How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Grind

William Murphy over at MMORPG.com pushes back at the grind in MMOs, especially when you get to the endgame,

Games like WoW are designed brilliantly to keep us playing and entertained as long as possible.  It used to be that character progress in MMOs was incredibly slow.  But WoW changed that.  They made leveling an easy climb to the top.  Finally it seemed like a company understood that it didn’t need to keep us moving slowly along to keep us paying… and then we hit the level cap and found out what we needed to do for our class armor sets.  The process has been simplified these days sure enough, but 400 Frost Emblems for Tier 10 armor is still no drop in the hat.  You’ll still be repeating the same content over and over to achieve your goals, and that’s just the course of action Blizzard hopes you’ll take.

And that, for me, is when the fun stops.

No more do I play MMOs for the gear.  I don’t care about the payoff.  If it’s a grind, I avoid it.  And here, I define “grind” as something bland that I must do repeatedly for a pittance of reward.  If I’m playing a game where the only way to progress is through mindlessly slaying mobs because I’ve run out of actual questing content to partake in, I stop playing.  If I am told the only way to get the game’s best weapon or armor is by repeating this content over and over again, then I don’t try to obtain that item.  It’s my very own MMO credo.

Personally, I’ve stopped worrying and learned to love the grind, especially when it comes wrapped in such an interesting package as it does in World of Warcraft. The nice thing about WoW is that you can take it or leave it when grinding.

I know people, for example, who run high end raid content over and over and have gear far better than I’ll ever get. I know others who simply stop playing a toon once they reach the level cap.

Personally, I think what WoW does right is that there are multiple grinds. You could spend all your time repeating the same raid content. Or you could focus on the PVP content. Or focus on any number of other goals that require endlessly repeating the same task over and over.

Or — and this will sound crazy — why not go back and forth between the two? Some days, I’ll spend hours running the same dungeon over and over again. Then, the next day — I’m flying around mining and fishing about playing the Auction House. Then maybe a few days off and I’m back doing world PVP for the fun of it.

WoW is definitely on the theme park end of the MMO continuum, but the variety and sheer number of things there are to do at the end game mean it doesn’t have to get boring if you decided to play the game rather than letting it play you. It’s a shame so few MMOs have the variety that WoW has at the endgame.

Blizzard Wins Default Judgement Against WoW Private Server

Back in October 2009, Blizzard sued Alyson Reeves over the private World of Warcraft servers she offered through her company, Scapegaming. On August 10, Blizzard won a default judgement against Reeves/Scapegaming and was awarded $88.5 million.

Now World of Warcraft private servers are fairly common, and some are fairly interesting variants that do things Blizzard would never be able to do and remain commercially viable (for example, running servers that replicate what the game was like before the Burning Crusade/Wrath of the Lich King expansions). For the most part, Blizzard doesn’t appear to have gone after private servers in general, presumably because they serve an extremely small niche market.

But unlike most private servers, Reeves/Scapegaming was run as a for-profit business that made (apparently a lot of) money off of microtransactions for its private servers. That’s just asking to be sued into oblivion.

Hopefully this won’t lead to a wholesale backlash by Blizzard going after every private server out there, but given Activision’s pressure to monetize, monetize, monetize across all of their products, it seems more likely that the days of openly running WoW private servers are numbered.

Update: here is a 1.3mb PDF version of the original complaint filed by Blizzard against Reeves. In it, Blizzard alleges that Reeves/Scapegaming collected approximately $1.5 million in donations from players accessing its private servers

World of Warcraft Temporary Tattoo

My wife got a small tattoo the other day, which means now I need to go out and get one too.

She got a tattoo of a song lyric that had deep personal meaning to her. Me, I’m going with a tattoo of my World of Warcraft toon. Nothing says manly like a tattoo of a gnome with pigtails.

As a start, I ordered a temporary tattoo of my toon from Stray Tats, and the result looked a little something like this.

My World of Warcraft Temporary Tattoo

Upper Deck Loses World of Warcraft TCG License

In February, Blizzard and Upper Deck both issued statements surrounding the World of Warcraft: Trading Card Game which Upper Deck had published since its release in 2006.

Coincidentally, the announcement came shortly after Upper Deck reached a settlement with Konami over the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game. Until December 2008, Upper Deck had been the distributor of that game outside of Asia. But Upper Deck got caught printing hundreds of thousands of counterfeit cards.

Konami pulled no punches in its press release announcing the settlement,

“This entire situation came as a huge shock to us. As a company that has based their entire business model on producing authentic entertainment and sports licensed products, Upper Deck went against their very core beliefs by counterfeiting Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG Cards,” commented KDE’s Vice President of Card Business Yumi Hoashi.  “It was very disheartening to learn that a trusted business partner would take these actions to dupe us and the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG community.”

The litigation began in October 2008, when KDE discovered that counterfeit cards from the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG were being sold in Toys “R” Us stores by a sub-distributor for Upper Deck.  KDE filed suit, and the sub-distributor told KDE that the counterfeit cards were supplied by Upper Deck.

“As a leading company in this card industry, Upper Deck should have known more than well that counterfeit activities would irreparably harm the trust of Duelists and the integrity of the Yu-Gi-Oh! brand,” said KDE’s Hoashi. Upper Deck initially denied those charges and issued press releases announcing that any suggestion that Upper Deck would be involved in counterfeiting activity is “absurd.”

Failing to own up to its actions, Upper Deck sent out a press release on January 29, 2010 stating its satisfaction with the settlement and how the judge ruled against KDE in several areas.  The ruling that United States District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank made on December 23, 2009 was simple. She ruled that Upper Deck violated trademark, copyright and unfair competition laws by counterfeiting Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG cards.

Blizzard didn’t cite the Konami dispute as its reason for dropping Upper Deck, but certainly any company interested in maintaining its brand would want to think twice (or three or four times) before doing business with Upper Deck after its behavior with the Yu-Gi-Oh! game.

The loss of the license also extends to the World of Warcraft collectible miniatures game.

Man In The Middle Attacks Target World of Warcraft Accounts

As I mentioned previously, my World of Warcraft account got hacked back in February 2010. One of the things I did after wiping my computer and recovering my account was to add a Battle.net authenticator to my account to add Two Factor authentication. But, of course, even two factor authentication won’t stop a man in the middle attack, and apparently just such an exploit appeared in the wild targeted at World of Warcraft accounts.

To explain in the simplest way possible, instead of data being broadcast directly to Blizzard when trying to log in to your account, that data is being broadcast to a third party via this malware. This includes your authenticator code. Rather than you logging into your account, the hacker on the other end does so. They log into your account, clear out your characters, and move around virtual funds to fulfill orders from players buying gold. This method of circumvention has been theorized since the release of the key fobs, but it has only now started to actually happen.

Man in the middle attacks aren’t anything new, but what I do find fascinating is that World of Warcraft has become so popular that there are attacks that target just it. There are apparently, for example, viruses that lurk in your system and are extremely difficult to detect except when the World of Warcraft client is launched.

In my case, someone who managed to compromise my computer could have accessed any number of accounts that could have cost me a lot more than just the small amount of gold I lost from my WoW account. That a major focus of some folks is virtual heists from a game is yet more proof that we’re all living in a science fiction novel.

Edward Castronova on the Rise of RMTs in MMOs

Edward Castronova has a peculiar post on what he sees as the end of resistance to real-money trades in MMOs.

Castronova sites a study finding that people who want to role-play within MMOs are a decidedly small minority, and then concludes from this that RMTs are inevitable since, apparently, the only argument against RMTs was that they break the immersion that role-players want from a game.

As Fairfield notes, it is becoming weird now to insist on an RMT-free gaming experience. I freely trade money for time all day, every day. The community here in Bloomington finds this utterly normal and so does the most of the community in Azeroth. As devs will argue, they don’t make all this stuff for free; they have to get paid somehow, and given the general disinterest of their players in pure refuge, there is quite a lot of give along the immersion / cash spectrum. How can I oppose RMT?

But these events are worth noting from a social theory perspective: Even such strongly framed alternative environments have had little effect on the way people act. The fact that people do NOT role-play, that they do NOT treat dragons as monsters, the fact that they do NOT treat evil as Evil and good as Good, nor kings as Kings nor quests as Quests, the fact that if they change at all it is only to revert to strategies of mooning the whole world just for the adolescent joy of it (which, I respectfully and lovingly submit, turned out to be a special devotion of my gameplaying colleagues in academia), seems to reject social construction theories. Drop a society of 20th century people into World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, and you get a masked ball, only: A thoroughly unremarkable 20th-century society playing around with high-fantasy costumes. You cannot remake a people by changing the world in which they live.

What I don’t get about this is why Castronova and others would prefer to establish multiple identities (at a minimum, a real world identity and a virtual identity) but then restrict that virtual identity to just a single mode of interaction. Since MMOs involve dealing with multiple identities at the outset, it seems inevitable that rather than be constricted by some artificial restriction on identity (which is already an omnipresent feature of the “real world” for many of us), players would want to take both varying approaches over time to their virtual identity.

I see no conflict at all between logging on to World of Warcraft and roleplaying one moment, making a crude joke in the Trade Channel the next, and discussing some real world event that my guildies and I happen to have in common. In fact it seems kind of strange that Castronova and others would see as desirable a strict adherence to just the first identity given that MMOs tend to give players tools to easily manage multiple in-game identities.

So I don’t see how RMT transactions in-game detract from the immersiveness, anymore than does the fact that each month a $14.99 charge appears on my credit card, or that I have to boot up into Windows first before launching a game.