Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Gameplay May Change During Online Play"

Nub Tales: showing us how we wish this problem played out
You don't expect wisdom to be found in the ESRB rating, and yet if you consider WoW's "T for Teen" tag and the little caveat printed there at the end, you find pure gold: "Gameplay May Change During Online Play."

They are referring to online interactions changing gameplay. But is it really "gameplay?"  How we play the game is affected by online interaction? Yes, it is.

Blizzard developers put so much effort into developing WoW, tweaking the classes, balancing the fights, and refining the talent trees. They can make content and stories til the cows come home. I can love my character and all the things she can do, and I can play my character well. I can get some hawt lootz, down a new boss and get some funky achievements.

But this doesn't change the fact that pretty much daily, I run into players who seem to get off on harassing and abusing other people, and getting to spend time with these people can pretty well spoil an otherwise nice day of WoW gaming. The online interaction with other players defines WoW play experience as much as, if not more, than any mechanics or new content.

Here's a story: (ooh! A story! A story!) It's called "The Last Time I Tried Tanking"

I have a warrior alt named Orlanna. She is way down the food chain in my pantheon of alts, But during Wrath, it finally got to be her turn so she reached level 80 and I started running heroics with her as a tank.

One evening I entered the Violet Hold as a part of a PuG and the other members of the group were all from the same guild on another server. They all wore Kingslayer titles and had Tier 10 gear to prove it. I looked at my green bracers and blue shield and typed out a friendly message:

"Hey, guys. This is a new level 80 and you all outgear her by about a mile. I've tanked here a few times already so I know what I'm doing but please give me a couple of extra seconds to build up aggro on these packs so you guys don't pull."

No answer.

The instance started and from the beginning, I couldn't hold aggro on anything. The enhancement shaman was even using Frost Shock, which you only do in PvP or if you are trying to pull the aggro of a mob. The healer had no trouble healing everything, but rage starved from not being able to get hit, I ran out of rage and couldn't even taunt mobs. After the third wave was downed, I typed again, "Please give me some more time for aggro. You're pulling every time and I just can't compete with your dps numbers if you don't help me a little."

That provoked an answer: "Lol. We don't really need you."

So I thought about that for a second and went over to the front door and literally just sat my character down. In real life, I got up and went to the kitchen to get a drink.

Eventually they started taunting me about being a bad tank, so I just recapped my earlier messages and noted that they hadn't cooperated and so when they said they didn't need me, I just went to do something else. I added that they should leave me alone now because I was watching a "Lost" rerun and it had gotten to the good part.

But that was the last time I tanked anything. This was really just the last straw. There had been a number of other incidents before. But the fact is that... especially during Wrath and the ever present random PuG group... players were about as likely to be chewed out by foul-mouthed douchebags as they were to actually have a good time doing any group activity in the World of Warcraft. I decided at that point that the joys of tanking really didn't outweigh the indignation of being in a PuG with people like that.

I bet Blizzard is in a mega-tizzy about this problem. There is no way GMs can monitor all the interactions where these kinds of problems can come up. And if there were such ways to monitor all of that, we should be kinda scared of that level of Big Brother eavesdropping. The forum community managers like Netharea practically beg players to report bad behavior, swearing up and down that the GMs respond to those, but clearly there is not enough reporting going on (more about that in a moment).

Players do tend to focus on what the game and the game company does for them, (especially when it's the game company that asks), so when we think about what would really make WoW better, our replies tend to be "nerf paladins, buff shamans, mages are fine" rather than what would really make the biggest significant change to our experience: "nerf douchebags, buff nice folks, newbs are fine."

This is perfect: Today at WoW Insider's Breakfast Topic is the question "How would you change Cataclsym" and the writer's first response is
At first, I thought that's easy: Make Baby Spice more available. Baby Spice is great at taking care of inconsiderate people (I'm being polite here) who park their mounts on top of mailboxes or quest givers or whatever. But then I realized that's not really a design bug in the game so much as a certain segment of the players being inconsiderate.
Why not make solutions to "inconsiderate people" a top priority? This really would make the greatest improvement to gameplay. The writer eventually settles on "streamlining archaeology" as the best improvement he can think of, but why not look for more solutions to these player problems? Just because it's not a bug doesn't mean that it shouldn't be fixed.

What about reporting bad behavior? I just don't think enough of it goes on, because if it did, the WoW population would lighten up a great deal and I wouldn't be subjected to a litany of four letter words when I "only" do about 12k dps in a heroic run.

As much as Netharea promises that they take these things seriously, the Blizzard reply to reporters is terribly unsatisfying, and has actually gotten worse. Back in the Burning Crusade, I might report some bad behavior and a responding GM would joke with me about how much fun it was going to be to maybe get to use the ban-hammer. Nowadays, they always send you the same form letter response to a complaint (usually followed by a request to complete a survey so you can rate how well the GM delivered that form letter. Meh.) I understand that they cannot share with me about the fate of an offending player, but they really ought to do something to actively prove that complaints don't just get shuffled off into the twisting nether.

I'm old-fashioned, I actually give the douches a chance to relent before I report them by actually typing something like, "I'm going to report you if you don't calm down." And every time, they say they don't care and usually spew some more at me. And then I report them and we never see each other again.

The fact that these guys universally act like they are calling my bluff really gets me worried. Do so many people really think that nothing is going to happen? I don't report that many people, mind you, but you'd think occasionally when I make a threat to report, the douchebag would just lapse into sullen silence. Why does that never happen?

There is anecdotal evidence however. It's not entirely rare for me to bump into posters at third-party forums complaining about having been banned. There was also a news item not long ago about a player facing perma-ban who offered $200 to any GM who would unlock his account, no questions asked.

Blizzard cannot report case-by-case disciplinary actions. To do so would be a violation of privacy. But, Blizzard could generally report a number of suspensions, warnings and perma-bans. If I saw that 12,563 players received 48-hour suspensions for violations of bad behavior, that would be interesting. (Seeing how many botters or gold buyers got disciplined would also be interesting).

Blizzard has surely not wanted to report on this number, however. If the number were fairly low, I think that would send the message that they aren't disciplining very much. If the number were fairly large, that would reflect poorly on our Game of Choice and you can bet Fox News would start releasing URGENT REPORTS on the dangerous environment of online games featuring that information. I wouldn't want either of these things to happen to WoW.  But it feels like we're reaching a critical juncture about this problem now. In the past few weeks, the LFG groups have been turning nasty again.

I remember reading an article by a former GM (so sorry I can't find a link to it now) who described the amount of WoW douchebaggery rising significantly when players get bored of the content and instead of playing "the game," they decide to mess with people instead. Generally, this was a problem in the months before a new expansion. Yet here we are, early in Cata, and the problem is clearly going out of control again now.  In my mind, this says bad, bad things about The Cataclysm, but that is a big topic for another time.

Going back briefly to Baby Spice, that was a very effective and (mostly) harmless way of coping with a problem. Blizzard would do well to consider other such remedies because I think we've reached the point that the worst thing about World of Warcraft is some of the people who play it.


  1. Amen sister ... lol

    In this one you took the words out of my mind (not a misprint - I have not voiced them yet ...).
    The problem is not the game - even bugs can be dealt with and tolerated. The problem is the people who misbehave, usually because of the anonimity of the internet.
    Some kids can misbehave and suffer no consequences (especially if they use a family member account, like an uncle), some adults have had a hard (or easy) day at work and want to "break something" and find a perfect target with no consequences, etc.
    That's for the MAJOR offenses.
    Then there are the tons of LITTLE things like covering a mailbox or a quest giver with large drakes (especially when they are AFK ...) that by now, like it or not, we learn to deal with even thought they are still frustrating.

    The sad thing is that I also don't see a way of Blizzard dealing with the issue that will not backfire.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Z!

    Somebody asked me in game why I wrote Baby Spice was "mostly" harmless and not just "harmless." I remember some goof guild members throwing Baby Spice on Sartharion back in Obsidian Sanctum, which shrunk the boss and also significantly shrunk his hitbox and made all the melee spew with ire. That's "mostly harmless" right?

  3. "I remember some goof guild members throwing Baby Spice on Sartharion back in Obsidian Sanctum, which shrunk the boss and also significantly shrunk his hitbox and made all the melee spew with ire."
    I'm pretty sure I went off my face when that happened over vent. Forget who it was but I remember them trying to say it made things easier -.-

    I think WoW needs a player based authority to monitor and enforce such discipline for rude behavior, much like EVE Online has with it's ISD (Interstellar Service Department). A group of volunteers, overseen by GMs, to quash all the crap that is undesirable.