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After far too long a wait, almost four years in fact, World of Warships (wot woz World of Battleships before someone decided that online gaming really needed another game with the initials WoW) has headed down the slipway into ‘open beta’… the sort of open beta that comes with a promise of no database wipes and an open cash shop, so I guess that means “this product isn’t really finished yet but we’d like your money, so come on in and try to ignore the wet paint and all the hammering and sawing going on in the background”.

Now I’m a sucker for anything that lets me command big ships – space or sea – and feels like a proper naval battle. I adored the ship combat in Pirates of the Burning Sea and Star Trek Online, although the shore portions of both games left something to be desired. I’ve also had a lot of fun from World of Tanks, so WOWS was always going to be an easy sell to me. When I say ‘sell’ however, what they’ve sold me so far is at the best price – free. Much like World of Tanks you can play the game quite happily without dropping a penny on it. I will do so soon enough though – I can use more ship slots, and maybe that nice tier 7 American cruiser…. or HMS Warspite if they put it back in the shop at some point as the only Royal Navy ship currently in the game.

So what’s it like? Superficially similar to World of a Tanks in a lot of ways – user interface, earning XP for the upgrades to ships as you work your way up the tech tree, steering with keyboard and shooting with mouse are all pretty familiar. Tactically though the differences will kill a player who expects it to be like WoT. The land game is heavy on stealth and concealment – when an enemy is spotted he’s usually well within weapon range. While WoWS maps have islands to hide behind, most ships will be seen long before they are in range for guns. The exception is destroyers, which due to their small size and ability to lay down smokescreens can get quite close to the big boys before they can be effectively targeted. And once they get close they can launch a spread of torpedoes that can ruin a battleship’s day. Unlike WoT which has a “food chain” whereby bigger tanks pretty much always kill lighter ones, WoWS has a rock-scissors-paper relationship. Battleships have big, long ranged, slow firing guns that can wreck a cruiser with a few well-placed salvoes. Cruiser guns are much faster firing and better at engaging the small, agile destroyers. Destroyers (and some cruisers, like most of the Japanese line) can launch torpedoes that do massive damage if they hit… And good luck dodging them in a slow, lumbering battleship. Aircraft carriers annoy everyone by sending in dive bombers and torpedo bombers whilst providing fighter cover to friendly ships.

Balance may be problematic, or that may be that with the start of appendix beta a lot of players are clueless. There seems to be a forum consensus that HE shells rule, as they start fires that DoT ships to death, and that battleships suck. My own experience is that well-aimed AP (armour piercing) shells can do a lot more damage if you land them amidships on the target. Aircraft carriers are dominating at higher tiers, but that’s partly because they’re all going for bomber heavy load outs and not providing much fighter cover for their allies. Doing that boosts the carrier captain’s kill total but might not be best for the team as a whole. It’ll be interesting to see how tactics evolve when clan battles get added to the game.

On the whole it”s been good fun so far.  I just unlocked my first carrier last night, and as I’m off on a week’s holiday with the family it’ll be a little while before I really get to put her through her paces. Will definitely be playing some more when we get back.

Somehow, Blizzard’s stance on has gone from “you can’t fly in Draenor because that would totally break our content, I mean when we designed our zones for our fifth expansion we couldn’t possibly have imagined that anyone would have that flying ability we added in our first expansion, so it just somehow doesn’t work in an alternate timeline version of the places that it started working in that old expansion, because reasons” to the new stance of “oh ok, since you cried about it so much we’ll let you fly in Draenor eventually, but only after you grind achievements until your eyeballs bleed because we know how much you love being given shit that you have to grind for. Being able to fly will still break our content because nobody could possibly think of a way of it not breaking content without a total no fly zone being imposed, but what the hell, after all that grinding you deserve a broken game.”

Could somebody, somewhere, PLEASE explain the logic to me? I can understand macroeconomics, special relativity, financial services regulations and most of the project plans put in front of me, but I’ll admit to being totally stumped by this one.

I’m blaming Syl for this. She made a perfectly sensible response to a ridiculous click-bait opinion piece over on MassivelyOP, which got Tobold opining on the subject which wasn’t too bad, except he then went on to expand the discussion to the concept of fairness and real life which is bound to be a red rag to certain bull(shitter)s and so as I speak we’re up to Defcon 2* over on Tobold’s comnments thread.

So – first of all, never respond to clickbait, especially cheap controversy as clickbait. I wish the Massively folks all the best, but I do also wish they’d stick to reporting news. Or if they have to have op-ed pieces to fill the time between press releases from the Crowfall hype train, can they at least be genuinely thought-provoking instead of cheap outrage-provoking?

Secondly, I’m not getting involved in the fairness thing. Let’s just take it that my politics are to the left of Gevlon, to the right of a lot of other bloggers and leave it at that. I kind of touched on this with one of my Liebster answers about “justice” and I’m not hankering to revisit the subject just yet.

Thirdly, I dislike the idea of people being able to win by opening their cheque books because they haven’t won a straight and honestly fought contest of skill, which is what most of these games purport to be. However, I also dislike the idea of people gaining an advantage through grind2win, where somebody gets uber-powerful PvP gear as a “reward” for having been a crappy player who lost in ten thousand battleground matches. One favours the guy with cash, the other favours the guy with no life (or who is willing to AFK or bot to their rewards) and you know what? At least the whale is paying some money to the devs who build and support the game. So I have no problem whatsoever with cash being able to get you on an even footing with grind, and then may the best man win.

Fourthly, pay2win isn’t exactly new. I’m pretty sure the medieval peasant levy with his sharpened rake who got ridden down by a fully armoured knight would have muttered something about the unfair advantage of somebody who could afford a horse, armour, a sword and the leisure to train in proper use of these things. If he hadn’t been dead of course, because medieval warfare was play4keeps as well as pay2win.

* Contrary to what some people seem to bandy around, the LOWER the DEFCON number the worse things are, the ratings going from DEFCON 5 (nothing to see here, move along) to DEFCON 1 (bend over and kiss your ass goodbye, the President is reading out those launch codes right about now). Nowhere on this scale could I find “Defcon fucked” which is how an anonymous Scottish Labour Party Member of Parliament described his party’s chances shortly before they were indeed electorally annihilated.

In today’s news – firstly, I’m not dead, just haven’t been blogging. I’ve been on holiday, been watching the spectacle of politics here in the (still, just) United Kingdom, been bracing myself for a change of job (same employer but after seventeen years in the same team I will now be doing something other than call centres) and been caught up in the preparations for both Tremaynelettes to be attendants for the village May Queen. All of which left time for either a bit of gaming or a bit of blogging about it, but not both.

Secondly – year, WoW’s subscriber numbers have dropped again as more and more people are ‘done’ with Draenor. Just to make sure that things are in perspective, that horrible decline still represents levels of profitability that other games companies would kill for, especially when you consider that WoW still has subscribers and not a pack of freeloading leeches who bitch bitterly about what’s available to the handful of whales actually picking up the tab for their gaming.

Thirdly, Tobold has been looking at the Wow Token prices on and come to the conclusion that that the market is behaving oddly and predictably, which lets players game the cycle and generate gold out of thin air (or at least Blizzard’s ass) which nobody could possibly have foreseen

Hmmm, I think I can see what’s going on. In “real” markets the price reflects all the information available (including expectation of future movements) so the only reason to buy and sell in the same market is if you have information nobody else does which lets you bet against the market with confidence. Trading on information others don’t have (e.g. I’m CEO of a company and I know we’re announcing the launch of a new product tomorrow) tends to be labelled as “insider trading” and disapproved of by the authorities because it screws with the efficiency of the market, which ultimately means it diminishes the prosperity of society as a whole even though it’s very good for the prosperity of the inside trader.

The way to get rich in a perfect information market is to figure out what that information means to the price faster than anyone else and buy or sell as appropriate before everyone else does. This is why financial markets traders spend a lot of money on very good software and very fast computers, and why if you have mad coding skillz you’ll make a much better living working for them than making MMOs unless the MMO in question is WoW. But I digress.

However, what we have here isn’t an efficient market, it’s an algorithm doing a half-assed job of being an efficient market. The algorithm reacts slower than eagle-eyed market traders competing to make a profit, and taking a gradual approach rather than making sharp adjustments. That sine curve effect looks like players are indeed riding the cycle as Tobold suggests, selling high and buying low while the algorithm is compensating too late, and then having to swing the other way. This creates a predictable cycle that makes it easy for players to see when to buy and sell, which just perpetuates the cycle. Yet another case of Free Markets 1, Central Planning 0.

Hmmm, I think that by leaving things for three weeks or so the whole Liebster thing has gone away from the blogosphere, but I did say that I’d respond to the questions from Syl and Jeromai even though I have no plans to continue the chain – partly because I deeply dislike chain letters (of which this is a disguised version) and partly because just about anyone I would want to nominate has already been picked on. Still, some of the questions looked fun, so here goes – Syl’s questions first:

1. If you could learn a new language over night, which would it be? My father spoke about nine languages ranging from Lithuanian (his native tongue) through Russian, Polish, German and English. He told me that Russian was far the most expressive when it came to swearing and cursing, which sounds pretty useful to me.

2. What is the first MMO you’d want to visit in full VR mode? If we’re talking all five senses then definitely NOT something fantasy-based, as the smells of a pseudo-medieval setting are likely to be quite awful. Star Trek is too antiseptic a setting to be worth getting the full experience… maybe City of Heroes so I could grab a full sensory hot dog in Atlas Park before leaping buildings in a single bound.

3. If you got to invite a dead person over for tea and biscuits, who would it be? Alas, that’s too easy to answer – I’m just coming up on the first anniversary of my mother passing away, so we have news to catch up on.

4. What kind of biscuits would you serve? Bourbons. Or Jaffa cakes, if I’m allowed to stretch a point.

5. Who should go down first: House Lannister, House Frey or House Bolton? Lannister, because they should yield the most loot.

6. Justice means:
– a) everyone gets what they work for
– b) everyone gets the same
– c) everyone gets what they need

Ooh, I’d better be careful because I could probably write an enormous spiel about the difference between justice, fairness and equality. I tend to interpret “justice” as everyone gets what they deserve in return for their actions, no more and no less, and regard that as an uncomfortable proposition that needs to be leavened with mercy and compassion. Which means that what you get in the real world is usually less than perfect justice in that some get a better deal than they strictly deserve, but that’s the price that you pay for not being Gevlon.

7. If you could see one of your favorite games get a sequel, it would be….? Dark Age of Camelot. Wait a moment…

8. If a person were to split a pot of 1000$ between them and yourself on condition of you accepting their first offer, would you rather accept 100 bucks or both go empty? As I like to think of myself as being rational – if this is a one-time deal, I’ll take the $100 bucks. If this is the first in a series of such transactions, then I opt for nothing this time to signal that he’d better offer a more equitable deal next time around. Note how the words “just” and “fair” were not used in that response.

9. Which ingame MMO place/location do you consider a home to return to? Not sure if I[‘m attached to any place in any of my current games enough to regard it as “home”, nut I’m always happy to head over to Hoelbrak in GW2 and hang out enjoying monumental ice sculptures and listening to the Norn NPCs with their uncomplicated view of life.

10. Favorite midnight snack when nobody’s looking? Marks and Spencer’s honey roast ham flavoured crisps. And frankly I don’t care if anyone IS looking.

And then there’s the Jeromaic Inquisition…

•How much time do you spend gaming each day or each week? As much as I can get away with after discharging my duties as a responsible adult and a father. I usually manage a couple of hours on a typical weekday once the girls are in bed and my good lady is watching some TV programme I have no interest in whatsoever. I may get a few more hours on the weekend, depending on what we have planned. So maybe 20 hours per week.

•How many people do you roughly interact with while gaming, and what’s the extent of your interactions? I try not to roughly interact with anyone, except for consensual PvP :)

•What emotions do you enjoy experiencing while playing a game? Satisfaction when things go well, frustration when they don’t (which is my cue to go do something different), and the rare but precious moments of sheer joy.

•What are some of your favorite genres/settings/worlds to read about in a book? Military SF, space opera and ancient period historical.

•Are they any different from the genres/settings/worlds you might like in a game? (Be it a computer game or a tabletop RPG.) Like a great many nerds, I seem to prefer to read SF and play fantasy games. Which I guess helps explain the enduring appeal of Star Wars as it blends the two.

•What Warhammer 40k army would you choose (assuming unlimited budget)? I’ve never been a big Games Workshop fan, but I’d have to opt for Space Marines as I’m a traditionalist at heart.

•ASCII art, yea or nay? Nay. Once upon a time it was necessary as we didn’t have anything better. Now it’s just pretentious.

•Your favorite vegetable, and your most loathed one… I’m not an enormous fan of a great many vegetables, but I have a real problem with onions and their relatives – I can’t eat if I find myself biting down on chunks of onion, leek or anything of that ilk. It’s at least as much texture as taste, because I’ll eat a curry where the sauce contains onion puree, and it’s a real pain when buying ready prepared food because so many people seem to add onions of some sort to everything. Sweetcorn on the other hand I love, either on the cob or loose.

•Unlimited budget, pick one country in the world, that you haven’t been to, that you’d like to visit. I’ve a long-standing plan to visit Hawaii for my fiftieth birthday, just to have a Hawaii 5-0 birthday (which I then have to explain to my daughters). I’ve been to the mainland USA, but not out there yet.

•You cannot choose a human for your next MMO character. Would you pick a tall race or a short race first? (Width or muscularity, bestial features or lack thereof is up to you.) Depends entirely on the races available to choose from. I’m happy to go short provided they aren’t just a “cute” race – GW2 Asura are great fun.

•Wings or no wings? No wings. Wings are so last year. I reserve my right to change my answer if that question actually turned out to be an offer of barbecue hot wings however.

Just a quick post – I’m well aware that I have Liebster call-outs from Syl and Jeromai and I’ll try and get the answers to both sets of questions, and some of my own, up later this week.

However, I just wanted to post to mention that I’ve been talked into trying out Elite Dangerous, and assuming I stick with the game for a while I have a long term goal – the Fer-de-Lance ship that was added in today’s patch. Given that the sexy beast in the video below, the love child of a luxury yacht and a battlecruiser, happens to cost a shade over a hundred million credits, and I thought I’d done well making seventy thousand in an evening’s bounty hunting, it’s likely to be a very long term goal, but whooo daddy! Lookit them curves! Ahem, I think I meant to say that’s quite a fine ship and I’d be delighted to be the captain of one.

For what it’s worth, my initial impression of ED is that this is an unforgiving and very deep sandbox game made by space sim grognards for space sim grognards. It’s unlikely to have mass appeal (Star Citizen is probably going to be the accessible space game) but I can see how ED could be very rewarding for the right niche of players, who have patience, an abiding love of the genre, a decent joystick/throttle controller set-up (you don’t need to spend hundreds on top of the line flight-sim kit but I wouldn’t TRY to do this on just mouse and keyboard. My old £30 Cyborg joystick with built-in throttle works just fine) and the mind-set of learning to live in the game universe, not just jumping straight in to play a game. Oh yeah, and I frigging HATE the landing pad part of docking. It improves with practice, but my first attempt in the tutorial was a nightmare and after several evenings I’m still sliding back and forth across the landing pad and making horrible crunching sounds with the landing gear.

The big gaming news this week is that Blizzard are getting into trading gold for game time using something that’s similar, but not identical, to EVE’s PLEX – the WoW Token. These create a pseudo-market that let’s gold-rich players (i.e. time-rich, in most cases) trade their Azerothian gold pieces for subscription time bought with Earth dollars/pounds/euros/whatever by other players. Note that I say pseudo-market, because the prices are set by Blizzard rather than a free market, and because the price paid by player A for his token may not match the amount of gold player B receives for putting that token on the market. This is because player A pays the (Blizzard-set) rate at the moment he makes his purchase, but player B receives whatever the (Blizzard-set) rate was at the time he put the token on the market in the first place (but he has to wait until A comes along and buys it off the market before he gets his gold).

This isn’t a free market, or a free-floating exchange rate such as we have with PLEX or with trading dollars for euros. This is a controlled currency, as evidenced by the likes of Venezuela today, Zimbabwe before they gave up completely on having their own currency (for those who didn’t know – you can trade in Zimbabwe in US dollars, euros or several other currencies but not the Zimbabwean dollar, which was abolished after basically hyper-inflating itself out of existence), or as was used in the good old Soviet Union.

Apart from the greater or lesser unsavouriness of the currency-fixing regimes, this has several consequences. The first is that without a free exchange seeking an equilibrium point, we could well see either a glut or else rationing and/or queuing occur if Blizzard are too far out in setting their price. If they set it too low (say, at 10K gold), then we have lots of people trying to turn their gold into tokens and not many people willing to exchange $15-$20 for such a paltry amount of gold, resulting in the auction house goblins queuing up waiting for their turn to hand a few crumbs from their vast fortune over in return for 30 days of game time. If they set it too high (maybe 100k gold) then loads of players will be putting tokens on the market but not that many buyers will be found, resulting in a long wait to actually get gold back for those real world dollars you plunked down. How bad will this be? Depends how good Blizzard are at setting their prices and how responsive they are to shifts in supply and demand. Real world experience suggests that command economies have a lousy record of efficiency compared to free markets however.

Secondly, Blizzard will end up creating or destroying gold from the economy as they shift the price. If they put the ‘market’ rate up, then the guy buying a token pays more than the guy selling it receives, and gold vanishes from the economy. If they shift the rate down, then gold gets created with each transaction. Blizzard can do this because the Azerothian gold piece is actually a fiat currency – there are as many gold pieces in existence as Blizzard set their database to say there are, just as central banks for modern states can print as much money as they wish. It has the same consequences in WoW as it has in real life, however – debauch the currency and you’ll get more inflation. Note that Blizzard have actually eliminated a moderating mechanism, because speculators can’t bet on the market by buying tokens at a low price and re-selling at a higher one (which in a free market acts to moderate swings – see, all those bankers do provide some sort of useful service). Once you’ve bought a token, the only thing you can do with it is pay your subscription – there’s no option to re-sell it.

Thirdly, Blizzard have pretty much guaranteed that there will continue to be a black market in gold pieces, and possibly even stimulate it. There are always black markets in controlled currencies, usually offering a more realistic and less favourable exchange rate. In the case of WoW – the gold sellers won’t go out of business. They aren’t selling at their break-even price and will make losses if Blizzard undercut them. They’re currently charging all that the market can bear, and their limiting factor isn’t how much gold they can farm, it’s how many customers they can lure in. What they’ll do here is undercut Blizzard’s price (but still make a profit because the cost of producing gold pieces is negligible when you’re farming with a swarm of bots on accounts bought with stolen credit cards) and get increased sales from people who buy cheap illegal gold which they then convert to subscription time at the ‘official’ exchange rate. Net result – asshat players who don’t mind dealing with the scum of the MMO world get to play WoW for less than the actual subscription rate, whale players willing to turn their dollars into gold get more gold, everyone else watches the extra farmed gold feed into the economy and wonder why everything on the auction house is so darned expensive.

Now, I’m not predicting economic apocalypse here. All of these effects are real, but just how strong they are depends on how accurate and timely Blizzard are at adjusting the official exchange rate in line with what a free market would set. You can be reassured by looking at just how accurate and timely Blizz have always been with balancing classes and releasing new content.

Hmmm. Welcome to the apocalypse, kid.

EDIT: I’ve just discovered that not only is Scott Jennings actually still alive (or as much alive as the slave minions of Richard Garriott can be), he’s started posting on Broken Toys again and had much the same to say about this topic Can I just plead that everything here was original to me, at least, when I wrote it? :)

Still busy at work. Still playing Marvel Heroes. Still not really feeling the urge to board the Crowfall hype train. It’s buy to play… with an optional subscription and a cash shop. Pretty much covers all the bases there. It’s a PvP game… but you can choose just how ‘hardcore’ a form of PvP you play at. Which will probably result in PvPer holy wars on the game forums the likes of which the internet has not seen since at least last Tuesday, as the true believers brand everyone who plays the wrong sort of PvP with the ‘carebear’ heresy. The stretch goals so far include a female version of one of the character archetypes (ummm, yay for equality?) and mounts (which are pretty much a sine qua non core feature of any MMO that isn’t called Guild Wars 2). I can see why the usual suspects are getting excited about this one, but I can’t say I’m really feeling it myself. I wish them well, as I wish every new MMO well, but I can’t see myself getting too committed to this one for now.

On the plus side, Massively has risen, phoenix-like, as Massively Overpowered and have comfortably raised the Kickstarter pledges they were looking for. I can heave a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that I have somewhere to get my MMO news headlines and marvel at the comments as the subhuman mutant underbelly of the gaming community snap up the clickbait articles hook, line and sinker. Seriously, though – congrats to the Massively team, who anew now officially Overpowered, for managing to salvage something they evidently loved from the thrashing, dying carcass of a media leviathan.

And then there’s Marvel Heroes. There’s probably a good blog post or two in their business model, purely on the grounds that they’ve succeeded where many other F2P games have failed and got me to open my wallet voluntarily, and maybe I’ll do just that at some point. This is a game with a limited set of content but a LOT of scope for playing it through again on alts. That makes an interesting contrast with the approach of games like ESO, where the philosophy is “one character is all you ever really need”. I’m sitting on four level 60 heroes now (Loki, Psylocke, Rocket Raccoon and Gambit) with three more in the 50s (Winter Soldier, Thor and Iron Man) and plenty more in the teens to thirties, and appreciating the nuances and difference of approach with each one. Definitely a game that bears continued play… and if you’ll excuse, me I’m off to do just that.

Whew, I think I’m just about to sneak under the wire with my self-imposed one post per calendar month minimum target. My apologies for the hiatus, but I’ve been somewhat busy with a “promotion-in-title” at work and also getting sucked into Marvel Heroes. In fairness, mostly the Marvel Heroes.

The big news item I was going to write about is the not-entirely-unexpected announcement that The Elder Scrolls Online is moving off the subscription model and onto, not the usual free2play model, but a hybrid buy2play model. Guild Wars 2 has shown that you can thrive as a B2P MMO, but so far the only B2P conversion I can think of is The Secret World, which seems to be doing OK but hasn’t been accused of setting the world alight. I find ESO’s plan intriguing – future new content will be released as DLC, which you can either pay to unlock piecemeal or pay a subscription that means you have access to all of the DLC, but only for as long as you continue to subscribe. Let the sub lapse and you can only access the DLC you have paid for separately. Perversely, that means that carrying on a sub at the point of conversion isn’t so hot – there’s no DLC to get access to yet, although it also nets you an ongoing XP boost and a cash shop coin allowance. Once the game has been on the new model and there’s more DLC, subbing will become more attractive.

There’s also a cash shop of course, which will sell “convenience not advantage” (familiar phrase, that) with Zenimax clarifying that XP boosts count as convenience, not advantage because they don’t get you anywhere you couldn’t get without, they just get there faster. On the plus side, they’ve also promised not to indulge in the random lockbox crap that keeps filling up my inventory in Neverwinter, so thank you Zenimax.

However, the other big news item is that Massively is being shut down (along with its sister sites) by their AOL overlords. I may have suggested at times that some of Massively’s writers are click-baiting hacks and the commenters there are a rabid pack of half-witted trolls, but Massively is still my go-to MMO news site. And will be, until next Tuesday.

After that? To quote editor-in-chief Brianna Royce: “Many of you have asked us what’s next. As we’ve been alluding, we are considering striking out as a team on a site that isn’t beholden to indifferent corporate overlords. Those of you who are begging us to crowdfund might get a chance to put your money where your mouths are and help shape that idea.”

I’ll be interested to see what transpires, and I wish them all well. Even if I don’t have any crowdfunding money (damn you again, Marvel Heroes!) I’m happy to donate a click or two given the right bait :)

This post is part of the Bloggy XMAS Countdown, bringing you blog posts on the topic of games and community through December to Christmas Day. You can thank Syl at MMO Gypsy for the idea and the advent calendar, and the rest of us for being weak enough to fall under spell when she suggests stuff like this :)

A big part of Christmas, for many people, is a chance to get together not just with their immediate family and friends who live nearby, but also to see some people they may not see quite so often. Christmas and New Year (and Thanksgiving for those in North America) are opportunities to travel, catch up with relatives and meet up once again with old friends scattered far and wide by the winds of time. If you play MMOs, unless you’re the sort of curmudgeon who insists on playing everything as a massively single player online game, then you’ve got another network of friends – guildies, ex-guildies, people you know from around your server or banter with every day on the forums. But how many of them have you met in the flesh?

I’m not a huge one on gaming get-togethers. In over a dozen years playing MMOs I’ve only been to three, each one different and worthwhile in its own way. The first one was a server-wide gathering. Those of you who played Dark Age of Camelot back in the old days will remember how much ‘realm pride’ was a thing and server communities were close-knit, pulling together not just for the war against the other realms but for massive PvE content and day-to-day levelling and crafting as well. The rest of you are probably bored with hearing us old farts go on about it. But of all the realms, on all the servers, I suspect Hibernia on Prydwen may have had the closest. We had one overarching alliance for all the main guilds (albeit in a loose confederation, with at least one ‘man who would be king’ shouted down the freedom-loving rabble). We had our own forums, in lieu of any official ones, which because they were restricted to known and vouched-for realm-mates were remarkably free of trolls (although we did have some pretty heated disagreements). Pretty much everyone knew everyone (and we knew who we thought was a loot-whoring S.O.B.). So it seemed only right and proper to arrange a meet-up, and (Prydwen being an English language European server) London seemed the most central place to meet. Easy enough for me, although others came from far afield – all over the UK, and at least one from Norway. We met, we drank, we talked and even though we exchanged real names it still seemed natural to keep calling each other by our in-game names. After all, this is how we knew each other, and this is how we mattered to those people. The staff of Belgo must have wondered why that bunch of fifty or so people were yelling “HIBERNIA!!!” at the top of their voices whilst knocking back rounds of schnapps, but we didn’t care. We were pledging our allegiance to something we had in common – something real to us.

The second get-together was of my main World of Warcraft guild, back in the days before the Burning Crusade. The guild had started as a bunch of co-workers who later added various waifs and strays such as myself, so the guild had a very specific geographic centre in Southend, a coastal town east of London. Maybe not quite as easy to get to for me as the city, but certainly doable. What can I say? Like the last gathering we met, we drank (we’re British, heavy alcohol consumption is a standard part of our social ritual), we talked about the game and our guild-mates who couldn’t make it. Some of their ears might have been burning, but this was back when WoW raiding was still 40 man and actually relatively casual. The hunter who just sat there spamming Steady Shot was something to joke about over beer, not a deadly threat to our raid progression who had to be \gkicked forthwith. Again, we had something in common, with our war stories of the Molten Core and Blackwing’s Lair, and I recall a very pleasant evening, a very late taxi back to my hotel and a somewhat bleary-eyed journey home.

The final get-together was centred around a game rather than a specific guild or server. When the RIFT community team announced on their forums that they were in London and offering free beer and phat loot to anyone who could make it to a specific pub one evening, well, how could I refuse? All it was going to cost me was the time to travel across London on the Underground during evening rush hour (actually OK, maybe that does count as an epic quest) and the social embarrassment involved in walking into a room full of people who I don’t actually know, as at that point I was guildless and none of my real life friends were playing RIFT. Again – I’m English, social embarrassment is a big thing for us. But this didn’t matter once I got there, because people got to talking and guess what? We had something in common. So once again I met people, drank, talked games and left with a medium size RIFT T-shirt (thankfully, made of stretchy material) and the code for a Hooty pet owl that earned me a few admiring whispers in-game.

Insofar as there’s a moral to this rambling tale – spend Christmas with your loved ones. But in the New Year, think about maybe meeting up with some of the faces behind the avatars. Even if you’re an introvert (like myself) and don’t meet strangers all that easily – it’s not nearly as scary as it might seem, because you do actually know many of these people already. and even the ones you don’t know, you have something in common, and that’s really all you need to break the ice.


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