WoW as a personality mirror

Yesterday, according to MMO-C reporting, there was a dev pseudo-interview about raid and encounter design. I did not know about it in advance, and I would not have watched it even if I had known. If you are interested in it you can read the crib notes here. I would say you can also watch the video but apparently some of it is “proprietary” so not available unless you go to the Snotbag Slootbag Twitch account. I am only guessing about this, as I was not interested enough to track it down.

You may have surmised I am not a big fan of Slootbag, and you would surmise correctly. I do not know the guy personally, I only know my impressions of his public persona. He may be a fantastic human being in person, but in my opinion he presents the public image of a supercilious, slick, weaselly, chiseler out to advance his own name at any cost, to get all he can while the gettin’ is good. The “interview” yesterday was less about getting encounter design info out than it was about Slootbag tooting his horn about how connected he is and what a fantastic interviewer he is, not to mention what a great raider and gifted player he is. He has been a part of a slimy world-first guild that looked the other way while he and others almost certainly crossed the line in their game play. So, yeah, I am not a fan, but that is neither here nor there. I suspect he is not a fan of mine, either, if he even knows much less cares that I exist. Trashing him is not the focus of this post, but his public persona serves as a jumping off point for my real focus.

I have a theory that you are who you are in WoW. I know there is another point of view — that WoW and similar games are where people try out alternate personas and experiment with psyches that may be the polar opposite of who they are in real life. I suppose some of that happens from time to time, but I think over the long run such pretense is very hard to maintain, and people revert to their real selves even in their avatars.

I think the anonymity of MMOs encourages the real core personality to emerge. You are free from normal social restrictions on behavior, and you act according to your own internal morality code. If that code is based on empathy, kindness, trustworthiness, honor, etc., then that is how you interact with others in the virtual world. On the other hand, if your core morality is based on personal resentment, unfettered ego, greed, or other less attractive human qualities, then that, too, is what emerges in your online persona. Virtual anonymity assures us that no one will report our behavior to our parents or our significant others or our close friends, so we are completely free to be exactly the person we are with no fear of censure from those we care about. It is at once liberating and frightening.

WoW is a microcosm of this greater virtual uninhibited world. You see true unfettered behavior in activities like trade chat, pugs, LFR, and chance world or quest encounters. Some players prey on the weak, others go out of their way to help. Interestingly, I think guilds tend to moderate this Lord of the Flies behavior, because they add a certain amount of social accountability back into the equation. You are no longer completely independent of organized society — you are held to some standard of behavior codified by the guild, and you know there is a chance that if you violate this standard you will be held accountable for it. In other words, guild membership establishes a kind of non-anonymity in an otherwise anonymous virtual world, and some of the social restrictions of the real world start to apply.

I am someone who wants to believe most people are good at their core, that given a chance they will nearly always try to do right by their fellow human. Sadly, I am coming around more and more to the realization that a sizeable number of people will only behave honorably if there is a punishment for not doing so. In the real world, that punishment is frequently social or family censure, but it is also more concrete reactions like a guaranteed punch in the nose or legal punishments or losing one’s job.

In WoW, this was driven home to me with Blizz’s fairly recent reaction to the toxicity of trade chat. Left alone, that channel became a cesspool of spewed hatred, vile language, and implied threats of extreme violence. It was run by bullies and trolls, and they stomped down anyone daring to speak up against them. Then about a year ago or so, Blizz announced they were implementing a system of immediate and graduated bans for reported bad behavior in the game, including in chat. And they followed through. Miraculously, trade chat improved almost overnight. This is a good thing, but it is sad that it only happened because suddenly there was actual punishment for bad behavior. It does not give one great faith in the innate goodness of humanity.

So, even though it depresses me a little, I still think you are who you are in WoW. And if you are the self-aware, introspective type, that can help you to become a better person, to see yourself as others see you. When I look at my WoW characters and how they interact with other players, I see someone who basically would never cheat others or berate them for their play style or gear, someone who is happy to give mats and crafted items to guildies and donate to the guild bank, someone who can be relied on to show up for raids on time and be prepared, someone who values her word and would never go back on it. Someone you can trust. That is really who I am. But I also see someone who can be snippy and snarky, who has a quick temper, who lacks confidence, and who frequently obsesses over imperfections in the game. That is also who I really am. A mixed picture, but a picture nonetheless, and one I can use to improve myself.

And now, I will further improve myself by enjoying a beer on the front porch and starting my weekend. You enjoy yours.

Cheats and chiselers and lines not to be crossed

Blizzard just announced that they had “taken action” against some players who were accepting real world currency for in-game assistance, such as carrying players for raid clears. You can read the Blue Post here, courtesy of MMO-C.

This is absolutely reasonable action from Blizz. The activities were clear violations of the Terms of Service agreement, and some forum posters claimed it was getting out of hand — blatant advertisements abounded. I wouldn’t know about that, I tend to be quite naive about these matters. Still, there is a line between the in-game economy and the real world one, at least as far as players are concerned. Blizz went to some pains to point out that raid carries for gold, for example, are perfectly legitimate. It is just when actual rent-spendable money enters in that it becomes illegitimate.

In-game gold versus real-world money is a line most of us can understand, but I wonder if Blizz itself has not blurred that distinction a bit with their introduction of the token. By becoming their own gold seller, they have legitimized a direct connection between real world money and in-game gold. If you have the money, you can pretty much amass as much gold as you want in the game. Yes, you have limits placed on you in terms of how many tokens you can buy over a period of time, but if someone is patient and well-off, they can easily max out gold on every character on every account.

Not that having millions and millions of gold gets you much in the game nowadays, beyond a certain Scrooge McDuck feeling of wallowing in wealth. The reason Blizz’s gold selling has not become pay-for-play is that they have severely curtailed the number of game-enhancing buyable items available. In WoD, for example, you could buy competitive high-level crafted gear, but you were limited to equipping just three such items, thereby ensuring players with a lot of gold could not immediately outfit themselves with raid-level gear. In Legion, Blizz allows unlimited pieces of crafted gear to be equipped, but they prohibit selling (thus, buying) such gear above level 815. It can only be upgraded if it is soulbound — again, prohibiting wealthy players from easily (if expensively) outfitting themselves with high level gear.

Another thing the token has done is give everyone a quantitative way to value in-game items and activities. In the U.S., one token currently buys you approximately 90k gold, and it costs $20. Thus, if for example a guild is selling Nighthold clears for 200k gold (I have no clue if this is the going rate or not), a player contemplating buying the service can know that this means the true cost to them is $30-$40. (If the player is an in-game buyer of tokens as a way to pay for their subscription, then the cost is approximately $30, or two months’ play time. If the player is an in-game seller of tokens for gold, then the cost is $40, or about two game store token purchases.)

Similarly, if a piece of BoE gear is priced at 100k gold, a player can evaluate whether or not it is worth one month’s play time ($15), or $20 of their hard-earned cash from the other perspective.

Still, even if the real world versus game world line has become a bit blurrier, it is still there, and it certainly does not justify crossing it.

Which leads me to the other aspect of Blizz’s announcement that gave me pause. Of note, they indicated some of the presumably-banned players were members of world-first guilds. This is troubling, for basically the same reason I discussed in a previous post: that is, it indicates a lack of high standards of integrity in these guilds. Let’s be honest — there is no way guild management could have been unaware of the money-grubbing actions of the members engaging in this illicit business. But for whatever reason, the guilds these players belong to chose to do nothing about it — the best you can say is they gave tacit approval, and the worst is that they may have shared in the profits.

I know I will get hate mail for this, but given the apparent high profile of some of the guilty ones, I think in this case a bit of naming and shaming might have been in order. If not the actual players involved, then maybe the guilds they belonged to. “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.” Maybe a little guild embarrassment would be good incentive to police their own members in future.

How much better it would have been if, when the guilds suspected some of their members were doing it, they issued explicit instructions to knock that shit off or face expulsion. At the very least, they might have taken a page from professional sports and benched the offending players for some amount of time or levied a fine of some sort. Any guild sanction would have demonstrated these professional guilds are serious about policing their own, serious about upholding high standards of behavior. Sadly, insofar as any of us knows, they did not.

I am certain I could play this game forever and not give a flying fig about world first achievements or the inner workings of the professional guilds. I do not care about the pseudo-celebrity players in them. But I do care that some of the players and guilds I encounter in the game seek to emulate those semi-pro players and their guilds. If their role models are cheats and chiselers, then that attitude may well spread down through the game, and it will take away from my enjoyment of it.

In a perfect world — or even an above-average one — guilds would be incensed if their members cheated, and they would take drastic and public action to ensure everyone knew such behavior was unacceptable, to uphold the rules of the game they play, indeed the game they are leaders in. But sadly this is not the case, and we are left with some guilds that get while the getting is good, knowing they need take no responsibility because Blizz will step in and police their players for them. Well, good for you, Blizz. And shame on you, all you who know who you are.

Of guilds and friendships

Last night was probably one of the most fun raid nights I have ever participated in. We did a full clear of Nighthold (N), a few people got some tier gear, and the whole evening was one of lighthearted banter and easy camaraderie. We started by me accidentally resting my fingers a little too hard on my keyboard, pulling Skorpyron just as we were filtering into the room, but we recovered sufficiently to not wipe. I was horrified, but everyone took it in good humor although of course they did not let me live it down for the whole night.

It was the kind of night that reminds me why I am still playing this game — the social aspect. In my case, I do not play with any real life friends, only people I have met virtually. Still, after spending at least 8 hours a week with them for over a year, they are people I would call friends. There are real life friends that I spend far less time with.

“Virtual friends” is a legitimate name for online relationships, and I suppose it could be shortened to “v-friends”. It’s an interesting phenomenon in our modern world, and I am sure someone has written a PhD dissertation on it at some point.

Prior to the computer age, people had “pen pals” — someone with whom you corresponded via letters — so I guess they were the v-friends of long ago. Sometimes pen pal relationships went on for years, but they depended almost exclusively on mutual appreciation of exchanged words, possibly with the occasional graphic representation in the form of drawings or maybe a photograph. You had no ability to look at their facial expressions, to hear vocal nuances, to hug or hold a hand in times of distress. Yet we read of many such relationships not only enduring but growing over the course of a lifetime.

V-friends seem to me to be the pen pals of the modern age, but they are pen pals on steroids, closer to real friends than to letter friends, but still not the same. You can share experiences in real time, and you can use voice chat to hear their vocal inflections, regional accent, even their laugh. But you cannot hug them or hold their hand, you will almost certainly not run to pick them up if they are stranded at the airport or have a flat tire, and you cannot see the emotion in their faces or body language. Still, you care about them and you enjoy their virtual company.

Anyway, I am not sure where I am going with this, but it was something I was thinking about as we made our way through Nighthold last night. I was just really reminded of how social this game is, or at least how much more fun it is for me when the social aspects work.

Which leads me to another point, and that is that I would very much like to see Blizz make guilds more relevant in the next expansion. It seems to me that the trend since Mists has been to make the game more of a solo endeavor, that the benefits of belonging to a guild have been steadily chipped away. I am not saying guilds are dead, and I am not implying that someone should have to belong to a guild to play the game. But from my worm’s-eye view, it feels like the most successful guilds are the ones that exist primarily to facilitate end game raiding — a fun activity, but it just seems like there should be benefits for guilds that exist mainly for the game’s social aspect aside from raiding.

I don’t know if the guild leveling idea was a good one or not, but I do know that its existence tended to promote guild activities in pursuit of a higher guild level. People showed up on guild activity night to work on the next group achievement, and small groups of guildies often worked on the more obscure achievements on an ad hoc basis. There used to be tangible benefits to guild membership, but about the only one I can think of now beyond raiding is guild mail. Blizz apparently found instances of abuse among some of the guild perks, and in their typical lazy fashion decided to eliminate the perks rather than fix the loopholes.

In the next expansion, I would love to see:

  • Guild halls, with some vendors and gathering places and maybe their own pseudo-custom music, a hearthstone portal, and guild ability to decorate. (Maybe with actual guild screenshots as wall hangings?) I have no idea how technically feasible any of this is, but it seems like if we can have individual garrisons and class halls, we can certainly have guild halls.
  • A new approach to guild achievements — make them ones that guild members need to work on together for things non-instance and non-raid related. Maybe add some more weekly achievements, consider adding things like community service guild achievements (pick up paper in the park, sweep the streets of a sector in Stormwind, repair the roof of the Keep, all members of certain classes in the guild do things like mages conduct a free portal activity in the square or hunters gather X amount of meat for the King, or tailors create X number of pieces of clothing for the orphans, etc.)
  • Make the rewards for achievements actually mean something — yes, I think this should involve reinstatement of guild perks. Bring back cauldrons, mass rez, guild summoning, significant gold for the guild bank, more guild-earned gear and mounts and pets, whatever.
  • Set up some kind of system whereby small guilds are not penalized — maybe a series of categories by size, and the achievements are pegged to that in terms of the scale of effort needed. Something I have mentioned before — and I still think is a good idea — is allowing guilds to belong to consortiums, loose organizations of guilds where the members cooperate in activities (maybe even have their own consortium chat channel) but retain their individual identities and memberships.

These are suggestions I have not totally thought through, and there may be reasons they are not feasible, but the point is I would like to see Blizz  come up with creative ways to strengthen the role of guilds in the game.

WoW’s major attraction when it started was that it was a social game, and I would like the next expansion to start to reverse the solo trend and return us at least a little to the game’s roots.

Because v-friends are friends, too. Even when they accidentally pull the boss.

What a difference a week makes

Last week at about this time, I was stressing over the impending attack of Snowzilla on our area. In the game, I was convinced my raiding days were over, that I would forever more be consigned to dreary LFR or chancy pugs. True, I had just joined a new guild, but it seemed big and intimidating, filled with players far beyond my skills. The Legion news — what scraps there were of it — seemed once again to indicate it would soon be time for me to find a new game.

Like I said in the title, what a difference a week makes. Today all our snow is under control and we are looking at several days of warm melting weather, such that nearly all of it looks like it will be gone by this time next week. It’s too early, but I find myself thinking of spring and planning my garden. (The ultimate triumph of optimism over experience!)

Last night, in another triumph of optimism, I joined a guild alt/fun run of HFC(N). I am happy to report that, while I may not have distinguished myself, neither did I embarrass myself. (If the raid had been a Broadway production, I would have been an unremarkable member of the chorus line. I’ll take that.)

Remember, for all practical purposes I have not raided since early April of 2015. Before that team fell apart, we got through a few (but not all) bosses in Blackrock Foundry, and did the first 4 in HFC once only by the skin of our teeth. That’s it. So last night I was an LFR hero trying to run a normal HFC for the first time, with a group whose alts are much better geared than my main, and a team that is 13/13H and has been running together for years.

No pressure.

I had studied my butt off before the raid, made 6 pages of notes on the differences between LFR and normal for every boss, watched FatBoss and other videos on all of them, spent an hour in front of a target dummy brushing up on some MM skills, replenished my supplies of food, flasks, pots, got myself connected to and tested on Mumble, etc. I went through my DBM settings and made sure all possible raid-wiping debuffs were going to really get my attention, double checked my talents and glyphs, and even ran a practice LFR Iskar just to check out the Iskar Assist addon. (We skipped Iskar last night luckily.)

It was a fun night. We had close to 15 running, almost everyone on alts, we downed 9 bosses with zero wipes. I died once because of stupidity on Kilrogg, once to trash, and once on Mannoroth but I don’t count that one because I literally died at the exact same second the boss did. And the RNG gods were smiling upon me, because I got two tier pieces — my first two! — on bonus rolls.

It felt good to be raiding again with people who hit the sweet spot between casual and hardcore. After three hours with them, the guild seems less monolithic and intimidating. And even though I could see that some of my skills were pretty rusty after  a 9 month layoff, I got a measure of my self-confidence back.

So, snow problems — under control, check.

Guild and raid angst — greatly diminished, check.

Legion news — well, 2 out of 3 is not bad I guess.

Yes, I remain very pessimistic about Legion. I am not ready to write about all the reasons why yet, but I cannot shake the impression that we players are a baby whose Blizz mother is really pushing the strained beets. “Mmmmmmm, yummy! Don’t they look good? Mommy wishes she could have some! Open the hangar, heeeeerre comes the airplane! Zoom, zoom!”

So I will amend my previous statement: For everything except Legion, what a difference a week makes.

Have a great weekend.







Closet cleaning time

It’s time again to clean out my drafts folder — those subjects I thought of briefly but for one reason or another never developed into full blown posts.

The value of whimsy. A few nights ago when I returned to my garrison after an LFR run, I was greeted by a sight that can only be described as fantastically cute. Four or five of my pets had, by coincidence of some random routing algorithm, banded together and for a while were marching single file through my garrison. The squad leader was my skunk, Stinker. Out of curiosity, I followed them, and eventually their paths diverged, but not before Stinker and one of my fel pups stopped in at my inn. I was half expecting to see NPCs come barreling out of the place with shouts of “SKUNK!!” I have to admit, I giggled like a six-year-old.

This fun little interlude reminded me that Blizz in my opinion has really got “whimsical” down pat for this game. Every time I begin to think that the devs are a bunch of soulless, grim, dark-dwelling hardcore gamers who eschew anything that does not advance a raid tier, the game presents me with something like my skunk-led squad formation. Occasionally they go overboard with a concept (Pepe and the perky pug are examples — just my opinion), but in general I think they have it about right. WoW itself is not a “cute” game, but there is enough just-for-pure-fun whimsy scattered through it to keep me surprised and delighted. And giggling like a kid.

What a difference a few days make in LFR. I usually try to run 2-3 of my characters through LFR HFC on Tuesday reset days, for the valor but sometimes also for the final ring collection on an alt. If I had the time (and patience) to run all of them through, I would, because a couple of days in LFR make a huge difference in the experience, and not in a good way.

On Tuesdays the queues are short even for damage dealers, so I focus on getting them through. Since many of the actual raiders are trying to knock out some valor before their raids for the week, the runs are usually fast and filled with people who know what they are doing. True, you get the occasional self-appointed elitist buttbrain, but honestly that is not a bad tradeoff for a quick and otherwise painless run.

But the situation rapidly deteriorates after Tuesday, at least on my server. Wednesdays are a little worse, and it regresses until by Monday finishing even one wing can turn you into a sputtering, bug-eyed, wild-haired lunatic. My schedule sometimes dictates that I have to run a healer alt through LFR on a Monday, but I never attempt it without a good supply of adult beverages.

I wish I had taken a screen shot of this, but one of my groups on a recent Monday kept wiping on Xhul’horac before Phase 2 because they simply could not grasp the concept of running out of the raid when they got tagged with Fel Surge. The entire room was literally covered in green fire. More than once.

If I were a mathy person, I would insert here a formula, something along the lines of: As time T in days approaches 7, frustration F approaches infinity.

Movement mechanics are important to me. This dawned on me as I was trying out ESO as part of my — so far futile — attempt to have a viable Plan B game if everything goes south in Legion. I know much of it is just habit, but I really do like the way WoW implements the interplay of movement, camera, and action in the game. You have a lot of options for almost every action — mouse-centric, keyboard-centric, combination, whatever suits your style and situation. I have yet to find another game with such freedom.

A couple of years ago I tried to play Diablo, back when Blizz was including the hot new release with one of the WoW expansion packs. My friends were ecstatic over it so I decided to give it a try. I quit after just a couple of weeks, because I simply could not get used to moving by targeting a spot on the ground and then running to it. Drove me absolutely bonkers every time I moved.

Nearly all my possible Plan B games have similar camera or movement annoyances. ESO, as far as I can tell, does not permit mouse running. I never got past the trial for Wildstar because — well tons of reasons actually, not the least of which was it was Wildstar — but also there was some sort of glitch I could not solve where the camera angle could not be adjusted or would self-adjust in a terrible angle. I hate all FPS games, too, cannot deal with that perspective. (Final Fantasy 14 might still be viable, but since their Mac porting imploded it means I have to boot into Windows *ptui* to run it, and I am seldom in the mood to do so, because inevitably it means I will have to endure an hour or more of the infinite number of Microsoft updates, not to mention — well never mind, I just don’t like that OS, never have, never will.)

First “fun” raid with new guild. Recently I joined a new guild, a raiding guild, which is currently in the process of suspending raiding until Legion because they are pretty burned out. I joined mainly because I admire the guild, not necessarily in expectation of raiding, making it clear that if things worked out I would be interested in raiding with them in Legion, but that mainly I was interested in being part of a large active guild.

I signed up for a guild fun run of normal HFC this week, but honestly I am a nervous wreck about it. Let’s face it, the gear on my main (zero tier gear on a MM hunter that pretty much requires 4 pieces just to achieve decent rotation) is much worse than most of these people have on their alts.

Not to mention I have really only done HFC in LFR, not real HFC, so it is almost like starting a new raid tier for me. I would really like to make a good impression, so I am studying like crazy, watching videos multiple times, making notes on each boss for the differences between normal and LFR, making sure I am oversupplied with pots and food and flasks, even running certain wings in LFR multiple times to try out stuff I usually ignore.

Please, Elune, do not let me f**k up.

Still not bored. Interestingly, I was quite bored earlier in this expansion, but now that it is slowly winding down, I find more and more to keep me occupied. I think earlier I was bored mainly because I felt like there were certain activities I had to engage in every day on every alt, and I came to dread it. Now that I have given myself permission to do anything I feel like when I log in, I am back to my usual enjoyment of the game, playing it the way I want to.

I am in absolutely no hurry for Legion to go live, because in spite of myself I know — if I am still playing — that I will put myself back on a treadmill to do certain things as fast as possible.

OK, that’s it, nice tidy drafts folder to start off 2016. 




The demise of guilds

I don’t think I would get much argument if I said that Warlords of Draenor was very hard on guilds. And so far I have not seen anything in Legion that will reverse that trend. In fact, if anything, the implementation of Order Halls will further hurt guilds.

Before I continue, a disclaimer — much of what I will say is anecdotal, derived from my server and my WoD guild experiences. I could not find any place that tracks the number of guilds in the game historically — WoWProgress follows something like 700k guilds, but I could not find any historical data on change in numbers. So I am left with my own analysis, influenced by my experiences.

The relevant personal experiences are, I left two failed guilds, and am now part of one that is struggling to maintain viability. The failed guilds had gotten to the point where frequently I was the only guildie logged on most nights, the raid teams had disintegrated, the GM and officers were ghosts, and all planned activities disappeared. My current guild maintains some semblance of social play, and there are 8-10 guildies on a few times a week, but the raid team — formerly in the top 25 on the server — ceased to exist even before Hellfire Citadel came out. So please understand that what I say is certainly colored by my own experience. Yours may be completely different.

For me, guilds have always been one of the bedrocks of social play in WoW. I did not join one until I was about level 50 on my first character (back in the early days of WotLK), but once I did, I was hooked on them as integral to my enjoyment of the game.

I think guilds reached their peak around the end of Cata and first part of Mists. Indeed, it was during that period when Blizz seemed keen on promoting guild membership, because they instituted a host of enticing guild perks. Cata saw the introduction of guild leveling, from 1 to 25, with perks awarded at each level. But by the time of Patch 5.0.4, Blizz began to remove or nerf several of the perks, including the wildly popular Have Group Will Travel, which allowed a guildie to summon other guildies to their location. In WoD, Blizz eliminated the guild leveling system along with many guild perks.

In particular, they axed the Cash Flow perk, by which the guild earned a small amount of gold every time a guildie looted gold in the world. The stated reason was that some GMs were using this to exploit their guildies and enrich themselves. I suppose what they really meant was that illicit gold sellers were using the mechanism to generate gold, but whatever the reason, it was a pretty serious blow to many guilds, causing some to revoke the free repairs privilege, which in turn hurt retention and recruitment.

Guilds were also indirectly — but seriously — impacted by some of the design features of WoD. For example, the lack of repeatable content, such as rares and such as the irrelevancy of dungeons, meant there was less reason to get up guild groups for some romping-about fun for an hour or two. This of course was compounded by the lack of flying, meaning it became a pretty major commitment to get a group together in the same place at the same time, and then spend most of your time just traveling to wherever your target was. Not to mention if you had just an hour or two to play, you probably felt you had to spend that doing your garrison and follower chores, not running about with a guild group trying to find an objective. And everything was further compounded by the widespread perception that WoD was just not very fun, which caused fewer and fewer guild members to log on, that is if they remained subscribed at all.

To make matters even worse, raid design in WoD was very detrimental to casual raid teams, be they “hardcore casual” or “laid back casual” in nature. For the laid back casual teams, most of the mechanics were too demanding for a flex-style pick-up group of guildies, unless there were a significant number of very good raiders to carry the group. Normal level was much harder than Blizz told us it would be when they introduced the new raid levels. Thus, the promised “friends and family” mode became progression, and players just looking for an evening of fun and camaraderie stopped trying to raid.

Ten-man teams with core members trying to do progression also faced a number of obstacles:

  • Blizz failed to follow through on its design promise that progression teams would be able to start on Heroic (since in theory WoD Heroic was previous Normal). You simply could not be properly geared for Heroic unless you had first cleared Normal, in most circumstances.
  • WoD raids were horribly tuned, such that small teams were at a disadvantage. But the mechanics were such that bringing in  guildies who normally did not raid with the team was impractical, since it significantly slowed progression while the augmentees learned not to commit the single-player raid-wiping errors nearly every boss had. Pugging via the Group Finder was tedious and annoying, not to mention going this route pretty much destroyed the feeling of team accomplishment people sought when they joined a progression team in the first place.
  • Overall decreased player participation in the game meant getting even ten players to show up on raid nights became difficult, which meant trying to plug the holes with more non-core members, which in turn meant there was even less team spirit in the group, etc. It was a continuous downward spiral.

All of these factors contributed to the WoD demise of many guilds. Social guilds no longer had enough active players to be really social any more, and casual raiding guilds found it increasingly difficult to field a viable team.

Looking at Legion, I don’t see anything so far that gives me hope that guilds will be revived as a robust social mechanism. Indeed, the focus on Order Halls would seem to be at the expense of guilds.

I have to admit, I still don’t see the real game design reason for Order Halls, except as a quest hub. And some aspects of them are downright stupid, such as the ridiculous notion that every class member on your entire server is the primary class leader, the one with the “unique” artifact weapon. Puh-leeze.

For myself, I would have preferred a simpler quest hub mechanism, and put the “home base” dev effort on something like Guild Halls. Now, there may be a technical reason that Guild Halls are not doable, but if so  I would like to hear it. As it stands, it appears to me that Blizz is just fine with the dwindling relevance of guilds in the game, and in fact their actions over the last two expansions indicates they are actively promoting such a trend. I think this is a shame, given the avowed social nature of the game. It would be nice if Watcher or someone would address the future of guilds, and how Blizz sees their continuing role, if indeed they see any role for them at all.


It’s still all about the gear

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. I know I did. Of course, it’s like all good things — eventually enough is enough, and it feels good to get back to your normal routine. Honestly by Saturday I was ready for it to be over. Which meant I did play some amount of WoW, just to escape the hungry hordes in my living room. (“Sorry, guys, gotta do some web site maintenance and bookkeeping. You know how it is with a small struggling business.”)

Which brings me to the already-had-enough-of-a-good-thing subject of valor.

Most of my time in the game over the weekend was spent chasing valor on my two hunters. This meant running all of LFR HFC, plus the weekly bonus event, plus a couple of randoms. After that, I think the valor return gets a bit thin for the effort expended, not to mention I am not really in that much of a hurry to upgrade their gear. As I have pretty much stopped raiding for the remainder of this expansion, the only reason to raise gear levels is to prep for the next round of leveling in Legion.

The return of valor has certainly worked to get players re-engaged in LFR and dungeons, I think, but I still wonder how long it will last. I know for me, once I upgrade the few pieces of decent gear I have on my hunters, I will be done. I am not going to upgrade their crappy Baleful gear with terrible secondary stats, nor am I going to upgrade those lousy pseudo-tier pieces from LFR. And since Blizz has made it almost impossibly difficult for me to get decent upgradable gear for my lesser alts, I will not be chasing valor on any of them because what’s the point. So I will be done with valor in another week or so, and I suspect I am not alone in this.

This, of course, is where Blizz’s horrible decisions on gear for this entire expansion are catching up with them. Making it completely dependent on random rolls — whether that be for secondary stats or for the actual gear itself — means that eventually people just give up on it. The time — and pain, if you are not in a raiding guild — required to get the gear is simply not worth the reward. Oh, you might stick with it for your main, but very few people will do it for their alts. And make no mistake about it, Blizz has designed the end game such that gear is THE motivator for participation. Almost the only motivator.

I don’t want to get into the whole welfare-gear  debate, my point is not about that. My point is that, when you design a game whose main goal centers on gear, you have to make that gear — or the means to get it — reasonably attainable for the majority of players who make it to the end game. I do not mean give it to them, but I do mean give them multiple paths to it. I contend that Blizz has failed on this.

Right now even normal level gear appropriate to their spec is beyond my reach for alts, and even to some extent for my main (thinking hunter tier gear here). This is because:

  • Garrison missions now only award gear at the level the character has already raided at (not one level higher, as was the case at the beginning of WoD), so if you have not done some normal runs you will not get any gear at that level.
  • If you are not already fairly well geared, farming baleful gear in Tanaan is extremely time consuming — to the point of absurdity — for some classes and specs.
  • Even if you get baleful gear, the chances of getting the best secondary specs for your class are dismally small. This is, astonishingly, true even if you spend a pile of Apexis crystals to actually buy it.
  • If you are willing to grind for the mats to craft gear for your character, you cannot equip more than three pieces.
  • You simply cannot get accepted into a pug — even for normal level raids — unless you pretty much already outgear it. Thus, anyone who is not in a raiding guild is severely penalized in terms of getting gear. And Blizz’s policies for the last two expansions have been to gradually remove most incentives for guild membership, thereby decreasing the number of active guilds (no numbers to back this up, just anecdotal observation), thereby also decreasing the number of raiding guilds.
  • Even if you do get into a pug after hours of rejections, chances of getting gear are not great, given RNG along with the typical “tier gear res 4 guild, some [whatever class/spec you play] pcs on res” restrictions.

So unless Blizz makes some changes to gear acquisition in the next mini-patch — if there is one — I am pretty much done with my newly-discovered re-engagement with Draenor. Off the top of my head, here is what I would like to see:

  • Make some normal to heroic level gear pieces available for purchase with valor.
  • Establish a mechanism to reconfigure secondary stats on gear to actually fit your spec.
  • Lift the 3-piece restriction on crafted gear.
  • Make all Baleful gear BoA, not just the pieces from shipyard missions.
  • Make the random Baleful drops completely generic (no armor type) until they are used. (The Timeless Isle model.)
  • Change it so that if you buy Baleful gear with Apexis crystals, you can specify what secondary stats you get on the gear.
  • Expand valor so that it is awarded — even if in small quantities — for every activity in Tanaan. In other words, go back to the Mists valor model.

Changes like these would send me to Tanaan and to LFR/randoms regularly, probably for at least a couple of months.  It would allow me to gear up my alts decently, but not excessively. And it would restore my faith that Blizz is not trying to make gear — even moderate gear — more and more of an exclusive club for their favored 5%.