Ever since I started playing World of Warcraft some ten months ago, I have
been hoping for the addiction to end.  It’s a bit ironic to enjoy something
so much that you actually want to get off it so you can return to a more
balanced life, but it’s really how I’ve been feeling these past weeks.  Not that my life hasn’t been balanced:  I think I did
pretty well, especially compared to some of my guild mates who routinely spend
twelve hours in a row playing the game without any bios (warcraftese for
"a break dictated by a biological necessity:  food, bathroom, etc…").

Well, I think that time has finally come.  I can proudly announce that
"I am over World of Warcraft".

Let me explain how I got there.

I have to hand it off to Blizzard for creating a game that is equally
fascinating "in the middle" (levels 1-59) as it is "at the end" (level 60). 
Keeping level 60 characters interested is no small feat, and you need to find
ways to keep them entertained even though they no longer get any experience. 
World of Warcraft does this by providing dungeons of
incredible difficulty that can only be defeated by groups of 10, 20 and even 40
(all group members need to be level 60, of course).  As you can imagine, finding groups to enter
such "instances" (the technical term for these dungeons) is not easy and
even if you might be lucky and find yourself invited to a random pick-up party
for the
Molten Core (one of the hardest instances in the game), you probably
don’t want to join anyway because you really need to play these dungeons with
people you know and trust.

What is the appeal of these instances?  Loot.  Very rare and overly
powerful gear that will greatly enhance your character.  It’s really the
only reason why players enter these instances, which is a bit baffling to me
(and probably one of the reasons why I am finally quitting).

A high-end instance is an intense experience.  Very intense.  Here
are a few points:

  • You need to commit for four to five hours in a row.  Don’t even
    think of quitting unless you have a replacement ready and that the class of
    your replacement is similar to yours (or close enough).  Parties for
    high instances need a very precise balance of various classes (warriors,
    mages, priests, etc…) and tilting this balance, especially in the middle
    of the instance, can prevent the party from finishing.
  • You need to be on TeamSpeak.  TeamSpeak is a central server that
    allow groups of people to communicate with their microphones and headsets. 
    You don’t really need a microphone if you’re not a leader, but being able to
    listen to the directions from your leaders and to the talks during the
    fights is absolutely essential.  Regular chats are not fast enough and
    very easy to miss in the heat of combat.  I expected a lot of chaos on
    this channel, but all the players of my guild turned out to be very
    disciplined and they do not talk unless absolutely necessary.  It was my
    first experience of a video game leveraging audio and I was quite surprised
    by how well it worked out.
  • A high instance has several "bosses" (featured above is
    Ragnaros, the final boss of the Molten Core, and you’re not even sure that
    you’ll be able to summon him every time) and the preparation to fight each
    of them can take easily twenty to thirty minutes.  I’m not even talking about
    the fight itself, which can also be very long, but just the planning and the
    directions from your leader instructing various groups where to stand, where
    to go depending on how the fight turns, explaining various tactics,
    describing how the boss works and what attacks to expect from it, telling
    you which spells and moves to use which which ones to avoid, sharing "buffs"
    (protective spells that players cast on each other), etc…  By the
    time the fight is about to begin, your head is literally buzzing with the
    information overload, but now is certainly not the time to lose your focus
    because the real work is just about to begin.
  • Depending how well you do and how disciplined the party is, the boss
    will finally drop, possibly after a few "wipes" (the entire party decimated)
    followed by a long session of resurrections to bring everyone back. 
    When the boss is defeated, it’s time to uncover the loot and decide who gets it. 
    That’s right.  Each boss typically drops three or four items maximum,
    and since you have forty players, not everybody is guaranteed to get an item
    on a run.  So how do you decide who gets what?  There are various
    systems in place, the most popular one being DKP (Dungeon/Dragon Kill
    Points).  I won’t go into detail on how this system works, but suffice
    to say it involves keeping track of who has gone to what raid, and what
    dropped during these raids.  It’s a fair system that guarantees that
    the more raids you participate in, the more likely you become eligible
    for a rare item.  If you are curious, here is a typical

    DKP standings page

With all that in mind, it should be no surprise to you that a high instance
raid is an intense experience that will leave you sweating.  But boy! 
What a rush!

I went on a few of those runs after finally deciding that the amount of
involvement versus the feeling of reward was no longer high enough for me. 
It was one of the most immersive experiences in a video game I have ever had
(which is no small feat in a career of almost thirty years playing videogames),
but the time has come for me to move on.

So I am now looking for my new addiction, and the winner is…

Ah…  Civilization…  my old Nemesis.

I’ve only been playing for a week so it’s still a bit early to tell if
Civilization 4 will deliver.  All I can say for now is that the ramp up is
pretty tough, especially for a Civilization I veteran such as myself.  But
I’m going to give it a fair chance, even if coming right after World of Warcraft
is certainly a challenge.

So here’s to a fond goodbye to World of Warcraft and the dawning of a new
Golden Age (ah… already using Civilization lingo).