Disconnected thoughts

Today feels like kind of a disconnected day — we have a few flakes of snow, so of course most things in Northern Virginia come to a screeching halt. It is both amusing and annoying, since it inevitably entails rescheduling, postponing, cancelling, etc. So while my brain is multi-tasking those things in the background, here are a few scattered thoughts on WoW.

Addendum to my manners post. One other “rude clod” type that annoys me in the game is the raid slacker. I am not talking about actual raid performance, but rather the person who is chronically unprepared. You all know such a person. They always want to “borrow” flasks or talent books. They forget to update DBM. They never remember to get their seals before raid so have to go back for them and then demand to be summoned back to the raid. Even in progression, they are chronically short of Defiled Augment Runes, and they have never troubled themselves to get the permanent one from the Army of the Light.

If the raid usually provides feasts, they never ever contribute anything towards making them, and in fact frequently complain bitterly if a feast is not immediately set down, saying rude things like “Feed me” or “Where’s the feast?”. Same with repair mechanisms such as hammers.

On our progression team, we usually provide everyone with a weekly vantus rune to be used for the toughest boss of the week. But once we have the heroic raid on farm we stop doing that. Last tier, after we had downed KJ a few times, the GM announced that we would start doing the boss without handing out vantus runes. Our usual slackers were incensed when a few people used their own, claiming the GM had said we were not to use them. When someone explained that no, only the free ones would not be handed out, there was slacker indignation and piteous cries of “But I don’t have any gold, I’m poooooor!”

So yeah. Ill-mannered clods abound.

Patch 7.3.5. I have not actually done much yet with the new patch. By the time the servers came back up yesterday, it was already past our raid start time, so we all hurriedly logged in and started raiding. I did not do the new quest line or try out any of the old world zone changes.

New zone levels. I am still on the fence about the zone changes. I see why many players would be happy that they can now quest in a favorite zone for much longer and not be penalized in leveling. But beyond that, I think Blizz has pulled a fast one on us. Basically, by increasing the amount of xp needed to level in these zones, and by increasing the health and hit points for mobs as well as for instance and raid bosses in these zones, Blizz has stretched out the amount of time necessary to level a new character or to farm old content for mounts and transmog.

It’s all about the MAU, baby.

I do not know about you, but I actually liked being able to roflstomp through a zone with a new character. I have done nearly every quest so many times that they no longer offer any real entertainment value to me, they are just a means to get passingly familiar with a new class, and to get that new class or alt to a decently high level where the actual fun starts. The faster I can get through them, the better.

As far as I know, Blizz has not improved the mess of low-character spells and abilities, either. A couple of expansions ago, they changed the way/rate at which characters get certain key abilities, and the result for many classes is that you are stuck with one or two useful buttons for a pretty long time. This was annoying but not terrible when all the mobs died quickly and when you could rapidly level up and get a few more abilities. We will see how it plays out now that you cannot level as rapidly and the mobs are more deadly.

Also, if I am farming old raids or instances for a mount or some special transmog or old recipe, I couldn’t care less about “the experience” — I am interested in getting through the thing as fast as possible so that I can be disappointed again and quickly move on.

Basically, I feel like Blizz is testing out techniques for vanilla servers, and they are pretty much shoving “the classic experience” down our throats. And they are ensuring no one can rush through leveling allied characters when they become available, thus stretching out the inevitable end-of-expansion thin content.

Not to mention, if these changes annoy enough people, Blizz’s sales of character boosts will skyrocket. What’s not to love?

”More” bag space. What a scam this is. Ion Hazzikostas had the chutzpah to really hype this at Blizzcon — better sit down, here’s a big announcement: We are giving you more bag space, whoopee, just like you have been asking for!!

It’s four lousy bag spaces, for crying out loud. It doesn’t even begin to make up for the ton of gear and “things” Blizz now makes us carry around.

And if no one noticed, it comes at a price. Not only do you have to add an authenticator to your account (not a bad idea even if you do not get extra space), but you must also subscribe to Blizzard SMS Protect. Thus Blizzard gets a ton of very valuable phone numbers for the paltry expense of a small amount of server storage.

Blizz may have lost a step in game creativity, but they are making up for it in marketing genius.

Ulduar timewalking. Meh. I suppose I will run it once when my guild does it, but I was never very excited about this raid even when it was current. It was too long then and I am certain it will be tedious in its reincarnation. The only fight I thought was interesting was the first one just because of the vehicles (although I rarely got one of the motorcycles, the coolest vehicle….).

Once again, the people clamoring for this, I suspect, will not really love it — their nostalgia for Ulduar almost certainly stems from circumstances other than the raid itself.

Coven revisited. We took a few more shots at Coven last night in raid. Interestingly, we got Army of Norgannon as the first set of adds every time, even though the other add sequences remained random. It could have been a fluke, but it is possible this is an unannounced nerf. It is undeniably easier to get Norgannon out of the way very early, before the really uncontrollable mechanics kick in.

We had gotten a late start on the raid due to the server outage, and we cleared all the bosses up to Coven, so we only got a few pulls (maybe half a dozen) before we called it for the night. People were having a lot of lag issues, and even some weird bugs such as falling through the floor to the boss below Coven. Even so, our last pull — frustratingly — we got the boss down to less than 1% before wiping. Pretty sure we will get past this one Thursday.

Mixed alt messages

Over the weekend I spent a few hours on my outlaw rogue alt. I like this alt, but he is not one of my “main” alts, if there is such a thing. He was already at 110 and had worked through the basic parts of Broken Shore and the class hall quest lines (but not the class mount one), but he had done nothing more than the intro quest to just get him aboard the Vindicaar.

The reason I hauled him out of mothballs is because he is my inscriptionist, and I usually provide most of the vantus runes we hand out in raid while we are doing progression. I craft them and send them to the RL, who passes them out to the raid just before whichever boss we think will be the toughest one for the week. They may be a crutch, but we have found they often make that small bit of difference — especially early on in a tier — that lets us walk away with a kill instead of a series of wipes.

So I dusted him off and ran a quick LFR to get the level 1 vantus rune recipe for Antorus the Burning Throne. My experience, if anyone is interested, is that it takes approximately 100 herbs at level 1 to mill enough mats to make one vantus rune, maybe a bit less with Dreamleaf which gives a bonus, or Astral Glory which seems to have a higher drop rate. So about 2000 herbs — 10 full stacks — for 20 vantus runes. Last tier I never did get beyond the level 1 recipe, mainly because of course the higher levels are random drops in the raid itself. (*sigh* RNG is such fun™)

Of course, if I regularly ran LFR on my rogue, I would theoretically increase my chances to get the level 2 technique, paving the way for level 3 and greatly decreased mat requirements. To make that LFR experience a little more pleasant, I figured doing Argus dailies and invasions would help gear him up (he is currently sitting at something like 905 ilvl) and increase his artifact level/effectiveness.

Unfortunately, for some reason Blizz has seen fit to require that every character has to unlock the various Argus dailies. It is not an account-wide achievement. At this point someone will inevitably assert something like, “Oh, you can knock those quests out in 20 minutes,” but trust me that is just not true. It takes me hours, and I suspect that is the case for most people. My rogue is the 4th character I have taken through the process, and it is starting to get old.

Blizz will proudly list for us all the “alt-friendly” changes they have made to Legion, and I do not deny they have made quite a few. But the fact remains that Legion started out as probably the most alt-hostile expansion in recent history, so to throw us a few bones that serve to make it only slightly less alt-hostile is not much to brag about in my opinion. Ion Hazzikostas believes that the only legitimate way to play alts is to force them into the same end game cattle chute as a main, and he has finally shaped the game to implement his personal opinion on the matter.

Now, finally, my point. Legion — by design — discourages alt play. I suspect (of course I do not have any publicly disclosed numbers to back this up) Blizz has seen the number of alts at max level take a nosedive in this expansion. By introducing Allied Races, suddenly Blizz is encouraging us to start brand new alts. Why the new ones? Why not just make some more changes that will nudge us to finally spend time with the ones we have?

As an aside, I am totally confused about what Patch 7.3.5. will bring. Suddenly it seems like it will include a whole bunch of things I could swear we were told at Blizzcon would be part of Battle for Azeroth. What gives? Has Blizz discovered they cannot possibly meet a reasonable BfA deadline and thus need to give us a bunch of new shinies to keep us busy? Are some of the promised changes so complex that they need to use 7.3.5 as a testing ground for them? Have they given up on making significant class balance changes — as they told us every “dot 5” patch would be — and need something else to make it seem like a major patch? Maybe it is all part of a grand plan for 7.3.5 to ooze into BfA, but it sure is confusing.

It is true that players have been whining for new races for a while now, so certainly this will be a popular move. But consider:

  • You cannot start one until you have met some rather lengthy max-level rep requirements on your main (and possibly other requirements, too, we don’t really know yet for sure).
  • The new alt leveling will coincide with what from all reports is a significantly lengthened leveling process due to Blizz’s zone leveling and increase of XP required for most levels.
  • Just encouraging players to play with alts they already have would absolutely not require as much play time as leveling a new one under these circumstances.
  • It will come at the end of an expansion, historically the time when players lose interest and go do other leisure activities until the next expansion.

Yeah. It is almost certain that the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric is at work here, notably the need to maintain high MAU numbers as a corporate measure of a game’s success. Although Blizz has often said the nature of WoW is that it is cyclical, and it is something they plan for and accept, clearly they are working furiously to change that business plan.

Will I level a new Allied Race alt? Sure, and I expect it will be a nice distraction during the waning days of Legion. My choice, even though I know I am being manipulated: Blizz discourages me from playing alts, except the ones they approve of, at the time they approve of, at the leveling pace they approve of, with the preconditions they have set.

I love Big Brother, and there are five lights. Life is so much easier when you accept these things.

Friday scattered thoughts

It’s Friday, it’s been an especially long week, and my brain does not seem particularly focused, so today’s post is just some scattered thoughts on this and that.

Antorus the Burning Throne. Last night our raid team finished up the Normal raid. We had done 7 bosses on Tuesday, and the last 4 we downed certainly did not disappoint, in my opinion. I found the last 2 (Aggramar and of course Argus) to be great fun, they just seemed to be well designed and had some interesting mechanics. And the artwork, especially for Argus, is simply spectacular. Whatever other shortcomings we may eventually complain about for this raid, the visual design will remain, in my opinion, one of the best Blizz has ever done. Do yourselves a huge favor when you first get into the Argus area, and look behind you up into the skybox. It is not only beautiful, but it gives you a sense of the entire story of Legion — even me, who generally has no interest in lore.

And, without revealing any spoilers, the cinematic after you kill Argus is excellent. It rivals, in my opinion, the Battle for Azeroth cinematic we saw at Blizzcon.

We had enough trouble (something like 4-5 wipes) with both Aggramar and Argus that I think they will be quite tough for us on Heroic. As with many of the fights in the raid, there is a definite team learning curve

Overall, from a very limited point of view, it seems to me that very few of this raid’s bosses are even close to friendly to BM hunters. They seem either to involve single-target pew-pewing or a lot of very scattered adds. Several of the fights involve phases with high-priority adds placed all around a room or platform, and I really noticed a drop in my DPS just due to my melee-bound pets taking their time getting to the next target. Even switching to Blink Strikes as a talent did not seem to help much, partly due to the cooldown on that ability, and also to the ambling nature of Hati. Classes with robust DoT abilities and wide cleaves will shine in many fights in this raid.

As to the vaunted Argus trinkets from the final boss, our raid of 20 got 4 drops (not me, I got the useless quest legendary ring along with gold and AP), and none were Aman’Thul’s Vision (The One Trinket That Binds Them All).

Patch 7.3.5. This is up on the PTR for anyone that wants to try it out. I am somewhat disappointed that — at least as far as we know so far — it will not involve any significant class balance fixes, in spite of Blizz’s pronouncement early in Legion that the “dot five” patches would be mainly targeted at class balance changes. Some of the recently-announced changes include:

Patch/Expansion confusion. Honestly, I am kind of losing the bubble on what is happening in Patch 7.3.5 and what is just development for the next expansion. Blizz could probably be a little bit clearer on this. So the following comments may apply to changes coming in the next xpac, or to changes coming in the next patch. Who knows?

Changes to the early leveling experience. Zone scaling is implemented in Azeroth leveling zones, and XP to level is being increased for levels 10-59. I know this is a popular change, but I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to keep questing in a zone I enjoy, and still continue to advance. On the other hand, I find I generally like pretty much roflstomping through a zone at low levels. I have done these quests so often that they no longer hold much interest for me, and the only really fun is becoming familiar with my alt’s abilities. (And remember, Blizz has taken away a great many class abilities at lower levels, so that many specs go through a lot of levels with only 2-3 major abilities.) I don’t know that having every mob fight take longer is really an improvement.

I also get a kick out of leveling quickly, and I am not sure why Blizz thinks stretching that process out is desirable.

It almost seems like Blizz is enforcing a small part of the “Classic” experience on all of us now.

More backpack space. Okay, this is minor, but remember when Ion Hazzikostas promised us we would be seeing more space in our grubby old original backpacks? Yeah. Turns out, it appears, that the extra space will be tied to having an authentication attached to your account. In principle, I think this is a pretty good idea. Blizz wants to do as much as they can to stop account theft, which in turn makes life harder for illegal botters, gold sellers, and the like. So it’s not a bad idea to offer a little perk to people willing to add this bit of security to their account. (I have had the phone authenticator for years, and it in no way hinders my access to the game or my enjoyment of it. It is not an absolute guarantee that my account cannot be hijacked, but it greatly complicates the process for any hackers. Which means, I think, they would be more likely to go after someone who does not have an authenticator. So please, if you think an authenticator is a bad idea, for my sake continue to have an unprotected account …)

The quibble I have with this is that Blizz is really chintzing out on the offer. Their miserly “gift” is a whopping — get ready for this — FOUR extra bag spaces!

Sheesh.

Upgrading 970 legendaries. This is nothing more than a big Blizz gotcha joke, in my opinion. In the few comments Blizz has made about this annoying and tedious process (it will take many people literally months to upgrade all theirs, even assuming they max out Wakening Essences every day), they have rather smarmily intimated that maybe we should just pick a few legendaries to upgrade and forget about the rest.

Really?

After you handed them out like candy, after you refused to back off the RNG aspect of which ones we could get, after you nerfed the “good” ones so that they are all more or less equal in certain circumstances? After all you have done to encourage us to use all of them depending on the fight and our individual gearing and talents, NOW you say we should just pick a couple and stick with them?

If Blizz is going to stick with the system they have on this, the least they could do is make the Wakening Essences more plentiful. They could ensure we get at least 10 in the emissary chests. They could award them for every world quest we do instead of just emissary ones, or alternately they could award several as the actual WQ reward, like they do with gold or Blood of Sargeras or class hall resources. They could give us a shoulder enchant that awards a few bonus ones periodically as loot.

Even better, Blizz, quit nickel and diming us on this stuff and do like you did in other expansions — when the new numbers hit, auto-upgrade the ones we have. What the hell would it hurt to do that? If you really do want us to switch out these items as situations dictate, then you should upgrade them all so we will actually do that, not encourage us to just stick to the two or three we have managed to grind out upgrades for. Put your money where your mealy mouth is.

And on that note of cranky annoyance, I am off to start my weekend. Enjoy yours.

On world quests and rewards

In a recent post in his game design blog, Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler) wrote a few words on the art and science of game rewards. It started me thinking about how Blizz has structured rewards in Legion. Overall, I would give Blizz a C+ on this aspect of the expansion. They have done some really innovative things, but on the other hand they have made much of the reward process needlessly frustrating and/or manipulative. I am not talking about difficult — I don’t mind working to achieve something I want in the game — I am talking about things that just seem to operate on the “gotcha” principle for no good reason, or mechanics Blizz thinly disguises as “content” but are in reality vehicles for forcing certain kinds of game play.

Today I want to focus on one part of the Legion reward system: world quests.

I liked the idea of world quests early in Legion, and I am still basically a fan, especially with the emissary twist. My main hunter does not need any of the gear or gold or class hall resources they offer, but I still usually crank out some of them for mats or AP (anything above 300k, more about this below). But I run as many as I can of them when I am focusing on one of my alts. Most of them are fairly quick (especially now that I can almost run them in my sleep), and frequently the rewards are useful to my alts.

I think the tying of faction rep to these quests was a good idea, and I don’t mind that vendor-purchase items are in turn tied to achieving faction rep. If I am interested in being able to buy things from a particular vendor, I am fine with working a bit to be allowed that privilege.

I make sure to run all the offered emissary quests on whichever alts I am working on  — if I can find the time — mainly for the chance of getting a legendary, but I am kind of conflicted about this aspect. It is a fact that you cannot play a character in Legion to any reasonable level of competency without two of the “good” legendaries — whatever they may be for that spec. So I chase them on my focused alts, mainly via emissary quests and LFR, but it makes me feel manipulated. It seems bad enough that every character must have a certain weapon and only that weapon for the entire expansion, without requiring certain other additional gear as well.

But the main reason I still run world quests is part of the minus side of them: artifact power. Blizz has had a stunning turnaround on the whole idea of AP.

Prior to 7.3, Ion Hazzikostas several times reminded us that once a player reached Convergence on their artifact weapon, the amount of AP required to advance it further was, BY DESIGN, ridiculously high in an almost logarithmic progression. This was because — so he told us — Blizz did not want players to feel like they had to continually grind AP, that the idea was that it would just be a somewhat small additional reward for doing normal game activities like emissary quests, random instances, mythic dungeons, etc. Additionally, so he said, the design was that players who played many hours each day would not have a significant artifact level advantage over players who might play only a few hours a week.

In other words, the whole artifact trait mechanism was designed to become less and less important once the 7.2 Convergence point was reached.

Then, in what seems to have been a sudden reversal of design policy, in 7.3 Blizz introduced a whole new artifact weapon leveling system in the form of relic traits and the crucible. They tied it to AP and Convergence levels, and to make the new levels possible to attain they re-introduced a form of artifact knowledge, except they removed player control of AK progression and just time-gated it with weekly increases. The net result was to make AP once again important to players and to make grinding it a productive activity again.

And a true grind it is. There are several reddit threads in which mathematically-inclined people have analyzed ratios of AK to AP and estimated time required to get to certain points. But the thing I have noticed for my hunter is this: In spite of both AK increasing every week and AP increasing with each new level, it still takes me about a week to gain a level. This will change after I reach level 75 and after AK rates stop increasing, but it strikes me that this a whole new way to gate character power. Blizz for some reason has opted for an incredibly complex method to do this — why didn’t they just set a limit on how much AP you can earn in a week, or how many levels you could increase your artifact level?

Even more interesting, why was there this complete 180 on AP design? Why did we go from the official “We don’t want you to chase AP” to “Here is a whole new reason to chase AP — ready, set, GO!” ?

One obvious reason: MAU. My guess is that they saw their MAU levels falling as the AP rewards from game activities became less and less relevant for main characters. Players just stopped doing the daily stuff that was offering what had become insignificant rewards. So the magic metrics fell, causing this part of the Blizz world to start to look shaky in corporate eyes. Swinging into action — and without any apparent trace of embarrassment — they reversed themselves on the AP design philosophy, because chasing AP is the one thing that would bring raiders back to daily hours in the game. And raiders are the group Blizz values these days — basically anyone who runs regular or above raid tiers and Mythic+ dungeons.

It is nice that I can increase my alt artifact weapon traits by 10-15 or even more levels a day just by running a few world quests, but it is demoralizing that I have to continue to run them on my main just to feel like I will not be letting my fellow raiders down. Especially after all the assurances from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that after reaching Convergence, size artifact power doesn’t really matter.

If the all-important MAU numbers were falling, why could Blizz not have taken a different approach? For example, they could have significantly increased the non-AP rewards for emissary and world quests, and for early world bosses, or they could have added more cool mounts or pets as rewards for the non-Argus quests. They could have implemented some sort of catchup gear currency to be earned outside of Argus. They could have instituted a mechanism for alts whereby for the first two legendaries you win you get to pick which ones you want. They could have made Blood of Sargeras account bound, giving mains a reason to go out and get it, and giving alts reasonable-level gear with which to go and run their profession instances or to join regular raid groups or even just to compete on Argus without serial dying.

All of these things likely would have kept the MAU numbers up a bit. But Blizz does not design for players like this, they design for raiders, so the only idea they had was to re-institute the AP grind. Not the kind of creativity we are used to from Blizz.

So yeah — Legion reward system has some real A+ moments. Unfortunately it also has a lot of fail moments. Overall grade C+.

The problem with designing for the squeaky wheels

This blog is not exceptionally popular. On any given day I probably have less than 200 readers, small potatoes in the blogosphere. Of those, maybe less than 10% ever post comments, but I am nearly always impressed with how thoughtful and well-expressed those comments are, even when someone takes great issue with something I have written. I have rarely had to deal with trolls or rage-filled screeds. So I feel a tiny bit of pride that I seem to have attracted something akin to the top echelon of WoW blog readers.

I don’t reply to every comment, but I read every one of them, and even when I do not reply, I do think about every point made in them or sometimes just appreciate the humor of a well-expressed smartass retort. Every once in a while, though, a reader makes a comment that puts my brain into overdrive. This happened with a comment on my last post, from Marathal, a fellow blogger.

You can go back and check it out for yourself, but basically Marathal made the point that Blizz adjusts their game at least in part to remedy shortcomings expressed by players who have left the game, rather than by trying to figure out why people who have not left are still playing. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but the more I thought about it, the more profound I thought it was.

WoW has millions of customers, and with that many there will always be a pretty significant turnover — people leave the game, new people take it up. But Blizz sits up and take notice if many more are leaving than are joining. We do not know if this is happening lately, because they stopped publishing subscription numbers after the great exodus during the first few months of Warlords of Draenor. But we are still feeling the effects of game design changes Blizz made in response to that exodus.

The big public complaint about WoD was that there was a lack of “content”. People left the game, so Blizz tells us, because they felt that once they had leveled up their characters, there was nothing to do. Thus, in Legion, Blizz went berserk overcompensating for this perceived shortfall. We have world quests (basically just a lot of dailies, renamed), an artifact weapon designed to be endlessly upgraded, flying  gated both by time and long-grind achievements, lottery-drop super gear in the form of RNG legendaries (lots of them, so once you get one you do not quit trying), a renamed WoD garrison with continuing quest lines, professions that can only be maxed out by participating in activities that require high level gear and good luck, quality of life items gated behind tedious rep grinds, Mythic+ dungeons designed to keep players running the same instances over and over indefinitely, classes/specs that only perform adequately with certain levels of gear with certain secondary stats— well, you get the idea.

Basically, Legion is a response to all the players who quit in WoD. It is Blizz saying, “You want content? I got yer content right here, whiners!”

Did it work to bring these players back? We don’t know for sure, absent subscription numbers, but certainly it brought some back. There is anecdotal evidence that many of the same players who left in WoD and came back for Legion, though, continue to take significant breaks from the game as soon as they have plowed through whatever the current patch is, waiting for another flurry of game activity with the next patch, then leaving again, etc. I would love to see the weekly-fluctuating MAU numbers over the course of an entire Legion patch.

Meanwhile, what about the players who did not leave during WoD? Why did they stay, in the face of the gigantic “No content!” outcry? Clearly, this was not a good enough reason for them to quit the game. I can only speak for myself, but I stayed because I think the game is big enough for me to always find my own content, and for something more complex: I like the feeling of maxing out my character for the expansion and then having total freedom to do whatever the hell I want to when I log on. It is my favorite part of every expansion. I usually set some loose game goals at the start — max out professions, be a contributing member of a heroic-level raid team, enjoy most of the expansion’s perks, have the leisure to develop all my alts, etc. — and when I reach that point I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

I feel like Legion has taken that away from me. In their zeal to appease the players who demand to have their game goals set for them, Blizz has designed an expansion that never lets me achieve mine.

One quick example: Our raid leader — a terrific generally laid-back guy — recently said that he expects all raiders for the next tier (due in about 3 weeks) to have achieved level 75 on their main artifact. Given that I am currently only at level 69 and that each new level requires billions and billions of AP, my life for the next 3 weeks will pretty much consist of me grinding out every AP-reward world quest every day, because I want to keep raiding in the next tier. It will also require me to run some M+ dungeons (which I am not a fan of) to get the huge weekly AP bonus from running a +10 or higher. In short, a year into Legion, my game time will not really be my own.

Sure, I brought this on myself by wanting to be part of a raid team. But my point is, Blizz designed our main piece of Legion gear to be not only indispensable, but also a never-ending grind. Our RL is merely doing his job requiring us to keep up with the grind, because that will actually make a difference in our next-tier progression rate. This may be the first time in WoW history when merely having the previous tier’s gear will probably be insufficient to tackle the next raid tier — we will need to have a separate progression on our weapon, one not connected directly with tier.

Blizz designed the artifact weapon — and nearly all of Legion — to appease the short-attention-span people who left the game in WoD, not to appeal to the people who did not leave.

There is an obvious danger in this design approach. Blizz runs the risk of not being able to keep up with the demands of the easily-bored, and in the process of trying, of making the game ultimately abhorrent to the steady, patient, loyal group of players that are still the game’s core, no matter how much Blizz may wish to deny it. Each of us has our own point of no return, our own final straw. We may not be able to articulate what that is, but we will recognize it when it happens. For me personally, I feel a loss every time Blizz removes game play options, every time they force me into a certain track in order to achieve one of my goals. With Legion, I have seen that trend accelerating. What happens in the next expansion may well determine how much longer I stay in the game.

I wish Blizz would see what they are doing to their most loyal players, and I wish they would realize that they cannot sustain a game entirely with the hard-core pros. (It’s not the elite top 10% who pay the bulk of the monthly subscriptions, after all.) WoW won its preeminent place in the gaming world because it was available to nearly everyone, because it offered as much to the casual player as it did to the hard core types. It really was a game for the masses, and I am saddened that apparently Blizz believes that was a bad thing. For it now to become accessible almost exclusively to the pros, to those who have the desire and luxury of devoting hours to it every day, is in my opinion a betrayal of the very roots of the game.

So, yeah, a shout out to Marathal for really making me think. And thanks to my few but loyal readers — you are tops in my book.

Thinking is thirsty work, though, and and thus it is time for me to grab a beer and start a weekend. 😉 You all enjoy yours, too.

Petty but constant annoyances

This is another post you can easily skip and miss nothing!

There are incredibly minor aspects of this game that — not to put too fine a point on it — just bug the sh*t out of me. They mean less than zero when viewed in the context of the enormity and complexity of the game, but they are like little gnats continually buzzing in my face. It being the end of the week, and there being little else that occurs to me to write about, here are some examples:

  • Quests being forced upon you.
    • A couple of years ago, Blizz instituted a terrific feature that allowed you to ignore a quest you did not wish to do and also did not wish to have staring you in the face every time you logged on or looked at a map. For some reason, they took away that very nice quality of life feature. Why? Well, it turns out that Nanny Blizz was saving us from ourselves again. This is the closest I could find for a semi-official reason, a green post in a forum from earlier this year:

      I can only suspect it’s because of the amount of players who have used it on important quest lines like artifact quests not realizing it hides it, and they open tickets. There have been so many forum posts on the support forum where players have done it.

      Honestly I didnt even realize it was gone, but I avoid using it so I can do it later without having to remember which quest I ignored.

      Yeah, that’s right — apparently some of us were too stupid to know how to use the feature, and our tickets about it were annoying poor overworked Blizz GMs, so in a pique of spite they just removed it.

    • Even more annoying to me lately are the Broken Shores invasion scenarios. Not only can you not ignore them and not be bothered by them, but you cannot even decline the quest (the one that says “Do 4 of these invasion world quests”). If you even fly through the zone, you must accept the quest, or it will hang forever (well, until the invasion is over) in your quest tracker. Why is that? Why can we not say, “No” to these invasions?
  • Nomi. Yeah, OK, there is almost nothing not annoying about this NPC, but specifically:
    • You have to close and reopen the chat window with him every time you change the mats you give him. The window does not permit, say, checking off 2 work orders with Mossgill Perch, 3 with Fatty Bearsteaks, and the rest with all those damn eggs you seem to collect. Oh no, you must close the window and start over again for every mat you want to use.
    • Those stupid cooking pages (forget what they are called now) that you collect 10 of in order to upgrade a recipe. It turns out that once you have upgraded all your recipes, you still collect them. But you can’t turn them in anywhere (if you attempt to “use” 10, you get a notice that says you have nothing to upgrade), you can’t vendor them or send them to an alt, and you can’t collect more than 10. Which means you cannot even clear your Nomi table if there is one of the pages sitting there. You can only throw them away.
  • Kirin Tor rep awards are still soulbound. ???? Why, when nearly every other special rep token is BoA? Makes zero sense.
  • Spawn rates. Specifically, they are often either way too slow or way too fast. For the most part, I will admit, Blizz has gotten better at adjusting the rates, but there are still areas where they are maddening.
    • There are still a ton of places on Argus where large numbers of mobs spawn faster than you can even pick up your loot, where they spawn so fast you do not have a chance to mount up even after you have killed dozens of them in the same area. Few things are more annoying to me than completing a quest and then not being able to leave an area until I kill vast numbers more of the same mobs I had to kill vast numbers of just to get into the place or do the quest.
    • And in a somewhat related vein, why is that my entire hunter posse — bodyguard, main pet, Hati, and leftover dire beasts, all seem to congregate exactly on top of corpses to be looted, causing me to do a little positioning dance every time I want to target something for looting (whether by me or using the Fetch mechanic)? Often I have to actually time my mouse selection to fit between dire beast wingbeats. This, of course, slows even more my ability to loot stuff and get out of the area before millions of trash respawn.
    • On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are still quests where objects are not tag-shared, and those objects are so scarce there are 5-10 players all vying for the same one. Also, not for nothin’, but this is the kind of scenario that does not exactly encourage anyone to behave politely — we all become greedy me-first types. I really don’t understand why Blizz continues to use these kinds of single-tag objects in the game. They clearly have the technology to make them shared, at last by 4-5 non-grouped players, so why do they not always use that mechanic?
    • And in a related gripe, why is there still the artificial Alliance-Horde tagging restriction in shared areas? It does not apply to world bosses or even to world quest elites, so why is it still a thing for gathered mats and trash mobs?
  • Tome of the Tranquil Mind. Worst mechanic ever.
    • It is nothing more than an annoyance, and a major one at that. It does not make major money for inscriptionists, and it really discriminates against certain specs that Blizz has designed to almost have to switch talents depending on the fight.
    • In raids, unless you holler out to everyone to STOP so you can switch talents, there is an excellent chance your tome will be wasted, since almost certainly the raid will be in combat before you get a chance to switch. By the time they are out of combat, the tome will have expired.
    • People who do not carry tomes have to stop the entire raid so they can go back to Dal or someplace to switch, then make their way back to the raid or get summoned if the raid has a warlock.
    • There is almost never a situation where more than one player needs to switch talents at the same time, thus the raid-wide version of the tome is even more useless.
    • This really does seem to be designed merely to annoy players — I have never heard any kind of satisfactory explanation for its existence, other than the “poor scribes need to make some coppers” one.
    • Recall, actually, that it was — in theory — implemented as a “compromise” back in the Legion Beta phase. There was a huge flap over the Beta mechanic that charged ever-increasing amounts of gold every time a player changed specs. In short order (a little too short, in my opinion, as if possibly the entire flap had been a diversion from the original plan), Blizz offered a “compromise” in which changing specs would be free but you would have to use the tome to change talents in a non-rest area.
      • This seriously made zero sense, since it did not even address the same purported issue.
      • Blizz rapidly switched explanations from “compromise” to “scribes gotta make gold, too”.

OK, that is it for petty annoyances. I am sure if I really thought about it, I could come up with more, but it is Friday and the weekend is upon us. I am starting mine, and I hope you get to start yours soon, too.

Childhood and journey

I remember when I rolled my very first WoW character and lost myself in the game. It was my night elf hunter, back when hunters didn’t get their first pet until level 10, and by the way level 10 took a lot longer than the twenty minutes it now does. I remember those early quests in Teldrassil, figuring out how to move around, getting the concept of “targeting” something, coordinating that with a standard key bind to “shoot” the mob. I remember the surprise I got when eventually the target mobs actually attacked me if I got too close, rather than stand passively and wait for me to kill them. I remember getting almost hopelessly lost in my first cave quest, and to be honest I have disliked caves ever since.

When I made my way to Darkshore as a level 7, I got in a bit over my head and learned the tried and true technique of dying, getting back to my corpse, resurrecting at the absolute edge of where it was possible, and running like hell for about 5 seconds before dying again, then repeating the process until I made it to a safe area. It was harrowing.

I had been blow away when I discovered Darnassas — surely it was the game’s largest, most beautiful city? (I remember those ?level 60? NPCs majestically patrolling the road to the city on their gorgeous white tiger mounts, and I was in awe of such a high level. I could never aspire to that!) But then I accidentally got on a ship that took me to Stormwind, and an entirely new continent, and that was my first glimmer that the game was vastly larger and more complex than I had ever imagined.

Still, I was not intimidated by it. I loved that it was virtually infinite, that there was always something new to discover, something new to learn about the game, another level you could progress to.

I remember when I learned about groups. There was a Looking-for-Group chat channel, as I recall — some sort of very primitive precursor to the LFG mechanism we have now. I subscribed to it for weeks before I got up enough nerve to actually join a group for an instance. I think I was about level 20, but I am not sure — it was such a horrible experience that I have blotted it from my memory. I had no concept of group roles, so I immediately shot at anything that moved until some kind soul said something in chat like, “Hunter making it tough for the tank,” a hint that I was — thankfully — smart enough to take.

About halfway through (I think the instance was Gnomeregen, but as I said I have tried to block it all out) I ran out of arrows and was reduced to melee weapon and fists. Yeah, that was when hunters had to carry arrows in their bag in order to use their bow. If you ran out, shame on you. That was also when you could actually level your fists as weapons — you did this by unequipping all your weapons (hunters had both ranged and melee back then) and killing mobs until your fist proficiency level matched your character level.

Back to the group, there was some sort of mechanism where we had to jump from a machine to a specific spot, and of course I missed and died. I was told to run back, and I got so lost that I never did find the group again. I just ran around periodically aggroing mobs and dying and running back again. And again. And again. Sometimes it took me forever just to find my corpse. Eventually they kicked me, I guess, because I was no longer part of the group. I am surprised they had such patience, really. Not one of my best moments in the game…

It was even later when I learned about gear. By this time I had joined a guild, and I was invited to quest with some of the guildies. One of them noticed that I was wearing very low level vendor gear and was horrified. He opened trade and gave me a bunch of green gear closer to my character level. I honestly had never even considered that gear made a difference. I was perfectly happy with buying a bow or whatever from a vendor. I had no clue there was a difference between the stuff labeled in gray and the stuff labeled in white or green. (I had never seen anything blue or higher, so that was not even a question for me.) The notion that green gear could help you kill stuff faster was truly a revelation to me.

I won’t even discuss my epiphany when I realized that cloth or leather gear was worse for a hunter than mail. Or that eventually you had to repair gear or you couldn’t use it. Yes, I really was that clueless.

I am not sure I have much of a point here, but it strikes me that that kind of innocent discovery and leisurely exploration are really no longer part of the game. The days of it being all about the journey, not the goal, seem over. As vast and complex as I thought the game was then, it is immeasurably more vast and complex now. It is also more fast paced, players as a group seem to have little tolerance for anyone who exhibits ignorance of the game’s traditions and mechanics, and Blizz seems to design now mainly for the end game, not for the process of discovery.

Think about it, when is the last time you saw a guild advertising itself as a “leveling guild”? For that matter, when is the last time you actually ran across a low level player who was experiencing the game for the first time, without a RL friend to help and guide them?

Like Thomas Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again — the bygone days of youth, whether real or virtual, are — well — gone by. I know I can’t recapture the innocent wonder and joy of my early days in WoW, I know too much about end games and Wowhead and how to develop professions and how to use heirlooms and what to expect at every level of a character. I have chosen to raid on my main, and so I am now completely steeped in the endgame gear chase, in getting to the next gear goal as fast as possible. I no longer take the time to discover, I just look it up on Wowhead or some place and get it done, then move on to the next thing.

So yeah, I have done this to myself, I admit it. But I also think Blizz has encouraged me, along with a lot of other players, in this mindset. They are fixated on the end game, on an endlessly-expanding artifact weapon, on accumulating legendaries and tier gear and battle pets and mounts. They seem to promote a sense that leveling a character is only a means to the end game, and they — and we — have lost the joy of the journey itself. I can’t shake the feeling that WoW, while never a “sandbox” game, was once a game of process and discovery, but that it has morphed into a Type A personality kind of game, where getting to the end is the sole definition of “winning”.

To quote that noted American philosopher, Louis L’Amour, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”

And try to remember to stock up on arrows before you go.