Grinding is bad, reaching goals is not

For the past couple of weeks, ever since I hit Concordance on my main hunter’s artifact and hit level 40 on my Artifact Research, I have taken a vacation from BS and World Quests. Just haven’t done them. Grinding out hundreds of millions of AP for a marginal increase in power simply is not worth the effort, in my opinion. I am close to the one billion mark for getting the next level, and that number just makes my head explode. I took the AP bar off my UI because I can’t stand to see myself getting, say, 9 million AP and having the bar progress less than the width of a human hair. It’s too demoralizing.

This effect, of course, is more or less what Blizz said their goal was. They actually want us to think it is not worth the effort. In fact, they have jiggered the AP accumulation rate and Concordance costs so that it is not just difficult but impossible to max out one’s artifact traits.

Think about that for a minute, and you will see what a remarkable move this is. For almost the entire history of this game, character progression has been primarily based on two mechanics: racking up achievements and getting gear. Sometimes the two are even combined — remember that sense of satisfaction each expansion when you get the achievement for all blue gear or all purple gear?

Getting “that” weapon used to be one of the highlights of an expansion. Remember when you got that cool heirloom weapon after downing Garrosh in Siege of Orgrimmar? Hunters, remember when you finally got that awesome bow from Deathwing? (I loved that bow, still use it a lot for transmog.)

The esteemed Game Director, Ion Hazzikostas, has lectured us many times on the evils of “grinding” — it is no fun™, he has said repeatedly, to “grind” for gear, to build up tokens if you know within a certain amount of time you will be able to get the gear you desire. No, people! That is not fun™ at all, it is much more fun™ to be surprised when you win the gear lottery, or even better to be unlucky enough to never win it at all! Whee!

And yet, Legion’s artifact weapons are the antithesis of even this supposedly baseline design philosophy. You are given them via a small quest line when you reach level 100 (removing at least one piece of gear from the normal “getting gear” game pillar), and then you spend the rest of the expansion upgrading them, by grinding for AP (violating the “grinding is evil” pillar). Mind, you are not grinding for cool new weapons, no indeed, you are grinding knowing you will never get another weapon in Legion, all you can do is get some incremental increases in the one you have. Furthermore, after a certain point, it is mathematically impossible to grind enough AP to get even a small upgrade. So what the “grinding is evil” group at Blizz has done is implement a mechanic that is not only a pure expansion-long grind, but one with no end goal.

The mind boggles.

Which brings up the question: what exactly constitutes a “grind” in the game? It’s a term each of us understands perfectly, yet which I suspect few of us would agree on. (It’s like “content” that way.)

To me, a grind is a process in which I spend a period of time doing certain activities not for their own enjoyment, but for the purpose of achieveing some other desired end. The activities themselves are usually boring and tedious, but they are worth it to me because the goal is something I really want. The grind is made tolerable by the fact that the goal is great, and by the knowledge that each time I crank out a few more of the boring activities I am closer to my desired goal. So, for example, I did the endless dailies in Mists because I wanted the rep that would give me the profession recipes and gear I wanted. I did those uninspired weeklies in BS because I wanted to open up the hunter mount quest line.

So the grind itself is almost always not fun, but reaching your goal is fun. This is a basic truth that is apparently beyond the grasp of Ion Hazzikostas. Yes, nearly everyone hates grinding, but nearly everyone likes knowing that if they just stick with it, they will get what they have set out to get. The root of much of the dissatisfaction with Legion’s eternal AP grind is pretty much that it is the grind without the reward. Yeah, I know, you get some small increases in your weapon power, but realistically the rewards are not enough to justify the grind in many people’s minds. We are all Sisyphus, doomed to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, knowing we will never be allowed to reach the top with it.

WoW has conditioned us to chase achievements and gear/mounts/pets/whatever. It is true that we play the game in the big picture for relaxation and fun, but in the micro picture once we are playing we keep doing so for the tangible rewards. Very few people would keep playing the game if all it consisted of was a series of quests that gave no “things” as rewards. We all yammer on about the fun of raiding, for example, because of the satisfaction we get from a team effort, but would any of us keep doing it if there were no gear or achievement rewards also? Seems doubtful.

So for Blizz to introduce a mechanic like the artifact weapon and all its peripheral mechanics just flies in the face of everything they have established as game motivation since the beginning, and it seems to violate the very philosophies they espouse as fundamental to their game design.

Time for another weekend.

Let’s talk AP

I don’t normally post on Tuesdays or Thursdays, but today I felt the need to comment. With the reset,  Blizz announced in the latest hotfixes that the cap on artifact knowledge (AK) will now be 40 instead of 50, the level it was set to at the beginning of 7.2. Their reasoning is worth quoting (emphasis mine):

Developers’ Notes: We raised the Knowledge cap from 40 to 50 very late in the 7.2 PTR cycle, out of an abundance of caution: We wanted to ensure that players of all playstyles, as well as alt characters, would view the Concordance trait as accessible. However, between the additional Artifact Power gains added in 7.2 and others that were hotfixed in after the patch released, we’re now well ahead of that mark. Knowledge 40 now seems more than sufficient for players to reach Concordance, and the prospect of months’ worth of additional Knowledge still left to research makes some players feel like their efforts in the interim aren’t meaningful. Therefore, we’re rolling the cap back to 40.

Just so we’re clear — Blizz claims they rolled back the cap out of concern that we would feel like we were doing an endless grind for something we might never attain.

Yes, they actually wrote that. With no apparent sense of irony, much less shame.

First, let’s translate their concern into what I suspect is really going on: Blizz has noticed a decline in the number of players chasing artifact power through world quests and mythic instances. They theorized, possibly correctly, that these players were instead stacking AK so that when they did start chasing AP again they could accumulate it faster. That is, if now it takes you a week of world quests and the odd instance or raid to get that next trait that costs 300 million or 600 million AP, or whatever level you are at, why not instead just keep working on AK and get to the point where you can get that next trait doing just one or two WQs?

If you are reaching your saturation point with Legion anyway and would just as soon spend less time playing, this strategy seems like one way to make that happen. All you have to do is use your mobile app to keep hitting your AK research button on time, take a break from WoW, and when you come back you can easily catch up on your AP and artifact traits with just a few world quests.

This, of course, hits Blizz where it hurts: the Monthly Active User metric. Clearly, they had to do something about this threat to their bottom line. And the solution is to cap AK so that players cannot stay away for very long and still be able to catch up.

See, in my fantasy world, Blizz would admit this and we would move on. Instead, they tell us how concerned they are about us having to grind endlessly for something we might perceive as unattainable. When in fact what they are concerned about is that some players might actually have found a way to ease the endless grind for artifact power and traits. That grind, of course, is not only good according to Blizz, but is one of the finest features of Legion.

Puh-leeze. Once again, Blizz has demonstrated, with this specious explanation, their total contempt for their player base, their corporate opinion that we are all a bunch of idiots who will believe anything they say.

For the record, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about the rate at which I accumulate AP once I get my Concordance trait, because I don’t care if I get another tiny increase in artifact power or not. Ever. The implementation of endless artifact traits and endless AP to attain them is hands down the worst part of Legion, and for Blizz to claim that clicking a button to increase the rate at which we accumulate AP is a horrible grind they must save us from would be laughable if it were not so vastly hypocritical. I am insulted not by Blizz’s action but rather by their ridiculous lie about why they are doing it.

 

Legendaries — first aid for class balance?

Admin note: This post contains quite a few references to specific Beastmastery hunter talents. I have thrown in some Wowhead links, but if you want a more comprehensive picture of the talent table, check out the Icy Veins one here.

The latest development in Legion legendaries, reported by MMO-C as part of the most recent PTR build, is that now some of them will actually grant the wearer a talent from their spec’s talent table. For example, the new hunter legendary will grant Beastmasters the Dire Stable talent, a level 15 talent that increases focus generation while you have a Dire Beast active.

Well. Where to start?

I am not a theory crafter, so my take on this goes more to fundamentals than it does to actual numbers. But the first thing that occurs to me is this particular talent level has ever only had two choices for BM hunters — Way of the Cobra for single target fights and Dire Stable for multitarget fights. No one I know has ever selected the third talent in that row, Big Game Hunter, because it stinks and has stunk since it was introduced. It is a non-choice. So the new legendary effectively means BM hunters can have their cake and eat it too in this talent tier. It also means if you have the new legendary you have no other choices in this talent row, you will take Way of the Cobra. I am not saying this is a bad thing, just pointing out how it will play out.

The second effect this will have is to buff BM damage somewhat, at least for single target fights, because we will be generating extra focus. The effect on multitarget fights is less clear, I think, because Cobra Shot is not often used on those, so the extra damage may be moot. Number crunchers will undoubtedly play with various combos, including the desirability of using multiple Cobra Shots over Multishot for medium-size groups of targets.

Additionally, one of the basic complaints about BM hunter mechanics is that the player has zero control over focus generation — is completely dependent on auto-generation of this resource. With the exception of the really terrible talent Chimaera Shot, we have no power-generating shots, we are completely at the mercy of Blizz’s idea of how fast that critical factor should generate. One result of this early on was the clunky, start-and-stop nature of the rotation. It is still a problem, though most of us still playing the spec just grimly accept it after months of enduring it.

Dire Stable, while still not allowing control over focus generation, does increase the rate noticeably. So the fact that lucky winners of the new legendary will not have to choose between increased focus and increased single target damage will be nice, I suppose. I doubt if it will be a game changer, but it will be helpful.

But here’s the thing: Blizz is using legendaries to fix glaring problems with spec mechanics, problems that players identified months ago during alpha testing and have continued to point out ever since Legion went live. 

The most obvious and egregious flaw in this plan is — well, I hesitate to point out the obvious but here goes:

ONLY LUCKY PEOPLE GET TO HAVE THE FLAW FIXED.

What the hell, Blizz? If there is a mechanics problem with a spec glaring enough for even the most clueless dev to notice, shouldn’t the fix be available to all players? Why do you insist on making a lottery of everything? What is wrong in your brains? For the umpteenth time, Mr. Game Director Ion “I Am The Sole Arbiter of Fun” Hazzikostas, RNG is not fun except for the uber-lucky early winners. For all the rest of us who spend hours and days and months rolling the dice for that one piece of playstyle-changing gear, it is the furthest thing in the game from fun. Even when we finally get it — if we ever do — it is not a woohoo moment but rather a “oh thank god that is over” one.

Beyond the lunacy of basing spec mechanics fixes on pure luck, there is another aspect to this. It seems evident from WoD and Legion that Blizz is unable to adequately balance individual spec mechanics and numbers without ending up with obvious winners and losers — specs that are either overpowered or dismally puny performers. And when they have tried to fix glaring inequities the changes have frequently lurched from one extreme to the other. Everyone understands the class/spec balance and playstyle issues are complex. So why make them even more so by introducing additional factors?

Introducing a complicated artifact trait table made balancing specs more difficult by an order of magnitude. Introducing other gear — tier and legendaries — with significant spec-enhancing bonuses made it even more so.

If you are someone who is challenged when you are asked to bring microwave green beans to Thanksgiving dinner, it is almost certainly not a good idea to also volunteer to bring the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Even though you hope it will help fix your green bean inadequacies, you are just setting yourself up for failure.

So, although I think the new legendary talents may help some specs in the near term,  using RNG gear to address known problems is a terrible way to do it. Not only is it a lazy approach, but in the long run it only serves to make the entire class/spec system more complex, more fragile, and consequently more prone to imbalance as a result of even tiny changes that can reverberate through the system in unexpected ways. Blizz should just stick to perfecting their green beans.

With that, I am out for the weekend.