(Il)Logical Progression

Random Musings by the Truly Random

Resistance is Futile – You will be Assimilated

A fascinating topic was presented today on Larisa’s blog over at the Pink Pigtail Inn, regarding individualism, the norm, and standing out. It references a rather obscure idea presented in a piece of European literature from the 1930s, the Jante Law, that essentially states that one should not try to be different or stand out in any way shape or form, presumably for the good of the community.

The question of individuality and excellence in the human condition is a double-edged sword. Collectively, we, as a species, have proven that we get more done together than apart. We are a social animal and, for the most part, wither and die if we’re without other human beings to socialize with. Were it not for societies, we would probably not be the technologically advanced global species we aspire to be today – we’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer each day.

The problem comes that there will always be ‘individuals’ within the collective – those people who aren’t content in one way, shape, or form to live the status quo. That includes both those that wish to excel, and those that wish to slack. As people become individualized, the thought that ‘compensation should differ by [insert your INDIVIDUAL criterion here]’ leads to discussion within the group, which upsets that status quo as decisions regarding the ‘individuals’ are made.

Should someone who ‘excels’ get more than the average person? Should someone who ‘slacks’ get less? It’s hard to say practically, easy to say logically, but any decision regarding that will upset the balance within the society in question, I believe.

Take, for example, Azryu’s story over at The Arcanery, dated September 8, 2009. In that story he runs a 10 man VoA, putting up 6100+ DPS and top damage, but loses the drop-roll to another mage in the group that barely did 28oo DPS. And, a similar scenario happens again, almost right away in the next run that the group does. And what happens? Azryu’s a bit upset about that, due to the difference between his perceived ‘contribution’ vs. ‘reward’.

And yet, I see this all the time in raid groups – those that are multi-guild or PuG that can’t have a really established lootpoint system for distributing the spoils other than by random. Someone who does a significantly higher contribution loses out on a piece of gear simply because the /roll doesn’t go their way.

This goes back to Larisa’s point, though, about the Jante Law and the perception that individuality can be destructive. Azryu felt that his contribution was indeed ‘excellent’ in comparison to the other mage from the story, and therefore, when he lost the roll, he was upset because the other mage received a reward, twice even, for less contribution. The roll system set-up, however, was in line with a communal based thought, where everyone is deemed equally qualified to receive a piece of loot (equally qualified once spec and class are taken into account, anyhow), and therefore has an equal chance to receive the piece based on random chance.

Which is right? Which is the better system?

I don’t know for sure. Each can skew the performance of the ‘individual’ away from what’s good for the ‘group’. For example, you’re Azryu, and you’re looking for gear. You know how the system works, and you know that how you perform doesn’t affect how much chance you’ve got to get a piece of gear off a drop. Assuming you did not get any satisfaction out of your numbers (‘cause that would be an individualistic thought process), would you continue to try to work for the success of the group giving, in this case by comparison, roughly 219% results, something that probably had some work and research put into it, for a similar chance at the rewards, or would you just sit back and cruise and to heck with individual numbers, as long as the group itself succeeds? On the flip side, if individual performance, as dictated quantitatively by something like Recount, was taken into account for your eligibility for loot, would you continue doing what’s best for the group (switching off-target to hunt down a loose mob, for example, or some other activity which could potentially affect one’s final output), even if doing so could affect the success of the entire group?

I think, fortunately for the communal system of random loot rolling, that people aren’t wired so bipolarly regarding performance/reward. Since people do have concerns regarding their own performance, and the desire to be individual for the sake of being individual, they’re not likely to lower their performance to match that of the status quo if they’re performing beyond that – I doubt anyone says “That other mage is only putting out 3K DPS, so I’m only going to put out 3K DPS, too, since our chances for loot are the same, regardless.”

In the quest for individualism, though, there are those who forget that this is a group-based game, as well. 6K DPS is great and all, but despite such stellar individual performances, that one individual cannot, generally, win the game by himself, if the average performance for the rest of the group is too low. Further, such stats may not take into account (and I’m not saying it is for the real Azryu, but just saying hypothetically) such raiding concerns as aggro control (did the mage get that 6K by going all out, not watching his aggro, and taxing the tank?), survivability (did the mage get that 6K in 30 seconds and then die?), non-DPS expectations (did the mage not spellsteal the boss’ buff in time in order to maintain higher DPS?), and other encounter-based issues (did the mage kill others in his raid due to ‘AoE fire’ or some other encounter-based threat in order to maintain the DPS?).

In WoW, people want to succeed. The belief is that if one succeeds individually, that the group should follow, as long as everyone is trying to succeed individually. However, this is not always the case – there are times when individual performance, at least from a quantitative standpoint, must be sacrificed for the good of the raid. Individual performance at the sacrifice of the group should not be rewarded – though as far as I can see, with the exception of a keen eye during an encounter, “Friendly Fire” is about the only means of seeing who’s not paying attention on Recount, and that does NOT tell the whole story. There are times when a group can fail based on the desire to excel of its individuals.

Again, which is better? I’m not sure, myself. Groups need ‘excelling’ players to help raise the bar, but groups need players to be ‘communal’ as well, as only by the group succeeding are rewards available for the giving. It’s a real Catch-22.

Though, if real world examples are to be examined, it’s hard to beat the group ideal, as insects that have a ‘hive mentality’ tend to do very well at survival and success over more individual types of creatures out there. (But that could also be due to the insane numbers that those insect types have, too, so…)

My suggestion – be individual, but don’t forget the group. You only get rewarded (tangibly) if the group succeeds. But do recognize the individuals who are ‘excelling’, since they SHOULD give people something to shoot for.

And keep in mind, this doesn’t even take into account the green-eyed monster that lurks when people start to be individuals. Competition, jealousy, and envy all start to rear their ugly heads as well, when people stop looking at those people ‘excelling’ as inspiration, and more like targets.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

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September 28, 2009 Posted by | General Musings, World of Warcraft | , , , | 3 Comments

Out with the Old and In with the New?

Over at the Pink Pigtail Inn, Larisa brought up the idea that there is a diminishing returns idea to MMO gaming that prevents new games from coming in and wow-ing players the way that WoW did when it was first released.  Maybe it’s desensitivity to new MMO games due to the sheer amount of exposure to WoW many players have, especially for those whose only experience has been WoW.  I think she’s right – but there’s another aspect to consider for the reason why there are so few true successes in the MMO game industry – the community of players behind the game itself.

 Let’s just look at WoW and the WoW community.  WoW turned the MMO industry on its head when it was released, despite having some pretty major issues on Day One.  (I remember having 2 minutes lag each time that I looted something off a corpse that I didn’t already have a running stack of in my inventory, simply because the ‘item database’ was being overloaded by the sheer number of people trying to play at that time, or so I heard.)  However, in a much more real sense, WoW is merely a refinement of its previously successful predecessor, EverQuest.

 What did WoW refine that EQ was missing, in order to make it overcome the Diminishing Returns issue?  I think it had five things going for it:

 1)  It built off an already popular and establish lore – namely the Warcraft FTS series, which had a pretty loyal and proven fanbase.  Even players who were not MMORPG players decided to take a chance on WoW, simply due to the use of the existing Warcraft Lore as the base of the game.

 2)  It enhanced what was a pretty clunky GUI system that EQ was stuck in, making it easier for newer players to enter the game, without such a steep learning curve.  Further, this was enhanced by making a simpler, easier to learn quest system, where things were tracked within the game itself, rather than notes, and that the quests were more integral to the game than in EQ.  (Honestly, from what I remember and what I heard from long-time players, quests were mostly a waste of time in EQ.  It was like an Easter egg hunt to find the right question/keywords to ask the NPCs to advance the quests, the rewards often weren’t worth it, and notes on the quests for progress and whatnot had to be kept by the player, not within the system.  Most players didn’t bother except when the reward was a necessary item, such as the Epic weapon quests.)  Also, the travel system was enhanced over having to run everywhere all the time.

 3)  It was graphically more enhanced than EQ, which, while it had updated its graphics engine since the start, still did not get away from a static, ‘polygonal’ look to its models.  As is widely known within the gaming community, graphics can initially sell a game (though the diminishing returns on that are substantial. – all looks and no fluff is a recipe for failure in the long run.)

 4)  It had elements for the causal gamer while maintaining those for the more serious gamer.  For the casual gamer, it gave quests, with a relatively smooth learning curve, and generally gave ideas on ‘where to go next’ as you advanced through a zone, and it also gave you the ‘rest XP’ concept for those that couldn’t play as much as some.  For the more serious gamer, at the start of the game, there were World PvP titles and gear, epic raid dungeons, and a vast world to explore (with an improved transit system for easier traveling).  EQ really did not have anything to support the casual player – your success in the game was almost entirely based upon the sheer amount of effort expended in the game.

 5)  WoW came at a very fortuitous time – it came when many experienced players were burning out on EQ and gave them a new experience to play – and it came when many new players were starting to look to MMO games to try, but were intimidated by the level of commitment necessary for many of those that existed at the time.

 What this lead to was a pretty successful start, and as people got more into the game, and the idea of blogging and forums for Internet discussion really took off, a robust community was born.  Strategies, game information, theory, and discussion became a norm for the game, as did blogs such as this with more information and opinion pieces, both entertaining and informative.  All became part of a collective community online for WoW.

 It must be noted that EQ had the makings of such a community as well, and that the EQ community also expanded as online information dissemination became more prevalent. (This community, and the lack of it for the newer game, seemed to be one major reason why even EQ2 did not do well compared to EQ, when it was released.)

 What this community has provided for both WoW and EQ, is a foundation that people can refer to for game information, for both old and new players.  This has led to both games having remarkable stability and longevity, as in order to attempt to challenge either game in its position within the MMO hierarchy of game, the new game must also compete against the sheer amount of information available regarding these games.

 I read on a blog once before, and I wish I could remember who had written it, but the thought was that WoW and EQ both exist as they do today in a symbiotic relationship with the off-game communities they have created.  They are relatively unassailable in their positions due to the fact that to take on WoW or EQ, one would have to take on the community as well, which as it stands now, doesn’t look ready to budge.

 EQ is still surviving, albeit not nearly as strong as it used to be.  There is still content being created for it, but due to the demographics of the player base and the time/effort barrier to entry into the heart of the game, which like WoW is much more towards the endgame, much of this content is geared towards challenging the high-end players still remaining. 

 EQ has done some things to try to make some of this content more accessible, such as removing some attunements and providing ‘backflags’ – substitute easier ways to gain keys for older areas – but has not done too much to make it easier to advance one’s character to the endgame in an efficient manner with the gear that would allow them to participate in activities with the more established players.  One thing that this does lead to with EQ is the idea that changing your character is not really efficient – i.e. starting an alt – as the amount of work to get that alt up to endgame status is enormous, and therefore players will be locked to a particular class (or a very small number of classes, if that person is extremely diligent with their EQ playing) and therefore, risk of burnout due to lack of change of one’s position within the game is high.

 WoW has taken a different approach to the idea of ‘new players’ or ‘new characters’, and in realizing that the bulk of activity in the game is focused on the higher-end material, has gone back and made advancement in the game to the endgame level much easier for players.  Recruit-a-Friend, removal of instance attunements, removal of Elites in many non-instance questing zones, the shifting of Emblems and the gear they allow to be purchased,  the level shift of mount purchases and even the sheer amount of XP available in the BGs today are all ideas made to get players to Lv 80 relatively quickly and get the gear necessary to tackle the high-end dungeons such as Naxxramas and Ulduar.  This also encourages people to try many different aspects of the game as well, as leveling and gearing alts is not very difficult at all, as demonstrated through the heirloom item system.

 EQ seems to be taking a stance of trying to maintain what player base it has, rather than trying to give incentive to bring new players to their game – the sheer amount of material between the start of the game and the endgame is vast – and I also believe EQ’s designers know the types of players that still remain on their game and are gearing the new content towards that.  EQ is in its twilight period, but with infusions of content that keep the remaining, albeit dwindling, player base returning to the game, the game will survive for a time longer.

 Given the shift in the handling of newer players for WoW, it is clear that Blizzard is still trying to entice new players to the game, and give older players a chance to try many facets of their game, by encouraging players to make multiple characters and attain endgame status in order to challenge the high-end content.  While this has annoyed some of the more serious players out there, the majority of players seem to welcome this.  New players can come to the game and actually progress on their own, if necessary, while avoiding many of the inefficiencies and difficulties players previously faced in older content (much of which is necessary since the bulk of the player base tends to be in Northrend).  Older players are often playing multiple characters, trying out different aspects of the game, allowing for different experiences within the same content, as the advancement of those characters is fairly rapid.

 What does this all mean for the new games coming in?

 It seems to mean that in order to overcome EQ or WoW, the players must get involved rather quickly to start creating a community of information and players that others can get immersed in.  While perhaps not as much a giant competitor as WoW is, EQ is the base from which much of this MMO universe came from, and is still an indicator of how serious players can be with these MMO games, and a source for many design ideas for future games, and served as a model for the information community when WoW came to be.  WoW, on the other hand, is the current juggernaut of the MMO universe, and given this, the sheer amount of information available out there for playing WoW will make competition difficult.  What will be necessary is patience on the part of the player base, not to get frustrated and give up when the roadmaps to the endgame aren’t laid out the way they are currently for WoW.  There has to be consideration for the developmental period of a game’s community, and so far, the player community seems to not be patient enough to overcome this developmental period.

 So, to put up a fight, one needs to involve the player community.  It seems that with each new major release coming out, that there are a few MMOs that seem to have the potential to give WoW a run for its money.  They have up-and-coming communities during the developmental and preview portions of the game’s life cycle, but tend to fall off once the game is released.  This sort of community is absolutely necessary to entice new people, encourage the more experienced players to share and expand the community constructively, and to give all players something new to experience.

 It will be curious to see what game is able to maintain the momentum that WoW has currently – it is still the biggest game despite a there being a lot of voicing about dissatisfaction with elements within the game (too easy, too much significant patching, favoring PvP or PvE when making balance decisions, etc.).  It does not seem like a large part of the gaming population out there is completely satisfied with their WoW experience – and it gets worse as the game gets larger, especially when it comes to exploitation (hacks, spam, etc.) – but people stick with it.  Even some players who have burnt out on the game return, and probably keep a watch on the community at least, to see what’s going on in the WoW universe.  This does not mean that Blizzard can fall asleep at the wheel – expectations remain high from the players.  Too many disappointments and even the more serious players will leave.  However, we as players have shown that Blizzard need not be perfect for us to stick with WoW… We’re still here despite all the QQ present in the community.

 In the end, MMOs are about some sort of social experience mixed within a game setting.  Because of this, a developer cannot just fight within the game setting and expect to win, no matter how ‘revolutionary’ their game is – they need to encourage and nurture the out of game social experience as well in order to have a fighting chance at true competition.  The community is an important factor in the success of MMOs – and why shouldn’t it be?  If we weren’t concerned with anything social in an MMO, we’d go back to playing solo games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.

 My 2 yen,

 Akiosama

September 22, 2009 Posted by | General Musings, World of Warcraft | , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a (Guild) Name?

For those of you who might have read this blog before, you know that I went from being a Soloist to an Ensemble player (groups), and onto joining an Orchestra (guild).  My team has been, since the switch from that failed attempt at trying to motivate a starter guild, Lords of the Underworld.  Many of my in-game friends are there, and I enjoy doing things together with them.

However, as also indicated previously, Arhys became a level 80 Death Knight, and has since started raiding.  Naxx25 and Uld25, mostly, with some attempts at 10-man Trial of Crusaders thrown in for fun (? – I think that’s what it’s supposed to be called – I call it repair bills.).  My guild has tried to help those that wish to raid get to raid gear level, and tried to assist with development of both player and spec, and for the most part, we’ve been successful.  We have 5 raid-quality players, over 6 characters, and we’re getting pretty good, I think.  At least, we, as a guild, are holding our own in raids now.

We’d been doing raids with a coalition of three other guilds on a regular basis, in order to get regular 25-man groups put together.  This was my introduction to Naxxramas (I hadn’t even done it 10-man before I started the 25-man raids), and I was learning as I went along.  My Guild Master had promised the Raid Leader on my first night (I was the first one after her to get brought in) 2K DPS, and I didn’t fail her, though with not much safety margin.  I’m grateful she didn’t tell me until AFTER the raid that she’d promised that.

So, fast-forward about two months or so of consistent weekly 25-man raids.  For the most part, things seemed to have been working out, and everyone should be happy, right?

Not quite.  See, we, as a coalition (and I use that term much more lightly than I did before), are having to change up our plans on how to handle the raid.  Why?  Because two of the guilds aren’t talking to each other now.

Yes, folks – we have inter-guild drama at its finest.  Accusations of recruiting from the other guilds.  Disagreements on progression vs. reward for how to handle lock extensions and the likes, now that Patch 3.2 allows raid groups to lengthen the reset timers on raids.  Confusion, overlap, and irritation at cross-guild pickup groups.  And people plain out just not getting along.

Personally, I wonder why people take this stuff so seriously.   I guess there’s an emotional attachment to success and progression, and some people take it more seriously than others.  I hear a lot of talk about guild rankings, gear rankings, achievements and other stuff that will improve with the success of everyone in the group, but many people involved don’t want to wait.  In fact, there’s guild competitiveness within the coalition, and not all of it friendly, or at least that’s what I see.

And to me, the whole thing sucks.  There are people I like in all the guilds we run with, but with two of them not speaking to each other, it feels like I have to choose sides, or at least tread carefully.  My guild has tried to stay out of the whole thing, but it doesn’t feel like something that can be completely avoided.  It’s definitely been trying for the Raid Leader, who I’ve talked to on numerous occasions regarding this stuff.  It’s also been a bit trying on me, not to try to slap people around and say “Pull your heads out of your asses and let’s just raid!”, since I know people in the guilds involved, and I’ve been explicitly instructed to “Stay out of it,” since we really don’t want our guild to be in the middle of the whole thing.

So, that brings me to the underlying question for the day – What’s in a (Guild) Name?

Why is it that the guilds involved in our coalition had to start comparing themselves to each other outside our raids in a fashion that made them compete and foster animosity, rather than looking at each other as a good group of people to run with?

Why do people have to have an us vs. them mentality when it comes to these guild tags? 

It’s frustrating to see.  People who worked cooperatively the week before, can’t seem to do so, because of a few people ‘changing sides’.  People who can’t seem to be adult about it – and the majority of the people in our raids are adults – who can’t just let grown people make their own decisions over which group they want to be a part of, laying down “It’s us or them” style warnings to the Raid Leader, in regards to which guilds are to be part of the raid force. 

It’s just sad.  It’s a game.  We all used to play together rather peacefully and friendly. 

I guess, when your guild is being called out as ‘not the place for me, I fit in there better’ there are those who only hear ‘there… better’ and fill in the rest.

I want to say “Stop all this crap, and let’s just raid and have fun.”  But that isn’t going to happen.  We’re already dividing up our raid times between the two guilds – one for Uld25, as they’re more progression based and one for Naxx25, since they’re fine with running it and gearing up more of their newer people.  I just want to raid, since it’s all fun – I have a blast in both areas.

And luckily, I get to play in both – I’m still pretty close to the center, as my guild is trying, and as the Raid Leader’s guild is trying.  But I can’t say it hasn’t affected us either.

Because, while, as a player, I’m still Lords of the Underworld, Arhys is not.  He is now part of Fallout, the guild that was running our raids.

Why?  To ensure that we’re able to be called upon for raids as much as possible. 

Why?  Because to more people than I’d like, that tag means ‘you’re eligible’. 

Has this affected Lords of the Underworld yet?  Yes.  Questions are already being asked.  Time is already being split differently.  It’s much, much harder to communicate and keep us doing things together.

I just hope it’s worth it.  All I know is, if I see this killing MY guild (Lords not Fallout) I’ll do what I can for it, first.

Because those people are the primary reason I’m still playing and trying to have fun.  Because without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

And where’s that?  A relatively decently geared level 80 Blood (DPS)/Frost (Tank) Death Knight who was able to put out 4K DPS in Heroic ToC 5man, with little trouble.

Though, I long for the days, sometimes, where we’d just get the guild together to go off and own Zul’Farrak or some other lower dungeon, to get someone’s alt a piece or two.

We’re no longer there, though.  We farm Heroics, now.  We are constantly trying to upgrade our main characters.

We’re constantly looking at the next boss fight for our raids. 

Not everyone is able to participate.  (That’s the hardest part of all.)

Can we ever go back?

I don’t have an answer for that, but sometimes I wish I could.

My 2 yen,

Akiosama

September 9, 2009 Posted by | Lords of the Underworld, World of Warcraft | , , , , , | 1 Comment