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.

Patch 7.2 is upon us

Well, the big news from yesterday’s Q&A is that Patch 7.2 will go live at the next reset. I suppose this is good news — the current content is getting a bit worn, although honestly I would be able to find too much to do in it for weeks or even months yet. Still, it is always fun to get new shinies.

No question in my mind, flying will be my main and most frenetic focus for the first couple of weeks until I get she achievement. I am heartily sick of bumbling around on the ground and being forced to take commercial air to get to far away places. Flight paths are still too roundabout for my tastes, and if I am going to take scenic tourist flights, then I want to be able to swoop down or stop at interesting points I see from the air.

Not going to lie, I am also waiting for flying to get some profession quest lines finished on alts. Some of them are too lightly geared to deal efficiently with mobs encountered getting to or getting out of quest areas. If the quest is to kill 12 bears, for example, I do not want to have also fight my through an area packed with spiders or rabid plant life, both entering and exiting the quest area. And I am also waiting on flying to level a couple of my more problematic alts (looking at you, Mage).

I have Pathfinder Part 1 finished, so it will just be a matter of grinding out the new rep and other requirements for Part 2. I am not really that happy with Blizz introducing an entire new faction for us to get rep with for this achievement, however. It just strikes me as Blizz once again — in what has become a depressing pattern — screwing with us, moving the goal posts just as we get close enough to think we are finished. To add insult to injury, no existing rep tokens count for the new rep.

Similarly, Patch 7.2 will permit (ok, “force”) us to increase the gear level of our class hall champions if we wish to use them for new missions. But all those gear upgrade tokens you have been collecting ever since your champions all reached level 850? Yup, you guessed it, worthless. There will be new ones we can grind for endlessly.

The other goal post that has been moved is of course the artifact trait one. I would not ever characterize myself as a completionist when it comes to achievements in this game, but there is just something mean about letting me get a whiff of success at maxing out my artifact traits — I am at 52 right now — then move that goal nearly out of range (there will be something like 50 more traits or trait levels in 7.2, and each will cost millions or even tens of millions of AP to get).

It just feels like Blizz ran out of good ideas and decided that redoing artifact traits, class hall quest lines, champion missions, faction rep, and class hall research was the way to go. Yeah, take what are arguably the most annoying parts of Legion and make everyone do a do-over on them and pass it off as new content….

I have not played the PTR lately, so I only have what I read to go by for some of the upcoming changes. In general, I kind of liked the world scenarios we got at the end of WoD as prep for Legion. They were fun to me because they really were completely optional. I am not so sure how much I will like them now that they will be a requirement for another achievement.

I don’t really understand the mechanics of establishing a new class hall base on a new island — this is beginning to smell like more garrisons to me. And I surely do not get the building mechanic. Apparently, each region and/or server group somehow “votes” for the kind of building (one of three possibles) they want. From what I can glean, you “vote” by collecting and giving up nethershards (something new to grind for, but remember Blizz hates collecting currency except when they don’t). At some point there are enough votes for the building to be constructed, it gives a local buff, lasts for 72 hours, gets destroyed by the Legion, then everyone gets to start all over again.

Forgive me if I am not jumping up and down in anticipation of what appears will be yet another depressing Sisyphean activity.

There will be some number of user interface upgrades in the new patch. Again, this is always nice, but the ones I saw were ones I have long ago fixed by using an addon. Blizz’s UI is generally poor, and they remain extremely lazy about fixing it because they know addons will fill in the holes until they get around to making a stab at it.Reading about the upcoming changes, it seems like my addons will still be leagues better than Blizz’s “fixes”.

I have not seen any updated official 7.2 patch notes yet, which makes me wonder if once again — like for 7.1.5 — they will only be published a few hours before the patch goes live, and even then they will be incomplete and straight out wrong in some instances. I would think if a new patch is deemed ready for prime time, that part of that includes having well-written and complete patch notes, but I guess this is not a priority for Blizz.

Still, for all my crabbiness about 7.2, I have to give Blizz credit for thus far sticking to their promise of continually pumping out new Legion content. I honestly did not think they would be able to do it, and I am happy to be proven wrong so far. In my opinion, “content” is at once the best and worst feature of Legion. The best because, well, there is undeniably a lot of it and it keeps changing and morphing at a pretty furious pace. The worst because too much of it is required rather than just optional — I say required because it is part and parcel of nearly every conceivable game goal for almost any player.

(For example, running dungeons is required in order to complete zones, develop professions, do class hall quest lines, etc. There is no  path to accomplishing these activities without running dungeons. Just my opinion, I know, but to me this is cramming certain content down people’s throats, forcing certain very narrow play styles on every character.)

There is a ton of stuff in Patch 7.2, and I have not even touched the surface. It will be here in a few days, and at that time we will all be able to judge for ourselves what works and what doesn’t in it.

Apologies for the rather disorganized comments today, I am on the phone fighting with customer service over what should be a simple door opening mod to my new dryer, and I am at wit’s end over trying to explain the problem to what seems to be someone with the technical grasp of a carrot on the other end of the line. I thonk I see alcohol in my near future.

Life at the end of the curve

This is part rant and part just stomped-into-the-ground discouragement. But it is a dark gloomy rainy day here, and Monday to boot, so….

First a math lesson. (Sorry, I warned you this might be rough.) I am not an expert in statistics, but I understand some of the basics. I know, for example, that if you are averaging the number of widgets per person, and one person has 50 and the other person has 90, the average number of widgets per person is 70. (Statisticians prefer the term “arithmetic mean” but I will use “average” because it sounds a tad less nerdy.) If both have 70, the average is still 70. And if one person has one and the other person has 139, the average is still 70.

In any sufficiently large population, there will be a significant number of actual things counted that deviate a great deal from the average. There’s a term that measures variation from the average, it’s called standard deviation (SD). Basically, the higher the SD, the fewer members of the population that are close to the calculated average. Another way to look at it is the higher the SD, the more spread apart the data is. My example of 1 and 139 would have a very high standard deviation, whereas my example of 70 and 70 would have a very low — zero — SD value.

There is a formula for calculating SD, but as I recall it involves square roots and nobody wants to go there. The point is, it is possible to have an average that no part of the population really experiences. Or that some experience very closely but others experience a long way away from the average. Thing is, in large populations where something is being measured, there are almost always outliers — the ones on the very edges of the curve, about as far away from the calculated average as you can get. Some are way under and some are way over.

When you introduce humans into the math, psychology enters in. If widgets were a good thing to have, and I told you the average number of widgets people win when they roll a die is 70, you would expect to roll the die and win somewhere around 70 widgets, give or take a few. It is just human nature. Even if you fully comprehend how averaging works, you will still expect to get something close to the average. And if you don’t get close the first time, your human brain — against all logic — expects to be “compensated” the second or third or fourth or fifth time. Further, if you roll the die 10 times and end up with 10 widgets, when you were expecting close to 700, and someone else rolls 10 times and ends up with 1000, you will most likely sputter and squeak and even if you don’t say it out loud you will think “No fair! No fair!” And unless you are Mother Theresa you will not be having very charitable thoughts about the other person.

So a few nights ago I was trying — for the third night in a row — to get into just one lousy LFR to crank out my weekly attempt at getting Tomes of Chaos. The first two nights the queue was two hours, and I started playing late so really did not have time to wait that long. The third night night the queue said 35 minutes, so I said what the heck and jumped in. As usual, the queue began to fluctuate, so that when I got to 35 minutes it jumped to 40, when I got to 40, it jumped to an hour, etc. Then when I got to an hour and a half, it jumped back to 40 minutes, which is where it stayed until it finally popped for me after an hour and 50 minutes. I got a total of one Tome out of the raid, which is what I got last week also, so at this rate I only have 31 more weeks to go before I get all my Tomes.

Bad luck, you say. Well yes it is. But I never ever seem to have any good luck, never even any “average” luck, with drop rates or queue lengths or any other activity in this game. I always seem to live on the extreme bad end of the curve. Clearly if the average wait time was 40 minutes, and my wait time was an hour and 50 minutes, then there were some people who had wait times much much shorter than 40 minutes. And they can’t all be tanks and healers, given the proportion of DPS to those roles. If I am going to be a perpetual outlier, it would nice once in awhile to be an outlier on the good end.

Trust me, there are such people, ones who seem always to be the polar opposite of me, ones who get 1000 widgets regularly to my 10. There is someone like that in my guild. Nice guy, good player, but he has the most fantastic luck all the time. Example: I have run Kazzak now 4 times, three times on my main and once on my alt hunter. Rolled bonus roll every time, so I have had 8 shots at gear. Want to know how many pieces of gear I have gotten? Yep, zero. I muttered a bit in guild chat after my last big fat goose egg on him, and this guy — the super lucky one — said yeah that’s tough, but he has gotten the trinket now 3 times and that is no fun either, getting the same piece over and over.

When he said that, I just sat at my computer, and I think smoke was literally coming out my ears. What I said was something like “LOL! Ya that would be annoying.” but what I wanted to do — since I am decidedly not Mother Theresa — was JUMP THROUGH THE INTERNET, GRAB HIM BY THE THROAT, AND CHOKE THE LIVING SH*T OUT OF HIM. Because this guy is an outlier like I am, except he is always on the good end of the curve and I am always on the bad end. Same guy, on a night when I gave up LFR after close to two hours, told me that was strange, since he had queued up about an hour before on his lock and got in after about ten minutes. (!!!!!!!!)

Have I mentioned that I have not got a 4-piece tier set for the last two expansions on either of my hunters? Closest I got was 3 pieces on one in Mists. And that was when I was raiding 3 nights a week with two teams. Back in Mists, I ran Ordos 24 times (multiple alts), had something like 40 rolls including bonus rolls, before I ever got my first piece of gear. I’ve told you about my continuing bad luck with Felblight, which is supposed to have an average drop rate of 10% — mine now after three weeks of 6.2, hundreds of skins, fish and ore, is still right around 2-3%.

I understand the concept of “average”. I know there is no cosmic judge that compensates you for previous bad luck or penalizes you for previous good luck. Even knowing this to be true, though, does not change the human response that chronic bad luck streaks are not fun. Nor does it change the fact that games are supposed to be fun for everyone that chooses to play.

Blizz devs have repeatedly touted that player skill and diligence are the most important factors in this game. Yet what is less dependent on player skill or diligence than strict RNG-based rewards? In fact, no random number generator is truly random, and Blizz tweaks RNG continually. There is no reason, for example, that they cannot tweak their algorithm so that, if the drop rate is supposed to be 1 in 10, it is that rate the first time you try. If you don’t get the drop the first time, the second time you try it is 2 in 10. Then 3 in 10, etc., so that by the time you get to your tenth try — if you have still not got the drop — you have a 100% chance of getting it. That would keep the game fun for people like me. If I knew I could down a certain boss 20 times and get a piece of needed gear, I would do so. Maybe I would get it my first time, but if I didn’t, I would know that if I just kept coming back it would drop. I would not have that sinking, Sisyphean feeling every time I tried.

As I said, it is Monday. It is dark. It is gloomy. It is rainy. And Blizz is Lucy holding the football, and I am Charlie Brown.