My night job

Yesterday, it being a lazy Sunday, I decided it would be a good time to bring a couple of my alts into Argus, mainly to update their professions but also to be able to get some of the gear and AP benefits of the place. I played for about six hours, and here is what I was able to do:

1. Catch up my 3 waiting emissary quests on my main and knock out the few Argus and non-emissary quests that awarded AP.

2. Do 3 emissary quests on my JC alt. (I need the whatchamacallit tokens still to upgrade my lousy crafted legendary, and I need to open as many boxes as possible in order to accumulate the required secret Blizz currency that eventually awards another legendary. I need the stats from a second legendary just to be able to efficiently mine ore on Argus, so that I can prospect to get the gems.)

3. Catch up my 3 emissary quests on my alt druid and do the Week 3 Argus quest line. (No time for any Argus world quests.)

That’s it. Six hours for that.

And here’s the thing: All the characters I worked on yesterday had already done at least the first two weeks of Argus unlocks. It took me six hours just to do “maintenance” quests on them, leaving exactly zero time to advance any other alts. I admit I may have done more of the week 3 quest line than necessary on my druid, because I had already unlocked the crucible on my main, but how the hell do you know which quests in that long chain are for the crucible and which ones are just to unlock Mac’Aree and the specified new world quest areas?

It almost seems like Blizz is throwing a little tantrum over our reaction to WoD’s lack of content, saying in effect, “You wanted content? I got yer content right here, so much that we are gonna make you beg for less! We dare you to bitch about lack of content again!”

I have written several times before about the whole idea of “content” and whether or not recycling quests and zones and forcing AP grind really qualifies as that. I think where I come down on the question is that for me content is a range of options for players. That is, when you log in on a character, true content means that you can decide for yourself what you want to do for the session, especially in the end game. But in Legion Blizz has drastically constrained end game activity. In order to participate in any end game activity, you must have a certain level of gear, you must unlock certain areas, etc. And to gear up or unlock areas there is pretty much one and only one path permitted.

You cannot, for example, elect to level up an alt’s profession unless you run dungeons up to and including mythic level. In some cases you must actually raid, even if it is only LFR. And to do these things, you must have a certain level of gear, even if you are at max level on your character. You cannot even gather current materials unless you are geared enough to survive and unlock the various areas of Argus.

To get the gear, you are pretty much forced into grinding out world quests nearly every day, so as to improve your artifact weapon, get some higher level gear, and accumulate the secret currency to get at least a couple of legendaries.

If you are a raider, even a semi-casual one like I am, Patch 7.3 once again forces you into the AP grind, just to not fall behind — and thus let down — your teammates. In the same way that a responsible raider does not show up with unenchanted or ungemmed gear, that same raider needs to show a certain amount of progress now towards unlocking the various relic traits. Early in Legion, we all had to chase AP to maximize our artifact weapon, and it was a grind then. In 7.2, possibly recognizing the burden it placed on raiders, Blizz did everything they could to diminish the importance of AP, even going so far as to say it is not worth going after in any way but incidentally to daily activity. Then in 7.3, probably as a result of falling MAU metrics, they re-instituted the AP grind in a big way, whiplashing raiders once again back into doing world quests every day just to keep current.

And here — finally — is my central point: I like world quests, I think the basic idea is good, but I hate them when Blizz crams them down my throat as the only way to achieve any other endgame goal I may have. It turns them into a chore, almost a second job. Blizz has taken a great idea and managed to suck all the joy and fun out of it. 

This is why the entire relic redesign was, for players, possibly the worst design change Blizz has had for Legion. We had just gotten to the point where WQs were actually optional — especially for a main — and we could pick out the ones we wanted to do and ignore the others. Or skip a few days entirely. We could take a little vacation on our mains and play with some of our alts, or even not play at all a couple of nights a week. Even emissary quests became optional for our mains because chances are we already had all the legendaries we wanted, and any other emissary rewards were of little value to us.

I really think Blizz started to notice MAU numbers slipping because of the 7.2 decision they made to discourage AP grinding, and they had to do something to get those numbers back up. In what has sadly become their standard procedure, they simply re-purposed an existing structure. Instead of coming up with some creative new ideas, they just brought back the same old tired AP chase for weapon enhancement. They could have, for example, made a few world quests actually attractive to a highly-geared player to entice us back into doing them regularly — maybe award a way to gem an existing piece of gear, or increase the actual gear level of awards, or allow us to give awarded gear to an alt, or bring back valor as an end-of-expansion currency, or provide a way to trade legendaries we have for ones we actually can use, or award actual new profession recipes, or give a significant number of soulbound mats, or —

Well, the idea is that there are a lot of ways to bring players back to world quests that would make us feel like we had some fun options and decent rewards for doing them. Grinding AP — especially  when we thought we had finally progressed, yes progressed, beyond that, only to have to push that boulder back up the hill again — is not fun.

Activision Blizzard earnings and what it means for WoW

Activision-Blizzard (ATVI) published its Q2 2017 earnings report a couple of weeks ago. I usually write about these reports, but decided not to write about this one when it came out. However, MMO-C — I guess because it is a slow news season for WoW — wrote up a little summary about it today, so I will make a couple of comments. The quotes below are from the transcript of the conference call among ATVI executives published on August 3rd.

Esports. I do not follow esports, so I am rather constantly amazed at the worldwide interest in them, and more specifically in ATVI’s gigantic investment in them. They really believe — possibly with total justification — that the company is poised to become the NFL of esports. The thing that caught my eye over this in the Q2 report is this comment from Bobby Kotick, CEO of ATVI (emphasis mine):

We also announced the first team sales for the Overwatch League, the first major global city-based professional esports league. We have the very best teams with the very best resources dedicated to celebrating and rewarding the world’s best professional Overwatch players.

Overwatch, with more than 30 million players has captured imaginations and driven strong global engagement. We organized our league around major cities, taking a proven model from competition in traditional sports. Our announced team owners and their locations, New England, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Shanghai and Seoul and the many more we expect to announce, represent the very best in esports and traditional sports.

Actually, possibly my comparison to the NFL was a tad too limiting. ATVI believes they are poised to become as big as, or bigger, than the biggest traditional sports franchises worldwide, whatever the local big money sport may be.

I point this out not to make any judgement on the viability of esports now or in the future, but rather as seed material for a little thought exercise. Imagine for a moment that ATVI’s vision comes true. Imagine a system of colleges and universities fielding Overwatch teams not only as money-makers for the institution but as a pipeline of promising players to the professional franchises in the major cities. Imagine an annual player draft with teams competing for college stars, offering big money and professional perks. Imagine an established Overwatch pro season, with TV stations vying for broadcast rights. Imagine the endorsements and the advertising and the spinoff merchandise. Imagine a playoff season and the hype around a final championship game.

Far-fetched? Yeah, probably, at least for the immediate future. But now think about World of Warcraft, and maybe you can see how very tiny is when fit into the strategic thinking of ATVI. I am not saying its demise is imminent, but it clearly is becoming more and more a niche market for ATVI and indeed even for Blizzard. It was the game that launched Blizzard into years-long dominance of the MMO genre, and it still makes significant money for them and for ATVI, but it is puny when compared to the esports dreams of the company.

ATVI also clearly sees the continuing move away from desktop computing, towards tablets and notebooks/game platforms and mobile mini-games, and they are poised to take advantage of it for all their franchises. Hearthstone proved to them the viability of WoW mobile spinoffs. The acquisition of King a few years ago has not yet had a noticeable impact on ATVI, but the Q2 report is enthusiastic about the “advertising potential” King brings to all ATVI business lines.

Bottom line here: WoW is not dead, but we should be prepared for a lot of wrenching changes in the not-too distant future.

What can the Q2 report tell us about the nature of WoW going forward?

  • Blizzard’s Monthly Active User (MAU) and D(aily)AU metrics were at an all-time high. The fact that ATVI continues to crow about MAUs can mean only one thing for WoW players going forward into the next expansion: the business model henceforth will be feature endless grinds on the same pattern as AP for artifacts in Legion. The vehicle for such grinds may change from expansion to expansion, but make no mistake there will be such a mechanism.
  • The Blizzard app is popular among players, and it dovetails nicely with ATVI’s focus on mobile apps as a significant part of their future plans. I think what this means for WoW going forward is that we can expect not only a continuation but possibly an increase in WoW’s mini-games (like garrisons and order halls), because these lend themselves to use of a mobile app.
  • In order to be a part of the burgeoning esports venture, WoW will continue to feature short competitive spectator-friendly pieces of the game, such as Legion’s Mythic+ dungeons. What effect this will have on the ordinary player’s game experience is anyone’s guess. We have already seen Blizz make general policy and adjust mechanics based on World First raiding guilds, though, so there is precedent for tailoring parts of the game for elite rather than ordinary players.
  • WoW’s tentative steps into integrating social media into the game (Twitter and Facebook) have not been roaring successes, but ATVI’s investment in King and their continuing development of it suggests they will keep trying. I do not expect Blizz to be so crass as to inject advertising into WoW directly, but I do expect them to try and integrate some social media aspect that will in turn generate advertising revenues. They just have not found the right vehicle yet.
  • Blizzard has had wild success with Hearthstone and Overwatch, so we can expect them to devote significant R&D resources to coming up with more such hits. I fully expect that to mean WoW will suffer in allocation of development resources. What that means for the game, I think, is that we will see more and more recycled content — perhaps more “classic” dungeons revisited, more reuse of artwork and graphics like Broken Shore/Argus, more recolored mounts and armor, more “piling on” of existing boss mechanics rather than coming up with new ones, etc. It may also mean Blizz will seek to save money by outsourcing seasonal-type piecework, such as music for a new expansion. (As we saw with the recent departure of Russell Brower.)

It’s good news that ATVI is making more money. We all want them to be successful. However, the nature of their success as well as their strategic vision has some definite impact on World of Warcraft.

Let’s talk AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time and the bottom line

Activision Blizzard conducted its public Q1 2017 Earnings Call yesterday. For those of you unfamiliar with this quarterly ritual, it is a conference call conducted to inform ATVI stockholders of the company’s financial status. The company being traded publicly, the transcript of the call is published for anyone when cares to read it, and in fact if you really are into masochism, you can register with ATVI in advance and sign up to be on the call (in theory, that is — I have never tried this, can’t imagine why I would actually). This conference call accompanies the public release of the financial report for the quarter. I am not even going to give links to these things — you can easily find them if you search, and honestly they are very dry and dull. There is, however, a quick and dirty summary on MMO-C if you care to read it.

There was not much in the latest report/call that had to do with WoW. In fact, there hasn’t been much for a few quarters now, usually only a brief mention of a new expansion or some comment about Monthly Active Users or Daily Active Users. That in itself is sometimes eye-opening to WoW players, because it underscores the undeniable fact that WoW is no longer the flagship it once was, it really is a minor part of the growing ATVI empire. In the big corporate picture, you definitely get the impression that WoW is a bit of a dinosaur — it is still a revenue producer, but it is does not seem to be part of ATVI’s vision for the future of gaming.

There were one or two points that I picked up on in the report, though. The first was the opening statement by Bobby Kotick, CEO of ATVI. You can sum it up in one word: esports. A partial quote:

One of our big priorities is to unlock the full potential of professional esports by opening the sale of teams and media rights of our leagues. Over the years, we’ve become a leader in creating world class competitive experiences, sustainable franchises that engage hundreds of millions of people around the world, through gameplay competition and connecting players and communities. This success is driven by our ability to tap into the timeless power of communities, anchored through organized competition.

The esports audience includes some of the hardest to reach and most sought-after demographics for marketers and advertisers, with the share of millennials two to three times higher than any of the big four U.S. sports.

We’re also going to combine delivery of our spectator content with unique advertising opportunities that includes the ability for advertisers to have better targeting and analytics, much more so than what you would see in traditional forms of broadcast advertising today. And with over 400 million MAUs and extremely high levels of engagement, our potential to generate meaningful advertising revenue is substantial.

Of course, it is not news that ATVI is betting heavily on esports. And no one should be surprised that the WoW franchise plays only a tiny part in that expansion — it is really focused on ATVI’s other, newer, games. What did strike me, though, is the very strong implication that ATVI is more than willing to use its entire stable of games — along with the very considerable and detailed data it collects on player activities and preferences — to “generate meaningful advertising revenue.” I confess I do not really know what that means, but it does tend to give me an itchy feeling between my shoulder blades now if I decide to click on the in-game Blizzard shop, or if I routinely check the Mac technical forum on the Blizz web site. Nothing illegal or even necessarily immoral about this, and it certainly is a widespread practice any time you use the Internet, it’s just that I had previously not considered it as part of WoW. Yeah, I know that is naive, but still Kotick’s comment got my attention. Are we on the path to becoming less valuable as customers and more valuable as ATVI mass data products?

The other major point I took from the report were a couple of related comments.

This, from ATVI COO Thomas Tippi:

Blizzard continues to see strong engagement from its players with time spent increasing by a double digit percentage year-over-year to a new Q1 record.

Blizzard’s strategy to release content and feature updates more regularly in World of Warcraft has been paying off with time spent up year-over-year, and with overall performance ahead of the prior expansion.

And this, from Blizzard CEO Michael Morhaime:

So, yeah, this year for Blizzard represents a new type of pipeline, one that’s not necessarily based on full game launches, but instead on delivering new content updates for our games. This quarter, we have meaningful new content for every franchise in our portfolio. In fact, a few weeks ago we set a new DAU record on the back of these new content updates. This reflects the evolution of our business from focusing primarily on full game releases to also providing a consistent stream of content for our players. Even without any full game launches this year, we’re continuing to add to the depths of our games to serve a very highly engaged community with more content across our portfolio than we ever have before.

Anyone who thinks the grindy aspects of Legion is just an expansion peculiarity needs to think again. It is, in fact the plan for the foreseeable future. We can expect the next expansion to stretch out professions, leveling, gearing up, achievements — every activity in the game — even more than Legion does. Why? Because time spent in the game is the metric for game success in ATVI.

Is this tactic really “content”? Who knows? The fact is that whatever it is, it has succeeded — at least so far — in evening out WoW player engagement. Whether you like or hate Legion or are somewhere in between, it seems to have kept more players  logging in further into the expansion than previously. Legion’s strategy seems to be a financial success, as measured by MAU/DAU. It is hard to argue with that. And while it can seem grindy — hell, it is grindy —  it is also fun, certainly to those of us actively playing.

Still, there is this stubborn, contrary part of me that feels manipulated and used. It’s the same feeling you get when you suddenly realize someone is taking advantage of you. I feel like Blizz is pushing my loyalty to the game so as to get better quarterly numbers. Yeah, I know that is why they are in business, but this feels different somehow.

It’s like this: What if movie theaters suddenly changed their business plan to measure success by how long movie patron cars remained in the parking lot? So once you got to the theater, there were deliberate setups that ensured long lines for tickets, for popcorn, for the bathrooms, to get to your seat. They added a gift shop you had to pass through in order to get to the seating area. They tripled or quadrupled all the pre-movie ads and trailers and trivia games. They added several intermissions to every movie. They gave you a coupon of some sort if you stayed after the movie was over to complete a customer feedback survey. And so forth. How would you feel about your movie experience? Chances are, if you really wanted to see the movie in a theater, you would still go, but you would not consider most of the experience to be happy. Some would undoubtedly love all the new “content”, but many others would remember when they used to be able to do the movie experience in 3 hours, but now it took 5 or 6, and they would not be pleased about it.

I don’t have any grand conclusions about all this. It was, after all, just a financial report. Still, it did give us a couple of insights into what the future may hold.

Speaking of which, my future includes a weekend. Weather weenies tell us it will be cool and rainy in my part of Virginia — perfect for staying warm and dry inside and playing WoW or watching a movie.

Legion’s way or the highway

Usually over the weekend I play quite a lot of WoW, and in Legion it has become the most fun time I have in the game, since I feel like I can actually putz around and do what I want — play a couple alts, gather some mats, pick up an achievement or two, run some old instances for that recipe or mount I covet, explore some areas I might have neglected when they were current, etc. However, this past weekend I was unable to play very much because of some family commitments (not the good kind, the entertaining-your-idiot-in-laws kind), and when I was a finally able to log on Sunday evening, of course I had a full array of emissaries to catch up on, and I actually saw someone flying around and realized that omg I had missed out on almost 3 days of Armies of the Legionfall rep and it would still be weeks before I could fly at this rate, not to mention I still had 4 more timewalking dungeons to do if I wanted a shot at the reward. It was not fun “catching up”.

And it dawned on me: Legion is WoW’s most restrictive, grindy, bossy expansion yet. Even WoD was preferable, I am starting to believe.

See, to my way of thinking, when I play this game a couple hours every night, I should not have to wait until a weekend to have actual fun doing it. Sure, I know I could technically drop out, ignoring raids and instances and gear and AP and flying achieves and professions and class halls and champion missions and emissaries and…

Oh wait, that’s pretty much this entire expansion.

There really is no “dropping out” if you want to play the current zones, you MUST grind endlessly. I am not at the point where I want to quit the game, but there is no denying it has become more of an irritation than a source of joy and whimsy. I am at a strange point where I enjoy the game in the abstract, but the daily activities are constant annoyances. In fact, Legion has taken pretty much every bad part of recent expansions and doubled down on them, all while Blizz explains to us how new and innovative it is, how they really learned lessons from player reactions to past expansions.

I am sick of being told when to log on. I am sick of feeling like I will miss the puny few hundred rep needed for flying if I fail to log on and do the BS dailies. I am already sick of trying to track random but extensive invasions, most of which occur in the middle of the freaking night or when normal people are at work or school, all because Blizz could not be troubled to configure them to servers, took the lazy way out technically just so they could brag about adding “content”. Hell, if they were going to be lazy about it, why not just resurrect the invasions from the pre-expansion? Those were fun, quick, and rewarding, and if you missed a couple it was no big deal because there were always some popping up. I guess players liked them too much, can’t have that.

I am sick of the ever-dangled carrot of flying. I am sick of the “just one more thing” never ending string of requirements. I am sick of the stupid little games Blizz plays to make sure you know they strongly disapprove of flying — which they themselves introduced years ago — but if you must have it, then you will sure as hell have to suffer to get it. I am sick of the rep game they are playing with Armies of the Legionfall — awarding minuscule amounts for daily quests; no emissaries to give additional bonus rep; daily quests do not hold over so if you miss a day you are out of lucK. And strangely, there have been no Kirin Tor emissaries — which apparently would award a 750 rep token — since 7.2 went live even though they seemed to have been every other day before 7.2. I am unamused by “secret” achievement and quest requirements that will award more rep (like the running of the maze without being detected).

I am sick of class halls, which are nothing more than garrisons with all the perks removed. I am especially sick of the hunter class hall, to which almost no creative effort was devoted in its development. It is bereft of any imagination. There is still no place to sit in the entire hall, the bartender sells only mana drinks, there is no mailbox, not even any real connection to classic hunter lore. It was clearly designed by someone coming up on a deadline, who did not give a bucket of warm spit about any result save meeting that deadline.

I am sick of being required to run dungeons and raids — including mythics — in order to pursue almost any other game path, for example professions.

I am sick of being told that currency for gear is a bad thing, then being forced to deal with currency for everything else — order hall resources, Legionfall war supplies, Timewarped badges, artifact power, nethershards, seals of Broken Fate…

I am sick of being told how I must play my alts, sick of that depressing sinking feeling of eternal grind I get when I consider leveling up one of them only to realize how complex and dragged out it will be: artifact quest, order hall campaign, all the grinds of the various gated class hall actions, profession requirements of quest lines and rep and dungeons and raids and lucky drops, the eternal disappointment of legendary drops, and of course the addition of one more endless AP grind for the new alt.

I am sick of my spec options being severely limited, sick of Blizz bragging about how they have removed all obstacles from being able to switch to any spec in your class, then placing huge boulders in your path like “good legendaries”, artifacts, AP, different crucial secondary stats and therefore different gear, etc. I am especially sick of Blizz imposing hybrid problems on pure dps classes, but refusing to give them any commensurate perks such as role options.

I am sick of getting higher level gear that is actually a step down for your power, sick of having to run simulations or consult a web site just to figure out if a piece of gear is an upgrade. This is especially galling when we recall Blizz’s lecture to us on the evils of having to do “math” for reforging.

I am sick of empty promises to fix the near-total destruction of hunters as a class in Legion, sick of half-assed tweaks that do nothing to repair the fundamental problems Blizz engineered for the class. And I am sick of class overhauls every expansion, from a team that clearly is incapable of balancing their changes until the end of an expansion, at which time they stupidly decide it is time to repeat the process.

I am heartily, absolutely, positively, without a question, sick of RNG being applied to every aspect of the game. And I am enraged every time Ion Hazzikostas lectures us about how “fun” it is.

Look, here’s my point (at last): Everyone sets their own goals in this game, and pursuit of them is supposed to be fun and ultimately rewarding. Until Legion, players have been largely free to find their own path to those goals. But Legion effectively removed all side roads in favor of one super highway. And if you find an obstacle along that highway, too freaking bad for you, there are no detours. Your only choice is to remove it in the approved manner or stop all forward progress. Blizz has argued that Legion gives players a wide range of options, but that is not true — what it gives players is a wide range of requirements, all of which must be participated in to achieve virtually any game goal. Players are left with the “options” of sticking to the approved path or adjusting their goals downward. 

This is not player choice, this is nanny state game play.

Not impressed with 7.2

We have had a little over a week with 7.2 and I am extremely underwhelmed with it. If pushed to come up with one reason, I guess it would have to be that it is just more of the same bleak Legion never-ending grind. Some random thoughts and observations:

New artifact trait system. This just depresses me. For BM hunters the new traits are decidedly uninspired, and I think Blizz as usual took the lazy path by adding one more tick to the old 3-tick traits. Nothing about this system makes me excited to progress in it. There is no “WOOHOO” moment anywhere in the path — nearly everything is a dull unimaginative tiny increase to some boring passive trait. I do not deny some of them are useful, but the whole idea is just freaking boring. The snakes? Yeah, they are about as powerful as the old snake trap, which is to say useless.

Gazillions of AP. Yeah, see above. I get that we are now earning AP at a much greater rate, but there is something demoralizing when you get half a million and it barely nudges the little AP bar. And I just feel hopeless and beat down when I need tens of millions of AP in order to get that next boring uninspired .5% increase in some passive trait. I am starting to get quite sullen over the “bonus” AP events and mechanics, too, because I feel manipulated — like everything in the game is pushing me towards amassing AP.

What we have is an endless chase after in-game currency to buy tiny incremental power increases for a central piece of gear. There is no end to it, no achievement, no sense of accomplishment, no cool fun result. Even if someone could reach the final trait — and there will be people who do this — it is hopeless because Blizz will then add on more grinding just like they did after that 54th trait.

I am absolutely dumbfounded that Ion Hazzikostas and other devs can lecture us — with a straight face, mind you — about the evils of “grinding” for gear, and then hand us this, the greatest and most obnoxious gear grind the game has ever seen. In this, their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Broken Shore. Ugh. First, there is nothing aesthetically inviting about it, it is desolate and ugly. At least Timeless Isle and Tanaan Jungle had some decent artwork attached to them, some nice eye candy to reward you for all the time you spent there.

Second, it is chock full of invisible walls, dead ends, and obstacles to ground travel, making getting anywhere an exercise in annoyance. Add to that the fact there are only 3 flight points, and that there are armies of imps and other mobs that dog your every step no matter where you set foot, and you have a recipe for extreme frustration. And don’t forget, Blizz has kindly made these mobs scale to your gear level, so none of them are truly trivial.  I do not know if we will be able to fly in this zone if and when we ever are allowed to fly again, but I can tell you if I cannot fly there I will probably spend very little time there. It is just not fun.

Third, the daily quests. That is exactly the problem — they really are dailies, not world quests. Which means if you miss a day, you miss a lot of rep. There is no emissary, no skipping a day or two and catching up. This is exactly the situation Blizz said they did not want to repeat after the rep grinds of Mists — they did not want people to feel they had to log on and do the dailies every day or risk falling behind.

WTF, Blizz?

Fourth, those buildings. Their mediocre perks aside, this whole mechanic is going to get mighty old mighty fast for me. I am pretty sure that after we have had one of each type, I will deliberately withhold my war supplies and refuse to contribute them to a building I know will be destroyed in a couple of days. Just for spite, because it is a stupid mechanic.

Mage Tower challenge. Nope, just nope. For one thing, the unlocked BM artifact appearance is butt ugly. For another, as usual, there is no appearance change for Hati. Last but certainly not least, the challenge is stupid hard, designed for 1% or less of the elite, and at least thus far dependent on having equipped a couple of very specific legendaries. Oh, and it costs you currency to try it more than once, and it is designed to take many, many attempts to successfully complete. Oh, and just out of spite apparently, Blizz seems to have removed the Ignore Quest option, thus guaranteeing that big ass yellow quest marker will be there every time the Mage Tower is up.

So let’s see — spend currency to enter, spend hundreds or more likely thousands of gold in repairs, suffer huge and continuous frustration because Blizz wants 99% of players to fail, add additional difficulty because I am not one of the lucky few with the “right” legendaries, all for an ugly appearance for a weapon I always transmog anyway?

Not only no, but hell no.

Demonic invasions. I really thought these would be like the pre-Legion scenarios, which I found fun, quick, and even rewarding. Nope, definitely wrong on that one. They are nothing more than world quests in a certain zone, followed by a 3-person scenario. Oh, and of course you cannot get the scenario until you have knocked off most of the invasion quests for the zone. Got to keep those monthly hours up for Ion’s bonuses after all.

I did the first set of these — Aszuna — last night. Well, I say I did them but the truth is I did not compete the actual scenario because after 15 minutes of running back and forth between two sets of mobs and killing them over and over again, we finally got to Stage 2 of the scenario (no idea how many stages there are), but by that point it was time for our guild raid so I had to drop group. It’s certainly possible that in time we will learn the layout of these scenarios better, but my limited experience last night is that they are unimaginative, boring game play extenders.

By the time we got done with our raid, the invasion had disappeared. And of course since I did not complete the scenario, I assume I get no credit for completing one invasion. Thus, the next time the Aszuna one comes around I get to start all over again with the world quests.

The invasions spawn randomly in a zone for six hours, so even though this is a rather large window, it still means it will be possible for some players to have the bad luck to not be able to play while the invasions are active. I have no idea how often “randomly” is, but this seems designed once again to force players to keep checking the game and rearrange their schedules to log in when any needed invasions are active. I will do each of them once then pretty much ignore them, I think.

More hate for hunters. A couple of 7.2 developments are/were decidedly anti-hunter, and show once again that Blizz has no understanding of the downstream effects of their Brilliant Ideas, no one among the devs who has a clue how to play a hunter.

I am a BM hunter, not MM, but Blizz really screwed MM hunters at the start of 7.2. They initially set up the Unerring Arrow trait bonus as 10% per point, for a total of a 40% bonus for filling in all 4 points. This of course was very attractive to MM hunters, and many if not most of them immediately filled out this trait with their traded AP when 7.2 went live. Within 24 hours, however, Blizz nerfed the bonus from 10% down to 4%, more than halving it.

It is possible that 10% was too high, but why in the world would they wait until AFTER MM hunters had taken these points to nerf it so drastically? This is not something Blizz might have noticed and fixed on the PTR? Here are the optics for this: Blizz cares so little for hunters that they have no qualms about making them spend precious AP on a trait only to nerf it into oblivion once the AP is spent. No attempt to put themselves in the place of players agonizing over trait decisions, no notion of refunding the AP fully in light of the sudden reversal of value for the trait. And of course no official comment on it because, hey, who gives a damn about hunters, the throwaway class?

Blizz recently “improved” certain visual effects for some specs. Among these changes was one to Multishot for hunters. I have no idea what they thought they were doing, but the effect has been to render the shot far less useful than it was before the change. Specifically, in the old version the number of arrow or bullet representations were roughly equal to the number of targets you were hitting. In particular, it was very easy to see if you were targeting only two mobs or a single mob, in which case Multishot was probably not what you wanted to be using. But with the change, you no longer can tell if you have killed most of a pack and are down to one or two targets, since the representation now shows multiple tracers even with just one target. This can cause a net damage loss if applied over time, as Multishot is wasted on just a single target.

No idea if this was done on purpose, or if as usual Blizz failed to anticipate this complication. Did none of the dev hunters try the new graphic and see this? (Never mind, we know the answer.)

Are there some good things about 7.2? Of course there are — if nothing else, we are getting a bunch of new world quests and a story line extension. But for me, the never ending grind Blizz continues to foist on us — for profession recipes, AP, class hall quests, class hall research, champion gearing up, the eternal carrot of flying, etc. — outweighs most of the positive points. I am sick of garrisons class halls, sick of artifact weapons, sick of Legion’s insane “legendary” acquisition mechanics, sick of eternal grinding for

every.

single.

game.

activity.

Because, as we all know and have been told over and over again by the esteemed Game Director, grinding is a bad thing. Unless it serves Blizz’s bottom line and not players.

It’s that time

WoW expansions, like many human constructs, seem to have predictable phases in their life cycles. This is in no way scientific, but in my own mind I list them as:

  1. Speculation
  2. Formal announcement/unveiling
  3. Testing
  4. Live implementation
  5. General player base fascination, often combined with righteous indignation over perceived Bad Design/Terrible Idea
  6. “Normalization” and acceptance of virtual life under the rules of the expansion
  7. Pundit analysis of the overall “flavor” of the expansion
  8. Interest in major patches
  9. Boredom and malaise
  10. Go back to step 1

I think we are at Step 7 in Legion, a conclusion I reached after reading some recent blogs — check out Marathal over at Deez Wurds and Ethan Macfie in MMO Games for a couple of examples. There are recent others with similar content, but these struck a chord with me.

For several weeks now, I have had a vague feeling of frustration with the game, but have not really been able to put my finger on the cause. The two blogs I cited have helped me at least start to define it a bit.

Let me say up front, I am not backing off my general assessment of Legion as a success, and as I have written before, there is a lot of fun to be had in this expansion. But remember the flap over “daily overload” in Mists? That same feeling magnified about tenfold is what I have been feeling in Legion.

The feeling is one of stress or burnout, insofar as these terms can be applied to a leisure activity like a computer game. No, of course it is not real stress — not like caring for an aging parent or worrying about the rent or raising a child or enduring an abusive boss — but it is a kind of “immersion stress.” When we play virtual games, we allow ourselves to be bound by certain sets of rules and expectations. We enter an imaginary world and operate in it on its terms. It is in that context that I refer to “stress”, and it can hinder our enjoyment of the virtual world in the same way real stress hinders our joy in real life.

Back to the dailies in Mists. There was a pretty significant backlash against them, and the main complaint was that players felt they had to do them and do them — lots of them — every day or risk “falling behind”. That is, the quests felt less like engaging content and more like a forced march that led first to faction rep and from there to gear and professions recipes and other items players wanted or thought they needed for their end game enjoyment. In fact, sometimes attaining faction rep only meant you could then start a different faction rep grind as a step in your progress.

The players complained about “too many” dailies, but I think their dissatisfaction was less about the number and more about the notion of “compulsory”. If you missed one or two days of dailies, that was one or two days longer until you were eligible to get the items you wanted. And yes, I understand there is a segment of the player population that will greet this idea with a shrug and a “So what?” But I think a sizable majority of what I would term “engaged players” — hardcore and pseudo-casual — felt pressure to log on every day in Mists just to avoid “falling behind”.

Fast forward to Legion. Mists gave many of us nervous tics if we could not log on for a couple of days, but Legion goes much further. For one thing, there are tons more “dailies” in the form of world quests, Mythic+ runs for the weekly chest, daily random heroics for the AP, and so forth. But another, more insidious difference exists: in Mists, there was an end to the grind, once you got your rep you could get your recipes and gear and move on to other parts of the game. But in Legion, there is never an end. We are all Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the hill knowing that reaching the top only means we get to start all over again. Macfie, in the post I cited above, describes it as “the mind-numbing, spirit-crushing deluge of continuous progression”.

Blizz has confused the notion of “content” with “endless repetition”. I find this ironic, in that Game Director Hazzikostas has lectured us time and time again about the evils of “grinding” for gear, thereby justifying the use of RNG for everything because of the fun™ factor. Yet, Legion, with its endless chases after ever-increasing AP, random profession recipe drops, and lottery gear, is in fact one gigantic grind. The difference is, usually when you grind you eventually reach your goal — I guess what Hazzikostas believes is that grinding in and of itself is fun™, it is being rewarded at the end that is evil.

Once again, from Macfie:

Where it’s gone off the rails a bit is that this progression, after a certain point, becomes functionally endless, creating a situation where any player with even a semblance of a competitive edge feels an immense amount of pressure to grind to keep up. Those that don’t keep up with the grind run the risk of being excluded as AP levels gradually becomes the new gear score by which their character’s worth is judged (in addition to their actual gear score).

Many players feel like how well you play matters less and less compared to how long you play, and that’s not a healthy perception for your consumers to have. Whether you personally feel that way or not, artifact power is beginning to undermine the game’s other systems for a great many players.

And this, from Marathal:

There is so much to do, so why am I in a funk about wanting to do anything. Why is having too much to do, so depressing. Is it because there apparently is no end? I thought Artifact Power was done, until I saw it keeps going, I would like to finish leveling my professions, but they have made that “have meaning”. Maybe it has for some. The tailoring was engaging until the story stopped and kind of petered out. Did Enchanting have a story? I don’t know. The Class hall quests are so wrapped around Raids that I don’t know any more which I have to do and which I could skip. All of those missions every day. This begins a quest, so does this. No. No more raid or dungeon endless quest chains.

Attention, Blizz: Sisyphus is not an inspiring story, he is not someone schoolchildren are encouraged to emulate. He screwed up big time in life, and his punishment was an endless grind. Trust me, “Sisyphus the Game” is not a successful business model. 

And with that, let the weekend commence.