|"Leaked" warrior talents from The Burning Crusade|
Friends & Family alpha (Source: Fires of Heaven Forums)
A Christmas PresentThe weeks before Christmas typically experience a lull in traffic. On this particular year, present opening would fall squarely on one of the two raid days; I cancelled both. You'd still get the stragglers, bachelors, college kids, and of course, the die-hards. The ones that played every. single. day. I made my regular rounds, even during these holidays, doing dailies or wrapping up achievements. Typical upkeep. It was during one of these vacation evenings, while I re-arranged some items in Kerulak's bank, that a stranger appeared in game and whispered me. I had to re-read the source a couple of times, and when the name came into a focus, you could have knocked me over with a feather.
[W To: Ater] Ater!! Jesus Herbert Christ, how the hell are you?!?
[W From: Ater] Hey. :) What's going on?
[W To: Ater] Not a whole hell of a lot, but what's going on over there?
[W From: Ater] Had some time to kill. Fiancee is visiting her family for xmas. I'm hanging around the house alone. Thought I'd fire up the old game and check in.
I sat upright with a surge of energy, fiddling with the headphones as I jumped into Vent and sent him our new server's info. There he was. It was like he'd never left.
"This is pretty crazy, ya? They've changed a lot of stuff around."
I got right to it, "Oh my God, tons. Tons! You remember when they leaked out those bullshit talents just before Burning Crusade, and some guy photoshopped Titan's Grip into the warrior tree? You got it now, buddy."
"I see that. It's bizarre."
"Shit, I'll bet you haven't even seen the LFD tool yet. You remember when we had to spend 30 minutes coordinating a run through Sunken Temple, UBRS, all those damn heroics in TBC? Just press the 'I'."
"Oh, Wow. So this just puts you into a group now?"
"Yup. They just added this feature a couple of weeks ago. No more portal stones or whatever-the-fuck that shit was, no more waiting around -- dude, it even puts you in there with random players. And you would think that players are pretty bad, eh? But it's working surprisingly well!"
"This is a really great change. The old system was pretty broken, those meeting stones were especially bad. They've put a crazy amount of work into this."
I felt like a kid dragging their parent through Toys 'R Us, pointing to every incredible new thing on each shelf. God, how much the game had changed since his last raid...his last login.
"So you're back on Kerulak now? Or are you still playing Zanny?"
"Neither. I'm a death knight now, baby...death knight or GTFO."
"Is it as OP as I've heard?"
"It's tight. I kill everything now. Everything dies. And you know me, I'm an idiot...so that's saying something." I walked Ater through the ins and outs of the death knight's talent trees -- the Unholy, the Frost, and the Blood. My former raid leader sounded intrigued.
"So you're saying you can tank in any tree? Without a shield?"
"Well, you know crushing blows are gone now, so that's one of the reasons why it works. I mean it's already a bit spiky, but there are a lot of emergency buttons to press, too. Honestly, I don't know how you did it back then. Tanking must have been a bitch. Now, not so much. To be honest, a lot of the game has been made more approachable."
"It's a smart decision. They lower the bar, get more people in, get more players in front of their content. It's nice to see they decided to start going this direction." I could hear that UX brain of Ater's thinking aloud. Usability. Streamlining interfaces. Smoothing difficulty curves. All necessary components to building a successful product.
"They've really got us hooked with this Achievement thing. Every little thing you do now, BAM, achievement pops up. Achievement for finishing 100 quests. Achievement for clearing a dungeon. Achievement for wiping your ass."
"It's addictive, isn't it?"
"I can't stop! There are people in the guild who just constantly look for ways to get each and every achievement in the game."
"They're definitely adding the right buttons to push. The old ways were incredibly archaic. If Blizzard really wanted to catapult WoW into the mainstream, these are the kinds of changes that demand it. The most impressive part of it is that it's a six year old game. That's unheard of it from a domestic MMO. Think about it. Name any other game that's not only lasted this long, but doubled its subscriptions in that amount of time."
"I know. It boggles my mind. I have to laugh whenever anyone claims WoW is dying, or when we lose several hundred thousand subscribers, they blame it on 'the game is old'. Fuck that! The game was ancient by any other measure by the end of The Burning Crusade! Now two years later, it's even more popular than it was then."
"What was the last subscriber count?"
"It peaked around 12 million. I think they took a hit recently when something went south in China. They had a falling out with their distributor out there or something. Piracy maybe? I dunno. That was a chunk of change. Still..."
Ater agreed, "Yeah. 12 million is amazing. No other game comes close to this."
We both sat a moment in silence, reflecting...as conversations in Vent are apt to do. Ater spoke next.
"Any of the old gang around?"
"Well, Blain's recently returned to the mix, he took a bit of a hiatus at the start of Wrath. Let's see. Kaddy, of course, has gone over to Elitist Jerks, but he still pops in to Vent. We usually see him at the end of an expansion -- when EJ's done their progression. Uh, who else...who else. Dalans is still good, he's been tanking away there. Taba's here, he's helping lead the 25 with another fellow, I don't think you ever met him, he came in just as you were heading out, guy by the name of Omaric. Good kid. Sharp with a warrior. He's moved over to a druid..."
My mind drifted as as I rewound my thoughts about Omaric's origin, the advice Omaric gave me toward my then newly promoted Warrior officer, Kurst -- who was Ater's replacement.
"I gave Kurst your old job for awhile."
"Kurst! I remember him. He was solid."
Instantly, a wave of doubt washed over me. Did he remember him the way I did? Or did I miss something...did I make some grave mistake in prom...
"Yeah, he was a solid guy. Good tank. But not ready for leadership."
"It didn't work out. I don't know that he had it in himself to lead, or had the right mindset. He was an absolutely loyal follower, though. We were very lucky to have him for as long as we did."
"Ah, that's too bad. Anybody else?"
"Uh, let me think...Anni is still around, he's on his warlock now, doesn't raid, but offers advice when he can."
Ater laughed, "And is Anni's 'advice' still causing people to ragequit?"
"He's been on very good behavior recently!" I rolled my eyes and imagined Ater doing the same.
"God, the complaints that came my way because of his language were ridiculous."
I laughed, "Oh, I know! He had to have his own Vent channel! Password protected!"
"People would complain about him, then turn around and go sit in his channel, back for more."
"Funny how that works, eh? How some people just don't seem to know what they want?"
"But they know how to complain!"
"Of course! The complaining's the best part!"
We both laughed. Ater and I talked late into the evening. I told him that I left the agency he and I used to work at, how it reignited a passion for work and to build quality software. He gave me the thumbs-up, then had me connect to a remote desktop session, sharing out some projects he was working on at his new company in the windy city. I marveled at the complexity of these new interfaces he'd toiled over; they made the sandwich shop's project management tool look like child's play by comparison. The app itself pushed massive amounts of data, far more than the tech had been known to withstand. If anyone could've pulled it off, it was Ater.
Ater asked if I was playing any XBox games, and raved about the latest Call of Duty. I stood my ground and refused to play a first person shooter with my controller, deferring to my son as the one playing the console more than I. He sold the game's improvements like he worked for the company, describing in exquisite detail what made this particular iteration, Black Ops, the best-in-show. Without giving me an opportunity to protest, he ordered a copy of the game for Hunter; I made sure to have Hunter jump on Vent and thank him for the gift.
Eventually, we chatted about the guild. How I had reshaped things at the start of Wrath. How I had taken his advice and was now acknowledging people for their contributions, and we were enjoying our greatest successes to date. Administration was light, real life had better balance, and I felt like I had done a good thing. Ater seemed pleased.
When the holiday week came to a close, his fiancee returned from her trip, and Ater resumed his daily life. I never saw him in-game again, but before he left, I made sure we had each other's contact info in real life. Those nights over the '09 Christmas holiday were memorable for no other reason than being given a few extra hours, hanging out with the player who I called my mentor. I didn't need to drag up old hard feelings, interrogating him about why he left the guild, why he left me hanging. The truth was that he'd simply grown apart from the game that was once familiar. Many of the old faces were gone, only handful of names remained. Our reasons to start playing WoW may have all differed, but there was a noticeable common theme in why many of them continued to play. They played because of the people. The people made it fun. Working together, tackling problems together, overcoming problems together. Teamwork among peers. Family.
People slowly drift away from World of Warcraft as time goes on, it doesn't matter the reason. What matters is that for a short time, they were a part of something big, something meaningful, something that took effort; blood, sweat and tears to make something great. Something fun. It was hard to predict how my own longevity in the game would play out, but I knew that as long as it remained fun, I'd be here.