Okay, I’m a Warcrack geek, but there’s some fascinating flame wars going on there.
For those late to the game, World of WarCraft (WoW) is an online MMORPG in the Fantasy genre with a unique approach: they split the playerbase into two distinct factions, the Alliance and the Horde. Ostensibly, both factions united in the lore of the world’s past, setting aside differences in the face of common enemies, but lately it’s been pretty much all out war between the two sides. Part of the game experience includes certain ‘mini-games’ that allow groups of Alliance players to confront groups of Horde players. They call these minigames “battlegrounds”, and each one is accessed by signing up in a queue that connects several servers of players together.
Now, while entertainment is certainly a huge part of the concerns of Interactive Communications, there are actually some interesting social dynamics of protest (?) going on right now due to recent changes to the way that one of those player-versus-player (PvP) battlegrounds was scored. Blizzard, the parent company of WoW, is always tweaking and adjusting game balance, trying to maintain a good experience, and they don’t always hit the target well.
Picturesque Alterac Valley
One of the battlegrounds is called Alterac Valley, or AV for short. It is a long and narrow snowy valley with towers, bunkers, graveyards (which act as strategic spawn points for ‘dead’ combatants during the fight) and certain non-player characters for each team. The objective is to take out as many of your opponent’s fortifications while defending your own, racking up honor points until you end the game by taking out the opposing team’s major Boss (the target of the battle and the most powerful NPC in the joint). The point of playing the battlegrounds is to accumulate “honor” points, which can be turned in for in-game rewards and character advancement.
Here’s the deal, though. In a recent set of patched changes introduced by Blizzard (patch 2.3), the way that honor points were scored within AV was completely shifted, with honor awards being completely determined by the number of different strategic points on the map that a group controls when reinforcements run out or when you kill the opposing faction’s Boss. Over a year’s worth of playing patterns shifted. Previously, the terrain of the map and the strategy for winning vastly favored the Alliance faction. The game was essentially a race to get to the final boss as quickly as possible and take him out.
New Changes upsetting old strategies
Now, since 2.3, the strategy of defending and holding various points of the map suddenly came into play. The terrain didn’t change, but now, after 2 years, the terrain and strategy advantage shifted away from the Alliance and favored the Horde. Horde, which had been at a disadvantage which led to frequently losing the battle, suddenly started winning. A lot. What’s worse, because of the way that Horde had been fighting an uphill battle all that time, they seriously began to wipe the board with the Alliance, resulting in near shut-out battlegrounds where the Alliance walked off of the field with, say, 20-60 honor, while the Horde departed with 500-600 honor. (Imagine working all day for a five dollar bill, while the opposition walks away with $5000. Sour grapes is getting close to it.)
Patch 2.3 has been out for a bit now and in at least one of the battlegroups (the collection of different servers who feed into the same battleground queues), Shadowburn, there is a disorganized boycott attempt in progress on the part of the Alliance.
Can it even be called a boycott?
A boycott can be seen as an organized refusal to patronize a business or service as a means to cause the target of the boycott to make some kind of change. What is happening among the player base in at least the Shadowburn group is that Alliance players are refusing to play Alterac Valley, which means that there are significantly more Horde players in the queue to run an AV battle than there are Alliance. This pushes up the average wait time between signing up for the battleground and actually getting slotted into one. As of last night (1/6/08) the average Shadowburn wait for a go at Alterac Valley for the Horde was in the rough neighborhood of 56 minutes. (Prior to Patch 2.3 changes, AV used to take about 5 minutes in the queue).
When the queue times started rising, there was a rumor which started up that the Alliance was actively boycotting AV to protest the fact that the terrain now favored the Horde. Alliance counter that the Horde has invented the concept of the boycott, and that what is happening is simply self-selection based on rewards and rational logic. After all, if an Alliance player runs AV, chances are they will a) lose, and b) lose with little to nothing to show for the half-hour duration of the battle. Therefore, they say that they are just making choices which don’t include playing AV, but focus on the other battlegrounds offered instead. There’s capture the flag (Warsong Gulch/WG), capture the bases (Arathi Basin/AB), a combined capture the bases so you can capture the flag battleground (Eye of the Storm/EotS) in addition to Alterac Valley, which is ‘capture the bases and kill the bosses’.
Looking in on the discussions
There is a thread on the Warcraft Forums for Shadowburn which actually discuss several of the viewpoints surrounding Alterac Valley. Horde has glommed on to the concept that this is a boycott, and even when Alliance players post counter arguments (post #33, same thread, page 2) that this is not actually an ‘organized’ phenomenon, the Horde players continue to think of the Alliance playerbase’s -choice- to play something else as an actual boycott or purposeful avoidance.
There are merits to both sides of the argument. On the one hand, Blizzard’s changes have indeed tipped the balance in AV and the Horde now wins more often than not (based solely on my own experiences playing there over and over for a full week between Xmas and New Years… full disclosure, I play as a Horde player, ‘Runika’ from Dark Iron server, part of the Shadowburn battlegroup). Alliance’s old tactics no longer serve them in the new battleground and their honor rewards are extremely low if the Horde plays well. Still, Alliance -can- win the battleground, and one of the complaints that the Horde players seem to be airing is that the Alliance has given up without even trying to figure out how to play the new battleground.
For myself, my opinion is that the Allies -can- win at the new AV, but it’s a discredit to them that they simply quit instead of trying to figure it out. However, the argument from the Alliance side is that the mechanics of the game actually allowed the Horde to leave with sufficient honor to make it worth their while to play it.
Time for a new word? Choice-cott?
The Alliance is correct about one point of semantics. They are not actively organized to boycott AV, but it is no longer in their best interests to stick it out there. With low returns and a high learning curve, it seems that the game theorists did their math a little skewed on the latest gameplay revision. The Alliance players aren’t actively trying to avoid AV, but the choices that are available to the individuals has allowed for an effective boycott to be enacted without needing any sort of central organization at all. And the strategy seems to be effective, if only because Blizzard has made a post promising that unspecified changes are coming to Alterac Valley.
I have to say, it’s interesting to watch all of this unfold around me. The power of individual choice on a massive scale, the misinterpretation of motives surrounding online actions and results, the application of game theory, and the emerging dynamic between the company Blizzard itself and its players. For a while the forums just seemed like a flamefest, a breeding ground for trolls, but it’s curious to see which problems get addressed, and which do not.
The World of World of Warcraft
There are several interesting tidbits and currents at play surrounding this game. For example, there is an assumption among the Horde that Horde players tend to be older, independent-minded, and more mature in general than the Alliance. To the Alliance are consigned the imagined cesspool of younger players and naive players, not just because of the Horde/Alliance split, but because it appears to bear out. Not that the Alliance doesn’t have great players, they do, but they are blamed for harboring the “emo kids” (emo is hard to explain, and deserves a whole ‘nother post. Along with QQ, pwn, mohawk, and chuck norris).
I have to admit my own frustration with the Alliance. I can totally see them in my mind as being spoiled younger kids in the next generation(s) who hit upon a challenge with the changes to AV and chose to quit instead of pushing forwards. Well, assumptions are everywhere. It would be interesting to figure out how to collect this kind of data somehow to quantitatively prove that the Alliance are n00bs. 🙂
Until then… we’ll just have to wait and see how AV ends up. In the meanwhile, watching the flame wars and post wars on the forums is a fascinating way to pass the time. After all, I’ve got almost an hour between running AV now. Might as well put it to good use.