Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

Archive for the ‘The Social Aspect’ Category

Solitude and the Advent of Battle Tags

I was a pretty late adopter of cell phones. I don’t really like talking on the phone, and phones at the time were just that – a bit big and clunky, nothing like the smart phones of today. They didn’t have games or any other distractions. I finally gave in to the cell phone trend when I moved away from home to go to college. My Mom insisted I needed one since I was moving to a larger city, as a safety measure. I got a “Pay as you go” type and hardly ever used the minutes on it.

Moving to the city was in itself a transition for me. I came from a town of about 70,000 people and moved to my city just as it was marking its millionth citizen. It’s not the biggest city, but it was a pretty large adjustment! As I made my way around my new city, exploring the downtown, taking the train and the buses, I was struck by a feeling: No one knew where I was. This wasn’t a scary realization, rather, it was liberating. In my old town, you couldn’t go to the grocery store without running into at least three people that you knew. This used to drive me crazy, especially because my mother worked at a school and knew hundreds of kids and their parents. It used to irritate me because I just wanted to go through the cereal aisle or whatever without having to always stop and chat. In my new city where I knew so few people, I could have a coffee, go draw in the botanical gardens, spend hours wandering around on my own and no one would bother me. I loved it.

I still carried my cell phone with me. But my distaste for it was driven home after an altercation with my father. Frustrated that he couldn’t reach me, he complained: “You never answer your cell phone! What’s the point of even having it?” I told him in no uncertain terms that I had a phone for emergencies and in case I needed to reach anyone. It was not a guaranteed way to get in touch with me. I wasn’t going to be at anyone’s beck and call. This was over ten years ago, mind you. Since I first reluctantly brought my clunky phone in my purse, smart phones and constant internet access have become an expectation. Twitter, e-mail, text messages, Facebook messages, instant messages and cell phones give people almost immediate access to each other. The introduction of Real ID into the Blizzard family of games lets you play with all of your friends – and don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic. But there are a few drawbacks.

The stoic refusal to introduce an invisible mode into Real ID (and now, I assume, Battle Tags within Diablo) has been a constant thorn in my side. Like when I first explored the city unattached, sometimes I want to play a game without someone knowing where I am. Suppose I wanted to roleplay on another server for awhile – all of my Real ID friends can see my character name, server, and zone. If I want to login to my bank alt and just spend some time auctioning, everyone can see that too. Even if I just want to make a silly lowbie alt and play quietly by myself, I can’t do that. I’m far from the first person to bemoan the lack of an “invisible” mode with Real ID. The counter-argument is, “Why are you playing an MMO if you don’t want to talk to people? Just don’t use Real ID if you don’t want anyone to bother you.” But that seems really ridiculous to me, and overly simplistic. A person might go to a coffee shop by themselves in real life and read a book or just sit. It’s not expected that anyone will just walk up and sit at their table and talk to them. “But why did you go to a coffee shop if you didn’t want to talk to people?”At another time, you go to a coffee shop with a friend to chat and catch up over a hot drink. You shouldn’t have to choose that you ALWAYS want to go for coffee only with friends, or that you always want to go for coffee always alone. If it wasn’t for Real ID, I wouldn’t be able to run five-mans and raids with friends from other servers and factions. I love Real ID. But there are times when I also hate it.

Because solitude doesn’t necessarily have to be anti-social. There should be room for stillness in every day life. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be alone sometimes. I really struggle with this because I get messaged a lot in Real ID. And the people I have in Real ID are my friends, so it’s not that I don’t want them there. But sometimes I just don’t feel like talking – and this even applies in real life. Voss knows more than anything, because he is more extroverted than I am. Sometimes I’ll be reading something quietly and he’ll be talking to me and after a few minutes of “Mmhm,” or me not responding he’ll say wryly, “You’re ‘peopled’ out, aren’t you?” He’s usually right. Being social takes energy from me. It’s possible to overdose on it. At those times, I really wish that Real ID had an invisible feature. It’s possible to manage your status with “Busy,” and “Away,” but that requires that people pay attention to your status and also respect it. It can be hard to tell a friend, “I just don’t feel like talking now,” without hurting their feelings or making it seem as if it’s something to do with them.

Now that I’m adding Battle Tags in Diablo III, it’s my understanding that the tags will carry over to the Real ID system in WoW, and I’ll be honest, I’m wary. I’m not quite sure why I need to be able to connect to Battle.net to be able to just play Diablo by myself (as sometimes, I am going to want to do just that). Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to be able to play with a wider range of people than I had available to me on Real ID. I’ve met so many great folks via blogging and Twitter that I’d love to game with. But if I have you on either of those systems, don’t be surprised if someday I’m set to busy and I don’t respond to your messages, or I don’t tweet back at you right away, or immediately answer your e-mails. Sometimes I may deliberately let my phone go to voice mail, close my Twitter client, and sit quietly by myself. Since the days when I played Super Mario Brothers and Bubble Bobble, gaming has been an escape for me. I could sit for hours and play – and sometimes I’d play for hours with my Mom or a friend, too! I love shared gaming experiences, and I love solitary ones. With our current expectations of connectivity, it can seem radical or selfish to say “I’m not available at the moment,” but trust me – sometimes everyone needs a little space to get lost in the world, virtual or otherwise. Diablo III seems like it’ll be a blast to play with other people, and also solo. I promise to respect your “Busy” tag if you’ll respect mine, since it doesn’t seem like invisibility is on the horizon anytime soon.

There Are Many Like It, But This One Is Yours

At the beginning of Firelands, I made a mistake. I’ve acknowledged it before, but let me go on the record here to re-iterate that it was a mistake. It wasn’t the first time I’ve made it, but it was definitely the last. I switched characters so that I could play what I thought the guild needed instead of what I wanted to play. I’m not going to belabor this point because I’ve discussed it here, but I think this is seldom a good idea. Unless someone is really and truly unattached to any character and willing to play whatever (and I know there are people who are this way), you should always play what you want to play. Except that I didn’t.

So I took myself out of the running for a Dragonwrath. I was thrilled for the very deserving Fsob who received it, but selfishly I was always a bit sad. I’d danced when the legendary staff announcement came up at Blizzcon. I wanted to see the accompanying lore, I wanted to carry a piece of Warcraft history, and by gosh I wanted to be a blue dragon with jewelery. But I had done it to myself, and I told myself I would just have to suck it up. Except that Blizzard changed Real ID to allow people to run raids. “It would take too much time,” I said. “Isn’t it selfish?” I told Voss. He said, “Maybe it is, but you deserve it, and I’ll be there every night if you decide to do it.”

So on February tenth I posted on our guild forums to say that I was going to organize a Firelands alt run, probably normals, just for kicks. Anyone who wanted to could attend, and I’d find Real ID friends to fill in where necessary. I had big ambitions at first because interest seemed high so I thought I could organize a 25-person run. That didn’t happen the first time (although I did organize one 25 during the course of things!) But that Saturday we headed out to Firelands and we killed some fiery things. I didn’t realize at the time just how fortunate I am. Over the following three months, at least three people never missed a single Firelands run. Several more missed perhaps one or two, but were there for the majority of the runs. Voss held true to his word, and he never failed to tank the Firelands bosses for me. On weeks when Saturday wasn’t possible, we did it on Wednesdays because it was the only day that worked with everyone’s raid schedule.

For twelve weeks, a mixture of close friends and acquaintances came to Firelands because they wanted to help me and because I asked them to. Our little Firelands raid went from a “let’s clear through here on normals” to “let’s clear this thing on heroic every week” to “why don’t we pull heroic Ragnaros?” over the course of that time. We got to know each other better. I’ve had the chance to raid with friends who might not be in the guild but who are really fun, great folks. I organized that 25-person raid and it was nerve wracking. I’ve never organized a 25 for anything before; the sheer amount of organization and coordination required made me admit that I gained new respect for 25s folks (not that I lacked respect, but walk a mile in someone’s shoes, etc.) Each week everyone got together to do this and I couldn’t articulate my feelings about it. I experienced a mixture of excitement, guilt, awkwardness. Part of me couldn’t believe that I had friends like these, who would devote so many hours of their time to get me some pixels in a video game – because they knew it mattered to me, and so it mattered to them.

I don’t want to sound at all pompous or overstate the importance of Dragonwrath itself, though I will cherish it forever and it is my most prized virtual possession. There are many Dragonwraths out there, and many casters wielding them. But this one was pieced together by Fsob’s fireballs, Voss’ shield slams. I imagine each piece to have healing powers from Nowell, Itanya, Karanina, and sometimes Yahwen. It has Shaen’s elements, and Tassager’s bear butt, Bittersteel’s howling blast and Sara’s daggers. It even has some fel magic courtesy of Supplicium and DarthRegis, but we’re going to pretend otherwise. Apple Cider and Kurnmogh DPSed for me one night when we were really stuck without a tenth person! Solard and Cutaia and Rooster helped to tank, Beru, Tikari and Jasyla all had a hand in it. Killskillz, Priggle and Nyxy all helped to DPS. When I did my 25-person run, Korixa, Cordella, Oathblade, Luthvian, Tsunomi, Maelinixi, Fyriat, Rhuanious and Pix all came along. That’s a total of 31 people who helped out with Dragonwrath. I tried to be comprehensive but unfortunately I didn’t keep a running tally so if I have forgotten you and you attended, please know that I am so grateful to you and didn’t mean to leave you out. (Incidentally, there is going to be a special surprise for you Wednesday, May 23rd. Just check From Draenor With Love).

I do want to mention especially the people who were most instrumental in this endeavour: First of all, Vosskah, without whom I probably wouldn’t have organized the runs at all. As always, anything I do is made more fun when you’re by my side.

Nowell/Walks: You said that you would heal for me and you meant it, and you never missed a single run or complained although I know you weren’t really interested in Firelands at all. That means you were there especially to help me. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friend like you.

Karanina/Snack: You said that you’d heal for me and made it clear that you weren’t taking no for an answer! It’s been a blast to rediscover Firelands with you alongside. You are an outstanding healer and a great friend. I’m thankful to know you and I hope someday I can repay your generosity of spirit.

Fsob: You are an indispensable part of Firelands for us; despite the smallest stature you never shirk from the largest tasks. Thank you for driving Rhyolith, assigning Baleroc, dog wrangling and flying through all those hoops with me. There’s no mage I’d rather have by my side. Mage mage, my friend.

All of my guildies: I hope you won’t mind me lumping you together, but I happen to think we operate best that way. For coming to Firelands to help tirelessly for so many weeks, I can’t thank you enough. You kept it from ever feeling like a chore to me. You are a fantastic bunch of people who brings excellence to everything you do. Thank you.

Last night when I siphoned that last essence from Baleroc and the moment approached when I’d be reaching the end of this three month task, all the words flew right out of my head. As I said, this is more than pixels, it’s more than a Dragonwrath. To me, it’s like carrying something that is a piece of friendship, kindness, and team work. I think it’s going to make me smile whenever I think of it. I don’t care that it’s a tier late, or that there are many other people out there with one. Dragonwrath itself isn’t unique, but the experience was unique to me. I’m left with only gratitude to everyone who had a hand in it, and most of all for Blizzard: who made the world that allowed me to find all of the people who gave me this great gift. Some of you I’ve met in real life and some I hope to meet someday, but it’s not geography that determines friendship. Last night culminated in a Stormwind rooftop party including a bunch of off-server folks who had seen the Dragonwrath ceremony a million times but they wanted to see mine. You all helped to make it special, and we created enough of a rumpus that random people flew in and said, “What is this?”

This is my friends helping me celebrate something we made together. It’s the spirit of this game for me, and everyone who helped is an indispensable part of that.

Learning to say: “No, thank you.”

One of the toughest things for me (that I always struggle with) is not specific to WoW, although it applies to it here. It’s something that’s always proven difficult, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it rears its head again now. My problem is this – I overestimate the time I have. I underestimate how long it’ll take me to get things done. I overextend myself and commit to too many things.

I’m sure this isn’t a unique problem. It’s not even that I am that busy a person or anything, but my tendency to say “yes” to everything leads to me making myself frantic. In a Warcraft context, this is an issue exacerbated by the easy access to friends on other servers and in other raid groups. It leads me to say things like, “Hey, I can gear up my goblin alt so I can do Horde stuff with xyz!” and then “Hey, they are running a T11 heroic group on these days, I could go and help them…”

It seems to stem from both a desire to help (everyone) and a wish to experience things. Immediately after BT scaled back our raiding, I couldn’t believe the free time I had. Voss and I spent several leisurely evenings in succession – walking the dog, cooking new meals, hanging out on the couch reading, talking, and watching a movie. It felt decadent to have so much time to deal with day-to-day things like laundry, housework, and recreation not spent in front of a computer. Formerly, with 2-3 raid nights a week (usually three) Voss would get home at 4:30, I’d probably start cooking supper at 4:00 to have it ready by 5:00, sometimes 5:30 if I miscalculated, we’d eat and squeeze in a 20 minute dog walk in time to login for the raid at 6:30. Raids don’t actually start until 7:00, but there are things that need doing beforehand to get ready. Check the forums – has anyone cancelled at the last minute? If so, is there a standby? Are we all clear on what we’ll be attempting? Have we prepared the strats? The raid itself goes until 10:00, at which time we log off, get ready for bed and try to be there by 10:30. All too often we wouldn’t, because we wanted to talk and spend some time together, so we’d go to sleep too late, get too little sleep, be tired, and then come home and do it all over again.

This schedule left little time for just relaxing. It made us take something that was supposed to be fun and turned it into a chore. Sure, I enjoyed the actual raiding, but too much was being sacrificed to make it happen. We didn’t have a non-gaming spouse who would prepare supper or take care of outside of game things for us. It was just us. I had a conversation once with the late, much missed Roksi of Production Company. She described the pre-raid chaos she and her husband went through with racing home, getting everything ready and logging in with food still in their mouths (or at their desks!) She wondered if Voss and I experienced the same thing, and I commiserated. We knew where the other was coming from, but of course it’s a choice you make – up until it doesn’t feel like a choice any more. The time commitment that amount of raiding demanded was like a slow squeeze. I didn’t realize how I’d shaped my life around it until I’d been doing it quite literally for years. We always said “Real life is more important than WoW,” but they were just empty words. My family knew I wouldn’t see them on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday most likely because if we both took the night off the roster would be wrecked. Our bench was theoretically deep enough to handle it but that didn’t always work out. We felt like frogs in a pot with the water was being incrementally and gradually heated – we’d reached a boiling point and never even knew it. If we did happen to do something on a Mon, Wed or Fri I couldn’t stop Voss from checking the forums (and the Mumble status) to make sure “everything was okay.”

We had started to resent the pull the game had on us. It had nothing to do with the guild, who are fabulous people we enjoy spending time with, and everything to do with the unconscious choices we’d make each week. Every time we put off plans because they fell on a raid day, we weren’t putting life first. Every hour I’d spend scouring the forums looking for recruits to shore up a dwindling roster was time I wasn’t spending on something else. Now that I have a bit of distance and it’s been a few months, I recognize how deeply unhappy I was with the situation, and how much better things are for me now. I’m slowly asserting order in our life and environment. I don’t have any more laundry that’s been allowed to pile up. I’ve cooked some (if I may say so myself) amazing meals since January. I love cooking and didn’t realize how little I had done of it because it was usually easier to just order in or eat something fast. We’ve both lost some weight and are much happier and more relaxed. I think it makes us more fun to be around anyway at the raids where we ARE doing stuff.

How does this tie into saying no? Well, first and foremost, we had to reduce our raiding, which wasn’t easy but was absolutely the right thing to do. The problem for me came when it had been a few weeks past that major change. The same free time I’d luxuriated in started to look so open. So full of…possibilities! Awesome guildies like Fsob organized old-content MMLA runs (Mogging Mounts Legendary Achievement). I always love to see old content! Folks spent some evenings in BGs. Hey, I like to BG with my guildies! I decided to start running a Firelands group on Saturdays. (By the way, we’re still looking for a few DPS for this week’s run, we’re trying it on 25! Check out the thread and sign up if you are interested, especially if you’re a hunter because we need your survivalfulness). After a little while, it was possible for Friday to be an MMLA run, Saturday to be a Firelands run, and then Monday to be the guild raid. It was too much. Actually, it was exactly the same number of nights that had made us feel too committed to raiding in the first place! I had to regretfully stop attending each and every MMLA run, because I realized that for me, FL and MMLA were often mutually exclusive. I felt guilty about it, because I like running old content and I like Fsob and I didn’t want his raid to lack for people. But I just can’t have that much scheduled WoW time any more. It’ll be nice when we are done in Firelands so that it’s a non-issue.

As far as other commitments go, it’s so tempting when you see other people who need someone for whatever it might be – a single raid, a series of raids – at least for me, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Raiding is fun. It’s nice to be able to help your friends! But it’s also important for me to look at the bigger picture from the opposite perspective – if I spend x amount of time doing THIS, what will I not have time to do? It’s never an easy question, and can make you feel like a colossal jerk when you know that you could help but seem as if you’re choosing not to. I am fortunate to have some amazing folks willing to help me each week in Firelands, and I’m aware that I’m accruing some sizable debts because of it, which I hope I can someday repay. For now, though, I’m just trying to remember that the time I SEEM to have doesn’t actually exist, being already filled with a number of obligations already. I have to remind myself I can’t join every raid or every five-man that contains people I genuinely like and want to help. I have to pick and choose and sometimes be a bit precious about what I’m willing to spend time doing. I owe it first to myself and Voss to not get grouchy because I didn’t set limits on the amount of energy I had to commit to this. It’s a delicate balance, but I keep reminding myself of a therapist’s advice: You have to take care of yourself before you take care of others. You know, the whole airplane oxygen mask thing. You’re no use to anybody if you’re just gasping there.

I want to hear about how YOU all maintain this balance! Are you juggling everything with perfect poise? Do you feel a bit rushed sometimes, or guilty when you can’t help out your friends? Do you somehow manage to ‘do it all’? Are you tired of hearing me write about how happy I am to be raiding on a reduced schedule? I made the joke about a month later that I didn’t have anything to write on my blog because every post would have just been “I LOVE RAIDING ONE DAY A WEEK, PART I,” “RAIDING ONE DAY A WEEK IS AWESOME, PII…” We killed H Ultrax the other day, too, which puts us at 2/8 heroic at an execeedingly leisurely pace, but then we killed Ultra the first night we even tried it. It’s nice to kill heroic bosses while not caring when we did it, or stressing out about wiping for hours if we don’t actually feel like doing it. It works for us. What’s working for you? Or what isn’t? I’m feeling chatty today, so feel free to let loose if you just need an ear. Have some tea.

Then and Now Update

I wanted to thank everyone who participated in the “Then and Now” challenge. I’ve really enjoyed reading your reminiscing and seeing your screenshots from back in the day! Thanks to MMO Melting Pot as well, who featured it. I thought it’d be a shame to miss out on the great posts from folks who wrote on this topic, so you can see them below. I based my list on comments or trackbacks I received, so hopefully I got them all! Nineteen blogs participated, so there is a lot of great reading here. It’d be a shame to miss out on these posts from around the WoW ‘sphere. I had been updating the original post but I didn’t want those links to get buried.

Apple Cider Mage

Orcish Army Knife

Dancing Runes

Water Bender

Power Word: What?

Info About WoW From The Altoholic

Warcraft of the Worlds

Need More Rage

Jaedia’s Menagerie

I Like Bubbles

Kamalia et Alia

Tiny WoW Guild

Bubbles of Mischief

The Daily Frostwolf

Jed’s Corner of WoW Shenanigans

Killing ‘Em Slowly

Sugar and Blood

Need More Rage

Ironyca Stood In The Fire

The Stories of O

Raiding After Dark

The New Guild Order: Why Your Guild Still Matters

This is the WoW equivalent of posting embarrassing photos of your friends. Ullariend had a REALLY rough night.

I know, I’m contradicting myself. If you read my most recent post, you read that I am pretty excited about Real ID raiding. I think especially once Battle Tags are introduced, the social landscape of WoW will be forever altered. You might think that as a guild leader that would scare me. It doesn’t, because I firmly believe that what a guild brings is something separate from just raids or instances.

Imagine you are invited to a big party at someone’s house. When you arrive, the party is already in full-swing. The music is playing and many guests are partying. You won’t find every single person at the party crammed into one room, sitting silently while one person at a time talks, or having one giant conversation. It’s not possible. It’s unwieldy, not to mention intimidating. No, 100% of the time you are going to find in a group situation that people split off into much smaller, more manageable groups. A few people sit on the couch chatting, some others are in the corner, maybe some people are dancing, that one guy or gal is mixing drinks for everyone. Some will talk more than others, some will stay longer than others. The entire collective is the party, but within the party individuals may have a completely different experience. (For example, if you’re me you make sure to say hi to everyone and then find a quieter place to chat intensely with a few good friends).

The whole game (or the larger community of players you’re connected to) is the party, comprised of friends of varying degrees of acquaintance. But your guild? Your guild is your family. You can like and hang out with every person at the party, but it’s your family you see most every day, or sit down to hang out on an evening when nothing is planned. You invite other people to party with you, and when they’ve gone and you need to clean up the mess, the ones who stay are the ones you’re connected to most strongly. Of course, the lines can blur. Some of the folks I can now raid with are from a different guild but I chat with them daily or every few days via IM or whatever. You can have friends that are like family, but it’s all about context. A good example is someone who recently joined our guild – I “knew” her via Twitter but not really well. I find that I pay extra attention to her tweets now, and when a bunch of us are talking sometimes it strays into “Business Time” territory where we’re joking about something that happened in a raid or a forum post in our private guild forums. She’s now “in” my guild, and for me that involves a special mental shift.

To sum up: I have friends, and friends that are like family, and family. The people I’ve been Real ID raiding with are definitely ones that could move from one category to another. I have friends I’d recruit in a heartbeat if I needed people and they needed a guild. So what’s the difference between them? It’s so hard to articulate. It’s kind of like, you know how you complain about your stupid kid/older brother/sister and they have a million faults but the moment someone ELSE criticizes them you are ready to fight them? That’s family, to me. You don’t always get along but you’re a bit stuck with each other. Then friends land somewhere on that spectrum from “I don’t know you really well” to “Call me if you ever have a RL emergency.”

Uhh, you have a little something on your face there...

In Warcraft, to a certain extent your guild and the people in it are your identity. You’re a member of <This Guild> and that means something, to people on your server, to people who know of you, and even to WoW people you might meet in real-life. It’s no mistake that the big, famous raiding guilds have guild sweatshirts/t-shirts and they make sure to wear them 100% of the time at Blizzcon and similar. People know those guild names and what they mean, and they are a badge of pride. I think it would be a pretty difficult thing for that to go away, because of the tendencies mentioned above. People like to feel as if they belong to something, and they ascribe meaning to it. What does it mean to be a member of Business Time? To me, it means that you are a good player. Maybe a retired hardcore raider, somewhere in the adult spectrum, able to take a joke and to give one, not easily bothered by teasing (we do that a lot), but also ultimately respectful of everyone else in the guild. Sure it’s “just” a guild in a video game, but it’s also a collection of people who’ve known each other for years; almost three years in some cases. It has barriers to entry (applications, interviews, which yes, we still do even though we aren’t doing hardcore raiding any more), and it has conditions (i.e. you can be removed from it). It’s a small group but meaningful.

When we went casual, I wrote about how I didn’t know what the future of the guild would be. I honestly believed (and had come to terms with) the fact that my need to step back from WoW could mean the death of the guild, and I cried to think that, and I had to do it anyway. I’ve since had people tell me that even though BT is “casual” now they aren’t sure they could raid with anyone else. Perhaps that’s overstating the case, I’m sure they could learn to, but it’d definitely be different, as each group of friends is different, each guild’s way of being is different. It means a lot to me that people are committed to the guild that way, and it’s that intangible “something” that keeps people in a guild that I believe will prevent Real ID and Battle Tag raiding from actually dissolving guilds. You can’t “belong” to a group without a group to belong to, even if the group is just a Mumble server or green text or a tabard.

There are more practical reasons why guilds will continue to be the de facto structure for most organized activity in WoW, not the least of which is guild perks. Guild perks have proven to be a real double-edged sword – excellent for established guilds but sometimes punishing for smaller guilds or guilds just starting out. People come to expect certain privileges when they belong to a guild, and when you can’t offer those perks it can be hard to attract new members. (I’d offer that if people are only concerned with perks you don’t want THOSE people anyway, but that’s neither here nor there). Perks and achievements also offer tangible rewards of coordinated effort. We can make fish feasts because we did a ton of fishing and contributed to that goal. Every time we place a feast, it’s because we worked together to get to that point.

Your guild provides the framework for many of your experiences in WoW, and I believe it will continue to be that “home base” even when extracurricular cross-server activities become more commonplace. Guilds that establish relationships with other guilds will be stronger for it, in a kind of symbiotic mutual health. You can have a kind of “sister guild” where members are welcome at events – but guild members of your guild still get top priority. Whatever “guild” means to you, and whatever the culture of the group of people you’ve gathered together, I don’t think we should be threatened by the upsurge in opportunities for interaction. To use my earlier analogy, you can welcome plenty of people to the party and it’ll just be more fun for everyone. (But at the end of the night, somebody’s got to help me get this wine stain out of the rug).

But I'll only post embarrassing screenshots of BTers. Maybe. I make no promises.

What do you guys think? What is your relationship with your guild(s)? In a strange way, my opinion on this matter is both conflicting and in perfect harmony. I love the opportunity to include more people in activities and to branch out, but I am also fiercely loyal to my guild and the people in it. I think this is most evident in the way that as more people join us for runs, I start to think of them as an extension or part of BT rather than me being less of BT. Ultimately the message is a positive one – I think these changes can and will be good for everyone who is willing to do a bit of changing with the times. Someone who joined us for a raid recently told me that he loved the atmosphere, and to me that’s the highest compliment we could ever receive. If events organized by people in our guild create a fun environment for people to play in, isn’t that what this game is really about?

The New Guild Order: Why Your Guild Tag Matters Less All The Time

It’s been quiet around here because generally things with me have been status quo. I raid with BT once per week on our “new” casual schedule, and enjoy it a great deal. I play WoW on the other days when I feel like it, but otherwise all of my management responsibilities have been greatly reduced. I don’t have to stress out about performance or progression because we aren’t pushing for it like we used to. I hope the rest of the guild doesn’t mind, but if anyone does mind they haven’t mentioned it to me! On the contrary, the past month has seen an explosion of guild activities, more than we ever had before outside of raiding. There was a brief lull after we slowed our pace, and then all of those free raid days began to fill up with other activities organized by other people. There’s an arena team that runs Tuesdays, people run BGs together a few times a week. I started a Firelands run on Saturdays which is a whole entry unto itself, and Fsob has been organizing what he dubbed “MMLA” runs (you heard it here first, people). That is: Mounts, Mogging, Legendary and Achievement runs. Because Real ID now allows for grouping up to do old content, we’re no longer limited by the number of people available to us.

These runs started off small – a concentrated group of BT people and a few friends doing Sunwell, Black Temple, etc. But the changes to Real ID have allowed it to explode into almost an entire group of people running Ulduar 25 for achievements, a shot at Mimiron’s Head, transmogging gear, and meta-achievement drakes. A few people even brought characters locked at level 80 because they need the gear to eventually do a Herald of the Titans run. I was thinking about something as we were doing Ulduar last night, hanging out on Mumble and “meeting” some of the people I’ve known via Twitter for a long time. Business Time’s footprint is small – I mean, we are a small guild, kept that way intentionally. We have maybe twenty members, tops, at any given time. (Probably less). But our reach is wide. Through Twitter networking, blogging, and runs like Fsob’s run, we interact with a great many more people than our small guild size would seem to suggest. The fact is, the guild we are in almost doesn’t even matter anymore, and will come to matter even less after Battle Tags are implemented.

Think about it. Via Real ID, I have been running Firelands with a holy paladin from Apotheosis for a month now. We were friends before, but now we also raid together. Likewise, the guild leader of Waypoint on Medivh has been running with us each Saturday. Last Saturday we brought Tikari (also of Apotheosis). Now of course, Nowell and Tikari are still members of Apotheosis, and Karanina is the guild leader of Waypoint. But what are they to me, and what is BT to them? It’s not exactly nothing. You might call them “friends of the guild.” If they wanted to make an alt and hang out in BT, I would absolutely say yes. The bonds of friendship online, in a game like Warcraft, are forged through three things: communication (via text), communication (via the spoken word) and shared experiences. I’ve been raiding and talking to all of these people once a week for a month now. I raid with my guild once a week. So how do the two groups differ?

I think in many ways, they don’t. The most important and key way, obviously, is progression raiding. Apotheosis is raiding hard-mode content with a group of 25 people. Their policies and involvement may differ considerably from Business Time’s. But in the space that we intersect, we get along famously. I also cannot overstate that this is absolutely the best thing that could possibly happen for guilds of any size or goal. Guilds have typically been (largely) insular operations. You have your own guild chat, you have your guild events, you may sometimes invite “outsiders” along but generally it’s all about what happens within a guild. Thanks to the new connectivity between guilds, this mentality has been exploded. Small guilds (such as ours) can tap into a much larger resource of players. The challenge to keep your guild engaged and interested has just been greatly reduced! It used to be that I worried if I wasn’t online every day, or I worried if we didn’t have enough events being planned outside of raiding that people would get bored, or stop logging in, or even leave. I imagine that other guild leaders may have the same fears. It’s tough to maintain a community of people when everyone has commitments outside of playing a video game. Especially in smaller guilds players can be like ships passing each other in the night – never even seeing another soul online for hours at a time. That may still be a true, but an influx of organized activity that members can participate in keeps people happy and engaged. As far as I’m concerned, there is no downside to this at all. I get to meet and raid with friends that might not necessarily share the same progression raiding goals as I do, and we don’t have to be in the same guild, but we still have a good time!

It also means opportunity for everyone involved. Cross-pollination of guilds widens the community, and bridges the gulf that’s always existed between isolated guild communities without impacting the singular goals of the guilds themselves. Thanks to the contribution of these folks, I am making progress towards building a Dragonwrath. Yes, I decided to go ahead and get it done, no matter what it took. That wouldn’t be possible without the help of these friends. We usually have a critical mass of BT players each week, but are just 2-3 people short of a “guild” run. To me, it’s been pretty amazing. We’ve been doing heroic modes and having a blast. I think everyone has fun. (Although ask them how they feel in a few months…) On the flip-side, Val’anyr shards have been going to Jasyla in the Ulduar 25 runs. Somehow it seems “right” to me that our guild members can help her build a legendary while some of her guild members are helping me build one, too. I’m not a member of Apotheosis, and they aren’t members of Business Time, but as I said – we aren’t nothing to each other, either.

Meantime, I haven’t even touched on the raiding communities that have sprung up as a result of this Real ID change – people who want to make cross-server raiding their primary game activity! The guild that you are in at that point matters even less, because there is not likely to be a “central” guild organizing an event, rather it’s an individual bringing together raiders from all over. It’s radical to suggest that you might not even need a guild to enjoy raiding content, but with Looking For Raid and cross-server raiding, that has very quickly become our reality.

So where do we go from here? Let’s break down even more barriers. I wish I could group with people from the EU. I wish I could raid with my cross-faction friends. Let me invite friends from other servers via the in-game calendar! Consolidate these things so I am spending more time in your game. Let me offer guild repairs for everyone in my raid, the same way I can drop a feast and provide flasks for them. The final one, I’m a bit more trepidatious about: the ability for Real ID groups to join raids for current content. If that one becomes a reality, your guild tag really might cease to matter in a way that’s dangerous for guilds, although it might also really help to be able to fill a raid last-minute with a friend. The structure of guild and group play in WoW has been fundamentally altered. I’m not quite sure where it’s heading, or where Blizzard will draw the line, but for the time being I am pretty happy about it. The recently announced Scroll of Resurrection plays into this too. Characters and guilds and play are ultimately malleable at this time. It’s as easy as snapping their fingers for Blizzard to create a level 80 character, to race/faction change a character, and send them to whatever server they want. All of this is accomplished usually in a matter of minutes – I know, because I’ve poured money in that direction before. Now that the floodgates have been opened to allow us to play together, I predict that people won’t be content to stop there. We’ll probably see current content Real ID raiding, guild raiding coalitions, possibly even guild mergers. (It’s possible to server transfer a guild now, too!) More and more, we’re going to be playing together however much we want to be.

So how about you? How have the Real ID changes impacted your gameplay? What do you think about the “new” social reality of World of Warcraft?

Looking For: Community

I was a bit late getting my Christmas shopping done this year, so I found myself in a department store at the jewelery counter. You can imagine the kind of swarm that exists around any department store’s jewelery counter at this time of year. (Vosskah and I have been laughing at a radio ad we heard in which a middle-aged lady is listing all of the possible gifts to be found at [Store], “Sweaters! Perfume! Jewellery,” and she utters the last word with the kind of lusty eroticism I never expected to hear on the radio. Jewellery is a Big Thing, apparently).

So the department is crowded; I’m only there to find some clip-on earrings for my Grandma, and a kindly lady shows me how they are mixed in and where I can look, etc. I feel for this woman because she is clearly petrified and it’s her first day on the job. When I find the earrings I want and am paying for them, she is taking the time to get gift boxes for them, and tissue paper to go along with the sweater I was also buying. She’s not moving at light speed, but I think it’s a reasonable length of time for a transaction. Before my things have even been bagged, though, the lady behind me has moved up to the jewellery counter and is placing her items while impatiently asking, “Is it possible to get some service here?” I’m still inputting my PIN into the machine at this point and the lady is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. The poor woman helping me finishes up our transaction while the woman training her takes over for Ms. Can’t Wait Two Minutes. I walk away from the jewellery department exclaiming to Voss, “Did you SEE that?”

As far as these stories go, it’s a pretty mild one. Entitled lady doesn’t think that waiting in line is necessary, she wants service and she wants it now. She’s the real life equivalent of a “go go go”-er. However quickly things are moving, it’s not fast enough for her. They’re unpleasant in real life as they are in a video game, and I’m afraid that more and more the game is tailored to them.

I've been taking screenshots of LFR chat here and there since the patch, here's one of them with more to follow.

This is fairly radical for the erstwhile Pugging Pally to admit, but I don’t like LFD. I don’t like LFR. Wait, before you scroll to the bottom and start typing an angry comment, let me clarify. I understand the dilemmas that LFD and LFR were introduced to address. I’m not one of the elite raiders who feels that only 1% of people playing the game should see end-game content. I don’t need other people excluded from things so that I can feel awesome about myself. It turns out, it is possible to have your internet dragon and loot it too. No one else can take away from your accomplishments in-game because they’re yours. So that’s not my problem. And on the surface, LFD and LFR work. You want a dungeon? You can be doing one anywhere from instantly to twenty minutes later, most any time of day. It turns out that the same is true for LFR; you probably won’t wait in a queue longer than twenty minutes and probably less for that, too. I have run LFR solo, I’ve run it with my guild, I’ve run it with just a few friends. I’ve done it as a druid, a paladin, and a mage. I’ve had plenty of experience with it. And here’s where I think the problem lies.

What it purports to do, and what it actually does – are two completely different things. In theory, LFD and LFR lets you get together and cooperate with a group of people to achieve a group goal: killing internet dragons of various ilks. In practice, they mask singular goals with the illusion of group play. Yes, you have to more or less cooperate to successfully complete an LFD or an LFR run. But are you there to cooperate, or are you there to acquire loot/VP? Herein lies the problem. Once upon a time, I used to run dungeons yes, to acquire emblems or points or gear or whatever, but also because just running dungeons was fun. On my old server, I had a massive friends list of people who might want to run a dungeon at any given time. If nobody felt like trying to run a dungeon, I would hit Trade or the now-defunct Looking For Group channel. It wasn’t elegant, but generally it worked. More importantly, it allowed me to make friends and build a reputation for myself as a nice/fun and competent person to run with. I did this across several characters. Usually, if I felt like running a dungeon, I could make a group to do so. If I couldn’t manage a group, I’d put it off and do something else.

Now before you counter that it’s still possible to assemble groups this way, it’s true, but unlikely. I’ve tried. I can usually gather up guildies to run things if enough are interested and perhaps if I wait a bit. I’ve tried different channels to ask if people want to run something, with very little response. I can check my same-server friends’ list and usually folks are raiding or already IN a dungeon. And why wouldn’t they be? Joining one as a tank or a healer takes all of ten seconds. You can’t blame people for taking the path of least resistance. I’m more likely to group up with friends on other servers – many times, friends I have made via this blog and Twitter. So I’m in the interesting position of having to build a reputation as a good player outside of the actual game in order to run with people I enjoy playing with. I’m sure my server has such people, but it’s unlikely I will find them because they’re either running with their own guild, or running quick pugs with LFD.

This was a guy raging on Zon'ozz because no other healers were dispellers (I joined the group after they'd wiped on Zon'ozz).

So it goes with LFR. And I will be completely honest – yes, there are good parts of LFR, but overall LFR alarms me because of what it represents, and because of its potential impact in many different ways. First of all, if someone gets their introduction to raiding through LFR I fear for what they think raiding actually IS like. A raid full of people face-pulling the boss, ignoring strats, backtalking each other and constantly squabbling, ninjaing loot they shouldn’t have (feral druids winning Int gear, I’m looking at you). LFR is a bad LFD pug writ large, with a proportionately larger number of Go Go Gos and bad attitudes. The issue with LFD and LFR both are that the majority of people feel that they’re being put in a position where they have to ‘put up with’ other people to get what they want. It’s not an opportunity to meet new folks or make friends, how could it be? There is no additional benefit to befriending people via LFD, and even if there were, you’d need to be willing to add that person via Real ID to take advantage of it. Most of us won’t do that.

Now, Blizzard has taken some steps towards addressing these issues. They acknowledged the erosion of server community by coding a preference in LFD to group you with same-server folks wherever possible. I think it was a bit too little too late, though, because most of us are already conditioned to join the group, begin killing things with the other four, faceless and anonymous people in our group, hope that it’s a “good group” so we collect our loot, points, or whatever and then move on to the next group. I’ll sometimes remark, “Hey, we’re both from this server!” and the reaction is almost always the equivalent of a shrug. If I don’t mention that we’re from the same server, then it usually doesn’t get mentioned. There’s a confusion of paradigm in what exactly is being awarded. So we’re grouped with people from our server; but tanks and sometimes healers can also obtain a satchel of loot if they are willing to join on their own. Even if a pug tank likes the group of four he/she is put with, there’s no benefit to them for staying with that group, and there is benefit to dropping group and re-queuing to obtain another satchel.

The second thing Blizzard is doing is introducing the “Battle Tag” system (currently being tested in Diablo III) that is probably what Real ID should have been all along. You’ll be able to choose a pseudonym that others will see if you choose to friend each other mutually, and gain the benefits of Real ID without letting people know your real name. This has the potential to enable friends lists to transcend server restrictions, and possibly even make reputation matter again to a certain extent. You could build a network of folks you’ve run with and would like to run with again, no matter what server they are on. For me this has great potential, and I’m watching it with interest to see what develops. I don’t just want to whine about things uselessly – I recognize that LFD and LFR were introduced with a purpose. Especially for smaller population servers, and for dungeon grouping while leveling, these systems have been a great boon. They enabled myself and other players to see lower level dungeon content that we probably didn’t have the opportunity to see before. Assembling lowbie groups was always a bit of a crap shoot – find four other people near your level, traipse out to the dungeon (possibly located in a place you hadn’t been, or you had to get there without a mount). Now we get mounts at level 20 so that’s much less of a concern, but LFD has made that completely moot anyway. It’s never been easier to join a group to do a dungeon, or as it turns out, a raid. At least, something raidish, with a raidish shape.

The overall DPS of this group WAS pretty low. I wasn't going to say anything about it, though.

I am concerned that LFR takes my favourite part of the game (raiding) and makes it so effortless yet empty to me. When you can roll in and kill Deathwing in under two hours, where is the impetus to join a long-standing, dedicated raiding group? Is it going to be worth it to the average player to say “I killed it on normal mode,” or “I killed it on heroic mode?” It was already reasonably tough to find people driven to complete heroic modes – what about now, when there seems to be three options of difficulty? I’ve had at least one friend privately confide to me that they weren’t much inspired to kill Deathwing on normal mode, having ‘seen’ him on LFR difficulty. Hard modes always stretched the veracity of the game for me in terms of lore considerations, which is more of a concern for RPers, but it does matter. There IS a “roleplay” in this MMORPG we all play, after all. Does Deathwing care if we killed him on “Looking For Raid” mode, normal mode, hard mode?

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I was already a bit worried about LFR when it was announced. How will that work, I wondered? It’s the size and scope of a raid, and all of the art, without the heart. It doesn’t have the voices of my guild friends along with it; it has random and unpredictable people. It has that guy who will queue as a healer and then go ret instead and win the caster ring from Hagara and never say a word. It has mercenary people who are just in it for themselves, it has verbal abuse. (I’m not excluding myself from the mercenary people category, by the way). There is no benefit to being magnanimous or sharing loot or anything in LFR. It doesn’t have the jokes or the camaraderie or the time or the dedication. It doesn’t have what makes raiding fun for me. Yes, I know, it’s 1) not for me and 2) so just don’t do it then. I will stop doing it when there is no benefit for me, or I will do it and quietly do my job. But what worries me is the people who are doing it who might get the impression that they’ve experienced all the game has to offer and don’t need to seek a guild who will help them to reach those goals on ‘normal’ mode, or worse, the people who’ve never raided and are left with the impression that this is what raiding is. There’s no question whether Blizzard has managed to make a random grouping tool that enables pugs to down ‘raid’ content. For me, the question is really whether or not they should have.

What do you think? Please don’t hesitate to respond and say that you love LFR and are really happy with it, and your reasons why. I don’t consider my opinion any kind of definitive one here, it’s just mine, nor am I going to argue or get defensive with you. LFR has enabled me to get three pieces of loot I wouldn’t have obtained from our regular raids – and I’ve been doing it because I know it can help me perform better for my actual raid. I know many of my guildies have been doing the same. I’ve already seen a marked drop in overall LFR speed and efficiency since the first week, though. I wonder what it’s going to be like a month from now? I’m interested to hear what you have to say about all of this, whether good or bad.

DO IT THE RIGHT WAY

Tag Cloud

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,462 other followers