Monday, February 18, 2013

WoW is for Morons and Slackers: A Dissenting View

If you are a regular reader of Gevlon (aka the Greedy Goblin) you will know that the term "morons and slackers" is his pet phrase to describe players who don't fit his typology of the competent gamer. I must confess that I'm a regular reader of Gevlon's blog, and I have, up to this point, been content with simply reading his weekly posts, marvelling at his obvious command of the in-game economics of both Eve Online and World of Warcraft while simultaneously being perplexed at his attempts to articulate a consistent model of philosophy and gaming theory. In my opinion he is at his best and most incisive when carrying out market analysis in both Eve and WoW, and contradictory and unconvincing when trying to create typologies of gamer types and player motivations (all "rational" players become Gevlon archetypes and do not take into account differing motivations for playing). The purpose of this post, however, is not to deal with either topic - the aim here is to critically examine some of Gevlon's assertions regarding WoW and to at least provide some balancing counter-arguments against the claim that WoW is purely for "morons and slackers". I know that WoW is Gevlon's favourite punching bag, and he often compares Eve Online to WoW, often to the latter's detriment -  while he does make good points he has a habit of making unsupported generalizations which does not apply to all of the entity known as WoW. The thrust of my argument is that while WoW caters for the broadest possible market there exists in-game several sub-species of gaming which are extremely competitive environments where skill, planning, strategy and teamwork are not just present, but are mandatory if you wish to excel. Gevlon argues that WoW requires no skill. This is a dissenting opinion.

"In WoW if you play totally incompetently, do whatever you desire in the moment, ignore planning and thinking, you still get every possible in-game reward." (Gevlon, 28 December 2012)

The problem with such a sweeping assertion is that it fails to address that WoW is not a monolithic entity, but rather quite a large game composed of several distinct sub-games. The most obvious rebuttal to this statement is the area of WoW which I personally love and spend most of my time on - ladder-based PvP, specifically Arena and Rated BGs. Ironically the reason why I found Gevlon's blog was because I began a Rated BG team in 2011 and I found his page while searching the web for Rated BG tactics. Gevlon's old WoW guild played Rated BGs to a decent level of achievement and proficiency, given the fact that they progressed to a point where they were using complex tactics as articulated on Gevlon's website. Gevlon of all people would know that incompetent play and lack of planning ensures complete failure in this type of competitive PvP environment, and therefore it surprises me that he continues to make such sweeping generalizations such as the one cited above given his own first hand experience. Not everyone gets the Gladiator title, or Duelist, or Rival, or even Challenger. Not everyone gets Arena Master. In fact, the vast majority of the WoW playing population doesn't even have the lowest level of Arena achievement, which would be the 1550+ achievement. Of all the in-game rewards that are supposedly available for everyone, PvP based ones are the most difficult to achieve and in fact, will be out of reach for the vast majority of the WoW player base.

"'Failure' is not defined in WoW... In such an environment making effort or gaining skill is wasting time. I left it for Eve in hope for a competitive environment." (Gevlon, 28 December 2012)

"PvP is competitive play. But to have a competition we must be able to compare performance." (Gevlon, 4 February 2013)

Ladder based PvP provides exactly the type of competitive environment that Gevlon claims does not exist in WoW. Furthermore, the existing ladder gives us a way to "compare performance" which, according to Gevlon himself, is essential to PvP play. Blizzard has clearly delineated four tiers of skill for Arena, as shown by the achievements at 1550+, 1750+, 2000+ and 2200+ respectively. Higher than that and you are among the elite that have the skill and reflexes to compete in regional and global tournaments for real world money. If we equate success and failure with winning and losing then one can see the fallacy of Gevlon's statement. The WoW PvP ladder is one of the most competitive places in gaming, on par with gaming leagues such as League of Legends and Blizzard's own Starcraft 2.

I also object to the assertion that "making effort or gaining skill" is a waste of time. Speaking personally I have laboured hard to become a halfway decent PvPer, and I can track my improvement over the years in my personal PvP diary. I would really like to be able to see Gevlon's avatar in WoW so I can ascertain the levels of achievement and see his highest achieved ratings in PvP. This is not to mock or belittle his WoW "PvP credentials", but to rather point out that regardless of the level of achievement, you can always push higher, all the way to even competing at World Championship level if you are good enough. So even if Gevlon is a retired Gladiator (top 0.5% of the Battlegroup) or a disillusioned Arena Master (2.2k in all Arena brackets), there is always room for improvement (plus the chance to win a good chunk of money at the highest levels of play). I am not a good player, but each season I labour to be better, and my gradual improvement over the seasons point to the fact that i) there exists a discrete skill set which governs success and failure in the WoW PvP ladder; and ii) this skill set can be learned and acquired over time and practice. This skill set includes but is not exclusive of, competence with one own's character, knowledge of enemy classes, knowledge of team compositions, knowledge of counters, coordination of burst and CC, effective team communication and team synergy, amongst other things.

My theory of Gevlon, formulated from reading his posts, is that he was an avid and quite successful WoW raider until he got tired of how accessible raiding had become, and switched over to Eve. He also played WoW PvP,  but did not find it to his liking - or rather, it was not enough to make him stay. There is nothing wrong this - after all we all play games we like for our own reasons - but his claims that there exists no competitive environment where performance is measurable is an outright misrepresentation of this sub-game of WoW. Unlike Gevlon I do not think there are "rational" or "correct" reasons to play - if someone wants to spend all their time fishing in WoW, then more power to him/her. This choice is as equally valid as the choice to PvP. However, if Gevlon claims that he left WoW "in hope of a competitive environment" then he did himself a disservice because such an environment already exists in Arenas and Rated BGs. His critiques of WoW (i.e. insignificant death penalties and easy rewards) are stronger when applied to random BGs and world PvP, but he makes no distinction between the differing modes of play and instead lumps them together in sweeping generalizations. I don't disagree that AFKing in random BGs will eventually earn you as much honor as actively playing, albeit at a much slower rate, nor that over time (especially with the 5.2 changes) everyone will be wearing the same PvP gear, regardless of skill level. If, however, your goals are not simply the acquisition of gear but rather pushing position on the PvP ladder and achieving PvP milestones (1550+, 1750+, 2000+ and 2200+), then you will find that WoW does indeed have one of the most competitive ladder tournaments in the gaming world, and one that rewards skill, strategy and teamwork. The acquisition of gear is merely a means to an end, and mere acquisition does not guarantee success. I merely point to the fact that many fully Malevolently geared players in Season 12 seem incapable of hitting 1550+ in either the Arena or Rated BG format. Gear differential can be decisive in lower levels of play, but as teams get higher on the ladder and meet equivalently geared opposition then it truly becomes a test of skill and teamwork. Class balance and team composition are also factors, but that is a different argument entirely - the pertinent point is that in WoW, measurable competition does exist, and winning and losing has a decisive effect on the standings of the players involved.

My argument has been solely focused on PvP ladder of WoW, but perhaps a similar argument can be made for Challenge dungeons and Heroic raids. Challenge dungeons offer a quantifiable way of measuring achievement by measuring best clear times on an individual, guild, realm and world level. A certain level of gear is necessary but there is a cap which effectively levels the playing field after a certain point. Heroic raids are the 3rd tier of raiding difficulty after LFR and Normal and present a harder level of difficulty for raiders looking for greater challenges. I will refrain from commenting further, however, as I no longer raid or do any kind of substantial PvE activity and I am unable to give the argument the depth it deserves. But at first glance there seems to be fertile ground for arguing that even in PvE there exist challenges in WoW that require preparation, skill and teamwork which would preclude "morons and slackers".

Should people be defeated in a game or should they always win? (Gevlon, 6 February 2012)

Gevlon asserts that everyone wins in WoW, and points to the low death penalty as proof of this. Winning and losing are contextual events. A single soccer game is meaningless (except to the teams involved). A single PvP encounter devoid of context, whether in Eve Online or WoW, is equally meaningless except to those involved, whose motives for playing may vary from simple boredom, personal validation, guild loyalty, personal spite, or any number of other possible reasons. In this sense, Gevlon is right when he says PvP in WoW is meaningless. But his argument applies equally to any kind of competitive play which is not rooted in a larger context. Once PvP becomes embedded in a larger context then it becomes bigger than itself, so to speak. In WoW what gives PvP context for me personally is the tournament ladder. What was a simple PvP melee suddenly has consequences - if you you win, you advance, if you lose, you drop. There is no "welfare" here, nor can everyone be considered "winners". If we apply Gevlon's own test - "while evaluating the game, ignore PvP status and seek if the player has a chance to lose or he can only win regardless of which buttons he pressed (Gevlon, 6 February 2013)" - then I can state without reservation that there are winners and losers in WoW. If I AFKed in a Rated BG my team's chances would be materially affected, we would probably lose, our rating would plummet, and I would probably never be able to play in a competitive team ever again. If I AFKed in a normal random BG there would be no consequences, except perhaps running the risk of getting banned for a few hours. It is the ladder which gives meaning to PvP in WoW. Rated and randoms are entirely different entities in the same way league matches and friendlies are in soccer, but Gevlon makes no distinction between them when he attacks WoW in his posts.

Eve Online appears to be an entirely different creature altogether. From what I have seen and read of Eve Online the context which frames PvP for a large number of players appears to be the continuing battle for dominance between differing player alliances in null-sec. This, I confess, is one of the greatest attractions of Eve Online. A persistent world where player actions have lasting impact - sounds awesome! I loved Dark Age of Camelot, and like many players, am still waiting for its "spiritual successor" (fail Warhammer Online fail). Gevlon's criticisms are based on this kind of persistent world PvP context. His critiques are right on the money when he compares Eve Online and WoW, i.e. the death penalty is very light, and open world PvP makes no meaningful changes to the persistent world. No matter how hard we try our guild can never burn down Orgrimmar (not that we haven't tried on numerous occasions) nor can I ever impose more than a 30s wait time on any enemy I "kill" in world PvP. What I object to, however, is the constant misrepresentation of the whole of WoW as a simple, skill-less game without consequence because of the "barrenness" of its world PvP. Arenas, Rated BGs. Challenge dungeons and Heroic raids pose non-trivial challenges to anyone unsatisfied with the easy content that Blizzard has to offer.

Gevlon says he wants a "competitive environment" where player performance is "measurable". If this was true he would have stayed in WoW and tried his hand at tournament ladder PvP. No, what he really wants is meaningful PvP embedded in a larger meta-game context - hence his criticism that "Eve will never be nerfed into a place where you can't kill another player... CCP is constantly nerfing it into a place where the other player won't care about the loss (Gevlon, 16 January 2013)." This is a type of game I would personally like to play as well, and what gives Eve Online much of its allure. There is no question that Eve Online has a richer and more complex world PvP environment than WoW. However, the fact that WoW has no meaningful open world PvP makes Gevlon dismiss it as a welfare game where "making effort and gaining skill is a waste of time". I hope that this post has, at the very least, dispelled some of these misconceptions by highlighting the areas of WoW which are, in reality, quite competitive zones of play where performance can be quantifiably measured and winning and losing has a material impact on the players. I agree with quite a few things Gevlon has to say about the low death penalties and the easy access to rewards, but these comments are only convincing when applied to the most accessible of Blizzard's content - namely, random BGs, LFG/LFR content and perhaps regular raid content. I cannot presume to speak for PvE content as I am no raider, but the feeling my team mates and I experience when we defeat higher rated teams in ranked PvP is one of the chief reasons why I remain a Blizzard subscriber. Conversely the numerous meltdowns I have witnessed on Skype when we lose a close Rated match are proof that contrary to Gevlons's assertion, not everyone wins in WoW. Participating in ranked PvP is as real as playing in chess or bridge tournaments, or in real life sports leagues like soccer or rugby, inasmuch as to how it affects people when it comes to winning and losing. It demands skill, teamwork and practice, and it most definitely is not a place for "morons and slackers".

1 comment:

  1. You said "My theory of Gevlon, formulated from reading his posts, is that he was an avid and quite successful WoW raider until he got tired of how accessible raiding had become"

    I think the opposite. He got tired of raiding in WoW because he could no longer do it well. He thought himself a competent raider during Wrath of the Lich King, which was his high-point in raiding. In fact, earlier raids had had a lot of slack in them, so raiding groups could often carry poor players. When Gevlon assembled good and motivated raiders in WotLK, he found he could down raid bosses in blue gear.

    However, perhaps due to Gevlon's criticism, or perhaps because of a general improvement among raiders, through tools like recount and world of logs, new raids became less lenient in Cata, and Gevlon suddenly found that he wasn't making progress any more. In my opinion, the main reason for that was his absurd decision not to allow his raiders to use voice-comms, coupled with less forgiving raid mechanics that meant mistakes were more punishing than before.

    However, for whatever inscrutable reasons, Gevlon decided it was the dance: the actions you had to take to avoid the stuff on the floor, or to avoid boss mechanics or whatever. Gevlon kept standing in stuff and getting killed. Or another raid member would. Whilea more forgiving raid boss might still be 9-manned, the new bosses were made of sterner stuff.

    So, in the face of this lack of progress, Gevlon blamed the dance. This despite the fact that he had earlier claimed to use the Heigan dance in Naxxramas to see if potential raiders should be allowed a spot (though I can't find a quote for this just now). Rather than learn from his mistakes and improve, he did exactly what he claims slackers do: he whined to Blizzard to nerf the raids for him.

    It wasn't because raiding became too accessible that Gevlon quit WoW. It was because it became inaccessible to him.

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