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.

Non-legendary legendaries

Over the weekend I was reading up a bit on the 7.3.x upcoming changes — I opted not to dabble on the PTR this time — and I came away feeling pretty cranky about the whole legendary mechanic for Legion.

What got me going, of course, is the description we have so far for the one of the new pseudo-legendaries, Aman’Thul’s Vision. (Set aside for the moment that I was predisposed to hate it if because the name contains one of Blizz’s pretentious, senseless, and unfortunately ubiquitous apostrophes.) From what I can glean, it is a legendary trinket that is not really a legendary, in that it does not count as one of your two equipped legendaries. It does, however, count as your one allowed Titan/Pantheon Trinket (more on that below), and so now in addition to figuring out which legendaries to equip, along with which tier pieces and regular trinkets to equip, we will have to also figure out which trinkets are not allowed to play together. More fodder for the super computers.

The trinket itself is a stat stick, increasing all secondary stats to the player — crit, mastery, haste, and versatility. Additionally, it has a chance to proc tertiary stats — yes, I regret to say we have come to this sad situation — so at random intervals the player will get a buttload of speed, avoidance, and leech for 12 seconds. But the real presumed power of the thing is its use in a raid, where, if at least four players have the thing equipped, and if all four happen to randomly have overlapping procs, then an additional wildcard is proc’ed, giving the players a huge primary stat increase for a few seconds.

This is that stupid WoD ring on steroids, but with the added “feature” of it being totally random, no player control needed! This, of course eliminates the LFR problem of “premature use”, when that one inevitable idiot proc’ed the ring on the first round of trash. Now RNG can do that for you!

Who doesn’t love more RNG in the game, huh?

Now, when first I read about this trinket, I was thinking, OK, this is how Blizz gets around the 2-legendary restriction. They have vowed up and down that we will not/not/not be able to equip more than 2 legendaries, because that would be needlessly — something. So of course they cannot now change their minds on this important point. Instead, they craft an item that looks like a legendary, walks like a legendary, and quacks like a legendary, but they tell us it is not a legendary! So now we can equip two legendaries plus a thing that looks exactly like a legendary but trust us it is not one.

Yeah.

As silly as this sounds, it is actually much more complex — and ridiculous — than that. The trinket is part of en entire system of “Argus Pantheon Trinkets”, with a whole set of rules for how/when to equip them, ways to upgrade them, etc. Of course most of them are random drops on Argus, and they appear to have fairly specific circumstantial uses, so here is a whole new reason for players to grind out shit on Argus. (Aman’thul’s Vision, the exception, is a loot drop from the final boss of the new raid tier. Which means this is not for casual players, it is only available to raiders, yet another example of Blizz pandering to the pros.)

And the trinket system? Well, you can check out a pretty detailed description of it here, but I warn you it almost takes a degree in physics or engineering to understand it. Basically, Blizz has overlaid the Legion legendary system onto trinkets.

Think about that for a moment.

Blizz, in the persona of Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, has several times admitted that they made a mistake with the whole Legion legendary system. They have applied numerous bandages to it to try and fix it — bad luck insurance, increasing the drop rate of the first couple in order to help alts compete, incorporating some of the effects into baseline spec abilities, nerfing the stupidly-OP ones, etc. But the fact remains that Legion legendaries to this day just plain stink as a concept. They strictly limit a player’s options — once you embark for a few months on a certain spec, it becomes very difficult to switch if you do not have the required legendaries for it, and even if you do not want to switch specs (say nothing of class), you are handicapped for some aspects of the game if you have not had the good luck to get the “good” legendaries. Additionally, they make an already-complex gear system vastly more so.

And now Blizz — who have admitted Legion legendaries were not their best idea — have doubled down on the concept by introducing an entire trinket system that is a virtual twin of the legendary system.

What.

The.

Fuck.

Recall that this is exactly what happened with garrisons in WoD. Fairly early in WoD, Blizz admitted that the garrison system had turned out badly, that it had unintended adverse results for the health of the game, that players hated it. So what did they do for 6.2? Yep, they doubled down on it, requiring not only player garrisons but also expanded garrisons with shipyards to even be able to see the new patch content. Garrisons stunk as an idea, so what better course of action than to increase their importance!

I have said it before and now I will say it again, when you are in a hole you cannot get out of, the first rule is to stop digging.

I am sure we will all meekly accept the new Argus legendary trinket system, and we will dutifully chase them for months. Some of us will chase the non-legendary legendary trinket as well, and will grind away trying to get the gizmo to upgrade our other Pantheon trinkets into additional non-legendary legendaries, so that we can have an entire range of encounter-specific gear for almost every possible situation. We will carry around a ton of gear to be able to swap it out even if we never change specs, and we will haunt the web-based banks of computers to calculate the best gear set for every eventuality.

But is this really fun? More to the point, is the overhead becoming so high to get to the fun part that there is a serious cost-benefit deficit? It is a mark of how much I and others love this game that we have stuck with it for so long, even in the face of a relentlessly creeping complexity that is now nearing — or possibly well past — the level of stupidly ridiculous.

And with each new level of complexity the players cede more control, ironically lose more options. We are at the mercy of probability to get legendaries, to get tier gear, to get “good” legendaries and trinkets. And even after we have negotiated the probability minefield to get one of the new trinkets, we will not be able to control when to use it. It’s one thing for this to be the case with minor trinkets, where you might get a small individual boost randomly from equipping them, but it is a whole different thing for this to be how it works for a major buff that can affect the success or failure of an entire raid, after players have ground out what will likely be many final-boss kills just to get the ability. Or more accurately, just to get a lottery ticket.

Do the frogs ever get to the point of “This water is getting too hot, I’m outta here!”?

Clearly, I do not know the answer to that. I am still here, paddling around.

Time for your Metamucil, Auntie Blizz

Has Blizzard become risk-averse?

It is only a question, but these days the company seems less like the brilliant, shirts-untucked, energetic skateboard bunch we all thought we knew, and more like Great Aunt Dorothy, tut-tutting about noisy children and concerned she is not getting enough fiber.

Yesterday Blizz announced that, after years of development to improve their battle.net social media vehicle, they now proudly present — wait for it — a Discord knockoff. It is still in beta, though, and only fully available in North America, but at last they have achieved the same technology other social media companies reached long ago. (This is after they tried — largely unsuccessfully — to tie WoW in with existing social media giants like Twitter and Facebook.)

There appears to be absolutely nothing innovative about the new battle.net. The feature they are touting the most is the “appear offline” button, a much-requested feature that in theory allows a user to effectively hide from their friends if they do not wish to be sociable while on line. Except it still does not work with WoW. From the blue post (emphasis mine):

Appearing offline will show you as offline to everyone in your Blizzard friends list. Once you have joined a game, the experience of appearing offline might be slightly different depending on which game you are playing. In the case of World of Warcraft, your guildmates will see your character come online and enter WoW’s in-game chat channels, and anyone who has you as a character-level friend will see you online on their friends list. Everyone outside of the same game as you will not see you online or playing any games.

Well, if you use battle.net, so much for trying to get a little “me” time by questing on your secret non-guilded character.

Fail!

Which brings me to the other part of this post — yesterday’s Q&A with Game Director Hazzikostas. (Check out the MMO-C Cliff Notes and full video here.) Before I launch into my comments, though, I will say that Ion was being more honest with us than I can ever remember him being. I give him some props for that, even if the honesty was more of a “brutally honest” kind of thing. Anyway, with that, a few specific observations:

  • We will soon get an account bound Argus-unlocked whistle. Once we do it on one character it will be unlocked for all. That may be coming in a few short days.
  • Get ready to grind for-freaking-ever if you want to upgrade your stash of legendaries in the new patch. Yes, same horrible grind as from 940 to 970, because, according to that oracle of fun™, Ion Hazzikostas, it feels “odd” to just have them automatically upgraded. Yeah, wouldn’t want that…
  • Also on legendaries, the tokens datamined in 7.3.2 will be available to players who have amassed every legendary for their entire class, not for their spec. To me, this is another huge piece of Blizz hypocrisy — they want every spec to feel “unique” and special, and they have gone to great lengths to turn each spec into its own mini-class, but when it comes to getting any perks from this change, forget it. Can’t have players not putting in their required monthly hours, can we?
  • Dev team is not totally happy with Legion legendaries and tier set bonuses, and how those interact with class balance/tuning, but basically it is too hard to fix now. Same with some aspects of professions, class pruning of utility spells, and the clunky high numbers associated with AP. These are the topics where I thought Ion was being brutally honest with us. I respect the fact he admitted they painted themselves into a corner on these, that there were unintended consequences, and that they simply do not have the resources now to do any more than minor tweaks to make the situation less awful.
  • RNG — it’s good, they like it, and it is here to stay so get used to it. (This is a bit too glib of me — Ion gave a pretty decent explanation of Blizz’s philosophy on RNG. It’s just that I think they are doing a much worse job of “managing” it than they think they are.)
  • Argus technical design is such that flying is impossible there, and at least two world quest areas cannot be unlocked for an account, only per character. (Which means I will be spending as little time there as possible.)
  • During the discussion on class utility, Ion reiterated the current Blizz philosophy that raid class composition should make a difference in boss fights. He tried to back away from a perception they believe raids should “bring the class not the player” but it was pretty clear they like the idea of certain classes making a difference in specific boss fights.
    • He indicated that at some point they would be restoring some raid utilities to classes, that the significant pruning at the start of Legion may have been ill-advised. However he is not in favor of every class having a set of standard utilities so that classes are fungible, rather he wants every class to maintain a unique raid utility.
    • I suppose this is an OK idea if and only if there are not favored and forgotten classes. Blizz does not have a great track record in this area.
    • Also, this kind of thinking is a prime example of Blizz targeting development for elite players in Mythic raiding guilds, because they are the only ones with the luxury of picking and choosing their roster for given fights. The rest of us have to go with who we have, regardless of whether or not those classes give the team the best shot at killing the particular boss.
  • Mythic+ is here to stay, and it will likely become more and more complex and elite. Blizz has discovered that this is where the esports money is for WoW and I fully expect Blizz to go all in on it. While this is not in and of itself bad, it seems likely that the activity will evolve to suit professional players and teams at the expense of it being a fun diversion for casual players.

As an aside, I thought one of the real highlights of the Q&A was when a newly-spiffed-up (and looking good!) Lore did a Ken Burns voiceover of one of the questions. I actually did laugh out loud, it was so well done. If you have a couple minutes, check it out, around timestamp 35:30 in the MMO-C video.

The Q&A had a lot of information in it, I thought, although for some of it you had to read between the lines. If I had to sum it up, I would say there were three main messages:

  • Grinding is here to stay because it keeps the MAU metrics high, so suck it up.
  • Blizz has moved beyond Legion and is not prepared to devote any more big resources to fixing it.
  • Blizz will continue to develop the game with elite players as the target group. 

This is what I mean when I say Blizz has become stodgy and unimaginative. They are sticking with proven formulae, obeying their corporate masters on bottom lines and resource allocation and target venues. (I mean, even Lore is looking downright corporate these days!)  Yeah, sure, of course I want them to make money, but for crying out loud do they have to dump their original creative genius to do it? Were they really so hurt by WoD that they will no longer take any risks at all? What happened to the Blizz Dude that would have said, “Oops, my bad, man!” and laughed at himself but then shook it off and came back with even more intensity?

That Blizz got old and cautious and crotchety. It watches its diet now, and always wears slippers, and knows the value of staying regular.

Witnessing the slow decline of someone you love is never fun. Here’s your shawl, Auntie.

R&R

I don’t know about you, but after two expansions of The Great And Final™ Battle Against <insert name of evilest evil the universe has ever known here>, I need some down time. I want to have an expansion where the worst monsters I have to fight are some local badass tribes, not an entire mighty armada. I am sick of being invaded. I am depressed by the thought of space travel and worlds being torn apart. I am weary of always having to establish hasty and primitive military outposts.

It’s time for some R&R in WoW.

The last time we had any respite was in Mists. The enemies we fought were home-grown: mogu and sha and such, and none of them came from another planet or seemed capable of assembling vast armies. Even Garrosh was just a local boy gone bad. Mists allowed us to take a breather from saving the universe, and I think we need to do so again.

I have no idea what the setting of the next expansion will be, but I really want it to be back on good old Azeroth, with no interplanetary or time-warped excursions. (And, since I am wishing, no underwater zones either, please.) I mean, there is an entire half of the planet we have not even seen — surely there are land masses there we have not yet discovered.

You may have guessed where I am going with this, and of course it is a lost cause, but  my R&R wish for the next expansion comes with the The Great WoW Untouchable Subject: player housing. We have been fighting unbeatable enemies nonstop for two expansions now, and dammit we deserve to come home to a cozy fire, take off our boots and smelly socks, have a beer and some hot stew, and relax a little. Maybe putter in the garden or play with one of our hundreds of pets.

Blizz officially detests this entire idea, though I cannot for the life of me understand why. Every time a dev is asked about it, they do everything but spit to express their disdain. This, in spite of the fact that garrisons gave us proof of concept — separate instances for individuals or invited groups, the ability to have collected pets and mounts wander about, a productive garden and fishing area, even the ability to decorate and select guards. Garrisons were player housing in all but name (and of course they lacked an actual commander’s house).

Where Blizz went wrong with the whole garrison idea was that they — typically — went way overboard with them, requiring them for every player and making them the focal point for the entire expansion. But they could easily use the basic technology in the next expansion for player housing. Here’s how:

  • Make them entirely voluntary. Players wishing to obtain one could either do a quest line for them, or purchase after getting some faction rep, or purchase outright, whatever. Players not wishing to bother with them would not be disadvantaged, in the same way that players currently not opting to do pet battles are not disadvantaged in the game.
  • Severely limit the perks. A good model for this might be Sunsong Ranch, which offered a few gathered items if one “worked” the ranch, a mailbox, and a hearthstone. No profession huts, no auction house, no bank, no quest hub, no garrison-type scenario battles, and definitely no content gating.
  • Make the whole endeavor a kind of mini-game, like pet battles. Encourage special quests to obtain various cosmetic enhancements — interior design, bigger yard, picket fence, barbecue patio, stable for your mounts, permission to allow your pets to wander around and curl up by the fire, etc. Attention Blizz: Just think of the “content” potential, think of all those additional player hours!
  • Adapt the current transmog system to add a sort of transmog ability to the player housing, allowing cosmetic changes to suit the player’s mood. Whatever items you have collected would appear in various housing slots in a collection tab, and you could save entire sets and modify them at will.
  • Include the garrison ability to invite other players to your house, because what good is a house if you can’t throw a party now and then?
  • Allow players to choose from a small range of architectures for the housing — night elf, some kind of horde, worgen, etc. Along with the selected architecture would come appropriate landscaping to match.

Yeah, I know. It will never happen, even though there is exactly zero reason to not do it. Of course it would take dev resources, but honestly even if it cost “a raid tier” I think it would be worth it. Maybe not to the 1% hardcore players, but probably to the other 99%, though of course Blizz is not all that interested in them. Honestly, though, it would be a nice change if Blizz stopped designing for the minority of hard core players and threw a little love towards the great unwashed majority. No, it doesn’t lend itself  directly to esports, but it might keep enough people interested in the game itself to nudge them into esports spectators.

Come on, Blizz, we have all been good soldiers, we have fought every battle you asked us to fight, we have saved Azeroth over and over again, we have spent nights in cold, austere military camps, we have gone everywhere you have ordered us to, hopped from invasion point to invasion point, galloped miles and miles over fel-scarred hellish rockscapes. We have done everything asked of us. Is it too much to ask you for a little R&R in a cozy home of our own? I mean, when it comes down to it, what else are we fighting for?

Guild-y thoughts

Nothing of great interest in this post. It is just a sort of history of my guild journeys. You can easily skip it and you won’t miss anything.

As we seem to be in a pause in the pace of Legion just now — a good thing, in my opinion — I have been thinking a little about the role and nature of guilds in WoW. I will admit up front that I am a big supporter of them as a structure in the game, but I also know there are pros and cons to belonging to one. At times I envy the independence and freedom of those players who eschew guild membership, and to be honest I rather admire them for their willingness to play — and enjoy — the game completely solo. But when I weigh everything, I personally come down on the side of belonging to a guild.

In my very early days in the game (I started playing at the tail end of Burning Crusade) — when I had only my hunter character and was leveling up, I joined a couple of guilds randomly, stuck around for maybe a week or so, then left. I had no ties to them, I had only answered their chat spam. Once I was in them, I could really see no benefit for me — their guild chat was not especially friendly or welcoming, and the players that were around my level all seemed to have their own set little questing groups. So I didn’t stick around long.

My first real guild experience came when a RL friend of mine invited me to a guild he belonged to. That was where I began to appreciate some of the fun parts of guild membership, and where I got my first taste of how much more fun dungeons and quests were with a group you knew. Unfortunately, the guild was in its waning days, and it dissolved within a couple of months of my joining.

My friend found another guild (one his ex belonged to, but that’s another story) and I was invited to join it. The members were nice enough, and we ran a few dungeons together from time to time, but my strongest memory is that it was just weird, in a funny-strange sort of way. I play on what is ostensibly an RP realm (almost nobody RPs on it except the perverts in Goldshire), and apparently the people in the guild thought RP required a certain manner of speaking. Mind you, they did not really do RP, just enforced what they thought was a speech requirement. It consisted almost entirely of using the pronouns thee and thy and their variationsand sometimes throwing in a few ye‘s and yonder‘s along with some random uses of doth, dost and hath.

It was hysterically ridiculous, not only for the stupidity of the rule, but also because no one in the guild had the slightest idea how to properly use these words. Thee was always used as the subject of a sentence (not properly as an object) in place of “you”. The proper nominative usage, thou, was never used. Thy and thine were used interchangeably and at random as possessives, with no regard to the similar a/an usage today. Egregiously, ye was used not as the second person nominative plural but as a substitute for “the”. Doth and dost were also used pretty much at random, rather than as the third person singular and second person singular, respectively. It was at once painful and hilarious. Some actual examples from guild chat:

  • “Thee can repair thine gear at ye armorer in yonder shoppe.”
  • “Thee needs to hurry, we art in ye dungeon already.”
  • “Thine chat comments dost not conform to our guild rules. We hath these rules because we art on an RP server.”
  • “Doth thee have a cat pet thee couldeth use?”

Yeah, that guild, too, soon disintegrated. Not such a bad thing…

But I digress. By this time in my guild career, my friend had stopped playing the game and therefore — possibly for the best, given his track record — I was on my own to find a new guild. As all my previous guilds had been relatively small ones, I started to look for a really large guild, figuring that even if there was some drama, that it would affect only some of the members not the entire guild. Also, I felt like in a large guild I would have a better chance of finding a sub-group I was comfortable playing with.

Thus I joined what was at the time the largest guild on my server. It was a social guild, but it had a reasonable raid team. There were always organized guild activities, and a lot of people playing on any given night. I was completely oblivious to guild politics, so when there was a dead-of-the-night coup that resulted in a new GM and a whole new slate of officers, I just took it in stride. Eventually I became an officer in this guild, and I stayed with it for almost five years. But it, too, withered. Shortly after the “coup”, guild policies became more and more restrictive, and it lost many of its members. In short order it was no longer even close to the largest on the server. The GM and co-GM held power tightly centralized, so that even the officers had very little say in shaping of policy. For about a year, officers were not even allowed to invite people to the guild without GM approval. Still, I really liked the people in the guild, including the GM and co-GM, so I stayed. Also, I have this damned loyalty gene, and I will not abandon something I have committed to until the situation becomes intolerable.

Eventually the rather repressive nature of the guild, combined with the ravages of WoD, took its toll. We could no longer field even 10 people to raid, and nightly activity dwindled to maybe two or three people on at a time. I wanted to raid on my main hunter, but there was a rule that we could not belong to another guild on the same realm, even with alts, we had to fully commit to this guild all or nothing. I lobbied hard for several weeks and finally won permission to take my alt hunter and a druid alt to another actual raiding guild, as long as I did not say anything about it in guild chat. This of course should have been a final straw for me, but like I said, overdeveloped sense of loyalty….

I finally did leave that guild, though — with a great deal of guilt and angst — and took my main and all my alts to the raiding guild. Sadly, within a couple of months this guild, too, pretty much stopped raiding. (WoD was truly a guild-killer.)

While I had been with my long-term guild, one night during Mists I answered a trade chat request to cut a gem for someone. The person came to me and had mats, so it was nothing for me to cut it. When it was done, they wanted to give me a 100g tip (lot of gold at the time), but I refused because it had been so trivial a thing for me to do. We chatted for a bit, and the person said they were an officer in a certain named guild, and if I ever decided to change guilds I would be welcome there. I filed the guild name away and pretty much forgot about it for a couple of years.

Thus, when I found myself once again guildless, I researched this guild and found they were still very active, had an excellent raid team, and were accepting new members. I applied, was accepted after a short in-game interview, and so that is where I landed, and where I have happily been for almost two years now.

There is no real point to this post, I guess, except to say that sometimes it can take a while to find your niche. In my case, a long while. In my guild journeys, I have discovered a few things about myself. One is that, while I am rather passionate about hot-button topics IRL, I absolutely abhor discussing them in WoW. It just is not the place, in my opinion. I have seen drama tear a guild apart, and nothing induces drama more than arguments about politics or religion or social issues. Just not worth it.

Another thing I have learned is that I need to choose a guild methodically and wisely, because my stupid loyalty fixation will force me to stick with it even if I am miserable.

Last, I know for sure that belonging to a guild — even though there can be drawbacks to it — really enhances the game experience for me. My hope is that Blizz will also rediscover this notion and maybe implement some guild-promotion mechanisms in the next expansion. They have done it before but suddenly backed off. I would like to see them go back to it.

Thee shouldeth giveth me thy opinions on ye guild structure in WoW.

Housecleaning

Lately it has been challenging for me to come up with decent topics to write about in this blog. (Read the one from Wednesday and you will say something like “That’s for sure!”) We are pretty deep into summer game mode, I suppose — Patch 7.2.5 is old news, and 7.3 is months away. People are spending more of their leisure time in pursuits other than WoW, and I suspect a lot of Blizz devs are off on vacation or at least in a vacation mindset. This is a good thing, and I love summer, but it does make it tough to remain creative and thoughtful on a steady basis.

Thus, today I’ll do some housekeeping and clear out a few unrelated — and mostly undeveloped — topics that have been rattling around in my drafts folder.

Group finder for world quests/bosses. This is one of the best quality of life improvements Blizz has made in Legion, in my opinion. Except for the weekly world boss, I don’t often use it on my hunter because I can solo nearly everything, but I use it a lot on my alts, especially my squishier ones. I love that it is so easy, just hit a button on the quest tracker and you are good to go. The groups form quickly, do their thing, then disband immediately. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The only improvement I might suggest is that there be a clearer labeling of PvP and PvE realms, but that is minor. Good job, Blizz.

Argus innovations. As a disclaimer, I have not yet logged on to the PTR, so honestly I am writing in complete ignorance, but when has that ever stopped me? I am hoping to log on sometime this weekend, but meanwhile, based entirely on 7.3 notes, I have a couple of questions.

  • Does the concept of portals put players into even more restrictive cattle-chute type play? Will it compartmentalize new areas in such a way as to preclude meaningful exploration and — Blizz’s favorite word — “immersion”? Are the Argus portals a precursor to the main mode of transportation in the next expansion?
  • Does the lack of flying on Argus portend anything more sinister for the future of flying, or is Argus just a Timeless Isle kind of zone?
  • Will the requirement to complete quest lines in order to unlock new portalled mini-zones become yet another endless grind, all in the name of “content”? Will those quest lines themselves become as onerous as the profession ones are now, especially for alts?

Will we ever be free of garrisons? In WoD, a significant number of players (at least the active ones) expressed hatred of garrisons, almost from the start. The backlash was strong, yet Blizz responded by doubling down on them as WoD progressed. They repeatedly lied to us about the role of garrisons, at first saying they would be completely optional, then saying everyone had to have one but only the basic level, then requiring an advanced level garrison in order to experience the new Tanaan Jungle content.

And then, given this very strongly expressed player dislike of garrisons, Blizz slightly repackaged them as class halls for Legion — pretty much removing the WoD perks and leaving the crap parts. Each patch has introduced extensions to them, and apparently there will be more such extensions in 7.3.

I would love to see an absolute end to this concept in the next expansion, but I am not hopeful. Someone at Blizz loves them, and I predict they will continue to be crammed down our throats. And, even though they appear to be the perfect technical mechanism for something like player housing or guild halls, Blizz will never bow to these popular requests. We will continue to have the worst of all worlds.

Monetization of WoW PvE. A few days ago Blizz announced a Mythic Dungeon Invitational. This is an open competition for teams to go through a series of gates to be able to compete publicly for prize money by achieving top speeds on a Mythic+ dungeon. Ultimately the winning team will receive $50,000, and other finalists will share lesser amounts of prize money. Oh, and of course the races will be covered on Twitch for esports fans to follow.

We’ve all known this kind of competition was coming, it was only a matter of time before Blizz tried to capitalize on more than the PvP aspects of WoW as a spectator sport. And honestly, the handwriting was on the wall when they introduced the whole Mythic+ idea in Legion.

I am not sure I have any strong feelings one way or another about this. I am not fundamentally opposed to the whole esports phenomenon — it’s not really so different from any other spectator sport when you come down to it. It holds zero interest for me, but I can see where others might enjoy it.

The part that gives me pause is how it might affect the game I love to play. I say this because of a conversation we had last night in raid. Someone picked up a really awesome piece of gear using a bonus roll, but they could not use it. Of course, since it had been a bonus roll, they could not offer it up to the others on the team who could absolutely have used it, and they expressed frustration about this seemingly arbitrary rule. The reason Blizz has given for this rule is that “some” teams might abuse it and require everyone to use up bonus rolls in order to gear up others.

The thing is, the only teams likely to engage in this kind of behavior are elite teams who gear up their rosters through the (somewhat gray area) method of split runs. No normal guild team engages in this kind of activity. So basically Blizz has implemented a rule that prevents abuse by less than 1% of the player base, and the other 99% are disadvantaged because of it.

This is the kind of thing I worry about happening more often as a result of expanding professional competition in the form of the game I play. People competing for real money will inevitably push the envelope as much as possible in that pursuit. Blizz’s response to such pushing has often been to apply a bandaid rule designed to prevent the specific perceived infraction, regardless of the consequences to the vast majority of players who would never even consider such action.

And with that, my drafts folder is clean, and it is time for the weekend to begin. See you on the other side of it.

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day.

 

Is quantity content?

Last night as we were cranking out our weekly H Nighthold farm run, there was a semi-lively discussion of Legion — mainly Patch 7.2 but also Legion in general. No great insights, but the comments did start a few chains of thought for me, focused on the whole idea of “content” that is Blizz’s main claim for Legion.

Patch 7.2 gave us a lot of new quests, no doubt about it, but beyond the one big “The Legion is coming, the Legion is coming!” story, there is not a lot to advance the expansion. The daily and weekly quests on Broken Shore are not much more than “Kill 20 demons/harpies/spiders or fill up this progress bar.” Ya, okay, there is a space ship, so that means we are dealing with interplanetary travel pretty soon — hardly a new revelation. And there is poor doubt-wracked Anduin, dithering and wringing his royal hands over whether or not he can step into his father’s boots. (I actually liked the Anduin quests, especially the last cutscene, but they were hardly significant in the Legion story. And for crying out loud, what rule dictates that every escorted NPC must walk as slow as my Great Aunt Dorothy?)

What I am getting at is that I see almost zero creative effort in the 7.2 quest lines. True, there are a lot of them — beyond the dailies and weeklies, every time you turn around you are getting yet another long ass quest line and achievement matrix for your order hall or your class mount or some artifact appearance or to advance your profession. Just my opinion, of course, but they seem to be longer and longer quest lines for less and less ultimate reward.

Even the time gates are uninspired, Blizz-controlled slow releases that do not begin to compare to the innovative player-influenced releases of Isle of Thunder in Mists, for example. Basically, we can do only what Blizz Central permits us to do, at the virtual pace of Anduin’s slow saunter. Oh, right, we do have the player-influenced BS buildings, but this is pretty much a sham, since their completion does not open up new content, only a couple of temporary buffs, and at least North America is now in the mode of a pretty steady and predictable rotation.

(One wonders what would happen if we all just stopped contributing to their construction — would we truly get no buildings, or would we get them anyway because who the hell knows if “player contributions” are just a cover story and the real “progress bars” are computer-generated automatic fills?)

When Blizz announced the Legion expansion, one aspect they stressed over nearly all others was that it would pretty much be a never-ending stream of “content”. This was, of course, a reaction to the perception that WoD had almost none of the “C” word. As I have noted before, content almost certainly means something different to every player. I think we are at the point where we can say that what it means to Blizz is “lots and lots of quests.”

In at least one case this has worked in Legion, I think. I was not personally a fan of the Suramar quests that unfolded during the weeks preceding the release of Nighthold (I just have a general objection to the whole drug-addict story line), but they were certainly creative, they significantly advanced a side story in Legion, they were relevant to the opening of Nighthold, and they continued long enough after the raid release to award a pretty cool mount. And while you were doing them, you could see the advancement of the story line. So while they filled Blizz’s “lots and lots of quests” content philosophy, they also engaged players and made us feel like we were personally guiding the story to its next major chapter.

It may be my unfamiliarity with WoW lore, but I find no similar unifying thread in the 7.2 Broken Shore quests. They are just variations on the “kill a lot of boars” theme. They seem like time fillers, not story advancers.

In the bigger picture, when you think about it, Blizz’s pre-Legion promise of lots more content — which I admit they have made good on so far — has turned out to be nothing more than their normal expansion plan stretched out by adding many more quest requirements to every aspect of the game. Legion’s basic blueprint so far is almost identical to WoD’s, except it has been designed to ensure that players who expect to achieve their game goals in, say, 6 months, now cannot achieve them in anything close to that time frame, because every goal in Legion has far more requirements — usually in the form of long quest lines or endless currency accumulation — than in any other expansion.

Is this “content”? Well, it’s not to me, but then again I do not write the game. Blizz has gambled that by making everything take longer for players to accomplish, by piling requirement upon requirement even for simple game goals, players will actively commit to the expansion until they meet these goals. Basically, Blizz is betting that players only complain of being bored when they have met their game goals and see no new ones on the horizon. By vastly stretching out the time necessary to meet any goal (for example, think of the “maxing out my weapon” goal some players have), Blizz hopes they can show their corporate bosses that they have licked the “boredom” complaint.

The danger here is that they hit a tipping point where people just give up on their goals because they see no reasonable chance of achieving them — certainly not in the time they feel they can commit to the game. For these players, the only remaining attraction of the game then becomes the “in the moment” enjoyment they derive from it. This is where uncreative masses of quests to “kill 20 demons” become a liability, because honestly you can only do that so often before being bored out of your skull. Add to this feeling one of betrayal that suddenly you can no longer meet your game goals in the same general time frame you are used to, and many will just stop playing altogether, exactly the same outcome as we saw in WoD.

It turns out you can have a boring expansion by letting players achieve their goals too quickly, but you can also have one by fostering a player perception that there is no hope of achieving their usual game goals at all and combine it with uncreative activities. It’s a delicate line to walk, but I see little evidence Blizz even recognizes there is such a line.  Certainly 7.2 does not indicate they do.