have to kill 40 ligers before, you now only need to wack 10 or 12.  Finally, stealing the “Red Blob” from WAR was a good thing ™.  I hate wandering around looking for skeleton arms.  Now I know where to go!

        • Instances
          * Then – You’re sitting in Ironforge, spamming the Trade channel looking for that last DPS to fill up your 5-man raid.  And then your healer quit. Sonofabitch.  It took forever to get into the instance, since you had to run out there to boot.
          * Now – Cross. Server. Queues.   – I’m in love with this feature.  It’s strikingly similar to the SC function of WAR.  Queue up, let the system match-make the group, kill.  I wish WAR did the match-making part, honestly.  It was no fun SCing it up with no heals.

          • Achievements
            * Then – ???
            * Now – They have them.  There’s a hell of a lot of them, too.  I’m an achievement whore, so this caters to me specifically.  I like to get out there and just rack up some numbers.  It is a nice break from questing or raiding.

            • Gold
              * Then – I always felt poor when I was on my Warrior.  I did quests, I grinded mobs, I sold loot…and I was still piss broke.
              * Now – At level 60, I went and bought my flying mount, the training required and the Cataclysm training for the old-world flying. I dropped a little less than 500g, and still had over 250g to spend.  That’s some good cash.  Showing the sell-value on the quest rewards was a HUGE part of this.  Even though none of the rewards are useful, I can still pick the one that sells for the most.

              After all this, it was pretty easy to hop back in.  The level of polish in the game really speaks to the deep pockets Blizzard has.  I realize that they have a hell of a staff to put towards even the most tedious minutia, but that’s the stuff that translates into a refined experience.  I wish all games had the coffers that Blizzard did.  That would be an interesting market, ripe with competition and innovation.