On world quests and rewards

In a recent post in his game design blog, Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler) wrote a few words on the art and science of game rewards. It started me thinking about how Blizz has structured rewards in Legion. Overall, I would give Blizz a C+ on this aspect of the expansion. They have done some really innovative things, but on the other hand they have made much of the reward process needlessly frustrating and/or manipulative. I am not talking about difficult — I don’t mind working to achieve something I want in the game — I am talking about things that just seem to operate on the “gotcha” principle for no good reason, or mechanics Blizz thinly disguises as “content” but are in reality vehicles for forcing certain kinds of game play.

Today I want to focus on one part of the Legion reward system: world quests.

I liked the idea of world quests early in Legion, and I am still basically a fan, especially with the emissary twist. My main hunter does not need any of the gear or gold or class hall resources they offer, but I still usually crank out some of them for mats or AP (anything above 300k, more about this below). But I run as many as I can of them when I am focusing on one of my alts. Most of them are fairly quick (especially now that I can almost run them in my sleep), and frequently the rewards are useful to my alts.

I think the tying of faction rep to these quests was a good idea, and I don’t mind that vendor-purchase items are in turn tied to achieving faction rep. If I am interested in being able to buy things from a particular vendor, I am fine with working a bit to be allowed that privilege.

I make sure to run all the offered emissary quests on whichever alts I am working on  — if I can find the time — mainly for the chance of getting a legendary, but I am kind of conflicted about this aspect. It is a fact that you cannot play a character in Legion to any reasonable level of competency without two of the “good” legendaries — whatever they may be for that spec. So I chase them on my focused alts, mainly via emissary quests and LFR, but it makes me feel manipulated. It seems bad enough that every character must have a certain weapon and only that weapon for the entire expansion, without requiring certain other additional gear as well.

But the main reason I still run world quests is part of the minus side of them: artifact power. Blizz has had a stunning turnaround on the whole idea of AP.

Prior to 7.3, Ion Hazzikostas several times reminded us that once a player reached Convergence on their artifact weapon, the amount of AP required to advance it further was, BY DESIGN, ridiculously high in an almost logarithmic progression. This was because — so he told us — Blizz did not want players to feel like they had to continually grind AP, that the idea was that it would just be a somewhat small additional reward for doing normal game activities like emissary quests, random instances, mythic dungeons, etc. Additionally, so he said, the design was that players who played many hours each day would not have a significant artifact level advantage over players who might play only a few hours a week.

In other words, the whole artifact trait mechanism was designed to become less and less important once the 7.2 Convergence point was reached.

Then, in what seems to have been a sudden reversal of design policy, in 7.3 Blizz introduced a whole new artifact weapon leveling system in the form of relic traits and the crucible. They tied it to AP and Convergence levels, and to make the new levels possible to attain they re-introduced a form of artifact knowledge, except they removed player control of AK progression and just time-gated it with weekly increases. The net result was to make AP once again important to players and to make grinding it a productive activity again.

And a true grind it is. There are several reddit threads in which mathematically-inclined people have analyzed ratios of AK to AP and estimated time required to get to certain points. But the thing I have noticed for my hunter is this: In spite of both AK increasing every week and AP increasing with each new level, it still takes me about a week to gain a level. This will change after I reach level 75 and after AK rates stop increasing, but it strikes me that this a whole new way to gate character power. Blizz for some reason has opted for an incredibly complex method to do this — why didn’t they just set a limit on how much AP you can earn in a week, or how many levels you could increase your artifact level?

Even more interesting, why was there this complete 180 on AP design? Why did we go from the official “We don’t want you to chase AP” to “Here is a whole new reason to chase AP — ready, set, GO!” ?

One obvious reason: MAU. My guess is that they saw their MAU levels falling as the AP rewards from game activities became less and less relevant for main characters. Players just stopped doing the daily stuff that was offering what had become insignificant rewards. So the magic metrics fell, causing this part of the Blizz world to start to look shaky in corporate eyes. Swinging into action — and without any apparent trace of embarrassment — they reversed themselves on the AP design philosophy, because chasing AP is the one thing that would bring raiders back to daily hours in the game. And raiders are the group Blizz values these days — basically anyone who runs regular or above raid tiers and Mythic+ dungeons.

It is nice that I can increase my alt artifact weapon traits by 10-15 or even more levels a day just by running a few world quests, but it is demoralizing that I have to continue to run them on my main just to feel like I will not be letting my fellow raiders down. Especially after all the assurances from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that after reaching Convergence, size artifact power doesn’t really matter.

If the all-important MAU numbers were falling, why could Blizz not have taken a different approach? For example, they could have significantly increased the non-AP rewards for emissary and world quests, and for early world bosses, or they could have added more cool mounts or pets as rewards for the non-Argus quests. They could have implemented some sort of catchup gear currency to be earned outside of Argus. They could have instituted a mechanism for alts whereby for the first two legendaries you win you get to pick which ones you want. They could have made Blood of Sargeras account bound, giving mains a reason to go out and get it, and giving alts reasonable-level gear with which to go and run their profession instances or to join regular raid groups or even just to compete on Argus without serial dying.

All of these things likely would have kept the MAU numbers up a bit. But Blizz does not design for players like this, they design for raiders, so the only idea they had was to re-institute the AP grind. Not the kind of creativity we are used to from Blizz.

So yeah — Legion reward system has some real A+ moments. Unfortunately it also has a lot of fail moments. Overall grade C+.

Time for your Metamucil, Auntie Blizz

Has Blizzard become risk-averse?

It is only a question, but these days the company seems less like the brilliant, shirts-untucked, energetic skateboard bunch we all thought we knew, and more like Great Aunt Dorothy, tut-tutting about noisy children and concerned she is not getting enough fiber.

Yesterday Blizz announced that, after years of development to improve their battle.net social media vehicle, they now proudly present — wait for it — a Discord knockoff. It is still in beta, though, and only fully available in North America, but at last they have achieved the same technology other social media companies reached long ago. (This is after they tried — largely unsuccessfully — to tie WoW in with existing social media giants like Twitter and Facebook.)

There appears to be absolutely nothing innovative about the new battle.net. The feature they are touting the most is the “appear offline” button, a much-requested feature that in theory allows a user to effectively hide from their friends if they do not wish to be sociable while on line. Except it still does not work with WoW. From the blue post (emphasis mine):

Appearing offline will show you as offline to everyone in your Blizzard friends list. Once you have joined a game, the experience of appearing offline might be slightly different depending on which game you are playing. In the case of World of Warcraft, your guildmates will see your character come online and enter WoW’s in-game chat channels, and anyone who has you as a character-level friend will see you online on their friends list. Everyone outside of the same game as you will not see you online or playing any games.

Well, if you use battle.net, so much for trying to get a little “me” time by questing on your secret non-guilded character.

Fail!

Which brings me to the other part of this post — yesterday’s Q&A with Game Director Hazzikostas. (Check out the MMO-C Cliff Notes and full video here.) Before I launch into my comments, though, I will say that Ion was being more honest with us than I can ever remember him being. I give him some props for that, even if the honesty was more of a “brutally honest” kind of thing. Anyway, with that, a few specific observations:

  • We will soon get an account bound Argus-unlocked whistle. Once we do it on one character it will be unlocked for all. That may be coming in a few short days.
  • Get ready to grind for-freaking-ever if you want to upgrade your stash of legendaries in the new patch. Yes, same horrible grind as from 940 to 970, because, according to that oracle of fun™, Ion Hazzikostas, it feels “odd” to just have them automatically upgraded. Yeah, wouldn’t want that…
  • Also on legendaries, the tokens datamined in 7.3.2 will be available to players who have amassed every legendary for their entire class, not for their spec. To me, this is another huge piece of Blizz hypocrisy — they want every spec to feel “unique” and special, and they have gone to great lengths to turn each spec into its own mini-class, but when it comes to getting any perks from this change, forget it. Can’t have players not putting in their required monthly hours, can we?
  • Dev team is not totally happy with Legion legendaries and tier set bonuses, and how those interact with class balance/tuning, but basically it is too hard to fix now. Same with some aspects of professions, class pruning of utility spells, and the clunky high numbers associated with AP. These are the topics where I thought Ion was being brutally honest with us. I respect the fact he admitted they painted themselves into a corner on these, that there were unintended consequences, and that they simply do not have the resources now to do any more than minor tweaks to make the situation less awful.
  • RNG — it’s good, they like it, and it is here to stay so get used to it. (This is a bit too glib of me — Ion gave a pretty decent explanation of Blizz’s philosophy on RNG. It’s just that I think they are doing a much worse job of “managing” it than they think they are.)
  • Argus technical design is such that flying is impossible there, and at least two world quest areas cannot be unlocked for an account, only per character. (Which means I will be spending as little time there as possible.)
  • During the discussion on class utility, Ion reiterated the current Blizz philosophy that raid class composition should make a difference in boss fights. He tried to back away from a perception they believe raids should “bring the class not the player” but it was pretty clear they like the idea of certain classes making a difference in specific boss fights.
    • He indicated that at some point they would be restoring some raid utilities to classes, that the significant pruning at the start of Legion may have been ill-advised. However he is not in favor of every class having a set of standard utilities so that classes are fungible, rather he wants every class to maintain a unique raid utility.
    • I suppose this is an OK idea if and only if there are not favored and forgotten classes. Blizz does not have a great track record in this area.
    • Also, this kind of thinking is a prime example of Blizz targeting development for elite players in Mythic raiding guilds, because they are the only ones with the luxury of picking and choosing their roster for given fights. The rest of us have to go with who we have, regardless of whether or not those classes give the team the best shot at killing the particular boss.
  • Mythic+ is here to stay, and it will likely become more and more complex and elite. Blizz has discovered that this is where the esports money is for WoW and I fully expect Blizz to go all in on it. While this is not in and of itself bad, it seems likely that the activity will evolve to suit professional players and teams at the expense of it being a fun diversion for casual players.

As an aside, I thought one of the real highlights of the Q&A was when a newly-spiffed-up (and looking good!) Lore did a Ken Burns voiceover of one of the questions. I actually did laugh out loud, it was so well done. If you have a couple minutes, check it out, around timestamp 35:30 in the MMO-C video.

The Q&A had a lot of information in it, I thought, although for some of it you had to read between the lines. If I had to sum it up, I would say there were three main messages:

  • Grinding is here to stay because it keeps the MAU metrics high, so suck it up.
  • Blizz has moved beyond Legion and is not prepared to devote any more big resources to fixing it.
  • Blizz will continue to develop the game with elite players as the target group. 

This is what I mean when I say Blizz has become stodgy and unimaginative. They are sticking with proven formulae, obeying their corporate masters on bottom lines and resource allocation and target venues. (I mean, even Lore is looking downright corporate these days!)  Yeah, sure, of course I want them to make money, but for crying out loud do they have to dump their original creative genius to do it? Were they really so hurt by WoD that they will no longer take any risks at all? What happened to the Blizz Dude that would have said, “Oops, my bad, man!” and laughed at himself but then shook it off and came back with even more intensity?

That Blizz got old and cautious and crotchety. It watches its diet now, and always wears slippers, and knows the value of staying regular.

Witnessing the slow decline of someone you love is never fun. Here’s your shawl, Auntie.

Patch 7.3 first week impressions

We have had close to a week to explore Patch 7.3, and I am still pretty neutral about it. On the one hand there are some interesting and fun things to experience, and on the other the never-ending grind on the same-old same-old is really wearing very thin. Let me get to some specifics.

Timed content release. In general, I am not a fan of this Blizz policy, because I think it is basically one of in loco parentis — they are saving us from ourselves because we are apparently too dim-witted to pace our game play. If they release an entire patch at once, so the Blizz reasoning goes, some of us might play it all through in the first week and then begin to whimper and whine about there being nothing to dooooooo! in the game. Can’t have that, so — like mom doling out Halloween candy a piece at a time — they feed us the patch content in small pieces.

That is my thought in the abstract. In the concrete reality, though, I find I do not mind it. I would probably play the same amount of time whether or not the entire patch was immediately available, but I find nothing in the stretched out release that hinders the way I play. In fact, it encourages me to get a couple of my alts into Argus this first week, since really all there is to do on my main is try and grab as much rep as possible with the new factions and gather some of the currency — all of which can be done just by cranking out the Argus dailies.

The quests. I have found them interesting so far, but I think that is just because they are not the exact same ones we have all been doing for almost a year now. And of course they occur in new territory, so some of the interest is in finding just how in hell to get to this or that world boss or quest area. That said, I haven’t yet found any really new or innovative quests, just the same old gather-20-of-this or kill-10-of-these patterns.

Some of them, in fact, are pretty blatantly just dressed-up versions of the same ones we have been doing in Broken Shore for months now. For example, you know the one in BS along the shore where you have to point your camera up to scan the skies for big menacing birds to shoot down using a special gizmo, all the while dodging mobs on the ground and picking up supply chests? Well, leave out the supply chests and substitute spacey looking fighter craft for the birds, a different icon for the shooting gizmo, and you got one of the world quests on Argus. Exactly. It’s not just the same idea, it actually seems like the same code with a few cosmetic changes.

Zone art. This, too, so far seems like a repurposing of the zone art used in Broken Shore. The two Argus areas we have access to thus far are, like BS, nothing but stretches of rock strata punctuated by green goopy fel rivers and pools, with a cave or cave-like building thrown in once in a while as a place to park an elite or a treasure chest.

Unlike BS, however, the venue of another planet allows Blizz to dispense with some of the more pleasing and/or “normal” geography we found in Azeroth — even on BS — like a few sparse bushes or blades of grass once in a while, or a shoreline with actual ocean and maybe a few islands. And this dispensation is made even more acute by the fact that we cannot even travel between zones ourselves, we can only transport to them, thus Blizz has eliminated the need for transition zones. Argus so far is just a collection of disconnected venues for killing stuff. Which brings me to my next point,

Flying. More specifically, NO flying. Blizz has told us Argus is essentially Timeless Isle, and there will be no flying on it ever. So those cool flying mounts you worked so hard to be able to use in Legion? Forget about them, they will be consigned to waddle about through rock canyons and abutments. Those nifty class mounts Blizz so generously allowed us to earn? Same thing, unless of course you are a druid, in which case you cannot even use your class mount on Argus, since Blizz has decided druids are too stupid to choose their travel form for themselves, and there will be no flying druid forms in no-fly zones.

In the past, Blizz has given us two condescending reasons for not allowing flying. One is that certain zones are too small for it. The other — and their preferred excuse — is that flying precludes “immersion” in the game. (The real reason, I am fairly certain, is that disallowing flying makes the zone design simpler/cheaper and also serves to stretch out a player’s time.)

See, the “immersion” excuse actually makes a little sense to me, especially in the beginning of a new patch when you want to get a sense of the detailed art in the game, or you just want to do some exploring to find hidden pathways or little gems of idyllic beauty off the beaten track. But Argus has no real beauty spots, and the art is the same version of designer hell we have seen for months in BS.

All “immersion” means in 7.3 is that you get to fight your way through mobs every time you travel, every step of the way to and from quests. And Blizz has saved even more on overhead by pretty much making roads the only way you can travel — the place is chock full of invisible walls everywhere you try to go. And while I am at it, whatever happened to the old “You are much less likely to meet monsters if you stick to roads”? The reason Blizz has roads now is to funnel everyone into mob after mob after mob. Not much fun, but it sure as hell racks up the Monthly Active User stats…

Class hall and champion missions. Blizz is still cramming these down our throats. Did you breathe a sigh of relief, feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally got all your champions to gear level 900? HAHAHAHA! Well guess what, now you get to grind them up to 950! For the classes lucky enough to be granted the class hall research permitting work orders for champion gear, this is annoying but doable. For the classes that have to rely on missions only to bring back RNG-determined gear, this new requirement is disheartening in the extreme.

Make no mistake about it, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to boost the use of the WoW mobile app.

Artifact Power and artifact relics. Sigh…. Prior to the release of 7.2, Ion Hazzikostas made a big fat deal out of lecturing us on the proper approach towards collecting AP: It was supposed to be just something that just gradually happened, not meant to be chased after, not meant to overly reward those who played many hours every day, and therefore Blizz was making the AP requirements for additional concordance levels go from ridiculous to impossible. Cool it, he said to us, just play the game and don’t worry about grinding AP. (“If you play it, it will come.”)

Well. What a difference one patch makes. Now, it turns out, in order to maximize your weapon relics, you have to achieve certain (quite high) concordance levels. And to encourage you to do this (in fact, just to make it possible for you to do this) we are going back to ever-increasing levels of weapon reasearch that permit ever-higher AP rewards! Grind your little asses off, maggots! Bwaaaahaha!

Bottom line. I am happy to get some new stuff to do with 7.3, and I kind of like the idea of taking the battle to another planet. And even if the new world quests are just reruns of the Broken Shore ones, at least they are a somewhat new variation. But I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz is funneling us down a narrower and narrower chute in terms of game play — no flying, no esthetic exploring, keep up your champion missions, grind your butt off for AP again. I feel like they are sacrificing their enormous capacity for creativity all in the name of cranking out “content” at a blistering pace. And that they have begun to view players as nothing more than Monthly Active User statistics to be manipulated for the bottom line, not as customers who play their game just because they take pure delight in it.

Personal note: Thanks to the well-wishers for my family in Houston last week. It was a week of little sleep for me, along with a lot of phone calls and micro-organizing, but it ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome. And not for nothin’, but I come from good stock — my 80-year old great-aunt and uncle weathered hardship that would defeat many, much younger, people. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Ellen — you guys rock!

Blood(s), sweat and tears

Today’s rant — yes, I regret to say that’s what it is — is about the most pernicious thing Blizz did to players in Legion: Blood of Sargeras. It is the mat that is the alt-killer and the profession-killer. It is, in fact, designed both to hold players back and to dictate which professions they must choose. It is possibly the most player-unfriendly mechanic ever devised by Blizz, far worse even than the hated Spirit of Harmony in Mists of Pandaria.

Let us review the “features” of Blood of Sargeras:

  • It is soulbound, Bind on Pickup.
  • You cannot collect it until you reach level 110.
  • It was designed to favor gathering professions, some way more than others.
  • You cannot even get it from gathering professions until you reach proficiency level 2 in them, and reaching this level is entirely RNG-dependent.
  • It is a required mat for many upper level crafted items as well as for the application of obliterum to raise the item level of crafted gear.
  • It is awarded, sporadically, in tiny puny numbers, from some world quests and loot chests.

The bottom line here is, any player wishing to craft items (gems, for example) for sale or even for donating to guildies, must have a significant stash of Bloods. Any character such as an alt using crafted gear as a way to gear up must have a freaking enormous stash of Bloods.

Yesterday I did a little experiment on two of my alts. One is a miner/JC and the other is an enchanter/engineer. Both are level 110 and both have the required proficiencies. In theory, according to the supercilious let-them-eat-cake Game Director and crafting devs, both mining and enchanting should yield Bloods.

Uh-huh. I spent 4 hours running mining routes on my miner, ending up with about 2-3 full stacks each of felslate and leystone ore. And four Bloods of Sargeras. Four. That’s right, about one per hour of nonstop mining. On my enchanter, I spent a similar amount of time running world quests for items to DE, and I also spent a tiny bit of time on my main crafting 30 items to send to my enchanter for DE. In all, I probably DE’ed something close to 60 items, for which I received a grand total of two Bloods.

I have no idea what the official Blood drop rate is for the various gathering professions and for DE, but my anecdotal evidence is that it seems all to be pretty much equal for all of them. Wowhead, which basically aggregates anecdotal drop rates for items and is thus not especially scientific, puts all the gathering professions (except fishing, which is abominable at like 0.2 percent) at single-digit Blood drop rates, generally between 2 and 7 percent. So on average, in theory, you should expect one Blood every 20 gathered items. My experience has been closer to 1 every 50, or 2 percent drop rate. But here’s the thing — my skinner can gather a buttload more leather in 10 minutes than my miner or herbalist can gather their items in hours. And my poor enchanter is even worse off.

Now let’s put this into perspective. If I wish to outfit one of these alts with semi-decent gear, the only real way to do it short of turning them into a main and running actual mythic dungeons and normal or higher raids, is to get them crafted armor and use obliterum to upgrade it to ilevel 900. Let’s say, just as a wild assumption, that in fact the alt has been amazingly lucky and gotten two legendaries and maybe a couple of 895-900 level titanforged pieces of loot from an emissary or world quest. That still leaves something like 6-8 pieces of crafted gear to upgrade. Let’s go the low end and say 6, and let’s say I have a main or other alts that could actually craft the gear and send it to them.

Upgrading 6 pieces of crafted gear requires 60 obliterum and 120 Bloods of Sargeras. My rich banker could theoretically buy the obliterum on the auction house, at a staggering cost of between 150,00-200,000 gold, given the current going rate on my server. But with the cost of gear nowadays, that is a real bargain for 6 pieces of gear.

Except an alt who actually needs crafted gear almost never has any possibility of accumulating 120 Bloods in anything resembling reasonable time. It would take months. On an alt that may be played a few hours a week, because hey it is an alt. By the time you spend enough time on an alt to accumulate 120 Bloods, you don’t need the crafted gear any more.

This angers me, mainly because Blizz played coyly cute with the whole crafted gear thing back when they announced Legion. They deliberately misled us by touting the fact that, unlike in WoD, in Legion we would be able to equip as many crafted armor items as we wished. Sorry, Blizz, this was a deliberate lie of omission, and it stinks.

And honestly, it would not be such a big thing to gear up an alt if Blizz had not designed Legion to ensure that gear is everything. You simply cannot play an alt to anything even close to its class potential unless it has high level gear.

Well, you may say, didn’t Blizz make Blood of Sargeras a vendor item in 7.2? Yeah, pretty much in the same way they bragged about equipping crafted gear. That is, they made the exchange rate between garrison resources and Bloods so high that by the time an alt can accumulate the needed number of resources, once again, they will be at the point where they probably do not need crafted gear any more. At 1000 resources per Blood (although you have to buy them 5 at a time), it takes 120,000 garrison resources on an alt to get enough Bloods to upgrade 6 pieces of gear. Not an insurmountable number, but also not something you can even approach for months on an alt.

And it is possible to transfer garrison resources from a main to an alt. But the cost, in my opinion, is prohibitive, in that it ends up being an 80% “tax” on Blood of Sargeras.  That is, you can use Bloods to buy garrison resources to send to an alt, who can in turn use the resources to buy Blood of Sargeras. But for example it would cost your main 100 Bloods to buy enough resources to enable your alt to buy 20 Bloods.

There are also little gizmos in the game that increase a character’s ability to gather Bloods. By far the easiest to get is the shoulder enchant from Wardens that once in a while will grant you 1-5 Bloods just from looting a mob. When I say once in a while, my experience has been that you might get this bundle once every 50-75 mobs. Of course, there are a couple of catches to getting this shoulder enchant. One is that you must be exalted with Wardens to be allowed to purchase it. The other is that the enchant may only be applied to soulbound shoulder gear. Which of course means your alt must be exalted with Wardens in order to get the enchant, you cannot buy the enchant on a main and apply it to shoulders before sending them to the alt. And Wardens rep may only be obtained through world quests or the odd champion mission, it’s not like you can start building rep with them while you are leveling like you can with other faction rep.

So here we are again — Legion has been designed to require players to spend vastly more time at the game than they have spent regularly over past years. It has been designed to be an endless grind for ever-moving goals. Most people complain mainly about AP in this role, but I submit that Blood of Sargeras is even worse. It is the primary mechanism for discouraging alt play and profession play. It is the mechanism Blizz used just prior to Legion to force people to drop dual crafting professions, because suddenly someone thought that should no longer be allowed. It is a deliberate move to force players into Ion Hazzikostas’s prescribed play style, which is that no one should be allowed to “dabble” in alts or professions, that everyone should have one crafting and one gathering profession, that only characters played in exactly the same way as a main should be allowed. He cannot (yet) stop players from creating alts just for fun, but he sure as hell can keep us from actually having fun with them unless they are played with the same intensity and play style as a main. And of course with the prescribed profession mix.

After all, Blizz cannot just permit people to have play style choices, for crying out loud. It offends the Game Director.

It’s past time to release the choke hold on Blood of Sargeras, to permit alt gear catchup, and to make this mat — at a minimum — Bind on Account. 

An hour of nothingness and delusion

Today’s post is about all the juicy tidbits Ion Hazzikostas dropped for us in yesterday’s Q&A — some of them make me righteously indignant, I am excited about others, and still others have given us startling insight into not only 7.3 but also the direction the game is going for the next expansion.

HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. It was a real yawner, so much so it looked like even Josh Allen aka Lore got bored enough to semi-surreptitiously start checking out his phone texts about halfway through the session. A coincidence of irl scheduling allowed me to watch it live, and what a mistake that was — truly an hour of my life completely wasted. Unless you really have nothing else to do, do not waste your own time listening to it — if you are interested, read the MMO-C summary notes.

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

Okay, I get that not everyone has the same game interests I do, and that there will be subjects that cause me to roll my eyes but that are totally absorbing to someone else. Story lines would be an example — some people are real nerds (meant in the nicest possible way) about the game’s lore and can’t get enough of it, while I on the other hand…

Lore nerd: OMG!!! Did you hear that in the next expansion we might finally find out why G’Thun’De’Fxxxgrlk treacherously sold out the Squeakyoldfart Creators of Every Aspect of the Universe, causing the rise of the orcs and the demise of the Curlytoed Elves? And that he will finally be reunited with his centuries-long love Mp’K’Qrj’kunda? And that we will get to fight the Fel Caterpillar of Fuzzy Doom in the Temple of Gassygreenvapors? Sorry about the spoilers, but I’m so excited!!

Me: Zzzzzzz

But I digress. Luckily for me there were no story line comments yesterday (if there were, I blocked them out). There were, however, long minutes during which Hazzikostas droned on (and on and on and on) about a burning question of great interest to at least .001% of the player base — what is an acceptable amount of time for a world first guild to complete a new mythic raid tier?

Really? You have a total of one hour to address questions from actual players, about a ton of topics that truly impact their game experience, and this is what you choose to spend a huge chunk of time on? I really would like to know who chooses these “questions” and where they actually come from, because this sounded a lot like it might actually have been submitted by player “Rehctaw” in a special forum limited to  maybe the Game Director.

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

We learned it will take 3 weeks to unlock all parts of the patch, and that the whole point of unlocking it all is to be able to — hold onto your hats here — grind out more shit for your artifact weapon!

There were a lot — a lot — of questions related to artifact weapons, at least three asking about their appearance and transmog. (Again, what moron chooses these questions? I could see one question on this subject but three?) Of course, being a BM hunter, artifact appearances mean almost nothing , since Blizz has decided in their infinite wisdom that even though Hati is the main part of our artifact weapon, there will be no appearance changes. They gave us the Essence Swapper, we should just shut up and be grateful. This is in line with their refusal to allow hunters to use any cosmetic weapon enchants. It’s all, well, too hard, and what the hell it’s only hunters and why should we waste any dev resources on them? Not that I’m bitter or anything….

Sorry, I digress again.

I have said it before and I say it again: artifact weapons are the garrisons of Legion. They have shaped the expansion in a way that in my opinion completely distorts the entire game, and Blizz just keeps shoving them down our throats in new ways with every patch. The fact that something close to a third of the Q&A time was spent on discussing them demonstrates that in fact artifacts are Legion and Legion is artifacts, in the same way garrisons were WoD and WoD was garrisons.

Alts

One bit of bright news revealed about Patch 7.3 is that there will be some decent catch-up mechanisms for alts. I still think Legion is alt-hostile, but there will be at least a couple of concessions to help players. For example, the time necessary to grind out gear for your champions will be greatly reduced, quite a few of the Argus unlocks will be account wide, and there will be more shortcuts to milestones for your artifact weapon.

Reforging

This was one of the weirdest excursions into the mind of Ion Hazzikostas I can remember. The question was basically, is there any chance we might see the return of reforging — possibly the best question in the whole Q&A, and it was also the most out-of touch answer I have ever heard from any Blizz dev. Here are the MMO-C notes  summarizing Ion’s response:

  • Reforging had lots of downsides, such as trying to perfectly get the hit or expertise cap and reforging all of your items every time you got a new item.
  • Every item that doesn’t have your best two stats you would reforge to have your best stat. This didn’t really make for interesting choices.
  • This also narrowed the distinction between items, making them feel more similar.
  • It also made it harder to evaluate upgrades, as you had to look at the item in its current state as well as how you could reforge it.
  • There were some good parts, such as giving players choices to make.

Not included in the summarized notes is this astonishing quote regarding the current state of gear in Legion without reforging:

“A new helm drops for you, just put it on.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that. Just like he actually said one of the evil things about reforging was that it “made it harder to evaluate upgrades.”

One wonders just exactly what game it is that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas spends his time playing, because it most certainly is not World of Warcraft Legion. My mind is too boggled over this whole Twilight Zone answer to even rant about it, all I can do is shake my head in astonishment and disbelief.

And maybe drink a beer. It is, after all, the weekend. See you on the other side.

Hopes for tomorrow’s Q&A

Tomorrow (August 3rd) there will be another in what has become a rather sporadic series of “Q&A” sessions, in which the ever-cheerful Lore selects players’ mostly-softball questions to pose to a game developer — in this case it will be none other than the Game Director himself, Ion Hazzikostas.

There is always a forum prior to the Q&A where players can submit their questions. Submitters are cautioned to pose short questions only, usually limited to 40 words or so. In what to me is always a stunning display of — stupidity? arrogance? failure to read instructions? — invariably most of the posted questions are long treatises on everything the poster thinks is wrong with the game or their particular class or whatever. (One has to wonder if these are the same folks who refuse to listen to raid instructions because, y’know, THEY are special and allowed to stand in fire due to how awesome they are…) There are other venues to submit questions, too (Twitter, for sample) — although the full list remains a bit murky, possibly by design so as to allow some conveniently-leading topics.

At any rate, the Q&A questions are pre-selected, I suppose in order to allow Blizz to focus on whatever their intended message is for the session. Often these events occur just prior to release of major patches, and the “questions” take the form of, “I love the new [badass mount/questline/gear/etc]! Can you tell us what other awesomeness is in the new patch?” In answer, of course, Hazzikostas launches into a 20-minute advertisement for the patch.

Another category of “questions” are ones that really have no impact on how the game is played at all, which tend to be ridiculously boring to me but which I suppose are of some interest to a certain segment of the player base. For example, “Is there any chance we will see Bigevilorc finally get his comeuppance in the next raid tier?” This is usually my cue to go get a cup of coffee, because it is absolutely certain that Hazzikostas will kill at least 10 minutes of the hour-long session being coy about the answer, and Lore will interject his own hopes on this vital issue.

From time to time, however, Hazzikostas will choose to address concerns that have bubbled up in the community and he wants to prevent them becoming a huge thing. (Example: Flying in WoD.) Or he wants to introduce a new design philosophy, possibly feeling out the community for a future expansion mechanism or major game change. The mechanic is that Lore will read a short question on the subject, and Hazzikostas will launch into a very detailed answer, almost as if he had prepared to address it! To me, these are the most informative parts of any Q&A session, because they reveal insights into the bigger picture and often give us a glimpse of how the game might evolve in the foreseeable future.

These are some of the meatier topics I would love to see addressed tomorrow:

  • Gear — whether the current stat of complexity is by design (and thus we will continue to endure it in coming expansions) or is just an unintended consequence of the whole artifact/legendary/class balance intertwining. I would also love to hear him explain why, for example, old tier gear and even 860-level trinkets are still “required” for some specs. And are we stuck with the horrible Legion legendary design from now on, or will Blizz abandon it in the next expansion?
  • RNG — whether the intent is to increase its reach even more, or whether maybe it will be dialed back a bit in the next expansion. In particular, I would like to see him address the role of RNG in gear, and ideally would love to see him back off a bit from his absolutely asinine insistence that RNG for gear is fun™.  (Not hopeful here, but we are basically optimistic creatures…)
  • Plans for more catch-up mechanisms for alts. For example, making Blood of Sargeras BoA, compressing order hall quest lines even more, instituting profession catch-ups.
  • Hints about class design changes, both in 7.3.5 and in the next expansion.
  • While he is at it, hints about the timing for the next expansion — will we actually see Blizz adhering to their stated 2-year expansion goal and thus se th next one about this time next year?
  • Zone design — is the preferred design now small, closed areas rather than the exploration-friendly open spaces of the past?

As far as I know, there have been no announcements of the focus of tomorrow’s Q&A. That makes me think it will be either an advertisement for 7.3 or an explanation of some issues Hazzikostas deems important. It would be fun if it were a vehicle for dropping some bombshell about the next expansion, but I think that is highly unlikely. I will be happy if we get a few words on even a couple of the subjects I listed above.

PS. Any guesses as to how many times uber-polite Lore will apologize for mangling someone’s name? I am betting on 6.

A plea to Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas

WARNING: Entering rant zone. Please drive carefully.

Okay. Today’s rant topic is one I have covered before, but last night it just hit a tipping point for me. To put it as delicately and politely as I can:

BLIZZ, YOU HAVE ROYALLY FUCKED UP GEAR IN LEGION!

What pushed me over the edge last night was getting two pieces of nice 930 level gear that in one case was a 20-level upgrade and in the other was a 35-level upgrade to what I had equipped. Except they were not, in fact “upgrades”, since I am unable to equip them. Doing so would require me to break up my delicately-balanced tier19/tier20 combo, the result of which — according to the supercomputers we now have to use to evaluate gear values — would be a net decrease of approximately 40k dps.

It gets worse. I actually have a beautiful 6-piece set of tier20 gear, which in theory would allow me to run a sought-after 2pc/4pc combo. Nope, can’t do it, since once again that would result in a significant damage loss over keeping my 895-level 2 pieces of tier19.

It gets even worse. I have some very nice, highly-valued BM legendaries all of which I have upgraded to 970. But for the most part I cannot use them because doing so would mean insufficient slots for my required 6 pieces of tier19/tier20 gear. The only one of value that I can use is the BM belt, only because — thank the Old Gods — there are no tier pieces for that slot. This means I am pretty much stuck with using legendary wrists, Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish, or Sephuz as my second piece. It turns out that Sephuz is the hands-down winner in terms of theoretical damage levels, KBW is a close second, and the wrists are quite a bit lower (plus I have never been lucky enough to snag the trinket that makes them really work, thus they are kind of “meh” for me). I tried Sephuz last night but found that the practical disruption to rotation necessary in order to maximize its procs was causing me to lose more dps than I could theoretically gain, so I switched to KBW and my damage immediately went up noticeably.

It gets still worse. Because of the huge role secondary stats play especially when they are intertwined with various talent builds and artifact relics, any new piece of gear must be evaluated not only for itself but for the pluses or minuses it brings to your current talent/relic setup. This means that you must consider changing your talents and relics in order to take advantage of a potential upgrade in gear.

For example, I run what Bendak calls a “Stomp” build for my BM hunter. This is a build that takes advantage of relatively high levels of crit — not normally a top stat for BM hunters, but it becomes significant if you are running the Stomp build. (I only happened to get a lot of crit because of the random nature of secondary stats, I did not set out to stack it on purpose.) But it is likely this build will be less powerful if I get a couple of pieces of gear with less crit, thus I need to evaluate them not only for the talents I am running, but for a possibly completely different talent build. In which case, other legendaries and/or tier combos might be significantly better.

It has gotten to the point where even the sophisticated simulations are of marginal value. I used to use a simple gear-evaluator (Pawn) addon based on optimal stat weights for your character. That is now useless, since it (by design) only compares gear for a single slot, not in combination with for example tier that gives bonuses. Thus, nearly every piece of gear in my bag is considered an upgrade, because of course a 930 cape is better by far than a 900 one. Except it is not, because the 900 one is part of a tier set.

Not only sim-based addons, but the simulation software itself is insufficient for most people in evaluating gear. This is because most people — even if they understand how to set up SimulationCraft on their own computers or plug in a set of gear and talents to one of the web sites — simply do not have enough time or expertise to methodically compare all the complex factors. Thus, the newest simulation helper is something called SimPermut, an addon that allows you to generate multiple combos of your gear and compare them. It also allows you to run talent and relic comparisons. What it does is generate a script that you can then use to run in Advanced mode on the website Raidbots.com. (If you want to get started, check out this IcyVeins tutorial — it is aimed at hunters but the technique can be used for any class.)

(Remember the days when you could just plant yourself in front of a target dummy and test out a couple variations of talents or gear? HAHAHAHA! We were so innocent then!)

See, here’s the thing:

WHY DO WE NEED A BANK OF HIGH POWERED COMPUTERS AND SOPHISTICATED VARIABLE SCRIPTS TO DECIDE IF A PIECE OF GEAR IS AN UPGRADE FOR US?

Come on, Blizz, pull your collective head out of your collective ass and look around! Really look at what you have done with gear in Legion and admit that this Rube Goldberg setup is just not sustainable. Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas is fond of lecturing us about what is and is not fun™ when it comes to gear, and one of his themes has been that when you get a new piece of gear you should be able to equip it immediately, not have to do that nasty reforging “math” or always have to have a gem or enchant for it. Well, guess what?

Getting a 30-level upgrade that makes your dps lower if you equip it is not fun™. Having to rearrange every piece of gear you are wearing just to accommodate a new piece is not fun™. Having to hang on to last-tier gear because Blizz fucked up the tier bonuses is not fun™. Having to run supercomputer simulations for every conceivable combination of gear/talents/relics is not fun™. 

Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, I implore you, fix this gear mess!