Of greed and morality

A few days ago the Washington Post published an investigative piece about World of Warcraft. Well, it wasn’t exactly about that — it was about Internet Gaming Entertainment (IGE) and that company’s involvement in what we can most charitably call the gray market of internet gaming — gold farming, maxed-avatar selling, gear selling, etc. And of some interest, but I fear not surprise, the current chief advisor to the President of the United States, Steve Bannon — odious enabler of American Nazism and white supremacy — was one of the company’s executives.

Bannon saw so much opportunity in the prospect of game cheating that he persuaded Goldman Sachs and a consortium of Wall Street investment firms to invest $30 million in the company. Thirty. Million. Dollars. Eventually, IGE went out of business (I think — it is hard to track corporate restructuring and acquisitions and such), but in their heyday they did up to 8-10 million dollars of business per month.

The Post article was actually old news — similar shorter pieces have been appearing in online gaming news sources and blogs for a few months now — but it had some new details and gave a good picture of the seamier side of internet gaming. If you have some time, I recommend you give it a read.

At any rate, my point today is not that the President of the United States places faith and trust in a sleazy cheater, nor even that American economic policy is now being controlled by former employees of firms eager to invest in exploitation of game cheating. Rather, I would like to examine the notion of morality in the current world of internet gaming, using the IGE saga as a vehicle and Blizzard as one of the principal protagonists.

First, who were the winners and losers in the IGE morality play? Clearly, IGE was ultimately the loser — they went down in rather ignominious fashion, not with a bang but an impoverished, debt-ridden whimper. At their profit zenith, they had tried to buy off Blizzard and other game companies by offering them a share in the profits if the companies would legitimize IGE’s activities. As WoW represented a huge share of IGE’s business, Blizzard’s decision here was key and likely the deciding factor in IGE’s final demise. Blizzard said no, and in my eyes that makes them — and WoW players — the winner.

I don’t actually know why they refused, but I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and attributing it to a sort of foundational morality, a gut instinct that selling advantages in a game is just wrong. The real answer, of course, is more complicated, I suspect. A lot of factors persuaded Blizz to go after IGE with a vengeance rather than be co-opted.

One factor may have been that Blizz touted the game as one of merit not money, and they set up the subscription model to support this. Gaming companies need to make a profit, and selling subscriptions rather than virtual gear or gold was a good way to make money, especially in the early days of the game before spinoffs and endorsements and T-shirts and the like bring in much. To allow players to buy their way into max levels or high gear — without experiencing the game as intended — was contrary to everything Blizz had advertised about WoW.

A second factor was that the WoW player base was overwhelmingly against “pay to play”. Almost certainly, had Blizzard opted to throw in with IGE, they would have lost millions of players. Such a decision might have actually resulted in the destruction of the game. There is no doubt that this kind of strategic assessment played a part in Blizz’s final decision. They might have increased profits in the short term, but in the long run there was a good chance they would have caused the death of the game.

Other factors were subsidiary to the two I have just mentioned. For example, a sudden and significant influx of easy gold would likely have caused rampant inflation in the virtual economy of the game. Similarly, gear that players had to be proficient and persistent to obtain would lose its value if anyone could plunk down $20 and get the same stuff. Back when IGE was active, it was more rare to have a max level character than it is today, and the notion that anyone could purchase a max level with real money would have cheapened the accomplishment.

So I give Blizz props for turning IGE down, and for working to eradicate gold sellers and the like from the game. I don’t care what their reasons were, they did the right thing. And they continue to do the right thing today when they go after bots or when they punish players for selling services for real money. Yes, you can still cheat in WoW — the cheat sites are out there — but Blizz is continually refining its detection methods and imposing punishments, such that players really have to think twice about whether or not it is worth it in the end.

Now, of course one of the ways Blizz used to defeat gold sellers was to institute the WoW token — basically legitimizing the practice. I am still not sure if this was a good move, but it was undeniably smart business. Making it two-sided (turn real money into WoW gold and turn WoW gold into playing time) was genius and addressed two player markets — those who had time but not money and those who had money but not time. Additionally, Blizz controls the availability and price, so they can put brakes on undesirable results such as rampant inflation. As an added bonus, every player using gold to get play time has garnered a $20 per month subscription for Blizz rather than the standard $15 one. Genius. But I still think it was a minor backing off from one of the game’s founding principles.

The last thought I have on the whole IGE story is this. Internet gaming, even though it has been around for years, is still in its profit infancy. How the industry — players and spectators as well as developers and investors — deal with cheating will set the standard for the rest of its existence. Thus far Blizz has acted responsibly, I think, although they have been a bit easy on high-profile cheaters. Still, I believe they are on the right path. But the industry could go either way — it could go the route of professional wrestling or it could go the route of the NFL. There is big money in both, but one at least strives to be honest and competitive, and the other — not so much.

I am not so naive as to think greed is not a business motivator, but I am still naive enough to hope there is room for morality, too. For knowing and doing the right thing.

The crafted gear dance

One or two of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed I did not post anything on Wednesday, thus departing from my usual M-W-F pattern. The truth is, I had a wonderful rant all written, full of my usual over-the-top indignant comments, along with some really creative metaphors. As I was about to publish, I saw the June 14 hotfix notes, and they effectively negated most of what I had just written. That, combined with a real life schedule for the day that did not allow for a rewrite, made me just trash the post and plan for another day.

So what was the topic that the hotfix notes ruined? Blood of Sargeras. Specifically, the fact that Blizz has stubbornly persisted in holding this mat as the main stumbling block for many profession- and gear-related activities in the game. They have done so by maintaining its soulbound quality, thus putting many players in the position of having a main with several hundred Bloods they cannot possibly use up, while alts that could use them cannot manage to scrabble enough of them.

The thing that gave rise to my renewed ire on the subject was that I have one alt with a lot of crafted gear equipped, but it has taken me weeks to get enough BoS to upgrade the six equipped items to max crafted level (875, prior to 7.2.5). The idea that it takes 2 BoS to use one obliterum effectively limits max level gear — in any quantity — to characters who have the profession levels to gather a lot of the mat, and thus probably do not need to use crafted gear. The alts that do need the gear almost never have the wherewithal to gather more than a few per week.

(This is yet another example of Blizz deliberately misleading us back when they announced Legion — “You can equip as many crafted items as you want, no more 3-item limit!” Same as the “No more limits on how many specs you can have!” All true in lawyer language, but complete falsehoods in reality. But that is a post for another time.)

At any rate, the Wednesday hotfix announcement that caught my eye was this:

(Hotfix in testing) Blood of Sargeras can now be obtained from Class Hall vendors at a price of 5 Blood of Sargeras for 5,000 Order Resources.

WOOHOO! Of course, the caveat “Hotfix in testing” could mean we will never see the change as it was announced, but still, it at least tells me Blizz seems to be aware of the problem the current method poses for alts and is working on a typically obscure way of remedying it.

As I wrote above, the main use of BoS I am concerned with is its connection to gear, more specifically its connection to the use of obliterum. Obliterum is, I think, another Legion mechanic that simply has not worked well. It is tedious to create and consequently expensive to buy in the auction house. Even if you can create or buy enough of it to upgrade an alt’s gear, it is doubtful the alt will have sufficient BoS to use it, unless the alt has a fairly well advanced gathering profession. The obliterum mechanic was slightly improved when Blizz got rid of that ridiculous and expensive quest line to unlock the forge, but that was at best a minor improvement.

The other really awful aspect of the whole obliterum mechanic is that it can only be applied to soulbound gear. This has a very detrimental effect on the entire crafted armor part of the game. Not only can you not craft and upgrade a piece of gear for one of your alts, but you are also limited to selling low level gear in the auction house. With the economic inflation introduced in the game by WoD garrisons and by the now-official gold selling, there are undoubtedly many players who would gladly pay good prices to buy max-level crafted gear from the auction house rather than go through the dance of buying low level gear, creating or buying obliterum, and then scrabbling for the BoS to be able to use their purchases. I am, honestly, mystified by the whole thing.

But the June 14 hotfix note, if actually implemented, would fix the problem, at least within an account. (Not for selling items.) It would mean you could transfer BoS from one character to another, though you would have to do a shuffle to do so. Since an alt with few opportunities to gather BoS likely also does not have order hall resources to spare, the method would be to buy order hall resources on your BoS-rich character, send them to your BoS-starved one, then have that character buy BoS with the order hall resources. Leave it to Blizz to do something like this rather than the easier, more straightforward fix which would be to make BoS account bound. Still, clunky and cumbersome though it is, it would work.

The other obliterum/crafted gear observation I have is how clumsily Blizz handled the 7.2.5 change to crafted gear upgrade level. Originally the announcement was that crafted gear would be upgradable to ilevel 885, two obliterum levels above the 7.2 ilevel. Thus it would take 10 instead of 8 obliterums (oblitera? maybe just obliterum in singular and plural) to max out the gear. So if you had currently maxed gear, you would need two obliterum and four BoS to do the new max. But when the patch went live, there was a stealth buff to crafted gear that maxed it at ilevel 900 instead of 885. But the total obliterum necessary to reach max level stayed at 10.

Stay with me here. What that meant was that everyone who had already spent 8 obliterum and 16 BoS to reach pre-7.2 max level suddenly had that retroactively changed to 5 (no refunds, of course, just a sort of historical rewrite of what you had done), and to reach the new max level they would be required to spend, not 2 obliterum and 4 BoS, but rather 5 obliterum and 10 BoS.

I am not complaining about crafted gear being upgradable to ilevel 900, but the implementation of this was a pretty dirty trick on players. Even those of us organized enough to anticipate the changes in 7.2.5 were caught unawares. I had in fact built up enough obliterum and BoS on my crafted-gear-heavy alt to upgrade all equipped pieces to new max as it had been announced prior to the stealth change. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was not nearly enough. My stash of 12 obliterum and 24 BoS were no longer enough to upgrade all six equipped pieces, instead it was enough for only two. And by the way, the sudden change caused obliterum prices in the AH to skyrocket, more than 3 times their pre-7.2.5 prices on my server.

Overall, this is typical Blizz good-news-bad-news methodology. They give something with one hand, then take it away or make it less useful with the other. In the big picture, the crafted gear upgrades and possible vendor availability of BoS are positive developments. In the more immediate picture, the methods for doing those things are annoying.

And with that, since I have already screwed up my normal posting schedule for the week, I am going to take Friday off and start my weekend today. See you back here Monday.

Patches 7.1.5 and 7.2

Today’s post may be a bit disjointed, I am still juggling repairs for our flooded basement and hot water heater replacement, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about some of the recent changes in the game.

Patch 7.1.5 rolled out Tuesday, and from my point of view it was pretty smooth, with the exception of the patch notes goat rope. The class changes took a little getting used to for some specs, and our Tuesday night raid was kind of off as a result, but there are some nice features in the patch.

I am fine with the BM hunter changes, and the MM hunters in our guild — one of whom admits he is a real dps whore — are good with their changes, also. MM lost a little AoE capability but it seems not too significant. BM got some very decent buffs, making the spec pretty crazy with massive AoE. And traps are back, which is awesome.

I think Blizz made incremental progress in giving a few more actual choices in talent tiers, but there are still too many where there is one clear required talent and/or one clearly useless talent. Barrage, in spite of getting a buff for BM, is still the worst choice by far in that tier, but on the other hand Volley now has some utility in certain situations.

The one change I did notice that makes a noticeable difference, though, is the nerf to the BM legendary belt, Roar of the Seven Lions. In my opinion, the previous stats on it were the one thing that seemed to correct the abysmally slow BM rotation, the saving change that brought back some fun to the spec. Now that the belt’s focus cost reduction has been nerfed by 25%, we are back to a very clunky rotation.

And the BM changes have still done nothing to give the spec any semblance of burst capability, no cooldowns unless you count Stampede which few hunters do since it stinks so bad as a talent. It is frustrating to be at a crucial point in downing a boss, and when the RL says to give it everything you’ve got, all you can do is maybe punch your keyboard harder (at the same slow pace) and set your mouth in a determined manner.

Also, I  can’t really tell any difference in Hati’s relative speed (or lack thereof) in ambling towards a target.

I am not a fan of Brawler’s Guild, but the people in my guild that enjoy it seemed pleased with its return and the new bosses. Me, I had some fun with the new books you can buy and send to your alts that bump up your artifact knowledge to level 20 (if you have completed level 25 on the character you buy it on). It was kind of a kick to use the book, then do a couple of World Quests and advance your artifact traits by 10 or more all at once.

Other than these things, I have not had a lot of time to explore the 7.1.5 changes (spent a lot of time the past couple of days with plumbers and contractors), but it seems to be a decent patch for a “minor” patch. Hopefully maybe next week we can get a look at the Mists timewalking dungeons, and I will have some time to check out a few more of the quality of life improvements in the group finder, and explore the new world quests. I don’t have a leveled engineer or enchanter, so those changes aren’t of much interest to me, and my JC is still stuck in the ridiculous dungeon requirements so probably not too interested in the JC changes.

Our guild has both EN and ToV heroic on farm,  and we have even downed a couple of EN mythic bosses, so the release of Nighthold next week will be fun. When it was first announced, I thought it might be a little soon, but honestly we are pretty bored with the current tier. And it will be nice to complain about not getting tier gear instead of complaining about not getting regular gear 😉

Now people’s attention will turn to Patch 7.2, which we are told will soon be up on the PTR. Of course the main thing I am looking forward to is flying — we will see how many more requirements Blizz piles on before they let us have it.

The other two things we have been promised in 7.2 — from Thursday’s dev Q&A — are more class changes, specifically more hunter changes (unspecified), and some more profession changes. Not to get too deeply into the whole professions thing, but it seems like Blizz kind of knows they screwed them up in Legion, even though in the Q&A Kubit explained to us how much of a success things like obliterum, and quickly obsolete crafted gear, and expensive mats are.

I was kind of amazed that Kubit seemed to think the whole reason mats are more expensive in Legion is because they cannot be farmed in a garrison like they were in WoD. No mention of the great gold giveaway that led to pretty significant inflation for all items.

I was also amused that both he and Lore are under the impression that time required to craft an item (as well as to gather mats) translates to a higher price. My experience has been that long crafting times (such as the ones we had in WoD due to cooldowns) or scattered nodes mean absolutely nothing for prices after about the first month. There are always people willing to sell them for a few gold over mat cost, with no regard for the amount of time invested in crafting the item or gathering the mats. Most people place no value on their time in a computer game, maybe since their purpose usually is to waste time anyway.

7.1.5 seems a relative success, but 7.2 really is the patch I hold out the most hope for.

Sorry for the scattershot approach in this post. Hopefully by Monday I will have my thoughts better organized. Everyone have a great weekend.

Patch 7.1 is a solid B+

Blizz’s first major patch to Legion went live yesterday, and all things considered it seemed to be a relatively smooth rollout. There were some of the usual technical glitches and problems with addons, and the inevitable widespread bugs with mechanics, but overall it was a lot smoother than some others we can probably all remember. And judging by dev tweets and some of the official bug report forums, Blizz is hard at work to correct the problems. (Whether my B+ grade holds or not will depend on how efficiently they can resolve some of the more annoying or play-stopping bugs, and how responsive they remain to them.)

Nothing I experienced was game-stopping, and we were able to run our regular raid last night — usually an iffy proposition on patch days. The main problem I had was with some addons (not sure which ones, possibly an outdated Deadly Boss Mods) causing my frame rate to sink to a whopping 8 fps inside the Emerald Nightmare. In desperation, I disabled all but a few addons and was fine for the rest of the night. I’ll sort them out and find the problem one tonight.

And remember, this major patch is in place a short 8 weeks after the expansion went live. It is a pretty remarkable achievement for Blizz, a vast improvement over the sad first patch (6.1) to WoD. For me personally, all the new content actually seems to be too soon, but I know there are many out there who welcome it.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am not all that excited about Return to Karazhan, and so the attunement requirements are not high priority for me. I expect, though, to see a couple of Karazhan groups forming in my guild tonight, as some people are very hyped about it.

I was happy to find some new World Quests, a couple of which were a lot of fun. And whether or not it was a glitch, it was kind of a nice surprise to see three emissary quests pop up in one day. I really like the whole WQ setup in Legion, and I think when we look back on the expansion they will be one of the highlights.

I tried out the new account-wide “Uniting the Isles” completion and it did finally work for me, although it took a couple of tries. My druid had the original quest from Khadgar, so I had to drop that quest, log completely out of the game (just logging out and back in on the character did not work), log in to my main, then log back in on my druid. After that, I went to Khadgar, got the yellow question mark, and was given my whistle and could see WQs. I suspect the process will be quite a bit easier for most people.

I gave the new hunter Trailblazer talent a try. It seems like it is OK for solo questing, but not very useful for raiding where I think Posthaste (even with its 38% nerf) still is the best choice. However, there is an interesting philosophical change here. With the old Aspect of the Cheetah, the mechanic that removed it (if you had the glyph) was beyond your control — if you took damage, it got turned off, end of story. With the new Trailblazer, you have positive control over it — stop attacking for 3 seconds, and it kicks in. This still does not seem like it will be useful in raids or dungeons, but time will tell.

There is also what is becoming a real nuisance, in my opinion — the ridiculous requirement for a tome of some sort in order to change talents if not in a rest area. I don’t know how it is for other players, but I rarely if ever change talents except when I am in a raid. Blizz has configured bosses such that they clearly require one talent over another for certain classes, and those are the only times it seems beneficial to switch talents. I still am at a total loss for why this stupid inane moronic talent-switching mechanic was levied on us. Honestly, the only thing I can come up with is that most of the Blizz devs have transcription as one of their professions, and they needed to give themselves a good way to make gold. Because it is still expensive to buy the talent switching tomes — they cost several hundred gold apiece, and I can easily go through half a dozen in one night of raiding. It just seems to be a useless “feature” added for the sheer annoyance factor.

I did notice some number of changes — some fairly significant — between the live patch and what had been covered in patch announcements, both from Blizz and on third party data mining sites like Wowhead. Data mining, as we all know, is usually hit-or-miss, but I was a little surprised that there had not been more intensive reporting on the PTR changes over the past few weeks. (Also, a little more communication from Blizz would have been nice, along the lines of “Proposed changes X and Y for warriors have not worked out like we hoped, so that is why you are not seeing them in the live patch. We’ll continue to look into how to fix mechanic Z.”)

I suppose there is an element of fatigue involved — after long months of Legion Alpha and Legion Beta and baseline Legion PTR, there may not be a lot of people eager to do much serious testing of a patch so soon. Fewer people on the PTR means less volume testing, which means there will likely be more undiscovered bugs that only become visible when the patch goes live. And low PTR participation may end up being an unintended consequence of the push for more content — if there is a surfeit of content, people may not be bored enough or have enough spare play time to spend time on the PTR. I don’t know if low PTR participation is even a problem for Blizz, but it does seem like something they should consider.

Meanwhile, Patch 7.1 is live 8 weeks to the day after a new expansion, the rollout was adequate, and there is some very nice new content. Go have fun!

Patch 7.1?

Late Edit. After I wrote this, the Official 7.1 Patch Notes came out, and contrary to what we were led to believe from the initial patch notes, BM hunters — and to some extent MM as well — were once again pretty much ignored. The Trailblazer talent did appear, but none of the other talent items I listed below. Plus there was a 37.5% nerf to Posthaste, presumably so that Trailblazer would be more attractive as a talent in that line.

Unfortunately, what this means to me is that the real “Phase 2” of Ion Hazzikostas’s Grand Plan for Hunters has not yet been put into effect, and we can look forward to a long, slow process for hunters. If at all. I would have liked to see a short explanation of why the apparently-planned other changes did not occur, but that would imply respect for the hunter class. One hopes the reason is that there are much more sweeping changes in the works and so there was no point in making a couple of small changes now. But of course, one has been sorely disappointed before….

Tomorrow Legion’s Patch 7.1 drops in the U.S., a few hours later in Europe. There are plenty of sites with summaries and data mining guesses, as well as info gleaned from PTR experience, among them Wowhead, IcyVeins, the official Blizz site, the PCGames site, and no doubt tons of others. Check them out if you are the type that likes to do last-minute prep.

One thing that comes through loud and clear with Patch 7.1 is that Blizz is making sure they avoid the variations on “lame” they were accused of (with justification) for the first patch of WoD. No one can say this patch is not chock full of new content, with new world quests, new zone quest lines, a new mini-raid, and of course the much-anticipated Return to Karazhan.

You wanted content, all right, I got your content right here! Now stop whining!

I am not sure how RtK will turn out. I know there a lot of people — possibly many of you even — who look back on the original Karazhan as a highlight of your group play. You remember fondly the various bosses, the trouble you had and overcame as a group in figuring out the admittedly innovative mechanics, took delight in the way the dungeon intertwined with other forms of art and leisure activity.

As a disclaimer, I never ran Karazhan when it was current, I only experienced it as a quick “fun run” when we were all overgeared for it, or when we decided to do a naked run or a protect-the-baby competition or something similar just for fun. On those occasions, honestly, I found the dungeon to be boring and tedious. I did not have any of the “fond memories” others clearly did and still do, to me it was just another place to do some guild night activities in.

So I am not looking forward especially to returning to it. As a game design, I wonder a bit about designing what is basically a 5-man raid, a complex Mythic-only dungeon with 11 known bosses and almost certainly some hidden ones, with extraordinarily complex mechanics, that will take hours to complete. For loot, gear base levels increase with later bosses, starting off at 855 and ending at 875 (with of course the almost-negligible chance of significant random upgrades). So loot is not bad, although I wonder if it will be much of a motivator, since the kind of 5-man group able to complete it will likely have most of their gear already at or beyond the 860 level. (Will there be RtK Mythic+ runs? I already think of places like Arcway and Court of Stars as nightmarish for anything other than a regular Mythic run…)

I find myself wondering who the target player audience is for RtK. It is certainly not the typical guild group looking to knock out a few 5-mans after a raid or on an off night. It seems like it is not a dungeon conducive to pugs, nor to casual guilds with a continually-changing cast of logged in players. It seems to award gear too low to attract more than a once-through for the achievement for hardcore raiding guilds, yet be too challenging for groups that would greatly benefit from the gear. About the only players I see loving this a few diehard “good old days” types who will run it for the perceived nostalgia and who can find 4 other individuals who are either similarly nostalgia-imbued or who could use a couple targeted pieces of gear.

The other thing with RtK is that it will probably exacerbate the already-concerning problem of guild tank and healer burnout we are seeing from trying to get Mythic+ runs for guildies.

Patch 7.1 has a few economic and quality of life changes as well. The Blood of Sargeras vendor will appear in Dalaran, allowing players to buy mats with BoS. For example, you can buy 10 herbs with one blood, and the thing here is that number applies to any herb, even the still-overpriced Starlight Rose. (Late edit: Not so, see the comments below.) As herbs on my server still go for exorbitant prices in the auction house, it should be interesting to see what if any effect this will have on those AH prices.

The big news, and the one touted by Blizz as being a magnanimous concession to alt play, is that unlocking world quests now becomes account wide. It certainly is a step in the right direction, but I would have liked to see some significant profession changes, too. At least something that would alleviate the horribly high gear and skill requirements to run Mythic dungeons just to be able to get profession recipes, and removing the RNG component. (I have already abandoned my attempts to level LW on my main — getting even the vendored pattern upgrades is far too expensive to justify, especially when you realize that crafted gear, even if upgraded to 850, is pretty useless except temporarily for some rarely-played alts.)

There are also quite a number of class changes, mostly in the name of “balance”. The hunter changes seem less numerous than those for other classes, and they seem a mix of nerfs and buffs. Though I will wait to see how they play out, especially for Beast Masters, a couple of them stood out for me. Basically, the hunter changes involve talents, and they seem to be the “phase 2” part of what Ion Hazzikostas was talking about when he outlined upcoming hunter changes. One hopes this is the case, as it might indicate that actual core mechanic changes (the supposed “phase 3”) are in the works for 7.2.

One that got my attention was the removal of Dash from the level 45 talent line and its replacement with something called Trailblazer. Delirium, over at The Thrill of the Wild, had a nice summary of the change a couple of weeks ago:

Aspect of the Cheetah:
The first change is the return of Aspect of the Cheetah, sort of…
Trailblazer: Your movement speed is increased by 25% anytime you have not attacked for 3 seconds.
This talent will replace the currently very underused, if ever used, talent Dash, which adds an additional 3 seconds to the duration of Aspect of the Cheetah. Instead, now, we’ll have a buff that’s similar to the old Aspect of the Cheetah, giving us a run speed buff whenever we’re not in combat.

It’s very hard to imagine taking this over Posthaste, for me, but I’m still excited about this change. For hunters, especially Marks hunters, we have almost no choices in our talents. The disparity between talents is fairly extreme, even in very different situations: high mobility vs low mobility, single target vs multi-target, etc. The only time I change talents at all is if I want a pet tank, which really isn’t often, and is never in group content.

On the minus side, in terms of mobility, however, I see that Disengage is going from a 20-second cooldown to a 30-second one. Note that by increasing the cooldown for DE, there is the additional effect of decreasing hunter mobility from Posthaste. This is pretty significant and also pretty discouraging, because it means that Blizz will be continuing to nerf the “obvious” talent choices they engineered, rather than simply buff the weak ones. I do not know what the cumulative effect of this will be, but common sense says that it will serve to weaken hunter damage a bit. Whether that turns out to be significant or not remains to be seen.

I note that the teacher’s-pet mages, however, still have a 15-second cooldown for Blink… 

A Murder of Crows and Volley are getting some buffs, presumably in an attempt to make Barrage less of a must-choose for level 90 talents. (Recall that Barrage already received its 20% nerf a while back.)

MM hunters are losing their special extra-health version of Exhilaration (they will now get the same 30% health restoration that SV and BM do), and in its place they are getting the option for an additional 20 focus, bringing their focus to 120 (I think).

As I said, I will wait to see how the hunter changes play out after the patch goes live, but I really hope that these are indeed the phase 2 Hazzikostas talked about, and that as soon as we get some word on 7.2, there will be some significant baseline changes to hunter mechanics.

Meanwhile, on to Patch 7.1.

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.

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.