Where are the classic servers?

Approximately eight months ago Blizz announced that, in response to the constant whines of a small but vocal and persistent player group, they would be creating so-called “Classic” servers. The idea, of course, arose from the rogue “Vanilla” servers Blizz took down a couple of years ago. These were clear copyright infringements and thus illegal in most countries, but their demise called forth howls of anguish from the players devoted to them. Eventually, Blizz sat down with the criminal perpetrators of the most popular of these servers, and in theory got some ideas of just exactly what it was about them that attracted players, as well as some ideas of how to run and improve such servers. There was even — briefly — talk of Blizz licensing the servers to actually make them legal, but that idea died rather quickly for a lot of reasons.

Nevertheless, Blizz apparently listened to the players who thought they wanted to play only and always Vanilla, and last year announced they would be seriously working on establishing official Blizz “Classic” servers. Since then, the only evident activity has been the establishment of a forum where players can flame each other on what “Classic” actually means. And flame they do. While there are some wise and thoughtful posts scattered through the forum, much of it involves people screeching about their personal ideas of the meaning of “Classic”, and anyone who has a different idea is a ((fill in the blank with an epithet of your choice)).

I do think the forum was a good idea, and I hope Blizz has been able to find some points of player coalescence by sifting through the garbage. Certainly defining a “Classic” server  is the biggest job Blizz faces in this project. Most of the people who think they want the “Vanilla” experience really do not. They certainly do not want all the crashes, jagged graphics, and other technical challenges from the early days of the game. Many of them are not willing to return to a time without group finders, transmog, flying mounts, mount and pet tabs, account-bound items, heirlooms. Many are not willing to put up once again with rampant exploits and bugs, classes without the flexibility they have now,  small stack sizes, yada yada yada.

What people who cry for “Classic” servers really want is for Blizz to give them once again the wonder and joy they found in the game when they first started to play. Sadly, returning to some committee opinion of the original game will not give them that, because it’s not really the game mechanics that made them happy then, it was an entire milieu of who they were and who their friends were and what their life was like and a fascination with what was at the time a new and miraculous technology and game genre. None of those situations are things Blizz has any power to recreate, and I personally think Classic servers are doomed to failure.

Blizz has hinted the reason they have not announced any official progress for Classic servers is that they have had to do mundane but time-consuming things like hire an entire team. They have further hinted they may have an announcement about Classic servers at this year’s Blizzcon, but definitely they will have nothing to say on the subject until after the launch of BfA.

In some ways, Blizz adopting the idea of Classic servers is very similar to what they did with the Blizz token. Enough players to pay attention to were going to illicit gold sellers to pay real money for in game gold (or for the gear and mounts you can buy for gold). Blizz played whack-a-mole with these outfits for years before they decided to give players a legal way to do what they were clearly going to do anyway. Pretty much the same reasoning, I think, is going on with Classic servers. With the token idea, Blizz pretty much put the gold sellers out of business while at the same time a) giving players a way to buy gold with real money, b) giving cash-strapped players an alternate way to keep subscribing, and c) making a pretty penny for the company. Win-win-win solution! The question is, will Blizz be able to pull off a similar triple victory with Classic servers?

The one big elephant in the room with any discussion of Classic servers is, what do players do once they have reached the end game — whether that is level 50 or 60 or 70? What do they do once they have run all the top level dungeons and raids so many times they can do it blindfolded? Players on live now get bored and stop playing an expansion — even a “content heavy” one like Legion — 4-6 months before a new one. Will any player actually be content to hit a dead end in the game time after time, to know all they can do is keep leveling new characters and go through the same quests they have already done dozens of times, knowing there will never be anything else to do on that server? (Hint: not only no, but hell no.)

Clearly, Blizz will offer some kind of progression for Classic players, otherwise all their resource investment in catering to these people trying to recapture their youth will be a total waste. And Blizz is not in business to waste money.

What that progression may look like is anyone’s guess. Will Classic servers be an infinite loop of moving from 1.x to 3.x and back again? Doubtful. Will they be just an alternate way to level up a new character, then at level 60 or 70 or whatever the character can jump to a regular server? (Without paying the server change fee.) Will current max level characters at 110 or 120 be allowed to jump back in to Classic as a low level temporarily and then come back to reality when they get bored? Will Blizz keep adding new content to a “Classic” environment? I do not know, but I think it is a sure bet that there will be some kind of continual progression available to Classic servers.

I have been a bit snarky about players wanting — well, actually, demanding — Classic servers. That is probably because I can see the practical obstacles to implementing them, and because I think these players really have not thought through what they are asking. But even though I have less than zero desire to relive any part of my past — either IRL or in a game, either the good or the bad — I do understand the longing to return to a time when you were happy and had a wide-eyed wonder about a game and could, at almost any moment, gather with your friends and have a rollicking good time.

I hope Blizz can live up to such lofty expectations for these players. Maybe they have a great, innovative plan that will satisfy every group. But I think in the end the WoW Luddites will be disappointed. The game has moved on, and players either need to move with it or find a different leisure pastime.

Token musings

Anyone who has relied on purchasing WoW tokens in the auction house as their way of paying for game time is well aware of their current high cost. When it was first introduced three years ago, the price in North America was pegged at 30,000 gold. It rapidly sank to around 18-20k and hovered at that level for well over a year. Now, the cost is over 200k. (It has always been significantly higher in European and Far East realms.) The real money cost, meanwhile  — $20 in the U.S. — has not changed. This means that the real exchange rate between dollars and WoW gold has gone from $1 for 1000g to $1 for 10,000g. In other words, the Blizz-sanctioned “price” of gold has taken a nosedive, while the gold price of game time has undergone huge inflation.

The token system also allows us to gauge the real world cost of gear and mats. For example, when tokens sold for 20,000 gold and the most expensive mount in the auction house was approximately 200,000 gold, that meant the mount cost about 10 tokens, or $200. Pretty pricey, imo, but the token system enables you to make those kinds of equivalencies and cost computations. These days if you buy a mount or piece of gear for a million gold, you can consider that to be a real world cost of about 5 tokens, or $100. Of course, not everyone actually pays the $100 directly, but still it gives you a way to make cost comparisons not bound by game economy inflation.

Which leads me to mention a rather remarkable forum exchange in the Blizz forums. Basically, the original poster posited that the cost of the token would soon skyrocket because Blizz just announced that it could be used to pay for the very popular Call of Duty game. I have no idea if that is an accurate prediction or not. The Blizz Blue poster pooh-poohs the idea, and he may also be right.

But what I found interesting about the forum exchange was the number of Blue posts it brought forth, and the insight we now have into the token mechanisms as a result of the posts. It is actually quite fascinating. (If you do not want to scroll through all the forum pages to find the Blue posts, they are extracted here on MMO-C.)

So what did we learn from them? Well, mainly Blizz reiterated that the token system is not completely market driven, that Blizz intervenes as they deem necessary to keep the token prices from fluctuating wildly and to keep the overall game gold economy on an even keel. We have known this from the start, of course, but now we have a tiny bit more insight into exactly how Blizz does it, and more importantly how they see the overall WoW economy.

Blizz’s underlying theme on the tokens is that they are a net zero in terms of the overall game gold supply. That is, within the game, a seller gains gold but only because a buyer transfers that gold to them. This is true, but as one forum poster pointed out, there is a cumulative effect on gold distribution within the game. The poster did not elaborate much on this theme, but I think it has some pretty noticeable consequences, mainly that the people with a lot of gold soon become the population that most controls which items in the economy are important for trade and which ones are not. What they will buy dictates what the cash-starved players will gather and craft, which in turn drives up those prices and drives down the prices on wealthy players’ undesirable items. Even if the token system is a net zero for gold supply, it eventually has a big effect on the economy.

Within the population of players, there are those who have real world money but not a lot of spare time, and there are those who have a lot of time but not a lot of real world money. The token system basically means that the “wealthy” players buy a month’s worth of game time for the cash-starved players, at a hefty 33%  increase for Blizz ($20 for a month’s game time as opposed to the standard $15). In return, the cash-starved players convert their time into gold that they give to the wealthy players. It is an ingenious system, and in principle, everyone wins.

However, over time and much like in actual capitalist economies, we start to see greater and greater imbalances in wealth distribution. People with real world cash get to the point where they have enough gold in the game, and they are less willing to plunk down $20 for a piddly 30-40k gold. Think about it — if you are sitting on, say, close to a million gold, is it worth it to you to spend $20 on what amounts to petty cash for you? No, you will hold onto your $20 until you feel you are getting some value for it. Meanwhile, since fewer moneybags are offering tokens for sale in the auction house, the asking price for the ones that are there will go up, even if Blizz has its thumb on the scale to prevent rapid escalation.

In general — and I have nothing but anecdotal evidence for this — I think there are more game-time buyers than there are $20-for-tokens buyers in the game. No matter how much time you may have to devote to playing WoW, eventually the gold cost of game time becomes too much. I know, for example, that several of my guildies who used to pay almost exclusively for their game time via tokens form the auction house have in the past couple of months unsubbed because they cannot keep up with earning 200k a month to pay for their subscription. And it seems that people who used to rather regularly plop down their credit card to Blizz in order to buy enough gold to make them happy in the game no longer are willing to do so. (Also, — as in real life — some people must spend every bit of gold as soon as they get it, while others feel like they always need more gold even if they have millions. Go figure.)

It is true there has been some significant overall inflation in the game. We saw a big jump in prices in WoD, when Blizz was pretty much handing out bags of gold through garrison missions, just to keep as many people playing as they could. The idea in Legion was for that kind of easy gold to go away, so as to tighten the gold supply and keep inflation in check. It absolutely did not happen. If anything, the inflation rate has increased in Legion. It is nothing, for example, for people to offer BoE gear in the auction house on my server for close to or even over 1 million gold. Even worthless crafted blue gear still goes for a couple thousand gold.

I suspect we are on the verge of, if not actual deflation, at least a temporary halt to more inflation. It is the end of the expansion. Pretty much no one will be buying gear at this point, whether expensive or cheap. Also, within a couple of weeks we will likely see a massive sell-off of all that leather, fish, ores, herbs stashes, etc. many people have been hoarding in their banks. It is all pretty worthless now anyway in terms of value for crafting. Even things like flasks and runes will be used less and less, driving down the cost of mats even more. Finally, some number of players who consider the game time tokens to be too costly will just unsubscribe for a couple of months rather than waste their gold on game time in a worn-out expansion.

So get those stacks of mats out of your bank now and throw them up for whatever gold you can get in the AH. You will be helping to stem the tide of inflation, and you might even make some gold. Whether it will be enough to finance your WoW habit for long depends on how gold-greedy the game’s wealthy players are. If we accept my premise that there are more players wanting the tokens from the AH than there are players — especially at the end of the expansion — willing to fork over real money for gold, then it seems likely the price of the tokens will remain very high. When BfA launches, there will be more players wanting the game tokens and also more players needing gold to buy expansive flasks and gear initially, so we will see what happens to the prices. But if there remains an imbalance in the number of players selling them and the number buying them, the bad news for many is that the gold price will continue to rise unless Blizz steps in and does some selective flooding of the token market to bring prices down.

As you can all tell, I am not an economist. But I know prices have gone up rather spectacularly in Legion, and I do not expect that trend to change in BfA. What that tells me is that it will become even more important for me to get my critical-profession alts up to speed as rapidly as possible, not necessarily to sell stuff, but as a gold-preserving measure allowing me to make my own stuff rather than deplete my gold stash paying for run-of the mill flasks and such.

And now my brain hurts. I need a beer. And a weekend. See you on the other side.

Hunter pet changes in BfA

There are some very minor hunter-related Battle for Azeroth spoilers in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know.

As many of you may know, Blizz is making significant changes to the hunter pet system in BfA. For a good rundown, check out Bendak’s post on this, but the essential points are:

  • Hunters will no longer select which specialty a pet has. That is, certain kinds of pets will be classified as Ferocity, others as Cunning, and still others as Tenacity. These cannot be changed. (All Spirit Beasts are now classified as Tenacity.)
  • All pet families do exactly the same amount of damage and have the same level of tanking ability.
  • Each pet family brings two abilities (one active, one passive) that benefit the pet, the hunter, and friendly players.
    • Ferocity grants a leech to the hunter and the pet, and has Blood Lust (30% haste for the group for 40 seconds).
    • Tenacity grants a blanket +8% health to the hunter and the pet, and has an active 20% damage reduction for hunter and pet for 6 seconds, on a 3-minute cooldown.
    • Cunning gives the hunter and pet an 8% speed increase and can remove snares and slows from a targeted friendly player.
  • In addition to the above, most pet families bring defensive cooldowns for themselves, and others bring a debuff against their target. Most (but not all) of these can be either manually cast by the hunter or put on auto-execute.
  • There are a few other minor changes, for example Stupid Hunter Insurance, where Growl is automatically turned off in dungeons and back on when you leave a dungeon. (You can turn it back on manually in a dungeon.)
  • Battle Rez has been removed completely as a pet ability, along with Heart of the Phoenix (except for Quilen, which may or may not be an oversight on Blizz’s part), Last Stand, and some other passives.

I really have not tested these changes much in the beta — hunter pets are limited thus far, since we cannot yet import a live character that might have already collected a lot of pet families. They may turn out to be okay, but in general I am very nervous about them. Pets are basically a cosmetic item for MM hunters, and SV hunter power comes primarily from the hunter not the pet. But BM hunters ARE their pets — without them we pretty much do zero damage. Our entire play style is centered on them.

So, for example, removal of Heart of the Phoenix (which has been a feature of all Ferocity pets) is significant — that one instant pet rez has saved my bacon more than once while soloing, and it has often enabled me to maintain damage on a boss during critical phases of a fight. For BM hunters, a pet revival cast time of 2 seconds can be serious — think if a warrior could periodically lose his weapon and not be able to retrieve it for 2-3 seconds in a boss fight. I smell a PvP whine at work here — having an instant pet revival spell makes BM hunters far less easy to gank in a world PvP situation. And of course if something offends PvP-ers, Blizz must change it immediately, especially when the design goal is to urge more people into PvP.

Interestingly — but unfortunately not surprisingly — while the BfA pet changes may result in hunters being expected to have at least one of every variation of pet, Blizz has not seen fit to change the antiquated pet stable system. The total number of pets a hunter may have is still 50, despite Blizz adding dozens of new pets to be tamed every expansion. Worse, a hunter is limited to 5 pets for summoning. If you have guessed wrong, and none of those 5 are a good fit for a certain situation, you have to go back to a stable master, usually in a major city, to change out your ”pet bag”. In BfA, we will likely need to keep one each Ferocity, Tenacity, and Cunning pets available, then have the remaining 2 slots be our best guess for special defensive or debuff spells.

It really is time for Blizz to give hunters a pet tab like the foo-foo pet tab all other players have for pet battles. Barring that, they should allow more than 5 pets to be immediately accessible. And barring even that, they should introduce some sort of “portable stable” that would allow hunters to switch out their 5 while in the field or in a dungeon or raid. Honestly, I would be much more accepting of the BfA pet changes if Blizz also gave us this long-overdue change. Yet they stubbornly refuse to even discuss the possibility…

Again I have the strong impression that Blizz considers hunters to be the throwaway class, the one they are free to ignore at any time, or the one they can do wild experiments on no matter what the fallout. The BfA pet changes are part of this pattern — Blizz has made zero effort to integrate them in any novel way with hunter play styles, nor have they made any changes that would allow hunters to use the new pet system in any newly efficient manner.

The last thing I have to say about the BfA pet changes is that Blizz seems to think these constitute enough class changes for BM hunters. MM and SV have undergone pretty significant play style and spell changes in BfA, but BM has remained relatively untouched save for the pet system makeover. While the pet changes are major, none of them do anything to increase BM hunter damage, nor do they change the clunky play style in any meaningful way.

My original impression of BM hunters in BfA was that the play style seemed a little livelier, but having internalized it, I think that impression was just from the fact that Dire Frenzy is baseline. I have almost exclusively played the zoo build in Legion, so switching to DF of course adds a button push along with a small decision point. But the play style is still slow (made slower by the switch to almost everything going on the GCD), and many of the talents seem not to be integrated with the play style at all, just something to be tossed in when they come off cd. At lower levels, focus seems also to be a problem at times, forcing very uncomfortable pauses. Maybe that will improve with better gear and stats?

It really seems like Blizz has once again thrown one of the hunter specs under the bus for an entire expansion. My bad luck they have chosen the spec I play both times — first SV in WoD and Legion, then BM in Legion and BfA.

Watch out, MM hunters, I may select this as my main spec, which will mean it is doomed for the expansion after BfA.

Thoughts on war mode in BfA

One of the new features in Battle for Azeroth is something called “War mode”. Blizz seems to have given up on separate PvP servers and will soon make all servers both PvE and PvP (not sure if RP really has any meaning any more). The idea is that there will be a toggle switch in game settings that allows you to flag yourself for world PvP if that is your preferred play style either always or just temporarily. When you throw the toggle, in theory the server becomes pretty much a PvP server for you and everyone else who has thrown their toggles. Meanwhile, the people who have not turned on PvP mode will be able to happily go about their normal PvE business with no fears that the many, many asshats in the game will hound them every step of their questing or gathering or what have you. Presumably, the actual mechanic will be that when you toggle PvP on, you are transferred to a PvP shard similar to the current PvP-only servers.

Will this mean that if you turn on PvP, you will be invisible to your non-PvP friends on the server? Thus, if you love PvP, will you have to continually switch if you want to do things like join groups with your non-PvP friends? *shrug*

There are some additional details to this, of course. For one thing, you can only toggle the PvP switch while in your faction capital city. So if you do decide to try it and go out in the world, bear in mind you will have to keep it on until you get back at least. (Not sure if there is a cooldown similar to hearthing, but I suspect there may be. You all know I am not a PvP person, so I have not tried anything about it currently available in the beta.) Also, Blizz intends to implement a gear leveling mechanic so that gear alone will not determine the outcome of your ganking spree — while you are engaged in PvP combat, there will be some sort of gear level adjustment to even the fights a bit, then when you are in normal combat your gear returns to its regular level.

Bear in mind that I absolutely hate PvP, and I have always hated when Blizz forced me to engage in it because it was a requirement for some other normal PvE-based activity. But I understand that hardcore PvP-ers have felt the same about PvE. And I totally get their angst with Legion, where they were pretty much forced to engage in hours and hours of PvE activities every week just to keep up with the AP and legendary grinds, even on PvP servers. That does seem wrong to me. There definitely should have been enough PvP activity to allow them to gear up decently without having to give up a big chunk of their PvP time.

But the fact is the majority of players do not enjoy world PvP, and many of us will go to any lengths to avoid it. Much of this is because of the disconnect between fantasy and reality of world PvP, in my opinion. I think of world PvP as maybe a small group of one faction attacking another faction’s outpost or even another group, or rather evenly matched one-on-one duels. Maybe you call in some friends and the skirmishes escalate to larger battles. To me, that is reasonable world PvP.

But it turns out to be very different in practice. It turns out to be ganking, free for all zones where everyone — even your own faction — can target you, and camping at certain places like graveyards or exits from a sanctuary city for the sole purpose of killing low level players as they emerge. I have been in BGs where I literally could not get out of the graveyard because some butthole was camped there picking off emerging players for the entire BG. I have joined quick world boss groups that happen to be on a PvP server, and immediately when we are done or even when we are still fighting the boss an opposite faction player or group has shown up and harassed the group. I cannot imagine being on a PvP server, just wanting to crank out some quick world quests, and being constantly dogged by some jerk who finds his self worth in applying pixels to kill a computer avatar over and over again.

In other words, my experience sadly has been that world PvP players are, by and large, gigantic asshats the equivalent of the eighth grade bully who loves to take away the second graders’ lunch money but who cowers and runs when confronted by someone his own size.

None of this is fun. And, on the flip side, I really do not even see the fun in killing players you know you can beat because you vastly out level them either in character level or in gear.

Nevertheless, it seems that Blizz is greatly concerned about the number of players who refuse to participate in PvP (largely for the reasons I just described). In Legion, they got rid of PvP-specific gear stats (like Resilience) and also made some significant changes to gear scaling, all to encourage more players to do PvP.

And I know I will get pushback from PvP players over this, but Blizz really does seem to go out of their way to cater to the slightest small whine from the PvP community. For example, at the start of Legion PvP-ers threw a tantrum about the injustice of being awarded gear on the basis of — hold onto your hats — RNG! Oh, the horror! Imagine not being able to select the gear you need! No fair no fair no fair!! They sniveled that they could no longer accumulate currency to buy the gear they wanted. How awful for them! So Blizz, even though they have steadfastly ignored every PvE complaint on the same subject, decided that they would indeed bring back currency for PvP players — thus they brought about the token system that allowed PvP-ers to obliterate their old gear and accumulate tokens to buy some of the new gear they wanted. (This is in spite of repeated pronouncements from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that currency for gear is evil incarnate and we should be ashamed for even asking for it.)

Imagine if in PvE we could do the same. Instead of crappy old obliterum chunks whose only use is to combine them and upgrade shitty crafted gear to a slightly higher level of shittiness, what if we could accumulate tokens to buy gear we actually wanted?

Apparently we did not throw as good a tantrum over this as did PvP players.

In BfA, Blizz seems to be making yet another stab at “encouraging” players to do PvP. For example, while in War Mode, you will get a 15% XP boost, and also some kind of AP increase boost. It’s not entirely clear if there will be a lot more PvP world quests in War Mode, or if it will essentially be the same WQs as PvE only in a wPvP environment. I do think PvP players deserve some consideration for the bread-and-butter activities in the game like world quests — these things should reflect wPvP actions, not just be regular PvE quests transferred to a PvP shard. However, I am not in favor of great advantages like significant XP boosts — that begins to smack of yet more Blizz dictating how we should play.

I am not entirely sure why Blizz wants to push more players into PvP — as with their stance on how to play alts, I cannot see why it matters to them how we play the game so long as we are not violating the ToS. Every time in the past when Blizz has tried to push PvE players into PvP, it has been a disaster — the PvE players hate it and really do not know how to perform adequately, and the PvP players hate having a bunch of idiots in their BG or whatever screwing things up for their side. A classic lose-lose situation.

I suppose I understand why some players prefer PvP — it is challenging and unpredictable in a way that PvE is not. (And of course for far too many there is the asshat potential — you can indulge your schoolyard bully fantasy as much as you please.) What I don’t understand is why Blizz gives a damn if most players do not want to participate in it.

At any rate, stay tuned for PvP changes in BfA. Let us hope, at long last, that the changes will make both PvE and PvP players happy.

My week in WoW

It was a quiet week in Lake WoWbegone…

Okay, nope, not going there. Bad parody. But honestly it was a quiet game week for me. I mostly just enjoyed puttering around here and there. Bopped around a bit in the BfA beta world, read some game-related blogs and forums, switched my arcane mage to fire, and finally used my 110 boost.

BfA impression of the week: I created a few characters and took them to target dummies just to see how the playstyles felt. However, there was no real depth to my research, it was more of a toe-dabbling, and of course I am pretty bad at most of my non-hunter classes. (I will say, though, that I found Windwalker Monk to be amazingly engaging, to the KA-POW! level of fun. This is in spite of the fact that I usually do not enjoy any kind of melee class. I am definitely going to look into this for a “main alt” in BfA.)

My efforts were admittedly scattered and slipshod, but I want to recommend to you a new series by Wowhead, Battle for Azeroth Community Opinons. This series is anything but slipshod. There is a separate page for each class, and what Wowhead has done is solicit feedback from a few of the top players for each class. So what you get is 2-3 very decent analyses of the spec you are interested in, from different players, addressing not only spec changes but also an opinion of the flavor and feel of the spec.

I encourage you to check it out. Unfortunately, I could not find a sub-topic home page for the series to link to, but if you do a web search on “wowhead battle for azeroth community opinions” you will get a list of all of them. It really is some of the best feedback I have seen lately. Even if you prefer to experience your spec for yourself, these other opinions may show you some avenues of research you had not considered.

Switching mage spec to fire. Although I leveled my void elf mage as arcane, I finally decided that I just have way more fun playing fire. So I switched about a week ago. Yeah, I know fire mages are mediocre damage dealers in Legion, but so what? Anyway, the process of switching has once again brought home to me the very significant difficulties Blizz has introduced in Legion for switching specs.

Let me explain. Certainly for what we used to call “hybrid” classes, switching specs to another role has always involved some complexity — different gear, primarily. Hybrids have always had to carry around a set of gear for each spec they wanted to play. This was a drawback, though the theory was that it was compensated for by the fact that a hybrid was conceivably more useful to groups than was a “pure” damage class. Also, originally to balance out the increased utility of hybrids — along with their perceived desirability for groups — so-called “pure” dps were deliberately made a bit more powerful than the damage specs of  hybrid classes.

But starting a couple of expansions ago, Blizz threw most of that out the window. There is no longer a damage advantage for pure dps classes, and on top of that the increased importance of secondary stats on gear has resulted in even pure dps classes carrying around different sets of gear for each spec. So pure dps classes now have the disadvantages of hybrids without the advantage of being able to change roles. And Legion compounded this situation by introducing the burden of AP and artifacts and spec-particular legendaries to the problem. (Yeah, yeah, I know there are “catch-up” mechanisms, but it still takes hours and days and even weeks depending on your luck to get a new spec up to speed for gear and gems and enchants and legendaries and artifact level and relics.)

I suppose I don’t have much of a point here, except to say that I am still pretty damn mad at Blizz for deliberately misleading us. I clearly recall that, in the leadup to Legion, Mr. Not Yet But Soon To Be Game Director Hazzikostas touted the idea that “you will be able to switch into any spec you want, no more 2-spec limit!” And, like baby birds anticipating yummy regurgitated worm from mom, we were all chirping and excited about this. What a load of crap, foisted on us by someone who knew full well there was a huge catch to it but who apparently considered us all to be gullible and stupid enough to think Blizz was actually giving us a break.

My 110 boost. Nothing very exciting here. After weighing some options and considering my game play style preferences, I decided to create a shaman and boost it. Of course I boosted it into Elemental (remember my preference for ranged), but I think as soon as I get a bit more comfortable with it I will try Resto. I have never really played a shaman at level. Once or twice in the past I tried to level one, but got frustrated with having to keep track of what seemed like a bewildering array of totems, all of which had different effects and cooldowns and which had to be individually managed. So even though good shamans may disagree, I like the totem changes in Legion.

Anyway, finally that 110 boost is no longer burning a hole in my pocket and taunting me every time I log in. I will make my new alt a blacksmith, so that will fill out all professions for my little character family. Woohoo, lots of new stuff to learn!

Off to do a weekend. See you on the other side.

Communities

Standard disclaimer — if you want to be completely surprised about everything when Battle for Azeroth goes live, don’t read this.

tl;dr: Get ready for a social shitstorm in WoW.

The latest build of the Battle for Azeroth beta theoretically contains more of the framework for Communities, although much of it is either not yet working or buggy as hell. For those of you unfamiliar with this BfA innovation, Communities are kind of like ad hoc guilds with cross server capability. The folks at MMO-C managed to grab a few screen shots, which you can look at to get a general idea of the feature. There was also a summary of the feature a few weeks ago in a Blizzard Watch article. In a nutshell, another Blizzard Watch post described Communities this way:

Communities will allow players to create cross-realm groups in addition to regular guilds (guilds will automatically become their own communities as well). The idea is that players can fashion specific types of communities and keep everyone in touch across the game.

There is also an option to create groups based on Blizzard’s BattleTags, in case you want a community that spans multiple Blizzard titles.

I have to say, I am kind of wary of this new feature, mainly because I am not sure what it means for WoW’s guild structure. I would hope it would revitalize the whole idea of guilds, but I think it might actually spell the end for them — certainly in their current form.

(I did not grow up with social media and constant virtual connectivity, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt — an old codger yelling at the kids to stay off her lawn.)

Let’s jump ahead to, say, a year from now. Battle for Azeroth is probably close to its second major patch, we have long ago leveled our mains and are doggedly chasing artifact power (yes, it is still called that in BfA) for our non-artifact artifact gear. We are probably deep into Island Expeditions and Warfronts, as well as regular progression raiding and Mythic+ dungeons. Some of us (ok, some of you) are enjoying the new on/off capability for world PvP. What do Communities and guilds look like?

By this point, there are likely tens of thousands of Communities, maybe even more. Some players will belong to dozens of them — cross-server raid groups, high-end M+ groups, friends-from-college groups, class-specific groups, world quest groups, maybe mat-trading groups or crafted gear exchange groups, specialized social groups like Gluten Free Whale Savers, what have you.

Oh, and maybe a guild.

My point is, what will membership in multiple groups do to guild activities? If on any given night you have a dozen options for what to do in the game, will most people still commit to things like standard guild raid nights or raid achievement nights? Some might, but with tons of other options, realistically many guildies will opt out of such activities. If a guild is in reality just another Community group, what is there to attract loyalty in any but the most rabid guildie? What is there to attract new members, when instead of committing to a guild and all that implies, you can just join ad hoc Communities that specialize in whatever you are interested in that night?

Yes, I know a logical counter argument here is that guilds will just have to up their game in order to attract and keep members. They will have to get a good reputation for some specialty (since no one group can be all things to all players) — PvP, extremely successful raiding at some level, like-minded social perspectives, alt progression, whatever. Basically, they will have to become just another Community group — one with a bank. How many guilds do you know of that will make this radical transition?

To me, it is more likely that guilds will remain a sort of placeholder group,  one where you can get stuff from a guild bank and mail stuff immediately to members. (It really is only a matter of time, though, before the player base demands some or all of these perks for Communities, I think.) But given what will be a huge array of activities available outside of guilds, I see them becoming just a rather inactive throwback to an earlier time in the game. They will be like your parents’ house when you come back during school vacations — a place that provides some basic amenities you stop in for, like food and a bed and some spending money and car keys, but not where you go for real fun most days and nights.

I suppose social change, even in a computer game, is inevitable, and possibly the time of guilds has passed. Blizz certainly has done nothing lately to stop their decline — in fact they have accelerated it by their refusal to do even simple things like improve the guild recruitment interface or provide meaningful perks to membership. But I lament the last gasp of guilds like mine — chartered on Day 1 of World of Warcraft and active and vibrant every day since. For Blizz to wantonly consign these guilds to a trash heap just seems callous and wrong to me. There is still such a thing as loyalty, even in a computer game, and if that is old-fashioned then so be it.

Nobody really knows, of course, how Communities will change the game, but I think it is undeniable that they will change it in a major way. Some disconnected questions I have in my mind about how things may change:

  • Will Communities be able to successfully compete for World First Mythic raid titles?
  • How long before there are so many groups that you will really have to be creative to get a name approved?
  • Is there a technical upper limit to how many groups Blizz can support?
  • What will happen to guild achievements? Will they be extended to include Community group achievements? Will there be any such thing as “guild group” requirements for achievements?
  • What will happen to sites like WoWProgress — will they actually keep up with all the Community groups? Will they stick to guild rankings? Will they shut down?
  • What kind of group exploitations will we see that will cause Blizz to implement new rules? (Like the exploitation of guild gold that caused Blizz to cancel the ability for member activity to add to guild bank coffers.)
  • What new elite exclusions will we see for Community membership (like the proliferation of ridiculous ilevel requirements for normal raid pugs)?
  • Will most groups become “forever” groups or will there be a lot of “tonight-only” ones? Will Blizz implement an activity requirement to prevent a glut of no-longer-active groups?
  • Will it be relatively easy for the socially shy among us to join groups, or will there be a significant number of ego-crushing refusals (like in LFG now)?
  • How will guilds have to market themselves in order to maintain or increase membership?
  • Can guilds compete better if they plan ahead and initiate large sister-guild Communities?
  • Will certain Communities emerge as super-groups?
  • Will Communities promote elitism in the game, or will they serve to make the game more egalitarian?
  • How will truly casual players be affected?
  • Is there an upper limit to the number of members a Community group may have?
  • If all groups have a voice chat channel, will the cacophony of voices become intrusive? Will players be able to subscribe to more than one voice channel at once? (Or is there only one?) Will anyone want this? Will the voice channel eventually become included in the mobile app?
  • Will the proliferation of ad hoc groups result in vastly higher guild turnover, since the social model will become one of join-for-a-night and then leave? Actually, will this become the mindset, or will most players join lots of groups and never leave them?

I have dozens more questions, but you get the idea. Make no mistake, Communities will bring a sea change to WoW. This may end up being the single most significant change in the game in many years. It will affect the way we all play, whether we want it to or not. 

YOU ARE NOT PREPARED.

More on BfA professions

Standard disclaimer — if you want to be completely surprised about everything when Battle for Azeroth goes live, don’t read this.

Over the weekend I did a little more investigation of professions in Battle for Azeroth. For myself, it is one thing to read a general description of how they will work and another to actually see the system in action. There is still not a lot I could find, but I did get a couple of screen shots and saw a bit more of the new system in play.

Crafting professions

Recall that the next expansion will see the compartmentalization of professions into groups organized by expansions. The basic groups are:

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This is a tailoring screen, but the categories are the same for all crafting professions.

In the screen shot above, the little boxes are for keeping track of your progress in each category. I do not know if “progress” for each means a sort of leveling up to a proficiency  number, or if it is more of a tally of the number of each pattern or recipe or what have you for each category. It is, however, expressed as x/y (for example, 1/100).

(As we are not yet permitted to import Legion characters into the beta, and as I have not maxed out any new characters in a profession, all I can show is what the interface looks like when you first learn a profession. I assume when the expansion goes live, if you have characters who have had the same crafting profession for several expansions, that most or at least many of the categories will be already maxed out.)

As you can see from the screen shot, there is a baseline “vanilla” category and one for each of the expansions — BC, Wrath, Cata, Mists, WoD, Legion, and BfA. You have to get training for each category, and when you first do so you are given a few of the recipes for that expansion. To complete the category, you simply pursue more recipes and experience in that geographic area — visiting trainers, making items, getting random drops, or soloing old instances and raids. In other words, you learn the profession for each category the same way players did when the particular expansion was current. I think this means — though I am not 100% certain — that includes earning the appropriate faction rep for some of the recipes.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about when I say you get “a few” basic recipes to start you off:

bfa-tailor-learned

Where do you train for each category? You can train vanilla and Cata in your capital city. For the other categories, you must visit the geographic area of that expansion to train for that category. However, you can train in a new profession anywhere there is a trainer — in that case you will train in vanilla and in the baseline category for the area you are in. You go to the same trainers players went to when that particular expansion was current, so that means sometimes they are scattered about in the expansion’s geographic area. For example, I took a character to Hellfire Peninsula, to Shattrath, and I was able to learn baseline vanilla blacksmithing as well as baseline Outlands blacksmithing from Kradu Grimblade in the Lower City. I had to go back to Stormwind to train Cata blacksmithing baseline.

I have not yet discovered how you unlock the quest lines for crafting professions. For gathering professions, you get the quests the same way as you did for Legion — that is, the quest breadcrumb pops up randomly for you when you gather mats and you turn it in back at your trainer, where you will get some follow-ons.

Gathering professions

Gathering professions will eventually — I think — work pretty much the same as crafting professions — that is, they will have expansion categories you can level up in, and in general you need to train for them in the geographic areas for the particular expansion. So for example if you train herbalism in Tiragarde Sound, you get baseline herbalism plus Kul Tiran herbalism. That is how I think they will work.

However, they seem thus far to be incomplete.  Skinning and herbalism offer only some of the categories thus far. Mining seems to offer all categories, but you can only train in vanilla. Same with skinning as far as initial training goes, plus even when you train, you do not get any skill ups for actually skinning beasts (possibly due to the fact that you cannot train in Kul Tiran skinning).

Here’s what I mean about skinning categories — note these are “unlearned” even though I trained with the Tiragarde Sound skinning trainer.

bfa-skinning-unlearned

And the only categories I was able to learn were vanilla and Cata (though I had to go to Stormwind to learn that — if you train in KT you only thus far get vanilla):

bfa-skinning-learned

As to abundance of gathering mats, it is too soon to tell. Blizz is still working on node locations, so sometimes you will not have any mining nodes, or you may have masses and masses of herbs.

And of course the bad news is that, when you do finally get profession quest lines unlocked, nearly every profession (gathering included) will require running group activities such as dungeons and eventually raids to complete them. Most players absolutely hated this feature in Legion, so of course Blizz doubles down on it in BfA.

Still, that horrible Blizz practice notwithstanding, I do think professions in BfA are a slight improvement over Legion. I will try to level my LW up a bit as I continue leveling my character, so as to have more info on crafted items at higher levels.

That’s it for today.