In the cold light of day

Yesterday I published a short announcement about the fact that WoW Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, after months and months of silence, finally addressed — in very generic terms — the widespread unhappiness hunters have about our class in Legion. I described it as a positive sign. I still think it is a positive sign, but there are some significant events that must happen for me to keep that opinion.

First, the positive aspects of the announcement:

  • It was a substantive communication, one that outlined a plan — sketchy, but a plan nevertheless — for making the hunter class whole again. The base plan is: low hanging fruit (numbers/spec balancing) first, then talent trees, and finally spec identity and play style issues.
  • It was an actual communication, a huge change from the months-long silent treatment we had been subjected to.
  • He admitted that hunters underwent some of the most drastic class changes in Legion, that the devs had not followed up on the complex cascade of changes such a rewrite requires, and he said that they fully intend to address this shortfall in this expansion.
  • He acknowledged that the source of most angst among hunters is not damage numbers, but overall class feel.
  • He dropped a big hint that MM/BM might get traps back at some point.
  • He sort of weasel-worded an apology for his reference to Deterrence in Friday’s Q&A.

So there was a lot in the post that gives cause for optimism. But there are also some gigantic unanswered questions.

  • What took you so long to even acknowledge our concerns? Would it have killed you to stick in a few Blue posts that at least gave the illusion that you are working on the problems? Is your time so constrained that you could not have even used the word “hunters” in all your discussions of class concerns in the Q&A sessions you have had? Out of curiosity, what was the tipping point that made you finally address us this time?

Side comment: I am beginning to discern a pattern with Blizz here. They seem only to address major player concerns in response to quantity and emotional outpouring, not quality, of comments. Think back to the Big Huge Gigantic Flap over flying in WoD — absent a player tantrum, flying in the game would be but a distant memory. Think about the recent warlock bullying and spamming and holding-their-breath-until-they-turned-blue methods that did indeed get Blizz’s attention for their class. The hunter community — while declining to engage in warlock tactics — has refused to go quietly and meekly, has continued to express their anger about their treatment in Legion, piling up forum posts and tweets every day.

  • Why did you ignore everything hunters told you about before Legion went live? Our concerns have not changed since then, the same things we gave you for feedback in Alpha, Beta, and the PTR are what we are still pointing out. Hazzikostas said that it is complicated to make substantive class changes in a live expansion, and I get that, but this is a problem of Blizz’s own making. They had the opportunity to do it long before Legion went live, and they chose to do nothing. To say now that they have not figured out how to fix the class problems — as if they are just hearing about them for the first time — rings pretty damn hollow.
  • Realistically, what is the time frame for your third phase of class changes? 7.2? 7.3? Pre-patch for the next expansion? Come to think of it, when can we expect to see the second phase (talent tree) changes?
  • Will you now continue the dialogue with hunters, or was that Blue post intended merely to shut us up for a while? “Dialogue” can take several forms, including follow-through actions as well as additional feedback in forums and on social media.  I want to believe people when they make commitments, but the sad fact is that I — and many other players — still have a lot of trust issues with Blizz. They have yet to dig themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves in WoD. Hazzikostas himself has admitted that actions speak louder than words. OK, we just had the words, now let us see some action.

Honestly, here is what I expect to see unfold with hunters going forward:

  • Minor nerfs to BM and MM in the immediate future — we have already seen some of these — in the name of overall “spec balancing”.
  • Talent tree changes that will not buff the bad talent choices in certain lines, but rather nerf the currently very powerful (“only choice”) ones. Talent tree changes may also include a few new items designed to fill in some play style holes, as it seems unlikely that Blizz will actually give us anything back without also taking something away.
  • Some time in 7.2, traps in some form will be restored to all hunter specs, and possibly some additional mobility will be given to MM hunters. Unfortunately, I do not expect to see the baseline problems addressed. There are just too many and they are too fundamental.
    • For example, I do not expect to see a rewrite of MM play style that actually reflects the “class fantasy” of a real marksman instead of the current “spray everything in sight” approach.
    • I do not expect to see any help for the fact that MM is completely RNG-based.
    • I do not expect to see a skill-based focus generator for BM, nor do I expect any significant improvement in the whole beast control mess, or any fixes to the now-puny surge capability, or any move towards skill-controlled dps enhancements in the artifact tree.
  • Possibly, by the end of the expansion, hunters will be in a somewhat better position than we are now, but watch for Blizz to not learn any lessons and totally destroy the class again in 8.0.

So, yes, I am glad that the Game Director has seen fit to address the hunter community, but I am still angry that it took so long, and I will wait to see some follow-through before I let myself get too excited about it.

Freeze warning in hell!

Holy cow, finally we get a reasonable Blue post from Ion Hazzikostas on the subject of hunter concerns. Not only linked above but also quoted here just because it is such a Big Effing Deal:


If it seems like there’s a lot of “listening to feedback,” and not much in the way of answers or concrete plans, it’s because we haven’t yet formulated those answers, not because there won’t be any or because we don’t care to.

Overall, the 7.0 patch and the Legion expansion probably saw more total change to class mechanics than any other single update in the game’s history. And hunters were among the most affected. That sort of revamp represents the beginning of a cycle of feedback and iteration, not an endpoint, and we know there’s a lot of work left to do here.

In the weeks immediately following launch, the team has primarily been focused on fixing bugs and on overall spec balance. Numerical tuning isn’t everything, but it can be done straightforwardly, often via hotfix, to get changes into players’ hands as quickly as possible. The team’s goal in this phase is for players of each spec to feel like they can succeed in the Legion endgame. But, of course, numerical viability doesn’t mean much if you aren’t enjoying the feel or mechanics of your class.

The next phase of iteration will focus on talent rows that seem devoid of choice, often because there is one dominant “correct” option. Through a mix of numbers balance and some redesign where needed, we’ll aim to improve talent diversity, opening up new playstyles and options in the process. That is our plan for all classes, but it applies especially to hunters, where talent diversity is often sorely lacking. These types of changes require more testing time and iteration than pure DPS tuning: This is why planned changes to priests’ Surrender to Madness, or paladins’ Crusade, were delayed until a later patch in order to allow for more thorough evaluation.

Finally, we’ll move on to evaluating base class and spec toolkits. Those types of changes are the riskiest to make, especially in the middle of an expansion, because they affect the core experience of every player of a given spec. But we don’t plan on waiting an entire expansion to address concerns like the ones that have been raised in this thread. All sorts of potential changes are on the table. For example, in retrospect, while a focus on traps strengthened Survival spec identity, taking so many traps away from Marks/BM entirely was harmful to hunter class identity. But changes like those can only happen in a full patch, and will benefit from a lengthy PTR cycle.

PS: Yes, I realize that hunters don’t have an ability called Deterrence anymore, and I should have said Turtle instead. Force of habit – I also still called Hand of Protection “BoP” for years (though now it actually is BoP again…). Sorry.

I realize I am gullible, but this is a substantive communication, and it really gives me hope for the class I love. Thanks are due to the entire hunter community for keeping the pressure on Blizz — in a respectful way — through months and months of disappointment and rejection.

I’ll parse a little more of this in a subsequent post, but I wanted to get it out there for now.

Groveling for crumbs

I finally forced myself to watch last Friday’s “Q&A” session with Ion Hazzikostas. It was exactly what I expected, basically an infomercial for 7.1, with a few hugs thrown in for the classes Ion loves and a couple of nasty pinches for the class he hates — hunters.

Here are a few facts:

  • Since the earliest days of Alpha, there have been literally thousands of well thought out, serious forum posts detailing fundamental problems with Legion hunter mechanics, overall play style, and failure to adhere to even the class fantasies Blizz espouses.
  • Two months ago — a week before Legion went live — CM Ornyx started a “Let’s Talk” thread in the hunter forum, requesting hunters to tell him what their concerns for the class were. In spite of there being thousands of such posts in the Legion test forums. Hunters responded with detailed examples of poor mechanics and lost “class feel”. Thousands of them, nearly all of which were expressed thoughtfully and respectfully, and which echoed the same concerns that had been expressed throughout the Legion Alpha, Beta, and PTR.
  • Well respected hunters in the community have all written about these fundamental class problems in their blogs and other social media — again since the earliest days of Alpha — even though some have now given up and accepted that the class they loved no longer exists.
  • The overwhelming nature of the concerns is not about damage numbers, rather about the removal of iconic hunter abilities, some terrible mechanics, and the perception that the hunter class has been stripped of nearly everything that drew players to it in the first place.

Here has been Blizz’s response to this:

  • In the “Let’s Talk” thread, a grand total of 3 Blue posts, two of which were admin announcements of the thread initiation and extension, and one of which was a short, insulting comment whose basic message was “Thank you for your interest in class development.”
  • Re-institution of pets as an option for MM, although without any other talent balancing, so that the only real choice is Lone Wolf.
  • Nerfing BM in PvP, because apparently Blizz could not stand the fact that even one hunter spec was viable in PvP.
  • Several “fixes” to Barrage that have arguably made it even more uncontrollable than it was. Note that almost no hunters had ever complained about Barrage in Legion — it was a talent most had learned how to use in WoD, and it was what it was, dangerous if not used judiciously and with the correct positioning, and powerful when used appropriately. But Blizz designed many bosses and trash in Legion such that Barrage was a disaster if used, then had to do some emergency tweaks to it when other players, not hunters, complained about it.
  • In Friday’s Q&A, hunters were banned from the stream when they tried to insert hunter questions. This, despite the fact that in the previous Q&A a small group of asshat warlocks spammed the stream and had previously used bully tactics to take over the Q&A forum — Hazzikostas gently slapped their little hands for their tantrum and then Blizz went on to reward them for it with a ton of attention and a lot of warlock hotfixes as well as plans for substantive changes.
  • Also in Friday’s Q&A, Hazzikostas fell all over himself to apologize to Fury warriors for saddling them with a bad mechanic and for not listening to their Beta feedback. What. The. Hell. Hello? Hunters here. Alpha. Beta. PTR. Live forums. Blogs. Tweets. Lousy mechanics out the wazoo. Ring a bell? No, of course not.

I suppose I am being a tad hard on the new WoW Game Director, but it is difficult to believe your class is being taken seriously when he is conversant in nearly every Legion ability of every class and spec, but casually refers to “Deterrence” for hunters.

I remain totally baffled as to why Blizz is steadfastly ignoring the legitimate concerns of hunters in Legion. At this point I would be happy if they came out and said, “Hunters, stfu, we hate your class and intend to drive a stake through its heart,” or “Hunters, we have screwed up your class so bad that it is not salvageable in this expansion, oopsie, hehe,” or, “Yeah, no one here plays a hunter so we just have a committee throw together a few things for them,” or even, “Hunters, we don’t give a damn about you, you are the throwaway experiment class, live with it.”

Instead we get nothing. We have begged, pleaded, groveled. We have obeyed all of Blizz’s rules for providing feedback. We have seen other classes like warlocks throw a tantrum and get recognition and consideration for their complaints. We have seen Blizz bend over backwards to apologize to warriors for not listening to their Beta feedback. We have seen long Blue posts explaining the entire philosophy, background, and intent for the Brewmaster Monk major changes. We have seen dozens and dozens of hotfix and patch changes for DKs. We have seen great response to the rough time Shadow Priests have had over the past couple of years and a real effort to make them whole again.

But hunters — who have arguably gone through the most significant class changes in the game in Legion — hunters get zero, zip, nada, nothing but contempt and a few lazy, easy changes designed mainly to respond to other classes annoyed with hunter abilities. Not even the courtesy of recognition in the form of a “Fuck you”.

For crying out loud, Blizz, can you at least throw us a bone here? Tell us what is going on with hunters, have a rare moment of honesty and talk to us about our class and what the hell you think about the current state of this class as well as any plans you may have for the next few months for it. 


Leftovers and ruminations

Today’s post is really just a few unconnected thoughts that have been dancing around in the back of my brain for a bit. Sorry, but every once in a while I have to run the mental Roomba just to tidy things up for later…

Q&A session. Today there will be another in the more-or-less regular series of “Dev Talks”, this one being Ion Hazzikostas answering player questions about Patch 7.1. I am not expecting much info, to be honest, more of an infomercial about Karazhan, so I doubt if I will take the time to watch it live. I’ll catch it later this evening when I don’t have much else to do.

I am still glad that Blizz is continuing these pseudo-Q&A sessions, even if they seem to have devolved into a series of softball questions hand-picked for their toadiness. Don’t get me wrong, I do not approve of in-your-face, impolite, selfish, whiny type questions, but there are some very valid and tough conversations to be had between players and devs, and these sessions scrupulously avoid them, it seems.

Two subjects we will not hear about in today’s session (and I will happily eat my words if I am wrong):

  • Timetable for flying in Legion. (I have long predicted it would not happen before the second major patch, and honestly I think now it might not happen until whatever is the last patch of the expansion.) If the subject is even mentioned, expect some kind of saccharine cutesy evasive answer from Hazzikostas.
  • Any mention of the hunter class other than maybe a passing reference as part of a 7.1 attempt to do “minor balancing” of classes as a whole. Blizz seems hung up on the numbers game and refuses to address the wholesale selling out of the entire hunter class play style, along with completely ignoring even their own “fantasy” descriptions.

Game management changes. Today it was announced that Tom Chilton will be moving on, and Ion Hazzikostas will be moving up to take Chilton’s position as Game Director. Chilton will remain with Blizzard but be working on “another project” — unspecified. Stay tuned.

I have no idea what if any effect this management change will have on the game. I am guessing — but it is only a guess — that we will see more and more “prescribed” and “approved” play styles. Hazzikostas, at least as gleaned from his public statements, is a big fan of dictating what is and is not fun in the game. He has said he does not believe that earning gear is fun for anyone, but rolling the dice for it is great entertainment. So I expect to see — if it is even possible — even greater reliance on RNG for more aspects of the game.

Hazzikostas has also told us repeatedly that there is a certain style of alt play that is approved — only for the purpose of emulating your main but with a different class —  and indeed we have seen Legion implement mechanics that actually preclude any but the approved alt play style.

Last, let us not forget that it was likely Hazzikostas who pushed through the disastrous no-fly policy in WoD, the one who stressed to us how “immersive” it was to be road-bound. Expect longer and longer times between flying capability in Legion and subsequent expansions, with, I think, the goal of eliminating the capability altogether. (But of course we will still be able to hand over cash to the Blizz store for cool flying mounts that can easily waddle along the roads!)

My one optimistic hope with this change in management is that Blizz finds someone to fill Hazzikostas’s position who is serious about communicating with the player base, someone unafraid of getting in there and having even the difficult conversations, someone who will institute a professional system of customer communication instead of the “read the forums if you have nothing better to do” approach they currently seem to have.

I finally hit 110 with my druid. Last night I finally dinged 110 with my balance druid, who is also an herbalist/alchemist. Obviously the reason I have been pushing to level this alt first is so as to eventually stop spending upwards of 20k gold a week just to buy flasks and pots for raiding. Of course, I am still not there, as there is a ridiculously long and complex route to even being able to make the flasks I need, much less get to a profession level where there is a chance of getting a few procs. I expect that by the end of next week I should be able to do at least the basic stuff.

I still think the Legion character leveling process is well designed. It moves along fairly quickly and you can vary the experience for each character by varying the zone rotation you choose. But I do find it onerous to be forced to go through the artifact and class hall quest lines just to be able to function in the expansion. Not to mention the requirement to chase artifact power. There really needs to be an alternative to using an artifact weapon for a character you have no intention of raiding with. Of course, this cannot happen, because Blizz now requires you to run instances up through Mythic on every character you wish to use for professions.

Sorry, but alt development and professions in my opinion are still a huge Legion failing.

Escape versus complexity. This is entirely personal, but I find myself in the position of disliking Legion’s political complexity with the whole Nightfallen thing. Alternative Chat has a piece today discussing how refreshing it is to explore these issues in Suramar, and I suppose it is fun for many to sift through these nuanced layers. I am much more simplistic in my game needs. I look to games as pure escapism, as a sort of bubble gum for the mind where things are clearly Good versus Evil and oh by the way Good always wins in the end.

So I hate Suramar, I do the World Quests and achievement quest lines there, but I am most decidedly not drawn to political complexity in a game. Unfortunately, I get far too much of that in real life these days, especially now that the USA is embarrassing itself on the international stage with its soap opera Presidential election. As I said, I like my games to provide escape, not a microcosm of real life. Maybe in a year Suramar will seem fun to me, but just not now.

I’m out for the weekend, and it is looking to be a glorious one in Virginia, with perfect fall weather. I think we can assume there will be grilling on the deck, some bike rides and leaf peeping, and drinking a couple beers in my future. You enjoy your weekend, too.

The people you meet

I have often — far too often — posted stories of players acting badly in the game. Today I am going to tell you a different story, a small incident that made a huge impression on me.

A couple of nights ago I was grinding out some World Quests, among them that one in Highmountain where you have to kill the brown bears that have invaded an area. I love doing this quest on my hunter, because it is easy and quick, and also because lots of non-skinners do it and thus give me a chance to quickly gather up a ton of leather.

The skinning profession is one that Blizz has admitted is not well executed in the current game. It is not a multi-tap activity like herb gathering or mining, and on top of that, if multiple people tap the actual mob for killing, no one can skin it until everyone has looted the corpse. The game does not give any preference to who can skin at that point, making it easy for greedy asshats to swoop in and skin a mob you might have tapped first, and for which you have waited patiently until everyone looted. On top of that, there are players who see that a skinner is following around behind them, and for some reason take pleasure in purposely not looting corpses just so a skinner cannot get the leather. These are not skinners, mind you, just pathetic people who take pleasure in denying something to others for the sake of meanness or for the power rush it gives them.

My point is, there are a lot of fail points when you are skinning. Sometimes it is not a problem and you can gather a lot of leather, sometimes there is no chance, even if there are a lot of corpses lying around. Knowing this, I am always careful to not steal leather from another skinner, because I know what it feels like. Usually it is clear that another player is not a skinner, because they will kill the mobs, loot, and immediately move on. In those cases I just follow them around and get leather. If they seem to hesitate after a kill, I will whisper them and ask if it is OK for me to skin. Almost always, if they remain in the area for any length of time, I will offer to trade them some leather as thanks for letting me skin their kills. I figure I have plenty, and they might appreciate either the mat or the opportunity to sell a bit of it for some gold.

Anyway, that is the background for my story. As I said, I was busy killing bears, as were some other players. I was picking up some leather from other people’s kills as well as from my own. I noticed a priest in the area, doing what seemed to be a speed run for the quest, killing rapidly and not looting. I muttered a couple of bad words to myself, thinking this was someone deliberately not looting just so I would not be able to skin. I wrote the priest off as an asshat and moved on with what I could do in the area.

Then I got a whisper from the priest, something along the lines of “I see you are skinning, I’ll go back and loot my corpses so you can get those, too.” Not only did she do that, but we then proceeded to do some rapid killing together, me sending my pet to aggro a bunch at a time, then both of us AoE-ing them down. After a few minutes, the priest whispered me that she was done, nice running with me, and good luck. (I say “she” — the character was female, I have no idea who the actual player was.) I opened a trade window with her to try and give her some leather, but she refused, saying she was an alchemist and could transmute anything she or her friends needed, thanks for the offer but really not necessary. In the end, when I was done for the night, I sent her a bunch in mail anyway, telling her I knew she didn’t need any, but maybe she could put it in her guild bank or give to someone who did need it, and thanked her for a few minutes of real game enjoyment. I got a really nice reply thanking me for the leather, which she said she did put in the guild bank.

The whole incident felt good, and it gave me a warm, positive feeling that lasted the entire evening. Maybe even beyond.

So, a couple of things about this very minor incident. First, sadly, it was unusual these days. It seems like, even when players are not being deliberately nasty, that everyone is single-mindedly pursuing their own goals and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. I can’t remember the last time I was part of an ad hoc group formed just for a certain area or bunch of mobs. I am as guilty of this as anyone — not only do I not get invited, but I do not issue invitations. I seem to have lost sight of the idea that this is a social game, and it really is more fun when it is played in a group.

Second, this priest went very slightly out of her way to help me — it maybe cost her 20 seconds of time to whisper me and quickly loot her corpses — but it made a huge difference to my game outlook for several hours. And I paid it forward, not only with the mailed leather to her, but I also took a little extra time to help out a couple players in other quests that night who seemed to be struggling with some mobs. Now, I usually do this if I notice someone is having a problem, but the priest’s actions earlier made me pay more attention to my surroundings and notice others having difficulty when otherwise I might not have noticed.

I don’t have any grand insights into this, no major pronouncements about the state of the game. But I did gain a renewed commitment to small acts of kindness. I haven’t been doing enough of that lately, and I need to do better. Small acts, as this priest’s behavior reminded me, can have a big impact.

Go forth. Do good. Rinse and repeat.

What was that about a free lunch?

First, an admin note: Thanks to all my patient readers for hanging in there while I was gone — strep throat took a nasty complication turn and resulted in a short hospital stay, but I am fine now and as soon as I get off the happy drugs I will be back to my normal crabby self. (Or maybe, judging by the tone of this post, I already am.)

While I had all that down time, I decided to make use of the new Amazon Prime feature that gives you — as advertised — a ton of free books and magazines that you can download to your Kindle or via an app to pretty much any mobile device. The service has been widely touted as a nifty perk for Amazon Prime members. And it is. There is a wide variety of reads available, and they are not all crappy things you wouldn’t pay for anyway if you had to, there is a lot of good stuff in there.

But here’s the thing: It’s a giant advertising gimmick. The magazines, for example, include some great ones, but nothing guarantees that they will be available in the Prime free service more than a month or so. Clearly the intent is to “hook” you on a couple, then hit you up with a subscription fee. Same with the books. I read a fair amount of science fiction, and the books available in that genre seem to include a lot of “Book 1 in the 5-book series”, with — of course — the remaining parts of the series not free. Same with popular authors — you get one free, but the rest of the author’s books will cost you.

Now, there is nothing illegal or even underhanded about this, but there is also absolutely nothing altruistic about it. Yes, the items are technically free (if you don’t take into account your Amazon Prime membership fee), but the purpose of offering them is mainly to sell you more stuff, and that is decidedly not how Amazon is marketing the service. In fact, they don’t even mention it in the promotional pieces. And honestly, when you realize the real purpose of it, no matter how jaded you are, you feel kind of duped.

I know you are saying, “Okay, Fi, all well and good, but what the heck does this have to do with WoW?” Well, just that Blizzard has a habit of pulling the same thing on its players. And it seems that the practice is increasing in frequency in Legion.

As advertised: No more limitations on how many specs you can play within your class!
Reality: You must have a separate artifact weapon for each spec, and the commitment required to develop each one is onerous and tedious.

As advertised: No more limitations on how many pieces of crafted gear you can equip!
Reality: The gear, even if upgraded to the max, is at the same or lower level than what you can get far more easily though other means in the game. Also, you can only sell the lowest level gear on the auction house because it must be soulbound for you to upgrade it. Not to mention upgrading it is extremely labor- and time-intensive, to the point that if your character can do so, it almost certainly no longer needs the gear.

As advertised: No more long drawn-out slogs to get legendary gear!
Reality:  Another Blizz opportunity to use the lazy solution of RNG for gear. (And not for nothin’, but it certainly seems strange to me that every member of the Mythic World First contenders — all of them, not just the winners — had a piece of legendary gear. And not the crappy pieces, either. Really?????? Not a single one of those players had the same sort of bad luck many of the Great Unwashed do? Nope, nothing suspicious about that…..🙄)

As advertised: Fun professions! Many ways to level them!
Reality: The “many ways to level them” is actually “You must participate in every activity in the game — often at a high skill level — to level them.”

And what does Blizz get out of these little advertising deceptions? What are they really selling? Monthly Active User (MAU) time, the standard of success by which ActiBlizz now measures every game in their stable. Every one of these so-called Legion “perks” — and more that I did not list — are designed to get players to spend more time in the game than in any previous expansion. Blizz dresses it up as “content” and as “play style choice”, but it is really designed to pad the numbers for Blizz execs. The more people stay active in the game, the better the chances that they will pay to watch esports activities, buy store gear and services (especially the game token in Legion), buy actual and e-tickets to Blizzcon, etc.

As with the Amazon Prime “free reading” promotion, there is nothing inherently bad about this. We are, after all, voluntary customers for this game. The company exists to make a profit, the bigger the better. And the carefully lawyer-parsed words designed to draw us in are not technically false.

But I still feel kind of duped.

Down for the count

Ugh, it’s official: strep throat. I will be sleeping for the next few days, feel free to peruse some archived posts.