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.

What. The. Hell.

August 10 hotfixes to hunters:

  • Cobra Commander’s Sneaky Snakes (Artifact trait) damage increased by 25%.
  • Thunderslash (Artifact trait) damage reduced by 50%.
  • Thunderslash (Artifact trait) deals 30% less damage with the Dire Frenzy talent.

There are BM hunters who have built their entire play style and gear setup around Thunderslash and its interactions, have gone to some lengths to incorporate this into their BM hunter play since 7.2 went live, have concentrated AP in this and supporting traits. Now this.

No warning.

Not even the common courtesy of an explanation.

Not even any official recognition that this is a major change. It was announced with the same fanfare as a grammar correction in a tooltip.

Silly me, I thought these kinds of wild adjustments is why there is a PTR. Has Blizz now decided the PTR is only for stress testing and raids, and live is where you try to correct all the horrid imbalances of ill-advised class restructuring?

And not for nothin’, but what about the pre-legion pronouncement from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that “BM hunters are in a pretty good place now”?

What about his promise to not make huge changes to classes and specs in Legion because of the increased cost to players with artifact weapon investments?

His word is clearly worthless.

Why does Blizz bend over backwards to write pages of explanations to rogues and monks and warlocks about why certain changes were made and about their overall plan for the class, but they stubbornly ignore and insult hunters with these kinds of major changes AND NOT A SINGLE EXPLANATORY COMMENT?

And lest you think this is an interim step that will be remedied in 7.2.5 with the planned class changes then, think again. Hunters are not on the list as needing any special attention in that patch. Why should they? Blizz can always just screw with them at will, can intentionally destroy a spec mid-expansion like they did with SV in WoD, can make play-altering changes in a minor hotfix — all without the inconvenient necessity of showing a bit of respect by actually dialoging with hunters.

I had begun to think Blizz was turning around from the lies and dirty tricks of WoD, was just beginning to restore some of the lost trust, was finally realizing that dialog with their customers pays off. I see I was wrong.

Widening player gulf?

Legion is, in many, many aspects, a vast improvement over the nightmare of Draenor. The lore is more relevant, artwork is phenomenal, and there is tons of content both new and repeatable. Even the leveling process, which was one of the few highlights of Draenor, is if anything more engaging in Legion.

But I find myself wondering if Legion will ultimately be bad for the game. I am seeing what I perceive to be early indications of a widening divide between the player “haves” and “have-nots”. Just as in a thriving capitalist economy it is a robust middle class that drives the engine of optimism and opportunity, so it is in WoW that the majority player base of casual and semi-casual players drives extended game interest and engagement. When these middle groups start to dwindle, when they lose hope that they can achieve their aspirations, the systems begin to break down. It starts with economic disparity and inevitably spreads to nearly every other aspect of the system.

As with real systems, the WoW problem, too, starts with the economy.

  • Blizz’s decision to give away massive amounts of gold to try and staunch the WoD subscription hemorrhaging is a move we are still paying for. It has resulted in massive gold inflation, driving up the cost of materials and equipment to the point where only very wealthy players can afford these items.
  • Prices are driven even higher by Blizz’s decision to stretch out the time required to achieve even initial game goals such as profession leveling — even gathering professions. Not only are there quest lines for gathering, but Blizz has opted to place very few nodes in zones, compensating by making them theoretically multi tap. But the overall result is that it takes significantly longer to gather a stack of herbs or ore than it did in previous expansions. (Every time I say something like this, I get comments from self-styled genius gatherers that just the other day they gathered 100k worth of mats in some ridiculous amount of time like 30 minutes, and I must be doing something wrong. Please, spare me the tall tales.)
  • Prices are driven still higher by the decision to require non-related mats to craft almost anything. Food requires ore chips and rare herbs. (OK, I get the herbs, but who deliberately puts heavy metal chips in their food?) After years of telling us that LW/skinning is a winning combo, Blizz now requires buttloads of ore to buy LW recipes. (!!!) (Why is it not leather you need to buy them?) And we are not talking about the odd piece of cloth for mail pieces, or the odd bit of leather for a cloth belt. Oh no, we are talking about very high quantities of these mats.
  • There is a noticeable disparity among professions for usefulness, with alchemy/herbalism being the current lottery winner. Gear-producing professions are already for all practical purposes obsolete, as the same or better gear can be obtained via world quests and other means. The sheer amount of time and materials needed to produce and upgrade a single piece of crafted gear to 850 are no longer worth the cost. (The obliterum forge idea stinks, the quest to obtain it is ridiculously expensive and annoying, and the cost to produce obliterum is prohibitive given the mediocre result.)

The net result is that it takes vast amounts of gold to buy anything in the AH or even in trade. Yes, you can — if you were lucky enough to pick the right professions — make a fair bit of gold yourself, but for most people it is not enough to cover their costs for other things they need. (And if you were stupid enough to pick a gear-crafting profession such as tailoring or LW or BS, you might as well abandon it — it is not even worth reaching max level to say nothing of it not being worth grubbing for rng- and rep-granting higher level recipes. Any gear you could produce from it is basically worthless.)

Players who did not start this expansion with a great deal of gold, or who did not pick the right professions, or who have limited play time each week, will have a very difficult time catching up. For example, being able to raid or participate in Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons requires, at the very least, a certain level of gear and a certain supply of food, flasks, and pots. The time commitment for gear as well as the gold and/or time commitment for consumables is a very significant hurdle for all but the most dedicated players. (Not even talking here about gear enchants and gems, which easily run more than 20k each on my server.) Players might be able to raid with a team that is willing to overlook shortfalls in these areas for a while, but not for long. And pugs will certainly not put up with it.

Not everyone wishes to raid, of course. But the thing is, raiding and/or running high level instances is required now for nearly every end game activity in WoW. Want to just concentrate on producing/gathering for professions? Sorry, you gotta do all these other activities in order to do the one you like. Just want to putz around with a few different alts? Sorry, even if all you want to do is level them, you still have to pursue quest lines like class halls, artefact power, and time-consuming profession quest lines if you want to even gather a few herbs with them.

My point is that the combination of high cost and huge time commitment for virtually any Legion activity is starting to show a clear dividing line — those willing and/or able to do it, and those not. The former are becoming the game’s “haves” and the latter are becoming the “have-nots”. I do not in any way begrudge people who decide to put a lot of time and effort and gold into the game their just rewards. More power to them. Similarly, I do not judge those who simply want to spend a couple of hours a week at the game as pleasant diversion — it’s how they relax and have fun, and good for them.

What does give me concern is the possibility of the game’s “middle class” losing hope that they will eventually be able to acquit themselves adequately in their chosen end game activities. If they perceive that the road to gear or raid preparedness or profession completion or faction rep or certain achievements is too difficult or time-consuming or expensive, they will just stop pursuing these goals. If they drop out in appreciable numbers, then we will be left with what I think is an unhealthy mix of hardcore near-professionals and super-casuals.

The thing that drives many of us in this game is the thought that, it may take me a bit longer to get there than some, but I can very respectably compete in fill in your favorite end game activity here. But if you think the point at which you can do that is some ridiculous number of months in the future, then you might just give up. You have more commitment to the game than the super-casuals, but you cannot or will not devote the same time to it as the semi-pros, so there is little left for you but frustration. Nobody plays this game to be continually frustrated.

Now, as I said in the beginning, this is not the game’s situation yet. It is just what I think could happen, the situation that we have the right conditions for now. I even see it happening in the microcosm of my guild, where we have a small group of super-dedicated people with ilevels like 860 or higher, with artifact weapons into the high 20’s for development, with the Broken Isles Pathfinder achievement completed, who regularly run Mythic+ at the +6 or above level, and so forth. They have the highest level gems and enchants on their gear, and they always are well supplied with flasks, food, pots, runes, things that let them change talents on the fly, and so forth. They are incredibly generous with their time, offering to run regular Mythics or +2s with people just to help them gear up or complete quests, and they willingly make profession items if you can supply the mats. But even this — when added to the time burden of world quests/rep grinds/profession quests/mat-gathering/etc. — begins to exceed the limits of play time for many of us.

For many of us in the middle, it may not be possible to get to the same relative level in Legion as we did in previous expansions. That is diminished expectations, and it is not a goal that game developers should strive for.

Legion professions — sometimes it really is about the destination

Background (you can skip this part and still get the gist of the post):

For many years — probably most of my life now that I think about it — I have subscribed to the philosophy of “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” (For reference, I think this is a variation of the original Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”) I have previously described in this blog a personal tendency to make lists, create spreadsheets, and set goals for myself, and you may think that is at odds with the philosophy, but actually it is not. What I love is the process of planning and organizing, followed by flawless execution of the plan. Achieving the goal is rewarding, but it pales in comparison to the thrill of the process of getting there.

As an aside, you might think from this that I chase WoW achievements, but honestly they hold little interest for me, nor do things like mount or pet collections. These are prescribed goals in the game, and a big part of the fun I get is coming up with my own personal goals and carrying them out. I dislike being told what my goals should be.

Anyway, back to developing my point — and hang in there with me, because I promise you I do have one. Not to go all pop-psychology, but I think the thing that fascinates me about the process I described is that it gives me a feeling of control. For a variety of  reasons not worth going into here, I had a topsy-turvy childhood, trundled from one relative to another, from one school to another, sometimes 2-3 times a year. Control was not in my vocabulary, so when at the age of about 16 I realized I could actually be in charge of my own destiny, it was an epiphany.

It was the real start of my goal-setting, list-making, planning and organizing life style. Several years ago when I found a leisure time activity in the form of a computer game that let me indulge in doing this, it was a match made in heaven.

Blizz took what were broken professions in WoD and completely destroyed them in Legion. Stomped on them, ground them into dust, made a mockery of them.

Professions are now all journey with destinations so distant as to be virtually unreachable save for one or two per account. And there is only a single directed path one can follow, though that path is not specified but only discovered by stumbling about.

This is a part of the game many of us used to consider a nice side diversion that could provide some gear and gold along with being a pleasant distraction and a reason to spend some time on alts. But Legion has turned it into a confusing, protracted, RNG-dependent activity that is almost unattainable for any character other than a main. They have done this in the name of “content” as well as in the name of “play style choice”, but in fact it achieves neither of those stated objectives.

In fact, I would argue that Blizz was completely — and possibly purposely —  disingenuous when they tried to feed us those reasons, and that their true goals were to increase the metric of “Monthly Active Users” and to put an end to any sort of casual alt play style. MAU is the current standard of success for Activision Blizzard games (and presumably one of the metrics for calculating executive bonuses). It is a function of the number of hours played per month by users who actually log in, so it dovetails nicely with the “content” fantasy, especially the lazy content approach of artificially increasing the time sink requirement for heretofore auxiliary activities.

As to the concept of alt play, Ion Hazzikostas has several times stated his opinion that the only acceptable reason to roll an alt is to play it in the same way one plays a main, that to have an alt solely for the purpose of professions to supply a main is wrong and should not be permitted. And lo and behold, Legion professions now require a character to not only be at max level, but to be geared and proficient enough to participate in World Quests, instances up through Mythic level, raids, and in some cases high level PvP content. It is the ultimate insult for Blizz to cloak professions now as expanding options for players, while at the same time cramming this linear play style down our throats.

I had a short conversation last night with one of my guildies, and he went on a mini-rant — justified in my opinion — about how Legion more than any other WoW expansion is hostile to casual players. One of the points he brought up was the sheer amount of time necessary just to do normal activities — gear up, level a profession, gather mats, maintain progress in an artifact weapon, pursue the ever-elusive and possibly ghostly path to eventual flying, etc.

Blizz has said that Legion would give players many ways to achieve end game goals, but in fact what they have given us is an expansion that requires every activity be engaged in just to get to one goal. Those are not at all equivalent concepts. For true casual players — those who play 20 hours or less a week by my own personal definition — the time sink required just to get to end game is vastly higher than it has been for previous expansions. (I define “end game” as being geared about as high as you are going to be for the expansion, have your professions completed and well developed, routinely engaging in group activities you like such as raiding or rated battlegrounds, etc.) Some call this content, some call it MAU expansion.

Beyond these top-level deficiencies in Legion professions, there are other ridiculous and obvious shortfalls. For example, the tendency to include significant amounts of a wide variety of expensive mats from other professions to craft items. For example, to cook food, one does not just need fish, meat, and vendored sundries — the kind of mats you can get through diligent secondary profession gathering. Oh no, they require things like gem chips (mining and prospecting) and herbs (herbalism). And since the game is no longer conducive to getting these items from a lowly geared alt, either you were lucky enough to have years ago selected the lottery-winning professions on your main, or you can spend literally tens of thousands of gold buying these mats in the AH or in trade.

With the barriers to developing your own extended alt professions, I do not expect the prices of these items to come down very soon in the game. This, too, is a way to discourage play for casuals or for new players, because if you did not amass a fortune from the WoD gold giveaway, you simply cannot afford to buy these items. Even belonging to a guild is not much help, because most guilds cannot afford to buy them for their members, and anyone in the guild who can gather or make the items can make so much gold by selling them that there is no incentive to donate them to the guild bank or to another guildie, or even to sell at bargain prices to a guildie. Tin-foil hat theory would be that here is a golden opportunity for Blizz to sell a buttload of game tokens to those who need gold, but I won’t go there….

As I have said before, I do not object to having to do a bit of work to max professions out — I leveled my JC, my LW, and my Engineer when it was quite costly and difficult to do so. But I do object to a system that is not clearly laid out (even the third party sites are still murky about profession progression paths), that requires main-level game play and time commitment to achieve, and that so distinctly rewards the lucky and punishes the unlucky — part of the RNG run amuck trend.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any simple solutions to the mess Blizz has made of professions in Legion. I just know they have totally destroyed them, so there are no easy tweaks that will help. The only thing I can think of at this point would be to allow any character to have as many professions as they want. That way, since professions now require main-type play commitments, you could just spend the time on your main and get every profession of importance to you. I sincerely doubt that Blizz will do this, but still I feel like they should consider it, or at the very least start giving us what they promised: multiple ways to develop professions, instead of requiring participation in everything to develop professions. (Yeah, I get that Ion Hazzikostas doesn’t want us to use alts for professions, but somehow I feel that he could get over the trauma of it if he really tried, maybe buy himself some consolation gifts with all that MAU bonus money he will get.)

So, yeah, it is about the journey and not the destination, but the journey to professions is too effing long, too effing dark, and too effing linear.

My crystal ball

Last night as we were tidying up some loose ends for guild achievements, our GM remarked that we only have two more Thursday night fun runs before Legion. I knew this, of course, I mean I know how calendars work and I can count, but that statement really got my attention. Suddenly all my plans for gearing up my DH, for finishing up some profession stuff, for final bank reorganizations, for setting up my Legion leveling transmog outfits (hey, I’m a little vain, ok, don’t judge) — all those things got brutally reduced to a couple of must-do priorities. It was like someone took a chainsaw to my to-do list. It was at once both shocking and liberating.

I think I have mentioned once or twenty times before in this blog that I am by nature and by training an extreme planner. Lists, spreadsheets, and flow charts are my life. (It drives my poor spouse crazy — we are kind of an ant-and-grasshopper couple — but luckily for me he is an easy-going and tolerant type, nods and mutters “Yes, dear” a lot.)

Anyway, my point is that even though I love planning and organizing, what I love more than that is the freedom of knowing there is no longer any time for planning, you got what you got, you are where you are. Your work is done, you know you’ve done all you can, and it’s time to enjoy things. Last night was that point for me, and now I am going to just sit back and enjoy the ride to Legion.

And what a ride it will be. How do I think the first couple of weeks of Legion will unfold? In a word, chaos.

  • The rollout will be terrible — by now it is a tradition with Blizz — technical issues and probable denial of service attacks are almost certain to bring the entire game to a halt, likely several times over the course of a week. Expect to play the game only sporadically during this time, expect to be frustrated, expect things not to work even when you manage to log in. Should it be different, should Blizz anticipate the huge load on servers, should they have already implemented solutions based on their months of stress testing, should they have foreseen the magnification of small problems into massive ones with scaling? Yes, but honestly I think they have made the decision that to do so is too hard and expensive and what the hell everything will normalize in a couple of weeks anyway. I half-suspect that somewhere along the line Ion Hazzikostas has opined in a staff meeting that such chaos is part of the fun™ of a new expansion.
  • Some players will suspiciously be able to produce crafted items and provide vast quantities of gathered mats within 24 hours of launch, and these will be outrageously priced in the auction house. Based on what we have seen in the beta just for some NPC-sold items, do not be shocked if you see AH items priced close to or over a million gold. Expect to see gear routinely priced in the hundreds of thousands. Within the first couple of days, there will also be BoE gear for sale from raid and world drops, and these could easily be some of the items priced in the million-gold range.
    • Unfortunately for the WoW economy, we are likely to see  repercussions from the WoD gold giveaway for quite some time in the game. Blizz opted to try and bribe players to stay active by handing out massive amounts of gold for garrison missions, and that decision will haunt all of us for quite a while. One result will be huge inflation in prices for goods.
    • The other result of the WoD gold giveaway is that there will be a distinct divide between the haves and the have-nots in the game. New players who did not have a chance to amass gold fortunes from WoD — or those not-new players who failed to save much — will be hard put to compete with wealthier players. New players, of course, can take advantage of higher prices to sell gathered mats and make more cash than previous new players could, and Blizz will make a few feeble attempts to remove some gold from the game, but there will be a noticeable division between rich and poor players in the game for a while — with a greater perceived gulf between them than we have seen in previous expansions. Whether this results in an ever-widening gulf as the rich get richer and the poor get comparatively poorer, or whether it eventually all evens out, remains to be seen.
  • Inevitably, a few overachievers will play nonstop until they reach 110, causing normal (and by “normal”, I mean “sane”) players to scratch their heads and wonder either “How?” or “Why?” Trust me when I say this — Legion will last for a minimum of three years, and I would not be surprised to see it go even beyond that by a few months. (In fact, I predict Legion will be the longest expansion in the history of the game.) Doing everything you want to do in the first month or even the first year will not be a winning strategy. This expansion will be a marathon, not a sprint.
  • In spite of comments to the contrary, Blizz will do some significant class and spec “balancing” in the first few months. All of it will be perceived as nerfs to one class or another. There are still just too many outliers for this not to happen.
    • What this means is that no one should make a decision on class or spec based on how it is performing now or even in the first couple of weeks of Legion. My best advice — to myself as much as to everyone else — is just find what you love to play, what you will have fun playing, and stick with it at least until the first major patch.
    • And yes, you might feel you have lost out if ultimately you decide to change and therefore basically have to start from scratch with a new artifact weapon, but in the long run you will be happier for playing what is fun. Look at me, I am sticking with a BM hunter, what could be sillier than that?

So, expect confusion, frustration, and chaos starting August 30. If you are someone who usually likes to take a couple days off work to enjoy a new expansion, think about waiting until Sep 7 or so to do it. Trust me, you will enjoy it more. And remember, Legion will be with us for a long time. Pace yourself. (I am mainly giving this advice to myself — and I hope I listen for a change — but it may give you some perspective as well.)

And on that lecturing note, let the weekend commence.