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15 Minutes of Fame: Tom Howgego of El's Extreme Anglin', part 2







What fishing achievement or goal seems to be most popular to the widest group of Azerothian folk?

El: Catch 25 Fish is probably the most commonly achieved by residents of Azeroth. Many don't have enough patience for fishing! One That Didn't Get Away is the most talked about achievement by my readers. The Sea Turtle and Mr. Pinchy are also very popular catches, but primarily for the catch, not just the achievement of catching it.

Tim: I was surprised by how popular fishing achievements were in Wrath of the Lich King. For example, some anglers dedicated the first days of Wrath purely to becoming Salty, instead leveling up or running through dungeons. A few players set their own goals, such as Marlburo's attempt to catch absolutely everything, but most are focused on getting a recognised achievement. In a massive game like WoW, a lot of players rely on hardcoded suggestions to find new content. Fishing only has achievements and daily quests to guide players: Anglers are somehow expected to discover everything else.

Your fishing resource for Azerothian fishers is absolutely unparalleled. What are some of the things you've shared that have made it preeminent in its field?

El: *Blush*. I'm sure Nat Pagle's Guide to Extreme Anglin' would be more widely read, if his book were still sold. (You don't happen to have a complete copy, do you?) My book originally described my extensive research: The (then) minimum skill required to fish in different zones, how catches varied by time of day, and... all sorts of things that only gnomes are interested in. However, I noticed a lot of the dwarves were reading the introduction, that simply described how to fish. So I wrote a bigger introduction, with more illustrations and fewer long words, and it became even more popular with the dwarves! Over time the introduction became the book, and the complex analysis of fish behavior became an appendix at the back.

Tim: That combination is important: The expert analysis of fishing mechanics impressed people who already knew a lot about fishing. They then recommended El to anyone they meet that wanted to learn more about fishing. Each audience looks for different information. The guide has to be carefully structured so that players can find what they are looking for. A reputation for accurate information remains important, but that also feeds itself: When an expert angler discovers something unexpected, El's forums are often the first place it will be reported, because that's where it is most likely to be reliably confirmed.

Fishing is unusual in WoW, because most information cannot be datamined or extracted from combat logs. Catches actually have to be observed by an angler. So sites like MMO-Champion or Wowhead (which are excellent sources for most aspects of the game) are rarely first to discover important fishing changes. El has announced all kinds of changes in the past, from the maths behind junk catches, through previously hidden rare catches like the Dustbringer or (just recently) Stendel's Bane, to fun stuff like (now officially removed) dynamite fishing or (sadly never implemented) new bobber designs.

Who reads El's Extreme Anglin'?

El: Gnomes, dwarves, and even the taller races! I'm constantly amazed by how popular it is among anglers. I sometimes ponder what would have happened if I hadn't learned to fish: Perhaps the skill would have been forgotten, and we'd all have gone hungry and died from starvation?

Tim: It has become the ultimate niche: If you're into WoW fishing, you've almost certainly read El's Anglin' at some point. If you don't fish, you've probably never heard of it. And if you idly Google "fishing guide" (with no WoW context), you might have been confused to find it listed in their search results. El's Extreme Anglin' has around 200,000 unique visitors each month, at least a million players each year (the raw web analytics suggest 2 million, but are not reliable over such a long period). El's Anglin' is not primarily a forum site. Indeed, for the first 18 months it didn't even have a forum. Most visitors are simply reading, often reading very specific pages about how to catch a certain fish, or how to level their fishing skill.

Like WoW, there's a strong bias towards young male adults. But analysing national differences reveals an interesting pattern. Being (or having been) a physical world recreational angler makes you far more likely to also be a virtual angler: WoW anglers are up to 3 times more likely to fish in the physical world than people in their native country. It's evidence for the direct transfer of activities from the physical to the virtual world. For the same sets of human desires and emotions to shift seamlessly.

It's clear that readers love you. What's less clear is your relationship with Blizzard itself. Your site is so big -- are you an official fan site? Have you received any recognition from Blizzard for the overwhelming contribution you've made to this aspect of the game?

El: *Blush*. I suggest you ask a traditional mage about Blizzard. I never mastered the control of ice.

Tim: But which "you" do they love? That isn't just an intriguing philosophical debate. That question may eventually crystallize a lot of the growing social tension around rights and ownership, especially obvious in the online world. That's too deep to explore here, but it may hint at why we're not on Blizzard's Christmas card list. No, nothing official. Any recognition is subtle: The link on the old official website used a larger font size than all the other links. Patch notes now refer to "pools", the word I consistently used to refer to the wide variety of different schools and swarms.

Ultimately I'm not seeking Blizzard's recognition. The guide was written for the wider community. For me, the best recognition is to see someone refer another player to the site. Or to read a personal testimony about how the site introduced someone to a fishing career.

As I mentioned earlier, the most frustrating thing is that I can't make a greater contribution to the game itself. Why should anyone leave an online game and browse a website to find out about that game? I'd love to bring El's tutorials and reference information into the game. But the existing addon system isn't flexible enough, and Blizzard have clearly stated that they don't want anyone making money in this way. Whatever your views on the commercialisation of fan projects, pragmatically there's only so much one can do before this becomes a job, and I'm passed that point already! I'm sure they have their reasons for being so possessive about their game, but it's a shame that so much community talent is being lost in the process.

In the past, we've shared with WoW Insider readers your map of World of Warcraft online communities. Any outlook on updating the map for a new generation of players and websites?

Tim: The water emptied out of the Cursed Sea to create the Cursed Salt Flats, consuming everything within. Sadly neither Thott nor Alla made it out of their duchies on the ZAM Peninsula alive. Meanwhile the unseen Emperor continues to march armies into the Wild West, in a never-ending battle to stop swarms of malicious 'bots infecting the rest of the world. West, because the Cataclysm inverted the magnetic poles, and because my earlier characterisation of the Evil East was biased by my cultural perspective. Or something.

So yes, I thought about it. And then I thought I'd like to add absolutely every little community, 'blog, and everyone else I left off the original. And then I thought it would be great to generate the map automatically based on the affinity players have for certain groups of websites. And then I thought it would be a useful to navigate the entire internet like that. And then I realised I wasn't Google. Soon may be optimistic.

Tim, what do you do when you're not in Azeroth? What's your profession?

Tim: My background is in transport policy. Cynically, that's the understanding of problems that perpetuate themselves such that they can't be solved. Yes, there is a link to fishing: Transportation and communications often try to achieve the same thing. There's growing interest in using information technology as a substitute to physical transport. Practically this tends to translate into teleconferencing: Doing exactly what you did before, but via a big screen. Unfortunately most of an individual's socio-economic activity still remains "somewhere else, and you get there in a car" (to part-quote E. B. White).

MMOGs like WoW transfer a lot more of that activity into the game world, and keep it there. For example, value systems remain within the virtual world: You work in-game to earn your ultra-rare mount, which only has status value to other players. All the value, reasons for wanting to work, and social reward, remain within the virtual world. But otherwise the principles are exactly the same as modern consumerist society. Just using a lot less physical resource -- far more likely to be sustainable. People born into this sort of technology won't be afraid to use it to solve problems directly like this, rather than using it to apply old methods, like our teleconferencers. Fishing suggests that a whole range of human emotional desires transfer seamlessly, so there's lots of potential, even if we never completely escape the need for basic goods like food. And if that sounds like some sort of dystopian nightmare, maybe it is:

As you might have noticed, I'm not entirely comfortable with El. Specifically, that "she" is better known than "me". I've been warned off even thinking about it -- "It'll drive you mad in the end!" I understand why. And if human minds can't easily handle such things, perhaps we're heading in an unexpected direction: Towards a fundamental reassessment of some of the most basic questions of all.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

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