Author Archives: Azuriel

Okay Then: Blaugust 2015

[Blaugust Day 1]

So I decided to go ahead and do what all the cool kids are doing in August, which is spamming your RSS feeds with a minimum ten sentences of nonsense.

This post is going up in the evening today because I honestly wasn’t going to participate. In fact, it is entirely possible that this turns out to be a terrible idea, much like my attempt at Movember 2013.

See, I have a love-hate relationships with blogs that post on a daily basis. Since I mainly read posts while at work, a steady stream of content ensures the day flies by while I’m thinking about all the reasons why the blogger is horribly mistaken. Unfortunately, that same steady content stream also ensures that the discussion generated by any individual post is buried almost immediately. Within a day or two, the “audience” for your carefully structured rebuttal is probably just you and a person who is already 2000 words deep in other subjects entirely. Ergo, I feel 2-3 posts a week gives a blog room to “breathe” and evolve.

Plus, you know, it’s easier.

Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and give Blaugust a go for one main reason, and several iffy reasons. Main reason? The grand prize is a free game from my Steam wishlist.

Hey, I never said it was a good reason.

The iffy reasons include “Do I think I can?” and “Wonder what my traffic will look like by September” and a general experiment to see if I can break my predilection for posts that “have a point” or some overarching argument. I prefer to write those sort of posts (and to read them), but sometimes that means abandoning otherwise serviceable drafts just because I haven’t crafted a thesis. Sometimes you just want to talk about how you had fun playing a game, and not feel like you’re questioning the validity of an objective reality, you know?

So… here we go.

Next Expansion Surprise

In a rather surprising twist, Blizzard announced it’s expansion announcement will be announced during Gamescon on August 6th. That’s a full three months ahead of Blizzcon, which has been the traditional venue for such news. Speculation abounds for the reasoning behind the early reveal, but I feel Wilhelm is on point with this observation:

[…] the date seems set to come in just after we get the Activision-Blizzard quarterly results for the second quarter of 2015 and, most importantly, the WoW subscription numbers that will come with it.  That hits on August 4th according to the investor relations site.

For the first quarter of 2015 the subscription numbers were down to 7.1 million.  Now there is a rush to get the next expansion announced early in August, a slow news month, well before BlizzCon, and just after the quarterly report?

WHAT A COINCIDENCE.

As mentioned in the MMO-Champ comments, what is also amusing is the hypothetical future in which the next expansion is released by the end of the year. Amusing because the “flying patch” still hasn’t came out yet, and thus we might have (inadvertently?) been put into the “unlock flying in Draenor when the expansion launches” scenario.

But how likely is a December 2015 release really? Blizzard has promised quicker launches for ages now, and I don’t think anyone thinks they are capable of doing so. Even if the August reveal is a fully playable beta… would Blizzard only run an expansion beta for 3-4 months? Maybe. I believe Warlords was 5 months from alpha to beta to release. If we see an expansion announcement in August followed by a beta test after Blizzcon in November, that would set them up for a mid-summer expansion release around the time of the WoW movie. That makes more sense to me… and puts the 6.2 raid tier at 10-12 months long. Just like the good ole’ days.

As for predictions over subscriber numbers? I honestly have no idea. I obviously suspect a large subscriber loss in the last quarter, but I have no idea how the numbers will be finessed by the WoW Token. I have eight such tokens sitting in my inventory right now, for example. Am I counted as a subscriber? Will they continue counting me for eight months despite my not redeeming said tokens? Tough to say.

Just to throw out a number though: 6.5 million.

Investment Window

It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?

I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.

Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.

All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.

The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.

While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.

So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?

Moving and Ownership

All this week I have been in the process of packing up my apartment in preparation for a move in meatspace. It is just a move across town, and there isn’t too much stuff, but the process always feels exhausting. Packing up the essentials feels really easy, but then you get to all the miscellaneous stuff that you hardly ever use, but would likely miss if it were discarded. For example, how many of your pots and pans do you use on a weekly basis? Do I really need a colander, much less two of them?

What really struck me though was when I packed up my PlayStation 2. Both the system and the games didn’t take up all that much space, but I pretty much turned on the system once in the last year, during an abortive attempt to play FFXII. I kept the system around because at some point console designers decided backwards compatibility wasn’t a priority, and why get rid of it if I still have all my classic PS1 gems?

It was at that point that I realized that I didn’t really need these things anymore. In fact, why I had physical media of any type was a hold-over from what feels like ages ago. I am pretty sure that all the PS1 games I own are also on the PlayStation Network, or even on Steam. All the games and systems and movies I own could easily fit on the external HD the size of my hand. I should be finished packing by putting on a backpack, minus that behemoth of a PC I use.

At the same time… it’s hard. First, you have to fight against the feeling of conservation. Why throw anything away? It’s something that still has use, still has value, albeit diminished by the passage of time. Second, there are all the what-if scenarios and general optimism. Maybe I’ll suddenly find myself on a retro-gaming kick, yeah? Playing old games in 640×480 resolution blown up on my wall via 100″ projector screen… that’s the life. And what if I suddenly drop everything and go teach English in Japan? Surely I’ll want to pack… err… uh.

The interesting thing to me about this whole experience is my evolving concept of ownership. Back in the day, I fought hard against “all-digital media” and the notion that nobody ever really owned anything, they just licensed it. I was there jeering at Microsoft along with everyone else during the Xbone E3 reveal. The curbing or removal of the secondary game market was an existential threat in my mind.

Now? In the middle of packing up my life, I feel I’d be better off owning less. I’m not going to play Kagero: Deception 2 again. Or any of the Tenchu games. Even if I felt like I had the time and inclination, it’s tough going back to anything less than 720p at this point. The game discs might have retained some value – I certainly made a few hundred dollars selling my SNES classics a few years ago – but is that value worth the time and eBay headaches? When I finish a Steam game, I delete it and then set the Category to “Finished,” which I keep minimized. I don’t think I have ever gone back and played any Finished games.

Games are largely experiences and experiences only. Some have replay value, sure, and others (like MMOs) can keep you entertained and experiencing them for weeks/months/years to come. The vast majority though? One and done. The more time passes, the more I feel these accumulation of games are no different than old newspapers; the hoarding of which is something less deserving of a nostalgic nod and more of a questioning eyebrow.

I’m going to lug around my box of historical gaming debris this time around – there’s no sense to unpack what I’ve already packed – but the odds are good that this will be the last trip they make in my possession, one way or another. And I am becoming increasingly okay with that.

Non-Customization

I don’t know if you’ve been following the new ground the developers of Rust have been breaking, but it’s both interesting and hilarious. The short version is that instead of customizing your character, all of your character’s physical attributes are randomly assigned and permanently tied to your Steam ID. This includes race, penis size, and now gender.

As you might imagine, some corners of the internet are melting down.

There are multiple layers of this design which are fascinating to me. The first is the sheer amount of free PR this generates. I mean, when was the last time you actually heard news about Rust that wasn’t about the size, color, and/or existence of the male sexual organ? Last thing I remember reading was from what feels like years ago, when Rust removed zombies… and people were crafting C4 to break into peoples’ shacks? It’s still a crafting survival game, right? I wouldn’t know.

Philosophically, the intended inability to choose your avatar’s features is also interesting. The money quote from the devs is this one:

To clear up some confusion, when we it does go live you won’t get a choice of whether you’re female or male. We’re not “taking the choice away” from you. You never had a choice. A man’s voice coming out of a woman’s body is no more weird than an 8 year-old boy’s voice coming out of a man’s body.

Some of the criticism is coming from people who don’t want to feel restricted in their character creation, or people who want their avatar to look like them (for RP purposes or otherwise). But in a sense… is this any different from, say, Witcher 3 or any other game with fixed player assets? As the dev mentioned, you never actually had a choice at character creation, so nothing is being taken away. Is it about historical gametype precedent? Or about the fact that the devs could have added customization options but have clearly decided not to?

In any case, I like the cut of this dev team’s jib. They are doing bold things that could go horribly wrong, which is the heart of soul of R&D. Plus, listen to this bit:

“We wanted to lock people to an identity so they could be possibly recognized for their misdeeds, just from their avatar,” he explained. “The idea being that eventually we’d take away player names, and emergent stuff could happen like mistaking someone for a friend, impersonations, etc.”

That sort of “reputation” is asinine in a multi-server scenario IMO, but good for them for going for it. And removing character names altogether? That’s a pretty brilliant social experiment.

I’m not invested in the outcome of Rust, but damned if I don’t feel a tiny bit compelled to see what kind of character gets rolled for me. Not going to lie: if I end up getting stuck as generic white dude #476, I’ll be pretty disappointed.

Good RNG, Bad RNG

I feel kinda bad for having sung the praises for Hearthstone’s Tavern Brawl mode right as they released perhaps the worst iteration of it possible. This past week’s Brawl is “Encounter at the Crossroads,” and follows the (intentional?) pattern of every other week’s Brawl giving you a deck to play with. Instead of being filled with Webspinners, your deck is filled with completely random garbage cards, and up to three Legendaries. It ends up being 15 Neutral cards and 15 Class cards, for the record, and they are completely random – Mad Scientists in decks without Secrets, cards that trigger off of dragons without a single dragon in the deck, and so on.

My utter disgust with this week’s Brawl got me thinking: what’s the big deal? There is RNG everywhere, so why hate this kind? What’s so worse about this RNG as compared to the Webspinner Brawl or the spell one the week before?

I think my biggest problem is that this was Blind, Lingering RNG. Last week, you didn’t know what kind of creature you would summon… other than that it’d be an X mana cost one, it would come before the spell resolved, and you knew what was in the rest of your deck. You knew how much removal you were packing, you knew what synergies existed, you kinda knew what to expect from your opponent.

With a Crossroads deck, you know nothing Jon Snow. You didn’t even know whether to mulligan your shitty opening hand; if you threw anything back, chances are you’d get something even worse.

Spoiler alert: I lost this game.

Spoiler alert: I lost this game.

One of the benefits to RNG is the very thing that people often complain about: RNG can determine games. Yes, there will be games that you lose to coin flips. Yes, it feels awful when you’re winning to suddenly fall behind through no fault of your own.

At the same time… randomness can make things interesting. Randomness can challenge you, present you with scenarios you’ve never encountered before, and allow you to overcome defeat through judicious use of probability. Do you play around that 10% chance that the Piloted Shredder pops out something that destroys your strategy, or do you play it safe? That sort of thing is (or can be) an interesting decision, and different people have different thresholds of comfort when it comes to percentages.

I mean, imagine the opposite case with no RNG. Losing from your opening hand. Or at least your only hope being that your opponent has as bad a hand as you do. It feels bad, man.

This is what this Brawl has felt like all weekend long – inevitable lingering losses. I played in the neighborhood of twenty games to complete my dailies, and I was never blessed with those same insane, on-curve openings that I would routinely experience the sharp end of. In most of the games, I would have been better off conceding in the first two turns. Could you imagine someone feeling the same in the Spell-Minion or Webspinner Brawl? Don’t get me wrong, you could get way screwed out of nowhere in those Brawls. But that’s the thing: it’s immediate. It’s more fun, even on the receiving end. At least in comparison to being behind, with nothing good to play this turn, and knowing you have a 99% chance of drawing into even more garbage the next turn.

There’s RNG and then there’s RNG. This is the latter, it sucks, and I hope Blizzard never does it again.

WoW Mercenary Mode

In increasingly typical WoW fashion, Blizzard came up with an incredibly convoluted solution to a rather easily solved problem:

In an upcoming patch, we’ll be adding a feature that allows you to act as a mercenary for the opposite faction in PvP. Whenever your faction is experiencing a long wait time to get into Ashran or unrated Battlegrounds, agents of the enemy faction will appear in your base in Ashran (Stormshield for the Alliance, Warspear for the Horde). These agents will allow you to enter Ashran or Battlegrounds disguised as an enemy player, and actually fight as the opposite faction.

When you compete as a mercenary, you’ll still earn all the same rewards you would have by winning or losing as your own faction (with the exception of faction-specific achievements). You’ll also have your race automatically changed into one appropriate for the opposite faction while you’re still inside the Battleground or Ashran. Perhaps most importantly, however, you’ll experience much shorter queue times, as our matchmaking system will be able to fill up groups much quicker!

To understand exactly how convoluted Blizzard is being, just read this bit of “clarification”:

On racials: The current intention is that the system swaps your race entirely, including your racial ability. We recognize that that puts Humans in a weird spot, so we’re looking into some options there that aren’t “spend your Honor/Conquest on a Medallion.”

It is difficult to imagine a worse implementation, even if I can kinda-sorta-maybe see why Blizzard is going this route. I mean, for better or for worse (hint: the latter), race matters quite a bit in WoW – if you are fighting a Forsaken character, you know that Fear will be less useful against them, while snares will similarly be less useful against Gnomes. This state of affairs makes the easier solution of “stay the same race, but change the character model” largely impossible unsavory. At the same time, it is exactly because racials are so important that this Mercenary implimentation is unwieldy. Not just for Humans turning into anything else, but Night Elf Druids losing Shadowmeld means they’ll lose a roundabout Vanish that might have been an important component of their character strategy.

I was going to add a further example of Blood Elf Paladins losing Arcane Torrent and becoming crippled Paladins, but let’s face it, only Alliance will be getting the Merc option anytime soon.

All of which is terribly ironic given the state of affairs just a year ago. Remember back in May 2014 when Blizzard was offering free Faction Transfers from Horde to Alliance to assauge queue times in the other direction? It makes me wonder if it wasn’t necessarily the Human racial that imbalanced the factions per se, but rather the instant level 90 that came with Warlords that allowed those on-the-fence Horde to seek greener racial pastures without committing dollars to a faction transfer.

How the tables have turned.

Hmm… I wonder what was released in November 2014?

In any case, in that same post I offered what I consider the best solution to the faction imbalance dilemma: same faction BGs. They already exist for Rated BGs and Arenas, no convoluted mechanical changes necessary. And as I also suggested in that post, if the whole lore and feel of the game is paramount – despite Warlords throwing it away with time travel and alternate universes – there is still an easy solution: sub-factions. It’s not Alliance vs Alliance, it’s Alliance vs Scarlet Crusade. Or Horde vs Twilight Cultists. Would it be weird for Scarlet Crusaders to be defending Frostwolf structures in AV? Sure, maybe. Although it shouldn’t be much more weird than random Alliance characters being faction-changed and defending the same thing under the Merc system.

Incidentally, that sort of highlights why the Merc system isn’t likely to work all that well. More specifically, it’s an “other guy problem.” Queue times suck, no question. But as an Alliance player for more than half the game’s history, let me tell you that instant queues that lead to inevitable losses aren’t all that great either. As an individual, you are better off letting other people utilize the Merc system to give you faster auto-wins. Same faction BGs literally even the playing field, taking away all advantage you might have had based on faction strength.

I dunno. Overall, I am a bit sympathetic to Blizzard’s plight in this regard. The rational design approach would be to get rid of the two factions altogether, as the concept of mutually exclusive factions like Horde and Alliance are quite a bit outdated and inevitably imbalanced. At the same time, there is so much pondorous prescedent, that the potential blow-back from angry veterans would be extreme. Most people are joking when they talk about hatred for Gnomes or whatever, but others are serious insofar as faction identity goes. Blizzard has amped up the faction differences for years and years – remember the motorcycle competition not too long ago? – so complete integration would be a more obvious shark-jumping event.

These halfway solutions though? It’s bad design. Imagine a year from now if the faction balance has shifted back to Horde, and Horde Mercs are entering BGs as Humans. Do they keep their PvP trinkets? Do said trinkets automatically transform into something else?

There are really only three elegant solutions to this problem overall:

  1. Change the Human racial.
  2. Disable all racials in PvP.
  3. Same-faction BGs.

The first is something that’s going to need to happen eventually, wailing and gnashing of teeth aside. It could be changed to either be slightly worse than otherwise default PvP trinket (+15 second cooldown), or Blizzard could be more radical and give the ability to everyone and then come up with something new for Humans. Remember, the Human racial used to be a button that increased the ability to see through stealth; which was still better than the garbage Draenei have been stuck with since inception, but nevermind. The second option of disabling racials is more of the nuclear option. But only the third solution is likely to solve the queue-time issue on a permanent basis.

Mercenaries are a cool concept, but “becoming the opposite faction” is clunky to the extreme, and unlikely to solve the underlying issues to any great degree. I mean, if racials are the underlying issue, getting Alliance to temporarily turn into Horde isn’t going to do anything – Alliance will still win on the aggregate power of their racials. This might be a stopgap queue solution, but it’s development time better spent on something more long-term. Like same-faction BGs.

Tavern Brawl

Taking a cue from Syncaine, I want to talk about Hearthstone for a second.

For a long while there, I had largely stopped playing Hearthstone. For one, I had gotten back into WoW (for two months) and thus did not have room in the game rotation for it. Then when I stopped playing WoW, I wanted to dedicate more time to clearing out my Steam backlog. Even when I did feel the inclination to play, I stopped myself, as I lacked the necessary drive to see what the metagame was up to, updating my decks, and so on. It all just felt like a vicious circle that ensured I wouldn’t boot the game up again.

Enter the Tavern Brawl.

This game was over in a hurry.

Blizzard fixed Warsong Commander just in time.

Released a little over a month ago, the Tavern Brawl is an additional game mode for Hearthstone that largely evens the playing field between veterans and newbies, whales and F2Pers, all in one brilliant swoop. Each week there has been a new Tavern Brawl with new rules, and each one lasts from Wednesday to Monday before leaving forever. Here are the ones so far:

  • Ragnaros vs Nefarion
  • All creatures grant a Banana (random de/buff card) on death
  • Decks are 7 class spells + 23 Webspinners
  • Spells summon a random creature of the same mana cost

For the first and third Brawls, the cards in your collection did not matter in the slightest. The second and fourth Brawls did sorta rely on your specific selection of cards, but the structure was such that you generally wanted to play the game way differently than normal anyway. For example, while you could bring a standard Ladder deck to the Banana Brawl, you could also achieve success by flooding the board with small creatures and relying on the Bananas to buff later creatures enough to close out the game. Similarly, the most recent Great Summonner Brawl rewarded decks just stacking 30 spells and no creatures.

The above isn’t the brilliance of Tavern Brawl though. The brilliance is in the reward structure.

Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), I lost this one.

Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), I lost this one.

To generate interest, Blizzard is giving away a free booster pack for the first Brawl win for the week. That’s fine, whatever. The real genius is that Brawl matches count for your Daily Quest completion. Including, incidentally, the 10g for every 3 wins passive quest.

Up to this point, if you had a Daily Quest to win five games as a Warrior or Paladin, you had to complete them in Arena, Ranked mode, or the even tougher Casual mode (tougher because matchmaking is determined by MMR instead of Rank). That can be stressful, as Hearthstone suffers from the same thing that affects all CCGs: net-decks. Which means your goofy theme deck or whatever is going to be routinely trounced by someone piloting the same well-oiled killing machine they saw a Pro use to hit Legend two days ago. Not even Rank 20 is safe from net-decks, especially since some veterans will tank their Rank down to 20 for some easy wins to complete their own Daily Quests or grind wins (which gives golden character portraits at 500 wins).

Tavern Brawl removes any performance anxiety you might have in terms of completing Dailies. Sure, you still have to win games for most quests. Yeah, most of the Brawls come down to rolling dice. But here’s the thing: rolling dice is fun. Losing to Face Hunter or Freeze Mage is considerably less so. If you don’t care about your Ranking on the Ladder, why should you be matched up with people who do?

Tavern Brawl plugs that gameplay hole so well, you’d swear it had a spot in the Amigara Fault.

Overall, Tavern Brawl is a huge win on every front. It auto-generates news on HearthPwn every week; it offers a wildly different game experience to break up the static Ladder grind; it makes Dailies fun; and it’s rewarding for new players and old. If this is supposed to be the New Blizzard we’re disappointed with, well… they still seem capable of being pretty damn clever with their game design.

No Country for Old Blizzard

One of the more… persuasive talking points when it comes to World of Warcraft is that there is an Old Blizzard and a New Blizzard. The Old Blizzard are the people responsible for the most successful MMO ever created, and the New Blizzard is everyone that is sailing the ship into icebergs. The evidence for such a dichotomy seems almost, well, self-evident:

Whiplash.

Whiplash.

Syncaine, who is much a fan of the two phrases, likes to point out that the breaking point between the Old and the New came in Wrath of the Lich King. From the graph, that is when WoW stopped growing. There are also a few philosophy changes that occurred during that expansion, such as the introduction of the fully automated LFD system, a full embrace of the Badge system, “bring the player, not the class,” and similar things.

Personally, I think Cataclysm marks a much more sensible breaking point, but nevermind.

As I said before, the Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard narrative is pretty persuasive. Which is rather unfortunate considering how it is factually incorrect: Old Blizzard never left. Below are the Credits screens from vanilla WoW and all the expansions, focusing on Lead Designers or Game Designers. I’m formatting it this way because it’s better than a table that won’t fit on the page:

Apologies for the formatting.

Apologies for the formatting.

The source is the Credits screen accessed from within the WoW client (Character Select screen // Menu // Credits), which appears to be the only way to access the names. Luckily, you do not need a subscription to the game to access it. I typed it all by hand after taking screenshots, so feel free to check my work¹. Alternatively, just look at this Google Docs spreadsheet.

Notice anything? Like maybe all the duplicate names? In the spreadsheet, I highlighted anyone credited as a Designer in vanilla or TBC and who went on to be a Designer in any other expansion². Of particular note is the fact that of the 20 Designers of TBC, 15 of them went on to be Designers in Wrath. In other words, 68% of the design team of Wrath came from TBC. This includes Tom Chilton and Jeffrey Kaplan, both of whom were credited as Lead Designers in both expansions (and Designers of vanilla WoW besides).

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Rob Pardo is the missing link!” He was, after all, the Lead Designer of vanilla WoW and TBC before seemingly falling off the design map. Well, allow me the distinct pleasure of destroying your revisionist narrative dreams once and for all. See, Rob Pardo gave a rather sweeping interview back in 2009, almost at the midpoint of Wrath. The link points to the 1st page of that interview because it’s still that good, but money shots are on the 3rd page:

We had all these suppositions, and as the years went on and we had more and more experience living with WoW as a live game, we realized that they weren’t just truths. They might affect a hardcore minority, but the people we saw weren’t really as hardcore as we thought they were. If we reduced raids from 40 to 25, we saw, it makes it more fun. You might have some hardcore players who get upset, but keeping people out of content isn’t right for the game overall. We mellowed sometimes, and realized we were wrong.

The other piece is that the WoW playerbase is becoming more casual over time. People who were hardcore into MMOs, they joined us first, but the people we’re acquiring over the years are casual. They heard about the game from a friend of a friend, and maybe it’s their first MMO – maybe it’s their first game. The game has to evolve to match the current player.

And what did Rob Pardo think about the much maligned LFD system?

That segues in nicely to this question: Cross-server gameplay. It’s convenient, but do you think that it runs the risk of destroying server communities?

To be completely honest, [the Looking For Group tool] is a feature I wanted in the game when we launched the game. I was really unhappy when we didn’t have it when we first shipped, so it’s been 5 years coming. Maybe it wasn’t the number one thing I wanted in, but it’s definitely one of the top 5 things that I wanted in the game. It’s actually our third try at a proper LFG tool, and this one gets it right. With the Meeting Stones, we didn’t put enough attention into it, we just tried to jam it in, and people didn’t use it. The second tool, it ended up being compromised feature – we tried to cater to too many different audiences.

As for the community question, I used to … I think that 5 years ago, I would have answered this question differently than I would today. I was all about preserving the small realm communities, but already… Well, look at Battlegrounds, it’s a good case in point, because it doesn’t diminish social relationships that matter on a realm. Sure, everyone can bring up “that one guy” that they know, the ninja looter who stole his stuff. But I think your real community isn’t the whole realm, but it’s your guild and the friends you group with, and the cross-server LFG won’t undermine that at all. The Dungeon Finder – by the way, I think we just renamed it the Dungeon Finder last night – We designed it in such a way that it serves the need for guilds and groups and friends. You don’t have to always [join a Pick-Up Group]. If there are four guildies in a group who just need a fifth, they can do that. You can also use it if even you have a full five-person party.

Or, you can do it if you’re on your own and just want to run something, so I don’t think it diminishes it at all.

*mic drop*

*picks mic back up*

The argument I’m making is not necessarily that there hasn’t been a decline in quality WoW game design over the years. The argument I’m making is that there isn’t an Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard dichotomy. Tom Chilton has been at the head table every expansion. Jeff Kaplan was still Lead Designer for Wrath, and while he was absent after that, it was because he became the Game Director for Overwatch. Rob Pardo didn’t stick around for Wrath… as a designer. Instead, Rob Pardo became Executive Vice President of Game Design for Wrath and Cataclysm. And, don’t tell Syncaine, but Pardo is also Chief Creative Officer and Executive Producer of Hearthstone.

So who exactly is Old Blizzard again?

The alternative title I was going to use for this post was “the M. Night. Shyamalan Effect.” For those that might not know, he was the Director and Screenwriter to an enormously successful and critically acclaimed film called Sixth Sense – it is a cultural touchstone film still used in comparisons today. His follow-ups included Signs and Unbreakable… followed by 13 years of utter garbage. If you choose to believe in a narrative of WoW’s decline from quality, it is this comparison that fits. We would not say “Old Shyamalan vs New Shyamalan,” and we shouldn’t do the same with Blizzard.

¹ The one conspicuously missing name is Greg Street, aka Ghostcrawler. Greg Street is listed as Lead Systems Designer in Wrath, Cata, and Mists, and that role undoubtedly has something to do with design. However, the position doesn’t exist in vanilla, TBC, or Warlords, and there is another “Additional Designers” category I didn’t include either, simply because I can’t be sure what they do. In any case, they always say design is a collaborative process, so even if Greg Street is the cause of it all, that doesn’t get “Old Blizzard” off the hook.

² I have since color-coded all the designers who had carryover between expansions, and the results are interesting. For example, all but one of the designers from Wrath came over into Cataclysm, making up 91% of the final total. This is both baffling and makes perfect sense, assuming The Shyamalan Effect.

WoW Content Comparison

One of the relatively common criticisms of Warlords overall has been the lack of content in comparison to prior expansions. With 6.2 being confirmed as the last raiding tier and Blizzard rather adamantly opposed to creating new 5-man dungeons – despite them being “one of the greatest strengths of the genre” – I find it increasingly unlikely that a hypothetical 6.3 patch would include either. So what better time than now to offer some data to back up the claim?

For this part, I am taking all info from Blizzard’s own webpage:

Raids (Boss) Dungeons BGs (Arena) Other
Warlords of Draenor 3 (30) 8 0 (0) Garrisons?
Mists of Pandaria 5 (43) 9 3 (2) 18 Scenarios
1 Race/1 Class
Cataclysm 6 (31) 14 2 (0) 2 Races
World Revamp
Wrath of the Lich King 9 (54) 16 2 (2) 1 Class
The Burning Crusade 8 (44) 16 1 (3) 2 Races

If you found that I made a mistake somewhere in the calculations, let me know.

Otherwise… well, the results kind of speak for themselves, yeah? Cataclysm, hitherto the worst expansion in the game, was the closest to Warlords in terms of raid bosses. And yet it had six more dungeons, introduced two new Battlegrounds, two new races with entirely novel starting areas, and a complete revamp of the entire world. Perhaps not everyone necessarily wanted the old world revamp, but that still represented a rather insane amount of designer attention. The same sort of attention that has seemingly clocked out starting from Day 2 in Warlords.

Indeed, when you start thinking about it a bit deeper, the Warlords situation is even worse than first glance. The devs might have built eight dungeons, for example, but the dungeons were designed for no one to actually use them. I invite you to watch that mea culpa video from Ion Hazzicostas again, or perhaps for the first time. The TL;DR version is this reckoning:

Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.

I wanted to bring the above up again, just to point out that even if Warlords had a comparable amount of content to other expansions (it doesn’t), the base structure of the game denigrates the content that does exist. For example, suppose you want to include the ten Timerwalker Dungeons into the Warlords count for whatever reason, even though they are only actually available for a limited timeframe and aren’t even revamps of the originals. In that situation, I would argue that Warlords only has ten dungeons overall, since those ten Timewalker Dungeons are the only ones still relevant to anyone in the game (by dropping high-level gear). In contrast, even when you were progressing through ICC in Wrath, running Gundrak was useful in getting you Frost Badges and that much closer to a tier piece.

In a bizarre sense, Warlords is the result of Blizzard’s design working as intended. The devs have said for years that they wanted to get to a place where they could pump out faster expansions. And as players, we all agreed… but not to this. By “faster expansions,” we meant not waiting 12-14 months with zero content. Which, by the way, is still a very real possibility with Warlords.