Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's Another Language

Today marked an MMO milestone that's significant to me, though from a gameplay perspective, pretty irrelevant. Today, Unending reached level 57. This is the same level I got my main (Torabushi) to in Everquest 2 before I quit that game. What took me about 34 DAYS play time in that game took just over 3 in WoW. Hmm... think WoW's got a faster leveling curve these days?

As I've been playing the game, a thought that's been rolling around in my head for a long time rose to the fore again. MMOs, like WoW, truly develop their own language. The lexicon of WoW is so riddled with acronyms, internet shorthand, and in-game technical jargon, that it's virtually impossible for the outsider to understand. It's telling that the WoW guide that came with my Battle Chest begins with a four page glossary of terms, listing well over 100 need-to-know terms.

Sit down two experienced WoW players, and include a third person who has never played an MMO. If the two WoW players start discussing raid strategies, gear specs, or the in-game economy, is that third person going to have any understanding of what they're talking about? Probably not.

Players don't learn game lingo in a vacuum. Both the building of the WoW language (knowledge of place names, mechanics, abbreviations, chat behavior norms, etc.) and its transmission to new players are done through social processes. Players may learn new things through communication with other players, or from the myriad of WoW-related websites out there. I'm only just dipping my toes into the larger WoW social universe, through the offical WoW site, WoWWiki, and WoW insider. I know from my college research there are hundreds of WoW blogs out there. With so many voices to listen to, how does one choose one over the others? Or even know where to start?

I have to wonder how much sociologists or linguists have researched the use of language in online gaming. Considering how much was around while I was in school, I'd say not much, unless a lot has changed in the last year and a half. WoW language and culture are topics I intend to revisit again, once I have more knowledge on the subjects. For now, I still feel very much a n00b, just stepping into a world full of things I don't understand, even with 3 days of playtime under my belt.

What resources would you recommend to someone trying to learn the language of WoW? Any sites or blogs that are particularly intelligent, accurate, and worthwhile? I'd love to expand my portfolio of places to visit.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

EQ2 vs. WoW Comparison, 46 Levels In

Naturally, as I've been immersing myself in WoW, I've been comparing it to Everquest 2, the last MMO I played, and one I spent more that 34 days physical time playing. It's true I've been away from the game for over 2 years, and thus can't say for sure how the game has evolved since I left, I thought I'd offer up my thoughts on how the two differ, based on my memories of that game, compared to what I see in World of Warcraft now.

Advantage: WoW

Finding quests in WoW is super easy, with the ! over NPCs heads. It's a system EQ2 actually copied over, and I was glad they did. WoW does a good job of combining lore with practical details players need to know to complete the quest, and then there's the arrow to where you need to go. EQ2 wasn't so user friendly. While some info was there, you didn't get such obvious waypoints, and the game basically made you figure it out. While there are times I'd prefer that to the almost hand-holding of WoW, I prefer to have clear direction, so I can spend more time adventuring and less time wondering WHERE I need to be going.

I will say this for EQ2 though: Heritage Quests kicked ass. These were extremely long, multi-part quests that offered massive guild XP and some sweet rewards. They often involved traversing multiple dungeons and zones to complete. There were days where me and some buddies would spend an entire afternoon running a single quest, and having a blast doing it. I wish WoW would offer a few more complex single-quests, or more complicated quest chains, to offer something as epic as the HQs for EQ2.

Advantage: WoW

I was quite disappointed with EQ2's writing. I found it bland and I didn't really care what was going on. I made the effort to read through NPC dialogue and quest discriptions, then just gave up on it and simply accepted quests. (I am, after all, a questoholic). Most of WoW's storytelling if fairly basic, but they manage to give each zone its own coherent narrative, and it all flows together better than EQ2's disconnected quests. WoW also infuses the humor EQ2 lacks. That world took itself too seriously. If you want to see WoW humor in action, run an alt through the new Hallsbrand Foothills. That zone has been my favorite in the whole game so far, and you can experience it below level 30.

Advantage: EQ2

I think my buddy Sabre (Vindi) was right about the dungeon finder. While it's a great tool for finding a quick group, I have yet to see anything interesting for in-server community. In EQ2, you had to use chat channels to get groups running, and inter-guild relationships weren't uncommon for questing or periodic raiding. Character population seemed more even across all zones, unlike WoW, where I see a billion people in Org. but as soon as I leave that zone, I might as well have the rest of Azeroth to myself. (That is, no doubt, the effect of the population stratification towards high levels, since the game has been out for so long. Established players far outnumber n00bs like me.) While spawn camping boss mobs in EQ2 sucked, it did provide the downtime for some fun and interesting social interaction.

Advantage: Tie

I can't decide whose I like better. Looking only at dungeon design (ignoring the fact that I can more easily get into a dungeon run in WoW than EQ2), both have pros and cons. EQ2's dungeons were more complex, though some were perhaps too involved, and confusing to navigate. In comparison, I find WoW's dungeons too linear and simplistic. I enjoyed some of the challenge of having to learn the lay of the land in an EQ2 dungeon. However, I like WoW's more aggressive use of instancing, so groups can be free from interruptions from other parties. Having the bosses readily available beats having to wait for a boss to spawn, as that sometimes took an hour or more. Still, some of the Epic moments from EQ2 make me long for that when I teleport into another linear WoW dungeon.

Not Enough Data

I did only a little raiding in EQ2, as I was always behind the level cap and current endgame raids everyone else wanted to do. The stuff I did was far from the "new hotness." I have yet to raid in WoW, so it wouldn't be right to compare the two.

World Design
Advantage: Tie

Both games have well designed areas. I liked that in EQ2, each zone logically connected to the next in terms of level progression, so it wasn't hard for a noobie to know where to go. The same isn't always the case for WoW. However, EQ2 forced players to load between zones, but I can move from zone to zone it WoW without ever seeing a load screen, which is pretty nice.

I'm sure there will be more EQ2 vs. WoW comparisons in the future, but I think I'll wrap it up here for now.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Throwaway Content

Time to settle in for the first true post of Unending in Azeroth, and my first look at one aspect of Massively Multiplayer games. Today, I want to talk about something I'm calling Throwaway Content (or thrown-away), for lack of a better term.

When I'm referring to something as Throwaway Content here, I do not mean to suggest the actual content on offer is unimportant or of poor quality. I'm using the term to talk about content that exists, but is hardly utilized by players of the game. It is content that has been "thrown away" through lack of use by the community, or the game developer's design has in some way caused the community to pass up or ignore content.

The older a game gets, the more of this can be seen within that game. As new content comes out, the existing player base naturally wants to move on to greener pastures and fresh adventures. The further removed content is from being new, the less and less it will be utilized. In effect, old content is "thrown away."

With Cataclysm's release, former level 80 players are no doubt gearing up for new dungeons and adventures, leaving behind content from Wrath of the Litch King. Any new alts are likely to stay in those zones only long enough to level beyond them. Former raid zones and challenges are going to be passed entirely. I'll admit I'm a n00b here, with my main just hitting level 40, and I'm joining a game 6 years into its life. At this point, what are my odds of getting a raid together for original or Burning Crusade content at a level where such areas can be played at the challenge they were meant to have?

The downside of expansion content and the understandable desire of established players to move on to new stuff is that, for new players, old content becomes obsolete. I've experienced this problem first hand during my Everquest 2 days, and the problem was made worse by Sony Online Entertainment's much more frequent expansion schedule with EQ2 compared to WoW. By the time I was ready to take on the exciting dungeons of the Desert of Flames expansion, the areas were empty of players, and nobody wanted to group, as they were already on the next exapansion.

While Blizzard's inclusion of a Dungeon Finder ensures dungeons will stay relevant and that people will play them, it does not stop much of a game's content from going ignored as the player base of a server is top-heavy with max level characters, and comparatively fewer low-level players. I've spent enough time in the dungeon finder to know that you could use it exclusively as a means to level up. I have a feeling I could, theoretically, level Unending from 60 to 70 entirely using the dungeon finder, without ever setting foot in ANY of the outland zones. Correct me if I'm wrong. Same could be said about Litch King.

I approve of Blizzard's decision with Cataclysm to make players at least find the dungeons in the real world before being able to queue for them. This will hopefully ensure that as future content becomes the "New Hotness," players are still spending some time in the old content as means of progression.

Blizzard's own design decisions have also added to the amount of what could be considered Throwaway Content in their own game. I'm a WoW n00b, and I'm already level 40 without much effort. I've leveled passed zones to the extent that they provide no challenge the moment I arrive, making zones I wanted to explore obsolete, or Throwaway, because leveling design has pushed me passed them. I realize there are numerous low-level zones for a reason, to accomodate all the various starting locations, but I still think too much of the game can be easily dismissed on the quest for the endgame. The speed of leveling seems a design decision not only to help experienced players bring alts quickly to that new endgame content they want to be playing, but push n00bs like me along and buying the next expansion. The decision to cut the experience needed to level from 60-70 (or was it 70-80?) by 20% could also be read as a means to push people through old content faster.

Is there any way to stop the spread of Throwaway Content as a game like EQ2 or WoW grows and ages? Can older adventures be kept entertaining for new players looking to enjoy all the content they paid for? I think so, both from a game design standpoint, and a social standpoint.

I'll start with the social means of keeping old content relevant, as it's the harder of the two to regulate. While game systems could keep soloable content relevant for players who want to enjoy that, it'd take effort to keep people wanting to play old raids. And the only solution I can think of is Social Networking. Find other new players, whether by in-game communications or various forums, who are of a similar mindset, and want to explore areas of the game most players now ignore. Find a guild content to take it slow, and do everything.

While it's largely on the player to make sure they see old content if they so choose, game systems could be implemented to make this easier for players who so choose. Everquest 2 had a "mentoring" system, where I high level character could pair up with a lower level character to assist them. When the high-level mentored, their level was temporarily reduced to that of the person they were mentoring, and all gear and abilities scaled down to be level-appropriate, though mentors would still be more powerful than otherwise possible at that given level. Such a system could allow a high level character to pair up with someone lower and go see older content, at a level where most of the challenge would still be preserved. Such a system would be nice in WoW.

Another novel concept would be the ability to TURN XP GAIN OFF. While new players could simply not buy the next expansion to keep themselves capped at 60, 70, or 80, this does not solve the problem of rapidly leveling passed zones. Plus, why should someone have to be denied expansion bells and whistles like a new playable race? Allowing players to turn XP gain off would allow them to progress through content at the speed they choose. When they're ready to move on, simply turn back on XP gain. As eager as I am to have a character at 85 so I can group with my buddy Sabre (or Vindi in WoW lingo), I'd like to have the ability to go much slower with other characters, and really see the world, if I so chose. I'm hoping this ability is actually in-game, and I'm just too n00b to find it, but I doubt it.

Do you feel too much of the old gets lost whenever an expansion comes out? Ever been behind the times compared to a lot of others, and struggled to see aspects of the game you really wanted to?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Yet Another WoW Blog

I'm not new to blogging. I've been running my other blog, ThrawnOmega's Blog on the Gaming Life, for over 2 years now. Rather than confuse my core audience there with talk of a game they may not care about, I'm starting a different blog for discussion of World of Warcraft.

I aim for this blog to offer up my thoughts on the game, and MMOs as a whole genre. As someone with a Sociology degree, expect to see a fair amount of social commentary on the community of an MMO. I may even bust into more serious discussions about things like the Presentation of Self in Virtual Environments if I'm feeling motivated (and yes, I've done research on such things in the past.) Sometimes I may just journal about what I've been doing in game.

If you're looking for tips on how to play your class, strategies, or end-game advice, you've come to the wrong blog. I'm still a n00b. If you're looking for an educated take on a fictional universe, you're in the right place.

If you want to find me in-game, my main is named Unending (which conveniently matches the name of this blog) on the Uldum server. I play a Hunter. And yes, I'm a male playing a female toon. Gender representation in-game is a topic I shall cover in a future post. Probably later this week once I have some days off.

Greetings to the WoW Blogosphere. More to come!