Widening player gulf?

Legion is, in many, many aspects, a vast improvement over the nightmare of Draenor. The lore is more relevant, artwork is phenomenal, and there is tons of content both new and repeatable. Even the leveling process, which was one of the few highlights of Draenor, is if anything more engaging in Legion.

But I find myself wondering if Legion will ultimately be bad for the game. I am seeing what I perceive to be early indications of a widening divide between the player “haves” and “have-nots”. Just as in a thriving capitalist economy it is a robust middle class that drives the engine of optimism and opportunity, so it is in WoW that the majority player base of casual and semi-casual players drives extended game interest and engagement. When these middle groups start to dwindle, when they lose hope that they can achieve their aspirations, the systems begin to break down. It starts with economic disparity and inevitably spreads to nearly every other aspect of the system.

As with real systems, the WoW problem, too, starts with the economy.

  • Blizz’s decision to give away massive amounts of gold to try and staunch the WoD subscription hemorrhaging is a move we are still paying for. It has resulted in massive gold inflation, driving up the cost of materials and equipment to the point where only very wealthy players can afford these items.
  • Prices are driven even higher by Blizz’s decision to stretch out the time required to achieve even initial game goals such as profession leveling — even gathering professions. Not only are there quest lines for gathering, but Blizz has opted to place very few nodes in zones, compensating by making them theoretically multi tap. But the overall result is that it takes significantly longer to gather a stack of herbs or ore than it did in previous expansions. (Every time I say something like this, I get comments from self-styled genius gatherers that just the other day they gathered 100k worth of mats in some ridiculous amount of time like 30 minutes, and I must be doing something wrong. Please, spare me the tall tales.)
  • Prices are driven still higher by the decision to require non-related mats to craft almost anything. Food requires ore chips and rare herbs. (OK, I get the herbs, but who deliberately puts heavy metal chips in their food?) After years of telling us that LW/skinning is a winning combo, Blizz now requires buttloads of ore to buy LW recipes. (!!!) (Why is it not leather you need to buy them?) And we are not talking about the odd piece of cloth for mail pieces, or the odd bit of leather for a cloth belt. Oh no, we are talking about very high quantities of these mats.
  • There is a noticeable disparity among professions for usefulness, with alchemy/herbalism being the current lottery winner. Gear-producing professions are already for all practical purposes obsolete, as the same or better gear can be obtained via world quests and other means. The sheer amount of time and materials needed to produce and upgrade a single piece of crafted gear to 850 are no longer worth the cost. (The obliterum forge idea stinks, the quest to obtain it is ridiculously expensive and annoying, and the cost to produce obliterum is prohibitive given the mediocre result.)

The net result is that it takes vast amounts of gold to buy anything in the AH or even in trade. Yes, you can — if you were lucky enough to pick the right professions — make a fair bit of gold yourself, but for most people it is not enough to cover their costs for other things they need. (And if you were stupid enough to pick a gear-crafting profession such as tailoring or LW or BS, you might as well abandon it — it is not even worth reaching max level to say nothing of it not being worth grubbing for rng- and rep-granting higher level recipes. Any gear you could produce from it is basically worthless.)

Players who did not start this expansion with a great deal of gold, or who did not pick the right professions, or who have limited play time each week, will have a very difficult time catching up. For example, being able to raid or participate in Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons requires, at the very least, a certain level of gear and a certain supply of food, flasks, and pots. The time commitment for gear as well as the gold and/or time commitment for consumables is a very significant hurdle for all but the most dedicated players. (Not even talking here about gear enchants and gems, which easily run more than 20k each on my server.) Players might be able to raid with a team that is willing to overlook shortfalls in these areas for a while, but not for long. And pugs will certainly not put up with it.

Not everyone wishes to raid, of course. But the thing is, raiding and/or running high level instances is required now for nearly every end game activity in WoW. Want to just concentrate on producing/gathering for professions? Sorry, you gotta do all these other activities in order to do the one you like. Just want to putz around with a few different alts? Sorry, even if all you want to do is level them, you still have to pursue quest lines like class halls, artefact power, and time-consuming profession quest lines if you want to even gather a few herbs with them.

My point is that the combination of high cost and huge time commitment for virtually any Legion activity is starting to show a clear dividing line — those willing and/or able to do it, and those not. The former are becoming the game’s “haves” and the latter are becoming the “have-nots”. I do not in any way begrudge people who decide to put a lot of time and effort and gold into the game their just rewards. More power to them. Similarly, I do not judge those who simply want to spend a couple of hours a week at the game as pleasant diversion — it’s how they relax and have fun, and good for them.

What does give me concern is the possibility of the game’s “middle class” losing hope that they will eventually be able to acquit themselves adequately in their chosen end game activities. If they perceive that the road to gear or raid preparedness or profession completion or faction rep or certain achievements is too difficult or time-consuming or expensive, they will just stop pursuing these goals. If they drop out in appreciable numbers, then we will be left with what I think is an unhealthy mix of hardcore near-professionals and super-casuals.

The thing that drives many of us in this game is the thought that, it may take me a bit longer to get there than some, but I can very respectably compete in fill in your favorite end game activity here. But if you think the point at which you can do that is some ridiculous number of months in the future, then you might just give up. You have more commitment to the game than the super-casuals, but you cannot or will not devote the same time to it as the semi-pros, so there is little left for you but frustration. Nobody plays this game to be continually frustrated.

Now, as I said in the beginning, this is not the game’s situation yet. It is just what I think could happen, the situation that we have the right conditions for now. I even see it happening in the microcosm of my guild, where we have a small group of super-dedicated people with ilevels like 860 or higher, with artifact weapons into the high 20’s for development, with the Broken Isles Pathfinder achievement completed, who regularly run Mythic+ at the +6 or above level, and so forth. They have the highest level gems and enchants on their gear, and they always are well supplied with flasks, food, pots, runes, things that let them change talents on the fly, and so forth. They are incredibly generous with their time, offering to run regular Mythics or +2s with people just to help them gear up or complete quests, and they willingly make profession items if you can supply the mats. But even this — when added to the time burden of world quests/rep grinds/profession quests/mat-gathering/etc. — begins to exceed the limits of play time for many of us.

For many of us in the middle, it may not be possible to get to the same relative level in Legion as we did in previous expansions. That is diminished expectations, and it is not a goal that game developers should strive for.

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.

7 Responses to Widening player gulf?

  1. Marathal says:

    Yes. This exactly. I did ok for myself in Draenor. I have probably more gold than many, but no where near the levels of many. I could easily go through it all the get myself close to 850, probably in the low to mid 840’s. but to what point? LFR gear is 835+. I too see a few in guild running Mythic+ and we have 20 or so running normal raids. But I look at the line being drawn. Those farming for things for the raid wanting to keep those mats exclusive to the raiders. I cannot fault them. They are putting in the effort and could just sell it all. For myself? I doubt I will raid beyond LFR for a long time this expansion. And when it comes to leveling the professions? I wrote that off a bit ago. You can spend a great deal of time gathering and make a fortune. You just may need to part with a good amount if you want to see the content beyond LFR.

    • Fiannor says:

      I am currently raiding with my guild, although I am not sure how long I will be able to do so, mainly because of the costs to me (>30k a week), plus the fact that I am falling further and further behind in gear and thus damage when compared to the group I cited above. We are tackling Heroic raids now, and having some dps problems with Ursoc, and honestly since I am pretty much in the middle of the pack I look at myself as one of the ones holding us back. (Also, I am not entirely certain that BM hunter scales well with advanced artefact numbers, so I don’t even know if grinding diligently to max that out will help in any significant way.)

      As to professions, for the first time since I have been playing the game I am looking at not being able to level my professions, not having the time, the luck, or the incentive to do so. Furthermore, it seems extremely unlikely that I will be able to level and reasonably gear more than one or two of my alts. In past expansions, I have maxed out all professions and managed to level and enjoy end game play (including LFR and some limited fun run type raids) with 6-7 alts. That type of play — looked upon disdainfully by Ion Hazzikostas — is apparently not to be permitted in Legion.

      In short, my middle class game style has become unacceptable to Blizz, who seem to want to cater only to the extremes of player groups and take for granted the large majority in the middle. It is a mistake, I think, but as usual they do not seem capable of looking at the big picture.

      • Marathal says:

        Yep. I can see that appears to be the design. Right now my wife is raiding because they need a healer. I am still 10 ilvls below what they are asking for. And my numbers are no where near what they need. So I don’t even sign up. I see people talking about running the 2000 Withered missions, I have only done the 600 with 12 once. I don’t know how people have the time. I think I am in the middle to bottom of the advancement curve. I got to 110, got cooking nearly maxed by doing the Capital city daily. Fishing I maxed over a few days doing the Garrison fishing daily. Tailoring and Enchanting are slowly getting near 780, but the cost even when you are using all you farm up. And I have just been focusing on one character.

        There is plenty to do. The issue comes to play when you cannot keep up with your friends. Do you keep playing.

  2. Grumsta says:

    I’ve already dialled back on my goals for 7.0 given the reality of the game economy and RNG gating. I am stuck at 839 ilevel with no realistic chance of boosting it except through purchasing and upgrading gear, or relying on RNG from LFR or Heroic/Mythic dungeon gear upgrades.

    I don’t pug (I don’t have the confidence) so the only Mythic runs I get are with the guild, but the poor tanks are pretty much burned out already from doing multiple runs to gear up the raid team. Having fallen behind on ilevel I’m obviously (and fairly) not a priority when a slot comes up.

    I am doing my WQ “dailies” to get the faction reps up to Revered across the board, and hoping for RNG to allow me to progress: a legendary item to drop; titan-forged gear from a WQ; the “Life Finds A Way” WQ quest to come up *and* it to drop the BiS trinket I need; herb picking to go to 2 or 3 stars; potion making to go from 1 to 2 stars; flask making to go to three stars. Every single activity I’m now doing each day is controlled 100% by RNG.

    All of the avenues for progression ahead of me are RNG gated aside from buying gear and upgrading it. (Actually I guess even that’s RNG gated as the maker has to make a piece with crit and mastery on it or I’m not paying 9k gold for it and wasting seven expensive upgrades on it.)

    I think I’m pretty near the end of the Suramar quest line. (I’m not a fan, but at least it’s something different. I never want to do the quests again ever though. Once was plenty thank you). Once that’s over there’s just the Withered Training scenario to do. (No RNG there, but I don’t find it as interesting as others seem to. Not sure why.)

    I have looked at the prices of Legion gems and enchants and decided that no way am I going to pay those insane prices to waste them on 830 to 850 gear. I’ll stick with WoD gems and enchants for now, and if that prevents me from raiding EN at Normal or Heroic then so be it. I can buy a month’s play time for less than it would cost to fully gem and enchant my character!

    I’ve decided to bide my time until the economy settles down. If the BoS trading in 7.1 goes live the same as beta the herb economy is likely to crash heavily once those with hundreds of BoS exchange them all for herbs.

    Hopefully I can get a run with the guild doing Normal EN this week. Then I just need to be lucky with gear drops……

    • Grumsta says:

      >>If the BoS trading in 7.1 goes live the same as beta the herb economy is likely to crash heavily once those with hundreds of BoS exchange them all for herbs.<<

      Ignore this. Firstly I meant PTR not beta, and the number of herbs per BoS has already been nerfed, so unlikely to have any significant impact. As you were.

    • Fiannor says:

      I am puzzled by Blizz’s willingness to permit the continuation of this skewed economy in the game. Normally we see these kinds of extremes in the first couple of weeks into an expansion, but we are now over a month in and there seems to be no significant abatement in sight. This is entirely a problem of Blizz’s making, due to the gates and hoops and dice rolls they have set up for professions. The result is a group of lottery winners and a group of “marks”. Yet Blizz seems very pleased about the situation. (Do most of the devs have herbalism/alchemy as their profession combos?)

      My suspicion is that someone among the devs or project managers believes that this will help to take some gold out of the economy, as a remedy for their disastrous inflation decision in WoD. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as all it does it redistribute the gold in a completely unhealthy manner — many who had a decent nest egg are becoming impoverished, and many others who were also well off are now becoming obscenely wealthy.

      I remember back when WoD was just being announced, that Ion Hazzikostas was discussing some of the planned changes to gems for gear — basically that very little gear would have gem slots. When asked how that might affect JCs, he cavalierly replied that he really did not much care that JCs would “no longer have a license to print money” in the game. Fast forward to now, and one has to wonder what has changed, that he is apparently fine with the fact that certain professions are “printing money” hand over fist.

      I was struck by your comment that “Every single activity I’m now doing each day is controlled 100% by RNG.” I have been frustrated by my chronic bad luck in this game, and astounded at the apparent chronic good luck of many (one guy in our guild has gotten 4 legendaries and complains about how annoying it is to only be able to equip one so far). But I had not realized how totally RNG-dependent the game has become in this expansion until I read your comment.

      All computer games — certainly MMOs — are, at their core, based on pseudorandom number generation, but we seem to have reached a point in WoW where the game is becoming little more than a casino enterprise. Legion has seen gear become absolutely central to performance, even overtaking skill in some areas, while at the same time making accumulation of that gear totally dependent on a roll of the dice. This is wrong, and Ion Hazzikostas is wrong when he makes the moronic argument that this system is much more fun than one where you can actually earn the gear.

      I think I feel anothe RNG blog topic in the works…. Will require quite a lot of research, but I have to think about it. There you go again, Grum, making me think. You need to cut that out! 🤔🤔

  3. I don’t want to be a “mark” or sucker on the AH. I don’t want to play that game at all.
    On some level, we must play the waiting game with the expectations of catch-up mechanics; y’know, that sudden flood of gear that prepares everyone for the next step. That attitude sure makes you want to log out for a few months, eh?