Breaking news: Cobra Shot to wiggle more

It’s no secret that I am beyond disgusted with the way Blizz has treated hunters ever since they trashed and then abandoned SV hunters in WoD. After promising to make SV better in “the next expansion”, they proceeded to complete their destruction of it by making it a melee spec in Legion, and a pretty puny one at that. Then they moved on to MM, basically turning it into a turret style damage dealer, removing two of the signature features of hunters — mobility and pets — in one fell swoop. Last, after Ion Hazzikostas told us how BM hunters were “in a pretty good place” just prior to Legion, Blizz went on to ransack that spec, too, removing nearly all possibility of skill play in favor of a couple of cooldowns the player had almost zero control over except to mash the button as soon as they were up.

When the Legion Alpha test went live, skilled and well-respected hunters diligently measured, analyzed, and described to Blizz the many ways the hunter class came up short. Their focus was on play style, not on numbers, and they tried every way possible to make Blizz understand that the very soul of hunters had been ripped away.

Blizz ignored them.

Then when the beta test finally went live, a lot more hunters voiced their anguish to Blizz, again not so much about numbers, but about the fact that the class they had played and loved for years had been stripped of every trace of what made the class unique. Again, these players wrote thousands of pages of feedback in the approved forums, detailing all the factors that contributed to what they perceived was the death of the class.

Blizz ignored them.

By this point, sadly, the leading community hunters had pretty much given up, bruised and battered after months of talking to a brick wall. But then the PTR went live, and hunters who had not previously tried the Legion hunter class expressed their keen sense of loss and anger, again writing reams of comments about the mechanics that made them feel they were no longer true hunters.

Blizz ignored them.

And when I say “Blizz ignored them”, I mean not just that no changes were made or design explanations given, but that Blizz met the entire hunter outcry with a steadfast, impenetrable wall of silence. There were no blue posts that even deigned to acknowledge there might be some problems with the Legion hunter class implementation, no hunter class adjustments as builds were put out (even though there were tons for other classes), no dev mention of the problem, no recognition whatsoever of the near-universal condemnation of the changes they had made to the hunter class. Not even so such as a “F**k you, hunters, we like things the way they are.”

Then, one week before Legion went live, a CM had the chutzpah to make a blue post asking for hunter input on Legion problems. As if the thousands upon thousands of previous posts did not even exist. As if, one week before launch, it would make a difference. He even called the thread “Let’s Talk”, implying that at long last, this late in the cycle, Blizz’s wall of silence would finally be broken. Like Charlie Brown rushing to kick that football he just knew Lucy would hold still for him this time, hunters once again posted thousands of thoughtful, detailed, specific comments about every aspect of the class they felt had been ripped from them.

Blizz ignored them.

In the first Q&A after Legion launch, a few warlock trolls and scumbags bullied their way into it, spamming the pre-event thread and using flame and shame tactics to downvote every question not submitted by a warlock, and then further spamming the live event feed with spittle-flecked tantrums. After very slightly scolding them for their tactics and telling them such actions would not be successful, Ion Hazzikostas proceeded to explain how Blizz was going to fix perceived warlock class problems. Long blue posts were written on the subject, and immediate changes were made in hotfixes, along with a detailed plan for long term fixes.

Meanwhile, hunters, who had played by Blizz’s rules for feedback, who had not thrown public tantrums, continued to be ignored. Then, finally, months after the “Let’s Talk” thread appeared, weeks after the warlock meltdown, there was one relatively short blue post in the hunter forum promising significant changes to the hunter class, but hunters had to be patient, wait for 7.1 and 7.2 because of course these things take time.

Hunters waited. In 7.1, a few paltry changes appeared, nothing of course for BM, but a nerf for MM (as if that were all that was wrong with MM mechanics!), and some stiff for SV presumably to try make it at least semi-viable as a spec.

Hunters continued to wait. In 7.1.5, all hunters had traps restored, and a very slight adjustment was made to correct the awful Aspect of the Cheetah, but it cost a talent to do so. There were multiple other changes, but of note every change to BM dealt with numbers designed to buff the spec’s damage. Nothing Blizz did even began to address the fundamental problems with the spec. Pet pathing — other than slightly speeding up Hati’s slow amble to a target — remained horrible. BM hunters still had no surge ability beyond the worthless Stampede talent. Pet control remained problematic, hit-and-miss in terms of setting your pet on passive for example and having confidence it would remain so. BM hunters themselves had almost zero damage ability without a pet, effectively making them a melee damage dealer who operated out of melee range. The play style — unless you had “the” appropriate legendaries and a 4-pic tier set — remained clunky and slow, with no player control over focus generation, no skill abilities beyond mashing a cooldown button or key as soon as it became available.

Similarly, most of MM changes were to adjust numbers, little was done to address the turret play style, and nothing was done to address the underlying fact that all MM damage was RNG-dependent at its origin.

In short, in spite of months of hunter comments that the class problems were about play style, not about numbers, most of Blizz’s fixes have been to tweak numbers.

Now we are into the 7.2 PTR, and there seems to be no plan to make any further changes to hunters. Except one — shown here.

Yes, at long last, hallelujah! Hunters are finally getting the spell animation changes NO ONE has asked for! And what changes they are! Brace yourself now — Arcane Shot  will soon cause much bigger weapon kick and be more purple! Barrage will have more muzzle flash! Bestial Wrath will cause that symbol to only appear over the hunter’s head, no longer the pet’s!! (Of course, there is no change to that pleasant “I am having a really hard poop” sound that accompanies it…)  A few other similarly HUGE and MOMENTOUS changes, such as Black Arrow will have a bigger bullet!!  (I guess it is a bullet, the demo showed a hunter with a gun…) But the big one, and the one I know all BM hunters have been waiting for: Cobra Shot will wiggle more!!! OMG, I have to sit down, this is too much.

Really, Blizz? Really? Everything that is wrong with hunters, and this is what you decide has priority?

Words fail me at this point.

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.

Unofficial and pertinent views

Admin note: We are having a terrific 2-day windstorm in my neck of the woods, and our power keeps going out, so today’s post may end up being a bit choppy.

Ghostcrawler has a piece on his Tumblr page that really caught my eye. If you have a couple of minutes, I encourage you to read it.

I was never a particular GC fan when he was with Blizzard and was the most visible dev interfacing with players, but in retrospect I wish we had someone doing that thorough a job now. Yes, he was often reviled — he took an incredible amount of player abuse — but say what you will, he was always out there explaining and debating design issues. Even when I disagreed with the path of the game, I always felt like GC was being honest — sometimes brutally so — with us, and more importantly that he respected the player base. Those feelings evaporated as soon as Ion Hazzikostas took GC’s job and began to put out piles of snarky, disingenuous doublespeak to a player base he seemed to disdain. That he has backed off this approach over the last year or two does not erase that first awful impression. Since Hazzikostas has gotten away from everything other than canned Q&A sessions, there is no one who has been able to fill the void and create a regular, trusted, respectful — if often contentious — dialogue with players.

All this is by way of saying that I think GC still has insightful things to say about WoW, even though he is no longer with Blizz. I like the fact that he still responds to questions about the game, and I take his comments for what they are — general views of how things developed years ago in WoW, and insights into much of the messy process of designing and maintaining the complex enterprise that is an MMO. Does he know anything about current Blizz design problems and plans? No, but he is still the only one out there willing to address valid player concerns in any meaningful way. He fills a void, even if imperfectly and unofficially, in Blizz’s customer interaction.

So the cited piece on Tumblr caught my eye. There are actually two discussions there, the main one answering a question about why players unsub, and a second one below that about why WoW players keep playing.

One part that got my attention in the unsub piece was that in the big picture, when you have millions of players, the vast majority who unsub do it for personal reasons of not having enough time, or their friends stopped playing or the like. It is rare indeed when there are significant numbers of people who quit out of protest for a certain game design or trend, and even then generally that group still ranks below, in terms of numbers, those quitting for personal reasons. (Translation: rage quitting WoW likely gets zero attention from any part of the dev team…)

Another interesting observation, I thought, was that games — like nearly every human enterprise — have life spans with long-term ups and downs in numbers of players. Unstated, but what I presume, is that sometimes there are identifiable causes for these fluctuations, and sometimes probably not. GC says there is usually a predictable dev set of responses to this:

When you see a lot of players leave over the course of say half a year, it usually spurs two diametrically opposed views on the development team. You will get one faction of “Players are getting bored – we must be bold and innovate!” You get another faction of “We are changing the game so much that we’re losing our soul! We need to get back to basics!”

I think we have really seen this scenario play out in Legion. A lot of players did in fact unsub in WoD — recall the famous 3-million player loss in the first quarter of 2015 — and there was much criticism of the expansion throughout its existence, most of which centered on some version of “There’s nothing to do” with sprinklings of “It doesn’t fit with the lore, this whole time machine idea stinks”.

So what did we get in Legion? I think we saw the “bold and innovative” group dominate, but there was a nod to the “back to basics” group in terms of the main story and lore. The dominant group led to many of the mechanics in Legion — complete class rewrites, the idea that specs become what amounts to their own class, artifact weapons and the eternal AP chase, the complete repudiation of the WoD profession model, severe curtailment of alt play, Mythic+ dungeons, world quests, zone scaling, etc.

But the kicker point made by GC is this:

My perception has been that the players and developers in the “We’ve changed too much!” camp tend to be those who are less engaged with the game than they once were. Losing track of change usually happens to players who once played every day and are now playing once a week or once a month. They remember being super engaged with the game and knowing everything that was going on, and so the dissonance of that no longer being the case for them is really striking, perhaps even alienating. On the other hand, players who are still really engaged are the ones most likely to need something fresh and new so that they don’t run out of stuff to do.

What this comes down to is a game company knowing who its intended audience is, understanding what kind of a player base they are courting. Do they want lots of new players, or are they content to design for what will almost certainly be a gradually-dwindling group of dedicated players? I think Blizz has still not figured out the answer to this.

Legion seems to be favoring the latter group, the dedicated player base. As I count myself in this group, I am not totally unhappy with that trend. But I can’t help but wonder if it is ultimately a strategy designed to gradually — and hopefully gracefully — ease the game’s final demise. I had hoped that Legion, maybe in conjunction with the Warcraft movie, would bring in a rush of new players who would soon love the game as much as I do. Sadly, that turned out to not be the case. The movie, let’s be honest, was a stinker for anyone not already involved in the game (and even for some of us predisposed to liking it, it bombed), and Legion added an incredible leap in complexity for what was already a complex game. The buy-in for new or even returning players, especially if they do not have someone to help them along, seems almost insurmountable.

We will see what happens in the next expansion, but it is looking to me like WoW is moving towards catering to a small group of dedicated players, and Blizz is not especially interested in significantly increasing its player base. Whether that vector is ultimately beneficial or destructive remains to be seen.

What’s next?

It’s way too soon to start speculating about the next WoW expansion (NWE), so let me speculate about it. There is not much else to write about these days anyway, and it has been a while since I have put forth any crackpot ideas, so what the hell.

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is the product of my warped but robust imagination, I have absolutely no insight into any current or future Blizzard development plans.

In considering what we might see in the next WoW expansion, the process I used was to look at past trends and add in recent game features. I am not a lore buff, so I am not going to address much at all about the background story line — plus, honestly, WoW lore/history seems really only to exist in order to explain game design not the other way around, so I have never been able to get too excited about it. (I know some of you really love it, not disparaging you for this at all, just it is not my cup of tea.)

Location and scaling. There will be new zones. Whether they will be somewhere on Azeroth or — as has been coyly hinted — on another planet is, in my opinion, not important. On the other hand, zone scaling, a huge hit in Legion, will continue in NWE, and I look for it to be expanded in some way. Not sure exactly how, but one idea might be that some legacy zones become scaled, permitting leveled players to revisit and explore them in a somewhat challenging way, making it more fun to go back and finish unfinished or even new quest lines in those areas.

Content. Blizz believes they have finally hit on a winning plan to keep content flowing in Legion — whether this is true or not is a subject for a whole different post — and so NWE will see the same content paradigm. To wit:

  • World quests.
  • Mini-events/holidays.
  • Rapid patches and semi-patches.
  • Continued use — and likely expansion — of RNG as both the carrot and the stick to force more play hours for every facet of the game, from gear to professions.
  • Mythic+ dungeons, expanded in some way. For example, there might be some sort of “plus” mechanism for non-current raids, or add the “plus” concept into weekly timewalker bonus events.

Classes. I do not expect to se any new classes introduced in NWE, but I think we may see some or all race restrictions lifted for class selection. I also think we may see some further spec role changes (not mages, of course, don’t be ridiculous). For example, we might see another spec added to Demon Hunters to give them three. I would not expect it to be a healing spec, more likely would be a ranged spec, possibly using a combination of magic and thrown weapons. In the wishful thinking department, I would like to see SV hunters become a tanking spec, using pets in creative ways to really open up possibilities for some exciting tanking innovations.

I expect to see yet another huge rewrite of nearly every class, because Blizz has demonstrated that they simply cannot refrain from doing this every expansion, even when they are able to achieve a semblance of balance by the end of one. The rewrite will continue the recent trend of making some classes more or less indispensable to certain raid fights, finally driving a stake into the now disfavored notion of bringing the player not the class.

I think Blizz will also place more back-door restrictions on spec flexibility. They will continue to tout how a player can freely switch among all their specs, but they will increase the penalties for doing so, whether by charging gold or by creating restrictive gear or by limiting the times/places it can be done.

I also think we will see a continuation of the trend of “mini specs”. In Legion, we saw the notion of class begin to take a back seat to the notion of spec, as demonstrated most obviously with artifact weapons. In addition, we saw a very distinct differentiation in spec “specialization” emerge based on talent selection, and we saw a very slight but nevertheless active attempt to put some controls on changing that specialization. In effect, I think we saw the emergence of specs as the new class, the concept of class becoming more one of general category, and a growing importance placed on specialty builds for each spec. This trend will continue in NWE, and it will become more pronounced, to the point of identifying players by class, spec, and build specialty — “Single-target destro warlock”, “Bursty MM hunter”, etc.

Gear. First of all — RNG, RNG, and more RNG. Also, the secondary stat mess will continue and possibly get worse, compounded by the inevitable total rewrite of most classes and consequent unforeseen results of overpowered or underpowered secondary stat interactions.

As I alluded to in a reply to a reader comment a couple of days ago, I expect to see some continuation of the artifact weapon mechanism in NWE. Yes, I know Blizz has told us that artifact weapons are a one-expansion thing, but remember they also told us that same thing about garrisons, then gave us mini-garrisons in the form of class halls. We will have some piece of gear in NWE that will require upkeep mechanisms eerily similar to AP and relics and such, because:

  • Too many dev resources have gone into artifact weapons to trash the idea completely.
  • Spec abilities are rather intimately tied to weapon abilities now, and Blizz seems to like the possibility of tweaking abilities by tweaking gear traits.
  • The artifact weapon — or follow-on — plays a rather large role in encouraging players to spend more time in the game chasing infinite upgrades.

As to the whole Legion legendary debacle, who knows? I think Blizz is embarrassed enough by it that we may see legendaries as lottery winnings disappear in NWE, but we may see some return to quest lines for them. I would expect these to be less involved and time-consuming than the ones in Mists and WoD, but still requiring weeks to complete. Moreover, I think we may see options for obtaining more than one legendary per character, once again with the Blizz benefit of extending game play time.

Crafted gear? No clue. Wishful thinking is that it would become relevant again, for all professions, but I don’t know. My suspicion is that it will fall prey to the drive to devalue professions in general. Which leads me to —

Professions. I am not hopeful about this area. I think NWE will give us even more hurdles to professions, and I think Blizz’s inability to see the large picture will once again give us clear winners in losers in the profession lottery, as we saw with for example winner alchemists and loser skinners in Legion. The problem I see with professions is that they are totally tied, in Blizz’s collective mind, to the use of alts. To allow profession leveling and item production for characters not played the same number of hours as mains is to condone the evil practice of having alts support a main. Why this is bad is still a mystery to me, but we have heard that oracle of acceptable game play and approved fun, Ion Hazzikostas, lecture us many times on the fact that, take his word for it, it is evil evil evil. So it must be. So professions will continue to become more and more elusive for characters that do not spend main-level time in game.

Alts. They will continue to be forced into an “other mains” play style temulate. See above, end of discussion.

In short, I expect the next expansion will be a veritable clone of Legion, just different locations and a few changes either for cause or merely for the sake of change. I am not saying if this is good or bad, I am just saying that Blizz considers Legion to have been an unqualified success, they think they have found a winning formula after the failure of WoD, and they are going to stick to it. They certainly have cause for considering Legion to be successful — I agree with them for the most part — but I suspect the formula will wear a bit thin if it is repeated. Furthermore, the tendency for self-congratulations on the success of Legion means it is unlikely Blizz will take seriously some of the major flaws and missteps they committed. They may have gotten the message on legendary gear, but thus far it still seems like they are oblivious to the pain and chaos they caused by their horrible changes to many classes and specs, and I honestly expect them to repeat the same mistake in the next expansion.

What about you? Any predictions for the next expansion? (Tinfoil hat theories also accepted.)

Class halls – why?

Stopping in to my class hall on my main over the weekend, I realized that I rarely send followers on missions any more. Why? Mainly because the majority of rewards seem worthless to me. Just not worth the effort or the class hall resources — even though I am approaching 50k of those.

I still usually do the AP missions, but only if I can configure a team that will net me at least 75% bonus chance, because the bonus token is the one I want, not the paltry 30-40k main reward. Approaching 3 million AP cost per trait increase, it just doesn’t seem cost effective to take hours or days to gather 30,000 AP.

Once in a while, out of boredom, I will do the gold reward missions, but again only if I can get a very high percentage bonus chance, because although the 1500 gold bonus is decent, the baseline 400-700 gold is frankly not worth the effort these days. Too many other ways to earn gold in a lot less time. Heck, I can earn close to 400 gold just vendoring gray items and green gear from a bunch of daily world quests.

Dungeon and raid “special” missions? I have never gotten anything worth while from the chests awarded for completion. All these missions do, at least in my opinion, is clutter up my quest log. (And as a side note, Blizz, when are we going to get a larger quest log?)

Follower gear and tokens? Please. Some of them are of value early in the follower process, I grant you, but they are merely vendor trash once you have leveled your followers. I keep a few items in my bank just to outfit a team now and then for AP bonus missions, but otherwise — pfffft.

As a consequence of crappy rewards, my followers tend to sit around a lot. Except for Addie Fizzlebog. We go everywhere together, and though my hunter does not really need a bodyguard, I have managed to equip her with gear that nets me 150 garrison resources every time I complete a world quest. (In theory I should be able to get 200, but that other 100-resource token has been elusive for me.) 150 does not sound like a lot, but it seems to really add up — remember I am close to 50k resources and I do not usually do a ton of WQs every day. I should have enough to easily do the two new class hall improvement stages in 7.2. (Though why I want to do them may be another question, see below.)

(I will admit, though, sometimes I feel like smacking her if I have to hear her squeak one more time “I’m a real hunter now!”)

The fact that follower missions rapidly become fairly useless is to me emblematic of the whole concept of class/order halls in Legion. I just don’t see the point. Blizz seems to have gone out of their way to make sure we don’t spend a lot of time in them — no mailboxes, nothing that makes them places you want to hang out in, not even any particularly useful gear.

Recently there has been a spate of blue posts defending the class hall gear you can buy, but I think I have to side with the player complaints on this. It is true, I think, for most players, that by the time they have the level and rep and achievements necessary to buy a particular piece of gear, chances are excellent that they do not need it except possibly for transmog. I think the first piece I could buy on my hunter was useful, but after that not so much.

Arguably, some classes spend more time just getting to their class hall than they do actually transacting business there. Which brings up another point — what was cute and intriguing in terms of getting to a particular class hall in the beginning becomes tedious and annoying very quickly. This was brought home to me over the weekend when I spent some time leveling my rogue. I don’t really care that the rogue class hall is in the Dal sewers, but the whole requirement to run through Dal, into the shop, lay down your coin, have the secret door open, run down stairs and take a left, run down more stairs and take another left, then run through the sewer and across the bridge, then open another secret door — all just to get to your class hall — is, to put it mildly, FREAKING STUPID AND ANNOYING. I know some devs at Blizz think it is clever and fun, but honestly they must never have done it more than once or twice, because — no, just no.

Hey Blizz, how about doing something really nice for quality of life in Patch 7.2, and give everyone a class hall hearth like we had for garrisons, or if you don’t want to call it a hearth, call it an “instant portal” like a couple of classes have?

Class halls do have target dummies, but that brings up another ridiculous head-scratcher — why are there none in Dal? We are told the city is in hiding from the Legion, it will serve as the launch pad for the final assault, and it must be defended at all costs, yet there is no way for its defenders to train?  Honestly, between this and the ridiculous engineer-only auction house, Dal pretty much stinks as a hub city. I say let the Legion have it.

I am sticking by my theory that the only reason we have class halls in Legion is that Blizz originally planned to keep the WoD garrison idea for at least one more expansion, and it was too late to undo that plan by the time they figured out garrisons had a lot of unintended — and bad — consequences for game play, not to mention a lot of players voiced loud complaints over the whole idea. By the time it was clear that WoD’s garrisons had flopped,  Legion was already sketched out in some detail, and there was no good way to remove them with out trashing much of the rest of Legion’s design. So Blizz made a few passes at removing some of the things they perceived to be problems with them, and thus we got these relatively worthless class halls.

Blizz, for the love of all you hold holy, unless you intend to give us guild halls or player housing, please ditch the whole idea of garrisons or anything remotely similar in the next expansion. Though it might have looked good on paper, it turned out badly — cut your losses and move on. It is a complication that adds nothing to the game. And who knows, without it we might get another raid tier! 😉

Still alive

I am still alive and playing WoW. Watch this space, I plan to be back writing on January 2. Meanwhile, many thanks to all the faithful still checking this site.

img_0176

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.