Disorganized Resistance? The Warcraft AV ‘boycott’ debate

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.

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12 responses to “Disorganized Resistance? The Warcraft AV ‘boycott’ debate

  1. Your article does a pretty good job summing up the situation.

    If you want to understand the Alliance though, you need only look back at Horde history. When the Alliance won, and the perception was that the battleground favored them, the Horde were still scoring roughly the same amount of honor as the Allies. (A typical match might have been 300-200, roughly speaking.)

    During that time, the Horde faction complained quite a bit about map imbalances, NPCs, etc. They had many people AFKing during matches, compounding the problem. The only thing preventing the Horde from completely abandoning the battleground was probably the fact that it was, despite losing, the quickest way for them to accumulate honor.

    The difference is, the Allies regularly score ZERO now that the balance has shifted in the other direction, and the scoring system has been changed to favor the Horde style of play. The Allies now have the /AFK problem, but on top of everything else, they get no reward for trying to win. When there is no reward, there is no point in playing. You do not have “spoiled younger kids” in the battlegroup, as much as you have inexperienced PvP players who just want their 30 marks before abandoning AV for the battlegrounds where their faction tends to do better in.

    In short, I do not think you would see such a resistance if the Allies were scoring 200 honor every match like the Horde did when they had the handicap.

  2. winning av for the alliance requires critical thinking, they cant have that..its easier to quit then to step up, when horde where losing all the time before..did you see us quitting whatsoever? Nope..we tried and tried and still made a few wins, because thats what real life is about and quitting is never an option unless you are 16 years old screaming at your mom to get you more meatloaf.

  3. To Zordan, who can only see things from one side, fails to see that Horde still aquired honor, moreso infact, than Alliance did per hour, even those that AFKed. So, it seems that the Horde faction was the ones getting the hand outs and now that they have to wait to get those hand outs now, they’re tossing a hissy fit and insulting us to queue again for AV. Ironic, ain’t it?

    To the blogger, I find it rather insulting to think that you assume that Horde is the faction is the one that has all the mature and older players. I’ve been on both factions, and I can assure you, both sides have their share of idiots. Just ask any and all Undead rogues.

  4. @JD,

    Unfortunately, there are several battlegroups where the queue times are not an issue at all. This means that the game of AV in and of itself is not the driving factor at work here. if it was an imbalance in the game rules, it would be a universal problem across all the battlegroups, but it’s not.

    This means that in the battlegroups where the queue times are unreasonable (and I don’t know what that number would be exactly, maybe 15 minute queue times as the cap for ‘reasonable’), there is something -else- at work. Some other factor which has actually set off a negative feedback spiral.

    Look at it this way. The game changed its rules, which means that strategies had to be rethought. The game allows for a near shut-out now, which wasn’t present previously. For whatever reason, be it terrain advantages, player skills, flexibility of thinking, age and maturity, etc., the Alliance on certain servers started performing poorly, while the Horde began to exploit the ability to not just win, but to win with shut-out conditions. The Horde behavior is still consistent with the original goals of the game… acquire the most honor.

    The Alliance side in those certain battlegroups and server clusters where problems emerged saw not just a challenge, but an actual discouragement. Whether or not the game change or the X-factor at work was the issue, Alliance in only certain servers were overwhelmed and the learning curve necessary to make even equitable losses or occasional wins was dismissed by more and more people.

    As fewer people played, the Horde became much more intensely focused on the matches, because although the battleground was delivering great honor, the queues were increasing. After all, if we’re going to only get one shot at the battleground of choice every 56 minutes, you can bet that every single AFKer is being actively reported, and everyone is very intent on working together to grab the shut-out. Why? Because the shut-out is the only reason that AV continues to be a profitable instance… we’re waiting so long for games that it doesn’t make sense to play unless you’re going to win/give it your all. So the queue length actually could be argued to have made AV -harder- for the Alliance on those battlegroups.

    This just feeds into itself. Why should the Alliance play when a shut-out only wastes their time? When the Horde play, they play not just to win but to pwn because that’s the only reason AV is worth it.

    The Alliance players on those affected battlegroups have actually created a situation where the solution is counter-intuitive. In Game Theory, you need some kind of motivation in order to be enticed to make the risks that any game entails. Your rewards diminished in the face of a new learning curve that only certain populations of Alliance were unable/unwilling to master. In doing so, those battelgroups created their own trap. The Horde began playing more aggressively, not less, so the rewards diminish even farther, effectively pushing up the queues further, and forcing the Horde to become even more aggressive to retain -their- incentives for risk and play.

    Incidentally, while this has gone on, the Horde have begun to start playing the other battlegrounds as a ‘fill in’ stopgap measure to keep the honor rewards accumulating. However, in order to maximize honor earned for time spent playing, the Horde had to actually learn how to improve and master those maps as well. Traditionally, the Horde didn’t win as frequently in those other games, but now, given the prolonged exposure and the length of time that we have to wait just for one shot at AV, we’re actually applying ourselves to learn the other battlegroups.

    If this continues in its present cycle, the Alliance players on the affected battlegroups will actually succeed in creating a superior enemy in -all- of the battlegroups. Perhaps this is a self-correcting game, though. As the Horde plays the other groups more and more, their skills get better and better. The enforced teamwork in AV is teaching the Horde how to work together better as a team even in pickup groups in the other instances. Slowly but surely, the Alliance are losing more and more in the other groups as well, reducing their rewards there, too.

    Eventually, the Alliance will have to either get better themselves to match the new skills that the current queue times are breeding amongst their enemies, or they’ll need to recognize that the only way to stop this cycle of slow Horde empowerment is to begin playing more often and harder in Alterac Valley.

    Like I said, counterintuitive. AV sucks, so I’m telling you that you should play it more often? Well, yeah. Or you should start getting prepared for the challenge in -all- of the battlegrounds to really start picking up. I give it another month before the Allies find themselves fighting just to make any battleground worth it.

    Also in that time the ‘new tourists’ who came in as gifts for the holidays gave more new players access to the game will have started to hone their skills, so hopefully things will balance out in the overall.

    A simple fix for here and now would be to split up the battlegroups where there are serious problems in the queue times and distribute them to the battlegroups where no such problems have manifested, taking servers out of the good battlegroups and replacing them in the tweaked battlegroups where there are problems now.

    See, though, how this is a much larger problem than just “lrn2play” and “Horde are l0s3rs!” kinds of arguments? There really is science behind all of this, and Blizzard plays ultimately by the numbers across the entire customer base, not just individual servers, classes, or battlegroups.

  5. @Iliya,

    Point taken, I should have been more clear in my post. For clarity’s sake, when I refer to ‘immature players’ on the side of the Alliance, it is based on my own suspicions (unproven) that there are more children who play on the side ofthe Alliance. I was speaking in terms of physical age and the kinds of perspectives that typically accompany older demographics.

    These are assumptions on my part, since I don’t have access to Blizzard’s numbers (but oh, what papers I could write for my graduate studies if I did!). It’s cool that you guys found the article comment-worthy at all, since this is actually meant to alert the scholarly community (well, the tiny bit of it which reads my blog) to things that are sometimes missed because they are internal to WoW itself.

    This kind of conflict and resolution attempts are good examples of how problem solving and conflict resolution are being tested in the face of Interactive Communications, New Media, and Game Theory. While I am personally involved, I do acknowledge that the Alliance have valid points. I just think, as I explained to JD above, that there’s a larger pattern here which will ultimately work *against* the Alliance in the long run if something isn’t done to correct it.

    Either way, thank you for your input.

  6. @Pacio49

    I think I see where you are coming from, but I have to say it hasn’t been my experience. I have an Alliance character on Stormstrike (one of the so-called Boycott servers where Horde dominate with the ‘scorched earth’ tactic), and a Horde character on Vindication (where Horde still rush and fail). Just my luck, I guess.

    From the Ally perspective, I can tell you that yes, the ability of the Allies to adapt has been poor. But, there are a huge amount of new 70s that queue up. They play 30 games to get the marks that they need for their weapon or armor, and then they never play again. There is no reason to get better because once you get the marks, there is nothing in AV that can’t be had in other battlegrounds.

    Instead, we do the other three battlegrounds, earn more honor than we would in AV, and win about60-70% of the battles. More if we pre-made. Since the patch, Horde has really struggled in the other battlegrounds, at least in this battlegroup.

    Conversely, on Vindication, it is a zerg race. I’d say Horde win 40-50% of the time. Queues are not an issue here, unlike the 2+ hours I hear about on Stormstrike. Each side gets a decent amount of honor, in the 200-300 range. It is impossible to convince anyone to play defense here. Conversely, Ally rarely wins in the other battlegrounds. I can’t remember the last time I lost AB, for example.

    I’m speculating just as much as you are, but here is what I think:

    The best honor grind is AV, hard to question that. In each battlegroup, one side seems to dominate. If you are in the dominant side, your best players (ie people that spend a moment to think) will flock to the best honor – AV. The best players means more wins. More losses for the weaker side. The better players on the weaker side flock to the other BGs, where they enjoy success against the lesser players.

    I don’t think you can blame either faction for what is happening, really. It is foolish for the Horde (at least this is what I keep trying to say on Vindication) not to D up and convert the small initial map imbalance into a shutout win. If the Horde do that, it’s silly for the Alliance to play unless they need marks.

    Also, don’t forget one thing. Horde is traditionally better at PvP, the Allies are more PvE oriented. AV used to be a PvE battleground, and now it is PvP. In addition, Horde can get to objectives quicker in the beginning because of map layout (it is a small advantage, but it IS an advantage). There was not much adapting necessary for Horde – basically all elements that were strengths to the Allies were removed and a scoring system was implemented which favors the Horde style of play. Give the Allies some time to adapt. This wasn’t a small change from the Allies’ perspective, effectively it was changing the game from soccer to water polo overnight without teaching the Allies how to swim.

    And again, to stress, the only reason that boycotts and other assorted whining did not exist back when the Allies had the advantage is that Horde were still getting 200 honor for losing. Alliance gets zero if Horde plays in a strategically correct manner.

  7. Last night I was defending the Allies on AV battleground chat. They were trying different strategies to attempt to circumvent the Horde steamroller. Both of their attempts were unsuccessful, and some folks on the Horde side started to talk trash about them being stupid. I pointed out that the Alliance were experimenting with different tactics, which is exactly what we wanted them to do.

    The third game, the Allies won. There is hope.

  8. As a Horde player on Vindication and I will only help on D if it’s clear that we’re not going to have an overwhelming defense. Galvager makes a decent defender himself. He is way harder than Balinda is. I’ve successfully solo-healed an earth elemental tank as a ret pally on Balinda. Conversely, I’ve managed to wipe an equal sized galv group by killing a healer and CCing the other for 12 seconds while I offed their tank.

    The problem with a really good defense is that if we fully wipe the alliance O then it kicks the entire alliance side into turtle mode and we have to siege SP and Dun Baldar. A siege takes at least a half hour, usually 45 minutes, and occasionally as long as an hour for a bit more honor and way less honor/hr. I’d rather just take my chances in a 2 way zerg and participate in the tower reclamation squad if there is one.

  9. Thanks for a fairly even-handed treatment of the issue. I think you’re wrong about Horde being populated by more mature players, though. I’d be willing to bet you a nickel that, if actual demographics were ever published, the youngest average age on a PvP server will be the undead.

    Grayrest is right, by the way (and by the way, my thanks to him for a Horde player saying this first). I play Alliance. Galv is a nontrivial boss. It takes a bunch of people to kill him, and it’s relatively easy for Horde to defend him. They may not always save him, but they can cause us severe losses. (I’m a squishy warlock, and Galv can kill me in about 3 seconds if he tries). And yet I’ve heard from several people that Belinda can be soloed.

    I’ve heard a lot of Horde tell us that we’re just not adapting, like they’re doing some deep strategic thinking thats so far escaped the Alliance. But no, Alliance has been trying a number of strategies (sometimes by teamwork, and sometimes not). And the situation is not symmetric. The Horde can win using strategies that the Alliance cannot. Take a turtle, for instance. Only once or twice have I seen Alliance win a turtle. Horde routinely do.

    Luckily, I haven’t been in many of those honor-point shutouts people have talked about. But as previous people have mentioned, even back when Alliance regularly won AV, the Horde got nearly as much honor. Now, when the tables are reversed, the “take” is much more asymmetric. And in my battlegroup, AV was traditionally the only battleground we won. WG we only win if the Horde are total idiots; AB is nearly as bad. EotS… maybe 50-50.

    But judging from the number of “spits” and “rofls” that I get whenever I die in a battleground, I wouldn’t be too quick to suggest Horde has the mature players. Not unless you have some actual data to prove it.

    Of course, since I’m 42, most of the people on WoW seem like kids 🙂 I’m now willing to concede that two of you seem like grown-ups, though. And that gives me hope. Thanks for the posts.

  10. @Grim:
    42 isn’t old, it’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything. 🙂

    I freely admit that I have no access to WoW’s statistical breakdowns. I’m not even certain that player age is something that WoW can accurately capture, either, given how accounts are set up.

    The piece of data I keep coming back to, though, is that not all of the battlegroups are having this same problem. If the problem were simply map-based or game-based, it should appear more often in a wider distribution across every battlegroup. Going solely by anecdotal evidence from friends and the forums (and we know how unreliable those are), this problem doesn’t appear across the board, just in certain battlegroups.

    One possibility is that this data on the problem not appearing universally is wrong. I’m open to that possibility, just not able to spend the time to try and prove it.

    Another possibility is that the distribution of talent and aptitude for certain battleground tactics and PvP abilities are not evenly spread across the battlegroups. In that case, the Boycott servers would indicate areas where there are clusters of better Horde players. Or clusters of weaker Alliance players; it works both ways.

    If that’s the case, then shuffling the battlegroup constituency is still the overall solution. Equalizing Galv and Balinda seems like another useful step, but weren’t they tweaked somehow in the most recent patch?

    I think it would be a pretty interesting experiment to offer a round of testing where the geography was reversed, to see whether the winning horde groups could pull off wins using the Alliance geography.

    Ah well. We’ll have to wait and see how Blizzard attacks this.

  11. Firstly, I’d like to commend you on a well written piece that isn’t full of immature comments. Perhaps it was the length of the article that deterred the people from bothering..

    Obviously I cannot speak for other realms, but the general consensus of the realm I play on is that the alliance is a lot older than you give credit for. Our guild for instance (only 100 strong or so) has a member at 65 years old, with the youngest being 11. However, the 11 year old is the son of the GM, who is 35 years old. Our average age is 33 years old. And the same applies with many of the guilds on our realm.

    As for the issue of AV – I stopped playing that BG solely due to the loss of honour. Once upon a time, prior to the 2.3 patch, I would receive 500-600 honour for a win and 200-400 honour for a loss. I played 2 losing AV’s last week and came away with 57 honour. It was certainly not worth the 55 mins I spent in the BG.

    Someone above touched on the subject of ‘farming’ honour. To me this is what BG’s are for. If I wanted to simply pvp horde I would raid UC or stalk prey in SS or STV. The concept of the BG’s is to gain honour to better your gear and with the addition of the S1 arena gear, it’s a lot more worthwhile farming that honour. This could also be the reason the queues are increasing – more people want the gear that they couldn’t even obtain in the majority of the boss fights in Kara.

    There was mention of a boycott in the trade channel (the new Barrens chat I’m sure), but I don’t think it’s being taken seriously. Our guild does org bg’s and AV is avoided due to the length of the games for the very little honour received. We’d rather play EoTs or AB, where the honour gained per hour can be as high as 2000, opposed to the measily 25-200 (especially with diminishing returns, but that’s another issue) in AV in the same time frame.

    Thanks for the article 🙂

  12. Response to JD: “When the Alliance won, and the perception was that the battleground favored them, the Horde were still scoring roughly the same amount of honor as the Allies. (A typical match might have been 300-200, roughly speaking.) ”

    Wrong: Before the 2.3 patch came out Alliance were averaging 400+ and the Horde 100-175 and the Horde would be luck to get over 200.

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