Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fare Thee Well, Ghostcrawler

You may have heard the news already -- Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street is leaving Blizzard.

He was the Leads Systems Designer which basically meant he was in charge of how mechanics work in World of Warcraft.  He's not responsible for raid or dungeon design.  He's not responsible for PvP.  He's not responsible for Lore.  He's not responsible for a lot of other stuff too (though sometimes he works with other leads when things overlap) -- yet from the attitudes of some people you'd think Ghostcrawler sat alone in his cubicle and plotted to ruin WoW, instituting any change he wished without caring about the opinion of any other person.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course -- not only was he not in charge of many changes in WoW but he had an entire team to work with.  He was simply the face for the team and often represented changes in general since he was already interacting with people!

Or, to rephrase things, people disgust me on the internet.  Some of the vile things said about Mr. Street are despicable but, sadly, I am not surprised.  Just disappointed in people.

On my end, Mr. Street, I've always respected you and the tremendous amount of effort and dedication you put into your job.  I appreciated the way you attempted to engage the players via the forums, Blizzard blog, Twitter, and more.  I didn't always agree with you (like, say, the rep grind at the beginning of Mists of Pandaria) but I never doubted you and your team were doing what you thought best for WoW.

Best of luck to you.

P.S. If you're ever in my area I'd be happy to buy you a beer.  Or a Scotch/Gin, since I think you said you preferred those.  Or whatever.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What if LFR *DID* Require Proving Grounds?

I know the main hubbub is still all about the upcoming expansion Warlords of Draenor.  I am somewhat reeling from needing to go 20 man but that's something I can't even deal with until we're 14/14H.  I suspect it'll ultimately be better for the game but I'll still miss the feel of 10 man raiding and it'll definitely absolutely stink upsizing.

But that's not the topic today.

The idea of having Proving Grounds interact with LFR was floated a while ago by Ghostcrawler in an interview:

"We’ve even talked about maybe there’s a way that Proving Grounds can replace item level as the gating mechanism to get you into say raid finder or similar match making content."

But then Ghostcrawler clarified what he meant here and here:

"Yeah, we would never require PGs for LFR. It would just be a way to demonstrate that you didn't need the ilevel."

"It would probably be more like LFR requires ilevel 500 OR a Proving Ground Silver Medal, or maybe Silver + ilevel 450 or whatever."

But...what if it did require Proving Grounds?  And no, I don't mean Gold or even Silver -- I realize that there are hordes of players out there who are really not good at World of Warcraft.  But Bronze?  Is that too much to ask?

What if we saw something like the following for MoP?  You have to fulfill one of the requirements listed for each LFR.

Bronze + 460 ilvl (same as reality except it requires Bronze)
Silver + 450 ilvl
Gold + 440 ilvl

Note that if you could pull off Gold at 440 ilvl when it's tuned for 463 that would be quite a feat.

Bronze + 470 ilvl
Silver + 460 ilvl
Gold + 450 ilvl

Bronze + 480 ilvl
Silver + 470 ilvl
Gold + 460 ilvl

Bronze + 490 ilvl
Silver + 480 ilvl
Gold + 470 ilvl

Effectively every medal you have past Bronze in LFR shaves off 10 of the required ilvl -- and 10 ilvl is usually something like 15-20% damage/health/healing.  This also isn't some colossal time investment -- getting Bronze should only take like 15 minutes and that's counting travel time to the Temple (or wherever Proving Grounds are in the future).  It also requires very little skill to get Bronze, but more than going AFK and it shows you understand at least some of the basics.

Now, this is irrelevant for me as I never intend to step foot in LFR again as long as I live -- to use WoD terms, Normal/Heroic all the way for alts (if I have any -- the fact I can help any non-Mythic group with my main severely limits the benefits of having an alt for me, another post about that soon) and the joy of Normal PLUS Heroic PLUS Mythic for my main.  But it seems it would be useful as it allows people who have demonstrated they can pull their weight with less gear into LFR and forces people who just don't give a damn to at least do Bronze -- and everyone else in the LFR KNOWS everyone else can at least do Bronze.

Of course, they might simply nerf LFR so far into the ground that it really does become solely a tourist destination with awful ilvl compared to anything else -- or so I hope.  Make it clear that people who like raiding absolutely should be stepping up to Normal (current Flex).  The long term health of raiding depends on getting new players into the raiding pool.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Okay...Well, Uh...Raiding in WoD...

So the new expansion is Warlords of Draenor.  Apparently Garrosh goes back in time to stop the orcs from drinking the demon blood or something.  But this doesn't alter the current timeline...or something.  I suppose we'll get more details about how this apparently works.  Blizzard's also talked about a lot of interesting stuff, from a Garrison (instead of the farm from MoP), no Hit/Expertise, no Dodge/Parry, no Reforging, new stats on gear, some other stuff...and then we hit raiding.

Oh boy, we hit raiding.

LFR (25) -> LFR (10-25)
Flex (10-25) -> Normal (10-25)
Normal (10 or 25) -> Heroic (10-25)
Heroic (10 or 25) -> Mythic (20)

So, uh...yeah.  Applying Flex technology to LFR, sure.  Renaming the difficulties, fine, whatever, sounds mostly like marketing but it also makes some sense because three difficulties are flexible now.  Making normals scale like Flex, fine, they're not tuned to a razor's edge anyway.  And 20 man is the new heroic.

Wait, what?  20 man?

20 MAN?

Okay, okay, I just had to get that out of my system.

I get what they're trying to do -- having just one raid size for the hardest difficulty makes it easier to tune correctly and having it be larger makes it easier to plan for group composition.  Main thing I'm honestly wondering why Mythic simply isn't 25 man.  Maybe they figure enough people will quit by the start of WoD that this prevents 25 man guilds from needing to recruit a bunch.  Also means maybe guilds that manage to have exactly 25 people can bring all of them for "heroic" (current normal) bosses and pick the ideal 20 for mythic.

Of course, from the perspective of a 10H guild leader which raids twice a week...this really sucks.  Really, really sucks.  Really, really, really, really sucks.

We've been full clearing heroic content since Firelands -- my people aren't interested in just doing normals ("heroics" in WoD terms).  We're done with normal in 2-3 weeks usually -- and that's only because our time is so limited.  Which means I'll need to recruit another 12-13 people to make a Mythic guild.  Need to find another dozen players interested in our exact raid days and light schedule and who also meet our skill requirements.

This is going to be awful.

But it gets better!  We can't simply merge with another guild as we'll have too many tanks and healers (4 tanks, 6 healers).  And we can't simply form a second group for the moment for similar reasons -- people are not exactly going to be eager to jump at that.  We may have to try making a second group which specifically has off-spec tanks and healers once Siege has a 40% nerf or whatever and it's so easy that it can succeed.

Did I mention this was going to be terrible?

But wait, there's STILL more!  Apparently no mode will share loot lockouts.  Currently if we killed 8 out of 14 bosses on Heroic, we'd only need to clear the last 6 on normal to be competitive (plus Flex for some people, mainly trinkets/tier).  In WoD, if we kill 8 out of 14 bosses on Mythic...we get to kill ALL FOURTEEN bosses on Heroic (current normal) for gear.  PLUS likely bosses on normal (current Flex).

This sounds like the hell of ToC all over again except with more bosses.  Hell, there are more bosses in THREE difficulties of ToC than in ONE difficulty of the first tier of WoD.


I think that sums it up succinctly.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Defense of Raiding? -- A Response to Responses To a Response to a Response

I think I have that title correct.

Rowan responded to my last post with two posts, effectively, here and here.  So let's discuss them.
My original post—as did Stubborn's, in my view—had more to do with guild drama, and some root causes of it, than the merits of WoW-style raid-gear treadmills.
Well, a few things.

First, you literally opened your original post in this series saying...
Samus brings up an interesting "fundamental" flaw in endgame raiding. He is referring to the way a group or guild must work together; but more often than not, individuals spend time without any reward for their efforts. DKP schemes are only a player band-aid for a faulty reward system design. Flaws in gear stats design can compound this, for instance when I was locked out of a loot roll in Ice Crown Citadel as a healer because the item had increased "hit," but there were no items that had a stat exclusively for healers. Occasions like that caused me eventually to forsake raiding altogether in every game I've played since.
And Jeromai said
Exactly. I simply cannot play games with need/greed loot systems where players end up competing with each other for the one desirable piece of loot. It just ends up boiling down to lots and lots of drama.

Give me a City of Heroes or GW style you-gets-your-own-personal-loot and no one knows what you got unless you choose to link it for them any day.
So I think I can be forgiven for thinking you were criticizing how loot worked in raids -- particularly since you seemed to be viewing getting gear as the reward for raiding, which is not how it works.  Everything seemed to point to you effectively saying "The rewards for normal/heroic raiding in WoW are messed up so I don't do them because I don't get loot."

Hence my post talking about why loot is only important as a nerfing mechanism for normal/heroic raiding!
[EDIT: OK, I missed somehow that you did say it's about killin' the bosses.]
Yeah, and, uh, that's kind of a really really really important point there!  My whole post was about how gear was not the goal of raiding!

Let's make an analogy of sorts.  Raiding is like playing basketball and gear indicates how physically fit you are.

A few things to note here:

1, the goal is playing basketball is not to stay fit.  The goal of basketball is to play basketball because you find it enjoyable and if it helps you stay fit so much the better.  It's something that comes naturally as a side benefit.

2, a person being more fit than someone else means very little if they don't have the skills to dribble/pass/shoot/etc.  In fact, being physically fit past a certain point is often one of the LEAST important things.  You're better off with someone who's 5% slower but 10% better at his actual skills.  Effectively, fitness only matters when skill is roughly equal or there's such a massive gap in fitness (a 400 lb man who can't run 10 feet is going to lose to an NBA player even if he can make 99.9% of his free throws).

3, if you play basketball while starting in less than tip-top shape, you'll become more fit over time simply by playing without focusing on it specifically.  This is gear progression.

Being able to use gear for anything outside of raids is a side benefit -- the main purpose is to allow progression over time for raiding groups rather than have to explicitly nerf content or start it out incredibly easy.
I prefer content that challenges me as a player as opposed to my character as "properly geared." exactly what raiding is.  Why do you think world first guilds kill a boss with far, far worse gear than most?  Because they're much better and the content is beatable at that point -- but most people aren't good enough to do it.  Therefore, to compensate for not being as good Blizzard lets people slowly get stronger with gear each week in addition to them practicing and becoming better.  This allows less skilled groups to kill bosses by putting in the effort of reclearing if they find a boss too difficult to beat with their lesser skill level.

Basically, it's "If you're good enough, you can kill the boss.  If you're not, then you can get a bit more gear each week and eventually kill the boss."  I promise you that you will never find a situation where you cannot beat the boss with skill unless you fall into one of two categories:

1, you're a world first raiding and literally doing 10-20% less output than the designers tuned for because your gear is so bad (due to spending 50+ hours the first week progressing through bosses and thus reaching the final boss after the first week instead of after a few months as intended).  This is not an issue for 99.9% of players.

2, you try to jump into the final tier of content right away or something.  This is like being that 400 lb man and challenging the NBA player.  You might be better at free throws but you're still going to lose.  You need to work at getting in shape first -- which, if you've been raiding the whole expansion, you already ARE because you have the gear from raiding during the previous tier.  So this is only an issue for people who come in at the end of an expansion or something and try to skip to the end.

In short, if you're raiding normally, you will never find a situation where you can't beat a boss with skill.  You will never need more gear.  Gear will HELP but that's its purpose -- to nerf the content if you don't have the skill.
 It bothered me (and others I have spoken with) that so much time and effort was spent on TBC raid content that so few people saw because it was hidden behind gear gates and other barriers. Blizzard has acted to change that in subsequent ex-pacs with Flex and LFR, and that is a great thing.
Sure, the TBC model had a lot of flaws and neither Stubborn nor I are defending it.  Interestingly enough the first effort to make more accessible content was the 10 man normal modes of WotLK.  LFR/Flex sort of came into being because they took 10 man WotLK normals away in Cataclysm when they equalized 10s and 25s.

Also, Stubborn was suggesting that the raids be used while leveling -- he's referring to content from previous expansions, not previous tiers of the current expansion.
Your reasons for being a loot hound don't change the fact that you are one.
I am sorry, but in terms of achievements, I'd rather work slow and steady than pray for just the right combination of numbers in a loot lottery.
I've said it before, but you seem not to be listening: Extrinsic rewards and virtual slot machines are not why I go through a given bit of content. I may sound condescending. I'm not trying to be. If you enjoy end-game raiding in WoW, that is wonderful. I did for a while, but then I realized I didn't, so I stopped.
So...uh...yeah.  You REALLY missed what I was saying about the bosses (as you subsequently noted).  But to make sure we're all on the same page...

I play for killing bosses (not loot), my achievements are bosses dying (not loot), and I enjoy end-game raiding in WoW (not extrinsic rewards or virtual slot machines).  The complete reverse of what you originally said.


This was then followed by the second post linked earlier.

Repeating content over and over for weeks and months—regardless of how easy it became before we moved on to the next challenge—lost its appeal long before I came to the realization that my raid group didn't really need me.
 I think there's two important parts here.

1, the reason you repeat the content each week is to slightly nerf the boss you apparently can't beat yet each week.  Otherwise, from Blizzard's perspective, you'd have killed him (or her) already so you must need help.  They eventually realized that sometimes it was due to people not having the time to do the whole thing in one week and thus started allowing lockout extensions -- meaning you could pick up where you left off last week and could keep working on the boss if you decided you didn't need the loot.

2, there are several reasons you keep raiding once everything is dead.  One, most raiders LIKE raiding inherently.  They enjoy beating the bosses just like you enjoy playing tennis with a friend for the three hundredth time.  Two, many raiders like the social atmosphere of farm content and hanging out with their raid group during a scheduled activity.  Three, groups that stop raiding typically break apart because many people within the group DON'T want to stop and thus they find a new team.  So you keep raiding to preserve the team for the next tier.


There's clearly a lot of misconceptions about raiding out there.  Amusingly enough, many of them are from people who haven't played WoW in a long time (like BC).  I say "amusingly" because gear mattered even less in BC than it does now.

Bosses dropped less gear so the gearing rate was much slower.

Bosses were not tuned to have tight output checks so you could get by without much gear.

The gap between tiers was smaller which meant gear nerfed the content less which, in an interesting way, meant that skill mattered more.  That said, the bosses of BC (or at least the vast majority) were also MUCH easier and required much less skill -- the toughest bosses in history have been (in no particular order) Yogg+0, Lich King, Ragnaros (Firelands), Lei Shen, and potentially Garrosh.

That's not to say there weren't hard bosses in BC -- but they weren't nearly as hard.  No, not even M'uru.

So, in that sense, gear matters less now because it's far more about skill.  I think I discovered a paradox or something.

But the bottom line is that gear has always mattered very little for good players -- it just came naturally as you killed the bosses.  It only becomes an issue if your group is below the skill level required for the difficulty you are raiding.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Have Gear?

There's been some discussion about the role of gear in WoW -- ranging from comments on a post by Stubborn to comments on a post by Rowan to a post by Rowan to a post by Stubborn and beyond!  Whew!  I wanted to take a moment to respond to Rowan's post and comment on some things in Stubborn's post.

First of all, let's establish what we're discussing.  Gear in this context indicates items that increase character power in some fashion that are non-consumable.  A mount is not gear in this sense, neither is a flask.  It's also important that this increase in character power is relevant.  A trinket that decreases damage done by 5% to gain 10% survivability is not something a DPS player will consider worthwhile.  In the current expansion of MoP, a DPS player would also not be very interested in a trinket that increases damage dealt to undead in raids by 10% -- because there are no relevant undead enemies in raids (specifying "in raids" to avoid people from pointing out something like Scholomance or Scarlet Monastery).

Note: I'm sure some people can think of some creative exceptions to the above.  We're speaking in general principles here, though.

The Gearing Cycle
WoW's had a pretty consistent gearing cycle for a while.  You kill bosses in a raid tier each week and receive items each week.  Then a new tier comes out with better gear and harder bosses and you repeat the same process except in the new tier.  And so on.

What this ultimately means is that gear is extremely temporary -- it is unlikely you'll use any given piece for more than one raid tier (about 6-7 months).  It is intended you replace your leveling greens with dungeons blues.  Which you then replace with t14 epics.  Which you then replace with ToT epics.  Which you then replace with SoO epics.  You can change the name of the expansion and the name of the raids but it stays pretty much the same.

Clearly, then, gear is not some kind of long term reward.  No one sits there and says "Yeah, look at this ring I won from Black Temple in BC, I'm still using it today!"  We only care about past gear for looks (for transmog) and sometimes for things like challenge mode scaling.  Gear is only relevant within its own tier and part of the next tier.

Caring about last tier's gear is like being a reverse hipster:

The Nerfing Cycle
So what's the point of all this gear?  We're just going to replace it a few months down the line, right?  Absolutely.  Therefore, whether the gear is 3 ilvls higher versus 30 ilvls higher doesn't matter all that much, right?  As long as people view it as an upgrade it's fine, right?  Wrong.

The main point of gear within a raid tier is to allow progression without increasing skill.  It means that if you kill farm bosses each week, your raid gets items that increases the power of the group and makes it easier to kill future bosses.  Hitting enrage on Malkorok at 5%?  Get a few more ilvls during the next few weeks and you'll be able to beat him.

Now, could your raid group improve in small ways without getting better gear and thus beat the boss with the same ilvl?  Sure.  But that's harder to do for some than others and the skill range of WoW players is vast.  Making bosses easier over time by giving gear for killing other bosses means people who can beat bosses with a lower ilvl will do so and less skilled groups will need to invest the time into weekly clears to get the necessary gear.

This is why the ilvl difference from t14 to t15 was 26 instead of 19 and why the difference from t15 to t16 is 31.  Blizzard is trying to put even more emphasis on this "nerfing cycle:" if your group is struggling on a boss, keep working at it and keep reclearing each week and eventually you should get it.  Going from full 522 to full 553 (or 530 to 561 with upgrades) is likely roughly a 45-60% increase in character strength.

You may also note that Blizzard has been increasing this power difference for normals (19 ilvl gap to 31 ilvl gap) while keeping it the same for heroic content (13 ilvls) -- because Blizzard is primarily concerned with making sure groups can progress through normal modes.  Heroics are a select audience and thus we get less help from Blizzard (and we tend to want less help too).

Of course, this breaks down in LFR since there's no progress week to week and the determination buff means you're guaranteed to win eventually anyway.

Becoming Obsolete
Stubborn made a point in his post that I want to highlight:
Stubborn wrote...

From a design standpoint, it’s necessary to obsolete content for two reasons, both of which mostly relate to hardcore players....Secondly, it allows those same hardcore raiders the chance to not play every hour of every day. If even a full expansion pack of content is “relevant,” it’s going to encourage hardcore players to do all of it all the time, which will undoubtedly burn them out more quickly.

So gear obsoletes content both as a marker – “this gear is beneath what you now need, so stop raiding here” – and as an decrease of difficulty – “This content is no longer challenging due to your gear, so it’s time to move on.”
Or, in other words, the increased item power in Siege compared to Throne means you don't get an advantage by farming Heroic Throne while working on Heroic Siege.  Doing Gruul's every week for that stupid DST was not fun.

So gear both acts as a way to nerf content within a tier as well as signal when a tier is no longer supposed to be relevant for your progression.

Answering Rowan
As a warning, I'll be quoting larger chunks of text here to give some context from Rowan's post that I linked earlier so people understand the context.
Rowan wrote...
Jeromai had brought up ArenaNet's personal reward system wherein each individual player gets a private reward for killing a boss. This works out generally well in Guild Wars, where "grouping" is often no more formal than standing next to someone and shooting at the same thing they are. We won't go into here how the lack of competition for resources and kills creates a friendlier player atmosphere in the game, in my opinion.

Needless to say, I agree with Jeromai's assessment. However, Balkoth begs to differ, because it "eliminates part of the raiding meta-game."
Except we're talking about a social group, right? Where you know what gear others have? And can see that some of their gear has changed? . . . You will remember what your guildmates have, though (especially if you notice that they recently obtained an item you want).
There is only a certain subset of player who care enough about the gear of others to bother to inspect them. Even in my closest Guild groups, I think I can count on my fingers and toes the total number of times I have inspected someone's gear with more than mild interest in a given piece of gear. In seven years of MMO gaming. And to know whether it's changed since the last time I looked? Not a chance.
While it's true that "There is only a certain subset of player who care enough about the gear of others to bother to inspect them," that subset in WoW consists of most normal and heroic raiders -- and we're talking about normal and heroic raiding in WoW!  This is doubly true for something like a rare trinket or weapon that tends to be coveted.

People like to compare their gear to others and see who has what items and how those items are gemmed/enchanted/reforged/etc -- especially those of the same class and/or similar gear.
Rowan wrote...
Balkoth had asked whether I disliked the pace of gearing or the randomness to which I responded, "The Randomness."
So let's say the current averages you at 0.5 items per boss killed and you will, on average, get your ideal set in 50 boss kills. Would you prefer a system where each time you kill a boss you get 0.1 items and you're guaranteed to get your ideal set in 250 kills? You'd always make progress toward your goal...but you'd make it more slowly.
I'll ignore the fact that Balkoth changes the rate of progress between his two scenarios and go with the faulty reasoning of the "average."
Why would you ignore it?  That seems to indicate there's a problem with making them different and there absolutely is not.  To see why, you need to realize that in the first example only 50% of people would have their ideal set within 50 boss kills.  Guaranteeing that everyone will have their ideal loot in 50 kills is in fact speeding up the process for 50% of the population.  This is why something that is guaranteed will always be set up to take longer than something that is random -- precisely because it is guaranteed and you can't ever be in the situation of chasing the last few elusive drops.
This isn't even getting into the lack of excitement in a non-random system or the fact it creates a clearly optimal way to pick up pieces of gear or any other issues.
Rowan wrote...
The assumption here is that by the end of the killing the ten zhevras, the player will have the hoof. The problem is that each kill resets the dice roll. The player's chances of getting the hoof are no better on the tenth zhevra than they were on the first. A certain percentage of players will get the hoof on their first kill and a certain percentage of players will not get a hoof within ten kills, therefore having to wait for the respawn. In fact, it's within the realm of possibility (though highly unlikely) that a player will never get that hoof. (Just for journalistic integrity: the actual drop rate for Zhevra hooves is about 31%, overall). The article proposed a way of increasing the drop rate based on the number of kills already done, but it hasn't been implemented in any game that I aware of.
I know a game that implemented it -- not very well known game, called World of Warcraft.

Blizzard has in fact fiddled with the numbers behind the scene to make a drop more and more likely the longer you go without one -- whether it's collecting one Zhevra hoof or ten bear claws or fifty tiger teeth.  They've done something similar with LFR/Flex/Coin loot where you have an increased chance to win something each time you don't win something from a boss.
Rowan wrote...
It's entirely possible that some players would never complete the set in any number of boss-kills, certainly not within a reasonable number like 150. And the Game devs, with every new raid tier and every expansion, slide the goalposts further back, meaning this patch's ideal set will be next patch's vendor trash, at least for those hard-core souls on the bleeding edge of content.
I think what you're missing here is that having people complete the set is not the goal of the loot system.  The goal of the loot system is to nerf the content over its lifespan in an interesting fashion -- which it why it gets "reset" each new tier.  Viewing your "ideal" gearset as a goalpost is a problem because it ultimately doesn't matter that you complete the set in the first place!  Even if you did, it would stop being the ideal set a few weeks later with the release of a new tier.  Take the gear as it comes and use it to help beat new bosses -- don't collect gear for gear's sake.
Rowan wrote...
How many players like me have decided the loot is just not worth the time and effort? The grind through the first four or five bosses to get to the next one, to bash our collective heads against it until it's down, to get it eventually "on farm" and move on to the next because we're finally all geared up enough is simply not interesting enough, in and of itself, and then the rate of extrinsic reward is pathetic as well. In the case of WoW, the gold sinks of repairs and such were so onerous they had to create dailies, just so people could make the gold they needed to be able to continue raiding.
The loot certainly isn't worth the time and effort -- beating the bosses is worth the time and effort.  The underlined bit is my own doing and I'm pointing it out simply because it's incorrect.  If you kill a boss in a raid, I promise you that outside of world first guilds you have plenty of gear to beat the next boss.  You should be *immediately* moving on to the next boss (since the raids reset weekly, anyway, and this is precisely WHY raids reset weekly) and working on that.  If you're struggling on the new boss and don't get it down (which will be due to execution/strategy/skill issues and not gear), next week you'll be able to get some more gear to help and then keep working on it (or even just extend the lockout and keep working on it without any new gear in some cases).

I'll also point out that even if you somehow did hit a legitimate gear check that your raid failed (extraordinarily unlikely), you'd have the gear in a week or two of farming -- it doesn't take months or something.

Finally, they didn't invent dailies because of repair costs -- they easily could have reduced repair costs.  Ditto for potion/flask/enchant/etc costs -- could have made the materials more freely available and/or require less of them.  Dailies honestly mostly came into being for people getting mount training, which was considered to be major gold sink in BC.  It gave people who were bad at farming items and then selling them on the AH an alternative way to make gold.
Rowan wrote...
Yes, people will argue that the RNG of loot drops is what makes killing a boss exciting, but after killing a boss for the 20th time and still not seeing that sword you want, I don't think it's really excitement that you're describing.
~Dan Sz, Altoholism, "The Problem with Boss Loot"
Yet somehow being told that "You can't get a sword until you kill this boss 15 times" is more exciting?  I mean, Dan Sz. is complaining about outliers of RNG, not RNG itself.  This is especially true in multiplayer games -- otherwise you get the situation in a token system where NO ONE gets an item for like 5 raids or something (if we assume the tokens are boss specific) or you get a situation (if tokens are universal to the tier) where everyone has a weapon after the first week, everyone has a trinket after the second week, and so on with everyone picking the best items first.  Isn't that rather boring to see everyone getting the same types of item at the same time?
Rowan wrote...
Execution is a different story, and folks going in blind will have to the learn the fights "the hard way." In all honesty, I prefer this method, because there is an element of surprise and excitement to the dungeon. But hard-charging loot hounds would rather get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Make no mistake, I love experiencing new dungeon mechanics, and mastering them. But then I want to move on. I want the challenges to be skill-based, not gear-based.
Except in WoW raiding, "the hard way" (going in blind) is often pretty simple.  I mean, we talked about the specific example of Jin'rohk's lightning orbs.  You'll see that they happen on the first pull.  Great.  Now you actually have to practice executing it.  Advantage of person reading a guide: 1 pull.

This gap obvious widens for a longer and more complex fight but it is still heavily slanted toward the execution side, probably at least a 80-90% on the execution side.  Paragon didn't wipe 600+ times on 10H Garrosh because they were confused about what was going on (especially with the hidden heroic-only phase 4), they wiped because it was incredibly difficult to execute.

I also don't understand why you're using the phrase "hard-charging loot hounds" -- people want to kill the fights faster because they're in competition with other guilds for rankings, prestige, and recruits.  Not reading a guide is like not using a flask -- you're intentionally handicapping yourself compared to your competition.  The race is to beat the bosses first -- gear only matters to the degree that it assists in that competition.

Which, incidentally, is why I find your last comment extremely amusing.  Unless you do something like walk into heroic Siege of Orgrimmar with a fresh 90 or literally do nothing but extend lockouts, every challenge you face is going to be skill-based.  You'll get enough gear naturally by reclearing to beat every boss you come across without having to specifically farm gear.  Gear is simply a way to make the content easier should you choose to accept the help from Blizzard.

Paragon killed 10H Garrosh in basically 25% heroic SoO gear.  Most guilds killing him will do so with 90% heroic SoO gear -- because they're not as good as Paragon (and/or don't want to wipe the same number of times perfecting the execution).
Rowan wrote...
Think about this the next time you see some player character in truly Epic Pixels strutting their stuff in Orgrimmar, Destiny's Reach, or Meridian: despite what may be months or even years of raiding, learning strategies and tactics for epic battles against nigh invincible foes, everything they're wearing boils down to good luck on some random dice rolls.
I will strongly disagree with this -- especially since Cataclysm where WoW has been throwing gear at players.  If they've spent months of raiding and beaten nigh invincible foes in epic battles, it would in fact be absolutely horrible and terrible luck on random dice rolls for them NOT to have a good chunk of truly Epic Pixels.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I Think I'm in Love With 5.4

I suppose there are worse things to say than "Sorry for not posting much, but my free time is limited and I decided to play WoW instead of writing about WoW lately."  I've really been enjoying 5.4 so far.

Timeless Isle
I've been having fun here for several reasons (and I am glad I do not play on a PvP server right now).

One, with the exception of Golganarr/Rattleskew, I can go there whenever I want.  Rares spawn every 30-60 minutes so it's reasonable to make sure I kill a particular rare at least once in a smaller amount of time.  In addition, I don't "fall behind" by missing a given rare spawn and I can choose to invest a ton of time in a single day if I want to do so  -- as opposed to dailies where missing a day meant you fell behind and you were limited in what you could do in a given day.

Two, I didn't need many upgrades and the ones I did need were either so rare as to not be worth pursuing (a specific 535 ring with haste/something) or were guaranteed (535 trinket).  I could get them at my own pace and they were reasonable.  The "crazy" grinds are simply for vanity stuff.

Three, my gear pays off.  Unlike dailies, where the "reward" for better gear was being able to do them a few minutes faster, I can plow through elites with my gear that most people can't.  I actually get a payoff from my heroic gear that is substantial (especially for the Shaohao grind).

Four, the mobs are more interesting -- they usually actually have abilities to avoid or interact with in some way and having other players around is (usually) a good thing rather than competition for your quest targets.  It's a much better set-up.

That said, while I lucked out on Rattleskew (about a 12 hour respawn I hear), getting Golganarr for my Timeless Champion achievement was awful because he spawns every 12-48 hours or something.  I'm not saying that mobs with rare vanity items with long respawn timers is a bad thing.  I'm saying that putting it on the same achievement where 95% of the creatures are a 30-60 minute respawn is a bad thing.  Give them a separate achievement if needed.

Lesser Charms
I had like 15 Lesser Charms for the patch.  I now have like 2500+.  Playing on the Timeless Isle and killing rares/elites simply throws charms at you like crazy -- WHICH IS A GOOD THING.  Especially when you can farm charms faster with better gear and/or in a group.  This is SO MUCH NICER than 5.0-5.3 where I needed to do the same dailies each day to be reasonably efficient (Golden Lotus or Thunder Isle) and which also had a limit for how much I could get each day.  Sure, I had like 1100 when I finished the initial rep grinds in 5.0, but that was only like 12 weeks of raiding back when it cost 90 charms each instead of 50.

Hell, they could go back to 90 charms each week now and it would be fine.

If anything, I wish we could turn them in for Lesser Charms and/or Mogu Runes now, since otherwise I can't spend them at all.

Flex Raiding
Flex raiding is fun.  It's actual raiding.  What do I mean by that?

1, you have to work together
2, there are social consequences for failure/poor behavior
3, the boss doesn't simply give up if you get determined enough

If you ignore what the raid leader says in Flex (like "DON'T ATTACK NAZGRIM IN DEFENSIVE STANCE") you're gone.  If you pull 30k DPS, you're gone.  If you stand in bad stuff on Dark Shaman, you're gone.

Sure, it's easier than normal.  But LFR being easy isn't why it's a complete cesspool -- it's the lack of accountability and no incentive to help others.  I still don't like that I am obliged to run Flex on my main (nearly 2000 DPS upgrade going from Heroic Lei Shen trinket to Flex Immerseus trinket) but at least it's *fun* rather than me wanting to punch people through my computer screen.  I don't care if you take a tick of avoidable AoE or do 80k DPS instead of the 100k you should be doing.  I do care if you stand in the AoE and yell for the healers to keep you up while dealing 30k DPS.

Done Flex with several alts at this point with good success on all of them, even with some wipes.  And people are actually constructive after a wipe BECAUSE IT'S A SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT WITH CONSEQUENCES AND ACCOUNTABILITY.  Can we just add in an cross-realm lobby for group finding and remove LFR already?

Hell, I've even done some Flex bosses multiple times in a single week simply because it was actually enjoyable being in there.  Also managed to drag some fellow bloggers into some groups with me, which was fun (even though I may have come up with some...unusual...guilt tripping methods to do so).

Siege of Orgrimmar
Generally a fun raid so far.  Rather long and concerned that we're going to need to do a lot of lockout extensions as we get further into heroics (killed the first three last week, hopefully another three this week), but the fights have been enjoyable (even though Thok's screech can go die in a fire -- LET'S SPAM SHADOW WORD: PAIN!).

Definitely something that feels more "accessible" than Throne of Thunder with eight "gimme" bosses, then two slightly harder bosses, and then four relatively difficult bosses.  Probably will work out better for PUGs as well.

P.S. I *would* like to request at least a normal weapon in the near future.  Thanks!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Apologies for the Absence

I apologize for the lack of posting lately, been busy both with RL and video game stuff.

1. Patch 5.4 hit and I needed to spend a decent chunk of time collecting timeless coins for the caster trinket - only to realize that I needed more haste from other items before it would actually be an upgrade.  Oops.

2. <Despotism> went 13/14 the first week in two nights.  10 bosses the first night and got Garrosh to 40% in phase two on the second.

3. I pushed out an update for my NWN module Siege of the Heavens, adding some new features and cleaning up some code in preparation for the second half.  Also published some other minor NWN scripts.  Obviously this is pretty irrelevant to you unless you like NWN (which you should, because it is an awesome game).

Anyway, should be some more regular posts now.  Next one will probably be on Lesser Charms and Valor in 5.4.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Raid Lockouts and "Free Loot"

I've previously talked a bit about some of the problems with LFR and now Flex - particularly as it relates to normal or heroic raiders being compelled to run these modes for gear upgrades (tier and trinkets being the prime culprits).

It's particularly interesting when you consider the problem Blizzard faces when it comes to lockouts.  If someone is doing LFR and wants to try Flex raiding, Blizzard wants to encourage this - it'll keep the player engaged and hopefully develop some social bonds.  So LFR cannot share a lockout with Flex.  Likewise, if someone is doing Flex and wants to try normal raiding, Blizzard wants to encourage this - it'll keep the player engaged and hopefully develop more social bonds.  So Flex cannot share a lockout with normal.  And if LFR can't share a lockout with Flex and Flex can't share a lockout with normal, LFR can't share a lockout with normal either.

Quite a pretty pickle.  And, of course, the people suffering from this are people going in reverse.  What do I mean by that?

No one is worried about LFR players being compelled to do Flex or Flex players to do normal/heroic.  People are worried about normal/heroic being compelled to do Flex and/or LFR.  In other words, the problem is when we start at the top and go down, not start at the bottom and go up.

So can we find a solution?  It seems difficult, but there was a very interesting idea proposed by someone named Thels that I ran across while reading this post (relevant section quoted but the whole article is good):

"The idea I’ve liked the most so far is one proposed by Thels.  For lack of a better term, I’d call it the “Cumulative Loot System.”  In short, when you kill a normal or heroic boss, you also automatically get your personal loot rolls for LFR and/or Flex.  You could imagine various permutations of how this would work; maybe a normal kill gives you your LFR roll, while a heroic kill gives you both LFR and Flex rolls.  But the simplest case is just that you get both rolls on any normal or heroic kill.

What I like about this solution is that it directly addresses the problem at the source.  The problem is that players clearing normal and heroic feel compelled to run LFR and Flex for additional chances at marginal upgrades.  The complaint isn’t that the LFR and Flex loot is “too good,” or “more than LFR deserves,” strictly speaking, though I’m sure we could find a small subset of players who would argue those points.  The problem is that the extra LFR and Flex clears require more time on top of an already demanding heroic raiding schedule, and that a player with the skill to do heroic modes doesn’t find these watered-down difficulty levels fun.

Rather than trying to take anything away from LFR or Flex raiders, this solution instead just gives “extra” or “free” loot to heroic raiders to remove the additional time sink.  And I think that’s a much wiser move at this point in the game’s life than trying to impose more restrictions on the LFR and Flex raid population, which even now accounts for the vast majority of raiders."

To make this explicit, the following would happen:

If you kill a boss in LFR, you get your LFR loot.

If you kill a boss in Flex, you get your Flex loot.  If you have NOT killed the boss in LFR, you also get your LFR loot.

If you kill a boss in normal/heroic, the boss drops his or her items.  If you have NOT killed the boss in Flex, you also get your Flex loot.  Additionally, if you have NOT killed the boss in LFR, you also get your LFR loot.

This means that as long as you'd kill a given boss on normal or heroic each week, you have no incentive to do Flex or LFR.  The more I think about it, the more I like it - and it can be summed up like this:

There is always an incentive to move up and never an incentive to move down.

It is the perfect carrot - if you can kill the boss on a higher difficulty, you get those benefits plus all of the benefits from the lower difficulties.

Now, this solution isn't perfect.  If Bob needs tier shoulders but needs to sit on the boss during the week, he would still need to go do Flex for that boss.  But even when he does Flex, he'll get the LFR chance too.

Best of all, none of this should effectively change what a player chooses to do each week.  People who were going to do Flex and LFR will get that loot as long as they do normal - so it does nothing but save them some time.  And since they're already investing time in normal/heroic raiding, those aren't the players who need extra time sinks.

It is an extreme incentive to do higher difficulties without taking anything away from the lower difficulties.  And that seems to be Blizzard's desired type of solution right now.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Return of the "Want a Free Game?"

Neverwinter Nights is on sale again for the next 60 hours!  That means it's time to offer more free copies of the game to those who are interested in trying it and getting hooked on it.  The following is effectively a repeat of my previous "Want a Free Game?" post from April, so if you already got NWN from me feel free to pass the information on to a friend so you can play with them!


In addition to WoW I'm quite fond of a game called Neverwinter Nights.  It's an RPG that came out a few years before WoW which is completely amazing because it is immensely customizable.  You can play solo campaigns, you can play multiplayer campaigns, and you can play online on what are effectively MMOs (abet with playerbases in the dozens to hundreds instead of tens of thousands).

It has a complete toolset that can be used to tweak almost every mechanic and create custom content - the original "official" Bioware campaigns make up like 0.1% of what's available for the game, and a ton of the user made content blows the original campaigns out of the water.  Users can also add new content in the form of ".hak" files, which add new creature models, new tilesets, new weapons, new feats (like talents), etc.

And all of this is free except for the original purchase.  It's available to buy on a site called Good Old Games for $9.99 normally - which includes the original campaign, both expansions (so two more campaigns), and an additional "premium" module - but it's on sale right now for $5.99.

Except I'll sweeten the pot even further - if you send me an email at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com before by 11:59 PM on Monday night, I'll buy the game for you and send it to you as a gift.  Absolutely free.  Because I think the game deserves to be promoted.

I also made a module of my own earlier.  There was a "building challenge" where participants had one month to create a module (the game is separated into modules, which can range from being a single testing zone to a MMO-like Persistent World which spans hundreds of areas and offers hundreds of hours of playtime - you just load the module you want to play or join it if it's already being hosted).  I created a solo adventure for max level characters called Siege of the Heavens, which is an action adventure focused on scripted boss fights, similar to what you'd find in WoW raids and dungeons (or Brawler's Guild if you've done that).  The Heavens are under attack by devils and demons and the celestials enlist the help of mortals heroes like yourself to help lift the siege.

It's not something you should immediately play - you'll want to familiarize yourself with the basic mechanics of the game before trying my module.  It's also only technically halfway finished since I only had a month to build it - which is still 3-4 or so hours of playtime, and once it's done you'll be able to pick up where you left off and play the remaining 3-4 hours that are planned.

Speaking of familiarizing yourself with the game, I would be happy to play through the official campaigns (or some custom campaigns, I'd strongly recommend the Aielund Saga at a minimum - among many other custom campaigns - which is much better than the official campaigns but again somewhat expects a familiarity with the game) with anyone interested, provided we can arrange suitable times.  The first official campaign probably takes about 40 hours to play through, the second two both take about 20 hours each.

You will need to request a unique multiplayer key once you claim your game or else you will be unable to sign into some multiplayer modules for security reasons.  There are instructions on how to do so on the GOG site.

Also, some of the old multiplayer services (like game listings provided by Gamespy) are no longer active - but members of the community have recreated replacements that are just as good (or better in some cases) as the originals.  More information can be found here.  Feel free to contact me (via email or private message on the boards - this is my profile there) or post on those boards for help if you need it.

Again, email me at balkothwarcraft at gmail dot com if you want a copy of the game, want to find out more about the game, want to try to play the game with me, or whatever.

Monday, August 12, 2013

World of Warcraft is Not Legend of Zelda (On Ammunition)

It's not Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries either.

(Quick note: I only played Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask for Legend of Zelda, so if gameplay has changed significantly since then I apologize in advance).

Legend of Zelda
In Legend of Zelda, you control a character named Link who has access to a bunch of different equipment.  Two staples are a sword and shield combo and a bow and arrows.

The bow and arrows are extremely powerful - they deal a lot of damage from distance (more than the sword, I believe), can pierce through tougher foes (spiders that normally have to be hit in their vulnerable belly can just be one shot anywhere with an arrow), and keep Link well away from danger.  There's a major drawback, though - you have limited ammunition.  The default typically was 30 arrows (and you can fire an arrow every second) which could be upgraded to 40 or 50 arrows with quests.

Ammunition wasn't easy to acquire, either.  Sometimes you could buy them from a store, but that meant leaving the dungeon and returning.  Sometimes you'd find a cache of them from destroying objects, but it wasn't a guaranteed source by any means.  In short, you used arrows sparingly in situations where you really needed them.  They were a trump card, an ace in the hole - not something to be casually spent.

The sword and shield, however, were unlimited in use.  They were your default form of gameplay.  Situations where you DIDN'T use the sword and shield were unusual.  Thus, situations where you could go wild with arrows were extremely fun because you got to be brokenly overpowered for a short amount of time if you were smart about it (like if you knew more arrows were available soon or something).

So the paradigm was to use the sword and shield as your default attack and pull out the bow in special situations to unleash the fury.

Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries
First of all, Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries is an awesome game.  The Mechwarrior universe revolves around Battlemechs - giant war robots that you pilot around in missions doing anything from assaulting an enemy stronghold to defending factories against aggressors to raiding convoys to ritual combat in a duel-like fashion and more.

My guess that you probably aren't playing this game right now.  Which is incredibly stupid, because you should be playing it.  Best of all, it was released for free in the last few years, here's a current location where you can download it: Click Me 

Note: you'll want to use a joystick to get the most out of the game, though I suppose it might be playable without one.  But why would you want to do that?

But I did have a point.  In Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, there are three main types of weapons: missile, ballistic, and energy.

Missile weapons typically do very high damage for their weight at the cost of limited ammunition.  You can slap a missile pack onto a Battlemech when you only have a few tons to spare and you want some extra firepower fairly easily.

Ballistic weapons are heavy and still have limited ammunition, but it is less of an issue.  They also offer better returns on loading extra ammunition that missiles so they tend to be primary weapons while missiles are used when that extra punch is needed.

Energy weapons have unlimited uses but produce large amounts of heat.  If your Battlemech gets too hot it will overheat and shut down, so you can't use too many energy weapons.

In short, you can use energy weapons on weaker targets, fire up the ballistics as well for more difficult enemies, and launch your missiles on top of those when it gets really hairy.  If you launch missiles at every weak enemy you see you're going to run out extremely quickly.  There are tradeoffs between the different types of attacks and you use the weapons appropriate to the situation.

World of Warcraft
Now let's look at World of Warcraft - specifically from the viewpoint of a Hunter.  Let's try a Legend of Zelda approach first...

An enemy approaches!  Do you

A: charge into melee with a weapon to conserve your ammunition
B: shoot it

Hint: the answer is B.  In fact, the answer is NEVER A.  There is no reason for a Hunter to EVER attempt to melee an enemy instead of shooting it and players who did so were relentlessly mocked.

Hmm...okay, so the Zelda approach doesn't seem to make sense.  Let's try a Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries approach...

An enemy approaches!  Do you

A: Use just your attacks with unlimited uses because it's a weak enemy
B: Use most of your attacks while conserving the strongest ones with limited uses because it's a medium enemy
C: Use all of the attacks available, spending ammunition like water because that's a tough mother that needs to be dropped fast

...wait a second, that doesn't even make sense for a Hunter.  ALL of a hunter's attacks require the exact same ammunition.  The analogy in this case would be better suited for cooldown usage.


So we've established two important facts:

1. A hunter ALWAYS shoots his enemies
2. All of a hunter's shots require ammunition

Now let's add in an additional fact - unlike Legend of Zelda or Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries where your ammunition is definitely very limited and needs to be used wisely, Hunters often stock up on thousands of arrows/bullets/etc.   In fact, while you're in a raid or dungeon, you don't even notice you are using ammunition unless you run low before you got to restock.

There was no tactical decision making when it comes to ammunition in World of Warcraft.  It was not an alternative to attacks which weren't limited in use.  There was no special ammunition that you'd switch to in a hairy situation to maximize your performance - you simply used the same ammunition every fight (and no, the engineering ammo was not an exception).

Throw Away Those Rose-Tinted Goggles
So why, then, are some people obsessed over the removal of ammunition in World of Warcraft?  It served no useful purpose - you simply brought several thousand to a raid and forgot about it for a few hours.  There was no decision making process.  Nor was it intended as punishment like durability loss and needing to repair.  It wasn't even immersive - people don't carry thousands of arrows in a quiver in stacks of 200.

There's a reason ammunition was removed.  It was pointless.  Let's get rid of our nostalgia goggles and stop lamenting the loss of ammunition in WoW.

Friday, July 26, 2013

I Just Want to Play With My Friends! (On WoW Leveling)

I want to tell you two stories about people who decide to try WoW.

Story #1
Alex has decided to try out this popular game called World of Warcraft.  He installs it, boots the game up, and starts exploring.  He has little idea of what he's doing but hey, there's a big world out there to discover.  He doesn't realize that doing grey quests is bad experience but he doesn't care either - he's having fun seeing all this new stuff.  He then discovers this dungeon finder thing and sees this group stuff with awesome loot - that's BLUE.  Whoa.  Then he goes back to being 35 and questing in Duskwood (yes, I have seen that exact thing happen).  Eventually he starts to pick up things though he's still generally pretty clueless.

Despite the fact that he's learning, leveling is slow in general and it takes him something like 300+ hours to hit maximum level.  Assuming he plays, say, 10ish hours a week, that means it takes him seven and a half months to hit maximum level.

He's enjoyed this process - he's made steady progress toward this goal of maximum level and he's explored a bunch of the world while doing so.  He never particularly wanted to level faster since he had no particular reason to be maximum level.  He's about to discover raids and organized PvP but that was never even on his radar before.  He's generally happy.

Story #2
Bob has a friend (call him Chris) who plays this popular game called World of Warcraft.  Chris eagerly describes working as part of a big team to defeat huge dragons and giants and such or maybe tells him about pitched battlefields between two warring factions.  Bob decides this sounds cool and wants to play the game with Chris so he picks up WoW.  However, he now realizes there's a bit of a problem - Chris is maximum level while Bob is level 1 and can't do anything with Chris.

Bob asks Chris if he wants to make a new character to level with Bob.  Both of them only have 10ish hours per week to play, however, and Alex has scheduled raids along with weekly chores to deal with.  Thus, Chris can only play a few hours per week at most with Bob - meaning that Bob will quickly outlevel him and the whole idea of playing together at the same level will be moot.  Alternatively, Bob can simply only play a 2-3 hours per week with Chris and not even play WoW with his remaining spare time - which also means it'll take Bob even LONGER to level and do all the cool stuff with Chris at maximum level.

I think everyone will agree that Bob feeling like he can only play WoW whenever Chris is NOT busy with raids/chores/whatever is a bad idea.  And arguing that Bob should make multiple characters to avoid this issue seems a bit silly - but if anyone seriously thinks that is a good idea I can go into more depth on why it is not.

So let's assume Bob simply levels as fast as he can without Chris so he can join Chris at maximum level as soon as possible.  Bob has Chris helping him with game information so he manages to level twice as fast as Alex.  At 10ish hours a week, this means Bob will hit maximum level in 15 weeks (150 hours needed due to him being faster) - which is still nearly four months.

That's Messed Up
Let's look at that last sentence more closely.  Chris convinces Bob to try this new game and when Bob asks Chris when he can do the raids and battlegrounds and such with Chris, he gets told that it will take nearly four months.  Four months of playing one character to even get to maximum level (I'm not even including gearing up at max level and learning how to really play the game - let's assume those magically happen instantly).  Four months before he can play with his friend.

That's not a very friend friendly game.  You can jump right into a strategy game like Starcraft II or Warcraft III - your friend will be terrible but you can still play.  You can hop into a game like Halo or Call of Duty - ditto.  Or something like DotA or League of Legends - your friend may have less heroes available or may be missing some small bonuses, but they can still play with you.

But not in WoW.  In WoW, by default, it will take a person playing 10ish hours a week about four months to even be able to play with a friend who lured them into the game.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
We can see here that we have two very different kinds of new players (probably more, but these two at a minimum).  One is here to explore this new world and is fine with slow leveling - he's just seeing what's out there and has no idea what he's "missing" at maximum level.  He's in no rush to level and is content subscribing while playing the game.

But the second wants to play with his friends who are all max level.  He might enjoy leveling a character and exploring the world and such at one point, but right now he simply wants to be able to do the stuff his friends tell him about.  And his friends probably don't want to have to make a new character every time they convince a new friend to try WoW.  So this new guy wants to get to maximum level as soon as possible.

When I hear people complain about how leveling is too fast in Wow, this is what I think about.  The fact that an incredibly long leveling game works well for some players but is horrible for people trying to get friends into the game.  That's why I think Blizzard is trying to err on the side of leveling being too fast - by introducing Recruit-A-Friend and now the 100% experience bonus.

And even Recruit-A-Friend has issues because, again, the two friends have to play together.  And if player A is busy raiding and doing weekly LFR/Charm/Valor chores, he might not have the time to play with player B very much (if they were both maximum level they could do it together).  Being told "you have to spend a week or two building your character before you can play with your friend" sounds a lot better than "you have to spend four months building your character before you can play with your friend."

So Where Next?
This does seem to lead to an interesting conclusion - perhaps it's better to really minimize the idea of leveling - if we think most new players want to play with friends instead of just picking up the game on their own (which seems to be more and more likely these days).  Instead of it taking up to 4+ hours a level, make it take like a maximum of 60 minutes a level and much faster initially.  Make lots of questing out in the world something to do at maximum level (and give charms/valor like dailies) rather than something everyone has to do to level.  While leveling, give players a taste of what is going on in a zone and make leveling a whirlwind tour of the zones - then a player can go back at maximum level to explore the zone and find its lore.

This obviously raises a number of issues, however.  Rewards being one of the main ones - traditionally quests have generally given worse rewards than initial (heroic) dungeons.  Blizzard has noted time and time again how players will use the most efficient way to get their loot.  So if quests still reward 437 greens, you'd expect players to generally not do them at maximum level because they're getting 463 blues from dungeons.  But perhaps they could give 10 valor and 3 charms each or something.

Imagine an MoP where each level only took 30-60 minutes with the main plot of each zone set up and then once you hit 90 you could do all of the quests in the various zones to see the plot.  There's your stuff to do out in the world at maximum level.

Right now it feels like WoW is trying to act like SC2/LoL/etc at maximum level but is also trying to act like a traditional RPG storyline with a massive leveling grind.  A playthrough of a game like Mass Effect (2/3) probably takes 30-60 hours maximum - and that's considered a full game.  WoW leveling takes far longer than that and you have to finish it to do the "main" content of the game.  Maybe it's time to vastly de-emphasize the idea of leveling and make questing in the world something you do at maximum level.

I'm sort of rambling now, just trying to sort though this idea and playing out the various scenarios - it would be a large change but it makes me wonder.  Instead of the question being "Is leveling too fast?" perhaps we should be asking "Is leveling too slow?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Enough With the WoW P2W* Hysteria!

*P(ay) 2 W(in), generally meaning you have to buy things within the game for real money or be at a massive disadvantage.

You've probably heard that Blizzard is planning on adding an in-game shop for real money.  Let's go ahead and assume it'll also be introduced in the US and EU just for the sake of argument.  You may have also noticed some people pretty much being hysterical about it, calling WoW a sell-out, saying it might make them quit, etc.  Based on what we know, they're being absolutely ridiculous (unless I've missed additional announcements) -  allow me to explain why.

First of all, I believe there have only been two confirmed items on the real money shop.

1. 100% experience bonus
2. Lesser Charms of Good Fortune

Now, it seems likely that the various mounts and pets will be included but we simply don't know yet - and I doubt anyone will complain about being able to directly buy those in-game.

So let's look at those two things throwing players into fits.

100% Experience Bonus
People complain about how fast they level already (simply doing quests in a zone and a dungeon or two at the appropriate level will make you outlevel the zone in the 1-60 range).  Then they complain even more about how getting 50% or more bonus experience from heirlooms makes it even faster.  Then they complain about the Recruit-A-Friend program that gives a 200% bonus (I guess, it would logically follow, right?).

In other words, the "leveling game" is already compromised. Very few people experienced in WoW care about leveling (if anyone) - saying you have a level 90 evicts a "Well, duh?" response instead of "Whoa, you actually hit maximum level!"  You might find leveling interesting (I actually generally enjoy it on multiple characters) but you don't think it's some kind of achievement.

Furthermore, I'm surprised people have just now complained about being able to skip hours of leveling using real money.  After all, that feature has been in the game for quite some time.  I am speaking, of course, about server transfers.  Without server transfers, you'd have to level a new character from scratch on a server and regear them - which is a lot of time.  With server transfers, you can simply instantly transport your character and skip that whole deal - by spending real life money.  Anyone remember the days before server transfers?  I do.

So allowing people to save hundreds of hours releveling and regearing a character by spending money is fine but allowing them to double their leveling speed is not?

In short, if people want to spend real life money to speed up leveling - who cares?  They're still going through the motions, just at a faster pace.  I guess it'll help with the achievements for multiple max levels or the "Stay Classy" guild achievements - but again, who cares?  At this point, if you don't like leveling, it's nothing more than a time sink.

Unless you're arguing that a top raiding guild will get an alt to 90 a few days later than their competition because they didn't use the boost and thus they had less time to gear the alt and thus they killed the boss later and lost ranking, this will not affect anyone.  Leveling used to have a speed limit of 10 MPH.  Now it's 50 MPH.  Does letting people speed at 100 MPH really matter?

Final note: it might affect Realm First leveling achievements, but it might just be disabled for that (or at the start of an expansion, period).  Or for people who really care, they might have to shell out a few dollars to compete in that one time event per expansion.  Not exactly the end of the world.

Lesser Charms of Good Fortune
Here is something absolutely critical to keep in mind: Lesser Charms have a spending cap.  You cannot use more than 50 per week.  Period (unless it bugs out like it did a few weeks ago, but that's not the norm).  So even if you could afford to buy 50000 Lesser Charms per week, it wouldn't matter because you can only spend 50.  What does this mean in practice?

Speaking for myself, it takes me 30-60 minutes to get the 50 Charms per week.  Probably longer for people with worse gear, but ultimately we're talking about an hour or two of dailies per week, tops.  Apparently Pet Battles are also really good at generating Charms - a person in my guild has over 2000 Charms or something.  But they do him no good because he can't spend them - so it saves him an hour a week, tops, of doing dailies.

So if you buy Lesser Charms, you save one hour a week of dailies (ignoring the rep and valor for the moment). Content that is designed to be easy and repeated hundreds of times.  If someone said to you "Yeah, I spent $5 to skip an hour of dailies this week" do you really think "OMG SO UNFAIR THE WORLD IS ENDING?"  Many players (who are time-rich) may think he was silly/stupid/moronic but it doesn't impact them in any meaningful way.

In short: Lesser Charms available for real money?  Who cares?  Anyone who's ever thought "I'd pay money to skip these stupid dailies" is getting their wish.  And if you can't stomach the thought of paying to avoid an hour of grind - you're right where you are right now, doing your 25 dailies a week in an hourish.

Now I suppose it's possible Blizzard will announce they're going to sell heroic raid gear or elite conquest gear in the store, but until they do let's not panic, all right?  Someone being able to level twice as fast is not the end of the world - they already level insanely fast compared to the "old days."  No one cares about you having a level 90, it's expected.  Likewise, someone being able to skip an hour of dailies per week is not going to destroy WoW as we know it.  It's a minor convenience for people tired of dailies or for those who are short on time, either in general playtime or in a specific situation (ever been short on Charms and frantically trying to finish dailies before raid time?).

So again: who really cares?  You're not missing about on something you would otherwise have by not buying them - the game stays exactly the same for you as it is now.  And neither of those options has an impact on something competitive which means you can't gain an advantage by spending the money.

The sky is not falling.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Flexible Raid Item Level Conundrum (Or Why Valor Gear is Bad)

Update regarding me: in the middle of a move, barely had time to raid lately let alone work on the blog.  Sorry.  Guild is currently 10/13H and working on Heroic Dark Animus.  Think I've managed to work out a way to get in about 30 minutes of writing each day at work during some downtime, but we'll see.

I'm sure everyone has heard about the new flexible raid feature coming in 5.4 -  a raid that scales between 10 and 25 people, is harder than LFR but easier than normal, uses the LFR loot system, and is designed to help create social bonds.  There's been a lot of discussion about many parts of this feature, but today I wanted to focus on one particular aspect: the item level it offers.

Ghostcrawler has suggested some tentative item levels for 5.4 in this tweet.  If we put everything together, we get the following:

502 ToT LFR
522 ToT Normal
528 SoO LFR
535 ToT Heroic
536 SoO Flex
553 SoO Normal
566 SoO Heroic

Now, I do want to mention one thing right off the bat: I am generally happy with how LFR was handled in Throne of Thunder.  Except for legendary items, I had very little reason to run LFR.  The staggered release coupled with heroic gear from the previous tier meant I didn't need items from there.  For those unaware, heroic raiders were compelled to run LFR for the gear in both Dragon Soul and tier 14 in order to remain competitive -  see this post about something being "optional" if you disagree.

It wasn't an accident that the nightmare system from Trial of the Crusader was changed and the 10 and 25 lockouts were combined - Blizzard realized that people feeling compelled to run the same raid twice as week was not a good idea.  There's a reason the weekly raid lockout exists in the first place.

But now many heroic raiders are worried about the SoO Flexible raid item level because it's actually an item level ABOVE heroic raid gear from the previous tier.  And while this might not matter much for a ring or necklace, it absolutely matters for things like tier pieces (which CANNOT be Thunderforged), trinkets, and possibly weapons (remember the proc weapons from Dragon Soul?).  Heroic raiders are likely going to be compelled to run Flex raid each week for these.

Don't get me wrong - I'm interested in Flex raid and I like the idea of being able to help out friends who aren't as skilled in a difficulty mode that's perfect for them.  However, I do not want to feel obligated to run every section every week for a decent chunk of time (possibly 2+ months).  There are three main ways to avoid this - removing tier, powerful trinkets, and proc weapons, putting Flex on a loot lockout with Normal/Heroic, or simply lowering the item level.

Blizzard's already stated they don't want to remove tier at a minimum and instead are planning to add new things to normal/heroic that aren't available in LFR/Flex.  We'll see how this works out since we don't really have any other details, but I suspect I'll be obliged to run Flex for tier gear at a minimum (which, again, is actually higher ilvl than ToT Heroic tier gear - and if you're about to bring up item upgrades, keep reading).

It also seems unlikely that Blizzard will combine lockouts right now for fear of lessening the people playing Flex.  If they lock it with LFR then that doesn't solve the problem for heroic raiders (though it does help).  If they lock it with normal/heroic then people might not move up from Flex to Normal which is probably what Blizzard would like to see.  One could argue that the people could simply do normal modes first and thus they'll just get gear from the bosses they DON'T kill on normal - and I think I might agree - but for the moment that solution probably won't happen (and is beyond the scope of this post).

Our final option is lowering the item level on LFR and Flex - but here's the rub: that's not possible.  Why not?

Valor gear.

Imagine a world with no valor gear for a moment.  People in full LFR gear have full 502s that are upgraded to 510s.  Overall item level is probably in the 508-510 range (they might be missing a slot or two).

People doing normals would have 522s upgraded to 530s, so probably 528-530 item level.  Heroic raiders would have 535s upgraded to 543s, so 541-543 item level.  These two groups may also have some Thunderforged items (especially if they raid 25 mans) which may boost these numbers slightly.

So, in summary:

LFR player: 509ish
Normal raider: 529ish
Heroic raider: 542ish

This means, for example, you could do something like the following for Siege:

LFR: 522
Flex: 528
Normal: 553
Heroic: 566

Now Flex raid item level is seven below heroic items instead of one above.  But valor gear throws a wrench in the works since those are 522 items available to LFR players.  You can get the following from valor:

Shoulders (not technically valor but vendor bought at exalted Shado-Pan Assault - badly itemized but still 522)

That means you can get 10 items that are 522 without stepping foot into normals (and without doing Oondasta).  Suddenly getting 522 from SoO LFR does not look appealing because more than half of your gear slots have that same item level already.

This is the problem with valor gear in a world where you obtain it without doing normals - it means LFR item levels have to always be higher than the previous tier's normals or else people won't get much from a new tier of LFR.  Something like the Sunwell token system could get around this but Blizzard might have a simpler solution in mind - removing valor gear entirely and only using valor for item upgrades.  This means you only get item levels appropriate to your difficulty.

Another point of note: Blizzard has been moving toward larger ilvl gaps between tiers to act as a progressive nerf.  We're used to 19 in WotLK/Cata.  We saw 26 for ToT.  Now we see 31 for SoO.  Let's go with a value of a 30 item level gap below to act as an organic progressive nerf.

Here's a summary of the expansion's item levels as it actually happened:

483 HoF/ToES LFR
489 MSV Normal
496 HoF/ToES Normal
502 MSV Heroic and ToT LFR
509 HoF/ToES Heroic
522 ToT Normal
528 SoO LFR
535 ToT Heroic
536 SoO Flex
553 SoO Normal
566 SoO Heroic

Now let's remove valor gear (but keep valor upgrades for epic items) and see if we can get something better (using our 30 ilvls between tiers number from above):

463 (Heroic) Dungeons
475 MSV Flex
476 HoE/ToES LFR
482 HoF/ToES Flex
493 MSV Normal
499 ToT LFR
500 HoF/ToES Normal
505 ToT Flex
506 MSV Heroic
513 HoF/ToES Heroic
529 SoO LFR
530 ToT Normal
535 SoO Flex
543 ToT Heroic
560 SoO Normal
573 SoO Heroic

That includes a possible flex ilvl for the whole expansion.  Some things we notice:

1, normal from the previous tier is equal to (technically 1 ilvl higher) than the current tier's LFR - meaning it is valuable in gearing up a new character and provides an alternative to LFR (aside things like set bonuses)

2, flex from the current tier is always 8 ilvl behind heroic items from the previous tier - while set bonuses and insane trinkets/weapons can still cause problems, heroic raiders aren't generally compelled to farm flex mode for gear.

3, everyone has a constant gear progression and never goes through weird situations like people doing ToT LFR and getting 522 gear.  As long as you're doing your desired difficulty, you're golden.

4, instead of LFR being forced into Flex and Flex into normal if they want to do more, these players can try the previous tier's (nerfed) normal and heroic modes respectively if desired since those offer alternative or even better gear than they'd get otherwise.

Obviously it's too late to do anything this expansion - I expect we'll simply need to suffer through whatever we get during SoO.  Hopefully it's not too bad.

But I do find it interesting that Blizzard has backed itself into a corner with LFR item levels due to valor gear and made it so LFR *must* surpass the previous tier's normal.  Perhaps a solution would be to make valor gear equal to the current tier's LFR gear.  So valor would have bought 476 initially, 499 in ToT, and 529 in SoO in our "new" ilvl ladder.  Would have acted as a catch-up mechanism or a way to get slots that refuse to drop for a person in LFR.

Food for thought.