Well that was fast

On the heels of my long rant last Thursday, about the idiocy of the pay-per-spec-change policy, we get a series of long and thoughtful blue posts from “Watcher” Hazzikostas on the subject. You can read them in full in the forum or the compiled responses here in MMO-C. But the bottom line is that the proposed policy has been reversed as of yesterday, spec changes will be free in Legion, no change to the current policy, except of course you will not be limited to two specs per class. Also, there will instead be a tougher policy on talent switching — more on that in a minute.

I have some wide-ranging thoughts on this development, but overall I am encouraged and optimistic about the way it was handled.

First, this is another in a series of rather remarkable design reverses in response to player comments. I don’t have a list of them all, but the ones that come to mind are the Water Strider and pets for MM hunters. I think this shows that Blizz did in fact learn some lessons from the debacle that was WoD. No, they don’t cave to every criticism of certain design mechanics, but they seem to be getting better at determining when something is potentially a major problem. Not insignificantly, they also are willing to reverse themselves if they decide that the player criticisms are justified. This is something they were incapable of during the WoD beta and throughout the first part of the expansion. They seem to have rediscovered how to be flexible. (Sorry, I don’t buy the tinfoil hat theory that the initial spec changing cost was done solely to be able to look like good guys when they changed it, which they always intended to do — Blizz can be sneaky, but this would be a new low even for them.)

Second, I can see a certain maturing process at work with Watcher. (No, I am not trying to be condescending in noting this.) Although he is the current Big Dog in terms of player communications, he has seemed unwilling to put himself out there and engage with players in any meaningful way. In WoD his preferred mode of communication was the snarky comment, delivered so as to maximally demean whatever player concerns were at issue. He still seems reticent to engage with players on any kind of regular basis, but some of his most recent responses in forums have been detailed, thoughtful, and on an adult level of reasoning and explanation.

I found his collected responses to the spec-changing issue reasonable and fair. You can agree or disagree with the compromise solution Blizz arrived at, but there is no doubt that Watcher fully explained their reasoning and the basis for making the decision they did. After the nastiness of player communications in WoD, I am still pleasantly surprised when Blizz actually explains their deliberative process on some issues. I wish they would do it more, but that they do it at all is a huge improvement.

I for one appreciate being treated as a sentient, knowledgeable adult. It makes me much more receptive to grownup approaches like compromise.

Third, delving into the actual compromise worked out over the spec-changing issue, I find it to be reasonable. Do I love it? No, but I understand where Blizz is coming from, and after all the mark of a good compromise is that all sides are somewhat happy as well as somewhat unhappy.

For those who have not read the solution, it is that spec changing will be free, but talent changing will become more restrictive than it currently is. Though the final details are not yet worked out, basically you will only be able to change your talents if you are in a safe zone, defined as a place that gives you rest. (I am not sure if that means only sanctuary areas like class halls and sanctuary cities, or if any inn will do.) There will be a provision for some magic effect — crafted and presumably sold by Inscriptionists — to create a temporary sanctuary in raids/instances/field where those in the vicinity can switch talents. Of note, Watcher clearly indicated the intent is NOT for individuals to carry stacks of these magical widgets with them, rather that they be available to groups — though he did not elaborate much on that, so that is one of the details to be worked out I guess.

Blizz’s intent is to make choices actually count for something. After all, as they point out, you are not really making a choice if you can always have it all with a minuscule  effort. They believe they have put a lot of work into Legion’s talent tables for each class, and they want players to put some thought into their talent selections, realizing the trade-offs involved.

As I said, I can see their point. Currently, I do a fair amount of talent switching in raids, mainly involving Level 15 Posthaste versus Crouching Tiger Hidden Chimaera and Level 90 Glaive Toss versus Barrage. I change the Level 90 talents more frequently than I do the Level 15, mainly because it annoys me to not use Barrage on a single target or very small group — I feel like it is a waste of a talent to just have it sit there, even though I understand it means I can use more powerful shots more often. It’s a perception thing with me. So if I know there will not be big trash mobs in a fight, I change to GT.

Will I change talents so often in a raid if it means forcing a group effort similar to a warlock Summoning Portal in order to do it? No, I probably won’t, and I am sure there will be times when that frustrates me and makes me think I am not able to do my best. But in the big picture, it is preferable — at least to me — to chunking out gold every time I change specs.

But I think this most recent design reversal means that it is incumbent on Blizz to ensure Legion encounters are more balanced than they are now, so that there is less clear advantage to wholesale talent switching in raids and instances. Minor, yes, major, no. For example, there really should not be a series of encounters like the first two bosses in HFC, compounded by the hordes of trash mobs in between every boss, where the differences between AoE talents and single target talents are huge. Blizz will not do this, of course, we will just have to suck it up, but it would be the responsible design decision in light of this recent talent switching redesign.

I also think this compromise makes it important for Blizz to give us reasonable choices for each talent level. This means that each tier should have three equally viable choices for the “theme” for that tier, and this requires attention to detail in Blizz’s balancing process. More attention to detail than we have seen them capable of for the past couple of years. If our talent choices require us to make trade-offs, it seems only right that the same thing apply to Blizz’s design choices.

Still, I commend Blizz in general and Watcher in particular on their response to the spec-changing issue. Now, if we can talk a little about spec balancing and play styles…

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

6 Responses to Well that was fast

  1. Well said. For me, you nailed it on responsible raid design; changing talents (and my trinkets) for the trash run up to Soc and then to the Tyrant who (for my assignment) were both single target fights was (mildly) irritating and a task to be done with as cleanly as possible. Intention or no, I will have stacks of these Inscription doo-dads when I raid as well as any other thing (cauldrons of flasks are back?) so that I am a responsible member of my team.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yeah, I had the same thought about having a few stacks of the doodads for every raid, also stocking the guild bank raid tab with them. My best guess right now is that someone will pop one, and it will have to be clicked on by one or two others in order to work. This would prevent what is apparently A Very Bad Thing in Blizz’s opinion — being able to use one solo. The horror!

      But maybe I will finally be able to make a bit of gold with my Inscriptionists, who knows?

  2. Grumsta says:

    I’m glad the gold-per-spec-swap mechanism has gone. It was so absurd I couldn’t see it staying, I can only assume it was a decision along the lines of the Waterstrider where Blizz saw a quick and easy fix to a problem they perceived, and put it out there to see what the reaction was. The speed of the retraction was such that I believe they already had their Plan B ready, even if it is still in draft stage and will consume development time to implement.

    I’m not convinced that this new “extra-feast” mechanism is the greatest way of achieving their aims on restricting talent choices though. I’ll wait until I see how it’s actually implemented before I make a judgement on it, but it just feels like an extra layer on inconvenience without really changing anything.

    I don’t fully understand the problem that they’re trying to fix. Players who need to min/max will continue to do so, and those who pick a selection of talents from Icy Veins and stick with them regardless of the encounter are probably wondering what the issue is.

    In the end this is restricting player choice, and I never think that’s a good idea in an RPG.

    • gnomecore says:

      I’m being the latter player. I just pick talents which are more comfortable with me during normal gameplay in terms of rotation and survival, and almost never change them. The closest thing to talent change through raids for me would be switch on/switch off combat rogue button for AoE reasons, and that annoys me much.

      In the end of the whole situation, I see only Inscriptionists win by finally making profits. Consumables are – well, consumables, so they’re needed throughout the expansion. It’s not a bad thing considering they’re the most useless crafting profession now.

    • Fiannor says:

      @Grumsta, yes I think I must agree with you that in the long run it really will not fix whatever problem Blizz perceives here. And, like you, I don’t really see a problem to begin with — seems like they are focusing on something that is a non-issue.

      Your comment makes me wonder if the WoW dev team is actually using a new decision-making process. If there is debate internally on how to implement certain mechanisms, are they just tossing a coin, going with one and then seeing what the initial player reaction is, keeping the other ready to implement, as you say, in case there is some predetermined threshold of complaints? The thing that lends credence to this is the speed with which they reacted, and the fact that there seemed to be a ready-made solution to the perceived problem. Now I am beginning to think even Watcher’s blue posts could have been pre-written for release when/if they had to go with the alternate plan.

      Hmmmm, maybe on second thought I was far too easy on them, was too quick to reject the idea this whole thing was planned in advance…. If in fact that is the case, it makes me feel manipulated, not a pleasant thought.

  3. Pingback: On second thought… | Misdirections