Archive for October, 2011

Beware sudden starts and stops



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Before Blizzcon, the biggest question I heard people asking about WoW’s subscription model is “will they ever go free to play?”. It’s a good question. Numerous other MMOs have dipped their toes – or dived headlong – into the FTP market. It works for LOTRO, it works for other games. I’d read people wonder whether Star Wars TOR would be the last paid subscription MMO.

Blizzard has been playing around with various revenue models. Things like the purchasable mounts and pets are a very high end microtransaction, which is what Free to Play games live off of. I was actually surprised that there haven’t been cheaper items for sale yet, or a Blizzard fake currency. Many games make you buy Points or System Cash or some other unit of currency, which you then use on microtransactions. There’s a lot of reasons for that – everything from the “it’s not real money” effect to it making impulse buying more likely. Blizzard doesn’t do that. Their microtransactions have yet to affect gameplay.  And there have been remarkably few of them.

Then there’s the D3 real money auction house, and the infamous tradable kitten pet – Blizzard experimenting with ways to let players turn in game gold into real world money, and vice versa. Since neither is live yet, no one has any idea how much success either of these will be – but it looked like Blizzard was thinking about heading down that path. Another bit of support to people who thought WoW might someday go free to play.

But then came Blizzcon, and the announcement of the WoW annual pass: sign a contract that you’ll stay subscribed for a year, and you get a shiny horse, access to the Pandaria beta, and Diablo 3 as a digital download, included. (Not “for free”: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  It’s the “free” cell phone you get with a two year contract).

Maybe some people reacted “meh”. At this point everyone I know and play with has signed up. That has huge implications. It tells me my raid is going to be around – so I can continue to invest time and angst into it. It tells me that I’m going to see these people for a year – so maybe I should Real ID a few more of them. It tells me that they are all potential D3 game partners – see above note – and by the way nobody else wants to be a wizard, right, so you can send me all your loot?

The implications for Blizzard as a whole are even stronger, though. Having created this deal, I see it as highly likely that next year or 9 months from now they will announce another set of incentives to get people to sign on for a further year. And after that…. well, I think after that it’s not going to be the WoW Annual Pass. It’s going to be the Blizzard pass, and I believe there will be two levels:

Level 1 gets you access to Battle.net and the standalone games like Starcraft and Diablo. It’ll be cheap, like $7 a month, but as they integrate more and more services into Battle.net – and therefore need more and more resources – it’s going to be hard for them not to try to find some way to get the Starcraft players paying monthly.

Level 2 will be the full Blizzard pass. It will allow access to Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, World of Warcraft – and the new MMO that they’ll be announcing, the one that is supposedly called Titan. And it’ll be more expensive than a current WoW subscription, probably along the lines of $20 a month.

Blizzard doesn’t just want your WoW money. People get bored of WoW, but gamers are more likely to turn to another game than another hobby entirely. Blizzard wants to be the other game you turn to. They’ve got a triple threat: the best RTS out there. A hack-n-slash game that has all the depth and background and assets that only Blizzard can provide. And the number one MMO – whatever detractor say, WoW is still king. And it will still be a top MMO in two or three or five years when they announce their new MMO, and I would bet good money they learned from Everquest’s mistake. Everquest released Everquest 2 while Everquest was still amazingly popular  – and it gutted the game, split the playerbase between EQ and EQ2 players. Blizzard doesn’t want that to happen to WoW. Figuring out how to launch the next industry-topping MMO without killing their golden goose is probably not easy.

I could be wrong. I hope I’m not. WoW is a great, great value for my entertainment dollar ($13 a month, times 2, we already have to have high speed internet anyway. We can’t go to a movie that cheap. Heck we can’t get a babysitter that cheap). A Blizzard subscription would be even better.

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Pandas rock!

I hear there is still a lot of QQ out there. I don’t know why. Anyone that thinks they are ripping off a pop culture movie is not paying attention. Are there parallels? Sure. So. freaking. what? I mean really, who cares. For those that want to QQ about pokemon? Yeah you are stupid. No, really. Pokemon was not some big unique standalone idea. small collectable fighting critters is a whole subgenera of anime, manga, and now american cartoons too. Heck TRANSFORMERS had overtones of collectable things that fight. The toy industry has been pushing that format for decades. Why? Because it SELLS. People really like collecting nifty things and then making them duke it out. Is it SO shocking that Bliz would do that too? What the eff did you want them to do with mini-pets? A pet grooming mini game? Teach them tricks and have little dog shows? Dress them up in tu-tus and have dance fights? Hey if you want silly and cutesy this WoP new feature is NOT it. It could be much much worse.

And as for Pandas… if you think they are too cute for WOW my friend has something to say to you:



Have you SEEN the art they put out? Those pandas are BAD ASS. No really. Seriously BAD ASS. These are not pandas you want to hug. They are not pandas making cute faces and witty comebacks while a Lemur slaps them around. WoW did not rip off that movie. That movie ripped off Warcraft III. Really. It was in this IP first. No one tells Blizzard what they can’t do with their own ideas. And Bliz always does it best. They have Pandarian Sholin monks, Panda ku-fu swordsman, Panda samurai, Panda ninjas. Panda. Freaking. NINJAS! That is going to be beyond awesome. If you want silly and not threatening looking, go check out Draenei, or BElfs. Speaking of which, did you know that they were actually planning to put Panderans in for the BC expansion but changed their minds? Yeah this is not a new idea.


And it is a good thing they did not put them in then for BC because now they get get their own continent and get it  done right. That place  looks amazing! I can’t wait to explore it.

I loved pretty much everything I saw at Blizcon.

Talents! Sweet!

Is anyone complaining there are too few? Gah! After you set up a decent build there are only a tiny handful you actually are free to spend any way you want. The only utility of all those other points was to give people ways to make a bad spec. That is bad game design! A few talents that are really interesting? Great! If you have been paying attention you know that they have been trying to move things in this directing for years. Most of the change they have made to talents the last several expansions has been moving in this direction. They wanted to make it harder to have a ‘bad’ spec but to make your choices matter. They kept trying and try and a lot of things really did not help.

This new system is great. They are actually making the classes even more diverse because now each ‘spec’ is more unique. People have to separate talents from spec in their minds. In 5.0 talents are NOT your spec. They are more like glyphs. They are customization. Previously the talent system was 95% a way a separating those that googled for a cookie cutter from those that didn’t and 5% character customization. Now the optimized cookie cutter spec is built in and automatic. A game should not have a system that only serves to let the ignorant sabotage themselves. That is what the old system was. The new system takes that away and gives us cool and interesting customization. If you are still doubting it go read up the lists of talents. These are real customization options. It is not stuff like ‘do I want to have 1% more crit to an obscure move or .05% more dodge while moving… gee, I don’t know. I guess I better look it up. DUMB. Now it is stuff like: here are 3 different ways to cast/or do damage while moving. Pick the one that fits your play style. I don’t LIKE min-maxing. I don’t need every bit of character customization to be about that. Let me have some that is about how I WANT to play and not have I HAVE to play to be viable. It is all about the little things like do I want my tanking cooldown to be an automatic proc or manually triggered. That is great! That is personal preference and play style.

Pet battles

Nifty. I might not do anything with it but it is great that they are putting in more things to do at endgame.

Challenge dungeons

Oooo yeah. I am so there. Standardized gear and leader boards? This is gogogo tanking heaven.

PVE Battlegrounds

Love it! Sometimes you just want to win. Or to feel like you are in a big epic battle that does not end with tea bagging.


These are a great evolution of the idea of chain quests and group quests. I can see them retrofitting a lot of old quest to match this system. I assume it will be phased and if so it is a brilliant new use of the technology.

New race, new class and tons of new end game content. How can anyone not be stoked for this expansion? Some people are impossible to please.

 And as a closer to my rant here are the yummy yummy mana cupcakes my wife cooked up for our Blizcon party. No one ran low on mana as we cheer for the alliance to win the live raid (so close).

And it is a good thing they did not put them in then because now they get get their own contient done right. That place looks amazing! I can’t wait to explore it.

Stupid wordpress app ate part of my post…

These are the mana cupcakes my wife made up for the Blizcon party. We all had nice and full mana as we cheered for the Allaince in the live raid (better luck next time :P).


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How about that Blizzcon? Holy freakin’ cow. Just… holy cow. We had my brother Log and three Wow-playing friends over for most of the con. It rocked. Rocked hard. Opening ceremonies… well, they made that announcement about the WoW yearly subscription thing and I thought my one friend was going to pass out. She’d been wanting to play Diablo 3 and Star Wars The Old Republic but didn’t see her budget supporting both; now she can play D3 for free just by maintaining her WoW account. Rev’s pysched about a  new mount – and D3; I’m psyched that they’re still making it worth my while to buy the collector’s edition D3 for the pet.

Pandaren! And done right. I was worried, but the more visuals of the lushly Asian Pandaria I saw, the more I’m hooked. It looks like Warcraft and Asia at the same time.  I’ve been to Japan, not China, but there’s definitely elements of Japan in Pandaria as well. Very cool, looking forward to a smaller, gentler expansion.

Talent changes: wow. Just… interesting. We were immediately reminded of the Tech Tree from the SC2 storyline game; you could at any level chose between two options, both cool. I still have faith that the community will find a way to min/max, but this does look for.

Pet battles? Pokemon in WoW…. but that doesn’t mean it might not be fun. I’ve got a pretty decent pet collection – at 115 on my mage right now – and I could see trying it. PVE scenarios might be the best thing since sliced bread, or might suck, depending on how healer-friendly they are. Challenge mode dungeons? I think Rev is going to have a new hobby. He’ll be speed running those things the day they’re released. I was impressed in all three of these, by how much work they’ve already put  into the systems. This expansion is coming a lot sooner than Cataclysm did.  How soon, I wouldn’t say, but I would not be surprised to be playing it come next Blizzcon.

Anyway. Yeah. Wow. I’ll roll a monk, check out their healer tree. Good news is Rev is going to make a monk tank so we will be partners for leveling again. He’s joking that this will make him a triple bear tank; two druids and a panda!  I haven’t decided yet, gnome or pandaren monk, and I don’t know how we’ll I’ll like the playstyle but I’m gonna give it a try. I doubt Analogue is in danger of being replaced… now I need a name for my monk…. Pandalogue?

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Off Topic: NaNoWriMo

Completely unrelated to WoW post; feel free to ignore.

On the off chance that someone on the geeky side of the internet hasn’t heard of it, November is National Novel Writing Month. Every year several (hundred) (thousand) people write or attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in November. I’ve been doing it for 9 years now. When I started, it was several thousand people; I think it’s close to a quarter million participants these days. At any rate it’s a disgusting number of words written.

It works out to 1,667 words per day, every day, all month. That’s about 2-3 times longer than the standard blog post but the words don’t have to be *good* words, just words. It can be original fiction, fan fiction, people even do non fiction. Poetry, weird literary stuff, whatever you like. Just write.

In my years of participating, some years the NaNo book is literally all I write – but I write it. I failed one year and I’m still kicking myself for that. This year Rev and I want to use NaNo to catapult ourselves back into writing. We’re collaborating hard on the novel he’s going to write and are up to our eyeballs in notes for a steampunk joyride. My novel is a little easier, not requiring much actual research, but I’m looking forward to plunging into a fairly epic fantasy tale, with princesses and knights and magic and backstabbing, arranged marriages, and berserker rages. I don’t believe in “write what you know”: I prefer “write what you want to read”.

Anyhow for anyone out there who enjoys writing, I can’t recommend NaNo enough. It gets you off your butt and starts you writing, instead of thinking about that story you’re going to tell someday. Any WoW player knows you don’t get better just by wishing; you go read elitist jerks and reforge your gear and spend time on the practice dummies and then you wipe. And then you get better. And then you down bosses.

NaNoWriMo is like that.

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Last weekend we went out of town for a wedding. (Great weekend. Totally worth the 13 hour drive.  Rev had much cooler college buddies – and a much cooler college – than me.) I spent hours beforehand getting ready. I had a list of everything I wanted to pack, in little categories – my gear, Rev’s gear, Nomster’s gear, electronics, car amusements, trip snacks. Lists of tasks to do – clean out car, park the dogs, pay all the bills so the lights would be on when we got home. That’s the kind of person I am, the kind who makes lists, obsesses beforehand – and then once we’re on the way, sits back and enjoys and goes with the flow.

I had to make plans for our raid too. With the main tank and one healer out, and a mage off doing something or another, I had to line up replacements. A couple were easy: Bocat always loves to help out, we have some other friends who are sort of regulars. Notify Ado that he’s in charge, notify everyone else that he’s in charge (so there, or else) and then don’t worry about it. I thought about logging into remote chat Friday night and seeing how things were going but I figured they’d be well in hand. And they were. One sub couldn’t make it so they scrounged up another, went 6/7. They ended up with Grom filling in as tank (I hear you did great, Grom!)  which I had thought possible and was why we’d looked at Grom’s tank set the other week and got it up to snuff.

Anyhow. Got preparations this week too. Blizzcon this weekend – our Virtual Ticket is bought, Log’s plane tickets are bought, other friends have their time scheduled off work. We’re going to have six people watching panels at our house, and four of us raiding at the same time. I’ve got to get the place clean, buy food and beer (read: margaritas) and probably read up on at least Heroic Shannox. But I’m starting to try to face up to patch 4.3 too. I’m  not…. really… ready right now. The nerfs kind of took the wind out of my sails. I’m looking forward to the new raids, yeah, but not excited. Hopefully Blizzcon fixes that.

I’d been doing my JC dailies, then stopped because the information I was reading made me think they wouldn’t use tokens. Now they ARE using tokens, so I’ve got to get that in every day. I’m trying to get my auctioneering back on track so I can afford to upgrade gear and stuff. And I’m twiddling my thumbs thinking of a non-raid goal for WoW right now. There’s my shaman, at level 78…. there’s my horde druid at 68… there’s pets to collect. All things I find fun. None quite enough to keep me amused.  I’m a little bored. To be perfectly honest, I’m more excited right now about November arriving so I can start my NaNoWriMo novel writing then I am about most of my WoW goals.

I’m not burned out. Just burned down a little. It’s more like the quiet lull of a winter snow on a fallow field. The field isn’t dead, it’s preparing for spring when there will be new growth and life and little green things. But right now is a good time to sit back and take things easy.

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Having downed all of Firelands Friday night, we headed for ICC and that old friend of ours, Arthas, on Saturday. Repgrind has a writeup too which you should totally read but my screenshots are cooler so there.

Most of us only needed a couple achievements to get our drakes. Mostly, “Orb Whisperer”. Ah, yes. We’d tried last week on heroic and failed and the initial plan was to do it on normal – but that meant Falahla at least would not get a drake, so we determined to try on heroic again  I had an addon called something like “AchievementTracker” or “AchievementHelper”, I can’t remember, running. So as soon as we had someone take too much damage I knew and called a wipe. Everyone did well at dying, thanks! We tried again and this time we got it.

Then on to the Lich King…. we decided to try to do him on Heroic and get the achievement at the same time. I wasn’t sure it would happen; it seemed like a little much. But the raid figured out the shadow traps fast so it was just us healers failing. I know I caused at least one wipe by letting Infest get out of control. Ugh.  Finally after about four tries, we got it. Yay! Guild achievement, heroic kill, and a new title for everyone. Time to go to Dalaran for screenshots!



The heroes arrive near the fountain commemorating their victory!



We are in your deserted city making everyone else’s raid look way less cool.

Very fun! I love this mount.

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