It’s that time

WoW expansions, like many human constructs, seem to have predictable phases in their life cycles. This is in no way scientific, but in my own mind I list them as:

  1. Speculation
  2. Formal announcement/unveiling
  3. Testing
  4. Live implementation
  5. General player base fascination, often combined with righteous indignation over perceived Bad Design/Terrible Idea
  6. “Normalization” and acceptance of virtual life under the rules of the expansion
  7. Pundit analysis of the overall “flavor” of the expansion
  8. Interest in major patches
  9. Boredom and malaise
  10. Go back to step 1

I think we are at Step 7 in Legion, a conclusion I reached after reading some recent blogs — check out Marathal over at Deez Wurds and Ethan Macfie in MMO Games for a couple of examples. There are recent others with similar content, but these struck a chord with me.

For several weeks now, I have had a vague feeling of frustration with the game, but have not really been able to put my finger on the cause. The two blogs I cited have helped me at least start to define it a bit.

Let me say up front, I am not backing off my general assessment of Legion as a success, and as I have written before, there is a lot of fun to be had in this expansion. But remember the flap over “daily overload” in Mists? That same feeling magnified about tenfold is what I have been feeling in Legion.

The feeling is one of stress or burnout, insofar as these terms can be applied to a leisure activity like a computer game. No, of course it is not real stress — not like caring for an aging parent or worrying about the rent or raising a child or enduring an abusive boss — but it is a kind of “immersion stress.” When we play virtual games, we allow ourselves to be bound by certain sets of rules and expectations. We enter an imaginary world and operate in it on its terms. It is in that context that I refer to “stress”, and it can hinder our enjoyment of the virtual world in the same way real stress hinders our joy in real life.

Back to the dailies in Mists. There was a pretty significant backlash against them, and the main complaint was that players felt they had to do them and do them — lots of them — every day or risk “falling behind”. That is, the quests felt less like engaging content and more like a forced march that led first to faction rep and from there to gear and professions recipes and other items players wanted or thought they needed for their end game enjoyment. In fact, sometimes attaining faction rep only meant you could then start a different faction rep grind as a step in your progress.

The players complained about “too many” dailies, but I think their dissatisfaction was less about the number and more about the notion of “compulsory”. If you missed one or two days of dailies, that was one or two days longer until you were eligible to get the items you wanted. And yes, I understand there is a segment of the player population that will greet this idea with a shrug and a “So what?” But I think a sizable majority of what I would term “engaged players” — hardcore and pseudo-casual — felt pressure to log on every day in Mists just to avoid “falling behind”.

Fast forward to Legion. Mists gave many of us nervous tics if we could not log on for a couple of days, but Legion goes much further. For one thing, there are tons more “dailies” in the form of world quests, Mythic+ runs for the weekly chest, daily random heroics for the AP, and so forth. But another, more insidious difference exists: in Mists, there was an end to the grind, once you got your rep you could get your recipes and gear and move on to other parts of the game. But in Legion, there is never an end. We are all Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the hill knowing that reaching the top only means we get to start all over again. Macfie, in the post I cited above, describes it as “the mind-numbing, spirit-crushing deluge of continuous progression”.

Blizz has confused the notion of “content” with “endless repetition”. I find this ironic, in that Game Director Hazzikostas has lectured us time and time again about the evils of “grinding” for gear, thereby justifying the use of RNG for everything because of the fun™ factor. Yet, Legion, with its endless chases after ever-increasing AP, random profession recipe drops, and lottery gear, is in fact one gigantic grind. The difference is, usually when you grind you eventually reach your goal — I guess what Hazzikostas believes is that grinding in and of itself is fun™, it is being rewarded at the end that is evil.

Once again, from Macfie:

Where it’s gone off the rails a bit is that this progression, after a certain point, becomes functionally endless, creating a situation where any player with even a semblance of a competitive edge feels an immense amount of pressure to grind to keep up. Those that don’t keep up with the grind run the risk of being excluded as AP levels gradually becomes the new gear score by which their character’s worth is judged (in addition to their actual gear score).

Many players feel like how well you play matters less and less compared to how long you play, and that’s not a healthy perception for your consumers to have. Whether you personally feel that way or not, artifact power is beginning to undermine the game’s other systems for a great many players.

And this, from Marathal:

There is so much to do, so why am I in a funk about wanting to do anything. Why is having too much to do, so depressing. Is it because there apparently is no end? I thought Artifact Power was done, until I saw it keeps going, I would like to finish leveling my professions, but they have made that “have meaning”. Maybe it has for some. The tailoring was engaging until the story stopped and kind of petered out. Did Enchanting have a story? I don’t know. The Class hall quests are so wrapped around Raids that I don’t know any more which I have to do and which I could skip. All of those missions every day. This begins a quest, so does this. No. No more raid or dungeon endless quest chains.

Attention, Blizz: Sisyphus is not an inspiring story, he is not someone schoolchildren are encouraged to emulate. He screwed up big time in life, and his punishment was an endless grind. Trust me, “Sisyphus the Game” is not a successful business model. 

And with that, let the weekend commence.

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 It’s that time

  1. Marathal says:

    What I am feeling at the moment since I am not raiding, and even a friend mentioned similar. I have most everything done I can do. I am very close to exalted with everyone, could push in a week and complete, but then what. Grind more Artifact Power? They have said all over level 35 will be refunded so you can spend it on new traits in 7.2. I did LFR this week, and will the next wing next week. Darkmoon faire is soon so will finally get enchanting to 799. I spent 26,000 gold making top enchants that raised me 1 point to 794, they are level 3 and all green to me. I did recoup some of the money, but have been making new for my wife who is getting raid gear from Nighthold. I usually end up hanging out in town reading the forums. I can play my Priest out in the world, but how many times can you run around killing the same bears, or fighting the same creatures for Emissary quests.

    • Marathal says:

      Oh. Forgot. The friend is in the reverse. He is stepping into the raids because for him, that’s the only thing left. If he wants a +15 Mythic he needs raid gear. And if he isn’t raiding? Why stay subbed.

      • Fiannor says:

        I tend more towards your friend’s approach, although I wish there were a path that allowed me to truly pursue end game activities without being forced into instances and raiding. I would just like to have a choice. Happily, I landed in an awesome guild a little over a year ago, and it really has made all the difference in my game enjoyment. I am actually having fun raiding again, and the tone of the guild is invariably one of helpfulness, activity, and humor.

        But the incessant grind for AP is wearing on me, as is the insane time commitment required to eventually be “lucky enough” to get the “best” legendary or relic. Which are close to compulsory for higher end raiding.

        Blizz has claimed that the wealth of Legion content represents game play choices for players. Not true. In fact, nearly every aspect of end game content is designed to force players into instances and raiding. Period. Want to concentrate on professions? You must run dungeons and raids. Want to challenge yourself with alts? Guess what, you must also run dungeons and raids. Want to merely flit about and gather mats? Nope, can’t do it efficiently unless you complete the quest lines which, yep, require dungeon and raid participation. Want flying in 7.2? You guessed, it, Mythic dungeons in Suramar required.

  2. I agree. Not being able to reach a plateau or high five at the peak is frustrating. My to-do list is way (way) too long.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yep, not only is it too long, BUT IT NEVER STOPS GROWING, and as you say there is no plateau to rest on and ever have any sense of accomplishment.

  3. Grumsta says:

    My only issue with Legion progression is that it’s gated behind RNG at every turn. I prefer to get my rewards from my effort, not via pure luck. Here you have to put in the effort just to give yourself a virtual roll of the dice. Not fun.

    I like the fact that there’s always something to do on my main and two alts. I do what I want to do, and then I stop. (If I gather herbs I do it in short bursts because constantly failing to level up just gets depressing and frustrating very quickly.)

    The only time I was totally overwhelmed in Legion was when I hit 110 with my main. I genuinely didn’t know what to do next; it felt like everything was more important and urgent to do than everything else. Since then I’ve looked at the list of things the game says I “must” do, and I do only the ones I want to. It’s the only real control I have.

    For me, there is no “need” to do anything. I’ve seen too many guildies burn themselves out in the initial grind to get ready for EN’s launch. Our raid team dropped from 20 to 13 two weeks after we first cleared EN. A few have since returned, and they’re on the same path to burnout again because they feel they’ve fallen behind and are now flogging themselves into frustrated, stressed-out misery trying to catch up again.

    I’ve been taking the tortoise approach. I “only” have two legendaries on my main because I don’t run Mythic dungeons every week, nor a dozen Mythic+ every day. But I’m helping my guild progress on clearing raids and I look forward to getting home and logging in and playing. My ilevel is a little behind my team mates, but not by much. I have upgraded one legendary to 940, the other will get done this week, then I’ll be back on terms again.

    It’s diminishing returns: you put in twice the effort, but end up with only a 2% advantage over those around you. If that’s not the end of the world to you then why do it? I’m probably not competitive enough for that to be a problem for me, I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself outside of work.

    WoD helped me understand what I enjoy about the game, and what is Job 2.0. I now put enough effort in to achieve my goals while still enjoying it.

    My first xpac was MoP, and I was playing catch-up from beginning to end. (I never did get to any sort of end as WoD happened and everything changed.) Legion must feel even worse to someone coming into the game for the first time. There are useful catch-up mechanics in 7.1.5 and more coming in 7.2 (like the Forge quest going: hoorah!). Will it be enough, or will Legion put off new players and/or burn out too many current players? I think there will be attrition, but overall the content is good enough that the player base will grow.

    • Fiannor says:

      I have for the most part refused to increase my game play time to any significant degree. What that has meant practically is that I tend to lag behind others on my raid team in legendaries, overall gear level, and artifact level. In general, this is not a big problem, I frequently do more damage than some of those with way better gear.

      There are people who have 6 or more legendaries, but as you can only equip two currently all that means is they might have a little more flexibility in tailoring their gear to particular fights. Blizz has basically admitted legendaries in Legion were a huge mistake, and they are still scrambling to put that horse back in the barn. I doubt if they will be able to at this point, especially since their approach thus far has been mainly to make the “good ones” approach the uselessness of the “bad” ones, and tentative indications from 7.2 are that they will continue this trend. Moreover, the RNG basis for getting them is one of the absolute worst aspects of the entire implementation. In my opinion, there seems no reason to even have them — the whole thing smacks of some dev’s attempt to come up with a bright idea that would garner a bonus come performance review time.

      Gear level is a continuing frustration to me, mainly because of the total mess Blizz has made of secondary stats. I have ilevel 880 gear that, because of the secondary stats, is actually worse than ilvl 865 gear. The entire stat system has become unbelievably complex and counterintuitive. I laugh out loud every time I remember Blizz lecturing us on the fact that removing reforging from the game was done because it was too complicated and required “math” or going to a website for optimum stats. I now regularly consult two websites and run sims just to decide if a certain piece of gear is an upgrade or not. Thank goodness for the Pawn addon, although the constant adjusting needed to keep your stats in balance can mean that a piece of gear that was useless to you yesterday is now an upgrade because you accidentally bumped up your versatility…. A total mess.

      About the only thing I would say I am close to burning out on is the AP chase for what seems will be an infinite number of artifact levels. I am only at level 42 on my main’s artifact (we do have a few who are approaching the current max of 54), and each night it gets more and more demoralizing to run a quest for, say, 100k AP only to see the progress bar move a tiny bit. Worse, each new level for my artifact now increases my damage by a whopping 0.5%. Yes, in the big picture, adding about 10% by completing the “final” 20 weapon levels is worthwhile, but creeping up so glacially slowly is just terrible. I suppose the 7.2 system Blizz has described is reasonable in terms of trading in AP, but honestly I am sick of the whole artifact weapon idea. It was a mistake to make one piece of gear so integral to game play, and I think it has played a big role in making the whole class balance mess as bad as it is.

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