Class chaos

In my last post, I mentioned my view that one of the major flaws with Legion is something I call “class chaos”. Today I want to discuss that some more.

“Class chaos” as a term suggests to me that there is no true unifying control within the class development hierarchy. That is, there is no obvious indication that class design in Legion adheres to any identifiable project structure. Now, maybe there is such a structure, but it is so vastly complex that it is impossible to manage. Still, the result is the same.

Let’s take the idea of class fantasy as an example. When Legion was officially announced a couple of years ago, Blizz made a pretty big deal about how important class fantasy was going to be to the radically-redesigned classes. They even wrote and posted new class fantasies for each class.

Although it seems Blizz understood the idea that class fantasy is central to characters in the game, their actions indicated they only understood this centrality in terms of combat mechanics. The reworking of the most radically redesigned classes showed they had zero understanding of the emotional attachment players had to individual ideas of class fantasy. It would not have been difficult to get some idea of this, no expensive player polls or research required, in my opinion. They could have just sat down with some of the prominent players for each class and talked about why these players loved their class. Would this have been a perfect picture? Of course not, but at least it would have yielded some sort of emotional baseline that could have been used as a series of “red lines” not to be crossed during mechanical development. We know from a smattering of blue posts that the class devs may not even play the class they work on for development — they may understand certain mechanics, but without playing it and loving it there is no way they can know the “soul” of the class. Okay, fine, but they could at least consult with some people who do.

Moving on to more general class development, was there any attempt to define a meta-structure of class roles in Legion? How many tank specs should the game have, and what features should they have in common and what features should differentiate them? Same for healers and damage dealers. How many physical damage dealer specs should there be, how many should deal only in magic or nature damage? How does this defined class structure affect dungeon and raid design, PvP areas? There may be such a meta-design diagram somewhere on a dev wall at Blizz, but there is no indication it had any effect on Legion development — I offer as Exhibit A the fact that Legion introduced two new melee classes into an already-crowded melee space. Exhibit B is the effective removal of all utility functions from what had arguably been the prime utility class in the game — hunters.

Was there any realistic assessment of the increased workload necessary to deal with the complications inherent in rebuilding most classes and specs from the ground up while at the same time introducing the complex interactions of artifact traits? It’s pretty clear to me, from the horrible state some classes went live in, that the answer is  no. Blizz underestimated the complexity of this undertaking and, given what seemed to be a sped-up and arbitrary expansion deadline, simply got so overwhelmed that they gave up on some classes, hoping they could fix them later.

What they may only now be realizing is that some of the class/spec problems are so fundamental that patch tweaks cannot come close to fixing them. And that any mechanic changes must be weighed in consideration of player investment in spec artifacts. At least I hope they are realizing that, and that they will fix the fundamentals in the next expansion if they cannot do it in this one. But then, we are told that artifact weapons will not be a feature of the next expansion, and since these weapons are currently integral to the mechanics of each spec, I can only surmise that means yet another ground-up redesign of classes. *sigh*

Returning to the idea of class fantasy, I just want to mention one of my pet peeves, not for the purpose of ranting (although I never pass up an opportunity to rant), but rather to illustrate a last point about class chaos.

Blizz went to the trouble of rewriting class and spec fantasies for Legion. I may not agree with what they came up with for some specs, but the fact remains that they put them out there. To me, this means the implementation of spec mechanics should reflect the published fantasy. I only really know about hunter specs, but I can tell you nothing could be further from reality.

  • We have a “marksman” spec that uses a bow instead of something like a sniper rifle, and whose signature shots are anything but precise in their targeting. In fact MM shots closely resemble the effects of buckshot from my grandfather’s old 12-gauge. Worse, the baseline reliance on RNG means that this “marksman” relies not on skill for targeting, but on blind luck.
  • We have a “master of beasts” who in reality has almost zero control over them, even if the horrible pathing issues were solved, which they are decidedly not. One of these “highly controlled” beasts, Hati, tends to amble slowly to a target, taking his own sweet time, seemingly oblivious to any urgency from his master. Most pets have lost their special attributes, rendering moot any hunter expertise in pet selection based on animal or family traits. The calling of many pets all at once, in the form of the Stampede talent, is a joke because all the hunter can do is unleash them to run in a single direction, not sic them onto a directed target. Target moves, pets are ineffective. Technical glitches abound, such that in some raids and instances (Helya comes to mind), pets just stop attacking or disappear into some invisible path with no warning. Placing a pet on “Assist” may or may not have the intended effect, as sometimes they slip into passive anyway.

At any rate, the point I am trying to illustrate here is that there appears to be no follow-through to implement the very class fantasies Blizz themselves have created. This to me indicates sloppy project management and poor attention to detail. This is disappointing, because in other development areas — zone design, quest lines, artwork, etc. — Blizz is all about attention to detail, all about creating a seamless environment.

Maybe Blizz needs to do to themselves what they have been doing to us now for several expansions and rebuild their class development management and staff structure from the ground up. Selection of class and spec is one of the most personal and far-reaching choices a player makes in this game, and I think we deserve better treatment from Blizz than they have been giving us lately.

Everyone have a good weekend.

Leftovers and ruminations

Today’s post is really just a few unconnected thoughts that have been dancing around in the back of my brain for a bit. Sorry, but every once in a while I have to run the mental Roomba just to tidy things up for later…

Q&A session. Today there will be another in the more-or-less regular series of “Dev Talks”, this one being Ion Hazzikostas answering player questions about Patch 7.1. I am not expecting much info, to be honest, more of an infomercial about Karazhan, so I doubt if I will take the time to watch it live. I’ll catch it later this evening when I don’t have much else to do.

I am still glad that Blizz is continuing these pseudo-Q&A sessions, even if they seem to have devolved into a series of softball questions hand-picked for their toadiness. Don’t get me wrong, I do not approve of in-your-face, impolite, selfish, whiny type questions, but there are some very valid and tough conversations to be had between players and devs, and these sessions scrupulously avoid them, it seems.

Two subjects we will not hear about in today’s session (and I will happily eat my words if I am wrong):

  • Timetable for flying in Legion. (I have long predicted it would not happen before the second major patch, and honestly I think now it might not happen until whatever is the last patch of the expansion.) If the subject is even mentioned, expect some kind of saccharine cutesy evasive answer from Hazzikostas.
  • Any mention of the hunter class other than maybe a passing reference as part of a 7.1 attempt to do “minor balancing” of classes as a whole. Blizz seems hung up on the numbers game and refuses to address the wholesale selling out of the entire hunter class play style, along with completely ignoring even their own “fantasy” descriptions.

Game management changes. Today it was announced that Tom Chilton will be moving on, and Ion Hazzikostas will be moving up to take Chilton’s position as Game Director. Chilton will remain with Blizzard but be working on “another project” — unspecified. Stay tuned.

I have no idea what if any effect this management change will have on the game. I am guessing — but it is only a guess — that we will see more and more “prescribed” and “approved” play styles. Hazzikostas, at least as gleaned from his public statements, is a big fan of dictating what is and is not fun in the game. He has said he does not believe that earning gear is fun for anyone, but rolling the dice for it is great entertainment. So I expect to see — if it is even possible — even greater reliance on RNG for more aspects of the game.

Hazzikostas has also told us repeatedly that there is a certain style of alt play that is approved — only for the purpose of emulating your main but with a different class —  and indeed we have seen Legion implement mechanics that actually preclude any but the approved alt play style.

Last, let us not forget that it was likely Hazzikostas who pushed through the disastrous no-fly policy in WoD, the one who stressed to us how “immersive” it was to be road-bound. Expect longer and longer times between flying capability in Legion and subsequent expansions, with, I think, the goal of eliminating the capability altogether. (But of course we will still be able to hand over cash to the Blizz store for cool flying mounts that can easily waddle along the roads!)

My one optimistic hope with this change in management is that Blizz finds someone to fill Hazzikostas’s position who is serious about communicating with the player base, someone unafraid of getting in there and having even the difficult conversations, someone who will institute a professional system of customer communication instead of the “read the forums if you have nothing better to do” approach they currently seem to have.

I finally hit 110 with my druid. Last night I finally dinged 110 with my balance druid, who is also an herbalist/alchemist. Obviously the reason I have been pushing to level this alt first is so as to eventually stop spending upwards of 20k gold a week just to buy flasks and pots for raiding. Of course, I am still not there, as there is a ridiculously long and complex route to even being able to make the flasks I need, much less get to a profession level where there is a chance of getting a few procs. I expect that by the end of next week I should be able to do at least the basic stuff.

I still think the Legion character leveling process is well designed. It moves along fairly quickly and you can vary the experience for each character by varying the zone rotation you choose. But I do find it onerous to be forced to go through the artifact and class hall quest lines just to be able to function in the expansion. Not to mention the requirement to chase artifact power. There really needs to be an alternative to using an artifact weapon for a character you have no intention of raiding with. Of course, this cannot happen, because Blizz now requires you to run instances up through Mythic on every character you wish to use for professions.

Sorry, but alt development and professions in my opinion are still a huge Legion failing.

Escape versus complexity. This is entirely personal, but I find myself in the position of disliking Legion’s political complexity with the whole Nightfallen thing. Alternative Chat has a piece today discussing how refreshing it is to explore these issues in Suramar, and I suppose it is fun for many to sift through these nuanced layers. I am much more simplistic in my game needs. I look to games as pure escapism, as a sort of bubble gum for the mind where things are clearly Good versus Evil and oh by the way Good always wins in the end.

So I hate Suramar, I do the World Quests and achievement quest lines there, but I am most decidedly not drawn to political complexity in a game. Unfortunately, I get far too much of that in real life these days, especially now that the USA is embarrassing itself on the international stage with its soap opera Presidential election. As I said, I like my games to provide escape, not a microcosm of real life. Maybe in a year Suramar will seem fun to me, but just not now.

I’m out for the weekend, and it is looking to be a glorious one in Virginia, with perfect fall weather. I think we can assume there will be grilling on the deck, some bike rides and leaf peeping, and drinking a couple beers in my future. You enjoy your weekend, too.

Legacy servers — maybe, but…

As promised after the much-publicized takedown of the Nostalrius “Vanilla WoW” servers in April, decision makers from Blizz and Nostalrius sat down together last Friday, in what was reportedly an almost day-long meeting, to outline some basic areas of mutual interest. You can read the full Nostalrius report on the meeting here, or the Icy-Veins summary here, or the one from MassivelyOP here.

Before I start, a disclaimer: I really have no interest in legacy servers or in going back to “The Way We Were” several years ago in WoW. But I can understand people who do have an interest in doing so. There is certainly a loud and clamoring audience for such servers, even if it’s a bit unclear how many of the clamorers would actually play if it cost money, and how many are just indignant because that’s what they do. Blizz seems to recognize this, and in the immediate aftermath of the server takedown they expressed an interest in the concept even though there are some pretty daunting technical issues to be overcome. (I wrote briefly about this at the time and advanced a pretty wacky theory on it later.)

So, just a few of my thoughts on this Friday meeting. First, some pretty high level Blizz execs were involved in it, including CEO Mike Morhaime, Game Director Tom Chilton, Assistant Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, Technical Director Marco Koegler, and PR Manager Vanessa Vanasin. According to Nostalrius, these execs were very engaged, to the point of staying for the entire 5-hour meeting and presentation. This to me speaks volumes about Blizz’s interest in the subject — executives at that level don’t just fritter away 5 hours of their valuable time unless they think the matter is significant.

On a side note, I have to wonder if, absent the huge player outcry after the Nostalrius shutdown, Blizz would have taken the matter so seriously. I suppose it is good that they respond to massive player dissatisfaction, though I am not sure whether they are more swayed by numbers or internet screaming, or by a combination of both. (Nostalrius apparently had a petition that presumably added to the “numbers” argument.) The Blizz response seems similar to the one they had over the great flying-in-Draenor flap. Still, does this mean that the only way we can get Blizz’s attention on matters is to throw hissy fits over everything that just seems wrong for game development? It seems like there should be a place for calm, logical argument without having to resort to histrionics and whipping up the emotions of the easily-whipped-up masses.

The second thing to emerge from the meeting was the very clear Blizz position that they are indeed in favor of legacy servers, and apparently they are not averse to cooperating with Nostalrius to further investigate the possibility. However, it is important to note that the Blizz decision-makers in the room in no way committed to developing legacy servers, they merely signaled their general interest. Also, the notion that Blizz looks favorably on the idea of legacy servers is Nostalrius’s take on the meeting; we have had no official word on it from Blizz. Still, it seems unlikely that Nostalrius completely misinterpreted Blizz’s position.

Third, the technical issues are daunting. During the meeting, Blizz confirmed that they do in fact have the vanilla source code — it is part of their version control system. What they do not have is the very complex build code necessary to actually deploy that vanilla version to a server and subsequently to a player. (The build codes are — or were — not part of their version control system.)

Thus, the technical hurdles to making vanilla servers are huge and involve recreating — from scratch, it seems — the appropriate build code, but tailoring it for today’s hardware realities (networks, server configurations, and player platforms). This is a massive project, and would require a ton of resources in terms of developers, technical coders, testers, time, and so forth.

Fourth, I am impressed by the amount of work Nostalrius went to in order to go into this meeting with facts, petitions, and a highly professional presentation. They, like Blizzard, seem to have taken it very seriously. The meeting could have devolved into a rehash of bad feelings over the actual server shutdown, or of the insult to Blizz over their intellectual property rights, but both sides seemed focused on future actions, not on past ones, and for that I give both sides high marks.

The meeting reminds me of diplomatic summit meetings for things like reduction of nuclear weapon stockpiles. After much back-and-forth for weeks or months, the principals finally agree to meet somewhere to discuss possible future points of discussion. The only thing missing from the Blizz-Nostalrius meeting was a joint press conference afterwards lauding how cordial and productive the talks were. The various reports don’t actually say whether or not talks will continue, but Nostalrius is of the opinion that they will. I would really be interested to see an official announcement of the meeting results from Blizz.

It is too early to tell when or even if we may see legacy WoW servers available as player options, but my gut tells me we will see them in some form eventually. If that is something you are interested in, I think the Friday meeting is cause for optimism.

Micro rant

Today I am on a very small, insignificant rant, one of those things that just makes you want to shake your head to clear it because you must be missing something.

Before I get started, some numbers and facts.

  • In a little over 90 days the WoW universe of classes will contain 12 classes, 36 specs. (Interesting, never thought of this before — is the reason Demon Hunters have only 2 specs a nifty little balancing thing to the fact that Druids have 4?)
  • Of those 12 classes, 3 can equip shields: Paladins, Shamans, and Warriors.
  • A total of 4 specs within the three classes actually use shields: Prot Warrior, Prot Pally, Holy Pally, Resto Shaman. (This is a tad subjective, because other specs can technically equip shields but at least in this expansion typically don’t because of the hit to their powers, so the number of shield-bearing specs may be off by maybe one or two.)
  • Shamans cannot equip any type of sword.
  • According to WorldofWargraphs, the three shield-bearing classes represent about 28% of all WoW characters. If you subtract Shammies, the number is 20%.

So with this little rundown of weapons proficiencies, we come to today’s subject: Yesterday Blizz started to send out their movie gifts to current players. As previously announced, it was a movie-inspired transmog set. I am not sure if they had previously told us the composition of the set, but it turned out to be a one-handed sword and a shield.

Now, of course I was brought up to always be appreciative of gifts, whether I liked them or not. When I got that 6-pack of plain white cotton underwear for my 7th birthday from my Great Aunt Dorothy, I put on my best smile, thanked her, and gave her a big hug. When I got that vacuum from my spouse for our first anniversary, I thanked him and smiled. (He later described the smile as “frosty” and “threatening” and naturally we subsequently had The Discussion about the difference between a gift and a household appliance….) But I was polite and genuinely grateful for the thought of a gift. It’s how I was raised.

So I don’t want to be rude about this latest gift from Blizz. It is after all the thought that counts, and in this case — probably for quite a few players — the thought is the only thing they can use. I will not deny that the set is quite attractive, plus it is BoA, but if I were not so polite, I would be saying, “WTF, Blizz, have you lost your marbles? What the hell good is a transmog set of a sword and shield that can’t be used by the majority of your players?

Seriously, someone at Blizz actually made the decision to hand out a transmog set that can be used as a set by fewer than 20% of the characters in the game. (I don’t have any statistics on how many Pallys and Warriors use shield-bearing specs, but it is certainly less than all of them, and together the classes represent only 20% of WoW classes.)

It’s like getting a Christmas present “for all you kids” that consists of a telescope that only your nerdy brother will ever use.

Again, I really don’t want to be ungrateful, but I would love to have been in on that particular staff meeting. I cannot even imagine what the discussion must have been, what weird pseudo-logic must have swayed the decision makers to go with this. I think the extent of it must have been:

Staffer 1: Boss, we need to give the current players some kind of movie-related freebie, or else they will feel left out of the promotions and may not even go see it.

Boss: Any suggestions?

Staffer 1: Well, we don’t really want to go to a lot of trouble over it, so it has to be something we can do easily. Maybe a digital item we can deliver via in game mail. Tech guys tell us it is possible to determine the first character each account logged on with and limit the item to that character only. Makes it more manageable if we only have to send one item per account.

Staffer 2: Hey, you know the faction swords and shields from the movie, those are way cool! Let’s send those out as transmogs.

Staffer 1: I dunno, how many players could really use those?

Boss: Great idea, do it! Now I gotta run, got an Overwatch meeting I am late for.

As I said, in the big picture of things, this doesn’t count for anything. Sure, I was annoyed when I discovered that what they sent me was something I could not use on any of my characters except my baby Pally (which I am not even sure I will keep), but mostly it just puzzles me that Blizz thought it was a great thing to do. I really do not understand their decision making process, in this or in many other things lately.

But, hey, I was raised to be polite and appreciative, so, Blizz, thank you thank you for the awesome underwear transmog set! It’s just what I wanted! *hug*

Who is this game for?

If you have ever taken a class in writing, public speaking, any form of communication skill at all (including manufacturing and the creative arts), you know that one of the first things you learn is to define your intended audience. You simply cannot communicate effectively if you do not know who is on the other end. You would not launch into a scholarly discussion of the Laws of Thermodynamics if your intended audience is your toddler about to touch a hot stove. Nor would you frantically exclaim, “No! Hot! Ouchie!” in a presentation on heat transference to a group of industrial engineers.

Novelists, movie makers, musicians, politicians, housing tract developers, beer companies — all know that to be successful they must explicitly define their target audience for whatever product they are selling (even if, as in the case of politicians, that product is themselves) and then market the product in terms relevant to that demographic. If they fail to do this, their product success will be at best mediocre and at worst an utter failure. Their audience may be either broadly defined (“adults in their peak earning years”) or narrowly (“American fly fishermen who prefer waders to hip boots”), but it must be defined. Even if the intended audience is several groups, those groups must be described, and every feature of the product marketed in ways each group can relate to.

Which of course brings me to my topic for today: Who is WoW’s intended audience? More specifically, how does Blizz define the game’s intended audience? Who are they developing for?

I have no idea. Worse, I am not sure Blizz has, either.

Given Blizz’s phobia about actually communicating directly with their customers, I would not of course expect a public statement about this from them. All we can go by, therefore, are “statements” in the form of game design. The things they do with the game, and to some extent with marketing strategies, can give us an indirect assessment of how they define their target audience.

Bad news in that case, because lately what we see are conflicting and contradictory designs. The message from them is: “We have no coherent game goal. We are writing for, y’know, everyone. Whatever.”

Here is a perfect example. (Shout-out to The Grumpy Elf for his piece last week on what leveling may look like in Legion. It really started me on this line of thought.)

  • Over the last few expansions, and continuing into Legion, the game is less and less welcoming to new players. For someone who has never played this game before, and who may have no one to help them through it, the leveling process is daunting and confusing. Profession leveling is completely out of sync with character leveling. Blizz does nothing to guide new players, lazily relying on third party sites to do this for them. Game lore has been so twisted to accommodate design mechanics that a new player wishing to learn it would need a graduate course of study to do so. The message is that Blizz is not designing this game for masses of new players.
  • Cata, Mists, WoD, and Legion all introduced game design and game play changes on a massive scale. Most classes have had to be completely relearned from the ground up each expansion. Similarly, professions — especially in WoD and Legion — have undergone changes so extensive  as to make them unrecognizable from only a couple of years ago. Raid structures have changed completely, in a way that has arguably made raiding less accessible to many players. Social aspects of the game — a reason many players started playing WoW in the first place — have been made less and less significant, through cross-realm LFR and questing, weakening of guild perks, and failure to police the most vile and threatening players. People who have invested a lot in this game over the years, in the form of in-game friendships and guild structures, developing class skills, improving raid skills, etc., do not like it when their efforts are completely negated every time there is a new expansion. The message is that Blizz is not designing this game for long-time current players.

So, if they are not designing the game for new players, and they are not designing it for current players, who exactly is their intended audience?

Your guess is as good as mine. There is no discernibly coherent strategic design goal in WoW. If Blizz does indeed have a defined target audience in mind, it must be an extremely narrow group — eSports celebrity wannabes? Elite raiding teams who bring endorsement money? Their own devs? None of these make sense for a game whose business model is mass paid subscriptions.

If I knew that the game were being developed for a certain audience, even if I were not part of that audience, I think I could accept many of the most frustrating aspects of the game I see now. Because I would know that they made sense in that context, and I could either accept the limitations such a context imposed on me and keep playing, or I could not accept them and move on. (Chaos, on the other hand, when it is the result of either laziness or incompetence, makes me angry. Especially if I am paying for it.)

But the more depressing and likely explanation is that Blizz has no idea who their target audience is, they simply react to every perceived gaming fad and to every dev department’s brilliant ideas for their particular corner of the game. No one is shaping the product for a lucrative demographic, no one even thinks this is a desirable goal. Heck, I am beginning to suspect no one even thinks it is a question worth asking. They are on auto-pilot, mindlessly developing whatever seems nifty to someone, because that is what they do. To return to my example of discussing the Laws of Thermodynamics with a toddler, eventually Blizz’s lack of direction will bow to the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

The entropy of an isolated system that is not in equilibrium tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

“Maximum entropy” is not good news for WoW.

No! Hot! Ouchie!

 

 

 

 

 

Communication 101 (again)

Recently there was a series of tweets between Mr. J. Feasel, aka Muffinus, and a couple of WoW players. The conversations are nicely summarized here by MMO-C.

In a nutshell, the tweets are an attempt at a fairly in depth explanation of Blizz’s thinking on RNG as a mechanism for rewards, and also on some raid philosophy. I don’t intend to comment on the merits of either side of the discussion in this post, rather my intention is to examine the meta aspects of the exchange. (Well, okay, one comment: I cannot fathom why Blizz clings to the fantasy that RNG is “exciting” for players. In what universe?)

First, the good side. I applaud Muffinus for putting himself out there and engaging with players who have legitimate points of view on these subjects. I give him additional kudos for trying to explain some of the background logic for the mechanisms under discussion, and for doing so as a thinking adult debating with another thinking adult. We need much more of this, on a regular basis, from devs who do not treat players like annoying small children. So, good on ya, Muffinus.

Now the not so good side. Here’s a tip, Blizz:

Twitter is not the medium for conducting in depth discussions on game design and philosophy. 

I don’t use Twitter much — mainly to follow breaking world events and contemporary cultural issues — but I have a couple of accounts and I absolutely understand its power as a method of communication. I also understand its limitations, and one of them is that 140 characters simply cannot convey complex thoughts or logic chains. (Unless you are a poetic genius like Boris Pasternak, who was able to express more with fewer words than almost anyone else on the planet, but that is just my opinion and at any rate a whole other discussion.)

But Blizz has for some reason latched on to Twitter as their preferred medium of exchange with players, and this is — not to put too fine a point on it — really stupid, not to mention frustrating for players with legitimate concerns. Why are they so enamored of it? I don’t know, of course, but I can hazard a couple of guesses. One is that it is quick and easy, devs can dash off a couple responses while they are waiting for the daily group decision on lunch. Another is that there is no requirement for sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, perfect spelling, all of those things engineers hate to think about.

And last, and most tinfoil-hattery, since initial tweets to devs from players are seen only by the devs, there is no need to answer inconvenient questions or address uncomfortable subjects, they can simply be ignored and no one is the wiser. This is the big advantage Twitter has over, say, forum posts, because if 100 people post to a forum on a particular topic and Blizz ignores them, others will see this happening. But if they get 100 tweets about a subject and ignore them, other players will never know. This also permits more latitude for Blizz to claim fuzzy stats along the lines of many players finding RNG to be exciting game play, or the like. On the flip side, Blizz is free to select a single tweet that mentions something they want to address anyway and make it seem like lots of players are interested in it.

Thus, I will make yet another futile plea to Blizz on communication.

Blizz, please institute some form of regular player communication for real player concerns and game interests. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood-production streaming, it doesn’t have to be the responsibility of just one dev, it doesn’t have to be Q&A format, but there needs to be some regular and serious interaction with your interested customer base. I know most of you are engineers and would rather eat worms than write, but you need to find some way to make this happen. Even in the desert of between-expansions, thoughtful communication can go a long way towards retaining players. 

Hint: Twitter is not it.

Suggestions:

  • Hire someone like Ghostcrawler to be the face of the game, who is not afraid to mix it up in the forums, explain why certain decisions were made, understand player concerns and possibly let the game design benefit from them, and if necessary make a few people mad for the greater game good. Whether we liked it or not, we always got regular feedback from Ghostcrawler.
  • Institute some regular feedback on Legion testing — not the bug reports, but some thoughtful observations on various facets of Legion development as it progresses. Once a month would be a decent time frame for this.
  • Institute some regular class columns/forums that address class development, balance issues, playability issues, etc. This could even be done in the current class columns, but it would take the form of a regular blue class status post instead of the random and often uninformative blue posts we currently have.
  • Do the same for profession development and status.
  • Give us some idea on your timing goals for Legion. When will a more traditional “beta” go live? Or will it? How long before the PTR? What’s the goal for final live? Yes, I know if you mention any specific time and fail to meet it, you will get a ration of sh*t about it, but you are getting that anyway and will get more of it as the months pass. Why not be radical and have a bit of transparency on the subject? Most serious players have some notion of  the complexity of new expansions and understand changes and delays.

I know I am a lonely voice crying in the wilderness, but I am a strong and loyal customer who is extremely interested in the whys and wherefores of this game, and honestly I feel like Blizz considers me nothing more than a cash machine.

Talk to me about the game I love, dammit, in some form more organized than cherry-picked 140-character obscure snippets!

Fruit hats and rum and Legion

Fruit HatHave you gotten your Fruit Hat yet? I know I got mine, on all my characters last night, and I suspect you have, too. Judging by the frenetic excitement about it on my server last night, nearly everyone still actively playing has gotten at least one  and spent some amount of time playing with the conga line in their garrison.

If you don’t have the foggiest idea what I am talking about, there is an item that was in the current Legion alpha that showed up in the live game a day or so ago. You go to Valley of the Four Winds, to the Imperial Granary, collect the basket of fruit under the stairs, then head back to your garrison. When you click on the basket of fruit, it becomes a Carmen Miranda type of fruit hat, and you start dancing. When you move, instead of running as usual your character does this funky chicken-like undulating walk, and as you sashay through your garrison various NPCs fall in line behind you, dancing and following you in a conga line.

I have to admit I had some fun with the hat. At one point I got 14 in my line and we wandered all over my garrison until some apparently got bored and drifted back to whatever they had been doing. I was kind of disappointed that none of my followers joined the line — Ariok in the line might have been pretty funny — but I guess only the peripatetic NPCs have the conga line code. So I was able to snare Oscaar but not the vendor dude that stands by the lunch wagon. I probably could have gotten that ginormous tree guy that is usually blocking access to my garrison resource stash, but of course when I wanted him to be there he was nowhere to be found.

Off subject, but have you noticed how very respectful and polite Oscaar is? He actually steers his big old elekk mount around you if you are in his path in the garrison. Try it. Go stand directly in front of him as he is meandering about, and he will alter course slightly to avoid you.

Which brings me to rum. It being the holiday season, and being most of my family and friends are partial to chocolate and liquor in most any form, I have been making rum balls and rum fudge. As I am an extremely responsible and conscientious person, I must of course ensure that any food I provide for others is of the highest quality. I am sure you agree that for me to do otherwise would border on negligent.

It is possible, therefore, that much of the giggly fun I had last night with my fruit hat was made more fun as a result of my diligent taste testing earlier in the evening. Still, I did enjoy the hat. I always like it when Blizz does silly fun things. Last night as I was playing with it, I was thinking it would be cool if you could use it in a raid — especially LFR — and it would cause everyone with the item to get the hat on their heads cosmetically and start undulating in place while they were killing the boss. It would be the same mechanic as that ridiculous ring, where one person can dictate when everyone else uses it. The effect would last for maybe 30 seconds, and at the end there would be an effect that caused everyone to shout Olé! or something. (But remember while I was thinking about this I was still under the influence of taste testing…)

Like I said, I enjoy these quirky little fun things Blizz throws at us every once in a while. Unfortunately, I can usually engage with them for at most only a couple of hours before I stop being amused. Any attempt by Blizz after that to stretch them out — like costumes for Pepe, for example — is lost on me because I am done with the mechanic.

Which brings me to Legion. Specifically, its timing and the effect that timing is having on my current game play. By all accounts, we are months away from it going live — remember we are only now in alpha testing, and usually live expansions take about six months from the time beta testing starts. That would mean — even in the most optimistic scenario — it will be at least July before we get the expansion. I am betting it will be closer to the September time frame Blizz put on their Legion packaging, although Marathal over at Rambling Thoughts About WoW has an interesting marketing point to make about the subject that might make the release sooner.

But whatever release time frame you are betting on, we are still months away from Legion. Little fun things like the Fruit Hat are cute and engaging for about an hour, but no matter how many of them Blizz throws at us they will not cover up the fact that we will be stuck in Draenor — a failed expansion — for a long time yet.

By all rights, we should have another patch to cover the remaining months, but there will not be one. Before WoD, Blizz told us they were moving to a one-year expansion schedule, something that was clearly a pipe dream. I don’t fault them for trying to do it, but the realities of the game’s complexity are such that they simply do not have the resources to meet such a schedule. Hey, no harm no foul in my opinion. It was an ideal goal, but they just can’t do it.

The problem, though, is that by hanging on to the one-year fantasy, they fail to plan for sufficient patches in the current expansion. Two patches are fine if they only have to cover one year. But two patches in the first eight months, followed by eight or so more months with nothing, is just extremely poor planning.

From a personal standpoint, as I have said before I do not tend to get bored when expansions drag on. And I am not bored now. However, one of the ways I use to stave off boredom is to turn to my alts and try to get more proficient with them towards the end of every expansion. And even though I am working at that now, I am not really interested in doing it, because I know that any muscle memory I pick up now will be completely useless in Legion. I will have to relearn everything then anyway, so what is the point of putting in a lot of effort now?

Similarly, the end of an expansion is often when I am able to really improve my hunter skills on my main. If I am on a raid team, I often volunteer to be one of the main carriers during alt runs, because I find that the easy runs really help me to get better at raid awareness as well as class skills.

But this time I am not doing that. Not only am I no longer on a functioning raid team (and yes, I blame much of this on Blizz’s design decisions for WoD), but I feel like any improvements I make to my hunter skills is a total waste at this time.

Frankly, I am really tired of complete class overhauls every two years.

Sorry, I have wandered rather far off topic. My tl;dr is this: Fruit Hat was fun, but it is more fun when you are fortified with rum balls, and Legion is too far away for Blizz to keep players engaged with more fruit hats for the whole time.