Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's So Annoying? Bored 80s

This is really a problem of meta design and it is unfair to place the entire blame on Blizzard for it. In the previous examples, a designer or design team just made some dumb mistakes and those mistakes for some reason were not caught in design reviews. At least I hope that is the case. It would be disturbing to find out that Blizzard actually saw those things as good design.

World of Warcraft is a "Game World" as has come up before in this blog. And meta design deals with the design of the game world more than the design of the game. There are many games within World of Warcraft. And those games exist simultaneously within the game world.The problem of meta design is - how do you set up the world so that people playing different games can co-exist with each other without diminishing each others game experience.

Most of the time this works out pretty well. So we should give credit where credit is due. However, certain kinds of game play leads to aberrant players who reject the lusory goals in favor setting their own goals. In some cases this is ok. A person may enjoy making things for friends or guild members in lieu of leveling. However, when one sets their goal as grieving others, it creates problems.

What happens with bored 80s it that people have advanced to the top level without having really earned it. They may have friends they use as a body guard. They may have friends who run them through dungeons. The may have bound on account gear, armor, weapons, or spells that make them more than a match for challenges appropriate to their level. The point is that they ramped up to 80 without having really earned it and don't want to put for the effort required to advance as an 80. 

So, what do they do? They do the World of Warcraft equivalent of picking on little kids. They hang out in areas where they are likely to encounter people leveling at ten or twenty levels below them. These are easy kills and are not very satisfying. But the alternative is legitimate leveling which is way to hard. So, they redefine the game goals to grief as many lower level toons as they can.

On one hand I feel sorry for these players. They are seeking a satisfaction from the game that they will likely never achieve. On the other hand, the are ANNOYING!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's So Annoying? The Documentation!!

This may be a generation gap, but I don't think so. The documentation for World of Warcraft is abysmal. There are three sources of information about WoW: books, websites, and other players. Each leaves a great deal to be desired.

You would think there would a wide range of volumes available for World of Warcraft. With over 11 million players there is a ready made market. Further, it would be in Blizzard's interests to make WoW more accessible as that would mean an even larger customer bases. But sadly it is not so. The main offerings in print are Strategy guides by Brady Games. These are dense volumes that are more like a specifications manual than they are documentation. I have most, if not all of them, and rarely refer to them at all. They are simply unusable. I'm sure there are people who find them useful. But they come under the umbrella of driven singularities which I will get to in a moment. There are also numerous online guides that you can download, some free, some you pay for. The problem with that is that there is no way to know if they are any good or if the information is accurate.

Websites are the primary form of documentation. This is the generation gap that I was referring to earlier. I am used to books. Younger people are used to websites. The question is - is this just a question of different modes or it is a difference of quality. I would say that it is a difference of quality. The WoW main sight is pretty good at giving you the most superficial of overviews, but getting to any depth is nearly impossible. There are sites like Thottbot that are pretty good for quest information. And there are numerous other sites that various people swear by. Nonetheless, there are several problems with all these sites. The first is that there is no systematic overview of the information available. So, figuring out even where to look is an uphill battle. Second, the information is hit or miss. If you are lucky, you may find what you are looking for. Chances are you won't. Third, these sights are organized as wikis making them nearly impossible to use. All this does not mean that people never find what they are looking for at these sites. They do. And this is again the driven singularity problem.

The third source of information is other people. People ask questions in guild chat. Sometimes other people will try to answer. People ask questions in the open chat channels such as the trade channel. Sometimes other people will try to answer. But, using other people as a source of information is even more hit or miss than going to websites. First, if you ask a question in any of the channels, you are lucky if you get any answer at all. If you get an answer, you don't know if it is accurate or not. And the person providing the answer probably does not know if it is accurate. So, any information you get from other people is suspect at best.

Does anybody ever find what they need when they have a question? Yes, they do. And that brings us to the driven singularities.You can say "there is no way to find where a quest is" and somebody might say "sure, just go to Thottbot". You can say "there is no way to figure out if +8 spirit is better than +8 stamina" and somebody might say, "sure just go to".  Just because specific individuals have had the persistence to find specific things does not mean the documentation is adequate. There are, what I am calling, driving singularities. Individual people who persisted enough to find some obscure piece of information.

There are several problems with driven singularities. First, it takes way to much time to find something if you happen to be a driven singularity. Second, if that driven person doesn't happen to be within earshot when you ask a question, you just won't get an answer. Third, that person might not know what they are talking about. People often over claim their expertise. And finally, this approach only works in a very, very, very small percentage of the cases where people are looking for information.

WoW brags over 11 million users and that is, indeed, an accomplishment. However, with decent documentation, that number might be ten times, a hundred times, or maybe even a thousand times the current level.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's So Annoying? Managing Inventory

There are many good things about the way inventory is handled in WoW. So, out of fairness, I should point a few of them out. As you advance, you get increasingly larger bags in which to store your inventory. These bags are increasingly more expensive allowing you to make rational trade off decisions about the cost of a bag versus the convenience it affords. Tailors can make bags and sell them at the Auction House providing a source of revenue for that profession. Guilds can buy Guild Vaults provide more storage and incentive to join the guild. Individuals can buy bank slots to hold bags that are not carried around, thus providing more storage and another rational trade-off decision.

This is all good design and well thought out. So, what is my beef? I have two gripes with the inventory management. The first, is junk inventory and the second is recipes that requre materials you didn't think you would ever need again.

Junk inventory is loot that you pick up from any of the variety of means there are for collecting things. You may loot a corpse, get something as a reward for a quest, or acquire items through one of the professions such as herbalism. Actually, mining and skinning aren't too bad for junk but herbalism is. What happens is that you pick up something and have no idea if it is good for anything. So, you put it in your inventory where it takes up space. Later you find that it is either used in a worthless recipe or is not used at all. To their credit, Blizzard added sell prices to loot items so you can make rational decisions about what to keep if your bags are getting filled. But, there are a whole host of items, especially in herbalism, where you can fill up your inventory with worthless junk and not know it is worthless. Every decision should be a rational trade off decision. And putting junk items in the collectibles is just arbitrary and poor design. Some might argue that it adds an element off randomness. I would argue that this is just the defensive claim of a mediocre designer.

As you progress in your profession, you go through different levels of materials. Say, you are a miner and blacksmith. You begin with copper, then to tin, then to iron and so forth. Now, once you are at the iron level you are inclined to get rid of your copper and tin to make room for the items that are appropriate for your level. Then, when you are past iron, say at mithril, you encounter a recipe that requires copper. And you get irritated for having sold all your copper. This is just arbitrary and annoying. Since inventory is limited, you can't keep everything. And you cannot make rational trade off decisions about what to keep if you are going to encounter arbitrary requests for materials you have gotten rid of. Again, one might argue that this introduces an element of randomness. However, I would counter again with my remark about mediocre design.

The problem here is that the whole conceptual design of professions and inventory management are quite well done. But, these little annoying oddities become the focus over time. You forget how cleverly done it all is, while festering over the fact that you threw something away that you needed. Not only do these decisions not add to the game experience, they seriously detract from it.