23 February 2010

Call me Mr Darksun

I have a new weapon in the battle with my company to me skive productively while at work: Google Buzz.

Most forms of social networking are now blocked at work, including my own blog. Google Reader and Google Mail have, up till now, been my last links to WoW content during office hours. I've been able to read other blogs (although posts with breaks are deeply irritating) and post new content on my own, but commenting has been impossible. Until now.

With Gmail now providing access to Buzz profiles, I can follow and comment on Blogspot blogs again. There's also some kind of tweeting functionality.

I had to make up a surname before I could push my profile live, so I am now known as Merlot Darksun. It's a bit obvious, I know, but I was utterly without inspiration.

Anyway, there's a chance I'll make a bit more use of Buzz than I did Twitter, as long as it remains open at work. So if you're a Google user please feel free to pop on by and follow me.

And if you happen to run a Blogspot blog of your own, make sure you've got a profile set up and drop me a line so I can follow you too.

Edit: here's a link to my Google Buzz profile, which is a bit easier than having to search for me (although this page might be blocked by social media filters). I've listed Silvermoon as my home and love the fact that Google has tried to find it on a map :)

22 February 2010

Cross one off the list

I said I was going to look into the mind blast question but thankfully A Darkened Soul has already done it.

This is the question of whether you should drop mind blast from your rotation with the 4-piece tier 10 bonus (that reduces the channel time of mind flay).

It's a nice roundup of the issues (as I understand them). No surprises for guessing that it's more complicated than it sounds, but Chuckenorris does a great job of explaining the basics.

He also includes some great advice on analysing and maximising your spellcasting which is well worth a read, with or without T10.

18 February 2010

The problem with loot council

I used to think the loot council method of awarding raid drops was super. That was when I was an officer and was more concerned about the success of my guild than reward and recognition for individuals. Now I am a probationary raider in another loot council guild and see the system from the other side. And I have to say, it's not as super as it used to be. I can see the flaws and cracks in the system — but more importantly, I can also see that what I thought as an officer was good for my guild may well have contributed to its collapse.

A loot council, as I mean it, is simply a group of raiders who decide between them who gets the drops. In my experience, it usually consists of whichever officers of the guild are in the raid at the time, although it doesn't have to be. Each council will have its own ideas and guidelines for making these decisions, but the primary reason for using a council over other distribution systems is to ensure that the loot is put to best use for the good of the guild. And this is where loot councils start to break down.

The problem is that the needs of the guild are constantly in flux, making it very difficult to write up a clear and consistent set of rules — one day a guild may want to reward a player for their commitment, another they may want to better equip a tank or healer for an upcoming challenge, sometimes they may need to use loot to keep key players loyal. Every drop, every day, is different; a loot council will often have to contradict past decisions to achieve present aims. And this is compounded by the fact that different players may be making the decisions from day-to-day, possibly creating even greater inconsistency in the process.

For the player base, this can be confusing and frustrating. It is demotivating to miss out on upgrades week after week when there is no apparent pattern to the awards. It's even harder when loot council decisions are made in private and not explained afterwards (as they invariably are). This lack of transparency is easily avoided with some clear guidelines on a forum or in the guild information, but these are often necessarily vague to allow for every eventuality.

Loot council principles also lead easily to bad decisions. Loot councils may take current items into account when assessing an upgrade — something which you can't control easily with other systems — but that doesn't always mean the right person gets the item. I have seen items with spirit go to shamen and paladins over cloth and leather users, items with agility go to death knights over hunters and rogues, and items with mp5 go to dps over healers. While the individual benefited from an upgrade, people who could have benefited more lost out, and as long as a player is sporting a sub-optimal piece of itemisation, they will be on the lookout to replace it as soon as the next opportunity arises. In the long-run, this is not the best use of gear for any guild.

To be fair, not all loot councils allow players to roll on sub-optimal gear, or would necessarily award it over more suitable players. But the system encourages council members to make these mistakes by its very aims — almost anything can be justified for the good of the guild. Such a selfless act is easy to defend and player may feel churlish to challenge. In loot arguments, "good of the guild" is the trump card and needs no further explanation.

In the end, a loot council is a self-consciously biased court that casts judgement on players without the right to reply: X raids more than Y, N is a better player than M and so on. These judgements are rarely scientific but based on personal opinion and knowledge — and are therefore open to both conscious and unconscious influence. How do you know X raids more than Y? Or that N is better than M? You just think it, or you have the evidence to back it up? How long have these comparisons held true, and what makes you think they will remain so?

Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many players on loot councils make good decisions on loot every day, and it contributes effectively to the progress of many guilds through challenging new content. But I'm not talking about players, I'm talking about the system, and this one, I have come to realise, is fraught with pitfalls to catch even the best guilds out.

A sure sign that you have fallen for them is a rising turnover or falling signup. Chances are, the people leaving or not showing up are the same ones not getting loot. Here, the loot council can easily lull you into a false sense of security. You naturally value the players receiving the loot over the ones who aren't (that's why they got the loot), so you may well think the missing faces are expendable. Until, that is, you realise you can't field a 25-man raid without them. And before you know it, your two ten-man teams are one, and even that becomes a struggle.

To be fair, many guilds have made loot council work for them. I'm not saying it's unworkable, just flawed. To avoid the pitfalls as best as possible, a guild must be absolutely transparent about the process it uses to award drops and it must be consistent and fair in applying it. I would also recommend keeping detailed and visible records of drops and decisions, so that both the council and regular raiders can monitor the system's implementation and keep a check on bias and misuse.

Of course, some of the problems here are common to other distibution methods too. There's no value judgement intended on DKP or rolling here, just some food-for-thought on one particular system.

17 February 2010

Writer's block

Even as my personal progress through Icecrown moves slowly, I sense a general winding down of the expansion already. We know there will be probably only one more content patch before the real work on Cataclysm begins, and the shadow of the summer exodus looms. I already feel the tension mounting for many guilds on my realm between ambition and apathy. And as much as I hate to admit it, I'm presently erring on the side of apathy. I need a kick up the ass.

So apologies for the dearth of content lately (the doughnut post was a stretch, I know). I do have some ideas (see below) and just need to find the time and motivation to put these plans into action. You can help speed up the process by indicating if there's anything in this list that you particularly crave (or don't, for that matter):
  • Why it's time to remove regional restrictions on forums (rant)
  • Part 2 of the levelling guide (long overdue)
  • Updated raiding spec (but honestly, not sure if this is needed)
  • Whether to drop mind blast with the tier 10 4-piece bonus (don't know, should look into it)
  • Cataclysm wish list (too early?)
  • More addon and UI investigations
  • And lots of admin - updated links, blogroll, new header, and if I can find one I like, maybe even a new template

4 February 2010

The doughnut debate

It's a cake, right?

These people who say it's a pastry are clearly crazy people.

Bread supporters? Two slices short of a picnic.

Here at Misery blog, we call em like we see em.

Doughnuts are cakes, dammit.

3 February 2010

Great minds think alike

Who was it said there are no original thoughts left? Whoever it was, he probably wasn't the first.

Apparently my last post, which I've been chewing over for weeks, skirts rather close to a post on World of Warcraft Philosophized from last week. I wouldn't even have noticed if wow.com hadn't picked it up.

So clearly I'm not the only one with reservations about the emblem system.

I suppose my next post's already been written too. I have an idea for an instance, where you're trying to escape from the Lich King but he's walking really slowly...

2 February 2010

On heroic difficulty

We are used to a linear end-game progression route that starts with heroics and steps through each raiding tier in turn. This is essentially what happened at the start of the expansion, although Naxx proved to be such a low starting point that many people skipped heroics and dove straight in to raiding.

Subsequent patches raised the level of badges dropped by heroic bosses and consequently the level of gear available through heroic grinding. In essence, heroics become a shortcut for bypassing the conventional route of progression and spring-boarding straight to the current tier of raid content.

There's a lot to commend about this design philosophy, which gives unlucky rollers an alternative to boss drops for gearing and ensures a manageable route into raiding at any time during the expansion — good for alts and good for late bloomers. But it also, unavoidably, devalues the heroic experience by encouraging higher and higher geared players to faceroll their way through content that mostly sits, in difficulty, somewhere below Naxxramas.

So here then is a basic flaw in the philosophy — the place of heroics in the progression path keeps getting higher, while the relative difficulty of them keeps getting lower. And what shocks even an unapologetic casual player like me is that they keep making them easier.

This doesn't make much sense to me. The longer an instance is open, the bigger the pool of people who are over-geared for it gets — and current end-game design ensures there will always be a plentiful supply of over-geared players willing to run the easy instances. If Blizzard is intent on replicating the current badge system in Cataclysm, I hope they recognise that, far from working hard to ensure they are easier over time, their biggest challenge will be in keeping the instances interesting and enjoyable to all players at all levels of raid content.

New five-man instances definitely help break up the monotony of grinding content you massively over-gear. The heroic versions of the ToC and Icecrown five-mans are very well-designed instances in their own right, and at their time of introduction gave many players access to improved rewards. But there were no new five-mans with tier 8 and only one with tier 9, so in Wrath there just haven't been enough new instances to balance out the originals.

Achievements are another way that heroics have retained some attraction beyond the basic challenge of the encounter and the gear they drop, and some of the most interesting fights were the ones that — for a time at least — challenged you above and beyond the standard encounter.

So I think Blizzard would do well to learn from its successes in Wrath and stop over-analyzing the accessibility of instances. More five-mans at each level of raid content would add a stronger feeling of progress and achievement in heroic grinding while a greater emphasis on soft-trigger hard modes would serve to extend the freshness of instances at each level.

Hard isn't always bad, difficult doesn't have to mean annoying — even to 'casual' players like me.