Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World of Warcraft:: The Ergonomics of Class

The second decision that the player new to World of Warcraft must make, after they choose a race, is what class they would like to be. Classes define capabilities - strength and weaknesses. Not all races have the same classes so the choice of race will place some constraints on the choice of class. For example, Gnomes and Undead cannot be hunters, while Night Elves and Trolls cannot be Paladins. Nonetheless, each race has a good selection of classes. The races are fairly matched and, to the credit of the designers at Blizzard, the classes are fairly matched as well.

But, fairly matched and equal is not the same. The capabilities of each class can vary widely. The warrior, for example, has great armour and it difficult to kill. In WoW slang, the warrior is refered to as a tank. But, in fighting, he has to be up close to his opponent and hack away. This can get really tedious at times. The hunter, by way of comparison, has less armor and is easier to kill. But the hunter can stand back at a safe distance and shoot at his opponents. Some classes (such as Preist, Paladin and Shama) have healing capabilities and can heal themselves or others. Magical classes such as Mage or Warlock can hurl spells from a distance which is similar to the hunter's shooting. But, the can also cast weakening spells.

Unlike races, it does make a difference which class you choose as it will impact your play. Even though they are relatively fairly matched in capabilities, different players will prefer playing different classes. And your preference of class may well change over time.

I called this article The Ergonomics of Class because you can think of the classes as job designs. Different things are required and each different class brings different capabilities to the table. Just like in an organization where a wide variety of requirements need to be met by a wide variety of job designs, a guild or raiding team cannot consist of a single set of skills. A diverse team is much more likely to be successful.

This workplace analogy can be carried a step further in terms of organizational dynamics. Aside from being a fun game, we can learn a lot about team dynamic from studying the dynamics of teams in World of Warcraft. In order to achieve success in raids, the team must be careful chosen, carefully managed, and work in synchronous harmony. This is a tall order in Wow just like it is a tall order in the workplace.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

World of Warcraft:: Races and the Rawlsian Community

The first decision that one has to make when starting to play World of Warcraft is - what race should your character be. Races are broadly organized into two large categories: Alliance and Horde. Alliance appear to be the good guys as they are more attractive physically, while Horde appears to be bad guys are the are generally unattractive. This distinction (good guys versus bad guys) is not quite true but you have to get much deeper into the lore to discover this. And that is way beyond the scope of this post.

Alliance races include: Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, Night Elves and Draenei. Horde races include: Orcs, Undead, Tauren, Troll and Blood Elves. There is very little help of any kind to guide the user in making this decision. However, as it turns out, that doesn't really matter much. John Rawls said something to the effect that society should be designed so that it does not matter which role you are born into. And WoW is a quintessential Rawlsian community. There are really only three factors to consider in your choice of race; all relatively minor.

First, the race you choose will determine the area in which your character starts. Dwarves and Gnomes begin in the snowy land of Dun Morogh while Trolls and Orcs begin under the punishing sun in the dessert land of Durotar. There are numerous starting places but they are all of approximately the same difficulty. So, the only factor that is really affected by location is the visual scenery that serves as a backdrop to your play. This is not to be dismissed too easily as it does affect your game play experience. However, it is also very much a matter of personal taste. So it is difficult to determine an optimal choice without just trying the different options.

Second, the race you choice will determine how your character looks. Since you will be spending a lot of time looking at your character, you want to choose a character that you like looking at. Peronally, I prefer gnomes and night elves. But it is very much a question of personal taste.

Neither of these first two options is all that critical as I would recommend that a serious player, over time, play a variety of different races. The landscape is interesting and the quests are different in the different lands. Although the level of difficulty is roughly the same, the variety still makes it worth while. As you play longer, you find that the diferent races start covering a lot of common territory. But the starting areas are unique, interesting and fun.

The third issue is the decision to go with an Alliance or a Horde character. Some poeple feel very strongly about this not unlike supporters of a local football team. I have characters of both categories and do not see a huge difference other than the territory they cover and the visual effects. Alliance characters and territories tend to be more aesthetically pleasing. While Horde characters and territories then to be a little harsher. However, if you are going to have multiple characters on a server, it is important to have all Horde or all Alliance on a given server.

Character on a server can share resources via email. This will become very important later, especially with professions. But, an Alliance character cannot email resources to a Horde character and vice versa. So, it is best to have all characters on one server on the same side.

Yet, the bottom line here is that you cannot really make a bad choice with regard to race. Class, however, is a different matter and we will take that up next time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Structural Flow Elements in World of Warcraft

In the last post, I claimed that we can see playing World of Warcraft as a flow experience. I divided the elements of a flow experience into structural and experiential elements and said that the structural elements (goals, feedback, challenge, and control) can be seen in the design of the game. In this post, I will take that claim a little further and point to elements of the game design that, I believe, support that claim.

We can make a further distinction with regard to the goals dividing them into personal and social goals. Personal goals are the goals one has with regard to progress in the game. These are similar to the goals one might have when playing a game of skill. One wants to progress through higher levels of achievement and acquire skills or objects that will make them more successful in the game.

However, World of Warcraft is a MMORPG which means that it also provides a social experience as you play with, play against, or interactive with other players. This social interaction leads to social goals. Social goals include - achievements that others can see; prowess in battle; skills that can be used to help other players such as making items of value; economic productivity; and status within a guild, group, or among players on a server in general.

As I write this, I realize that most of this will make no sense to someone who knows nothing about the game. So, I guess I am going to have to digress from this digression and explain a little more about World of Warcraft. This is, after all, a blog. And that means thinking out loud. So, I apologize for not having figured all this out before hand. Next time I will embark on an explanation of World of Warcraft for the uninitiated. Then I will return to flow experiences. I think this will be interesting and, hopefully, not too confusing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

World of Warcraft as a Flow Experience

World of Warcraft (WoW) is, as of this writing, the most successful MMORPG ever with well over ten million subscribers paying a monthly fee to play. It is a well thought out, cleverly designed, game with great graphics, good performance and good reliability. It is also a flow experience. In order to support this claim, I will take the criteria provided for flow experiences in the Wikipedia article and, over the next few posts, explain them in terms of WoW.

As a reminder, the Wikipedia article provides the following criteria:
  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.[2]
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
For purposes of explaination, I will divide these criteria in two categories: structural and experiential. The structural elements 1, 5, 6, and 7 can be explained in terms of the game design. The experiential elements 2,3,4,7,8 and 9 can only be explained in reference to subjective play experience. Demonstration of the structural elements is fairly straightforward. The experiential elements will be verified largely from self reporting. That is, I have played the game and I had certain experiences. In order to really nail this down from a research perspective a great deal more work would have to done. So, I will also discuss how such research might proceed. This is a lot to do. So, in the next post, we will get started on the structural elements.