Thoughts on war mode in BfA

One of the new features in Battle for Azeroth is something called “War mode”. Blizz seems to have given up on separate PvP servers and will soon make all servers both PvE and PvP (not sure if RP really has any meaning any more). The idea is that there will be a toggle switch in game settings that allows you to flag yourself for world PvP if that is your preferred play style either always or just temporarily. When you throw the toggle, in theory the server becomes pretty much a PvP server for you and everyone else who has thrown their toggles. Meanwhile, the people who have not turned on PvP mode will be able to happily go about their normal PvE business with no fears that the many, many asshats in the game will hound them every step of their questing or gathering or what have you. Presumably, the actual mechanic will be that when you toggle PvP on, you are transferred to a PvP shard similar to the current PvP-only servers.

Will this mean that if you turn on PvP, you will be invisible to your non-PvP friends on the server? Thus, if you love PvP, will you have to continually switch if you want to do things like join groups with your non-PvP friends? *shrug*

There are some additional details to this, of course. For one thing, you can only toggle the PvP switch while in your faction capital city. So if you do decide to try it and go out in the world, bear in mind you will have to keep it on until you get back at least. (Not sure if there is a cooldown similar to hearthing, but I suspect there may be. You all know I am not a PvP person, so I have not tried anything about it currently available in the beta.) Also, Blizz intends to implement a gear leveling mechanic so that gear alone will not determine the outcome of your ganking spree — while you are engaged in PvP combat, there will be some sort of gear level adjustment to even the fights a bit, then when you are in normal combat your gear returns to its regular level.

Bear in mind that I absolutely hate PvP, and I have always hated when Blizz forced me to engage in it because it was a requirement for some other normal PvE-based activity. But I understand that hardcore PvP-ers have felt the same about PvE. And I totally get their angst with Legion, where they were pretty much forced to engage in hours and hours of PvE activities every week just to keep up with the AP and legendary grinds, even on PvP servers. That does seem wrong to me. There definitely should have been enough PvP activity to allow them to gear up decently without having to give up a big chunk of their PvP time.

But the fact is the majority of players do not enjoy world PvP, and many of us will go to any lengths to avoid it. Much of this is because of the disconnect between fantasy and reality of world PvP, in my opinion. I think of world PvP as maybe a small group of one faction attacking another faction’s outpost or even another group, or rather evenly matched one-on-one duels. Maybe you call in some friends and the skirmishes escalate to larger battles. To me, that is reasonable world PvP.

But it turns out to be very different in practice. It turns out to be ganking, free for all zones where everyone — even your own faction — can target you, and camping at certain places like graveyards or exits from a sanctuary city for the sole purpose of killing low level players as they emerge. I have been in BGs where I literally could not get out of the graveyard because some butthole was camped there picking off emerging players for the entire BG. I have joined quick world boss groups that happen to be on a PvP server, and immediately when we are done or even when we are still fighting the boss an opposite faction player or group has shown up and harassed the group. I cannot imagine being on a PvP server, just wanting to crank out some quick world quests, and being constantly dogged by some jerk who finds his self worth in applying pixels to kill a computer avatar over and over again.

In other words, my experience sadly has been that world PvP players are, by and large, gigantic asshats the equivalent of the eighth grade bully who loves to take away the second graders’ lunch money but who cowers and runs when confronted by someone his own size.

None of this is fun. And, on the flip side, I really do not even see the fun in killing players you know you can beat because you vastly out level them either in character level or in gear.

Nevertheless, it seems that Blizz is greatly concerned about the number of players who refuse to participate in PvP (largely for the reasons I just described). In Legion, they got rid of PvP-specific gear stats (like Resilience) and also made some significant changes to gear scaling, all to encourage more players to do PvP.

And I know I will get pushback from PvP players over this, but Blizz really does seem to go out of their way to cater to the slightest small whine from the PvP community. For example, at the start of Legion PvP-ers threw a tantrum about the injustice of being awarded gear on the basis of — hold onto your hats — RNG! Oh, the horror! Imagine not being able to select the gear you need! No fair no fair no fair!! They sniveled that they could no longer accumulate currency to buy the gear they wanted. How awful for them! So Blizz, even though they have steadfastly ignored every PvE complaint on the same subject, decided that they would indeed bring back currency for PvP players — thus they brought about the token system that allowed PvP-ers to obliterate their old gear and accumulate tokens to buy some of the new gear they wanted. (This is in spite of repeated pronouncements from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that currency for gear is evil incarnate and we should be ashamed for even asking for it.)

Imagine if in PvE we could do the same. Instead of crappy old obliterum chunks whose only use is to combine them and upgrade shitty crafted gear to a slightly higher level of shittiness, what if we could accumulate tokens to buy gear we actually wanted?

Apparently we did not throw as good a tantrum over this as did PvP players.

In BfA, Blizz seems to be making yet another stab at “encouraging” players to do PvP. For example, while in War Mode, you will get a 15% XP boost, and also some kind of AP increase boost. It’s not entirely clear if there will be a lot more PvP world quests in War Mode, or if it will essentially be the same WQs as PvE only in a wPvP environment. I do think PvP players deserve some consideration for the bread-and-butter activities in the game like world quests — these things should reflect wPvP actions, not just be regular PvE quests transferred to a PvP shard. However, I am not in favor of great advantages like significant XP boosts — that begins to smack of yet more Blizz dictating how we should play.

I am not entirely sure why Blizz wants to push more players into PvP — as with their stance on how to play alts, I cannot see why it matters to them how we play the game so long as we are not violating the ToS. Every time in the past when Blizz has tried to push PvE players into PvP, it has been a disaster — the PvE players hate it and really do not know how to perform adequately, and the PvP players hate having a bunch of idiots in their BG or whatever screwing things up for their side. A classic lose-lose situation.

I suppose I understand why some players prefer PvP — it is challenging and unpredictable in a way that PvE is not. (And of course for far too many there is the asshat potential — you can indulge your schoolyard bully fantasy as much as you please.) What I don’t understand is why Blizz gives a damn if most players do not want to participate in it.

At any rate, stay tuned for PvP changes in BfA. Let us hope, at long last, that the changes will make both PvE and PvP players happy.

A place for us

A couple of disconnected blogs I recently read got me to thinking about the human need to feel at home, an innate need identified and studied by psychologists, behaviorists, architects, interior designers, novelists, retailers — the list goes on and on. Think back to your Psych 101 class and you will recall this need is so basic it was identified by Maslow in his Hierarchy. (I suppose there are psychologists who take issue with Maslow’s work, but it always made sense to me. If you were not paying attention in Psych 101, you can get the gist of his theory in this totally unofficial Wikipedia article.)

The first blog I read that started me on this chain of thought was Matthew Rossi’s regular Blizzard Watch Q&A from yesterday. One of the questions was from someone complaining that the Blizz crossover promotion between Heroes of the Storm and WoW was ruining HotS for him, because there were all these scrubs jumping in and being stupid about how they played.

I have never played HotS, never intend to play it, and getting some big old ugly chunk of 1’s and 0’s to ride in WoW does not make me want to try playing it. But I can sympathize with the questioner. Remember back in Mists when everyone had to win some number of PvP battlegrounds as part of the quest line for the legendary cloak? (Now that’s when legendaries meant something! And you kids get off my grass!) Anyway, I always thought this was a terrible idea — the regular PvPers hated amateurs coming in and ignorantly screwing up established tactics, and the non-PvPers resented having to be there doing something they had no interest in learning or ever doing again.

Here was a prime example of Blizz deliberately messing with the basic human need to feel at home. The regular PvPers felt their space had been invaded by ignorant and clueless strangers — like when your in-laws suddenly show up at your door — and the non-PvPers were thrust into a situation where they did not know the rules of behavior or the terrain or how to interact with others. Neither group felt at home. It was a guaranteed lose-lose situation.

Now, I suppose Blizz did it because having a robust PvP play option attracts more people to the game, and maybe they were losing these kinds of players so they thought if more people tried PvP they would actually like it, thereby increasing this aspect of the game. I have no idea how it turned out, probably some players did in fact decide PvP was kind of fun. No matter. The point I am trying to make here is almost everyone involved in this activity at the time disliked it. Why did they dislike it? Because suddenly a part of the comfortable little niche they had made for themselves in the game was gone.

I would argue that much of the angst we players express with Blizz is due to the sudden removal of some aspect of the game we have come to feel at home with, in the Maslow sense. This is deeper than just stodgy old players uncomfortable with change, this is akin to having your home destroyed by a tornado. More than once.

Each of us defines the central aspect of WoW differently, or to put it another way, we each establish for ourselves what we believe to be our “home core” in the game. We may not even know that we do this, and we might be hard put to describe what that core is, but it is there for all of us. When that core is shaken or demolished, especially if it seems to happen frequently, then we start hollering. This I think is why the hunter changes of the last two expansions have seemed so heinous to me — prior to WoD, I doubt if I would have defined being a hunter as the home core of my game, but when Blizz began to demolish first the SV spec and later the entire hunter experience, suddenly I realized the very foundation of my game enjoyment had been removed. I was left to find another home core or rebuild on the old one. For humans, both these situations are difficult, just ask Maslow.

Which brings me to the other blog that got me thinking along these lines — a piece by Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full on player housing and the dilemma MMOs face on the subject. The quick summary is that there likely is a Goldilocks solution as to whether or not to have player housing and if so how much or little it should affect the game, but that this solution is difficult for most game makers to arrive at. In fact, recent history for MMOs shows that few companies have succeeded.

As some of you may know, I favor the idea of player housing. I really liked my little Sunsong Ranch home. In fact I still go back there every couple of weeks, just as a place to log off from, with a cozy bed and a bubbling pot of stew on the stove. It gives me a peaceful feeling of being at home, of taking off my boots and warming my tired feet by the stove, anticipating supper and reflecting on the day’s adventures.

If we had had just a few opportunities to customize that space — beyond becoming bff’s with whoever that was that decorated it for us — Sunsong Ranch would have been close to perfect as player housing in my opinion. It was completely optional, it did not in any way affect your game play beyond the initial zone quest sets, and it was instanced so that it was really just your own.But Blizz took this notion of an instanced individual space and made it into a monster in WoD in the form of garrisons, and into an annoyance in Legion in the form of class halls.

Anyway, my point is not to rehash all the problems with garrisons or class halls. (However, for crying out loud, can we get a lousy place to sit and maybe be able to buy a beer in the hunter hall??) My point is that some players — maybe even a lot of players, who knows  — really enjoy having a small space of their own, a place they can call home, even in a computer game. And Blizz has demonstrated they have the technology. The garrison technology was great — an individual instance that you could invite groups to, a few chances to do limited customization — it was just the typical Blizz overreaction that made it bad by requiring every player to have one and to develop it and make it the central jumping off point for an entire expansion, and by offering amenities like a bank and an auction house and portals so that you never had to leave it.

Maybe if Blizz gave us some decent optional and limited player housing — a place of our own — we would not be so quick to yell at them when they make huge changes to our class play style or professions or gear. No matter what they did , we could still come home at the end of a long day questing or raiding, kick off our muddy boots and put our feet up by a nice fire, and feel at home.

Maybe Blizz should dig out their old Psych 101 textbook. It might make them realize that always screwing with core player engagements like class and spec identity is more disruptive than it is helpful, and that maybe if they were to let us have a tiny space of our own in the game we might be happier. Just a thought.

Wait, what?

Today’s post concerns another example of Blizz’s slapdash approach to this entire expansion.

Since the launch of WoD, there has been a steadily growing tendency by Blizz to make nearly every reward in the game dependent on RNG. Everything. Even profession recipes, for crying out loud.

The corollary to this tendency is that player effort counts for less and less. No matter how good you are at raiding, tier gear — as well as any other decent gear — is a function solely of blind luck. You can run every wing of LFR every week to get tome drops for the legendary, patiently waiting hours and hours for queues to pop, but this kind of commitment to the game means nothing in the end, because tome drops are just a matter of luck. You can spend hours in Tanaan and get dozens of pieces of Apexis-upgradable Baleful gear, but the chance of them having performance-enhancing secondary stats useful to you are completely luck-dependent.

You can work your butt off figuring out how to configure your ridiculously complex ships to finish just one more reward mission for that stupid level 3 shipyard requirement, which you have to have in order to have any hope of completing yet another legendary ring requirement, but in the end even if you get a 99% success probability, your mission can fail and you can lose the epic ships you worked for two weeks to level. Oh, and that’s assuming you don’t get blockade after blockade, forcing you to take a day to break the blockade just to get another shot at a reward mission. And of course success at breaking blockades is  a matter of chance also. As are the chances of completing the legendary missions even after you get your level 3 shipyard.

You can run old raids every night on multiple alts month after month after month and not get that mount drop you covet. Or your guildmate can run it once out of boredom and get the mount. Because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the amount of effort expended, only sheer luck.

Player involvement and player expertise are no longer rewarded. Player luck is. The game is becoming nothing more than a lottery, with ever-diminishing odds.

So it was with some astonishment that I read a Blue Post from July 24, outlining some pretty significant hotfixes being made to PvP gear. (Emphasis mine in the partial quote below.)

[Initial changes]

… We feel that this change will allow there to still be a benefit to earning the Champion’s Strongboxes over the course of the season, but due to the fact that you’ll still want to complete your set bonuses, that benefit will be a little extra flexibility in gearing choices instead of simply having Versatility items another player may not have won. This also greatly increases the chances of earning a desirable item from your Strongbox (at least, until you have everything you want from them) by reducing the overall number of possible items you could get.

Thanks again for all of the feedback on this topic. We’re hopeful that this change will greatly improve the gearing experience in Warlords Season 2, and are taking all of your feedback to heart as we plan for future seasons.

 [Additional changes]

… First, we’re going to make the remaining non-set armor pieces available on the Conquest vendors. They’ll still be available through the Champion’s Strongboxes, but if you’d rather not leave earning them up to random chance, you’ll be able to purchase them for Conquest points instead. With this change, the only items that will only be available through the Champion’s Strongboxes are the random-stat Accolade trinkets (which cannot be put on the vendors due to some technical hurdles). We’re aiming to make this change with this upcoming weekly reset.

Note that, as a result of this change taking place, we no longer plan to make the Champion’s Strongboxes purchasable with Conquest points for players who have earned the Wild Conquest achievement. Since nearly all of the items in the Strongboxes will be directly purchasable with Conquest points themselves, we feel that this would just add unnecessary frustration or confusion if players were to spend their Conquest on a Strongbox instead of just buying the item they wanted.

Now, I don’t do PvP, so I can’t speak to any of the gear problems that were being addressed by this hotfix. In fact, I usually don’t even read any of the Blue Posts about PvP. But this one caught my eye because it is a repudiation of the concept of RNG-based rewards for PvP play. 

Excuse me? The rest of us live with RNG dictating every aspect of our game experience, but PvP players can’t possibly be expected to endure the horror of “random chance” for their gear?????  Blizz jumps through their collective butt to “greatly improve the gearing experience” for them? Are they so delicate that Blizz has to protect them from the nightmare of “unnecessary frustration or confusion” if they are not allowed to just buy the item they want? Would they just wilt and collapse from the sheer trauma of not being appropriately rewarded for their success?

Now, before the hate mail gets started, let me say that I have no enmity for those players who prefer PvP to PvE. It is a play style choice I can respect. I personally am neither good at it nor interested in it, but that doesn’t mean I have it in for those who are. And I understand that Blizz has not done well by them in this expansion, they have been misled, forced to deal with major PvP-specific class imbalances, and left unable to play because of horrible queue times.

Well, join the club! PvP is not a special snowflake. If I have to suck it up with frustration, confusion, random chance and a terrible gearing experience, then PvP players can too. Their expertise in the game should count for no more than mine does, and if it is unacceptable for their rewards to be left to blind luck, then it is unacceptable for mine also.

It is not fair to tag all PvP players as prima donnas, but Blizz certainly seems to cater to their every little desire, whereas legitimate — and similar — PvE concerns are routinely ignored. This gearing change is one example. Another is the way Blizz has gone to great lengths to alleviate the long Ashran queues — even going so far as to allow players to queue as the other faction if the wait is too long, a creative and unprecedented solution. The rest of us? We deal with 2-3 hour LFR queues and Blizz does not even deign to admit there is a problem, much less go to any effort to fix it.

Hey Blizz! Pretend I am a PvP player and fix my gearing experience and my queue times, too!