Q&A – informative for a change

Yesterday I had a lot going on and was not able to watch the Q&A live, so I watched it this morning. I kind of wish I had made some time to watch it yesterday, because for a change there was quite a lot of very good information in it, and if I had had a few more hours to think about it I would probably be able to make some more thoughtful comments about it today. As it is, here are some of my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on it. And you can check out both the full video and the text summary courtesy of MMO-C here.

Allied races. There was a lot of discussion about these. To me, it was all of passing interest, but I know there a lot of players for whom this is an extremely exciting part of the game. I think the bottom line here is that Blizz will be introducing lots of new allied races over the course of possibly years. Though Hazzikostas did not admit it, the major reason will be to entice players to level new characters (and thus possibly beef up MAU numbers over an extended period of time).

How best to communicate with Blizz. Basically, don’t whine and don’t try to pass your comments off as representing all players. Meh.

Class balance. I thought this was a decent discussion because it did yield some insight into Blizz’s current guiding principles for class design. Hazzikostas reiterated the idea that the goal is to “make each class unique”. (And by “class” I am pretty sure he meant “spec”.) I do not disagree with the goal, but he failed to address the related designs. For example, it is all well and good to make a class that excels in the ability to DoT targets, but if you design raids and dungeons that only make this a valuable trait for a couple of bosses, then the “unique” aspect of the class is not worth much. Blizz has thus far not shown much success in coordinating raid and dungeon design with class abilities, and every expansion they end up creating winner and loser classes because of this failure. Thus, the idea of “class uniqueness” sounds good, but only if your class is one of Blizz’s design winners.

Similarly, he did not address the idea of “utility” balance — that is, some group utilities are way more valuable and widely useful than others. A combat rez, for example, is probably always useful, whereas something like a hunter Tranq shot is highly specialized. Not all “unique” abilities are created equal, and this again leads to winner and loser classes. Will Blizz realize this and develop a system to minimize it? I doubt it.

Gear. This is where there was some good news, on several fronts. It was apparent that Hazzikostas fully understands the mess Blizz gave us with Legion gear. He said no one should have to sim gear before they can determine if it is an upgrade for them, and he also said they had gone too far with secondary stat importance in Legion. He did not promise that all gear with higher ilevel will be an upgrade every time, but he did say most of the time it will be, and he also said the calculus of determining the worth of gear will be considerably easier. We will see, but to me it sounded positive.

Loot. Somewhat related to gear is the question of loot in group situations. It sounds like the only option in BfA will be personal loot. Some guilds will not like this, but the change has been coming for some time. I know with my own guild, at the start of Legion we tended to prefer a system of Master Looter with rolls, along with a very light determination of who could roll on a piece. Very shortly, however, we saw that Personal Loot dropped significantly more gear (a design by Blizz for Legion), and we switched to that and have not gone back.

Hazzikostas came right out and said the BfA move to all Personal Loot is being made mainly to reign in the top guilds, the ones who routinely game the world-first Mythic competitions by using group loot runs to overgear their main raiders before they even start Mythic runs. This practice has meant Blizz has to compensate for the idea that the professional guilds will be overgeared for Mythic raids at the start, thus they need to make the raid difficulty with that in mind. This has a cascading effect, because it means the raid bosses — particularly the end ones — end up being overtuned for everyone else.

Anyway, it looks like Group Loot will be a thing of the past come BfA. What Hazzikostas did not address, but what I would like to have heard him on, is whether there will be some adjustments to the more annoying parts of Personal Loot. For example, a user-friendly interface for sharing loot. Something like a pop-up loot roll window similar to what we now see in dungeons, except in this case it starts with the person who got the loot selecting if they want to offer it up and checking a simple yes/no. If they do offer it up, then a loot roll window automatically pops up for all players eligible for the loot, maybe a need/greed kind of thing to also allow for people to roll on it for transmog.

Another Personal Loot improvement might be a refinement of what loot is shareable and what is not. There is a lot of loot that may technically be an upgrade for a player but in truth it is useless to them, and currently they cannot offer it up for trade.

Talents. Lots of discussion here, but the one thing that gave me cause for optimism was the statement that the idea of selecting either the AoE or the Single Target talent in a tier just feels bad, and in fact it doesn’t make anyone actually choose, rather it just makes them burn a tome to adjust for each boss fight. Hallelujah.

The other interesting thing about talents in BfA is confirmation that Blizz will use them as a sort of testing ground for baseline abilities. That is, if one talent for a class is always selected by most everyone, then that begins to look like something that should become a baseline ability, and Blizz may change it to that in a patch. We kind of suspected this is what they were doing in the latter parts of Legion, but now we know that is indeed the case.

Mission tables. This was probably the most disingenuous part of the Q&A. Hazzikostas blathered on about how they will not serve as time gates in BfA, that they are more for auxiliary game play, they add a nice dimension to the game, they fit with the BfA story line, blah blah blah. What he did not admit was the obvious — that it is a mini-game within WoW that works well with the mobile app, and if they get rid of it then they might as well trash the app, too. And of course, every time a player logs in on the mobile app it counts towards MAU for the game.

Mythic+. Without saying so outright, it was pretty clear that Blizz sees this part of the game as increasingly important going forward. Hazzikostas was at some pains to explain that raiding is still important, but it was obvious that Blizz is looking to Mythic+ as the main end game group activity at some point. Just my opinion, of course, but I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of raiding and I did not.

Professions. There will be some changes for the better here, I think. The change to having professions grouped into expansion-specific ones is a good move. Also good was the comment that crafted items need to be more relevant throughout an expansion, not just at the beginning. Last, on a less optimistic note, I am not really a fan of the recipe-leveling mechanic introduced in Legion, but it sounded like we are stuck with that for BfA.

Alts. Sounds like what we have now in Legion will be what we have in BfA in terms of alt-friendly or alt-hostile (whichever side you come down on). There will be some concessions to alts in terms of grindiness — like we have now for AP catch-up — but Hazzikostas is digging his heels in on his personal conviction that the only reason to have alts is to play them as you would a mini-main. Playing them to farm items for a main is strictly frowned upon and Blizz is doing everything they can to make that as hard as possible for you.

Guilds. The introduction of “Communities” is interesting to me, and honestly I do not know if it will spell the virtual end of guilds or not. Likely I will be writing a lot more about this as we learn more of the specifics. Of note, Hazzikostas did not indicate there would be any new perks to guild membership, only that guilds would have “all the same things as Communities”, plus a guild bank. This is one that bears watching.

Anyway, those are what I saw as the highlights of the Q&A yesterday. I did think it was one of the more informative ones lately. If you find yourself with some free time it could be worth an hour to watch.

Speaking of free time, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.

Q&A, and servers, fail

Yeah, so I watched the latest episode of the Hazzikostas show, and it ranks right up there as one of the crappiest ones Blizz has done. You probably should not waste your time watching it, but if you insist, or just want the text summary, MMO-C has both.

Here are the takeaways from my notes:

Allied races are now available with BfA pre-purchase. This was a pretty badly-kept secret, lots of people seemed to be privy to the “leak” several days ago. The amazing thing to me is how ineptly Blizz rolled it out. Clearly they had been planning it for a while. But the rollout, combined with whatever they did in yesterday’s maintenance patch, was a total disaster. That they finally got many of the worst parts under control by about 9 PM ET last night does not mitigate what a total technical failure it was.

The first thing that happened was that the Blizzard store crashed, apparently under the stress of lots of people rushing to pre-order BfA. Blizz claims it was not their problem per se, rather the money people that handle that sort of thing for them let them down. Whatever. Blizz’s customers were kept in queue for hours, usually only to eventually be kicked out of it. Some people actually seemed to get to the “click this button to charge your credit card” part only to once again be flung into an endless loop that kicked them out of the process. Others had their credit cards charged multiple times, with some of this group actually getting the pre-order and some not.

Whether part of a cascading failure or merely by unlucky coincidence, some set of the game servers also crashed, with the result that no one could log into the game. Blizz issued an emergency patch around 7 PM ET, but that only worked for Windows users. Unlucky Mac users were forced to wait another two hours before Blizz got their butts in gear to fix whatever that problem was. (But not before a clueless CM made the blue comment that Blizz was “actively working” the Mac problem, but they had other higher priority stuff they were working on, the implication being just shut up and wait until we get around to it. Oh, and any readers tempted to make a snarky comment about Mac users, be aware I am in no mood!)

Was Blizz really surprised that a whole bunch of people would try to pre-order BfA immediately? I mean, how long have they been in business? And where the hell was their stress testing before going live — any testing at all, really?

I have said it before and I will say it again. Blizz is a worldwide company that still operates like two guys in a garage. They are woefully incompetent at what they apparently think are the un-fun parts of maintaining the game. Their attitude seems to be, “Yeah, but that part isn’t kewl, dude!”

PvP. A lot of people were pretty annoyed that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas and Mr. Emcee Lore spent probably 30 minutes of the hour-long session talking about PvP. I will admit, I was one of them. Yeah, I get that PvP is a major part of the game for some people (although I doubt it is half the player population). Truthfully, if I had known they were going to spend so much time discussing PvP, I would not have even watched the event.

Upon reflection, maybe that attitude is why they did it. I am getting the definite idea that Blizz is very slightly ramming PvP down people’s throats for BfA. All servers will be for both groups, just a matter of setting a player switch to decide. (I can hardly wait until that goes live, no chance for disasters there….) BfA will also feature scenarios that are basically modified PvP arenas, the only difference being that the game will simulate PvP opponents using AI for their NPCs. These scenarios (“islands” in the BfA parlance), in addition to being pseudo-PvP in nature, seem designed for esports — they are short, timed events, basically a new addition to Mythic+ dungeons for BfA.

“Utilities pruning” for classes. The main thing that came out of this for me was Hazzikostas officially lecturing us that “Bring the class not the player” is a good thing. And in fact, he pedantically Blizzsplained to us that we have stupidly misunderstood the whole “Bring the player not the class” thing from the beginning — if we had not been so dense, we would have grasped that it never meant groups should have the freedom to bring good players irrespective of class, nor was it any sort of design philosophy.

“Four legs good, two legs bad” has at last morphed into “Four legs good, two legs better”. It has always been so, we are just too confused to remember, poor brainless little things we are…

We will, of course see how this utility pruning campaign works out. But I remain skeptical. There is almost no way to structure it to avoid clear winners and losers in the pruning lottery. Some classes will get the “always good” utilities (hero, battle rez, etc.) and some will get the “good for a few types of fights” utilities.

Of course, I am particularly interested in this because until Legion hunters were the utility class. We had all kinds of useful stuns, traps, mobility moves, misdirects, pet saves. Nearly all of these were removed at the start of Legion, then begrudgingly a few were restored in an early patch. But we are still nowhere near the level of utility player we have been for almost all of WoW. And now it appears even our meager set of utilities will be pruned once again, all in the name of “class uniqueness”. Whatever the hell that is, other than an excuse for designating winners and losers in the class lottery.

BM hunters may be screwed. Clearly, Blizz’s plan is to make SV the winning hunter spec in BfA. We don’t know exactly what it will look like yet, but apparently, according to the esteemed Game Director, it will remain melee-ish, but in a kind of ranged way(?). Hazzikostas actually admitted they went too far out of the hunter play style when they destroyed SV and replaced it with what was effectively  another class. And so this spec will receive a rather major makeover in BfA.

In a sense, I suppose I should be glad that my beloved old-style SV may begin to make a return. But honestly I am still pissed that Blizz treated us SV hunters so shabbily, that they forced many of us to switch to BM to maintain any semblance of what we loved about hunters, that they arrogantly dismissed every comment we had to make on the change, and now they are saying “Oops, heehee, guess we went too far, silly us.”

Worse, it is starting to look like SV will get some major changes at the expense of the BM spec. Apparently Blizz picks one hunter spec each expansion now to be the one they make unplayable. It was SV at the end of WoD and pretty much in Legion, and it could easily be BM in BfA. So all you hunters out there who begrudgingly gave up your SV for BM: Psych!!! Blizz was just kidding, you should go back to SV in BfA.

Hahahahaha! They are such great kidders! Screwing with hunters just never gets old for them.

BfA release date. We now know this will be “before Sep 21st”. This is before most of us were predicting. I am happy to eat my words on this if it indeed comes to pass. (I predicted not before November.) But it means that BfA is further along, more set in stone than we had thought, and it really seems what we see in the alpha and beta will be very close to what we get in the live version.

Anyway, that was pretty much it for yesterday’s Q&A. If you did not watch it, congratulations, you just saved yourself some wasted time.

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.

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.

Message on classes?

 

Yesterday, as I am sure you all know, there was another Blizz Q&A, this time with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas. I watched it live, then parts of it again this morning as I was munching my corn flakes. There were really no great revelations, and of course everyone will have their own take on it. If you want to check it out for yourselves, Wowhead has video of the entire interview and a nice text summary on this page.

In spite of the fact that we were told the Q&A is not the venue for discussing class balance issues, the one thing that struck me was a pretty defined thread of Legion class development weaving through many of the answers given to questions on varied topics. I think we are in the middle of a pretty significant swing on the entire philosophy of classes in WoW. That is not really news, I guess, but I do think we are finally seeing the emergence of a more or less clearly articulated set of class policies, which is something we have not had for some time now in the game.

The way I would express this policy is:

External game mechanisms are more important for determining class strengths than are individual player abilities, and those mechanisms should influence group compositions. 

Yeah, I know, but hear me out.

Gear. Gear level is the default measuring stick for all content in the game. Hazzikostas was pretty blunt about this when asked about the difficulty of the class artifact challenges in 7.2. He went to some pains to point out that the challenges were actually designed to get easier with better gear, and that player abilities could only go so far to beat the challenges absent good gear, and in some cases very specific gear.

However, in an apparent nod to player abilities (along with an obedient bow to the elitist mentality), he did add he is “confident that there will be a large number of people who just aren’t able to do [the artifact challenges]”. Yes, he used the word “confident”, which implies approval of the development. We don’t know whether he has this confidence because he also has confidence in the inept play of many players or because he has confidence in the fact that RNG makes getting decent gear unlikely for many players.

Nevertheless, the message was pretty clear: gear should matter more than almost any other factor.

External buffs discussion. This was eye-opening to me. The question being answered had to do with the wisdom of continuing to have external group buffs — of which there are currently very few. But Hazzikostas’s answer was quite far-reaching, I thought. It went far beyond the actual question, almost as if the question had been chosen to allow a public policy statement.

He first explained he thinks there should be more group-contributing type abilities, “not just numbers-driven ones”. I found this to be pretty amazing, considering Legion had gone to some pains to strip away almost all raid buffs.

He also expressed what I presume is the official Blizz stance on class value — that the game had veered too far in the direction of “bring the player not the class”, and that there is in his opinion significant value in bringing certain classes because of their unique group contributions. In fairness, he did point out that you can go too far in this direction, giving Sunwell Plateau as an example. But the message was clear: class should matter in group selection. He even went so far as to give the example of selecting a less-skilled warlock over, say “a third hunter”.

I admit I was annoyed that the only mention he made of hunters in the entire Q&A was to intimate there are too many of them, and that they are just generic damage dealers, but that is petty of me. And maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems like he has completely forgotten that hunters used to be the premier utility class until under his watch nearly all utility functions were stripped from them. And now he has the nerve to imply hunters have no special utility and therefore should be replaced by a class that does have some??? OK, mini-rant over.

Anyway, I think this pronouncement is the formalization of the sea change in Blizz’s class development philosophy that we have observed evolving in Legion. I do not think it is overstating it to say that Blizz is moving back towards the idea of optimal class mixes for raids. In fact, he made this plain when he said (direct quote), “A well rounded group should always be the best one”.

Whether this will have any appreciable effect on non-elite raid teams remains to be seen. It seems unlikely, especially for flexible-sized difficulty levels. I suspect most semi-casual raid teams seldom run at the full 30 capacity, so if they have a few extra hunters (big fat raspberry to you, Mr. Ion “I Hate Hunters” Hazzikostas) it does not mean they can’t still add that oh-so-useful Warlock…

It will have an effect, I suppose, on Mythic raid teams, but many of those already configure their rosters based on class/spec contributions for specific fights. It could have an effect also on those non-Mythic teams who occasionally dip a toe into Mythic raids. I am thinking of my own guild, where just because of membership we frequently run with 4 or more hunters — if “proper” class mix becomes a thing, some of those hunters, regardless of their play abilities, could be asked to sit out if they are preventing a “useful” class from coming along. I think guild philosophy would supersede benching a regular raider solely because of their class, but if having a certain class mix is a clearly superior strategy, it could happen.

Another area that might be affected is pugs. Hazzikostas seemed to think increasing class relevance would be beneficial to pugs, because group leaders would not just be looking to grab the player with the highest ilevel. True, but it could also serve to really harm a class perceived to have no “special” contributions. Even if Blizz is forward-thinking enough to give every spec an identifiable beneficial utility, it could still backfire if that spec’s utility was not useful in certain fights — you might be able to get all the first wing Nighthold you could handle, for example, but no group would even think of picking you up for the second wing.

I often criticize Blizz for not communicating policy changes, so it is only fair that I hand them a kudo this time. Though it was subtle, I do think Ion Hazzikostas in the Q&A delivered a policy pronouncement on the role of classes in Legion and going forward: Gear and group utility (as handed out by Blizz in the form of unique class abilities) are significant pieces of class power, slightly outweighing player proficiency except in the most extreme cases, and it is desirable that these class attributes play a role in determining group composition strategies.

I may not agree with it, but I can’t argue that I have not been told about it.

Oh, and Blizz, please for the love of anything you may hold dear —

GIVE HUNTERS BACK THEIR RAID UTILITIES.

And have a good weekend.

 

Q&A — meh

Short post today, lots going on IRL. I did take the time to listen to the Q&A yesterday, and I am sorry I wasted an hour. I suppose there were a couple of interesting revelations about legendaries, but all in all it was pretty bland. Hazzikostas spent about 90% of the time talking about, yes you guessed it, gear — artifact appearances, artifact power, artifact relics, tier gear, trinkets, and legendaries legendaries legendaries. I hoped a question about secondary stats might lead to one on class balance, but no, secondary stats were discussed only insofar as they affect gear not as they affect class play styles.

As I said in my last post, Legion — and dev focus — has morphed into something  that certainly seems more gear-centric than I can remember in the game. I would really have liked to hear some discussion on class balance, maybe even one tiny mention of the long-promised help for the hunter play style, but no, just mainly gear gear gear.

Side note: Sorry, but the “fixes” Blizz has made thus far to hunters have done absolutely nothing to improve a clumsy and awkward rotation, have given BM players zero burst capability, have not significantly improved the deplorable pet pathing or Hati problem, have done precious little to restore the mobility Legion removed. We finally got some traps back, which was nice, but other than that all we have gotten are some shut-them-up number tweaks. It has never been about the numbers. I would have thought Hazzikostas might have at least mentioned the going forward plan for some of the worst classes, but nope, not a peep, as if that is now no longer a problem or at least not one they want to talk about any more.

Maybe the whole question of fixing classes is in the “too hard” category, and it is easier to focus on gear… I do find it amusing to watch Blizz scramble to apply bandaid after bandaid to the whole legendary process — there was even an expanded explanatory blue post later yesterday (collected here by MMO-C) — in an attempt to “fix” something that was poorly conceived and implemented, and which has had cascading major effects on nearly all class play. I am willing to bet more than one dev heartily wishes these legendaries would just disappear from the game.

I am betting one of the non-gear subjects discussed — the demise of some world competitive mythic guilds — will get a lot of attention in the blogosphere in the next couple of days. Towards the end, Hazzikostas very delicately took some of those guilds to task for promoting polices almost guaranteed to quickly burn people out. I thought he had some excellent points, but more than anything I was heartened to hear him say Blizz recognizes that many players perceive Legion to be overly — and endlessly — grindy. He said 7.2 will alleviate much of that feeling. I hope it does, although I think the solutions he has offered so far will fall short. Still, it is hopeful that they at least recognize the problem.

The only other item of mild interest was the short discussion of group buffing abilities. Apparently these are just an experiment (?), which is why only a few classes have them. I thought it was pretty naive of him to go on and say he does not expect that raid teams will stack them or select certain class/specs purely to take advantage of them. Really? What planet has he actually been living on for the last couple of years? He scolded some of the top guilds for going overboard on competing for world first, and he doesn’t think they will stack raid buffs?

So, as Q&A sessions go, the one yesterday was not awful, but it was also relatively uninformative. Just my two cents. Gotta get to my chores for the day, everyone have a nice weekend.