One of the aspects of World of Warcraft that has made it such an enduring part of my life over the years is the scale of content available.

It’s obvious, but it bears mentioning; Azeroth and Outlands are vast in size and deep in lore. With such a massive world to explore, and with things changing every so often, it keeps me coming back for more.

I am more than willing to return, too.

My journey in playing Playing World of Warcraft over the years has often reminded me a little of my journeys in learning to play chess as a child.

I was introduced to the game of chess by my father. I wasn’t really sure of the rules, or the goal, other than head to head games usually meant trying to outsmart the other person. Battleship, Stratego, Chess… head to head domination. My father liked that kind of arena, so that was what I expected going in.

After playing for a few weeks, I learned the basics of the rules, understood where I could go and what my standard options were, and I felt I could take on other players. I even won a few against my father.

The longer I played, the more connections I made between the rules, the moves, the layout and the way you needed to play a deeper tactical game. Instead of action and reaction, move to move, you needed to think ahead, plan. Move one piece here seemingly for no reason, and the next piece you move could be protected by the first. Using the first piece to protect the second by threatening retaliation through a rudimentary overwatch.

And it was mental, of course, because once your turn was over, the initiative was in the other players hands. He had the choice to make, was it worth it to take your piece, knowing it was covered by another that would take his in turn? 

Had he already anticipated your move, and was planning his own attack around your flank where you weren’t paying attention, having nothing to do with your two pieces out there in the open?

The more I played, the more I saw that there was a deeper game to learn than what was on the surface. Much deeper. And I felt pretty sharp for seeing it. I was going to get really good, and kick my fathers ass.

Then there came the day when I checked my local library for books that someone might have written about playing chess better. It seemed a long shot, I mean, who the hell would write an entire book on how to play a board game like Stratego, Checkers or Chess? That’s why they stick little rules pamphlets in the box with the game.

What I found out was that the world of chess that I thought I was getting a handle on, that I was just now discovering, was old, familiar, highly debated and researched territory.

Thousands of books, movies, programs, historical data on matches, newspaper games using some kind of obscure letter/number code designations, omigod are you shitting me?

I just hoped to find a book on how to play a deeper level of the game, and now suddenly, it felt like if I really wanted to play the game well, I couldn’t just do what I was doing, or even just read a book, I needed to make it a career.

I came here to play a game, and I wanted to play it well.  I didn’t want to devote the rest of my entire life to mastering all this…. this shit. I’m fucking seven years old! Screw that, I ain’t got time for that, summer’s here! Time to see if I can use the garden hose to tunnel a hole in the back lawn that will go all the way through to China. I hear it’s on the other side of the world.

Do they all stand upside down, down there?

Yep, that’s what I’m reminded of when I play World of Warcraft. The difference is, in WoW I was fortunate enough to start at the very beginning, and as the game grew and changed, I was there every step of the way to adapt and learn. 

I can’t imagine what it must be like now to approach this game from the outside.

I do know that I don’t ever feel comfortable calling anyone a noob. If I do get annoyed, the other person has to be max level in some decent gear, because that to me says they’ve been around the horn long enough to have had lots of opportunity to see how things work and ask other people questions.

I never assume anyone else has visited a website to study the game.

Much like chess, if you start getting into the game, what would it be like to be told, “If you want to play well, you need to go watch this list of videos, read these website guides, use these training dummies, and practise a lot first. Also, you need to go find these addons to install, otherwise, you’re never going to be able to compete in a tournament with other people. You’re never going to be at that level on your own. Too much study and research has gone before you to catch up and be rediscovered all on your own.”

Would you do what I did with chess, and decide it’s just not worth it? To choose willingly to remain a dilettante, a player who enjoys playing the game, but knows that they will never be in the big leagues of top play because they just aren’t interested in investing that much time and effort into research?

Or, now that we are mostly mature adults, do you start playing the game, love what you’re doing, and when you poke around looking for information on how to play better, see the hundreds of websites and guides and blogs and tools and addons, and rejoice that for every question you may form, there are a dozen people eager to answer?

It’s questions like this that fascinate me, because there really are no ‘right’ answers. It all comes down to how you feel at the time, what you like, and when you began playing the game.

If you’ve just gotten into WoW, do you wish you too could have been in at the ground floor when it all began?

If you are fairly new to WoW, and sick of hearing about ‘vanilla’ or BC or how great Karazhan was, are you trying to dig in deep and catch up, or are you looking with interest for a new MMO. A game that you can try at launch, see from the very first baby steps, and be there for from day one?

You can never go back and be someone that played WoW from beta, but you can find something else to start with fresh.

I wonder, how many people look around the aging, established insular WoW community, and find that one of the reasons they want to leave for Rift or Star Wars: The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2 is the opportunity to be part of a revolution, to forge a brand new community and be there at the dawn of a new era. 

And having seen what the WoW community grew into, is it even possible for such a thing to happen again? Nothing succeeds quite like success, and bandwagons are made for jumping on. How do you forge a vibrant community for another MMO when there is such a monolithic leviathan sloughing along the tracks, sucking the light from the room? 

With all the interest in SWTOR and Guild Wars 2, such are my thoughts on a boring Friday afternoon.

15 Responses to “In at the Ground Floor”
  1. Neil says:

    I think the main difference between chess and WoW – at least, in the context of the issue you’re discussing here – is that if I play badly at chess, it doesn’t affect anyone else. Maybe my opponent will be disappointed I didn’t give him a good challenge, but that’s about it. On the other hand, if I play badly in WoW, four, nine, or twenty-four other people have to suffer for it. That’s probably a big part of why people are a lot more likely to say “OMG UR DOIN IT RONG” about WoW than about chess.

    • bigbearbutt says:

      Really? From what I recall, people have never been all that timid about saying “In your face!” or “learn to play, you suck!” when they beat someone else in board games. Or in Team Fortress. Or in anything at all.

      • Neil says:

        You’re right; I should’ve phrased that differently. People in most games are willing to tell you that you suck. People in WoW seem much more likely to tell you that there is exactly one correct way of playing the game, and your way of playing is not that way, and therefore you shouldn’t even bother trying to play at all.

        • Neil says:

          Okay, I re-read my reply and I still don’t think what I wrote is saying what I’m trying to say. I will try again.

          There’s the gloating-about-winning “you suck” and there’s the objecting-to-how-you-play “you suck”. I was talking about the latter. I feel like I’ve seen more of it in WoW than I have everywhere else put together.

          • bigbearbutt says:

            I agree with you that in competitions or games requiring teamwork, and WoW is certainly one, other people that think they’re on top of their game will jump to inform you that you’re not doing it right. Perhaps the anonymity of the internet helps bring it out more, but I can recall a few rugby matches in the Corps where everyone would get worked up and fired up to win, and if someone wasn’t hitting right, there’d be some serious shit heading his way.

            I think the anonymity aspect leads more people who are inherently asshats to let their true self shine than they would if face to face and within range of beatings, but allow me to say one thing probably flameworthy…

            If you step up and choose to play with a group, and the rest of the group feels that your performance isn’t where it shold be, then if they want to point that out and recommend ways for you to improve your game, it’s their responsibility to do so in a respectful, or at least considerate and tactful, way.

            But it’s also your responsibility, as a person that wants to play in a group with others, to have an open mind about listening to politely delivered constructive criticism.

            I don’t know, I wasn’t really dwelling on this part of it in the post when I write it, as much as I was mindful that any comparison is faulty as soon as it’s made. You can sometimes get an interesting perspective if comparing similar conceptual simulations, but it’s still a bad move on my part to get too caught up with the comparison.

          • Dechion says:

            Nearly every time I have seen someone actually suggest things politely to someone in a group it has gone well. Also, I can only think of one time I whispered someone some advice and got an earful in return. Usually it’s quite the opposite.

  2. Deep thoughts for a bored bear, and thats why we love him =)

    • The Dewd says:

      Great post!

      I learned to play chess at a young age because my father and brother both played and they taught me the rules. I have NEVER beat my brother and I’ve beat my father once – and I was on the chess team in high school (though my skills weren’t as good as that makes it sound). I too looked into books on chess – though not as young as you were – and was overwhelmed by the amount of information.

      I feel, largely, the same way about WoW. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn – though maybe not quite as much as with chess. I spent a large amount of time in Vanilla WoW just learning my class and, as a Druid, every 10 levels or so I realized that I had NO idea what I was doing despite the entirely new paradigm I’d adopted 10 levels earlier. At 60 things like enchants were for the rich, for raiders, and for people who had hundreds of gold – looking back I realize how much better of a healer I would have been if I had made gear wishlists and found some way to make money to buy enchants. Since then, I’ve grown every expansion and learned how to use my new skills/spells. It’s all been built, however, on top of the existing knowledge and I think that is where the high barrier to entry lies. Sure, it might be better to come in as, say, a brand new hunter with Cata and not have to carry all the baggage of “bad” habits from 1-80 in previous expansions but 60-70 was where a lot of folks learned how to trap, kite, chain-trap, etc.

      p.s. As amazing as Kara was, I don’t really buy 100% into the theory that it was so much better than anything else. For me, at least, I’ve had to realize that it wasn’t MC or Kara or Naxx that was so much fun as much as raiding with friends (many of which have quit playing) was. I’d rather have the fun and camaraderie more than any given raid instance.

      • Suxxy says:

        hmm, “bad” habits…
        I’ve played my main feral druid for some time and as my levels grew and I had new abilities granted by the various master druids around Azeroth, I dutifully put those abilites on my spell bar. But the original abilites were there first, so had their place; and I knew where they were, and I could hit them without having to think first, and so they remained. Any new ability had to find it’s own place (unless it was similar to a current one, so superceded the old one… are you listening, Claw?)
        Now, my main Kitty dps attacks sit comfortably under where my fingers rest lightly atop the keys… except Shred, which was a late-starter. This, the button I mash more than any other, is displaced one key to the right of my left index finger. Swipe, which is the next most mashed key, is to the right of it!!! As Professor Julius Sunder-Miller used to say: “Why is it so?”
        Bad habits.
        When I create an alt feral druid (which I have done numerous times), my key layout remains the same. I know I should swap them around and get used to the new layout, I’m sure it wouldn’t take too long, but I never have, and probably never will.
        Sorry B3, just a *little* off-topic, but The Dewd’s comment just triggered this thought, so I shared.

  3. Tsudrats says:

    I quite like your comparison BBB. It’s not about the team work or if it is a global MMO or game with your Dad but the impact that picking up a new game of any sort and discovering that you are stepping into a world that people had spent time and effort (like you said … a career) documenting can have. My hat goes off to the people at places such as tankspot, the guild writers such as yourself, the writers of guide books for any game ever created. I’m a post-BC player who initially had a similar response to your chess response when I saw the depth of material available. As a novice it was too much too soon. Now, many years later, those same guides have become a useful adjunct to my ingame discovery.

  4. Angry Gamer says:

    @Big Bear
    “I wonder, how many people look around the aging, established insular WoW community, and find that one of the reasons they want to leave for Rift or Star Wars: The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2 is the opportunity to be part of a revolution, to forge a brand new community and be there at the dawn of a new era. ”

    You Betcha! Every single person I talk to is SICK of all the Wow geezers lording over anyone who “didn’t raid vanilla or TBC etc etc etc”.

    The neat idea that SWTOR brings is that there will be Millions of brand spankin’ new MMO players (Star Wars fans, other Bioware fans etc). That will probably be a significant part of the user population. Combine that with everything being new… well you have the opportunity to have a great time with almost NO ONE telling you are not playing right (until of course the Wow snobs come over).

    I really think that the wow community as it stands today is behaving badly these days. It will be great to have a new game where most players have a chance to be just as up on game mechanics as any other Elitist Jerk out there.

    Fun times I think

  5. Syl says:

    True thing…it’s just not as fun to start an MMO late into its life cycle as it is to start when everyone is starting. the spoiler aspect is just one small part therein; for me personally, sharing a collective experience of ‘whoa’ about something new and revolutionary and being noobs together is just epic. that’s how vanilla was inside and outside of the game. I think had I joined in TBC, I might have stopped with WoW sooner. When I started playing AoC for a while last year, it was rather frustrating trying to find your way around all these established guilds that already existed, trying to grasp the server I was on or even getting up to speed on stuff like tier levels etc. – there were just so many. If you’re there from the start, you “grow along” with the content and that’s a lot more satisfying and natural imo. You don’t jump into a book from the middle either.

  6. nugget says:

    I think a few things matter a lot here, as to whether or not someone will explore all either the game, and/or the huge amount of information that’s out there about it.

    -_- Coming from someone who was a vanilla and TBC raider, skipped WotLK and played 1 month of Cata before unsubbing, with no plans to return to WoW, but who watched the vids, did the research, tested her own stuff, and even came up with a couple of new things WoW wise…

    I’ve dipped a toe or two into quite a few different MMOs since ditching WoW (and then falling in love with Guild Wars).

    Off the top of my head:

    Chronicles of Spellborn
    Pirates of the Burning Sea
    That Russian One with The Insanely Overpriced Bags that Looked Like a Disney Film (lol sorry, don’t remember the name)
    Free Realms
    Heroes of Three Kingdoms
    Jade Dynasty
    City of Heroes
    Atlantica Online
    Dungeons & Dragons Online
    Forsaken World
    Guild Wars
    (probably others but I don’t recall them atm)

    The only three where I actively did research were Jade Dynasty, Forsaken World, and Guild Wars.

    Guild Wars – bit of a given. I fell totally in love with this game. Fits my tinkering tendencies to a T. Iterate iterate iterate test test test iterate some more! All without cost! OMG tinker madness. Of COURSE I’ll devour stuff out there, then start madly making my own Frankensteinian monsters. XD

    Jade Dynasty – Oh so pretty, oh such a lottery, oh such a grind. The main reason I did research for Jade Dynasty was because changing specs (iirc) cost US$20-40. -_- Wasn’t willing to drop the cash on THAT, so I just looked up all those who had Bravely (and Expensively) Gone Before, and attempted to navigate a decent build I wouldn’t have to drop money on outta that.

    Forsaken World – Oh I LIKE this game. I like it very much. I like it as much as I liked vanilla WoW. It satsifies ALL my rat pellet urges. Like JD, talent specs are costly to change – but PWE has done very interesting things with the economy, so much so that it’s at least viable to change talents using in-game gold to buy the talent-changing items from other players, rather than having to drop cash on it. That is, no need to play 15 hours a day, every day, in order to be able to afford stuff in-game without the cash shop. My research in FW is a bit different from JD, because although the fights are (so far) ridiculously simple, the character class construction is really rather fascinating. It has all the fiddly happiness that vanilla talent trees had, where you could make ridiculous AND ridiculously good things, if you had a good enough idea that bore fruit.

    I came to FW when it was more or less first launched in English (not the closed beta), and GW YEARS (3? 4?) after it was launched, and while there’s a certain headiness to the ‘new game smell’, so that there are less people running around yelling NOOB! at the top of their lungs… the contrast with my experience in GW has me convinced that that’s not the only factor (at least for a nugget) when it comes to research and experimentation.

    I suppose when it comes down to it, I think there are a few major factors that really stand out when it comes to seeing how much research and experimentation someone will do in an MMO context that have nothing to do with how young or old the game is.

    a) Personality type: does the person LOVE to tinker, or prefer to take something ready-made that is proven to work? BOTH will result in research… but the former will result in more exploration.
    b) Motivation: Do they just want to have a good time and see the world, or are they min-maxers who compete with themselves, with others, or both?
    c) Engagement: How much do they LIKE the game? Does it give them enough warm fuzzies to warrant thinking (and reading) about it outside of playing it?
    d) Cost: What kind of cost is attached to changing talent specs, builds, whatever you want to call them? High costs will result in more cookie-cutter conservatism, low/no costs encourage experimentation.

    ~_o anyone else observed this? Or am I batter-gazing again?

  7. Susan Reed says:

    I agree with The Dewd in that its not particular instances that are important, its the memory of the feelings associated with them that lasts. Being part of your very first ‘proper’ raid group will always be memorable, and that raid will always be special. I can’t comment on how it felt to be a new player in a new game, as I joined WoW early in Wrath – but I have heard many stories of completely new players being helped & supported by the ‘veteran’ community, and for those ‘newbies’ at least, I hope the game is a new adventure.

  8. Wyrdsmith says:

    Found your blog through a round about way of doing precisely what you’re describing in this post… It’s apropos then that I’m basically new to the “new” World of Warcraft post cataclysm. I originally played WoW when it came out and stuck with Druid. I played up until Burning Crusade came out and then I stopped. I never got above level 30. I was a casual gamer to the core and didn’t really think too hard about PvP or arenas or anything like that, and when I picked my server, I picked the one I was least likely to get killed in. I played druid because it meant that I could survive solo and because that way I wouldn’t get bored with my character only running up to mobs to hack at them with a sword, or only healing other players, or only raining down spells from a distance.

    I took a break for a few years and just this month got back into the game and holycrapwhatthehellhappened. I remember it being a chore to go from getting your bear form at level 10 to getting your cat form at level 20. You had to grind away in darkshore for an eternity with the only break being the letter you get from the arch druid to begin the quest line for your aquatic form… and even then you had to make the debate whether you wanted to spend 30 to 45 minutes to make the run to westfall… But since I got back into the game I progressed really quickly, in fact it seems like Blizzard made getting through the lower levels easier. In just two weeks of play I’m already level 53 – well past where I left off and I even started a new character on a different server.

    It got so bad that at level 45 I was still wearing equipment I earned when I was level 30. It was a rush and I didn’t have time to really learn my way around some of the new spells and mechanics, but thankfully for druids it’s still basically the same, just with a different order. So when I got to about level 45 and realized I was still wearing horrible gear, I decided to take a look at what other gear was out there and what would best compliment my play style. That’s when I had the same realization that your younger self did about chess. I knew when I first played there was a wider world of players out there all debating play style and I knew that there was a whole realm of level 60 characters that looked down on me the same way professional athletes look down at amateurs, it’s not always bad, but there is a noticeable difference in how far the two can see from where they’re perched. And now that I’m starting to look around at what can I do, what should I do, I’m realizing that there’s an entirely different game to play.

    In some ways I’m new to World of Warcraft. For example, I still haven’t upgraded to Burning Crusade (I keep meaning to) and I have no idea what BoT means or where it is. I know Onyxia is a dragon and it has a lair, but it’s about as real to me as someone talking about Draco from Dragonheart. The cataclysm is some vague event that resulted in Darkshore being ripped a new one and a bunch of lava suddenly sprouting up everywhere. Also, it made the turrets of Stormwind really cool and put in a boat there from Rut’therand village (thank god). I’m so new that when someone said, “You don’t need intellect or spirit as a feral druid, just agility and stamina”, I was baffled, “What about when you have to throw around some Rejuvenations or Healing touches? What about if you suddenly have to hit a few mobs with Moonfire or hold off someone with entangling roots? What about versatility?” The response I got gave me chills, “Dude, you’re a dps feral druid, why do you need to be healing or casting spells?”

    In any rate, you’re right, there’s a -ton- of information out there, and there’s no real time to just sit back and figure out things on your own. But as someone who’s relatively new to this, I’ve decided to make time. The game will still be there in a year from now, and for now I’m not ready to play in the big leagues, so I’m just trying to figure out how I play. I’ve paid more attention to the tooltips, and am just trying to get a very firm grasp of the basics, and then I start making my own decisions. It’s easy to play chess once you learn how the pieces move, but it gets harder when you start to think about why the pieces move. For example, with the druid talent tree, I started off picking up the same talents I would have picked when I first started, but that wound up not working very well. So I looked up what a talent tree should look like for a feral dps druid – I didn’t really agree with some of the picks but decided to try it anyway. That didn’t work because I wasn’t playing the way that the OP for the talent tree played. So I said to hell with it and went back to carefully reading and thinking about my choices.

    So now I’m in my fifties and it’s time to upgrade. I’ll probably plunge all the way in and get the Cataclysm bundle, though I’m still not sure. When I realize that players have the coinage to plop down 50,000 gold for items in the auction house and have an item level of 359 whereas I’m lucky to have an item level of 45, I kind of get that feeling of being lost in a tide of athletes and I’m still an amateur. But then I stop and say “fuck it” and keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t have to be the best there is, I just have to be the best I can be. I take it one step at a time and look into things that interest me. Right now I’m in winterspring helping a baby frostsaber grow up into an epic mount.

    In most ways, you’re right, there is an overabundance of information and anyone starting out will look at it, say “screw that” and head off to something else. Other times, we just have to remember that discoveries still happen. Sure they’re not the earth shattering “I’ve just broken the auction house with a white kitten” discoveries, but they’re the discoveries one makes about one’s self and play style. I know for example that while I’m a kitty dps, that I don’t have the ability to do a ton of damage, so I pick of spell casters and keep an eye on the mana bar of the healer, if it drops to zero, I back off, enervate him, throw around some rejuvenations and get back to killing things that move. I made that up myself and so far it works. When it doesn’t, I’ll look up some hints, learn some more, and go back to experimenting. I think that that’s the advantage of having a ton of knowledge available to you – the ability to experiment safely. It’s like being in a physics lab; everyone already knows what will happen if you do something, but you haven’t experienced it yet, so go on ahead and do it. It doesn’t cost anything… well, except 15 bucks a month.

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