Redeeming Exploration and Defending Casuals

Two great posts caught my eye this weekend, both of them looking to the past of WoW, and both of them with great points to make about the future:

First up, Squelchy of Blame Squelchy has been doing some real-life sandbox exploration – by which I mean going out into the wide open world, not actually sitting in a sandbox. And in doing so, he’s been starting to think about his experiences with WoW when he felt that Azeroth was a wide open world too

“Without a doubt, the most epic moment in WoW for me was not a boss fight or a come-from-behind Arena win. It was walking into Ironforge for the first time.

What made it so special? I wasn’t trying to find it. I didn’t even have a quest to go there. I just saw a hill and started walking. “What’s up here?” my little gnomish avatar was thinking. Up to that point I had thought the tunnel from Coldridge Valley to Dun Morogh was pretty impressive. Then I noticed the music had changed about when I passed a small cart on my right. I hadn’t yet learned how to move my camera farther back for a wider field of vision, but with my FPS background I knew how to mouse-look, so I looked up–and there it was, the door with that gargantuan dwarf statue.”

This is a great post in praise of exploration that I suspect will ring true with a lot of us – I know I remember similar things from my time at the very start of Azeroth, 7 years ago. (Hinterlands statue, anyone?). And the massive rush of “Learn from Skyrim!” posts from last year make me think a lot of people miss the feeling of exploring a world. I’d not thought of Squelchy’s archaology connection, but it’s a great idea.

Meanwhile, Reliq of Azeroth Observer has a different bee in his bonnet. In the age of people complaining that LFR is for apes, he’s getting increasingly sick of the backlash against the casual player

“By the time Cataclysm was out, I’d raided, loved running end-game 5-mans, and considered myself a pretty grounded player who knew the basics. I was by no means a higher-tier player – or even medium-tier – but I didn’t mind things being difficult and wouldn’t consider myself a noob.

However, I do consider myself casual, and so the commentary – becoming increasingly poisonous over the following 12 months – of those early months of Cata bothered me. The continuous talk of Blizzard “catering to the casuals”.”

I’m always up for a good rant, and Reliq’s going strong here with a post that’s definitely going to annoy some people. But it’s timely. Whilst the “casual vs hardcore” debate has run since the first guild walked into Molten Core, LFR in particular has heated it up to boiling point right now. And I suspect that a lot of “harder-core” players (like me, arguably) can do with a reminder every so often that actually, the casual gamers have a point too.

Would you like to see more exploration in WoW? And where do you stand on the hardcore-vs-casual debate at the moment?

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MMOs: the “it was better in my day” edition

Over the last year, I’ve seen more and more people exploring and discussing the idea that the first “golden age” of MMOs has come to an end, and that we’re entering a new, more casual era. And at the same time, we’re changing ourselves – we’re older, we have less time, and we’ve gained skill.

Today, we’ve got two great posts on this subject in particular. First up, Game By Night is looking at the changes from hardcore world simulation to casual “themepark”, and is making an interesting point – that the games are merely reflecting the changes in the gamers who play them

“Now look, I’ve waxed nostalgic about how meaningful all those long-standing goals we’re as much as the next guy; been there, done that. I’ve even talked on the Multiverse and expressed very similar ideas. Here’s a simple truth, though. The market’s only followed the money. The average person does not get more time to game as they get older. As husbands and wives, careers, kids, bills, and mortgages enter the picture, gaming time tends to slide until it either disappears or the classification on your gamer card changes entirely. MMOs are becoming more casual because, you guessed it, we’re becoming more casual. In this case, Syncaine and everyone else upset are the outliers — myself included for the certain opinions I do share. The reason people look at teenagers with free afternoons, weekends, and summers and say “must be nice” is for this very reason: We all have to grow up. Most adults simply do not have the time to play for more than an hour or two a day and I suspect that’s pushing it.

It’s a good thing there are plenty of niche games out there, because I suspect the days of AAA MMOs trying to simulate worlds are over. “

It’s an interesting point. I’m not sure that my own life has strictly followed that path – I came back to gaming with WoW after about 5 years of barely playing games at all, and since then my gaming time has been pretty consistent – but I know plenty of people who have gone from hardcore all-night marathon gamers to occasional-bash-on-the-Xbox players.

At the same time, Gazimoff of Mana Obscura is making a different argument – that we’re finding MMOs to be less challenging and less skillful because we’ve over-levelled them in terms of our own MMO skill

“The game hasn’t become any easier. We’ve just developed our skill beyond that which is matched by the game we’re playing. With other MMOs closely following the skill level of the game we’re playing, for those of us who thrive on challenge our needs aren’t being met. We’re being asked to play the same score of orchestral music at a faster and faster tempo, when all we want is a bit of jazz or classic rock instead.”

I’m not sure. It seems to me that the two trends are happening in concert. At the same time as the hardcore WoW players’ skill is continuing to increase, MMO games across the board are being casual-ised more and more. Are the two trends even compatible? Or are we going to end up with an entire class of gamer who has completely burned out on unchallenging MMOs?

What do you think?

Quotes taken directly from Chris and Gazimoff’s posts.

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The Middle

Elfi of Elfi’s World is stirring the cauldron today. Or perhaps she’s trying to start a movement. Either way, she doesn’t feel she’s represented at all in the conversation between “Hardcore” and “Casual” right now, and she’s feeling the pain of being in the middle

I do not raid weekly. I do not have the best gear in every slot. I do not have an abundance of Valor Points. … I do utilize tools such as Mr. Robot to ensure I am wearing everything correctly. I do read patch notes before the patch hits. I do love the game.

I am not hardcore, but I also don’t believe I’m casual. Neither of those words can define me. I am in the middle. And I believe there are a hell of a lot of us here. Should we be called hardcore casuals? No, I don’t think so.

Like it or not, we’re all on a Kinsey Scale of game-seriousness. And there’s a lot more of the middle-ground – perhaps we should call them “hardcore-curious” – gamers out there than the dialogue between “lol FL is being nerfed for casuals” and “if you raid HC mode you have no life” often suggests.

I agreed with about half of her lists of dos and don’ts – which I thought almost formed a Kinsey Scale or questionaire in and of themselves. I do use every analysis tool available, which she feels is hardcore, but I don’t bother with Achievements most of the time. I do have multiple high-level characters, but I often don’t bother to get top-end enchants as soon as a new piece of gear drops. And so on.

Have a look – whether you’re part of her “middle”, faaar on the harcore end, or uber-casual, it’s an interesting study of what’s often portrayed as two camps, but is actually a complex, mutli-dimensional continuum.

Are you hardcore? Casual? Hardcore-curious? And do you think the “middle” needs more representation?

Quote taken directly from Elfindale’s post .

Find Elfi’s World at http://worldofelfi.wordpress.com/ .

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Valor Point Capping Makes The World Explode

Wow. Or indeed WoW. The argument about Valor Point capping has really kicked off in the blogosphere – and rightly so, because it’s an interesting topic.

Here’s a round-up of some of the key posts that have hit the blogs:

  • Killed In A Smiling Accident is getting his allegories on: “If each guild represents its own “nation,” then we’re discussing the virtues of having a state mandated religion. Namely, forcing a particular playstyle, a certain subscription, upon your guild members. “ (Also, +1 for the point about spending time on learning and tactics)
  • Looking 4 More is firmly on the side of less tightly-structured play: “I wonder, people who schedule their WoW time and run heroics for VP on a tight schedule, do you get annoyed with me when I have to afk for two minutes to change the toddler’s diaper?”
  • Stories of O feels people who say they don’t have time to Valor Cap are usually just inefficient: “I’m not really sure what runs people are doing that are so time consuming, but I work 50 hours a week, raid two days a week, maintain a social life, an active sex life, a family life, a blog, a podcast, and I still find time to be Valor Point capped each week.”
  • The honourable gentlemurloc (seriously, I love that tagline) from Murloc Parliament is pacing herself for a marathon, not a sprint: “No huge gaming sessions right after a patch release, but no totally slacking off a few weeks in, since I will still be needing stuff. “
  • Priest With A Cause warns of the dangers of Point Madness: “You don’t want to go crazy grinding them because you’ll burn yourself out, you’re putting yourself at an exceptionally high risk of getting grouped with rude and stupid puggers right now, and also… have you thought about 4.3 yet? There have been no news about that patch yet, but I reckon that it’s going to be at least another six months away.”

    • And Raging Monkeys believes that outcome is what counts: “Please, do me a favour: go see for yourself. Whatever someone else is telling you, take it with a pinch of salt. Do your best, but don’t let yourself be fooled or intimidated by talk and so-called guidelines.”
    Phew.

It’s an interesting debate, and highlights a common theme in the blogosphere – if you really want to get a lot of people arguing, suggest that they have to do something specific in their game time. (Tobold provoked a similar debate a while ago by suggesting that all tank-capable classes have a duty to tank in PUGs).

What do you think about the entire kerfuffle? Are you on the “screw that, this is a game” side or the “if you didn’t cap you’re letting your guild down” side? And have we missed any great posts?

All quotes taken directly from the relevant blog post

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Is raiding a closed club?

It looks like there’s a new discussion bubbling up in the blogosphere – the question of whether or not raiding has become a closed club, only accessible to people who are already raiders.

Looks like a great discussion is brewing here – particularly if you read the great comment threads following these posts. I’m interested to see how it progresses!

How do you feel about the responsibilities of raiding? Do you feel it’s a closed club, and are you outside or inside? And where would you prefer to be?

All quotes taken directly from the articles linked.

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Accepting WoW For What It Is

So there’s been a lot of folks saying that WoW’s terribad, recently. Since, you know, the big Cataclysm hit. So I was soemhow relieved to see the trend swing back the other way today, led by a very sensible and charming post from Syl over at Raging Monkeys.

Syl’s post talks about literature. It talks about her favourite quotes, and lights in the dark places. But most of all, Syl talks about accepting World of Warcraft for what it is. She lists things that we’ve been complaining about and says that well, yes, it is those things. But it’s not all bad, and in the end we always have a choice.

While players will never agree on these matters (and it’s probably a good thing or WoW blogs would be posting a lot less), we can agree that Blizzard have changed the face of the MMO genre forever, by opening WoW to a mainstream audience with a low gaming background on average. The genre has taken a big shift and it’s true that compared to classic MMORPGs, WoW has simply decided to go down a new path, for better and for worse (I can easily think of improvements here too).

Regardless of whether we like it or dislike it, she says, we should stop pulling the wool over our eyes and wishing it was different, and either take pleasure in the bits we enjoy of it or move on to something else. Otherwise it’ll just hurt all the more when we do have to face reality, and in the meantime while we’re being the proverbial ostrich (see Syl’s excellent image) we’ll loose something very important. Something we’ll never get back.

I’d like to see more opinions on this – whether it’s here or over at Syl’s place. So tell us – has this common sense approach brought some relief to you whether you were disillusioned or happy with WoW, or do you think it’s all a tad obvious and beside the point?

_Quote taken directly from Syl’s post

You can find Raging Monkeys’ homepage here_

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What Do You Think Of ‘Casual’?

‘Cobblers’. That word is the crux of Gazimoff’s opinion post on the word ‘casual’, which gets tossed around in gaming circles like a grenade by people in an enclosed space. Except unlike the grenade which will explode and take everyone’s heads messily off no matter who’s holding it, the word ‘casual’ shouldn’t even scratch us. But people use it as a derogatory term, and that’s why Gazimoff deploys the cobblers.

Gazimoff’s post is very readable. He says he’s played WoW to varying degrees of urgency and has gone from what most folks would call a hardcore raider to playing less often but still achieving the same things. Only difference is he’s not getting there quite as quickly. When Gazimoff plays more than I do and ‘casuals’ like me and mine took the Lich King down 9 months ago, he’s right: being casual isn’t bad and wrong.

Have I somehow become something less of a gamer for making this choice? Did the magic skill fairy visit me in the night and render me a crap button fumbling idiot? I don’t think so.

There’s nothing wrong with being a casual player. We all have different pulls on our life and only so much time we can give to Warcraft. Like Vidyala said over at Manalicious, there’s nothing wrong with not being first.

He goes on to talk about playstyles that get mistaken for ‘casual’ and which are, let’s say, less desireable. He talks about ‘entitled’ players, and how important it is to make a distinction between casual and entitled players: those who do and don’t make an effort to play and contribute to the team.

The whole casual/hardcore debate is nothing new but Gazimoff’s post felt like a fresh charge and a platform for crisp debate. Given all of that and that Gazimoff’s New Year blog resolution is to write more opinion pieces from the heart, I’m looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with. I’m hoping others will adopt his resolution too!

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What do you think – what player types do we lump into the terms ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ that we shouldn’t?**

_Quote taken directly from Gazimoff’s post

You can find Mana Obscura’s homepage here_

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Pathak On Hardcore vs Casual

Pathak’s gone and done it with one of his latest posts: he’s making me break open the bottle of wine. You know, the one that’s matured in nutmeg oak and aged for[pullquote]I think the base terms of hardcore and casual are grossly misrepresented.[/pullquote] … at least five minutes. He’s talking about Hardcore vs Casual and we should celebrate. He’s plainly said what needed to be said about the neat little line between hardcore and casual: that it’s all codswallop.

The best thing about Pathak’s article is that while it’s short, it’s to the point. He politely gives examples of every type of player and finally lumps everyone back into one camp, as we all should be. Pathak’s sanctioning players being able to define their own playstyle; without feeling like we’re shoved into one of two dilapidated camps seperated by a ten foot wall equipped with spotlights and mastiffs.

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** Pathak’s definitions of hardcore and casual are simply right in my book. These are principles I’ve been cultivating myself since I started raid leading a “casual” group but I’ve never thought to write them down. Now to read someone bluntly responding to the**** ever present hardcore vs casual vs lolwhoelseizleft dirge with more than a modicum of sense is uplifting. [pullquote]…like to describe colour in terms of black and white[/pullquote]So’s the fact that he notes out-of-game groups like bloggers are just as relevant to these categories. ****The only tiny shame is that we don’t know whether Pathak got any further input from the person he was talking to – I wonder how his idea went down. Still, three cheers Pathak!

What about you – what do you think of the casual/hardcore/? definintions tirade, and will it ever get too old?

_Quotes straight from linked post. Pathak’s homepage can be found here._

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