Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Searching for Fun in Noblegarden

Blizzard's latest holiday is up and running, allowing the visual atrocity you see before you. How does Noblegarden fare?

This was a triumph....
The good news is that Noblegarden is over comparatively quickly, and offers good rewards. I'd estimate that it took me something on order of 3-4 hours to complete, including learning the tricks to hunting for eggs. Specifically, the tricks were:

- Going to the Draenai starting area instead of the overly popular Elywnn,
- Looking for eggs during off-hours
- Once I'd settled on an area to farm, learning where the spawn points were, with a focus on the ones that other players were having trouble finding (thus leaving any eggs that spawned there waiting for me)
- And, above all else, farming up the 250-300ish chocolates in a series of mind-numbing clickfests rather than spending a single chocolate prematurely, so as not to waste chocolates buying items that I would subsequently find in eggs for free.

The haul over this time was a non-combat pet (with some... interesting animations), three complete tuxedos, one spring robe (needed for an achievement), two pairs of Playboy Bunny ears for my head, four bouquets of spring flowers, four of the item that turns your party members into rabbits, the coveted tome of polymorph: rabbit, and the all-important entry towards the holiday meta achievement. Hard to complain about that from a reward:time ratio, even after I had to destroy all the soulbound duplicates for lack of storage space.

There's no use crying over every mistake
Blizzard clearly heard the community's complaints about how certain previous world events are designed to fail players who got unlucky via the random number generator. Thus was born Noblegarden, designed from the ground up to demonstrate that a holiday can be uninteresting and generally not that much fun despite offering great reward bribes that are not at all dependent on the favor of the RNG.

The central mechanic of the holiday consists of running around in circles around towns trying to click on easter eggs before other players do.

(Klep argues, and Daria concurs, that you're better off camping a specific spawn point. I respectfully disagree. Not all spawns are created equal; some of them put the player in reach of multiple egg spawns, but good luck getting one of those to yourself. Worse, you might end up in a lone spawn point STILL racing to beat other players to click the egg. By contrast, you'll get very very few eggs running around until you learn where the relatively well-hidden spawns that players don't know about are, at which point your eggs/time ratio goes through the roof - your egg acquisition may vary if you're trying this in Elwynn forest during peak hours.)

That's it. Just about the whole holiday.

Oh, there are some other quirks, like an achievement for literally sitting still until your rabbit form lays an egg, which took my character thirty two minutes (during which time I showered, shaved, got dressed for work, packed my lunch, and took out the garbage). But the major activity is seeing whether you can click on eggs faster than the other players equally desperate to get all their egg hunting over with for the holiday. It's fun little lesson in the quirks of client-server latency - that other player who appears to have arrived at your egg after you did actually got there first in the server's opinion.

Among the things the holiday is NOT are challenging, interesting, or even especially time consuming. You need a bare minimum of 105 eggs (you need to eat 100 and I don't think the egg to set in your faction's capitol can be looted), plus enough extras to buy whichever of the required non-trade-able items (the robe, the flowers, and the pet bunny, which cost 50, 50, and 100 respectively) you don't get lucky and win outright from eggs.

I ended up getting four sets of flowers and the rabbit, after which I bought the tome (an extra 100 chocolates over what non-mages need, some of which would have been wasted if I hadn't been a mage) and the robe with chocolates (the formalwear is not soulbound and is very cheap on the AH). The chocolates-as-currency mechanic puts an upper limit on the amount of time it will take - you should be done after hitting a bit over 300 eggs even if you don't get anything but chocolates.

I'm not even angry
Buried in this holiday is an achievement that I realize in hindsight is somewhat of an exercise in objectifying women. The "Shake Your Bunny-Maker" achievement requires players to stick Playboy Bunny ears on the heads of female characters "of at least 18th level". Lest there be any confusion about whether these were a playful gag, like sticking up a pair of fingers behind a friend's head in a photo, or a reference to porn, clever Blizzard wanted to make it clear that they're not having any under-age Bunny Playmates in its game.

It was only after a while that I began to think about what this process meant for the actual players of the female characters in question. The game provides plenty of time for such thought, as the flowers required to apply the bunny ears have a 5-minute cooldown, and you need to put the ears on at least 8 women - more if you waste a cooldown because someone beat you to putting ears on your victim. On top of that, once you get the more common races out of the way, you can expect to spend some time looking for more obscure race/gender combinations (really, any of the non-Blood Elf Horde races are less common in Dalaran, from a visual inspection anyway).

I quickly narrowed the field down to two more races - Tauren and Undead. This is where things got difficult, as there weren't any players of those races standing in the middle of town, immediately clicking off their ear-buff so that others could get achievement credit. Finally, I found a Tauren female with a pair of ears on. As I waited for 30 seconds or so for the ears to expire, I noticed that I wasn't the only player following this character around. I beat the other four or so male characters camping this poor Tauren to clicking a free pair of ears on her, but then I felt a bit bad about it.

Most female characters in these games are, in fact, played by men anyway. Still, is this really a message in objectification of women that we need to be sending in a game world where most female characters have nigh-anorexic body types to begin with? How would you feel if it were your daughter or wife's character? If someone went around sticking Playboy Bunny ears on them against their will in public in real life? You could play the "it's only a game card" on that last question, but I think we can agree that "go kill 300 Circuit City employees for a faction discount at Best Buy" is further from socially acceptable offline behavior in real life than "slap a pair of bunny ears on some girl, and be told grats by all the guys".

Is this really worth the little chuckle that we get out of the "Bunny-maker" pun and the bit about the 18th level?

(Fortunately, I was able to find a deserving target for my final set of bunny ears. A female undead rogue had set up camp in plain view about 50 yards inside the Horde quarter of Dalaran, knowing that Alliance players who needed achievement credit would try to get to her only to be stunned and thrown out by the guards. What the player was not counting on was the fact that the guards don't attack players who have parachuted in off flying mounts in a kamikaze bunny ear attack. Given the chuckles they were clearly having watching players try and fail to reach them, I felt no guilt in tagging that last target for the achievement.)

Look at me still talking...
Despite all these complaints, there's no denying that the holiday is reasonably well implemented. Eggs immediately respawn elsewhere, making the spawn rate scale dramatically with the number of players present. The pet bunny has a hopping animation, and a copulating animation, both of which are a bit more work than simply recoloring an existing non-combat pet. As I said, the reward-time ratio is unimpeachable.

So why is it that I still prefer EQ2's far less elaborate live events to WoW's high production value holidays?

EQ2's events come and go to provide a little something extra to the world, a slight distraction, which offers decent rewards in and of itself. By contrast, WoW's meta achievement has turned its holidays into high-pressure time-sensitive grindfests that appears to be designed around having large numbers of players try and fail to complete the achievements.

SOE is not exactly churning out tons and tons more content than Blizzard is, and they're certainly not adverse to making players grind, but even they do not seem to feel that certain things - like lengthy grinds during extremely short events - are a positive addition to the game. By contrast, Blizzard churns out content about as quickly as my fuzzy pink rabbit-self, and feels like every single bit of it needs to be restructured into something to occupy the time of bored achievers (such as myself). Design, challenge, fun, and even the ordinarily far slower speed on the incentive reward curve all go by the wayside in favor of anything that occupies that precious content gap for another week or two.

Getting back to a point that I made yesterday, I wonder if Blizzard isn't missing the point. It is possible for them to tack enough incentives onto an event to convince me to do whatever they've come up despite any other complaints - from that standpoint, Noblegarden goes down as a huge success.

The problem in the longterm is that such bribes last for exactly as long as it takes to finish the content - I stopped hunting after precisely 255 eggs, much as I've left behind dozens of daily quest hubs the moment I finished the relevant reputation grind. If Blizzard wants to make content that is actually enough fun that players will voluntarily continue to use it, they need to break out of the mentality that achievements for temporary holiday content need to weed out the majority of players to ensure that the rewards remain a rare mark of prestige. When players finish up an event and express a combination of relief that it's over and dread over the upcoming Children's Week, the developers are doing it wrong.

On to Children's Week, for the people who are still alive....


  1. The egg hunting depends heavily on the number of people in the area. Sometimes every egg is camped and chasing just means running from one instantly grabbed egg to the next. There might be no 'secret' eggs.

    You brought up some interesting points though. The careful order of chocolate spending reminds me of the old counter-intuitive rep grinds where you wanted to delay turning in anything, even quests, until certain rep levels. Ears seem much less funny on further thought. They should have made it one of every race, regardless of class, then the horror of boy bunny belfs can neutralize the sexism.

  2. I'm doing this event on and off as I'm questing in the Ghostlands (not another blood elf!) and I did enjoy it quite a bit, running around for eggs as a bunny and try to beat people to them was neat. I don't have anything to compare it too because I've only been playing the game for 2 weeks or so.

    I haven't gotten to the bunny ear achievement not sure if I will. But as a woman I think it's funny and not unlike Blizzard to be sassy. I don't take particular offense as men are just as objectified in society as women are really.

  3. "When players finish up an event and express a combination of relief that it's over and dread over the upcoming Children's Week, the developers are doing it wrong."

    Yep. Blizzard is doing it wrong and getting rid of the RNG is a big mistake, as I said before. What Blizzard doesn't seem to get is that when people complain it shows that they are paying attention and they care. Instead of seeing complaining as success, they see it as failure. Blizzard solution to this is to make the content so boring that people stop paying attention and therefore stop caring. Just marvelous.

    Bored achievers is exactly right. If you make the content too easy, we stay bored. If you make it to hard, we fail to achieve.

    I hope you realize how ironic it is GA that now that you have stopped QQing about the RNG you are now QQing about being bored. I bet over at Blizzard HQ they are stomping around muttering under their breath that there is just no pleasing some people.

    Which is exactly right. There is no pleasing some people. So stop trying Blizzard. If you do, you just might find that these people find a way to please themselves. After all there is nothing wrong with being unhappy and not being unhappy about it.

  4. "they need to break out of the mentality that achievements for temporary holiday content need to weed out the majority of players to ensure that the rewards remain a rare mark of prestige."You said it.

    I don't see why they have to make these holiday events so stupid. Why must there be a limiter? I think merely sticking with it for a full year is enough reward for getting the drake.

    Why can't you just have one part of each meta-achievement require you to be a certain level (like the lunar festival elder in heroic Gundrak) so that you'll just get the drake as a side effect of being level 80 for a full year? I think long-term loyal customers deserve to get something.

    After all, they didn't make us do any long-term achievements to get the baby blizzard bear on the 4th anniversary -- we just had to log on during that week and all of our characters got one.

    Oh yeah, and PS: as a woman, I don't find the bunny ear achievement offensive at all.

  5. OMG!

    For a moment there I thought I was looking in a mirror...

    But I don't have bunny ears...

    I might yet drag myself over to the PC in search of 100 eggs just to get the poly... maybe... maybe...


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