Category Archives: WoW

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.

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.

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.

6.2 is It

So the latest WoW news, delivered once again in a random-ass interview no one saw coming, dropped the following bomb: Patch 6.2 is the last raiding tier. It may very well be the last content patch in Warlords of Draenor too.

I… don’t really know what to say. I pretty much agree with Asmiroth’s points and concerns though. Especially the part about lack of content:

WoD will clearly be marked as the expansion with the least amount of content since launch.  2.5 raid tiers, 8 dungeons, no races, no classes, Garrisons, which killed cities, Ashran which put the final nail in open world PvP, a near-complete destruction of crafting.  But we got selfies.

Items that were supposed to be in this expansion (from their Blizzcon): Shattrah raid, Bloodspire and Karabor (cities), Farahlon (zone/pvp).  You’d think that would be at least 1 more content patch worth.

Warlords is both the most expensive expansion Blizzard has released and the one with the least amount of content. Even if Blizzard actually delivers on the promises they made in terms of faster expansions, the best case scenario here is… what? BlizzCon is in four months. Will the beta for the next expansion be released at that point? So are we looking at 10 months from now at the earliest?

Here is a more relevant question: is an expansion even what we want at this point? I didn’t even pay full price for Warlords and I’ll be damned if I’m buying another expansion box within a year after this absolute clown show. I say this as a person otherwise sitting on nine (9!) months worth of WoW Tokens and enough gold to buy a dozen more. 

By the way, one of the items frequently omitted when talking about all the ways Blizzard fucked up this expansion is arguably one of the most important for casual players: PvP faction balance. This video by Asmongold sums it up. Or perhaps this single picture:

Whoa.

Current as of 7/2/15.

What you’re looking at is the 3v3 Arena leaderboard for Horde. In other words, while Asmongold was slightly off in his video, the very top Horde players in the US are sitting beneath 188 Alliance players. Is it just a complete coincidence that the best PvP players in WoW have all up and faction transferred to Alliance after a decade of Horde dominating basically everything? The answer is clearly no. And at this point, even if Blizzard went forward with a “radical” change like disabling all racials in rated PvP, there is no real reason those top players would pay the blood price Blizzard asks to transfer back.

If you think 3v3 Arena doesn’t have much of an effect on overall balance – and admittedly, the 5v5 numbers are a lot closer – then take a look at this:

How the tables have turned.

How the tables have turned.

So if you have been pleasantly surprised with your Alliance BG experiences lately, the above is why. It can certainly feel good to finely have the shoe on the other foot, but Alliance has taken the Horde’s shoes, socks, and pants, and are now a mile away. Racials likely don’t have much effect in the aggregate when it comes to random BG outcome, but as always, perception is reality. And the reality is that the top Horde players have left the faction, which is discouraging, which then depresses the remainder, which causes further PvP losses, which culminates in a death spiral.

I have no idea how Blizzard can even begin to fix this. Not that I have much faith in their ability to fix anything at this point.

Unfiltered

While I missed it Live, I managed to watch that Warlords Q&A over the weekend. You can watch it yourself on Youtube, and I recommend doing so. It was simultaneously the most raw, unfiltered interview I’ve ever seen, and the most baffling and ultimately a little demoralizing.

Before I get into the details though, here’s how I did on the BINGO front:

So close...

So close…

If you can’t bring yourself to watch the full hour of video, MMO-Champion has an extremely abbreviated synopsis and Wowhead has an interpretative transcript. What neither of them really gets across is the otherwise unbelievable number of times that Ion Hazzikostas comes right out and says “We screwed up” on a large number of topics. Like, I started getting a little embarrassed watching it, even though I felt Blizzard needed called on all of them.

Let’s start this in order though.

Flying

Although Ion stated that he “didn’t like speaking for the group,” by the time the Polygon interview went out stating flying was no more, that decision did represent a majority of the design team at the time. I have talked about this enough so I won’t belabor the point, other than to say how incredibly disheartening it is to hear that more than half of the design team are insane coming from such a bizarre different worldview. I mean, I would feel a little bit better if the argument was “flying takes too many resources” or something. In the absence of any explanation though, I must accept a reality in which the design team is either incompetent or are aligned with a completely different entertainment paradigm than myself. If they do not know how or why this game is fun to me, how can I expect them to continue delivering a fun game in the future? Or me to expect one to be delivered?

I’m glad that the majority of the design team ended up finding a compromise palatable to their alien sensibilities. But it’s getting pretty clear that any entertainment derived from this MMO will be in spite of the design instead of because of it.

Reputations

“I’m really not going to defend [the 6.0 reputations] and say that they’re awesome and fun and engaging. They are completely mob grinds.” No, really, Ion said exactly that. The explanation is that Blizzard wasn’t going to do reputations at all this expansion, but decided to throw some shit together at the last minute because of the Trading Post and “other hooks.”

Apexis Dailies

“Clear failure on our part.” Ion mentioned that Blizzard did the whole “thing Blizzard routinely does” in lurching from one extreme to another, in this case a reaction to the “World of Dailycraft” theme of Mists of Pandaria. The idea was that instead of doing 5 different quests in an area, you can do the equivalent of five different quests worth of miscellaneous stuff in that same area. Only this time, the rewards were shit and the lack of narrative makes the entire enterprise more nakedly grindy. That’s not even commentary on my part, that is what Ion basically said.

Lack of Endgame World Content

The design team was so caught up in making sure Garrisons as a system was worth doing, a lot of the activities you would normally do outside are instead done in your own little instance.

Professions

See above. Don’t worry though, Felblight will fix it.™

Alt Burnout due to Garrisons

Blizzard will nerf gold gains (Account-wide diminishing returns) to save you from yourself. In fact, they don’t like alts serving to enhance a single main character either. Which is another one of those “do you even play your own game?!” moments to me.

Dungeons Being Pointless

“That’s another one of our regrets.” Ion believes that Mythic dungeons will “salvage” the situation a little bit, before launching back into his whole “doing dungeons for Valor doesn’t make sense” tirade. Which is itself utterly bizarre given the fact that A) new reputation factions do this all the time, and B) Tanaan Jungle will be raining ilevel 650+ gear from the sky. Like literally what the fuck? Unless you are trying to actively “discourage the use” of the LFD tool – which I would not put it past them at this point – I don’t understand why else he or anyone would discourage group content in this way. Even if the dungeons are faceroll, it is at least social facerolling.

Why Are Demo Locks Being Nerfed?

“Because we’d rather you not play demonology.” That is a direct quote – look at Lore’s eyes when Ion says it. Hilarious. Less hilarious is the elaboration, which essentially boils down to Blizzard not liking how the spec plays out mechanically, but don’t want to actually fix it within an expansion, so they’d rather not have people playing the spec in the meantime. Which is… well, one way of doing it, I guess.

Ability Pruning

“We’re not trying to design rotations that feel engaging fighting a target dummy.” Again, direct quote. On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. If you are able to stand still and belt out your rotation with no downtime, chances are that the raid encounter itself is boring, e.g. you are not needing to move out of the fire, click the box, collapse for a meteor effect, etc. On the other hand… what? If your rotation isn’t engaging under perfect circumstances, when is it ever going to be engaging? So for all those hundreds of hours of clunky Retribution gameplay where you are desperately waiting for auto-attack procs to play your class, it was intended? Never going to be fixed?

Flabbergasted is the only way I can describe my reaction.

Absorbs Dominating the Healing Game

It’s better than it was in Mists, but every raid should have a Disc Priest, yes. Sorry.

_______________

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.

Guys, I don’t even know any more. Maybe the developers have always been this way behind the scenes, and we just never saw them like this. Maybe the huge influx of interns have diluted the talent pool. Or perhaps we are just all trapped in an incomprehensible universe, devoid of meaning but otherwise working as intended.

I just… I dunno. I’m just going to play some videogames instead of thinking about this anymore.

All the World a Dungeon

In his collated recap of the recent flying controversy, Wilhelm casually asks a question that completely redefines the debate for me and explains Blizzard’s behavior up to now:

For me, the great unanswered question in all of this remains how much control over their game should a developer be allowed, whether or not the dev’s view of how their game should be played should trump the player’s view, whether MMO studios be dictating a “right way” to play and should players accept that or not?

Mind. Blown. If you aren’t already having the same epiphany as me, buckle up.

See, I realize now that this entire flying debate hasn’t been able flying per se, it has been about the tension between the content creators and the content consumers. The Blizzard team doesn’t just want a curated experience anymore, they want a directed experience. Your questing on Draenor isn’t just grounded, it’s on rails. When was the last time you actually found a shortcut up to that cave in the mountains? For me this expansion, it was never – I was stymied by invisible walls and frictionless slopes at every turn. Clearly, the desire is a linear path between A & B, no deviation or skipping game mechanics allowed.

In fact, Ion Hazzicostas said exactly this when talking about introducing more Flight Paths as a flight consolation prize:

The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point [b] but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point.

Something kept bothering me about this reasoning though. Flying apparently breaks immersion, but Ion doesn’t seem to give two shits about adding more and more Flight Paths to the world to maximize convenience, despite them being the most immersion-breaking thing imaginable. Seriously, who doesn’t Alt-Tab out of the game on a Flight Path? Getting on one might as well be a 1-2 minute loading screen for a dungeon.

Wait a second. Dungeon. Dungeon. Ion Hazzikostas. It all makes sense!

Cue the flashback montage.

Cue the flashback montage.

Ion Hazzikostas is designing the world (of Warcraft) as a series of instanced dungeons. Not literally, of course. But as a lead designer who specifically worked on all the dungeons and raids introduced since Wrath, his reasoning up to this point makes total and complete sense in this context.

Dungeons are extremely directed experiences. You have to kill these mobs in this way in this order to face the boss. Dungeon mobs are dangerous and patrols can wipe the group, unlike any outdoor mob since, say, the Fel Reaver. You cannot mount in most dungeons, and even in the ones you can, there isn’t any flying (Oculus notwithstanding). Hell, even ground mounts can’t save you because dungeon mobs don’t leash.

Dungeons are everything that Ion wants outdoor questing in Draenor to be, because that is all that Ion knows how to design.

So there it is. We don’t have Scenarios in Draenor because quests are our Scenarios. Apexis dailies are our dungeons. And the actual dungeons? Unrewarding afterthoughts thrown in out of habit. Or perhaps more simply, the result of a drained lead designer who had just finished crafting a dungeon the size of the world.

It is hard to even be mad at Ion. Creating instanced, on-rails experiences is his whole job, and one that he is good at. When you hammer stuff all day, it makes perfect sense that every problem starts looking nail-like. The struggle comes from the unanswered questions Wilhelm presented earlier. Should outdoor questing content be treated like instanced, directed content?

I believe the answer is clearly “No.” Instanced content has its place, as do the limitations that make it more challenging. Outdoor content, by it’s very nature, resists and rejects those limitations. Enemy encampments aren’t “more dangerous” when grounded, by any stretch of the imagination. I could run through any one of them a dozen times while mounted and be fine. Preventing an aerial assault just makes the task of killing trivial mobs take a minute or two longer.

It is for these reasons that I believe Ion and whomever else is taking his side on the development team are going about this the wrong way. I enjoy story quests as much as the next guy, but the direction should come from the tasks, not the manner in which I complete them. If you want players sticking around an enemy encampment instead of clicking on a cage and flying away, how about making the quest more involved than clicking on a cage? Or, hell, maybe they could implement a system in which it would matter how I completed it. There is already bonus quest objective tech in place, so add something in there like “completed without flying.” More carrot and less stick.

Especially given how I can already mount and ride past the stick at any time.

A Flight Far Enough

Well then. Turns out we’ll be returning to the skies in 6.2.x after all:

In an upcoming Public Test Realm build, we will be introducing a new meta-achievement called Draenor Pathfinder. You’ll earn this achievement in Patch 6.2 by mastering the outdoor environment of Draenor—exploring Draenor’s zones, collecting 100 treasures in Draenor, completing the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements, and raising the three new Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered. Initially, this achievement will award a rylak mount: the Soaring Skyterror, one of the native beasts that roam Draenor’s skies. Players will remain ground-bound on Draenor until a small follow-up patch (6.2.x), when all players who have earned Draenor Pathfinder on at least one character will unlock the ability to fly in Draenor on all their level 90+ characters.

The general mood surrounding this announcement, at least where I have looked, has been one of almost manic joyousness. And I largely share it. This is Blizzard returning to sanity, smartly pivoting around a smoldering crisis with some clever design. Even though my first thought was “hey, attunements 2.0,” I can’t even be mad. My long-standing opposition to attunements doesn’t apply to this particular implementation of them, even if I do feel like Blizzard just kinda threw every achievement they could think of into the unlock.

But just as you would with someone who has just returned from a psychotic break, I remain leery. Some very serious men¹ made some very serious decisions and those decisions almost stuck. In fact, Lore confirmed via Twitter that the “final decision” on this flying matter was the cause of the BINGO Live Q&A delay:

In fact, the conversation continues with the following revelations:

In other words, all these changes were decided on in just the last week.

Is it comforting knowing that Blizzard can make decisions with this degree of nimbleness? Or is it vexing that it took them until now to solve this “problem?” I don’t think anyone could argue that the proposed implementation to unlock flying is especially onerous². Arbitrary, yes, but so is paying a few thousand gold when you hit the level cap. But why was this design not the one at the start of the expansion? If this is a compromise, what were we compromising out of, and why was that believed to be better than this?

To an extent, I recognize this is me seeing a silver lining and looking for the cloud. The crisis is averted, and Blizzard conjured content out of thin air without even having to change anything else. Hell, it’s even going to drag damn near everyone outside of their Garrisons for the first time since they hit level cap. It is a clever designer Hat Trick in every respect.

Still… goddamn. I would have felt a lot better about the overall design direction for WoW had they came up with this plan before it became necessary.

¹ I was going to say “people,” but as far as I can tell, all the lead designers are dudes.

² One of the 6.2 reputations is a straight-up mob grind, and a second one is basically the same thing except killing rares. This deal is getting worse all the time.

#WarlordsQA

I have low expectations for the upcoming “Live QA” Blizzard is hosting a good two weeks after Flightgate took off walked up to the cave on a hill (?). Maybe not as low as Grumpy Elf, but I share the sentiment that Ion “Watch the world burn” Hazzikostas is likely set to field a lot of softballs this June 6th. While I appreciate Grumpy Elf’s… enthusiasm in the questions to be answered, I wanted to offer a few that have a slightly larger (if still remote) chance of being asked and answered.

…and then the announcement post was released yesterday, which indicates questions need to either be 140-character Tweets or 40-word forum posts. So they “can get to as many questions as possible.” Because quantity of answers is exactly what everyone is looking forward to.

But, whatever. Sisyphus is a personal hero of mine, so let me remove all context and edit all my questions down to the raw nubs. Note: these questions are less than 140 characters even with #WarlordsQA (and a space) included in the Tweet. Feel free to appropriate them yourself.

1) WTF are you smoking?

1) How do you feel that more non-interactive flight paths, during which players Alt-Tab out of the game, increases immersion?

2) How is Draenor more dangerous sans flying, when players are immune to being dazed off their ground mount with garrison stables?

3) Why the push for exploration by level-capped characters when majority of exploration rewards targeted at leveling players?

4) Do you feel your treatment of professions this expansion have met your design goals? And what were those goals, exactly?

5) Ion said “group dungeons are one of the greatest strengths in the MMO genre.” And yet smallest amount of dungeons ever. Why?

6) Why remove Justice/Valor points when you just add back in currency like Apexis Crystals?

7) Why does Season 11 PvP gear still cost Honor? And not just a little Honor, but equal to current gear amounts?

8) Was there ever a thought about designing the Garrison to be Account-wide? If not, why?

9) Will the Water Stider mounts continue to be the de facto mounts everyone should use in this, and all future expansions?

10) Are there any other fun parts of the game we can look forward to you removing on a whim in the future?

…well, I tried.

In case you get a chance to watch the Q&A Live, someone has helpfully printed out some Bingo cards you can use to play along at home. My favorite part is that “Immersion” is the Free Space.

I’m picking Card # 2.

Non-Asian WoW Accounts

File this under “Potentially Interesting Information.” MMO-Champion has a graph up showing the percentage of players (e.g. accounts, not characters) who have defeated various bosses in this raiding tier. This is how the data is described in the post:

The data used today is a sample made up of 2.1 million accounts, with at least one character active after April 1. The sample is slightly biased, as players who are not in a guild are much less likely to appear in our sample.

Someone in the comments made a dumb post that 2.1 million accounts isn’t representative of anything out of 7 million. Chaud popped into the comments to clarify:

You ignored the rest of the sentence and ignored the fact that ~half of the 7 million “subscribers” are in Asia, which we don’t track. We track a total of ~3.3 million US and EU accounts, which is likely the vast majority of them.

And further clarified how these figures are determined:

We only can see what you can see on armory. Achievements, ratings, season games played/won/lost. The other 1/3rd in our DB haven’t logged in since April 1.

It’s not news that about half of WoW’s total subscription numbers are NA/EU accounts, with the rest coming from South East Asia. This sort of information has been known for quite some time, even if we stopped getting regional figures around 2010:

WoW-Subs

I still miss MMOData…

 

What is significantly more interesting is that out of 3.3 million US/EU accounts, only 2.1 million have logged in once since April.

The reason this is merely interesting and not particularly ground-breaking news is due to all the unknowns. Around 1.2 million NA/EU accounts have not been logging in since April… but did they unsubscribe months beforehand, and therefore are already accounted for in the earlier subscriber drop? How many still have active subscriptions going, even if the person isn’t playing? What’s the margin on Chaud’s claim of “the vast majority” of accounts being counted? 95%? 80%? The difference between those two percentages is nearly another million subscriptions.

In any case… kinda interesting, yeah? WoW has always seemed like this unstoppable juggernaut, and still technically is in comparison to its peers. But the reality is that there are only 2.1 million players you could conceivably play with, and even less if you are playing on your own continent. Based on that graph above, the high point for WoW West was ~5 million. Now less than half are still online.

I’m still not convinced that FF14 will overtake WoW just yet overall, but that wall is looking more assailable every day. And who knows, there may already be more NA/EU players.