WoW Should Lose Millions of Subscriptions More Often

Ever have that moment in your academic career, usually right after midterms, when you sort of wake up and realize “Oh, yeah, this might actually be important enough to take seriously”? I am getting the distinct impression Blizzard is going through that right now, as evidenced by their refreshingly direct Dev Blogs lately. The most recent was about the new direction they are taking the Mists of Pandaria loot system. One section reads:

Here is a model I’ve seen some people say they want:

  •     The boss dies.
  •     I get the exact item or items I want.
  •     I never have to come back and kill this boss again.
  •     I politely ask Blizzard when there will be new content for me to run.

I added that, somewhat tongue in cheek, to point out that the intent of the new system is not to make killing bosses or getting loot more efficient, or to let you choose buffet-style which items you get. We like random loot being random, as long as it isn’t so frustratingly random that you stop enjoying the experience. The intent of the new loot system is really to relieve social pressure on a group of random and anonymous strangers. We think it is reasonable for groups of friends, such as the typical raiding guild, to have a discussion about how to divvy up loot. That discussion is a tried and true RPG tradition going back to D&D or earlier. We don’t think that is a reasonable expectation for Raid Finder, though.

This is such a frank representation of the very essence of MMO gameplay (e.g. random loot creates content), that it honestly shocked me to see it written so casually. The explicit admission of the (warped) social dynamics of LFR is similarly amazing. It is one thing to see these issues examined in blogs and on forums; it is entirely another for a developer, in an age of David Reid-esque bullshit, to treat the audience like adults.

It feels like when the carnie game operator lets you in on the trick.

Another sample section:

Bonus Roll

We have one other new system that will use part of the personal loot model. This is what we’re calling the bonus roll.

Once upon a time, raiders had to invest a lot of time and effort every week preparing for a raid. This felt kind of cool in the abstract because it built anticipation, rewarded players who prepared for raid night, and otherwise just added a little more ceremony to the act of entering the dragon’s lair to seek glory and treasure. The reality is that you spent your time killing mobs to farm flask materials or gathering Whipper Root Tubers. The reality didn’t match the fantasy and we eventually greatly minimized the need to farm consumables altogether. Of course, that led to another problem, as raiders would log on for raid nights, finish, and then have nothing to do the rest of the week. The bonus roll is intended to give those players something to do that is hopefully more enjoyable than grinding elementals or Blasted Lands boars. We want to see players out in the world doing stuff, and we want that stuff to be a little more interesting (if not downright fun) than farming mats.

This is one of those things that, intellectually, shouldn’t be true. But it is.

I am (still) playing Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer and loving it. Is it fun in of itself? I… guess so? Would it still be fun if I had 100% of the guns unlocked, max ranks, infinite consumables, etc? I can tell you right now with a completely straight face: no, it would cease being fun. I derive pleasure from both the act of playing, and the feeling of increase that comes from progression (the accumulation of credits to unlock random weapons, in this case). The only sort of rationalization I can give you to explain this phenomenon is that I can both have fun and experience progression in any number of other games, which puts “just fun” games at a disadvantage.

Game designers undoubtedly realized this years ago, which is why you see “RPG elements” in damn near everything these days.

Back to the Dev Blog (emphasis added):

Area of Effect Looting

Yes, we are doing area looting. After killing a group of enemies, you may have a bunch of corpses lying around (perhaps because you went all Bladestorm on a bunch of hozen).  If you loot one of the corpses, the loot window will include items from all of the nearby corpses for which you have loot rights. Some recent games have incorporated a similar feature, and it’s one of those things that players just want in their MMO these days. It’s already in and it works fine.

Does this sound like the Blizzard of WotLK, or TBC or Cataclysm for that matter?

I am not entirely sold on the concept of Valor Points being turned into gear upgrade fuel, for exactly the reason Ghostcrawler mentions: “There will be a bit of a game in trying to decide when to upgrade your gear versus hoping for a new piece to drop from a raid boss [...].”

Other than that? I am very impressed by what I have seen thus far. Female Pandaren are in a much better place than female Worgen ever were, the MMO-Champ emote videos really highlights how far animations have came since I started playing in TBC, no major feature has been Dance Studio’d yet, and Blizzard overall seems to be operating at a level of humility and industry not hitherto seen. I mean, hell, Blizzard has already started work on the sixth expansion, i.e. the expansion after the expansion after Mists.

Seems to me that WoW should lose a few million subscriptions more often.

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Posted on March 28, 2012, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Now they just have to finish implementing the warlock tank and not give up again…

  2. .. But you weren’t honestly surprised that character progression makes a game more fun, were you ? :)

    .. Now that we have AoE loot, expect 60% of all encounters during leveling to be solved by AoE. Makes you feel more like a hero, I guess *yawn*.

    • Well, the surprising thing was that my knowledge of the interaction did not decrease the effect. I mean, what does that say about the nature of fun that we can learn about the mechanics of Skinner Boxes, and yet have them operate at 100% efficiency still?

      Can you imagine your doctor being able to prescribe a placebo, you knowing it is a placebo, and yet it nevertheless curing your disease/decreasing pain/etc?

      • > Can you imagine your doctor being able to prescribe a placebo,
        > you knowing it is a placebo, and yet it nevertheless curing your
        > disease/decreasing pain/etc?

        Curing a disease is not a mind trick.

      • In fact, studies have shown that placebos work even if the patient knows they are placebos.

  3. That new loot system sounds a lot like the way normal mode raid loot is assigned in SWTOR (except that TOR’s system also gives out off-spec loot). It’s a bit sad when you’re running with friends and you get assigned your fifth pair of gloves and have no option of passing it on to someone else who could use it, but at least any feelings of disappointment or annoyance then get directed at the RNG instead of other players. It works very well and requires little to no fuss. I can see it working well for WoW’s raid finder too.

  4. The stated reason behind the valor change is because valor points became more important than actual drops from dungeons. Well…yeah. Wasn’t that the whole point? There was no reason for people who needed nothing from a dungeon to run one, so they gave them something — frost badges at first, then valor points. Sounds to me like it is working as intended. Sometimes Blizzard acts as though they don’t understand their own actions.

    • I think Blizzard’s response to that criticism will be that the already-geared player can still find value in getting Valor because said Valor will increase the ilevel (i.e. upgrade) gear they already have. Even though… you know, they just said raids will be LESS effecient at getting Valor, compared to dungeons/scenarios.

      Ultimately, I imagine that Valor will still buy gear, if for no other reason than it being difficult to get supply all the different varieties of loot on just 6-10 raid bosses (in the tiers after the first one).

  5. I agree — that dev post showed a level of candor about their game that I’ve come to expect from, say, ArenaNET, but seems usual from Blizzard. It actually got me thinking for the first time in a loooooong time that I might have to check out Pandaria.

    My favorite bit was this: “We think killing dragons and ransacking their hoard is more epic than shopping at the magic armor store, so we want to shift back toward boss kills being the primary source of epic PvE gear.” Leaving aside the details of balancing points-based gear so it doesn’t leave out non-raiders or time-limited raiders, I love seeing Blizzard really pondering where the fun is coming from in their game.

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