Game newbies get helping hand from World of Warcraft veterans

Fans hope a campaign of coordinated player kindness will lure rookies and stem dwindling number of subscribers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2016, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2016, 5:14pm

You start irradiated, underground in Gnomeregan, fighting your way out of the once-great city of Gnomes. Or in the grim town of Deathknell, only recently reanimated from the dead as a member of the Forsaken. Soon, your character begins to explore the expansive universe of World of Warcraft.

When you do something wrong – and you will – you might hear the ubiquitous dismissal: “Ugh, you’re a dumb n00b.”

World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, has been around for more than a decade. If you don’t know about it (or play it) already, you might have heard it mentioned in connection to the film Warcraft, a monster hit in China that is now showing in Hong Kong and is based on the same lore as the Warcraft game franchise.

How playing World of Warcraft every day for a year led Robert Hohman to found a US$1 billion start-up

In World of Warcraft, players can talk, cooperate and fight with one another within the world of the game. And as with any other online community, the game has its own etiquette that players must learn on top of the basics – how to cast a spell, choose a profession, find a guild. It’s not always easy, and not everyone who plays the game is willing to help.

IMAX China sets box office sales record with ‘Warcraft’ debut; analysts forecast brisk summer sales for movie chain

“Some people who have been playing a long time have grown very impatient,” says Stefanie Hackenberg, who has been playing the game since its 2004 beta release. “There are trolls out there,” she says.

Hackenberg, a talented cosplayer , is one of a growing number of dedicated players who are trying to make sure newbies connect with the World of Warcraft veterans who are willing to guide them.

World of Warcraft characters 'may have been US and UK spies', say Snowden documents

The game’s fans aren’t entirely convinced that the release of Warcraft will suddenly attract a horde of new players. But Blizzard, the company that makes World of Warcraft, is certainly trying to make that happen.

For people who already play, there’s a much more important milestone coming up.

The game itself is about to get a major refresh, when the long-anticipated Legion expansion goes live in August. And the expansion – basically an infusion of a bunch of new features and content into the existing game – might attract more new players, and convince some former players to return.

Although World of Warcraft is still extremely popular, its subscriber base (the game charges a monthly fee for access) has shrunk from an all-time peak of 12 million in 2010 to 5.5 million subscribers, according to 2015 numbers released by Blizzard.

That number was the lowest it has been since 2005, and prompted the company to announce that it will no longer release subscriber numbers.

Players aren’t worried about the fate of the critically panned Warcraft, the film, Hackenberg says, as far as it concerns the future of the game itself. She’s more concerned with whether the Legion expansion does well, and how Blizzard balances its commitment to her game with its work on a couple of new titles, including Overwatch.

Latest Blizzard first-person shooter video game a fresh take on diversity

In the meantime, it certainly couldn’t hurt to infuse a player base that has earned at least a partial reputation as grumpy and elitist with some player-initiated kindness.

“On a larger scale,” Hackenberg says, “what could make or break this game is going to be how well we are received” as a community.

Film review – Warcraft: The Beginning a laboured, sub-Lord of the Rings tale of Orcs and men

The call to pull together a campaign of coordinated niceness targeted at these newer and returning players really caught on when Hackenberg posted a hopeful message to her Facebook page in early May, which was eventually copied and reposted to Imgur, where it made the front page of the image-sharing site.

Some players reacted with “yeah right” and general cynicism to the idea of making an online game such as World of Warcraft a place of kindness. After all, the game has a reputation for producing some spectacularly jerky players.

But Hackenberg says that most people who have reacted to the idea – either directly to her post, or to the versions of it that floated around the World of Warcraft parts of the Internet – were positive.

And it’s not totally out of character for the game’s fans. There are already plenty of experienced players who do reach out with support to newbies who, say, ask a basic question in a server’s chat room only to find themselves mocked by others who think the question is dumb.

But Hackenberg thinks now is the time for all those friendly veterans to get more organised about it. “I’m really inspired by the ripple effect that this post has made,” she says.

Some organisers have also started working on introductory guides that are specifically aimed at new players. Here’s the advice Hackenberg has for newbies:

* Try a PvE server. When you join the game, you have to choose a server to play on. There are a few different types of servers: PvE (player vs. environment), PvP (player vs. player), and Role-playing. The PvP servers are the places where people go to constantly try and kill other player’s characters, and it can be miserable for total newbies. So it might be worth starting out on PvE, and then moving elsewhere once you get the hang of things.

* Use the knowledge that’s already online. It’s not cheating. There is an encyclopedia’s worth of tips, explanations and guides out there on the Internet. Use them to learn the basics of, say, how to play a mage, or where to find your next quest if you get stuck.

* Make friends who play at your level. Some people prefer to play the game mostly alone (i.e. “soloing”), but it’s a lot easier to learn and advance if you at least occasionally play in a small group of players who are advancing with you.

* Ignore the jerks. This is pretty self-explanatory.

* Join a Facebook group. The new niceness brigade all formed on Women of Warcraft, but there are a bunch of other groups of players who are happy to offer advice.

* Read the quests. When playing the game, players are asked to complete quests for non-player characters in the game. Those quests usually come with a backstory. Read them. And if you really wanted to go down the rabbit hole, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that explain the (kind of complicated) in-world history that World of Warcraft depends on.

* It’s okay if your first character doesn’t have it all. Players can teach their characters such professions as mining or leatherworking, learn to fish and cook, and keep pets. It’s okay to ignore most of those side perks until you get a better handle on the game.