Thursday, October 9, 2014

4.9. DoD+

"WoW Fan Art - Page 3"
Artwork by Jiein Hyun

There Will Be 10s

My guild revisions sat untouched. All the work to lay out a 10-Man culling strategy no longer applied; I couldn't remove them. My conscience, dulled over the course of the last two years, enjoyed a reawakening by staring at itself in the mirrors of my Mother's house. I didn't want to be like her, making decisions on no other grounds than because I can. Effort was necessary in order to make great things happen. DoD had long stood as a place for players uninterested in immature leadership and arbitrary rules. That summer vacation compelled me to reassess my strategy surrounding the 10s. Instead of lancing them like boils, I contemplated the other end of the spectrum: could DoD seduce 10s into joining?

It was a ludicrous question; I shook my head in disbelief frequently while walking this alternate path. A 10-Man team in Cataclysm was a self-sufficient guild. Logically, there was no reason whatsoever why a clique of tight-knit friends would feel the need to have themselves assimilated into a "faceless" organization like Descendants of Draenor...at least, at initial glance. The more I put myself in their shoes, however, the more reasons floated to the surface. Members of a 10-Man guild were no different than any other players I marketed to. 10s thought they were free from the complex underpinnings of a 25-Man guild, but I was skeptical. They shared the same stresses as any other team, just ot a much smaller scale. And when a guild mishandles those stresses, each member was an unwilling customer, discreetly shopping for a better deal.

I walked through the list of my own pain points, converting six years of workable solutions into a packaged product. Recruitment was always a worry. Let me take that off your hands. Bring your 10-Man team to us and you'll enjoy the benefits of DoD's never-ending recruitment. We have a wide array of people to choose from, and not all of them will be able to participate in the 25. Maybe they can help your cause?

Raiding can cost gold, both in repairs and flasks. The situation wasn't nearly as dire when compared to Vanilla and TBC, but the costs do add up over time. Let me subsidize your efforts. Bring your 10-Man team to DoD and I'll commit to issuing you a weekly kickback from the guild vault to help take the edge off. Why stop at gold? DoD's vault was thick with unused BoEs from the 25-Man efforts; Neps and I could only auction off so much, so fast. Why not reinvest those profits back into the 10-Man teams? BoEs might not make-or-break a 10-Man's progression, but perhaps such a gesture would give 10-Man guilds pause before rejecting a radical offer from a guild they'd otherwise never do business with.

There was no question in my mind that 10s would proliferate in Cataclysm. 25-Man guilds would collapse in great numbers, and while I scrambled to pick up the pieces of those fragmented teams, the 10s would overflow and dominate the server. It wouldn't be long before those 10s felt the same pressures I felt, as players acclimated to their more compact environment. Sooner or later, frustration and turmoil would lead to the grass-is-greener syndrome. For those teams with few people-management skills, miniature explosions would paint the server like a fireworks display -- my signal to come knocking. I'd offer my condolences to the formerly-known-as-10s, pitching Descendants of Draenor to those grieving widowers. But for the 10-Man guilds who fought desperately to keep it together, they would need help. They would need guidance, direction, and tools, so they could focus on enjoying the game. DoD could provide all these perks, and more.

It wouldn't be an easy sell; many would deny our necessity. It was the nature of the gamer to shove a big middle finger up toward anyone telling them what was good for them.

So, I wouldn't tell. I would show.



The "face" of DoD, circa May 2010
The main guild website (top), eqDKP
site (middle) and phpRaider site (bottom)

Look On My Works, Ye Mighty

Two and a half years had passed since I bid my previous job adieu. I still remembered with fondness the many conversations I'd shared with Ater as a fellow employee, side-by-side as programmers during the day, guild leader/raid leader pairings in The Burning Crusade by night. But I shed no tears for the working conditions and abuse. At my present job, life was spectacular. The boss trusted my judgments instead of challenging them. The positive feedback loop encouraged me to push myself even harder, hold my own work to a higher standard, deliver something I could be proud of. And when the time came to fire up some distractions at the office, I was never once made to feel the pangs of guilt.

Pushing the quality of my work produced a wonderful side-effect: free time. Late into 2010, I had more and more opportunities to break from coding, putting time into research. Traditionally, I sought knowledge of a technical nature: programming languages, debugging and troubleshooting, understanding what was happening at the bare-metal of the processor. But these days, I found myself seeking more "right brained" knowledge. Architecture and design considerations, usability, what makes sense to do when, based off of context. Inevitably, I often ended up back at people: their nuances, what drives them subconsciously, what motivates them. My intent was to become a better coder, but my research kept pointing me toward becoming a better leader.

My boss, Dave, repeated the message at every opportunity, "You really ought to think about management." Each time, I humbly thanked him. Professionally, I never saw myself trading code for people; I loved to fix things. Programming is a canvas that's never complete.

---

The quiet hum of a smoothly running company website freed me to investigate our own guild "face" on the 'net. It was sad. There sat the same dull, static HTML, unwavering since the game launched in '04. A single central column acted as our news of latest boss kills. To the left, I'd recreated progress bars to indicate how far along the 25-Man team had progressed through the current content. "APPLY TO THE GUILD!" yelled out in tiny caps above the faux progress bars, while an "Application" link on the right clung desperately to a PayPal button. This had been DoD's sole means of lead generation since the guild's inception.

There was a second site, charged with the responsibility of tracking the guild's DKP. I'd been using eqDKP for this task, built in the days of EverQuest, receiving minor updates along the way. Customization existed only in the form of alternate color schemes, which was about as effective as a can of spray paint on an Excel spreadsheet. I'd be foolish not mention the third site, our raid management tool. This was an implementation of phpRaider, which grew a bit over the years. The majority of changes went in by my own hands, fixing bugs that allowed players to sneak out of raids they'd been confirmed for, well after the cancellation window had closed.

All three sites needed some serious love. Guild portals were all the rage, jamming a million widgets and scrolling text down your throat like they were the natural evolution of Geocities. I refused to pay for a "solution" I could install and configure on my own. What good is a mechanic that can't fix his own vehicle? I dug deep into the web until my screen was filled with Umlauts.

The character profile management tool
 featured in eqDKP-Plus (Source: eqDKP-Plus.com)

Germany Is Our Only Ally

It wasn't difficult to see I'd landed squarely in Deutschland, given the huge black, red and yellow striped flag at the top of the page. The language barrier had minimal effect as my attention focused squarely on the screenshots. Character profile panels boasted in-game rendering, thanks to an integration with the World of Warcraft Armory. At the time, the WoW Armory allowed players to pose their character in one of many different frames of animation. You could have this in your guild site. Aesthetical niceties aside, the content management system boasted full character statistic importing, gear and glyph display, even supporting multiple specs. When compared to the ridiculous hacks necessary just to display an item hover in eqDKP, this package delivered functionality well beyond anything I expected to find....and the character profile was only the beginning.

Named in homage to the original eqDKP tracking system it was based off of, eqDKP-Plus was, quite possibly, the most advanced guild CMS I'd come across. The configuration panel alone listed 41 custom modules that could be enabled and displayed wherever I chose. Some of them actually didn't suck! Automatic achievement tracking? Check. World of Logs report integration? Check. GuildOx rank badges? Check. When I stumbled across the full phpRaider implementation, I just about fell out of my chair. And of course, there was the eqDKP system itself, tying loot earnings directly to the raids in phpRaider, which in turn, cascaded up into the news items. With a single button click, I could post the news of a boss kill to the homepage, include a photo of the kill, and display the loot that was distributed. It was the complete package.

...include a photo of the kill...

---

That evening, I dug into the photo gallery module. It allowed administrators to upload and tag images that could be featured across the site, in such places as news headlines or via a random "Pic of the Day" rotating widget. I pondered our six year history of screenshots buried on my hard drive as marketing collateral. If nothing else, DoD was stable. In my vision of 25-Man guilds collapsing around us, stability would be the most important selling point. The last thing anyone freshly ejected from a guild relationship would want...was to suffer through it again. The gallery module, an otherwise frivolous gimmick in the grand list of eqDKP-Plus functionality, suddenly became the single most important tool in my repertoire. If six years of screenshots couldn't vouch for DoD, what the hell else could?

And thus began the burning of 918 screenshots to CD.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

If there was one thing I could bring back to WoW, it would be talent trees.

The second thing is customizable poses on WoW Armory.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Anonymous,

Concur on both.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sean:

Great blog series!

I chose computer science a long time ago, because it was all black and white. It looked like it was one place where I wouldn't have to interact with pesky people...

How wrong I was...

As I remind folks - Technology is designed, implemented, deployed and maintained in a *social* environment.

I run a SW contracting company. Most of our work is process/project recovery. Usually when we get involved things are pretty bad.

Over and over, it's never the technology. Success or failure is always about the people. Do they get along? Do they hate each other? What are the goals and is the direction the right one?

Strangely enough, certain social patterns in WoW feel a lot like the stuff that happens at work sometimes. lol.

Kholin - Drak'thul

Shawn Holmes said...

@Kholin,

Thanks for joining in! I concur with your observation, and have to wonder how far it extends just beyond software development -- so many industries involve people working together. So...those "people skills" that gamers claim are overrated?

...maybe aren't so overrated after all.

Anonymous said...

Oops.

Wrong name. Sorry *Shawn*. Totally skipped a groove on that one. ::sadface::

My apologies.

Kholin - Drak'thul

Shawn Holmes said...

@Kholin,

I've been called worse than this!

Brett Easley said...

@Shawn

Yeah like "Learless Feeder".

Anonymous said...

@Shawn

I'm actually trying to write a... thing on how to play Pathfinder as a group (In between Work, School and more XD), and yeah. It's scary how much what you learn in gaming applies to Real Life.

Had a talk with my Econ Professor about it, WoW taught me a LOT of Econ Concepts by "accident".

I ever finish that thing, I might just ask you if you have time to take a peek at it. XD

-Catelina

Shawn Holmes said...

@Catelina,

I'm on board! Let me know when you'd like me to have a look at it.

You can reach me a billion ways, all linked off of "About the Author" up above.