Bugs in Dragon Soul

Something that has contributed in my decision to stop playing World of Warcraft after Mists of Pandaria comes out is the buggy nature of the fights in current content. It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that Dragon Soul was released with a ridiculous amount of bugs, many of which mean that if such a bug occurs, it will be nearly impossible for most raid groups to complete the encounter. The bugs do not, of course, have a 100% chance to occur, but if they do…

Warlord Zon’ozz

The Void of the Unmaking’s bouncing mechanic is totally screwy, at least on heroic mode. Ignoring the fact that it often caroms off unpredictably (which, I will grant, may be part of the challenge), sometimes it just never moves at all after a bounce.

Seriously. What is up with that?

Hagara the Stormbinder

Not only is Focused Assault screwy as hell (it will eat a Hand of Sacrifice in the span of 2 seconds if you place it on the tank before Focused Assault starts casting, despite Hand of Sacrifice not absorbing the amount of damage it should) but the lightning mechanic is effed up. Seriously. It chains to pets and totems and is generally spazzy. While you may not notice it normally, that shit is buggy when you try to do the achievement. We tried to do the achievement on 25-man normal (no pets or totems!) and failed something like four or five times. This was the defining reason why: the lightning was selectively jumping to people.

In this clip, you see lightning going through and not going from the bear (Jaymz) to the shadow priest (Srsbusiness). It’s as though the lightning is sentient and is thinking “Pfft, I don’t FEEL like connecting with that individual.” On the PREVIOUS attempt, we’d had them in opposite spots and Jay had to run up to Srs to “pick up” the lightning, but not even that worked here. You also see the lightning stay on a death knight (Division/Chronis) even after he backs out of the 10y range where it was skipping to him directly. We ended up doing the achievement on 10-man, which is ridiculous when you’re a 25-man raiding guild.

Warmaster Blackhorn

On Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn, you have a new mechanic. It’s called Deck Fire. Deck Fire is everywhere. Except, that’s not exactly how the encounter is supposed to go. The fire is not supposed to continue to spawn into Phase 2 and it’s not supposed to cover the entire deck of the ship. While we were learning this fight, we didn’t know that. We thought it was just RNG that determined fire mechanics and crap like that. But no.

If you launch the ship from the top of Wyrmrest, then swap it to normal, then wait five minutes, then swap it back to heroic (there is a 5m timer on difficulty changes), you no longer have insane amounts of fire. Fire acts the way it is supposed to. It despawns when it gets water poured on it. It doesn’t spawn into phase 2. It actually makes the transition to phase 2 really, really easy if you don’t have to deal with crazy fire.

The important part of the “fix” is to make sure you launch the boat FIRST. Do not reset the difficulty before launching the boat. You’ll end up with fire all over the damn deck again. You do only need to do this once per night of attempts (and not before every attempt) at least. And at least there’s a way to fix this fire! But it’s ridiculous that one has to do this “reset” in the first place in order to make sure the encounter goes as it should.

Spine of Deathwing

There are three issues with the Spine encounter that I’ve seen. The first two have to do with the cut scene at the start.

1) Sometimes while the cut scene is loading, people will disconnect. This is similar to the cut scene in Throne of the Tides where people will sometimes randomly disconnect. Usually, the Spine one is limited to the first attempt (so basically, the game will crash while the cut scene is loading). I believe that your toon will parachute down on to Spine as normal and you will be there when you log back in.

2) Also related to the cut scene, if you hit Escape to skip the cut scene too quickly (before it actually has begun to load), guess what? You’re stuck on the boat, unable to move. How do you solve this? You relog. Once you relog, you will land on Spine and will be able to continue the fight as normal.

3) The other major issue I’ve seen on Spine is people not being secured to the spine via Grasping Tendrils and flying off Deathwing’s back. DBM will usually tell you if someone’s missing their Grasping Tendrils buff, but I’ve seen many people get flung off the back while their name is not in that list. This could be a problem with DBM and other mods or it could be a problem with fitting 25 people + various pets in one teeny, tiny spot on Deathwing’s back. I’ve never been unexpectedly thrown off (except that time when we killed a Corruption and a new one popped up in the hole in which we were standing) so I’m unsure, but the number of people I’ve seen thrown off who don’t NORMALLY get thrown off indicates to me that there’s a potential problem with the mechanic.

If you could battle rez people who were thrown off, this wouldn’t be as huge of an issue, but to my knowledge, you can’t.

Madness of Deathwing

Do I even really need to say it?

Thrall, stop dropping people. This has happened to damn near everyone I know, in LFR, on normal and, yes, on heroic. (And no, they can’t get battle-rezzed, either.)

The From Draenor with Love comic kind of says it all: http://fromdraenor.com/?p=233

Surprisingly, I can’t think of any major issues I’ve encountered on Morchok, Yor’sahj or Ultraxion, but five of the eight encounters in Dragon Soul have some awfully buggy mechanics. Lose someone because Thrall dropped them? Yeah, too bad, you’re going to 24-man (or 9-man) Madness. ENJOY! Did the lightning skitter awkwardly through your raid group and kill someone because of an errant pet? There goes a battle rez. Hey, did that Void of the Unmaking carom strangely or, better, not at all? BOOM.

While bugs do happen to even the best coders, the fact that these bugs have not yet been addressed in the seven months since Dragon Soul has been out is, frankly, a shame, and it has absolutely contributed to my fatigue and frustration with the game.

How have these bugs affected you? Have you even seen them? Have you seen any others?

A Prime Example of Blizzard's Failure

I promise, I am not going to bash Blizzard much more than I did before I decided to quit the game after this expansion and I promise that I will not try to convince anyone that the game is terrible or that Blizzard is the greatest evil we’ve ever seen. I am still passionate about WoW topics and this is one of them.

An opportunity arose tonight for me to discuss a prime example of how Blizzard has failed its userbase.

My guild, Apotheosis, perhaps like many, is recruiting and part of that recruitment effort is having a “posting” available for people on our realm in the Guild Finder tool. We never accept applicants from this alone — if there’s a potentially good candidate, I funnel them to the guild website and they apply for real over there. I always, always take the time to respond to these people before declining them, though, even if it’s just a short “Thanks for your interest, but we’re full on your class at the moment. Thanks again for thinking of us and best of luck to you!”. (Note to self: add that to the list of stuff either a recruitment officer/person or GM should do.)

Tonight, I checked the Guild Finder tool and saw a mage candidate. I promptly went to his armory.

At first, I laughed. Then I facepalmed. And then I asked Twitter if they had any decent mage resources, like BEGINNER mage resources, to help this poor guy.

I imported him into chardev. Here’s the link:

http://chardev.org/profile/403339-fail-mage.html

Let’s look at this character real quick, shall we?

Missing enchants on: helm (though is revered with Hyjal), shoulders (hated by Therazane, is not a scribe), chest, gloves, belt (that is, no belt buckle), boots, weapon, offhand

Missing gems on: helm, shoulders, chest, belt, boots

Questionable gems: 2, 1 Quick Amberjewel (40 haste) and 1 Rigid Deepholm Iolite (50 hit)

Gear worn that is not meant for a mage: helm (spirit), shoulders (spirit), bracers (spirit), boots (spirit), ring #2 (agility), trinket #2 (melee attack proc), offhand (spirit)

Other weird stats: 13.32% hit

Surprisingly, the spec isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen and the glyphs are decent (at least he has all his glyphs and the primes are what he should have for an arcane mage).

This individual reached 85 on April 22nd, so this is a very new character. Whether or not it’s a new player is uncertain.

I feel that this player (and countless more like him — or her) has been done a grave disservice by Blizzard. In fact, many of us, myself included, probably have experienced the same thing. Blizzard has done little, if anything, to educate its playerbase.

When’s the last time you looked at the class pages on the official WoW site? Here’s the mage one.

http://us.battle.net/wow/en/game/class/mage

No mention of stats that are useful. No mention of that thing called “hit rating”. No hints as to which abilities which spec should use.

They do, to their credit, link to Wowhead and Wowpedia, but even the Wowhead article isn’t all that useful and the Wowpedia one is bogged down with lore and such before it gets to what will make someone play their class much more closely to how it was intended to be played.

I think it was Cory Stockton, the lead content designer, who said at BlizzCon that a fury warrior who chooses not to take Raging Blow, I think it was, wasn’t being a “unique” fury warrior; they were being a “bad” fury warrior, which is one reason they decided to give out so many passives to the classes in Mists and leave talents as those sort of “depends on the fight or your playstyle” tools. Removing the ability to make a “bad” choice is, in my opinion, a mistake. I think that players who actually care about their characters might want to play with those choices and LEARN from their mistakes. I know I did, back when I was a wee hunter, and throughout various tiers as my holy paladin. I’ve experimented with and without Tower of Radiance and Light of Dawn, I’ve played with and without Improved Judgements and Protector of the Innocent, I’ve used Sacred Cleansing and I’ve not specced for it and such.

I think the graver mistake is not having information available to new players. The learning curve in World of Warcraft is huge. Think about it, you have to:

– pick a class
– choose a spec
– learn what abilities do what and which you probably don’t need to use often
– figure out what stats are most beneficial to your class and spec
– learn to cooperate with others, whether in PVE or PVP

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the language in WoW, by which I mean the ability to translate something like:

“LF1M Tank, DM Trib, g2g, PST!” into “Our group that is attempting to do a run in the northern Dire Maul instance, in which we do not kill the special guards, is looking for a someone who is able to hold the creatures’ attention from us as we deal damage to them. Once we have found such an individual, we can start the run immediately. Please let me know if you’re interested by sending me a tell/whisper.”

Or, perhaps you’d prefer a more recent example:

“Need 1 heals, 2 DPS, 1 tank for DS, want to go 2/8 heroic & clear, ilvl 385+ PST” which means “Our group is looking for one healer, two damage-dealers and one tank for the Dragon Soul raid instance. We would like for the group to do two of the eight bosses on the heroic mode, plus finish the rest of the raid instance. Your item level should be at least 385. Please let me know if you’re interested by sending me a tell/whisper.”

(Language in WoW is a whole OTHER post.)

So you have this gargantuan learning curve and you have zero real support from within the game. Instead of spending resources to teach people the basics of their classes (stat priorities, things like hit rating, maybe rotations), they’re spending resources attempting to make things seem less difficult for the average player.

This may be all well and good. Maybe the average player doesn’t care. Maybe the average player will only ever do LFGs and LFRs and get kicked frequently for their performance because they don’t really get what they’re doing. And maybe Blizzard doesn’t care because this guy who expressed interest in joining my guild earlier tonight still pays $15, the same as I do, and that guy who doesn’t know how to gear his mage is almost certainly giving Blizzard less of a headache than I am. ;)

One of the major issues I’ve had with the game, which has become rapidly apparent to me throughout this expansion, is that people who know how to play their characters are not abundant. We are a dying breed. Sure, there are raiding guilds and you still have people like the vodkas, Methods, Blood Legions who know how to play their characters better than anyone else in the world, but the middle class, so to speak, of the playerbase is shrinking. We’re the people who aren’t getting world firsts, but understand (and care!) enough about our classes to write blog posts and confer with guildies. We’re the ones who’ll talk and debate for hours about the use of a particular talent spec or point, or whether reforging to this stat is better in this particular encounter and the like. Or maybe we’re the ones who are interested in picking up a new class and ask Twitter or our guildies for help and advice.

Meanwhile, the playerbase grows (or shrinks) and the people who don’t know much better or don’t CARE to know much better just keep multiplying. I’ve talked about having DK “tanks” who wear intellect plate and I’ve talked about people not wearing their maximum armor level before and this poor mage is just one more of those unfortunate individuals who sign up for group content, inflicting themselves on others, who don’t know what they’re doing. They’re everywhere. Go inspect a random character on your server. Go log in right now and look at some random, max-level (likely unguilded) person and you’ll see. Hell, inspect people on your next LFG or LFR.

They have made all aspects of the game a lot more accessible than they previously did, they’ve grown their userbase an insane amount since when I first started playing and they’ve done some great things with the game. Just the changes in PVE content alone, where you have boss fights that are so different from the tank and spank encounters or the single-debuff encounters like Lucifron in Molten Core, are astonishing. Imagine back in the day, could you have seen yourself fighting a boss like Alysrazor? What about Atramedes or Al’Akir? How about Rag 2.0 or Spine of Deathwing? I may not always like the encounters, but we have come a long, LONG way from the old days where you just had to dispell people appropriately and bring down adds before killing a boss.

However, while they’ve done this, refined the game and the classes, added new classes and races, changed PVE and PVP and built up their userbase, they have not done a good job in going about TEACHING people how to play. I’ve done some of the new starting zone quests and they don’t do a lot to teach you how to play. It’s great that they notify you that new abilities are available when you ding, but I feel strongly that if Blizzard was going to go in the direction of opening up their game to more than just the theorycrafting nerds (and I use that as a term of endearment) or the people who actually ENJOY farming up stuff, then they needed to throw something at those new players.

Blizzard seems to think that free gear is the answer or nerfs to current raid content are the answer. It’s certainly easier, but what I don’t get — and may never “get”, to be honest — is why they don’t care to help players improve to the point where nerfs aren’t as “needed” as Blizzard thinks they are. In the “Cataclysm Post Mortem“, with Scott “Daelo” Mercer, he said:

Q. What didn’t work out as planned or expected?

Initially, we started off the Heroic dungeons at too high of a difficulty. The difficulty level rather abruptly changed when compared to the Heroics players experienced at the end of Wrath of the Lich King. This major change caught many players off guard, and frustrated some of them. The difficulty also increased the effective amount of time required to complete a dungeon to a longer experience than we wanted.

To which I say, are you frigging kidding me? Yes, if you’re undergeared or don’t know what you’re doing, they were hard. It took some time to learn some of the fights. Heroic Deadmines, Heroic Stonecore, Heroic Shadowfang Keep all took some doing, but Heroic Vortex Pinnacle was easy. I still don’t understand how people fail at regular Corla in Blackrock Caverns, but they do, so I assume people still fail at it on Heroic as well. But all of that is solved with gear, which is laughably easy to get these days. The point is, these dungeons weren’t all that difficult for a group of players who knew how to play. They WERE impossible if your group was not geared enough or knowledgeable enough. (And maybe they have a point about being on the long side, but at the end of Wrath, Maj, my brother and I could tank/heal/DPS our way through Heroic Gundrak, extra boss included, with 2 completely moronic or AFK DPS, in 13 minutes. I think that’s a little ridiculous.)

I still don’t understand the apparent unwillingness of Blizzard to give even basic info to players to improve the overall skill and knowledge of the players.

I don’t play League of Legends, but looking at their website, they have a Learning Center. Look at this, there’s a whole page about Champion Statistics as in what stats do what.

Even Star Wars: The Old Republic (a game a played in the open beta long enough to get a lightsaber before I lost interest) has a new player guide and look here, halfway down the second page, it tells you all about tanks, healers and DPS.

Our poor mage friend, whose sad, sad armory started this two-thousand word post, might not be such a tragic, ignorant soul, if only Blizzard had bothered to tell him that he doesn’t need spirit. Yet, they don’t tell him that. They don’t even tell him he needs hit rating (although the hit chance/miss chance table is certainly a step in the right direction). This is, I believe, one of Blizzard’s great failures over the years and this poor mage is but one example of the millions of people who don’t know (and perhaps, admittedly, don’t care to know) how to play their class.

A Decision

Before I get into this, I wanted to say that I have not forgotten about the next post in my preparing a guild series. This post has to come first, for reasons which will become obvious shortly. (Members of Apotheosis, go read my post on our forums first, if you haven’t already.)

I had set a deadline for my guildies to let me know if they were interested in raiding with Apotheosis in Mists of Pandaria. That deadline was 12:00am ET on Monday, June 11th.

Of course, I had to make up my own mind. I have vacillated wildly throughout this expansion. I’ve enjoyed some encounters and some decisions Blizzard has made and I’ve also really, REALLY hated some encounters and some decisions. (Seriously, you ought to hear me in Episode 33 of Blessing of Frost, when we discovered, right as we were recording, that Firelands was being nerfed. Around the 38 minute mark.)

So when the time came for me to look at my own name in my handy-dandy spreadsheet, I hesitated. A lot. Under the “Raiding in MoP” column, I put YES. I put NO. I deleted my answer. I stared at the blank space and I promptly closed the spreadsheet.

I gave it some more thought. Saying “yes”, to me, doesn’t really just mean saying yes. As the guild master, it means another 18-24 months of commitment to the guild and the guildies and the raids. I cannot just say “yeah, sure,” and then bail after six months if I wasn’t happy, I would feel as though I was letting the whole team down. I know what craziness happens when a GM steps down. It’s even worse if they’re the raid leader (like I am). I knew that if I could not commit to another ~2 years, I should not commit at all. It would be so much worse for the team later on if things went to hell.

I went to bed.

I opened up the spreadsheet again the next day and typed in “NO” next to my name and let my officers know that same day. I posted to my guild’s forums late Thursday night.

So I will not be raiding in Mists of Pandaria. I will likely no longer be playing after my Annual Pass runs out. I will be giving up the roles of guild master and raid leader to other people (working that stuff out).

I am genuinely sad about this. But it has to be done. I can’t do another two years of “this”. And by “this”, I mean everything. The mediation of squabbles among guild members, the recruiting and interviews, the attempts to change policies, the research for raids, the log diving (as much as I love it), just attending almost every single raid… I think I’ve missed less than 10 raids in the last 18 months.

I thought about the whole “delegation” thing. People always tell me I do too much. Frankly, fuck that. It’s never really been a question of “Good God, I’m doing way too much,” because I am doing what I feel needs to be done AND I’m happy to do it. The problem was that external circumstances arose. My grandmother breaking her hip in December and my father’s recent hospitalization (he’s fine and she’s doing better, although I’m still her errand girl, as we live in the same apartment building), plus finals really showed me that “Real Life” can rise up and swallow ALL of your free time. I was forced to name a new healing lead, the wonderful Jasyla, which I don’t really regret (although I miss chatting more with the healers in general) and I did a lot of work for the guild ahead of time (like boss strats and such). I got to be very good at managing my time while my grandmother was hospitalized, but I knew I still had a lot on my plate.

The thing is, it’s actually less time-consuming for me to do stuff myself. And it’s more satisfying, too. Rather than constantly asking people to do X, Y and Z and then following up, it’s easier to do it myself from the start and there’s a lot less communication between people needed, because, hey, it’s just me!

Still, though, I thought about it. I thought about maintaining GM and giving away raid leader to an officer. I thought about giving the bank to someone. I thought about giving recruitment to someone else. It would have lightened my own load substantially, since the raid leader position is really the bulk of the work.

Then, I realized that I don’t actually want to raid in Mists of Pandaria. I’m not excited about any of the changes except POSSIBLY Challenge Modes. I am not thrilled by the beta, which is hilarious, because that is the only reason I signed up for the Annual Pass. And I have not logged into beta since the level cap was 87. (It is now 90, so it’s been a while.) I am uninterested in what’s in store for holy paladins (except Clemency, that still looks awesome — a cooldown FOR your cooldowns!) and hunters. I am not excited about basically anything I’ve seen yet. Sure, Pandaria is gorgeous, but I’m not connecting to it. I haven’t posted anything about the Mists beta here because I’ve literally done one instance a couple of times and I quested Kurn to 86. And that’s it.

I also don’t trust Blizzard not to nerf everything to hell and back again. I don’t trust them to… well, anything, really. The Real ID fiascos, the nerfs, the fact that Blizzard’s views of the game are drifting further and further from my own… it’s the writing on the wall. I AM that person who will say “You’re damn right I did Jailbreak for my guildies 17 times!” and “We 27-manned Gehennas one night, that’s how hard it was to get 40 people in a raid!” and I remember the OLD Decursive and I remember a time when all paladin gear had strength AND intellect on it and I remember when people would craft resist gear! I am that cranky old player who yells about how easy these kids have it these days with their LFGs and LFRs and VPs and 10-man raids.

I don’t value a lot of the things in the game right now. None of the LFG or LFR pugs I’ve run have been things I want to treasure. Most of them are things I want to forget. My guild is one of the few exceptions, because I really do value the people and the team and the atmosphere. However, there aren’t a lot of things in-game right now that I treasure. There’s nothing like my epic bow quest anymore. There’s nothing like the Benediction quest either. There are no more attunements. Instead, there are all these people who think they deserve epics and raid spots because they’re max level and can game the ilvl requirement by using PVP gear. (I am talking to YOU, DK tank who “tanked” my End Time run on my resto shaman with your PVP intellect boots and 0 gems or enchants on the rest of your strength PVP gear while wearing the VP agility trinket.)

The number of players who think the way I do and value the same things I do has rapidly shrunk this expansion. It was getting bad in Wrath, but it’s gotten worse in Cataclysm. The things I mentioned earlier, my memories of Jailbreak, of undermanning Molten Core bosses, of crazy tier gear for classes like the paladin… These things are important to me. Yes, attunements were crazy, but what a bonding experience for guildies. The 45-minute Baron runs? Amazing. (And this is likely why Challenge Modes spark my interest a bit.) Just about everything from “the old days” makes me smile. Farming Essences of Air in Silithus, hunting down my demons for my Rhok’delar (and having half my guild laugh as Klinfran the Crazed kicked my ASS across the Burning Steppes), 5-manning Zul’Gurub trash at 2am at level 60, doing a 45m Baron run in 39 minutes without a tank apart from my cat, Whisper… These are the things that mean the most to me, these were some of my best memories in the game.

I’ve always said that if you can’t roll with Blizzard’s punches, you won’t survive in this game. It’s true. You have to adapt, you have to change, you have to embrace the new stuff. I think that I’m finally done with it. It’s exhausting to keep up with the changes. It’s also sad, for me, to see how little Blizzard values the things I enjoyed, which some of my favourite memories centered around. So I will take my precious Vanilla and BC memories, some of my Wrath memories and some amazing times from Cataclysm, I will breathe a sigh of resignation and I will take my leave of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I don’t care if you quit or if you keep playing. Do what makes you happy. I won’t try to convince you to leave and I don’t want people to try to convince me to stay. I’m just documenting my decision and the repercussions thereof. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, and obnoxious comments will not be approved and/or deleted. :)

So with that said, what will happen to this little ol’ blog?

It’ll likely stay online for, well, a long time. It doesn’t cost me anything extra to keep it online, but at one point, it’ll become inactive in the sense that I won’t have posted anything for a while. I’ll likely write some goodbye post in November, but I’m not gone yet.

In the meantime, I plan to keep up on my prepping the guild for the expansion series. I plan to finish up some of those 33 draft posts. I plan to do something to pass my knowledge along to whoever’s interested. I’ve learned a lot about managing a guild and playing at relatively high levels of content and I feel as though I still have a lot to share before I leave.

As to the podcast, that’s still to be determined (and I still need to edit our latest episode).

As for the guild, Apotheosis will still be a 25-man raiding guild in Mists of Pandaria.

Once Choice finishes raiding for the expansion, I’ll be done over there, too.

And no. You may not have my gold or any other stuff I have on any character. ;)

Thinking about Time as a Raider (and GM)

I’ve had a lot of free time since my exams ended last month. Combine it with short raid weeks due to clearing content and the fact that Diablo III came out and, honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time in-game.

This is vastly different from how things were for me back when I started playing. I was always trying to improve my character by getting things done, like getting all of my T0 set or working on my T0.5 questlines. Or farming for consumables and consumable-related stuff. Doing stuff that I genuinely needed to do to improve, not just because there was some achievement for it. (Because achievements did not exist back then.)

It dawned on me that I really don’t need to do that anymore.

Back in the old days, there weren’t these limits of “one flask or one guardian/one battle elixir”. You could have a flask and several elixirs active at once.

Early in Burning Crusade, the developers decided that was making it really difficult to balance the encounters. How do you balance an encounter for a raid group that is using 0 consumables and a raid group that is using every single consumable in the game? Simple, you cap the consumables and balance for a raid group at that cap.

Back in Burning Crusade, I will freely admit that Apotheosis was not a guild where most of its members used consumables of any kind. It was like pulling teeth to make people use elixirs or flasks. For myself, I always used the Elixir of Healing Power and the Elixir of Draenic Wisdom. This is primarily because, back then, Elixir of Healing Power was +healing (while Adept’s Elixir was +dmg/healing). I also used to eat the Golden Fish Sticks for the +healing.

I was, unfortunately, an exception in our raids back then. I had no idea addons existed to help verify/enforce consumable usage. On the night that we finally, finally killed Lady Vashj, my whole raid team was actually using max consumables and it was amazing. What was less amazing was clicking on 24 other people individually to see if they had their elixirs and food buffs…

That stuff, back then, was time consuming to get or expensive. And not remotely close to the way all of it was back pre-BC. In Vanilla, due to the lack of a cap on this stuff, you could farm for twice as long as you raided every week and still not have everything you needed. Hell, I never even used a flask in Vanilla, not on Kurn. The first time I actually used a flask in Vanilla WoW was when Tia and a warrior friend of hers and I decided to three-man Emp runs in BRD (me on Madrana). It was a Flask of Distilled Wisdom and it was glorious.

But I digress.

In Wrath, I fished up my own fish and cooked it myself. I made my own Flasks of Distilled Wisdom, yes, that same Vanilla-era flask, since they were SO good for holy paladins. It took a good deal of time and occasionally made me go farming in places where I could get Icecap and Dreamfoil and, of course, Black Lotuses.

It’s been different in Cataclysm.

Once all Valor Point stuff I want has been purchased, I feel that I only have to spend maybe an extra half an hour in-game per week. That extra time is all I need with regards to providing consumables for myself.

For me, consumables are not negotiable. I need to have a flask, I need to have food, I need to have various potions (I use Volanic sometimes, but mostly I use Potions of Concentration) and that’s all there is to it. I feel if you’re not buffed with flasks and food, you’re not going to be able to do your best.

This is something I’ve codified into our guild stuff. Raiders MUST be flasked with a food buff, or using two elixirs in lieu of a flask.

How is it, then, that I only need to spend a half an hour in-game per week on consumables? It’s easy. We’ve organized it so that the guild collectively takes responsibility for the major consumables.

For the majority of this expansion, every raiding member of the guild (Initiates, Raiders and Officers alike) was required to “donate” three flasks of a certain kind (pre-determined and they stuck with the same one) to the guild bank every week, due before Tuesday maintenance. This is a LOT less work than people needing 9 flasks of their own per week (or six in the case of Alchemists) and was made possible once we opened up the Big Cauldron of Battle after making 3000 flasks (gah) and then hitting Level 20 so we could have 30 flasks down per cauldron.

So we’ve been collecting flasks from people on a weekly basis since, uh, last April, maybe? We eventually brought that down to 2 flasks per person per week and now we’re about done with flask donations, period. It’s weird to be done sending in flasks, but definitely nice. So every raid night, I take six of each flask out and I drop a cauldron prior to the first boss pull and another one just after break. This worked out so well for us that I imagine the same sort of thing will be done in Mists. The guild bank has had to spend ridiculously little gold on flasks since we pushed a bit to get to 3000 flasks crafted.

As to food… Well, food is basically the Seafood Magnifique Feast, which is 90 of a useful stat to you and 90 stamina. We have the guild bank provide that, but I would say that we have spent… probably no more than 2500g over the last year and a half on various fish for the feast.

Every week, we have a specific donation for something we need in Apotheosis and if you give us what we’re looking for, we give you 200 EP. (We use the EPGP loot system, but you can easily adapt this for DKP or suicide kings or something else.) As such, we almost always have any sort of fish or anything we need. Every week, it’s just like “hey, do you want an extra 200 EP? Then donate (items here)” and people do it. Personally, I enjoy fishing, but sometimes I’m strapped for time, so I’ll occasionally buy the fish at the AH and donate them, but most of the time, I like to fish them up myself.

For enchants and gems and such, we introduced Raider and higher free enchants some time ago, including everything, basically, except for helm enchants and shoulder enchants. Again, we fund this primarily through EP drives from the raiders. Since we introduced this sort of thing, I don’t think we’ve had to spend any money on things like Greater Celestial Essences, Hypnotic Dust or Heavenly Shards. (Especially since shards can now be gotten from Maelstrom Crystals.)

The best part about EP drives is that they’re optional, but so many people decide to participate anyway. I have never missed a week and many others haven’t, either. It’s just a small amount of EP, but it’s a nice little token that may or may not make the difference in your EPGP priority versus someone else who might be after the same item you are. Over time, it certainly adds up.

This way, though, everyone becomes responsible for everyone. Small donations (20 fish here, 40 fish there, 3 Greater Celestial Essences here, 2 Heavenly Shards there) add up quickly, even if you only have 30% of your guild donating. Flasks are taken care of automatically because everyone’s donating every week. Fish and other stuff are taken care of as needed.

Even repairs are taken care of by the bank on a rank basis.

Alts: 100g/day
Friends: 100g/day
Initiates: 250g/day (people who raid but are in their trials)
Members: 250g/day (older members, retired raiders, no longer raiding with us regularly)
Raiders/Officer Alts/Officers: 500g/day

This is funded through the sale of BOEs, of crafted stuff, of crafting materials and patterns, plus the gold-to-bank guild perk, Cash Flow (2) and despite shelling out for epic gems to give out to raiders now and again, the Apotheosis guild bank has over 500k at the moment and has remained at about that level for a couple of months.

Making the whole guild responsible for consumables frees up a huge chunk of time for you and for everyone else. If everyone throws in just a little bit of effort on a regular basis, no one needs to do a ton of work. It’s great. In our system, there’s still individual potions to take care of, but I’ve always found that if you mix up one big batch at a time, you should be good for weeks on end.

So apart from potions, Raider-ranked folks are taken care of in the guild by the guild, with Initiates getting at least some of the benefits as well.

On the flip side, over on the baby pally, I basically pay 400g a month to Choice, which entitles me to flasks and fish feasts and repairs, but I take care of my enchanting myself and I often bring my own Fortune Cookies just because I’m a scribe there and I always have extras. They also have EP donations, but they’re on a grander scale and tend to be steady (whereas one week, Apotheosis will want fish, but the next week will want enchanting mats). Potions are taken care of by me as well, but being a potion master alchemist, that’s not remotely an issue, especially since my mage is an herbalist.

Back in the old days, being a “raider” meant endless farming before then wiping endlessly. Being a raider was a huge time sink. It’s not that it’s not a time sink these days as well, because it certainly can be, but as someone who has recently finished with school and is enjoying her free time, I really appreciate how everything is taken care of by everyone equally in my guild.

(If you want to start flask donations or EP drives, Google Docs’ spreadsheets are the most amazing thing in the entire universe ever, by the way.)

Why I Disabled RealID

Majik and I discussed RealID in this week’s episode of Blessing of Frost. We discussed how RealID and BattleTags are inelegant and always on and I rehashed some of the stuff I talked about in my RealID post from last week.

In the episode, Majik, playing devil’s advocate, challenged why on earth I used it at all. “If you don’t like it,” he said, “why use it?”

In truth, I’ve been thinking about disabling RealID for, well, ever. Since it was introduced, actually. I hadn’t actually done it, though. It was, for lack of a better word, handy, though those occasions were rare.

So I started thinking about how I would get in touch with the people on my RealID list if I turned it off and if my gaming experience would be richer or poorer without RealID.

My brother – My brother obviously has my phone number, can text me, could even drive over and buzz the crap out of my building’s buzzer if he needs me.

Majik – Majik’s favourite way to bother the crap out of me is to harass me in Gmail’s chat. Occasionally, when I raid on the baby pally, he’ll whisper me and mock me for raiding with a second guild. If he needs to reach me, he can text me, G chat me, email me, etc.

My RL Friend the Resto Druid – Similar to my brother’s methods, my RL Friend the Resto Druid has my phone numbers and she can also email me and text me and such.

My ex-boyfriend from high school – While my ex-BF and I didn’t end things happily back in high school, we’ve been in touch for several years (off and on) and in an email exchange a couple of months ago, we swapped RealID info. We haven’t actually used RealID at all to communicate with each other in that time. At all.

My GM in Choice – Fugara, the GM of Choice of Skywall, seemed like a no-brainer to give my RealID to when it came out, as I was raiding with Choice already but I was ALWAYS ready to drop raiding with Choice and head over to Eldre’Thalas in case of an emergency. I thought that should any emergencies arrive, it was a really good idea to be able to communicate with Fugara about my status and estimated time of return and such. Of course, no emergencies like that every cropped up. To boot, Fugara recently gave birth, like three months ago, and hasn’t even been on WoW in two months. (She gave GM powers to the tank lead, Beezlebubba, for the period during which she’s being a newborn’s mother, though she does plan to come back at some point.) So there was absolutely no issue there.

The last person on my RealID is someone from the WoW blogging community whom I really respect and admire, but we don’t chat much and, ultimately, although I still respect and admire this person, there are other ways for us to communicate, too.

So on Thursday night, after a ridiculously short raid due to achievement stuff, I turned it off.

It feels weird, to be honest, but it’s also a bit of a relief.

Why did I do it?

I did it because of the following:

a) I didn’t use RealID enough, even among the limited number of friends I had with it.

b) The ability to use BattleTags in lieu of RealID highlighted that while one of my major issues with RealID is the use of one’s real name (or the real name on the account, even if that’s not the name you go by), I also really resent the possibility of people ALWAYS knowing what toon or server I’m on, regardless of whether or not I’m identified by “Kurn” or my real name.

c) Majik had a point — you don’t like it? Don’t use it.

Try as I might, I could not think of a compelling reason to keep using it after I highlighted the various issues in my last post and it just sort of came to a head during the recording of Blessing of Frost.

Ultimately, it stems from my convictions about how online chatting works. I have worked, like as a profession, in online communities, building them, moderating them, directing them, since 1997. Prior to that, I was an active participant in various online communities since 1986. No joke. Before the Internet was really commercially available, I was building communities on local Bulletin Board Systems. I may not know a lot in life, but I know how online communities work.

Video games used to be solo-player things. Or you’d play a game (like Jones in the Fast Lane or You Don’t Know Jack) while sitting at the same computer  as other people. BattleNet started up and you could chat in multiplayer games or in the lobbies and such. That was new and cool.

Back in the late 90s, messenger-type programs started cropping up. Things like MSN Messenger, ICQ, AOL’s own Instant Messenger, Yahoo’s Pager (now Messenger) burst onto the Internet scene. These (and others) were all proprietary clients that connected to proprietary networks owned by MSN, ICQ, AOL and Yahoo (and the others were owned by their respective developers too). Each introduced different aspects of “messaging”, but all featured ways to instantly send messages to others. AIM didn’t have invisible mode for quite some time, but since it included being able to message those on the AOL network, it was quite popular. MSN came bundled with all computers with Windows, so it was hugely popular despite its bugginess and lack of features. Yahoo’s Pager/Messenger was never really popular at the time, although I think (I could be wrong) it was the first to try to include voice chat. ICQ was the darling of the Internet, though. And it had so many tools! You could live-time chat, seeing people type (typos and all!) or you could send instant messages. You could have more than one person in a conversation. You could send files to various contacts or receive files from them. It was great! ICQ was also one of the first, if not THE first, to have statuses like Available, Busy and the like, including invisible mode. And even with invisible mode, you could right-click on a user on your contact list and select and option to make yourself visible to them.

Blizzard’s main focus has always been its games, but now that “social media” is popular and everyone and their brother is jumping on the bandwagon, they’re trying to build a chat-based community, complete with requisite friends list. The problem is that the revamped BattleNet and RealID and BattleTags are just sort of tacked on to WoW and are better integrated in StarCraft II and Diablo III and, as such, it’s pretty clear that the tools are just unfinished or at least not remotely polished. Sure, it’s a great idea to be able to chat with your friends who are online, but one thing all the chat programs in the 90s eventually did very well (and all the more recent applications that learned from these initial instant messengers) was giving the user the option to use it (or not) on a day by day or moment by moment basis.

RealID and BattleTags do not give you that choice. Yes, you can turn it off, which requires going into your account settings on the BattleNet site. Turning it back on, however, means that if you want to re-connect with the people formerly on your friends list, you must re-request access as their friend, since turning it off will wipe all that data. Enabling or disabling RealID is not a choice you make based on how you feel at a particular moment in time. The repercussions of this choice are not simple, rather the repercussions of disabling a once-used RealID means the actual destruction of those connected contacts that need to be re-requested if you ever decide to re-enable RealID (and want to reconnect with those individuals).

So, realistically, those who don’t want to be visible to anyone but still want to play the games will not turn off RealID if it’s just a passing feeling of “oh, I feel like farming but I don’t feel like talking to anyone”.

Why, in the year 2012, is a company as large as Activision-Blizzard not using lessons learned by Mirabilis (the developers of ICQ) and others as early as 1996? Google understands the importance of invisible mode in its Gchat client. Facebook allows you to appear offline in its chat. Steam’s community allows you to play its online games while offline in its chat client. All of these companies (and more) understand the importance of user preference and user choice and they understand that sometimes people feel more social or less social and will flip their availability depending on those feelings.

Essentially, each client that allows you to see someone’s online status has some option for an invisible or offline mode.

There are over 10 million WoW players. Diablo III has ~4.5 million people running around there shortly after launch (1.2 million or so are WoW players who had the Annual Pass). SC2 has sold something like 4.5 million copies.

Even if all D3 and SC2 players are WoW players, that’s still over 10 million people who are automatically enrolled in this “social network”, although due to regional differences, not everyone can talk to everyone else. Still, that’s a ridiculous number of people playing these games with a built-in social network that’s on by default, where the only options are “use it (either freely or conservatively)” or “don’t use it at all”.

The thing is, of course, Blizzard wants us to use it. Blizzard has created this social system in order to make their games stickier. Everyone I know who plays WoW says that they play because they enjoy the game also plays it equally for the people. Let’s be honest. If my old Burning Crusade era Apotheosis folks hadn’t wanted to get back together to raid for Cataclysm, chances are I would have stopped playing. But they WERE interested, so I was interested in leading these people to a Deathwing kill.

Therefore, it’s in Blizzard’s interest to encourage people to use RealID and BattleTags and it’s not in their interest to make it intuitive to turn off RealID and to institute repercussions (such as having to rebuild any contacts) if you turn it off. Blizzard should want us to use RealID and BattleTags.

Their tools, as I’ve stated earlier, are clumsy, clunky and, like I said earlier, have not learned the lessons most companies learned from the chat clients available in the 1990s.

As such, I have opted out. The simple choice of “on” or “off” doesn’t sit well with me. The use of my real name with RealID never sat well with me. The developers’ blatant ignorance of the necessity of certain baseline tools hinders this system and holds it back.

What really upsets me, and this is why I keep talking about it, is that it could have been something really wonderful. I would have been its number one supporter if the developers had implemented it differently, because the idea of it is fantastic, but the implementation of it is absolutely ridiculous.

What I would have done is this:

– BattleTags first, option for “RealID”/real names later, not even the hint of a forced use of real information, unlike the RealID Forum fiasco of two summers ago
– Options available from Day 1, once online: Available, Busy, Do Not Disturb, Offline
– Eventually, integrating “invisible mode” and allowing others to see you if you chose, the way ICQ did it, or perhaps doing the group thing I suggested last week right from the start

Having that sort of thing done from the start would have had me praising BattleTags and the social system Blizzard was setting up from the start. It would have shown respect for the users, basic understanding of social media and chat programs and it would have allowed me to use my BattleTag more freely to do what I need to do in terms of guild recruitment.

As it stands, they scared the crap out of us by saying RealID/real names would be used on the forums, they didn’t give us any flexibility in terms of options of using it or not and now they have required the use of a BattleTag for Diablo III. Even if you never give it out to anyone, you still have to have one.

I feel strongly that it’s the wrong way to go about it and the small benefits I get from the use of RealID are absolutely not worth being consistently frustrated by the poor choices Blizzard has made in the implementation of their system.

RealID, BattleTags and Blizzard's "Social Network"

Those of you who are long-time readers of this blog probably already know that I am not a fan of RealID in its current iteration, nor am I all that thrilled by BattleTags (yet). Apart from all the privacy concerns and the fact that online harassment is not only possible, but likely when you’re a woman, there are some key deficiencies in the whole RealID/BattleTag system from a structural standpoint.

First of all, you have two choices: allow it to be enabled (by default) or turn it off through parental controls. I don’t actually have a problem with this. Anyone who’s in control of their own account should be able to be smart enough with their RealID info to prevent too many creeptastic exchanges. But in order to even play Diablo III, even as a single-player campaign, you absolutely must make a BattleTag, which functions similarly to RealID in many ways. The only major difference is that you’re referred to as your BattleTag name instead of your real name. (This, in my not-remotely-humble opinion, is what RealID should have been in the first place. Apart from the forced-to-use portion of it.)

Assuming that you’ve chosen to allow it to be enabled, then, if you choose to give either your RealID info or your BattleTag out to people, they will always be able to tell if you’re online, regardless of what Blizzard game (WoW, SC2, D3) you’re playing, regardless of which character you’re playing. By the same token, you’ll always see when that person is playing as well.

Rohan over at Blessing of Kings had a really interesting post about how we all want to be invisible but want to know if our friends are online and came up with an idea about “going dark”, which would effectively show you as offline to your friends, but you’d be unable to see them  if they were online while you were dark. While I think that’s probably a fair and simple way to accomodate requests for some kind of invisibility mode with RealID and with BattleTags, it doesn’t address the major problem with the system.

The major problem with the current system is that it assumes everyone who has your RealID or BattleTag is of exactly the same importance to you and you would want to be potentially contacted by any and all people with that RealID/BattleTag info at any given point in time.

That, of course, isn’t how people work.

I make very rare use of RealID and I haven’t given my BattleTag out to anyone as of yet. I have precisely six people on my RealID list; one is my brother, one is my Real Life Friend the Resto Druid, one is Majik, one is (I’m not even kidding here) my highschool-era ex-boyfriend and the other two are people I’ve encountered in-game and known for quite some time and respect quite a lot.

Any one of those people are more than welcome to contact me in-game if I’m online. My brother does now and again, as does my RL Friend the Resto Druid. Majik uses RealID with me more than anyone else does, whereas the in-game people and I rarely chat (we’re rather respectful of each other’s time and privacy) and my ex-boyfriend and I haven’t even said “hi” through RealID in the month or so since we’ve been RealID friends.

Again, I like and respect all of those people (well, except Majik… ;)) and I’ve been extremely careful in giving out my information.

However, I also do recruiting for my guild (apply now!) and I see recruiters throwing their RealID info out all over the place. Due to privacy concerns, I won’t do that, but I was thinking seriously that I should throw out my BattleTag info when it’s fully integrated into WoW.

If I did that, though, I would be changing my online experience substantially. What if a potential applicant whispers me through RealID when I’m raiding with Choice on the baby pally? What if some random person on the forums sees my post and decides to hop into my Diable 3 game? If I give out my info, which would be really helpful in terms of recruitment, for example, then I’m potentially changing my gaming experiences significantly. All of a sudden, I’m much more available to a set of people I don’t really have ties to. Suddenly, I have elevated random people to the same level of importance in my life as the six people on my RealID list. Any of them, so long as I accepted their request (and why wouldn’t I, if I were trying to recruit them?) would be able to see when I’m online, in which game and on which character.

In his post, Rohan says that ICQ, which was a great instant messenger client that was hugely popular in the 1990s, was overly complex and complicated in the way they used their invisible modes. I’ll say that it was complex, sure, but I would argue that relationships are equally complex and deciding when and how to communicate with others is complex in and of itself. Thus, a system is needed that is better than “always on” to help deal with the subtleties of human interaction.

There are a couple of different ways that I think this could happen.

1) A Ranked System.

In a ranked system, I would ideally be able to create a group called, for example, “Close Friends” who would then have permission to see me online regardless of what I’m doing in what game. These are the people like my brother and Majik and my RL Friend the Resto Druid, for example. This group would have the most privileges and would be my top-ranked friends.

Then, I’d like a second tier, lower down, which would have mix-and-matchable privileges that include what games people can see me playing and, ideally (well, as long as I’m dreaming, you know?) even be able to distinguish which characters I’d like people to be able to see me on.

So I’d like to create a second group called, for instance, “WoW Friends”. My “WoW Friends” would then have permission to see me regardless of where I am in WoW. Whether I’m farming on Eldre’Thalas, making money on Skywall, raiding somewhere or whatever, they could see me on any WoW character. But they would not be able to see me if I were playing Diablo 3 or StarCraft 2 (not that I play, but you get the idea). In this group, I’d put a couple of the people I’m RealID friends with whom I’ve met through WoW and greatly respect. That said, I’d prefer that this group not have my real name. (It’s kind of too late now, but anyhow.)

The selection screen could look something like this.

See what I’m getting at? Each group, even the top-level group, would have options you could set that would include limiting visibility based on what you want them to see. Using specific selections like this, you could have a really intricate system of groups of people who can/can’t see when you are online, and to whom your private information (such as your name) is revealed.

It’s not the simplest solution, but I think it deals nicely with all of the potential concerns I have. Further, no one knows what “rank” they are because everyone’s ranks are different from everyone else’s. So there’s none of that “hey, Kurn, why am I ranked THREE on your list?? You’re in my first group!!!” nonsense.

There could also be default groups with default settings, but all of them would, ideally, be very easy to customize.

2) The Invisible System.

The second major way I see to deal with the complexities of human interaction is to have exactly what Rohan discarded right off the bat — an Invisibility system. In such a system, you would be able to GO invisible, first of all. (And actually, I would append this to my ranked system, too!) Then, you could select players who would be allowed to see you while you are logged on and invisible. To these people, you would simply appear as “online”. (Note that you would still always be online to guildies and people on your server — I’m just talking about RealID/BattleTag friends.) It would be much less customizable than the ranked system I laid out, but it would still address some major issues.

What if I’m raiding and I don’t want some potential recruit whispering me as I’m working on Heroic Spine? Invisible for the duration of my raid. What if I’m farming and don’t want to be bothered while I’m chilling out, but wouldn’t mind hearing from friends? Invisible but anyone marked as being able to see me while invisible would be able to chat.

It’s not as complicated as the ranked system and so it also lacks some finesse, but this could be a good way to allow people to make use of RealID/BattleTags without someone becoming “too accessible” to various people.

The Blizzard Social Network

I know that I’m dreaming by even thinking that Blizzard will ever evolve their RealID/BattleTag system beyond what it already does. I know that my ideal ranked system will never happen. I strongly doubt an invisible mode will ever come to be.

However, just because Blizzard won’t do that doesn’t mean that we should roll over and accept a system with which we’re unhappy. It doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept whatever they give us with regards to their idea of a “social network”. While it’s nice to chat with people on other factions and other servers in WoW, don’t be fooled. RealID/BattleTags aren’t there for you to conveniently chat with your friends. The system almost certainly exists to take the middleman out of social networking for Blizzard. World of Warcraft has an insanely large community. There are websites, podcasts, blogs, twitters, livejournals, tumblrs, everything under the moon. How are those community sites beneficial for Blizzard? Word of mouth and free advertising for their product, yes, but otherwise, they’re not. They’re taking discussions away from the official forums, they’re allowing people other ways to connect with each other outside the game. If Diablo 3 had come out three years ago, people would have emailed or sent each other messages on guild forums or IMed or texted each other to say “hey, are you playing D3? Wanna play together?” instead of just seeing that your friend is already in a D3 game and allowing you to quick join in.

I’m fairly certain that they’re trying to ensure that their games are “sticky”, in the sense that we won’t need to go elsewhere to communicate. Looking for a friend to LFR with? Log on, check your friends list. Playing D3 to pass the time until your raid? Play with other guildies who might be online doing the same thing. They are, in my opinion, making their three games, and the communication between them, into a whole social media platform.

The only trouble is, they’re forgetting about how complex social interaction really is, particularly in the live format. You don’t need an invisible mode on Twitter, because it’s not realtime. No one knows when you’re checking Twitter or not. Since all three of Blizzard’s games include you logging in (even at the menu selection, in D3 and SC2), there is the realtime factor one must account for. The way Blizzard has accounted for that is this persistent, always-on chat system, which is clunky and extremely basic in terms of the options available.

They’ve got the bare bones of a real social platform built on top of these incredible games and obviously, the games are the priority, but they’re shoehorning the social system into the games as best they can and expecting us (and forcing us, in terms of D3) to use them.

So even though I know they will never make the system work the way a good social system SHOULD work (by using something akin to my suggestions above), I can’t help but wish they would. If they’re going to try to be sticky and make the game platforms a social hub, they need better tools to make the user experience go more smoothly. There is nothing in the world as complicated as human interaction and Blizzard is doing us a grand disservice with their inelegant tools.

Saviour of Azeroth

(Yes, I spell Saviour with a U. I’m Canadian. Let it be.)

I have been playing World of Warcraft fairly steadily since October of 2005. That is nearly seven years. It is very, very, very rare for me to achieve anything for “the first time”, these days. That’s to say, while I can kill a new boss for a first time, I’ve killed plenty of new bosses for the first time. While I can kill a new heroic boss for the first time, I’ve killed plenty of new heroic bosses for the first time.

This tier has been a challenging one for me, and for my guild. Released just before the holidays, the normal modes of Dragon Soul seemed pretty elementary to those of us in Apotheosis. It took us three weeks to clear all the normal content, and part of that was Spine and Madness each taking a week out of us, plus roster issues due to holidays.

Roster issues. Never in my life have I been happier to have had an overflowing roster going into a tier of content. We have lost: Kamilla, Huntertoga, Hestiah, Mabriam, Tiandrina, Xmolder, Daey, Arolaide, Murran and Dar since the end of Firelands. That is 8 DPS (all three of our warlocks and a legendary mage) and 2 healers. And none of them jumped ship to another guild, those are all people who just decided to stop raiding. I feel most comfortable with 33-34 people on a roster for a 25-man raiding guild. We have been running with around 28-29 people. It’s not always been easy for us over the last few months.

But we kept at it.

Heroic Morchok, Heroic Hagara (server first!), Heroic Yor’sahj, Heroic Zon’ozz, Heroic Ultraxion, Heroic Blackhorn… then Heroic Spine of Deathwing and finally, Sunday night, Heroic Madness of Deathwing.

For the first time in my WoW career, I have cleared all heroic content on the current tier. (4/5 TOGC, 11/12 H ICC, 7/13 H T11, 6/7 H T12 and now 8/8 H T13.)

It’s definitely been an uphill climb. Sometimes, it’s been uphill in the snow (yes, hi, main spec healer doing offspec DPS and main spec DPS warrior tanking bloods for Heroic Spine? A night of work on Heroic Madness with 0 main spec tanks in the raid?). Sometimes, the attendance boss would rear its ugly head. But we usually worked it out and at least got something done, even on those sketchy nights.

This is the reward. Saviour of Azeroth. 8/8 HM. And we did most of our progression at the 0-10% nerf level. While it took us a while to get Spine down (and up to the 20% nerf), we would have had it with another week’s worth, regardless of the increase to 20%. And Madness is just such a joke after toiling forever on Spine.

But it’s such a relief to get it done. We’re not done raiding, but the tough stuff is over. One more heroic clear to ensure everyone gets the title/achievement, then over to “fun” achievements to get the Glory of the Dragon Soul Raider meta achievement and drakes and all that other jazz, before resuming heroic farm.

In the meantime, my “real” life has been competing with WoW stuff during almost the entirety of Dragon Soul. My grandmother broke her hip on December 21st, was hospitalized and only returned home two months later. I started my final semester of university in January. My father was hospitalized in April. I had two killer exams on the same day. I took a couple of raids off with Apotheosis and didn’t raid with Choice on my baby pally for about two weeks in there. The time off did me good and I haven’t spent a ton of time in-game since my exams ended. The time I’ve spent playing WoW has generally been raiding and the rest of my WoW-related time has been spent either podcasting or planning out raid stuff or recruiting. (Apply now!) Obviously, I haven’t been blogging and I’ve barely touched beta (though I really ought to) and I won’t be spending a lot of time playing Diablo III, although I did start a character this morning.

The good news is that my father’s out of the hospital and doing pretty well.

My grandmother’s hip isn’t what it used to be and she’s still struggling at home, but she’s applied to a senior’s residence that is pretty swanky, so we’ll see when they have a spot available. Until then, I’m still playing errand-girl, since I live two floors down from her in the same building.

So real life is settling down a bit. I passed my exams and my classes so I should be graduating on June 18th.

Things are better. I hope to be able to sit down soon and spend more time on this blog with you all than I have over the last month. :)

General Sort of Update-like Thing

My life, right now, is pretty nutty.

First and foremost, I have both of my final exams on Wednesday, April 25th. One from 9am-12pm and one from 2pm-5pm. These are the finals for the last classes in my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. With any luck, of course. As such, tonight is my last raid with Choice of Skywall on the baby pally for about two weeks.

Due to the exams, I’m also missing Sunday, April 22nd’s Apotheosis raid, as well as Tuesday, April 24th’s.

Meanwhile, in Apotheosis, we’re now able to get the second plate up on Heroic Spine. I don’t really have the time to… you know what, screw it. I’ll take a couple hundred words right here to talk about Spine.

Spine sucks.

Wow, that was shorter than I thought. ;)

No, really, it’s an interesting fight, at times. I honest-to-God enjoy some of the mechanics. I feel like I’m getting a good handle on what to do as a healer. The fight has caused some hilarious Mumble conversation (Kaleri was dispelling last night and got gripped at one point and the noise she made to indicate she was gripped and someone needed a dispel was AMAZING) and despite some overall frustration, there was a real sense of progression last night as we lifted the second plate for the first time.

But the fight sucks. There I am, healing people with Searing Plasma… pretty much the whole time until the tanks actually start to take appreciable damage, and even then, I’m still healing people with Searing Plasma at least a little bit.

I’m sorry, I’m ON THE BACK OF A VERY ANGRY PSYCHOTIC DRAGON and I’m worried about Searing Plasma debuffs?! What a waste. I’m also noting how many residue we have and calling for the Amalgamations to be brought through the clumps of them and such. Important to the fight, yes, but I’m doing this for what, 10-13 minutes or so? More than that, I’m doing the same stuff three separate times in the fight. Or six separate times, really. More than once last night, I lost track, I actually lost track of what tendon burn we were on.

Hot Tip: when your raiders can completely forget, in essence, which phase of the fight you’re on, it’s probably not a well-designed fight.

I don’t mind some repetitive aspects of fights, I really don’t, but when the entire phase (say, the lifting of a plate) is repeated almost precisely another two times, the fight is not compelling, is not “fun” and is annoying as crap.

So Spine sucks, but we’re getting there. And I’ll say this, the surge of “OH MY GOD YES!” when we got the second plate off for the first time was fantastic. (But not worth the otherwise poor design of the fight. IMHO.)

Meanwhile, my father was unexpectedly hospitalized last Wednesday. Long story short, he’s got a nasty bacterial infection that has set up residence in his liver. The details are really kind of gross and they don’t even actually know the cause. He’s doing okay (alert, eating well, doesn’t feel “sick”, just weak) but it’s never an easy thing to deal with when you have a family member in the hospital. And, you know, this is my dad, so it’s extra scary.

Speaking of family members, my grandmother, who broke her hip in December, is not coping altogether well after being home for around two months. Her walking is much worse, she’s not eating much and she would down a whole bottle of Tylenol in a single day if we left her that much because she’s been forgetting when she takes Tylenol and is still in discomfort. Since she and I live in the same apartment building, I’m the one who’s been running upstairs and giving her Tylenol as requested, but never more than five or six pills a day. Oh, also, we took her for a hearing test (after YEARS of knowing she’s been losing her hearing, despite her protests to the contrary) and got it confirmed that there’s “significant” hearing loss in both ears. Enough so that she qualifies for a free hearing aid from the government, so while that’s news to no one (except my grandmother), that’s something else we have to take care of.

Of course, all the family stuff has me wanting to play WoW to take my mind off stuff — and I’m in the beta, so I want to spend time over there, too! But then there are those pesky exams, and I want to write blog posts and I want to do log dives for my raids and and and… I also just want to nap, because none of the stuff going on in my life right now is really condusive to a good night’s sleep.

So please do forgive me my lack of posting about, well, anything. I hope to be back at it at the end of April. In the meantime, go listen to episodes of Blessing of Frost or check out Apotheosis, since we’re always seeking more quality raiders. :)

Late-night Thoughts on Guild Dynamics

Once upon a time, I knew absolutely no one in the World of Warcraft.

So I introduced my brother to it.

He joined up with something like three guilds before I even joined one. He met people. He’s always been the more socially outgoing of the two of us, and it seemed that trend would carry over into WoW.

My brother had joined Fated Heroes while I was in Kindred (which then morphed into Kindred Knights). I got a lot of pressure to join FH and, eventually, I succumbed, on the very day I dinged 50, which was, I believe, early February of 2006.

I have been playing with the people I have met in Fated Heroes pretty much since that day. It’s where I met Tia and Kam, Majik and Toga, Daey and Dar and so many others.

I was thinking about guild dynamics tonight because Daey, who has been an officer in each incarnation of Apotheosis since the start, recently stepped down from officerhood and, due to work and other commitments, he’s been unable to raid regularly (read: pretty much at all) this whole month. I’ve kept in touch with him and we’ll see if this upcoming reset works out for him now that hockey is over for him and go from there.

Dayden, one of our officers in the last incarnation of Apotheosis, and through Firelands in this version as well, has returned to the game after a long period of staring out of his window during all the free time he had. ;) Except he’s unavailable for, oh, three weeks, smack-dab in the middle of his trial.

I’m okay with both of these situations — Dayden because he gave us notice way ahead of time and Daey because I’ve been in contact with him regularly throughout his absence and has given me straightforward information about a timetable for his return.

I then got to thinking about how it might look to others in the guild. “Weird,” they might say, “Daey hasn’t been in a raid in like a month!” Or “oof, that’s right, Dayden’s not around for the next three weeks, man, that’s weird.”

At that point, I started thinking, “you know, if people have a problem with it, although I have no evidence thereof, they can…” and I trailed off in mid-thought. No, they cannot just “kiss my ass,” which was how that thought would have ended. ;) “But why not?” I asked myself. “I’m the GM and while that doesn’t mean I’m a dictator, I should occasionally be able to be dictatorial, right?”

No. It doesn’t mean that. Being the GM means that I, above all others, should hold myself to a certain standard of behaviour and, within raids, skill/familiarity with my job.

“What is the point of being a GM if you can’t do X, Y or Z for your friends?” I found myself asking, even though I don’t feel I’m doing that at present.

The point of being a GM is to help manage things, make things run smoothly for everyone. I have never been a fan of using one’s power (either in-game or in other, RL situations) to manipulate situations for one’s own benefit. Had there been a healing legendary this expansion, I would have been the first to say “nope, I should not get the first”. In my mind, being the GM does not mean my friends (and family, since my brother does still play) should get a free pass. And I don’t believe Dayden and Daey are, and no one’s complained about them and their situations (no, guildies, you should not start now), but it started this really interesting series of thoughts in my head, which I thought I would share.

I play WoW for a few reasons. One of them is to play with my friends. But they were, once upon a time, all strangers to me. Over the years, some have quit playing, others have moved on elsewhere. You cannot count on everyone to be as dedicated as you might be to the group or the guild or the game. There will, inevitably, be turnover and you’ll stop seeing friends log in. Or maybe it’ll be you who stops logging in.

Starting up a guild with the goal of “to play with friends” is noble, to be sure, but the biggest warning I have to anyone about that is you will rarely be able to only play with your friends. Billy has class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so he’ll miss Tuesday’s raid. Clyde will step in for him Tuesdays, but he can’t make Sundays. But Sophie is there on Sundays, but can’t make Tuesday or Thursday. So you go recruiting and you hope to receive applications from qualified, skilled, like-minded individuals.

But here’s a secret — no one you recruit will ever be exactly the same as your current group of friends. And hell, even in that group of friends, there are dissenting opinions and there will, inevitably, be some form of drama somewhere that may, or may not, be dealt with in a respectful way.

As soon as that one “outsider” joins the guild, all of a sudden, it’s not just a group of friends anymore. Now you’ve become a team that integrates people who have the same goals and availability and, hopefully, skill/talent/ability. That team integration is one of the biggest hurdles any guild faces and it’s also the reason that policies and rules and regulations need to come into play in a guild. It may be possible to not have any rules when it really is just a group of friends, but as soon as that “outsider” joins, they have a lot of catching up to do in terms of how the guild works.

Apotheosis didn’t always have rules and policies, but we added them as we came across various situations back in Burning Crusade, and those rules and policies have served us very well over the years. We still maintain them and we still add in clauses and such as we encounter them in new situations.

So even when you’re forming up and you’re all “hey, yeah, I get to just play with my friends!” be aware that the dynamic will inevitably change and new people pulled in may not have the same background and ideas as you. It’s not a bad thing, but it means things that you’ve taken for granted need to be codified (you know, written down) for the new people to learn and accept them.

In looking at the Heroic Blackhorn kill shot, I see familiar names, but I only see two that have raided together since 2006; Madrana and Majikmarine.

I see Chronis (Division) and Kaleri and Merkavah and Nowell, all of whom I raided with at various points in Wrath of the Lich King. I see a bunch of people I’ve been raiding with for about a year and I see a few newer names.

Much as I like these people (and I really am quite fond of my guildies overall), they were not the people for whom I restarted this guild. I have a responsibility to these people, the “new” people, although I really don’t think of them that way any longer. That responsibility is to uphold the guild’s standards, maintain order and lead us through the various encounters in current raid content.

Sometimes, it astounds me to see how far Apotheosis has gotten from the original incarnation, when we were just a bunch of people who wanted to play together and eventually down Illidan. It’s grown into such a diverse community of people — raiders and non-raiders, left-wingers and right-wingers, members of the GLBT community and heterosexual people, people of different nationalities, religions and ethnic backgrounds.

So I don’t mind that our little guild has grown from a group of in-game “friends” to a great community and I don’t mind that it means I need to ensure things are fair for everyone. I do, however, have to chuckle at how naive I was, back on June 1st of 2007. I really did think we could have this perfect little haven where rules and policies and such weren’t necessary and everyone just innately understood how we did everything. In that little idealized society, it wouldn’t be a big deal that Daey’s been unable to raid or that Dayden will be missing time. It’s not a big deal in Apotheosis at the moment either, mind you, but I’m forever anticipating such issues and thinking about how such things will be interpreted.

Sometimes I miss being that innocent about things like guild and group dynamics, but my sociology education and being a GM are the two things that have really caused me to be hyper-aware of how others might interpret things and how I should work to pre-empt those misinterpretations.

My Raid Group's Strengths

I posted about Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn yesterday and in that post, I detailed the number of ways my raid group struggled with the encounter. My guildies obviously took exception to the post and I got comments from them complaining that I made us look incompetant.

Clearly, if we’re 6/8 25-man HM, we’re doing something right, Kit pointed out.

So today, I will follow up yesterday’s post with a short (hah) discussion of where my raid group’s strengths are.

1) Healing. Myself excluded, my healers are fan-fucking-tastic. I can (usually) keep up, but the other healers are amazing. I guess that’s what happens when the guild master runs a blog tailored to a healing spec – the healers I tend to get are top-notch. I am consistently in awe of Jasyla, Featherwind, Kaleri, Sara, Kit and Walks. Not just their throughput, but their ability to follow instructions and mainly making good decisions. While I know I need to have enough healers to run raids in case a bunch of people have something come up, having more healers is genuinely problematic for me because so many of us make so many raids and having to sit someone out is always, always a difficult choice.

2) DPS. My DPS can bring it. No ifs, ands or buts. We have never had problems with an enrage timer if we have executed the encounter appropriately. We have a great group of talented, skilled raiders who bring their best efforts to the raid. It’s as though I’m a general and I have this elite force available to me and I can point at a target and say “THAT ONE, KILL IT!!!” and they go forth and kill it with ease.

3) Tanks. Not only do I have two talented players for tanks, I have three capable DPSers as designated OS tanks. I am fortunate to have five players (there are more than that, but a minimum of five) who know their classes well enough to tank through various encounters. We’ve had main spec DPSers be the main tanks on several occasions (Heroic Maloriak, Heroic Baleroc, just to name a couple) and we’ve kicked some ass with the versatility our tanking crew brings.

4) Attitude. By and large, we are not a cranky group of people. Sure, we all have off-nights and we all get frustrated sometimes, but we’re easily amused and our chatter during raids consists of things like poop (I don’t even know) and mocking Majik (and me). A good time is had. It’s a huge difference from the impending dread and doom I had back in Wrath when I was raiding with my RL Friend the Resto Druid (not that my friend is evil or anything, but the guild atmosphere was toxic). It is, overall, a joy to raid with this group of people.

5) Perseverence. My group doesn’t quit and my officers and I know when to push them and when not to. When to push? Tier 11 heroic modes. We got H Conclave and H Valiona & Theralion down and were working on H Omnotron when Firelands came out. When not to push? H Ragnaros. We pulled him a few times but recognized that wasn’t the best use of our time or energy given how close Dragon Soul was to coming out.

6) Interaction. We talk a lot. We tweet at each other, we comment on each other’s blogs, we listen to podcasts to support each other, we post on the forums consistently. We talk about all kinds of things, including, but not limited to, the current progression fight we’re on. My Ontario-based healers have Wine Nights every so often. There was a Vegas trip. People text and talk outside of the game. People play other games together. We’re not just a group of people that sees each other at raid time three nights a week. Actual friendships are born in the guild and that helps keep us going strong as a guild. It’s a real community that goes beyond the boundaries of World of Warcraft.

These are all strengths for my raid group, though I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Those are the ones that came to me when thinking about what to write today, after discussing our flaws and weaknesses yesterday. We can overcome the weaknesses (as shown by defeating Heroic Warmaster Blackhorn) and the strengths serve to tide us over through our struggles.

Apotheosis, you rule. :)