Screen Time

“So Joyia, how are you planning on limiting your kid’s video game time? How are you going to keep him from playing your M rated games?”

This was a question asked of me by a World of Warcraft guild mate.

He didn’t like my answer – “I’m not.”

When I was a kid, my mom never limited my game time. We had a computer and an NES. Both were in the living room. Game time was limited only by one factor – is someone else using it already. Actually no, two factors, that one, and “Is your homework done?” My mother took a firm stance on kids should be allowed to spend their time how they want to. She had her own hobbies (including playing games). She didn’t have time to police ours and see if they were “worthwhile”. Once I had finished my chores (which were criminally few now that I think about it) and homework, I could do whatever I wanted. Sometimes that was games. But just as often it was reading, or writing, or talking to friends on the phone.

At the very least, at least she always knew where we were right?

Yes, people can get really sucked into video games, but they can also be just as obsessed over many other things. I read dozens of books every year. I spent at least a 1/4th of my childhood with a nose in a book. I was the only kid in my class in elementary school who wasn’t allowed to have books at her desk. Not even text books. I would read them instead of listen. (Though, really, wasn’t that the POINT?)

Further, I remember a girl in my elementary school who took a flute out to recess every day. The teachers tried and tried to get her into playing with the other kids, and she refused. All she wanted to do was play the flute. They let her because she said she wanted to be a flutist one day. They wouldn’t let me read, which was exceptionally annoying, despite the fact I said I wanted to be a writer. Fifth grade and we were already being judged by our activities. Here’s the thing though. That girl? Full ride to college on a band scholarship. Later she ended up joining some ridiculously hard to get into symphony in New York. At 11, she knew what she wanted to do and she didn’t let anything get in her way, not even well meaning teachers or parents.

I didn’t want to be a game designer when I was 11. I knew I liked games. I knew I liked books. I knew I liked making up stories with my friends. I knew I liked making up games to play with my friends. I wanted to make Calvinball. But no one, in all those years, ever told me making games for a living was a thing I could do. So yeah, at the time the hours and hours I sunk into playing video games was a “waste”.

What about now?

So we’re working on SSA, and we’re discussing what happens when one player does something like steal all the treasure in an area. They start discussing various solutions we could do as designers to fix this. I immediately piped up with “But we shouldn’t. That’s a real life problem to solve.” A few blank looks and I clarified – “If your brother steals all the loot, you punch him. That’s the POINT of playing games in local multiplayer. But more, we shouldn’t change it because it allows the players to game the system. You can power level characters if one can collect all the loot and exp. It also makes the game more of a mad dash.”

In the end, we sat down and played the game, local multiplayer, just like kids would. It was less than 3 minutes to the first “Hey! THAT WAS MINE!” and about 5 minutes to one player letting the other one die to get loot. Within 15 minutes, a huge crowd had gathered around the two players with much good natured jokes and laughter. We didn’t change the system. Let them fight over loot.

I am not sure I would have thought this way, if not for the experiences of playing all those games with my brother. All those local multiplayer games with my friends. I was also the kind of kid who would hook up two controllers to cheese the system and give myself help. I have two WoW accounts NOW just for that purpose. I always buy both versions of each Pokemon game, so I can trade between them.

Well, that explains the time limits… as long as homework is done, I don’t care. Maybe it will be his passion. Maybe it won’t. But there is no reason to enforce my hobbies and desires on him. He’s his own person, let him spend his time how he wants.

But what about M rated games?

Again, my mother never limited the books I could read. If we had it in the house, I could read it. I remember picking up a Stephen King book at 12. I tried to read it. Oh man was it DULL. I also remember watching R rated movies. In the living room. That was the thing about having the tv/console/computer in the living room. You couldn’t do anything without everyone seeing. It was amazingly good at limiting what I would try to watch or play. My mom would come in and say something like “Oh that’s gross, I don’t want to see that.” And switch it to something else. There was never a “You can’t play that.” It was always, “This isn’t appropriate for the family room.” Then a few times we had candid discussions about sex, drugs, and such, so that she knew I knew what was safe, what wasn’t, and how to deal with those situations. At no point was the line between reality and media blurred.

Talking to a kid and interacting with them on a constant basis really helps. So I hope when my kid gets old enough to play games, he plays them with me. Skylanders is a great family game. So is Minecraft. (As an aside, I do not look forward to telling him that Creepers – aka Booms – are not fluffy little friends like he thinks right now.) If he wants to play a game like Skyrim, I will let him, where I can see, in the living room. There will likely be discussions and conversations about the difference between reality and fantasy, but I have faith in his ability to learn. Also kids tend to be very self limiting on “adult” things.

In the end, I think my biggest issue with saying “I will limit your access and time to games.” is that not only was mine not limited as a kid, but how hypocritical would it be for me to say, “Sorry you can only play for an hour each day,” when I will be playing for at least 2-3? Yes, I will probably do the same thing as my mom and say, “I don’t want to see that on the living room tv, so different game.” but otherwise, I don’t really think I have a leg to stand on about playing too many games. Do what you want, as long as you are responsible and take care of your chores/work, then your free time is your own.

Understanding the Other Self

I remember the first time I showed my dad WoW. He didn’t really get it. I explained that the green named people were other players. I explained that the game couldn’t be paused. I explained how we moved through the world and did quests, killing monsters. He never seemed to quite understand. He kept asking me, but what was my character’s name? Was I saving the princess? His understanding of games was narrow, and I didn’t know the correct words at the time to explain the difference.

My son, by virtue of being a game developer’s kid, has been exposed to games from the very beginning. Before he was even a year old, he watched me play things like Skylanders on our living room TV. At around 11 months, he realized for the first time that putting something on the portal of power caused the TV to change. He did this for hours. Skylanders on and off, looking up at the TV to watch the change.

The next, the real magic happened. Tiny Pittman took the portal off the coffee table, set it on the floor, then carefully stepped up on it. He looked at the TV. Of course, nothing happened. Despite the fact that I call him a Skylander, he isn’t actually. He tried a few more times, even testing the portal with Skylanders, but he couldn’t get the TV to change when he stepped on the portal. He seemed disappointed. His understanding was that anything placed on the portal appeared on the screen. Our magic for Skylanders is limited, but it wasn’t in his head.

The next time he really began to interact with games was several months later, while he sat on my lap while I played WoW. I mounted up on a flying dragon and Tiny pointed at it, then loudly exclaimed “Birdy!” I laughed and replied, yes, that was Mommy’s birdy. I kept playing, and he reached out and pressed the space bar. My character reacted by jumping in the air. His response: “WHOA!” He began pressing the space bar repeatedly. Watching intently as my character jumped around Azeroth. Finally, I zoomed in on my character, and he said “Mommy!” Yes, my character is a red headed human, so it makes sense he would recognize her as me. I nodded, and agreed. Yes, that was Mommy.

What really got me was watching him completely understand and accept, not only that my online avatar was me, but that I was also in control of her. At 1 year, and 8 months, Tiny understood that the characters on the screen were merely extensions of the people behind the keyboard.

I look forward to seeing him grow and discover virtual worlds. I also wonder what kind of expectations this will create in him. What things will he understand that will be outside of my grasp? What will those virtual worlds look like when he gets there?

A different kind of crunchy mom

It never really occurred to me I should be writing about being a game developer mom. I am a game developer and a mom, but these two things don’t really seem to overlap very much in the public eye. Recently on Twitter, I made a comment to a friend about being a mom in game development, and she replied with surprise, as she rarely talks to other moms who make games.

At first, I thought this was rather odd, I mean, there are tons of moms who make games! But then I stopped to think about the people I work with and have worked with. Um. Well. I mean, none of my companies can be accused of hiring lots of women, but some are over the average (13% female workforce). And yet, I have never worked with another mother, unless they never talked about it. (I even interviewed at a company, that after a while, the guy got me to admit that I wasn’t planning on having kids anytime soon, and his response was “Oh good, you women have a habit of quitting when you have babies.”)

I have worked at a company where just as I started, a producer left on maternity leave. She didn’t come back when it was over. As this was in the middle of a death march of a crunch, I really couldn’t blame her. 60 hour weeks with an infant? You must be crazy.

I guess I am crazy. I got pregnant right as TfB geared up on Giants right after shipping Spyro’s Adventure. We had a 1 year turn around time for Giants. I knew it was going to be rough, but as long as we shipped in June, we would be fine, as I was due in July. No worries. Except for the tiny detail of “Games almost never ship on time.” It wasn’t too difficult, working on Giants. My studio is pretty stress free, friendly, and people worked to get my stuff done first “just in case”. In the end, I shipped my kid the same week we hit submitted. I worked right up until the Friday before my due date (the next Tuesday). I didn’t do this because I was told to, or asked to, but rather because I love my job, I love my game, and I really love the people I work with.

When I first got pregnant, it was always known I would take a few months off, then back to work and back to Skylanders. I never thought of leaving my career to stay home with my kid. I had worked very hard to get where I was in the industry and was very lucky to get a job at TfB working on a game I loved. No way I was going to put that on hold for 5 years. So I found a daycare within a mile of my office, signed Tiny Pittman up, and went back to work exactly 3 months after I left to have my son.

So what is it like being a game dev mom? Weird. But I expect many women feel the same in other fields. I really think though, crunch is the source of my biggest problems with being a game dev and a mom, and likely the reason I don’t find many others.

First, before I had my kid, I only remember one incident of a parent responding to crunch. At one company, we were in the middle of mandatory 60 hour weeks, including 2 late nights. One of the men who sat across the office from me would Skype his kids at home to say good night on the late nights. It was cute, and I really felt it meant a great deal that he was trying. Someone said something to him once about “being a good father”. Then, this very nice, generally calm man, snapped at the commenter with a very harsh “If I were a GOOD father I would be at home putting my kids to bed instead of here working on this stupid game!” It may have been stress, it may have been dissatisfaction with the way the project had been handled, but clearly this person was wildly unhappy about missing his kids, and no one even knew until that moment.

That moment really stuck with me, because I knew that’s how I would be. I was already cranky at working 60 hour weeks because it cut into my WoW time. How would I deal when it cut into my kid time? I talked to my husband about it that night and pointed out, we really needed to make sure our “crunches” never synced up. So at least one of us would always be able to watch the kid and the other could crunch. He is also in the game industry, but fortunately, always at different companies.

That’s a fear I have. I love working in the game industry, but it’s brought me all the way out here to California. My family, and thus my kid’s grandparents, are 3000 miles away. There really isn’t such a thing as 24 hour daycare around here, and even if there was, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. So on each project, I work in fear of hearing those words – “mandatory crunch”. You can mandatory all you want, but if me or my husband can’t watch the spawn, there is no one else. His daycare is open from 7am to 6pm. That is my availability to work. Period. He’s 20 months old, I can’t exactly bring him into the office. But regardless, that is a constant distant worry that hangs out in the back of my mind.

That’s without even taking into account how not spending time with my kid affects me. Right now my husband and I are separated, so every other weekend I have the spawnling. In our big push for a milestone recently, I came in on the weekends I didn’t have him. I worked 3 weekends, and every other weekday night. I managed to keep up, but it was exhausting. And not seeing my kid made me sad. When I did see him, I was tired mommy, not fun mommy. I was “here’s a quesadilla for dinner because I am exhausted and can’t make you something more nutritious”. It’s rough on families. I am not sure if it was working those weekends, but since that usually don’t bother me, I think it was not seeing the spawn, and it made me depressed. I wasn’t able to work as well, and I was noticeably unhappier to my co-workers. Even worse, there were people who commented that I wasn’t there every weekend. They weren’t my lead, or even in charge at all, but there was clearly resentment that I had not been there. My lead is understanding, and never batted an eye, but what about others? Now, whenever I interact with that person, their comment colors my view of them.

Being a parent is all about time management. I have to plan everything and make time for everything. Showers, food, shopping, everything takes time and everything has to be accounted for. If I want to raid in WoW, it has to be with a guild that understands I can *only* raid from the time we start to our set end time. I can’t go 15 minutes over. If I could, I would have already planned it. We have done this on a few occasions, and every time it has lead to me and the kid being late to work the next morning. So having someone else come in and tell me how to spend that time is going to be a huge burden. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with this at TfB (all overtime has been voluntary and at a time of my choosing), but I can see very easily where it would quickly drive a woman to find a different job.

Say what you like about gender stereotypes, but in the almost 2 years since I had my son, I noticed that generally I am the one to give him a bath, clean his room, do the shopping, clean dishes, do laundry, pick up toys… All of this time spent doing things. Not to say my husband didn’t help, but the balance of chores was skewed towards me. When I work overtime, all of those pesky chores don’t get done. That’s the first thing to go. So the dishes pile up, the kiddo’s room looks like a tornado hit it, and there is a huge pile of clean clothes that managed to get washed but no way in hell they will get folded and put away.

To add to the already absurdly small amount of free time, I am a game designer. One of the things about being a game designer is you really need to play games. It helps you learn how other people are solving problems, cool things they are doing, and probably helps you make your game better. But with time already taken with work, chores, kid time, and husband time… that leaves how much for games? I don’t play nearly the number of games I should, and all to often now I just watch some let’s play videos, since I can do that while playing WoW.

When I complain about lack of time, people *love* to say, well yeah but if you didn’t play WoW, look how much time would you have! There are definitely some problems with that. First, WoW is what keeps me sane. It’s my stress release and brain dead time. It’s my hobby. I don’t watch tv unless I am playing WoW. I don’t watch movies unless I am playing WoW. WoW is why I still have friends I talk to more than on Twitter. People always say you should make sure to take time for yourself. Well, there it is. WoW is my one hobby I always hold on to. I quit a Wednesday night job I had teaching just so I would have more time for my kid and NOT have to drop wow.

So I decided to find out… how do game dev dads do it? How do they deal with the time issue and how does it connect to crunch? So I asked the guys I work with that I know I have small children. With varying degrees of gratefulness, relief, and awe, they all replied that it was their wives. Their wives kept their kids, home, and everything running smoothly. The dads who worked every weekend, their wives picked up the slack. A few expressed to me their worry at missing their families, but that was just the way life goes. A few implied, if not outright said, well, that’s the way the world works. (My feminist voice in my head screamed for blood, but I kept her quiet.) Much like in every other field, it seems as if the wife is expected to pick up the slack and tend to the family and home when the husband must work overtime. When I talked to a few women in the industry, sans kids, about how they would handle it, one replied, and I quote “That’s why I am not having kids until I am ready to leave the industry.” !!!

During one particularly long crunch at another company, they offered free laundry services. The employees could bring in a bag of dirty laundry and a few days later get back a bag of folded clean laundry. Someone joked, oh hey, it’s like having a company mom! I replied that it would actually be far more useful to have an onsite daycare for the hours of crunch. Everyone looked at *me* like I was crazy. But really: then employee could work, non-employee could get all the housework done, and there wouldn’t be that slightly squicky idea of someone touching your dirty underwear.

What about single parents? I asked a single dad in the industry. If he has to work, his ex-wife gets the kid more than her share and gets angry at him. So sometimes the kid spends time with his family. Lucky he has family in the area. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to work.

Here’s another strange thing about this whole situation. Perception. I get in to work most days at 8:30. I only take a 30 minute lunch, then leave at 5:30 (my kid’s daycare closes at 6). That’s 8 and 1/2 hours every day. Most of the office gets in at 10. (When our core hours start.) One time, during a Friday afternoon break fairly soon after I came back from maternity leave, someone commented that I was one of those “6 hour a day workers”, with a laugh, then said they wished they had a kid to give them a convenient excuse to leave early every day. I nearly punched him. With a glare I pointed out that despite the fact that HE rolled in at 10:30 every day, didn’t mean everyone did, in addition to being a hourly employee, I clock in every day too, would he like to review my calendar to check I work more than he does? He apologized, and has never made such a comment again, but how many other people think this way too?

When I left for maternity leave, I left on a Friday. Our game went to cert the very next Friday. I missed 5 whole days of the project, in a time when the only people actually making changes were the programmers and only for vital progression or cert bugs. About a year later, talking about being pregnant and shipping the game, someone replied, “Well, yeah, but you left like 2 months before we finished.” My response: “WHAT. THE. FUCK.” I had to correct him too. When did we cert? When did I leave? OH RIGHT. 7 FREAKING DAYS. In his mind, I had been gone “forever” because I was out 3 months. (The 3 months between cert and ship actually.) People’s sense of time skews when it’s not them. But these perceptions matter when everyone is tired, overworked, and stressed.

My experiences are just mine, but I can very easily see women not being willing to put up with it. My kid is absolutely the most important person in my life, and if not for my sheer level of stubbornness and extrovertedness, I seriously would have considered being a stay at home and professional WoW player. Is this one of the reasons we have so few women in the industry? How do we fix it?

Well for one, schedule and scope our games better. All too often work gets re-done or wasted. Leads and Publishers want more than they are willing to give time for. May the producers who build the gantt charts and FORCE the studio to get it to fit within the time frame find eternal joy. (My favorite producer was the one who drew one out, it showed we had 6 months more work than time, and said, “Okay, no one is leaving until it works.” 3 hours later, a very weary set of leads left the room with a workable schedule that did NOT include crunch.) Second, seriously, consider onsite child care. First off, child care is the *most* expensive thing when it comes to having a kid. My child care is almost as much as my RENT, and I live in California. If a company could get me onsite cheap child care, I would do everything in my power to keep that job. I’d take onsite child care over every other perk I get at a company.

I plan on writing more about being a mom and a game dev, but this is where I had to start. The one thing that makes it super difficult to be both. The one thing that would make me leave the industry. I love my job, but my kid wins.

Design and Nostalgia

To start, I didn’t play the original Dungeon Keeper. I get the design brief though. A player builds a dungeon with traps and monsters and then the ai let’s loose adventurers that try to get to the treasure in the dungeon. It’s a neat idea. When EA announced they were doing a new one, for iPad, people got excited, until they heard the word micro transactions, then it all went to hell very quickly.

When the game finally hit, it was universally panned on gaming sites, and my twitter exploded with vitriol at EA. I decided, for science, to download it and play it. If it was really that awful, I wanted to know. I wanted to see why everyone was so upset.

If anyone has a right to be upset, it’s SuperCell. The new Dungeon Keeper is effectively a direct lift of Clash of Clans (CoC). But here’s the funny thing. The same day I started playing Dungeon Keeper (DK), I also fired up my CoC again, despite not having played for months. Here I am, a month later, and I am still enjoying DK, and still hating CoC.

I am going to pick apart the design a bit, but here’s why, despite being the same general kind of game, DK is a superior design to CoC. Why I won’t be playing CoC, but will likely keep playing DK for a good long while.

Both games have the player building a base, then raiding other bases for materials with units. In CoC, the base area is a wide open space, filled with trees and such, but it takes a relatively short time to clear, after which the player can arrange things how they wish. When attacked by another player, that player can drop their units anywhere in open space. There is no way to build the village at the back of the area and effectively “narrow” the access. So the player has to build their base with a 360 defense in mind. Walls can be broken down, and archers can shoot over them. In truth, the village is never very secure, and it only takes a single fallen wall to lead to a complete destruction.

In DK though, every tile of the dungeon must be carved out. The raiding enemies can *only* appear at resource collectors, and taken over rooms. Theoretically, a player could force the enemy to meander around a maze of traps before gaining access to the dungeon heart. It allows for strategy that is lost in CoC because of the 360 requirements.

People complain about the time it takes to dig out corridors, but I am thankful for it. In CoC I dropped a bit of money on gems to buy more builders. Within a day I had one of my builders just sitting around. My money had been wasted because I wasn’t able to gather resources fast enough to keep up with building. By the time I quit playing the first time, all 4 builders were just sitting about. I have slowly built up to 4 imps and I seriously think I will never have them just sitting around!  Any time I have a free imp, I have at least 5 different choices of where to send him.

This next argument is a bit “anecdotal” as I do not have firm numbers on the production curves and gathering stats on each game. I have reached the point in CoC where I have cleared all the single player raids, and can do nothing but raid other players. As a result, I only get resources from my gatherers, not from playing the game. When I get raided, I lose resources, both from my stores and my gathering buildings. The amount I lose is often MORE than the amount I earn over the time period. If I don’t get a shield, I could be raided several times in a row. The people who can raid me are people who are “within” range of me as determined by trophies. So high level players will intentionally LOSE raids to lower their trophies, to be able to attack weaker players. I have a negative income of resources unless I spend money on shields. When I do queue to attack other players, I have to cheese the system to find players I can even think about attacking.

In DK though, I earn far far more resources than I lose in a raid. I don’t know how it decides who can raid me in DK, but so far, none of them have had a huge force that is significantly stronger than what I would be able to amass. And even when they completely demolish my dungeon, they make off with fewer resources than I could get in an hour or so, and I get a 12 hour protection spell! I am usually only attacked every few days or so as well, as opposed to CoC where I will be attacked within 30 minutes of my shield coming down, without fail.

CoC has become a game of watching how slowly my resources are taken from me while in DK, it’s still exciting, even now, figuring out what I am going to focus on next.

It comes down to the balance of the two games. CoC was clearly not balanced for the numbers of users it has. The ability to cheese the trophy system and fight noob players need to be patched out (though it hasn’t in the year I have been playing). DK has a better matching system and doesn’t punish the player for having lost to a raid nearly as much.

I am certain some of my ability to enjoy DK comes from NOT having the nostalgia over the original game. I feel like this is yet another case where the company would have been better served not using the old name, but giving it a new one. I understand they want to use old IPs, but when the old IP has so much baggage like this (or XCOM) it’s just unwise to try to overwrite it.

I will likely keep playing Dungeon Keeper for a good long while. I don’t think I will persist in Clash though, as I am so frustrated at the designer’s lack of desire to fix the problems in their game. At least DK has the potential to get better.

New Game Smell

I have many thoughts about Warlords of Draenor. I think there should be more women in the marketing. I think there is a noticeable lack of characters we can find heroic. I think their healing blog on the changes has me not wanting to heal.

When pre-orders went up for WoD though, I didn’t blink, I paid my $70 for the Digital Deluxe Version, and immediately started thinking about who I wanted to boost to 90. Today a Breakfast Topic on WI discussed the pricing of WoD. It’s the fifth WoW expansion, all previous expansions were $40, but WoD is $50.

The more cynical people think it’s “charging” $10 for the “free” level 90 boost. The more economics knowledgeable people point to inflation. But I am a game developer, so my first thought was – Yep, that price sounds about right, for a WoW expansion. But I was astonished at several responses, but none as much as this one “$50? That’s almost the price of a new game!” (Some used the CE pricing and said it was as much as a new game.) This was followed by claims of less content, subscriptions funding the expansion development, and comparisons to new games.

I am baffled by how many people commenting seemed to have no knowledge of game development, or even WoW’s development.

So here’s some food for thought, on why a mere expansion should cost the same as a “new” game.

First, I want to bring issue with the term expansion and the belief that our subs fund the development of expansions. Expansion is a word that is used to describe additions to a game that require the base game to play. Expansion does NOT necessarily indicate the number of hours of play added or the amount of content. There also seems to be some misconception about subs being used to support development, and while it’s possible they do, they are also used to pay for servers (and any upgrades over the years), server power, GMs, CMs, Customer Service, and all those other pesky things that come from running a massive live game like WoW. Then, any left over money likely gets split between investors and Blizzard, with a larger cut going to investors. (I heard rumors back in 2008 from a good source that indicated that the original deal of how sub fees got split actually meant Blizzard got very very little from it, but that is probably outdated now as those kinds of thing are occasionally renegotiated.) Regardless, that money doesn’t necessarily get spent on the development of expansions. Nor is Blizzard under any obligation to do so. Read the ToS. It says nothing about Subscription Fees or where they will be spent. You are paying for access, and nothing else. (Although the more I think about it, the more I expect that our sub does pay for the content we receive in patches, while the expansion price is paying for the huge drop of leveling content at the start.)

Second, the cost of everything rises and games are no exception. I remember when the price on console games went from 50 to 60, and everyone threw a fit. But it stuck, and eventually everyone accepted it. Even at the time, the developer response to the cost increase was art. I am a game developer and I have shipped 4 titles, in addition to knowing dozens of game developers from games of all sizes. One universal truth is – art is expensive. Exponentially so. The higher the fidelity, the higher the cost. Artists make up more than half of the company at every company I have worked at. Creating a single environmental object for a game, like a tombstone or barrel, can take 8 hours, based on the complexity of the model, the detail in the texture, how long it takes to unwrap, etc. Then every piece of art has to be reviewed and approved. Things like characters can take several WEEKS to model and texture, then a few more to rig and animate. Once a piece of art is finished, it has to go to programmers or designers to be implemented and placed in the game.

So from Skylanders, here’s how it goes with a SINGLE destructible item. I needed a barrel for the Darklight Crypt level. That was 4 hours of an artist’s time. Then he sent the barrel model and the models for the 5 pieces of it that show up when it breaks. It takes me about an hour to get them loaded into a destructible level, with proper collision and that’s AFTER a great deal of development time spent setting up the “pipeline” so I just have to plug stuff in, as opposed to scripting it up by hand. But then depending on the item I might have to do more special case scripting on top. Let’s say I don’t, so now it’s up to 5 hours. Then I send an email to vfx, so they can add particles when it explodes that match the item exploding. They spend about 2-4 hours doing that. (A barrel is likely 2.) Then sound has to go in and add explosion sounds and adjust those for the specific item. (About an hour.) And here we are, a barrel, in the game exploding, right at about 8 hours. Oh, but this was Darklight Crypt… and there is a world swapping mechanic, so I need that same barrel, only for the other world, so it’s going to need to look different… Two days, minimum of four employees, for TWO art assets that are as simple as it gets in games. Imagine doing hundreds of these. How many different barrels and crates have you seen in WoW?

As the items get bigger and more complex, they take more time. Oh and on a game like WoW, where they are updating the graphics engine with each expansion they have to go back and re-do art to make it look better and fit with the new graphics. Otherwise you have the problem all over the game that you can see by simply standing a human next to a panda. Not to mention that graphics engine that got updated probably had a few programmers working on it. (I would bet Blizzard has between 5-10 at least.) I know how many people work on Skylanders (although, that’s JUST TfB, technically people at Beenox and Vicarious Visions are working on it too…) so I can just imagine WoW’s team must be at least 150-200 people – JUST for development. Do you realize how much MONEY it takes to PAY that many people? And these aren’t minimum wage employees either. These are highly specialized, talented people. If Blizzard isn’t paying them well, someone else will, and they will lose their talent. Game Career Guide does a salary survey every year. Programmers with 6+ years of experience get ~106k. Artists – 76K. Designers – 82K. Producers 66K. Audio – 93K. So if we average that, we get (round down) 84k. 84k x 200 people… That’s over 17 MILLION a year – JUST on salaries. And I am positive that number is low. Really low. Because that’s not taking into account leads, people with 10+ years of experience, or things like QA. Obviously, if we had more data, we would have a more accurate picture, but making games is expensive! (Here’s another post on this exact same thing.)

Now, to my biggest bone of contention, and the one comment that made my teeth grind. “But it’s almost as much as a WHOLE NEW GAME!”

How do you know?

We haven’t seen all of Draenor yet. We don’t know how big the space is. We don’t know how many “skins” the garrison has. (Blizzard calls them kits.) We don’t know how many quests there are. We don’t know the number of new pets, mounts, armor, etc. We only know the number of dungeons and raid bosses. We don’t know the time it will take to get to 100. You are speculating on content size without having seen it! Okay, fine, let’s make the assumption it is as big as Pandaria. (With equal numbers of quests, dungeons, etc etc.)

Alright – but how big are new games? People like comparing it to ESO or WildStar, but those games aren’t out yet either. (I would like to cut the speculation down as much as possible.) I didn’t play SWTOR, so I can’t speak to it either. So let’s look at some new games I did play. Dishonored! Great game, I highly recommend it. It took me 15 hours to beat. Content wise though, it has about the equivalent of Jade Forest. What about Skyrim, another excellent game I highly recommend? (Thank you Reddit dudes for actually timing this.) It takes about 30 minutes to run from one end to the other. So if we run from one end of Pandaria to the other… and it takes about 30 minutes (on the ground, not flying or flight paths). Hum.

Okay okay, what about GAMEPLAY. That’s what’s important right? So Skyrim, I played for ~300 hours. My /played in Pandaria (since you can see how long it has been at this level) is… 22 DAYS? Honestly I expected more. I have 5 other characters at 90 too. Quests! Skyrim has ~300 quests. Here they are – all listed on one page. Pandaria has 1551. (I am skipping dungeons as they don’t really compare easily – Skyrim has over 100, but they are significantly shorter, use modular art, and do not generally have boss fights for all of them.) How many animals? Mounts? Pets? Buildings? All of these take time to make and then implement. You can’t just reuse assets either, or players complain, or it just looks silly. You can’t use regular mailboxes in Pandaria, they have to match the aesthetic of the world.

In the game industry, you will often hear the saying “Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick two.” This is why Skyrim took ~5 years to make. It’s a great game. It’s a big game. It took a long time. (I’d bet money it wasn’t cheap either.) Pandaria, as a stand alone game, has just as much as Skyrim in terms of content, gameplay, and awesomeness. But took 3 less years to make and cost $20 less. That kind of turn around is not cheap. That means overtime. That means more people. That means talented people who cost more but do the work right the first time. Consider that Vanilla took at least 4 years to make. And yet they are churning out MORE content in the expansions than they did in Vanilla.

I also see people saying because there isn’t a new race or class, it’s not as “much” as before. UH. You’re getting effectively 5 races this expansion. When they “rework” models, they aren’t faster and easier because they have been done before. You have to start fresh and the new ones are so much more complex. And goodness, who actually wants a new class? I don’t have time to play the ones we HAVE! Monks are still a fraction of the player base as compared to the older classes. So logically, why would Blizzard spend 100s of hours making and balancing a new class when it’s not going to be played? Many decisions made in game development change based on how much something costs to do versus how many players actually do it. (Why 100s of hours? Well first you have to think it up, then implement it – which could take a month or so, then art it just enough to figure out if it works/is fun/feels like WoW, then iteration to make it GOOD, then more art to make it LOOK good, then more iteration to make it balanced… so much TIME! Wouldn’t that time be better spent on things people who don’t want alts can also play with? Like… Garrisons? :))

So is WoD worth the extra $10? Is it comparable to a new game? Of course it is. It has far more content and gameplay than most games. The comparable games, like Skyrim, are known for being “massive” among gamers. Honestly, Blizzard could be charging $60 for it. We call it an expansion because it builds on WoW, but in terms of scope, it’s bigger than most new games.

If you take into account the time spent in the game, the “return on investment” says they could be charging even more, and it would still be worth it. I paid $60 for Dishonored and got 15 hours out of it (that’s about $4 an hour, not bad). I paid $120 (two copies, xbox and pc) for Skyrim and got 300 hours out of it (40 cents per hour, really great return). My time in WoW though… $60 for Vanilla, $40 for BC/Wrath/Cata/MoP each (really $70 because I get the CEs), plus $13/month since August 2005… ($340 for the games, $13×103 months = $1339, grand total – $1679) with a /played across my account (we’re going to ignore the SECOND account I also have that has been subbed continuously since 2007) of 432+ days. That’s over 10k hours. It ends up being… about 15 cents PER HOUR of enjoyment in WoW. Is WoD worth it?

If making games were easy, everyone would do it. If making money making games was easy, you wouldn’t see things like studio closures. If making GOOD games like Blizzard does was easy, you wouldn’t see games with sub 80 scores on Metacritic. $50 for a game the size/quality of Pandaria is a bargain. It’s possible the sales of the expansion alone won’t even cover the full development costs (especially if the game is purchased as a physical copy over the digital versions – Blizzard likely gets 100% on the digital sales, but about 50% on sales through retailers). The people developing this game (all of them from Metzen down to QA dude #300) don’t work for free. They deserve to get paid. Game sales, mounts, pets, services, and subs make sure they get paid and the game keeps getting worked on. In the end, game companies are trying to make money which means charging enough to make more than they spent on their specialized product.

Just like every other creative art product, if you want the artist to keep producing new stuff, you have to buy the old stuff. It’s why I buy albums, movies, books, and games from people who’s work I love. It’s why I buy books on my iPad AND physical copies. It’s why I buy tv shows on DVD. I want the people who make these things to make more, and that means supporting them now. I want to be playing WoW when I am 80, and if that means paying $50 over $40 for an expansion now, shut up and take my money Blizzard.

Proving Your Way to … Rares?!?!

Blizzard added Proving Grounds in MoP. These were solo battles intended to prove your skill with a specific role. But very few people used them. They awarded you nothing other than an achievement, which is not a carrot most people care about.

The progression of leveling/loot currently goes like this:

Level -> Normal Dungeons -> Heroic Dungeons -> LFR -> Flex Raids -> Normal Raids -> Heroic Raids.

Each of the stages up through Flex raids requires an item level to queue unless you are running with a pre-made group. The purpose of the item level requirement is to check that you are geared and prepared for the dungeon/raid you are about to go in. Does this work? Not really. Dungeons, after the first two months of the expac or so, people outgear them, so even a terrible player will just be carried through on the backs of their group. The same goes for LFR. In a group of 25, there are usually up to about 5 or so people who are just completely worthless and they get carried through.

Does this create frustrating or difficult times? Yes. Should Blizzard be attempting to fix it? Yes.

Well now, Blizzard has announced that Proving Ground will be REQUIRED to queue for Heroic Dungeons in WoD as a fix for the above problem. And I think it is not only the wrong fix, but also shows a lack of understanding as to the problem.

My experience with Proving grounds was I walked in, tried the Bronze, one shot it. Cool. I tried Silver. I got to the final wave (10) and was overwhelmed. So I checked WoWhead, and sure enough, as a Warlock, I *have* to spec into certain skills to be able to succeed. Because you can’t out-gear the encounter, you are literally LOCKED into certain skills and talents. I didn’t have tomes, and I didn’t care enough, so I left.

Two other times in WoW I have been in a similar position – The Legendary Nexus quest in Cata and the Legendary Cloak quest in MoP. I was trying a thing, I couldn’t have help, and I needed to literally change the way my character played to succeed. Both times it was annoying, frustrating, and felt like Blizzard was telling me “We gave you all these choices of ways to play your character, but haha, most of those were wrong and this is the only way to play.” Both times it took me several hours of frustration that I was being forced to SOLO extremely difficult content when I had a GUILD full of people willing and wishing they could help. (It’s especially odd when for the Legendary staff, I literally COULD NOT have done the entire rest of the questline without a guild.)

The problem with random groups is not specifically that people don’t know how to play their class, but rather with the ways of gaming the ilevel system. First off, items in the bags count, meaning many people are queuing based on their off spec gear or pvp pieces they have their bag. Or just flat out wearing pvp pieces. Or they will game the system and queue wearing gear that has no business being worn in that instance. (I am not even kidding, I had a tank in LFR one time who was wearing a GREEN 432 weapon – when the ilvl to queue was over 520 – and no one was willing to kick him because of how long it took to find tanks, so we struggled through a 3 hour LFR instead.)

Further this, the kick timers and troll prevention are needlessly obfuscated, and the punishment timer goes on the person doing the kicking and not the idiot getting kicked. In a 5 man it’s actually not hard to kick people. In an LFR it is. I was in an LFR where we had TWO dps who were in tank spec, one of whom was actively taunting off the tanks and throwing off the rotations. We couldn’t kick both, just one, because the people willing to do something all had timers. Another time I was healing, and the death knight tank was THIRD on the healing list. The other people were just farting around. It had ZERO to do with skill and more to do with them not giving a shit.

See why requiring a proving grounds medal does this not actually address the problem?

There are also other reasons, like: people don’t play solo the way they would in a random dungeon or lfr. Proving grounds is also not balanced for all classes and specs. If it’s not an account wide thing, it means people will have to do it over and over again on their alts.

It’s gatekeeping. This has been proven to be a POOR choice every single time it has been used in WoW. Attunement quest chains? Discovering the instance portal? Even the item level thing has not worked out as intended.

What did work? 1. Luck of the Draw. 2. Determination. 3. Bonus Bags.

So what would I do?

First – require all dungeons be completed in normal IN THE ROLE YOU QUEUE FOR. So with this requirement, it’s like the achievement requirements for LFR. First off, it solves the issue of group play vs solo play. A guild can carry someone through. Even if you are running with your guild, if you are healing, you learn a bit about healing the fights. If I want to queue for heroic dungeons as a healer, I have to heal all the dungeons in normal first. To me, this upholds the pillar of multiplayer, allows for help from a guild, and also allows a path for people who play less seriously to get there without the frustration of gear scaling/spec changing.

Second – WoD’s gear “adaptation” is already going to fix *some* of the ilvl gaming going on. But I honestly feel unless an item is equipped, it shouldn’t count. This comes from someone who has BOUGHT blue pvp gear, held it in my bags just long enough to queue, gotten a drop or two, then re-sold it on the AH. Never equipped, but used for the purpose of queuing.

Third – Change the vote kicking system. You should be able to know if you have a timer because of “too many vote kicks initiated”.  For every completed instance, you should get the ability to vote kick without messing up this timer. For every wipe, you should get to vtk without affecting this timer. In LFR, it should take more than 5 kicks in a single LFR to affect this timer. If you are the person kicked, you should get a 30 minute debuff JUST LIKE THE DESERTERS.


There are other small tweaks that could be done, but these are big ones. Also, does anyone else notice, this whole thing seems to be “fixing” heroic dungeons when the real problem is LFR, WHICH IS NOT GOING TO REQUIRE SILVER? What are they even thinking? Is LFR going to be removed from the gearing steps? If so, it will have to be the same gear as drops in Heroics, in which case, people will just stop outright, as LFR takes far longer, and you have a greater chance of getting asshats. Not to mention, Heroics drop RARE items… RARES. We have to do jump through how many crazy hoops to get RARES?!? Why? At least in LFR it’s epics! Heroics, even Stonecore, was only awful for the first two months of the expac or so, then the number of people who outgeared it had hit critical mass and it became fairly easy.

It’s all a matter of perspective

I decided to stay.

WoW is so deeply ingrained in my life at this point, I am positive I couldn’t leave without feeling it’s loss more strongly than… well none of the comparisons I could make would sound very good. WoW is more than a game for me, it’s a hobby and a connection to my life. Where was I when I worked at Sega? Raiding in ICC. Where was I when I got hired at TfB? Waiting for the Cataclysm. When my son was born? Prepping for Mists of Pandaria.

More than that, it’s a connection to people. I am an extrovert. I love being around people and feed off talking and interacting with people. WoW lets me do that every single day. I have so many friends that I would not have if not for WoW.

So where does that leave me on the topic of sexism in WoW?

Freaking pissed still that’s where.

I won a trip to BlizzCon this year, again. I know! I KNOW. It’s weird right? The only thing I can ever win is trips to BlizzCon. Eh, I’ll take it. So I went. And of course, they announced a new expansion.

Warlords of Draenor.

And they did it with a big picture of all the Orc Warlords. My very first thought when I saw the picture was, “Oh lovely… a bunch of dudes.” As they did the initial – Things that are happening in WoW panel, that immediate reaction got even worse. I was so excited about Draenor, New Character Models, Garrisons, LEVEL 100!!!! and they were systematically stomping on that excitement by showing they were continuing down the path of not supporting the ladies.

None of the lore characters mentioned were women. There were no women sitting on stage. The character model updates they showed off were all males. The story was dudes, doing manly men things with other dudes. I tweeted each thought more and more furiously. I was excited and yet angry. Why? WHY was it SO ONE SIDED?!?

But I wasn’t the only one tweeting. There were a few. Then a few more. THEN MORE. The flood of tweets loaded with people asking where the women were. After that panel, I went to the lore one. There Metzen did something really stupid.

Someone asked about Aggra and where she would be when Thrall went to Draenor. He said she would be staying in Azeroth, as she had a kid. The “boys club” would be going on the trip to Draenor.

How many people can you offend in ONE statement?

Yes, they also talked about a Joan of Arc character. (Though really, thanks for telling us she’s going to die after being called crazy. Women LOVE that. As far as heroic females, can we not use her? She’s a trope AND well… look at how her life went?) Drakka was mentioned, but only in relation to Durotan.

Here’s the thing… Women are wives. Women are daughters. Women are mothers. Women are also warriors. Women are also stubborn. Women are also capable of violence. I am a mother. But I found someone to watch my kid and went to BlizzCon.

Metzen implied that the reason Aggra would be staying home is because she was a mother. No other explanation or reasoning, just because she was a mom, and that’s what moms do. They stay home and take care of the kiddos.

Oh boy. Queue shit storm. That’s when it hit me. That was the BEST thing he could have said. Absolute best. Why? Why would that be the best? This. And This. And THIS. Especially THIS ONE. (Oh wow, I missed this one – GLORIOUS!) And it just keeps going. Here we are, a week after the con, and people are STILL talking about Aggra. Not Thrall, Durotan, Gul’dan, or any of those other dudes, but Aggra. *silent cheer*

People are being loud and vocal. People are directly messaging Metzen, Ghostcrawler, Kosak, ALL OF THEM. Telling them, that we weren’t happy with the gender imbalance BEFORE, and we sure as hell aren’t going to take them relegating one of our favorite characters to the sidelines. Someone asked about Moira at the Q&A. They had said nothing about her before that point. Turns out, she has some major plot going on in WoD!!!

Now, I do want to address WHY this is such a big issue. The ratio of males to female in the lore characters is about 7 to 1, so about 86% male to 14% female. If that were the real world there would be a CRISIS on our hands. In China, it’s split about 52% to 48% male to female and it’s ALREADY CAUSING PROBLEMS.

The WoW player base is speculated to be between 30-40% female. (My anecdotal data backs that up.) That means there are a ton of people out there, like me, who are playing this game. They raid, they quest, they level. They are heroes, and yet, in game, they have very very few female leads to look up to. And every time there is one, they are overshadowed by the males in the game. Where is our Thrall to look up to?

Even more worrisome is the systematic destruction of the females we DID have. We have so few to begin with, so losing some to plot lines is problematic unless there are new ones to replace them. We need lots of new ones. That is why the loss of Aggra to something so stupid is so frustrating. They took away one of our good female characters for an incredibly sexist reason.

Okay, before the response – is being a stay at home mom not heroic? I would NEVER say that. I stayed home with my kid for 3 months, and at the end of it, I was a basket case. BASKET CASE. Being a stay at home mom is quite possibly the most insane thankless job ever. But having said that, this isn’t an issue of staying home and raising your child instead of going to work. This is a matter of SAVING THE WORLD. If you don’t, it doesn’t MATTER if you raised your kid, THERE WON’T BE A WORLD FOR HIM TO GROW UP IN. Not to mention, Aggra has never backed down from a fight before, why would she start now? Draenor was her HOME after all. She had to live/grow up on the shattered remains of it.

I was happy at the Art panel they showed off the female models a bit. Their work on the female dwarves is nothing short of astonishing (they are so beautiful now!). I also noted that was the first panel with a woman on it (hurray!). As the weekend went on, I heard and saw all the many responses and so many of them are people talking about these issues. I think I made the right decision. Stay, speak, fight.

And I think, they might be listening.

PAX and Acceptance.

There are a ton of people who are super pissed at Gabe. I wanted to weigh in on it, because I feel like people are getting riled up and yes, overreacting.

First, a few points I want to be perfectly clear:

1. I don’t like Gabe. I think he’s an asshole. He’s not a terribly nice person, and he overreacts in extreme ways and INTENTIONALLY tries to piss people off.

2. I don’t like rape*. It’s a way of killing someone while still letting them live. It’s an atrocity and should be treated as such. I am firmly in the camp of “Not only does no mean no, but ONLY yes means yes.”

So. What does this mean for PA/PAX and my love for all things nerdy gamer?

Well for me, not much actually. I haven’t read PA regularly for over a year. I will occasionally go over and read a strip or two if someone links it. I haven’t bought PA merch in a while (5 years?), since it got me in trouble. (MtG shirt that says I’d Tap That… apparently inappropriate when a woman wears it.) But one thing I do, and will continue to do, is go to PAX.

The tensions on the sides of the argument are heavy. One side, rightly so, points to rape culture and the harm it causes through casual acceptance. The other side, again, rightly so, says that censorship is wrong. These, and many other arguments against Gabe/Tycho/PA are all deeply mired into experiences, anger, fear, pain, and rhetoric that is not to be taken lightly.

Today I was told I was a horrible human being and not a feminist for going to PAX. This is not okay. A personal attack against me, or Gabe, or Antia, or ANYONE is unacceptable. Part of this comes from growing up and from two very pointed comments made to me. Once I used the phrase “It’s like Sophie’s choice!” when discussing trying to pick a Magic card during a booster draft. Someone, thankfully, looked at me in shock and asked if I was REALLY comparing picking a card to picking which of my two children would die? I didn’t have kids. I had never seen the movie. I just knew it was an exaggerated phrase to describe an impossibly difficult choice. As a writer, I often consider word connotation, but I had never really thought of idiom choice. I STILL think about that moment regularly. I think about it when I use an over used turn of phrase. The second was when I told someone to diaf (die in a fire) in a random group in WoW. He was being a jerk. When I said it, another person in the group immediately got furiously upset with me. Not normal levels of upset, but more like, if she had been in the same room strangling me with my mouse cord upset. Her father died in a fire, saving her and her sisters. He died from the severe burns he got all over his body. I found this out after managing to get her calmed down to explain WHY she was so mad at me. Not only have I NOT used that phrase again, but I also have spoken up to people I have heard use it and explained that they need to choose their words with care.

This is the crux of everything. Choose your words with care. The larger your platform, the greater care that needs to go into every word you say/write.

People point to the original strip and say, “They made a rape joke! What horrible people!” I actually remember being surprised to find it wasn’t a Fruit Fucker comic. I remember reading the Dickwolves comic the morning it went up. As a WoW player, especially during Wrath, I recognized the dissonance he was talking about. These characters we play are supposed to be heroes, and yet once we were done with a quest we were willing to leave, regardless of how many prisoners remained. I assume he got the idea from the Pit of Saron. I am fairly confident in that, because I remember pissing off groups I ran with because I would free every prisoner, EVERY TIME, when tanking. The first time, it’s a quest. After that, it was me, actively hating that they were laboring away while I would just run past, trying to get to loot faster. I remember feeling horrible over it. I actually told myself, THEY ARE JUST PIXELS GET OVER IT. So at this point, I have to say, I disagree with people who look at the comic and say it’s a rape joke. The Fruit Fucker is a rape joke. Dickwolves is making a not terribly funny joke about players who are supposed to be heroes and instead are mercenaries, It’s about the moral lack they show leaving those prisoners chained up. Would the strip have worked better without the dickwolves or if they had said something other than rape – like beat us every night? It would have been a wash. The “joke” barely made sense to people who play WoW.

Even one step further, I was so surprised people were upset by it, and actually said something to the effect of “Do you READ Penny Arcade? That’s totally the stupid shit they do.” Once more I point to Fruit Fucker. If you go back to the start of the strip they made a dick joke in the second strip, and had a murder in the third. It’s five strips to CHILD ABUSE. Suicide, gay sex, sexism, slavery, human trafficking, and so on. It’s frequently juvenile, disgusting, and crude. Apparently we didn’t mind the Gabe raping a Pac Man cosplayer. And all of that was in the FIRST YEAR. (Even funnier is reading through that first year, I noticed that most of the issues Scott Kurtz has with Big Bang Theory – PA did too! That just cracks me up.) But here we are, 14 years later and we have this. Yes, there are still dick jokes (alot of dick jokes), and jokes that make veiled implications about homosexuality and sexism. To the point where I just have to say… that’s kind of Penny Arcade. That’s what they do. They make a ton of stupid comics that aren’t that funny, then they make one that’s HILARIOUS or one that’s BEAUTIFUL. I stopped reading the comic because I got sick of all the dick jokes. I grew up.

Now here’s where it gets… shifty. There are people attacking ME personally because I went to PAX. There are people who are attacking PAX and Child’s Play because of their connection to Gabe. I don’t like Gabe, but I am aware that making a rape joke, though in extremely poor taste, does not make one a rapist. But he is being treated as such.

I don’t attack someone who likes Chris Brown even though I think he’s a horrible person who deserved some serious jail time. I have friends who are perfectly okay with reading Ender’s Game and deciding to go to the movie, even though I refuse because I think that’s another human who makes the world worse. I have friends who go to Chic Fil A KNOWING they donate to groups that advocate the KILLING of homosexuals. I accept these people, even when I disagree with them, because I know we are all people. No one is perfect. We are all flawed. I am not going to attack someone because I disagree with them, or because I think they are being a jerk.

If you disagree with Gabe, me, or anyone else, it is your right to say we are horrible people. Just like it’s our right to stop interacting with you. But I don’t want to lose more friends over what is a disagreement about freedom.

Gabe responded to the initial response to Dickwolves very poorly. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. What I don’t get, is how people didn’t expect it? Anyone who was a nerd in high school, and bullied for years, is familiar with that instinctual response to defend and lash out. Of course he buckled down and then used every bit of his hard won protective shell of sarcasm to fight against it. We in the community tend to believe we know more than we do of these people. We think because we see them at PAX, read their tweets, and watch videos that we know them. Does anyone saying he’s a rape apologist actually THINK that Gabe would rape someone? Or be okay with someone being raped? There are leaps being made that people cannot back up.

I am also bothered by people who bring up Enforcers and the bad (illegal?) things that happen, and actively blame Gabe/PA for it. o.0 Are you kidding me? How can we blame them for what volunteers do? Of course there are going to be some bad apples in a force of volunteers who are put into a position of power. I am assuming they only do the standard double check on people, but I doubt they can find someone without a record who turns out to be a bad guy? It’s not like they are inviting them back year after year. They have a black list of people who aren’t allowed at PAX, why would we expect the Enforcers to be any different? (To be fair I have only had three encounters total with Enforcers, two were exceptional and one was a guy who was just a bit of a dick.) I am bothered by people who also bring up the bad behavior of people who read the comics. Because it’s Gabe’s fault those people are dicks?

(As an aside, Gabe’s idiotic response to transgender doesn’t really have a place in this discussion, because the understanding between biological sex and gender presentation is still not a broad understood concept. *I* didn’t even get it until a few years ago. And even then, I wouldn’t have if not for actually meeting a transgender person and having it explained, with great patience. He could have responded better, and so could have the people who called him on it. In the end, he said he didn’t care, and this upset people. But I can kind of see his point. I don’t care if someone is transgender. Mostly, because I am not trying to sleep with anyone. The parts don’t matter to me. All I need to know is, which pronouns should I be using with that person. However, it wasn’t unreasonable for him to assume a game with vaginas was aimed at women. Because for the most part, it is. This is part of living in a two gender society, although wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t? Calling him transphobic is not accurate because if he was transphobic, he certainly wouldn’t employ someone who was transgender or be friends with them. He doesn’t know, and that’s different.)

Finally, I have one last point to make. We spend all our time saying that the games, movies, books we consume do not make us violent, thieving, rapists. How then can we say that this comic changes that? I watched Buffy and the rape scene that happened there, but I didn’t attack Joss Whedon. I watched Archer, and the multitude of rape jokes that show has made, and all it told me was, nope, don’t want to watch Archer, got it. when I read PA and it is 80% stupid stuff and dick jokes, I stop wasting my time on it. That’s the correct response. If someone wants to keep reading it, that’s okay too. If someone wants to buy a Dickwolves t-shirt, they can. It just helps me know who I am not going to want to talk to. Just like I am fairly positive I don’t want to talk to someone wearing a redneck shirt or a racist shirt or any other thing I find reprehensible.

So… How can I go to PAX, even though I dislike Gabe? Easy. I don’t go to PAX to see Gabe. In fact, I was three feet from Gabe at this PAX and ignored him in favor of his wife and son, who I talked to about Skylanders. I went to PAX to spend time with people who live far away, but travel to PAX. I went to walk the expo hall floor and not be assailed by booth babes at every step. I went to buy dice and watch people play board games. I went to sit in the Tap House, drink a stupid amount, then go back to my hotel room and play WoW. I went to revel in gaming and gamers for three lovely days.

People will say, you can do that without PAX! Well, parts of it. Some of my friends don’t go to BlizzCon. GDC is mostly professionals. E3 is booth babe central. None are in places like Seattle. People who compare it to DragonCon and it’s founder problem are not comparing the two accurately. One is a guy who runs off at the mouth. Another is a guy who actually BROKE the law.

I love PAX because it’s the first place I ever felt like I could be wholly myself. I could be a nerd and not only was it okay but I was cooler because I did. I love PAX because it’s about the gamers. PA may be the thread that started it, but I actually don’t know very many people who go to PAX to meet Gabe and Tycho.

If you honestly think we shouldn’t be friends because I want to go to PAX, even knowing that I dislike Gabe and his humor, then I am sorry. That’s sad. I agree, Gabe has a huge platform. He could be a great leader from his empire of nerdom. But he’s not. He’s a flawed human that wants to do what he wants to do. We aren’t going to change or educate him anymore than we can change or educate any other dickwad on the internet, at this point he is too ingrained and too convinced of his own power. He is convinced that he can just speak his mind and if people don’t like it, they can fuck off and that’s okay even for him. Instead we need to choose OUR words with care. We need to express concern over his actions. We need to express concern over the comics. We need to express how it *is* a shitty thing to do to wear a shirt that makes a joke about rape. I actually think his decision to “not engage” is a good one. He needs to stop engaging if he can’t choose his words with care. We need to not leap to conclusions and immediately jump to inflammatory rhetoric. We need to, even with Gabe, but especially with everyone, remember to not assume the worst.

As my absolute final comment, how do people who call for bans of PAX and Child’s Play deal with the choice of banning everything associated with Gabe and PA? Are they not going to buy Magic cards? No more Minecraft because Notch goes to to PAX. No more Wil Wheton. No more D&D. No more Borderlands. No more Nintendo. No more of those lovely indie games. No more Think Geek or We Love Fine. Is that logical or reasonable? How about instead write an email (no threats or insults) and explain why that was such a shitty thing to do? Write a blog. Write so the words are out there and people will see it. (It’s a much better medium than Twitter after all.)

*Marks an understatement.

Free to Play Vs Subs

During my Game Design 1 class this week, I talked about WoW. As a part of this, one of the students asked a question:

“Yes, but how do you feel about the subscription fee?”

Then he made a comment that he just couldn’t get past the sub.

So here’s my answer, that I feel is very important for any person who considers subscription games.

  • This month I bought Gone Home for $20. I played it for 3 hours. It was great, and totally worth it.
  • I got into the Hearthstone Beta, and bought $50 worth of cards. I have played it probably about 30 hours. Totally worth it.
  • I bought Dishonored for $60, played it for about 10 hours, and it was totally worth it.
  • When I go to the movies, I pay $10-12 for a 2 hour experience. Totally worth it.

So the question becomes, what is the value of WoW at $15/month?

Well first off, I only pay $13/month. I pay in 6 month blocks. So it takes about 2 and 1/2 games to equal the amount of money I spend playing WoW.

Let’s see… I got Dishonored, got 10 hours worth of play. XCOM, 36 hours. Borderlands 2, 4 hours. So all told about 50 hours worth of play for more money than I spend on WoW in a year.

I play WoW, on average, 3 hours a day. (From 7:15 ish to about 10:30-11 most nights.) That means in 17 days, I have already played more WoW than I would THREE other games I bought at $60 each.

The only single player game in recent memory that even comes close to WoW is Skyrim. I have about 240+ hours. Totally worth it.

But even so, these games can’t compare to WoW because I play WoW with friends. I enjoy hanging out with them. Killing Internet Dragons with them. Griping about quests and LFRs.

I am not saying that one type of game should be played over the other. I loved Dishonored, XCOM, and Skyrim. I want to replay all 3. But at a purely cost vs time played, WoW wins, hands down, regardless of the subscription.

The Price of Progress

When writing for a site that earns money based on hits, the best thing you can do is write a controversial and slightly inflammatory post you KNOW is going to get commenters riled up over.

Bravo Holisky, you did it perfectly!

200 comments and still growing. *slow clap*

That being said. I totally agree with you. More than that, I honestly believe it is PAST time for World of Warcraft to implement a buy a character store.

So let’s review the arguments people have for why there SHOULDN’T be a character store then review the arguments for why there SHOULD.

This is a terrible idea!

1. You need the 90 levels to learn how to play your character correctly!

There are more ways to level than ever before. You can level through PVP, Pet Battles, being power leveled, etc. Even so, playing at 90 is very different from leveling. It’s two different games. People who come for the leveling will still level. People who come for raiding will get to jump right to the meat. Pve is not the same as Pvp, so why would someone assume leveling is the same as raiding?

Two stories – The first is about me. I leveled a hunter to 60 in vanilla, then leveled a mage to 60, then a priest, then a warlock. What can I say, I like ranged DPS. When Burning Crusade hit, I leveled the hunter to 70, then the Warlock. Once my warlock hit 70, I was a part of a raiding guild, and one night they drug me along to Karazhan. We were fighting the trash before Moroes, and one of the healers asked, “Joyia, why aren’t you Life Tapping?” I responded, “Why would I do that? It just leads to me dying.” I had never used Life Tap. I didn’t even have it on my bars. I had leveled that character, but had no idea how to raid with her. Fortunately, our other warlock took me under his wing and taught me how to play as a raiding lock.

Second, in Wrath, I was running random heroic dungeons on my priest. I got into a dungeon with a level 80 DK. He started pulling and I had the hardest time keeping him alive. I was an ICC geared healer, and this was one of the starter dungeons. It should have been cake. I looked at the tank’s gear. He was wearing a mix of spirit plate and other plate (maybe dps or tank, I don’t know). He had not spent a single talent point. I asked, “Dude, what’s up with your talents?” His response – “What are talents?”

Leveling teaches a player virtually nothing about playing well at level cap. Especially since some of the most important spells players only get at level cap, or the rotation relies on secondary stats being at a certain level.

2. You will miss all of the STORY!

Way back in vanilla, there was a mod *everyone* had. Everyone. I played for 20 minutes, before my friend helped me download and install it. It did several things, but mostly it made the quest text instantly appear instead of slowly appearing. That way I could just click okay and follow him to the locations. Even now, I rarely if ever read quest text on my first run through. I am blitzing my warlock to level cap as quickly as possible. Especially with all the new map and tool tip stuff.

People don’t read quests. They don’t watch cutscenes. I know people who didn’t know who Tirion or Bolvar were in ICC.

Not everyone cares about the story.

3. Professions/Gold/Gear

For about 30 seconds I thought this was a good argument. Then I remembered… It’s not. I have power leveled professions on multiple toons. It’s *always* easier at level cap. Also, dailies make earning gold a snap. As do scenarios, dungeons, and LFR. All of which give gear too. They will likely start the players with a set that is equal to the lowest dungeon blues, but that’s fine. It will get replaced rather quickly anyway.

Even better, this would help server economies, as there would be tons of people buying up all those low level mats. OR even better than that, Blizzard would implement a catch up systems like Thanksgiving for all the professions. (Actually they kind of did with Ghost Iron recently, remember?)

4. Everyone starts near the top, there is no one to help. (Really? What game are YOU playing?)

Wow… so someone tried to say that players like helping new players and that if this is implemented there won’t be anyone to help or the only people to help will be mouth-breathers. UM. First off, what game are you playing? Because as far as I can tell WoW is definitely NOT a game where people like to help strangers. Guildies, of course. RL friends, always. Strangers? GTFO NOOB. Also, they make it sound like those level 85 players won’t know anything and that’s a bad thing. How exactly is it different from a level 10 asking where the auction house is compared to a level 85? Level is just a number at that point. Will it be rough for the first 3-4 months? YEP. But then the good people will come out of the woodwork and the newbs will help other newbs…

5. Guilds will suffer from bad players!

They already do. Even worse, they have to keep the bad players because that’s the ONLY option they have. The influx of new accounts to WoW following a character buying system would lead to hordes of players, including many who would learn quickly and potentially become excellent raiders.

Let’s say 1 million people join the game just because they can skip leveling. If only 10% of them are decent THAT’S 100,000 NEW RAIDERS. That’s 10,000 NEW RAID TEAMS. As a guild officer, that idea positively makes me want to shiver in excitement.

6. It’s pay to win!

You can already do it. It’s just difficult. You can already pay for power leveling. This just streamlines the process. This takes it from being illegal and makes it legal. This protects the players by making it a Blizzard offered service.

Also, if you agree that the “winning” of WoW is downing the last raid boss, then actually it’s not. It’s pay to skip the grindy bits to get to the real part of the game. Everyone says the “real” game begins at level cap. Well, let’s get to the real game then.

7. It doesn’t take any time to grind to 90 ANYWAY! Just do it!

Well, if it only takes 2 days, then why gripe if someone skips that? Also people love to bring up heirlooms, forgetting that totally new players wouldn’t have those. Nor are they likely to be in a guild with the leveling buff.

Real arguments against it:

Button overload! – This may even be worse than starting fresh and facing x amount of hours to 90. There are a ton of buttons in WoW at level cap. It would be very daunting.

Solution – Perhaps a scenario like the DK one, that teaches and adds abilities as you go. Honestly WoW could use a “solo scenario” set that is directly targeted at teaching players to play their class and spec well. Match the player with an NPC of the same class and spec who leads them through a dozen or so scenarios to teach them skills, talents, glyphs, etc. I would like this EVEN NOW, so I could really learn to play a melee class well.

No additional leveling content or updates.

Oh this is actually a good one. If everyone can skip the old content, there is no reason for Blizzard to update or add to it. But then… have they really done that much anyway? Other than Cataclysm, have they *ever* added mid level content since Vanilla? And even with Cataclysm, how many people replayed all of that content? Blizzard has the stats. Clearly it wasn’t *that* great or they would have updated more or updated Outland. (Now what, Friday they are going to announced updated Outland.)

So why should they do it?

1. They sort of already do allow it with Scroll of Resurrection.

2. They have exp gear and potions in China. Precedent has been set.

3. Sudden influx of *tons* of players BOTH OLD AND NEW.

I sit next to a guy at work, who would love to play WoW. He doesn’t though because he doesn’t have TIME to level a character. He would raid with us, two nights a week for 4 hours total, but he can’t play anymore than that. He’s a smart guy. He would learn fast.

I am an officer in a casual guild. We have existed as a raid team since May of 2013. Now, 5 months later, we are 2/14N and 10/14 Flex. Why are we not further along on Normal modes? Because we only have 11 players. 2 tanks, 3 heals, and 6 dps. If ONE of our tank/heals is out, we *have* to flex. And life gets in the way all the time! We recruit nearly constantly and yet our gains are almost always met by losses. New babies, new jobs, new school schedules… there is always something. WE NEED MORE PLAYERS. That is the truth. I can’t wait for our realm to be coalesced with another one.

4. The average age of WoW players is increasing. These people have lives, jobs, kids. They don’t have time to play a game for a month just to get to the real game, and gear for a month, then to be able to play with their friends. It’s too much of a time sink. To hook new players, you have to lower the barrier to entry. Lower barriers equals more players. Which would you rather have – a game bleeding subs year over year, or a game with tons of new players every month?

I also don’t think there should be “requirements” like having a max level character. Maybe limiting it to the “previous expansion cap”. I could get behind that one, but really this service needs to be more for new players than for old. Old players are hooked. They have the heirlooms. They have the experience of knowing leveling zones, dungeons, friends, etc. This service should be targeted at new players to draw them in, get them into the game, and then they will stay here. WoW is at heart a peer-pressure driven addiction. Why does it continue to be the 800 pound gorilla? Because even if there are better games, WoW is where your friends are. Your friends pull you back. Now let us pull in new players and get them to the cool stuff asap.