Category Archives: online gaming

Guildie Conscience

Last night, I made a decision that will significantly affect my life as a gamer.  Had I been asked a few weeks ago how I would react to such a decision, I would have recoiled in horror at the merest suggestion of the action that I’ve taken.  However, conversely, I feel free – like an alcoholic experiencing the clarity of sobriety, or a drug user finally kicking the junk (perhaps the more fitting analogy), I’m already confident that giving up World of Warcraft is shaping up to be one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made.

Needless to say, my wife is secretly thrilled.  Not because she doesn’t want me to play games – good luck with that – but because of the damage that heavy WoW use did to our relationship, and also how it affected me as a player.  She’s not a gamer herself, but can understand my passion for all things game and commented on the differences she saw in me whilst watching me play different titles.

So, what was it that spurred me on to such extreme action?  Ironically, it’s the same reason many people quit MMO’s – or continue playing, sans the sense of fun; dissatisfaction with their guild, and with the concept of guilds in general.

Whilst it’s possible to play World of Warcraft without affiliating yourself with a guild, they remain a necessary evil if you wish to experience all the game has to offer, and it’s because of this fact that I doubt very much whether I will be contributing any more funds to Blizzard’s considerable market share of the MMO space.  Perhaps my rogue will dwell in the Blade’s Edge Mountains forever like a solitary survivor of some horrific accident, alone and contemplative, seeking solace from the gold spammers and foul-mouthed children that populate the game – one of which told a now-former guildie that, because he didn’t give him some free silver, he deserved to be killed by Adolf Hitler.  Or maybe he’ll end up on eBay.

As I’m sure many former players could testify, World of Warcraft can seem more like a job than a game, given the time investment required to advance to the better areas and equipment, and this remains a fact even if you’re not in a position of authority in the guild, or even if you’re not in a guild at all.  Add to this the typical power struggles and ego-stroking you’ll find anywhere people are placed in charge of anything, and you’ve got some pretty unpleasant elements to negotiate in order to enjoy the game – kind of like soft-centered chocolates, but replace the chocolate with rampant e-peen posturing and ego tripping, and substitute the soft center with an enjoyable social gaming experience.

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be in a good guild with people you like (or even better, people you actually know in real life), then these problems will seem as distant to you as the Shadowmoon Valley is from Elwynn Forest.  In which case, you probably won’t be reading this anyway, as you’ll be too busy preparing for tonight’s raid.  The funniest part of all this?  The fact that I gave the matter of quitting my guild such considerable thought that it actually continued to grate on my nerves long after I had finished ‘playing’ – if you can call several hours of pointless, frustrating guild-chat playing.  What can I say?  I care too much sometimes.  

I can’t help but feel a sense of loss – the loss of all the time that World of Warcraft has stolen from me; time that could have been better-spent playing games that are more rewarding, are less demanding on my time and games whose sense of achievement isn’t restricted by the necessitation of involving large numbers of people to achieving all the game has to offer.

I guess I’m just not an MMO kind of guy.

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Blizzard ‘Amassing Huge Fortune Destroying Millions of Children’

To succeed in business, you have to take risks.  However, submitting a business plan focused on the destruction of millions of children – specifically Chinese children – is probably a little too risque.  You’d be much better off attempting to persuade investors to finance an MMO, as according to this article in the Shanghai Daily, the results are pretty much the same – millions of children destroyed, obscene profits amassed and one step closer to that lovely little underground base you’ve had your eye on that’s only penetrable by British secret agents with a taste for martinis.

Of course, it’s not all Blizzard’s fault, but with over half the market share in the lucrative (yet evil) MMO business, you can’t expect me to not pick on them.  Despite China’s efforts to combat the insidious Blizzard threat, China is apparently still in the grip of an internet gaming addiction epidemic.

According to the ‘journalist’ that wrote the article, Wan Lixin, Chinese sociologist Tao Hongkai claims that 80% of MMO’s contain violent, pornographic or fraudulent elements.  Well, what do you expect?  If you removed all the (partial) nudity, weapons and gold-spammers from MMO’s, what would you be left with?  This.

He goes on to report that an estimated 20 million ‘lonely’ rural children are particularly at risk from the evils of online gaming addiction.  He neglects to mention that for many, working as a gold-farmer in games like World of Warcraft is considerably better-paid than working in China’s massive manufacturing industry, with far better working conditions. 

It seems that as well as playing games on the internet, entrepreneurialism is also strongly discouraged in China; “Thirty-four-year-old Chen Tianqiao, CEO of Shanda and one of the richest men in China, recently turned a 23-year-old Canadian Chinese into a billionaire with an acquisition deal.”  Presumably the body of the Canadian Chinese was found drained of blood, with two small puncture wounds in his neck.

It’s staggering to think that this is what is what the Chinese are spoon-fed as legitimate journalism, and to witness the degree of control the government still has over the press – and voice – of the country.

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Look, But Don’t Touch

As I’m sure you’ve heard (and possibly had the misfortune to have seen), Sky recently launched their new competitive gaming channel, XLeague.  For those of you anxious to re-live those precious moments spent waiting for your friend to perish so that you could have your go in the days before multiplayer became common, this news may have been met with patient yet-secretly malicious cheers of joy.  However, for everyone else that finds watching other people play games tedious, I’m left wondering what the point of this channel is. 

Rather than focus on true competitive gaming coverage, Sky have instead opted to cater for a larger demographic by allowing viewers to compete in tournaments arranged via the channel’s website, with a view to broadcasting the resulting games on the channel for the audience to endure.  Not only does this render the channel’s claims to offer coverage of ‘professional’ gaming redundant, but it also makes for even more boring television.  

To make matters worse, their choice of titles to cover is, at best, laughable.  Any serious pro-gamer wouldn’t bother with the likes of Quake 4 or Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Call of Duty 2 isn’t even in their tournament lineup, instead being relegated to the ‘league’ tables along with other pro-gamer ‘favorites’ like Fifa ’07 and Gears of WarCounter-Strike, CS: Source, Warcraft III and World of Warcraft’s arena battles, traditionally big with the professional gaming community at sites like Got Frag have been omitted entirely.  If you don’t own an Xbox but relish the thought of watching social pariahs chosen by a producer battle it out in Gears of War minus the juvenile, racist and homophobic commentary as ‘enjoyed’ by many XBL players, the time to rejoice is upon you.

It’s also a relief to see that Sky firmly believe that gaming television should remain in the same league as other ‘niche’ programming such as softcore pornography and paintball by having Emily Booth present their flagship show, The Match.  Still, with movies like this under her proverbial belt – and her considerable gaming knowledge, of course – I can see why she was the obvious choice to add a touch of glamour to the show.

It’s times like these that I’m profoundly grateful that I haven’t owned a television in almost two years. 

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Namco – 2 : Blizzard – 1

Following on from my previous post, after I began flirting with Pacman I began to consider the implications of my new gaming habits on the future of gaming, Nintendo’s seemingly-unstoppable rampage of commercial success and just what you need to develop and nurture a healthy, solid relationship with a good game that you can take home to meet your mom.

It was only whilst watching one of the most recent videos of upcoming PS3 title Lair that it occured to me just how disappointed I’d be if I were a PS3 owner. I mean seriously – this is it? This is the future of interactive entertainment? Whilst I respect the guys at Factor 5 greatly for their hard work on Lair and their older titles (everyone remember Turrican?), and whilst I also appreciate the difficulties in initially succeeding to utilize new hardware to it’s fullest potential (issues of actual game design aside), this just won’t cut it I’m afraid, guys. For the purposes of actually making a point, I’ll be using my original examples of World of Warcraft and Pacman and rest assured – I will get there in the end.

One of the immediate differences between the two that became quickly apparent to me was the differing AI of the enemies. Whilst playing WoW recently, I began to grow impatient with the fact that, despite the huge battle taking place mere feet away from them, the other groups of orcs in Blackrock Spire will casually stand around, no doubt discussing job security in light of Warhammer: Age of Reckoning’s impending release whilst our heroic band of warriors and mages laid waste to their ranks – slowly, methodically and right in front of them. As I mentioned, game mechanics have to be considered – it’s not like I want the whole dungeon to open their collective cans of whoop ass on us simultaneously like some nightmarish kegger populated by fantastic creatures in place of drunken frat boys – yet it merely serves as yet another thing that you can’t help but notice during play, and also serves to bring you out of the immersive game atmosphere Blizzard strive so hard to create.

However, after just two games of Pacman, I was convinced that those colorful little bastards were not only conspiring against me, they were doing so tactfully and they were winning. As ridiculous as it may sound to some, the thrill of the chase and narrowly out-maneuvering one of the ghosts – and the resulting sense of achievement and skill – in Pacman was a rush I’ve rarely felt in World of Warcraft. Whilst Warcraft certainly looks better, and the music can be quite epic in places, I’d trade this for that same quickly accessible sense of achievement in a heartbeat. The fact that I’m actually writing this between games of Pacman merely illustrates my point – I want gaming to be fun, and having to schedule time days in advance just to ensure I keep up with the rest of the players in my guild is more like timetabling a meeting about fax paper waste estimates as opposed to playing. I want games to fit into my life, not vice-versa.

Don’t get me wrong – whilst I still enjoy and continue to play WoW (although not as much, following the aforementioned conversation with my better half, who is also a recent Pacman convert and she doesn’t even like games), I’m merely saying that the detractors of Nintendo’s strategy could learn a thing or two by playing instead of trolling before dismissing the casual games market so quickly, and I’ll certainly be more open-minded to the casual games market than I was previously. I still think that casual games will always have tough competition from larger, deeper games where immersing and engaging the player over longer periods is a key feature of the game’s design and from titles boasting even-better graphics and sound, but let’s remember why we play, and let’s rediscover the fun.

And as a final thought, if Pacman had official forums, would they be like this?

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Namco – 1 : Blizzard – 0

After a frank and brutally honest conversation with my wife recently, I conceded that my World of Warcraft playing habits have been somewhat……indulgent. She bandies around phrases like ‘habitual’ and ‘compulsive’, and this is before I’ve even explored Outland in the Burning Crusade expansion, let alone the new features to look forward to in Wrath of the Lich King…..moving swiftly on.

However, I’m a family man, and such accusations of too much time spent in Azeroth rang true enough with me to motivate me to seek my gaming fix elsewhere less demanding on my already-burdened schedule. So, like an adulterer, I’ve been looking for (and finding) excuses to slink away into the rainy, neon-soaked night and spend more and more time away from Azeroth, so I can experience the forbidden fruit of….games that aren’t World of Warcraft.

Since it feels like I’m new to games again (no, really – it does) I decided to begin my search with something simple. So simple, that it couldn’t possibly lay waste to my time and, potentially, my relationship like WoW did. I didn’t have to wait long before I found what I was seeking – or so I thought.

Previously, I couldn’t fault the logic of my choice – no flashy graphics, no engaging, dramatic musical score and definitely no intensive (yet sweetly rewarding) time investment vital to an adequately-satisfying gaming experience. Oh, how wrong a man can be? My recent experiences have taught me many things that I had not previously given any considerable thought to (not the least of which are the implications of my dangerously-addictive personality), but for the sake of time, space and other continuum issues, we’ll continue this tomorrow – besides, I have to finish my Onyxia attunement quest chain tonight, or I’ll have to miss my guild’s raid night on Thursday……

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