Monthly Archives: February 2011

Gender in Video Games

When asked to discuss this topic, I generally gravitate towards Women in the Game Industry, as opposed to Women Gamers. Today I did an interview for an article on gender and how it relates to women gamers, touching on the assault behavior towards women. It’s a complex topic. So too is women gamers and women developers, but in my mind, they are all interconnected and form a cycle.

The Mythical Unicorn

Any female gamer can tell a story of at some point where being a girl who plays games has attracted the wrong sort of attention. The belief in the rarity of women who play and enjoy mainstream video games perpetuates this myth and the responses. Start with a lonely guy that seems to be unable to find a girl who understands him. He likes books, movies, and video games. He meets a girl he thinks is cute, asks her out, and discovers that she couldn’t care less about these things that make up a majority of his passions and hobbies. She cares about clothes, shoes, celebrities, and makeup. Poor guy. Now he meets the one girl in his sphere of acquaintances that does like the things he does. She plays video games, she argues who is better Picard or Kirk, and she, miracles of miracles, revels in HIS knowledge of such topics. Queue the love at first geek scene. And suddenly this girl possibly has a problem. For some reason, lack of attraction, already taken, etc, she doesn’t want to date Lonely Guy. He tries to ply her with gifts, but despite the prevalent belief that women can be bought, it doesn’t work.

What is she to do? Break his heart? Be mean? Try to be nice, but knowing it is going to be awkward and likely will just “string” him along? It sucks for the girl. All she wanted was a friend to argue lore with! And unfortunately the skew of males to females makes this an incredibly common occurrence. Because of this women are more likely to attempt to hide their identity. By hiding their identity the problem is exacerbated and female gamers appear to be more rare than they really are.

We are not a mythical unicorn. Attend PAX Prime or PAX East and this will completely dismiss the belief that gamer women are rare. There are plenty of us running around. We just don’t like to tell people because they get stupid over it. Once I decided I would no longer hide my female status from WoW friends, I discovered something very surprising. Not only did “outing” myself lead to other girls being willing to do the same thing (it was quite a shocking day) but also we were able to develop friendships through our common trials and tribulations. According to various websites, though their numbers are speculative and not backed by Blizzard, it is believed that 1 in 5 WoW players is female. That’s alot of girls running around Azeroth.

The Greater Internet Dickwad Theory

Once people get on the internet, realize they are anonymous, they suddenly become a different person. Much like the Invisible Man changed radically when he realized he would no longer be punishable for his actions, so too do people on the internet believe they can say whatever without repercussion. This leads to XBox Live speak, Trolls, and all other number of wildly offensive things being said over public channels that would *never* be said to someone’s face.

Because of this truth, women often find themselves at the receiving end of extremely offensive behavior. I once had a guy in WoW tell me “Shut up b*tch. I will find you and I will rape you.” I recoiled in horror from my computer. It didn’t matter that this person had no idea who I was. It didn’t matter that I knew he had no way of actually hurting me. The fact that he would even physically be able to type that to a possible woman was appalling to me. I reported him, ignored him, and immediately left the guild (who’s leader responded with “well that’s just the way he is”).

For the most part however, I see these things as a new form of saber rattling, boasting, or puffery. It is a way for them to swing about their manliness. And just like in real life, I can be bothered by it, or I can ignore it. In WoW I generally ignore it and the player depending on what they say. On other sites I protect myself by having over protective security settings.

A Woman in a Man’s Field

Of course, my view of these social interactions is viewed from the eyes of a game designer. I work in a predominantly male industry. The last figure I read was 13% of the video game industry is female. This has been mathematically accurate, or lower, at every company I have worked at. Other than Guildhall women, of whom there are many, I have only met TWO other women designers in the industry. I spend most of my time with males.

The thing that always gets people is how much different I think than other designers, and they have problems realizing that most of my variant viewpoint comes from being a girl. It is different on this side of the fence. It gives me a different lens through which to look at games.

In my current game, we have a small number of female characters. I began attributing female characteristics and names to a few of the androgynous characters in an attempt to “pad” the number. Very soon after I noticed the guys followed my lead. Without a word they were willing to accept these characters as female, despite never having thought so before. When I pointed it out to a senior designer, he laughed and asked what did it matter? I pointed out the large difference in the number of female characters to male and he looked quite surprised. It never even occurred to him to think about equality in terms of sex among the characters. Needless to say, he even agreed it should be more balanced and made a point to start “female-izing” the androgynous characters.

Add to this the fact that at many of these companies I get to have “the talk” when I start working there. As if I haven’t been dealing with unwanted attention from guys for half my life. As if I don’t understand that if things get even remotely awkward I need to run, not walk, to my supervisor and nip it in the bud. As if I haven’t already had to have the conversation once where I was pressed on why I missed work and turned bright red as I explained menstrual cramps to a male. In fact it has become a rather large warning sign when I start at a new company only to find that they have a 3 hour presentation to go through about this sort of thing. Great, I can expect this to be a problem. (As a side note, there was no such talk at my current company and it was all I could do not to caper with glee.)

One step further, having to work on a game that has a woman in a metal bikini. People think it’s odd when I sigh at games that only include the mother, maiden, crone archetypes. Or the groan inducing things like in Uncharted 2 where every woman in the entire game is after Drake like he is coated in sex pheromones. They say, “But you play video games, you should be used to it. If you don’t like it, don’t make games with it in there.” I like having a job. I also like making games. You don’t always get to chose the projects you work on. It also confuses the guys I work with when I say, “Why can’t she be more like Lara Croft and less like Daphne (the princess/hooker from Dragon’s Lair)?” They immediately respond with “Lara Croft is exactly the stereotype you complain about!” A strong, brave, adventurous female that doesn’t spend her time chasing men but rather chasing history? Make her boobs as big as you want, she’s still awesome. And she is capable of having a relationship with a male that doesn’t assume sex.

The Cycle

The problem with all of these things is that they form a negative feedback loop. Women don’t play games because the traditional response of how to make a game for girls is “Pink it.” Women then don’t become game designers because they don’t play games, so it isn’t a career field they want to get into. Women aren’t the ones designing games, and so games don’t get made with women in mind as a valid market.

Add in that women and men view fun differently, seek different forms of enjoyment, and create different goals in games and the fact that it is hard for a guy to understand why his game idea didn’t appeal to women becomes very clear. There are not enough female protagonists in games. EA proved that games with female protagonists didn’t sell as well as games with male protagonists. I was stunned by their lack of ability to see that if you only have 20 games with female protagonists and 200 games with male protagonists, then it should be obvious that the male protagonists have had more chances to be in good games that sell well. Not to mention a female protagonist isn’t going to help if the game isn’t fun to women. They are still targeting a male audience and it is easier to connect with a protagonist of the same gender.

Why do MMOs have a better balance of men to women than other games like Call of Duty? Does it have anything to do with the ease of entry into MMOs? Or the ability to customize your character? That the design supports more cooperative play as opposed to competitive play? That MMOs are more social in a positive way than CoD? Or is it simply that the initial induction into an MMO, like WoW, is usually a hand holding one by a significant other, and this play style is supported, as opposed to CoD where it is a huge liability to play is such a manner?

I am a girl. I play games to the point I more than consider myself a gamer. I design games as a career, with the hope of making an enjoyable experience for everyone who plays my game, not just the target audience. I prefer to play a game I can take at my own pace. I prefer to play a game where I can play a female. Does this make me any different from any other gamer? Not really. Do I get treated differently because of the accident of my birth and my love for things outside of my social norm? Definitely. Should I, and do I want to be? Not at all.

The gender gap is closing. The social mores are shifting and games are slowly becoming mainstream. Every day some kid is turning 18 after a childhood of playing games and they aren’t chucking their Xbox just because they are an adult now. Every day another gamer family has kids or gets pregnant and plans how to raise their kid in the tradition of games. These issues will pass after time. And it will get better. After all, every year I have been in the industry, that percentage of female developers has gone up.

Children in Video Games

To begin, the Article.

Go read it. I’ll wait.

All done? First and foremost – I abhor violence against children. I think people who hurt children should be subjected to all the pain, violence, and abuses they subject on children. I pray for swift retaliatory karma against these people and hope the rest of their lives are miserable, equal to, if not greater than, the pain the child felt during the abuse.

Now, violence against children in video games is a wildly controversial thing. So why does it show up at all?

1. More and more game designers are parents.

Just look at Heavy Rain, Nintendogs, and Mario Galaxy. More game designers that started in this industry as young adults in their 20s are now reaching the age where they have children. Anyone with children will readily admit that it is a radically life changing experience. So logically it makes sense that as these designers have this experience it will reflect in their work. 10 years ago an RPG wouldn’t have considered including having children as something the player can do. Children aren’t adventurous and heroic. But now, as in games like Fable 3, children are becoming a part of the game. Because the game designer parents are able to say “This is an adventure. This is a compelling reason to radically change the way a player plays the game.”

2. The social mores against things in video games are falling, just as they did for other mediums.

Do you remember the brouhaha over Fred and Wilma being shown on TV in bed? It was a huge deal that a cartoon would depict people in a bed together, thus implying sex. Now, it is common to see women in their underwear, sex, and violence on TV. Sex is coming to video game mainstream. So will all the other things like drug use and children. These are the things that define our humanity. Our successes and our failings. That is why they create drama and evoke emotion. Video Games will continue to attempt to elicit emotion from players and drama is a part of that.

3. Why even have kids in the game?

Ask any parent what their worst nightmare is. I am willing to bet most of the answers involve something with their children. The Sims allowed me the joy of having a house full of children, something I will never do in real life (I mean like 6 kids, seriously). The terror that I feel at the idea of having a game where I can gain a child, then possibly lose them… *shudder* The article brings up Bioshock as a violence against children example. However it is notable that in Bioshock they are always Little Sisters, in-human. The NPCs in the game even back this up, saying “Those aren’t little girls anymore.” But when given the option it is always Save vs Harvest. That is an intentional distinction. Despite the fact that the player knows that Harvest will kill the Little Sister, it doesn’t say Kill, it says Harvest. The interesting point is that this is a moral choice presented to the player. And at the end of the game it is revealed that the player is rewarded for choosing the “correct” path of saving the Little Sisters.

In Dead Space 2 (I haven’t played it, I am going off the article) it sounds like the designers needed a small fearsome enemy that was hard to hit, could move fast, and needed to scare the player. As a secondary effect of their story choice they even created the feeling that the player *shouldn’t* be shooting this enemy. Despite the fact that you should. That moment of hesitation can lead to the players death.

It is also worth noting all of the games mentioned are arguably Horror games. The designer’s job is to elicit horror from the player. What could possibly be more horrific and want you to bring down the whole thing than something that harms children? It never occurred to me that Andrew Ryan in Bioshock wasn’t a bad guy. Despite what the designers tried to twist into the story, here is a man willing to exploit children to further his own ends. Once that is made clear, the player no longer feels bad for tearing through this ruined city and destroying it’s people. They allowed their ideals and beliefs to lead them away from the inherent compassion and sense of right. At this point, I no longer wanted to just escape Rapture, I wanted to punch a hole in the wall and allow it to flood. To destroy it completely for the failure to retain it’s humanity.

4. But why have violence against kids in the game?

To evoke the parental emotion and all the messy feelings that come with it. In Heavy Rain I WILLINGLY took a vial of poison, knowing that the probability of it killing my character was high, knowing it was likely a trick by the designer to set me back. But I could chose no other option. I had to save my kid and if this was the hoop the serial killer wanted me to jump through, then by God, I was going to jump through it. My life for my child’s? In a heartbeat. The designers were exceptionally clever with their choices of trials. How far could they push the player to save a child? And push the player they did. It even sparks the thought that while yes, this is a game, would you really do such a thing? If this were real, what would you give up? The designer held up a mirror to the player’s soul and that is definitely going to make people uncomfortable.

5. Games are all about fantasy and being the hero.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band did so well because they MADE THE PLAYER A ROCK STAR. World of Warcraft makes me feel like this powerful and amazing hero that literally saves the world over and over again. Games are about fantasy and being the hero, and what is more heroic than saving a child? The catharsis of saving the child in Heavy Rain is sufficient to have made it a critically acclaimed game despite iffy controls, ambiguous choices, and uncanny valley.

I will admit as a designer, I am uncomfortable with the idea of putting children in harms way in my own games. But that doesn’t mean the question shouldn’t be asked or the situation explored. I am wildly uncomfortable with rape and yet I accept it’s inclusion in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a required event to bring me closer to the protagonist, despite her alien responses and behavior. Did Dead Island create the trailer with the express purpose of sparking the discussion to get press? Of course they did. Should they be vilified for doing so? No more than any other game like Call of Duty that does such things to spark discourse and free publicity. After all, movies have been doing this for years already.

Now, take a moment to imagine the Dead Island trailer, which I will admit is marketing at it’s finest. Everyone has a strong emotion about it, despite the fact it doesn’t show one second of gameplay. But imagine if the story the player is stepping into is this family’s story. The player assumes the role of the parents or even the child at various points in the game. The goal of the game is to get them out alive, as all survival horror zombie games are. Through a single short trailer they have given the player all the motive and drive to not only play the game, but play it at their best. To seek, to strive to save this little girl. The trailer shows the worst possible outcome, one the player should stop at nothing to change. That is a powerful emotional response. That is a powerful story over a standard and common game type. Much like movies set themselves up for Oscars, this game appears to be setting itself up for the art and story telling in video games debate. Will it succeed? I can’t wait to find out.

 

Update:

As it turns out, the trailer was in fact, pure marketing hype. It’s a shame, to use something so artistic that could have been the stepping off point for a truly spectacular story. Ah well, back to hacking zombies to bits.

 

Genius and Not Genius

Genius idea – releasing the first info about the new expansion patch on the Rift Launch day.

Not Genius idea – the info you release is about the revamp of old raid content to level 85.

I often use WoW as my leaping off point for game design discussions. It helps because so many people have played it. It also helps because the game is sufficiently huge that they make really good choices and really terrible choices. Today they had two really terrible choices.

First off, there is the release of information about patch 4.1. This is a very very good thing. It is very important to keep people’s interest and give them a reason to keep beating their heads against the wall they have reached. It is vital to the anticipation of players.

BUT. The information they released is completely lackluster. They are revamping 2 old raids into 5 man dungeons. Revamping old content is a pretty cool idea. It brings back old stuff, makes it relevant, and gets players to see zones they might not have ever seen. However, that is not the information you lead with. The LAST thing current wow players who are feeling kind of burned out on the game want to hear is that they are going to have to be running content they have run 50 bajilion times before. I ran ZA and failed to get that bear more times than I want to count. I soloed ZG and failed to get my tiger more times than I want to count. Do I want to do those instances again? Sure, maybe. Do I want to farm those instances like Wrath heroics? Oh god no. Even Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep (SFK is one of my favorite instances of ALL TIME) are borderline mind numbing to me.

If they really wanted to draw attention from Rift they needed to have the big bad, Ragnaros, in all his glory, (not the new model, it looks stupid) and show the epic encounters of the new raid. Hook, line, sinker. Showing that they are returning old content, no where near as appealing as an entire GAME worth of new content.

They almost saved it though. Almost.

With the Zuls returning, you may be wondering about the unique mounts that were once contained therein.

O.M.G. Queue squees of joy and pleasure from every.single.mount.collector. Tigers! Raptors! and Bears! OH MY! And then the great depressing downer. They aren’t the same mounts. This is a new raptor mount. A new panther mount. A new bear mount. It’s not the old ones returned. It’s new fakers in their place. Everyone who has or has wanted on of the Swift Zulian Tigers will tell you in a heartbeat that a panther is in no way, shape or form even remotely close to replacing the ONLY orange tiger in the game. Even having an orange tiger with different armor would be better! Everyone knows that the draw of the ZA bear was the funky armor.

So not only is Blizz asking us to re-run old content that we have possibly run dozens of dozens of times before, but we aren’t even getting the shiny at the end that so many desperately want and would be WILLING to re-run the old content hundreds of times to get. This could not have been more fail.

The state of Cataclysm, and the lead in to 4.1, has simply convinced me that once more, as with BC we are at the mercy of the B Team. Clearly there are two teams working on WoW. One, the A Team, that makes things like ICC and the Dreamwalker fight, things like Ulduar and Yogg. The other makes things like ZA the Original and mind meltingly hard Karazhan, things like ToC with it’s one room and dull boss fights.

Blizz, bring back the A Team please, before you kill yourselves.

100 posts

I really didn’t intend my 100th post to be a rant about entitlement and people not finding fulfillment in their lives because they are comparing themselves needlessly to others. But that’s how it turned out.

If it makes it any better I have like 20+ unpublished posts that are half written, or turned out to not really be interesting that I never posted.

But I have two great ideas… no make that three… for this week. Lets hope I keep up my posting throughout this year. As much as I don’t expect people to read this, it does make me a better writer. It also gives me an outlet to rant about things I feel are very silly.

Suck it up Princess!

Honestly, I am sick of it. This “Age of Entitlement” mentality that people have assumed in the last decade or so.

As a kid I was taught the value of hard work and respect. I was always told if I wanted to go to college, I needed to study hard and get scholarships. If I wanted a car, I needed to get a job and pay for it. If I wanted something and it didn’t fall under the set of things my mother would purchase for me, I had to get it myself. That subset of items barely included Walmart clothing, shoes, and the occasional book. I didn’t have a phone in my room, much less a cell phone until I was in college. I didn’t get a car at 16, I had to use my moms, IF she would let me.

I didn’t feel entitled to anything. A teacher was there to help me learn, to teach me new things, but if I failed, that was my own fault not hers. If I misbehaved, that was my fault, not my mother’s.

Now there is this entire run recently of articles and posts about us “20 somethings who are remaining ‘adolescent.’ ” To which I say. Suck it up PRINCESS. Get over yourself. Get over the belief that we have to “accomplish” anything with our lives. They equate college and creative jobs with success. The idealized 50s home, family, and job with the American Dream. Well guess what? We grew up. We moved on. Our world advanced. Catch up or be left behind with the fossils who gripe about television and movies ruining people. We aren’t ruined. We are different. My mother’s goal in life was to get married, have children and get a stable job. That was the goals of her generation. Then she did exactly what parents are supposed to do. She instilled in me a sense of individuality, confidence, and drive to be more than she was.

If you want to accomplish something with your life, don’t expect someone to give you everything, tell you what to do, or how to go about it, simply DO IT. College degrees do not equal success, but rather drive and intelligence will propel you forward. It’s not our generation’s “problem”; it’s our playing field. We move from here.

The WSJ article calls out several things I want to directly address. First that we are not achieving these lifetime “milestones” within our twenties as our parents did. No we aren’t. The life expectancy of humans is slowly increasing, so logically it only makes sense that our “growth” model also increases. In addition, the number of young adults going to college today is astronomically higher. Unfortunately college has become an extended form of high school to many of those same people. We aren’t being forced to stand on our own feet as early as our parents did, but that doesn’t make us worse for it. When I asked my mother why she had children, in an effort to address my own desires, she responded with “I don’t really know. We didn’t think about it. We just had children. I guess I wanted someone to care for me in my old age.” My husband and I can’t decide to get a new tv without two weeks of debate, so is it at all surprising that something as life changing as children would spark years of careful consideration?

Our lives are not tied to reproduction anymore. Women are able to determine when, how and with whom they will have children, as opposed to being dependent on men to lead them. Our reproductive control has lead to our ability to make informed choices, and even to lead to the choice to not reproduce. A woman’s worth is no longer tied to her ability to mother and birth, but rather to her accomplishments and successes in the same fields as men. People are approaching their lives with consideration and thought as opposed to blindly following tradition and it is the best thing for us, because it is only once we have let go of such things that we are able to forge ahead in ways our ancestors and even people now can barely comprehend!

WSJ talks about jobs and the desire to succeed, focusing on how women are doing it more than men. Well, men do not have hundreds of years of oppression to overcome. Women still have this gigantic looming belief that we have to prove ourselves. So we do. In every way we can find. They discuss how people spend more time in internships and low paying jobs, which honestly is a logical step not at the fault of our generation but at the fault of the companies who employ us. A time was, people started working for a company and often spent their entire lives working for the same company. These days companies and employees no longer feel such a loyalty to each other and the likelihood is, we change jobs every 5 years or so. But does this matter? No. We are responsible for our OWN lives and accomplishments. Don’t rely on an employer to plan your retirement, but rather control it yourself and take responsibility for your lives.

Another thing that bugs me in the article about how we seek out to do our greatest passions for our careers as opposed to looking for jobs. It implies this is a bad thing. Yes, a job not in our field can be required to pay the bills on occasion. I worked at ToysRUs and Borders for 7 months between graduation and landing my “dream” job in the video game industry. But is there something inherently wrong with seeking a career in a field that is our passion as opposed to tradition? And what of it? Or dose this lead back to that blasted sense of entitlement that we shouldn’t have to do crap work before getting to the jobs we want to hold? People believe they are entitled to the reward without the sweat, sleeplessness, and stress of working towards it. If you aren’t willing to work to the bone for what you want, you don’t deserve it! Quit your crying! And just because something isn’t what you want to do or is a menial job beneath an idiot boss at an abysmal company doesn’t mean you should put any less effort into doing your job well. But perhaps this is why I was always promoted at my menial jobs quickly. Not liking a job isn’t any reason to do it any less than with your full devotion. Work at every crap job as if it were the best job in the world and you might just find yourself sitting in that cushy office looking down on the peons.

Don’t even get me started on their usage of video games as an “adolescent” indicator. As if video games are any different from TV, Card Games, Sports, or any other past time that beings as the providence of children until such a time as that generation becomes adults. The truth of the matter is the majority of regular video game players ARE ADULTS. They aren’t toys anymore, but rather complex simulations and computer programs designed for enjoyment.

The blog post, written by a writer I generally admire, goes on to say we aren’t doing these things because we live under the pressure to Accomplish Something Great. Get a grip on yourself. This desire to be famous and have the love, admiration, and adoration of the masses is a sense of rabid entitlement that needs to be purged from our minds. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg made Facebook and became the youngest billionaire ever. He will always be younger than me, thus I can never overcome his accomplishment. Do I care? NO. I get up every morning, go to a job I adore, do a great job at it, come home, play in raids with 24 friends (well 20 friends and 4 people I wish vanished from the face of Azeroth overnight), pay every bill on time, still have money left over to buy mini-pet TCG cards off eBay, and go to bed with a warm fuzzball curled up on my feet. I occasionally bake fantastic bread, grill amazing ribs, and eat an entire tube of Thin Mints. Does that make me any less worthy of praise than Mr. Zuckerburg? Not in the least. My mother is proud of me, my father is proud of me, and I go to bed at night knowing if I die tomorrow, I have accomplished something worth remarking upon. It may not be 500 million users, but 1.75 million people bought and played my game. Most of them hated it too. But where is their game? At the end of the day we should only look to OURSELVES for our measure of success. What have we overcome? What have we accomplished? Is it worthy of admiration and pride? Then job well done. You didn’t create Facebook? So? You raised 3 lovely, well behaved children, who are all doing well in school and show joy? Brava! Who can honestly ask for more than a sense of knowing you have done something amazing?

Our world has changed, and I don’t think any of us would say it hasn’t been for the better. The knowledge of mankind at our finger tips. The ability for our voice to be heard around the world by millions of people without ever leaving our homes. I play a video game with college students from Indiana, Marines in Japan, Marine Biologists in Alaska, video game developers in California, and mothers in Texas. It’s literally MAGIC. Advancements in technology, science and human understanding have lead us to a golden age, that is only being held back by people’s absurd desire to belittle each other, compare themselves to unrealistic figures, and false nostalgia that things used to be “better.” They weren’t. We are more intelligent, enlightened and capable than ever.

GET.OVER.IT. Don’t look to the past for your “guideline”. Look to the future. The world is changing at a rapid rate and if you stop to wonder about the bygone days you will find yourself an archaic leftover from such eras. You are entitled to nothing. Stop making excuses. Stop blaming our “generation”. Stop blaming society for your own shortcomings. We have more choices and opportunities than any other generation of humans. So quit sitting around and griping about what you are entitled (education, love, happiness, liberty, family accomplishment), set your own goals and achieve them. Be happy with YOUR accomplishments and quit trying to fit the mold, achieve the status quo, and striving for aspirations that are impossible. You are only accountable to yourself and responsible for your own future, happiness, and success.

As a kid my mother always congratulated me on what I had done, then pointed me to the next big thing. She always gave me the impression there was always something further to reach for and the only thing that would ever stop me from doing it was myself. In this age of entitlement and whining about how “bad” we have it, even when we really have it spectacularly well, I am grateful beyond measure my mother instilled such values in me that I am able to say, “Suck it up PRINCESS.”

Hell is other players…

Over the past month many a friend has left WoW. The new expansion was easily leveled and to be honest, really didn’t add much to the game itself. The new zones are fascinating. The new races enjoyable for a while. Archeology interesting for a short while then becoming locked in combat with Fishing for the most boring profession. Now we are back to the grind for gear which has slowed to a glacial crawl due to the difficulty of Heroics and Raids.

First off let me be the first to say, I enjoy a challenge in WoW… for about a week. After a week or two, I am tired of bashing my head against the same old wall and just want to move on to something else. Now, two months after Cata’s release ending up in a Heroic with players who do not grasp the basic concept of “Stay out of the stupid” just makes me get angry and annoyed at the rampant stupidity of other players. Sadly, it seems like a Boolean event too. Either the group is fast, efficient and effective, or they are completely incompetent and you wonder how they even managed to turn the computer on, much less level to 85. The amount of frustration I feel at people who can’t be bothered to learn one really shouldn’t stand in the blinking yellow stuff can’t possibly be healthy.

I try to defend WoW to people who have left, but honestly, I am not sure why I even try. I have been raiding for weeks and have managed to lose every single roll on gear. People who were unwilling to even work to get rep epics are winning rolls on the few pieces I can’t buy or get with rep. When I run dungeons I invariably get stuck with players who don’t understand concepts like stay out of the bad. All in all it is a highly frustrating experience.

So as always, I turn my eye towards the question – How would I fix this?

1. Variant dungeon difficulty, that can be clearly marked by an item level. So we already know the dungeons are “ordered” as you level from 80 to 85. You always do Blackrock Caverns and Throne of Tides first. Then move on to Stonecore and Vortex Pinnacle, then on to Grim Batol, Halls of Origination, and Lost City. Why then are they *wildly* different as heroics? Arguements could be made that Stonecore and Grim Batol are by far the hardest heroics, and yet each one has a fight that is wildly difficult and “group breaking”. This happened in Wrath too (anyone remember AN before the ToC patch? *shudder*). Would it not be more logical to have the heroics progress in the same difficulty curve as the regular versions? This way the instant someone hit 85 they could pick up enough gear to queue for heroics (329) and then would be put in a BRC or ToT, which would be tuned to be *slightly* more difficult than the level 85 regulars, but almost always beatable by a non-idiot group in full 329. Having a second number to hit (335?) for Stonecore and Vortex, then a third number (341?) for the final “tier” of heroics. Not only would it make more logical sense, but it would also help people ease into heroics, as opposed to hitting 329, queuing and getting thrown into a Grim Batol, virtually assuring your group’s failure.

2. Get rid of the random drops (to an extent). I am sure anyone who reads this knows how much I hate random, and to be fair, I usually try to contain it to vanity items. However when you run a Tol Barad and have hunter gear drop (that is items with the class limitation hunter) and there isn’t a single hunter in the 25 man raid… Well that’s just a waste. I was a part of a Halls of Origination run where literally every single item dropped was plate or mail. Much to the joy of our Warlock, Priest, Mage, and two Druids. Really? An hour and a half and not a single usable upgrade? It’s not even like it dropped something useful that everyone already had, that’s at least acceptable. We are talking about every single person in the group choosing to run this instance to get specific items and having every single item sharded because no one could even equip them. I am not saying make the perfect gear drop, I am saying “cheat” the system out a bit so if there are no plate wearers, plate doesn’t drop.

-Heading off the comment – Some might point out that there aren’t that many drops on bosses, so if they weed out all the plate/mail drops then something might increase to a 50% drop. This is easily fixed by simply having more variations of gear. Every Resto Shaman will tell you there needs to be more healy boots. Every cloth wearer will tell you there needs to be more 346 bracers. (There are currently two 346 cloth bracers for DPS in the game and NEITHER has haste.) There are gear gaps that need to be filled. And while we’re at it, what is with all the belt drops by the dozens for clothies? There are two easily crafted belts available at large for clothies and yet there are 6 346 belts, two of which can be purchased from the Justice Points Vendor, not to mention all the early purple belt drops in raids.

3. Tanks and Heals are at a premium and it is only getting worse. We have 4 classes that can heal and 4 classes that can tank. Tanking assures an instant queue. Healing assures a short queue. And yet, every week since launch my queue time as dps during peak hours has slowly risen. It went from 25 minutes at launch to 40 minutes now. During peak hours. I thought, well clearly this means I should be tanking or healing. Unfortunately, warlocks can’t do either. So I worked pretty hard to get my priest up to heroics level and finally got in to heal. And man did it *suck* on so many levels. DPS stood in stupid, tanks couldn’t keep aggro, I ran out of mana faster than a dog eats a treat, and to top it all off, when the +spirit trinket dropped that I so desperately needed, the shaman needed on it saying “Whut? Spirit converts to hit for me…” And of course won it. Is it any wonder Tanks and Healers aren’t wanting to queue?

I understand the desire for a challenge. I really do. But challenge != frustrating. And currently, that’s how it feels for heals and tanks. At the risk of saying, screw the hard core, make it easier… Well, make it easier. The more people who feel they can tank without being subjected to the ridicule of other players when they lose aggro on a mob, the more tanks we will have. In a raid, this is clearly a different situation, but in heroics, we need more tanks. The only way I can see adjusting this for both raids and heroics is to require raids to have 5 tanks, 5 heals, and 15 dps, as if they were broken down into 5 micro groups. I don’t really think that is an answer, as it is already complex enough to get 2-3 tanks geared for raids. I really feel that heroics and raids should be tuned differently when it comes to healing and tanking. A heroic should be able to get by with a mediocre tank while a raid never should. Also, to be fair, a majority of your players are DPS. So they have fun melting faces. Fewer tanks and heals means fewer melted faces.

Also, throw your heals and tanks a bone, add in the ability to offspec roll on items in heroics. When something is very clearly a tank or healing item, the tank or heals should get preferential treatment, since they are putting up with the added stress of healing and tanking. If a +spirit item drops and the healer needs, the dps should only be allowed to roll offspec. This makes it far more rewarding to run as a tank or healer if you are attempting to get that gear, as you are sure if it drops you will get it. As an added bonus this assures that tanks and healers across the board will gear consistently as well, thus overpowering the encounters and making things *easier*.

4. Give us something new. Not to sound negative or anything, because it is clearly still a challenge for some people, but so far Cata’s raiding seems to be “Don’t stand in the fire.” As much as I hated it, at least the vehicle fights threw a bit of a twist on things. But honestly we need more Dreamwalker fights. More Festerguts. Way more Lootships. This that are the norm to break up the don’t stand in the stupid. So far on this raiding tier I have seen little innovation. Omnitron is trying, but really is just 4 bosses thrown together. Conclave of Winds so far is one of the only mildly original ideas… but they drop random stated loot. Yes that’s fun, never knowing what you are going to get. Not to mention that even one death means a complete and total wipe. (Really you should be able to 8 or 20 man all raids once a majority of the people are geared to the level of the raid.)

Even if the new is something old. Deadmines and Vanessa Vancleef – amazing. Very very interesting. So where is the raid encounter? *imagines fighting Patchwerk right after running the raid through Frogger*

5. Overhaul crafting. Okay this isn’t as easy as adjusting some loot code to make loot drops worth it. But seriously. Crafting could be so much more. And it could be the answer to people who really just like to farm, play the ah, and make things. It can also fill in gear gaps, ease entry into heroics and raids, and stabilize economies. Crafting always seems to be the spot that has the most potential, and yet Blizzard seems content to let it sit. Especially if the new crafting takes time and effort, it could be a great boon to players looking for something new and Cataclysm is all about the overhaul.

6. Stack the groups for success. Towards the end of Wrath, I noticed a trend. I wondered if it was just coincidence or if it was intentional. It seems to be gone in Cata, or maybe it just doesn’t work with everyone at such low gear levels. In Wrath, more often than not it seemed like if the tank was *wildly* overgeared, the healer was not as much. If the healer was overgeared, then the tank was not as much. And invariably, two of the dps would be complete and total face melters while the third was always fresh and barely geared. It *felt* like the system was specifically putting groups together that could carry the lesser geared member. Every time my tank queued, I was always paired with a Kingslayer healer. It seems odd, but really, if the system isn’t doing this, it could be. My warlock more and more gets into groups with everyone completely geared, and so they go exceptionally smoothly, while my lesser geared priest gets stuck with people in full crafted pvp sets.

These are just a few ideas I have had on how to make WoW more fun and more engaging without inherently changing the game (except for the crafting). But even so, I almost feel like they are moot points. At the end of the day, the bad parts of WoW are directly related to bad players, with bad attitudes. The social aspects of the game aren’t quite enough to overcome the trolls, griefers, and haters. Everyone starts the expansion with their own goals, play times, and focuses. People aren’t as willing to help or play together because it is all still so new. One hopes as patches are released and players migrate back that we will have lost our singular focuses and return to the group whole. I miss my friends though, because hell is other players.

You never know who is behind the mask…

Without being in a guild with someone or they follow the lovely every character has a similar name, it is generally difficult to connect various characters in WoW to the people behind the name. Recently joining a new guild, I have found this to be wildly true. Learning new people, then learning their dozens of alts has been a challenge.

But what about people who aren’t in your guild? People you generally don’t run with every day? Sometimes they connect themselves, for example, I have several toons named Pandara, Pandari, Pandare, Pandaree and so on and so forth. Clearly these characters are likely connected. Other than that, there really is no way to tell.

So?

Why does this matter? Well, you never know who you might be talking to.

A real Azerothian example. I was leveling my main through Hyjal on launch day, someone I didn’t know whispered me and asked me where something was in a quest. I, in my usual standard annoyance for people who ask others for help instead of doing the legwork themselves, told this person “Look at your map.” And went back about my business. To be fair, any quest objectives are in fact marked on your map in WoW. The person gave me an equally curt reply and that was the end of it. Or so I thought. That night, as I hopped into a guild group with several close friends, one of them commented “Yeah, especially meanie Joyia, who is rude to people asking for help.” Turns out, the person whispering me had been his wife, and she asked me because I had been nice to her previously.

I pointed out that she had not identified herself, nor had she ever played that toon with me, not to mention that the toon wasn’t even in our guild. She was only one of dozens of people who whispered me that day with various idiot questions. I had no reason to be nice to her. As far as I knew she could have been anyone.

Looking back and thinking about it, I was entirely wrong.

I had every reason to be nice to her. I didn’t know who she was. I had no clue as to her allegiances. What if she had been my grandmother? What if she had been R.A. Salvatore (who has been known to play WoW). She could have been *anyone*.

I have even had times where someone was blindingly nice to me on one character only to be exceptionally rude to me on another.

In a world of magic and digital trickery, we need to remember, the people behind the avatars are people. Until proven otherwise, assume they are someone kind and deserving of respect. Perhaps if everyone acted like the person behind that character was someone they liked, the World of Warcraft would be a much nicer place.

Awesome DPS

Being top on the damage meter does not make you an awesome DPS. I don’t care if you are doing 30k and the next DPS down is 15k.

How to tell if you are an awesome DPS:

1. You didn’t get hit by a single encounter damage mechanic. No cleaves. No oozes. No fire walls.

2. You took minimal amount of damage. Look at the damage taken meter. Are you in the bottom half of the raid?

3. You never pulled threat. FD, Soul Shatter, not reactions to pulling threat but ways of diminishing it before it happens.

4. If the group wipes you are the last to die, but not without trying Hail Marys. If you are the last to die, you weren’t pulling threat, taking damage, and using your own methods of healing. But you also need to try to distracting shot off the healer, pull out the doomguard or voidwalker, mirror image, army, etc to save the pull.

5. Special Assignment? No problem. If you are asked to do something, even as far as respecing to make a fight go smooth and your response is “No problem” at the very least you are a good dps.

6. You know your role and stick to it. Did the tank do something wrong? Do they keep doing it wrong? Are the healers failing? Let the raid leader handle it. (Unless you are the raid leader obviously.) Too many cooks ruin things faster than anything else. In dungeons, accept the fact that the Tank is the defacto leader. Yeah it sucks, but at the end of the day, they have the short queue, no you.

Do these things and be an awesome DPS. And maybe more tanks would queue.

Feats of Nerdity

My XBox 360 Gamerscore is less than impressive.

My WoW achievement score is quite impressive. Especially if one takes into consideration achievements across multiple characters. Not kidding. I have spent a stupid amount of time and an even more stupid amount of gold getting various WoW achievements.

100 Mounts? I got it. Ring of Dalaran? Yup. Loremaster? Check, check, check, and check. Minipets? At least one on every.single.toon.

Today’s Breakfast Topic on Wowinsider discussed what achievements *should* be in WoW. A great topic to discuss. Many of the suggestions for Burning Crusade raids were exceptional. (Nobody Move – awarded for no one moving during Flame Wreath on Aran. Brilliant.) But many were suggestions that while could mildly be interesting would be terrible WoW achievements. Of course, not to fault the people writing them in, but Blizzard themselves seems to not have a standard for achievement and achievement changes.

Bad WoW Achievements:

1. Any achievement that cannot be completed by every class/race/faction combo. Allowances can be made to have the 2 version achievements for Horde and Alliance. This means no achievement for x amount of spells cast.

2. Any achievement that can only be earned during a single short time. Though having Feats of Strength instead of achievements seems to work well for this.

3. Any achievement that requires leaving the game or something outside of the game.

4. Any achievement that effectively locks out level capped players.

Now having said that, I feel that Blizzard is very arbitrary on achievement creation, criteria, and removal. There are achievements that are wildly specific. And then some entire areas of the game that are ignored. They give achievements for gold loots, but not item loots. There are achievements for professions as a whole, but not for mining x ore, or disenchanting x items.

Of course, due to the fact that they added achievements in Wrath, they didn’t add many of the smaller more interesting dungeon achievements to old world and outland dungeons and raids.

When they remove achievements, for the most part, they make them Feats of Strength (but not all of them, see The Keymaster achievement). Also if they remove an achievement that was a part of a criteria for a meta achievement, they generally remove it from the meta (again not always, look at the Naxx achievements.) They also have been inconsistent with removing rewards from achievements, then not removing rewards from the exact same style of achievement. (See Naxx drakes vs. Ulduar/ICC drakes.)

They need to make achievements consistent. They need to make the removal (which is fine) consistent. They need to make the addition of achievements a part of each major content patch, even if it is just filling in old holes and gaps in the system. Imagine if they simply added a section now that gave a player an achievement for soloing all the classic dungeons?

Like it or not, achievements became a huge part of people’s enjoyment of WoW. Now they need to make it work across the board instead of just being shotgunned across expansions and spurts of creativity by designers.

I was young and needed the achievement points…

Achievements in games are, depending on who you ask, the best thing ever or the direct proof that designers hate gamers.

I love love love achievements. An achievement for pressing start? I love it. An achievement for collecting 10,000 x? I love it. However, I do understand why some gamers hate (or ignore) achievements. I also think that the industry as a whole needs to do better at understanding what achievements should be.

Why gamers hate achievements:

It is possible most gamers hate achievements because many achievements are badly designed. Or the gamer’s expectation of the achievement does not match the designers expectation of an achievement. Many gamers attribute an “achievement” as something that is difficult. Pressing start? Not difficult. As a designer I view an achievement as a carrot that I apply to side or optional things to drive gameplay. Meaning that I use it as a tool, just like a pickup or any other reward, to drive the player into behaving in a certain manner.

Why designers put bad achievements in their games:

Each console has a set number of achievements. Xbox 360 requires a total of 50 achievements that total 1000 points. Designers attempt a balance of easy, medium, and hard achievements. After about 40 though, generally they start running out of ideas. It becomes a matter of the first person who suggests something that doesn’t sound stupid, goes in. Designers also tend to steal ideas from each other. So all it takes is one game having a terrible achievement, one designer thinking that achievement was a great idea, and thus the terrible cycle is perpetuated.

So what makes a bad achievement?

Any achievement that cannot be completed after a certain length of time. It seems like a great idea. Anyone who plays a game in the first two weeks, bam, an achievement. The thing is, not all gamers are equal. What if someone buys the game and then lets it sit on their coffee table for 3 weeks? What if a gamer is on a fixed income and has to wait to get the game? As a general rule, people hate being excluded. If a gamer buys the game, they deserve to have a fair shot at getting all the achievements.

Multiplayer achievements can be bad. A designer really needs to stop and consider if multiplayer achievements belong in their game. Just like everything else in game design, adding something like multiplayer achievements all depends on the game. Obviously Team Fortress 2 requires multiplayer achievements. Bioshock 2, not so much. While multiplayer was a part of Bioshock 2, they were bad achievements in that game. Unfortunately the multiplayer was only played for so long. So after some time has passed, these achievements are effectively unobtainable. (See above.)

Achievements that take an excessive amount of time doing something that could be considered “grindy”. Again, depending on the gameplay, this definition can be fluid. Excessive is a subjective word, but logically it should make sense. If the game has a play time of 10 hours, an achievement should not take 5 hours to complete unless it is one that requires playing the entire game. For example, in Lego Indiana Jones there is an achievement to kill x number of snakes. Seems simple right? Well the x number of bugs achievement dings about 3/4ths of the way through my first play through, as expected, and as a well designed achievement should. BUT the snakes one didn’t. In fact, after completing the game, then re-completing all the levels to get all the extra hidden stuff I still had not received the snakes achievement. I then spent 2 hours farming snakes to attempt to get the achievement, to no avail. Either the achievement was bugged or simply required too many kills.

Any achievements based on a random number. (See previous blog posts on random.) Achievements should always be a response to something the player has done.

What makes an achievement good?

Anything that is “clever” gameplay. If the game has a system to solve puzzles, then design takes the time to make sure this system works with a wide variety of solutions, the most clever of these solutions should be an achievement. Anything that makes a player feel like they did something nifty.

Anything that could be considered wildly amusing. In Lego Indiana Jones there is an achievement to kill Indiana using Dr. Jones Sr. It’s called That’s Blasphemy. Excellent achievement. It refers to the source material. It is completely possible to get accidentally in normal play. If a player is attempting to get it after completing the game it is very easy to do.

Anything that is considered challenging (not frustrating) within the normal gameplay. Beating the game on the hardest difficulty is a great example of this. Beating a boss without using a health potion? Beating a boss using only the standard attack? Beating a boss without taking damage? All great ideas for achievements.

True dedication to the game. Did they play every class? Did they search tons of hidden places? Break everything (within reason)? Shoot every weapon? These can be ways of rewarding the player for exhaustively trying everything in the game, but remember to keep it within the bounds of not being excessive on time to complete.

Why do I like achievements?

They give the player something to point to and say “Look what I did.” Look, I completed this game to 100%. Look, I did this really crazy thing. Look, I took out that optional boss hidden away in the corner basement. Not to mention they give me a definitive point where I can say, I experienced this game as far as the designer wanted me to.

Achievement points are here to stay. As designers we need to focus on creating fulfilling and meaningful achievements that meet player expectation. Just like everything else, achievements need to fit with the tone and style of the game.