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3. Group > Solo. You can forget self-reliance, because you won't get far in World of Warcraft without a big guild. By design, playing alone (even if you are the best player in the world) will get you worse loot than if you always play in 5-man dungeons. If you always play in 5-man dungeons, you'll always get worse loot than if you play in 40-man raids. The player base has been hit over the head for so long with this notion of 40-man raids, that players are taking that as given. I see so many people who have been fooled into thinking this is justified, that it actually scares me. They think that you shouldn't be allowed to get good loot unless you do something with 39 other people, because that's harder. Coordinating 40 people is hard, but so is winning a Street Fighter tournament, which you have to do by yourself. Some personality types want to do things with 39 other people, but my personality type certainly doesn't. I have to wonder why the 40 person raids have good loot at all. To me, doing something yourself is far more valuable, and a much more interesting test than getting 40 people to coordinate fairly mundane tasks.
Unfortunately, the game offers no difficult solo content leading to good loot. (Note to picky readers: there is some, but it's soooo far out of whack with raid rewards that we can safely ignore it, the same way Blizzard does.) The designers must be so extraverted, that they can't fathom the introvert point of view.
4. Group > Solo. I'm not done with this yet. As an introvert, I'm pretty outraged that this game is marginalizing my entire personality type. The developers repeatedly confirm that 40-man raids deserve the most powerful items. Many of the players are brainwashed by this poor assumption, often saying "It's an MMO, of course you have to group with 40 other people do accomplish anything." Ironically, World of Warcraft was originally founded on exactly the opposite idea. The game started off by saying that EverQuest had that philosophy, and that Warcraft will not. So much for that.
Here's an obvious point that is taken for granted by posters on http://terranova.blogs.com/, but completely lost on about half the World of Warcraft forums: playing by yourself in MMO is perfectly valid thing to do. You are part of the player-driven economy. You see a living world around you with people doing their business, laughing together, and arguing. You can group with people when you like, or not if you don't feel like it. It's an experience wholly different than a single-player game, and no serious person could think otherwise. The best way to put it is that it captures the concept of "being alone together" with other people. Going to a movie by yourself so you share the experience with the others in the audience. Going to a study hall where other people are studying, rather than staying in your room alone. There is a very big demand for the ability to "be alone together" in a shared social environment that allows grouping and social interaction, but does not force it by making almost all end-game content in the form of 40-man raids.
Warcraft—maybe accidentally—hit upon this concept, and now seems spit on it and all those who appreciate it. If a Blizzard developer read this, his PR department would say they are not spitting on this play-style, but unfortunately the game design speaks louder than words. "Spit on" is exactly how I feel. But far worse is the idea that millions of children are learning that doing things on your own is bad. Albert Einstein accomplished far more in the field of physics by himself during off-time as a patent clerk than a 40-man raid of so-so physicists ever would. I want little Johnny in Idaho to learn that lesson, but he sure won't find it in World of Warcraft. 40 mundane people with a lot of time would put Albert Einstein to shame any day of the week in this game.
5) Guilds. The tools for creating and maintaining a guild in World of Wacraft seem benevolent enough. After all, they encourage cooperation. Unfortunately, they create a social situation totally alien to me in the real world: a constant "us vs them" mentality. In the real world, I am part of many different communities, and I have varying levels of influence and seniority in each. I'm fairly prominent with Street Fighter players, and have a lot of influence in how national tournaments are run. I'm known by about 0.01% of Magic: the Gathering players, but I do put my toe into their pond a fair amount. Meanwhile, in Warcraft, I live in a world of "guild-only events." You're either with a guild, or you're nobody to them. I can't imagine being in only one IRC (chat) channel at a time, or choosing only one gaming community, yet I can only join one guild at a time. It's a very weird social environment with the same dangers as nationalism and flag-waving.
6) The Terms of Service. The very idea of using the terms of service as the de facto way to enforce a certain player-behavior goes against everything I've learned. A game should be a system of rules that allow the player to explore. If the player finds loopholes, then the game developer should fix them. It's never, ever the player's fault: it's the game developer's fault. People who currently make deals with enemy faction (Horde or Alliance ) to trade wins in battleground games are not really at fault. They are playing in a system that forces anyone who wants to be rank 14 to do exactly that. A line in the Terms of Service saying that you shouldn't behave this way changes nothing, and teaches nothing.
Or consider the humorous example of Lord Kazzak. He is an "outdoor raid boss." That means he's a big monster that wanders round the world, and you need 40 people to kill him. You don't get to go into your own instanced dungeon to fight your own personal copy of this guy; there is one wandering around the server and you all compete to kill him so you can get his good loot. When Lord Kazzak was added to the game, Blizzard also added a list of Terms of Service rules that would make your head spin. None of these rules were hard-coded; they were all "squishy" rules added on top of the actual game rules. And now for your reading enjoyment, the Lord Kazzak Official Rules of Engagement (I did not make these up; they are real!):
This policy is an extension of the current in-game harassment policies.
When a group of players has engaged Lord Kazzak, any other players interfering in the encounter may be given a warning, regardless of faction, as in the examples below:
A group of Alliance characters has legitimately engaged Lord Kazzak and a Horde character engages Lord Kazzak as well (Horde player receives a warning).
A group of Horde characters has legitimately engaged Lord Kazzak and a Horde character engages Lord Kazzak as well (the second Horde player receives a warning).
When a group of players has engaged Lord Kazzak, any same-faction players interfering in the encounter may be given a warning as in the examples below.
All other possibilities to join the battle are allowed.
A group of Alliance characters has legitimately engaged Lord Kazzak and Alliance character engages Lord Kazzak as well to disrupt this raid without any PvP solution for the Alliance group (the second Alliance player receives warning).
Here's some more things that will get you banned:
“Playing too much," using a rogue/warlock combo to lure bosses too far from their spawn points, fighting on rooftops, entering unfinished areas (why are they accessible at all?), buying gold or items on eBay (eventually the courts will probably overrule them on this), collaborating with the other faction in battlegrounds, "using terrain exploits to your advantage," player-created casinos (that merely use the in-game "/random" command), player-created bingo games, profanity (even though there is an in-game language filter, to say nothing of free speech), posting on forums about whether a guild is full of Blizzard employees, posting on the forums about why you were banned for posting about something seemingly constructive, advertising a gay and lesbian friendly guild that's a safe haven from the endless use of the words “gay” and “fag” in the general chat channels, having a name such as "JustKidding," "CmdrTaco," "TheAthiest," or "roflcopter"... and a whole lot more things, too.
These examples go on and on, but the basic idea here is that Blizzard treats the players like little children who need a babysitter. There are mountains of rules in the terms of service that tell you that you shouldn't do things that you totally can do in the game if you want. Why they don't just alter their design and code so you can't do these things is beyond me. But this mentality is drilled into the players to the point that they start believing that it's ok. They start believing that it's not ok to experiment, to try out anything the game allows in a non-threatening environment. Well—that's a dangerous thing. That's the point at which the game stops being "fun" by Raph Koster's definition, and it's also the point at which the game can no longer teach. The power of games is that they empower a player to try all the possibilities that he can think of that the game rules allow, not that they have pages of "rules of conduct" that prevent you from creative thinking.
|Group > Solo?|
But we all know that World of Warcraft hasn't really stopped teaching. Although it's ability to teach is highly impaired by the entire "Terms of Service" approach, it's still teaching literally millions of children that time spent is more important than ability and that group activities are strictly superior to personal improvements and self-reliance.
This problem is so troubling, that I feel a personal need to take action. The only thing I can think to do, though, is to design an MMO that teaches the right things. Look for that on store shelves in 2012 or so. For my next trick, I will write a proper Terms of Service for an MMO. Stay tuned.