WoW! Thoughts! — On Children’s Week

Nick Zielenkievicz
Podcast Host / Senior Staff Writer
May 10th, 2012

So as those of you who listen to the Mashcast may know, I play WoW, and I play it enough that I’m not allowed to talk about it.  These are my thoughts for this week in WoW…

With the advent of the annual pass, I’ve decided to take a crack at the meta-achievement “What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been” since I guaranteed I’ll see one full rotation of holidays.  Starting with Winter Veil in 2011, I’ve successfully completed each of the holiday achievements thus far.  And while some of the tasks may have been a bit tedious (visiting all the Elders for the Lunar Festival), some have been more fun than expected (camping Kharanos for a gnomish female during Noblegarden stoked my bounty hunter roots).  One achievement, in particular, proved more of a pain than I had anticipated going in.

Complaining about School of Hard Knocks is nothing new.  The achievement requires one to enter four different battlegrounds and perform a specific task in the presence of an orphan.  Although this sounds simple enough, several issues become readily apparent:

1.  You get people who don’t like PvP ‘forced’ to partake in PvP.  PvP has a completely different skill and gear set than PvE, and the result is underskilled and poorly equipped people competing with experienced combatants.  It’s a set up for a bloodbath.

2.  Achievers have a specific objective in each battleground that may or may not align with the strategy needed to win that particular fight.  For example, in Strand of the Ancients it is generally regarded as a better tactic to hold the towers than it is to worry about returning the flag.  Veterans of the battleground concerned with winning will call out which towers need either offensive or defensive aid.  However, during the holiday there is always a scrum in the middle of the map, as half the group ignores the overall conflict and instead focuses on capturing the flag.  This angers those who are legitimately trying to play the game and have no interest in the achievement.

3.  The easiest way to complete the achievement is with help from the opposing faction.  A Horde-Alliance… alliance can result in flag carriers voluntarily dropping the flag or a queue of players from both sides swapping control over the towers in Alterac Valley.  This is the most functional outcome, and a complete perversion of what PvP Battlegrounds are intended to be.

This was the fourth year that School of Hard Knocks has been in the game, and the achievement remains unchanged.  If Blizzard is unwilling to change the achievement, as it did with the Hallow’s End holiday by removing A Mask for All Occasions from the meta-achievement requirement, then Blizzard must believe that things are working as intended.

Perhaps Blizzard is willing to throw their battlegrounds into disarray for a week if it introduces players to a PvP game that they otherwise might have no interest in.  Even if PvP during Children’s Week exists in a mutant state, the sheer number of attempts at different battlegrounds required to get the achievement should leave participants with some honor points accrued; and they might be willing to fight an extra day or two after the holiday to earn enough points for a mount or a new pair of pants, and they may get to experience regular PvP in that fashion.  That said, listening to someone drone on about how “Horde can’t work together and this is why they never win” as you run from tower to tower in Alterac Valley, hoping to find one that hasn’t been captured or destroyed, does not instill one with the desire to continue to PvP.

Perhaps Blizzard believes that anyone able to get “What a Long, Strange Trip” should be a ‘well-rounded’ player who is competent in both PvE and PvP.  There are other PvP requirements throughout the year, although it is much easier to get 10 honorable kills (G.N.E.R.D. rage) than it is to return a flag.

Perhaps Blizzard intends that anyone can complete this provided the right conditions in the battleground arise.  You just need to keep running the battlegrounds over and over until you get an Arathi Basin or Alterac Valley with an undefended flag or tower. You just need to keep attacking flag carriers in Warsong Gulch until the flag drops in front of you and you can get to it first.  You just need to keep running Strand of the Ancients until you can grab the flag and run with it without anyone noticing.  Given enough time, the right conditions will materialize for any determined player, and from Blizzard’s perspective, this is no different than trick or treating repeatedly and waiting for the pack of toothpicks to drop so you can get That Sparkling Smile.

Difference is, you don’t get unlimited time to accomplish these.  While you have two weeks to Trick-or-Treat and get the toothpicks, you only have one week to run as many battlegrounds as you’ll need.  Of the holidays involved in “What a Long, Strange Trip”, only Noblegarden and Children’s Week are one week long.  All the rest give you at least two weeks to perform your required tasks.

Perhaps Blizzard expects people to be able to work around this.  If you don’t get lucky with randomly drawing a cooperative battleground, Blizzard encourages you to find five or six friends to queue with so that you can all work to accomplish this together.  While there’s nothing wrong encouraging interaction in a social game, the problem is that other than the dungeon or raid specific achievements there is nothing to indicate that you need to have a guild or a circle of friends to help you complete the meta-achievement.  There are many people who, if they don’t play WoW mostly solo, will at least attempt the achievements as a solo project.  Blizzard is effectively saying that they are going about it wrong, and the violet proto-drake is not for them.

Blizzard must be fine with this being the bottleneck for “What a Long, Strange Trip”.  They are fine knowing that there is an achievement that will frustrate a portion of their fanbase.  They know that achievements aren’t required, so there is no concern about anyone missing any content (which is often a concern related to dungeon or raid difficulty).  They don’t want everyone running around with a violet proto-drake; this is where most of people fall short of that goal.  This might be acceptable, if not for the annual nature of “What a Long, Strange Trip”.

If every holiday had a difficult PvP requirement, then people simply would get stuck after the first holiday and not proceed to whatever came next.  However, because this situation is unique to Children’s Week it is entirely possible for someone to decide they will spend the next year getting all the achievements in July, and after completing the other seven holidays, run head-first into this brick wall.  They already have an investment in the time they spent trick-or-treating, putting out/lighting fires, and visiting elders.  They can’t simply give up now.  Not to say that just because anyone devotes themselves to a time sink, reward should be automatic.  This is to say that if Blizzard wants the level of difficulty to be this high, they need to make it clear earlier in the process.

Anyone can read what the achievement requires, but until you’ve seen a flag drop in front of you in Warsong Gulch for the umpteenth time and you are again the second person to click on it, you can’t really know the frustration.  When someone realizes half-way through Children’s Week that they suck at PvP and they run a very good risk of not getting the achievement this year, it may be pragmatic to say they should spend the next year running battlegrounds to learn the mechanics and strategies they will need for success; but that yearlong penalty makes their pragmatism seem cold and harsh.

Attempting the achievement this year, the frustration I experienced was surprising and concerning.  I don’t play games to get angry; I play them to relieve stress.  So when I realized the game was not being fun anymore, and I was getting aggravated as a result, I had to step away and seriously question why I was playing and if it was worth it.  To have an aspect of a game (no matter how optional it may appear) that causes people to question why they play that game is never a good thing.  Especially when that game has a monthly fee and is facing subscriber retention problems.

I completed School of Hard Knocks late Friday night.  I was lucky.  I hope I’ll be able to finish the Midsummer’s Fire Festival and Brewfest with minimal problems, and I hope I’ll get to enjoy flying my Violet Proto-Drake around Pandaria at level 90.  I hope I’ll look back on all that it took for me to get: hopping down Kalimdor as a bunny, flying to Great Father Winter in Ironforge on a suicide run, stalking gnomish women of appropriate age, and I hope I think it was worth it.  Right now I’m afraid I’ll think just about how lucky I was to complete School of Hard Knocks, and the real achievement was enduring my frustration and not quitting the game.

WoW! Blurbs!

WoW population holding steady at 10.2 million subscribers!   Those numbers would go up if Blizzard would just listen to me!!!

All the Annual Pass Beta Invites have been sent.  Get to shufflin’ with your pandas. . .

. . . because Pandaren have their dances now.  I was perfectly fine not knowing what caramelldansen was.  DAMN YOU, BLIZZARD!!!!

Account-wide Achievements are coming! So you only have to endure Children’s Week on one character!

Cross-realm zones coming in Mists!!!  Blizzard is one step closer to turning WoW into Eve!!!


Nick's main in WoW is Gragtharr, a Tauren Hunter on Skywall. Also look for Cloudhowler on Argent Dawn. He also plays Hearthstone, but sucks for as much as he plays.

Specialty: RPG's