More inexplicable changes

And I quote from yet another unbelievable Blizz post yesterday:

New Ranks for Warlords Crafted Items
Two new ranks of upgrades have been added to Warlords Crafted items, “Mighty” for rank 5 at item level 700, and “Savage” for rank 6 at item level 715.
Crafting the new upgrade items requires Felblight Felbood, a new reagent that can be obtained from Fishing, Herbalism, Mining, or Skinning in Tanaan Jungle.through the Barn.
The new recipes can be purchased from visiting Garrison traders.

Yes, folks, the busy little beavers at Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department are at it again, cranking out more of their crackpot ideas. And in their usual hard-hitting, hands-on project management style, Blizz management has vaguely waved their hand and muttered something like “Yeah, whatever you wanna do. Someone get me the latest sales figures on the token!”

There is so much wrong with this decision I hardly know where to begin. With the big picture first, I guess:

Blizz, how about a nice long explanation about what you want to accomplish with all of Patch 6.2? What is your vision of where that patch will take the game?

I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here and assuming they do have such a vision. If they would just explain it to us, we could put seemingly ridiculous changes into context. But honestly the changes announced so far point at them having zero vision, no organized plan. The only way I can explain them now is that they put a big anonymous suggestion box in the lobby at Blizz Headquarters and are implementing changes by pulling the suggestion slips out randomly, like lottery tickets.

I would easily accept most well thought out explanations from Blizz. Maybe they realized much of WoD is not working, they have identified these three or five or ten things that are the cause of it not working, and here is how they are going to go about fixing those things. Or maybe they have completely given up on the entire xpac and the whole purpose of Patch 6.2 is to pave the way for the next xpac, so we will see changes geared towards that.

But no. No explanations from Blizz, just some snarky comments about how sheesh they can’t be expected to explain every little change because they are Very Busy People, and we are not to worry our little heads about such things, they know what they are doing. Uh huh.

Here’s the thing. Some changes are indeed trivial, but others are not, and Blizz for some reason cannot distinguish between the two.

So now in Patch 6.2 our garrison barns will be worthless. This announcement comes on the heels of announced changes that will make the dwarven bunker/war mill worthless. (See The Grumpy Elf’s post on this.)

Its as if, once players start actually accepting and using game mechanics, Blizz goes into panic mode and must immediately change those mechanics. Look at reforging — players were actually using it to max out hit and expertise, oh no, it must go! Aspect of the Fox was actually being used (somewhere, by a small group of raiders) to *gasp* ALLOW CASTING ON THE MOVE IN RAIDS! Who knew those sneaky little players would actually use something the way it was designed for, clearly it must go!

And now that most of the complaints about garrisons have subsided, now that some players have figured out how to use the barn to make gold and how to maximize the usefulness of the bunker/mill, it is obviously time to make these buildings obsolete.

Here is yet another inexplicable mixed message from Blizz. On the one hand they are cramming garrisons down our throats by requiring them to be at level 3 in order for us to be admitted to the new content, and on the other hand they don’t want us to use them in any way that might actually benefit us.

Again, Blizz is taking away player choice, forcing a particular game style on everyone.

Tinfoil Hat Theory:  By making the announced change to how Felblight is collected and the other changes making garrisons less useful, Blizz is trying to enforce their “immersion” fixation on all of us. Players responded to their stubborn position on no more flying, ever, by pretty much holing up in their garrisons and doing their mat gathering there. They were not experiencing Blizz’s idea of the perfect game, which is galloping around on the ground, fighting your way through mob after annoying mob just to get to an ore node or some worthless “treasure” or a quest location! How dare they?

Once again, Blizz was pissed that players were actually playing the game by using the rules Blizz set up. So now, if you ever expect to get required crafting resources, you WILL play Blizz’s notion of “immersion”. You WILL spend huge amounts of time gathering resources, fighting other players, annoying mobs, and of course the inevitable botters, just to do so. You will be immersed or Blizz will by god know the reason why. They have the power, they are the power, and you will be made to understand that your wishes mean nothing to them.

In short, Blizz is throwing a tantrum that the players are not playing the way they are supposed to!

The floggings will continue until morale improves . . . .

These changes are not trivial. They have a significant effect on game play. It seems unprecedented for such major changes to occur with such frequency in the middle of an expansion. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to explain them and seems to implement them at random, forcing us to assume there really is no one there who even gives a crap about the player base any more. Or that the tinfoil hatters are right.

Proving Grounds revisited

Yesterday I decided to try and gear up my destro warlock and discovered, when I went to queue up for the 3 instances needed for round two of the legendary, that I had not yet completed the proving grounds requirement. So I took a deep breath and entered the PG instance.

I have only done the WoD version on my two hunters and on my MW monk, all of them when they were at relatively low ilevels. The instance starts at 615 and scales up the difficulty if your gear is above that level. I think my three characters were all around ilvl 600 when they did it, but the instance does not scale down the difficulty to account for anything below 615.

The DPS PG is ridiculously easy for a hunter — even an undergeared one, and especially a survival hunter — and I had zero problems getting silver on both of mine, first try, plenty of time left over.  (And no, I have no interest whatsoever in getting gold or god forbid endless.) My MW was a little more challenging, it took me about 6 or 7 tries to get the silver. It’s been awhile, but I seem to remember that I got much better results when I pitched in with some damage to help out the pitiful DPS NPCs.

My lock is somewhere around 652 ilevel, and honestly getting silver was not a walk in the park. I got bronze immediately, but it took me a few tries to get the silver. I attribute most of this difficulty to my lack of recent practice with my lock. Once I switched around a few talents to get more AoE power and had regained some proficiency with using my cooldowns, I was fine.

The experience made me think a little about the whole PG concept. I recall that I was pretty excited about it when it was announced for 5.4, thinking it would be a great way — finally — for tanks and healers to practice without subjecting a group to the painful realities of their learning curve. In fact, Blizz promoted it this way, saying it would be a tutorial  experience, a hands-on way to improve your skills. Unfortunately, I envisioned a somewhat grander and more useful tool than what we got, but still it was a good game addition.

In the hype leading up to WoD, Blizz said that the PG would be improved by providing much more in the way of tutorials, and also that it would be a requirement for heroics. I think this was yet another example of Blizz over-promising, as what I see is that the “more tutorials” consists of that NPC “teaching” you to not stand in bad shit and to interrupt casters. Big whoop.

I don’t feel I can comment on the heals PG, as I have only done it a couple times. But I’ve done the DPS one now something like 10 times on various alts, up to silver. It has one or two extremely limited uses, which I will discuss below, but in general it stinks as a DPS tutorial or even as a DPS gate for heroics. In my opinion, it is basically just an AoE race. The single target guys are easy to deal with, and the required “movement” consists of getting behind the shield dudes and kiting that Big Ball o’ Wax so that it hits a mob.

Where the challenge comes is when you have to apply AoE on those disgusting little rabbit creatures as you are killing the single targets. You cannot engage the rabbits one by one or you will run out of time. This is simple for a hunter and a lock, not so simple for some other classes. Classes/specs that lack a robust cleave or AoE will have a significantly harder time completing silver in my opinion. Not sure I will even attempt it on my arcane mage, but that is one example that comes to mind.

The only use I can see for the current PG is that it forces you to practice with your class/spec buttons. That’s it. So if you have not used your character for awhile, it serves as a quick refresher. Or if for example you leveled your hybrid as DPS but really want to play it at level as a healer or tank, the PG  can help you practice a couple of rotations as a practical exercise that is different from using a target dummy. Will it teach you how to tank or heal? Not even close.

There is no good reason to require PG silver for heroics. Beyond a pre-school kind of “training” it is meaningless as a predictor for competence. I am not saying Blizz should get rid of the requirement, just that it is useless as one. It’s like requiring players to visit Goldshire before they can queue for heroics — possibly interesting, more likely annoying, but completely unrelated to performance in an instance.

I still believe there is a lot of potential for the idea of Proving Grounds. For example, offering a better variety of scenarios would be interesting. You might choose, for example, among scenarios including little to no movement, high movement, single target or lots of adds, tank switching, raid-wide damage versus heavy tank damage for healers to contend with, etc. You could also work on certain mechanics in a PG. For example, the conveyor belt mechanic has been used a lot since 5.4, so having that in a PG  might be useful as an option.

Another nice innovation would be the option to take one or two people into the PG with you. This would be useful in lots of circumstances. For example, someone just learning a new role or class might ask the guild expert on that to give them pointers while in the PG. One or two raid team members might want to work on some specific coordination techniques. Lots of possibilities.

Proving Grounds in their current state are close to useless, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean Blizz should abandon them. It would be nice to see them expanded and improved in the next expansion.

Last week’s activities

Bittersweet game week last week, did some “finally” things — finally leveled my Mage, finally pulled the plug on my social guild, finally hit a gold goal, finally came up with an alt strategy I can live with.

Frostwolf Ghostpup

You gotta admit this is cute!

But first — I really do not do Archaeology as a profession, more by accident. In WoD, my activity consists exclusively of collecting artifacts only by what I can get while mining. My expectation is that every final artifact will be unusable junk. So I was astounded last week when I suddenly got this little guy, who looks pretty cool with Gara.

As I said, I finally leveled my mage, dinged 100 last night. Not really a fun alt to level, but that is just because I don’t have a good feel for how to play a mage. I tend to think of them as very squishy petless hunters, which of course leads to extremely bad play style. Some of the more challenging level quests I just refused to do, as they were too annoying for me. For example, after getting my little cloth butt kicked a couple of times by that first guy (Crushmaul?) in the Ring of Trials, I just abandoned that whole quest line, even though I was about a level above the normal point at which you get it. I was about 99 1/2. My hunters and lock just breezed through the whole thing at 98. Like I said, I don’t play a mage well at all.

I did a couple more quests, got to about 3-4 bars from 100 when I hit the Hemet Happy Hunting Grounds bonus quest. I ground through a few wolves, and was feeling pretty good about myself after downing both Lupe and Big Pete. I had one more wolf to go, and of course I inadvertently pulled a couple, along with some of those nasty Talbuks. It was touch and go, and then suddenly three things happened simultaneously: I died, I completed the bonus quest, and I dinged 100. My screen was a riot of warnings and colors. As soon as I rezzed, I hearthed back to my garrison and started the level 3 projects. I will have to go back and do the Pinchwhistle Gearworks quest line so I can get my salvage yard up and running, but after that I am done with mage questing until the next expansion!

I’ll save any comments about my gold goal and my alt strategy for another time.

The other big “finally” thing I did was leave my social guild. Even though, as I have written before, it has been teetering on the brink of extinction for a long time now, it was still a tough decision for me. I know that guilds are really just artificial social groupings in a computer game, but there are real people involved. I had been with this guild for almost five years, an officer for the last four of those years. I had raided with it twice a week nearly every week, organized activities, had “lively discussions” about guild direction in our officer meetings, looked after the care and feeding of the guild bank, had some great hilarious times and some not so great times. But even in cyberspace you grow close to some of those people after spending so much time with them.

In the end, though, I realized that what I love so much about this guild is what it used to be, not what it is. That is a very hard thing to see, and it takes you awhile to accept it even after you see it. All our recent recruitment attempts failed miserably. Most nights for the last few months I was one of maybe 1-3 people logged in. Hours would go by with no guild chat whatsoever. Raids only happened by having three guilds involved, and my own guildies comprised maybe 3 of a 12-15 person raid team. Even those teams were more like pugs, as it was really never the same group that appeared on a raid night, there were always key personnel swapping out.

Still, it was a tough decision to make. I wrote an extensive external email to the GM and to the raid leader explaining my decision. The GM was supportive and understanding, and the RL was a butthead. Like I said, you get to know people after 5 years, so neither reaction was a surprise to me.

It was the right decision, though. Already I can see a difference in my perception of the game, now that I don’t have those raid and guild responsibilities dragging me down and soaking up my play time. I feel like my time is much more my own, and I feel like I am once again starting to enjoy the game on my own terms.

Like I said, a bittersweet week.

Big pictures

We all have cranky, snarky days, and yesterday was one of mine. Anyone who read my post yesterday probably figured that out already. If you didn’t read it, don’t bother, it was simply an extremely short list of the things I like about Warlords of Draenor, with the not-too-subtle implication that everything else about the expansion sucks. A perfectly valid question after reading it would have been, “Sheesh, Fi, if you hate the game so much, why are you still playing?

The fact is, I don’t hate the game. In the big picture I still love it. If I didn’t, I WOULD quit, I have lots more productive ways to spend both the money and time I now spend on WoW. The reason I have been so negative about WoD is because I see big-picture game development trends in it that, if continued, threaten to destroy the things that drew me to the game in the first place.

It turns out the answer to the question, “Why do I love this game?” is complicated. In truth, I don’t understand all the various factors myself. But I can one major one, from which lots of others derive.

I am a planner and analyst, both by nature and by trade. Combining those traits with my tech geek side, World of Warcraft becomes the perfect relaxation and escape mechanism. It is a layered, complex game that allows you to engage at almost any level, from just wandering around by yourself killing stuff to solving intricate tactical problems as part of a cooperative group. You can engage on an economic planning level by playing the auction house or trade game, becoming wealthy or going broke like some vast game of Monopoly. You can play the social game by passively watching or actively engaging with other players, either negatively or positively. You can put some music on and just zone out with great graphics, picking herbs or mining ore.

I love this game because I can choose the level and type of involvement I need at the moment. I get nervous when I suspect someone *cough*Blizz*cough* is tampering with that aspect of the game, insidiously steering it — and all players — towards a single level of involvement and style of play. It feels like something I love is being dismantled one hotfix and one patch at a time. So I lash out, partly to try to save the thing I love most about the game, and partly just out of outrage that is being done sneakily.

Because one other character trait I have is that I abhor lying, can’t abide it either in myself or in others. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I told a small social fib — if you are showing me your baby and I happen to think it is the ugliest baby I have ever seen, when you say “Isn’t she beautiful?” I am likely to say something along the lines of “She sure is something!” rather than lie outright or be rude. When other people lie to me, I feel insulted and used. Insulted because apparently they think I am too stupid, too delicate, too — something — to be told the truth. Used because I tend to take people at face value, trust is (unfortunately) my default state, so when I find out someone has lied to me I feel like they have taken advantage of me. Nobody like to feel taken advantage of.

This is why the whole garrison dependency factor in Patch 6.2 enrages me so much. It does two fundamentally bad things — it continues to destroy the part of the game I most love by forcing a play style and particular level of involvement on me, whether I want that or not. And second, it shows me that Blizz just outright lied to me and everyone else about garrisons. Liar liar, pants on fire —  saying garrisons were completely “optional”, then changed it to you had to build one but there was no need to ever pay any further attention to it if you didn’t want to, and now suddenly you have to have a level 3 garrison and you have to add to it if you want to see the new parts of the next patch.

There is a fascinating tinfoil hat theory discussed today at alt:ernative chat. Take a look at it if you have time. But basically it posits that Blizz is already in the process of pulling the big plug on the entire game, that they have already decided to stop significant investment in it, in favor of some unspecified follow-on. It’s a pretty good theory, and I am not saying I believe it 100%, but it does meet the Occam’s Razor standard for explaining things like tweaks and toys in lieu of real updates, recycling old continents and dungeons in lieu of new content, the fiasco of the WoD rollout, and maybe even what appears to be Blizz’s complete disregard and even contempt for its player base (why cater to the little whiners when this will all be gone in a couple of years, plus we have managed to get lots of them to sub at $20 a month for most of that time, so we’re good).

I hope the theory is not true, but I admit it gives me an itchy feeling in the middle of my back. I still love this game, and I hate to see Blizz destroy the thing I love most about it, then compound the transgression by lying about it. This is why I rant.

But I should try to be a little less snarky.

What I love about WoD

OK, I have written thousands of words about everything I dislike about WoD, so I thought maybe I should list the things I really like about it.

Here’s my list:

1.  Leveling from 90-100 is relatively painless, and it is great fun the first time you do it.

2.  Gara.

3.  Higher item stack numbers.

4.  Reagents tab in bank.

5.  New heirlooms method.

6.  Concept of chambered bosses in dungeons, so that raid teams can do more of an a la carte selection if they so desire.

7.  Ummmm …..

I thought I could come up with more, but I thought a lot about it — was treating this as a serious exercise — and that’s pretty much it.

I’m sure some of you really like other aspects of WoD, I’d love to hear about them, maybe that would help me think more positively about the expansion.

Blizz, read this post (no, not mine, this other one)

I just read a blog that I usually don’t follow, but it popped up on The Grumpy Elf blog roll, so I followed the link and it really rocked me back on my heels. The blog is Still Searching by Samantha. Please take a look at it. In a nutshell, she describes the reasons for her decision to unsub, and to my mind it perfectly encapsulates the game play changes that have led us to where we are today.

This should be required reading at Blizz.

A couple of things struck me about the post. First, it was not a whine or tirade, it was simply an explanation of why for her the game is just no longer fun. She is not alone in this opinion, in fact I am betting that she is representative of a large part of the player base. But Blizz will not care, in fact will not even notice, that she unsubbed.

Interestingly, I had a related chat with a guildie last night on the same topic. We were discussing Patch 6.2, and that about the only reason we were looking forward to it is in the hope that it might entice some more players back to active play, our guild halls being very empty these days. Then, out of the blue, this guildie whom I have never heard disparage the game, who is a mainstay of our raid team and an excellent healer, said “I am sick and tired of Blizz catering to the whims of the top raiding guilds at the expense of regular players, just because those guilds bring in huge $$$ for Blizz with endorsements and paid events.” The guildie went on to say they expect a rash of unsubs over the next few months, but we agreed that such an occurrence would not faze Blizz, because who cares about a few thousand unsubs when you have 10 million customers.

A second thing that struck me about the post was how well it summarized the things many of us have been writing about now for months: Blizz is forcing one play style on everyone.

If you enjoy playing alts, sorry, that play style is not encouraged.

If you like crafting and professions, too bad, the current game does not support your play style.

If you are habitually unlucky, sucks to be you because every part of the game is now RNG-dependent, even something as trivial as getting that stupid selfie camera.

Dislike the farming on steroids that we call garrisons, hahaha we are going to cram it down your throats and you WILL do it if you ever hope to see any new content.

If you prefer not to raid, well what can we say other than maybe you should switch to Second Life because you are not the kind of player we respect or even listen to.

The third thing that occurred to me was that after the first couple of days that WoD went live, I have never read a WoW blog summarizing how terrific this expansion is and how the game is now more engaging than it ever was. Yes, I know it is always easier to bitch about something than to celebrate it. But you would think, if any significant part of the player base is really loving the current state of the game and is truly excited by it, that SOMEONE would rise to its defense in the face of all the negative things being written about it.

Last, a short (sort of) anecdote. Some of you may remember that I served a few years in the Army. I served with some of the finest people this country has to offer, but there was one officer who stood far above the rest. He was a role model who was liked and respected by officers and enlisted alike. If you listed all the desirable traits of an Army officer, he had them all, and none of the self-serving ambition that is far too prevalent. He was what we called a ” real stand-up guy” which is pretty much the highest compliment you could get back then.

Anyway, I digress. This officer had about 15 years in, a great future, and suddenly surprised everyone by putting his resignation papers in. I was his executive officer and along with everyone else was dumbfounded, so over a couple of beers I asked him why — was there a Bad Thing about to be discovered about him? Had he secretly screwed up so bad that his boss told him to resign? Was he gay and wanted to freely pursue that lifestyle? What?

He laughed, and then he said this:

“Think of it as a long hike, and you know you have to go straight north for a long ways over what looks like flat terrain. You see a clearly marked path going north, but as you follow it you notice every once in awhile it veers a tiny bit. You still know where north is, though, so you don’t worry about a couple of small deviations, because you can always correct for them later. Finally you come to a hilltop and look back to get your bearings, and you see that you are straight east of your starting point instead of north of it, and now you have come too far to go back and start over. I’ve started to notice some small turns in the path I chose in the Army, turns I have no choice but to follow, but turns that will inevitably lead me east instead of north. I don’t want to get to the end of a career and see that there is no longer any way to get to where I wanted to go.”

Blizz, please pause and take a look at the small design decisions you’ve made over the years, and ask yourself if they are leading you to where you want this game to be, or are they taking you in a direction you never intended to go?

And read Samantha’s blog.

Raiding more and enjoying it less

Some of you may know that I have been raiding with two guilds for awhile — a raiding guild and a social guild. The raid teams for both guilds are configured to be what I can best describe as semi-casual. They are definitely not hardcore, but they are also not just a bunch of guildies getting together to laugh and joke their way through the easier parts of Highmaul. They are in between. If hardcore is a 10 and grabass is a 1, then these teams are probably somewhere between 4 and 7. I use this estimate because the social guild is closer to the 4 and the raiding guild is closer to the 7. All very subjective numbers, of course.

In theory, both teams run twice a week for about two hours each night. Nearly all the raiders have IRL commitments that mandate such a schedule. Both teams describe themselves as “progression.” And both teams are suffering from the effects of WoD, the expansion that likely will most charitably be described once it is over as “meh.”

In fact, it is this lack of excitement for the expansion that I think is the problem with raid team participation. People generally just don’t give a crap about Draenor, the weak story line, the group activities (when is the last time you ran a garrison invasion?) or much of anything else in the expansion. When you are not really interested in a game, you tire of it quickly, maybe you call it burnout, but it is really just lack of interest.

At any rate, being part of two teams means I have committed to 4 nights a week for a couple of hours each night. Most of my evenings are free (sad, I know), so this has not seemed very onerous. The thing is, I still enjoy my nights with my raiding guild, but the ones with my social guild have taken on a distinct tone of drudgery. Interestingly, I think the reason is a social one.

This team got to the point where we were unable to raid because we could not get even 10 people to attend raid nights. So, to build the player pool, the guild leaders engineered a cooperative thing with raiders from a guild they had belonged to a few years ago. This meant that we probably would no longer be getting guild raid achievements, but at least we would be raiding once again. The strategy worked only partially. The combined “team” had several transient players, who would show up some nights but not others. As a consequence we never really jelled as a team, and of course any progression pretty much came to a grinding halt. We were unable to make it past normal Imperator after a couple of fairly intensive weeks, and shortly thereafter we were back to being unable to get enough players to raid, even with the expanded player pool.

Plan B having been unsuccessful, time for Plan C. The raid leader from the other guild knew another RL who had a fairly decent team up and running but would be glad for additional people. There were high level discussions, calendars were synced, and my guild even added a special rank to allow for easy group invites for our raiders. For now, these invites are designed to give us all some raiding options, no pressure to accept, and if you have a reasonably geared alt you are welcome to bring it. The goal is to eventually identify and assemble a cadre of committed raiders for a renewed progression team.

You have to hand it to our guild and raid leaders. They have worked their butts off, scrabbling and scraping to keep alive a guild and a raid team that are both on life support. They are not ready to pull the plug yet, they feel that if we can just make it through this awful expansion everything will work out.

I have the greatest respect for True Believers like that. I myself come from a long line of believers, not in the religious sense but in the sense that if you just believe in something hard enough, then it will be true. My mother was fond of bragging that she and she alone was responsible for saving Tinkerbell. (When she was a little girl, there was some Walt Disney show where Tinkerbell was fading and would die if little children no longer believed in her. My mother claimed it was her fervent affirmations of belief that saved Tink.)

But, sadly, believing in a thing does not always make it come true. I do not think Blizz will turn back from the guild-killing game style they started late in 5.4 and continued through 6.1 and 6.2. Their decisions, whether by design or not, have made it difficult if not impossible for small to medium guilds to hold onto their membership. Guilds have become irrelevant to many styles of play. And, as I have said before, organizations such as guilds tend to have finite life spans anyway, even under ideal conditions which this expansion is not.

To save raiding for my guild, the leaders have no choice but to effectively destroy it as we knew it. My old raid buddies now comprise at most 3-4 members of a 12-16 member team, the rest are people I really don’t know, and who only appear sporadically during my play time. The fun of a social raiding team is in the cameraderie and good-natured joking that comes from long association and shared experiences, both from raiding and from other guild activities. The commitment to showing up, to being prepared, to focus on downing a boss, all derive from a desire to not let the rest of the team down.

There is no way that a co-op team can replicate that. Such a team is little more than a standing pug. I am not saying it is a bad thing, just that it is not the same as a regular guild team. So my raid nights with this team seem like drudgery to me, not really because of the lack of progression, but more because I miss the social aspects of what our guild team used to be.

Turns out that sometimes, even if you are a world-class believer, Tinkerbell dies.