A place for us

A couple of disconnected blogs I recently read got me to thinking about the human need to feel at home, an innate need identified and studied by psychologists, behaviorists, architects, interior designers, novelists, retailers — the list goes on and on. Think back to your Psych 101 class and you will recall this need is so basic it was identified by Maslow in his Hierarchy. (I suppose there are psychologists who take issue with Maslow’s work, but it always made sense to me. If you were not paying attention in Psych 101, you can get the gist of his theory in this totally unofficial Wikipedia article.)

The first blog I read that started me on this chain of thought was Matthew Rossi’s regular Blizzard Watch Q&A from yesterday. One of the questions was from someone complaining that the Blizz crossover promotion between Heroes of the Storm and WoW was ruining HotS for him, because there were all these scrubs jumping in and being stupid about how they played.

I have never played HotS, never intend to play it, and getting some big old ugly chunk of 1’s and 0’s to ride in WoW does not make me want to try playing it. But I can sympathize with the questioner. Remember back in Mists when everyone had to win some number of PvP battlegrounds as part of the quest line for the legendary cloak? (Now that’s when legendaries meant something! And you kids get off my grass!) Anyway, I always thought this was a terrible idea — the regular PvPers hated amateurs coming in and ignorantly screwing up established tactics, and the non-PvPers resented having to be there doing something they had no interest in learning or ever doing again.

Here was a prime example of Blizz deliberately messing with the basic human need to feel at home. The regular PvPers felt their space had been invaded by ignorant and clueless strangers — like when your in-laws suddenly show up at your door — and the non-PvPers were thrust into a situation where they did not know the rules of behavior or the terrain or how to interact with others. Neither group felt at home. It was a guaranteed lose-lose situation.

Now, I suppose Blizz did it because having a robust PvP play option attracts more people to the game, and maybe they were losing these kinds of players so they thought if more people tried PvP they would actually like it, thereby increasing this aspect of the game. I have no idea how it turned out, probably some players did in fact decide PvP was kind of fun. No matter. The point I am trying to make here is almost everyone involved in this activity at the time disliked it. Why did they dislike it? Because suddenly a part of the comfortable little niche they had made for themselves in the game was gone.

I would argue that much of the angst we players express with Blizz is due to the sudden removal of some aspect of the game we have come to feel at home with, in the Maslow sense. This is deeper than just stodgy old players uncomfortable with change, this is akin to having your home destroyed by a tornado. More than once.

Each of us defines the central aspect of WoW differently, or to put it another way, we each establish for ourselves what we believe to be our “home core” in the game. We may not even know that we do this, and we might be hard put to describe what that core is, but it is there for all of us. When that core is shaken or demolished, especially if it seems to happen frequently, then we start hollering. This I think is why the hunter changes of the last two expansions have seemed so heinous to me — prior to WoD, I doubt if I would have defined being a hunter as the home core of my game, but when Blizz began to demolish first the SV spec and later the entire hunter experience, suddenly I realized the very foundation of my game enjoyment had been removed. I was left to find another home core or rebuild on the old one. For humans, both these situations are difficult, just ask Maslow.

Which brings me to the other blog that got me thinking along these lines — a piece by Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full on player housing and the dilemma MMOs face on the subject. The quick summary is that there likely is a Goldilocks solution as to whether or not to have player housing and if so how much or little it should affect the game, but that this solution is difficult for most game makers to arrive at. In fact, recent history for MMOs shows that few companies have succeeded.

As some of you may know, I favor the idea of player housing. I really liked my little Sunsong Ranch home. In fact I still go back there every couple of weeks, just as a place to log off from, with a cozy bed and a bubbling pot of stew on the stove. It gives me a peaceful feeling of being at home, of taking off my boots and warming my tired feet by the stove, anticipating supper and reflecting on the day’s adventures.

If we had had just a few opportunities to customize that space — beyond becoming bff’s with whoever that was that decorated it for us — Sunsong Ranch would have been close to perfect as player housing in my opinion. It was completely optional, it did not in any way affect your game play beyond the initial zone quest sets, and it was instanced so that it was really just your own.But Blizz took this notion of an instanced individual space and made it into a monster in WoD in the form of garrisons, and into an annoyance in Legion in the form of class halls.

Anyway, my point is not to rehash all the problems with garrisons or class halls. (However, for crying out loud, can we get a lousy place to sit and maybe be able to buy a beer in the hunter hall??) My point is that some players — maybe even a lot of players, who knows  — really enjoy having a small space of their own, a place they can call home, even in a computer game. And Blizz has demonstrated they have the technology. The garrison technology was great — an individual instance that you could invite groups to, a few chances to do limited customization — it was just the typical Blizz overreaction that made it bad by requiring every player to have one and to develop it and make it the central jumping off point for an entire expansion, and by offering amenities like a bank and an auction house and portals so that you never had to leave it.

Maybe if Blizz gave us some decent optional and limited player housing — a place of our own — we would not be so quick to yell at them when they make huge changes to our class play style or professions or gear. No matter what they did , we could still come home at the end of a long day questing or raiding, kick off our muddy boots and put our feet up by a nice fire, and feel at home.

Maybe Blizz should dig out their old Psych 101 textbook. It might make them realize that always screwing with core player engagements like class and spec identity is more disruptive than it is helpful, and that maybe if they were to let us have a tiny space of our own in the game we might be happier. Just a thought.

It’s that time

WoW expansions, like many human constructs, seem to have predictable phases in their life cycles. This is in no way scientific, but in my own mind I list them as:

  1. Speculation
  2. Formal announcement/unveiling
  3. Testing
  4. Live implementation
  5. General player base fascination, often combined with righteous indignation over perceived Bad Design/Terrible Idea
  6. “Normalization” and acceptance of virtual life under the rules of the expansion
  7. Pundit analysis of the overall “flavor” of the expansion
  8. Interest in major patches
  9. Boredom and malaise
  10. Go back to step 1

I think we are at Step 7 in Legion, a conclusion I reached after reading some recent blogs — check out Marathal over at Deez Wurds and Ethan Macfie in MMO Games for a couple of examples. There are recent others with similar content, but these struck a chord with me.

For several weeks now, I have had a vague feeling of frustration with the game, but have not really been able to put my finger on the cause. The two blogs I cited have helped me at least start to define it a bit.

Let me say up front, I am not backing off my general assessment of Legion as a success, and as I have written before, there is a lot of fun to be had in this expansion. But remember the flap over “daily overload” in Mists? That same feeling magnified about tenfold is what I have been feeling in Legion.

The feeling is one of stress or burnout, insofar as these terms can be applied to a leisure activity like a computer game. No, of course it is not real stress — not like caring for an aging parent or worrying about the rent or raising a child or enduring an abusive boss — but it is a kind of “immersion stress.” When we play virtual games, we allow ourselves to be bound by certain sets of rules and expectations. We enter an imaginary world and operate in it on its terms. It is in that context that I refer to “stress”, and it can hinder our enjoyment of the virtual world in the same way real stress hinders our joy in real life.

Back to the dailies in Mists. There was a pretty significant backlash against them, and the main complaint was that players felt they had to do them and do them — lots of them — every day or risk “falling behind”. That is, the quests felt less like engaging content and more like a forced march that led first to faction rep and from there to gear and professions recipes and other items players wanted or thought they needed for their end game enjoyment. In fact, sometimes attaining faction rep only meant you could then start a different faction rep grind as a step in your progress.

The players complained about “too many” dailies, but I think their dissatisfaction was less about the number and more about the notion of “compulsory”. If you missed one or two days of dailies, that was one or two days longer until you were eligible to get the items you wanted. And yes, I understand there is a segment of the player population that will greet this idea with a shrug and a “So what?” But I think a sizable majority of what I would term “engaged players” — hardcore and pseudo-casual — felt pressure to log on every day in Mists just to avoid “falling behind”.

Fast forward to Legion. Mists gave many of us nervous tics if we could not log on for a couple of days, but Legion goes much further. For one thing, there are tons more “dailies” in the form of world quests, Mythic+ runs for the weekly chest, daily random heroics for the AP, and so forth. But another, more insidious difference exists: in Mists, there was an end to the grind, once you got your rep you could get your recipes and gear and move on to other parts of the game. But in Legion, there is never an end. We are all Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the hill knowing that reaching the top only means we get to start all over again. Macfie, in the post I cited above, describes it as “the mind-numbing, spirit-crushing deluge of continuous progression”.

Blizz has confused the notion of “content” with “endless repetition”. I find this ironic, in that Game Director Hazzikostas has lectured us time and time again about the evils of “grinding” for gear, thereby justifying the use of RNG for everything because of the fun™ factor. Yet, Legion, with its endless chases after ever-increasing AP, random profession recipe drops, and lottery gear, is in fact one gigantic grind. The difference is, usually when you grind you eventually reach your goal — I guess what Hazzikostas believes is that grinding in and of itself is fun™, it is being rewarded at the end that is evil.

Once again, from Macfie:

Where it’s gone off the rails a bit is that this progression, after a certain point, becomes functionally endless, creating a situation where any player with even a semblance of a competitive edge feels an immense amount of pressure to grind to keep up. Those that don’t keep up with the grind run the risk of being excluded as AP levels gradually becomes the new gear score by which their character’s worth is judged (in addition to their actual gear score).

Many players feel like how well you play matters less and less compared to how long you play, and that’s not a healthy perception for your consumers to have. Whether you personally feel that way or not, artifact power is beginning to undermine the game’s other systems for a great many players.

And this, from Marathal:

There is so much to do, so why am I in a funk about wanting to do anything. Why is having too much to do, so depressing. Is it because there apparently is no end? I thought Artifact Power was done, until I saw it keeps going, I would like to finish leveling my professions, but they have made that “have meaning”. Maybe it has for some. The tailoring was engaging until the story stopped and kind of petered out. Did Enchanting have a story? I don’t know. The Class hall quests are so wrapped around Raids that I don’t know any more which I have to do and which I could skip. All of those missions every day. This begins a quest, so does this. No. No more raid or dungeon endless quest chains.

Attention, Blizz: Sisyphus is not an inspiring story, he is not someone schoolchildren are encouraged to emulate. He screwed up big time in life, and his punishment was an endless grind. Trust me, “Sisyphus the Game” is not a successful business model. 

And with that, let the weekend commence.

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.

World quests = Dailies with a new name

I have been running quite a few world quests lately, and the more I do them, the more I realize they are just Mists of Pandaria dailies prettied up a bit. There are a few differences and improvements, sure, but basically these are gating mechanisms for rep, which in turn is a gating mechanism for profession advancement, gear (mainly in the form of chasing AP for an artifact), and other end game activities. This, of course, is exactly what Mists dailies were.

There was a good deal of complaining about the Mists dailies, and Blizz did their typical over-reaction in WoD, where for many months we had zero dailies. Now, it seems the pendulum has done another huge arc and we are back to the Mists model. True, I eventually found the Mists dailies to be a grind, but in general I didn’t mind them. At least I knew if I kept at them that I could achieve certain goals — earn tokens to trade for reasonable gear, get a nice mount, eventually get profession recipes I wanted, etc. And, refreshingly, achieving these goals was not dependent on blind random luck, it was a function of how much effort I put into the game. (Effort results in reward, what a concept.) Also, the Mists dailies were an activity I could do on all my alts once they hit max level, no need for them to have a certain gear level, no need for me to have much beyond basic proficiency with them. And they had the added bonus of giving me a quick way to maintain and even improve some of my alt skills without having to take them into time commitments like LFR or actually try to do instances or raids with them.

So when I say that Legion World Quests are essentially a rework of Mists dailies, I don’t mean that in a negative way, I am just pointing out that they are the same game mechanisms. Blizz gave them a new name so as to spare some players the apparent trauma of reminding them of Mists, and they vary them a bit more, but it’s the same activity. And I suspect we will soon see players complain about being forced to grind them every day, there will be whining about “burnout”.

The ultimate success or failure of World Quests will, in large measure, depend on how well Blizz is able vary them, and on how well they will be able to keep them relevant once people have all the profession recipes, artifact power, and rep they need/want. There are a couple of ways they could go about this. One would be to offer paths to new types of rewards — perhaps a token or coin system redeemable for mounts or pets, or maybe a Mythic+ key, or gear enhancements such as unique gems or enchants  (of course, at the risk of enraging crafters who like to sell such items), etc. The other way to keep WQs relevant is less exciting, and merely consists of adding more of the same for rewards — continually adding new profession recipes, even more AP for an ever-expanding artifact tree, a couple new factions that require a whole new set of rep, etc.

One thing I do not expect to see is a continuing relevancy of gear as WQ rewards. There are already huge whines from self-styled “hardcores” deploring the “welfare gear” from WQs, and let’s face it, Blizz has a history of catering to these snivellers. (I have never understood the zero-sum mentality of “If you get decent gear, it takes away from my fantastic awesome achievement in getting lucky in a raid and tragically makes me less of a special snowflake,” but that is another subject entirely.) I have noticed already that the Emissary quest rewards seem to be getting stingier and stingier.

So for now I am dutifully doing my Mists dailies World Quests, and I don’t mind them because I can see progress towards some game goals. But they are becoming a bit grindy, and — absent some pretty significant new incentives — I can see them within a couple of months becoming an alts-only activity for me.

Another tier gear discussion

After several weeks of hints, Blizz confirms that Legion LFR will in fact award tier gear, probably more or less on the model of Mists. At least I think they are confirming this, it’s sometimes hard to tell with their obtuse I’ve-got-a-secret corporate mentality. Check out the predictably-enraged forum here, or the abridged MMO-C summary here.

If true, I think this is generally a good move. The WoD “tier” gear from LFR is nearly worthless except possibly for a brand new level 100. Worse, it in no way ties in with the “real” tier gear from Normal and beyond. So even if someone assembles a 4-piece LFR set, it does them no good at all if they decide to start raiding at the Normal level. For some classes/specs, for example MM hunter, the actual 4-piece tier significantly affects play style as well as performance. This means that, without the tier, many pug raid groups are reluctant to bring in players who need to get into such groups in order to get the tier gear. This is clearly a self-perpetuating handicap of the you-need-experience-to-get-a-job-and-you-need-a-job-to-get-experience type. Some guilds still working through progression part way into a raid tier are even reluctant to bring in a new player who does not have tier gear if most of the rest of the team already has it. (I think they are the exception, but I have run across them in the last year.)

So I like the Mists model for tier gear more than the WoD one — it’s the same gear, but with decremented stats/set effects and oh of course we must have a different color to satisfy the special snowflakes in the game. It actually gives people a reason to run LFR, beyond a few valor points. On the flip side of this argument, naturally, are the self-styled elite players who were the driving force behind the WoD approach, because they howled that having “real” tier gear “given out like candy” in LFR meant they themselves had to run LFR — oh, the horror, the ignominy of it all, how they suffered because of it. I am getting all teary-eyed just thinking about their tribulations….

Look. The problem was not that the gear was in LFR, the problem was that Blizz designed the raid levels so poorly that many progression teams could not feasibly complete Normal level without LFR gear, nor Heroic without Normal gear. Somewhere along the line, the designers completely abandoned their stated goals for raiding going forward from Mists: namely that LFR was for tourists, Normal was for friends-and-family type teams, Heroic was implied to be where progression teams would start, and Mythic was for hard-core raiding guilds. As a result, in WoD there is really no place for the casual different-members-every-week raid team, at least not until the very end of the expansion after the “real” raid team has cleared the raid tier and is into alt mode. At one time, Blizz thought this type of group was integral to the WoW raiding community:

Raid Difficulty and Raid Groups—An Aside

In broad strokes, there are three distinct types of groups that participate in organized raiding:

  • Friends and Family groups: These are social groups that exist for reasons besides raiding, but whose players would like to venture into raid content together. This type of group is inherently inclusive, and will not organize its roster according to specific class needs, nor is the group likely to criticize or remove players based on performance. Members of this type of group prioritize playing together.
  • Raiding guilds: These are groups that have formed for the purpose of raiding. These are the majority of guilds that you’ll see recruiting in Trade chat or on realm forums. These groups will generally look for specific classes based on roster needs, and will expect a certain level of attendance or performance. Members of this type of group prioritize experiencing and learning the content.
  • Hardcore raiding guilds: An extreme subset of the previous category, these are the guilds of players whose ethos drives them to be the best at games they play, and who are willing to dedicate time and energy to maximize their results. Guilds of this type will recruit and maintain a roster based primarily on performance, and will expect raiders to optimize their characters. Members of this type of group prioritize competition and success.

It is a shame that Blizz no longer considers the first group to be worth designing for. I say this because it really is not possible, in my opinion, for a group with dynamic membership to clear Normal HFC in anything approaching timely fashion. This is because the mechanics require a pretty sophisticated amount of choreographed teamwork, and it is definitely possible for a mistake on the part of one player to wipe the group. Rotating players every week means that every week there are almost always those one or two or three new players who will make the same mistakes that the rest of the members did when they were new to the boss, and it will almost certainly cause wipes. Add in the fact that bad tuning means there frequently is in fact an optimal number of players for any given boss, and the concept of a “casual” raid team pretty much becomes a myth.

(Please note that by “casual” I do not mean “bad” or “incompetent”, I just mean what Blizz laid out in the quote above.)

Anyway, I have strayed from my original topic of tier gear in LFR. I see no down side to having it. And for those who want to stomp their feet and throw a tantrum over how doing this means Blizz is giving away gear that should be reserved only for people such as themselves who “earn” it, or at the very least if this must be, then LFR absolutely has to be made “harder”, I say this:

Whether or not you believe it, it is a fact that for some people LFR is challenging. Just because it is a joke to you does not mean it is to others. You would not find a kindergarten curriculum challenging, either, but it is not designed for your 20-or 30- or 40-something self, it is designed for 5-year-olds, who do actually find it challenging and engaging. When people who think LFR is a joke go into it with the intent to mock it and screw it up for others, that is pretty much the same as walking into a kindergarten class and making fun of it, dumping the goldfish on the floor and letting the class gerbil out of the cage, all because they think the class is too easy and they themselves are bored and want to have some fun.

So, no, there is no need to make LFR harder in order to “justify” tier gear being awarded as drops. The fact that some people have low level but functional tier gear in no way takes away from others who have higher level tier gear. In this aspect, WoW is not a zero sum game.

Legion! Yay, or something

As everyone probably knows by now, Blizz has officially announced that Legion will go live on August 30. Honestly, I’m not sure what I think about that. I’ve had a lot of thoughts darting through my head since the announcement. Here are a few of them.

First, there is the big fat obvious fact that patch 6.2 celebrates its first birthday on June 23 of this year. Which means it will be just a smidge over 14 months old when Legion goes live. Last June, I wrote this:

How did your first day go with 6.2? I can best sum mine up with a hearty “meh…” Some things were fun, some were almost unbelievably frustrating, but one thing I know for sure is that this patch will get very old very fast.

Which it did. We had two patches in the first year of WoD — although 6.1 hardly even qualified as a patch — and then zero, zip, nada for 14 months.

WTF, Blizz?

Things have come a long ways — and not in a good way — from this November 2013 quote from Ghostcrawler:

We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft…. Really good patches will keep them, but they aren’t as good at bringing players back to the game.

We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates.

Not only no new expansions every year, but no new patches either, much less “really good” ones.

Certainly a new expansion every year, if it is of the immense scope that WoD and Legion are, is extremely optimistic. To achieve that frequency, a company has to devote very significant resources and must be almost flawless in their project planning and execution. Also, they must be willing to ignore the Good Idea Fairy who seems to make a nuisance of herself throughout the expansion development cycle, causing original concepts to become as bloated and overgrown as a Pentagon defense contract.

Blizz has demonstrated that they are just awful at all of this. Thus we get attempts to completely rework nearly every facet of the game for every expansion, the projects grow far beyond their initial scope without increasing the development resources to compensate, deadlines loom, and the projects get rushed out the door with a vague thought that all the known bugs will get fixed in the first patch. (When did Blizz adopt the Microsoft model of project management?) In short, we get WoD. I can only hope this is not the case with Legion, but I will wait to see.

I am neither surprised nor disappointed that Blizz has had to back off of Greg Street’s 2013 comment, but I would appreciate the courtesy of a new statement reflecting their current goals for frequency of expansions and patches.

Second, you have to wonder what kind of marketing duel may be going on between Blizz and Square Enix, which recently announced that Final Fantasy 15 — one of the strong WoW competitors — would be released Sep 30. This is suspiciously close to the previously-assumed release date of Legion, clearly chosen for the competitive value. Now suddenly Blizz one-ups Square Enix and announces an Aug 30 release. One can only hope that this is an actual, reasonable release date, and not one pulled out of the air in the spirit of “Oh yeah? We’ll see your Sep 30 release date and cut it by a month! Hah!”

Third, what does this mean for a beta test? By my calculations, if you allow time for a beta test followed by a PTR, the beta should have started, like — before now? It will be interesting to see how the “alpha” experiment will be spun by Blizz. My hunch is that we will soon see something that will be labeled “beta” but will actually just be a sort of  pre-PTR, with no substantive changes made, no matter what the comments are from the testers. Let’s face it, the alpha was the beta, from now on things other than minor tweaks are set in stone. The PTR — well, it will mainly be there as a pacifier to players not invited to either the alpha or the beta. If Blizz is smart, they will use it as a system stress test, because …

Fourth, what if any technical changes have been put in place to ensure we do not have a disastrous release day and/or week? The experiences for release of Mists and WoD were monuments to incompetence. There is no excuse for Blizz to fail to anticipate these factors for release week:

  • There will be a HUGE surge of players at the release hour. This surge will continue for at least the first week of the expansion. This means that servers must be prepared to take capacity loads, and additional tech servers may be needed.
  • People will be playing during times they ordinarily do not, so standard patterns of peak play times will be meaningless.
  • Some group will almost certainly try to attack Blizz servers and network infrastructure on release day. Get ready for it, and don’t complain that it is an “unforeseen event”. I am foreseeing it right now, so you should, too.
  • Lots of things will go wrong, so start preparing now to bring in extra support personnel, including GMs to quickly address tickets. People will have taken vacation time and made similar arrangements to experience intensive play time at release, so realize that they will be more emotional than usual when they hit a bug that prevents them from playing. You will win a lot of fans if you can address their problems rapidly and successfully.
  • Realize that you will likely have a lot of brand new WoW players for whom this will be their first expansion day, and whatever their experience is will color their entire view of the game.

Last, what does this mean for a pre-expansion event and for the pre-patch? Typically, these are big guessing games, Blizz gives coy little hints and bats its eyes like a middle schooler trying to flirt for the first time, but they never really announce a pre-patch release date. But this time, given the extreme changes every class and spec will undergo, I think Blizz owes it to their player base to cut out the cuteness and tell us at least an approximate time frame for the pre-patch. Those of us still around have proven our loyalty, we have stuck with this game in spite of a terrible and seemingly-endless expansion, and dammit we deserve to know when our classes will change forever.

What provisions are in place for playing a Legion spec in a WoD world? There are a ton of concerns here, not the least of which involve changes for secondary stats, for new global cool down intervals (1.5 seconds, up from 1.0 seconds — subject to haste), for new healing paradigms in an old-paradigm expansion, etc. I suppose we need time to get used to our new rotations and spec play styles before we get dumped into Legion, but honestly I am not looking forward to it, and I would like to have as much advance planning notice as possible.

Everyone fasten your seat belts, securely stow your belongings, and make sure your seats and tray tables are in an upright position. Here we go!

Thoughts while leveling

For the past month or so I have been very slowly leveling a Paladin. It is a class I have always been attracted to but never been able to stick with, probably because it is basically a melee class and I just do not enjoy melee.

Let me admit up front that I know zero about Paladins as a class, other than the most awesome one I ever knew was a Holy Paladin that was not only a fantastic healer but also a really fine raid leader. Of course, that was back in Cata, and I have no idea really of the relative power of the various specs now. I know I see a lot of Pally tanks and have not noticed many healers or damage dealers, but maybe that is just because I have not been paying attention. I selected Retribution for leveling purposes, but I am still drawn to the idea of Holy, partly because of the influence of my old raid leader and partly because I feel more comfortable in a healing spec than in any melee damage spec. But final spec selection is a ways off, as my little Pally is still hovering around the 30 level.

Anyway, herewith my random observations while leveling.

I have always thought of hunter leveling as easy, but having recently leveled a Rogue and now this Pally, I see that all leveling is face-roll easy these days, especially with heirlooms now. I know there are people who consider this development a bad thing, but I am OK with it. I still feel like the process lets me learn a new class at a nice easy pace, lets me explore all the specs without paying a huge price for it. If I want more challenge, I can always play around with pulling lots more mobs or dipping a toe into a zone higher than my current one.

The one thing I don’t like about the current leveling process is the nutty way that new spells are learned. It just seems to make no sense. I think my Pally had a grand total of two damage spells until well into the level 20’s. I do not get bored grinding quests for leveling, but I do get bored punching the same two buttons for level after level. Also, it seems to take forever until you get any AoE spells, which gets a bit annoying.

One of the coolest things Blizz has ever done is give us that Chauffeured Chopper reward from getting a certain number of heirlooms. It certainly makes the very early stages of leveling much more fun. If you are leveling in Eastern Kingdoms, it even makes that marathon run to get to Wetlands and Menethil Harbor seem a smidgeon less than an all-out death march. I always imagine my driver chatting with me when he picks me up, asking how did my quest go, pointing out scenic points as we travel, asking have I ever been here before, what’s our next stop,  when is lunch, etc.

In general, I think I prefer leveling in Eastern Kingdoms to leveling in Kalimdor, although I have done plenty of both. My least favorite zones, though, are Duskwood and both the Plaguelands. I am not a fan of dark, gloomy zones, nor am I fan of any of the multitude of zombie creatures so many people today seem enamored of.

Even though there is no longer much point to it, I usually try to level my professions as I level my alts. For one thing it gives me a small income, but for another it just seems like the right thing to do.

My Pally is my only plate-wearer (or will be once she gets high enough level), so maybe that will give my blacksmith something useful to do for a change. Also, I might get to finally use all those BoA Baleful plate items accumulating in my bank.

I haven’t yet run any instances with my Pally. I am hesitant because I know so little about playing the class, but on the other hand dungeons seem ridiculously easy at low levels now, and likely I would do just fine. OK, now I talked myself into it, I’ll run a couple this week.

One of the most annoying low level quest lines is the set from Abercrombie in Duskwood. The guy has like 4 or 5 quests, and as expected none of them are very challenging, but the thing is he lives a fair distance outside of Darkshire, and for some reason I find the seemingly-endless trips to see him very tedious. I feel like, Dude get a phone for crying out loud, I’ll call you with the quest results! It’s not like he lives in some place nice to visit, either, it’s a big old burned-out tower thingie surrounded by zombies (see above on my feelings about them).

I just always try to get through Duskwood as  fast as possible.

While leveling — especially at low levels — I always keep my hearthstone set to Stormwind, mainly for trips to the auction house and for profession training. I like the inn in Dwarven District, but I have never understood how it could be an inn when it has no place to sleep? One of the fun things I like doing is to get myself to an inn just before I log off, then lie down on a bed and do /sleep. It’s kind of a semi-superstition, makes me feel like my character really is rested when I log back on. But in Dwarven District, I have to find a corner of the floor to sleep on.

With all my new characters, when I reach level 60 I have to make a decision: Do I buy a boost or keep on grinding? Lately I have ended up buying the boost, mainly because I just do not like any of the Cata zone leveling, except for Uldum. I like the Mists leveling, but getting to that point is just very painful in my view. Still, I am conflicted, because I feel like boosting cheats you out of a big chunk of learning your spec. If it is a spec you have played a lot, well no big deal, but if it is a new spec I think it has a slight detrimental effect on your proficiency.

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I will keep my Pally. Usually for me the decision point comes somewhere around level 40. By then I have run a few dungeons, have played with all the specs, and have had a chance to get a basic feel for the play style. So we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I am (mostly) having fun with the leveling process. And getting a good idea of what it consists of these days and how it has changed over the last couple of expansions.