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Product vs. Process

June 15, 2012

Dear Readers,

Hello from the Windy City, not Thunder Bluff (though I would assume it’s elevation and placement in the plains would make it very windy); today I write you from Chicago.  I’ve come to visit an old friend (we’ve been friends for 15 years now) who lives here and see his new apartment.  Getting here was not pleasant; I had some mild post-traumatic flashbacks of driving in NYC for six years.  Apparently Chicago took NYC’s planners, hit them in the head with a hammer until they were almost dead, and then had them design Chicago.

Perhaps I’m being harsh, but I wasn’t impressed with the drive in.

I’m writing you on a laptop that has not been turned on in more than two years.  Both the virus scan and the Blizzard Launcher (hint – it was still blue) confirmed this.  My “new” laptop is in Salt Lake City with my wife, who suggested I visit my friend while she was gone.  I had planned to get WoW working so I could putter around a little on this ancient laptop, but apparently the game is so large now that it would take up more than half the space on this laptop’s hard drive.  Ah well.

I have to say I haven’t missed her more than I did on the drive here.  The 3 hour drive here that I did alone seemed longer than the 16 hour drive I made to South Carolina with my wife.  And I know I’ve another one coming up tomorrow.

On the WoW front, I’m sitting at 84.5 with my hunter, and I’m sure I’ll finish him up on Saturday after I get home.  I’m sure resting bonus (and the lack thereof) is a factor, but I found Cata to be pretty quick.  Because I didn’t have fast flying, I did Vashj’ir (might as well get fast swimming for a zone, then) up to Silver Tide Hollow, then I did all of the Therazane related story in Deepholm (getting a bit into 83), all of the Ramkahen story line in Uldum (which I think is probably shorter than the Harrison Jones story line), and will probably achieve 85 before finishing the entirety of the main storyline in Twilight Highlands.  It seems the 20% bonus I’m getting to experience (guild + 2 level 85 heirlooms) really does make leveling ridiculously fast.

That’s not really a complaint, since at this point my leveling really is about the destination, not the journey, but it’s good to know for the future.  I wonder how heirlooms will affect Pandaria.  I suspect they won’t work above 85 (as the old one’s didn’t in Cata), but what about first pandas to 90?  People with full heirloom sets will be getting an enormous boost to their leveling, in the neighborhood of 50% (guild 10, helm 10,  back 5, chest 10, shoulders 10, fishing ring 5), plus any more included, such as the heirloom pants (which have been designed a while but not yet incorporated), which would make it 60%.  Is it any wonder people view leveling as a chore when even Blizzard thinks you should be able to skip 60% of it?

That in and of itself is one of the problems, I think, with how we’ve come to view leveling.  When it’s something that we’re told we should want to skip, that sends a pretty clear message.  I think that very attitude is a small part of the elitism that’s cropped up in the game.  Apple Cider Mage discusses her position in her guild as a representative from the “Under 60” crowd:

 I felt that many people in the guild who weren’t at max level were being silenced to some degree…

Blizzard itself has said that it’s not worried about balancing classes under max level, and as a result we all know there’s some classes that are murderers in PvP and others that are victims.  Hell, consider Cynwise’s recent report on Warlock balance, particularly under 85, when most people stop playing them.

This is a problem of process versus product.  The language of this problem seems to conflict with Gaz’s argument about software as a service rather than a product, but regardless of the language issue, what we’re seeing here is a symptom of that problem. Blizzard’s entire focus is on end-game product, not the process by which one gets there. I acknowledge they’ve bent over backwards to make it easier to get to end game, but in no way have they worked to make it more enjoyable. In fact, one might argue that by making it shorter, they’re suggesting that the leveling process is not enjoyable, thus you’d want to get through it so quickly.

We see the same lack of foresight, the same focus on the end product, in the bad writing habits of our students.  Writing teachers are trained now to focus on the process of writing: prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing.  As students (and I’m sure all of did this), one often just writes on draft and turns it in.  There’s no real process involved at all.  However, better writing goes back, reflects, and plans.  It enables improvement upon areas of weakness.  It promotes positive change over simply getting work done.

Blizzard’s not reflecting, I don’t think, on the leveling process.  They’re sweeping it under the rug with more and more xp bonuses, recruit a friends, scrolls of resurrections, and so forth.  They’re acting like leveling was a mistake they’re embarrassed to have made.  As a result, that’s the reputation it’s gotten, regardless of whether it deserves it or not.

I think we’ll see some pushback against this view of leveling in the upcoming MMO titles.  We have The Secret World, which “doesn’t have levels” (more on that another day), Guild Wars 2, which “doesn’t have quests” (in the traditional sense), and the Elder Scrolls MMO, which I suspect will have character progression similar to the single player games, which was level-less.  Perhaps we can reclaim where we spend a lot of our game time, in leveling, as a place of fun and enjoyment.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and taking a bus and a train to get food tonight, even though I’d rather go somewhere in walking distance.  I’m adaptable, apparently)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2012 12:51 am

    The longest lasting in-game friendships I had were strongest from people I met leveling. Guilds have come and gone, but the people I can count on and enjoy playing with are those I’ve run across while leveling. Cataclysm and late Wrath seems to have wanted to kill as much of those opportunities as possible, taking much of the second M, and by proxy a big part of the first M of MMO out of WoW. To some extent they’ve seemed to grok that, what with cross-realm zones coming into play, but I doubt it’ll be enough; a big part of interaction with others while leveling was the forced grouping to finish some quests. I really don’t see much of that anymore with the removal of pretty much all of the elites and the streamlining and phasing of quest zones. We’ll see though, maybe I’m wrong.

    • June 18, 2012 12:01 pm

      I think that the broadening of the genre to include more people has forced the game to do less about bringing fewer players together. This increasing in size actually has a sociological and anthropological basis; the larger a community gets, the more fractured it becomes, until eventually a large group leave to form a new community, resetting the size of the community to a more cohesive size. I wonder if we can ever regain the early feeling we had, and I honestly suspect we can’t. I think the business has become so big that the community spirit has become irrelevant, in the same way that Wal-mart doesn’t have to be nice to every customer like a mom and pop store does because, frankly, one customer simply doesn’t matter.

      It’s sad, when you think about it that way.

      Thanks for the comment!

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