Let’s talk gear

In Legion Blizz will introduce what amounts to a seismic shift in the way gear is awarded. The condensed version is that there will no longer be a hard cap on the level of gear you can earn from various game activities. That is, in theory, players can be awarded Mythic level gear from LFR, world drops, dungeons, and so forth. Of course, it is more complicated than this, and if you want to delve into all the details check out this blue post from today’s MMO-C Blue Tracker.

Before I launch into some observations on this development, let me state clearly that this is a very good move on Blizz’s part. I wholeheartedly support it, and I am very pleased that Watcher was so forthcoming about how the system will work and about Blizz’s reasoning for making the change. This can only improve the game, in my opinion.

As with all major changes, however, the end results are not always as clear-cut as the changers might like to think they will be. And in this case, there is one overriding factor that will determine whether this change will succeed or not, namely:

When does “small chance” mean “don’t even bother”? A snowball’s chance in hell is still a chance, in Blizz’s opinion. But for real people, there comes a point where a mathematical probability approaches zero and thus for all practical purposes might as well be zero. Let’s take an example, and those of you who are less math challenged than I am please check me on this.

For the purpose of this example, assume that a realistic chance of dropping a +5 item is a robust 10%. (Watcher, in his Blue post, gave an example using a 50% rate but went to great pains to point out that it is not/not/not the actual rate. Reports from the beta so far show it is probably not even close.) Let us further assume that the activity you are doing awards 825 level gear normally, and that the chances of getting any gear at all are, oh let’s be generous, 20%. So your chances of getting a single upgrade are 10% of 20%, or 2% (1 in 50). The way the upgrade algorithm works is that it keeps iterating the 10% upgrade chance for another 5 levels until it hits a “No” for upgrade. So now take your 2% chance getting a level 830 item and try for a level 835 item. This is 10% of 2%, which is .2%, or a 1 in 500 chance of getting a piece of 835 gear from an activity that awards 825 level gear as a baseline.

You see where this is going. Max level Legion gear at the beginning is 895. Your chances of getting a max level piece of gear from an activity that normally awards 825 level gear is 10% of 1 in 50, taken 13 more times, or 1 chance in 500 trillion. And that is assuming a drop rate more generous than Blizz has historically provided. Even giving Blizz a magical benefit of doubt, even assuming the drop rate is twice or three times that, your chances of a meaningful upgrade from a low-level activity, rounded off to over 10 decimal places, are zero.

In fairness, Watcher admitted as much in his post. He basically said that your chances of getting meaningfully upgraded gear are much better when you run higher and higher level activities. This is as it should be, but that begs the question:

Is this really not much of a change at all, is it actually just a scam to make people think that running lower level activities is rewarding, when in fact the chance of meaningful rewards is hundreds of times less than the chance of winning the Powerball Lottery several weeks in a row?

I understand that Blizz is pulling out all the stops to make people fully explore every bit of content in Legion, and I support that endeavor. Clearly they are worried that players will stop playing long before the next expansion in 2 years (minimum), and they are doing everything they can to stretch out the time before that point is reached. They have already ensured that every main, alt and profession will need to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours chasing talents for artifact weapons, running down quest lines for recipes, and grubbing for Blood of Sargeras. They are holding out the carrot of flying until probably the second major patch, likely a year into the expansion. These measures alone extend the perception of “content”, not to mention that they increase the all-important MAU (Monthly Active User) metric which Activision Blizzard uses as one measure of game success.  So, is it really necessary to trick people into believing that by running heroic dungeons or LFR they can upgrade their Heroic raid level gear?

No, if this change is to “succeed” in the minds of the players, then they must be able to see that it is actually possible to get meaningful upgrades to their current level of gear from doing activities. This means that they must see such items dropping, even if they themselves do not get any for a while.

How do they see items dropping? Well of course one way is when they see guildies or friends getting such items. But another way is if they can see statistics for such drops. And here is where Blizz can restore some of the trust they have lost over the last couple of years. Blizz should take it upon themselves to post a weekly or monthly wrap-up of the numbers of dropped gear upgrades, per server, per activity, per upgrade level. Blizz has claimed it is possible to get such gear, okay then show us the gear. Prove to us that it is possible in practice not just in theory.

Otherwise, just bite the bullet and admit that as players progress there are certain activities no longer worth their time. It’s not a terrible thing. Normal and heroic dungeons, world bosses and weekly world quests, will remain relevant for alts for many, many months, there really is not a compelling reason to inveigle people into continuing to run them on their geared mains under false pretenses. All that accomplishes is to make people more cynical and further erode their trust in the company. (I do not like to think that someone at Blizz has calculated that by making a more or less empty promise of gear upgrades from low-level activities, that enough people will fall for it to significantly increase WoW’s MAU for the quarter ….)

Meanwhile, please excuse me, I think I am going to go buy a Powerball ticket.

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 Let’s talk gear

  1. Brilliant.
    Brilliant, brilliant posting! Your illustration of the odds is shocking to read; right in front of me. Anything can happen, on a unicorn!

  2. gnomecore says:

    All very true. But it doesn’t seem to me that people would run one and the same dungeon again and again to get a possible upgrade from 825 to 895.

    I would follow the same routine, really, Dressing up while questing, then doing dungeons and world quests, then going for my cap of LFR gear. I would be very happy if a high gear bonus drops, but I’m not heading for it really.

    I’ve got many items of 691 ilvl instead of 685, their drop is pretty good (maybe 20-25% of all items I got from LFR). Yes, I’m glad, but I won’t run Hellfire again and again to make them all 691. And people who need to go to further raid difficulties will go with 685 anyways.

    I see it as a nice unexpected boost rather than a goal.

  3. Gnomecore makes a good case and I think, in general, very true. But, there will be that one golden BiS piece that (you think) will make all of the difference.
    I know secondaries will be additive in Legion, but my history shows me running Mythic Iron Docks once a week, every week, for the chance at a high-boosted drop of a trinket. Maybe “just that one” piece might drive us, but in Legion: I kind of doubt it unless it’s super end game with no patch in sight.

  4. Fiannor says:

    @wrathofkublakhan, @gnomecore I totally agree with what you both have said. Actually, it is the point I was making. People will continue to run lower level dungeons and world quests and the like for the same reasons they do now — fun with friends and guildies, just something to do, or maybe once a week or so like @wrathofkublakhan does for the one in a zillion chance of getting a piece of gear (with no real expectation of it, more like what drives some of us to run old raids, for months or years, for mounts and the like).

    My take on Watcher’s post, though, was that he was holding out the gear award change as a new reason to run lower level content, but the fact is that with the way they have structured the upgrade rates, there really is no new incentive to do so in spite of how they are “marketing” this. If people like to run them now they will probably continue to do so in Legion, and if they don’t like them now, then a virtually zero chance of a gear upgrade is not going to convince them to do so.

    • gnomecore says:

      And yet, if you come to dungeon with your leveling friend, you still have a small chance to get an upgrade. Before, you were guaranteed to get vendor trash only.

      But I agree that dungeon carrot must be more significant and steady. Valor is nice. Reputation is nice.

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