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Breakfast Topic: Artsy-fartsy

In the last year, I have noticed that Blizzard has been making more of an effort to reach out to its community. When I say community, I mean the artists, the writers, the singers, bloggers, theorycrafters, and everything in between.

From having the three major franchises join Twitter, to the Battlecry Mosaic, to contests galore -- tell me, what does this mean to you? Have you participated in any of these contests or events? I myself actually entered the Fan Art Calendar contest just last night, and while I'm hardly expecting to win, it was not only a fun project to work on but it made me realize that Blizzard has at least a genuine-looking interest in its artistic fanbase.

Are you guys enjoying the contests? Or do you believe it's all a big corporate sham to make Blizzard seem all moonbeams and kittens?

Discuss amongst yourselves!

Filed under: Breakfast Topics

Player stories on the official site


Blizzard asked for real-life stories from players a little while ago, and now they've posted a pretty big collection of them over on the official site (this page was around last year, but they've added many stories since then). As Bornakk says, these are personal accounts from players of how playing the game with others has helped them grow relationships in real-life. I'm not sure what exactly the point of posting these is (maybe Blizzard wants to stave off some of that negative media reporting about the game and addiction to it), but then again, if you dive into a few of these, you can see that they don't really need a point -- they're really interesting (and in some cases pretty heartwarming) stories about how players are using this game to enrich real-life relationships.

They're still accepting more stories as well, so if you've got a good tale of some WoW-sharing in real-life, hit them up over on the submission page and put yours in the mix. Hopefully Blizzard will figure out a way to get these out into the real world -- harsh stories about addiction are so easy for the media to jump on, but great stories like these are the real reasons we all play this game.

Filed under: Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard, PvP, Leveling

WoW as a channel for news from Iran?

Normally, this wouldn't rate too high for us -- lots of people have ideas about how to use World of Warcraft, and many of them never actually come about. But then again, this is in the Wall Street Journal of all places, so we'll give it a look. If you're on Twitter, you've probably heard about what's going on in Iran right now -- there was an election, the "official" results given were judged as rigged by many involved, and the government seems to be cracking down on both news media and citizen journalism, as well as protesting citizens, to very sad results. How does World of Warcraft fit in to all of this? Andrew Lavallee of the WSJ's Digits blog points to this report by Craig Labovitz, which talks about how Internet traffic has been filtered out of the country around the election. At the very end of his analysis, Labovitz points out that channels for videogames, including both Xbox Live and World of Warcraft, have shown very little government manipulation. That suggests that if the government in Iran does continue to shut down certain channels, citizens there might be forced to spread the news through any virtual route they can, including possibly Azeroth.

This is obviously all just analysis and speculation so far -- while there clearly (from those charts) has been interference in the media, no one (as far as we know) has yet had to resort to chatting in World of Warcraft to get their message out, and though what's happening in Iran is made up of some very serious (and seriously unfortunate) situations, the fervor online about using brand new channels like Twitter to share real-time news is often overstated. Personally, I believe that even if Twitter didn't exist, this information would find another way to get out. Still, the interesting thing to take away here is that even our "silly" video games today are actually media on a global level.

Thanks, Cedars!

Read more →

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Events, Virtual selves, News items

Faith and World of Warcraft at Colorado University

Buckle your seatbelts on this one -- if you aren't concerned with the bigger picture behind a virtual world like Azeroth and would rather hear about dragons fighting each other or the latest class changes, best look elsewhere on the site. But a student at Colorado University has a theory about World of Warcraft that might sound a little out there: he believes the game is a new religion.

Not necessarily in the sense that you should skip church to raid (though lots of people probably do that anyway). But in the sense that it meets a sociologist's definition of religion: it provides community, ethics, culture, and emotion. And it's hard to argue with that: we're living proof of the community around the game, there's definitely plenty of culture and emotion, and... ethics? CU student Theo Zijderveld is proposing that even if the game itself doesn't promote ethical behavior, the push is there -- we're rewarded for doing the right thing, and often punished for doing wrong. Work with others in a group, get better loot. Camp someone's corpse, and their guildie or alt shows up to camp you.

Intriguing idea, even if it does sound like something cooked up for a college student's thesis (which is in fact what it is). It's certainly not a religion in that there is no higher power involved (unless you believe that Ghostcrawler is in fact a god) -- obviously, we all believe that everything in Azeroth was made by men and women, or at least hard-working Gnomes. But as for what playing World of Warcraft creates in us and makes us feel, those results and ideas are very close in many ways to what organized religion does. Quite a theory.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Activision exec: Videogames will eclipse other entertainment

Activision-Blizzard exec Mike Griffith also made a showing at last week's CES, crowing about an industry that he and his company are heading towards the top of. He said to a crowd there that videogames would "eclipse" "movies, recorded music and TV" as forms of entertainment in the future. He claimed that media such as films and music were passive, and that games are moving ever closer to becoming "a legitimate story-telling medium that rivals feature films."

Which all seems true, except that it's coming from someone who stands to make a lot of money off of just that happening. Still, for all of the bluster of Activision-Blizzard's hotshots, they've got a few of the most popular franchises in gaming behind them -- Blizzard (of course), the Call of Duty franchise, and Guitar Hero, which has made over a billion dollars for Activision. Especially in a time of declining CD sales, Griffith's words ring truer than ever.

But let's not forget, of course, that you can't have great stories without great storytellers, and the folks at Blizzard are definitely that. For all of Activision's bragging, they can't forget that these franchises, all of them, came from strong and talented studios -- Call of Duty was crafted by Infinity Ward, Guitar Hero by Harmonix, and obviously all of Blizzard's properties were put together by the company formerly known as Silicon and Synapse. Griffith can brag that his media is taking over the world, but we hope Activision doesn't forget who helped them get there.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Economy, Making money

Blizzard releases Wrath Gate trailer in HD

With the release of Wrath of the Lich King and its inclusion of world-changing phased events, Blizzard's stated goal of ramping up their dynamic storytelling seems more and more like a success, but it doesn't stop with quests alone. The in-game cinematic for the final legs of the epic Wrath Gate quest line really shows what Blizzard is capable of outside of CGI with the in-game engine and a bit of creative tinkering. Not to mention it's a huge lore explosion that fuels the story for the rest of the expansion!

Yes, yes, old news for some. For those of you among us who haven't yet experienced this particular quest line, of course, it's not to be missed. For those who've seen it in-game already or who just can't contain themselves, though, you can stream the incredibly spoiler-heavy cinematic in full HD on Blizzard's site now or download it directly from BigDownload. If you're into it, there's also a nice short story/summary of the momentous events directly under it.

We can hope for two things--that Blizzard continues to put these kinds of awesome scenes in the game, and that when they do, they give those of us with nice monitors/TVs the ability to watch them all pretty-like.

Filed under: Machinima, News items, Lore, Wrath of the Lich King

15-year-old collapses after playing Wrath for hours on no sleep or food

Reader Danny sent us this article from Holland Sweden, where apparently (a rough translation of the piece, thanks to Google, is after the break), a young boy of 15 was taken to the hospital after collapsing while playing Wrath of the Lich King. He reportedly had played the game for fifteen hours straight, and because he'd only gotten two hours of sleep and had almost nothing to eat the entire time, felt cramps and apparently collapsed from exhaustion.

Obviously, it's a stretch to blame this on the game -- doing anything for 15 hours straight with no sleep or food won't be good for your health. There were millions of people who played this very same game this weekend (some probably even for the same amount of time or more) and had no problems at all -- they realize that to stay healthy, you take breaks, get sleep, and eat healthy. But this kid (and his parents) didn't do things correctly, and as a result, he ended up in the hospital.

Hopefully the kid's all right, and the parents have learned their lesson: they have decided to limit his time in front of the computer, which is exactly what they should do if he can't limit it himself. The article ends by saying that "teenagers" around the world are playing the new expansion, except that the average age of gamers is now up to just under 30, and the average World of Warcraft player is actually older than that. Fortunately, the vast majority of them know how to enjoy the game and stay safe and healthy at the same time.

Read more →

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Leveling

U.K. Times covers BlizzCon

One of the Technology writers, Murad Ahmed, from the U.K. Times went to BlizzCon this past week and apparently had a pretty good time. I'm positive he doesn't actually play the game, and he admits to being a little lost, especially when it comes to the frenetic action of the professional arena tournament (although, truthfully, I often have a hard time following it too). But he did seem to hit upon the major draw of the convention -- namely, getting to hang with your fellow gamers, and hopefully guildies if you're lucky, and enjoying a giant get-together where the person next to you is virtually certain to get a WoW-related joke.

As a bonus, Mr. Ahmed got to interview James Taplin, one of our readers (BlizzCon attendees will know him as one of the people at the WoW Insider meet-up, and later the 3rd place winner in the /silly competition), who confirmed that the social aspect of both the game and convention are really the big attraction. I think it's precisely that aspect that has a tendency to be somewhat overlooked by the mainstream media (although let's face it; it's probably not something you'll pick up on unless you've played the game with people you genuinely like), but the Times also covered the WorldWide Invitational here, so they're no strangers to Blizzard events. While there's no information in the article that's really new, it's an interesting and generally positive perspective on the convention.

Thanks to James and Rhys for writing in!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, News items, BlizzCon, Worldwide Invitational

LA Times covers the WoW community

Wait, what's this? A mainstream media story that actually -- gasp -- shows the world that playing MMO games together can actually be fun and healthy for relationships? Thrall be praised, apparently someone at the LA Times gets it. Yup, Brad and Cynthia Murdock, like millions of other players of this game, play the game together and have a great time doing it. Of course, near the end of the article, they get back to Mike Akers, a "self-described recluse" who plays against his wife's wishes and once made her wait for 10 minutes while in labor so he could defeat an "end boss," but we guess we can look past that -- the headline is about people playing the game in a healthy way, and we need more stories like that. since there are a lot more players like that.

Blizzard's Frank Pearce also shows up in the story, and admits that Mages could use a higher damage output at endgame. No, we're just kidding, this is a story meant for non-players, so he just says that the game has a "huge social element," and a giant community that supports everyone who logs in. That's you guys! Take a bow!

And not even the LA Times can get Blizzard to give us a Wrath release date -- they try, but Pearce waves them off with an understatement: "We typically try to avoid launch windows." Blizzard? Avoiding release dates? Sounds about right.

[via WorldofWar.net]

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

Breaking: Gamespy to release new Wrath info at 12:01 a.m. [UPDATED]

Many thanks to Tisen for tipping off the late night WoW Insider crew that Gamespy will be releasing new Wrath of the Lich King info in about an hour from now – at 12:01 a.m. PST. We'll get it reported to you as soon as we see it. Stay tuned for updates. Their entire announcement reads:

You're going to want to stay tuned until the midnight here on GameSpy.com. At 12:01AM PST we'll be flooding the site with all-new World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King materials. New movies, media, a preview, a roundtable, two interviews and a look at the Death Knight. Enough for ya?


I have to admit, this is a little strange for it to be posted this late... but I've seen stranger things. More info as it comes in.

Update 12:05 a.m. PDT:
No info yet. Though their website still says it's "Thursday." We're expecting something soon.

Update 12:07 a.m. PDT: Bornakk is up late and posted " They aren't the only ones..." in response to WotLK info being released tonight. More to come apparently.

Update 12:09 a.m. PDT:
News is incoming, possibly from multiple sources, look for more posts soon.

Filed under: News items, Wrath of the Lich King

Student newspaper raises concerns about WoW addiction

A boy skipped his senior prom because he was busy playing WoW. A woman divorced her husband because he was more interested in WoW than in her. We've heard these kinds of stories many times before; the media runs them all the time. And while it's frustrating that the games we play are often seen only in that light by the public at large, there's no denying that some people have a problem with unhealthy addiction to WoW and games like it.

The student newspaper of Northeastern University ran yet another piece lamenting the negative effects of World of Warcraft on some people. At this point, all these addiction articles are becoming white noise to me, but this one had a couple notable contributions to the discussion.

An expert was quoted within, saying that video game addiction is mostly a problem for young males of high school or college age. Imagine that! Also, the article featured a not-new quote from Liz Woolley (founder of On-Line Gamers Anonymous and the mother of that boy who committed suicide while playing EverQuest way back when); she said that MMO developers know that players can become addicted, and that those devs are therefore "no better than drug pushers." I think that's a bit harsh, but it's understandable that she'd come to that, given what she's gone through.

You can still achieve many of your in-game goals on limited playtime. Our weekly WoW, Casually column has the hints, tips and tricks for those with 2 hours or less to play.

Filed under: News items

Getting enthralled, or getting to bed?

WoW tends to be a night time activity for most people, many of whom find that it's surprisingly easy to move from one objective to another and lose track of time until the wee hours of the morning. Some people I know sometimes stay up most of the night playing WoW, only to get an hour or two of sleep before whatever they have to do the next day. They're young and they say they make up that sleep at other times, but still, no one would argue that this sort of situation is ideal.

A recent study reported by CNN says they're not alone. People who play MMORPGs tend to sleep less and spend more time playing than players of other computer games. It may seem obvious, since MMOs are by nature somewhat of a time-sink, but there is undeniably something more to it; any activity can potentially be a time-sink, after all -- so what is it about MMOs that makes people actually sink time?

The answer is up for debate, of course, but one important factor is that WoW's community of players gives the accomplishments within the game a context of reality. The game's goals, dangling in front of us like carrots, would be nearly meaningless if we could only appreciate them in a single-player context, but with a whole realm of other players working alongside us to get them too, they can feel very important. If the choice is between a few hours having dreams you won't remember, or getting a little closer to riding an impressive dragon mount, then certainly sleep can seem boring and useless by comparison.

Read more →

Filed under: Virtual selves, News items

BBC: WoW behavior can predict epidemic patterns

With all the recent news stories about WoW ruining lives, destroying children, supporting terrorism, etc., it's nice to see the media reporting on the positive aspects of the game. But this WoW-positive article has a surprising source -- the prestigious Lancet medical journal.

As reported by the BBC, Nina Fefferman and Eric Lofgren, both from the Tufts University Inititiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Disease, have published an article in the Lancet about how virtual worlds can provide models for human behavior in real-world epidemics. The duo specifically focused on the "Corrupted Blood" epidemic of fall 2005, which virtually wiped out Orgrimmar and Ironforge on many servers.

The BBC article states, "Some acted selflessly, rushing to the aid of other characters even though that meant they risked infection themselves. Others fled infected cities in an attempt to save themselves. And some who were sick made it their mission to deliberately infect others." Fefferman added that since it's impossible/unethical to "cause" an epidemic in real life and see how human behavior influences its spread, virtual worlds may be the best model for this type of research.

However, she admitted that people are likely to take more risks with disease in-game than in real life, which sounds about right. Dying to tuberculosis is unlikely to cost you a mere five-minute corpse run, and I don't tend to see many people hiding incredibly infectious animals in bags and then pulling them out in the middle of a crowded shopping center, which is pretty much what happened with Corrupted Blood.

What do you think about this study? And, taking a broader view, does people's behavior in WoW accurately reflect their behavior in real life?

Filed under: Virtual selves, News items

WoW completely ruins another life

The Australian media is at it again (why is Australia such a hotbed of this stuff?), with another report on how playing online games can horribly ruin your life. This time, they profile a guy named Mark Nichols, who apparently "played out his days in a virtual world... while his real life crumbled to pieces." Not surprisingly, he blames the game.

The best part is when he mentions WoW itself: "Then I heard about a game called World of Warcraft. That's when it all went south." Before he played WoW, he was apparently logging four hours a day in Half-Life, which is enough to make any sensible person reconsider what they're doing. But he was compelled (no choice involved, obviously) to install and play the game anyway. You can imagine the rest-- he loses his job (because, playing on a US server, he'd rather play during the day), loses his girlfriend, gains all kinds of weight, and generally becomes a mess. All because of the game. The last part is great, too: "Games have eaten away at my 20s and I was in stasis for a while," he says. "Hopefully it's not too late." As if the rest of his life will be completely ruined just because he chose to install a game.

I can't say much more about this than I've already said, but I will give the mic to the very insightful Rushster over at WorldofWar:

"I do hate the term 'real life' when used in the context of 'gaming ruining real life.' WoW is real life. It's a real-life entertainment activity just like knitting, watching TV, going to the movies, gardening etc. I do wish people would stop saying their 'real-life' was falling apart. I'm sure if you watch too much TV or go to the movies for 12 hours a day it can't be good for you either or your relationships."

Well said. If you're playing WoW for 12 hours a day-- stop now. Just uninstall the game and walk away. Leave the rest of us to enjoy the game responsibly, and have a good time without the media buying the stupid line that it's the game's fault for ruining this guy's life.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, News items, Humor

The strange style of patch notes, real and fake

I don't know if you could call this "Guide to Writing Fake Patch Notes" hilarious, but I think it is at least chuckleworthy. Flibble of Draenor (the realm, not the shattered world) has put together a quick guide on how to trick sites exactly like this one into believing your patch notes. And in doing so, he hits upon some of Blizzard's more conspicuous quirks, i.e. that you should "at least try to glance at the Under Development page, so that you can convincingly lie about the things Blizzard convincingly lies about on their website."

He also notes that every patch includes at least one change to a Mage spell icon (well, there are just so many of them), adding "several new items and recipes" that don't really exist, and has (faked, of course) bugfixes that "preferentially affect the 0.1% of WoW players who make no contribution to society [and] live in mom's basement at age 37." See what I mean? Chuckleworthy.

Truth be told, I really like the way patch notes are written. I'm not sure who writes them (I doubt it's an actual dev, but it has to be someone associated with the dev team), but they are both formal and at the same time seem to have a lot of cool mystery and design behind them. Caydiem hit on this note to extremely comic effect with her fake patch notes (I like that the grass in enemy faction zones is "exceptionally green"), but even the real patch notes read like a kind of otherworldly poetry: "Cabal Zealots are now more threatening while under the effect of Shape of the Beast." To players who know what they're talking about, they import a very technical message. But for someone who doesn't know about that section of the game or the game itself, that's a pretty mysterious statement. As a student of audience and media, I find patch notes pretty fascinating.

Filed under: Patches, Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard

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