Tag Archives: Community

Midnight Release

Two days ago I walked down to my local Blockbuster and reserved a physical copy of Mists of Pandaria. Beforehand I had checked several online services but decided it was more reliable to go myself and pick it up at midnight.

On the way back I was reminded of the release day of Wrath of the Lich King. I had done it the same way and remembered how it felt standing in line in the store, which was practically full of devoted WoW fans. (The only reason Cataclysm was different was because I was too busy on release day, so I bought it several days late)

I know a lot of people have bought the digital download, it’s easy and convenient, but I want the box too. Soon it’ll be like a souvenir to have all that old-fashioned wrapping, I’m sure. Maybe in the future the only way to get the “full package” is by buying collector’s edition.

In my world, there’s also another plus. The thrill of suspense as you stand in line, one by one the other WoW players leave the store with sparkly eyes. Soon you’re one of them.

I also get to sneak a peek at all the local players, people I have no idea who are, they live near me, we share the same hobby, but we are strangers. It’s an odd feeling, but standing in a room surrounded by them, I feel part of something bigger, I get a glimpse of a tiny slice of the online community as it appears when we all “play our human mains”. Or you could say that cross realm zones exist in the offline world too…

And then I will go home, log in to the new expansion and play while still high on that buzz.

Happy expansion day everyone!

The Community and the MMO Atmosphere – Solo Play pt. 8

This post has been really hard for me to finish. A lot has happened on the community side since I handed in the paper, which was the basis for this series.

A lot of the same topics seems to have surfaced once again with the Raid Finder (LFR), and even though it’s a new thing that the systematizing of the group making process moved from dungeons to raiding, I get flashbacks to when LFD was introduced.

I see the community (both blogs and the WoW fora) having the same discussions as back then, perhaps we thought we moved forward, perhaps history did repeat itself.

So while trying to encompass Solo Play in relation to MMO’s as a genre with their particular multiplayer atmosphere and their strong communities, it felt as if these recent LFR discussions were relevant. It also felt as if this couldn’t be done in a single blog post like this, MMO communities are so large and complex that I can’t do it justice, but I want to finish the series off too.

Before I go on a rant, I want to recommend an article written by Vidyala at Manalicious called Looking For: Community. She brings up a lot of valuable observations about LFR that are coinciding with my own thoughts and I think her article is relevant to solo play and server communities especially but also where WoW is heading in general.

But let’s get to the point.

The Community and the MMOG Atmosphere

Part 7 was about the closer network of players, but we can also think of wider relations than guilds and friends – that is the server and the WoW community as a whole, basically players you don’t have a direct contact to, but share the game with.

The Server

The MMO atmosphere here is closely interlinked with the experience of social presence, that even though you are alone, you still feel a sense of company. For example during my interview with Skyfire about enjoyable experiences when playing alone, he pointed to the time frame right after the release of a new expansion:

Skyfireyeah, then it can be fun to explore the new areas, quest, while seeing so many other players focusing on the same things, that can be fun even though I’m not playing with someone at that time

While Skyfire’s account of the allure of a shared world includes a visibility of other characters, his example is still centered on playing alone and just observing and enjoying a bustling world around him. We saw the more subtle sides to this in pt. 6 with the examples of city flâneurie and character performances through clothing and accessories, which are also facets that emerge between individual and social activities.

So even though someone might be playing alone, their experience isn’t necessarily lonely. While I see a lot of animosity towards solo players, about them playing the wrong game, about them being directly antisocial and disruptive, about them adding nothing to a game that is founded on community, my point is that this depiction of solo players is harmful and vastly over exaggerated. In terms of social presence, they too help populate the world – the server.

Gordon Calleja (2007) found in Digital Games as Designed Experience: Reframing the Concept of Immersion that one of the main attractions of MMOG’s was the experience of a shared but also “living, breathing world”, because they offer more than an automated game world to interact with. This counts for all of us, and this sensation can also be obtained even when alone, although the ability to actually meet other random characters, as in Skyfire’s story, greatly enhances and supports this.

Even though no interviewed players alleged to be playing WoW in solitude to get a sense of being “connected” or “in touch with the world”, it’s an experience I get when logging in and playing. The whole idea, that right now or at any given time my server is active and awake, is very fascinating to me. It’s like having Narnia inside my computer.

The difference between the server community and the WoW community as a whole is perhaps the fact that social presence is very much central to the server, as the wider community which flourish outside of the game space itself, on forums, blogs and the like, for some have less strength as a community factor:

Ironyca: Would you say you feel part of the WoW community?

Fidell: I guess I wouldn’t no! I just keep in my circle mainly and then that spreads out as I know more people.

Ironyca: How about the server community?

Fidell: Yes on my main char, I would say yes

Fidell emphasized that she felt part of her server community on her main, so it’s not only about being around people but also about not being completely unknown. Also, it turned out later that the character Fidell was secret at the time, so Fidells network didn’t know this character (except RealID contacts presumably). The phenomenon of secret alts is perhaps one of the more emphatic expressions of solo play, and one I will deal with in part 9.

Chat channels, which are local to the server, also play a big part in social presence, as Julian Holland Oliver (2002) puts it in The Similar Eye: Proxy Life and Public Space in the MMORPG:

With in-game chat and the practice of telling stories, we hear of the existence of other places with other people. That someone might be somewhere else doing something else, gives the world an extensiveness that can be felt from any occupied position. In this way the world develops its prominence, it persists regardless of the player, even regardless of that player’s active participation.

Jüsta, like Fidell, was also one of the players who could relate better to the question of whether they felt part of the server community than to the WoW community as a whole.

Jüsta: on ally everyone stays within their guild, on horde there is a community… And I like it. If you’re talking about the community on internet.. then I am no part of it. It’s enough playing this game. Reading about it is going over the line.

It should be noted that Jüsta played on a PvP server and his faction, the Horde, was the smallest of the two. He made me wonder if PvP servers, based on world PvP occurring more regularly there, have a stronger server community. The fights between the two factions can bring allied players closer and players out and about can be either enemy or a friend that can/need help.

On the roleplay server I play on, as mentioned in part 3, other players are probably seen differently. For example, they carry the treat of breaking the immersion when questing. Conversely, roleplay servers encourage players to stay in character as much as possible, and this can create interesting situations when you get enveloped in someone else’s storyline.

I had a short experience of this with my character Elford and that event definitely made me feel more integrated and tied to my server.

While trying to find a good angle for a screenshot of Elford sleeping, I ended up partaking in some random roleplay. It was very entertaining and certainly ignited the experience of the "living and breathing world".

Since the first step with cross realm battlegrounds, more and more parts of the play activities in WoW are becoming less and less tied to the individual server. Even raiding, albeit on a very simple in/out-level, has moved from being based on the individual server to being a WoW community wide thing (contained within the language based groupings – en/fr/de etc).

Does it matter that we play less and less with the people on our own servers? How important are server communities? – to us? – to the retention of the game as a whole?

Some obviously couldn’t care less, but I do fear that the effect of social presence can be weakened by this as we only briefly share a slice of the world with the people in these cross-realm situations. To bring back Oliver’s quote: How extensive is the world when we meet other players only momentarily? To me personally, WoW does feel less social and I believe it has something to do with this.

In closing, I would like to bring out a snippet of the conversation I had with the player Jefflindsay:

Ironyca: Do you often use the LFD tool?

Jefflindsay: When I’m in a rush, yeah i would. If i was playing with my guild we wouldn’t. We would walk to the dungeon etc

Ironyca: How do you relate to the players you meet in a randomized group in LFD?

Jefflindsay: I don’t think there is much interaction between players in LFD. Its more of get in, do it, get out kind of thing. On the other hand sometimes you do meet some nice people who are there for the experience :)

Ironyca: Would you call it socializing?

Jefflindsay: to an extent. Playing with others is essentially socializing. Right?

Ironyca: Perhaps, it’s a good question

Jefflindsay and I had somewhat the same experience of LFD (and now perhaps also LFR), it gave us one thing, convenience, fast and easy access and progress, but it took away something too, it took away the ability to choose who you wanted to play with, for some it made it feel less authentic, more hollow and robotic (this topic is where Vidyala’s post has a lot to say).

But he posed the question whether play in itself was social. Are we playing together in LFD/LFR or in parallel to each other?

I don’t have the answer to this question myself.

Real ID Friend Parties for Free!

Inviting people to your party is now for free!

WOHOOO!!

I think it’s important to celebrate when things turn out the way you wished, especially when you’ve been as critical of the premium Real ID party invite feature as I have – twice!

  1. The MMO Where you Pay to be Social
  2. False Consciousness and the Acceptance of Premium Fees

Blizzard has now announced (16th of August 2011) that this feature will not require some premium sub on a sub:

“For those who haven’t yet had a chance to try it out, the Real ID Party system allows players to invite Real ID friends of the same faction to a 5-player normal or Heroic dungeon, regardless of what realm their friends are on. This new feature makes it easier than ever for real-life friends to play together, and it’s available to all World of Warcraft players at no additional charge — all you need to do is have Real ID enabled.”

This is excellent news!

I frowned upon the original plan as put forward by Blizzard, that players would have to pay for this in one way or another, something I found to be very much against the spirit of an MMO even though I’m not likely to be using this feature myself.

I also struggled with how to engage the WoW blogging community about it. On one hand I felt stongly compelled to post on every single article on the subject, especially the ones I felt took no stance and would go along the lines of “well, if Blizzard charges I pay, simply because I like this feature”. When some put forward the opinion about the feature “being cheap and totally worth it”, I had to put myself in a straight jacket to not be overly critical of their view, bordering on trolling.

I understand why some people didn’t want to actively protest, most people just want to have a pleasant and positive playing experience without the hassle of being political about WoW. Not everyone wants to be a critical consumer, some people just want to play and I understand that even though it also annoys me.

So I had to decide how important this Real ID feature issue was to me and how far I was willing to go to get my opinions across. Staying cool when someone is WRONG-ON-THE-INTERNET is a matter of picking one’s battles, so I didn’t comment as much as I actually felt compelled to do for the sake of not obsessing about it. I can admit that I feel over the top trololol right now – How cheap do you think for free is then?.

The case also raised an issue I’ve had with the WoW community for as long as I remember. Reading the first bunch of comments on the MMO-Champion post about it reminded me of this.

“aww, what are the whiners gonna whine about now? “

I strongly believe the “whiner” and “QQ” tags are thrown about at a whim in dealing with WoW critically. I’m not saying people don’t complain about ridiculous things, such as not being overpowered anymore, but I hate how easily a lot of players brush off anything negative about the game if they don’t agree, by calling it “just QQ’ing”. Especially unsubscribe/goodbye-posts are infected with people telling the person leaving that no one cares about their opinion and that “the game is fine as it is, so STOP COMPLAINING”. I wonder if these same people who are so vocal on the forums would be less vocal if a change was brought on they hated to the point it made them reconsider even playing the game, for the sake of not QQ’ing – I think not and that’s a good thing!

Spinks posted an article at the time that I found to be carrying an utmost important message about how players as consumers deal with changes they are unhappy about. If players feel very loyal to the game and don’t see a feasible alternative, they are more likely to raise their voices about it instead of just silently unsubscribing and not “QQ”. Quoting from “Power to the players! The power of consumer voice, exit, and loyalty”:

“When we see a largescale player protest, all of these forms of confrontation come into play. And all of them are important. So it’s not true that companies only look to the bottom line and unsubscribing is the only action which ‘counts’. Attention grabbing antics like mass protests, huge threads, media coverage, and similar voiced excitement are at least as important to a consumer company as silent exits.”

I feel empowered as a player-consumer, I also feel taken serious by Blizzard and I trust the company more now.

My message is: QQ’ing matters, being critical matters, the opinions of other players matter even the one’s you don’t agree with. All of these opinions, from long forum threads, to blog posts, to large magazine websites, are amongst the reasons we avoided getting forced Real ID name exposure on the WoW forums and now also (at least for now) avoided this Real ID party feature becoming a purchasable premium.

 

Second Life meets WoW – about Virtual Worlds

Field trip to WoW is a blogpost by Vaneeesa Blaylock (In WoW “Veebee”), a Second Life performance artist, who invited her friends along for a trip around various virtual worlds, WoW being the second in line.

I thought it could be fun to make myself available as a tourguide, since it could give me a new perspective on something I’ve grown accustomed to: How I percieve and understand WoW. Also being able to chat to people about our different virtual worlds and avatars was a great bonus.

The “Second Lifers” entered World of Warcraft through the means of a trial account, which is free although restricted. Vaneeesa’s guide to setting up a trial account is actually very helpful and I recommend it, if you should be interested in taking a hike here as well (and should you be needing a guide, you know who to contact!).

I chose my draenei shaman as my character, and brought along Zenevieva the kitty druid to accompany me. We started off in the starting zone for night elves, Teldrassil.

The group grew quickly but was surprisingly silent. Trial accounts using /say is not visible to ordinary players (due to goldsellers advertizing), and we spent most of the trip having forgotten this, and thus lost out on a more synergic experience for the first part of the tour.

Planning the route became pretty simple, when it dawned on me that trial accounts only have access to vanilla WoW, meaning they only get to see the game as it was created in 2005/6.

I couldn’t take them to the floating city of Dalaran, nor Silvermoon or Exodar which I think are beautiful cities.

Instead, we took a trip to:

  1. Dolanaar
  2. Darnassus – the capital of the night elves
  3. Boat to Darkshore
  4. Boat to Stormwind – the capital of humans
  5. Deeprun Tram to Ironforge – the capital of the dwarves

6.  And in the end watching the view over Dun Morogh from the ledge at the Ironforge Gates.

…avoiding Goldshire was a given.

A horde tour could possibly have been more scenic, using the zeppelin between capitals.

Virtual time + virtual distance = real space?

When we had to pick up Frossl and later Ransvor, in order to add them to the group, a major difference became evident: Distance and time in WoW and Second Life are not the same.

We had already earlier established how the day cycle differs: In Second Life a day is 4 hours long (3 daylight hours and 1 nighttime), in WoW it follows earth hours, depending on which geographical server you are connected to.

TP’ing means teleporting. Mages can teleport in WoW and Warlocks can summon, but it’s not openly available to go wherever you want in WoW in an instant.

Vaneeesa writes: You really were in a place, and other places and distances had real meaning. TP-ing in SL is very convenient and very powerful and IDK if I’d give it up, but it really does diminish the experience. (Field Trip Report: WoW!)

Distance is in direct relation to time, as what really matters about travelling, is how long it takes. It’s a choice to make, when creating a virtual world. The time it takes, to travel somewhere inside this world will, besides it’s actual surface area, act as a projection of percieved size. Second Life, as I understood it, is much bigger than WoW, but travelling is not an issue (besides teleporting you can fly without a mount!) In WoW you are bound to slower means of transportation, often land- and flying mounts, not to mention gravity.

It’s interesting – why would game developers choose for us to travel slowly, basically wasting our time, when the fastest means of transportation is a choice of design?

I would imagine travel defined by avatar percieved geographical relations, time is one of the tools you can use for your virtual world to resemble realistic space.

Are you an Avatar or a Character?

It became clear to us, that our new friends from Second Life were impressed by the WoW world as it was created  by Blizzard, but unimpressed by the fact they couldn’t add to it, there is no user-content. (In fact, all of WoW is owned by Blizzard, even your lvl 80 character is virtual property of WoW, you are just renting it and the access to the rest of the package deal. It feels absurd to me, that my hard-earned gear, gold and my characters, that i’m personally attached to, isn’t mine, never was and never will be).

Also the character design options were much fewer, than what they were used to, as in Second Life you can be anything.

Despite the samples I found above, I get the impression most people feel more comfortable in a human like avatar.

I noticed straight away our various ways of defining our visual representation in whatever world we were in.

In second life, they use “avatar” or “resident“. I’m not sure of the difference, other than resident being tied to Second Life termonology, and avatar being a broader term, meaning a direct representation of a person.

In WoW we primarily use “character“, I also have friends who prefer “toon“.

“Character” ties to the idea that only part of someones identity is represented, and toon addresses the fantasy style that is WoW design.

Character also means: “a person represented in a drama, story, etc.” WoW being based on a substantial catalogue of lore books, perhaps explains the choice of the word. This storyline is also the framework within which characters are defined and interpreted.

How many alts does it take to make a main?

Near the end of the tour, we automatically ended up discussing the idea of having alts as a reflection of the different aspects to an identity, as Vaneeesa writes:

“While a lot of SL peeps do create alts for various reasons, I think a lot of SL peeps also powerfully identify with a “main avatar.” That may also be true in WoW, but it seems like multiple avatars there is much more encouraged.” (Field Trip Report: WoW!)

Having a main is widely the norm in WoW too, both for roleplayers, PvP’ers and raiders, because more time invested means more goals achieved.

However in the forthcoming expansion, Cataclysm, I believe players will distribute their time more equally between mains and alts, perhaps even having two mains (if that doesn’t defy the definition), due to the shared lock out of both 10 and 25 man raids.

In Second Life you can only have one avatar per account, but that one avatar can change appearence to whatever whenever. That is in no way the case in WoW, as a character’s appearance is bound to many factors: race, class, gender, level, face, skin color and name (Hair style and color can be changed at the goblin stylist shop, the rest can be achieved through buying a character makeover/race-, faction or name change through Blizzard. These are however considered big decisions by WoW players).

Due to the restrictions in the WoW character creation, factors such as class and race encourage you to try out a different playstyle to change and perhaps expand your game experience.

Realms and Community – In WoW it’s all about which server you’re on.

Ironically, WoW players are not connected completely, we are bound to a server/realm and therefore live in identical parallel universes. On Argent Dawn EU during peak hours, there’s approx. 3200 players online at the same time (Data based on Aug 2010).

The RealID friendslist has although changed the complete segregation, and if you have befriended someone, you can chat cross server, but still not meet in character through fx simple teleporting!

The feeling of belonging to a community, I’m guessing, is stronger in Second Life. In WoW a realm acts almost as a nationality, and that is practically true with a realm such as Crushridge, which is largely Italian.

Lag – at least RL doesn’t have it!

The day the tour took off was a nice lag free evening. Most days are lag free in WoW, and if they are not, the forums and chat channels fill with complaints. Combat becomes unplayable with only a little lag, so players have a very low tolerance. Going from Second Life to WoW was like an iron lung victim making a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Two words: Frame Rate., Vaneeesa writes.

Second Life uses an average of 80 kbps downstream. WoW uses 30-40 kbps, which is comparable to Second  Life while remaining stationary. The difference lies within the game system, the way in which data is being handled.

Underneath is a picture of the floating city of Dalaran – the place that does lag quite often, due to it’s current status as the most interconnected capital in WoW, and thus most populated.

I have all of WoW on my computer, it takes up almost 18 GB (as of patch 3.3.5). All skins, meshes, objects – everything is not downloaded, but instead preinstalled. The only thing that needs downloading and server response, is relative postitioning and interactions between me, other players and npc’s. This helps keep the framerate down and steady.

Second Life exists on different external servers, rather than the individual computer, and thus needs to be downloaded when travelling to different regions, which makes the downstream spike, reducing framerate. So downloads can go up a lot when exploring in Second Life. Lag is the price to pay for user-generated content.

In the end I can say that I’ve grown more curious about other virtual worlds, including Second Life, which luckily for me, is free to use.

Pictures courtesy of: Field trip to WoW, Field Trip Report: WoW!, http://vaneeesa.blogspot.com/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/vaneeesab/sets/72157624629145651/, Higher Education as Virtual Conversation