Things that need to be account wide

I have said it before, and my opinion has not changed, Legion is one of the most alt-unfriendly expansions in recent history. I don’t know how it was before Wrath because I did not play alts then, but the last two expansions have seen a steady diminishing of benefits for alts. Coincidentally (?) that is the exact same period as the reign of Mr. Game Director “I Alone Will Dictate How You Will Have Fun” Hazzikostas. (And those of you out there who have like 50 alts and always send me a comment about how easy it is to play a whole stable full of them, just save your breath and bytes, you are flat out wrong. Playing alts in Legion might be less painful if you have 8-10 hours a day to play the game, but for any normal person, it is getting harder and harder to maintain anything but one main character.)

This was driven home to me over the weekend when I took my void elf mage through both the Argus and the enchanting quest lines. It took pretty much the entire weekend, probably a total of 12 hours of play time.

The Argus quest line is not difficult, and I found it passably interesting the first 2-3 times I did it, but after that it is just a long boring grind. The only reason to do it at all any more is to unlock the full set of Argus world quests, which in turn help you to grind AP at a slightly faster rate than on the rest of the Broken Isles.

The enchanting quest line, like most Legion professions, is just painful because of the dungeon requirements. I do not mind doing quests in order to advance a profession, but when every alt with a profession is forced into group activity (including raiding for some of the higher level profession recipes), that seems like an unreasonable imposition of one and only one play style for every character in the game. I got somewhat lucky with my mage, and the queues for the specific dungeons needed for enchanting were only between 10-20 minutes, but please note that this can add over an hour (I think I needed 4?) of time just waiting.

I suppose Blizz’s twisted reasoning here is that by making us go through every quest line on every alt, they are padding their MAU. But for me it really has the opposite effect — there are alts I have just stopped playing because the time sink required to get them to true end game play is just too steep. And by “true end game” I am not even talking about regular raiding or Mythic+ dungeons — just daily emissary quests, some LFR once in a while, the basic profession recipes, and a reasonable shot at level 75 for an artifact weapon. In fact, there are times when I might have an inclination to play the game but the prospect of grinding the same quests are so off-putting that I do not even log in.

I have only a bare bones champion setup in my class halls on most of my alts, because the time sink required to grind the class hall resources and get max gear for them is daunting. And I have not even attempted the full Suramar quest line or the Broken Shore quest line on any alts — the prospect is just too depressing.

Contrast this with the way I played alts in Mists of Pandaria. I really enjoyed taking them all through the Timeless Isle dailies and weeklies, mainly because most of the perks earned were account wide. Even things like the special legendary cape had account wide perks in terms of being able to get to that one boss across the chasm high up. It was fun to have a little practice area for becoming more proficient on various classes, and you could progress to harder areas as your proficiency and gear level increased. It did not seem like a grind because even if the particular alt you were playing did not need any more of the vendor gear, you could get it for a lesser-geared alt. And you could always stock up on it by running your main through every day.

Plus, there was that rep perk, where your alts earned rep at a significantly faster pace once one character had gotten to exalted with a faction.

Those days are long gone.

I am at a total loss for the reasoning behind the change. It is apparently a matter of almost religious belief on the part of Hazzikostas that alts must not, under any circumstances, be played in any kind of role except exactly as a main. There must not be any set of perks that would allow them to, say, be primarily a mat or crafted gear supplier to a main. No, no, no! They must be developed as fully as a main, and their sole approved purpose must be to pursue the exact same end game goals as a main. And in fact, the changes implemented in WoD and most especially Legion all funnel alts into exactly that mode. Why does Blizz give a flying fuck how we play our alts? The more of them we enjoy playing — for whatever purpose — the more we log in. I do not get it, except as a power trip for Hazzikostas: “Not only can I determine for you the manner in which you must have fun, but I can also dictate exactly how you must play your alts.”

Blizz could significantly improve player quality of life in the next expansion by making certain things account wide. Making some of these changes, rather than inhibiting play time, would actually encourage more players to log in more and play alts even towards the end of the expansion when typically they lose interest. Some examples that would benefit:

  • Rep. Ideally, once you earned Exalted status on one character, that would apply to all characters in the same faction on the same server. Or, if that idea is too distressing to Blizz, at least do something like was done in Mists and make subsequent rep significantly faster to gain once one character hits Exalted.
  • Quest lines that open up additional game play. These, too, should be account wide once attained on one character. Blizz gains nothing by forcing the exact same process on every alt. After all, they recognized the boredom factor this entails in leveling, and they instituted the zone leveling concept for exactly that reason: to prevent leveling burnout by following the same path every time. So why not give us a break in the long quest lines at the end of the game? I would argue that the prospect of having to do them again and again actually discourages people from logging in at a certain point rather than forcing them to log in more often and for longer periods of time.
  • Profession leveling. Once you have fully leveled a profession for a given expansion, any additional alts with the same profession should be able to share the recipes immediately. If Blizz fears this would give rise to whole stables full of alts with the lottery-winner profession for that expansion (such as alchemy in Legion), they could limit the total number of crafted items per day or even the number of additional alts with the profession. Even better, they could design an expansion that does not have clear winner and loser professions!
  • Rep-dependent mounts. Same as rep — if you have earned it on one character, why not make it available to alts? (This is not the same as class-dependent mounts.) I refuse to do that stupid fisher rep on any more alts to get the raft — I ground it out on one, saved up my Mists timewalker tokens to get it on another, and that is it. Not going to do it. But I probably would spend more time fishing on alts if I had it. Not a lot, but still more than I do now.

None of these suggestions has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being implemented, but I make them anyway. The thing is, I really believe they would encourage people to play more, because then logging in to play an alt would actually be fun rather than an exercise in grim acceptance of yet another long slog to get to the fun part.

Of course, it would require His Royal Eminence Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas to allow some people to play their alts in a fashion he frowns upon, but possibly he could learn to live with the trauma or at least get counseling to help him accept it.

Grinding is bad, reaching goals is not

For the past couple of weeks, ever since I hit Concordance on my main hunter’s artifact and hit level 40 on my Artifact Research, I have taken a vacation from BS and World Quests. Just haven’t done them. Grinding out hundreds of millions of AP for a marginal increase in power simply is not worth the effort, in my opinion. I am close to the one billion mark for getting the next level, and that number just makes my head explode. I took the AP bar off my UI because I can’t stand to see myself getting, say, 9 million AP and having the bar progress less than the width of a human hair. It’s too demoralizing.

This effect, of course, is more or less what Blizz said their goal was. They actually want us to think it is not worth the effort. In fact, they have jiggered the AP accumulation rate and Concordance costs so that it is not just difficult but impossible to max out one’s artifact traits.

Think about that for a minute, and you will see what a remarkable move this is. For almost the entire history of this game, character progression has been primarily based on two mechanics: racking up achievements and getting gear. Sometimes the two are even combined — remember that sense of satisfaction each expansion when you get the achievement for all blue gear or all purple gear?

Getting “that” weapon used to be one of the highlights of an expansion. Remember when you got that cool heirloom weapon after downing Garrosh in Siege of Orgrimmar? Hunters, remember when you finally got that awesome bow from Deathwing? (I loved that bow, still use it a lot for transmog.)

The esteemed Game Director, Ion Hazzikostas, has lectured us many times on the evils of “grinding” — it is no fun™, he has said repeatedly, to “grind” for gear, to build up tokens if you know within a certain amount of time you will be able to get the gear you desire. No, people! That is not fun™ at all, it is much more fun™ to be surprised when you win the gear lottery, or even better to be unlucky enough to never win it at all! Whee!

And yet, Legion’s artifact weapons are the antithesis of even this supposedly baseline design philosophy. You are given them via a small quest line when you reach level 100 (removing at least one piece of gear from the normal “getting gear” game pillar), and then you spend the rest of the expansion upgrading them, by grinding for AP (violating the “grinding is evil” pillar). Mind, you are not grinding for cool new weapons, no indeed, you are grinding knowing you will never get another weapon in Legion, all you can do is get some incremental increases in the one you have. Furthermore, after a certain point, it is mathematically impossible to grind enough AP to get even a small upgrade. So what the “grinding is evil” group at Blizz has done is implement a mechanic that is not only a pure expansion-long grind, but one with no end goal.

The mind boggles.

Which brings up the question: what exactly constitutes a “grind” in the game? It’s a term each of us understands perfectly, yet which I suspect few of us would agree on. (It’s like “content” that way.)

To me, a grind is a process in which I spend a period of time doing certain activities not for their own enjoyment, but for the purpose of achieveing some other desired end. The activities themselves are usually boring and tedious, but they are worth it to me because the goal is something I really want. The grind is made tolerable by the fact that the goal is great, and by the knowledge that each time I crank out a few more of the boring activities I am closer to my desired goal. So, for example, I did the endless dailies in Mists because I wanted the rep that would give me the profession recipes and gear I wanted. I did those uninspired weeklies in BS because I wanted to open up the hunter mount quest line.

So the grind itself is almost always not fun, but reaching your goal is fun. This is a basic truth that is apparently beyond the grasp of Ion Hazzikostas. Yes, nearly everyone hates grinding, but nearly everyone likes knowing that if they just stick with it, they will get what they have set out to get. The root of much of the dissatisfaction with Legion’s eternal AP grind is pretty much that it is the grind without the reward. Yeah, I know, you get some small increases in your weapon power, but realistically the rewards are not enough to justify the grind in many people’s minds. We are all Sisyphus, doomed to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, knowing we will never be allowed to reach the top with it.

WoW has conditioned us to chase achievements and gear/mounts/pets/whatever. It is true that we play the game in the big picture for relaxation and fun, but in the micro picture once we are playing we keep doing so for the tangible rewards. Very few people would keep playing the game if all it consisted of was a series of quests that gave no “things” as rewards. We all yammer on about the fun of raiding, for example, because of the satisfaction we get from a team effort, but would any of us keep doing it if there were no gear or achievement rewards also? Seems doubtful.

So for Blizz to introduce a mechanic like the artifact weapon and all its peripheral mechanics just flies in the face of everything they have established as game motivation since the beginning, and it seems to violate the very philosophies they espouse as fundamental to their game design.

Time for another weekend.

World quests = Dailies with a new name

I have been running quite a few world quests lately, and the more I do them, the more I realize they are just Mists of Pandaria dailies prettied up a bit. There are a few differences and improvements, sure, but basically these are gating mechanisms for rep, which in turn is a gating mechanism for profession advancement, gear (mainly in the form of chasing AP for an artifact), and other end game activities. This, of course, is exactly what Mists dailies were.

There was a good deal of complaining about the Mists dailies, and Blizz did their typical over-reaction in WoD, where for many months we had zero dailies. Now, it seems the pendulum has done another huge arc and we are back to the Mists model. True, I eventually found the Mists dailies to be a grind, but in general I didn’t mind them. At least I knew if I kept at them that I could achieve certain goals — earn tokens to trade for reasonable gear, get a nice mount, eventually get profession recipes I wanted, etc. And, refreshingly, achieving these goals was not dependent on blind random luck, it was a function of how much effort I put into the game. (Effort results in reward, what a concept.) Also, the Mists dailies were an activity I could do on all my alts once they hit max level, no need for them to have a certain gear level, no need for me to have much beyond basic proficiency with them. And they had the added bonus of giving me a quick way to maintain and even improve some of my alt skills without having to take them into time commitments like LFR or actually try to do instances or raids with them.

So when I say that Legion World Quests are essentially a rework of Mists dailies, I don’t mean that in a negative way, I am just pointing out that they are the same game mechanisms. Blizz gave them a new name so as to spare some players the apparent trauma of reminding them of Mists, and they vary them a bit more, but it’s the same activity. And I suspect we will soon see players complain about being forced to grind them every day, there will be whining about “burnout”.

The ultimate success or failure of World Quests will, in large measure, depend on how well Blizz is able vary them, and on how well they will be able to keep them relevant once people have all the profession recipes, artifact power, and rep they need/want. There are a couple of ways they could go about this. One would be to offer paths to new types of rewards — perhaps a token or coin system redeemable for mounts or pets, or maybe a Mythic+ key, or gear enhancements such as unique gems or enchants  (of course, at the risk of enraging crafters who like to sell such items), etc. The other way to keep WQs relevant is less exciting, and merely consists of adding more of the same for rewards — continually adding new profession recipes, even more AP for an ever-expanding artifact tree, a couple new factions that require a whole new set of rep, etc.

One thing I do not expect to see is a continuing relevancy of gear as WQ rewards. There are already huge whines from self-styled “hardcores” deploring the “welfare gear” from WQs, and let’s face it, Blizz has a history of catering to these snivellers. (I have never understood the zero-sum mentality of “If you get decent gear, it takes away from my fantastic awesome achievement in getting lucky in a raid and tragically makes me less of a special snowflake,” but that is another subject entirely.) I have noticed already that the Emissary quest rewards seem to be getting stingier and stingier.

So for now I am dutifully doing my Mists dailies World Quests, and I don’t mind them because I can see progress towards some game goals. But they are becoming a bit grindy, and — absent some pretty significant new incentives — I can see them within a couple of months becoming an alts-only activity for me.