Thursday, October 31, 2013

Diaries of a Ganker, Part II - Landfall in Pandaria

I transferred my 85 rogue to Illidan because I was taken aback at the massive disparity between the Alliance and Horde as illustrated on the WoWProgress and US Server Population websites, and I wanted to experience first-hand what this felt like. I've always believed that ganking in WoW is a manageable and often overrated threat based on my own experience on Frostmourne and Garithos. I'm willing to concede that I may be wrong, because it was only recently that I found out that the Alliance outnumber the Horde on Frostmourne 2 to 1. If I can level a non-stealth toon from 1 to 90 on the most (or second most, depending on what stats you use) populated realm in the US and where the disparity between the Horde and Alliance is at its starkest (4500+ to 1, according to WoWProgress), then it will confirm to my own satisfaction that ganking in WoW is no impediment to attaining the power cap (i.e. currently at 90 with full Conquest gear) and thus fulfils the criteria for equal opportunity in asymmetrical worlds. Plus I like the idea of being vastly outnumbered and surrounded by a sea of enemies. It appeals to my role-playing sensibilities.

Ganking on Illidan

For now though, I am planning to level my 85 rogue to 90, gear her up in full Honor and then full Conquest, and embark on a ganking campaign while doing so. My goal is 1000 ganks, which is a completely arbitrary number I made up. I was originally going to transfer my feral druid, who is already 90 and in full Tyrannical, but the rogue was a better choice because having to level her from 85 to 90 will require me to engage in the world by questing. In either case I was always going to bring a stealth toon (I also considered taking my hunter) to offset the massive population balance I was expecting. Rogues can engage anyone on their own terms, and so the population doesn't even matter. Anytime things look grim, just Vanish, Cloak off any debuffs and wait for a better opportunity. Even if you have Bleeds on you, Vanish will still work for three seconds, which is more than enough time to Sprint away and escape. Couple that with Gouge, Blind and Kidney Shot, and a rogue has enough tools to control a fight so even if you can't win, you can still escape.

Another factor to my advantage is that I'm not interested in PvE content at all, which means I can be completely flexible as to how I level up my toon (levelling in dungeons is cheating, however, because it's not part of the world). In his post on Sacred Duty Theck complains about world PvP because it prevents him from enjoying the content on the Timeless Isle on Tichondrius. I'm not interested in the Timeless Isle, and I have no intention of gathering Timeless coins or killing the mobs/bosses on the island. The Timeless Isle's sole interest to me is the fact that it is a locus point around which Horde and Alliance gather around. In better OWPvP games locations have an intrinsic value because they either produce resources, or confer strategic benefits. In WoW one place is as good as another, and where the players congregate is where the gankers go, too.

I did set some ground rules for myself though:

i) No sitting duck stuff - I'm not going to attack anyone below 85. I was going to limit myself to equivalent levels, but there is still value in attacking players lower than you because it makes them call for help in the world and brings on the defenders of the faction to the area. Especially in Illidan where there will no shortage of Horde. Ratio of 4500+ to 1, remember?

ii) Limit ganks to three maximum. This might even be too much, because you pretty much know the quality of your opponent after the first engagement by the CDs they use (or misuse). I've ganked about 30 people now since transferring here the Monday before last, but I've only "camped" one person and killed them three times. The fights were close though, so perhaps that was a motivator to keep on fighting. Plus he was doing rude emotes. Bastard.

Tolerable Imbalances

I share Theck's outrage at the existing population imbalance on some of the WoW servers, and the fact that Blizzard have decided not to do anything about it at all. I have argued that asymmetry is fine in persistent worlds of equal opportunity, but it's clear that for both him and I we draw the line at such skewed faction asymmetry. It's completely ridiculous, it goes against the philosophy of equal opportunity, and in any MMO other than WoW which had higher OWPvP stakes it would be a game-breaker. If the upcoming TESO game allowed such disparities between the three factions in their upcoming Alliance versus Alliance gameplay, there would be a tremendous outcry, and rightfully so. But oddly enough because WoW OWPvP is so meaningless, the population imbalance doesn't actually stop you from getting to the power cap (90, with full Conquest gear). Some people might dispute this, but if I can level a non-stealth toon from 1 to 90 (a future project of mine) and get them fully capped out with Conquest on Illidan of all places, then you can bloody well do it anywhere. Levelling from 1 to 85 appears easy. The levelling zones are deserted. I made sure to visit these zones during US peak times to get a better idea of population distribution, and even during these times I was lucky to see more than 2-3 Horde in a single zone. I have yet to see a single Alliance player in the world in Illidan, but they are present in very small numbers in the capital cities. 85 to 90 would be a little more difficult because the population is a little more concentrated, but there are many places you can go in the world where you will be able to level in relative peace and quiet. Of course if you draw near population centres and/or major quest hubs your chances of getting ganked grow exponentially, but staying away from these places when you are heavily outnumbered is just common sense. So my preliminary conclusion based on my own observations is that the threat of being ganked is overstated, and is easily shaken off by simply being aware of your surroundings, moving off when threatened, being flexible about where you level, and/or taking a time out when you are being camped. It is not an impediment to attaining the power cap. It IS an impediment if you want to do world PvE content, but you do know that you are on a PvP server, right? Right?

Theck implicitly argues that he would not be complaining about world PvP if faction population were better balanced. I argue that even if population dynamics were more or less equal he would still find his PvE experience completely disrupted given the distribution of players on his server (he also alludes to this on his post). Almost two-thirds of the top 100 US Arena players in the 3v3 bracket (which is the tournament standard) reside in Tichondrius, and they are predominantly Horde. Ranked PvP in WoW is a team e-sport which requires good team mates you can "synergize" with in order to succeed, and therefore aspiring players (prior to cross-realm Arenas in 5.4) used to move to servers with high ranked players and high PvP populations.  Even if the Horde and the Alliance were roughly equal in size, the preponderance of PvPers on the Horde side would make it more than likely that disruptions on the Timeless Isle would continue unabated even if there was parity between faction population. This alludes back to points I have made in other posts, namely that asymmetry is a systemic part of open world PvP in persistent worlds. It's interesting to see where the limits of tolerance lie, and how it varies wildly from player to player. Seriously, though, if Theck's primary agenda is to enjoy the content on the Timeless Isle then he should transfer to a PvE server. I know he has his reason to stay, in which case I'm afraid that he is stuck in a quandary. Blizzard is not going to do anything because i) they make money from server transfers; and ii) OWPvP in WoW means nothing at all.

The Evils of Ganking

I finally realised why gankers are so hated in WoW, and it ties in again with the fact that world PvP is meaningless. Gankers are not fighting for resources, or trying to take or defend territory. It's not EVE, Darkfall or Planetside 2, where sovereignty, income and/or player-built structures are at stake. They're not doing it for Honor or for Conquest Points. In WoW, gankers are essentially doing it just to mess with you, and perhaps people react to that on a visceral level. The obvious counter-argument again is that if you dislike having your play-style interrupted in such a fashion then you shouldn't be on a PvP server. There are benefits to gankers. Gankers are a player-driven hazard which adds layers to the world. They encourage grouping and socialisation. I just wish that open world PvPers had something more to fight for than just fighting for its own sake in WoW. I have no illusions about what I am doing. I can write pages and pages of fluff as to why my rogue is fighting in Illidan, but when it comes down to it all I am doing is ganking and disrupting people as they go about their business. I have no external motivations for doing this, except for the fact that the enemy is Horde and I am Alliance. For this reason I made ground rules for myself because picking on lower levels seems akin to beating up little children, despite my standpoint that in PvP worlds all things are fair in love and war. Imagine an alternative scenario, however, like in DAOC (Dark Age of Camelot), where the enemy player is a scout and is trying to ascertain faction numbers in a town/keep. In this case I would have no compunctions about obliterating the scout regardless of how weak they were because I would have done it for strategic reasons. This type of scenario would appear to be more "morally" palatable because players can appreciate the reasons for why the lower level player was attacked. Soldiers can respect soldiers on opposing sides. Everyone despises thieves and murderers. Context is everything, and WoW OWPvP has very little. In the end though, it might be enough that you chose red, I chose blue, we both entered into this type of game of our own free will, therefore as per the rules of the game we will try to kill each other.

Incidentally that is why I am so excited about TESO. I'm hoping that the battle for Cyrodiil will become what null-sec is to EVE. It's still not going to be as good as EVE's null sec, because it artificially divides players into three factions rather than allow them to organically develop their own (there are upsides to this however). I can live with that though, because now the throne of Tamriel is at stake and our factions have something to fight for. How cool is that?!? CONTEXT, BABY! Plus it seems like that we are going to able to interact with members of the other factions to create temporary alliances and the like, which will be excellent. There will be player-owned keeps, with player-owned shops in the keeps. Finally, it's Elder Scrolls and I look forward to sharing my love of the Elder Scrolls universe with my gaming circle, who only came into computer games via WoW. I'm going to try to gently nudge them into rolling characters on the Ebonheart Alliance, but sadly it's not going to be up to me. I have a bad feeling that I'm going to end up as an alien-looking elf or a furry humanoid thing in the Altmer Dominion. Although, playing a drugged up Khajit assassin high on moon sugar and skooma might be interesting.

In the meantime, I'm going to go gank some Horde.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Diaries of a Ganker, Part I - The Horde Triumphant

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario.

Garrosh Hellscream is triumphant. King Varian Wrynn is dead, along with his son Anduin, both fallen in the siege of Ogrimmar. Jaina Proudmoore, dead. The Alliance expedition force, thrown into disorder by the death of their leaders, is unable to mount an organised defence against the horrors unleashed by Garrosh. The Horde which rose up against Hellscream are cowed into submission, and bend the knee. Vol'jin is executed as a traitor for his part in the Darkspear rebellion. Baine Bloodhoof, too honourable to kneel, is dead. Sylvanas, the ruthless pragmatist that she is, has no compunctions about turning on her allies and swearing allegiance to Garrosh once again. Lor'themar, horrified but unwilling to face the unstoppable Hellscream and Sylvanas both, also bends the knee. The most horrific fate is reserved for Thrall, whose shattered body adorns the topmost spike of Orgrimmar as a incontrovertible proof of Garrosh's ultimate victory.

With the fall of their leaders the Alliance flees back to Azeroth, but their respite is brief. Stormwind is reduced to ashes, decimated by the same weapon used to destroy Theramore. Ironforge holds out longer because of its impregnable walls, but is betrayed from within by the Dark Iron dwarves. The last bastions of freedom lie in the islands of the north, in Teldrassil and the Azuremyst Isle. Their days are also numbered, for the new Warchief will brook no dissent to his rule. Though the tattered remnants of the Alliance will fight bravely in the final battles, in the end they too, will fall to the Horde in time. Malfurion, Tyrande, Velen, Greymane and the Naaru O'ros all perish in the apocalyptic battles that follow, but not before they exact a bloody toll on the rampaging Horde. The Exodar, defended by O'ros against Garrosh's weapons of mass destruction, is taken in a bloody siege which lasts months. Teldrassil is also besieged, but as Garrosh orders mana bomb after mana bomb detonated against the Great Tree's branches and boughs it finally catches alight and burns, along with the final remnants of Alliance resistance.

A world where the Horde are triumphant. Where the only players you see are orcs, goblins, tauren, blood elves, trolls and the Forsaken. A world where Alliance players are non-existent, or where they hide, quivering, in the remaining safe zones of the world.

Can't imagine it? Look no further than the PvP server of Illidan then, where according to WoWProgress, 18,760 Horde outnumber a paltry four Alliance. FOUR. That's a ratio of 4,690 to 1. I heartily recommend reading Theck's post regarding population dynamics and unstable equilibrium on Sacred Duty. It's excellent. I also found another site called US Realm Population courtesy of GryphonHeart, which gives somewhat different numbers. According to this site, there are 204,032 Horde characters versus 13,853 Alliance on Illidan (giving a different ratio of almost 15 to 1). Pick whatever stat you like - WoWProgress only measures level 90s who have killed at least one boss in T15 content (or are in a guild which has killed at least one boss in T15 content), while US Realm Pop counts all characters. Whatever way you choose to cut it, this is a massive, massive imbalance.

I was completely shocked at the population disparities which existed between the two factions. I must have been quite naive, because I simply trusted Blizzard to balance the server population. I've been a big defender of gankers because my personal experience of levelling on Frostmourne told me that gankers were a manageable threat, and they added further layers to the virtual world. That was before I found out that Alliance outnumber the Horde two to one on Frostmourne (using WoWProgress stats). No wonder why there was always Alliance around to call for help. I have argued that asymmetry is part of persistent worlds, and that players will tolerate asymmetries as long as they believe they have equal opportunities at making it to the top. There is a limit to this tolerance however, and, seriously, this type of asymmetry is just plainly ridiculous. Why aren't people up in arms about this? Clearly the blogging community is pissed, but there's no sign of a kind of mass discontent which normally prompts companies to make hasty revisions.

My opinion is that people tolerate it because world PvP means nothing in WoW. People are fighting for nothing. They are just fighting for the sake of fighting. There is nothing at stake, and the death penalty is very light, especially compared to EVE (where you lose your ship) and Darkfall (where you drop all your stuff when you die). You don't get any rewards for fighting in world PvP - all you get are a few paltry points of Honor, and no Conquest at all. There are no incentives (except perhaps factional loyalty, which is a tenuous one at best) - as far as I can tell, open world PvP in WoW is just another type of player driven world hazard, one which players can voluntarily forego if they choose a PvE server. If the Horde and Alliance were actually fighting for something meaningful this kind of server imbalance would never be tolerated. At the moment the optimal way of earning PvP currency is by playing random BGs, Arenas and Rated BGs. If you could only earn Honor or Conquest points in open world PvP then you can bet your ass that all the PvPers who attacked Theck about his post on Reddit would also be screaming about the imbalance, because the losing side would not be able to grind as many points as the winners. In this scenario there is something at stake now, which means people suddenly become interested in equal access and opportunity.

Because world PvP in WoW means nothing, then people who like it will indulge in it, while others not so inclined will tolerate it to a point because the penalties are comparatively light (spirit rez and a short corpse run). Once they reach their limit, however, they will leave or transfer. Blizzard has done nothing to date, because it is a source of revenue for them - at $25 per transfer the revenue they generate must be in the millions over the years (40,000 transfers yields a million dollars at no extra cost to the company). Blizzard can rationalise their inaction by saying nothing is at stake here - PvP is voluntary (via server choice), and people can level safely in instanced dungeons, or grind their PvP currency in the balanced environments of Arenas and BGs. I've always thought that world PvP in WoW was bad because it means nothing. Looking at how Blizzard has decided to deal with this issue (i.e. do nothing) I've come to the conclusion that they know it too, but since they make money from it they choose not to do anything about it. Instead they have devoted their energies into creating a ladder PvP game which is separate from world proper as a sort of concession. Sorry guys, we know world PvP is meaningless and server population will become more and more unbalanced as people start transferring, but if you are interested in PvP you can play Arenas and Rated BGs in a ladder competition instead. We'll set aside instanced zones where you can fight, and we'll do our best to balance the game as best as we can in these instanced environments. You can measure yourself against the player pool, push rating, and we will award you accolades and titles commensurate with your achievements. If you are good enough we will also fly you to Shanghai and let you play for a significant amount of real world money. If this was their intent then I believe they have succeeded. I personally enjoy WoW ladder PvP, and that's the main reason why I still subscribe to WoW. There is no point mourning or wishing for better open world PvP, however. Blizzard has already written it off, so it is better to look elsewhere.

Open world PvP in WoW lost its lustre for me a long time ago, so much so that I packed up my toons on the PvP servers of Frostmourne and Garithos and consolidated them all on Thorium Brotherhood, which is of all things, a RP server. I didn't need to be on a PvP server to play Arenas and Rated BGs, and my family and friends were here, so it made sense to move. Given my renewed interest in "meaningful world PvP" I quit WoW for a few months and tried to subscribe to EVE and Darkfall. In both cases I was stymied by RL obstacles. As a resident of Japan I am required to subscribe to Nexon, a third party payment company based in Korea in order to play EVE. EVE has very kindly supplied a translation guide on how to go about completing the Nexon application (which is in Japanese). but this is something I am not willing to do, especially when the terms and conditions are in a foreign language. Darkfall won't allow me to play on their US server because they are releasing a localised version of their game in Japan and Korea "in the near future." If you are familiar at all with the Darkfall developmental cycle you would realise that "in the near future" could mean anything between three months and a year. I tried a few work-arounds - I tried to mask my IP address with a VPN and make it look like I was subscribing from North America. No luck. I asked my friends at home to subscribe in my name from Australia. Nope.

So, stonewalled on both fronts, I reactivated my WoW account and am slowly getting back into the ladder circuit with a vague goal of finally breaking the 2k barrier on either format. I'm really just waiting for TESO, Camelot UnchainedStar Citizen and WH40K: Eternal Crusade. These titles sound very promising, but given that TESO won't be released until next year, and the other three are not being released until 2015, I have need of something to occupy my time. Reading Theck's post, however, and imagining a world where the Alliance was gone and where the Horde roamed unchecked has rekindled my interest in roaming the wilds of Azeroth. I said earlier that people fight for nothing in WoW OWPvP. Perhaps a better way to articulate it is that in the absence of external incentives, people who fight bring their own reasons with them. Ego, validation, competitiveness, malice, loyalty to friends/factions/guilds, a sense of justice, a quixotic desire to rid the world of "evil" - who knows, only the individual can say. I can only speak for myself, but the idea of being one of the last few surviving members of the Alliance has set my mind ablaze. When computer games were a generation away and all our role playing was done with pen and paper, imagination was sufficient to tide us over. Ladder PvP is e-sports, with all that entails. World PvP should be about the world, and role-playing is inhabiting that world. And there is something wrong with a server which is overwhelmingly dominated by the Horde. Where the Alliance cowers in secret. This does not sit well with me as a person who has only ever played Alliance. A world so tamed and domesticated by the Horde that it is, for all intents and purposes, a PvE server.

Night Elf Remake by Astoroth on DeviantArt.

Azeroth was once home to dwarves, gnomes, humans, and night elves. It has given succour to the draenei, and given the bestial worgen a place where they were accepted and belong. To have these voices stilled forever is a crime beyond reckoning. The great cities of Stormwind and Ironforge are silent, smoking ruins. Everywhere the goblins, the blood elves, the trolls, the tauren, the Forsaken and the orcs. Drinking in our taverns. Living in our homes. Sleeping in our beds. Killing the ragged remnants of our people with impunity. 

have seen with my own eyes the silent pits underneath the eaves of Elwynn Forest. The twisted and broken bodies stacked like cordwood within. I have seen the smoke rising from the embers of Teldrassil, and wept tears of rage and sorrow as the fire consumed our homes. I have seen our ships burn on the water, and heard the cries of the damned as the icy seas claimed them for their own. I have held the shattered bodies of my friends and comrades in my arms, and watched their spirits depart, leaving empty husks in their wake. All that I hold dear in this world, gone.

Dear Goddess, grant me the strength to avenge the fallen. Guide my blade and let the enemies of our people taste bloody vengeance. And when I pass from this mortal realm. forgive my many trespasses and enfold me in your loving embrace so that I might join my brethren in the stars above. Grant my soul rest, my mind peace, and my heart succour, for I struggle, milady. I struggle, great Elune, to see the meaning behind this. How can this be allowed to pass? Why did not you not heed us? Where were you when we needed you most? Answer me, I pray.

No. Answer me now. I demand it. I would know the mind of the Goddess, who willingly stepped aside and watched her people die. For what reason did we worship you all these millennia, only to have you betray us now? Where is your divinity now? Your grace? Your godhead?

Mute to the last. I can tell you where your divinity lies. It lies at the bottom of the pit where Stormwind once stood. It lies rotting with the carcasses of the countless dead. It lies in the ashes of the great Tree. It lies in the abyss beneath the waves, along with my daughter, and any reason I have left to remain in this world.

Before I depart I make this promise. I will kill every Horde I see. I will set upon them in the shadows. I will make a mockery of their great numbers. I will give them cause to remember the kaldorei, even as our memory passes from this world. This I vow, as the last of my kind. By the Goddess - no. By the great Tree - by the Sentinels - by the memory of my daughter - the Horde shall pay.

I transferred my 85 night elf rogue to Illidan last Monday.