Scaling to gear

Very interesting post last week by Watcher on the issue of scaling in WoW. By now, most of you who are interested have already read it for yourselves, but the tl;dr is that Blizz implemented a sort of stealth mechanic of world scaling in 7.2, in which a player’s gear determines the amount of health a mob has. And initially your gear level also determined how much damage the mob would do to you. My impression on the first day was it was pretty brutal, akin to losing 40-50 ilevels. Within a couple of days, however, Blizz hotfixed it so that the mobs no long deal any increased damage relative to your gear level, and they also seriously nerfed the mob health ramp-up. Honestly, I don’t much notice the effect at all now, except possibly when my hunter gets greedy and attempts 10-15 mobs at once.

But I thought Blizz’s rollout of this mechanic was interesting for several reasons.

First, the underlying problem — if geared players reach a point in current content where they can not only one shot a trash mob in the world, but they can one shot 20 such mobs all at once, and they can do it in the space of a global cooldown or less, then that is not a good thing, for several reasons:

  • It renders world quests not only trivial but downright annoying, as the player spends far more time getting to the quest areas and looting corpses than in killing the mobs.
  • Play style thus degenerates into a consideration of how fast the player can spam instant casts, because mobs die long before they can get off anything close to a normal rotation.
  • Lesser geared as well as less mobile players undergo a lot of frustration, since the more highly geared/faster players can decimate an entire quest area without giving anyone else a chance to even get off an instant cast or get into range and thus participate in the kill.

I can appreciate this problem, I have been on both the overpowered end of it and on the lesser-geared part of it. On the overpowered end, it does start to seem silly to spend 5 minutes getting to a quest that you can finish in less than a minute. And if there are other players in the area, I do feel bad about killing masses of mobs in what seems to be a selfish way, but there is not much I can do about it with my current power level, except get in and out in as little time as possible. Still, even my geared main is often frustrated when the area is overrun with horde and I cannot get a single shot in before they tag it and it becomes useless for my quest. Not to mention that hunters are slow movers, only two very puny speed cooldowns, and sometimes even getting within “ranged range” is a challenge when the mobs or mini bosses die almost instantaneously.

On my alts, especially my more slow-moving melee ones, lately I cannot even get close enough to a mob to get in a lick of damage before it dies, so I spend a lot of time just running around the quest area. I am left to seek out mobs in fringe areas where the more highly geared players do not bother to go. And it does not just happen with trash mobs in WQ areas — the mini-boss types die almost as quickly, so nearly every time I am required to wait for a respawn. Not a huge problem, I grant you, but annoying nevertheless.

Second, Blizz’s previous pronouncements on scaling — namely, they said they would absolutely not be doing gear-based scaling, only the initial Legion zone scaling. And now they have done gear-based scaling. I am actually somewhat encouraged in this case by Blizz’s willingness to change their policy here. True, they probably should have never said never, but as Watcher confessed, they really had no idea about some of the challenges they would face when they opted for keeping outdoor world content relevant throughout an expansion, as they have done with WQs in Legion.

Watcher seemed to be claiming a “Who knew?” kind of excuse here, reaffirming once again that Blizz stinks at this kind of project planning. The answer, of course, is that anyone worth their salt as a project planner should have anticipated this result. Still, beyond staggering incompetency at project management, it is basically a good thing that Blizz can be agile enough to back down when they were clearly wrong in their initial pronouncement.

Third, the “stealth” nature of this rather significant change — it was intentionally not included in the official patch notes, according to Watcher. He blizzsplained that they wanted players to not focus on it because then the devs might have gotten a biased player response, and what they wanted was a response “not skewed by the experience of logging in and actively trying to spot the differences.”

So in other words it was for our own good and to get around our tendency to lie. We are of course too stupid to be able to understand the highly complex thinking of mightier beings like Watcher and his minions, and we are too dishonest to give realistic feedback. There, there, little players, don’t over stress your puny brains with it, run along now. Watcher knows best.

Silly me, I thought the purpose of a Public Test Realm was, well, “testing”. I do not generally think of a live patch as the place to do it, certainly not for something as major as this change. As it turned out, some players did notice and comment on some of this world scaling on the PTR, but Blizz pretty much played off any comments on it, purposely hiding their rather significant play style change intention. They did not actually lie about it, but they were deliberately deceptive.

Yeah, it’s not a huge thing, but it shows once again Blizz’s pattern of disdain bordering on contempt for their customers.

Fourth, can we trust Blizz not to go overboard on this new scaling? As I have written above, in general I think world scaling has a place in Legion, and I get that the problem took Blizz more or less by surprise. Watcher’s blue post clearly indicates that he knows there is a delicate balance to be achieved here: players need to feel more powerful as they gear up, but no one benefits if the current world content is like questing in Elwynn Forest as a level 110.

Unfortunately, Blizz’s history is not encouraging for achieving that balance — we have all witnessed and experienced what has become the pendulum swing meme with WoW. They often seem incapable of striking a happy medium, preferring instead to lurch from one extreme to the other.

Why add a lot of new content if the current content can be made to be perpetually challenging? Although I do not generally subscribe to the “slippery slope” theory, once this genie of scaling activities to gear level is out of the bottle, will it be too tempting for devs to use as a convenient play-extender? Undeniably, scaling world content to gear just makes quests take longer, and we all know Blizz’s recent obsession with measuring hours played per month. If you could tweak the geared scaling just a tiny bit more and get, oh, say, a million more hours played per month overall, why not do it?

And why stop at world scaling? Blizz has already applied the principle to Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons in 7.2 — players are outgearing the initial ones, so they have ramped up the overall difficulty in response. (I ran a Neltharion’s Lair +11 last night and it was orders of magnitude harder than the 7.1.5 version. Our team that had been 2- and 3-chesting +14’s was unable to come close to beating the timer at all.) True, the increased difficulty is not pegged to individual team gear levels but rather to overall player base averages, but what is to stop Blizz from calculating the team average ilevel and incrementing the instance difficulty in the same way they now calculate player ilevel and ramp up mob health in the world?

Why stop at gross gear level scaling? Should healers get easier mobs than damage dealers? What about tanks? Should clothies have less damage directed at them than plate wearers? Should long casts be made instant in certain quest areas, or should instant casts be disallowed? Should all mobs be made available to both factions, no matter who tagged them first? How far should the game go to tailor content to individual player circumstances? More insidiously, how far should game design go to manipulate the quarterly statistics for the stockholders?

I am not saying this initial world scaling mechanism is bad — in fact I am in favor of it — and I am not predicting Blizz will misuse it, but I do think it is something they need to be very careful about. It is a  short philosophical hop from “We think players need to feel more powerful as they gear up,” to “We think players need to feel challenged even as they gear up”. And now that the gear-based mechanism is available, the Good Idea Fairy is bound to visit devs in many parts of the game — someone needs to make sure they do not get carried away.

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.

11 Responses to Scaling to gear

  1. Grumsta says:

    The issue for me is summed up neatly in your line: “no one benefits if the current world content is like questing in Elwynn Forest as a level 110.” Exactly.

    Blizz are trying to scrape the butter a bit too thinly on this piece of toast IMO. Why on earth are we still doing WQs at 900 that we were doing at 800? It makes no sense to me, and goes against the game design from all previous xpacs.

    By all means up the difficulty and increase the reward, but the current workaround is awful (even after the changes).

    Add-ons like World Quest Group Finder are a huge help, and many WQs can be completed by being in a group and have others complete the actual work. I’ve benefited from this when playing my healer.

    From 7.2 we really shouldn’t be expected to continue doing the old WQs for this extra rep: we should be concentrating on the Broken Shore and getting the AP etc that we need from there.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yeah, it is pretty obvious that Blizz still has not figured out how to do continuously-relevant world content. It’s another example of them coming up with some grand concept and then having no clue how to fit the implementation to the idea. As you point out, they are trying to stretch their initial set of WQs far too thin. Having misjudged the sheer amount of truly new content it would take to carry out their promise for Legion in terms of relevant world activities, they are scrambling to make do with artificial mechanisms like gear scaling.

      In all candor, I think it will end up being a failed experiment anyway, since as I pointed out, now it is barely noticeable. My main still slices through mobs like butter, and my poorly-geared alts struggle and often die. (And yes, I agree that the Quest Group Finder is a fantastic tool, use it a lot on alts.) Yet the downsides to WQs remain — it is still a challenge to tag a mob in many WQs, even in Broken Shores, before it dies. I seriously doubt if Blizz will be able to find the balance they are looking for here, and the reason could well be that this is just not the way to keep world content relevant.

      Similarly, the adding on of “new” rep to current world factions just to justify continuing to do WQs seems pretty desperate. Added to the never-ending pursuit of AP, it starts to feel like one giant expansion-long grind — the very thing Blizz claims to hate.

  2. I guess I am opposite, I feel that if I vastly outgear the quest rewards, I -should- be able to overpower the mobs in quest content. Otherwise, what incentive is there to get more gear? If they want to keep the scaling to make things more artificially difficult, then the quest rewards should likewise be improved. Life is difficult enough for my undergeared alts that I don’t need Blizzard adding artificial challenge.

    • Fiannor says:

      You have put your finger smack dab on Blizz’s dilemma. They understand that people who finally get a decent set of gear WANT to feel overpowered, else why get the gear? The problem they are confronting is one of degree — basically at what point (if any) does overpowering become TOO overpowered? If a poorly-geared player struggles to down a WQ mob in 20 seconds, what is wrong with that same player gearing up and downing the same mob in 5 seconds? How about 1 second? How about a few milliseconds, basically one shot of your weakest instant shot as soon as you get within max range? How about when you are so overgeared for a WQ that you can run around and gather up most of the mobs at once and still one-shot them with a good instant AoE?

      And at what point do well-geared players begin to destroy the fun of lesser-geared ones competing for the same mobs in the same WQ? Or those with special racial or class speed buffs begin to dominate a WQ area and essentially clear it of mobs before slower players or those with few if any instant casts can even begin to get a shot off?

      Maybe there is nothing wrong with any of these situations, I don’t know. I feel like there does come a point at which players become too OP, both for their own enjoyment of current content and for that of others, but I can’t say I know where that point is. I suspect most players would agree that there is such a point, but almost no one will agree on where it is. This is what Blizz is confronting now.

      • gnomecore says:

        By my experience I don’t see many mobs one-shot even by overpowered players. I’ve encountered situations when I begin picking at a mob, 20% gone, and then a tough guy insta-takes off 50% or 60%. The opening abilities off-cooldown are surely the toughest in most cases, so it’s ok if a dude joins a fight and effectively finishes a mob.

        My Frost Mage has this talent of ice nova, which is a) freeze b) AoE c) instant cast d) takes off at least 50-70% of a common mob health. It has cooldown, so you cannot use it in every fight. But when I see a melee or caster slowly building up his power abilities while hitting a mob with weak spells, and I join with ice nova, it will seem like a one-shot (although it is not).

        My pros for being overgeared and leaving it as that:

        1. You’ve earned this right to be overgeared, yes you did. You were there to finish the toughest foes, so the open world should tremble in your wake.

        2. You’ve earned this right with your time. You were there while questing, you were there when foes returned (world quests), now for the third-hundredth grind of the same spot for mounts you must not experience any difficulties.

        3. It maybe a bit hard to tag mobs with certain classes, yes. But you should know your class. I have a jade lightning on my monk’s panel – it’s meant only to tag mobs, it doesn’t do any serious damage. I have a throwing knife at my rogue and a weapon toss at my warrior ready.

        The whole tagging reasons for scaling are ridiculous. Some realms have a significant dominance of Alliance or Horde faction – my Goblins find it a bit harder to do the same quests than my Gnomes. Some things can’t be shared: remember the squirrel invasion or bolstering the withered ranks or fishing. You could also choose a time to do a world quest: I try to complete elite kills when they’re just arrived or when they are an emissary quest, and grinding solo quests when they “grow a bit old” so that there were not many players.

        All in all this is a competition of who’s faster, and “overpowered” players don’t change this much. Explore and know your quest areas, learn your class abilities, be quick, return later – the options to complete a quest quick are so plenty.

      • gnomecore says:

        Oh, and I forgot one more “pro”.

        If an overpowered player kills quest mobs quickly, he will leave the quest area SOONER – less competition for undergeared guys.

  3. Marathal says:

    Well, I ran across this the other day https://us.battle.net/forums/en/wow/topic/20753319202 just a little bit of egg on the face there. A posting in the PTR forums that went unnoticed.

    I will concede they have a difficult design challenge. A Mythic geared dungeon group, with 5 Class hall Champions, and of course pets, can utterly destroy the entire zone. As a solo, or sometimes with my wife, we take our time and just get what we can, and then leave. It is not our sandbox. They can have it.

    • Fiannor says:

      I did see that PTR post at the time the thread started — to me the interesting thing is that Blizz did not respond to it in any official way, thereby passively encouraging many PTR players to write it off as an anomaly probably due to tuning problems. “Nothing to see here, business as usual, move along!”

      Not really their finest hour, imo.

  4. What is the real gameplay problem here? Is it that someone can one shot with instants mobs, or is it that the ability to 1-shot mobs with instants decreasing the pool of mobs at such a prodigious rate that it harms others’ play experience? Of your three bullet points under your first section, two have to deal with problems from the perspective of the low gear player. I read into both those points that the low gear score players and/or melee/casttime players cannot tag mobs and complete their quests, particularly when there are multiple highpowered players decimating the mob population. The issue is that those players don’t have enough of the mobs to do their quests (being the high power cleared them out). Then the solution should be MOAR MOBS!

    Blizzard already alters the spawn rate of creatures based on some factors (one of which is the # of players in an area kiling mobs). One factor that I don’t know is in there, but ought to be if it isn’t and modified if it is, is time scaling. For instance, if 5 or 6 mobs die in the span of 2 seconds, then that rate of removal ought to be a factor in rate of replacement. There are clear data points that indicate what is happening and can be used to effect the way the environment responds to ensure the desired game play experience. Sure, nobody wants to be fighting their way through towards a goal and have the mobs you just cleaned up start reappearing on top of you while you are fighting the next one and likewise you don’t want to clear the one mob and wait 10 minutes for it to pop back up. One extreme over the other isn’t desirable, but Blizz has the data: how many ppl are in area actively engaging mobs, what are their ilvls, what is the rate of mob death, etc and then vary the respawn rate more aggressively.

    Everyone knows that mob competition is part of an MMO’s gameplay. The question is where is the happy medium? Yes it is a complicated issue, and is this rate of respawn the best solution? Maybe not, but it does offer some interesting benefits over their scaling solution.

    1) Blizzard is not applying a formula to negate some of the benefits you receive from your work. Ie scaling DOES negate some portion of your power gains through gearing up. Perceptually, thats always going to be a feel bad moment. You can conceptualize the problem and see how it addresses the problem, but it still just inherently feels bad. Like your DM gave you a couple magical items that they don’t know how to handle so design situations where they aren’t applicable or severely reduced in power. You know WHY the DM is doing it, but it still just feels bad.

    2) Since the real problem is the lack mobs due to OP demobbification, this directly addresses that need. Additionally, there is very little chance this solution could create unintended consequences and disparate play experiences between healer, tank, and dps like we saw in the scaling rollout. The mobs were designed (as were the classes and ability numbers) to have a balance, meaning, while maybe not easy, healers could complete the quests. My scaling respawn mechanic doesn’t affect this designed balance.

    3) It preserves the feel of advancement through your efforts. Yes, Ion explained that it is simply slowing the rate of growth but its very important to feel that growth and wow is already an incredibly grindy game with minimal gains for individual pieces of loot. I’ve never gotten a single piece of loot that has me feel significantly more powerful unless it has had some special ability attached to it: tier set bonuses, legendary items, trinkets with special abilities. Each individual piece of gear is barely noticeable. Its the collective # of pieces of gear we wear as well as the dungeons, mythics, and raids that we do over and over again that over time it adds up significantly. But look at the time investment to run those activities, and the RNG nature of actually getting the loot that is an upgrade. If I spend 20hrs a week raiding/dungeoning/WQ, I SHOULD feel stronger (on average) than someone that spends 5hrs a week doing these activities. There is a huge disparity in time commitments to the game, and someone OUGHT to see a benefit for committing so much time to the game (to a point). Play with that inherent reward, and it DEVALUES the effort I have spent previously and will spend in the future, providing LESS incentive to do that activity. And for those committed to just a raid a week, it practically erases their gains of “feeling more powerful” since the scaling drastically reduces the rate of power growth.

    4) In society, appearances matter. Not only do judges have to be aware of conflict of interests, they have to be aware of potential appearances of conflict of interest, because the appearance can be just as harmful to the judgement’s reception. Likewise, Blizzard now has a vested interested in having a higher # of hrs played per month vs lower. Any system modification that explicitly makes activities take longer is going to be met with suspicion. It is THAT point that I think led to the severity of player reaction in this case. They intellectually understood (some) of Ion’s points and justifications, but felt like their characters power was being reduced to benefit other players and blizzards hours played metric. Asking people to engage that emotional traffic jam and expecting them to come out without resentment and suspicion, I think is unrealistic.

    Overall, their methods of releasing it, justifying it, and communicating with players only increased this sense of unease and distrust, especially when I think there were other ways to address the root problems without the need for “trust us.”

    • Fiannor says:

      Yes, it is an interesting point you make. What indeed is the point of the game play? I feel like most players perceive it as a problem for their lesser geared characters — which would indeed benefit from your faster respawn solution — whereas Blizz is coming at it from the other end — once again blizzsplaining to us that we don’t really have approved fun if we kill mobs too quickly. (Not that more time spent playing per month matters to them in the least….)

      It does seem like the simplest solution — and the one that would not open up what could be a real jar of worms — would be to increase the spawn rate. However, this would be a solution aimed at players, not at Blizz’s bottom line, thus I consider it to be an unlikely course of action for Blizz.

      • “However, this would be a solution aimed at players, not at Blizz’s bottom line, thus I consider it to be an unlikely course of action for Blizz.”

        That is the point. This action clearly results in taking more time for players to accomplish x, y, and z. Blizzards current metric is hours played per month. This clearly benefits their bottom line. So, players are going to view this change skeptically (some more than others). Clearly there is going to be a PR situation that requires addressing to at a minimum show what the problem was they were trying to address and why this is the best solution.

        How did they address this easily predicted situation. They added it to the patch without informing players. That act inflames suspicions and puts the playerbase in a much less receptive position to their arguments. This actively works against their goal: a fresh unbiased view of the consequences to their solution.

        They could have sold this, even knowing there were other solutions that accomplished the same in game consequences (though not extra hrs played). Their approach demonstrates in my opinion a guilty mind; they knew people would see their solution as a nerf that improves Blizzard earnings, and rather than prepare the player base and respond to legitimate criticism, they opted to shoehorn it and hope it goes smoothly. It did not.

        Sadly, I think we are seeing the corporatization of development over design choices that make the game great and earn $ off the greatness of the experience vs leveraging assets to maximize their gain. The former inspires players loyalty and investment while viewing developer choices in a positive light (giving the benefit of the doubt), the latter encourages disillusionment and viewing all further actions by developers with suspicion and in a negative light. Perhaps their analysis is that we have a limited time left with this resource and cultivating trust and investment is less profitable than leveraging what we can out of the devoted fanbase. Regrettably, I believe that IS their analysis at this point.