Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Laptop for a Casual Gamer

Mushrooms and Moons in Outland
I don't usually talk about why I am a casual MMO player, but I will today.  As mentioned before, I have been playing World of Warcraft off and on since it started and was casually raiding during the original game and the Burning Crusade expansion.  My first daughter was born approximately two years before the WoW was released and she was diagnosed with PDD/NOS when she was three and that diagnosis progressed to Autism.

Different children with autism have different needs, but mine requires pretty constant supervision.   She often doesn't look like she is paying attention, but she immediately notices if she isn't being watched and will usually get into something she shouldn't if she isn't supervised.  It isn't malicious, she is just compelled to get into things and, though she generally wants to obey us, without immediate supervision, she does what she wants and that usually leads to getting into food she shouldn't (such as candy or sodas) or destroying something even though we think they are well away from where she can reach.

I won't go into details, but there were times when my playing WoW meant that I wasn't there when she needed supervision.  She didn't hurt herself or anyone else but it put me on notice that I can't be involved in anything that I can't leave when I am at home.  Ever.  At one time I thought there would be times when someone else could supervise her and I could focus on playing, but I have found that if I'm home, I need to be available in case something happens, no matter who else is there.  More than anything else, this led me to the times I wasn't playing WoW but also to the desire to find a way to play so I could leave whenever I needed to.

This wasn't a simple conclusion.  I denied it for a long time and I probably still deny it some days now, but I have found that if I deny it, I will regret it, so those times are few and far between now.  The biggest change has been in my attitude to playing.  However, there is one simple change I have made that makes a huge difference in being able to play:  a gaming laptop.  

For years I have said that I needed a desktop PC so I could have an up-gradable graphics card.  However, in the last 10 years, I have upgraded my PC twice and only upgraded the graphics card once outside of those PC upgrades.  Finally earlier this year, my PC stopped working, my graphics card already needed upgrading and I decided to look at laptops.  We don't have a lot of extra money, so I was looking to spend under $1000 if possible.

I ended up with a Asus G46VW laptop and I'm very happy with it.  They have taken the spot where the DVD drive typically is and have replaced it with a GeForce 660M graphics card.  I bought an external DVD drive for about $20 and I don't miss it.  The biggest downside based on reviews seems to be the screen, but it is fine for playing casually while doing other things.  If I ever get the time, I can hook it up to my 23 inch monitor, and the games do look much nicer there, but that hasn't happened recently.  

I now have a way that I can play plugged in wherever my children are, watch them.  If needed I can unplug it and take it with me, though for the most part, I just play with it plugged in.  It also is allowing me to write this blog post while moving between the den and kitchen to watch my daughter.  I try to be careful with it, but it also seems pretty sturdy, but still portable at 2.5 pounds.

It won't satisfy the person who needs a large screen at all times or the faster processor, but as the main machine for a casual gamer, or a second machine for a more serious gamer, I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Casual Alternative to MMO End Game

Hanging with Jeeves and a new Engineering pet outside the Auction House
It is that time of year when people are looking back at the last year and forward to the year ahead.  Ocho wrote two posts, one listing the 5 games he is looking forward to and another about the 5 Games that don't interest him.  Number 1 on the list of games that don't interest him was World of Warcraft.  I find it interesting because I feel like we have some of the same interests and I can completely understand why he doesn't want to play World of Warcraft, but at the same time it is the only game I am looking forward to next year.

I used to raid on a weekly basis in both vanilla WoW and Burning Crusade.  I took a break at the beginning of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and never really raided after that.  I was never comfortable with my play style in either Wrath or Cataclysm and went searching for another game that fit my play style better.  While Ocho points to discontent with the WoW end game for his reason not to play the game, I have finally decided that my discontent with the WoW end game will cause me to play the game differently.

Godmother just today (you don't know how shocking for me that is to be able to respond to a post the same day it was released) posted about how her achievement of the 'Mount Parade' was so significant for her.  I had a similar reaction to my creation of Jeeves.  While questing in Icecrown, Kantrina found the Jeeves recipe, and though I highly doubt it will be worth the cost in components, I love having it.  For those that don't know, you can call on Jeeves to appear and he will allow anyone in your group or raid to sell things, repair or buy certain common items.

So I declare myself a proud member of Team Faff (Godmother's word for spending time doing things in game that don't serve the normal end game goals).  For me, it isn't about gear, or achievements as the game defines it, it is about setting my own goals and working towards them.  Right now since Jeeves is done, I've started working on getting my Miner, Kantro, to a high enough level so I can send bars to Kanter to transmute.  Will I ever use those bars?  Probably not many of them, but I want to be able to do it.  After that, I will either level my Mage, Kantrina, so I can work on higher level Enchanting and Engineering, or go back to leveling Archeology on Kanter so I can get the Vial of the Sands.

Because of the need to be able to drop what I am doing any time, I need goals where other people are not depending on me.  However, I love being able to help people and I've found a way I can have fun and still be able to do that.  Other people have other constraints and play the game very differently.

Godmother made the provocative statement "I reckon what Warlords should be doing, as a first priority, is actively discouraging as much solo play as it can."  I disagree with that.  I believe one of the lessons that Blizzard learned in Mists is that more options is a good thing.  If you want to raid or want to have the best gear, yes, you'll need to play nice with others.  However people can be happy working on their farm or Garrison, or battling pets, or using their professions, or competing in the Brawler's guild and pretty much do these things solo.  It benefits the players if they have multiple ways to keep busy that match different interests and time availability.  And, if it keeps people playing, Blizzard has the incentive they need to keep offering multiple ways to play their game.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Week in an MMO Life: Revisiting the Cataclysm

Visiting Thrall at the Maelstrom
I don't have a lot to say this week, so I'll just give you a brief description of what I am up to.  I'm still enjoying leveling my Warrior and have now arrived and nearly leveled out of the Cataclysm expansion.  I had not seen much of Vashj'ir so I decided to focus on that this time through.  I enjoyed the storyline, but all the plot lines seemed to have depressing endings.  Maybe it was just me.  I performed the first parts of the Deepholm, Uldum, and Twilight Highland questlines and just plan to keep going until I get to 85 and move on to Pandaria.  I also gathered enough Embersilk that I was finally able to level my First Aid on Kanter.

I guess I will level him all the way to 90 (or at least 600 mining skill) so I can start making Living Steel without getting help from others.  Then I will probably go back to Kanter and return to leveling Archeology which I deserted some place in the 200s.  As mentioned previously, Vial of the Sands is my long term goal now.  I will need to start selling things rather than just emailing back and forth between my characters, but with max level herbalist, alchemist, miner, blacksmith, tailor and jewelcrafter, I don't think it should be a problem.  I also have my mage, Kantrina, that I left at level 75 and though I have leveled her enchanting (for disenchanting), I would like to level Engineering as well.  I found the Jeeves recipe and I'd like to make it along with some of the other toys.

One fun side task happened when I was visiting Uldum for the first time via Tanaris.  I got a whisper from someone who had been portalled there and was trying to get to Rachet.  I recommended going to Theramore, then Menethil then Booty Bay and finally take the boat to Rachet, but he didn't know how to get to Theramore.  I led him through the flooded Thousand Needles, but, because he couldn't fly, that took a little while.  It was my first chance to see how drastically it had changed.  We then travelled through Dustwallow Marsh and I left him on the boat to Menethil.  He was genuinely grateful and I was glad to be able to help someone out.  One advantage of casual gaming is that if plans change, it is never a big deal.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Week in an MMO Life: Back to Icecrown

Kantro visiting Zul'Drak
It is odd how things hold me back.  I was reading Syl's and Liore's posts about Achievements and even though I am a strong explorer and lean towards Syl's sentiment that it is mainly about the journey, I know that a strong part of me still wants to achieve.  (If you aren't familiar with the Bartle Test, you can read about it on Wikipedia and take the test on GamerDNA.)  I really didn't want to start running through LFRs over and over again (the explorer in me), but I needed some goals anyway (the achiever in me).  

I finally made enough Celestial Cloth to be able to make the White Cloud Belt and that meant I was very close to iLvl 480 on my priest where I could do all the LFRs except for Seige of Orgrimmar.  I spent a little bit of valor to put me over the number and received help from my guildmates getting the enchants I needed so it at least looked like I was trying.  Now, it is not that I actually ran any LFRs, part of me needed to 'achieve' that spot so I could run them if I wanted to.  I even started Pandaria's Legendary Questline and killed some bugs but I haven't done any LFRs, I just needed to know I could (sigh).

So that freed me so I could turn my attention to some new goals.  I am often frustrated because I can't farm ore on my primary two toons.  I went through the process of leveling a warrior before Burning Crusade so I could reforge the Broken Blade of Heroes, which dropped from a chest.  During Burning Crusade, I switched Kantra to Jewelcrafting and I also leveled my warrior so I wouldn't have to buy all the ore.  I hadn't really used him much since then (he was sitting at 71, mainly from mining in Icecrown for Kantra).  Now I had the freedom to level him again in order to be able to mine ore and finally be able to have the Embersilk to level First Aid.  As I bonus, I discovered that the two main thing I needed in order to be able to get Vial of Sands would be items from mining and to level Archeology.

I had a purpose where I could accomplish three things at once.  Efficiency is a big motivator for me.  Yes, I'm sure it would be faster to farm gold and buy what I needed, but this is where the Explorer in me comes out.  I want to be able to do it myself.  Complicated crafting tasks like Vial of Sands or the Broken Blade of Heroes seem like fun, unlike the steps in the Legendary Questline which look extremely repetitive.

So I dusted off my warrior with his Blacksmith made gear and started questing in Northrend.  I went from level 71 to 72 in Howling Fjord, but it seemed slow.  I then remembered that there were three Heirlooms that I bought for my mage and decided to do the same for my warrior.  The levels from 72 to 75 went much quicker and I was able to finish the I've Toured the Fyord achievement at the same time.  Nothing like being a slacker in other expansions to give you plenty of things to do.  I already had the Dragonblight and Grizzly Hills Achievements, so I figured I'd focus on Zul'Drak.

Now I was used to the relatively easy fighting and leveling with my heirlooms when I ran into the Gymer, King of the Storm Giants series of quests.  When you are riding on the back of a giant, your heirlooms don't help and when you can easily get caught in the middle of a tree (happened to me three times) it is even worse.  I kept having Gymer just barely die and eventually on the last quest I found the hint to right click on who he is fighting so he is using his auto-attack in addition to the special attacks. I don't mind dying too much, but when only playing once a week and I'm dying because of the mechanics of a giant I have to ride, I did get frustrated.

Fortunately, once that was done everything went smoothly, I was able to complete the Empire of Zul'Drak achievement (with some help from some level 90s at the Ampitheater of Anguish, thanks!), reach level 80 and level my Blacksmithing to 425 at almost the same time.  Now on to the Cataclysm quests and finally having the cloth for First Aid.  Not that I really need the bandages with all the food I've accumulated, but I feel like I should have it (sigh).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Casual Gamers View on Warlords of Draenor

World Warcraft Warlords of Draenor
I thought I'd include my reaction to all the big announcements about Warlords of Draenor from Blizzcon.  For the last three expansions, I either started late (Wrath and Mists) or stopped within a couple months of when the expansion started (Cataclysm).  This time I feel two things have changed:  the game has better accommodated the casual player and I have learned how to accept my limited play time.  This, along with the news from Blizzcon has me excited to start with everyone again like I did with the original game and Burning Crusade.  I'll list my reactions from what I like the most to what matters the least.

1.  Garrisons
The farm in Pandaria has been a great addition for my style of play.  I can play a few minutes in the morning before work and work on reputation and/or crafting ingredients.  Just as this is the first time I've received the quest achievement, this is also the first time I've been able to get exalted with most of the factions.  I can see the argument that it isn't really a game in that there is no skill involved, but anything that keeps people seeing progress, keeps people playing so I have to believe this is a big win for both casual players and Blizzard.  My concern about the Garrison is that it might expand the time required too much and instead of becoming a small time sink that helps me see progress, it becomes frustrating.  This is more of a risk because I will probably have 4 characters at max level for the first time (thanks to the Character Upgrade listed below).

2.  Flex Raiding
My guild is now alternating a Flex raid once a week with no ilvl requirement along with a normal raid.  I haven't taken advantage of it, partially due to time constraints and partially due to being so far behind the curve since I started Mists late.  I know I will still be late to the game with Warlords, but I won't be SO far behind because I plan to be there from the beginning.  So much of my gaming is solo due to my limited time, that I'm happy to have this outlet where I can play with my guild, even if I can't make it every week without much risk that they won't be able to play if I can't make it.

3.  Character Upgrade
At first I felt ambivalent about this since I like doing quests and I'm not a fan of skipping content.  However, once I started thinking about how I'd use it, I started to get excited about it.  I have a Druid that I leveled to the 20s back during Burning Crusade because I always liked the idea of playing a cat or bear and I wanted to see both the quests and how it played.  I enjoyed it, but he has sat in the 20s ever since then because I feel compelled to work on my Hunter (for questing), my Priest (for healing), my Mage (for Disenchanting), and my Warrior (for mining) first.  Now I'll both have a Druid that I can play with in high level content and I'll have a Skinner and Leatherworker that I can use for gear and bags.  Once I thought about what I could do, I went from ambivalent to excited about it.  Also, I'd suggest this is similar to what they did with the Death Knight class starting at level 55, only it isn't only limited to one class (that doesn't really appeal to me).

4.  10 new levels of quests
I liked the speed of leveling in Mists, but I was amazed that I so easily finished all the quests with just two characters and there was still quite a bit of overlap.  Because my time varies from week to week and I don't care to do PUGs, I am looking forward to more questing even though I do know that means I'll be even further behind others.

5.  New Character Models
The WoW character models have never bothered me.  I have always thought the more realistics models in MMOs look worse because they get too close without being able to get there.  Keeping with a more cartoon-like style is fine for a game and isn't as jarring for me.  However, that doesn't mean I don't like pretty pictures and with the Panda models in place now, I think we know they can do this without significantly impacting performance, another advantage WoW has against games with more realistic graphics.

7. UI Improvements
I'm a hoarder (even if I only play alliance, another playtime compromise I've learned to live with) and more space is a good thing.  That said, I have been able to spread my loot among a bunch of characters and I'm not really suffering for space so this isn't a bid deal for me.

6.  Dungeons
Since I don't play at normal times, play infrequently, and don't like PUGs, I've pretty much given up on dungeons.  I like to see them for lore reasons (another reason not to do them in a PUG), but this is one of the compromises I've made and I'm fine with that.

7.  Mythic Raids
I am glad there is something for the end game players since the game wouldn't be the same without them, but I will never see this and, again, I am fine with that.

8.  Draenor Boys Club
I give Apple Cider Mage a lot of credit for bringing feminist discussion into WoW and MMO gaming.  Just because most of the players are men and it is a fantasy game doesn't excuse subtle or not so subtle sexism.  As many people have stated, the presentation of the expansion so far is extremely male dominated.  That doesn't mean the game is sexist, but Blizzard will have to work at it NOT beginning sexist at this point.  I will be very interested to see how they react to this impression and for their female players.  Even though WoW is male-dominated, the game is much better, for me, because there are a lot of female players who enjoy the game.  I will be very interested to see how and if Blizzard works against the patriarchy that will be at the expansions foundation.

I am very excited about this expansion, the most I have been since Burning Crusade.  A lot of that has to do with my ability to accept how I can and can't play the game.  However Blizzard is also doing an awful lot to make this a better game for the casual player and I'm excited to see how it actually plays.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

World of Warcraft Apologists

Kanter, Cloud Serpent Rider
I feel like a spend a significant amount of time ready my blogroll.  For those of you actually reading my site from Blogger rather than using a RSS feed like Feedly (which I use), I try to read every blog you see to the right.  Part of the reason I blog is because I enjoy reading and reacting to what others post.  However, some weeks I'm more successful than others, so at this point I am almost 2 weeks behind.  So just the other day I was reading the post "I Play WoW and I'm not Sorry" on Liore's blog Herding Cats and I felt a need to respond.

As I have said a few times before, I starting blogging at a time when I was looking to come back to playing an MMO.  I knew I couldn't play often and I had been away for a while and I thought rather than going back to WoW, there had to be a better game for me to play.  

However, what I found was that WoW was the best game for me to play.  I have limited time and World of Warcraft is easy to play in short periods of time.  I don't have to learn a new system or new lore when I play WoW.  I have friends who know me and are happy to help me.   I can play with my daughter and as long as I limit interaction with others in the game (which I can pretty easily do) I feel safe that there won't be anything too offensive.  I know that while the game won't be the prettiest, it will shine through Blizzard's thorough polish. 

I have a huge number of things I can do with my short play times and I can do most of them by myself if I want to.  I can see new places and learn new lore.  I can build my reputation with others and gather more toys.  I can control a set of crafters who can provide tools to and help each other in ways that makes the game more enjoyable to me.

World of Warcraft is best game for me both because of who I am and because of what is in the game.

I respect people like the Godmother who is an unabashed World of Warcraft enthusiast.  I also respect Wolfshead who thinks World of Warcraft has lead MMOs in the wrong direction.  However, I join Liore as a Wow Apologist:  "I, too, play World of Warcraft and I'm not Sorry!"

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Week in an MMO Life: Old school raiding of Ulduar

So many achievements, Raptor is confused
I have started working on this post several times and have never gotten very far.  I believe it is because I have conflicting feelings over my limited gaming experience the last few weeks and I'm not sure how to express it.

I have been a member of one guild since the World of Warcraft started almost 9 years ago.  The guild has changed a lot over those years, but they have always allowed for my casual game style.  One great experience they offer is periodically (annually?) a tour of the old raids with anyone who wants to come along.  Since the guild has been around that whole time they share their original experiences with the content.

Recently they offered a tour of Ulduar and some of other WotLK raids.  I always heard good things about Ulduar but had never been able to visit and was able to arrange to have some time on a Saturday to go with them.

I had a great time.  People were informative and friendly and even though it went long past the scheduled time, they persisted until we finished Ulduar and they avalanche of achievements I and some other first time visitors acquired.

Now that it is done, however, I am feeling at a loss as to what I want to do.  I had planned to get my gear up to a level where I could eventually do Flex Raiding with them, but I know I just don't have the time to really commit to it and I am not sure I want to.  I participated in one LFR at this point, there were several wipes and some rudeness but nothing awful.  However I am very reluctant to do it again.

On the Bartle Test I am a pretty strong Explorer (by the way, I strongly recommend his blog, QBlog) and I like the idea of seeing what the game has to offer.  However, I know my limitations, I don't have the time to keep up with end game content.  Timeless Isle could provide a way of catching up, I just don't know if that is what I want to do.  The two most satisfying times I have had in the game recently were this visit to Ulduar and finally winning the Fishing Trinket (I'm a fish!) at the tournament.  Part of me wants to just go see some of the old content I missed, part of me wants to level my warrior for crafting, part of me wants to level my druid, part of me wants to try out a monk, and there are still several parts of me left.

At this point, I'm almost paralyzed by indecision and am just farming, getting my daily cloths, and working on different reputations.

On another note, The Newbie Blogger Initiative 2 has started.  As a survivor of the first initiative, if an infrequent one, I look forward to meeting some new compatriots and learning from them.  Please visit some of the new bloggers!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Theme park and Sandbox MMOs for a Casual gamer

Iorek meets our new friend Nomi

I just finished reading The Shattering by Christie Golden (yes, I know I am almost 3 years late reading it).  I enjoyed it, but that isn't what I am going to talk about.  It explained a lot of what happened led up to the Cataclysm and Mists expansions of World of Warcraft.  There were sympathetic characters who you meet in the game and it did make we want to play the game more (and I found humorous all the discussions about how you might enjoy playing World of Warcraft if you enjoyed the book).

Others have complained (I'll try to find references later) about having to read a book to truly understand what is happening in a game.  Part of me agrees that the game should be self-contained, but as I have thought about it, if we want truly interesting stories, I'm not sure we have a better option.  It is possible for solo content to have cutscreen videos within the game, but if this is supposed to be a multiplayer game, that takes you away from those with whom you are playing.  People have tried to put stories within the game while allowing people to play together, but there are people who never want to wait and it doesn't work well to make everyone wait for whomever is slowest.  Hopefully a player who wants to watch the 'story' can find friends who are willing to watch it with him or her, but that doesn't always happen.  

A video accompaniment might be possible, but I'd suggest that would encourage people just to watch the video and the game becomes secondary.  Books may be the best alternative, allowing the developer to build the background and motivations while still allowing you to participate in the plot.

I believe part of the reason I want an independent story provided to me is that I have limited play time.  With a lot of game time, it is much easier to have momentum and just build your own story within the game.  When you don't have much time, it is great to have some outside motivation that allows you to participate in the game world without always having to build your own story.

This leads directly to the conversation about 'Theme park and Sandbox' games (yes, I finally got to the subject of my post).  For many serious gamers, a Sandbox (or World) game like Eve or like Everquest Next is purported to be is what they are looking for.  They want to build the stories themselves and I can certainly understand that desire.  However, when I analyse how I play, I don't believe I would enjoy an MMO like that today.

I can't commit myself to a time to play with others and, while games like GuildWars 2 has made it is easier to group with others on the fly, it is a poor substitute for playing with people you know.  I really like being in my guild and having participated with them, even if it has been sporadically, over many years.

More generally, I suspect the market for a "Sandbox" game is more limited to than the one for a "Theme park" game.  Most people who play MMOs don't play for the many hours a week that the serious gamers and most of those who write about games play.   There is a place for a well-written story that isn't written as you play but let's you play a side part.  There is a place for a book that gives the background to the story in depth in a way that a casual gamer could never see within the game.  

I suggest there are probably many more people who would happily participate in a game like this than there are those who have the time to build their own stories.  I do believe the 'sandbox' gamers have been neglected and I hope, as trends seem to be going, that there are more games that cater to their needs.  Have said that, I doubt I'll be playing those 'sandbox' or 'world' games with them, and they may have to accept that those games will have a more limited market that those where the player participates in the story told within the game.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Free-to-Play and the Casual MMO Player

Another bug to ride on.  Thanks, Klaxxi!
There have been many discussions about when and if World of Warcraft will go free-to-play and it has become much more intense since the recent announcement that there will be an in game store.  This has sent me back to contemplating what free-to-play means to me.

When I first started this blog, I had stopped playing World of Warcraft and had just a very short time playing Star Wars the Old Republic.  In both cases I didn't feel like I could play enough to justify the subscription price. As I mentioned many times before, I don't mind paying, but I was hoping there would be a free to play game that I'd enjoy and would allow me to play casually and pay something that would approximate my limited playtime.

Free to play seems like an ideal model for a casual gamer since you can pay for content as you use it and you use it less than a more 'serious' gamer.  I still think the 'Lord of the Rings Online' has a quite generous model for the casual gamer, where you only need to pay for the areas as you get to those levels and there are several methods of getting several at one time.  I still feel it is possible if my wife or a friend was leveling with me, I could really enjoy my time there, but that didn't happen.

When I was playing more regularly, I had friends who started other games when they came out including Rift and Aion, and when they asked if I was interested in joining them, I always said that I had limited time and I couldn't see starting over in a game and that I'd rather continue on in World of Warcraft where I had invested that time.

'Investment' is an odd word to use when talking about a game, but I believe it does really apply to MMORPGs.  Part of what makes RPGs in general and MMORPGs more specifically fun is that you get to see the 'new things' as you advance.  They may be new skills or new areas of the game world or new dungeons or learn new bits of lore, but, cumulatively, they provide a great sense of accomplishment.

However, I discovered the opposite is also possible, where you start playing a game, see yourself falling further and further behind and that game that you played for years where you know you could catch up quickly becomes very appealing, particularly if you have less time now than you did previously. Now this could apply to any new game, not only free to play games but I have other concerns there.

I had already mentioned that I personally am troubled by the 'gambling' aspect that often is part of a free to play games.  More generally this can be broadened to the marketing that by necessity needs to be part of a free to play game.  Again, this is a personal statement, but I don't like to be sold to.  I'd much rather do research on my own, decide what I want, and then try to get it for the best price I can.  I very much believe that developers deserve to be paid for their work and I've paid for free applications after I have used them just because I believe it is the right thing to do.  However, an MMO that requires constant investment from the developer, also requires a constant source of income.  A subscription makes that source of income directly related to playing the game.  

It is true that the person, like myself, who plays the game less than 10 hours a week is paying for the person who plays it much more, but I don't have a problem with that.  I know the agreement when I subscribe and I've never really cared much about whether it is 'fair', just whether I think it is worth the money.

Now, in a free to play game, it is those that spend a lot of money on the game either by subscribing or buying items in the shop that 'pay' for the person who doesn't pay at all.  Also, what is the 'right amount' becomes confusing.  Content is a pretty obvious investment, and I am not concerned about paying for expansions, but there really is a significant investment by the developer for the time you are playing on their servers and either that is paid by a subscription or there has to be some other way of getting that money that doesn't add up.

I don't mind that MMOs sell pets and mounts that cost them very little, but return a large profit.  I will probably never buy one, but it is up to the person to decide whether it is worth it to them or not.  But if a game does not have a time based payment method, it is dependent on these 'cosmetic' sales, the sales of items that make the player better (pay to win), or crippling the game to encourage you to pay the 'alternate' subscription.  The first two lead to heavy marketing that I don't want to be a part of the game and the last alternative would make me feel like the company really doesn't want casual gamers, but only those who play a lot and therefore pay for the subscription.

For me, I want to have a upfront model that says this is what you pay for what you get.  Maybe someone will come up with a new model that I love in the future, but, for now, the subscription model of MMO payment is the one I feel is best for me even if it is becoming more and more rare.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Week in an MMO Life: Turning a corner

Kanter modelling his new crane to Iorek and his vendor.

I started playing World of Warcraft late during the beta and I have had three pretty long gaps during gameplay.  One thing that I never did was get close to finishing the quests in the original game or any of the expansions.  That just changed with my new 'Loremaster of Pandaria' achievement.  It seems to me it is much easier to achieve than it had been previously.  Maybe I'll check the number of quests some time.

What I've mentioned before and what is still true is that there is a lot to do.  Besides finishing Townlong Steppes on my priest (Kantra), I also made it to Honored with the Kirin Tor on my hunter (Kanter).  I was able to get there with a Saurok quest (a quest hub I had not seen before) which allowed me to get the disguise and also left me with only one piece of the Chamberlain yet to pick up.  I'm not sure how I feel about the focus on daily quests, maybe that'll be another post later.

Kanter also reached Exalted with the Golden Lotus and bought his three crane mounts as a reward (see picture above).  I am looking forward to being able to finish the Eternally in the Vale quest line before it disappears (once 5.4 happens).  He also started the Cloud Serpent quests, but most of my focus will be on my priest.

Kantra just hit 600 all of the last part reached with the daily Imperial Silk recipe.  I have also reached 575 in Jewelcrafting with the daily recipes so I could learn all the Diamond recipes I had found.  She'll be working on getting to exalted with the August Celestials since she'll need it for the Royal Satchel recipe.

At this point I'll focus on getting to Revered with the Shado Pan with Kantra and try to get her gear up to where she can start doing looking for raid.  I tried the Shado Pan dailies for the first time, but it is significantly more difficult that it is with Kanter.  However, I didn't try playing with the toys you get, so maybe with different companions it'll be easier.

I'm not sure how much I want to do them or heroic dungeons or scenarios, but I would like to have the option.  I was talking to a guildmate who is primarily doing heroics, scenarios, and raids, and he is in the opposite position that I am.   I have the reputation but not the valor or dungeon drops.

I am now considering doing the regular dungeons so I can learn healing again in a relatively stress free environment.  I could lower the stress by just queueing as DPS but I'd like to eventually be able to raid as a healer, a goal I've had ever since Vanilla, but never have done.

Again there is a lot to do, though I've only been playing the solo part of the game recently.  I have started a post about free-to-play gaming, but that will have to wait until I think it through.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Week in an MMO Life: Where to go?

More dragon flying with my priest
I have been reading Tales of the Aggronaut and enjoying his daily posts and that has made me think about what I want to do with this blog.  I've decided there are really two parts, the original goal was to talk more generally about my thoughts about how MMOs work for the casual gamer.  However, I am also enjoying the more specific chronicles of what I'm doing and I've actually been doing more of this lately.  Since there really are two pretty distinct types, I've decided to preface these chronicles with 'A Week in an MMO Life" and label them as such.  This will both let me easily distinguish these posts and if the readers are more interested in the more general posts, they can easily skip these.

I just reached the goal of getting to level 90 in World of Warcraft on my second character, my priest, Kantra.  It wasn't very difficult, but it is much more difficult that playing on my hunter.  I'm pretty sure it isn't just that I haven't played my priest as much.  Eric on Elder Game recently wrote about how difficult is to balance pet and non-pet classes in terms of solo playing and pretty much concluded that it doesn't matter and you can expect classes with pets to be easier in the solo game.  That matches my experience, I just had no idea why until I read his post, but it really does make sense.  This also ties in with the recent thread started from first a former WoW developer, Mark Kern, and then developed by WoW Insider asking 'Is WoW leveling too easy?'  As a casual gamer, who is by nature an explorer, I don't mind much that the leveling game is much easier now on my hunter.  However, I really wouldn't want it to be more difficult for my priest.  She doesn't have great AoE (maybe someone can help me there) and doesn't have much armor, so if I have more than one mob attacking me and they can make it through my shield quickly, I am likely to die. I think people need to be careful about speaking about how easy leveling is since twinks and class and time played all make a huge difference on difficulty.

Once I hit 90, I've been able to grind through the Tillers at a fast pace and also been able to level my Jewelcrafting and Tailoring.  The Jewelcrafting level 575 recipes that are stuck in my bag now are a strong incentive for me to level it even though my miner is way back at level 71.  I figure I can afford to buy the gems and/or ghost iron and extra bag space is always a big incentive to me since I can't seem to make myself sell anything except greys.

Just yesterday I reached exalted with the Klaxxi on Kanter, which game me three achievements included 25 exalted reps.  I know that is low for someone who plays more often, but I see it as a testament that if you play over a long period of time, you can reach longer term achievements.  Now I need to go get my Scorpion mount and gun!

If I can finish Townlong Steppes on Kantra I'll have done the Loremaster of Pandaria achievement.  This is very surprising to me since I've never gotten close to getting this done in any of the other expansions.  I'd be interested to hear if the number of quests was significantly lower or I guess it's possible I was just smarter about doing them.  Even though it won't be difficult, now that I'm 90, the incentive really isn't there since there are so many other things to do.  I am also hoping it'll provide a jump start to getting to Revered with the Shado Pan faction.  I'd like to start healing in dungeons, but I need at least a little better gear and none of the valor grinds really appeal to me.

Even though I don't know what I want to do, I'm glad there is still too much to do.  I'm curious to see if I ever get the inclination to level any of my other characters.  One new distraction, is that my daughter now has a free account (to level 20) and we've been leveling Blood Elves together (her choice of race).  More on that another time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Casually acquiring Pandaria gear

Bugs are good even when they don't fly!

Flexible raiding coming in 5.4 in World of Warcraft, as mentioned in my last post, has given me more incentive to acquire some gear.  I finally reached the iLvl required for Looking for Raiding and went on my first raid.  I, with many others, contributed to a couple of wipes because we didn't know what we were doing, but most people were understanding and we were successful both times after the first wipe.  I didn't acquire any gear, which was a little frustrating since pretty much anything would have been an upgrade, but it is nice that Valor now gives you upgrades eventually.

I'll probably try to do LFR once a week before Flexible raiding starts.  It seemed relatively painless and it is nice that it is split in two halves so it can been done in an hour at a sitting.  If I get to the next iLvl threshold, I'll probably just do whichever raid I enjoy more.  I don't like doing random heroics and although I might try random scenarios again, LFR is much more anonymous and therefore less stressful.  I see this a big improvement compared to Cataclysm where you pretty much had to do Heroics if you wanted better gear.

As long as I'm getting both reputation and valor, I find most of the dailies fun and rewarding enough.  As I mentioned before, I think the Thunder Isle dailies take too long and are also inconvenient where they are located.  I did the treasure hunt once after watching a video, which was fun, but I don't have any inclination to do it again or strive to be great at it.  I am almost at honored with the Kirin Tor Offensive, so I'll probably do some of the quests one more time to get to honored, but I keep putting it off.

I always used fishing to feed my hunter pets (while I needed food for them), so it seemed easy enough to do the daily quests to get to exalted with the Anglers and get my bug mount that is in the picture above.  However, now that I'm exalted, I'm really not interested in doing them those dailies any more, I'd rather do the other lines where I still get reputation.  Similarly, I'm still doing the Tiller quest that help me achieve Best Friend status, but I've started ignoring the rest of them.  I also used dailies and farming to get August Celestial and Golden Lotus reputation to Revered and the double reputation tokens.  I've finished the Klaxxi quests to get all of the elders, the buffs are fun enough and have enough variety that getting the rest of the way to exalted and the scorpion mount should be pretty easy.

Now that I've reached many of my goals with Kanter, I'm hoping I can focus more on my priest, Kantra.  I'm almost at level 66 and once I get there, I'll be able to do the quests in the two zones I missed with Kanter (Valley of the Four Winds and Townlong Steppes).  I also figure I'll let Kantra do the Shado Pan dailies which will again provide some variety.

There is a lot to do as a casual player, but I don't see it keep my interest for too much longer.  However, the prospect of Flexible raiding has made me think maybe there will be more I will enjoy, and more I can do with people I enjoy playing with by the time I'm bored with what I'm doing now.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Flexible Raiding and the Casual MMO Player

So many factions, so little time.
As a self proclaimed casual MMO player who blogs, I feel like I need to join the many other bloggers who are writing about the Flexible Raiding that Blizzard has announced.  Personally, I see it as a great opportunity for players like me.

As I mentioned previously, I took about a year off of playing World of Warcraft.  Once I started back in December, I was, of course, way behind the gear curve.  I could try to focus on the Isle of Thunder and Heroics to get the gear to first join in LFR and then to get the gear I needed for raiding, but I'm really not interested in either the Isle of Thunder or Heroics.  I'd rather do what I want to do, in my casual way, and gradually get the gear I need to join people on a more casual basis.  

The problem right now is the only way to do that is to hope members of the guild are interested in running LFR.  As someone who isn't really interested in playing with random people, this isn't very appealing and, I suspect, it isn't very appealing to other members of our guild.

However, once Flexible Raiding starts, players like me and others who like to play World of Warcraft but either don't have the time to keep up with the gear curve or would rather mix in a few months of WoW with months focused on other games (or other activities) have a real option to play with our guild and/or our friends.  As long as the core group is interested in having a Flexible raid, they can raid only with those they want to and not have to leave a core team member out if someone else shows up who they'd like to play with.

I am really hopeful that Flexible Raiding will make playing MMOs a few months out of the year or infrequently a much more enjoyable way to play with your friends.  I'm sure Blizzard is hoping the same thing.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Settling in at Max Level

New friends in Pandaria.

I think I've settled down to a routine (for now) at level 90 in World of Warcraft.  

I finished the start of the Isle of Thunder so that I would get to the dailies and promptly decided the dailies took too long and weren't particularly fun.  Part of it is that there are too many of them.

So then I started to look at specific gear I could use to get so I could do LFR with the guild.  One of my rings is the lowest iLvl I have and I found that the Golden Lotus faction offers one at honored so I decided to start the quests there.  The dailies there aren't quite as relaxing as the Tiller ones that I enjoy but they are close and don't have the huge flight path or the annoyance of the Isle of Thunder Ones.

I will take one more trip (at least) to the Isle of Thunder since I have a Key to the Palace of Lei Shen and 3 of the 5 parts for The Crumbled Chamberlain.  I looked at some videos of the Troves of the Thunder King and I'll probably just get a potion for it mainly so I can experience it once.  I'll probably just leave the island alone after that since I like the other dailies better.

The announcement of the Flex Raids was welcome, too.  I like my guild but I know I'm never going to be good enough to do 10 mans with them.  I'm hoping they will set up a flexible raid night since that is something I should be able to participate in without being a drag.  That should be significantly more fun than LFR with the guild since we can have only guild members and friends along.

Finally, I am still doing the Tiller dailies and now have 3 Best Friends, a Yak, and some new furniture.  I also started doing the daily fishing pools until I get a special fish and then I go to the Anglers, turn it in, and then do the dailies there.  The Anglers are so much easier now that I'm level 90 and can fly.  I also hit revered with Klaxxi, so I got my reputation booster, but I don't plan to go for Exalted until I get other things done.  A scorpion mount would be fun, though.  I will be able to get my pants once I have the valor, but the Lotus ring will help me more and cost less valor.

So far, I'm enjoying the routine and hopefully I can look forward Flex Raiding in 5.4.  Once I have iLvl 560, I'll probably go back to doing more on my priest and I would like to have a max level miner, which would require leveling my warrior.  I may do a few random Scenarios but I think I'm just going to skip the Heroic dungeons.

As others have said, there is way too much to do, which is good, since I can pick and choose what I enjoy.  It's a game and it needs to be fun for me.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Farmer Kanter

I've been able to play more the last few weeks, though most of it has been in small increments.  That has lead to two titles in the last two weeks, Farmer (as seen above) and Hordebreaker.  I'm not sure if this is a significant accomplishment since I play so infrequently or if it is more because of the large gap in time and these titles were relatively easy to obtain.  In any case, they were both goals and it was nice to get them done.

The next question is what to do next.  I am almost at revered with the Klaxxi, so I will definitely try to finish that soon.  I've now started the work orders on the Farm and that should help.  I also expect I will be working on another faction but I have no idea which one.  I'm interested in suggestions if anyone has one.

I started all three update quest chains, too, over the last few weeks (Operation Shieldwall, Isle of Thunder, and Escalation).  Escalation was relative short, though I only did the Scenarios required for the title.  I just started both of the other quest chains (enough to get the quest hubs in both of them) and I guess I'll keep working on the Isle of Thunder ones.

I have several different directions I'd like to go, but I know I don't have time to focus on all of them.  I enjoy the lore and both quest chains would provide background for what is happening.  Isle of Thunder has the added advantage of providing better gear.  One day last week the guild was doing a guild LFR.  I don't expect to really raid and I'm not sure I'm interested in a pug LFR with borderline gear, but I guild LFR would be fun.  Right now I'm at iLvl 152, so I guess I'll try to use Valor and Isle of Thunder to get me to the 160 I need to be at in order to participate (and hope they do it again).

The farm quests are an easy way to get Valor and I enjoy them even if they are repetitive.  The high flying kite was a nice surprise and does make the watering quest easier and they are quick and a nice thing to do while farming items for cooking.  My cooking is at 595 so it will be nice to get my last crop to get it to 600.  I'm not sure of the motivation for 'Best Friends' but it will be easy enough to do while I'm farming, so I'll probably get them as well.

I may try to do some more Scenarios but I am still skittish of pugs.  It is a way to learn more of the lore in a relatively short time and I believe the expectations tend to be less that for Heroics.  Heroics would get me gear faster, but I am more skittish about pugging those.  I'll probably just try a few scenarios if I happen to have an hour of time where I believe I can play uninterrupted (that isn't often).  Maybe I will go back to try to have one night a week where I can do that, but I'm ok with my short game time sessions for now.

I also started the Pandaria quests with my Priest.  As I mentioned previously, I left certain areas undone with the idea that I would do them with her.  I like the role of healing in concept and it is good to have the option to either DPS with her in Shadow or Heal in Holy specialization.  I also am accumulating quite a bit of cloth that I could use to level her tailoring, and I do like crafting as well.

Fishing is another area that I like to fill in with as a no-stress way to spend some time that can be interrupted at any minute.  That helps with three young children including one with Autism, since I never know when I might need to stop playing.

I came in to writing this post thinking I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I now that it is on paper (on the Internet?) I actually do have a pretty comfortable direction:  keep doing farming and quests so I can get the valor for some equipment upgrades.  When I have more time, I'll fill in with Isle of Thunder quests to get to iLvl 160 and then, depending on how they are going, I'll keep working on them until I get to a good stopping point or work on my Priest for either questing up to level 90, filling in the areas I haven't seen, and/or working on her tailoring.

There is a lot to do.  I still might stall and unsubscribe, but between having a gaming laptop now and having a lot of different things I can do in short periods of time, I'm pretty hopeful that I can keep playing and having fun.

And that is what it is about.  I hope you are all having fun with your game of choice!

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Flying on bugs is fun, too.
There were two thresholds that I happened since my last post.  I passed the 1 year point since my first post on this blog (May 5, 2012) and I now have my first max level character in Mists of Pandaria.

Ocho made a nice summary of what has happened with the New Bloggers since Syp started the Newbie Blogger Initiative on May 1, 2012 (and included a nice comment about this blog;  thanks!).  I've averaged almost 2 posts a month, which for most blogs wouldn't be much, but I'm only targeting to play and post once a week, so I feel like I kept up pretty well.  I also had a three month gap between September and November when I went from looking for a new game to play to deciding that it was too difficult to start a new MMO and that I would go back to playing World of Warcraft.

I am still finding more to write about, but it isn't nearly as easy as when I was evaluating different games.  Other blogs are a constant source of ideas, but I still have trouble finding time to play and to keep up with the blogs I'd like to read (and there are always more I am discovering).  I've pretty much resigned myself to reading the summaries only of the large sites (Massively, MMO RPG, WoW Insider, and Rock Paper Shotgun), if I can even do that.

In terms of World of Warcraft, I think I was somewhat reluctant to reach 90, because I knew I'd have a lot of decisions to make.  As of now, I am working on Klaxxi Rep as a continuation of the Dread Wastes zone along with Tillers where I now have 8 spots but am looking forward to Revered so I can grow the special items like Golden Lotuses.  I'll have another decision once either of those done (and I'm open to any suggestions) and once 5.3 hits next week with the limited time event.  I may go back and finish Operation Shieldwall for the plot points.

I did play both a Scenario and a Heroic with my guild once I hit 90, which was a lot of fun, although I didn't know what I was doing.  It reminded me of how willing the people in my guild are to help and that they are a great group of people.  I haven't played either a scenario or heroic since, but that gave me the gear so I could do random heroics and I think I'll be comfortable doing either as DPS (though I'll have to think before I join them as a healer on my priest, assuming I ever get her to 90).  I decided to wait to play her until they speed up leveling from 85 to 90, but that should happen on Tuesday and I still have a lot to do. 

There are so many quests, both daily and otherwise, that is a little overwhelming to be 90 so late in the process, but it is better than there being only one path.  I decided to let my daughter play with the Pet Battles.  I already reached 600 on both Herbalism and Alchemy and I'm well on my way there on cooking and fishing (I'm not sure how much it is worth doing the recipes to get from 575 to 600).  First Aid will have to wait until I get more Cataclysm cloth (it all went to my Tailor) and who knows when I'll get back to Archeology.

There was a recent post by Keen where he speaks about how people will only stop playing WoW when they have a Blizzard approved alternative (Titan).  I guess I fit into this group, though I hope I have more time when it hits because the thought of starting a new game is a little overwhelming after my experience last year.  Though who knows how my life will go in the next two years which is probably the minimum before Titan hits.  I make no promises on how much I post, but, at this point, I think I'll have plenty to write about for another year.  Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

MMOs and Gambling

More waterfalls in Pandaria.  What war?
I am still coming to grips with why, as a player who plays infrequently, I don't find a free to play game and save myself some money.  I spoke to this before, but a recent post by Ocho made me realize another reason why I am back playing WoW.

I hate gambling.  I remember recently going to a charity casino and even there, where there was no real money at stake, I didn't enjoy it.  I can understand how you can get better at a game like blackjack and put odds in you favor, but in the back of my mind is the fact that most people are throwing away money and many of them can't afford to do it.

Now, I know, to some, it is a form of entertainment.  I've had friends who go gambling, put a limit on how much they will spend and enjoy the time they have.  Sometimes they even come out ahead and, when they don't, they haven't spent any more than they would going out to a movie with popcorn and drinks.  It's fine for them, and I wouldn't want to eliminate their enjoyment, but it isn't for me.

The MMOs using the free to play model have learned that gambling is a way that they can make the money they need to build a game that many people want to play.  I am glad those games are around and I am glad there is an affordable way for people to play them.  However, just like gambling, it's not for me.

As I've mentioned before, I can afford a relatively small monthly price (less than the cost of two movie tickets these days), for a game that doesn't want to find ways to nickle and dime you.  Yes, you can go buy pets and mounts from Blizzard if you want, but Blizzard knows they have your subscription money for this month and there is a good chance they can have it next month if they can keep you entertained.  The motivations are different from the free to play games, or even the single pay games like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World.  Again, I am glad there are different models that fit different players, but I'm glad there are still some subscription games around and I hope they continue to exist.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

MMOs and Gating content

Kanter at Zouchin Village, Kun Lai Summit

After my last post, since I didn't get any suggestions on zones, I did what most people would do and searched on the web.  MMO champion had a poll about just this question.  Four zone scored close to the same, Jade Forest, Valley of the Four Winds, Kun Lai Summit and Dread Wastes.  I had already completed the Jade Forest quests, had decided to Krasarang Wilds with Kanter to make it easier for him to visit Pagle for fishing and left Valley of the Four Winds unfinished for Kantra my priest.

So I decided that I'd just get the flight path to Kun Lai Summit and head to the Dread Wastes leaving Kun Lai Summit to Kantra.  I went back to the internet to search for the path or quests that gets you to the Dread Wastes and found that you had to have a quest and you can only get the quest at level 89.

To me, this is patronizing and totally unnecessary.  I remember in vanilla WoW the excitement of going through both Wetlands and Feralas well under level, knowing that if I was attacked, there was a good chance I was going to die.  Wetlands allowed me to get to  Darnasus and Feralas was necessary at the time to get higher level alchemy recipes.  Feralas is still my favorite WoW zone, partially because of that trip.

Now, I guess because they want you to see things in order, when they think you are ready, they put zones behind barriers where you have to complete a quest at a certain level.  I believe I should be able to decide when I want to go to an area almost all the time.

I do remember a few cases where I like gates to content.  Finishing the quest to open the gate to Searing Gorge was exciting, particularly after seeing it when flying between Ironforge and Stormwind.  Raid gates for Onyxia and Karazhan were exciting to work through and I felt like I was worthy when I completed them.

However, gates just to enter a zone don't make any sense at all to me.  It reminds me a little of what I don't like about Apple.  They seem to think that they know better how you should use their products.  I'm the player, I'm the customer, I should get to decide how I want to play the game (or use their product).

At least I enjoyed the 'Thunder King' part of Kun Lai Summit.  I may going ahead and complete the zone although I'm almost level 89 now.  Kantra may just get to experience Townlong Steppes instead (one of the least favorite zones in the MMO champion poll).

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mists of Pandaria, Pets Battles, and Family Gaming

My daughter's panda in Loch Modan
Mists of Pandaria offers many different options of ways to play the game, and, in particular, more options for casual players including children.  I suspect there was more conversation about this when Mists first came out, but since I wasn't playing then, I'm late to the conversation.

I have taken the week off for spring break for school and so I was able to spend a few hours playing World of Warcraft with my eight year old daughter.  Right now, the only rule we have is that she can only play when I am around to help her.  My wife and I are concerned about people on the internet and what they'll say but as long as I'm there with her, I feel like it is fine for her about her to play online.  Other parents will have different rules and I don't pretend to know what is right for them or their children, but I'm hoping it is helpful to hear about my experience.

This is the same daughter who was playing Lord of the Rings Online with me last year.  She likes pets in games so it's not surprising that she wanted a hunter here.  She and some of her friends at school pretend to be pandas, so it's not surprising that the offer to play a panda in WoW was exciting for her.

At eight, I don't think it makes sense for her to have her own account.  Possibly at ten I might consider it, but I realize different parents have different tolerances (and different amounts of disposable income) and some children can be allowed more freedom than others.

She also has been steadily playing Pokemon White and White 2 since she received it for her birthday last March.  So it's not surprising that she is enjoying the pet battle subgame. I decided with my limited time, I would limit myself to crafting and questing at first, so this was my first to see the pet battles as well.

It's fun!  I think it was great that my daughter was able to get 5 achievements related to pet battles in less than two hours of playing time.  She also has an older computer with no video card, so it is nice that she can take her time to decide what she wants to do.  She started with 'Mojo' as her first pet (I'm not sure why) and she promptly renamed him 'Mojo Jojo'. ;)  After getting him to level 3, she decided she wanted to play with different pets and at this point she now has three pets levels 4 - 5 and has defeated two of the pet trainers.

I'm not sure if the parents at Blizzard were behind this or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were at all.  This is an almost ideal way for parents with children who want to play with them to be able to play without worrying about others and in a fun, relatively stress free setting.