A Little Vacation

Hello all,

I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve been on a little vacation. Since my last post. It’s been a long ride the last four months with wedding planning (24 days left until I take the big walk!) and student teaching, so I decided to take advantage of my newfound freedom to step back from it all for a few days.

While I’m at it, I should probably mention that I’ll be gone for the week after my wedding too. So, from June 20th-28th, I’ll be safely tucked away at Disney World enjoying my honeymoon, 3000 miles away from my nearest gaming rig.

For now though, I won’t be posting anything new until this coming Monday. Until then, take this opportunity to check out some of the awesome blogs on the blogroll. They post enough to keep you more than entertained until I get back.

Take care everyone!

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Two Parts Casual, One Part Hardcore, and a Little Bit O’ Love

I was reading a post at Under the Banner today (a great blog – this author hasn’t written much lately but her post explains why) and got to thinking about the true definition of LotRO. It’s Lord of the Riblets, in case you were wondering.

Anyways, the post really broke down how the author has been feeling lately. In short, full of boredom, hope, and disdain all at once. The author, Serielle, is suffering burn out in a big way. She says a couple of things that shed some light into her current state of affairs. Here’s one:

So, I started to run the repeatable quests in Lothlorien, since that’s the only way to get rep and the shiny gold leaves. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over… ad infinitum. I didn’t do it every time I logged in, and tried to intersperse other activities into the grindfest . . . It just wasn’t enough though.

This, I think, is a universal conditional that results from working at a game instead of playing it. Now, I believe her when she says that she’s not hardcore. As a matter of fact, her self-branding of casual-hardcore seems true to form and eerily reminiscent of my own play style. So, this isn’t an attack in any way.

The fact of the matter is that games like LotRO want you to work. That’s where they hide the barbs and hooks that define our passion. That may seem like a little much but is it not true that accomplishment is the result of effort? That more effort generally equals more accomplishment? So, logically, the more we invest, the more fulfilled we are (to a degree, of course). Yet, the downside to such design is that, inevitably, people will get worn out.

It’s a funny thing, even though LotRO is considered a casual game, it also has the most antiquated hardcore element much more than other “harder” games: grind. Grind is infused throughout the game in the form of deeds. Grinding for xp and grinding for traits are some of the core ways that you’ll advance your character. After that’s done, you grind for reputation, or crafting materials, or gear.

Grinding, in itself, isn’t much of an issue. It’s all about presentation. How you go about your grind, what and where you find your target, and how much carotene dangles in front of you all define the experience. If those three things are worthwhile and in-sync, grinding can actually be relatively stress free.

Yet, that’s not really how we have it. It causes me to wonder why grinding plays such a big role in the game? Was this the best way? I think it was the workable way. The way to slow people down and keep them playing for longer and, to make it worthwhile, they intertwined the grind with character advancement. Now, we have a system that’s more progressive (advancement/customization through effort) than most, yet harkening to the grand ol’ days of our grand pappy’s mammies.

You know, 2003?

In our oh-so-casual love affair with Middle-Earth, many of us grind away the hours, while the WoW’ers call us scrubs. Ironic isn’t it?

For all of pressure to work there is much play. More than that, you can tell that a lot of love went into the game. There are so many little details that get taken for granted but, through the eyes of the un-jaded, they are really quite wonderous.

For myself, I’m behind the game enough to have a long, long time before I’ll run out of things to do. I’m thankful for that. And, unlike many, I really don’t mind the grind. So, I wish the author the post. Give it some time. Relax and try out some warmer waters for while. From my own experience, I can say that you’ll probably never get that “feeling” back the way it once was. But you’ll find fun again, if you want it.

The “One Kinship” Promotion and the Underlying Problem

Big Mouth Billy Bass (noun): A mechanical rubber bass that sings and dances on command.

Big Mouth Billy Bass (noun): A mechanical rubber bass that sings and dances on command.

 
Turbine recently began their “One Kinship to Rule Them All” promotion. This, like so many other programs, always makes me feel like a Billy Bass just one or two steps before he hits the taxidermist. I’m swimming happily along and then bam! Hook in the cheek. Next thing I know, Jeffrey Steefel is dropping me into a bucket laughing like a madman in baby blue waders.

Yes… give me your money, Billy Bass. Sing for me – sing niiiiiicely.

I love how they do this. These little promotions do a lot to form a sense of connection with the community. If they do nothing else, they reflect an awareness of the players and a devotion to the game.

This program is aimed at getting kinships to open up recruitment to new players. This is an area that many people agree needs addressing. It can be hard to find a good kinship in LotRO, especially so if you’re looking for something specific. I’ve seen many forums posts from newcomers complaining that they can’t find a kin to be a part of and, as a consequence, lack a sense of attachment to the game that such groups bring. The grind seems grindier and the pace seems slower than “that other game” they probably came from.

This program is tailored specifically to answer those people’s concerns. Kins don’t earn any brownie points (no soup baked goods for you!) for recruiting level 60s during this time, they earn credit by accepting those that have been created only recently. So, newcomers and alternates alike will benefit. This kind of thing has been sorely needed and should help the lost and lonely out there quite a bit. Likewise, it should help make Billy Bass out of the older player base as well by encouraging them to roll a new character. Some of those players tottering on the edge of burnout may well find the game brought back to life with the advent of that new character.

A promotion like this is indicative of a larger issue, however. Why is it so much harder for people to find matching kinships than on other games? Is it the smaller population, the reliance on chat? Or is it that the forums are a primary recruiting tool and only the minority of players even visit them?

Whatever the reason, that is the central issue that needs addressing. While this promotion may be good, it’s only a temporary fix. A band-aid, if you will, until the developers break out the Hydrogen Peroxide and really clean up the wound.

Come on, buddy. You know you want to subscribe.

Come on, buddy. You know you want to subscribe.

Honestly, I think an in-game message board could do a lot to help fix the problem. It’s a feature that was common during the days of MUDs and I don’t know why it disappeared. Since most people won’t see the official forums, why not bring pieces of that to them? The content of the posts could be an issue, I suppose, but I’m sure that there are content filters that could be put in place to help address that issue. Hell, with a little organization, a message board could be put in place reminiscent of the Auction House. Looking for a kin? Alrighty, switch to the kinship tab. Looking for an event? Social tab.

There’s just one possible solution. For the time being, I’m happy that Turbine is aware of the difficulty the new players are having. MoM was huge for getting people’s attention and bringing “fresh meat” out onto the fields. If we can teach them how to sing, maybe they’ll let us hang em on the wall too. Now, who wants to sing some blues?

The Key to Our Community

Frodo: Hey guys, let's go to the Prancing Pony. I wanna get my AR-PEE on, lol. Sam: I dun know what you're talkin' about Mr. Frodo but we'll find your harpy, and this Lul fella too!

LotRO has one of the best gaming communities I’ve ever come across. Since I’ve started, I’ve encountered a lot of people and spent a good amount of time just chatting in OOC throughout the world. Contrary to what one would expect from prior-MMO experiences, I haven’t had one bad encounter yet. That’s right, even when I’m asking questions that grizzled vets would consider common knowledge, there’s been not one iota of n00b calling or being told to play another game.

What a relief. On other games (one in particular), it can be your first day in the game but you’re still going to get degraded for asking for advice. At one time, being a newbie (notice, not noob or n00b) simply meant you wanted to join the community. Nowadays, it’s a mark of shame to be hidden.

So, coming to LotRO and only receiving support and answers to those first questions was a very pleasant experience. As I continued to play, I found that even outside of regional chat, like on the forums or in /say, people were a lot more friendly. It’s actually one of the things that made me take the dive for a Lifetime Subscription.

It all begs the question though, why? What’s different about this batch of MMOers than that other batch? Are we so different?

In short, yes.

I think LotRO attracts a whole different kind of gamer and changes the rules of interaction. Let’s look at a couple of the reasons this may be the case.

First, and foremost, the IP is classic. And by that, I don’t mean it’s epic and well-known, though it may be, I refer to it in that sense because it comes from the collective literary group known as “the classics.” Let’s be honest, the younger crop of gamers (I’m amongst that group at a humble age 22) isn’t that interested in reading big novels. So, right off the bat, the people interested in the game will be coming in three groups: fans of the books, fans of the movies, and general mmo fans.

Fans of the books are likely older and/or of a more mature mindset than film and normal mmo fans. Inherently, this will mean that they’ll most likely have the rules of social etiquette a more in-hand. Likewise, as fans of the literature, they’re likely playing to be immersed in the world rather than the game and, in turn, are more open to RP within that context.

This leaves the other two groups. The fans of the movies probably find out pretty quick that the game isn’t as fast paced as the films or console games. These are the “visitors” that are likely to leave because of this. Those that remain do so for sheer enjoyment of the content. Following these folks are those that came because they enjoy the genre and possibly have friends playing. Their background is varied and hard to diagnose.

The last two groups are important. If we consider that most of the players took up the game for love of the IP and that most of those are familiar or well-read with the books, you have a majority of mature players seeking immersion. We know that people’s minds work with a pack mentality (hence the contagion of the yawn) and also that people want to fit in with the crowd. These three things combine to set an unspoken set of social rules that differ from other MMO communities.

In LotRO, being insulted through general chat is less likely to happen because the community is less tolerant of it. Whereas, in a game like WoW, the more open demographic allows for insults and more “problem” behavior. Frankly, most people there don’t seem to care. You can walk into Stormwind and see people spam just for the sake of seeing their words appear in a chat window. No real purpose, just because. The mature players are quiet and speak in short bursts outside of chat. They live with it because there’s no other way. That is the standard.

You’ll also see roleplayers ostracized. Because LotRO has taken the stance that all servers are unofficially RP (supportive of the IP and fans of the books), you suddenly have a much higher percentage of subscribers open to that style of play. On WoW and WAR, let’s say 95% of people don’t RP and 5% do. It’s therefore okay to “Ar-pee… wut?” them all day long because the population supports it. Well, suddenly that 5% jumps to 50% and the situation changes. Now, rather than speak out in detriment, most players that encounter it will either join in or keep silent. That is the case with LotRO and why we can function at a higher standard.

There are jerks in LotRO just like there are in any community. It’s the way the world works. Yet, we’ve established a nice little niche for ourselves. We’re a friendly and open community, even on the forums, where newcomers will visit first. Turbine caters to us as a real community and not a disjointed series of vocal minorities. Because of this, newcomers can check the game out and feel like they’re really joining something and not just playing a game. Community makes an MMO. Ours actively helps it, bringing in new players with open arms and offering them a pint of ale while they get acquainted.

Finding a Kin to Call My Own…

Quite a bit has happened to me in LotRO lately. Shortly after I started this blog I started student teaching at a local elementary school. I was gone for quite a while but did my best to check into Middle-Earth whenever I could. Unfortunately, that was only about once a month.

When I left, I was part of a great guild called The Council on Landroval. They had great structure and a community that I really clicked with. At some point during my absence, the kin-leader lost his ability to log into the game (I’m still not sure of the details). Once he was out of the picture, the guild fell into turmoil. One month, I left and everything was fine, the next month the kin members were left wandering around without direction, purpose, or any joining factor. When I look back at it now, we were like ants whose door to the colony had just been squashed by an obnoxious 8 year old.

OMG, OMG, OMG, Where’s the hole? Bill, do you know where the hole is? What do you MEAN we’re screwed? I’m carrying food damn it! FOOD! My date with the freaking QUEEN was tonight!

Or something like that. I logged onto the website to be greeted with a MOTD indicating that mass restructuring was underway but, at the time, there was no message as to why. I was left in the dark. After checking the forums, I wasn’t alone. A lot of people had no idea what was going on and no officer was willing to respond.

When I logged into the game the other night, it was much the same. No one knew what was going on and the only information we had was a brief letter in the mailbox saying the same thing as the website. Well, except the officer threw in an extra sentence to cheer us up.

“We all know the last few weeks have been ones of turmoil for the guild.”

Well, um, actually I guess. Kind of. We all knew there was some storm over our heads but no one could identify it as a funnel could.

It took a lot of asking around but I finally found out about the kin-leader. Following his leave, the officers decided that they wanted to change the structure and philosophy of the guild.

I believe that a person’s choice of guild is important. You choose a guild based on your own personal gaming philosophy. In my experience, when the ideals of guild and member don’t match, neither enjoys membership very much.

So, I bade the kin good luck and took my leave. I’ve since joined a kinship called The Council of the Secret Fire. I know, I have a thing with councils. But hey, if I can’t be in the fellowship, I may as well join a council darn it.

So far, it’s been a nice match. Their a jack of all trades, master of none, kinship which is okay. I’ll admit that the lack of structure makes me a little bit nervous but I tend to be that way when I’m considering what I may be interested in far in the future. Yet, this time, I’m focusing on the fact that I’ve had a lot of good experiences with the existing members. They’re a friendly kin and open to all walks of play. Right now, I’m letting that be enough and worrying about the future when it gets here.

So, there’s a brief rundown of recent events.

Oh, and I’m starting to get the itch to replace my Guardian with a Champion or Hunter. I’m going to hold off on that though, I think. When I played WoW (how long ago, now?) I delayed getting into the upper level content because I spent such time trying to level multiple characters at once. Let’s not fall into that trap again!

Talk to you soon!

The Curtain Pulls Back…

Hi Folks!

It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? Kind of like, a long while. But, fear not! Epic Book has been waiting in the wings for my return to gaming and, with my return, so too shall this blog be brought back to the ready.

Stay tuned!