Closet cleaning time

It’s been a while since I cleaned out my drafts folder, and this last week before Blizzcon — when there is absolutely positively nothing going on in the WoW world — is probably a good time to do it.

What is “content”? Pherian over at alt:ernative chat has a piece today about game content, and it got me to thinking that I really have no idea what that term means. Even though in the past I have used it myself to disparage WoD (“thin content”, “non-repeatable content”, “lack of content”, etc.), in retrospect I think I was guilty of fuzzy thinking, of using the term as a generic — and therefore meaningless — catch-all.

I suspect “content” is whatever each person defines it to be, and it comes down to “lots of things I like to do in the game.” If the game design permits you, over the lifespan of an expansion, to do the things you find fun, then you tend to think it has a lot of content. If not, then you think there is little content.

One of the many problems with WoD was that a significant number of players felt funneled into one particular activity — raiding — and the xpac design actively discouraged them from easily pursuing other activities they had previously found fun. People who loved guild socializing found their guilds disappearing. People who loved alts found it difficult and time-consuming to maintain them. People who loved crafting found their markets disappearing, along with their ability to use their craft to fully gear their characters. People who loved archaeology found it nearly impossible to do without flying. People who loved the hustle and bustle of faction capitols found them suddenly deserted. People who loved social raiding found it nearly impossible to pursue. People who liked running random dungeons with a small group of friends, or who liked the weekly kill of several world bosses, found there was almost zero benefit to doing so.

For these players, and they are many, WoD had little or no “content”.

Is the game becoming less social? I was reading a scholarly piece the other day, a social science professor analyzing social mechanisms in online games, and I began to think that much of the social fabric in WoW is slowly disintegrating. I have no research to back this up, only my own anecdotal material, but I do think I see a pronounced shift away from the social aspects of the game that drew me to it in the beginning.

  • Lack of social accountability. CRZ and cross-realm random grouping have pretty much destroyed the whole idea of “server reputation” (except as trade chat trolls). Many players find that there is no longer any social penalty for being a chronic asshat, and sadly their conclusion is that therefore they can engage in nonstop ashattery, because it is unlikely they will ever again be grouped up with any of the same players. And no one holds them accountable for their behavior, either, because everyone knows they will likely never again encounter this particular asshat, so they derive no future benefit from calling them on the behavior.
  • Guild benefits declining. Each expansion seems to remove a few more incentives for joining or remaining with a guild. Many of the guild perks introduced in Cata were removed in Mists and WoD — guild summoning, special guild food and cauldrons, faster travel, faster hearthstone cooldowns, etc. Pooling of crafting resources, another benefit of guild membership, has much less impact on WoD because garrisons allow every player to have decent crafting abilities for every profession. Guild achievements no longer offer much in the way of tangible guild rewards.
  • Garrisons. ‘Nuff said.
  • Blizz’s lack of social engagement. Blizz presents itself in game as basically a strong centralized — possibly even dictatorial — virtual government. Yet they maintain a complete hands-off posture when it comes to social matters, even those that directly and negatively affect player enjoyment of the game. Exhibit 1 of course is trade chat. Exhibit 2 is LFR. Exhibit 3 is insular-event behavior such as the annual Winter Veil player blocking of access to the tree in Ironforge. Blizz imposes no penalty for such antisocial behavioral patterns, which is a defacto encouragement of it.
  • Solo questing. It is rare, at least on my server, to see groups of 2-3 players questing together any more. Part of this may be due to the WoD mechanism that selects quest lines based on player actions and choices, thus players in a small group must make the same choices if they wish to keep on together. Part of it began with the solo quest scenarios in Mists, when even if you were questing with someone else, you had to do the scenarios solo. And part of it is that the game will now provide you with an NPC to quest with, in the form of a garrison bodyguard. So players who historically have often preferred to level and quest with another player — healers, squishy clothies, sometimes tanks — no longer need to go through the hassle of coordinating schedules and quest lines with a real person. I have even seen a suggestion that Legion may feature the availability of a small proving-grounds type group of NPCs to assist players — especially healers and tanks — in dealing with damage-intensive quests.
  • Raid finder. Again, ’nuff said.

My hopes for Legion. To be honest, I am pretty pessimistic about the game improving in Legion, and Blizz’s worldwide  of silence ever since the first week in August has pretty much dampened any enthusiasm I might have for speculating any more. I am bummed about the destruction of hunters as a class, I think the idea of adding two new melee classes is beyond absurd, I predict the whole artifact weapon system will be a disaster for alts as well as for multi-spec classes, I sense that flying will be delayed via gating until the second or third patch, I do not believe Blizz will move away from their total dependency on RNG for everything, I doubt if the game will attract a wider base of players, and I see no logic  whatsoever behind the class hall structure. So, although my hopes may be optimistic, my expectation is that Blizz will have learned all the wrong lessons from WoD, and Legion will be possibly the last dying gasp of a once-great game. I would love to be 100% wrong on this.

On the plus side, I find I am finally enjoying the game again, as I usually do at the end of an expansion. The reason, I have finally figured out, is that this is when I give myself permission to do whatever the hell I want to when I log in. I apply no internal pressure to level a main or primary alt, to chase after gear, to study bosses for raid night, to get this or that achievement for this or that perk, etc. I just have fun. Pity I don’t let myself do that at the start of an expansion. I definitely need to work on that!

The Christmas syndrome

After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.

Spock, Amok Time episode

As I write this, we are a little over a week out from Blizzcon 2015. I don’t attend these events, I don’t even buy virtual tickets, but I have to admit I am more excited by the upcoming one than I have ever been about any previous ones. Also a little nervous. By all accounts — including the leaked schedule about 3 weeks ago, that appeared briefly and then was hastily taken down from the web site — Legion will be the main event. Of course, other Blizz games and promotions will get a good share of time, but I counted at least 4 major events dedicated to Legion.

(Quick aside — these types of “accidental leaks” seem to happen rather regularly prior to major Blizz events. Not saying anything, but hmmmmmm…)

Anyway, it does look like Legion will be hyped plenty at Blizzcon. I hope that means Activision Blizzard is still fully invested in the franchise, that they are concerned about the perception of WoD as a debacle, and that they are determined to do better with Legion.

I hope. Therein, of course lies the double-edged nature of all anticipation. We have all at various times in our lives experienced a long wait for something we really really want, and the longer we wait the more of our future happiness we invest in the event. When The Big Day finally arrives, we are frequently disappointed — either hugely or somewhat — because reality almost never can compete with our fervid imaginations. We may dream of That One Awesome Toy we just have to have, we may stare for days at a brightly wrapped package that is just the right size for it (along with other boxes that just have to be cool accessories for it), we may picture ourselves playing with it delightedly for years to come, but when the presents have all been opened we are left with a cheap knockoff — that we are bored with anyway after a day — and a lot of underwear. Such is the nature of anticipation: reality almost always stomps it into the ground.

So yes, I am very excited about what we will learn about Legion next week, but I am also afraid I will be disappointed. Actually, I know I will be disappointed, the question is will it be a gigantic disappointment or a small one? In my anticipatory phase, I envision the game bringing back everything I think I loved about it. My wild imagination sees the entire game changing in a way that caters to me personally and my play style, I see myself frolicking happily through the sunny fields of Legion for many carefree months.

Well, even I know that is silly. Of course there will be underwear. The real question is, will I get the actual toy, a cheap knockoff, or nothing even close?

We all have personal hopes for Legion, some kind of list of things that will give us back something we feel has been lost. Maybe all we want is for it to be better than WoD, which is not a very high bar no matter how you define “better”.

Here is my description of That One Awesome Toy I want: I want Legion to be the expansion that attracts millions of new players and that keeps players at all levels engaged for 8-10 months. If I get that, I promise I will not complain about all the underwear I get. (Well, I might complain a little, but you know.)

One last point. I am expecting next week Blizz will announce that Legion beta will start by the end of the year. To me, the way they select beta participants will say a lot about what we can expect from Legion. If most of the selectees are streamers, members of elite guilds, youtubers, and the like, then we will know that Blizz is going all in with making the game of, by, and for professional gamers. If, on the other hand, there is even anecdotal evidence of widespread beta admittance for us commoners, then I think there is hope that Legion will contain some version of my One Awesome Toy.

Enjoy your dreams of sugarplums for the next nine days, but clean out that underwear drawer just in case.

State of raiding, part 2

Last Friday I posted a few thoughts on what I see as major WoW environmental factors affecting raiding. I did this mostly to get my thought processes engaged for an examination of the current state of raiding in the game. I did some more research over the weekend, and I also note that a couple of bloggers are hard at it again this morning with the “Get rid of LFR!” And the “Keep LFR!” sides of a pseudo-debate.

I honestly don’t know where I stand on the question of LFR, but in my opinion the whole raid structure is in a pretty sorry state. So today’s post will attempt to describe that state and possibly lay out some paths Blizz took to lead us into it.

First, some references:

Back in May 2014, in the ramp up to WoD, there was a series of three Dev Watercooler discussions that went into Blizz’s philosophy on raiding over the years. The first two parts laid out the history and why certain changes came about, and the final part — written by Watcher — was about upcoming WoD raiding changes. If you have the time, they make for pretty interesting reading. (You can find them here — part 1, part 2, part 3.)

The other relevant reference material I found was specifically related to the introduction and first year of LFR. The initial concept, part of Patch 4.3 in 2011, is pretty well summarized in this patch announcement and in this Blizz Q&A. Within in a year, Blizz concluded that the gear awarded from LFR was not working, so in 2012 they announced this first round of changes to LFR. The final official info I could find on LFR came as part of Watcher’s conclusion to the Dev Watercooler series.

For those of you who don’t have the time to sift through the entirety of the data cited above, here are the major points I took from it: 

  1. Since the early days of the game, Blizz has made changes aimed at encouraging greater player participation in raids.
  2. Starting around the time of WotLK, raiding became pretty much gear-centric.
  3. According to Blizz, LFR was originally designed for

    … players who don’t already raid consistently. These are players who may not have had the opportunity to take part in raid content due to scheduling conflicts, playtime constraints, limited access to other raid-capable players, or a lack of experience with higher-end content. These players may want to experience World of Warcraft’s raid content and storyline without being able to commit to the additional time investment of a raiding guild. The Raid Finder is also a great way to quickly and easily gear up alternate characters without having to worry about raid lockouts.

  4. Interestingly, the second part of the Dev Watercooler series concludes with an expression of great satisfaction with the Mists final state of raiding — LFR and flex levels of raiding permitted broad participation both by friends and family guilds and by those who did not wish to be part of a standing team, and Normal and Heroic modes gave challenges to raiding guilds and hardcore raiders. Yet, in the third part of the series, Watcher elaborates on significant changes to this system that was apparently operating in the sweet spot Blizz wanted.

Fundamental issues. From my point of view, many of the historic and current problems with the raid system spring from three competing facets of the system: the goal to make raiding accessible to a wider base of players, the reliance on raiding as almost the entire end game goal, and the gear-centric nature of raiding.

Once a player reaches the end game, almost the only way to feel continued character progression is to continue to improve that character’s gear. The major way to improve gear is to participate in raids. Blizz encourages players who would not otherwise engage in raids to do so via LFR and also by making that activity the main path for character progression. Moreover, since Mists, LFR has played a major role in legendary quest lines.

Remember, Blizz never intended LFR to be a true stepping stone to Normal or Heroic raiding. It was designed strictly to be for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to raid, and for rapid gearing of alts who also might not get a lot of chances to raid. But in order to “quickly and easily gear up” alts, LFR had to award fairly decent gear. In fact, the major changes to LFR have been driven almost exclusively by the need to tweak how/what gear is awarded.

Early in Mists, LFR gear was so high in level as to be better than the previous tier’s heroic level gear. This situation in fact made most serious raiders feel they had to run LFR to gear up for their regular raids, thus making LFR a defacto stepping stone for regular raiding, the thing Blizz had said they did not want to be the case. So in Mists, Blizz lowered the relative gear level awarded in LFR. In WoD, they went much further, not only lowering the gear level, but discontinuing LFR availability of tier gear.

The introduction of LFR and the fact that players could get upgraded gear from it also served to heighten elitist tendencies within the game. Some vocal types who were hardcore or wannabes felt that the existence of LFR cheapened their own lofty accomplishments. They disdained anyone who chose to run LFR as their primary end game activity, and they were not shy about heaping ridicule on these players.

On the other side, some of those who primarily used LFR began to agitate for better gear, as reward for what was often a significant time cost for the activity. The initial changes to LFR in WoD were a response to this — higher drop rate for gear, quicker run times, but no “real” tier gear (as a compensation to the elitist side).

The chaotic missteps in WoD, however, have skewed the entire raiding picture, to the point where:

  • LFR gear no longer justifies the time commitment for many players. Highmaul run times were less than half the per-boss run times of HFC, and Highmaul gear was perceived to be more useful because it was at the beginning of the expansion.
  • Boss mechanics in HFC are several orders of magnitude harder than the ones in Highmaul, even at LFR difficulty. Many guilds are struggling to complete Normal. Boss fights routinely feature a mechanic that a single player can make a mistake in and wipe the raid, even on Normal. This, combined with extraordinarily long fights, with Blizz’s failure to tune fights for small groups, and with the removal of guild incentives, has pretty much destroyed the concept of “friends and family” raids.
  • The main reasons to run LFR are for legendary quest items or for alt practice. This means that regular raiders rarely run LFR. Lack of players with raid experience in most groups only serves to heighten LFR frustration and cause group acrimony, not to mention cause the boss fights to get even longer due to multiple wipes.
  • As a result of increased difficulty even for Normal level raids, the remaining raiding guilds have become ever more demanding when adding either permanent or pug raiders to their team. Extensive interviews and tryouts are the norm even for non-hardcore teams, and group finder groups frequently require elite gear, experience, and/or achievements for even a “quick” normal HFC run. It is becoming harder and harder for a player to make the jump from LFR to regular raiding. As a result, the gap between regular raiders and LFR players is growing.
  • The player pool has shrunk due to player apathy over WoD and to diminishing subscriptions in general. Those who are left are pretty much the game’s die-hards, those least accepting of change. Unfortunately, this seems to be leading to the l33tists getting l33ter and the casuals getting “casualer”. Neither group is too interested in taking a chance on joining the other, or on accepting them.

I still don’t feel like I have any conclusions about raiding in the game in general, or about LFR in particular. I feel like the system as a whole was in a pretty good place at the end of Mists (long time between raid tiers notwithstanding), and that changes since then have made it much worse. It seems like Blizz also liked the state of affairs for raiding at the end of Mists, so I don’t know why they changed it. In particular, given their historical goal of making raiding more accessible to a greater number of players, I don’t understand why they have proceeded to destroy the “friends and family” mode.

I don’t understand the vehement opposition to LFR as an institution — seems to me if you don’t like it, then don’t participate in it. And to the whiners lamenting the sad state of affairs wherein players can actually *gasp* get semi-decent gear without weeks of organized progression raiding — get over yourselves.

Possibly the answer is to remove all gear as rewards from all raid levels, to make raiding once again social-centric instead of gear-centric. You raid at whatever level you want to for all the high-minded reasons you always cite — for the glory, for the teamwork, for achievements, for server bragging rights, for actual fun — but Blizz implements a different mechanism for getting gear.

I could go on for quite a bit more on the state of raiding in the game, but I won’t (okay, I heard that, who said “Yay”?). I will conclude with one prediction: Whatever Blizz does or fails to do to change the raid system in Legion will determine how long this game will last.

The state of raiding, part one

Maybe because of the impending reintroduction of valor in patch 6.2.3, or maybe because there is not much else to talk about until Blizzcon, there has been a recent spate of forum discussions and blog posts calling for an end to LFR. In turn, this has called into question the entire current raid structure. I’ll throw aside the inevitable bunch of illiterate invective-spewing crazies on some forums, but even so there are bloggers I respect posting some thought-provoking pieces on the subject. Check out Marathal over at Rambling Thoughts About WoW, or Pherian at alt:ernative chat for starters.

This the first of two posts on my take on the current state of raiding in WoW. Today’s focus is on the underlying game factors affecting raiding. The next (Monday’s) post will be some ideas on where we are and where we might go.

I always try to see things in terms of the larger picture. Raiding is part of a vastly complex socio-technical game system  we call World of Warcraft. So I am going to try and order my thoughts on the subject by looking at the various factors bearing on raiding as a game activity. Obviously, each of these factors is intertwined with the others, but I will try to separate them for purposes of discussion.

Game design. I did not play the game when it first launched, so I have no idea of how it felt back then, or what most players perceived the game design to be. From reading, my impression is that it was focused on questing and socializing, and that raiding was a minor part of what players could do for fun once they had pretty much finished other activities and reached the highest level available for their characters. But the raids were about fun and achievements, not so much about gear.

In other words, the game was about the journey, not the destination. But somewhere along the line, Blizz began to focus on the destination — the end game — and encouraged players to speed through the journey as fast as possible to reach that destination.

We are now at the point where the entire game is focused — by design — on raiding. That activity is central to nearly every aspect of the game, and indeed it defines the end game.

Technical/mechanical environment. As the game has swung from process-oriented to goal-oriented, and as that goal has been defined as organized raiding, the concept of “class balance” has assumed greater and greater importance. Back when the game focus was on questing and exploring the virtual world, it really did not much matter if one class was significantly more powerful than another, or had better movement, as long as both could use their abilities to be successful in the world. The competition was with yourself, to see how well you could cope with the virtual environment, it was not about publicizing damage meter results.

But when the game became all about raiding, players demanded class equity, because they needed to be able to compete favorably with other classes for raid spots. As the various classes had been designed on different power models, balancing their abilities with those of other classes became extremely challenging. To come even close — without a complete rewrite of the entire class structure — Blizz had to rely more and more on easily-configurable mechanisms such as gear and secondary stats. Thus, gear assumed greater and greater importance, and the methods for obtaining it became more varied.

As raids became more important and popular, players demanded new and harder fight mechanics, further complicating the already-precarious class structure subsystem. Further, several class talents and abilities were targeted solely for raid participation — they had little or no value to individual questing or adventuring. This even has begun to affect gear, as we see with the legendary ring mechanics.

Social environment. WoW was and is a social game. It encourages building of bonds with real life as well as online friends, through chatting, cooperating on quests and achievements, and seeking out others who share your views/philosophies/fantasies/whatever. Guilds have been the game’s most important social structure, and they naturally served as the basic foundation for organized raid teams. Some guilds were formed solely as a support structure for creating raid teams — they were known as raiding guilds and for a long time stood in contrast to so-called “social” guilds, which may have had one or more raid teams but raiding was not the stated purpose of the guild. Often, raiding guild raiders were known as “hardcore”, whereas social guild raiders were known — usually unflatteringly — as “casual”.

Raid teams need a more or less steady supply of active players, and as raids have gotten more complex, those players need to work well together as a team. What this means is that without a large pool of active players and a robust guild structure, the number of viable raid teams dwindles and raiding becomes less accessible to those players who remain. Competition for raid spots increases, much of that competition is based on gear levels and raid experience, both of which require successful raiding nowadays, and so we are in a Catch-22 situation. You can’t raid without gear and experience, but you can only get gear and experience through raiding.

Prior to WoD, you could get around this problem by being in an active guild with a raid team that would accept your gear and experience shortcomings and work with you to get you up to speed. But players judged WoD to be so terrible that they left the game in unprecedented numbers, either by unsubscribing or just by not logging on, and the result has been disbanding not only of raid teams but of entire guilds because of lack of participation.

Blizz has tried a few bandaid fixes to this problem, but they have either been ineffective or have had unintended consequences. Some of their attempted fixes include implementation of Raid Finder and Group Finder, introduction of LFR and flex-style raiding, and the impending cross-realm Mythic raiding mechanism. But they have done nothing to get at the basic problem of player apathy and thus greatly diminished raider base.

Community perceptions. As the game has changed focus, so have player expectations and definitions of game “expertise.” Some of this, of course, springs from shallow adolescent one-upsmanship — “I am great and you stink because I have different colored gear/bigger mount/higher damage numbers/more Archie kills/etc.” For this kind of thinking, a game focus on raiding easily lends itself to the stereotype “hardcore versus dirty casuals” screeds you see far too often in forums and trade chat.

The unfortunate thing about this particular stereotype is that it does tend to shape much of the discussion about the role of raiding in the current game. Check out some of the get-rid-of-LFR forums and you will see what I mean. There are logical arguments on both sides of this subject, but neither is furthered by using this lazy, simple-minded stereotype.

Of possibly more impact, Activision Blizzard’s all-in move to eSports for nearly all their games is shaping the community perception of raiding in WoW. (Just yesterday they announced the formation of an entire new division devoted to furthering the corporate venture into eSports.) For one thing, it drives the highly-publicized Mythic “firsts” we read about ad nauseum at the beginning of a new raid tier, which in turn promotes the idea of individual and team superstars, fostering the notion that this is what the true raider should be aiming for. Many of us do not subscribe to this line of thinking, but enough do that it shapes concepts about raiding.

As the popularity of eSports grows (and I think it will), it will have an inevitable impact on raid design. People want to watch the World Cup or the Super Bowl, not a couple guys playing Tiddledy Winks. If they perceive that it’s something anyone can do pretty well, they are not really interested in watching it. But if they think only the elite can play at that level, they will shell out a lot of money to watch. I confess I do not know exactly what effect this will have on raid structure, but I am certain it will have one.

What I have listed are not all the factors affecting raiding in WoW, but I think they are the major ones. Any discussion of raiding really has to consider them in their role of shaping the current state as well as in — since they are inextricably intertwined —  what the effects on them may be if major changes are made to raiding.

And with that, my brain hurts. I wish you all a good weekend.

October cheer

We have been having a fantastic run of picture-perfect weather in Northern Virginia. Sunny, dry days with beautiful blue skies, temps in the 70’s, and leaves just beginning to take on their gorgeous reds and yellows and rusty brown hues. You couldn’t possibly order up better weather. As I write this, I am sitting on the deck taking it all in. We are lucky enough to live in the woods, our deck is high off the ground surrounded by trees on 3 sides, and it reminds me of the tree house I always wished I had when I was a kid.

I have no game-related topic for today, just a couple of big-picture observations. In spite of what you may think if you read my blog regularly, I am a happy, good-natured person. Even if I am not lucky in the game, I have been amazingly lucky in the Great Life Lottery, and on days like this, when the exquisite beauty of the world just kind of comes up and smacks you in the face, I realize how very fortunate I am. I came through a military career including two combat deployments largely unscathed, I have a wonderful spouse who is also my best friend, I live in a country that enjoys peace and freedom and prosperity, and I now make a living indulging my creative and artistic side. I have served, I have loved, I have created — what could be better than that?

So when I write about WoW, I do it from a platform of luxury, from a recognition that it is just a game that I am fortunate enough to be in a position to play. In the grand scheme of things, it is less than a particle in a mote in a drop in a vast ocean on a huge planet in a near-infinite universe.

It is not a perfect game, but being able to play it is perfect. I frequently rant about it, but the fact that I have written hundreds of thousands of words about it and spent hours playing it can only mean that I love it. Sooner or later it will disappear, the victim of inevitable technological and social change, but I am not anxious for that time to come. When I slap Blizz up side the head it is because I see them doing things that I think will hasten the game’s demise, and I don’t want that to happen.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, we are in a very slow news period for the game. Certainly this post lends credence to that! Didn’t really plan to wax philosophical on you, but hey, it’s October and it’s beautiful and I am in a reflective mood.

Secondary stats: A grand mess

My fervent hope is that the class changes in Legion include a complete overhaul of the secondary stat mechanism. It just stinks as it is now. In my opinion, this horrible state derives from the intertwining of their importance for combat mechanics, the independent spec reliance on different secondary stats (for pure damage dealers), and use of a pseudorandom algorithm as the sole determiner of their composition.

(Apologies to my core readers, I know I have written about this before, but honestly the situation is so terrible, and it has such an adverse impact on nearly every facet of game play, that I think I need to keep harping on it.)

Importance for combat mechanics. Secondary stats are crucial to class and spec balance, they are the foundation of all the damage/healing/protection calculations that make complex combat possible. So they are not going away. Even tweaking them a little bit can have serious repercussions. Blizz proved this when they changed the mechanism in 6.0 — they pretty much destroyed both meta-class and individual class balance across the board, and despite a huge number of tweaks since then, they have still not completely recovered from it. Nearly every class still has at least one unplayable spec due to gross imbalance of secondary stats, a fact that Blizz has admitted multiple times over the last year. Disc priests, SV hunters, MW monks, I am sure you can come up with other examples. Either the spec is at a notable disadvantage when compared to other classes in the same role, or the mechanics are so bad that it no longer reflects the vision for the class. In some instances — MM hunter comes to mind — Blizz has “fixed” clumsy mechanics only by requiring a full 4-pc tier set (and then making the tier gear a crap shoot, nice going devs).

The point is, secondary stats and their interplay with nearly every aspect of WoW combat is vastly complex. It is also something Blizz cannot back away from, secondary stats are here for the foreseeable future.

Different secondary stats for different specs. As I alluded to above, here I am talking about just pure damage dealers. By making every spec achieve acceptable efficiency only by use of different secondary stats, Blizz has effectively made every class a hybrid class, with the attendant disadvantages but not with the advantages. A conscientious hunter, for example, must carry two sets of gear to play both MM and Beast, the same as a druid with both a damage and tanking spec. Yet the hunter still only brings one role to a raid team, less utility than the druid. And without two sets of gear, the hunter’s former utility of being able to tailor spec nuances according to the fight is now gone. Net loss for both the hunter and the raid team.

Worse, the hunter gains no advantage from selecting one spec as the gear spec, since Blizz stubbornly refuses to admit that each hunter spec requires a different set of secondary stats on gear. Selection of gear spec remains based only on primary stats, except for healers who for some reason now are more or less guaranteed to get spirit (a secondary spec) on those pieces of gear that can carry it.

If Blizz can do this for healers, why can’t they do it for other classes? Surely mastery is just as important for Beast hunters as spirit is for healers, whether or not it is unique to the role.

RNG for secondary stats. Of all the things wrong about Blizz’s lazy reliance on a pseudorandom algorithm for rewarding nearly everything in the game, the worst in my opinion is using it to determine secondary stats on gear. As should be clear from the above, secondary stats are hugely important to being able to properly maximize your spec. Imagine the outcry if Blizz decided to apply this mechanism to primary stats. In my opinion, this is almost as bad. Secondary stats have become so integral to combat calculations that even though they do not carry the same weight as primaries, they still have a significant impact, thanks to the way Blizz has structured them.

Yet these extremely important stats are awarded not on the basis of spec requirements, but by a crap shoot. To add insult to injury, Blizz removed reforging as an option because — I am not making this up — they wanted to spare us the trauma of math.

!!!!

And it’s not just a 50-50 chance or something similar. Oh no. Take Baleful gear as an example. As I recall, there are something like 15 possible secondary stat combinations for a given piece of this gear. Usually, one of the flavors is optimal for a particular spec, and maybe a second flavor is a close runner-up. As I am the masochistic type, I have kept track of all the Baleful gear I have gotten for my 4 characters that have made it to Tanaan. Of the almost 300 pieces I have collected, care to hazard a guess as to how many have had the optimal set of secondary stats for that character’s spec?

Zero.

I have had three runners-up, though, and those work to some extent. But I have never seen a drop of Decimator, Impatient, Relentless, Pious, or Deft gear on any character, much less on one with an appropriate class/spec. Honestly, I am beginning to doubt that these exist.

I would love to see the official drop rates for the various flavors of Baleful gear.

And the ultimate insult? Even when you buy Baleful gear you do not get a choice of the secondary stat combos. Nor is it possible — as for crafted gear — to reroll them. It’s like going in to the Toyota dealer, handing over your money, and they reach into a grab bag and tell you what kind of car with what options you are going to get. Like it or lump it.

I won’t even get into the double whammy of crap shoots not only for getting gear from a raid boss, but for getting any kind of useful secondary stats from it.

Final point. Legion will be a great opportunity for Blizz to right many of their wrongs with secondary stats. They have already said that they plan to make major changes in class balances. Blizz, I beg of you, start with secondary stats. Almost no one who plays the current game (I would like to think that includes the devs, but I really doubt it unfortunately) is happy with what you have done with them.

It’s the little things

Yesterday and over the weekend I played WoW quite a bit (spousal unit is out of town). And my conclusion: it’s still a fascinating, fun game. Who knew? More importantly, why did I enjoy it so much the last couple of days, when for almost the past year it has seemed like an August slog through a mosquito-infested Louisiana swamp? I’ve thought about this quite a lot, and I think I’ve come up with some reasons.

First, through a bit of phenomenonal — for me — luck, I finished my legendary ring on my mistweaver. Last Tuesday I needed 9 more tomes, and wonder of wonders I got them in just 10 bosses. This in itself was pretty impressive, since I had been averaging about a 50% drop rate for the first 24. So I was really happy when I finished that part of the final stretch. But I was nowhere near finishing the shipyard portion of it. I was not close to the level 3 shipyard, and I was a couple of weeks out from getting the necessary Tanaan rep to circumvent the need for a carrier by substituting Unsinkable gear. Which meant that as soon as the final Master and Commander quest popped, I would be stuck, no chance of successfully completing it. Which in turn meant a long slow grind to get to where I could actually complete it.

Well, long story short, the final quest popped, the best I could manage was a predicted success of 81%, and I just said what the heck and went with it, no unsinkable, no carrier, just damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.

It worked. For once the RNG gods smiled on me, and I got the quest item. Finished up the other minutiae for the ring and did my happy panda dance.

I was absurdly happy about this. Not because of the ring — as I have said before its design makes it not worth putting any effort into getting it. I was happy because for once in this game, after almost a year of really really bad luck, I finally got a break. I was not broken, demoralized, and mentally exhausted by the time I finally reached a goal. I was actually energized to spend more time playing, because it was suddenly fun again.

This is the thing Blizz completely fails to understand about the wholesale crap shoot approach they have implemented for nearly every aspect of the game: repeated failure in reaching a goal, whether that is gear or something else, does not make people keep coming back. It grinds them down, they almost dread playing because they feel like they are doomed to endless disappointment. No one likes all their game outcomes to be solely at the mercy of chance. People like it when their actions have a direct result on the outcome of an endeavor. They do not like it when they feel like no matter what they do, they have no control over a result. Winning is more fun than losing, and there needs to be a safety net that prevents continuous losing due solely to bad luck. 

The second thing that contributed to my fun was the new garrison holiday decorations. Players have been asking Blizz for years for a space of their own that they can personalize. Lots of us hoped that garrisons would be that space, but we were sadly disappointed, and Blizz’s attempts at personalization have been downright dismal. Those stupid monument pedestals for weird achievements? Please. Jukeboxes? Spend hours — on every alt — chasing down multiple tracks of elevator music and hoping again for random drops, nope, not  my idea of personalization and definitely not my idea of a fun way to play. Get a random drop of an archaeology trophy to place in a specified spot in a cold, bare, ugly room you never use? Still nope.

But something about the decorations I liked. For one thing, they are easy to get — a few minutes even on my squishiest alt gave me the necessary coin to get them. (This is the next best thing to making them account wide.) For another, they really do perk up the place. Even though I know that tens of thousands of garrisons on every server look the same, still for some reason I feel like I have done something to make my garrison my own. If there were more decorations I could get by doing dailies, I would be out chasing them. It is something I enjoy working for, it gives me the illusion that I am personalizing my own space.

Again, this is something Blizz completely refuses to understand. People like having some place to call their own, to make cozy and personal in whatever way that speaks to them. Yes, I am talking about player housing. But we are not even close. And Legion will take us even further away — I guarantee you I will not be interested in fixing up a class hall. Sadly, the closest we have come to player housing was probably the little house on Sunsong Ranch. 

But I suppose player housing has nothing to do with raiding and eSports and megabucks, so in Blizz’s mind screw it. God forbid it might “cost a raid tier”. (Still, and this is meant for you, Michael Morhaime, I bet it would increase the active play time for many…. Just sayin’, you know, in case you are interested in some bonuses come quarterly report time….)

So I had fun the last couple of days, and the reasons were small and unrelated to Blizz’s notion of a proper end game. It boils down to a sense of player control, not in the big things but in a few small things. The modern world is so vast and complex that many people feel they have little control, and they find their comfort in the small things they know they can influence — dinner, a garden or potted plant, posters or paint on the walls of a room, tattoos, purple hair, whatever. And this game — founded on the idea of social interaction and meant to offer a respite from all that we cannot control in the real world — needs to offer small and meaningful controls, safe havens, to all its players.

I had fun this weekend, and I think I know why. Too bad Blizz neither understands nor cares about those reasons.