Impossible odds and imbalance?

I am sure most of you already know, but Method successfully downed Kil’jaeden to claim Mythic World First for Tomb of Sargeras. They did it after 653 wipes, which follows their 400+ wipefest for Fallen Avatar. I don’t know the record for these kinds of things, but I am suspecting that over a thousand wipes for the last 2 bosses is in itself a World First title. Whether you think a pursuit like this is a good use of one’s time or not, you have to be a little bit in awe of the commitment and sheer stubbornness it takes to accomplish it. I am not a big fan of Method, but there is no doubt that hearty congratulations are in order.

So the number of wipes is pretty mind-boggling and causing not a few comments in the WoW blogosphere. The other thing causing comments is the composition of the 20-man Mythic team. Among some of the noteworthy items: 5 druids, 5 rogues, 3 hunters. Classes absent were mages, monks of any flavor, death knights, and demon hunters. Two of the druids were Balance spec, and all of the hunters were MM. The melee DPS consisted entirely of rogues and two warriors.

As you might suspect, there is a river of speculation as to The Future of The Game based solely on this one event. Much of it is overblown, of course, but I do think there are a few valuable insights we can derive from it — at least from the little we know of the actual tactics so far.

For one thing, it strikes me that 653 wipes is way more than these elite players need in order to learn a fight. We are talking about people who live and breathe this game, who have genius-level reaction times, who have almost uncanny “raid sense”, who have raided together so much that they know each other’s reactions as well as their own, and who have been preparing for this fight since at least the early PTR days of 7.2.5.

For a team like this to wipe 653 times tells me that the fight is essentially unwinnable, but that there is a small random chance every mechanic will work out to the team’s benefit. If the team can put together a flawless performance when that happens, they can beat the boss. It is not about being world-class good, it is about being world-class good every single time, so that when favorable RNG finally happens, the boss goes down.

This takes nothing away from Method — it is no small feat to achieve consistent performance perfection. But I do think it takes away from Blizz’s tier design, because it renders ludicrous the baseline assumption that raids allow players to progress as a character and as a team. To beat this boss, Method on average had to outgear the loot — average gear level over 933 for a raid that awards 930 level gear. And let’s be honest, any kind of team esprit or group learning occurred long before the ultimate win.

Eventually, Mythic ToS will be nerfed, and it will be attainable by non-World First kinds of guilds, the ones that are hard-core raiding guilds (think realm-first levels) but not necessarily the ones who dedicate their entire waking existence to it for weeks at a time. It might even be nerfed enough so that a few of the early bosses become beatable by guilds such as mine — after we greatly overgear it. I don’t know what that says about raid difficulty levels, but I think it is safe to say we have gone beyond the LFR-Normal-Heroic-Mythic model. It’s almost as if we now have two levels of the four-level model — one version early in a patch and another sinmpler version later in the patch. And it definitely says that Blizz is more concerned with hyping World-First competitions than it is with setting a difficult but attainable goal for regular raiding guilds. (They’ll fix that shortfall after they have milked the hype…) Also, possibly, that they have signed on to RNG as a viable raid mechanic.

As to the other notable aspect of Method’s victory — team composition — I am not sure what to make of it. We will learn more of the reasoning behind it once we can see a video, and as Method speaks more freely about it. I do not think it should be news to anyone that Blizz has completely abandoned the “Bring the player not the class” philosophy, nor should it come as a surprise that the current state of class imbalance has given us superstars and losers in the class/spec lottery.

What gives me pause is how much of this philosophy and actual state of affairs will filter down to the majority of raid teams, and what effect it might have on player perceptions of “winner” and “loser” classes/specs. Certainly guild teams such as mine that raid for fun not profit will remain largely unchanged, especially since they rarely run Mythic level and are thus not bound into a strict 20 players. I suppose some realm-first guilds may decide to reorganize their rosters, but that will not affect a lot of players.

We have seen backlashes before, mainly in pugs, when certain classes/specs are deemed inferior, even if the perceived inferiority is only for certain fights under certain circumstances. Such backlashes can result in unhappiness among players, and unhappy players tend to switch specs to be the flavor of the month, to just quit the game, or to gripe loudly in forums and other communications venues, demanding their now-unpopular class/spec be buffed enough to be “competitive”.

I expect to see an uptick in the number of Balance druids, rogues, and MM hunters in the next few weeks, simply as a result of Method’s raid roster for the KJ kill. It is not logical, but it almost certainly will happen. I also expect there to be some amount of unfair discrimination against a few classes for pugs — possibly some against non-bear tanks, mistweaver healers and tanks, maybe BM hunters. And some of the forums will undoubtedly light up with demands for buffs — pretty much the same forums as the classes omitted from Method’s roster. (There are already buffs in the works for some of these classes, so Blizz may get off easy on them.)

But I still think it way too early to make any sweeping inferences about class balance based just on Method’s team roster for this kill. It was a special circumstance, a fact that will almost certainly elude many people. On the other hand, I do think it is appropriate to think about the stunning number of wipes involved, and what that might say about Blizz’s current approach to raid development.

 

Cheats and chiselers and lines not to be crossed

Blizzard just announced that they had “taken action” against some players who were accepting real world currency for in-game assistance, such as carrying players for raid clears. You can read the Blue Post here, courtesy of MMO-C.

This is absolutely reasonable action from Blizz. The activities were clear violations of the Terms of Service agreement, and some forum posters claimed it was getting out of hand — blatant advertisements abounded. I wouldn’t know about that, I tend to be quite naive about these matters. Still, there is a line between the in-game economy and the real world one, at least as far as players are concerned. Blizz went to some pains to point out that raid carries for gold, for example, are perfectly legitimate. It is just when actual rent-spendable money enters in that it becomes illegitimate.

In-game gold versus real-world money is a line most of us can understand, but I wonder if Blizz itself has not blurred that distinction a bit with their introduction of the token. By becoming their own gold seller, they have legitimized a direct connection between real world money and in-game gold. If you have the money, you can pretty much amass as much gold as you want in the game. Yes, you have limits placed on you in terms of how many tokens you can buy over a period of time, but if someone is patient and well-off, they can easily max out gold on every character on every account.

Not that having millions and millions of gold gets you much in the game nowadays, beyond a certain Scrooge McDuck feeling of wallowing in wealth. The reason Blizz’s gold selling has not become pay-for-play is that they have severely curtailed the number of game-enhancing buyable items available. In WoD, for example, you could buy competitive high-level crafted gear, but you were limited to equipping just three such items, thereby ensuring players with a lot of gold could not immediately outfit themselves with raid-level gear. In Legion, Blizz allows unlimited pieces of crafted gear to be equipped, but they prohibit selling (thus, buying) such gear above level 815. It can only be upgraded if it is soulbound — again, prohibiting wealthy players from easily (if expensively) outfitting themselves with high level gear.

Another thing the token has done is give everyone a quantitative way to value in-game items and activities. In the U.S., one token currently buys you approximately 90k gold, and it costs $20. Thus, if for example a guild is selling Nighthold clears for 200k gold (I have no clue if this is the going rate or not), a player contemplating buying the service can know that this means the true cost to them is $30-$40. (If the player is an in-game buyer of tokens as a way to pay for their subscription, then the cost is approximately $30, or two months’ play time. If the player is an in-game seller of tokens for gold, then the cost is $40, or about two game store token purchases.)

Similarly, if a piece of BoE gear is priced at 100k gold, a player can evaluate whether or not it is worth one month’s play time ($15), or $20 of their hard-earned cash from the other perspective.

Still, even if the real world versus game world line has become a bit blurrier, it is still there, and it certainly does not justify crossing it.

Which leads me to the other aspect of Blizz’s announcement that gave me pause. Of note, they indicated some of the presumably-banned players were members of world-first guilds. This is troubling, for basically the same reason I discussed in a previous post: that is, it indicates a lack of high standards of integrity in these guilds. Let’s be honest — there is no way guild management could have been unaware of the money-grubbing actions of the members engaging in this illicit business. But for whatever reason, the guilds these players belong to chose to do nothing about it — the best you can say is they gave tacit approval, and the worst is that they may have shared in the profits.

I know I will get hate mail for this, but given the apparent high profile of some of the guilty ones, I think in this case a bit of naming and shaming might have been in order. If not the actual players involved, then maybe the guilds they belonged to. “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.” Maybe a little guild embarrassment would be good incentive to police their own members in future.

How much better it would have been if, when the guilds suspected some of their members were doing it, they issued explicit instructions to knock that shit off or face expulsion. At the very least, they might have taken a page from professional sports and benched the offending players for some amount of time or levied a fine of some sort. Any guild sanction would have demonstrated these professional guilds are serious about policing their own, serious about upholding high standards of behavior. Sadly, insofar as any of us knows, they did not.

I am certain I could play this game forever and not give a flying fig about world first achievements or the inner workings of the professional guilds. I do not care about the pseudo-celebrity players in them. But I do care that some of the players and guilds I encounter in the game seek to emulate those semi-pro players and their guilds. If their role models are cheats and chiselers, then that attitude may well spread down through the game, and it will take away from my enjoyment of it.

In a perfect world — or even an above-average one — guilds would be incensed if their members cheated, and they would take drastic and public action to ensure everyone knew such behavior was unacceptable, to uphold the rules of the game they play, indeed the game they are leaders in. But sadly this is not the case, and we are left with some guilds that get while the getting is good, knowing they need take no responsibility because Blizz will step in and police their players for them. Well, good for you, Blizz. And shame on you, all you who know who you are.

Of sledge hammers and responsibilities

Yesterday there was a long blue post in one of the forums, about Blizz’s decision to axe the use of all nameplate addons for friendly characters in raids. Basically, insofar as I can surmise, Blizz did this because they were annoyed that one of the world-first Mythic guilds used such an addon to gain an advantage defeating one of the Nighthold bosses, and Blizz thought this was No fair, no fair! (Stomp feet, pout, get angry red face.)

Up front, let me say that I really don’t give a flying fig about the specifics of this action — I don’t use friendly nameplates at all, much less in the chaotic visual salad that is raid bosses. So I doubt that this will have much if any direct effect on my game play, and I suspect it will have very little effect on 90% or more of regular players.

Still, I found Blizz’s action interesting. It struck me as a real overreaction, like using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. One top-level guild uses one specialized addon to help them defeat one boss in a Mythic instance of one raid tier, and Blizz considers the best solution is to ban the use of all similar addons for all raid teams for all bosses in all raids?

Why not tell the guild, “Sorry, we have determined that you used an exploit, and we warned everyone that use of exploits would nullify any achievements they were used for, so go back and try again.” Would this have angered the guild? Sure, and they might have rightfully claimed Blizz was being arbitrary and capricious, but hey welcome to the world the rest of us Great Unwashed live in. Blizz, of course, is loathe to annoy the top guilds because they are money-makers, so they tend to tiptoe around them asking if maybe they could get them another cup of tea or a crumpet or something. A world-first guild has to do something pretty heinous for Blizz to sanction them in any way. In this case, like the medieval use of whipping boys as stand-ins for misbehaving royalty, Blizz is punishing others for one incident of one guild’s naughtiness.

In any human endeavor, some will inevitably rise to the top, some will become leaders. As leaders they are treated differently than those they lead, they have certain privileges and are able to exercise certain powers either directly or indirectly. There are good reasons for this, and at any rate it is just the way of the world. Most people accept it.

But here’s the thing: With leadership comes responsibility. The more power you have, the more loathe you must be to exercise it. The more privileges you have, the less you must be willing to use them. The more adulation you receive, the more you must shun it. In all things, you must keep in mind the greater good of those you lead, not your own personal advancement. This is true whether you are the leader of a nation or an army general or the treasurer of your middle school student council. Or a top level guild in a computer game.

Which brings me — finally — to my point. Many players look to the achievements of top guilds, as well as to the game play of members of those guilds, as models worthy of emulation. And Blizz encourages this through their promotion of world first competitions and esports events. This makes these guilds and their members leaders in the gaming community. No, they don’t have the nuclear codes, and the world order will not collapse as a result of their decisions, but they are leaders nonetheless, whether or not they realize it.

Gaming “leaders” are a relatively new group on the world stage. The closest similar group are sports stars, both individuals and teams. As we all know, not all sports stars exercise their leadership in positive ways (well, to be honest, many world leaders do not, either), but maybe now is the time for gaming leaders to establish a pattern of high standards and excellent leadership in their games. Not just in achievements, but in the methods they use to get there.

I don’t honestly know if the nameplate addon usage was a shady exploit or not, for all I know it was perfectly legitimate to assume it was okay to use. But what I do wonder is if the guild that used it even thought about the precedent they were setting, or the possible ramifications to other players if their technique was determined to be unfair. Are these guilds setting a good example when they skirt the boundaries of normal play by using split runs and gear funneling in their pursuit of a world first achievement? Do they even consider the possibility that their actions may have an adverse effect on normal players? Again, I am not saying any of these procedures are wrong, I just think it is time for the top guilds to acknowledge their leadership position and to make decisions responsibly and in accordance with a consideration for the greater good of the game. If that means they reject certain actions as not setting a good example — even if it means they might lose an edge for the title of world first — then that is a positive sign for the future of world class gaming.

And now, let the weekend begin.