The internet is abloom with emoticons – fragrant flowers peppering the soil around posts filled with fertile viewpoints, hoping to soften and breathe context into black and white text. Posters struggle to assume an innocuous mantle. Not Tobold. MMORPG blogger Tobold has built a reputation as a straight-shooter. He unabashedly gulps down macro and micro topics alike, spitting out analyses minus the ubiquitous apologies and humble posturing that characterize so many blogs. Opinion as opinion, fact as fact – and an audience of readers who appreciate the opportunity to volley between fact and opinion, hardcore and softcore topics.
The man behind the blog is really a pretty humorous and easy-going guy, and our e-mail interview with Tobold actually did start out with an emoticon. Find out what made Tobold smilie, after the break.
15 Minutes of Fame: Who's your main character these days?
Tobold: Uh-oh, bad start! :) My main is an Undead Priest (Holy spec) on an European server. But some years ago, during some guild drama, I discovered that giving the name of my character, guild or server on my blog is a bad idea.
My blog is my personal diary, so when things like guild drama happen, I blog about them to get them off my soul. And understandably, my guildmates complained about my washing that dirty laundry outside of the private limits of the guild forums. But I didn't want to give up that outlet; I need a place to rant when things go wrong. So the no-names policy is a compromise. I get to complain when I'm not happy, and nobody has to read his name on my blog in connection with that.
What inspired you to begin blogging about MMORPGs?
I started expressing my thoughts on the internet in various game forums, often becoming a rather active member of a forum community of the game I was playing at the time. But every time I switched to another game, I had to switch forums. And forums also had some problems with posts not necessarily being archived or being censored by some forum moderator. So in 2003, I decided to start a blog where I could post my thoughts on whatever game I liked, independent of others.
Characterize the typical Tobold's MMORPG Blog reader for us.
Mature and intelligent, fortunately. Over time, a very nice community of readers (which is a lot better behaved than lets say the people on the official WoW forums) formed in the comments section of my blog. We get the occasional troll but usually manage to kick him out.
My blog has a deliberately neutral layout and very few pictures, so as to be "safe for work." So it probably isn't by chance that I get about 50% more visitors on workdays than on weekend days. :) I'm grateful to my readers for intelligent discussion and the valuable feedback they give me.
How has your blog changed over the years? What interests you most right now?
When I started the blog, I just wrote for myself. Then at some point, I installed a counter and noticed that there was a handful of people reading what I wrote. That encouraged me to write more, which made more people come, which made me write even more, etc. So nowadays, I post one or several posts a day and get about 3,000 visitors plus 2,000 feed readers daily, which is probably still tiny compared to WoW Insider but already pretty big for a MMORPG blog.
The biggest change this year was the blog getting some official recognition, like a press pass from Blizzard for the Worldwide Invitational 2008 or a media account for Warhammer Online. So right now, I'm struggling to persuade people that I'm still just a regular player and blogger and that they can't hold me to the same standards of bland neutral objectivity and political correctness which you would expect from professional game journalists.
What kind of work do you do professionally?
I'm a scientist, working in a research facility. Very interesting and good job, so I'm playing and preparing posts for my blog mostly on evenings and weekends.
Any details about family or other "man behind the curtain" facts you'd like to share?
I'm over 40, married, no children. My wife plays WoW, too, but we rarely play together. Besides computer games, I still play pen-and-paper roleplaying games regularly. I also used to play a lot of board games and Magic the Gathering collectible card game.
You've been level 80 for a little while now. What's your take on the difficulty of the new Wrath content. Too easy, or on target?
Right on target. I recently participated in my first Naxxramas raid, and it was just the right difficulty level. We killed Patchwerk and Noth, but not on the first try, and wiped several times while learning the Four Horsemen encounter.
What sort of content does your guild do?
We have three raid nights per week, in Naxxramas at the moment. Other than that, we often do dungeon runs together, heroics and normal. Not everyone is 80 yet, and there are many alts. My alt is a level 72 Warrior, Protection spec.
Your blog actually focuses on more games than World of Warcraft. What's your gaming background?
I started playing video games on a Sinclair ZX81 in 1981. Started playing MMORPGs with Ultima Online in 1999, then EverQuest in 2000 and 2001. After that, I started to drift between various games: Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, City of Heroes, A Tale in the Desert and many more, before I landed at World of Warcraft.
I did take some breaks from WoW in the last couple of years to play other MMORPGs, but I am currently totally absorbed by the Wrath of the Lich King. Technically, I have a lifetime subscription to Lord of the Rings Online and Warhammer Online, but I'm not really playing anything but WoW for the moment.
Have you played any other major MMOs recently? How did they compare with WoW?
I played Age of Conan and Warhammer Online recently. Both games have a couple of good features, but overall they couldn't measure up to the quality of execution and polish of World of Warcraft. Age of Conan was downright bad, but Warhammer Online has a lot of potential, especially for people who like PvP-centric games, and Mythic is improving the game fast. Not a "WoW killer," but playable enough.
What's your opinion on the direction of WoW, now that Wrath is here?
I was positively surprised by Wrath of the Lich King. I had predicted just another Burning Crusade, which wasn't my favorite expansion. But Wrath turned out to be much better, with much more interesting quests and more accessible raid endgame.
Unfortunately, that doesn't solve Blizzard's major problem: that they need nearly two years to produce an expansion, with the expansions having less than two years' worth of content, even including patches. The end game, independent of its difficulty, is by definition repetitive, so people get bored. We will see another drop is subscriptions numbers next year, just like we did after some months of Burning Crusade.
Let's talk about a couple of ideas that seem all tangled up together: complaints about a lack of hardcore, endgame content, contrasted with players' pining to recapture the "first glow" of complex raid content in the face of widespread player experience and the ready availability of strats and information on the internet.
Sid Meier once said, "A good strategy game may well be a series of interesting decisions." The first people to ever beat a raid boss are able to make those interesting decisions. They observe what happens, try out various strategies and decide which one could work to beat that boss.
Everything after that is just execution of a plan, a big game of synchronous "Simon says" with few or no decisions involved. It still requires skill but is a lot less interesting than having to figure out the plan for yourself. Unfortunately, figuring everything out for yourself is also more time intensive, so most people prefer to just copy the plan that works and save themselves lots of wipes.
(In order) to cost-effectively create content which is a real puzzle, to which the solution can't be looked up on the internet, bosses would need to be random. You could easily create a table with all the various boss abilities already existing in World of Warcraft. The moment a group enters a raid dungeon, they would get a raid ID assigned that at the same time is the seed for a random number generator. Every boss in the raid dungeon gets between two and five random boss abilities, with no way to find out what the boss does except for fighting him. People could still post general strategies like "if the boss turns you into a bomb, run away from the others," but you would never know which boss will turn you into a bomb and how that would interact with the various locations or other random abilities he has (like, let's say, knockback).
Thus, the only thing you could do is to try, find out the bosses' abilities, probably wipe and start working on a strategy. But such a system would be rather hard to balance.
An interesting idea. Thanks for sharing your perspectives, Tobold – have a great Winter's Veil!