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.


  1. Get off my lawn!! ;-P

  2. Rather than calling gearing "nerfing" content, I prefer the more positively spun argument that gearing is a means of character power progression, which you touch on. If you ignore normal/hardcore raiding for just a moment (a single moment, honestly!), even for those folks who are trundling around the face of Azeroth exploring, more gear allows you to do more things. Trying to kill mobs on the Timeless Isle at an ilvl of 450 is an extremely difficult and frustrating process. Not impossible, but extremely unlikely. But ilvl 500? Sure! Compare that to killing mobs in Blasted Lands as a level 30. Not impossible, but extremely unlikely. But at level 55? Sure! And that power level allows the Explorers to explore effectively, rather than hiding in corners all the time and hoping that despite the fact they have an aggro radius approximately the size of France that they can sneak by that mob.

    Levels and gearing are just two methods of the same thing: representing your character's level of power. It's just really strange that when you suddenly decouple the leveling system from the gear progression system (which happens at max level in most MMOs), people suddenly take an issue with replacing their gear all the time. Nobody seems to complain about getting and replacing gear as they level.

    But I figured I'd write a post about it because I could just talk about this portion of the gear treadmill forever. Right here:

    1. I tried pointing this out to Balkoth on Stubs article (I think) that gear is about power. I never did go into the detail you did here though. I wholly agree. Increasing player power is what nerfs content, but positioning gear in an argument as solely an instrument of nerfing diminishes the fact that there's another very important part of the game. Character building. Gear is not there to nerf content, but it does as a result of character development.

      The only nerfing blizzard does is encounter design in my opinion.

    2. "Increasing player power is what nerfs content, but positioning gear in an argument as solely an instrument of nerfing diminishes the fact that there's another very important part of the game. Character building."

      So why is it important to have 31 ilvls between tiers instead of 5-10 or something similar? Why is it important for character power to improve such a large amount each tier? Surely getting 15-20% stronger would be fairly significant instead of like 60% stronger.

      I'm not saying it's not also character development, but Blizzard is using a massive amount of character improvement, far more than in the past, in order to avoid explicit nerfs.

      "The only nerfing blizzard does is encounter design in my opinion."

      I don't have the quote on-hand, but I believe Blizzard's explicitly mentioned they're trying to do things like the legendary quest and valor upgrades (I know they said it about valor upgrades, at least) instead of nerfing the raid by 5-10% or whatever. That's why they keep increasing the ilvl gap between tiers and why you didn't see a nerf in MoP while a tier was current.

  3. The reason I didn't mention the character power progression is because players really, really hate to lose stuff -- and once they feel they've "earned" it they're very loathe to give it up for any reason. By phrasing it as nerfing it's easier to understand why you HAVE to replace your old gear in the new raids and why the difference HAS to be so large.

    That said, your point about being better able to handle stuff like Timeless Isle is certainly true and your point about how gear is effectively replacing character levels at max level is something I doubt most people consider.

    P.S. When expansions hit, a lot of people complain about "losing" their raid gear and replacing it with greens. I'll definitely check out that post.

  4. I think the biggest thing in this discussion is just the different backgrounds you all come from. Gear definitely means different things to raiders than it does to explorers. I think you all can be right about certain things, but with the caveat that it's for the way you play the game.

    All of the changes to the way you get gear in game have been done with a reason, often to fix a problem from the past. Some of the choices have their own problems, but it's always a tradeoff.

    I dislike how large the disparity has gotten between the two poles within a given tier, but it was done for a reason. The main reason I hate it is my personal situation though of generally being on the lower end of the tier of gear while hanging out mostly with people on the upper end. No matter how good I am skill wise I can't compete against even the bad people that are near the upper end of the tier of gear. But if they didn't make the difference in character power that great then there are a lot of fights that a lot of people would never see. As Balkoth said there are very few gear checks in game any more, so for more people to clear the same content, character power has to increase significantly. Vanilla gearing was a significantly flatter curve, but people got upset that only a very small percentage of people saw much outside of MC much less Naxx three instances later.

    If you don't raid then your gear matters much less from an allowing you to see content point, and becomes more about feeling like your character is still progressing. It can suck to not get an upgrade for a long time because of RNG and feel like your character isn't progressing at all. I do mostly LFR and it sucked to run Tsulong 25+ times and never get a weapon.

    As for content becoming obsolete, yes it's sad to think of all the time spent on it and it becoming obsolete. The other side of the coin though was having to run everything. We did that in Vanilla, and to a lesser extent BC, and that sucked too. The changes to the gearing curve were done in large part so that you didn't feel the need to run everything. People complain about running the same raid now for 4 months, in vanilla you ran MC for 2 years even when you were working on content three instances later.

    1. P.S. Not ignoring your two subsequence posts Rowan, working on writing a response, just takes longer than dashing off a quick reply or two here.

      "No matter how good I am skill wise I can't compete against even the bad people that are near the upper end of the tier of gear"

      You say you do LFR -- are you saying you can't compete with bad people in normal/heroic gear or something? Or are you saying your gear is behind the current tier of content?

      "People complain about running the same raid now for 4 months, in vanilla you ran MC for 2 years even when you were working on content three instances later."

      Yeah. And in BC you were often running SSC/TK while doing BT/Hyjal and then BT/Hyjal while doing Sunwell -- plus Gruul for DST. We spent so much time farming bosses for loot compared to progression, kind of funny now.

    2. I am usually LFR geared. Most of the people I hang out with are Heroic geared raiders. It was the same at the end of cata, but the difference was not nearly as big in terms of dps.

      Definitely was familiar with the DST run every week.We tried to do SSC and TK as little as possible though after getting everyone keyed.

    3. At the end of Cata heroic raiders had 410 ilvl and you had 384 ilvl -- gap of 26.

      Now you'll have 436 ilvl and heroic raiders will have 474 -- gap of 38 ilvls.

      If we assume 1 ilvl = 2 DPS, that's a 67% difference in Cata and a 112% difference now -- they'd be doing 27% more damage relatively speaking. So yeah, the gap definitely is bigger.

  5. "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."

    This is only part of the reason just as the phrasing of gear as a nerfbat was sort of an inverted line of reasoning.

    In vanilla, there was very much an issue with the costs of raiding. Consumables were dear to an advancing gear and that stuff cost lots of gold. Farming Plaguelands (especially Tyr's Hand) was a known farming spot, not just for bots, but for players because the trash dropped the most coinage for time to kill. Daily quests preceded the exorbitant mount costs of BC and were the primary driver of this shift in content design. Dailies were there to make raiding more affordable. Large cash drops from boss kills weren't enough and they recognized that many raiders were struggling to fill the war coffers. All raiders weren't affected equally by this, but it was a fact of life that at level 60 there were far to few ways to entertain yourself and earn gold to participate in the server economy. Dailies were slowly introduced in EPL, then Zul'Gurub dailies then the Cenarion Circle daily hub. These all preceded the ridiculous mount fees of BC (and there were only 2 kinds of mounts in vanilla, so this wasn't an issue even though they were expensive).

    1. "In vanilla, there was very much an issue with the costs of raiding. Consumables were dear to an advancing gear and that stuff cost lots of gold."

      But dailies did not help with this -- consumable cost is player driven (players have to gather and craft it) so simply injecting more gold into the economy causes inflation and no one is better off. Having twice as much gold doesn't help if everything is twice as expensive. The only way to reduce the relative cost of consumables is to make the materials easier to get, make less materials required, or make less consumables required.

      "Daily quests preceded the exorbitant mount costs of BC and were the primary driver of this shift in content design"

      1000g for the mount was considered an exorbitant cost in Vanilla from what I saw -- the 5000g flying mount was more common in BC than the 1000g mount in Vanilla by far.