What I heard, part two

Finishing my take (it’s a long one, get comfortable) on the March 21 Live Developer Q&A:

Caverns of Time portal. This will return in “the next content update”, which I guess means 8.2. I did find it interesting that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, who in the past has not shied away from reiterating ad nauseam the full line of reasoning for unpopular design decisions (remember the endless lectures on “immersion” over flying?), glossed over the whole stupid “it makes the world seem bigger” whopper used as justification for removing many of the most popular portals. Maybe he was just saving time for more questions, but it’s also possible even he is embarrassed over such blatant dissembling.

Whatever, we will get one lousy portal back, a response that passes for being sensitive to player concerns in Blizzland. Here’s a newsflash, Ion: The bigger concern is over forcing players to spend minutes at a time doing nothing but sitting on a flight mechanism while the game spins the same old scenery at you. Every. Single. Time. Even you cannot think that is “fun”. And every time you make one of these ridiculous arguments for reinstating player inconveniences, all it does is reinforce the notion that design is indeed being driven by MAU, the notion you so indignantly pooh-poohed at the start of the Q&A.

On the plus side in this discussion, I do like the plan to include more information on how to get from one continent to another when you are given a quest requiring such travel. Most of us who have played the game for a few years probably don’t need such assistance, but it has to be confusing for newer players (if indeed there are many), so this will I hope be a quality of life improvement.

Character customization. After years of begging for more choice in our character appearances, Blizz seems to be making some concessions. The most immediate one to be implemented will be “no chest piece” transmog option in 8.2. Speaking as someone who likes the jeans-and-tee-shirt visual on most of her characters, this will be very welcome. It is especially welcome given that most of my characters are female, and it seems like nearly every female chest piece is either a variation on the iron-bra-with-pointy-nipples seen in opera parodies or some kind of long flowing gown. What seems to have driven this concession is Blizz’s earlier decision to have some of the allied races covered with tats on the chest and/or arms. Now, naturally, players want to be able to see this adornment. Whatever drove the decision, yay.

A recent announcement went even further, stating that at some point in the unspecified future, all armor slots will have a “none” transmog option. Except pants, and wtf is up with that? Is Blizz just having fun with us, or are they making a “we are the ultimate authority” stand on this? It seems silly, given that many of the “pants” in the game basically serve to highlight rather than cover crotch and buttocks. Yeah, ok, I get that they are more like armored chaps designed to protect thighs, but the representation can border on obscene. I don’t necessarily object to this — if people like the slutty look , both male and female, more power to them — but it seems silly to now go on and say, with puritanical pursed lips, “Pants must remain”. Hey Blizz, take a look, many of them really are not pants, they are armored see-throughs!

Along with transmog changes, there will also be some more latitude in selecting a character’s looks. Almost certainly WoW will never approach the extreme character modeling some games allow, but any additional options will be welcome.

Leveling. This, in my opinion, was one of the most significant “hints” dropped. The question actually asked if there are plans to make the leveling process less tedious and dull. However, dollars to donuts the question was chosen specifically to allow Mr. GDH to introduce players to the idea of a possible level squish in the not-too distant future, say at the start of the next expansion. Because his immediate answer to the question included the phrase “120 is a crazy number”. Then he went on to expound on this, saying the team is “seriously considering” a level squish, intimating something like 60 being the max level once again.

Numbers in this game are all relative, and personally it wouldn’t bother me a bit if suddenly I were level 60 instead of level 120. The design argument put forth is that 120 levels is too many to give players meaningful upgrades as they level up — just too complicated, plus 120 of anything tends to cheapen each item. Plus 120 levels seems intimidating to brand new players. Maybe. I am not sure of the logic there but I can give Blizz the benefit of the doubt.

But the idea spurs a couple of thoughts in my head. The first thing is, if there is a level squish (and I think it is a safe bet there will be one in the next expansion), what will that mean for actual time spent leveling? Given Blizz’s fixation on MAU — protestations notwithstanding — my bet is it will still take the same amount of time to level a character, each level will take twice as long as it does now. I would like to be wrong on this, but history is on my side.

Second, what would a level squish mean for the game going forward? I think it is at least an even bet that future expansions would increase character levels by 5, not 10, because Blizz will not want to repeat a level squish any time soon. (It will be a painful experience for some who see it as a diminishment of their game achievements, and they will make their pain known in the forums for quite a while.) Blizz did experiment with a +5 level increase going from Wrath to Cata and again going from Cata to Mists (though one could argue the latter +5 was done only to get the game back to even numbers again). Then, for whatever reason, they returned to +10 expansion increases.

At any rate, the tl;dr for this is: There will be a level squish in the next expansion — probably back to 60 as max, it will not affect the time required to level, there will be a significant backlash over it, and future increases may be limited to +5. 

Social aspect of the game. In a series of questions, Mr. GDH acknowledged that the game has lost a lot of the social glue that used to be the bread and butter of WoW, and that indeed part of the “magic” of the game used to be the friends one made and the experiences shared with those friends. He went on to admit that guilds were diminished by the introduction of communities and explained that many guild abilities disappeared due to going from an internal game mechanism to an external one (battle.net). Also, anyone wanting a specific guild function back should let Blizz know which one they want.

Okay. First, it is encouraging to know the Game Director understands the role of the social part of the game — I have not been sure he really cared for quite a while now. But the other thing here is not encouraging: they are falling back on that tired old demand of “Well, tell us specifically what you want and we will think about it.” Whenever Blizz does not want to do something they tell everyone to give very specific information, in spite of many players already having done such.

In this case, Mr. GDH said, well, yeah, okay, there have been many specific requests regarding guild abilities to be restored, but now people need to post which one they most want restored. Blizz, forgive me for pointing this out, but don’t you have a ton of techs who know exactly what guild abilities were present prior to communities and which ones are no longer there? At the very least, you could post these differences and ask players to weigh in on them. Or — here’s a novel idea — just restore all of them!

Interestingly, even when players do give very specific feedback on issues — thinking class designs here especially during beta and PTR phases — Blizz comes up with a different excuse to not implement them. “Now is not the time” is a prevalent one, or even better is the secret data one where Blizz claims that forum feedback is only a small portion of the data they use to make decisions and no we can’t see that info because reasons.

Game economy. Yeah, this just showed me Blizz has zero idea what they are doing here. Speaking as a B+ student in Econ 101, even I could have anticipated that handing out gold like candy in WoD and to some extent in Legion would have repercussions in the game for a long time. Why did they do this? Well, for one reason they were buying player loyalty in the failed WoD expansion. For another, they needed players to be easily able to buy game tokens in order to keep the money-making token system functioning. This requires both significant gold in exchange for $20 and relatively easy chance of making 100k+ gold every month for players using the tokens for their subscriptions. This is a pretty obvious inflation-producer in and of itself.

All of Mr. GDH’s hand-wringing over how they are trying to fix the game economy does not change the fact that he was in a position of authority during the expansions that did the most to ruin it. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. Hire a professional economist for crying out loud.

Raid composition. After listening to this a couple of times, I think it was just such a load of BS it is not worth commenting on. (But of course I can’t resist…) Bottom line in response to a question about certain Battle of Dazar’alor fights heavily favoring certain raid compositions, we got a lot of platitudes and generalities that boil down to: We want Mythic level to be challenging and the rest of you can just suck it up if it accidentally filters down to your pathetic raiding level. Okay, that is a bit harsh, I admit, but the fact is that Blizz seems to have gotten worse and worse at balancing raid fights for smaller raid teams, and they seem to have made zero attempt to make them uniformly accessible to diverse compositions. They are all about Mythic level — this seems to be where they start their design, then make increasingly half-assed attempts to dumb the design down for the peons. Yeah, that is kind of a rant for which I sort of apologize…

Final words. (I know, it’s about time!) I thought this Q&A was one of the better ones from the standpoint of giving out real information. I think the biggest reveals were about metrics (the MAU attack seems to have struck a nerve with Blizz) and level squish. So while I ranted about some of the comments, I was encouraged that Blizz has decided to take on some of the tougher player concerns instead of cherry-picking softball questions. Now they need to work on giving us straight answers instead of the insulting fantasies even a toddler would roll his eyes at.

5 thoughts on “What I heard, part two

  1. I’m going to take a deep breath, and not go on for about 6000 words on communities, the guild interface, et all. Personal opinion is they took a cheap route to try to fix the guild interface by making something new, rather than digging in and sorting out the problems.

  2. A few thoughts:
    On leveling – Since there is no real gain in abilities or talents since WoD – I felt max level in Legion should have been 101, and BfA 102. Everything else is just numbers to make us feel better. Actually you get weaker as you level in Legion & BfA due to secondary stat scaling. It is all about the gear increasing your power, and that didn’t have to require +10 levels per xpac.

    Transmog – got to have your pants – anyone remember the original “Waist of Time” design? It didn’t border on obscene – it was out and out obscene.

    1. LOL! Well, not to go all feminist, but the whole “OK to bare the chest but gotta have pants” is pretty testosterone-laden. The first thing a male does, when caught undressed, is grab his pants. The first thing a female does in the same situation is grab a shirt. Not to mention, there is that significant section of male players that have female alts primarily to ogle them in various fantasy-heavy garb.

      I have no intention of starting another gender war, and I don’t know if you are male or female, but generally a picture like the above is considered “obscene” almost exclusively by males uncomfortable with seeing any hint of another male’s private areas on display. Not speaking for all women (but it is a point of view shared by all my women friends), if guys can ogle a female cartoon character’s boobs, why can’t we ogle a male character’s “parts”?

      1. I think in a fantasy setting like WoW, one has to “ogre a male character’s parts.” Of course, I’ve been wrong before.

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