Category Archives: WoW

It’s 25% Off!

A friend of mine still hanging onto WoW for dear life wanted me to see this news:

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

Wow. Much Savings. Such Doge. Wow.

In other words, character transfers are 25% off for a limited time. Not quite the 50% discount Blizzard was offering back in June of last year, but hey, why would they? They got back 600,000 subscriptions in Q3. Can’t possibly stymie that value-added cash flow equivalent to any number of quality Steam games/bundles/etc.

I kinda get the argument that the value is there for players still invested in playing WoW; even at $18.75 there are only a few Steam games that could stand up to ~100 hours of play that WoW could easily generate in a month. On the other hand, my subscription ended 5/10/13. I am nearly a year and a half removed. And even if I came back tomorrow, all my toons are still stuck on no-Pop Auchindoun-US whatever merged PvP server nonsense exists with just about everyone else I know having abandoned ship to a PvE server. So the costs for me to get back into the game is, minimum, $15 + $18.75 + the expansion. That is a rather serious goddamn commitment for something I don’t even know I will find fun anymore.

So, no thanks, Blizzard: it’s still a wee bit ridiculous. If I could transfer my entire character stable wholesale for that price, sure, maybe. I simply got too much gold, too many alts, and not enough fucks to give.

What Are Those Titan Devs Doing Now?

Adam of Noisy Rogue brought up an interesting point recently regarding the cancellation of Titan:

Nobody outside the Blizzard bubble knows what Jeff Kaplan is doing right now. Apart from him there are over a hundred other developers and designers that have been working on Titan for almost seven years. It’s a lot of talent. [...]

Hey, yeah, what are they going to do with all the people who were working on Titan?

So what we know is that Titan had 100 developers working on it last August, until it was slashed down to 30 when it “went back to the drawing board.” Mike Morhaime said they moved the slashed devs over to Diablo and the Blizzard MOBA. But then I got to thinking: wasn’t the dev count on WoW beefed up recently? Indeed it was, as reported on 8/25/13:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

So the timeline makes sense that a lot of those Titan devs were moved over into WoW in addition to Diablo and the MOBA. But then I came across this Icy Veins interview with Tom Chilton from August 2014 (emphasis mine):

Q. You announced repeatedly that you would release content faster: “every 6 months”, “no more ICC”. Obviously, that did not really work out, so we were just wondering what caused it.

A. That is definitely fair criticism. We did a good job earlier in Mists of Pandaria, having the content come at a more frequent intervals, and certainly we had hoped to have Warlords of Draenor out a couple of months ago. The reality is that scaling up the number of people that we have, to work on multiple projects at once has slowed us down. Honestly, it should have not come as a surprise to us. We increased the size of the team by 50% and the majority of those people had never worked on World of Warcraft before or any other MMO, so it is really difficult for them to create content right away, without getting up to speed. So we ended up redoing a lot of the content that we were doing for Warlords to make sure that we would get it at the quality level that we would expect.

Now I’m not sure what to think. Did Blizzard hire a whole bunch of brand new developers for the WoW team? Were the 30 core devs left behind on Titan the only ones with WoW experience, e.g. Kaplan, etc? We do know that Blizzard is already designing the expansion after Warlords right now, so perhaps the new guys got relegated to Warlords and the core-crew is working on whatever Orcish masturbation fantasy is undoubtedly next (“Thrall’s child is all grown up and mad with power!”). I mean, Jesus, it’s been World of Hordecraft aside from that one brief period of time in Wrath. And it’s arguable that the Taunka and Horde Death Knight quests were far superior to what the Alliance got.

I’m not bitter or anything.

By the way, while I was Googling researching this post, I came across this rather interesting picture:

The jokes almost write themselves.

The jokes almost write themselves.

This slide came from the Hearthstone fireside chat back in November 2013, with those numbers representing the team sizes of those three games at release. In other words, vanilla WoW had 60 people, Diablo 3 had 75, and Hearthstone 15. Supposedly Diablo 3 is in a better place these days, but it kinda tells you a lot about the relative worth of even Blizzard developers when you have 75 people collectively cranking out the clusterfuck of Diablo 3 on release. More is less, it would seem.

I Miss Ghostcrawler

There, I said it.

Luckily for all of us, apparently the people of the LoL forums occasionally goad him into talking about WoW design. Here are some of the bits I found most interesting:

Was there a specific wow example that you think changed the balance too much? Whether you meant to shift the game that way or not, it seems like the playerbase thinks this has happened.

If I had to point to one controversial change, I’d say that in vanilla and BC to a lesser extent, there were many specs that weren’t really viable for PvE or PvP. We felt like they needed to be viable in order to justify being in the game, and we were reasonably successful in getting all of them much more competitive. I’ll be honest that there were times when there was still one dominant PvP spec, one dominant PvE spec and one more-or-less dead spec per class, but we did get a lot closer than ever before, especially in the most recent expansion. (And that was the team that accomplished that — I take very little credit.)

So why was this direction controversial? One, it was just flat out harder to balance since there were more variables. It led to all sorts of religious debates such as whether pure classes “deserved” to do more damage than hybrids. In order to guarantee that a particular class or spec wasn’t mandatory for raiding or Arenas, we had to share utility among more classes. (One example is shaman were no longer the only ones to bring Bloodlust.) This did homogenize classes, and some players were understandably not excited about that direction. I’m not sure of a better approach though. Maybe WoW should just have had 10 classes and not the 30 that different specs brought. Maybe some specs should have just stayed dead. I still think about this a lot.

As someone who mained a Paladin throughout TBC, I am a little biased against the whole “leave dead specs in” design. I was not a particular fan of Paladin healing, which left… precisely zero viable PvE/PvP specs for me for most of that expansion. Hell, Illidian as a raid boss was entirely designed around having a Warrior tank. And don’t get me started on how Retribution was only viable as a DPS option on Horde side (Seal of Blood was Blood Elf specific). Paladins ended up being 5-man tanking kings by the end of TBC, but I still remember the growing pains into of Ulduar in which General Vezax basically meant I had to level up a Death Knight alt just to main-tank it.

Still, I almost wonder how a “just 10 classes” design would work. Perhaps like Guild Wars 2? Or would there simply be tanking classes and healing classes?

Do you ever regret opening the game up to be more casual? Instead of taking the kind of direction you are with league?

Different approaches work for different products, and I don’t want to second guess the WoW team. Let’s just say that after working on Age of Empires and World of Warcraft for a total of 16 years, it’s really refreshing to work on a game where I don’t have to worry whether someone’s grandmother can pick it up or not.

Would like to see GC’s grandmother (or mother or father or brother etc) kill Heroic 25m Siegecrafter Blackfuse!

Blackfuse is not the standard by which most of the game is designed. It’s memorable in fact because it’s so much harder than 99% of what you do in the game. Very few players even try (though it is a great fight). You don’t wipe 100 times leveling up. Few players quit running dungeons because they’re too hard. In much of the game, death is unlikely and not much of an obstacle when it does happen. That’s just the way the game was designed and the way nearly all players experience it. I’m not even commenting on whether I agree with that philosophy or not, but it was the philosophy.

Regardless of whether anyone’s grandmother can beat Blackfuse or attain Challenger tier is really besides the point. The points (and these are facts, because I was on the staff of both dev teams) are:

1) WoW spends a lot of effort to make sure almost any player can pick up the game, learn the ropes, level to 90 and even raid if that’s their interest. LoL spends almost no effort making sure almost any player can pick up the game. It does expend some effort to make sure that players who self-identify as gamers can pick up the game.

2) As a result of these efforts and different definitions of potential audience, WoW has a much broader audience than LoL. That’s fine. Different strategies work for different games.

My point was that I spent a lot of development time on both Age of Empires and WoW trying to make the games approachable to a wide audience without compromising the game design. I don’t have to do that anymore, which is s nice change of pace.

Well that’s certainly a confirmation of a lot complaints about WoW’s difficulty curve in solo content.

I love WoW but if not for heroic raiding, I likely would have left a long time ago.

I’m a heroic (mythic) raider. That’s how I fell in love with WoW. But they can’t sustain the game alone. (Source)

There’s a widespread misunderstanding that most people even want to be “brought up.” Everyone has the tools and capability to do anything. How many do it? (Bashiok)
We thought in Cata that we could entice players to rise to the occasion to do harder content. But, you know, some players just said that’s not why they play the game. More power to them. (Source)

The notion that gaming exists (entirely or in part) as a means to improve the skills of the player is a topic all its own, but let me briefly say: that’s dumb. Games are entertainment products. Some people are indeed entertained by honing their skills and seeing increases in finesse. But in many ways that is ultimately a zero-sum endeavor – being “too good” eliminates a wide swath of potential games for you on the one end, and the limits of your own physical abilities removes games from the other end. Meanwhile, everyone can experience, say, character progression at any level.

In a game entirely based around competition, sure, go ahead and “train” your players. Some of us just want to press some buttons, experience a little escapism, and/or need an excuse to (virtually) hang out with online friends and do things together.

I’d like to know what Blizzard considers to be the big barriers.
Well *I* consider the biggest barrier being it’s a 3D WASD game with a movable camera. (Bashiok)
I agree. So does a lot of data. (Source)

Man, I always supported you with WoW changes and felt really bad when you left, but that WoW comment… ouch.
We updated Elwynn Forest twice while I was there to make the game accessible. It was a lot of work. There are very hardcore aspects of WoW but there are also casual ones. Catering to both (or all) is a big challenge. That’s all I meant. I earned a reputation for “dumbing the game down” which is bizarre to me. I was countering that supposition. No offense intended.(Source)

I’m reading a lot of comments confusing accessibility with difficulty. Learning to play WoW is accessibility. Raiding is difficulty. WoW’s intent when I was there (I can’t speak for it now) was to appeal to a wide audience. Developing for a wide audience is very hard. Ulduar (my favorite raid) had two raid sizes (and optional hard modes). After that we added more difficulty tiers to broaden raiding appeal.
Is that something you didn’t want to do?
You can argue it exposed more players to the fun of raiding, but might have diminished the psychological reward of doing so. Raids also self nerf over time as players gear up, and we did across the board nerfs as well. So dedicated players would eventually get to see the content. The change was more about whether players deserved to see new content when it was new vs several patches later. (Source)
Adding multiple tiers per raid is more work. Appealing to a broad audience is more work. For once in my career, I don’t have to do that. (Source)
People struggled through bad design and confused it with mastery of difficulty.
There also was very little concept of damage meters or optimal rotations in Molten Core. The audience matured. (Source)

The raiding bit was interesting, but the fact that the very fundamental 3D interface being an issue is… illuminating. The things was take for granted, eh?

What by your experience are the constant things that come up that make learning a game hard?
1) Identifying the goal, 2) Understanding the controls, 3) Realizing where the fun is going to be. I mention that third point because too many tutorials strip away too much fun out of fear of burdening a new player.
Hand held guidance vs joy of discovery and freedom. Can`t have both.
Yes, but you can make the hand held guided part fun. Maybe you can see a dragon even if you have no business fighting one yet. (Source)

Explained another way, when you see a big drop off in players after only a few minutes then they are probably very confused. Players can’t usually tell if a game will be fun that quickly, but if they have no idea what’s going on, then they may quit. You see this a lot when casual players can’t mouse look, a skill second nature to many core gamers. (Source)

Look, you can play a very demanding game casually or invest many hours in a simple iPhone game. WoW appeals / tries to appeal to many gamers who don’t fit the traditional gamer mold. League doesn’t go after those gamers. Simple as that. (Source)
I can mouse look, play WoW, and adventure games. Dont consider myself (hard)core gamer. Core/casual split seems so limiting
It is very limiting. However, when even game developers watch a brand new player struggle with controls it’s eye opening. (Source)

Alright, I’m good.

Still… see what I mean? Could someone point out where else we could read some rather frank discussions on the nuts and bolts of game design? Developer blogs are almost entirely marketing vehicles that only tangentially resemble the final product. I am not suggesting Ghostcrawler is necessarily best designer out there, or even a good one. He might not be the one we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

End of Justice, Valor in Warlords

I cannot imagine this is breaking news, but it certainly came to a shock to me:

Honor and Conquest definitely are not going away, just to clarify a misconception – you’ll still be earning those currencies through PvP and using them to buy your PvP gear.

What will be going away is Justice and Valor. Over time, they’ve moved away from their original purpose, and given how widely available they’d become (awarded from quests, scenarios, dungeons, raids, etc.), we’d rather return to the original universal currency: gold. The final values aren’t hooked up yet, but the old Valor rewards for completing your daily random dungeon or an LFR wing will be replaced with a hefty sum of gold, which should make something like the gold turn-in for a bonus roll seem far more attainable even for players who currently don’t have much gold.

Watcher went on to clarify:

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that players should expect to see a vendor with a full set of endgame gear for gold as a one-to-one replacement for the Valor vendors from Mists. For the initial Warlords content, Apexis Crystals will largely fill that role, and you can see most of that structure already in place in the Beta today.

I honestly don’t know what the hell Blizzard imagines they are doing.

The original thought I had was that Blizzard was going to remove all Justice/Valor points and related vendors, and then heavily lean on the Bonus Roll mechanics they introduced in Mists. Gold is indeed one of the methods you can use to get a Bonus Roll, but it is one of… five I think, and you can use a particular method once per week with 3 Bonus Rolls being the limit. It sorta makes sense from a design perspective insofar as the current Justice/Valor system has an awkward down-leveling that occurs every patch, with Valor turning into Justice, Justice items going down in price, issues with people banking dungeon currency, and so on.

The issue I have with this change is one of motivation. In a world where you are running dungeons for specific gear, what motivation do you have to run said dungeon after you have gotten your gear? There isn’t any. And… maybe that’s a good thing? Back in the day though, I would routinely farm dungeons on my tank characters (instant queues) specifically because I could earn currency to get raid-level upgrades that would help guild progression later. Without that carrot, I would queue for nothing, and the LFD system itself would that much worse off. Alternatively, perhaps it means that LFD would be stocked with people specifically farming for gear, e.g. the intended audience for the content, so maybe people would be more accepting of lower-geared strangers.

Then I remembered that Blizzard is still using alternative currencies: Apexis Crystals. So… they do have the equivalent to Valor points, but you don’t earn them in dungeon/raid content. Was this their solution to reputation grinds? I don’t know, I’m not in the beta. But all I can think of is: Frost Badges. You know, back in Wrath when there was a different raid currency for every tier. Because we sure as hell aren’t likely to be using Apexis Crystals for Tier N+1 vendor gear.

So now I’m back to having no idea what Blizzard imagines they are doing. I actually liked the Valor system, and I liked it all the way back when it was Badges of Justice in your inventory. Granted, it led to some targeted farming behavior like running Heroic Mechanar every day and weekly Kara farms, but at least it got everyone in groups out in the world. As someone would more gold than I would know what to do with, I’m not entirely sure what I would be doing in Warlords other than perhaps farming Apexis Crystals. Which is like farming Valor, except much easier to do by myself.

Blizzard News Recap

So, hey, how about that. Leave the country for just two weeks and look what happens.

Blizzard Q2 2014 Investor Call

The big news, of course, is the fact that WoW has dropped 800k subs and is down to 6.8 million from Q1. MMO-Champion has a rather interesting interactive graph on the linked page, but let’s go ahead and take a screenshot for posterity:

Presumably there will be a soft landing at some point.

Presumably there will be a soft landing at some point.

Honestly, it is hard to add anything to that; the graph really speaks for itself. I guess it is interesting to note that we are now well below the numbers of vanilla WoW at this point. It is also interesting to note that the number of subscribers WoW lost in the last few months is larger than the total reported subs for The Elder Scrolls Online. Or Wildstar + EVE. So anytime someone happens to discount WoW as a fluke and/or “not representative of the genre as a whole,” just remember that this is a fluke on scale with the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

There are bigger games, of course, like League of Legends. There still ain’t any bigger MMOs. And let’s face it: there isn’t likely to ever be any.

Back to that investor call, and the unintentionally hilarious corporate doublespeak:

Starting off with World of Warcraft. The franchise remains healthy with revenues up year-over-year. This is due in part to ongoing interest in Warlords of Draenor presales, which now exceed 1.5 million, and the character boost, which suggests strong support for the expansion by the community.

Yeah, sure, I can see it that way, Mike Morhaime. Someone who purchases a(n additional) character boost is likely a person preparing to use said boosted character in the next expansion. At the same time, is a boosted character not also a vote of no confidence of all the content that it was boosted past? Shit, the expansion is not out for another three months, and this is a report of player behavior from earlier in the year anyway. I’m not one of those guys who cry over planned obsolescence, but c’mon man, this is a sword with two edges. Be careful where you pick it up.

In looking over the rest of the call transcript, most of it had to do with Destiny and Call of Duty questions. Hearthstone was a surprise darling, but we sort of knew that already.

Warloads of Draenor

Release date of November 13th. And there’s a video!

I pretty much agree with the prevailing blogging opinion that the Warlords trailer is excellent on a technical level and somewhat of a horrible trainwreck on grokkable level. Are we supposed to know who these orcs are? It might be a little racist, but I can barely tell any of them apart. And then you get the confused sympathy going on, which results in you thinking the final boss of the expansion is actually a good guy. I mean, we just saw him kill a demon and everything! To the average person watching this thing, they aren’t going to know that the final scene is meant to imply the “good guys” will soon be invading an alternate timeline in which they don’t exist, only to be pushed back into their own world again and beaten silly by 10 or 25 kleptomaniacs in silly costumes.

And when I put it like that, I still almost feel bad for them.

Then I remember that alternate timelines and time travel in general is literally the worst narrative gimmick in literature (and all mediums, really), possibly tied with “it was all a dream.” It is always total bullshit because nobody ever treats it seriously, least of all the authors themselves. Bioshock Infinite, anyone? Warlords is all just another Metzen Horde masturbation fantasy that plumbs the shockingly shallow depths of the Warcraft RTS plot in search of remaining nuggets (or crumbs thereof) which can be squeezed and bled before the swan song of an Emerald Dream expansion.

In my attempt at researching the possibility that the Warlords narrative could be saved by Naaru somehow, I stumbled upon this blog post which does a good job at asserting the fact that we might be battling high lieutenants of the Burning Legion by the end. Up to and including Sargeras. I like the research supporting that position, but again, it all highlights for me the reason why time travel is stupid everywhere. Because now there is an infinite number Sargerases, and Titans, and McGuffins such that the likelihood of the “original” world existing at all is vanishingly small. Maybe the Bronze Dragonflight are supposed to keep all that shit on lockdown, but all it takes is a single “he/she went insane” and suddenly they are attacking every reality.

…which is sort of how the Burning Legion are described. Hmm.

Nah. The writers over there aren’t that clever.

Asocial and Antisocial

There was an interesting blue post a few days ago explaining why Blizzard had yet to embrace the GW2-esque open-tap philosophy:

The main reason we don’t embrace a fully open-tap world is that we feel that those mechanics are asocial. To be fair, that is certainly better than antisocial – no question there, and antisocial experiences usually reflect spawning and mechanics that we need to adjust. However, while a world in which everyone runs around damaging things a few times (or however much is needed to qualify for credit) may be one in which you don’t feel bad about other players being around, at some point it also makes those players nearly indistinguishable from NPCs or bots with decent AI. You don’t need to talk, or ask if someone has room in their group or would like to join yours. You just attack a few times, and then move on.

The blue dev (Watcher in this case) went on to assert that they “commonly” saw transient groups forming for daily quests, and perhaps some of those groups became less transient over time. And to an extent, I even agree that games like GW2 might have inadvertently crossed some line wherein other players are simply irrelevant when questing (as opposed to registering as something to think about).

At the same time… are we playing the same game? Even as far back as Wrath, there was basically no interaction between me and the random strangers who were competing with me for spawns. Any time that I did buckle down for blind social interaction, the majority of the outcomes were A) waiting around for them to get back from being AFK, and/or B) them being barely pulling their weight, and/or C) them trying to wheetle me into doing more of their daily quests for them. Indeed, that whole awkward parting scenario is generally why I avoided any stranger contact that I could.

I suppose that I am not exactly the sort of player that Watcher was talking about or even want to socially engineer. After all, not only am I naturally asocial, but I was already a part of a guild that wasn’t recruiting, so there really was no upside to stranger interaction. Given the generally accepted churn rates of 5% per month, eventually there are going to be hundreds of thousands of new players cycling in every year, and getting them into guilds and such is paramount.

Hmm. I gotta say though, I feel that the WoW-style tagging system is archaic and antisocial at this point; Wildstar tried to split the baby and ended up with two halves of a baby too. Going forward into 2014 with an assumption that players are going to just accidentally stumble into good relationships is kinda ridiculous. How often is someone going to pick up an MMO blind without any friends from either real life or friends they met in other games? Perhaps the idea is that you can recruit from the pile of random people killing quest mobs in daily hubs? The whole thing just feels kinda sketchy considering it is a linchpin in the entire social game design edifice.

There is something to be said for needing a reason to need other players to ensure social interaction takes place. In other words, dependency (or perhaps more charitably: profit) is the impetus to take that first step towards interaction. There is also something to be said that if you have to force social interaction between two parties that otherwise would prefer not to be bothered, perhaps you should reexamine what it is you are doing in the first place and to what end.

Shouldn’t it be enough that an impromptu group gets quests done faster? It is not even as though you are punishing the solo player as it is undermining the very thing you set out to foster in the first place, e.g. social interaction. By default, all non-party members are detriments to one’s gameplay. That does not encourage me to group with them, that encourages me to endure them or move to a less busy corner of the world. If I wanted to make more friends, I would make more friends regardless of whether or not we had to expressly group together to get quest credit.

And on the WoW Front

There were two rather important items I would absolutely have been talking about by now, if I was still playing WoW.

First, guild levels are being removed in Warlords.

Since the introduction of the guild system in Cataclysm, the nature of guild leveling and guild perks has shifted from being a reward for dedication and collective effort, to effectively being a penalty and barrier to entry for new guilds.

To be quite frank, there was never any shift; guild leveling has always been a penalty/barrier to new guild creation. You could trace the exact moment when my old guild (Invictus) was on its way out: the night when we no longer reached the daily Guild XP cap. Everyone knew people weren’t logging on as much anymore, but that shaded bar in its purple crassness had a way about it that pierced all illusions. Not only did we understood that the guild was dying, we became acutely aware that we were falling behind. And yet, in a cruel twist, you also didn’t want to leave either. Sure, you could join a more active, new guild… and lose all the bonus Honor/Justice Points/goodies in the meantime.

I am not entirely sure whether any particular MMO has gotten guilds “right.” By that I mean crafting a system that both encourages social activity and doesn’t encourage abuse of its own systems, e.g. in zerg guilds. The most we seem to be able to hope for is for guild systems to get out of the way. Anyone have examples of where guilds were done particularly well?

Second news items is the merging of Alliance/Horde AHs on each server.

This is certainly an interesting decision for Blizzard to make. Some of the detractors focus on their lost gold-making opportunities, while still others take offense on an almost RP angle. My own opinion on large AHs have shifted considerably over the years. While it is always fun to play the big fish in a small pond, small ponds tend to dry out and kill all the fish. There is perhaps nothing as discouraging as seeing a barren AH, as that wipes out entire swaths of gameplay: the AH baron, the farmer, the crafter, the guild selling BoE raid epics to fund guild repairs, and so on. In this sense, I believe it’s a good idea.

On the other hand, something I have found equally (if not moreso) discouraging is seeing the effect of a vendor+1c economy. Guild Wars 2 was my first experience with this phenomenon, but Wildstar has creeping elements of the same thing. The cause is rather simple: bot farmers dumping mats.¹ While even the tiny Auchindoun-US had its share of bots, it was clearly more profitable to peddle their vendor-for-a-profit wares on the bigger servers. In a centralized marketplace, all it takes is one bot to ruin everyone’s day.

In any case, what is somewhat amusing is remembering back to my WoW days and how I very nearly kept a second account running purely for the cross-faction arbitrage possibilities (even on Auchendoun-US!). I have to assume things like the faction-specific mounts will remain faction-specific, but I imagine those hedge market items like green-colored Winter Clothes and such will tank. Meanwhile, I wonder what they intend to do with the goblin AHs…

¹ In fairness, there are likely several other things going on simultaneously. For example, making mats too plentiful, not having enough sinks, having crafting systems that encourage the pumping out of hundreds of identical goods, and so on. Bots will still ruin your day though.

PvP is Overrated

Okay, seriously, last time I abuse a (this) misleading title.

Two items of interest today. First, Blizzard finally took a step to address BG faction imbalance (read: queue times) in WoW… by opening free Horde –> Alliance transfers on a single realm:

We consistently watch queue times for all areas of the game to try to identify problem areas where we can step in and make an improvement. Battleground queue times specifically tend to be a direct result of how many people are entering the queue at any given time from both the Horde and Alliance, within an entire region. While a number of factors can lead to longer queue times, faction interest in queuing for PvP tends to be the primary influence. For that reason we’re going to be trying something new. For a limited time, and only for select realms (for this first test just a single realm), we’ll be opening faction changes for Horde characters to change to Alliance for free.

While time will tell how much this works in solving queue times, I have been watching Blizzard dance around this issue with considerable amusement. Because honestly, the solution that actually works is the one the devs are least willing to implement: same-faction BGs. Bam! Faction imbalance solved. Instead, Blizzard is treating random BGs as some sacrosanct, final line in the sand:

Faction imbalance is definitely something that’s contributing to the lengthy queue times. That said, we agree that allowing Horde vs Horde and Alliance vs Alliance Random BG’s isn’t a great answer. We’ll do it if it’s absolutely necessary (Rated BG’s allow for same-faction battles for exactly this reason), but we’re going to look at all other options first.

Honestly, even if we can’t find another good answer, we’re not sure queue times are so bad, at least at the moment, that same-faction Random BG’s would be worth it. Horde vs Alliance, Orcs vs Humans, Elves vs Trolls etc. has long been a strong core of the Warcraft universe. We want queue times to be faster for everyone, but we also don’t want to lose that.

Err… guys? It’s a goddamn random BG. Nobody cares. Horde have been battling Horde in Arena and Rated Battlegrounds (gasp!) for years. It would not be at all difficult to provide lore-based justifications for this combat. I mean, the Horde is fighting the “Iron Horde” in the next expansion, for god’s sake. One team is Horde, the other consists of “Twilight Cultists.” One team is Alliance, the other is “Scarlet Crusaders.” There are literally dozens of viable factions introduced in each expansion that could make these fights make sense, if anyone at all really cared about the “strong core of the Warcraft universe” nearly 11 years since the release of Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne. And it’s not like they could not get that same Horde vs Alliance kick from, I dunno, the actual story as told by quests and such. World PvP could still be whatever.

There are few things worse in any game than having to wait out timers. Sure, some people pine for the days of 30-minute boat rides in EverQuest and such, but you could theoretically chalk that up to “immersion.” There really isn’t anything that can be said for BG queue timers; the whole thing is arbitrary from the start. I’d like to believe that we will see same-faction BGs from Blizzard sooner rather than later, but the hills people choose to die on are varied and nonsensical on the whole.

Second item: fun with “Peace-decs” in EVE. While technically recycled, the article is interesting to me because it turns the traditional EVE “PvP sandbox” thinking on its ear.

For the uninitiated (which technically includes me as well), EVE has three security zones: hi-sec, low-sec, and null-sec. If you are out mining in high-sec, anyone who shoots you will get killed by space police within a few seconds. One way to get around that is for a PvP guild to “war-dec” your guild, which gives them the ability to shoot you without repercussion for as long as they pay the upkeep to the war-dec. What can you do? Nothing. Technically, you can quit the guild that has been war-dec’d or join an NPC guild or perhaps just not log on at all until the whole thing blows over. The developers likely hope that you either fight them or hire mercenaries to kill them or something of that nature. Or maybe they don’t particularly care.

This hypothetical “peace-dec” is the opposite of the war-dec: your guild pays a sum of money + upkeep costs to prevent another guild from being able to fire on you in hi-sec. Sounds fair, right? Holy shit though, watch the PvPers freak the hell out at the suggestion. For the inherent symmetry of the peace-dec thought experiment highlights how much of a non-sandbox the EVE universe might happen to be. I mean, is a sandbox a sandbox if other players dictate how you can play? It’s an interesting question. It’s also interesting seeing PvPers get mad at being threatened with the inability to play the game how they want to, when the existence of war-decs necessarily prevents PvE players from doing so. Why is turnabout not fair play?

In any case, the idea of a peace-dec is really growing on me, even for other games. For one thing, imagine the money-sink capability. Even if there were only a 5% chance of dying from a ganker, I’d imagine that 90%+ of the players would consider X amount of their earnings a worthwhile sacrifice for the peace of mind. Then, as you get more comfortable in your PvP ability, you can stop paying the upkeep and gain a greater profit for your skill, even if you are farming the same area. Plus, you could have instanced PvP for those who want fights they don’t have to look for. Who loses under this scheme, and why do we care about them?

Anti-Patch Notes

I didn’t think it was possible to get excited for an expansion of a game I haven’t played in over a year, but damn. I got to about here:

Druid

  • Innervate has been removed. Mana costs for Druids have been adjusted accordingly.

…before I realized the devs were serious about the pruning of cooldowns thing. I mean, Jesus, they even removed Mana Gem.

Blink and you'd miss it. Wait... Blink is still around, right?

Blink and you’d miss it. Wait… Blink is still around, right?

Paladins were about the one class that seemed to come out ahead after the ability decimation; losing Wings on non-Ret specs makes me shed a nostalgic tear, but in return no more Divine Plea or Inquisition? That’s practically a bonus! Plus, Lay on Hands and Divine Shield survived. Blinding Light didn’t, but we only had that for what, one expansion? It looks like Seal Twisting is making a come-back, but hopefully it won’t be powerful enough to be mandatory.

Man, look at this:

Priest

  •     Binding Heal is no longer available to Shadow Priests.
  •     Hymn of Hope has been removed.
  •     Heal has been removed.
  •     Greater Heal has been renamed Heal.
  •     Inner Focus no longer provides any mana cost reduction.
  •     Rapture has been removed.
  •     Renew is now available only to Holy Priests.
  •     Shadow Word: Death is now available only to Shadow Priests.
  •     Void Shift has been removed.
  •     Inner Fire has been removed.
  •     Inner Will has been removed.

That’s all of the Priest notes. Well, more or less, there’s some additional explanation at the bottom. Still, there is 109 instances of the word “removed” across 34 pages of notes. The end result will likely be a tighter game experience, but damn, all these simultaneous band-aid removals took some hair with them.

As for the new level 100 Talents, some of them are jokes that won’t pass the AV test. What’s that? It’s simple: just imagine someone (or 40 someones) using the ability in an AV match. Seriously, they’re giving Death Knights Defile. Defile. I hope your CPU is water-cooled next time you’re slumming it up in Drek/Vann’s room because otherwise your machine might well burst into flame. Necrotic Plague alone will pad all the meters, and combined with Chilblains? You can single-handedly stop an entire mounted charge.

That’s basically what I’ll be doing in BGs all expansion long: being annoying. Did it when Death Knights first came out with Death Grip and/or Chains of Ice; did it when Paladins could Seal of Justice mounted players from 40 yards away; did it with portal shenanigans via the Warlock; did it old-school just Sapping people and watching their reactions from stealth as the Rogue. If your goal is to be annoying, it’s damn hard to lose in WoW. And now it’ll be 100% easier in the next expansion!

Dry Watercooler

The latest Dev Watercooler is out concerning major changes in the upcoming WoW expansion, and yet it is one of the most content-free ones I have ever read. I’d say it was all bones and no meat, but you can usually suck some marrow out of bones. But this? This tells us nothing. And so we’re going to have to fill in the blanks with our own rampant speculation.

Stat Squish

There is but one new morsel concerning the Stat Squish (emphasis added):

It’s important to understand that this isn’t a nerf—in effect, you’ll still be just as powerful, but the numbers that you see will be easier to comprehend. This also won’t reduce your ability to solo old content. In fact, to provide some additional peace of mind, we’re implementing further scaling of your power against lower-level targets so that earlier content will be even more accessible than it is now.

That is just about the only possible concern there was with the Squish, so I’m glad it’s taken care of.

Racial Traits

To keep racials more in line with one another, we’ve decided to bring down the couple high outliers, then establish a fair baseline and bring everyone else up to that. We’re accomplishing this by improving old passives, replacing obsolete ones, and adding a few new ones where necessary. Ultimately, our goal is to achieve much better parity among races.

Know what would be really nice? What they consider a fair baseline.

I almost wonder though, if I am parsing that paragraph correctly: is anyone else getting the sense that perhaps activated racials are being left alone? Blizzard did mention Berserking (a Troll racial) as being “extremely powerful,” but I find it difficult to imagine how, say, Every Man for Himself could be redesigned to be equivalent. Unless maybe every race is getting some kind of PvP-ish active racial and then the passives will be the PvE knob. All I can say is that I’m happy this is getting looked at, as I have regretted rolling my paladin as a Draenei since pretty much the beginning – Gift of the Naaru has consistently been the most useless active racial in the game.

Ability Pruning

For Warlords of Draenor, we decided that we needed to pare down the number of abilities available to each class and spec in order to remove some of that unnecessary complexity. That means restricting some abilities to certain specs that really need them instead of being class-wide, and outright removing some other abilities. [...]

One type of ability that we focused on removing is temporary power buffs (aka “cooldowns”). Removing these also helps achieve one of our other goals, which is to reduce the amount of cooldown stacking in the game. In cases where a class or spec has multiple cooldowns that typically end up getting used together (often in a single macro), we merged them, or removed some of them entirely.

Two interesting bits here. The first is a sort of roll-back of the “bring the class, not the spec” theme of the last two expansions. It’s possible that they’re not talking about the sort of active/passive raid buffs that made it easier to get a 10m raid together, but it’s a bit hard to imagine how else it would work in practice. I mean, are we talking about removing Heroic Strike? Slice N’ Dice? Only letting Frost DKs have Dark Simulacrum while Unholy DKs get Necrotic Strike? This is way too vague. But my point is that if these currently-class-wide abilities have any utility at all, only allowing one of the specs have them is going to create a demand for that specific spec. Which is fine in the abstract, I suppose, but it’s definitely a movement away from specs being more of a play-style decision than a mechanical one (outliers aside).

The second part about cooldowns is both welcome and terrifying simultaneously. Some cooldowns are simple macro-bait, but others… well. I hate to fall back on sacred cow terms like “iconic” and “class defining” but some actually are. I don’t think Blizzard would remove Avenging Wrath, for example, but that is almost always paired with Guardian of Ancient Kings. In fact, that’s pretty much the most classic (and visible) example of cooldown stacking I can think of. Perhaps both will stay in the game, but Ardent Defender/Divine Protection will be removed or rolled into Prot’s version of GoAK. What of the many Hand spells though? Lay on Hands? Could we see Devotion Aura go the way of the rest of the Aura spells? I could see Devotion Aura absorbing Divine Protection pretty easily…

At some point though, this is definitely something that can end up hurting.

Crowd Control and Diminishing Returns

The diminishing returns list up to this point has been a study in Rules Lawyering gone amok. “No, no, no. That’s not a Fear, that’s a Horror. And Controlled Stuns are nothing like Random Stuns.” All in all, there are 11 categories and 2 additional abilities that only DR with themselves. Which is not to say that the various categories didn’t serve an important function – making a wider variety of class/spec combinations viable in Arena – but the prospect of being locked in a CC chain almost indefinitely is a high price to pay.

Here is the shakedown according to the post:

  • Removed Silence effects from interrupts. Silence effects still exist, but are never attached to an interrupt.
  • Removed all Disarms.
  • Reduced the number of Diminishing Returns (DR) categories.
  • All Roots now share the same DR category.
    • Exception: Roots on Charge-type abilities have no DR category, but have a very short duration instead.
  • All Stuns now share the same DR category.
  • All Incapacitate (sometimes called “mesmerize”) effects now share the same DR category and have been merged with the Horror DR category.
  • Removed the ability to make cast-time CC spells instant with a cooldown.
  • Removed many CC spells entirely, and increased the cooldowns and restrictions on others.
    • Pet-cast CC is more limited, and in many cases has been removed.
    • Cyclone can now be dispelled by immunities and Mass Dispel.
    • PvP trinkets now grant immunity to reapplication of an effect from the same spell cast when they break abilities with persistent effects, like Solar Beam.
    • Long fears are now shorter in PvP due to the added benefit of a fear changing the players position.

It’s difficult to get a read on how the DR merge will play out right now, especially considering we’ll supposedly see CC get cut altogether from certain classes/specs. At a glance, I can say that melee classes are likely getting the bigger end of the stick here with the removal of Disarm effects + ranged class CC nerfs. The Druid vs Paladin match-up won’t be so one-sided now that we can bubble out of Cyclone. Hunters are getting screwed with Scatter Shot + Freezing Trap being on the same DR. Warlocks are getting especially hosed with their panic-button instant-cast Horror effects diminishing the follow-up Fear, which is itself getting nerfed again anyway. What is that, 10 years of Fear nerfs in a row?

In any case, that’s about all the blood I could squeeze out of that Dev Watercooler stone. I appreciate birds-eye dev articles as much as the next guy (and probably a bit more), but I felt this one was really lacking in specifics. I suppose we’ll start connecting the dots once everything is data-mined on MMO Champ, although by then it’s likely everything will have changed again.

Edit:

Words cannot describe my disappointment.