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Blizzard's APIs and You: Cool information and tools coming down the pipe

Recently, Blizzard disabled the WoWArmory Facebook application, signaling that the time of the modern WoW Armory is over and we will soon live in an age when new Blizzard APIs will transform our out-of-game experience. And change it, they will. These forthcoming APIs will change the way you interact with WoW outside of the game in ways you cannot even think up yet. How do I know this? That's the power of information facilitation, and some inventive hypotheticals will show you what Blizzard's APIs will do for you in the near future.

Over the past few months, Blizzard has been preparing to roll out a new set of APIs that will take internal information from the Armory, the new community site, and more, parse it into easily manageable data streams, and make those streams available to application developers. With these new streams of information, savvy developers can craft web applications, smartphone apps, social media plugins, and anything else under the sun to provide you with new and dynamic WoW experiences on the internet. I know that sounds horribly cliché, but hear me out -- this stuff is pretty cool, and the back end could bring about a new standard for information availability and MMOs.

I'm not a developer. In fact, a lot of us in the community are not developers. Writing this story felt like an exercise in obscurity because, frankly, all this back end information isn't in my wheelhouse. As I dug deeper and began to realize the potential of the systems being set up, I fell in love with the idea that Blizzard is opening up easy access to so much information. I thought it would be a good idea to illustrate for those of us who have no idea what APIs are capable of, to break through the programmer/developer talk and discuss what these APIs mean for us, at the end of the day.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

The Lawbringer: The system is down

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

For PlayStation Network users, this past week has been a harrowing one. The security breach and subsequent dismantling of the online network was a huge blow to Sony, which prided itself on being able to provide the service free of charge and expand into sales, downloads, and everything else synonymous with a next-gen online network. This past week's events, however, prove that these networks are fragile and have everyone asking the question, "What is next?"

What would happen if World of Warcraft were down for a week -- not due to some prescribed downtime or voluntary upgrades, mind you, but a comprehensive security breach that affected every single member of our online community? From the PlayStation Network incident, we can see the hostile environment that these security breaches foster, from political ramifications to financial consequences and even legal trouble. Shall we muse about the stability of online networks?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

BG Hero tracks your battleground activity


I'm really impressed with BG Hero. We take a look at these stats sites pretty often, but I have never seen a site targeted strictly at PvP data like this one, and with such a clean and interesting view. Unfortunately, it's still getting off the ground, so we're probably going to give the server a run for its money with this link, but give it a few days and head back there when they've smoothed things out.

It'll track your plays and wins in each BG, obviously, but you can also get a whole bunch of graphs and numbers about how you're doing each time you play, including HKs per BG, and killing blows per battleground that you play. The app also tracks your totals daily and weekly, so if you get your character in there and let it update over a period of time, you can see just how you're doing. Pretty amazing stuff if you've been playing a lot of battlegrounds lately (and with the extra XP in there, why wouldn't you?). We're told the site is still being worked on, so expect more updates soon (and Phood is keeping info flowing on his blog), but in the meantime, it looks like a great way to look at your BG progress in more detail.

Filed under: Fan stuff, Odds and ends, Leveling, Battlegrounds

Conclusions from the WoW.com faction transfer survey


Last week I posted a poll to try and figure out some of the numbers behind the newly implemented faction transfers, and now that we've got quite a few votes in there, it's probably a time to look at what we got and see if we can make any sense of it. The most conclusive data there is the answer above: about 18.6% of our reader polled said that yes, they had made a faction transfer already. That sounds high to me -- maybe it's because WoW.com readers know about the faction transfer service that more of them may have taken advantage of it. But if it's true that 19% of players did take advantage of the transfer service, then 570,000 of the around 3 million US players have switched factions, making Blizzard $17.1 million in gross revenue alone, just in the last week since it's opened.

The other questions were a little hairier -- I tried to ask people not to answer if they didn't fit the criteria for each question, and there's no way to tell for sure that's what happened. Also, lots of people wanted to see the answers without voting, and unfortunately, our voting system doesn't allow a clear way to do that (I have since checked with our tech guys, who say that the solution we came up with, voting without choosing an answer, did not affect the poll). But after the break, we can try to suss some conclusions out of the data anyway.

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Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Polls, Realm Status, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Cataclysm

Researchers study WoW to see how gangs form and fade

We've seen WoW used for a lot of research, from epidemics to anthropological fieldwork, but this is probably one of the craziest and one of the most helpful (assuming it works) ways to use it. Psychologists at the University of Miami and the University of California, Irvine have been studying how guilds and groups form in World of Warcraft in the hopes that it'll help them figure out how gangs form in real life. It sounds like a wild idea, but following guilds and groups in World of Warcraft is much easier than trying to study spontaneous guilds in the real world, because you've got immediate access to data: when people joined and left and why. And the psychologists say putting data together like this will help, because it'll help answer questions about, for example, what happens when you decide to separate a group of people -- do they form their own groups again or do they stay separated?

They say there are other connections as well: though killing dragons is far less heinous than killing innocent bystanders, Warcraft guilds form, grow, stick together, and fall apart just like gangs and even other groups all over the world do. No matter what kind of group it is, the researchers say that "group ecology" is the same everywhere, so studying the way we work in endgame raids can lead to ideas about what we're doing elsewhere. Very interesting.

Unfortunately, they're full on potential but still pretty short on conclusions yet (listen, guys, all you have to do to break up gangs is ensure there's not enough loot to go around), but once again, Azeroth seems like a fertile ground for directly studying just how we players interact as humans.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Guilds, News items, Raiding, Bosses

Nielsen: WoW is most played core game by 25-54 females


Here's an interesting bit of info from the Nielsen folks: over 400,000 women are playing World of Warcraft in the US, which means it's the most-played "core" game for that gender. And even more interesting, females 25 years or older make up the largest block of PC game players overall, and they account for 54.6% of all gameplay minutes in December of last year. Girls don't just play WoW -- they're quickly becoming one of it's main demographics.

You can read the report in PDF form over here -- the chart above might be the most interesting piece of information, as it shows that though males still make up a huge part of the PC gaming audience, many of them have now moved on to consoles, and women (especially older women, over 25), during the last month of last year, are making up a huge audience for PC games. Later in the report, you can see what kinds of games women are really playing: Solitare, Freecell, Minesweeper, and all of those other little attention grabbers on every PC. But among those widespread casual games is our own World of Warcraft. And while the 25-52 male audience of 675, 713 for that game still remains larger than the female audience in the same demo, the ladies aren't far behind.

Neilsen also calculated some base stats for WoW, including the fact that 1.8 million unique people played the game, and the average time of gameplay per week was 744 minutes, just over 12 hours (slightly up from last year's average). Additionally, of those who play World of Warcraft, their second most-played game was Solitaire, followed by Warcraft III. Fascinating stuff. Remember that these are statistics, so they are more general trends than anything else, but it's definitely true World of Warcraft and PC gaming in general is no longer only the domain of the male demographic.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Blizzard, News items

This is your brain on PvP

Ars Technica has news of a new study that isn't directly World of Warcraft-related, but that does have some pretty obvious applications in Azeroth. By studying the way we play when we believe we're competing against a human and a computer opponent (PvP vs. PvE, in WoW terms), scientists have determined that different parts of the brain are more active when we think we're playing against a human opponent. They call this extra activity "mind-reading," but it's not that supernatural: when we think we're playing a human, we try to put ourselves in their place, and think what they're thinking.

It gets deeper: they even throw gender into the mix, and discovered that male brains seem to be working harder to do this kind of "mind-reading" of the other side. Their conclusion says that that's because women are naturally more empathetic, and thus don't have to work as hard to figure out what another person is thinking. That seems a little general -- it could also mean that the males care more about competition, and thus are working harder to "mind-read," or it could even just be a wrinkle of the way this data was gathered. More research is probably needed on that one -- if women are so great at figuring out their opponents, why aren't we seeing all-female teams winning Arena tournaments?

It would be interesting to know, too, whether there's increased activity in other areas, say pattern recognition or cause-effect centers of the brain, when we're playing against opponents that we know are computers. But this does tell us that there are definitely different skillsets at work when playing PvP or PvE, and why some people might very clearly enjoy one over the other.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, PvP, Raiding, Arena

Creating an open source WoW database

This is an interesting idea -- Daniel over at Marenkay.com is the creator of phpArmory, which is the closest thing we have to an official API for Blizzard's Armory site, and he's now turning his eye towards unofficial databases. Sites like Wowhead and Thottbot are extremely informative, but the one thing they don't allow is player access directly to their own data -- obviously they have a monetary interest in keeping their information on their site. But an open source site, as Daniel says, would allow players to get at that information whenever and for whatever purpose they wanted.

Very interesting idea, and it sounds like he's got the coding chops to do it -- he's already got a working prototype together, apparently, and he's taking suggestions on where to go next. We'll keep a curious eye on this one. Competition is always good for customers, and while the current database sites might not be interested in an up-and-coming open source version of themselves (actually, the great WoWWiki is pretty open already, though they don't really collect as much numerical information), having widespread open data on drops, kills, and gear would be very beneficial for players. This could turn out to be a very important and helpful project.

Filed under: Items, Analysis / Opinion, News items

WoW-Achievements.com starts tracking achievements as best they can

You knew this was coming, but I'm impressed with how it's done over on WoW-Achievements.com. With points to track and players to compare, it was inevitable that we'd have a site show up to track achievements, and here it is. While the Armory itself doesn't show individual achievements (yet), they've apparently come up with a way to figure out a number per player, and there's a worldwide player list (or at least a list of the 53, 901 characters they surveyed somehow). You can also post a pic of your achievement info, and they'll update it on the site. There's no way to see your individual stats yet, but if and when Blizzard adds that functionality to the Armory, we'll probably see a couple of sites show up like this, that allow you to do more with achievements and tracking them than the official UI does.

Of course, the Xbox 360 is the gold standard for achievements at this point -- while other MMOs and WoW have used the mechanic in their own way, Microsoft has built achievements into Xbox 360 profiles available online to anyone, so that's where most of the great web tools are right now. But the one that stands out for me, that I'd love to see replicated in World of Warcraft, is 360voice.com -- it basically creates a blog of what you've been up to on the Xbox that presents your activity in a readable, fun format. With Achievements build into the Armory, something like that could be easily used to power a timeline of your character, and let your friends see from day to day where you've been and what you've done. Lots of very cool ideas to develop here -- hopefully Blizzard will release Achievement info in an API sooner rather than later.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Expansions, Achievements

Daedalus Project updated


Nick Yee's excellent MMORPG survey and data site, the Daedalus Project, has been updated with new survey results on the following topics:
  • Guild demographics: What influences players to choose certain guilds, how attached they become, the likelihood of their knowing guildies in real life, and how long they stay. What I find fascinating here is the graph displayed above -- 26% of surveyed players have been with their guild 2 years or more. Alex Ziebart mentioned the other day that his guild has been together so long across multiple games that guild chat's gone from talk of teenage dates to coaching expectant parents through morning sickness. I get the feeling that this is only going to become more common in long-haul games like Second Life and WoW.
  • Character creation: How players choose characters, the elements of character selection they consider most important, and whether classes and races tend to be researched extensively before they're picked, or chosen based on impulse. Character class seems to matter to the most people; starting area the least.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Guilds, Odds and ends, News items, Classes

Breakfast Topic: Is more data needed in the Armory?


Yogi suggested in the forums that the Account Create Date should be added to the Armory. He would like that info so that he can tell the difference between people telling tall tales and actual veterans. Nethaera pointed out that there are many ways to assess people's abilities without this often inaccurate information. After all, some players are currently playing mains on what began as alternate accounts purchased months or years after first playing the game.

I think it would be fun to know the real veterans from the professed veterans, but I don't think exact account creation dates are the best or most fun way to do it. Actual in-game veteran rewards and titles would be much more fun, in my opinion, and could be listed in the Armory.

What information would you like to see added to the Armory? Do you think that account creation dates would be useful? And is it really necessary to call my poor neglected druid "untalented" for all the world to see -- in capital letters no less? Yes, I haven't logged on to her in years and her talent points are now reset and unspent but that hardly means that the poor thing is not gifted. Wouldn't "unknown" or "undecided" convey the same information without being so pejorative?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Breakfast Topics, Forums

Vhiari posts Tournament Realm ratings data


Vhiari has released some interesting stats about the Arena Tournament realm over on his Blogspot site. What he did is take the top 5000 (due to "Armory limitations," he says) personal ratings in each bracket, and then charted them according to classes. Keep in mind that this is the Arena Tournament realm (the live realm data is also available separately), so this is more an indication of what players are doing so far on the tournament realm rather than class viability in day-to-day situations.

But keep in mind also that Blizzard is watching the Tournament realm closely for PvP balance, so what we see here could have some hints into the future of Arena changes. Mages especially don't make out too well on the 5v5 chart, and Hunters don't appear to fare much better. Warriors, as you might expect, are off the charts, but comparably on 5v5, Druids aren't at that level. Rogue placement is a surprise, too, but Vhiari just says in the comments that that's more an indication of how many people rolled rogues on the TR rather than a signal that Rogues are rocking 5v5.

Interesting stuff. Unfortunately, the data is a little too fuzzy to pull off any serious conclusions (even if Mages aren't getting high ratings, this chart does nearly nothing at all to help us figure out why that might be), but it's an interesting look at what's happening on the TR so far.

[via WoR]

Filed under: Mage, Rogue, Warrior, Realm News, Analysis / Opinion, Ranking, Classes, Arena

Virgin Media CEO threatens to put UK net traffic in the "bus lane"

We've heard before about lots of trouble with WoW players in the UK experiencing lags, disconnects, and high latency (though the problem seems to be all over lately), and reader Hugh sent us this possible reason: Virgin Media, which is a large internet service provider in the UK, has had their CEO spouting off about net neutrality lately, calling it a "load of bollocks," and claiming that if content providers (like Blizzard) don't pay up, he'll be happy to stick them in the "bus lane."

Not quite cool. The latest tactic of ISPs everywhere to make more money is to charge not customers, but content providers for their traffic -- i.e. if YouTube wants their site to work fast on your ISP, they need to pay the ISP a certain amount, and then everyone on that network will experience the site quickly. So in this case, Virgin would be asking Blizzard, responsible for all the World of Warcraft traffic, to pay a premium price for customers to receive it quickly. And anyone who knows Blizzard knows they probably aren't too excited about paying such a price -- they'd likely call Virgin Media out for slowing the connection down before paying protection money for their data.

At any rate, it seems like there's a battle coming, and your character's information may be caught in the middle of it. As always, you've got to fight with your wallet -- if Virgin or any other ISP threatens to hold data hostage like this, it's time to find a different ISP to pay your money to every month.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard

Mashing up WoW data (when we can get it) in outside applications

The New York Times has an article up about Microsoft's latest attempt at figuring out mashups-- squeezing the data from one piece of software into another, and World of Warcraft gets an interesting mention. Apparently students at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts are working on how to put WoW player data into Facebook accounts.

We've covered this type of thing before, but Blizzard has a long way to go in making their data open to any players who want to use it. Just recently another MMO named Dungeon Runners decided to break open their player data, into a form that almost anyone could use, and we know that Blizzard has the ability to share lots of data online, but they still haven't opened it up yet. 2.4 is giving us a lot of different ways to view our combat data, and almost every day the Armory adds new features, but none of them have yet been aimed at getting the data out of there and doing cool stuff with it elsewhere.

Maybe the reason for this is that they're planning to do it themselves. At any rate, there is a ton of information on Blizzard's servers that players would love get their hands on, and there are plenty of things on the other end to do with it. All that's required is for Blizzard to give us some hooks in, and then real WoW mashups can begin.

Filed under: Patches, Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

New Daedalus data: girls heal and play elves, kids play Horde



This has been the common wisdom, or at least a stereotype, for quite some time, but apparently female players really are more likely to prefer healing than male players are. The Daedalus Project, one of my favorite sites about MMOs, has published some new results. The site focuses on sociological research about MMOs and MMO players, and among other things, the new results look at the gender and age breakdowns of how MMO players would respond to various hypothetical questions.

There were four questions asked, although one of them is only slightly applicable to WoW. For nice charts (as seen above) and full data, see the site, but I'll summarize the interesting points here, question-by-question. Note that it's possible that this data, being an aggregate of players of different MMOs, does not represent WoW well. I doubt it, however; given WoW's market dominance, most of the respondents probably are WoW players. Edit: note that in my summaries below, I'm merely point out trends, not causes. I'm not trying to say (for instance) that girls heal because they're girls; there are many other factors at play here.

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Filed under: Virtual selves

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