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?

Of guilds and friendships

Last night was probably one of the most fun raid nights I have ever participated in. We did a full clear of Nighthold (N), a few people got some tier gear, and the whole evening was one of lighthearted banter and easy camaraderie. We started by me accidentally resting my fingers a little too hard on my keyboard, pulling Skorpyron just as we were filtering into the room, but we recovered sufficiently to not wipe. I was horrified, but everyone took it in good humor although of course they did not let me live it down for the whole night.

It was the kind of night that reminds me why I am still playing this game — the social aspect. In my case, I do not play with any real life friends, only people I have met virtually. Still, after spending at least 8 hours a week with them for over a year, they are people I would call friends. There are real life friends that I spend far less time with.

“Virtual friends” is a legitimate name for online relationships, and I suppose it could be shortened to “v-friends”. It’s an interesting phenomenon in our modern world, and I am sure someone has written a PhD dissertation on it at some point.

Prior to the computer age, people had “pen pals” — someone with whom you corresponded via letters — so I guess they were the v-friends of long ago. Sometimes pen pal relationships went on for years, but they depended almost exclusively on mutual appreciation of exchanged words, possibly with the occasional graphic representation in the form of drawings or maybe a photograph. You had no ability to look at their facial expressions, to hear vocal nuances, to hug or hold a hand in times of distress. Yet we read of many such relationships not only enduring but growing over the course of a lifetime.

V-friends seem to me to be the pen pals of the modern age, but they are pen pals on steroids, closer to real friends than to letter friends, but still not the same. You can share experiences in real time, and you can use voice chat to hear their vocal inflections, regional accent, even their laugh. But you cannot hug them or hold their hand, you will almost certainly not run to pick them up if they are stranded at the airport or have a flat tire, and you cannot see the emotion in their faces or body language. Still, you care about them and you enjoy their virtual company.

Anyway, I am not sure where I am going with this, but it was something I was thinking about as we made our way through Nighthold last night. I was just really reminded of how social this game is, or at least how much more fun it is for me when the social aspects work.

Which leads me to another point, and that is that I would very much like to see Blizz make guilds more relevant in the next expansion. It seems to me that the trend since Mists has been to make the game more of a solo endeavor, that the benefits of belonging to a guild have been steadily chipped away. I am not saying guilds are dead, and I am not implying that someone should have to belong to a guild to play the game. But from my worm’s-eye view, it feels like the most successful guilds are the ones that exist primarily to facilitate end game raiding — a fun activity, but it just seems like there should be benefits for guilds that exist mainly for the game’s social aspect aside from raiding.

I don’t know if the guild leveling idea was a good one or not, but I do know that its existence tended to promote guild activities in pursuit of a higher guild level. People showed up on guild activity night to work on the next group achievement, and small groups of guildies often worked on the more obscure achievements on an ad hoc basis. There used to be tangible benefits to guild membership, but about the only one I can think of now beyond raiding is guild mail. Blizz apparently found instances of abuse among some of the guild perks, and in their typical lazy fashion decided to eliminate the perks rather than fix the loopholes.

In the next expansion, I would love to see:

  • Guild halls, with some vendors and gathering places and maybe their own pseudo-custom music, a hearthstone portal, and guild ability to decorate. (Maybe with actual guild screenshots as wall hangings?) I have no idea how technically feasible any of this is, but it seems like if we can have individual garrisons and class halls, we can certainly have guild halls.
  • A new approach to guild achievements — make them ones that guild members need to work on together for things non-instance and non-raid related. Maybe add some more weekly achievements, consider adding things like community service guild achievements (pick up paper in the park, sweep the streets of a sector in Stormwind, repair the roof of the Keep, all members of certain classes in the guild do things like mages conduct a free portal activity in the square or hunters gather X amount of meat for the King, or tailors create X number of pieces of clothing for the orphans, etc.)
  • Make the rewards for achievements actually mean something — yes, I think this should involve reinstatement of guild perks. Bring back cauldrons, mass rez, guild summoning, significant gold for the guild bank, more guild-earned gear and mounts and pets, whatever.
  • Set up some kind of system whereby small guilds are not penalized — maybe a series of categories by size, and the achievements are pegged to that in terms of the scale of effort needed. Something I have mentioned before — and I still think is a good idea — is allowing guilds to belong to consortiums, loose organizations of guilds where the members cooperate in activities (maybe even have their own consortium chat channel) but retain their individual identities and memberships.

These are suggestions I have not totally thought through, and there may be reasons they are not feasible, but the point is I would like to see Blizz  come up with creative ways to strengthen the role of guilds in the game.

WoW’s major attraction when it started was that it was a social game, and I would like the next expansion to start to reverse the solo trend and return us at least a little to the game’s roots.

Because v-friends are friends, too. Even when they accidentally pull the boss.

Guild-y thoughts

In my opinion, the death of guilds is one of the saddest fallouts from the debacle that is WoD. I hasten to point out that I base this opinion on anecdotal evidence, I have no numbers or other hard facts, and I only see one server, so of course I could be wildly wrong in my observations. If you are on a server with a robust group of active guilds, I would love to hear about it. But my gut tells me that guilds are on the decline everywhere.

I think what started the decline was the removal, in Patch 6.0.2, of guild levels and some perks such as Cash Flow. Removing guild levels meant that all guilds — even single person bank guilds — immediately got the perks previously tied to levels attainment. In a direct sense this was not all that significant of a change, and it was kind of a boon to small guilds. But removing the link between guild level and perks removed a good basis for guild activities, and a tool for building a sense of shared accomplishments. It wasn’t a big deal, because there were still guild achievements to be done, but still it took away something from guild motivations.

Cash Flow was removed because — according to Blizz — there was a lot of abuse of it, mainly in the form of unscrupulous people creating guilds for the sole purpose of personally enriching themselves from the guild gold generated. When the perk was removed, Blizz said they would compensate guilds for the cash loss by increasing the BoE drop rate in raids.

Mmmmmhmm. Not only did the drop rate not increase noticeably, but the whole idea was flawed logic. First, not every guild had a viable raid team. Second, by the time BoE gear became “excess” to a raid team (that is, not a huge upgrade for someone), it had pretty much lost its auction house value.

Many guilds had become dependent on Cash Flow — for better or for worse — and had not only lost the skills to finance guild activities through other means, but had also created higher member expectations for universal repairs, providing profession mats, flasks and food, enchants and gems, etc. When the cash stopped rolling in, many guilds had to cut back on the freebies, causing a certain amount of member dissatisfaction.

Thus, many guilds went into WoD already somewhat weakened.

Once WoD went live and the initial excitement wore off (quickly), the hits to guilds continued. There was no world content that encouraged guild groups (like rare hunting in Mists, for example). There were no repeatable world bosses, and even after Blizz gave us a couple the gear they dropped was a one and done anyway. Valor had disappeared, eliminating any good reason to run guild heroics or scenarios every week. But of course there were also no scenarios.

There was little need to craft gear for guildies or for guild sale — anyone could craft their own lower level stuff with a garrison building, higher level stuff was simply too prohibitive in terms of soulbound mats and Savage Blood to just give it away, and you could only equip three items anyway. Even group mat gathering activities were pointless, given the fact that garrison mats were far easier to get. There were no dailies or weeklies to run, thus no reason to group up to make them less grindy.

Then many players just stopped logging in, or they had limited time to play and logged in only to run garrison chores and check missions. This was almost a death knell for social guilds, especially those that were struggling anyway. Even raiding guilds suffered, it became harder and harder to get even 10 people to show up for scheduled raids., Guilds that were already on life support died, and even previously healthy guilds were suddenly on life support. Recruitment yielded only minimal results, many people saw no reason to be in a guild, and few guilds could offer any real attractions for new recruits.

I don’t know if the whole guild concept is salvageable in this game, but I have a couple of suggestions to try and rescue it.

First, implement guild halls, on the idea of garrisons. These would be instanced content just as garrisons are, and would feature a guild hall like the garrison town hall. Guilds could display their achievements and Feats of Strength as banners and trophies. Guilds could increase the size of their guild hall areas through new achievements. Guild areas would have amenities, such as a bank, repair shops, guild vendor, party/pool area, a pub, an expanded bulletin board area, etc. — all earned through various guild achievements. Players in a guild would get a separate Guild hearthstone. There could even be something like a guild music channel, sort of a super-jukebox that would allow everyone in the guild to listen to the same guild hall music. There might be the introduction of guild legacy gear, which could be “checked out” from a special tab in the guild bank, permitting guildies to gain additional XP while leveling.

Second, put the halls in capitol cities. This would bring back a sense of faction and community to the game.

Third, bring back the guild summoning ability. With the planned elimination of flying, a summoning ability would go a long ways towards getting guilds back out in the world, because it would eliminate the “Aw, crap, we have to go all the way to Nagrand for that?” annoyances, and it would allow guilds to rapidly transport guildies to many out of the way places for various activities. Another possibility is to allow guilds to earn portals for their guild hall. Lots of portals, to every major city and to raid entrances. There might even be something called a mystery portal, the destination for which would change at random time intervals, introducing possibilities for fun guild outings.

Fourth, introduce guild gold-making activities. Things like guild weeklies and dailies beyond the current raid boss/heroic ones. They could include a gathering activity or maybe a rep activity. There could be a reintroduction of scenarios, with bonus gold for all-guild participation, maybe short scenarios that allow for 3-10 players. Bring back rares, allowing all-guild teams to hunt them. Set up some guild activities that would reward fun things like new music for the guild hall, or roaming guild mascots.

I’m sure there are tons of possibilities I haven’t thought of. The point is to bring back a sense of community, of fun, to the game. I don’t know about you, but I miss having active, engaged guilds, and I am tired of feeling like this has become a solo game. I want my community back, dammit!

What about you? What would you like to see in the game that would help to bring back guilds?