So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

Let’s talk gear

In Legion Blizz will introduce what amounts to a seismic shift in the way gear is awarded. The condensed version is that there will no longer be a hard cap on the level of gear you can earn from various game activities. That is, in theory, players can be awarded Mythic level gear from LFR, world drops, dungeons, and so forth. Of course, it is more complicated than this, and if you want to delve into all the details check out this blue post from today’s MMO-C Blue Tracker.

Before I launch into some observations on this development, let me state clearly that this is a very good move on Blizz’s part. I wholeheartedly support it, and I am very pleased that Watcher was so forthcoming about how the system will work and about Blizz’s reasoning for making the change. This can only improve the game, in my opinion.

As with all major changes, however, the end results are not always as clear-cut as the changers might like to think they will be. And in this case, there is one overriding factor that will determine whether this change will succeed or not, namely:

When does “small chance” mean “don’t even bother”? A snowball’s chance in hell is still a chance, in Blizz’s opinion. But for real people, there comes a point where a mathematical probability approaches zero and thus for all practical purposes might as well be zero. Let’s take an example, and those of you who are less math challenged than I am please check me on this.

For the purpose of this example, assume that a realistic chance of dropping a +5 item is a robust 10%. (Watcher, in his Blue post, gave an example using a 50% rate but went to great pains to point out that it is not/not/not the actual rate. Reports from the beta so far show it is probably not even close.) Let us further assume that the activity you are doing awards 825 level gear normally, and that the chances of getting any gear at all are, oh let’s be generous, 20%. So your chances of getting a single upgrade are 10% of 20%, or 2% (1 in 50). The way the upgrade algorithm works is that it keeps iterating the 10% upgrade chance for another 5 levels until it hits a “No” for upgrade. So now take your 2% chance getting a level 830 item and try for a level 835 item. This is 10% of 2%, which is .2%, or a 1 in 500 chance of getting a piece of 835 gear from an activity that awards 825 level gear as a baseline.

You see where this is going. Max level Legion gear at the beginning is 895. Your chances of getting a max level piece of gear from an activity that normally awards 825 level gear is 10% of 1 in 50, taken 13 more times, or 1 chance in 500 trillion. And that is assuming a drop rate more generous than Blizz has historically provided. Even giving Blizz a magical benefit of doubt, even assuming the drop rate is twice or three times that, your chances of a meaningful upgrade from a low-level activity, rounded off to over 10 decimal places, are zero.

In fairness, Watcher admitted as much in his post. He basically said that your chances of getting meaningfully upgraded gear are much better when you run higher and higher level activities. This is as it should be, but that begs the question:

Is this really not much of a change at all, is it actually just a scam to make people think that running lower level activities is rewarding, when in fact the chance of meaningful rewards is hundreds of times less than the chance of winning the Powerball Lottery several weeks in a row?

I understand that Blizz is pulling out all the stops to make people fully explore every bit of content in Legion, and I support that endeavor. Clearly they are worried that players will stop playing long before the next expansion in 2 years (minimum), and they are doing everything they can to stretch out the time before that point is reached. They have already ensured that every main, alt and profession will need to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours chasing talents for artifact weapons, running down quest lines for recipes, and grubbing for Blood of Sargeras. They are holding out the carrot of flying until probably the second major patch, likely a year into the expansion. These measures alone extend the perception of “content”, not to mention that they increase the all-important MAU (Monthly Active User) metric which Activision Blizzard uses as one measure of game success.  So, is it really necessary to trick people into believing that by running heroic dungeons or LFR they can upgrade their Heroic raid level gear?

No, if this change is to “succeed” in the minds of the players, then they must be able to see that it is actually possible to get meaningful upgrades to their current level of gear from doing activities. This means that they must see such items dropping, even if they themselves do not get any for a while.

How do they see items dropping? Well of course one way is when they see guildies or friends getting such items. But another way is if they can see statistics for such drops. And here is where Blizz can restore some of the trust they have lost over the last couple of years. Blizz should take it upon themselves to post a weekly or monthly wrap-up of the numbers of dropped gear upgrades, per server, per activity, per upgrade level. Blizz has claimed it is possible to get such gear, okay then show us the gear. Prove to us that it is possible in practice not just in theory.

Otherwise, just bite the bullet and admit that as players progress there are certain activities no longer worth their time. It’s not a terrible thing. Normal and heroic dungeons, world bosses and weekly world quests, will remain relevant for alts for many, many months, there really is not a compelling reason to inveigle people into continuing to run them on their geared mains under false pretenses. All that accomplishes is to make people more cynical and further erode their trust in the company. (I do not like to think that someone at Blizz has calculated that by making a more or less empty promise of gear upgrades from low-level activities, that enough people will fall for it to significantly increase WoW’s MAU for the quarter ….)

Meanwhile, please excuse me, I think I am going to go buy a Powerball ticket.

Will play for valor?

My topic for today was going to be how short-lived the whole new valor rush was. I had most of the post written, detailing how not only was I no longer really interested in running LFR for more valor, but it seemed many others were feeling the same.

And then last night Blizz announced a new enticement

Crystalized Fel Now Sold For Valor
Players who have acquired the legendary ring may now purchase Crystallized Fel from Zooti Fizzlefury in Talador or Dawn-Seeker Krisek in Tanaan Jungle for 1250 Valor.

Although this was bad news for my almost-written post, it is good news, I suppose, for players still interested in upping their ilevel. It certainly makes ring upgrades available to a wider audience than previously, when the only path for that was farm kills of Archimonde at normal or higher level. (And of course there have been the predictable forum screams of “NO FAAAAAAAIIIIIIRRRRR!”) But the move raises a lot of questions for me.

The first is, was I correct in my earlier anecdotally-based assessment that many players had stopped caring about valor and therefore stopped doing valor-earning activities? I know in my own case I have considered earning valor for the last 2-3 weeks to be just not worth the bother. This is true not only on my main but also on my alts which have not done any valor gear upgrades at all. Since I am no longer on an active raid team, and since I have zero desire to go the pug route, why do I need to increase my gear level? Certainly not to prep for Legion, as almost certainly the new green gear will be better than the current epics.

I am not saying I won’t do some valor activities, it’s just that they are not high priority for me. Honestly, they are of more interest to me on my alts now than on my main, just for the challenge of seeing how far I can go on classes I don’t usually play. I have been completely underwhelmed by the whole legendary ring mechanic and I can’t see myself grubbing away for weeks to increase its level. If I were doing organized raiding it would be different, because I would feel a responsibility to the team, but as it is? Meh.

So so back to my earlier question: Was Blizz seeing the same dropoff in player activity that I was? If so, is this move calculated to stretch out player engagement for a few more weeks?

Which brings up my second question: Does Blizz have a plan to add little valor enticements every few weeks all the way up to Legion (or at least the Legion pre-event)? If so, it’s interesting to speculate about what these might be. Will we eventually see The Moose offered for a few thousand valor points? How about tier gear tokens? Rare mats such as felblight?

And the third, bigger, question: If Legion does not go live until the end of the summer, will these minor enticements be enough to keep subscriptions from plummeting like a garage sale parachute? I doubt it, and such an outlook may be at least part of the reason Blizz announced they will no longer publish subscription rates as part of their quarterly reports. Their new metric to measure success is player engagement — active time per player. In theory, then, even if subscriptions drop by millions, if the remaining players increase their daily minutes of play time, WoW is succeeding. (Thus, valor enticements.)

One wonders how far this could theoretically go. If WoW eventually lost all subs except for a couple of elite raiding guilds, and the game had a total of maybe 100 very hardcore players, would it be deemed a fantastic success? Certainly there is a profit-feasibility point, in that 100 players would not come close to sustaining any semblance of company profit, but really how important is the European and North American monthly subscription rate for profits now? Revenue sources for the game have multiplied greatly since its inception, with the Asian pay-per-play-time model, retail store sales, and the burgeoning eSports endorsements and sales, so my suspicion is that conventional monthly subs count for less and less of the game’s profit.

So, is valor the sole mechanism Blizz has planned for sustaining game interest until Legion? And will you play for valor?

State of raiding, part 2

Last Friday I posted a few thoughts on what I see as major WoW environmental factors affecting raiding. I did this mostly to get my thought processes engaged for an examination of the current state of raiding in the game. I did some more research over the weekend, and I also note that a couple of bloggers are hard at it again this morning with the “Get rid of LFR!” And the “Keep LFR!” sides of a pseudo-debate.

I honestly don’t know where I stand on the question of LFR, but in my opinion the whole raid structure is in a pretty sorry state. So today’s post will attempt to describe that state and possibly lay out some paths Blizz took to lead us into it.

First, some references:

Back in May 2014, in the ramp up to WoD, there was a series of three Dev Watercooler discussions that went into Blizz’s philosophy on raiding over the years. The first two parts laid out the history and why certain changes came about, and the final part — written by Watcher — was about upcoming WoD raiding changes. If you have the time, they make for pretty interesting reading. (You can find them here — part 1, part 2, part 3.)

The other relevant reference material I found was specifically related to the introduction and first year of LFR. The initial concept, part of Patch 4.3 in 2011, is pretty well summarized in this patch announcement and in this Blizz Q&A. Within in a year, Blizz concluded that the gear awarded from LFR was not working, so in 2012 they announced this first round of changes to LFR. The final official info I could find on LFR came as part of Watcher’s conclusion to the Dev Watercooler series.

For those of you who don’t have the time to sift through the entirety of the data cited above, here are the major points I took from it: 

  1. Since the early days of the game, Blizz has made changes aimed at encouraging greater player participation in raids.
  2. Starting around the time of WotLK, raiding became pretty much gear-centric.
  3. According to Blizz, LFR was originally designed for

    … players who don’t already raid consistently. These are players who may not have had the opportunity to take part in raid content due to scheduling conflicts, playtime constraints, limited access to other raid-capable players, or a lack of experience with higher-end content. These players may want to experience World of Warcraft’s raid content and storyline without being able to commit to the additional time investment of a raiding guild. The Raid Finder is also a great way to quickly and easily gear up alternate characters without having to worry about raid lockouts.

  4. Interestingly, the second part of the Dev Watercooler series concludes with an expression of great satisfaction with the Mists final state of raiding — LFR and flex levels of raiding permitted broad participation both by friends and family guilds and by those who did not wish to be part of a standing team, and Normal and Heroic modes gave challenges to raiding guilds and hardcore raiders. Yet, in the third part of the series, Watcher elaborates on significant changes to this system that was apparently operating in the sweet spot Blizz wanted.

Fundamental issues. From my point of view, many of the historic and current problems with the raid system spring from three competing facets of the system: the goal to make raiding accessible to a wider base of players, the reliance on raiding as almost the entire end game goal, and the gear-centric nature of raiding.

Once a player reaches the end game, almost the only way to feel continued character progression is to continue to improve that character’s gear. The major way to improve gear is to participate in raids. Blizz encourages players who would not otherwise engage in raids to do so via LFR and also by making that activity the main path for character progression. Moreover, since Mists, LFR has played a major role in legendary quest lines.

Remember, Blizz never intended LFR to be a true stepping stone to Normal or Heroic raiding. It was designed strictly to be for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to raid, and for rapid gearing of alts who also might not get a lot of chances to raid. But in order to “quickly and easily gear up” alts, LFR had to award fairly decent gear. In fact, the major changes to LFR have been driven almost exclusively by the need to tweak how/what gear is awarded.

Early in Mists, LFR gear was so high in level as to be better than the previous tier’s heroic level gear. This situation in fact made most serious raiders feel they had to run LFR to gear up for their regular raids, thus making LFR a defacto stepping stone for regular raiding, the thing Blizz had said they did not want to be the case. So in Mists, Blizz lowered the relative gear level awarded in LFR. In WoD, they went much further, not only lowering the gear level, but discontinuing LFR availability of tier gear.

The introduction of LFR and the fact that players could get upgraded gear from it also served to heighten elitist tendencies within the game. Some vocal types who were hardcore or wannabes felt that the existence of LFR cheapened their own lofty accomplishments. They disdained anyone who chose to run LFR as their primary end game activity, and they were not shy about heaping ridicule on these players.

On the other side, some of those who primarily used LFR began to agitate for better gear, as reward for what was often a significant time cost for the activity. The initial changes to LFR in WoD were a response to this — higher drop rate for gear, quicker run times, but no “real” tier gear (as a compensation to the elitist side).

The chaotic missteps in WoD, however, have skewed the entire raiding picture, to the point where:

  • LFR gear no longer justifies the time commitment for many players. Highmaul run times were less than half the per-boss run times of HFC, and Highmaul gear was perceived to be more useful because it was at the beginning of the expansion.
  • Boss mechanics in HFC are several orders of magnitude harder than the ones in Highmaul, even at LFR difficulty. Many guilds are struggling to complete Normal. Boss fights routinely feature a mechanic that a single player can make a mistake in and wipe the raid, even on Normal. This, combined with extraordinarily long fights, with Blizz’s failure to tune fights for small groups, and with the removal of guild incentives, has pretty much destroyed the concept of “friends and family” raids.
  • The main reasons to run LFR are for legendary quest items or for alt practice. This means that regular raiders rarely run LFR. Lack of players with raid experience in most groups only serves to heighten LFR frustration and cause group acrimony, not to mention cause the boss fights to get even longer due to multiple wipes.
  • As a result of increased difficulty even for Normal level raids, the remaining raiding guilds have become ever more demanding when adding either permanent or pug raiders to their team. Extensive interviews and tryouts are the norm even for non-hardcore teams, and group finder groups frequently require elite gear, experience, and/or achievements for even a “quick” normal HFC run. It is becoming harder and harder for a player to make the jump from LFR to regular raiding. As a result, the gap between regular raiders and LFR players is growing.
  • The player pool has shrunk due to player apathy over WoD and to diminishing subscriptions in general. Those who are left are pretty much the game’s die-hards, those least accepting of change. Unfortunately, this seems to be leading to the l33tists getting l33ter and the casuals getting “casualer”. Neither group is too interested in taking a chance on joining the other, or on accepting them.

I still don’t feel like I have any conclusions about raiding in the game in general, or about LFR in particular. I feel like the system as a whole was in a pretty good place at the end of Mists (long time between raid tiers notwithstanding), and that changes since then have made it much worse. It seems like Blizz also liked the state of affairs for raiding at the end of Mists, so I don’t know why they changed it. In particular, given their historical goal of making raiding more accessible to a greater number of players, I don’t understand why they have proceeded to destroy the “friends and family” mode.

I don’t understand the vehement opposition to LFR as an institution — seems to me if you don’t like it, then don’t participate in it. And to the whiners lamenting the sad state of affairs wherein players can actually *gasp* get semi-decent gear without weeks of organized progression raiding — get over yourselves.

Possibly the answer is to remove all gear as rewards from all raid levels, to make raiding once again social-centric instead of gear-centric. You raid at whatever level you want to for all the high-minded reasons you always cite — for the glory, for the teamwork, for achievements, for server bragging rights, for actual fun — but Blizz implements a different mechanism for getting gear.

I could go on for quite a bit more on the state of raiding in the game, but I won’t (okay, I heard that, who said “Yay”?). I will conclude with one prediction: Whatever Blizz does or fails to do to change the raid system in Legion will determine how long this game will last.

Weekend Mythics and stuff

How was your weekend? Mine was terrific, we have just started a period of glorious fall weather where I live, so I spent a lot of time enjoying that, gathering some last bits from my garden, grilling eggplant and peppers and green tomatoes, serving it up with crusty bread and good olive oil and splurged-on expensive wine, sharing it with friends, laughing and talking. Honestly, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

But I did manage to spend a few hours playing WoW and actually having some fun at it. For me, being able to sit at my computer and play the game while the windows are wide open and the cool night air fills the house is both calming and invigorating at the same time. It affects my whole outlook on life. Which may be why I enjoyed running Mythics for the weekly quest. I was just in the right mood for them.

The first one I tried was with a guild group, but unfortunately the tank and the healer were not quite up to it. Plus, it was Skyreach. We never got past the first boss. We called it after about an hour of trying. It was late, people had to log off, we weren’t making much progress, etc. Still, it was not a frustrating experience, it was kind of fun. The tank and the healer were not guildies who usually raid with us, and they were not doing badly, they were just undergeared and under-experienced for Mythic Skyreach. Especially that first boss.

The first boss in Skyreach is, in my opinion, a gigantic gotcha from Blizz, one of those things that was cooked up by the crackpots in the Screw With the Players Department. Even on normal, it is an extremely hard boss for leveling players. Skyreach is the first hurdle to start on your legendary ring, so a lot of players experienced it as level 98’s, and that first boss was a huge obstacle. Why? Because Blizz took away the ability for casters, both DPS and healers, to cast on the move, promised they would adjust boss fights to allow for the change, then — Bang! — first dungeon boss out of the box REQUIRES CONSTANT MOVEMENT. This is just wrong, and it is one of the many breaches of trust they have committed over the last year that have caused many players to no longer believe anything they say.

Anyway, the night after the guild group foray into Skyreach, I hit the Raid Finder to pug my four Mythics. Ended up doing four different groups to complete Auchindoun, Iron Docks, The Everbloom, and Grimrail Depot, in that order. The Auchindoun group was the best one, everyone knew the fights, was pretty well geared, and we sailed through without a wipe.

Iron Docks was a little harder, mainly because we had a tank with a severe anal-cranial inversion and a couple DPS who did not know the fights. We had a few wipes but at least no one rage quit or got into personal insults, and luckily our healer was really outstanding. Everbloom was probably the quickest one, only one wipe on the last boss, everyone knew what to do and did it.

Grimrail Depot was the worst group, mainly because only the tank and myself knew the fights, the healer was borderline competent, and even though the tank was competent he was a real butthole. But then, Grimrail is one of the dungeons I really hate, so possibly that influences my judgement. That fight on the moving platform against the big cannon could have been fun but it is poorly designed, and the mechanics border on being too complex for a group of strangers to manage. Just my opinion. As for the rest of the dungeon, I think the main reason I hate it is because it is too cramped and constricted for my play style. You really can’t run around at range or you will aggro new mobs, and for the same reason you really have to curtail your use of Barrage, one of a hunter’s most fun shots. Usually I can position myself properly to use it so as not to hit unintended mobs, but in Grimrail such repositioning risks getting in range of other mobs and thus doing the very thing you were trying to avoid. We wiped probably 6-8 times, but did finally finish.

All in all, it took me about 4 hours to do them. That includes the ridiculous dance of applying for groups — getting declined, refreshing the list every few seconds, trying to find a group without 3 DPS already, meeting the gear requirements, finding a group doing one you have not already done, etc.

Still, it was a nice diversion, and on top of that I got some actual gear upgrades, two from Auchindoun and a heroic warforged neck piece in the quest completion cache. The new pieces pushed me legitimately to 700 ilevel equipped (no artificial inflation using bad secondary stats), so that was satisfying. Especially since I am doing very little raiding these days. And since I have abandoned all hope of getting any tier gear.

All in all, a good weekend.

Raid finder and things I don’t understand

Last night I had some extra time on my hands and realized it has been almost a month since I really played my main hunter. Our raid team is on break until 6.2, and I felt like I might be losing some hunter skills by not raiding. Plus I have had zero luck getting any tier gear beyond two pieces of the crappy LFR version. So I decided to try to get into a Heroic BRF.

What was I THINKING??? /headslap

Before I go into this long sordid tale, I will save you the effort of reading to the end: I never did get to the point of actually killing any bosses or even any trash mobs.

Let me state up front that I detest pugs. While I have done them on occasion, and while I have had a few good experiences with them, the overwhelming majority of them have ranged from “pretty bad” to “guided tour through Hell.”

At any rate, in my state of (hopefully) temporary insanity, I pulled up the Raid Finder, filtered on “BRF”, and commenced to scrolling through. This in itself is a frustrating exercise, for several reasons. First, there is no way to sort the list so that the most recent posts are listed first. In fact, I couldn’t see any pattern to how they are listed. So you may see the first entry was posted 43 minutes ago, then the next one one minute ago, then the next one 12 minutes ago, and so on. Generally if something was posted over 20 minutes ago, it is a safe bet they are no longer looking for anyone, but the RL just didn’t remove the listing. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a raid, you have to scroll all the way through to see what is available, by which time every listing will be outdated.

Second, it is both amusing and frustrating to read through all the conditions RLs feel they must put into their listings. (This also takes up lots more time which makes going through the list even longer.) I found that the longer the list of conditions, the more ridiculous they were.

 Fresh H BRF. Full clear, don’t sign up if you can’t stay for all. Guild alt run. RL is 9/10 M BRF. Need dps. AotC priority. Know fights, don’t suck, under 30k dps=kicked. ML MS>OS, BoE reserved for guild bank. Carrying warrior, all druid gear reserved, [Big Shiny Mage Staff] reserved.

Level required: 680

etcetera

Well, gosh, who wouldn’t jump at a chance like that? Help them carry their alts, get a big ole ration of attitude, and probably get zero gear. Whoopie!

I have never really understood dps numbers. Damage per second is just that — per second. It changes every second. There are a large number of variables involved, not the least of which are type of fight and your role in the fight (special raid tasks almost always lessen your damage). Yes, you can average the numbers over the course of one fight, or one entire raid, but the variables still impact that.

When RLs require a certain dps number, I am never sure what they are asking for. My hunter sometimes has huge dps numbers, for example on AoE fights or when I get very lucky with procs. Sometimes the numbers seem low, for example on onesie-twosie trash mobs that die quickly, or for a boss that has a lot of adds I am required to kill (thus rapidly switching targets, not my best thing), or because I got a sneezing fit in the middle of the fight.

So I find arrogant announcements of dps requirements stupid and off-putting. A good RL knows if you are performing well or if you are performing poorly given all the factors, and some arbitrary dps threshold is usually not the best way to ensure good performance.

I also don’t understand the concept of MS>OS for non-hybrid classes. Especially now that secondary stats play such a pivotal role. Prior to 6.0, for example, a hunter was a hunter, no matter what the spec. If you rolled on a piece of agility mail and got it, that was pretty much your gear drop for the night. You couldn’t roll on a piece for off spec because there was really no such thing as off spec for hunters, rogues, locks, mages, etc.

But I think secondary stats have changed that, or at least they should have changed it. There really is a big difference between mastery and multistrike for a hunter. (Currently — whether that distinction will count as much in 6.2 remains to be seen.) Same is true of other non-hybrid classes. Whether any given RL realizes this us anyone’s guess, though.

Secondary stats might have also changed the concept of “upgrades.” I don’t run with a guild that uses Loot Council, but I wonder if most LCs take secondary stats into consideration when they consider the upgrade factor.

Similarly, with the 3-item restriction on crafted gear, loot that appears to be the same level and have the same stats as a piece of crafted gear could actually be a significant upgrade to a player, since it might allow them to equip a piece of crafted gear in a different slot that would be a big upgrade.

With all the secondary stat and crafted gear and tier piece factors, I really don’t understand hard and fast rules on ilevel any more. For example, if I just equipped my highest level gear on my main hunter, I would have an ilevel approaching 690. But it would be worse gear than the 679 set I am wearing. (Thanks to my inability to get any tier pieces beyond LFR level, and thanks to my bad luck on secondary stats.)

So should I go ahead and try to sign up for raids that require 680 ilevel? I am sure some RLs would consider I was close enough for them to try out anyway, but my experience last night was that I got declined for every raid (maybe 10 or so) that had a 680 requirement, even if I put a short gear explanation in the comments section.

Back to the Raid Finder. One other very frustrating “feature” is that it does not show you the class composition of the raid members. It shows number of tanks/healers/dps, but not classes. Twice last night I got accepted for a raid but once I got in I saw there were way too many hunters to give me any decent chance at tier gear, given the apparently universal preference for group loot. On one team there were already 3 hunters and on the other there were already 4! I didn’t want to be a jerk about leaving these teams once I found out the composition, so I said something like “Looks like you already have plenty of hunters, so I’ll bow out to give them a better chance at gear. Good luck and have fun!” But I shouldn’t have had to do this — the Raid Finder should have shown me this in advance.

I was surprised that Raid Finder is so cumbersome. I have used it in the past to find world boss groups, apexis groups, garrison groups, rep groups, etc., and I was very happy with it. But — due to my hatred of pugs — I had not used it to look for an actual raid group.

So I ended up spending a couple of hours trying to get into a raid and not getting into a single one. I know Blizz loves to hype this as a big feature that has made life easier for players, but I found it to be enormously annoying and time wasting. It is useful for RLs, because there is basically no burden for them to list their raid. And it is useful for one-off groups. But for someone trying to find a raid, it is overwhelmingly bad.

Gear and “tier”

As I am sure you all know by now, over the weekend, Bashiok dropped a little blue “nugget” telling us that there will be a hotfix this week to upgrade gear from Black Rock Foundry and top level crafted gear by 5 ilevels. After announcing the change, he went on to tap dance like crazy to make sure we all understand this by no means implies that BRF is a second “tier” in this expansion, nope, no way, don’t even think it. See, what it is, is just a different “zone” that happens to be a tiny bit harder than the Highmaul “zone” and so maybe it should give slightly better gear. That’s all. No biggie.

Well.

First, a short comment about the gear change itself. I am not sure I care much one way or the other, but if I had to pick a position I guess I would say it’s probably a reasonable change, given the realities of both raid “zones.” As Bashiok explained, people feel kind of cheated when they finally fight their way to victory over bosses harder than Highmaul, only to be rewarded with gear no better than or worse than they already have. I mean, why even do it? You are much better off moving from normal HM to heroic than starting BRF — you know the fights and you get better gear. So I think it makes sense to increase the gear levels for BRF.

But the bigger question is, why all the fancy footwork to explain away what was clearly a miscalculation on Blizz’s part? Bashiok sounded positively Clintonesque  — “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” — when he redefined “tier.” When someone splits hairs over lexical nuances in order to make their point, it’s a sure sign their argument is weak.

Just a few short weeks ago, I praised Blizz for coming out and explaining their raid strategy for WoD. Whether people agreed with the strategy or not, at least and at last Blizz was laying out what it was and where they wanted to take it. This, I wrote, was a huge step forward, hopefully on the way to more transparency in their design decisions. Bashiok’s comments are a step backwards.

Look, the simple fact is, Blizz had a vision to make BRF a sister raid to HM, and they overtuned it. So much so, that BRF really qualifies as the next tier. So why not just admit that the whole “sister raid” strategy didn’t work, fix the gear issue, and move on? I applaud Blizz for trying new raid concepts, some of them will work and some won’t. There is no shame in failing, the shame comes in refusing to admit it and papering it over with flimsy definitions of “tier” and “zone,” just so they would not have to admit the initial concept might have been flawed.

And that original strategy might indeed have been flawed, even if BRF had been perfectly tuned. For the sake of argument, let’s say when BRF was introduced it was tuned exactly the same as HM. What that ends up feeling like is a single raid with 17 bosses and a location change. I don’t know about you, but that does not sound like fun to me. Most likely it did not sound like much fun to the devs either, so they made BRF more challenging and therefore more interesting, but in typical Blizz fashion the project manager failed to coordinate all the pieces. Apparently, after ten years, no one at Blizz remembered that players expect better gear for harder fights. Possibly they could send an intern down to Staples for some sticky notes, so they could post such reminders on their computer screens.

As it turned out, with BRF having been tuned pretty much a tier harder from the get-go, Blizz handled it badly. First, they failed to understand that it was more difficult than HM. This is a puzzle — the PTR comments certainly should have warned them this was a problem. Had they paid attention, they could have retuned it before it went live, or admitted they had created a second raid tier and adjusted both the gear level and the release dates. That they did none of these things is baffling.

So Blizz, thanks for fixing the motivational problem of gear in BRF. It’s a decent band-aid. But for crying out loud, don’t insult us with lectures about the various possible meanings of “tier.” The emperor is buck naked, and no matter how much you try to define “magical clothes” the fact remains that his arse is still hanging out.