['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column shines a spotlight on the prolific poster at Tobold's MMORPG Blog.]

ToboldThere are bloggers ... and then there are bloggers. Tobold, of Tobold's MMORPG Blog, is witty, intelligent, and shockingly prolific. He's been playing World of Warcraft (WoW) since the game released in the EU, and by now he's commented on almost every aspect of the game you can imagine. Raiding, Guilds, DKP, class balance, economics ... he's interested in everything, and by proxy manages to make even the driest class-related issues seem interesting.

Today I have for you an aeration of the Tobold Blog. I've gone through, stirred up the soil, and have for you today just a small portion of the peaty goodness that this particular site has to offer. Tobold was also kind enough to answer an emailed set of interview questions, and he offers us an insight into the mind that drives his implacable blogging machine. Read on for a look at a blog, a blogger, and World of Warcraft's most readable player.

I Hear They Have Videogames In Europe

Tobold was kind enough to respond to my canned questions, to give you some insight into the man behind the site. We went with an emailed interview for this because of the time difference between the U.S. and Europe. Many thanks again to you, sir, for your time and assistance in preparing this article.

Michael: Tobold's MMORPG blog is primarily, it seems, a focus for your gaming-related thoughts. What prompted you to start it? Was it a specific event, or just a general need to get your ideas out there? Once you'd begun, what kept you blogging?

Tobold: I started writing my gaming-related thoughts long before the blog, on message boards for whatever game I was playing at the moment. That approach had two problems: Ownership and archiving. Due to not having ownership of the forum I was writing on, critical articles I wrote about the game risked being locked or deleted. And most of what I wrote then hasn't been archived anywhere, and even finding my own old articles turned out to be impossible. Having my own blog solved both of these problems. I started the blog small, posting not so frequently. Then at some point I installed a counter to see whether somebody was actually reading what I wrote. To my surprise it turned out that I got a lot more hits than I would have thought, which motivated me to write more. Then I added the ability to comment, and the high quality of the feedback I get keeps me blogging. Just have a look at the official World of Warcraft forums to see why I prefer to blog and discuss on my own site.

Michael: Do you mind if I ask what your dayjob is? Do you have any hobbies outside of gaming? You've mentioned that you're married ... what does she think of your site?

Tobold: Lets just say that my dayjob is scientist, without going into details. Besides gaming I'm interested in history and economics. My wife does play World of Warcraft, and knows that I'm blogging, but she isn't very interested in discussing games, and doesn't read my site.

Michael: What got you 'into' the massive genre in the first place? What was your first MMOG?

Tobold: I've been playing pen and paper role-playing games, mostly D&D, since a quarter of a century now. I've been playing computer RPGs since the original Bard's Tale, and online since LPMUD. Getting into MMORPGs was just a logical next step. My first MMORPG was Ultima Online, but I quickly drifted into the more game-like Everquest, which I played for nearly 2 years.

Michael: How many games have you played? What would you say has been your favorite?

Tobold: I lost count. I have played at least a dozen different MMORPGs, covering all the major games, and a couple of minor ones. There were only two games which I played for more than 1 year, the original Everquest and now World of Warcraft, so I guess that makes those two my favorites. But many of the other games had individual features, like gathering resources in Star Wars Galaxies, the puzzles in Puzzle Pirates, or building your own camp in A Tale in the Desert, which I found superior to what EQ or WoW had to offer. My perfect game would be a mix of the best features of many different games.

Michael: What is it about the Massive gaming experience that's kept you coming back? People, guilds, raiding, something else?

Tobold: People is certainly a big part of it. Coming from D&D, the concept of adventuring in a group is very natural to me. I do participate in guilds and raids, but generally prefer the small group adventuring, and the smaller, family-like guilds. The other thing that keeps me coming back, and keeps me moving to the next game, is the huge amount of content these massive games have. I also like to play console RPGs, like Final Fantasy, but you can finish these in 60 hours. MMORPG are so much bigger than that.

Michael: What would you say your 'proudest' moment from a Massive game might be? The moment you'll tell your grandkids about. :)

Tobold: For me playing a MMORPG is an eternal series of small proud moments. You set yourself a small goal, work towards it, and achieve it. That might take as little as half an hour, or as much as several months. But the experience for me is more important than the achievement. The proudest achievement was probably when my troll warrior in World of Warcraft hit level 60, because after years and years of playing MMORPGs that was the first time I hit the level cap in any game. But my friar performing a marriage ceremony in the cathedral of Camelot in DAoC, in front of a huge crowd, was my proudest role-playing moment.

Michael: Out of what I'm sure could be many less happy moments, what would you say was the most memorable bad experience you've had in a MMOG?

Tobold: Nearly all of my memorable bad experiences in MMOGs were guild dramas. The most memorable bad experience, which I am the least proud of, was in Dark Age of Camelot. I had founded my own guild, put a lot of work into it, and ended up being overwhelmed by all the big and small problems between guild members. People looked up to me and expected me to sort out their problems, and I was unable to do so. That marriage I mentioned above ended with the girl's DAoC-playing father deleting her character, because he didn't want her flirting online with the boy. How do you fix that as a guild master? I ended up being so stressed out that I ran away and quit the game.

Michael: There certainly seem to be a lot of Massive games on the horizon. Which one are you most excited about? Why?

Tobold: In my heart I'm most excited about Lord of the Rings Online, because walking on Middle Earth is a dream. My brain tells me that Warhammer Age of Reckoning is more likely to actually be a good game, taking the best features of WoW and adding a better PvP system based on the DAoC experience.

Michael: Is there anything you'd like to say to Tobold's MMORPG Blog readers?

Tobold: I'm still in awe of how many of them there are. As I said, it is their visible appreciation and feedback that keeps me going. So I'd like to ask my readers to keep up the high level of comment and discussion.

The Game, And How To Play It

What makes reading Tobold's blog so interesting is that he's really well and truly gotten up inside the working parts of World of Warcraft. He's focused his writing talent and considerable intellect on the subject to an astonishing degree, and the result is a running commentary, since the game's launch, of everything right and wrong with Blizzard's baby. His first WoW Journal entry was on February 11th of last year. Since then, in addition to tracking his actual play, he's made observations on almost every system in the game. Economics, quests (whether hidden or not), tradeskills, and the talent system have all gotten careful looks from his watchful eye. He's also made some more humorous observations, like his future-sent satire of the 'EQ Classic' servers:

"Critics claim that the nostalgia servers are just a cheap way for Blizzard to regain customers that have been leaving World of Warcraft in droves. Subscription numbers are down to 10 million players, just half of what is was during the peak days of WoW. The recently released '10th anniversary' expansion didn't sell as well as expected."

All throughout his journal, Tobold makes an effort to include us in his journey, and offers helpful hints on what worked and what didn't. Occasionally, he takes some time to point out specific strategies, as in his guide to grinding XP. He also uses the instructive format as a kind of 'preview', in his guide to jewelcrafting in the upcoming Burning Crusade expansion. An entry that I found particularly interesting was a blunt look at how to blog; he touches on what drives him to make something like 12 posts a week.

"My secret is that I mainly write for myself. *Not* thinking of what your readers expect helps a lot when blogging. A blog is as much a diary as it is a public document. As soon as you start worrying about meeting a certain writing standard, or having to cover a certain subject, writing block sets in. There are millions of blogs out there which get a lot less hits than this one not because their authors write any worse than I do, but because they don't write enough."

Dragon Kills and Herding Cats

One of the most interesting elements of following Tobold's journey through Azeroth has been seeing the evolution of 'Tobold the Raider'. While he began his game somewhere in the murky realm of 'casual' gaming, Somewhere along the line he stepped past into the dark waters of raiding. It probably had something to do with copious raid invites. He plays a priest on two servers, and as we already know, you don't screw with the healers. Even as he was raiding more often, Tobold still argued for casual content. Eventually, though, the a raider has to raid. Raiding with skill, and recognizing raiding skill were additional areas to consider. DKP systems and if they could ever be fair also went under Tobold's microscope, as he tried to coax the truth out of WoW. Like many raiders I know, he eventually began wondering why he was doing what he was doing, and came to the conclusion that sometime raiding just isn't fun:

"My Horde guild on a 40-man raid is by necessity very concentrated on the job. There isn't much talk in the raid channel. Teamspeak is dominated by commands like "Go dps now!". The sheer size of the group makes chatting difficult, be it typed or voiced. And as we like to go fast and the main tank is permanently pulling, everybody is too busy holding aggro, dealing damage, or healing, to have much time for idle banter anyway. Blackwing Lair of course had some discussion on tactics, but Molten Core is just routine farming, with no surprises. Raiding with my Horde guild is a very serious affair."

As a social gentleman, Tobold also explored the world of guilds. Unfortunately, in wondering what makes a good guild, he inadvertently explored the guild lifecycle firsthand.: Management. Drama. Death.

"I found my guild had a bizarre leadership structure, with a secret "officers club" of people thinking they were still running things, in spite of having left WoW, or having switched to [another guild]. And obviously the name-calling from them was pretty hurtful. I'm sure I hurt these guys as well, with my comments, but you know my writing style, it might be acidic, but I don't generally use swear words as a means to get my point across ... I transfered the GM title ... sent him the contents of the guild bank, and quit the guild with all my characters. That was hard, because I do like the people that are actually in the guild, I'm just at odds with some of those who left, or rather didn't really leave."

Taking it All In

As useful as his guides are, and as insightful as his examination of Warcraft is, some of the most interesting posts he has made explore the Massive genre in the broader sense. As a veteran Massive player, he's been around the block with arcane gameplay, and has come away with a healthy understanding of the fundamentals. His series on the changes in the genre was especially well done.

When I think of 'classic' Tobold, though, I always imagine posts that try to seek answers to questions. The exploration of issues like the sameness of MMOGs, what a level really is, and if games have to end is what makes Tobold's site a daily stop on my internet tour. After all, why do we play if not for a form of self-enlightenment?

"There is content with more entertainment value, and there is content with less entertainment value, but for me it isn't necessarily the highest reward that has the most entertainment value. The important thing for me is to be able to interact with the content in a meaningful way. I'm totally happy with my Onyxia raid last weekend, because I got to experience all three phases of the combat several times, and I feel I now "have done" Onyxia. I don't give a damn that I didn't kill her, that I didn't get some epic item from her, and I'm not really interested in going there repeatedly to try it again and again until I do ... The day I think that I have seen all the accessible content in WoW, and only the repetitive way to Naxxramas and beyond remains, I will just quit the game and buy myself some other form of entertainment."

Tobold's site is a rare find on the internet: a one-man band with the volume of a full orchestra. He is a consistent, measured, and intelligent voice in the wilderness of endless prattle, and it's hard not to admire a man who makes blogging look so easy. There's far more than enough of his writing to go around; I hope you take the time to take even a taste of this most fascinating of commentators.

[Michael Zenke is also known as 'Zonk', the current editor of Slashdot Games. He has had the pleasure of writing occasional pieces for sites like Gamasutra and The Escapist. You can read more of Michael's ramblings on Massive games at the MMOG Nation blog. ]