Sunday, September 20, 2009

What A Long, Strange Trip It Has Been

The year-long ordeal is over. The Violet Proto-Drake, with its coveted 310% flight speed, is mine. To reach this milestone, I:

The trip was not merely long and strange, but also rocky, and, frankly, an embarrassment for the developers of the world's most lucrative MMORPG. There is no excuse for the easily forseeable bugs and reset issues from previous years - those of us who were actually paying attention were warning them about things like the Children's Week dailies (seriously, why was it a good idea to require players to play on five consecutive days out of seven to begin with?) months in advance.

For me personally, wrapping up this chapter in the Wrath era leaves me with two major lessons about myself and the genre in general.

Lesson 1: All Incentives Are Temporary
Two years ago, I was all about the gear grinds. I went through and made my Pally alt into an uncrushable tank without setting foot in an instance just because it amused me to be able to do so. Then came more expansions and more gear resets, especially the game-changer in patch 3.2.

Today, I literally have emblems that I could be spending to upgrade my current gear, but I'm not even bothering to do so. I already outgear all of the content that I actually use, and the gear I might buy will be obsolete in mere months. I might as well just save the emblems for heirlooms I can use on alts next expansion, which won't be obsolete in a year.

Even the shiny mount that I worked so long and hard for drives this point home. The mount flies at +310% speed, a slight increase from the otherwise standard 280% speed of epic flying mounts (though I barely notice it). The catch is that JUST this mount moves at that speed. The Proto-Drake was the 73rd mount added to my stable. That means I have 72 mounts that force me to go slower in order to ride them. If this sort of thing does not dampen your enthusiasm for further mounts, you're just not paying attention.

Lesson 2: Just because you CAN get it....
More personally, this trek drove home an important lesson about attainability. There are other 310% mounts in the game. You can be in the top percent of the arena bracket, or you can raid some of the game's toughest content. These things never affected me in the slightest, because they were unattainable.

By contrast, the only thing really standing in between players and the proto-drake was the random number generator. Blizzard somehow thought that players would start on the achievement grind with the easily attained achievements (e.g. buy and eat a cheap item from a vendor), come up short on one or more of the more onerous achievements (e.g. find a group and fight this daily boss five times a day for the entire event and still have a significant chance of never winning the drop), and not feel like they'd been the victim of a bait and switch.

Alternately, players could push on through events that, frankly, were rarely fun even when they weren't crippled by poor testing and bugs. The further you progressed into the event, the greater the pressure. Giving up after that 12th candy heart attempt meant not getting credit for the hours and hours you spent working on it. Giving up later meant giving up the reward for even more. In the end, the reward was attainable, but that does not mean that it was WORTH attaining.

Fun in spite of the incentives?
Where was the fun in these achievements? Forcing players who don't PVP into battlegrounds that they are not geared for, to do things that impede the nominal goal of the team in winning the match? Running around some newbie area to try and beat dozens of other players to click on the egg literally hundreds of times? Riding a ram back and forth on a track hundreds of times? Storming an instance at level 80 to beat the stuffing out of some poor level 71 non-heroic boss who had the misfortune of obtaining a Santa hat?

That's not to say that the holidays on a whole failed. The holiday quests were, in most cases, legitimately interesting (or at least brief). Little extra incentives to explore the world, though the elders in the Lunar Festival or the bonfires at Midsummer were fun, especially now that we know we were actually making a bit of a farewell tour around the old world. However, these things had very little to do with the achievements - they were fun before achievements arrived and remained fun in spite of the new system.

Until this holiday grind, I can't think of something that I have spent the effort to work on in an MMORPG that I ultimately regretted pursuing. There's a first time for everything. In fairness, part of this experience was colored by the unreasonable time requirements of the Valentine's event (which were so bad that they retroactively awarded credit to people who gave up, even after some of us suckers actually completed the task as designed). Even without that unreasonable entry, though, I cannot think of anything I did specifically because of an achievement that I really look back on and am happy that I did.

In some ways, this journey explains my shift over the last year away from a focus on a single game and towards sampling the best of all worlds. I have been burned by the Wrath of the Achievement King - it turns out that the rewards I've been working for aren't really worth it, and I might not even enjoy the journey to get them. And I have one very violet mount to prove it.

As advertised, this is one very very violet proto-drake.


Professor Beej said...

Congratulations! I am really happy to see that it finally happened and was worth the time and effort put in. I personally don't have the gumption to stick with the meta that long, but I really am glad to see that there are those who would.

Again, congrats!

Klepsacovic said...

That thing almost burns the eyes. It would make a good pony color.

I'll get mine sometime over the next week as I go through the various brewfest ticket-giving events.


spinksville said...

I think it's a little unfair to say that players were forced into battlegrounds, or forced to do anything really. You chose to keep going even after you'd decided that it wasn't all that fun for you.

Congrats on the mount, enjoy it! And I'd take a year (or so) off from holidays now.

Longasc said...

Nice dragon!

But regarding achievements/titles and what they make players do (players will do everything for every minor item/advantage, even more so for a faster mount that is a dragon) let me put it bluntly, I already elaborated about my dislike for this achievement grind on various websites:

Achievements suck!!!!!!!!

Yeebo said...

"Storming an instance at level 80 to beat the stuffing out of some poor level 71 non-heroic boss who had the misfortune of obtaining a Santa hat?"

We are only one day in, and this is already a strong contender for blog quote of the week. I love the sympathy it extends towards bosses :-)

More on topic, I think that there is a big difference between rewards that are hard to obtain because the requirements involve exceptional skill to overcome, and those that are hard to achieve because few sane humans have the patience to weather the repetition involved in them.

Oliver said...

Also, in regards to the Children's Week daily - you actually just had to do 5 daily quests, any 5, in any one day, would satisfy the achievement requirement. I understand that's not how it was worded at the time, but that's how it worked. No secret was made of this fact, at the time either, that I can recall.

Oliver said...

Also, as a secondary point, Blizzard has also stated they want to adjust mounts next patch so once you get one 310% mount, all of your swift flying mounts adjust to that speed. (This also includes swift flight form).

Sid said...

Congratulations, Greenarmadillo!

You're the first player I know that has this mount. It's been a long, strange trip.

Gratz, master soloer!


Green Armadillo said...

@Prof: As I said, I'm not sure if I would start it over from scratch if I had to, but once you've gone so far it really becomes a momentum question. :)

@Klep: Violet Proto-Pony?

@Spinks: Unless you've been kidnapped by powerlevelers who will kill you if you don't level their characters, everything in MMORPG's is optional. The insidious thing about this year-long trek is that the subsequent steps become even more critical due to the time you've already invested.

The other point about the battleground achievements in particular is that they're actually badly designed incentives. The point to luring players into content is for them to enjoy the content, not get destroyed because they have no resilience and all their opponents are chasing a personal achievement instead of trying to win.

And yes, I think I'll be steering a wide berth around WoW holidays for the near term.

@Long: But how do you really feel about the system? :P

@Yeebo: This thing was a bit unusual in that they apparently INTENDED for players to fail at various steps due to RNG disfavor. It was possible to kind of blunder into this project without really knowing what it would entail.

@Oliver: Yes, that's what they had to change the Childrens' week achievement to after rolling the event live with the original "five consecutive days" design and discovering that it reset itself. They would have left it the way it is actually written if they had been able to fix the bugs in time, but there was no other fair way to deal with the problem once it went live with a reset bug.

I had read the idea of speed boost discussion more as something they were considering than as something that was confirmed for 3.3. Obviously, I'll be pretty happy if it goes in.

@Sid: Yeah, I was paying attention to the draft form of achievements last year, and had just about everything (brew club, the full outfit) banked. If I had actually been subscribing in August, I might well have been a world first at the Brew of the Year achievement.

Dorgol said...

I missed one item for Hallow's End (the Hallowed Helm). Otherwise, I'm on track.

And I don't regret these achievements one bit. I've always done the Holidar Events, even before Achievements (Easter was the sole exception, but the expanded holiday allowed me to participate this year).

Was there some frustration and stress? Absolutely. Those candies were frighteningly frustrating.

But Blizzard did a great job of fixing things that were viewed as "too punishing". Candy requirements were lowered, mount requirements were removed, Brew of the Year was removed.

I'm betting the Violet Drake will move to a Feat of Strength at the end of the year, and a new meta will be added to incorporate the new Thanksgiving Holiday. Then the decision will have to be "do I do these Achievements AGAIN on the same character?!?".

Should be fun. :)

Beltayn said...

When all this achievement crap started, I took one look at it and decided achievements were idiotic. After I actually ran around with friends who would singlemindedly pursue even the most moronic of achievements with a rather terrifying obsession, I got to the stage where I didn't even want to hear about them.

Achievements actually leave a bad taste in my mouth. All they seem to do is make idiots out of otherwise normal people.

I've actively avoided the holidays because of the mindset they've engendered. The violet proto-drake sounded nice, but after looking at the idiocy I would have had to perform to get it, I never got to a point where I felt it was worth it.

I'll raid and PvP as long as it's fun, but no reward dangled in front of me is going to make me do something I wouldn't normally do for the sheer fun of playing the game.