Tantrum tactics

Over the weekend I debated with myself over whether or not I should post this, and in the end I decided to just put it out there and let the chips fall where they may. The subject, of course, is Ion Hazzikostas’s Dev Interview from Friday, which you can see in text summary and in video here on MMO-C. There were quite a few topics covered in the interview, and honestly most of them were real yawners in my opinion, but judging by the verbiage before, during, and after the interview, there was only one item of any consequence: Warlocks.

I am going to say some uncomplimentary things about the Warlock community, but before I do, and just so those of you who even now are limbering up your fingers to generate the hate mail can have your facts straight, I play a Warlock as one of my primary alts. I have enjoyed playing it ever since Mists, I did the Green Fire quest when it first came out, I did a bit of raiding with her in WoD, and in general I have a soft spot in my heart for my little kick-ass gnome Warlock. I play with some excellent Locks, some of the most skilled players I know. And for the record, I totally agree with the meat of Warlock complaints about the class in Legion — the mechanics are horrible.

But for the last few weeks the Warlock community has been acting like a spoiled child, kicking and screaming and pounding its fists and threatening to hold its breath until it turns blue. Or maybe green, whatever. What is almost certainly a small gang of mouth-breathing bullies has commandeered Warlock forums and has taken every opportunity to run roughshod over the Blizz devs and whoever else they decide to vomit out their hatred upon. They have had massive downvote and flame campaigns in the forums — not just the Warlock forums but also the general Q&A forum. They spammed the Q&A forum with their rage-filled screeds, and they organized a tedious spam of Twitch chat during the live video of the Friday interview, with the obvious goal of shutting down all voices but their toddler-like wailing. Their tactics drew a comment from Hazzikostas — basically a very gentle reminder that such behavior is not optimal for getting Blizz’s attention.

Except that all evidence is that such tactics are exactly what do get Blizz’s attention, not to mention action. Not only did Hazzikostas spend several minutes detailing what the devs think is inadequate about Warlock design in Legion, but he promised some quick fixes immediately and at least consideration of other changes in 7.1. Even more, after the same Warlock thugs loudly expressed their indignation that he would dare to suggest they might be *gasp* slightly rude, he apologized to them in their forum. And this was followed by what appears to be a series of actual blue feedback.


Now, as I said, I think the asshats doing this are a very tiny minority of the Warlock community. To the extent that I identify myself as part of that community, I have to hold myself partly accountable for their actions, as should all decent players who love playing their Locks. We let these bullies get away with their tactics, we let them mercilessly flame everyone who dared to disagree with them or who even tentatively mentioned that they were giving all of us a black mark, we let them shut down any semblance of civil discourse. We let them speak for us.

We were cowards, there is no other way to put it. Shame on us.

But shame on Blizz, too, and yes, shame on Ion Hazzikostas, for proving that the only way to get any attention from Blizz is to pitch a screaming, raging fit.

Like Warlocks, the Hunter community has had very serious and legitimate concerns about our class design, beginning in the early days of alpha and continuing to today.  Like Warlocks, we have filled our own forums with thousands upon thousands of posts detailing every aspect of those concerns. Like Warlocks, very respected and skilled members of the community have begged Blizz to reconsider, to at least think about restoring some of the essence of the class. Like Warlocks, we feel let down and ignored by Blizz.

But unlike Warlocks, we as a community have not resorted to scorched earth tactics. Yes, there have been a few individual Hunter posts — mostly in forums — that have a rude edge to them, but they are the exception, and we certainly have not organized the kind of mass tantrum that the Warlock knuckle-draggers have. Nor should we. But it is difficult to keep to the high road when you see it’s the low road that gets results.

It will be the bitterest of ironies if Blizz makes substantive changes to improve Warlock play and continues to ignore Hunters.

Blizz, one more time, I implore you to give Hunters — who as a community have played by your rules — at least the same consideration and attention you have chosen to bestow upon the Warlock class in response to their tantrum tactics.

Artifact weapons – still uneasy about them

Yesterday was another in Blizz’s series of dev interviews on Legion. You can see it all by going to this MMO-C site. The subject for this one was artifact and order halls in Legion, as presented by Craig Amai and facilitated by the irrepressibly positive and optimistic Josh Allen. I still give Blizz good marks on conducting these weekly sessions, I just hope that they will continue through at least the first few weeks of Legion. There were no startling revelations in yesterday’s session, nothing anyone who has been following Legion development did not already know, but I am sure it was informative for those who have (probably wisely) not been following it.

Even though Amai gave us nothing really new, I was struck by one constant theme: Artifact weapons will be THE all-consuming gear chase for the entire expansion. In spite of a few limited “catch-up” mechanisms, each artifact weapon, on each spec on each character, will require months to “complete” — even if the definition of “complete” is something like 75% of an artifact talent tree.

Think about that for a minute. If you have even just a couple of alts, or if you like playing hybrid classes, you will likely spend the entire expansion chasing artifact weapon power/knowledge/gizmos. Everything you do in the game will have a tie-in with that infinite chase — leveling, world quests, dungeons and raids, dailies, class hall missions, gaining faction rep, every game activity. This is not to say that these activities will not be fun or engaging, I do not mean to imply that. But it means that everywhere you turn in the game, on every character for every activity, you will bear the burden of your artifact weapon. It will be Legion’s albatross.

I said a few months ago that I question the wisdom of making a single piece of gear the central feature of an entire game, and the more information we get about the process the more I am sure this move by Blizz is a mistake. It would be less of a problem if Blizz had implemented it so that it was more spec- and alt-friendly, but they clearly do not wish us to pursue more than one spec on one character as an accepted way to play the game.

Yes, I know that their words tell us otherwise, assure us that of course they want us to be able to have fun with other specs and with alts, but their actions not their words speak their true intent. If indeed they wanted to promote multi-spec and multi-alt play in the game, they would not have crafted the artifact mechanisms the way they have. They would, for example, have made it so that having attained a certain number of talent unlocks on one spec, if you switched to a different spec it would automatically receive the same number of unlocks. They would have made the artifact power catch-up mechanisms account wide instead of character-specific. They would have allowed you to purchase an alternate spec weapon at an equivalent level on a character if that character already had one on another spec — similar to the way you could buy an alternate cape in Mists or legendary ring in WoD.

I am not complaining about the fact that “completing” the artifact weapon on your main will take months™, there is nothing wrong about making such an accomplishment a reward for intense game play, nor is there anything wrong about using it as an incentive for participating in content. What I do think is a mistake is requiring basically the exact same process over and over again, a virtually endless cycle of grinding content in order to grub out maybe one more talent unlock for your third or fourth alt.

As they always seem to do, Blizz has taken a perfectly reasonable mechanism — the idea of pursuing a powerful weapon that will last for an entire expansion — and stretched it out of all proportion, turning it into an uncontrollable behemoth that will consume most of the game. This is why I call artifact weapons the garrisons of Legion, because in that instance Blizz could not control themselves and made what started out to be a very nice side concept into one absolutely central to major aspects of the game. We saw garrisons start out as “completely optional”, then morph into “completely optional after you have established a baseline Level 1 garrison” and finally into “required to have a Level 3 garrison and expand it into a shipyard if you want to see the new patch content.” I can hardly wait to see how Blizz will expand the already-extensive role of artifact weapons in the course of Legion.

Now, of course, my criticisms of the length of time necessary to pursue reasonably-filled-out artifact weapons in Legion is based on Blizz’s stated intent to adhere to a 2-year expansion cycle. If we expect Legion to last 2 years — 24 months — then players with a lot of alts will just not have time to outfit all of them with artifacts at an appropriate level. (Even if they pursue several simultaneously, grinding content is still a linear activity.) But what if Blizz is hedging their bets on the expansion cycle? What if they think Legion may have to be stretched out for 3 years? In that case, having very long artifact chases may keep some players engaged for a few extra months. Just a wild theory….

And on that tinfoil hat note, I begin my weekend.

Profession changes and cataclysmic changes

This will be a very strange post, I am afraid. On the one hand, I feel more or less bound to comment on yesterday’s dev interview on professions in Legion. But on the other hand, I feel like yesterday’s world-altering changes in Britain simply cannot be ignored. Major changes, whether in a computer game or in the existing world order, are always unsettling, and honestly it is impossible to foresee final outcomes from any of them while they are in progress. It is that uncertainty, I think, that makes such changes so difficult for most of us — nations as well as individuals, games as well as real world.

Let me deal first — and briefly — with the dev interview. As with the first one last week, I found the format to be very good, and I thought the overall tone of the answers Paul Kubit gave was quite positive as well as informative. I do think that the Legion profession changes are generally favorable, and that Blizz is making a good faith effort to reverse the profession slide we saw in WoD.

This does not mean I agree with all the changes. I think Kubit did some very fancy dancing on the whole Blood of Sargeras subject. He first went to some pains to explain that no, of course Blizz does not want to dictate that players “should” have one gathering and one crafting profession on each character. No, no, no. Then he went on to say but of course you should suffer some slight disadvantage if you do not. He outlined several changes being made to make the BoP situation with BoS somewhat more equitable, and in the end it will probably work out. That is a positive thing, because it shows Blizz is listening to the very real concerns of players in this matter, and that continues a trend we have seen pretty much throughout the recent Legion development — a welcome turnaround from WoD.

Still, in the end he did not really have a good answer for why BoA is not an option for Blood of Sargeras. I am willing at this point to just accept that this mechanic will be a continuing pain throughout Legion, and to prepare to deal with it.

A couple of other comments that I noted:

  • It looks like we will not get much of a break from the huge annoyance of RNG-dictated secondary stats. As in WoD, there will be no real way to ensure you get the secondary stats you need on your crafted gear. In fact, the reroll mechanic is going away, and instead you will just have to craft piece after piece until you get your optimal stats. I hated that part of WoD, and I hate that it will continue in Legion. The only possible bright side, if there is one, is that Multistrike is also going away, so I suppose we can hope that there will be fewer possible stat combos to roll the dice on.
  • Mass resurrection is going away. I did not know this. It more or less completes the rollback of guild perks and thus helps to drive another nail in the coffin of robust guilds. About the only thing left is the mail perk, we will see how long that lasts. The engineer-crafted Failure Detection Pylon is the presumed replacement, and while it has a couple of cute features, I think it will turn out to be a poor substitute. For one thing, it will only rez players within 5 yards of it. Kubit opined that the way to use it would be for the raid leader to call for everyone to head to the pylon if it looked like the raid was going to wipe. That was just a stupid comment, in my opinion. Typically, raids wipe incrementally, with players dying off one or two at a time in different places throughout the boss space, so by the time it becomes apparent that a wipe is in the works, it is too late for most of the raid to gather in a small space to die.
  • Kubit was a bit overly coy about the fishing artifact, if indeed there is one. He hinted that Blizz has deliberately put out some misinformation about this — for example, you will not need to complete the coin-fishing achievement in Dalaran as part of the quest line (if there is one, haha). Okay. Very clever, Blizz.

I have to be honest. My heart is not in this today. Changes to a side game within a computer game are less than insignificant in the face of the geopolitical earthquake we have just undergone, and in the face of what will surely be a long period of aftershocks, many of which may be as significant as this first quake.

This blog is a gaming blog. I do not use it as a political platform, nor do I intend to start now. I am not going to venture an opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the Brit vote, it was what it was. But I know for a fact that we are in the midst of a cataclysmic change in the world order, and whether Brexit is the cause of it or just a symptom of a change that has been in the works for some time, remains to be seen. It will be up to future history books to trace the seeds of this change’s actual beginnings and to describe how it finally unfolds.

If you are not someone who usually pays much attention to current events, think about starting to now. It will be important, I think, for you to be able to tell your children and grandchildren what it was like to live through this geopolitical shift, because there will be the big picture but there will also be the small picture that affects you and me and everyone living in the world. Let us hope that the stories you will tell will be about the bad old days, not about a time of relative peace that is unimaginable in the chaotic world of your grandchildren.

Let us hope that this cataclysm is not the worst expansion ever in the real world.

Dev interview number 1

Yesterday Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas inaugurated what is promised to be the first of several weekly dev interviews on Legion. While I applaud the concept, I have to wonder:

  • What took them so long? We have just spent a year crawling through a veritable desert, parched for information on Legion, chasing after mirages. A weekly scheduled communication such as this would have made that whole time easier on many of us.
  • How much of what is disclosed in these weekly interviews can we rely on? Not to put too fine a point on it, but Blizz’s history is of telling players whatever is necessary to just shut us up, then feeling completely free to do whatever the hell they want, even if it is exactly opposite of what they said they were going to do. Remember “WoD flying will be in Patch 6.1” and “Garrisons will be completely optional”? As Watcher himself said yesterday, actions speak louder than words, and Blizz’s actions for the past couple of years have not been very reliable.
  • What is the schedule for the rest of the interviews? While we know that next week’s will be on professions, and that there will be one on PvP, it would be nice to have a schedule of what is planned for the next few weeks.
  • How long will they last? Blizz has a history of fits and stops when it comes to regularly scheduled player communication and interaction.

With that, let me just comment on a few parts of the interview that made an impression on me.

First, I liked the format. Not only did Hazzikostas answer actual player questions, but Josh Allen kept it moving so that they covered a lot of ground and answered questions on a wide range of topics. I also like the idea that each week from now on there will be a theme, addressed by devs other than Hazzikostas. Assuming these interviews keep occurring on a regular basis, this is a very positive step by Blizz. I hope they do not stop them just because Legion has launched, because such sessions give players a sense that Blizz is listening to their concerns, even if maybe they might disagree with player sentiment on a particular issue.

Second, I came away with the distinct impression that the next expansion will see even more sweeping changes to classes than we saw for WoD and will see for Legion. I base this on Hazzikostas’s comment that they are looking at the entire combat system, that stat squishes are only a band-aid solution to the system’s problems, and that he thinks there are much better ways to design a combat system. Of course, I have no idea what the specifics of a redesign may entail, but it could be so radical as to include such things as the elimination of secondary stats and maybe even primary stats, introduction of a “one size fits all” power metric that changes dynamically with the needs of each class, or who knows what. One thing is sure, though — any change to the combat system will mean mega-changes to classes. (Hopefully to all classes next time, not just hunters and one or two selected dumpee classes…)

Third, I was ever so slightly encouraged that obtaining and leveling artifact weapons will not be so onerous as to effectively preclude attempting it on alts or for secondary specs. Hazzikostas said that the plan is that the rate at which artifact weapons can be leveled will increase as the expansion goes on. This is so that players coming into the expansion late will not feel it is hopeless to try to catch up, as well as to help people with alts feel like artifact talent trees are worth pursuing. It remains to be seen if the change is noticeable to humans or if it turns out to be merely a numeric change that on paper “proves” the leveling rate is faster.

Fourth, I was gratified to hear him say that Legion will be the most “alt-friendly” expansion in some time. Whether or not I believe him, it was at least good to hear that Blizz understands there is player concern about the viability of the alt play style. As someone who enjoys playing alts, especially towards the end of an expansion, I want to believe him, although the trend over the last couple of expansions has been the opposite. Still, we are at heart creatures of hope and I am at heart extremely gullible…

Fifth, as I have predicted all along (sorry to be an insufferable I-told-you-so), flying will not be achievable until well into the expansion. Hazzikostas said it will be in the “middle” of the expansion, and since they are now aiming for 2-year expansions, that means we will not see it until probably summer of 2017.

As an aside, there is a truly awesome item in the beta — and I hope it makes it to live — that really addresses some of the annoying aspects to being ground-bound. It is the Flight Master’s Whistle, which allows you to summon a sort of taxi from the nearest flight point. It will pick you up anywhere you are in the boonies of Broken Isles and transport you immediately to the nearest FP. It has only a  five-minute cooldown, and it is one of the most fantastic toys I have seen in a while. It is currently a reward for attaining Friendly rep with all 4 Broken Isles factions, but in my opinion, Blizz could get a lot of player goodwill by making it more less of a giveaway, easy for all players to get.

Sixth, personal loot changes will allow trading of personal loot if it is not an upgrade for the player getting it. This is a terrific idea, and in my opinion it should make PL the defacto best choice in most circumstances, if for no other reason than that it pretty much eliminates loot drama.

Seventh, there was a discussion of the reasoning behind making Blood of Sargeras BoP. A couple of comments gave me pause. One was Hazzikostas’s rather bland assertion that essentially having one gathering and one crafting profession is the way you should play, and that gathering has been undervalued. As if it Blizz had nothing to do with making gathering professions irrelevant in WoD, as if it was just misguided player choice that caused people to give them up.  Having encouraged people to abandon gathering professions in WoD, now you are reversing yourselves completely and making them almost compulsory, and on top of that you are tsk-tsking players for not making the “right” choice for professions? Shame. (Insert George Orwell’s Animal Farm reference here: “Two legs good, four legs bad.”)

The other thing that struck me about the BoS BoP subject ion the interview was the comment that having critical mats BoP gives “market power” to the crafter. In my experience, this is just not true, because very shortly into an expansion there are always crafters who consider BoP mats to have no cost, even if accumulating them takes weeks, so they quickly begin selling crafted items at vastly undervalued prices. I do not usually rely on selling crafted items to make gold, so honestly if I can buy something cheaply that it would take me weeks or months to craft, I will do so. But I don’t think the “market power” argument holds much water.

Last, I continue to be thunderstruck at Hazzikostas’s insistence that RNG-awarded gear is more fun than gear you actually work at to get, like valor or rep-related gear. Is it fun to be surprised when you get it? Yes, but listen to me, Ion:

Seeing gear drop to seemingly everyone but you time after time after time is not fun, it is demoralizing. Knowing there is nothing you can do about it besides repeating the demoralizing process for god knows how long is not fun, it is annoyingly Sisyphean. Hearing others complain about how awful it is to keep getting Awesome Boots, when you have been trying for them for months, is not fun, it is enraging.

And, in an exasperating leap of logic, he went on to comment about how RNG loot was bad for PvP players in WoD — the implication being it was good for all other players — because “ratings were so gear-dependent”. Oh, the horror for those poor PvP players, to have to depend on RNG for their gear like the rest of us. Boo. Freaking. Hoo. As if gear dependency didn’t exist for PvE players for activities like getting into raid groups. As if RNG-awarded tier gear wasn’t necessary to properly play some classes and specs.

There were quite a few other subjects discussed, but these were the ones that most made me sit up and take notice. These interviews are a great idea — if not especially original in the world of communications — and I really hope Blizz does not abandon them as they have virtually every other scheduled player interaction in recent years.

I am off to start my weekend. You enjoy yours.