On second thought …

Yesterday I waxed eloquent over what I thought was a decent response to player outcry over one of the “features” of Legion, namely the proposal to charge progressive amounts of gold every time a player changed specs. The Blizz response to player dissatisfaction over this was, I wrote, respectful and reasonable, and they provided what I described as an acceptable compromise. But a good night’s sleep, along with a very astute reader comment on my post, caused me to think about this again.

I take some of it back.

In retrospect, I think I was pretty much blinded by the idea that Blizz would actually change an unpopular game mechanic — astoundingly quickly — and that they would go to some pains to provide a detailed and lengthy explanation as to why they had done it in the first place. Such behavior is the complete opposite of what I have come to expect from them, a 180-degree reversal of the apparent communication philosophy of WoD (which I summarize as Blizz repeatedly telling players to “Quit whining and eat your spinach”). I feel like I am often too negative in this blog, so when I see an opportunity to give kudos, I leap at the chance to do so. In this case, it’s possible I leapt a bit quickly.

What am I talking about, you say, and could I please get to the point. Well, here it is: Blizz seemed suspiciously eager to drop the pay-per-spec-change and substitute a very puzzling mechanic designed to make it more difficult to change talents. In doing so, they seemed extremely concerned with fixing something almost no one thought was broken.

First, let me address the rapidity with which they responded to player complaints about the original plan to pay for spec changes. For one thing, there was not a huge outcry over this. True, there were a few pages of forum complaints. But the volume was nowhere near the level of current complaints over some serious class and spec problems in Legion, nor close to the level of complaints over the Water Strider issue earlier in Legion Alpha, and certainly did not even approach the volume reached during the great flying-in-WoD flap. Yet Blizz seemed to jump at the chance to address the “issue”.

Also, Watcher certainly seemed to crank up a detailed and lengthy explanation, and post it, in record time. Now, he is a lawyer and can no doubt gin up more words in a few minutes than most people could in a week, but he has not shown much inclination towards doing so in the past unless pushed very hard. Could it be that he had something all ready to go in this case, maybe even written by an underling several days or weeks ago?

In my post yesterday, I pooh-poohed the idea that this whole thing was preplanned by Blizz, but on second thought I am not so sure. Of course, the easiest and most reasonable explanation — Occam’s Razor and all — is still that Blizz grasped the idiocy of the original plan and responded as quickly as they could, which in this case was pretty quickly. But I am beginning to think it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the original intent had been to implement the talent change, and the spec change idea was a red herring to make the talent change more palatable to players. A change to a communication philosophy of “We are having beets, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts for dinner and you are going to sit here until you eat everything on your plate. Don’t like that? Well, OK, just a little creamed spinach then, is that better?”

It’s a tad crazy, but I don’t think it is impossible. This is what happens when trust is broken as badly as it was in WoD — even positive actions are viewed with suspicion, and the tendency is to assume the worst motives rather than the best.

But on to the second part of my semi-retraction — the actual “compromise” Blizz decided on. The more I think about it, the more I am baffled by it. Really, what is wrong with changing talents the way we currently do? I mean, has there been some massive concern about switching talents in some secret forum Blizz maintains? How many times have you heard your guildies or other players protest that it is too easy to switch talents and Blizz needs to do something about it? Ya, same number of times I have heard it — zero.

I thought one of the benefits to changing the talent system back in Patch 5.0.4 was touted as the ability to switch on the fly to accommodate different kinds of fights and questing challenges. In fact, that was alluded to during a Blizzcon 2011 panel discussion of the then-upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansions, featuring then-Big-Dogs Tom Chilton and Greg Street (quoted from MMO-Site, emphasis mine):

Similar to current functionality, talents selections will be finalized by clicking “Learn” at the bottom of the talent pane; however, a big benefit of removing talent points is that it allows us to let players “re-talent” with more flexibility. Even after players have activated their talents, they won’t be completely locked into their choices as they are now. If at any point a player feels that another talent may be more appropriate or fun, he or she can simply select that talent from their tree and click “Learn” again. This can be done on a talent-by-talent basis or, if the situation demands it, all talents can be changed out at once.

As a result, talents can be changed out when switching specs, as well as when running dungeons, raids, and battlegrounds. While re-talenting will most likely be disabled during combat and will incur a small fee (either in the form of gold or a reagent), it will still give players more opportunities to adapt their characters to better meet the challenges they expect to face while playing.

So, apparently, now that some players are actually doing this, Blizz feels the need to hinder them? And, as my “astute reader” pointed out in his comment on my post yesterday, the new restrictions on changing talents will not really stop people from doing it in raids and dungeons, it will merely annoy them and possibly their whole party, because it will take longer and probably force the group to stop for a bit to get it done.

The only explanation I can come up with for this bizarre change — and I admit I am really reaching here — is that Blizz believes they are doing a crappy job tuning Legion’s instances and raids, and they know that certain combinations of artifact and spec talents will make some fights too easy. So if they can throw a monkey wrench into the process of switching to the “optimal” combination, then many groups will still struggle AND Blizz will not have to spend resources tuning these fights — or overpowered interactions between artifact and class talents — when they have so many other things to finish if they are to meet the August 30 launch date.

Yeah, I know that sounds like a stupid theory. It is a stupid theory. But I am at a total loss for any other way to explain Blizz’s apparent over-reaction to a non-problem.

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.

9 Responses to On second thought …

  1. Grumsta says:

    This one has a way to run yet, but there are far more important issues (like getting encounter and class tuning right) that should get the bulk of Blizz’s attention in the run up to Legion. I hope this doesn’t become a pointless and heated distraction.

    The most important thing for me is that spec switching is free and unrestricted. Yay! That should be the headline and key “win” from this. If Blizz want to fiddle around with Talent swapping then fine, whatever makes them happy. The player base will find the easiest way to circumvent the restrictions (millions of player minds vs a few devs at Blizz: sorry, no contest) and away we all go again.

    The portion of the player base most affected by these plans are the “1%” who will min/max at every opportunity, even between trash mobs, and have their Legendary weapon maxed out for each spec. I don’t see Blizz dismissing any concerns those guys have out of hand, do you?

    If Blizz are *really* worried about players having to talent switch between trash mobs (that are a major inconvenience, give nothing useful and simply need to be downed as quickly and efficiently as possible) and the next boss fight then they should look to their encounter design, not the players.

    • Fiannor says:

      Definitely. The spec changing fee was important to me, but the talent swapping thing affects me very little. As you point out, Blizz has a large number of far more important issues to sort out in the next couple of months.

      Which is why I remain puzzled over why this subject was even introduced at all — was it perhaps proposed as a quick bandaid fix to a major tuning problem with Legion? In reading everything I can get my hands on about Legion, I have the distinct impression that huge balance and tuning issues remain. Blizz has shown, in the last expansion, that they struggle with these issues and in fact just gave up on fixing some of them in WoD (SV hunters, priest OP healing mechanics, raid size tuning of certain bosses, etc.). I suspect that adding another factor as complicated as artifact weapons has made an already complex problem exponentially more so, and they may be only just now realizing that, as they rush to the August 30 deadline. We may see more of these seemingly-inexplicable choice-limiters as that deadline gets closer.

  2. gnomecore says:

    I agree that they have many options at hand, ready to throw them in. Blizzard does not equal Watcher or any other man. Like everywhere, they have many heads thinking on certain game parts, and these heads have different opinions.

    I could imagine the heated discussion ending up with something like this: “Ok, ok, so let it be your idea. We throw it in the forums tomorrow, you’ll see how everyone reacts, and you will know I was right.”

    I don’t think Blizzard have a sort of warlock cave where evil plans are woven. Scheming and plotting is not what they have resources and time for. What we experience and see in the game is the result of many discussions, where unpopular opinion wins sometimes. And the players prove that it’s not ok through forums and/or real gaming experience.

    • Fiannor says:

      That’s pretty funny — I imagined almost the exact same discussion you described, and I think you are right. It’s such a vastly complex project that there are lots of minor pieces that get added/subtracted/changed “on the fly”. I don’t think it could be done any other way.

      The thing that intrigues me, though, is how the internal discussion got any attention to begin with — what was the topic that caused it to be brought up? Economics and inflation? Raid or instance tuning? Professions? Class balance now that there will be interaction between class- and artifact talent structures? And if the initial proposal was designed to fix a stated problem, how the heck is the compromise an alternate solution — they seem like they would have two completely different effects.

      • gnomecore says:

        I remember a designer at Blizzcon talking about Tailoring – and he was embarrassed when he said “I personally liked the idea of fur as a main material”. They returned to humanoid drop of cloths which was perfectly fine with everyone before.

        The company is always in search of something new. Some of the changes are met with “Wow, it’s awesome! It’s an improvement” – and no one remembers it was NEW once, people just use it as it has always been there. But it’s also very true that some of the changes are bad and/or questionable, so people keep talking about them for years.

        But the GOOD changes were also a result of the same discussions. It’s just we focus on the bad ones.

      • gnomecore says:

        What I’m trying to say is: the Blizz employees keep thinking and trying of altering the existing systems all the time, and it results in both good and bad outcome.

  3. JC Sway says:

    I’m also baffled by this. Fixing something that is no way broken.

  4. Fiannor says:

    Oh wait, DOH! /headslap I think I just figured it out — Mythic+ dungeons. Possibly Blizz knows there are a few ways to configure spec/talent team combos so as to power through certain affixes. Thus, if you either make it expensive to switch specs or make it take longer to swap talents, maybe it ends up bring a quick and dirty fix to prevent people from OP-ing them. Still guessing, but I think I am on the right track here.

    • Grumsta says:

      I’m tending to think this all stems from the Legion mantra of “class/spec fantasy”. The impression I get is that Blizz wanted us to choose a class, a spec, and a selection of talents that identify our unique character and run with it (probably for the entire xpac).

      In order to make this work, they then looked at ways the game mechanics could deter us from switching first specs, and now talents.

      There’s a design decision here:-

      1. The Talent choices become so homogenised that there’s no fundamental choice to be made apart from flavour. I don’t think anyone wants this.

      2. Blizz give us real Talent choices (say between ST and AoE) and then we’re stuck with them either for a long fixed period of time (e.g at weekly reset), or for a large expenditure of money or mats, or at a safe place

      3. They accept the genie is out of the bottle and allow freedom to choose Talents on the fly as now with Tome of the Clear Mind any time you’re out of combat

      Currently they’re stuck between 2 and 3 from what I can see. In some circumstances they want 2, in others 3 (subject to this extra “feast” for Talents). They’ve relented on spec switching, now they have some head-scratching to do on Talents.