Categories
Video Games

Suffering for my art

Categories
Video Games

World of Morepatch

A friend generously sent me one of his 5 invites for a 10-day free trial of World of Warcraft. He, like 6 million others, loves this game and really wants to play with me. He’s even offered to buy the game for me and pay for a month or two, but I don’t feel right about accepting that, so this trial is perfect. I admit I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the trial as I could have been since I’d tried the game in beta and uninstalled after I died and could not figure out how to resurrect. Regardless, I’ve played it for a few days and would like to share my reasons why I will not be sending Blizzard a penny.

First of all, downloading the client was a friggin nightmare. For the record, I hate it when you download a program from a website, thinking it’s the program you want, when in fact it’s only an installer that downloads stuff behind the scenes. What I wouldn’t give for one of those programs in this case. No, Blizzard, with its reams of monthly subscription fees, uses Filefront to distribute their files. For those who don’t know, Filefront requires you to set up an account (unless you fake them out with Bugmenot) so that they can keep tabs on what you download, and then pushes you to pay them for unbridled access to free files! If you elect not to pay you are forced to wait in a queue (usually between 15 and 90 minutes) until you must click a button within 30 minutes to start downloading, else you must wait in the queue again. When you finally start downloading you are bombarded by flashing advertisements all the while. Alternatively you may install their proprietary download client which automatically starts downloading after the queue wait time, but still pummels you with ads.

So I downloaded the 2.5GB client. It took a little less than 5 hours. I tried to unzip the file but it was corrupted. Tried and tried again, downloaded some different zip utilities, nada. So I deleted it and downloaded it yet again overnight. Next morning, same story. Zip corrupt and no exe file in the archive. I tried it yet another time. El zilcho.

My girlfriend downloaded it and burned it to a DVD for me. For some reason the file was corrupt when I tried to open it on the DVD (missing the same files as my other failed attempts) but when I copied the ZIP to my desktop it magically worked. I suppose something is wrong with my computer, but it’s weird that this is the only valid archive that WinRAR has ever failed to open.

I installed the game which took nearly half an hour, not including time to unzip. That’s the longest a game has taken me to install since Wing Commander 2 in the floppy days, and I was installing WoW off my SATA hard drive.

I clicked the link in my invitation email to sign up for an account and got about a quarter of the way through the process when the submit button stopped working. I tried opening the original link in IE but the website just sat there for several minutes before failing to load altogether. I closed all my browsers and tried again from scratch using Firefox and it finally worked, though page loads were incredibly slow.

I was peeved that I had to enter my credit card info for the free trial – especially since you can subscribe to the game with time cards paid in cash at Walmart. Still, I was eager to check out the game so I begrudgingly complied. I don’t know whether I have to actively cancel my trial account to avoid charges, but I’ll have to keep wondering because worldofwarcraft.com is down right now. Again.

At long last I was ready to play the game, so I fired up the client. I accepted 2 EULAs and entered the username and password I’d set up on the web site. It logged me in and started downloading a patch. I cursed out loud, but lightened up when I saw how fast the download was going. In just a few seconds the updater reached 100% and the game indicated that it needed to be restarted. I clicked the RESTART button and the game closed.

I was then greeted by the very unwelcome sight of an external updater program which I recognized, after a few clicks, to be a Bittorrent client. I was extremely annoyed by this. When I tried the beta Blizzard distributed the 4.5GB client via a custom Bittorrent client which gave me the take-it-or-leave-it option of maxing out my up and down streams (which overloaded and rebooted my modem every 20 seconds) or hitting the uninstall button. Since this update was only about 30MB I figured I’d give it a whirl. The updater appeared to cap at 20KB/s uprate and it downloaded at 180KB/s – my maximum downstream – so I was appeased. The file came in quickly and started to decompress. And continuted to decompress. And on and on and on and on for about 15 minutes. My computer was good for little else during this span since it was all but maxed out, making my Google Talk VOIP with my girlfriend, who was concurrently patching her trial account, stutter like crazy.

At very long last the patching procedure was done. I clicked OK to dismiss the updater and eagerly ran the WoW client. I accepted 2 more EULAs (I never read these things) and logged in. Updating. Fuck. I click restart and the updater program appeared again. This time the patch was only 500KB and decompressing took only seconds.

Clicked OK to dismiss the updater.

Ran WoW.

Accepted 2 EULAs.

Signed in.

Updating.

Fuck.

Clicked restart, downloaded another 5MB, decompressed in a few minutes, and clicked OK. Signed in. Accepted 2 EULAs. FINALLY!!!

For the record, this patching system is worse than that of Anarchy Online, a free MMORPG. AO has an equally annoying patch-after-patch system requiring an OK click after every step, but at least they upload the file to you from direct HTTP or FTP. It starts instantly and it runs at full speed throughout. The cheapskates at Blizzard want $15 per month from me and they pirate my bandwidth. Pathetic.

And, for comparison, Guild Wars, the MMORPG I’m faithful to, has no monthly fees and has the most amazing patching system I’ve ever seen in any game. You double-click the desktop icon and it automatically detects your version and starts patching. It downloads and decompresses and then it’s done. Because of my thorough firewall notification settings (which I opted for) I have to click to confirm that I am aware of the program being patched. Once I do so I’m presented with the login screen.

Let’s compare patching schemes, shall we?

Guild Wars – zero extra clicks, pay for the boxed product, zero monthly fees.
Anarchy Online – about 3 clicks per patch, free game, box and monthly fees for optional expansion packs.
World of Warcraft – 2 clicks and 2 text window drags to dismiss EULAs, 2 clicks to type username and password and click OK, 1 click to restart the client, 1 click to dismiss the updater, 2 more clicks and drags to dismiss the EULAs, 2 more clicks when typing username and password, pay for the boxed product, pay for bandwitdth to distribute patches to others, pay $15 monthly fee.

So with the horrors of patching behind me I created my character, a cow hunter dude named Cudley (after Cudley the Cowlick, the transdimensional flying cow head from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series). It was a tad frustrating that I had to design my character in low resolution since I couldn’t adjust graphical properties, but with minimal fuss I found the server recommended by my friend and got down to business!

My first impression – UGLY!!! I’d seen other areas of the game on my friend’s computer and during the beta, but I didn’t remember the game looking so simplistic. Again, I’m obviously spoiled by Guild Wars. WoW looked very cartoony and plain. It has its own charm with overbright, lush, high contrast colours, but the models are low-poly and, dare I say, PS2ey. As I do with all games, I nudged up the detail little by little, trying to find a comfy balance of glitz and performance. Needless to say, I nudged everything all the way up and enjoyed a great frame rate. I experienced some weird flying polygons when I cranked antialiasing to 4x so I lowered it to 2x, but when I put it back to 4x later the problems did not reoccur.

With nearly a year of Guild Wars experience under my belt I took to WoW pretty quickly. There were some right-clicks where left-clicks would be in GW, but the interface was moderately intuitive. I got annoyed really quickly with all the “ALLIANCE RULES”, Chuck Norris, and LFG spams in the public channels, and it took me forever to figure out that you have to right-click an invisible tab to turn off specific chat channels (you click a visible checkbox in Guild Wars to do this) since nobody would answer my noobish interface questions. Dragging skills to the various button bars was really easy, and much improved over Guild Wars which only lets you rearrange your skills in enemy-free towns.

I really enjoyed the writing style of the quests and characters – especially for the native indian-inspired cow dude I had picked. Although there isn’t as much hand holding as Guild Wars in terms of locating quest objectives, lack of map markers is relieved by excellent descriptive writing that encourages you to learn the interface, maps, fauna, and lay of the land. Unfortunately I’ve only seen 3 types of quests so far – kill x number of these guys, kill this guy in particular, or use this item over here. Sometimes a quest will end with you talking to someone in a new town. Fair enough, but in a game with so many zillions of skills it’d be nice to see more variety in quests. Maybe the variety comes later.

Your character wears many pieces of armour and you find small upgrades all the time. You also get skills to upgrade your own armour and weapons. This is very rewarding. I also like that you level up in skills as you use them so you improve little by little as you go along, a-la Dungeon Siege. In addition to combat skills you can cook, skin animals and make things out of leather, mine, pick herbs, and other stuff that levels up and earns you money.

My trial account prevents me from trading, using auctions, and sending mail. My friend was upset by this but, for a trial, I don’t really care since I don’t know what I’m missing. Apparently I’m overpaying for everything.

Combat is fine. Not amazing, not terrible. You get way more skills at your disposal since you have your whole arsenal of skills available at all times. This is balanced by inflated cooldown times that prevent you from using the same or similar skills too frequently. I’ve got a fair number of skills now but I still prefer Guild Wars method of limiting you to 8 skills per outing. I find it annoying that I use an axe skill and then have to wait for ALL my axe skills to cool down before I can use another one. Guild Wars’ skills are almost all independent.

Pick-up groups in WoW are AWESOME! I was doing a rather difficult quest in a cave with little luck (since recently killed enemies reappear out of thin air without notice) when I saw another cow dude doing the same thing. I saved his bacon (er, beef) from some adorable little dwarves, clicked his avatar, right-clicked his icon, and clicked invite. Poof! We were adventuring together! His warrior tanked while my gunslinger provided backup support and we mowed down many a mini-tyrant. Unfortunately we got rather lost in the enormous series of tunnels, but we luckily found a bovine mage of some sort turning dwarves into sparkling dust piles. We invited him to join our group, he accepted, and led us to our final destination. The 3 of us were unstoppable. I really enjoyed the dynamic team creation of the game, but I’m very annoyed that this tactic is artificially encouraged by regularly regenerating enemies. In Guild Wars the dead guys stay dead.

I started playing before dinner. I blinked and it was bedtime. 7 hours disappeared. It was incredible.

The next day I couldn’t wait for work to end so that I could explore some more and get up to level 10 so that I could train a pet. Antsy, I Googled WoW current events and the wind drained from my sails as I saw that a nearly 200MB patch had just been released.

When I got home I logged in and invoked the updater. It sat at 0 bytes downloaded. I cancelled the updater and logged in again. I accepted 2 EULAs and invoked the updater. Not downloading. I let it sit for a while and a message popped up saying that downloads were not working. No shit. I cancelled it, logged in, accepted the same 2 EULAs again, invoked the updater, same thing. I let it sit for a long time and when I came back the updater said there may be a firewall issue. This message was clickable so I did so, Firefox opened, sat for a long time, and gave an error message. I don’t know how my firewall could have betrayed me since the 3 successful patches the day before, but I double-checked my application firewall and confirmed that the updater and game client had full access. I then configured my router to forward the required ports to my local IP (unneccesary) just to be sure. Still didn’t work.

Then, inexplicably, 250KB downloaded. What a tease!! I let it sit for another 20 minutes and 500KB downloaded. I kept it running for another 90 minutes and 2MB had downloaded. I cancelled the update a few times and tried logging in to restart the transfer. Every time I did so I had to scroll to the bottom and accept the 2 EULAs. This went on for about 4 hours until it finally started downloading at about 40KB/s (and uploading at 20KB/s). I played some Guild Wars in the mean time. Another hour later it had downloaded and installed. 5 hours for a 150MB patch. My credit card audibly thanked me from my pocket for not having to pay money for this privilege of waiting.

So I logged in, scrolled down and accepted 2 EULAs, and was presented with a series of mostly quickly disappearing confirmation screens. Locating server. Server found. Connecting to server. Connected. Success…………… All progress stopped with a Success window staring me in the face, its Cancel button taunting me. I’d never cancelled a success before so I gave it a try. It immediately forgot where I was from, so I chose United States (ugh) as my region and clicked the button to browse for my server. I found Skywall on the list and clicked OK. Locating server. Server found. Connecting to server. Connected. Success…………..

I closed the client and restarted it. Same thing.

I waited a few minutes and tried again. WoW had recently put up an update notice with a message announcing that any of a list of about 25 servers were experiencing problems. My server, Skywall, was not on the list. I tried again. Success…………..

10 minutes later I tried once more and the game worked. The 150MB patch must not have applied to me because the game looked the same. I played for an hour and went to bed. It was late.

Yesterday I played for 20 minutes, got bored, and played Guild Wars until bed.

Today is day 4 of my 10 day trial. I might play until day 10. Maybe I’ll uninstall it today. No sale.

What I’m really upset about is this hideous doppleganger of Blizzard I’ve been forced to contend with. This is Blizzard, not Rogers or Fido or Bell! This is the company that introduced free online matchmaking and gameplay with Battle.net over 10 years ago with Diablo and still offers the service today! I refuse to believe it’s the same company that wants to charge me $15 a month to upload patches to other people while downloading it slowly or not at all. Plus I have to buy the box, even though when WoW’s servers are shut down I’ll never be able to play the game again. That’s an enormous rental fee.

So I thanked my friend profusely for bestowing me with his trial offer, but told him I’m highly unimpressed with the company’s business model. I repeated a clever Brianism that I’d posted on Slashdot about RIAA or MPAA or DRM or some other moneygrubbing, customer pulverizing bullshit.

People look to the entertainment industry for entertainment. The more we are reminded of the industry, the more desperate we become for entertainment.

The industry of Blizzard stared me in the face unflinchingly these past few days. When I played Guild Wars while WoW was busy patching I was constantly reminded of the paytime playtime fettering away by the second.

I won’t subscribe to World of Warcraft because I want to play a game.

Following the popularity of Guild Wars (2 million players – fully 1/3 the subscribership of WoW), NCSoft is about to release another one-time-fee game, Exteel. Sony has a game in the works with the same pricing model.

I foresee WoW as the last of a dying breed. Maybe I’m just cheap, or maybe 6 million people really can be wrong.

~~~

UPDATE 7:00PM

Words cannot describe the giddy joys of this game! That’s why I made a music video! Behold how much fun Blizzard bestows on this mere mortal!

Wow Rules.wmv

Full list of articles in my WoW saga:
World of Morepatch
Suffering for my art
Room for one more straw
Premature ejection
My WoW trial was indeed 10 days

Categories
Blather

How to improve your website’s search engine rankings

I’m currently doing a follow-up project on a search engine optimization report I composed last year during my co-op. The site I’m analyzing is a corporate website – the company’s primary web presence. The following advice is most useful for similar sites. As my readers can tell from my normally annoyingly ambiguous article titles, I ignore all of the following advice in my blogs.

First of all, who are you trying to attract and what content do you offer them? Do you want to draw in “passers-by” who are roaming Google for information on the topics covered by your content, or are you trying to snatch the business from your competitors? You may want to start out by drawing up a list of key words and phrases that you think people will utilize, and running them through Google to see what comes up. If and when you do this, take a look at your competitors’ sites and consider how you can do better. Compile a list of the best aspects of each page and incorporate them into your own!

I should mention here that Google is, by an overwhelming margin, the most popular search engine. Several search engine scour Google for results, and in turn incorporate those very results into their own. The website I am analyzing gets more Google results than 7 times all the other search engines combined. Thus, it’s not “internet suicide” to customize your page just for Google (as I am).

This being said, you have to design your page so that it is readable by Google. Google is blind to images (but sees ALT tags – write one for EVERY image to generate more searchable text) as well as Flash and some scripting languages, so try to make pages with searchable content free of “toys”. The best way I’ve found to see a web page as Google does is to use the LINKS text web browser. You can download it free here (for Windows): http://artax.karlin.mff.cuni.cz/~mikulas/links/download/binaries/win32/links-0.98.exe
and here’s the manual: http://links.sourceforge.net/docs/manual-0.82-en/index.html

The next order of business is to consider a descriptive “snippet”. A snippet is the bit of text between the blue hyperlink and the green URL in Google searches, and is the first and\or only thing the web-searching public will see about your site. The snippet is generally taken from the first viewable sentences on your webpage (verify this with LINKS) but will sometimes be a random excerpt from your page depending on the search query. This is perhaps the single most important aspect of your Google optimization so make your blurb descriptive but concise.

With a snippet in place, it’s time to write prose optimized for search engines. Unfortunately this writing style goes against your every intuition as a writer. Google loves repeated words, but only words that are repeated “naturally”. This means that instead of varying your wording to keep the reader interested, you must convert synonyms to the same repeated word wherever possible. This informs Google that your page is more relevant to those keywords than other pages that mention the word less frequently. Do your best to write prose in a fashion that will showcase the keywords you came up with in your initial searches of competitors. I instructed the marketing department here to compose individual pages, each with a focus on a certain keyword, and to repeat that word ad nauseum as naturally as possible. I don’t envy Marketing for having to write prose that is readable by machines but enjoyable by people.

**Do NOT repeat words over and over in hidden text at the end of your page, as you may have seen on other pages. Google may consider your page to be “spam” and will remove the entire site from its index. This IS internet suicide. **

Google prefers websites and pages that have been linked to by other websites that are already indexed. My company contacted some of its partners and organized a “link exchange” where both parties agree to link to the other’s website. This symbiotic solution is your best bet to fasttrack your way to the top 10.

Pages that are not changed every so often are flagged as “stale” and will lose clout. Usually only the home page needs to be changed regularly to keep the entire site fresh in Google’s books. Adding a news ticker to the front page is an easily maintainable solution from a writing and design vantage.

Finally, be a diligent webmaster and monitor your web access logs. Be aware of your readership and mold your site to pander to them. My analyzer of choice is Google Analytics – a free software application that records data on each visitor including how they got to your page, at which page they left your site, which pages they viewed and for how long, the search engine keywords they used to get there, their geographic location, their web browser, operating system, screen resolution, and much much more. Analytics is free but is currently an invite-only (by Google) beta. I signed up for an account at http://analytics.google.com about 2 months ago and received an invite recently. I can’t recommend it enough, but there are other similar and free options such as Analog – http://www.analog.cx/

Google Analytics requires a few lines of code be inserted into each page you want to track, while other analyzers usually require access to the server logs. Consider which best suits your needs, web host, and techncial abilities.

This isn’t the whole picture but it’s the broad strokes. Design and write better than your competitors, track your readers, and change accordingly. You’ll reach that coveted top 10 in no time.