Nat Pagle at last

Over the weekend I finally bit the bullet and did the achievements and quests to add Nat Pagle to my followers. Although I am glad to have him, I was getting slightly annoyed towards the end. You can look up the requirements for him here, but they boil down to:

  • Get your fishing to level 700.
  • Go catch 700 more (ones you caught while leveling don’t count) Enormous fish — basically 100 each of the various species of Draenor fish except the trash fish that you catch everywhere.
  • Build your level 3 Fishing Shack.
  • Do a few more quests directly related to Nat — they are not hard and really don’t take too long.

I started trying to get Nat as a follower a few days after WoD went live. I only got as far as leveling fishing to 700, and that seemed to take forever. As is my habit, I leveled to 700 just a couple days before Blizz nerfed the fishing daily to provide 15 fishing levels instead of the 5 I was getting. I thought maxing fishing would allow me to build my level 3 fishing shack, and I was dismayed (ok, maybe livid is a better term) to learn that, having spent hours and hours leveling fishing, I would now have to go out and catch 700 more Enormous fish all over Draenor.

So I pretty much said screw it, I don’t want that stupid follower anyway. Interestingly, this is what I said about maxing rep with Nat during Mists — there was only one way to get rep with him, and it involved bringing him special fish one or two at a time, for a paltry few rep points, which added up to hundreds and hundreds needed in order to advance rep with him, so I just said screw it, not worth it for no tangible payoff. Silly me.

In typical Blizz gotcha fashion, an extremely minor piece of the game in Mists became a WoD Good Thing To Have Done. (Pet battling is the other one that comes to mind, but that particular rant is for another day.) I mean for crying out loud, I diligently brought food and gifts to every single one of those demanding Tillers, became best friends with all of them, but do they reappear in WoD?? No, of course not. I ran dailies until my keyboard keys wore down, just to get rep with every damn faction in Mists — including the previously unknown Tushui Pandaren which required running Wrath dungeons — but does any of that transfer benefits to WoD (apart from the kite mount)?? Of course not.

But the ONE annoying little twit that I ignored in Mists? Yep, of course, that one guy is the one that shows up in WoD.

So as you might have guessed, I was in a less than positive frame of mind to go after Nat as a follower. Still, it is hard for me to just give up on anything. So last week I decided I would go ahead and finish off the stuff required for him.

As it turned out, it was not that bad. I think Blizz must have drastically increased the drop rate for Enormous fish in 6.1. It really only took me about 4-5 hours to get all 700 of my Enormouses, using my Mastercraft Kalu’ak Fishing Pole, some worm supremes, and appropriate bait.

Side rant: Hunters are at an extreme disadvantage using fishing poles, as we have zero attack abilities except for our pets if we are attacked while the pole is equipped. As we can no longer use melee weapons, we are defenseless. I know this peculiarity is why Blizz originally instituted the idea of not having to equip a pole in order to fish, but many of the various lures will not work on the bogus stick pole.

At any rate, I finished the requirements for my level 3 fishing shack, built it, then went after Nat. As I said, the additional quests are not difficult and took me maybe 45 minutes to complete. Still, I was a tad annoyed, because Blizz always does this — make something very long and tedious to achieve and then after you finally accomplish it add several Columbo-like “just one more thing”s. I don’t mind the initial long and difficult thing, but I think the inevitable addons are just screwing with us.

Still, I now have Nat as a follower. Mind you, I can’t buy anything from him because of the fact that I am still a stranger to him, but I have him as a follower. In theory it will be “easy” to become his best friend now, because I can go catch lunkers and turn them in for coins and rep, but something tells me getting enough lunkers will be easier said than done …..

Check one more to-do off my list.

Collecting, solving, socializing — the WoW tripod?

Recently, some of the blogs I follow have focused on the role of individual perceptions of progression in WoW, relating that notion to engagement/lack thereof in the current expansion as well as to the question of “cheating” by buying carries with real cash (once removed). Check out the last couple of posts by The Grumpy Elf, alt:ernative chat, and Grimoires of Supremacy to see what I am talking about.

The essence of the comments on individual progress is that players need to believe they are moving forward — “progressing” — in the game in order to feel like it is worth their time and money. There are of course lots of ways for players to define “progress,” and how I define it may not be even close to how you do.

Some people like to collect things, and if they have more at the end of this week than they did at the end of last week, that is progress. They might be collecting pets, mounts, transmog gear, gold, titles, followers, or achievements, but whatever they collect, it is a numbers driven goal — more X this week than last week is progress, and collecting even more next week and the week after is what keeps collectors coming back to the game. The only limiting factor is the number of collectibles available, because when you have gotten all of them, your engagement factor is gone. WoW is a huge game, and luckily the number of collectibles is similarly huge, and usually even if you get close to the final number more are added through a new patch or expansion. Collecting, although it can be done in groups, is basically a solo activity.

Nearly every player in WoW is a collector to some extent, collecting is a large part of the game after all. But pure item collection is not the overriding interest factor for every player. For some, the game fascination derives from the personal satisfaction of “beating” increasingly complex puzzles, which in WoW usually take the form of combat mechanics, that is to say raiding, specifically progression raiding. For these players, downing a new boss or two every few days, at progressively higher raid levels, is progress. As with item collection, there is a limiting factor — the number of bosses available —  but unlike item collection the number of bosses is quite limited. It is not unusual for many of these extreme complexity-driven players to run out of bosses before new ones are introduced. Sometimes a long time before. For these players, that means their main game engagement factor is gone, and for them the game “lacks content.”

So far I have described two types of players: collectors and puzzle-solvers. Of course, almost no one falls purely into one camp or the other, most players lean towards one but have some interest in the other. It’s a line, and people may be further to one side or the other or squarely in the middle. But it is a useful way to talk about some other aspects of the game. (And as with all generalities, there are outlier exceptions to everything I am going to say.)

The practice of buying carries, for example, might be explained as when a collector decides to collect boss kills and/or the loot derived therefrom. The collector has little or no interest in solving and beating a complex raid mechanic, they are just adding to their chosen collection. Groups that sell carries may have gone as far as they can as puzzle-solvers and so turn to collecting gold or whatever as their secondary game interest.

Now add a third factor: social engagement as a game motivator. People interested mainly in the social potential of WoW can engage positively or negatively. Some positive manifestations include forming or being active in guilds that help their members progress, performing random acts of kindness in the game, carrying friends or even strangers for free in raids, etc. Negative manifestations include collecting or puzzle-solving purely so as to brag to and put down others, ruining the fun for regular players, and — well, trade chat. For the socializers, the limiting factor is the audience. Negative socializers require a large and responsive audience. (“Oooh, what a large and beautiful mount you have!” “Excuse me for daring to express an opinion contrary to yours, O great Mythic Raider.” “Dude you are twisted and perverted, knock it off or I will report you.” Etc.) Their enjoyment is externally derived. Positive socializers only require an appropriate audience — a lone quester who needs help, a population of mediocre but pleasant raiders, etc. Their enjoyment is internally derived.

So back to the buying carries example. I personally have never bought a carry with gold, and I cannot imagine ever doing so. That is probably because I tend to fall pretty far along the puzzle-solving axis, not so much along the collecting one. But I see nothing wrong with others using gold to buy a carry. It is a business transaction, just as much as buying an item in the auction house. Both parties get what they want. And, as long as neither party has violated the Terms of Service, it shouldn’t matter how they got the commodity they are using for the transaction. I think people who consider it cheating to use token-derived gold to buy carries are externally-motivated (i.e., negative) socializers in-game — their audience in their opinion is a little less impressed with them when lots of others can do the same. This diminishes their perceived preeminence in the game.

Extended side trip: Now that I think of it, I have “bought” carries. Towards the end of Mists, when my raiding guild had SoO on farm, we ran weekly Heroic SoO so the primary raid team could cycle all their alts through. (They had a lot of them!) At that time I was still part of the JV, but I faithfully ran my main every week to provide a little extra DPS to help them through. It was a fun group to run with, and I figured I could use all the raid practice I could get. After a few weeks, the Raid Leader invited me to start bringing some of my alts, even if they were not especially well geared and not in the guild. I had not expected this, and told him it was not necessary, but he explained that I had earned it. So I guess in a way I did buy some carries.

I am not a math person, but I can imagine a three-dimensional graph with these 3 factors — collecting, puzzle-solving, socializing — each being one of the axes. Every WoW player falls somewhere on this graph. Much of the complexity in developing and maintaining interest in this game comes from trying to satisfy the biggest clump of players on the graph. When Blizz makes its most spectacular development mistakes, it is because they have — either deliberately or stupidly — misidentified the clump they should be developing for.

 

 

The emperor’s new “token”

 

Blizz's new "token"

Blizz’s new “game time token”

How many of you are going to rush out and buy a 30-day “game time” token from Blizz for $20? Well, yes, I know you can subscribe for a month for $15, but THIS IS A TOKEN! FOR A MONTH OF GAME TIME! See how cool it is? Bet you wish you had this awesome thing, huh? Did I mention it’s only $20?

Yeah, I get it. The whole point of the token is not for people to buy it and use it for game time. It is for people to buy it and pay for other people’s game time. In return, the people they buy the game time for will give them a tip of in-game gold, amount variable and also moderated by Blizz. What could go wrong?

So if you are the original purchaser, this is more of a table bet than an outright gold purchase for you. It goes like this:

You: Ok, here’s my twenty bucks. I definitely need me some in-game gold. How much will I get?

Blizz: Here’s your token. We can’t say for sure how much gold this is worth. You have to log in to see.

You: Um, ok.

At this point, once you log in and check the special auction house tab, there are several alternate scenarios. (Obviously the circumstances of each can be mixed and matched.)

Scenario 1: Going rate is posted at (some high amount of gold) and estimated wait time before sale is a few minutes. You are happy, feel as if your $20 was well spent.

Scenario 2: Going rate is posted at (some mediocre amount of gold) and estimated wait time before sale is a few hours. You are not sure this was the best use for your $20. Could have gotten more gold and faster service through the illicit gold sellers.

Scenario 3: Going rate is posted at (some insultingly low amount of gold) and estimated wait time before sale is, well who cares, you feel ripped off and gullible no matter how fast or slow it sells. Could have gotten even more gold and faster service through the illicit gold sellers.

Scenario 4: You are not allowed to post your token for sale, as there are too many unsold ones still listed. You are advised to wait until this situation has resolved itself, or even better, use your token for game time! At the bargain rate of 33% markup over a regular subscription. You feel ripped off, gullible, and very angry.

Let’s look at it from the other side. Say you are a little short on cash but have a ton of time and want to keep playing this game. You have some gold saved up, not millions, but maybe 50k or so which lets face it is still a lot of gold to most players and not an amount the majority of players have lying around.  You check out the new token sale tab in the auction house.

Scenario 1: Tokens are available, but the lowest one is (some amount that will pretty much wipe out your gold stash). You try and figure out if you can make enough gold in 30 days at this rate to keep playing after this first token runs out. You also try and figure out if you really want this game to turn into one in which you must constantly make gold in order to keep playing. Is that your preferred play style?

Scenario 2:  No tokens are available. The gold price for them dropped so low that token holders do not consider them worth selling.

Scenario 3:  Lots of  tokens are available. Unfortunately the gold price for them is beyond your gold supply. You keep checking back though.

Scenario 4: Tokens are available for what you consider to be a reasonable and sustainable price. You are a happy camper.

Let me point out a couple of things. First, Blizz is happy in all instances because they are now selling 30 days of game time for $20 instead of the usual $15. Second, if you graph the various scenarios above, there is no point at which sellers and buyers will be happy — Scenario 1 for sellers and Scenario 4 for buyers will never intersect.

The going rate — on my server today — for illicit gold is 30k gold for about $23. This is an exchange rate of roughly 1300 gold per dollar. This is a sure thing. You give them $23, you get 30k gold, no waffling. Now maybe Blizz’s tokens will start out for a lot more than that, but of course there is no guarantee. For myself, given all the uncertainties of Blizz’s setup, I can’t see shelling out $20 unless I am certain of getting at least 50k gold in return. Even if there are others who would settle for a lower price, I really am not sure there are many players willing to pay that much gold for a month’s game time. The relative number of potential sellers versus potential buyers would seem not to support this market model. I admit I could be surprised, and this endeavor will be a wild success, but I just don’t see it.

So what it comes down to is, how much real money are you willing to lay out for in-game gold? No, I take that back. What it comes down to is, how much real money are you willing to lay out as a table bet on the chance that you might get an unknown amount of in-game gold? This is not exactly what I would call a sound investment strategy. More like Vegas, where by the way the house always wins.

The only way I see this having a chance of working is:

  • On the Blizz web site, on the page where you buy the tokens, the in-game selling price is posted, along with the scheduled time when the rate will change. That way, you can decide if you think the rate is worth your $20 or not.
  • Blizz offers some of their vanity store items for sale with in-game gold. This will tend to take gold out of the game and help guard against inflation.
  • Blizz posts the daily numbers of tokens listed and sold for each region. That way, you can see if your token will sell in a reasonable amount of time. Conversely, if you are a buyer, you can see if you have a reasonable chance of snagging a token for the amount you are willing to spend.
  • Blizz keeps the token price competitive with that of the illicit gold sellers. (Or maybe other way around, which likely will be a windfall for the illicits if the Blizz rate ends up being a comparatively paltry amount of gold for $20.)
  • To limit speculation and possibly to keep AH queues manageable, Blizz places a cap on the number of $20 tokens an account can buy from the store, say one per week.

How about you? What do you think of Blizz’s new “token”? Will you be speculating in this market?

 

Break’s over, back on your heads*

I’ve been enjoying a little game down time for a few days, due to a slight case of flu that turned into viral pneumonia, which trust me is absolutely not something you want to get. On the mend now, but it is an excruciatingly slow process.

And speaking of excruciatingly slow ….

One of the things I really liked about LFR in 6.0 was that it didn’t pretend to be a real raid. It was basically the comic book graphic novel version of War and Peace. This was by design. You go in, you see the layout of Highmaul and each boss area, you experience the pre-school version of the major mechanics, you kill the boss, boom you’re done. In and out of each wing in 15-30 minutes. I could easily run my 4 level 100s through it by Wednesday each week.

For raiders, it was a quick way to gather quest tokens if your actual progression team was not at the point of clearing every week. It was a terrific practice arena for those alts you were working on to get raid-ready. In fact, if your real raid team was having some problems with mechanics, you could go into LFR alone or in a group and practice some techniques, because pretty much no matter what you did, you were going to down the boss. Since there were relatively few wipes, the frustration levels were way down and consequently most people were — gasp — patient, helpful, and polite. It was perfect for LFR. Yes, yes, I know there were some who complained it was “too easy,” but really what is the point of making LFR difficult? 25 strangers, who will almost certainly never raid together again, are just never going to be capable of executing even semi-complicated mechanics. I offer as People’s Exhibit 1:  Durumu the (Best) Forgotten.

The whole point of LFR in this expansion — or so Blizz claimed — was to function as tourist mode for introduction to raiding. There is just no upside to making it difficult and frustrating. Anyone who thinks it is too easy and insults their finely tuned sense of l33tness doesn’t have to run it. IF Blizz is going to keep LFR as a raid mode (whether or not they should is a discussion for another day), then I submit that the Highmaul LFR model was pretty close to perfect. (Imperator Mar’gok was borderline but I will give them a pass on that one. I can see making a slight exception for a final boss.)

But, as usual, Blizz could not resist snatching failure from the jaws of success. Along came Black Rock Foundry, and the LFR party was over. It was back to a mind- and soul-numbing grind if you wanted to run LFR. BRF mechanics are complex and boss encounters are far too long. Player frustration is causing some of the traditional toxic LFR atmospheres once again. Worse, the failure point for some bosses — looking at you, Iron Maidens — comes ONLY AT THE END OF AN ALREADY INSANELY LONG ENCOUNTER. I mean for crying out loud Blizz, couldn’t you at least engineer the failure point to come early in the encounter?

It generally takes me an hour or more to run one wing of BRF in LFR. Even without the final boss, which comes out tomorrow, that means 12 hours to run 4 characters through. 12 hours a week just to run LFR??? Not gonna happen. Given all the other worthless but semi-required time sinks in WoD, what this means is that I am giving up on running LFR on my alts. Which in turn means I will have to give up hopes of getting the legendary ring on those alts.

The LFR honeymoon, it seems, is over.

This is yet another example of how Blizz’s development philosophy for WoD has had a huge unintended consequence of really discouraging alt play. (At least I hope it is unintended …) They had it right for HM LFR, why oh why did they have to screw it up for BRF?

Ok, for those of you who have never heard the ancient joke behind this phrase, here it is: A guy dies, and as he had not led a particularly exemplary life, he arrives in Hell for processing. As he is getting the introductory tour, he is shown what appears to be a food service area. The “employees” are all sitting around drinking coffee at nice tables, although the floor is covered in what appears to be about six inches of shit. The new guy is relieved, thinks well maybe this won’t be so bad after all. At this point there is an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Attention! Break’s over, back on your heads.” 

Liebster nomination, if you can believe it

I am still dumbfounded over this, but The Grumpy Elf nominated this blog for a Liebster Award. Thanks, Grumpy. I think.

Liebster Award Logo

For those of you unfamiliar with the Liebster, it is an Internet-only award designed to recognize and promote blogs with fairly small followings.

The rules are:

  1. 1. Write a blog post about the Liebster Award
    2. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog
    3. Display the award on your blog
    4. Answer the eleven questions that the blogger who nominated you gives you
    5. Give eleven random facts about yourself
    6. Nominate five blogs that you think deserve the award
    7. Create eleven questions for them to answer
    8. List the rules in your post
    9. Inform the bloggers that they’ve been nominated and provide them the link to your post

As you can see, this is not exactly an exclusive club, the award mechanics are pretty similar to one of those chain letters you’ll see land in your inbox every once in a while, that is if you ever actually look at your inbox which I usually don’t. As you can also see from the rules, there is a fair amount of work involved in accepting a nomination. You are not required to accept, of course, but it seems churlish not to. I mean, who can turn down a nomination for an award with an actual logo as well as a mysterious German name?

OK, enough stalling, on to the business of the day.

Sites I Nominate

I don’t read many “boutique” sites, so most of the blogs I like and respect are pretty large and have certainly already been nominated at least once. There are a couple that might deserve further looks, though, so here goes. And remember, everyone, this is an honor, not/not a burden! (Well, I actually did have 5, but I was so slow in getting this written that Del irium over at Thrill of the Wild took my other two. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

My Questions for Them:

  1. Why did you decide to start writing a WoW blog?
  2. What was your very first WoW character, and if you had it to do over again would you choose the same one?
  3. What is the single best change that has happened to the game over the years?
  4. What is the single worst change that has happened to the game over the years?
  5. Even in a fantasy world, do you think it is possible for the Minnesota Vikings to ever win a Super Bowl?
  6. What do you look for in a guild? Is a guild an important part of your game experience?
  7. What is your favorite inspirational quote?
  8. If — as some have hinted — all classes will have 4 specs in the next expansion, what is the one new spec you would like to see for your favorite class?
  9. What was your most embarrassing “noob moment”?
  10. Any tinfoil hat theories on the Black Prince?
  11. What is your favorite go-to comfort food?

My Answers to Grumpy’s Questions

1.  What is your favorite expansion of warcraft and why do you think its your favorite?

I a pretty sure I am in the minority with this answer, but I have to say Mists of Pandaria. I actually wrote a whole post on this not too long ago. Mists just held my attention for the entire time, I felt like there was always something fun to do, either solo or in a group. (And this is from someone who does not chase achievements much.) I also felt like the lore meshed nicely with the Pandaren story line, it did not seem nearly as contrived as WoD does. I thought the Pandaren had some character depth. The graphics were breathtaking. Scenarios, instances, and raids all held their relevance for most of the expansion — largely due to the continuing value of valor points.

In general, I just felt like Mists offered a ton of choices for players and play styles, choices that WoD has removed from the game, sadly.

2. What is your favorite fantasy book of all time? (fantasy, sci/fi, horror, they all fit)

Very tough to pick just one. For the immense power it held — and still holds — over my imagination, I’d have to go with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I re-read it every couple of years, and every time I find some new richness in its poetry or in the panoramic scope of its story. I am constantly inspired by Good versus Evil allegories, and my optimism for the world is always reaffirmed by the thought that individual courageous acts matter.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is the opposite of vast and panoramic — it puts a microscope on small and insignificant things done in the name of preserving knowledge, even if the keepers no longer have any idea of the power or purpose of that knowledge.

3.  If you could make one change to warcraft what would be it?

I think most of the problems currently with the game can be traced to Blizzard’s management style, so I would probably try and make some major changes there. I would institute a culture of transparency, and I would hire some world-class experts in areas such as complex project management, opinion/polling, economics, and customer relations.

That’s a gigantic and undoable change. If I could make one small change, I would institute a program of random GM monitoring of trade chat on several servers per day, on a rotating basis. GMs would have the power to instantly suspend — for minutes, hours, or days — the most vile of the trolls and hate spewers, followed by an announcement in chat along the lines of “GM Goodguy has given Buttbrain a timeout.” There is just no reason for trade chat to be as awful as it is, and there are relatively inexpensive ways to make it better.

4.  Where would you have your character/(s) call home?

This one is easy. Zouchin Village in Kun-Lai Summit.

5.  Have you ever met anyone in real life that you met online first?

No. I like to keep my online self well separated from my real world self.

6.  If you could add one race not currently in-game at all to the game as a playable race, what would it be?

No fair, Grumpy, these are hard questions, you are actually forcing me to think! Having given it zero thought until this moment, off the top of my head the first thing I thought of was something like a Sprite, a small shapeshifter generally intended to be a caster or healer, but honestly I have not taken it much further than that.

7.  What inspires you to write a post?

Fear, mainly. Fear that I am out of ideas and will have to give up the blog unless I can pull some topic out of thin air. Seriously, though, my main sources of ideas come from experiences I have in the game, spinoff thoughts from other bloggers, and of course the gift that keeps on giving — Blizz management. I keep a rough drafts folder where I dump bits and pieces of ideas, and sometimes I reach in there and force myself to get creative with one of them. Sometimes I have only one word in mind, but I open my writing app anyway and start typing away and can usually come up with a full-fledged post just by letting my brain do its own thing. (Yes, I know most of you out there suspected this was the way I do it.)

8.  What other types of games do you like?

Quite a few, actually. I was brought up playing card games, and I still enjoy a good card game with friends — bridge, spades, whist, hearts, poker. I don’t play any other online games, though. I did try Wildstar because I thought it had a lot of potential, but I just could not get interested in it. My favorite type of non-MMO game on a computer is a ruler-of-the-universe type. I used to spend hours playing Master of Orion, for example. I tried Sims but quit when I failed to toilet train them — there is a certain level of detail that I really do not need in my games.

9.  Do you snack while gaming, if so, on what?

Hardly ever. I prefer to take breaks, have real meals when appropriate. About the only time I snack while playing is when I am raiding. During the break I will run downstairs and get some Fiber One gummy fruits, bring them back to the computer, and separate them all by color to munch on for the remainder of the raid. Not sure why that last step is important, but it is.

10.  If you were stranded on a desert island with three CDs and they were the only three you would ever have, which ones would you bring? (no greatest hits or live, only standard release)

  • Crosby, Stills, and Nash Daylight Again
  • Willie Nelson Across the Borderline
  • Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon

11.  What is your favorite lore moment and how would you inject your main character into that story?

Well, I am not much of a lore player at all, but I did really enjoy the scene just before you get the Legendary Cape, where Lorewalker Cho (I think) did the video recap of how your character arrived at this point. I watched the whole thing on every character I got the Legendary on. I think if I could inject a main into one part of the lore, it would be to play a bigger part in the story of the Black Prince, to do some quests and achievements that would ensure he turns out to be the true eventual savior of Azeroth — as atonement for his father’s excesses.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1.  I grew up in Minnesota.
  2. Jello makes me gag.
  3. I have a Master’s degree in Slavic Linguistics.
  4. I approach gardening as for combat.
  5. I spend my Saturdays at the pottery studio.
  6. I play WoW on a Mac. (Don’t judge.)
  7. I was in the Army.
  8. I am an incurable list-maker.
  9. I play several musical instruments but can’t sing a note.
  10. My favorite physical activity is biking.
  11. I have an irrational fear of snakes, but spiders, bugs, or any reptile with legs — no problem.

 

Damage meter tyranny

There’s a thought-provoking post over at The Thrill of the Wild today that suggests there may be more efficient ways to apply AoE damage in raids than just madly spamming Multishot at large packs of adds. It’s definitely worth a read. But the part that got me to thinking was a parallel thread in the piece, hinting at the psychological dependency many of us have on raw numbers.

Usually when anyone asks me about my damage numbers, I will do a virtual airy wave of my hand and say something like “Oh I never really look at numbers.” That, of course, is a lie. By claiming to pay no attention to them, I am just insulating myself from a) criticism that I am slacking if the numbers are low, or b) unwanted attention if the numbers are high. I admit that I do run a damage meter while raiding (I use Skada), but I rarely look at it unless the raid as a whole is doing badly. However, I do pore over numbers in the logs after every raid, and sadly I tend to measure my performance solely based on big numbers, both for overall damage and DPS. If I am very low on the charts, I feel that I did badly, if I am high on them, then — it pains me to say — I feel pretty darn smug. I know there are plenty of other ways to measure raid performance, and thankfully my raid leaders do use them, but when I evalute myself I really only look at the damage numbers.

I consider myself to be, at best, a slightly above average hunter raider. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being your stereotyped really clueless hunter and 10 being world class, I am a pretty solid 5, maybe 5+ on a good day. My raid awareness is better than it used to be, but could still stand a lot of improvement. In fights requiring a lot of movement, my damage takes a bigger hit than it should given a hunter’s great mobility. I am not the best focus planner, so I lose a significant number of signature shots. I have a bad habit of mashing keys, sometimes causing certain shots to be clipped. I am very clumsy with frequent and rapid target switching.

I say all this to point out that — even given as average and casual as I am, and how much I may try to brush aside damage meter readings — I get a rush when my numbers are high and I am annoyed when they are low. I will go out on a limb and say this is true of 99% of raiders in this game, whether they admit it or not. Admit it, you are one of that 99% too.

This is one reason it is difficult — especially in a pug — to get people to volunteer for utility duties. Almost every time, such duties cause a loss to personal damage numbers.

Here’s a perfect example. Last night my raiding guild downed Beastlord Darmac. My assigned role in this fight is spear hunter — Heavy Spears are my primary targets, boss and other adds are only secondary. Since I am SV, my tactics are usually to dot up all the ones in range, then finish them off one by one. If I can get some collateral damage on pack adds with Barrage or Multishot or even a quick Explosive Trap, that’s a bonus.  Unfortunately, the spear dispersal pattern is not usually such that one Multishot will get them all, so I spend a lot of time repositioning and firing off Arcane Shots at single targets. And of course more Arcane Shots lead to needing more long cast focus generating shots. Last night I opted not to leave my pet on passive and on the boss, instead switched to Blink Strikes figuring the extra DPS on the spears might help, but even with Blink Strikes you lose a lot of pet damage by switching targets. As I said, we did down the boss, but my personal DPS was a disaster. This was a fight that for me required lots of movement as well as frequent and rapid target switching ( see above). The spears each have relatively low health, consequently they would go down faster than I could establish any kind of efficient rotation, and if I did manage to get a signature shot off, much of its damage was wasted because the target died too quickly. Even when there were no spears and I could switch to the boss, it was usually not long enough to establish a good shot rhythm before the next set of spears came out.

So in this case, I did the job I was assigned, I did it pretty well, I had fun (I kind of like utility duties), and the team was successful. So I should have been happy, right? Wrong. When I looked at the logs afterwards and saw I was on the bottom of the damage charts, my heart sank. This is how strong a hold these arbitrary numbers have on us.

Damage meters are useful tools. But they need to be used intelligently, which is surprisingly harder to do than most of us would think.

I would never suggest that damage numbers are irrelevant. This entire game is numbers-based, and high damage is a plus in the big picture. Raid teams need to strive for the highest damage they can generate. But, as Del irium pointed out in the blog I cited at the beginning of this post, generating higher team damage may mean generating lower individual numbers — a clear example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Gear and “tier”

As I am sure you all know by now, over the weekend, Bashiok dropped a little blue “nugget” telling us that there will be a hotfix this week to upgrade gear from Black Rock Foundry and top level crafted gear by 5 ilevels. After announcing the change, he went on to tap dance like crazy to make sure we all understand this by no means implies that BRF is a second “tier” in this expansion, nope, no way, don’t even think it. See, what it is, is just a different “zone” that happens to be a tiny bit harder than the Highmaul “zone” and so maybe it should give slightly better gear. That’s all. No biggie.

Well.

First, a short comment about the gear change itself. I am not sure I care much one way or the other, but if I had to pick a position I guess I would say it’s probably a reasonable change, given the realities of both raid “zones.” As Bashiok explained, people feel kind of cheated when they finally fight their way to victory over bosses harder than Highmaul, only to be rewarded with gear no better than or worse than they already have. I mean, why even do it? You are much better off moving from normal HM to heroic than starting BRF — you know the fights and you get better gear. So I think it makes sense to increase the gear levels for BRF.

But the bigger question is, why all the fancy footwork to explain away what was clearly a miscalculation on Blizz’s part? Bashiok sounded positively Clintonesque  — “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” — when he redefined “tier.” When someone splits hairs over lexical nuances in order to make their point, it’s a sure sign their argument is weak.

Just a few short weeks ago, I praised Blizz for coming out and explaining their raid strategy for WoD. Whether people agreed with the strategy or not, at least and at last Blizz was laying out what it was and where they wanted to take it. This, I wrote, was a huge step forward, hopefully on the way to more transparency in their design decisions. Bashiok’s comments are a step backwards.

Look, the simple fact is, Blizz had a vision to make BRF a sister raid to HM, and they overtuned it. So much so, that BRF really qualifies as the next tier. So why not just admit that the whole “sister raid” strategy didn’t work, fix the gear issue, and move on? I applaud Blizz for trying new raid concepts, some of them will work and some won’t. There is no shame in failing, the shame comes in refusing to admit it and papering it over with flimsy definitions of “tier” and “zone,” just so they would not have to admit the initial concept might have been flawed.

And that original strategy might indeed have been flawed, even if BRF had been perfectly tuned. For the sake of argument, let’s say when BRF was introduced it was tuned exactly the same as HM. What that ends up feeling like is a single raid with 17 bosses and a location change. I don’t know about you, but that does not sound like fun to me. Most likely it did not sound like much fun to the devs either, so they made BRF more challenging and therefore more interesting, but in typical Blizz fashion the project manager failed to coordinate all the pieces. Apparently, after ten years, no one at Blizz remembered that players expect better gear for harder fights. Possibly they could send an intern down to Staples for some sticky notes, so they could post such reminders on their computer screens.

As it turned out, with BRF having been tuned pretty much a tier harder from the get-go, Blizz handled it badly. First, they failed to understand that it was more difficult than HM. This is a puzzle — the PTR comments certainly should have warned them this was a problem. Had they paid attention, they could have retuned it before it went live, or admitted they had created a second raid tier and adjusted both the gear level and the release dates. That they did none of these things is baffling.

So Blizz, thanks for fixing the motivational problem of gear in BRF. It’s a decent band-aid. But for crying out loud, don’t insult us with lectures about the various possible meanings of “tier.” The emperor is buck naked, and no matter how much you try to define “magical clothes” the fact remains that his arse is still hanging out.