Performance Anxiety

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Cash Shop Fodder

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With the impending launch of the Wildstar free to play model, I thought I would talk this morning about one of my problems with cash shops in general.  One of the most popular items in any MMO cash shop is the “experience potion” for lack of a better generic term.  These are items that grant a limited duration buff and increase the aquisition of something.  These sometimes apply to experience but also pvp systems and token currencies.  They seem to be fairly ubiquitous when it comes to MMOs and they often times hand them out like candy in your introductory packs.  My theory is that they want to get players hooked on these early so they keep coming back to the cash shop anytime they run out.  Now if you had boomboxes in Wildstar you already have a few of these more than likely.  My problem is…  I never spend them.  I just logged into my Rift account to take a quick census and I am currently sitting on somewhere between 150 and 200 of these in various forms.  They are generally locked from you selling them on the auction house…  and since I am not using them they just take up inventory space.

The problem I have with them is that I feel like there is a value associated with them.  They cost money, and I want to make sure I get my most out of them.  So when a game gives me one.. I hold onto it forever never quite finding the right time to spend it.  If the potion is an hour long, it feels like I need to find the perfect time to use it when I will have an hour of uninterrupted time at the keyboard.  Even more so it feels like I have to figure out the optimal way to spend my bonus experience time.  I do a lot of running around aimlessly in video games, and when I have used an experience potion it feels like I am “on the clock”.  I have to get the most out of my time and need to do whatever I am doing with minimal downtime.  As a result I just end up crushed with indecision and so they sit in my inventory unspent collecting dust.  I end up resenting them being there, because they are taking up space that I could be using for other things.  I didn’t want them in the first place, and the game keeps handing them to me like they are important and special… and something that SHOULD be desired.

Performance Anxiety

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This just highlights a bigger problem I have in games, that I will  call performance anxiety for lack of a better term.  It is like there are times when I have to be super focused on the game and take it more seriously than I really want to.  When I sign up to raid I accept the fact that once the raid starts it is “go time”.  The rest of my game time however I want to be able to stop and smell the roses.  The problem is when I group with another living person… I feel like I am also “on the clock” and responsible for making the most of that time grouped together.  So instead other than dungeons and raids I actively avoid grouping with anyone.  That way I am only responsible for my own enjoyment and won’t feel guilty when I need to step away from the screen because my wife needs me, or the animals have knocked something over and I have to go investigate what they just broke.  The worst is when I am in an MMO and there are quest objectives to be done.  I feel like I not only have to be aware of my own needs… but the needs of everyone in my party and assure that they also accomplish whatever they need to get done before moving on myself.

I realize all of this is irrational, but this is the sort of mental struggle I go through each time I accept someone else’s group invite.  Most of the time I can steel myself against the anxiety and just push forward, but there are other times…  when I just cannot risk taking responsibility for others.  I talked some yesterday about my current desire to “hide out” and as such I thought I would talk a bit this morning about the other side of the coin.  Grouping with other people is often times a draining experience for me.  I shift into responsible adult mode, and step up to the plate like I know what I am doing.  I am willing to take on this mantle for my friends and my guild…  but I am rarely willing to take on this mantle for strangers. I realize most other people don’t quite have the hang up I do with grouping with strangers.  So when someone asks me to tank something, or dps something…  I always feel strange asking if it is a guild only group.  The worst of these experiences so far has been when it comes to partially queuing for raid content.  The anxiety that comes with tanking for strangers in a dungeon… is nothing compared to the anxiety of tanking for a raid group full of strangers.  For me at least it ranks among the least comfortable experiences, and I would rather simply do nothing… than queue with a bunch of people I don’t know.

Opening The Curtain

I get the impression sometimes that folks seem to think I have my act together.  The truth is I am just as strange and vulnerable as the next person.  I put on a really good front sometimes, and I do a fairly good job of pushing down my own insecurities.  You might ask yourself… why in the world would I be opening up like this?  Well the truth is that I know there are lots of people out there with their own quirks, that think they are somehow lesser for them.  My theory is that by showing the weak points in my own armor, that others might be more comfortable with themselves as a result.  Once this down cycle finishes I will be back to my normal self again, and the armor will go back up.  In the mean time I am talking about the things I am struggling with, in hopes that it might help someone out there.  We all have our own hang-ups and we learn to deal with them however we can.  My coping mechanism tends to be disappearing for a bit while my shields recharge.  Tonight I will be submitting myself to a raid group where I assume that we are ultimately going to have to PUG people…  even though every fiber of my being tells me to run screaming into the night.  There is a certain power in knowing your own limitations and forcing yourself to face them.  I’ve learned over the years that everyone is broken inside…  just most are better at hiding it than others.

10 Years :: 10 Questions

Mission for Godmother

This mornings post is going to be a little bit different than my normal fare.  One of the Blaugust bloggers the acclaimed Godmother of Faff posted a challenge of her own.  On her blog Alternative Chat she is wanting anyone who has played World of Warcraft at any point during the ten years it has been in progress to take a quick survery.  Being a blogger… this screamed a blog post to me.  I will of course post my responses into her handy google form after I have finished this process, but I wanted to share my responses with the world as well.  There is hardly any gamer that has not been touched in some way by Blizzard and the World of Warcraft… so I highly suggest you all participate in the event as well.

10 Years :: 10 Questions

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1. Why did you start playing Warcraft?

I was indoctrinated into the world of MMO gaming during Everquest, and from that point onwards I was always on the look out for the next awesome game.  I spent three years in EQ, another three in DAoC, a year in Horizons and was playing City of Heroes when I first got my taste of beta.  I admit when I first heard about World of Warcraft, I wondered how in the hell they would have enough storyline to make a game out of that.  I remembered Blizzard mostly as a company that made awesome games, but with only enough storyline to keep them from absolutely falling apart.  I just couldn’t imagine something as detailed as say an Everquest coming out of that company.  Then I got my first taste of the game and I was hooked.

World of Warcraft was so evolutionarily better than anything out at the time.  It was a pulling together of all of the best characteristics of all of the games I had played to date and melding it together with this awesome cohesive narrative.  I had some bad experiences with the Everquest guild I was in, and the leader being extremely domineering, so I knew going into a new game that everyone was excited about like WoW… I didn’t want that to happen again.  I figured the only way I could stop it from happening was to accept the mantle of leadership myself.  Roughly a year before the game actually released we started a forum, pulling together the small pools of players that we had played with in all of the games along the way, and through it House Stalwart was born.  At launch we had around fifty players, and it continues to be a large multi-gaming guild to this day.

2. What was the first ever character you rolled?

My first character was my paladin Exeter, who began his life as a dwarf.  I had fallen in love with the Paladin in beta, and especially the synergy between my Paladin and the Priest my friend had been playing.  The problem is by the time release came around they gutted the extremely enjoyable strike system and replaced it with the extremely cludgy seal system.  I gave it the good college try and so long as I was leveling with my friends I did just fine.  The problem is my ability to solo was dismal, and I felt like I was getting pulled into another “forced grouping” situation like Everquest.  Then tragedy struck…  there was a death in the family and I was absent from the game for a good time.  When I came back all of my friends were a good 10 to 20 levels higher than me, and I knew there was no hope of catching up on the paladin.

I ended up rolling a new character a Dwarven Hunter Lodin, and with him I was able to solo until my heart was content and catch up to my friends.  He was the main I never intended to have, and while fun ranged dps was never really my cup of tea.  The problem is that some of my good friends had formed a raid group on our server, and they needed another hunter.  From the moment I started raiding as a hunter, I felt obligated to STAY a hunter since they were going to the efforts of gearing me up.  I played all of Vanilla as a survival hunter rocking the dragonbreath hand cannon for my main weapon.  Belghast was not actually born until I decided that I wanted to be the best tank I could be… and rolled a warrior to level with my friends priest.  But that is a story for another day.

3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?

In truth when House Stalwart first launched we made a failed attempt to play both factions.  We had House Stalwart of Argent Dawn on the Alliance side, and we had the Burning Claw of Silverhand on the Horde side.  We split between the two roleplaying servers that existed at launch.  For the first few months everything was fine.  We pretty regularly alternated between the two sides, but the problem is as we got deeper into our characters we self sorted.  A small faction of our guild preferred to play horde and the vast majority preferred the alliance.  For me I have always been partial to dwarves, so it was an easy pick for which side to go on.

Because of this however I don’t really feel like I have massive faction loyalty, and ultimately would rather the factions simply not exist.  Having a wall between the players feels like a poor design choice, and one that keeps getting repeated out in other games.  I’ve always preferred how Everquest series handles faction, in that it is a personal choice and determines what areas you can go into… but not who you can associate with.  As far as my not really playing horde regularly since… I guess I have gotten used to the easy life of the alliance.  PVP only happens if you go and look for it, and since I am by nature a massive carebear I like this aspect of my faction.  Additionally I have never really enjoyed playing “Monstrous Humanoids” to borrow the Dungeons and Dragons term.  I would rather be a valiant knight in shining armor than a noble savage.

4. What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?

Sindragosa_Mockup I have a whole string of memorable moments, but probably the one that will always stand out for me is the first time we killed Sindragosa in Icecrown CItadel.  This was a fight that we absolutely struggled with for weeks.  The raid I was helping to lead at the time, Duranub Raiding Company was aptly named.  We were in fact a durable pack of nubs… which is a phrase that ties back to an even earlier raid group the Late Night Raiders.  We were one of those groups that struggled to get down the basics of an encounter… then all the sudden the moment you beat it you never wipe on it again.  Same was the case with Sindragosa, we struggled to deal with people getting frozen and people breaking them out.  On the time we actually downed her one of our best hunters Thalen, landed the killing blow mere seconds before getting put into an iceblock himself.  So the boss was down and there were 25 little icicles spread throughout the room.  The above image is my “artists recreation” of the fight.

All of the most memorable moments I have from the game came either through raiding or through dungeon runs, and I have come to the realization that they have little to do with the actual game itself.  Sure the game provided me a backdrop to do interesting things with other people, but it was the interaction with said people that made it interesting.  From the raid singing the “Crotch Pocket” jingle anytime Furnace Master Ignis shoved someone into his belt mounted crucible, or the struggles with “OmNomNomITron” and our shouting of “KIds!” anytime the plague one would spawn adds.  It was the people that made everything interesting and all of the memorable moments I have are something you can never actually get back.  They were awesome but they were fleeting and you can make new memories, but you can never fully relive the old ones.

5. What is your favourite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?

My favorite aspect of World of Warcraft or any MMO for that matter are the dungeons.  I love delving into ancient ruins with friends in the search for fabled treasures.  For starters I have a massive bloodlust when it comes to gaming, and I will go out of my way to kill mobs.  In a given night there are lots of moments where my friends will ask “Where is Bel?” and sure enough I will be a ways off killing something that we didn’t actually need to kill.  So I love running dungeons with friends and during the era of WoW before the dungeon finder I used to build groups regularly from random strangers on the server.  This was the primary way I met new people to join our raid and often times my guild.

The problem is with the dungeon finder the dungeons changed into something that I didn’t like very much at all.  It all became about getting through them as quickly as possible and avoiding as much content as you could to rush to the end boss and “Finish”.  This mentality just seemed like a travesty to me, because for me the dungeon itself was the reward and the time spent with new and interesting people in it.  Unfortunately this dungeon mentality has infected so many other game communities that if you log in and run a dungeon in say Rift, they have the same expectations.  While there are a few games like FFXIV that seem to have been forgotten by time and have really charming dungeon running cultures, my biggest fear is that WoW opened a Pandora’s box and ruined dungeon running in the process.

6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?

There are a few areas of the game that I never skip, for example if I have the opportunity I will always level through Duskwood.  Yes it is a frustratingly laid out zone, but I love the vibe of it.  If there is a zone in a game that has werewolves, vampires or zombies… chances are I will deviate my leveling path to make sure I go through there.  The problem with Duskwood however is Elwynn Forest and Westfall have so many issues.  On a role-playing server, Goldshire is still ERP central…  so I have long since stopped leveling any character in Elwynn.  Westfall got considerably better in Cataclysm but is still a fairly boring slog in a pretty ugly zone.  So generally speaking if I am working on a new character I will make a beeline to Duskwood around 20… complete the zone and then run the hell away and get back out of the human areas.

As far as areas I return to, I admit that I return to past raids often.  Even though I spent three hours of every sunday for years in first Molen Core and then later Kharazan…  I still enjoy soloing both zones.  I am also extremely partial to the Black Temple, as I love the look and feel of the encounters.  Basically if it is a raid and I can potentially solo it, I will likely do it on a semi regular basis.  In a way I know I am wallowing in the nostalgia of the good times I had in that place, so once again it is less about the place itself and more about the experiences I had there.  Each time I take down Nefarian for example I remember one of our paladins screaming “Use the Fucking Force” over teamspeak as all the healy paladins cast holy wrath.  I have so much nostalgia tied to so many zones at this point, that revisiting any of them is enjoyable.

7. How long have you /played and has that been continuous?

I am am really hoping you mean how long we have played the game in time, not actual /played hours.  Firstly it will take forever for me to compile a list of just how many hours I have played this game spread out among my army of alts.  Secondly I really don’t want to confront just how big that number will be.  Suffice to say I have 7 level 90 characters, 2 85+, 4 80+, 2 70+ and enough 10-30 characters scattered on so many different servers that I have long since hit my 50 character limit and have to delete something to roll anything new.  Belgrave became my “main” while we were starting Crusaders Coliseum 25 and I just looked and his /played is 86 days so I cannot fathom just how many physical years I have spent when you add everything up.

As far as how long have I played…  I was in beta before the launch of World of Warcraft and House Stalwart was a day one guild.  I played pretty solidly until Cataclysm when I feel out of love with the game in a big way and wandered off into Rift and then a string of other games.  It seems like I renew interest in the game a few times a year now.  I came back at the tail end of Cataclysm and stayed for the first few months of Pandaria, long enough to raid a little bit.  Then most recently I came back for about six months and raided a bit of Throne of Thunder/Siege of Orgrimmar.  At which point I took back the crown of my guild and have at the very least kept my account active from that point onwards.  I love the guild and the people in it, and I am always willing to log in and check in on things even though I am maybe only playing once or twice a month.  It is easy to quit the game, but it is extremely hard to quit the people playing it.

8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?

I freely admit that most of the time I do not.  There are two distinct kinds of questing for me… busy work and epic quest chains.  The busy work like Kill X things, deliver this to that, retrieve this doodad…  I really don’t pay attention to at all.  In general I try to skim every quest I get to see if it is going to be an interesting one or not.  If something catches my eye in this skimming process I go ahead and read the entire thing.  I have gotten really spoiled by modern games with voice acted content.  I will stop and listen to every last acted word when a quest is delivered like that, however if you are giving me a wall of text I skim it for the relevant bits and then move on.  The primary time I end up reading every last line is when you get one of those quests that doesn’t work the way you think it should.

If you can believe it I am actually better about reading quest text today than I used to be.  During the early days of WoW I would far rather grind mobs than do quests at all.  This was the side effect from coming through a long line of games where the quests didn’t really matter.  Everquest was a massive misnaming of that game, because in reality you never encountered quest unless you dug for them by “hailhumping” every mob in a zone until one of them responded with a keyword that signaled there was a quest.  Instead I preferred to just go out and slaughter entire zones rather than hunt for the one clue that started a quest that was more than likely just a “bring me X things” that you got from killing mobs anyways.  It also depends on the game, in a game like The Secret World I read every last bit because I know not doing so will come around to bite me in the end.

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?

I am sitting here trying to think of something, but really nothing major comes to mind.  I know there have been times where I wished things had ended better with various people regarding the games.  When you lead a guild and lead a raid there is always drama surrounding it.  There are various events brought on by the game, and raiding that I wished would have maybe ended on better terms.  However I don’t really dwell on them enough to consider them regrets.  For the most part everything I have experienced through games, has lead me to be the gamer  and blogger I am today.  I tend to focus on the journey and not the goals.  Sure there are little baubles and trinkets along the way that I kinda wish I had gotten, but for the most part I can always go back and obtain them later.

The only thing I really wish I had done was complete my shadowmourne.  I am up to the part where I need to collect the various bits from the different encounters in Icecrown, but I have never actually gone back and made an effort to do it after the close of Wrath.  Ultimately it just didn’t seem important enough to hassle a bunch of people into doing.  It is not the sort of thing I really dwell upon but it would have been nice to complete that legendary eventually.  I would still love to see a set of bindings drop for Thunderfury, but that is less about me or more about me wanting to make sure SOMEONE from LNR gets some.  We raided Molten Core every single week for two years and never saw so much as a single binding drop.

10. What effects has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?

Other than it making my wife occasionally grump and want to pull the plug from the back of my PC, I have to say overall the experience has been a positive one.  There are so many friends that I would not have today were it not for this game.  My blog for example started entirely out of a love of World of Warcraft and over time morphed into a love of all gaming.  My twitter community, my blogger friends, the massive group of people that makes up House Stalwart and even the Blaugust event that is going on right now and is so amazingly successful…  none of this would have happened were it not for World of Warcraft and the connections I made while playing it.  As a result, even if I fall out of love with the game, I have to respect the effect it has had on my life and the great lives I have met in the process.

Working as a Group

Different Expectations

WildStar64 2014-06-20 22-10-26-608 Lately there has been some discontent in the guild, and it has made me painfully aware that different people are looking for vastly different things.  There is no right or wrong answer here, but simply a case of wildly different expectations of what they have come to expect out of a guild and MMO relationship.  I am not speaking for the guild or anyone in it in making this post, but I thought it might be useful for me to outline how I personally view a guild.  Like I said just because I see something this way doesn’t mean there are not a wide variety of other opinions on what is proper and good in guild etiquette.  However I’ve learned the fastest way to resolve any rough spots is to simply outline what you are expecting out of an arrangement.

Each of us comes to MMO gaming and guilds from a different set of past experiences.  While some of these overlap many times they do not, and that is where the misunderstandings stem from.  Massively Multiplayer games are not this monolithic experience, regardless of how we might think of them as such.  For me I come from a raider background, and even though I am mostly “casual” these days it still colors everything about my gaming experience.  Some players approach a guild from a PVP standpoint and then get frustrated when not everyone embraces the aspect of the game they enjoy the most.  Similarly role-players could feel left out in the cold when the guild as whole does not share their interest for deep personal character development.  While we might all think we play exactly the same game…  that is almost never the case.

Working as a Group

Belghast.140616.233202 I love doing big epic things with my guildies like raids or dungeons or even some pvp encounters.  The problem is… that while I love grouping up for these few cases…  I don’t ever want to quest with another person.  I did Star Wars the Old Republic as a dedicated Duo… and found the experience to be both rewarding on one hand, but deeply claustrophobic on another.  I’ve always found the group leveling experience, and especially the group questing experience to be extremely chafing.  Someone is always a quest ahead of the group and someone is always one or two quests behind.  There is a constant awkward struggle to try and keep this many armed abomination moving forward efficiently.  As a result my preference will always be to quest alone, and have my personal time.

That is not to say I am not willing to group up at a moments notice… but I want there to be a “purpose”.  If you need help killing this or that objective, or if there is an over world dungeon that you just can’t quite survive by yourself…  those are awesome times to group.  That said I like there to be a fixed duration of the grouping and a fixed goal in mind.  I am a truly horrible group mate, because I will wander off on my own constantly.  I’ve spent so much of my gaming time with other people depending on me for this or that, and when I level it is my time where I get to not give a shit about the needs or wants of others.  When we are in a dungeon and I am tanking however… I am all about the needs of the group and the goal of getting us through the dungeon successfully.

The Reality Check

WildStar64 2014-06-20 06-18-00-159 For most of my gaming experience I figured most players felt like I did, and preferred to quest alone.  However over the last few weeks I’ve come to the realization that there is a specific group of player that wants to literally be grouped up 24/7 and working together towards everything.  I think this is both noble and cool to have a leveling buddy like that… but I want no part of it at all.  What is cool is that there are enough of these folks that they should be able to form their own little “band of brothers” and conquer the world together, but they lack the spark to do just that. I guess in part I didn’t even realize players wanted this since the ability to solo at all for me at least feels like a hard fought battle.  In the early generations of MMO games, grouping was required to do anything at all, and it often meant a multiple hour long commitment.

I cut my teeth playing Everquest, and as a Dwarven Cleric…  trying to solo anything was an act of futility and my nights were often dictated by whoever happened to be tanking for the group.  I felt helpless and completely out of control, being forced to depend on someone else for my fun.  It was a feeling I did not like one bit.  So when I entered more modern games, I would pick whatever archetype could solo well and be relatively self sufficient.  Thankfully these were almost always tanks, since they mostly had the survival ability to take whatever the game threw at them.  So I decided that I actually liked being able to solo on one hand, and being the cornerstone of a group on the other.  The further into management I have gotten in my real life, the more I have craved my “solo” time in MMOs, where I can just do whatever the hell I want to do without having to worry about the needs and wants of the many.

Role of a Guild

WildStar64 2014-06-02 06-30-06-146 So I am sure at this point you are asking yourself…  why do I focus so much on the importance of guild and community.  Well honestly the guild gives a foundation and friendly faces that I see on a daily basis.  It gives me the sense that even though I am off on my own doing whatever I want to do… that I am working together with others towards a common goal of progressing the guild.  It is both friendly chat group and a constant source of inspiration and support when you need it.  Additionally it gives you access to a lot of really great people when it does come time to group up and do something meaningful in an MMO.  The guild shines when it comes time to run an Ship quest, Adventure, Dungeon or PVP match.  The other night we had a grand night of doing pvp and it was extremely fun… even though I traditionally shy away from player versus player gameplay.

I’ve always seen my role as a community organizer to be that of laying the ground work and collecting the awesome people all in one place, so that they too can take fate into their own hands and do cool stuff together if they choose to.  There lies the problem however, is that so many players want to sit back and have a “Cruise Director” plan events for them to attend.  I on the other hand counter that it is the responsibility of each player to take responsibility for their own fun.  If you want to do something, do it and convince people to come along with you.  I’ve posted a few times about what I term the art of Groupcraft, but I will link it here again.  One of the most empowering things you can do for yourself is to learn how to be confident in the assembly of a team that will work.

There are absolutely more successful ways of pulling together a group and making something happen when you want it to.  Essentially in my experience you have to talk to people directly to get them to actually notice that you are trying to do a thing.  This is much easier on voice chat, since you get the immediate feedback, however I did this same thing for years without the advent of voice chat.  The critical knowledge however is what exactly you need to be successful.  If you are a tank, then you need to find a healer and a few dps.  In order to find the healer, you have to know what classes CAN heal and who in the guild falls within those search parameters.  Basically for me a good guild is a friendly group of people that you like chatting with, but also a way to ease the finding of people to do something with.  A hand crafted guild group will always be more enjoyable than a PUG, and usually more successful.

Just My Point of View

WildStar64 2014-06-20 22-30-01-908Please note, like I said before this is just my point of view on the subject and what I am looking for out of a guild and the people in it.  This is not some maxim that I will not cross, because lord knows I am liable to turn around this afternoon and end up grouped with someone for a long period of time and enjoy myself.  These are just my tendencies and I thought it might be useful to open a dialog about what folks are expecting, by outlining what I am actually expecting.  The Alliance of Awesome has been an interesting experiment because it is this big glorious amalgam of a bunch of different communities with their own rich traditions.  House Stalwart had a shared guild culture that had been built up over the course of a decade, and it was pretty much expected that everyone in the guild felt the same way.

Going forward into this new experiment, we can no longer afford to expect that.  Each of us comes from potentially different backgrounds with some shared and some disparate experiences.  We have to come up with a brand new cultural norm as a result.  I don’t feel this is the time for anyone to throw their hands up and walk away in a huff because they did not get whatever it was they were looking for.  Instead it is time for folks to talk clearly about what exactly they are expecting out of this larger relationship.  I think we are on the precipice of having something truly amazing, that we can all benefit from.  We just need to take the time not to nurture it as it grows.  I would not have poured so much effort into it so far, if I didn’t think it could be great for everyone involved.