Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(Better) Lessons from Hallow's End

So I had a bit of a /rant session last time, but that's not to say I hate the seasonal events with a passion. Hallow's End is, in my opinion, one of the better seasonal events that takes place in the WoWverse. It has something to offer every player, from the Level 10 warrior in grays to the epiced-out 70s on 320% flying mounts. Mainly because of the free stuff. Okay, maybe I never did get my Horseman's Helm, but I did stumble upon a Ring of Ghoulish Delight and a Witches Band, both of which are equivalent to rings you'd have to pay 15 Badges of Justice for--and The Headless Horseman is by no means as difficult to down as a Heroic boss, much less 15.

Don't despair if you aren't 70 yet! Free stuff for all! Especially if you're level 30 or below and haven't found anything to fill your Helmet slot yet, find an Innkeeper and trick-or-treat. If you're lucky you'll find one of many available masks. Be a Tauren rogue for a day! Failing that, you may find a wand that'll transform any player into a bat, a wisp, a pirate, a ninja...Even the worst loot, the candy, is useful because it scales nicely as you level up. Or head for Goldshire and hunt down the Squashed Pumpkin Loot. Inside you'll find some Weighted Jack O' Lanterns that you can squash onto people's heads and, if you're lucky, a Rickety Magic Broom! Finally a mount for under-40s! (Disclaimer, mount doesn't actually go faster than walking. Keyword, "rickety" magic broom.)

So, I may never have gotten my helm, but that's okay. Free stuff is good no matter what.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lessons from Hallow's End

People are greedy assholes. Oh, and they desperately want to feel superior to you.

Hell, you probably already knew that. I certainly did, even before I made the trek up to Scarlet Monastery in hopes of finding a group to take down the Headless Horseman. I was such a naïve, idealistic Paladin back then, knowing that even if I was in a group with a healadin or a prot Warrior, they'd let the DPS plate wearer have it.

Can you see my mistake? Actually, there's more than one. The obvious glaring error was assuming that a member of a PUG will pass on an epic that they might, conceivably, once in a great while, find occasion to equip when there's someone who will wear it 100% of the time also in the group. This is what everyone and his Murloc non-combat pet calls the "OMG hunter lewtz" mentality. Sure, everyone makes fun of the huntard who equips an epic two-hander with no stats because "its teh epicz!!!111!!one" but the sad thing is I've actually had tankadins, prot warriors, and healadins say they wanted the helm and would roll against legitimate plate DPS...and no one makes fun of their huntard-esque noobiness.

The second error, and the much more crippling one, was assuming I'd be able to find a group. You'd be surprised how many people are so desperate for personal validation that they'll floccinaucinililpilify the Retribution paladin. Or, as they called me, "Retardadin," "noobadin," "lawlret," etc. Aside from proudly showing off their own ignorance, these insults do nothing but insult themselves, for the simple reason that despite what they seem to think, yes, I can DPS. I don't mean to brag in the least, but in instances I top the DPS meter more often than not, beating out Rogues, Hunters, Warlocks, even Mages--all while relegating myself to the task of off-tank or backup healer as necessary. So if I'm a "retardadin" and I'm beating you on the DPS list, what's that make you?

Oh, I already answered that. A person who desperately wants to feel superior. And you're probably a greedy asshole, too. /fart

Monday, October 22, 2007

Speaking of inflation...

There may not be a stock exchange in Orgrimmar, and there may not be a floor of day traders buying Wool Cloth futures in Ironforge, but as I mentioned last post, inflation is slowly but surely eroding the value of the gold piece with every quest turn-in.

Gold is always nice to have--you can't beat its fluidity, and it's certainly embarrassing to be caught short when your raid summons the Field Repair Bot. It's nice, but is it the best?

Gold, like paper money in real life, has no intrinsic value. You have the guarantee--of the vendors, of the government--that those numbers on your screen or on your bill can be traded for goods and services. The quantity of goods and services buyable with a given amount of gold varies depending on how much gold there is. (If you've been reading the other posts, I /sorry for repeating myself.)

So while you can't beat the ease that gold provides, it might behoove you in the long run to set aside a percentage of your money and invest in commodities. By that I mean items which (preferably) stack, have a relatively high value per unit, and are always in demand. A low vendor value is a plus, because it means you'll spend less listing it on the auction house. For the reason that they are in steady demand (and have a vendor sale price of zero), many savvy players will pick the Auction House clean of enchanting materials that are priced significantly below average, stockpiling them for a rainy day--or a day that finds the AH devoid of that particular material. Suddenly those stacks of Dream Dust that were purchased for 5 gold a stack when the market was flooded fly off the AH at 15 when they're all gone.

Equippable items generally do not make for good hedges, because of their extremely high deposit costs and sporadic demand. For a lower-level newbie, ores and cloth are good bets; the ratio of vendor value to potential AH price is very lucrative. Here's a rough idea of what to stockpile and unload on the AH at just the right moment:

Levels 1-20
Linen Cloth, Earthroot, Copper Ore, Moss Agate, Low level green items (Alts with big bankrolls are perfectly willing to shell out 1+ gold for greens with the right stats and level requirement)

Levels 21-40
Wool Cloth, Fadeleaf, Vision Dust, Tin Ore, Iron Ore

Levels 41-50
Mageweave Cloth, Gromsblood, Nether Essence, Mithril Ore, Jade

Levels 51-60
Thorium Ore, Dreamfoil, Golden Sansam, Eternal Essence, Illusion Dust, Large Brilliant Shard

Levels 61+
All Outland herbs, mining loot, and enchanting materials. Aldor/Scryer rep items, and Coilfang Armaments.

Happy speculating!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gold farming IV: Why even the famers are screwed

We're all hurtling headlong into a spiral of rampant inflation. Don't cancel your subscription just yet, though. (Even if you were nerfed in the last patch!)

You see, even though WoW is a masterpiece of a game that's played by 9 million worldwide and counting, and even if there's no end in sight to the game (God willing), the fact remains that gold farmers are selling someone else's property--and virtual property at that. It's the good old "Wanna buy a bridge?" joke, updated to modern standards.

World of Warcraft's economy isn't like a real-world one. Low-level characters with limited time may feel the pressure to buy gold, but the wonderful thing about inflation is that it affects the rich and the poor alike. In other words, to counteract the devaluation of the gold piece (that the farmers themselves caused) they will need to lower the price of their product. In other words, the farmers are essentially driving themselves out of business!

It may be worth the time now to farm while it's worth around 6 cents per gold, but gradually the gold piece's value will degrade as the farmers sell more and more of it. Once it becomes financially unsound, the farmers will up and leave--or, at the very least, seek greener pastures. And seeing as WoW is the 900-pound elephant of the MMORPG scene, I wish the soon-to-be-unemployed farmers luck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gold farming III: Why we're all screwed

So, why are we all screwed?

As I mentioned before, Blizzard has done an exemplary job of creating an environment in which gold is introduced to the economy via grinding and questing, but removed via vendors, mounts, and the Auction House fees.

Throw gold farmers into the mix and you end up with a bunch of Level 70s who can dole out damage and kill mobs like any other 70 worth their salt (well, maybe not the furry warriors). The thing that differentiates them from other 70s is, they don't give a piece of vendor trash about getting an epic flyer or gearing up in instances. They exist solely to grind for hours on end and convert their gold to money IRL.

The overall effect, if you follow me, is a bit like what happens when a band of counterfeiters begin to slip a bunch of phony $100 bills into circulation. There's suddenly a huge influx of money to the economy chasing a supply of goods that remains essentially the same. (Supply and demand, of course, is the principle that makes even the crappiest BoE epic sell for no less than 500g on a bad day in the trade channel.)

What does this cause? Well, in a word: inflation.

And who will suffer? It won't be the 70s in full tier 6; it won't even be the 70s who are struggling with an assorted mishmash of quest rewards and greens. It'll be the newbies, many of whom still think of one gold as being a large quantity of in-game money, who will suddenly balk at 10g stacks of copper ore, 50s Minor Healing Potions and ungodly expensive low-level greens. When a typical mob drops a handful of copper and quests reward sub-gold quantities of money, players will either beg or let their subscriptions expire. Sure, they could turn to gold farmers to alleviate this inflation, but of course that'll only exacerbate the problem.

Yet there is a glimmering, glowing, radiant, brilliant, even prismatic glimmer of hope for the game...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gold Farming II: Money sinks and inflation

Last time, I ended with a cliffhanger. Buying and selling WoW gold is a bannable offense, but why? Sure, there are purists who argue that it's a bit like steroids; spending gold that you didn't swing your own sword (or mace, or axe, or staff, if you happen to be a melee mage) to earn takes away from the game experience. There are legal beagles who point out that World of Warcraft®, a Medieval-Themed Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (hereinafter "WoW") is the intellectual property of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., LLC, LP, Ltd. (hereinafter "Blizz") and thus all components of WoW are the property of Blizz. In simpler terms, the farmers don't "own" the gold they're selling any more than they "own" the coding that allowed them to farm it in the first place.

But the real reason why gold farming is bad is much simpler. It'll eventually ruin the game.

And not in the purists' sense of the word either. I mean it'll literally make the game unfun, unfeasible, even unplayable. Even more so than Warlocks.

Let's take a gander at the in-game economy model. The two most basic methods of creating wealth in WoW are grinding and questing. If you kill a mob and it drops 16 Silver, 38 Copper, that money is "created" on the spot and added to your inventory. If you hand in a quest and are rewarded 11 Gold, that money is likewise created out of Netherweave--er, whole cloth. Then, if that mob happened to drop [Platemail Bracers of the Whale], and the quest reward was [Two-Handed Sword of Spirit], and you realize both items are crap and you ditch them at the vendor, that gold also didn't exist before and appears in your backpack. (For many players, the Auction House provides much more income than grinding or questing, but since that gold is merely going from one player to another, it doesn't introduce new money to the economy.)

Now, take into account the sheer number of players who are grinding and questing at any one time, and try to contemplate just how much gold is created on any given server on any given day. What you should realize quickly (unless your Intellect is unbuffed), is that with all this gold being created daily, and with most players' equipment either being bought off the AH or looted from a dead instance boss, the economy soon bloats.

And it would, were it not for Blizz's use of money sinks. That term refers to any means by which money is removed from the game environment, and they're everywhere. Vendors are the most obvious money sink, and we buy from them a lot more often than we realize. 50 silver for a Rune Thread, 6 gold for a tailoring pattern, 2 gold for a handful of Imbued Vials, 3 gold for a stack of Purified Draenic Water--it all adds up, even if we aren't conscious of it. If you're as bad at the instances as I am, then any given run results in a 15-gold repair bill. And if you're tempted to splurge on a vanity pet or what have you, then kiss a few more gold pieces goodbye. Training new skills (and re-speccing) also can lighten your purse; at Level 70 expect to pay 10 gold per new ability. Even listing items on the Auction House is fraught with hidden tariffs--the deposit cost and the 5% Auction House cut.

But by a big margin, the most daunting money sink that every player eventually encounters is the mount. At level 40, the price tag is a (comparitively) modest 90 gold. By level 60, when 90 gold seems, if not a trivial amount, then at least a realistic goal, the epic mount will set you back 630 gold. Once you've reached the pinnacle of your WoW-ness at Level 70, your normal flying mount costs a cool grand, while the awe-inspiring epic flier commands an equally stunning price: 5,200 gold.

As ludicrous as the price structure may seem, most players do eventually attain at least one or two of the mounts, thereby removing a decent chunk of change from the gamescape.

But why is that so important? Why can't players just amass thousands upon thousands of gold pieces and swim in them, sleep on them, very painfully make love to them? Quite simply, because it would cause hyperinflation. (And possibly a urinary tract infection; God only knows what else Taurens do with their gold pieces.)

The current system of money sinks is adequate for a normal economy whereby players still making their way towards Level 70 earn a substantial amount of gold, while players at the level cap abandon grinding in favor of raiding (which trades income for drool-worthy epics). An endgame player wouldn't spend his time grinding in the Elemental Plateau; he wouldn't have any need to. He would rather be blasting his way through Karazhan and stomping upon Serpentshrine Cavern.

Ah, but then what's the problem? Why is this well-designed economy still potentially headed for disaster? I know, and maybe you already do as well, but if you don't, you'll have to wait till the next blog... /dance

Gold Farming pt. 1: Introduction

It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon in the Alliance capital of Stormwind, and the radiance of the sun flooded its paved streets with a brilliant chrome sheen. Adventurers of every stripe congregated outside of doorways, unhurriedly taking their finds to the Auction House or paying their respects to Highlord Bolvar Fordragon in the keep. Suddenly a Level 1 character bolts up to the mailbox and exhorts, "Visit [URL deleted] for the best WoW Gold Prices~ $5.99 per 100G delivered in 1-24 hrs. Powerlevel 1-70 for $359 7 days guaranteed, Honorfarming $14.99 per 10K honor AV"

We're all familiar with this bizarre phenomenon in some form or another. Perhaps you've never had the misfortune of hearing one of these gold farmers hawking their wares in Orgrimmar, but surely you've stumbled upon the "player" who grinds for countless hours without so much as going AFK for a bio, or the 5000-gold piece of Linen Cloth that someone put on the neutral Auction House to transfer funds to whichever faction bought them. Failing that, surely you've heard the derogative terms "Chinese farmer" or "Ebayer", used to denigrate players who play so atrociously that they couldn't have earned their level and equipment, but instead shelled out real-life money for them.

It all seems too ludicrous to be true, until you do a Google search for "World of Warcraft gold" or something similar, and find hundreds of sites willing to sell you not only gold, but powerleveling as well. Blizzard has unwittingly spawned an inchoate industry that pulls in millions of (non-virtual) dollars annually. Unfortunately for both the players and the gold farmers who rely on their work as a matter of survival, gold farming is a self-destructive industry.

Let's examine for a second the possible impetus for gold farming, or more accurately, the compulsion to convert real-life currency for its in-game equivalent. Not many can argue that World of Warcraft is a deeply engaging game, but as characters become more powerful, an exponentially larger investment of time (and gold) is required to continue progress. At level 5 it would not be unusual to level up within an hour, but at level 50 that elusive ding could take days. Unfortunately, free time in real life does not always accommodate this ever-steepening curve, and there is immense pressure (from guild mates as well as from endgame content that requires a high level) to continue advancing toward Level 70. Hence, some players find it necessary to tip the scales in their favor by purchasing gold.

They do so, ultimately, at their own peril. Blizzard has not been shy about hitting gold buyers with their epic 2-handed mace, [The Banhammer]. And not without reason; first of all, the sale or purchase of any in-game paraphernaila--items as well as gold--is explicitly prohibited in the End-User License Agreement and the Terms of Use. Thousands of accounts have been erased, millions of collective man-hours deleted, because of the compulsion to buy 100 gold for $5.99.

That's nothing compared to what the supply side has suffered. In a 2006 crackdown against the gold farming industry, Blizzard nuked over 30,000 accounts, sending an amount of gold estimated to be nearly a billion into the depths of the Molten Core. At current market prices, 1 billion gold could sell for nearly $60 million.

Blizzard sure seems like a big bully in this market, but there must be a reason why gold selling is against the EULA, right?

Right--but I've reached the end of this blog entry. I'll get to the reasons next time around, I promise. /bye

Friday, October 12, 2007

Who is this guy and what's he think he's doing?

Hello everyone, and welcome to my blog, The World of Warcraft Times. To make a long story short, it's always seemed to me that the world has too many computer-game blogs written in a "serious" light, where the writer insists he's the pwnage and anyone who disagrees (or, heaven forbid, plays the game because it's fun and not just to mock those who aren't uber leet) isn't worthy of holding a mouse. Well, I'm not what you'd call a serious player by any means, and my goal here isn't to belittle anyone just because they aren't in full Tier 6. God knows I'll never have that kind of gear anyway.

No, what I want to do here is have fun in the name of WoW. I uncover the latent humor that's inherent in this game we play, wherever it lurks--PvP Battlegrounds, instances, Outland, or some remote corner of Kalimdor--and make it accessible to every player. I get in depth with topics that are usually only /w, er, whispered about: gold farming, power leveling, item duplication, GM duping. (No, I won't advocate any of them, but I will poke fun at the people who do.)

Yeah, that's all well and good. You might even be interested in reading future posts now. But I can hear you mumbling, "Fine, but who is this Kefra guy, and how dare he presume to write about WoW when I bet he's some lowbie 11-year-old sharing his older brother's account!" Fair enough. This is who I am:

Kefra, Level 70 Human Paladin. Retribution spec. Not great gear, but pretty decent considering how often I get to run instances (roughly three times per ice age). It's always a surprise to my group when I top the damage meters: "omg a retardadin out dps'd me wtf"

Skeeve, Level 70 Human Mage. Hybrid, Arcane/Fire build. Even worse gear, but at least I managed to make the Spellfire set. Has more epics than my main, but also still has several greens, /sigh. If I burn my cooldowns, I can get a Pyroblast to crit around 4700. It ain't a 10k Shadowbolt, but it's not bad, either.

Minikefra, Level 70 Human Warrior (yes, I am aware I have a human fetish). Protection spec. Truly pathetic gear. It looks half-decent but most of it was bought off the auction house, so meh. And before you ask, I'm a horrible tank. I was press-ganged into tank spec by my guild and have yet to get the hang of it...

Tatsuo, Level 59 Night Elf (gasp!) Rogue. Combat spec. Tatsuo's my semi-twink (which is my way of saying I'm too cheap to hit 60 and shell out 640 gold for yet another epic mount). Besides, it's fun to stunlock stuff in Arathi Basin, and 59 is the only level bracket that hasn't been flooded with twinks...yet. Plus, it's ridiculously easy to twink 59, with Outland greens besting epics.

Aragom, Level 19 Human Warrior. Weird spec. He used to be my brother's, until he quit. I twinked him as best I could, but seeing as he's about 85% of the way to level 20, that rules out a lot of quest-reward twink gear. (No, he doesn't have a Sentry Cloak. Would you pay 150 gold for 2 agility?)

I like to think I have a fair amount of WoW experience and lore to share. Stay tuned, the actual content is coming soon.