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Archive for the ‘Icecrown Citadel’

Talking with Stars: Considering raiding in China

September 20, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Icecrown Citadel, progress raiding, raid leader, raiding, raiding guild

I’ve been fortunate enough to chat with Stars recently, the top-ranked Chinese raiding guild and world #6. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here (because I said this about Paragon and Adept), but they were delightful to speak with. Very approachable and accessible. Despite the fact that I did study Chinese at university and taught English in the Sichuan province (in Chengdu, to be more exact), my Chinese is a bit rusty (especially my written Chinese!). Fortunately for me, Stars member Leonking is fluent in English and worked with me on our email “interview” along with input from the guild leader, 憂郁的風. Gan xie, Leonking! I hope you didn’t mind talking to this waiguoren!

Sadly I think many Western MMO gamers have had a narrow and incorrect perception of Chinese gamers–namely that they are all “gold farmers”. In fact, even non-gamers who are somewhat aware of online games and MMOs will often point out the “Chinese gold farmer” issue to me, as though it’s the only thing Chinese gamers do. I try, politely, to explain that while, yes, there have been some cases of studios in China that do support the somewhat dubious industry that has emerged around game gold sales and eBay characters, this is not a practice that is unique to China by any means nor is it the only thing they do. We have these “farmers” all over the place. Perhaps the real question about this practice should be directed to the companies (often Western-based) that outsource this work and sell the products to mostly Western gamers. But I digress…. This is not the topic of my blog post!

I only brought this up so that I could point out that Chinese gamers are so much more than this narrow misconception. In fact, talking to Stars has shown me how competitive raiders share some of the same traits regardless of their country or region of origin.

Chinese gamers have a unique benefit over gamers in other countries. Did you know that the Chinese government has designated playing online games as a sport? (Yang and Downing, 2008) A recent study by the Chinese government learned that for 25.4% of young (under 18) urban Chinese, playing videogames was preferable to watching the television (Yang et al, 2004). You see, games are a large industry, popular and an accepted form of entertainment in China. And WoW comprises just one of many games that are very popular there. Most of these games have been designed specifically for the Chinese market while some, like WoW, have been introduced from elsewhere.

And the Chinese raider–at least through the eyes of Stars–is passionate about their effort to excel at the games they play. As Stars puts it, “We hold the belief that ‘a man can be destroyed, but not defeated’”. And like many of their elite raiding counterparts, working until it “gets done” is typical: “We usually keep working on things until it gets done,” explains Leonking on behalf of Stars. “4-5 hours a night is typical during progression time.”

For Stars, the following qualities were mentioned as being important in their raiders:

  • Having a good raid attitude and personality
  • Being able to prove themselves and show good skill
  • Having enough time to commit
  • The right equipment

So, not so different from any serious raiding guild looking for new recruits. They also mentioned that they are very proud of their “drama control” .

Like Adept in Australia and other guilds in countries where lag can be an issue at prime time, overnight raiding seems the order of the day for elite raiders in China. “[Lag is] a major issue we have to face during completing. We have to change our raid time to the middle of the night (11 pm-4 am) to avoid huge lag and drops,” says Leonking.

While we all like to whinge about our lag and connection issues (is it our version of complaining about the weather?), but from Stars’ perspective, an EU or US raid guild complaining about it is a bit unreasonable. 200-300 ms seems standard for them and they have just had to adapt around it. I suspect that for Stars, reaching these important achievements while grappling with the unreasonable “lag monster” has made their success even more significant.

When Leonking and Stars’ guild leader, 憂郁的風 (Youyude feng) shared a bit about their organisational structure, I was intrigued by how regimented it is. They have four major raiding teams, all given acronyms that suggest something more akin to a military structure than a game: RF1-A, their progress team (which has four guild officers managing it); RF-B is the 2nd progress team; RF-2 is the  3rd and back-up progress team; and there is also a casual raiding team for those who “want to take a break”. Each team has designated leaders and, it appears, ranking in skill and achievement. RF1-A is the team that has achieved the most for the guild, including their recent world #2 at the heroic lich king “no buff” kill (evidently the thing the elite guilds are doing out of boredom while waiting for Cataclysm, according to general chatter). I will say that this four team structure is different from the other elite guilds (and the regular raiding guilds) that I’ve spoken with. Most prefer a smaller group structure and tend to rely on the same 25-30 individuals for the progress raiding. The fact that Stars has the depth of talent and raiders to fill extra slots and raid teams actually reflects the large number of Chinese gamers (including WoW gamers) that there are. MMOdata (http://www.mmodata.net/) notes in its tracking of WoW subscriptions (in an attempt for us industry outsiders to get a sense of how many people are playing, or at least how many subscriptions there are) that WoW Asia held over 6 million of the estimated 11.5 million subscriptions for WoW. This represents all of Asia (including Taiwan and Korea, among others), but it’s an interesting factoid all the same.

Another difference I did note from my discussion with Stars was that they estimate their average raider age at about 25 and, according to the 2009 article by Hancu (http://frostshock.eu/2009/09/11/dancing-talking-with-the-stars/), they have approximately 400 members (though a large percentage of those are social members). The other guilds tend to have more homogeneity amongst their ranks and a tighter group. Another difference reported in the interview with Hancu was the varied representation of professionals and students in  Stars, as Pennie (another officer in Stars) reports, “Our guild members have a variety of professions in real life, students, technicians, businessmen, doctors, teachers, so on and so forth.”

While Leonking did not have specifics, he did note that there are women (plural!) in their ranks and that they are represented on the RF-1A team. I did not get to ask you, Leonking, if you had a more specific number, but I’m guessing at least two. As he said (and it reflects my discussion with Paragon), “They are as good as males.”

A final thing I wanted to share (as I can’t make this too long, though there is so much more I’d like to say!) is the sheer amount of determination, passion, and concern that I gleaned from speaking with Stars. As a Chinese guild raiding on a Taiwanese server, having to contend with lag issues, coping with the snide remarks about “Chinese gold farmers”, and being on the receiving end of Blizzard’s inadvertant disregard for their important holidays (like releasing ICC during Spring Festival–that’s like unlocking major game content on Christmas Day for us Westerners), my guess is that this has helped fuel their determination and desire to be seen and appreciated. As Leonking said, “We are one of the toughest guilds in the world who works hard and with heart.”

Raiders have a lot to learn from each other and a lot to share. I for one am very happy to see our world’s elite guilds being represented by guilds from all over the world–doesn’t that just make us a better and more legitimate gaming community in the long run?

References:

Yang X, X. Mao, and L. Zhou (2004). Survey of Media Usage among Young People under 18 in Shanghai (in Chinese), presented at China Youth Extracurricular Education Forum, Shanghai, China, 12-13 December (2004).

Yong Cao and Downing, John D.H (2008). The realities of virtual play: video games and their industry in China. Media, Culture and Society. 30:4, 515-529.

Interviewing Paragon

August 02, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Icecrown Citadel, raiding, raiding culture, raiding guild, subculture

Before I get to my notes on chatting with Paragon, I wanted to respond to a comment from Chea asking me why I’m speaking to elite raiding guilds.

As I’ve written before, one of the main goals of my PhD research is to complete a detailed mapping of the raiding culture. I started my research last year doing all sorts of things, including working closely with a social raiding guild (for 9 months), doing interviews with a variety of raiders (mostly social, casual, or hard core on my own server), collecting data on PUGs and gamewide chatter about raiding, reading forums and articles, and downloading and taking screenshots and videos of raiding activity and interfaces. This has provided me with a lot of helpful information (my PhD supervisors say I have too much data—I say I can never get enough, but it is a lot!) about our culture.

One area I had not started working on yet was speaking with what we’d consider our “elite” raiders–the hardest of the hard core–the world’s top raiding guilds. Whether we like it or not, these are the guys who get there first and we (as a culture) watch them closely—and they watch each other. As you saw below, I spoke with Adept 2 weeks ago. And a few days after that I spoke with Paragon. Other interviews are also taking place. I am speaking with these guilds for one primary reason: to give us a more complete picture of what our raiding subculture is. Most subcultures have their layers of involvement, talent, and notoriety. And as we are a progress- and outcomes-oriented culture, it’s no surprise that we pay attention to those among us who get to the first accomplishments first. We check wowprogress regularly, we compare videos, we visit their sites. So my research did not feel complete without including the perspective and experience of players who successfully navigate the raiding content first.

I had a great time talking with members from Paragon. And their “fame” as the first guild worldwide (and widely considered–for now according to wowprogress–to be the World #1 and EU #1) to get the LK-25 heroic kill is not the reason that I found them so engaging. Of course on a personal level, as a raider I’m interested in talking to other raiders who exceed my skill (I’m just never going to be that good of a raider!), but as a researcher their perspective was compelling and their attitude refreshing and insightful. A few salient highlights (and these are just snippets so far… basic impressions) from our 4 hour interview (yes, 4 hours!) were:

  • They are a linguistically cohesive group. It’s common knowledge that they require competency in the Finnish language to be in the guild. (Incidentally that does not mean they require people to be Finnish culturally, just proficient in the language.) Now this is not because none of them speak English. (I did my entire interview with 4 of them in English, although I did learn a few words, including “kiitos” [guys, I hope that really does mean 'thank you' :P ]) They have just placed importance on the kind of language they use. The members I spoke with suggested that it was an “important resource” as it helped build guild cohesion by ensuring the raiders who might be reluctant to use English could speak freely. They also mentioned how it helped them socially, making it easier for the guild to do “stuff together out-of-game”.
  • They are socially connected. I just have to mention something that I found extraordinary about this group. I know quite a few raiding guilds that meet socially outside of the game or at least have pockets of strong social connection (pre-existing relationships, like friends or family members, for example) within the guild. But this guild seems to take their social interaction to a new level. During my interview, they made mention of a recent event where 17 out of their 33 members got together for a relaxing weekend. Now, I know that this is probably partly possible due to them all being located in the same country, but even so, I think it points to a strong connection and desire to spend time together beyond the confines of the game.
  • They are focused when they need to be. I suppose one assumption many might make about the elite raiding guilds is that they spend endless hours and days in the game. As Paragon members were explaining to me, it’s often true that they will spend more time in game during “new content” times or when there is significant progress to be made, but otherwise, the schedule is pretty light. So the time commitment appears based around the game’s content. Obviously being able to spend 3 days in a row working on new content requires raiders with pretty flexible schedules and my impression from Paragon was that they are mostly students or have flexible work arrangements.

Overall this guild doesn’t seem particularly fazed by “becoming famous”—if anything I just noticed that classic Nordic politeness and understated surprise (with some jokes woven in there, of course) about all the attention. To paraphrase Xaar, while they were extremely satisfied to have achieved these important world firsts (as it told them they could “do it”), the only big difference in their raiding and attitude since getting these world firsts was noticing there were more interview requests and that they seemed to get noticed more. More than anything it seemed like a group of people (granted, I only spoke to 4, so I realise that’s not a complete picture) who, much like Adept, enjoyed the game, each other, and the thrill of the hunt. I even mentioned during the interview that the word “precision” kept coming to my mind as they discussed their very intellectual approach to raiding and strategic planning.

One last thing… about gender: my experience with the more social/casual/regular hardcore (I need a better word for this!) guilds are that we tend to have an 80/20 male-female ratio. So far my observation with the elite guilds is about 90-95% are male. Paragon is a mostly male guild (they noted 2 women currently in the guild) but they had an interesting philosophy about women in the guild. It was clear that any girl who could raid at their level would be welcome and in fact, during the interview one of the raiders said this about Xenophics (one of the two women in the guild who participated in the interview):

Ande: about xeno being a girl playing with boys, i dont think anybody notices/cares during “serious gaming” that she is one

Xaar: exactly

Ande: during playing were just equal players sharing the same goal

So even though it may be rarer that a woman is raiding at these levels, women with equal skill seem to be more than welcome to join in. There is a suggested “problem” with those female gamers, however, who seem interested in connecting with elite raiders for status or items which has managed to propagate a perception of “girl gamers” as difficult to deal with. This leads to a whole new area of questions that could be interesting to explore some day. For me, the first image that came to mind was a rock band groupie. I guess it’s just something you get used to seeing in a subculture–the people on the fringes who want some affiliation with a subculture but who lack the skill to actually successfully perform in it and so use other forms of social capital to insert themselves into it.

I have a lot more to report about the interview, but I wanted list these few highlights. I look forward to doing some more work with Paragon, too! Thanks, guys, for being so gracious and open to my research questions. :)

When I dropped my ice cream in Icecrown…

December 21, 2009 By: Ladan Category: Icecrown Citadel, raiding content, raiding instance

So we’ve got a new raiding instance, Icecrown Citadel, or ICC. We love our acronyms in WoW!

It has hints of Naxxramas with its various wings and a smudge of Black Temple with its attitude problem surrounding a complex big bad-ass guy… I swear, can these bosses get any ruder?

But having said that it’s been fun. And I like the new 5-mans! I absolutely LOVE the “race away from the Lich King fight while he strides towards us in slo-mo” scene. The lore has been so entertaining.

As a raider, I do find myself a bit confused though. The guild I’m in had just gotten halfway through ToGC and now this is upon us. We’ve had fun getting through the first part of ICC, but it seems like ToGC is so last year now… and is Ulduar completely forgotten? Are these places all unfinished now for those guilds who had not cleared everything before the new content arrived?

It used to seem like the game gave us time to progress at a normal (non-uber raider, I should say) pace… such that new releases were something we hungered for, something where we devoted time levelling up other alts while we impatiently awaited the new release… now we can barely get used to a new place when the next stuff is there. It seems to leave me feeling like I have a lot of projects left undone and I’m not sure I like this feeling. I feel a little unsettled. But maybe this is just the way of things now. A lot of content and not a lot of time–unless you are super focused and talented. I wonder how the game designers feel–they probably spent months on certain new content, tweaking and fine-tuning the encounters, and now it is left discarded like last week’s bottle of milk. Are we now a gaming culture focused on devouring the game content before we’ve even had a chance to taste and swallow?

Anyway! These questions frame my latest poll. I’m sorry it’s been a while but I’ve been scarce the past few weeks due to other commitments.

Please participate and respond to my reflections here! Do you think we’ve got enough content now to keep us happy or do you think we’ll start looking at raiding instances like Ulduar and ToC as “yesterday’s news” and just stop going there entirely… will we force them into early retirement too soon?