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Readers ask Ask Mr. Robot about optimizing their gear

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

The robot lovers among you have undoubtedly already devoured our exclusive BlizzCon interview with Mr. Robot, the enigmatic robot-about-town behind Ask Mr. Robot. The gear optimizing tool burst onto the scene early this year, sparing players endless agony over hammering out the best stats, glyphs, enchants and other twitchiness for their gear (or, you know, making a wild stab, shrugging, and slapping on more mastery with a sardonic "whatever").

Where did this fantabulous, angst-saving service come from? How does it work? And why is it giving you that weird answer about that one piece of gear you thought would be your set's saving grace? We interviewed Peter Coley, co-founder of Ask Mr. Robot, and took your questions for the development team from Twitter and our previous interview here.

Raid group
Main character Robomaul
Guild Violent Apathy
Realm Emerald Dream (US)

WoW Insider: How did the idea for Ask Mr. Robot come about? Did the project begin as a team effort, or was it a singular effort at the outset?

Peter Coley: Mr. Robot has been a group effort between myself, Vee Tegen and [my brother] Eric from the beginning. We actually started out as a hardcore simulator akin to SimulationCraft back in 2009 during Wrath of the Lich King. We made a DPS DK, feral, moonkin, elemental, and enhancement simulator for a Microsoft Silverlight competition. It turned out to be a pretty awesome tool but didn't win the competition; it was the only web-based simulator, and it was the only simulator of any kind with anything resembling a usable UI. It turned out to be way too hard to maintain, though.

We wanted to expand to all classes from the beginning and quickly realized we couldn't keep up with the minutiae of each spell calculation and game mechanic with only one engineer. Thus, we switched modes to a gear optimizer with the release of Cataclysm -- a user-friendly UI that builds on the work done by simulation tools rather than trying to recreate it.

We realized that though simulators are fun to make (for us nerds) and cool for the hardcore user, no matter how hard we tried, we could not make a simulator that was very usable for the majority of WoW players – it's just too complicated and "mathy." So we got to thinking: How can we bring the results of all this hardcore theorycraft to more players? And that's how we arrived at the current site: Type in your character name, press the big Optimize button, done! Any player for any class and spec can now benefit from top-notch theorycraft without having to dig into the details of the math.

Who is the Ask Mr. Robot team today?

I run the engineering side of things and do all of the coding and engineering for the main site, WoW tools, and WoW mobile app. Eric is our graphic designer, product designer, and theorycraft guru. He does all of our graphic design, and he and I work together to design most of the final features. He is the most active in the WoW theorycraft community and is responsible for developing most of our default stat weights and theory.

Vee is our marketing and advertising side. She makes sure that people like us and that we don't go broke. [My brother] Adam has just recently started working with us as an engineer; he is focusing on creating our League of Legends tools.

You didn't expect anything at all like the overwhelming interest Ask Mr. Robot has received since its debut in January of this year, did you? How has this changed the focus of what you planned for the project?

The interest in our website has been amazing! It definitely took off much more quickly than we anticipated. We started with the idea of doing this as a part-time project that might bring in some modest side revenue to our main jobs through advertising. We actually planned to make a fairly simple WoW site, let it sit and do as well as it could without much effort, then turn to making websites in other markets not related to gaming. With the huge increase in traffic to our site, we said forget it -- let's focus entirely on gaming.

We started planning expansion into one or two other games. We are always going to focus on a couple of games that we know extremely well, because that depth of knowledge really defines what we do. We ran a couple numbers and realized that if we could repeat our success with another game or two, we would be making enough revenue to keep a real business alive. We are really excited about a lot of the new games coming out this year and next, so we decided to go for it!

Obviously, you must have computer-y backgrounds to have gotten into something like this.

I have been a software architect and web developer for over 10 years, working mainly in the biotech space as a partner at a small company. A lot of the problems that I spent years trying to solve translate directly to the game space: usability! People have made all of these awesome tools for WoW, but no one focuses much on usability, and consequently, a huge part of the community has been locked out of benefiting from the more advanced theorycraft. We thought this was silly, so I applied my software experience to creating a professionally maintained and user-friendly website for WoW players.

Mr. Robot is my first venture into software and apps for video games. I have written a few toy WoW addons, but nothing fancy. Mr. Robot's mobile app was actually my first attempt at a mobile app and turned out pretty well! We're doing a big update to the site design and the mobile app over the next several weeks -- I think that users will really like the improvements.

Ask Mr. Robot's creator
How long have you played World of Warcraft and games in general?

I have played WoW since vanilla, back in 2005. We (myself, Vee, and Eric) ran the guild Resolve on Spinebreaker for five years. We became too busy to run a guild with Mr. Robot, so we now raid with Violent Apathy on Emerald Dream.

WoW aside, I've been playing video games (excessively) since I was a kid. I remember playing the first Final Fantasy back in middle school and since then have spent ridiculous amounts of time on JRPGs. On the PC, I've played tons of Baldur's Gate 2, Unreal Tournament, Warcraft 3, and Diablo 2. Lately, I've turned into a bit of a League of Legends junkie -- awesome game!

How long did it take to design and implement Ask Mr. Robot?

The first version of the site back in late December 2010, early January 2011 was much simpler than the current site. It was simple gear lists for the new 5-man dungeons. That site took about one month, to create decent lists for every class and spec. It then took about one more month to make the version that is more or less what you see now. Since then, we have put a lot of time into improving the optimization's accuracy, researching stat weights, and adding new features, though -- it's an ongoing process.

The mobile app took about two to three months to write. We spent quite a bit of time figuring out how to make it usable on a small screen. There's quite a bit of information to jam into limited screen space.

RoboCouncil, the newest mobile feature, took about two to three weeks of effort to design and write.

And we understand that World of Warcraft isn't the only game supported by your tools!

That's right! We are deep into development for League of Legends and have work on the drawing board for Star Wars: The Old Republic and Diablo 3. We hope to have something available for LoL very soon and for SWTOR sometime near its launch.

A little closer to home, how do you foresee Ask Mr. Robot changing based on what you know about Mists of Pandaria?

Our core features will stay the same -- I think that there will always be a place for a good gear optimizer. The new changes to talents will definitely make things more challenging. If Blizzard follows through on really letting players individualize their characters more through talents, there will probably be more variety in gearing approaches as well.

That said, I see a lot of opportunities to provide tools to players for evaluating different talent builds. And come on – who wouldn't want a Mr. Robot pet optimizer of some kind? A challenge mode optimizer that has some information to optimize an entire 5-man group for particular dungeons could also be very interesting.

Ask Mr. Robot
What's in the works now at Ask Mr. Robot? What new features can we look forward to?

We are getting close to releasing a brand new look for our entire website. With this will come many improvements based on user feedback:
  • We will be adding user accounts. This will allow people to more easily save things and access them from any computer or mobile device.
  • You will be able to completely customize which items are available to the optimizer when suggesting BiS gear lists.
  • You will be able to manually create a character profile, including choosing specific gems, enchants, and reforges (similar to e.g. chardev).
  • RoboCouncil will be available on the website as well as the mobile app.
  • We are working on a few ideas to improve RoboCouncil -- it's already pretty awesome, but we want to try and smooth out some of the usability issues with characters being out of date. We have several ideas that we are going to try.
  • We are adding more information about talents and basic play/strategy advice for each spec, since how you play is just as important as how you gear!

We are also moving to a new strategy for our mobile app. We will be releasing a mobile website rather than an app. It will be more or less indistinguishable from a regular app, but you will reach it via your browser on your phone rather than as an app. This has many advantages. Anyone with a sufficiently modern browser will be able to use the mobile app (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Web OS, BlackBerry, and more). Also, we can make instant updates to the app whenever we need to, and you don't need to install or update, ever!

Instead of buying the mobile app, users will instead buy access to premium features (the exact structure of that is still being ironed out). Current app owners will of course be given a credit and not have to pay that $2 again.

RoboCouncil will be a premium feature. In addition, we are adding a new premium feature, a gear planner. This will be an advanced feature that goes beyond simply suggesting a best-in-slot set of gear. For example, it will suggest an entire plan for upgrading your brand new level 85 warrior to a raid-worthy character, as well as do a few other cool things. One example would be: "I have 2,000 valor points to spend. What's the best value per point that I can get, based on the raid content I'm doing (or not doing) and whatever other items are available to me?"

Please keep reading for questions for Ask Mr. Robot from WoW Insider readers and staff.


Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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