Legion – the good stuff

In my last post, I said I would eventually publish something about the good aspects of Legion. As I am at a loss for anything else to write about today, and as things seem to be moving rather quickly with the pre-expansion patch now on the downloader, I suppose today is as good a day as any. So here goes.

New content rollouts. I think Blizz did a commendable job with the pace at which they rolled out new content in Legion. I may think some of the content stunk (Argus, for example, and the class patches that consistently failed to address significant problems for some specs/classes), but I can’t fault them on their almost-lockstep timing on rolling it out. At times, I felt almost overwhelmed by the pace, but they really did set a schedule and stick with it.  Except for the last patch, 7.3.5, major patches (I include the “dot 5’s” in this) came out almost exactly every 11 weeks. This may be a reflection of how badly Blizz was burned by the charge of “no content” in WoD, and thus they set content release as their primary objective for Legion — but whatever the reason, Legion gave us a lot of new content on a regular basis.

Emissary quests. In Legion, Blizz bundled up a bunch of dailies world quests in a zone, and gave out a bonus for doing 4 of them (3 for Kirin Tor, but the less said about those the better). I did like this mechanism, probably because it gave the illusion of being able to log in every 3 days if you wanted, and still not feel like you were getting behind. In that sense, it was Blizz giving a tiny bit of notice to the fact that most of their players are casual and do not have the time to play the game every day.

That said, there were plenty of flaws. For one thing, emissary quests really did nothing to help players still grinding AP — if you wanted AP you were pretty much required to crank out every world quest that offered AP every day, as well as do some raids and dungeons for it. Also, rewards from the emissary quests — except for holding out the ever-dangling carrot of a legendary drop — were pretty yawn-inspiring most of the time. It says something, I think, that Blizz used them as the vehicle for accumulating the tokens for upgrading legendaries — likely it was about the only way to keep players even mildly interested in doing them.

Still, overall I think emissary quests were a decent innovation.

Zone scaling. This was not new in Legion — it was introduced in WoD — but I was glad to see it reappear, signaling that it is now almost certainly a constant feature of the game. During the leveling process, it is nice to be able to vary your path, especially if you are leveling some number of alts. The process does eventually still get pretty boring and stale, but zone scaling helps a little. Also, I do give Blizz props for realizing that players want to feel they are getting more powerful as their gear increases, and for scaling back the scaling so that at some point mobs all become quite trivial.

I was not, however, a fan of the 7.3.5 spread of zone scaling (along with the big xp nerf) to every area in Azeroth. To me, this was Blizz once again taking a good thing and jamming it down your throat, taking something you kind of liked and rubbing your nose in it enough to make you hate it. I leveled a void elf from 20-110 under this new system, and it was one of the most miserable experiences I have had in the game.

Mythic+ dungeons. As a matter of personal taste, I do not like these and tended to run them only enough to get the max weekly chest for them each week. But I still think they were a creative and positive mechanism for the game. There is no denying that they kept some players active in the game far longer than they would have otherwise been. More importantly for Blizz, M+ competitions almost certainly increased player interest in WoW-related esports. They have clearly been a winner for Blizz. Let us hope Blizz will leave well enough alone and not take their usual path of overdoing a good thing and forcing them upon us.

Class mounts. I thought the ones I did the quests for were fun little diversions. They were not especially tedious to do, and each of the final scenarios did seem designed to fit the individual class. Of course, some of the mounts were, well, “hideous” comes to mind, and druids really did get a bit screwed over (not to mention the unfortunate Wilford Brimley resemblance). But still, I liked the idea of class mounts and had some fun with the ones I did. And I love my mage platform, especially the fire mage version!

The whistle. Genius quality of life improvement. ‘Nuff said.

Raid tiers. In general, I think Blizz did a decent job hitting the sweet spot with each tier. One or two bosses (Kil’Jaeden and Mistress Sassz’Ine are examples) were a bit overtuned at the Heroic level in my opinion, but they were not insurmountable. (Yes, I know a couple were almost impossible for a while on Mythic, but I don’t raid at that level.)

And in hindsight, raid tiers were released at about the right points in the expansion. I did feel like sometimes I was burned out on one before the new one came out, but that really is a personal situation, and honestly it gave me an excuse to take a raid break every few weeks. I also remember feeling Antorus was a little rushed, but it was the last tier and we have had a ton of time to finish it and get bored with it. All in all, the release pace has seemed decent.

Extra hearth stones. Again, this idea was not new with Legion, but I was glad to see Blizz carry it through. Giving us the extra Dal hearth stone was a good idea, and I hope we will see more of these special stones in future expansions. The thing I did not like, though, was that certain classes also got a class hall hearth stone of sorts, while other classes did not. And since every class hall has a portal back to Dal (and some even to other locations), this meant that some classes were favored with two special hearth stones, while other classes were in effect made to pound sand. If Blizz is no longer going to keep mages as the only class with instant portal ability, then they need to give all classes equal abilities for travel.

Okay, that is pretty much it. I suppose if I really wracked my brain I could come up with one or two more positive thoughts on legion, but the ones I listed are the main ones. On balance, I think for me Legion had about an equal number of significantly good and significantly bad design features. I am still too close to it to be completely objective or to have a decent perspective, but I am willing to give this expansion something like a B-minus final grade. There is no question but what it has been better than WoD, but in my opinion it does not come close to the high level set by Mists of Pandaria. Legion, though, has started some major design threads that seem to be taking the game in a new direction. I like some of these and hate some. We will see how they develop in Battle for Azeroth.

 

Frost mages and the vector of Legion

A vector is an object that has both a magnitude and a direction. Geometrically, we can picture a vector as a directed line segment, whose length is the magnitude of the vector and with an arrow indicating the direction. The direction of the vector is from its tail to its head.

A vector

Courtesy of mathinsight.org

For humans, time is an ephemeral vector. We are tied to its direction — always forward, never backward or stationary. And if time itself has an unimaginably immense magnitude, our own human magnitudes are infinitesimally small in comparison — occupying less space along the vector than a grain of sand along a million-mile journey. One of the consequences of this state is that we have a beginning and an end, and the space between those two points is what we experience as change.

This cosmic insight applies not only to we humans, but also to everything we create — civilizations and empires and governments and automobiles and socks and computer games. Even though humans are bound to the vector of time, we have the ability to stand outside it in a sense, to look down on a piece of it, study our creations, and see where they began and how they changed and ultimately how they ended, because we have memory and we have developed the ability to chronicle and thus preserve aggregated memories.

Which — finally! — brings me to the subject of today’s post. It certainly is not news to any of my readers that we are at the end of the Legion expansion, and something that happened over the weekend caused me to contemplate the magnitude of its vector within the game.

First, the event(s). As there is not much more that interests me about my main hunter just now, I have been dabbling with my alts, concentrating on one or another of them for several days at a time, then moving on to a different one. This weekend I was focusing on my mage. I initially leveled her (a void elf) as Arcane (a mistake, btw) and that was the first spec for which I obtained an artifact and got it to level 75. Then I did the same for Fire, because I really think that is a fun spec. Unfortunately, in Legion Fire is not especially powerful, so — just to round things out — I started the same process for Frost. Currently my artifact level is 72 on that spec, so I have a small ways to go to get to what I consider max level for any alt artifact.

Before I go on, let me point out that while I have become minimally proficient as a mage, I am nowhere close to being good, or even above average. Prior to this weekend, the best I could eke out in front of a target dummy as a Frost mage — no movement and no food or other consumable buffs — was about 700-800k sustained dps. All you excellent mages out there are free to laugh your butts off over this, especially when I tell you my ilevel was around 930. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Anyway, the point is, I am pretty bad as a Frost mage.

But over the course of this weekend I finally got 4 pieces of t21 normal gear (I do not have any t20), along with two of the top three legendaries for Frost mages (Shard of the Exodar ring and Shattered Fragments of Sindragosa helm). Once I made a talent change to accommodate the helm, there was an instantaneous sea change in my damage numbers. Simply by adding these 6 pieces of gear (which only changed my overall ilevel by about 3 levels) my sustained target dummy dps doubled — well over 1.5m dps for  several 8-minute sessions. (I did a few to mitigate any possible fantastic good luck with the heavy proc-fishing one has to do with Frost mages.)

Did I suddenly become twice as proficient? In my dreams! No, it was just gear.

To me, this experience pretty well encapsulates some of the worst aspects of Legion, design changes that I fear we have not seen the last of:

  • Using gear (trinkets, tier, and legendaries) to correct class/spec play style and potency design flaws, instead of correcting basic balance problems.
  • Using RNG as the sole determiner of which players will be awarded these crucial gap-fillers for their spec.
    • Taunting players with the idea that there is “bad luck” insurance that kicks in if you just keep grinding raids and dungeons and emissary quests for enough weeks. But this does NOT have anything to do with getting the “good” legendaries and such, only with getting one — which may in fact suck, causing you and your bad luck to start all over again in hopes of getting the one that fixes your lousy rotation.
  • The extreme reliance on secondary stats to bring a spec’s abilities to anything close to their potential, and the twin crime of making those stats completely random for loot drops.

These design decisions, more than any other factors in my opinion, are what created the “never-ending grind” many felt in Legion. The overriding importance of gear — including the artifact weapon — combined with the RNG aspect and geometric increases in AP for the artifact — made much of Legion an exercise in soul-sucking drudgery.  Players looking to meet their regular end game goals — especially if those goals included becoming a contributing member of a raid team — found that Blizz had suddenly moved the goal posts and in fact kept moving them as the expansion progressed.

In effect, Blizz was altering the normal change vector by moving the magnitude with the expansion rather than letting the player move along a fixed magnitude and thus see what they had come to expect as “progress”.

Blizz seems unable or unwilling to learn the meta-lessons from their mistakes, preferring to learn only the specific ones. If players complained about artifacts being too grindy in Legion, for example, Blizz eliminates artifacts in BfA but simply breaks their effect up among several small artifact-like pieces. The never-ending grind is still there. If players objected to class-fixing legendary bonuses, Blizz eliminated those kinds of legendaries in BfA but moved the class bandaids to bonus traits in Azerite armor. When players complained about having to run dailies and weeklies in Mists of Pandaria in order to not feel as if they were falling behind, Blizz changed the name to world quests in Legion and kept them as a requirement for earning AP and gear in order to be eligible for other group activities. When players complained bitterly about garrisons in WoD, Blizz changed the name to class halls in Legion.

Before I get deluged with hate mail, all of this is not to say there were not some excellent innovations in Legion — and I will likely have a post on what I think those were before BfA goes live. In general I think Legion was a decent expansion. But I am troubled by what I see as Blizz’s move to a design philosophy that seems to deliberately create winner and loser classes and specs, along with a system that rewards luck more than any other factor for player potential. And I continue to be disappointed in Blizz’s seeming inability to truly move on from what even they admit were mistakes — they seem anchored to the design concepts and more eager to camouflage them than to correct them.

The real Q&A

Despite my snarkiness in my last post, I thought the Q&A yesterday was relatively informative. There was surprisingly quite a lot of what I think of as “real” information as opposed to the kind of blather that is nothing more than an infomercial. If you have an hour with nothing else to do, check out the video yourself either directly on Twitch or via MMO-C here. With that, let me get started on my observations.

PTR is now live. The first announcement was a bit of great news — the PTR is now live for Patch 8.0. That is, now anyone can go up on the PTR and experience the pre-expansion patch, which as usual will contain everything new in BfA (stat squish, new profession system, War Mode, class changes, pre-expansion event scenario, etc.) except for the new zones and content-specific quests. I did not get a chance to check out the PTR yesterday after the Q&A, so I don’t have any firsthand information on it yet, but if you have specific questions I recommend you step in and give it a spin.

When 8.0 does go live (I am guessing in about a month), there will be a few things that have to be adjustment for you. For example, the tier and legendary bonuses will still work, but not the artifact actives. So if you are, say, a BM hunter, and have gotten used to working Titan’s Thunder into your rotation, that will be gone. Same with all the active artifact spells such as Sheilun’s Gift for mistweaver monks and the totally awesome New Moon for balance druids. (Seriously, what is cooler than dropping a moon on the head of your enemy?) Some of these have gone baseline for a few specs, but generally they are compensated for in other, mostly passive, ways.

Flying in BfA. Look for the BfA Pathfinder requirements to be pretty much the same as they were for Legion. Translation: No chance of getting flying until probably sometime around March 2019 at the earliest. Blizz will again gate the requirements behind faction rep, doing a certain number of world quests, and exploration of every nook and cranny of all the new zones, as well as withhold the final Pathfinder parts until a certain patch (8.2??).

Recall that Blizz started the whole Pathfinder mechanism back in WoD, when they were forced to back off their disastrous announcement that there would henceforward never be flying in any new zones. There was such a backlash over that, that they had to hurriedly come up with some way to put off WoD flying while they scrambled to make the zones flyable. So they invented the Pathfinder quest line, along with gates designed to ensure no one would get the ability before Blizz wanted them to.

I don’t actually mind the Pathfinder questlines, by the way, but my point here is that if you are leveling a new character that is not part of an account where one character has already unlocked flying, you must still do the Pathfinder quests for every zone they exist in. That means, in theory, that 5 years from now you will still have to unlock all the rep, exploration, and so forth in Draenor, in Broken Isles, in Battle for Azeroth, and in all expansions up to whichever one is current if you want to be able to fly in those zones.

Thus, an interesting question in the Q&A was, will Blizz stop requiring Pathfinder for older expansion zones such as WoD? Ion, as is his wont, punted on the answer, giving his usual not-at-this-time-but-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-soon™-we-might-start-to-think-about-it. Just my opinion, but I suspect by the expansion after BfA we will start to see Pathfinder going away in the earlier zones like WoD and Legion.

There was, however, a good bit of dissembling going on with Ion’s answer. He bleated on and on about not wanting to “devalue the effort” of completing Pathfinder in every expansion, and that “Draenor was designed for ground-based leveling so you don;t need flying to level there”. Well, yeah. But come on Ion, why not admit that the real answer is that for some reason you have decided that leveling should take a lot longer than it used to (do I smell MAU metrics here?), and allowing flying in a shorter time would not serve that goal.

Class Balance. Bottom line is, what you see on the PTR is largely what you will get for your class and spec. There are very few large changes planned at this point. Blizz is aware of some problems but will address them either by numbers tweaks between now and August 14 or leave those changes for 8.1.

After listening to Ion on this, I remain concerned that Blizz is rather deliberately making winner and loser classes, especially when it comes to raid and group utility. They keep blathering on about how they want each class to “feel special”, yet only a few classes are “special” enough to always be sought out for groups. That is, only a few classes have truly unique utilities — such as battle rez or innervate — and many other classes either have nothing or some lesser version of the sought-after utilities. When this trend is combined with Ion’s fixation on the idea that some classes should be sought after for certain fights (bring the class not the player), it does not bode well for the also-ran classes. Unfortunately for me, I think hunters are one of those. Ion can say all he wants about fitting your strategy to your team, but the reality is that, once there has been a “school solution” to certain fights, it will be well-nigh impossible for classes who are not part of that solution to find pugs willing to take them.

What this means, I think, is choose your main class and spec with care for BfA. If you love playing a certain one and don’t care that it may not be one of the favored ones, go for it. On the other hand, if high numbers, lively play style, and being able to easily get into groups are important factors for you, then spend some time figuring out which classes/specs will do that for you in BfA — it may not end up being your current main.

On the plus side, I was heartened to hear that Blizz understands they went too far with spec identity in Legion, and they want to return to overall class identity. Whether they will achieve this goal or not remains to be seen.

War mode. This new world PvP system is part of patch 8.0. The basics are that there will be no more PvP or PvE servers, there will only be Normal and RP ones. On all servers, you can toggle PvP mode on while in your faction capital city. When you do so, you will be transferred to a shard where everyone has also toggled PvP mode, thus making your location a PvP sever. The difference between RP and PvE servers is that currently RP servers do not involuntarily transfer players to other shards (except in extreme overload situations), so as to keep group integrity better for RP purposes. In 8.0, if you toggle War Mode on an RP server, you will stay on your own shard from your RP server. If you join a group, the group will join your shard, you will not be involuntarily transferred to a different one.

I was pleased to hear Ion explain a bit more about the perks awarded for doing War Mode in patch 8.0. Basically, players in War Mode will earn slightly more gold from world quests, and if they are leveling they will get fast xp than in PvE mode. Ion commented that the reason for this is that PvP players often get forcibly diverted from questing, and the extra gold and xp is a way to compensate for that. Ion said the team is paying a lot of attention to balancing this — they want to make sure PvP is not unduly punishing players who choose it, while at the same time they absolutely do not want the bonuses to be so lucrative as to make PvE players feel pushed into PvP.

Mythic Raiding. Who cares, really. BfA will implement some world ranking system that should result in cross-realm mythic raiding being unlocked sooner. Whoopee. 🙄

Mythic+ Dungeons. For me, another who-cares item. Players will not be able to switch out gear in BfA M+ dungeons, what they start with is what they will use for each. But the interesting takeaway for me from this whole M+ Q&A discussion is the sheer number of changes and “anti-exploit” measures being put into place in BfA for M+. This only means that these are going to be a major esports venue for WoW as we go forward, since nearly all the changes are targeted towards high-end min-maxxers.

Catch-up AP in BfA. There will be one, just as there was one for AP in Legion. Interestingly, in BfA Blizz is reversing the approach. In Legion, the amount of AP required to buy more artifact upgrades increased exponentially, and the catch-up mechanism was that you could earn geometrically-increasing amounts in order to get that AP. In BfA, you will earn Azerite at a constant rate, but the cost of the gear traits will go down periodically. Both systems work for catch-up, but the BfA method means we will not be faced with ridiculously high numbers for traits (over a trillion AP for some people with high artifact levels.)

Anyway, that was it for the Q&A. (There was some more PvP stuff but I pretty much tuned that out.) I think in general it was a decent hour. One of the most positive big takeaways for me is that I am beginning to believe Blizz is sensitive to the grindiness and tedium many of us disliked in Legion, and they do seem to be taking some steps to make that less of an issue.

And with that long, wordy post, let the weekend begin. See you on the other side.

Garrisons revisited

A couple of years ago, during Warlords of Draenor, anyone reading this blog would likely have been treated to a rant about how badly Blizz screwed up the whole garrison idea. Garrisons had become a second job, they made the game seem about as fun as spending your weekends cleaning house and mowing the lawn, they were the main cause the social aspect of the game was deteriorating, yada yada yada.

Well.

Last week I was doing some profession switching in preparation for Battle for Azeroth, making sure I had one of each crafting profession and getting most of them to level 800 before August. Recall that in BfA, you will level only the current profession recipes, and if you want to go back and learn recipes from earlier expansions there is a mechanism for doing those separately. My hope is that if you start BfA with a level 800 profession, you will not have to go back to learn the earlier stuff, you will automatically get credit for it. That’s how it should work, but I long ago learned not to count on Blizz to do the logical thing.

At any rate, while grinding out skill-ups, I rediscovered the usefulness of the WoD garrison. It is, of course, required if you want to learn the WoD crafting recipes, but it is especially terrific for leveling gathering professions — herbs, mining, even fish. (It is less useful for leveling skinning. But skinning is quick to level anyway.)

The key for leveling gathering professions is to get a level 3 mine or herb garden. (You can increase the number of work orders by assigning a champion to work in them, and also by getting a level 3 storehouse, but those things do not help you level up, only the actual gathering does.) Additionally, if you apply a small amount of effort, you can get a bank and an auction house, making it easy to dispose of your gathered materials without having to commute somewhere. (There are also vendors in the garrison if you just want to vendor your stuff.) Last, since all of Draenor is just outside your garrison, once you have gathered the daily take from your mine or herb garden, you can easily keep leveling, up to 700, by running gathering routes just outside your garrison gate. What’s not to love? Oh, and of course, you can get to your garrison with the special hearthstone, and if you need to run back to Stormwind for something and your Dal hearthstone is on cooldown, you can portal to Stormshield via your level 3 garrison tower in the back and from there quickly portal to Stormwind and a couple of other cities.

So the leveling potential in my garrison was kind of a forehead-slapping moment once it percolated through my brain. What I did not anticipate was the comfortable, homey feeling I would get when I went back. Seriously, it was like when you have been traveling for a long time and finally get home and kick off your shoes and sink into your favorite chair — “Ahhhhh”. I just would not have expected myself to have that kind of reaction, given how much I disliked garrisons when they were current.

Ever since Mists, I have considered my little Sunsong Ranch to be “home” for my characters. I always liked the cozy small room with the bed and neat shelves and bubbly stew on the stove, and to this day I frequently take a character there to spend the night or a couple of weeks if I know I won’t be logging in on them for a bit. It’s silly, I know, but somewhere in the back of my mind I feel good knowing they are in their own little place, snug and safe. This is the reason I have always gone to the trouble to become exalted (besties) with all the Tillers and have done the full Sunsong Ranch quest line on every alt.  I really value that little one-room place that is your character’s very own.

But now that garrisons are in the rear view mirror and I have had some time to distance myself from them, I am finding that I have similar feelings about them. While the Town Hall is not generally what I would describe as “cozy”, it does have a certain appeal — some of my characters have spent many a night sitting by the fire in the mission room, where I imagine they have come in weary and cold and pulled off their boots and clammy socks and warmed their feet while sipping a hot toddy, and fallen asleep in the chair because they were too exhausted to find a bed.

I also really enjoyed standing at the garrison gate and watching my champions walk out to start their missions — in my opinion this was one of the most clever mechanics in WoD. I really got a kick out of waving them goodbye, watching them march off in twos and threes to fight the good fight.

Upon occasion, I have also commandeered the gardener’s cottage in the herb garden. In my opinion, this would be a perfect and easy way to give players some housing — just kick the gardener out and put up a “Commander’s Residence” sign in the front, maybe add in a couple of quest lines to get some decorations for the inside. That way, Blizz can claim they are really not giving in on player housing (since they would not be adding much new), and players could actually have a house, everybody wins. They will not do this, of course, because they are stubborn shitheads, but still it is a nice idea.

I suppose almost anything looks better in retrospect, after all we generally like to forget the bad parts of experiences and remember the good parts. I suspect my newfound nostalgia for garrisons is part of the same foggy hindsight driving the desire of some players to go back to a classic WoW experience — I choose not to remember the parts I hated and instead remember only the sitting-by-the fire contentment. Of course, it also helps that now when I visit my garrison it is completely voluntary — I do not feel like Blizz is demanding I participate in a certain end game play style, because, well, it is no longer the end game part. I admit that I am prone to a certain amount of bull-headedness, too, in that the more I feel like I am being required to do something, the less I want to do it, even if left to my own resources I might actually like the activity. That is stupid and illogical, but there it is. (Yeah, for those of you wondering, I was like that in my soldier days, too, resulting in me being considered either an “independent thinker” or a “troublemaker”, depending on the commander I worked for. I actually valued both labels.)

So, as we draw closer to a new expansion, I am learning to love one of the previous ones. If that means my rear view mirror is smudged, I really don’t feel like cleaning it.

 

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.

Alpha beta soup

The development of Battle for Azeroth has moved into the next phase. Late yesterday Blizz announced the closing of the alpha servers and a new start with beta. Accompanying this announcement was a new round of invites, presumably rather large in scope and permitting many of the actual customer base for the game to try out BfA.

(No, I haven’t checked yet to see if I got an invite, but since I think there were roughly a gazillion sent out, I suppose there is a chance. If I did, and if it goes like the schedule for Legion, we can expect the PTR very soon. 🤨)

Today’s post is just a couple of observations about what has become Blizz’s standard testing cycle for new expansions.

The alpha —> beta phases are new starting with Legion. Sort of. That is, in the run up to Legion, Blizz called its customer test phase “alpha” but was coy about saying what exactly that meant. In previous expansions there was only a beta and a PTR — at least those were the two phases Blizz publicly acknowledged. When we saw the term “alpha” for Legion, many assumed it was because development was at a cruder stage than usual for allowing some of the public to see it. This made sense, because WoD had been such a disaster that it seemed Blizz would do anything to refocus their customers on Legion. As far as I can recall, Blizz never did put out anything they called “beta” — they went directly from several months of alpha to the PTR. Still, there were a few discernible phases in the Legion alpha — it started with the usual favored few, then gradually — close to the end — was expanded to include representatives of the hoi polloi.

This time, the BfA alpha started out the same, but apparently Blizz is now comfortable with actually calling the early tests “alpha” and the ones where they let in some of the Great Unwashed “beta”.

Why the difference? I think there is a clue contained in a blue post quoted in MMO-C here. Basically, Blizz now permits the pros (big Twitchers, world-first guilds, top 1% on various servers, etc.) to have actual input on important development such as class and spec tuning and profession paths, while reps of the other 99% get to have input on things like travel glitches and wardrobe malfunctions.

Okay, that was maybe a bit snarky, but the blue post I cited pretty much announced that no one participating in the beta should harbor any illusions that they are going to actually shape any of the important stuff. That has already been done by the big kids. Just log on if you got an invite, and help Blizz find all their bugs and stress their servers a bit. Oh, and maybe rave about the marvelous new Island Expeditions which are of course awesome. Because another reason to send out a ton of beta invites is to help generate enthusiasm for BfA. Maybe we will get some explanation of the test phases in tomorrow’s happy chat with Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas.

HAHAHAHA! I crack myself up! More likely it will be an extended infomercial for the expansion.

To be fair, even during the alpha it was apparent that not a lot of class changes were going to be forthcoming. There were a few in response to alpha tester comments, but for a significant number of classes what we saw is what we will get. Blizz had already designed the winner and loser classes/specs for the expansion, and they would not be swayed by such details as actual comparison numbers and professional opinions about the feel of the spec.

Some of the only important stuff we might see tweaked in the beta, I suspect, is the interaction between class mechanics and quests/instances/raids. That is, if Blizz has failed to take the new class changes into account for their group encounter and quest designs (almost certainly the case), they might tweak some of the encounters to make them more compatible. Maybe. And of course, Blizz will happily accept actual bugs that beta testers find.

But if you got a beta invite and expect Blizz to listen to — much less take action on — your frustration with, for example, all the new actions now subject to the global cooldown, forget it. If you are lucky, there will have been a dev that actually plays and understands your chosen class and spec, and thus you will have an engaging play style in BfA and will routinely appear near the top of the charts (if that is something important to you). But if changes were made by a numbers geek who has no clue about the very soul of your chosen class/spec and who frankly could care less, prepare for a couple of years of frustration.

Hmm. I seem cranky today. Maybe I should go check my email.

Saddle up

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not much of a collector in WoW. Even though I am a hunter, I usually don’t go out of my way to collect hunter pets, I hate foo-foo “battle” pets, I rarely go after transmog looks, and there are very few mounts I find worthy of pursuing. I understand some people love these aspects of the game, and more power to them, but it is just not my thing.

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Thus, I was more amused than intrigued yesterday when MMO-C posted the video for the new parrot mounts in BfA. Yes, that is correct, a parrot. You know, “Wraaaak! Polly want a potion!” This mighty steed is one of the new BfA mounts, a list that also includes a bee, a frog, a hippo, and several creatures I can only describe as “Whut the hell is that?!?” These mounts will be added to the game stable that includes hundreds of weird, wacky, and whimsical modes of transportation as well as a lot of “regular” ones like horses, elephants, airplanes, motorcycles, boats, well you name it.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fun aspect of mounts. I have had — and will continue to have — my own giggly moments when I soar or gallop or galumph on some strange creature. And I admit I have actually lusted after a couple of mounts in the game — the Mekgineer Chopper, that Alliance flying boat from Blizzcon 2017, some of the jewelcrafting tigers, the Headless Horsemen mount, the hunter class mount, and assorted  others. And, even though I do not directly chase them, I like getting surprised with a mount from an achievement or as a loot drop. I just checked, and I have 114 mounts. You collectors out there are laughing your asses off at this number and muttering, “Amateur!”, but I mean how many can you ride at one time? Over a hundred is not bad for someone who is really an accidental collector. 😉

The one thing that really annoys me about mounts are the fly-only types that people insist on using on the ground. I really do not see the joy in riding along on something that is awkwardly wallowing along a road like a huge wounded beast, painfully galumphing through an environment it was never meant for. I enjoy soaring through the skies on some of these mounts as much as the next person, but clomping along on the ground, no thank you. Not to mention, it looks really ridiculous. I can’t help but think many of the players who do this on some ginormous bird or the ilk think they are really impressing others, when there are a lot like me who are laughing themselves silly.

Part of this has to do with the limits we all put on our game fantasy. This is an interesting phenomenon about fantasy games — we all set “rules” about which impossible things we will buy into and which ones we will draw the line at. We may easily believe in a world where there are orcs and big slobbering one-eyed monsters and flying horses. We have no problem believing in a world where no one ever has to go to the dentist or wash their clothes or pee or sleep or call their mom or deal with a grumpy spouse. (“You’re questing again today? Sure, go ahead, don’t worry about me stuck here with screaming kids and laundry and meals to fix!”) We do not bat an eye at magical portals or pink trees, or Jurassic-Park type areas full of dinosaurs, or hostile petunias. But when Blizz gave us the time-tunnel version of Draenor in WoD, tons of players cried foul — it struck them as “unrealistic” and a cop-out. Similarly, when Blizz arbitrarily designates some areas as permanent no-fly zones (like Argus), players complain about it not being believable because lots of things are flying there, including some of the very beasts we have tamed as mounts. Or think about this: of all the kinds of mounts there are in the game, there are no automobiles. Why? “Not realistic” in the game. Go figure.

The point is, we all — along with Blizz — draw our own boundaries about things we can accept in the game and things we refuse to accept. Things that are “believable” and things that are not. So, for example, while I can accept the premise of a flying boat, I am pretty sure I will draw the line at riding a damn frog! That’s just ridiculous! Or a lumbering hippo. And I have actually had a parrot in real life, and trust me, they can be nasty and mean and dirty and noisy and they have a vicious beak. No way would I ever try to ride a giant one, even in a fantasy game! None of this has any logic to it, except in my twisted brain, but there it is.

I pretty much stick to having four mounts on my action bar: my Headless Horseman mount, the water strider, my transmog yak, and one random one that I rotate out just for a change. I like the HH mount because it looks good both flying and on the ground, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting I have a ground mount and thus accidentally run off a cliff to my death. Often, early in an expansion when we do not have flying, I like to tool around on my chopper. But mostly I stick to rather mundane, “believable” mounts.

I may, however, have to have a bee. And maybe a bee hunter pet. Because that is totally realistic!