Category Archives: WoW

Not Garrisons

One of the recurring themes across various forums concerning WoW’s shocking 2.9 million sub loss is “Garrisons did it.”

Garrisons offer too much convenience. So much that Draenor went from populated to empty in a few short months. Nerf garrisons. (+239)

On the surface level, it’s easy to agree. Everything in this expansion pivots around the Garrison, from the 2nd Hearthstone to its more centralized location, to the mission system, and beyond. And as many people have pointed out, Blizzard went from being worried about player housing siphoning people from the capital cities and sequestering them into instances to… encouraging players to stay in their instanced Garrisons. Why leave? There are no daily quest hubs or relevant reputation factions to farm, and grounded travel limits your vision to the immediate horizon.

But then Grumpy Elf made me realize what was actually missing:

5) Valor / Justice:

This is the biggest, single most missed thing in the game right now.  So much is connected to it that I imagine that you do not even realize it.  Valor was a carrot, one we kept chasing each and every week.  It was a motivator, something this game is lacking at the moment.

For any game of this type the key to success is to keep up running the wheel and points did that.  Be it valor to get the weekly cap or justice when you wanted to convert it to honor or buy heirlooms.  Collecting points was a good motivator.  It gave content repeatability.  At the moment you can hit 100 and really have absolutely no reason to do dungeons except to start the ring quest line but with valor, and associated valor gear, for a fresh dinged character it would once again be worth doing them, ring or not.

What’s the first thing you think about, in terms of casual content in MMOs? Raids? World PvP?

Or, you know, dungeons?

Grumpy Elf is absolutely correct here in pointing out that dungeons in this expansion are a joke. Why would you ever run them? You can bypass the gear check for LFR with crafted gear and questing, the former of which you can craft with… wait for it… Garrisons. And that’s what is going on: Garrisons replaced Dungeons. Where do you get raid-level gear this expansion, without having to raid? From your Garrison. Where did you get raid-level gear without raiding in every other expansion thus far? Dungeons. QED.

I can even see where Blizzard might have thought they were doing casuals a favor. Casual players are most likely DPS who were stuck with 40+ minute queues to do the one activity that allowed them character progression at the level cap. LFR certainly gave them a bigger target to aim for, but that’s only once a week. Dungeons were every day. The current system is also really good for alts, as who has time for multiple 40+ minute queues, right?

Well… it was a bridge too far.

The other possibility, which is really more alarming, is simply the lack of content, period:

  • No new races
  • No new classes
  • No new battlegrounds
  • No new capital cities
  • No new profession
  • Remaining professions gutted
  • Farahlon cut
  • Tannan pushed back to 6.2
  • BRF pushed back from launch
  • Ashran is a complete failure
  • No daily hubs
  • No reputation factions to work for rewards
  • Only five new leveling zones (Shadowmoon and Frostfire are basically faction specific)

The original post is too large to quote in its entirety here, but “TiredOfYourShit21″ makes an unassailable argument that WoD quite literally has less content than any other expansion ever released. And this time Blizzard doesn’t even have the moral excuse of Cataclysm, where people kinda forgot about the all the new 1-60 content when doing their calculations. For Warlords, expansion price went up, content went down. Maybe, maybe you can argue that the new character models represented a lot of “effort capital” that would have otherwise gone into the game elsewhere. But the truth is more likely that all that effort went into the Garrison instead of dungeons or anything else.

I dunno. I’m still playing for now, but it’s definitely more in the sense of completing a Bucket List than anything else.

WoW Down 2.9 Million Subs

In news both kinda expected and yet still rather shocking, WoW is down 2.9 million subscriptions from last quarter.

Whiplash.

Whiplash.

At a certain point, the sheer magnitude of the change makes commentary moot. You don’t lose nearly three million people because of Garrisons. Or screwing up professions. Or having easy-mode raids. Or hard raids. Or whatever. And as I mentioned when we first heard about the 10 million sub surprise, the numbers are too big to ascribe to the expected MMO Tourism/Locust Effect either. I mean, yeah, the numbers jumped to 10 million and then back down, so people went somewhere. But unless we’re willing to state three times as many wished to tour Draenor than Pandaria, it had to be a confluence of all sorts of things.

Whatever those things are, it’s clear that it isn’t enough to last a full quarter.

There is no transcript of the call as I write this, but I went ahead and listened to the whole 42 minutes of PR bullshit anyway. No real juicy tidbits were found… unless you consider Guitar Hero on your phone to be juicy. The whole WoW Token thing was mentioned only in passing, which makes sense considering any of its effects won’t appear until Q2. Oh, and I suppose there was this bit about Hearthstone (PDF):

Two franchises that go together like peas and carrots.

Two franchises that go together like peas and carrots.

Still doesn’t clear anything up in terms of the money part of Hearthstone’s success, but I suppose another data point is another data point.

Reckless Iteration

I was reading the 6.2 PTR patch notes for WoW the other day, and I was thinking to myself “hey, these are really good changes.” Like, really good. But after thinking about them for a little bit, I realized that they were so good because the mechanics they were changing were so bad. Like, really bad. Here are two of the items I’m talking about:

  • Players can no longer queue for Ashran while in a raid and are now automatically placed into a raid after entering.
  • Crafting the new upgrade items requires Felblight, a new reagent that can be obtained from Fishing, Herbalism, Mining, or Skinning in Tanaan Jungle.

I zoned into Ashran one day last week, and the experience was almost awful enough for me to stop playing altogether. Honestly, Ashran is just another failed iteration in pseudo-world PvP in a long list of them, but somehow the Blizzard devs made it worse.

Look at that first patch note. What happens right now when you zone into Ashran is: nothing. You grab some of the quests and then you storm out. But because you aren’t in a raid with everyone else, that means you get no buffs, no shared kill credit, no passive gains at all. While the LFG function can be used to find groups within Ashran, the only ones available when I zoned in were either farming specific races (for achievements, etc), or had some gear requirement, or were full. Which is fine on its own, go form your specialized groups, but we’ve had auto-raids for Wintergrasp and Tol Barad and it boggles my mind that this is just now being implemented.

On the other hand, I am not entirely sure how much this would actually help entice me back to Ashran. The “combat” is a one frame-per-second shitshow of lag and AoE spam where everyone charges up the middle lane. I guess there are events off the main lane sometimes? All I know is that if you aren’t a ranged class or a DK with Deathgrip, you are a waste of space and will die instantly the moment more than one person can tab-target you out of the crowd. Retribution paladin? GTFO. Compare that to Wintergrasp or Tol Barad, where even the worst-geared, worst-class player could make a difference in the battle’s outcome.

The second patch item listed above is what really drove things home though. For those that might not know, the hitherto endgame upgrade material was Savage Blood. For the crafted items in Warlords, there are four levels of upgrades, which can bring a level 91 2H Axe from already-beyond-heroic-dungeons power to current-raid power. The only realistic way to get Savage Blood? A level 3 Barn in your Garrison. It didn’t really matter what your professions were or where you farmed or anything at all to do with anything: you needed a Barn.

Which is precisely why the change highlights the absurdity of the current system. Blizzard all but killed every gathering profession this entire expansion. Every character has access to a Mine and Herb garden no matter what their professions were, and generally these resources were enough to fuel your required daily cooldowns. Which were largely the only reason you actually needed things like ore and such, since every profession was gated behind daily cooldown items. If I were to be optimal about things, I would have dropped at least one profession from every Warlords-level toon and made them Enchanters, strictly to sell their daily material (one of the few non-BoP versions).

Iteration is one of the cornerstones of game design, I know. But I can’t help but feel like Blizzard sometimes gets away with outrageous bullshit that would bankrupt any other MMO. Completely removing profession bonuses, followed up by rendering most professions functionally useless, on top of limiting how many pieces of crafted gear can be equipped? Then, a year later, saying “lol jk, I hope you didn’t drop Mining/Herbalism on every toon”? Just imagine something like that happening in Guild Wars 2 or WildStar or whatever.

I’m glad they are fixing terrible, broken game design. But who approved this shit in the first place? You already knew what worked three expansions ago!

Having read all these changes in the pipeline, I’m in a weird place now. Not just with the above, but there are also notes in there about how the mat cost of the crafted gear is being lowered, and the mat generation being increased. I have a bunch of alts that would be more than happy getting ilevel 640 gear the moment they ding 91. So… what? Do I go ahead and craft these items for them with the mats I have now, or wait until 6.2? Obviously if I’m going to keep playing WoW between now and then, it makes sense to craft them. On the other hand, I don’t have to keep playing. It’s not like I don’t got other shit to do. I feel like I’m in that Enthusiasm Tax trap of being better off if I enjoyed playing a game less.

Then again, that’s pretty much always been the case with WoW. And yet, here we are. Again.

How the fuck do they do it?

What WoW Economy?

It has been about 20 days since I’ve been mainlining WoW again, and I have yet to get a handle on economy. Not that I anticipated being some AH genius within a week or two, but I don’t even seen the contours of this beast. And I am beginning to doubt they exist.

Way back in the glory days of Wrath, there was the Saronite Shuffle. This was when you could take a stack of Saronite Ore and – through brilliant AH scheming and a stable full of max-profession alts – turn those 20 pieces of ore into damn near anything. The Shuffle was a cornerstone of my gold gains through Wrath, Cataclysm, and even when I came back to Mists.

In looking back at posts like this, I damn near had to wipe a tear for the nostalgia:

Right now, for example, I buy Ghost Iron Ore at 4g apiece (and below). This ore ends up being:

  • Smelted into Ghost Iron Bars –> Transmuted into Trillium Bars –> Transmuted into Living Steel
  • Prospected –> Rare gems cut for >60g minimum
  • Prospected –> Uncommon gems turned into necks/rings –> Rare necks/rings procs sold for 300g, uncommon necks/rings Disenchanted for Dust
  • Disenchanted Dust –> Enchanting scrolls and/or sold for mats

Near as I can tell, the Shuffle is dead in Warlords. At least, if it once existed, prices have warped so much since then as to make it unprofitable.

What’s worse, Blizzard made a number of changes in Warlords that, in retrospect, were probably rooted in heading off PR problems with the eventual WoW Token rollout. For example, players are limited to wearing three (3) crafted pieces of Warlords gear. You know, despite there being enough patterns to completely outfit someone. Why do that? So that someone couldn’t drop $400 in WoW Tokens and be decked out in ilevel 675+ gear at level 91. Unfortunately, that makes the likelihood of someone buying your crafted bracers or whatever pretty remote, unless said person already has better gear in other slots. The sanest path would be to upgrade the most impactful slots such as weapons and the like.

Compounding this issue is the way Blizzard is handling professions in general this expansion. Profession bonuses are gone, which is… understandable in a way. When raiders are willing to spend hours farming mats for a +20 stat boost, having professions grant many orders of magnitude better buffs forced people to make unfortunate decisions in which professions to pick. This also meant opening up profession-specific toys to the general public as well, a direct nerf to Engineering. Then the Stat Squish (and a desire to have raid drops be useful immediately) turned gem slots into extra-rare occurrences, a direct nerf to Jewelcrafting. I don’t even want to get into the problem with opening profession buildings up in Garrisons did to everything else.

The bottom line is I have no idea what’s going on in the WoW economy anymore. I was looking to see if there was a point in doing my Alchemy daily cooldown on Azuriel, and saw this today:

Does not compute.

Does not compute.

Let me save you the math: the higher-level Strength flask sells not only less than the mats (18g vs 33g), it’s selling for less than the lower-level flask. I had already long-since dropped my Alchemy Shack for a Salvage Yard, but this is making me want to drop Alchemy altogether. Remember those Alchemy bonuses that have been in-game since Burning Crusade? Don’t work for Draenor goods. This is just a class-A market failure. Why is the Alchemy cooldown item tradable whereas nearly all the others are BoP? Because fuck you, that’s why.

Near as I can tell, we are living in the age of The Drop Economy. In other words, you don’t make gold from crafting or shuffling, you make gold from farming drops and selling that to people who don’t want to farm. I have little doubt there are some arbitrage opportunities – the Garrison AH robot parts seem to be going for insane prices considering you can just AH on an alt – but most gold seems generated from one’s Garrison. Which… isn’t unworkable, it’s just unfathomably less interesting to me.

The Shuffle was engaging. It rewarded outside game research, learning in-game mechanics, leveling multiple profession toons, and kept the gears of the economy moving. What we have now? Farming raids and vendoring all the things? I would almost rather farm ore. If, you know, there was actually any gold in doing that. And to an extent, the problem no longer exists under the WoW Token paradigm. Spending $20 on 23,000g is a bad deal IMO. At the same time, I’d prefer not spending hours soloing old raids each week.

I have made around 15,000g so far this expansion. Want to know how? Selling Living Steel and Arcanite Bars. I shit you not. And I will continue doing so until I run out of old-world supplies, grow bored with the current AH nonsense, and “unsubscribe.” I love what Blizzard has done with the Garrison generally, but everything outside of it? I’m missing goddamn Cataclysm over here.

If I have missed anything big out of the above picture, let me know. Otherwise this is just depressing.

Time Management

So… I may have more or less played WoW constantly this past weekend week.

While I’m sure that I will, like everyone else, grow bored with the feature eventually, I want it on the record (a year late) that what Blizzard did with the Garrison is just shy of amazing. For players like me, anyway.

See, I had every intention of abandoning my Paladin and making my (sigh) level 89 Rogue my new main. Before doing so though, I wanted to get my Garrison decently situated with a few level 2 buildings and Followers manning the profession stations. Which means I needed to do a few Outpost quest chains. And hey, may as well do the other Outpost quest chains so that I can save 750g-1000g on the blueprints. Oh look, I can get some more Followers pretty easily by just going here and doing one or two more quests.

Azuriel is now 25% into level 99.

Granted, all my characters are now in full heirloom gear that scales to level 100, minus the weapon because fuck that 5000g price tag. I even have the Dread Pirate Ring from back in the day, so the full percentage is +50% XP. In fact, I pretty much out-level a zone the minute I finish the Outpost quests. I could probably be a bit more concerned about that than I am, considering that as a non-raider, non-dungeon runner, questing is likely to be the only real content for me (outside BGs). But in a sense, Dragon Age: Inquisition broke the final thread tying filler quests with zero plot development and whatever fucks I had left to give. It’s not that I find killing X mobs tedious, I find killing X mobs for no reason tedious. I need some kind of narrative here.

Killing X mobs for a Follower, on the other hand…

My current plan of action is to go ahead and hit 100 on Azuriel, then get level 2 plans for my DK and Warrior (both of whom are 92) so that I get Inscription, Blacksmithing, and Enchanting professions going. As for my new Rogue “main” I’ll get around to her eventually. And by “eventually,” I mean those 5-10 minutes in-between Follower missions being completed across 3+ characters.

The irony is not lost on me that nearly four years ago I quit WoW the first time because of games like Tiny Tower, and now I’m back because it more closely resembles all those time management games. Time truly is a flat circle.

That Old Pair of Shoes

Well, I bought Warlords of Draenor this weekend. And, as previously reported, I have 9 now 8 WoW Tokens. So I must conclude that I am playing WoW again.

Surprised there hasn't been a poop quest yet.

Surprised there hasn’t been a poop quest yet.

I was about to use “that old pair of jeans” phrase in the title, but the thing about old jeans is that they’re comfortable. WoW, right now, feels like an old pair of shoes instead: soles are a bit thin, rubber peeling off the sides, and they’re inexplicably damp. They still work, and are a better choice when it comes to doing chores like mowing your lawn, but they make everything feel ever so slightly off.

My namesake paladin just hit level 93 yesterday and I have little desire to play Azuriel again. The Retribution rotation doesn’t seem meaningfully different from what I remember, but the great ability pruning of 6.0 means that you have to especially enjoy your particular class because what you have is all you get. And what Retribution gets is Avenging Wrath and… a bunch of defensive cooldowns. Every time I was stymied by an entirely superfluous mountain and/or gentle slope in the no-fly zone that is Draenor, all I could think about was how my rogue could have Shadowstepped their way past the obstacle. Or warrior charged. Or DK Deathgrip the mob down the hill. Or anything.

All of which is fine, right? Just switch mains. Except my rogue is level 86. Which isn’t much of a problem with heirlooms – and what a wonderful goldsink that is, what with the upgrading them to scale to level 100 – but it’s still a speedbump. And there is just something ever-so-slightly distasteful about the fact that I need to switch mains at all. This is the “damp” part of the shoe metaphor.

Alright, Blizzard, take your point and enjoy it.

Alright, Blizzard, take your point and enjoy it.

In terms of good things, there are a few. The Garrison has more or less supplanted my irrational desire to log into Clash of Clans every hour, in the time-management department. I just finished the Prophet Velen questline and felt immersed in the battle in a way I haven’t since… Wrathgate? Not as good as Wrathgate, but in the same parking lot of the ballpark. The music this expansion is extremely good too.

Before I pulled the trigger on the WoD purchase though, I was about this close to purchasing FF14 instead. In all likelihood I still will at some point, during the next $10 sale on the original box. If you are going to jump back into the MMO pool and relearn to swim, it may as well be a new pool, right? I only stuck with WoW because of the WoW Token shenanigans, which required me to use the 10-day free trial, which got me into Draenor and annoyed that I was capped at 1 XP less than level 92, and hey the 25% off sale was expiring that weekend, and… yeah.

Sometimes you just go without whatever is currently in your closet.

As the WoW Token Turns

You probably heard about the WoW Token already, and might even be aware it was finally implemented yesterday. What you might not know is that it does strange things to people.

Strange, terrible things.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

What I knew going into this is that I wanted to jump on the opportunity the WoW Token represents, which is: a gold sink for the AH goblin that has (had) everything. Shit man, back in the day I was experimenting with selling stuff like Vial of the Sands, which was a crafted mount that required an extraordinary sunk gold cost right at the start. If it was not profitable, I would move on with the next bit of expensive AH R&D. It wasn’t millions of gold (Glyph spamming the AH was boring), but I was making gold just to make gold, you know? I couldn’t really bring myself to actually spend it on anything as I knew most things would be irrelevant by the next patch anyway; I wasn’t raiding, so who cares?

Queue my slight anxiety at the following error message:

Been down this road before.

Been down this road before.

Was I hacked? Had my sizable stockpile been removed? I mean, I can clearly see my fully-dressed namesake there in the background, so I wasn’t stripped bare. Plus, the Authenticator was still humming along, not to mention my frequent bouts in Hearthstone, which I assume might have been in jeopardy had my characters in WoW been banned. Then again, maybe not. Whatever the case, I wasn’t able to purchase WoW Tokens from the character select screen.

And the story might have begun and ended there. Purchasing game time so I could log in and purchase more game time kinda defeats the purpose of WoW Tokens, yeah? If you’ll notice in the first screenshot though, I was still able to redeem my free 10-day trial of Warlords and take full stock of the situation.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Observations:

  1. Damn, the default interface is still really terrible.
  2. I’m glad I set up the Curse Client all those years ago to manage my addons.
  3. Oh hey, the Curse Client updates addons but doesn’t save any of the settings.
  4. Recreating an interface I actually want to use is going to be an all-night project.
  5. I’d rather be playing Dead Island: Riptide.
  6. Oh, right, WoW Tokens.

I ended up purchasing four WoW Tokens at around 31,000g apiece. Before I logged off, I poked around the AH some to see the general prices of things. Even though I’ve only been back for a hot minute, my mind already sees the dollar signs creeping in:

It has begun.

I can’t turn that part of my brain off.

It’s just a matter of time until someone writes a tiny add-on that projects these prices in-game.

But will it actually matter in the scheme of things? It’s hard to tell. I ended up buying nine (9!) WoW Tokens before calling it a night. The limit is supposedly ten tokens per month, and I might end up shuffling gold around to do just that. You know, to say that I did.

But then it hit me: I now have nine months of WoW subscription. Assuming I play the game at all, that means pretty much any gold I generate between now and the next expansion will be pure bonus. So while I can still see those dollar signs in a general sense, what they represent (i.e. additional game time) is not nearly as valuable as before I had nine tokens.

By the way, between the time I originally bought four tokens and the last five, the price had dropped to 26,000g.

Now the fun (?) begins.

Now the fun (?) begins.

It shall be an interesting dynamic, yeah? On the one hand, I find it hard to believe that enough people have spent $20 on tokens to sell in the ~2 hours between the first batch I purchased and the second. On the other hand, Blizzard has so warped the playerbase over the years that $60 boosts and $25 character transfers have long ceased raising eyebrows. I personally know a few people who have transferred characters a half-dozen times (or more) following a migrating guild or chasing progression. In that sense, what’s another $20 here and there for gold?

The alternative theory is a bit more grim. Perhaps instead of there being too many extra sellers, maybe there aren’t enough buyers? If there is indeed an account-level limit of 10 tokens, there can’t be a mass-dumping of gold into the economy as even AH barons cap themselves out. We also know that the vast majority of MMO players are poor. So the actual market for these tokens will just be a narrow wedge of players who can make gold easily and don’t care about raiding, else they would be chasing the BoE epics that give them 5% better stats. And as I mentioned before, even these players will likely tap themselves out before too long – once you go past 3-4 months of paid time, what’s a fifth month really worth?

It will be an interesting year for WoW, that’s for sure. And if for some reason it isn’t… well, I’ll just let the account lapse and then revive it once it gets interesting again. For free. Forever.

WoW PLEX, pt 2

In the comments on the last post, Kring took me to task a bit for not delving deeper into the sort of game design considerations regarding WoW’s impending (?) PLEX introduction. Part of the reason I didn’t was because how it impacts me in pretty fundamental: it introduces dollar signs into my gameplay. Whether the concept or implementation of PLEX itself fits WoW is immaterial to me – it could be the best thing ever done in the history of the game… and I’m still going to be calculating my repair costs and AH cuts in USD.

That’s my own neurosis though, so perhaps it’d be interesting to look at the broader picture.

Who is WoW PLEX for?

Kring suggests the following:

Blizzard has problems to gain new players. I’m sure that if you can tell LoL players that “good player can play WoW for free” that has some appeal. And I think that’s their primary goal. To spread the news that “WoW is F2P for good player”. Which means PLEX must stay in a reasonable range, they don’t want “good player” to complain that it is “too expensive”.

Here we have the first question. Who is the player base which Blizzard thinks will constantly buy PLEX for Euro to sell it for gold?

The real answer to this question is pretty simple: WoW PLEX is for the tens of thousands of players currently purchasing from illicit gold sellers every month. And that is probably the extent to which Blizzard has thought about PLEX being utilized. We saw this exact same line of reasoning single-handedly birth the abomination that is was the Diablo 3 AH, and I have little reason to believe there is some deeper design significance going on. WoW PLEX is solely to combat illicit RMT.

While there may be X number of AH barons who will be able to PLEX their accounts year-round, I do not suspect it will be the norm for them, let alone the average person.

Are there enough gold sinks in WoW?

Second, I have my doubts that WoW at the moment has big enough gold sinks to keep enough player interested to buy PLEX with Euro and sell it for gold. PLEX will be consumed on a monthly basis, which means they must also be supplied on a monthly basis.

I think WoW must be changed to add gold sinks. New huge gold sinks. And they must hurt the players which Blizzard intends to sell PLEX for Euro in the future.

Four words: Black Market Auction House:

The Mariana Trench of Gold Sinks.

The Mariana Trench of Gold Sinks.

I could also include the more traditional “100k gold vendor mount” but that seems like small potatoes compared to the above screenshot of 840k (and counting) for the Flametalon mount. The genius of the BMAH – besides being able to have auctions get into the million-gold range – is that it targets everyone: the people chasing rare pets/mounts, the collector looking for one-of-a-kind or extremely limited items like the Arcanite Ripper, and then even the hardcore raiders with Mythic loot drops. Indeed, I don’t see much stopping even ultra-casual players from grabbing uber-high gear to help out in dungeons or to make rep grind dailies easier. Well, nothing stopping them other than needing tens of thousands of gold… which, hey, what a coincidence!

Now that I think about it, the true genius of the BMAH may well be that it was introduced first. Can you imagine the backlash if Blizzard dropped in WoW PLEX and then opened up the BMAH a week later? I don’t really believe Blizzard is that nefarious, primarily because that would require the ability to actually think ahead and plan accordingly. Which is demonstrably missing, as evidenced by their inability to release expansions on time.

Will WoW’s game design change because of PLEX?

Yes, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Blizzard will shift resources to mainly create content for the player base that buys PLEX with Euro. This will be their primary target and this will be the group that will get the most updates. Take a look at GW2. They setteled on a biweekly rythm of adding new items to the cash shop and delivering small parts of their living story. Blizzard will have to add a new gold sink on at least a monthly basis and deliver something for the PLEX with Euro buying player.

What does that mean for the other player? Will we get even less “free” content? (free = not shielded with an insane gold wall).

I do not believe that Blizzard will move towards anything resembling biweekly game additions, basically because I don’t believe Blizzard is capable of creating content with such speed. That’s certainly a snarky response, but it is somewhat rooted in the dev team’s rather consistent push-back against obviously-goofy things in the game. For example, the rather strict Transmog rules which prevent you from wielding giant fish. There have certainly been plenty of silly toys and such over the years, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the sort of GW2-esque Quaggan backpacks. When you cut out those category of items, you are left with a much harder problem in spending artist time designing in-universe gear.

The real impact might well be to go the other direction: being more cautious around implementing gold sinks. I’m not quite sure what the total gold cost of the Garrison ended up being, but imagine something like Epic Flying at 5000g when PLEX is sitting at 15,000g apiece. Honestly, PLEX will probably be closer to 150,000g than anything, but Blizzard will nevertheless need to be careful to not appear to be jacking prices up for PLEX sales. Some percentage of players might sell PLEX to keep up, but there is another (likely larger) percentage that would balk at paying a double-subscription fee and just get squeezed out of the game entirely.

Is this baby steps towards F2P?

Technically it could be, but I feel like people lose the proper sense of scale when it comes to WoW.

F2P really only makes sense for a game if F2P revenue > Subscription revenue, right? One of the fundamental ways of measuring F2P revenue is ARPU, which is Average Revenue Per User. As of April, SuperDataResearch lists World of Tanks as the highest ARPU amongst several high-profile F2P titles, such as League of Legends and TF2. That amount? $4.51 ARPU. Now, LoL is sitting at $1.32 ARPU in comparison, but it of course has tens of millions of more players and thus generates much higher overall revenue than World of Tanks.

The ARPU for (Western) WoW players is at least $14.99, if you have forgotten.

Would WoW attract and ensnare at least 30+ million F2P players such that F2P would make economic sense? Could WoW attract that many? It’s very doubtful in my mind, and a rather absurd risk when you are already taking in a billion dollars a year doing exactly what you are currently doing. Blizzard won’t even enable flying in Silvermoon and you think they’ll restructure the entire payment scheme for the game? I can perhaps see them doing so sometime in the distant future, but that is the same future in which WoW drops below 5 million subscriptions. Which is still twice as many as anyone else has ever had.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I think WoW PLEX is a bold move on Blizzard’s part entirely meant to combat gold selling. I do not believe they are making an overt move towards F2P, I do not believe this change heralds the introduction of more gold sinks, and I do not believe many people are asking the right questions. Namely: how are you going to feel about dailies (etc) once this gets introduced? I already know it’s going to suck for me, because it sucked in Diablo 3 and Wildstar vis-a-vis hoarding currency for no particularly rational reason.

The idea is sound, and will likely work out for a lot of people. Just not me.

WoW PLEX

One of the more interesting blue posts to come out of a WoW lately has been Blizzard’s flirting with a PLEX-like subscription option:

New Ways to Play
We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature.

Reaction seems to run the gambit from “OMG P2W!!1″ to “that’s not going to work.” Wilhelm has an exceptional review on the overall topic on TAGN. As someone who rather enjoys the economic side of MMOs, you might assume that I would be excited about this news myself. And you would be correct, in a sense. You would also be correct in saying that this both increases the chances I play WoW again and the chances that I do not.

To be clear, I think the argument that adding PLEX to WoW is somehow turning it into Pay-2-Win is ridiculous. People have been able to sell the TCG loot cards for ages, and I would argue that the ability to have multiple accounts (let alone the more recent instant-90 purchases) would qualify as P2W under similar definitions. This thesis is also being forwarded by Gevlon, whom believes EVE isn’t P2W, despite the advantages being demonstratively better in that game.

Because even if you bought full, top-tier raiding suit of gear in WoW, what then? What have you won? The personal advantage is immaterial unless you are also grouped with the best players anyway. And even then, the advantage is one that is easily met by anyone who has played WoW in the last ten years (i.e. anyone with alts). Or anyone who has taken advantage of Recruit-A-Friend. Or anyone who has a friend chain-run dungeons with them. Or, let’s be serious, anyone who has a friend, period.

Bhagpuss and Others may bandy about the whole “you’re getting paid less than minimum wage if you farm for gold” canard, but that’s completely irrelevant IMO. One derives a “virtual wage” from any form of entertainment, which is the reason you’re playing videogames and not working 18 hours every day. Indeed, every single day that you forgo the possibility of overtime work is a day in which that one or more hour of free-time gained is worth 1.5x your rate of pay. And if you think $0.18/hour or whatever is bad, think about the $0.00 you get from a single-player game!

No, the way that PLEX-like systems kill my enjoyment of a given game is by the transitive property of in-game currency. You are no longer spending 100,000g on that fun mammoth mount with the repair vendor, you are spending $45 or however many PLEXes you could have purchased with that 100k. I had this same issue in Wildstar, as you might recall:

Or, hey, maybe you just want to dye your clothes. Hopefully you enjoy pastel colors, because otherwise you are looking at 9.26 platinum (926g) to dye your clothes red, and a similar amount with the ever-suspiciously-rare black dye. That is quite literally $80. For one channel, out of three.

Or maybe you just want to unlock the AMP that is responsible for 20% of your class’s theoretical DPS. Sorry, it’s an ultra-rare world drop. Current price? 12p on the AH. Or $100.

Isn’t it wonderful what RMT does to one’s perspective?

And further back in Diablo 3:

…but today all of this has changed for me [when gold was directly purchasable on D3 AH].

That 722,500g is no longer a means of purchasing a better weapon with more Life on Hit for progression… it’s $2.24. Nor is the 900+ DPS 1H weapon I snagged for a 1.5 million gold bid (a true steal) actually 1.5 million gold – it’s a somewhat ludicrous $4.65 cash shop transaction. That I did not whip out my credit card is irrelevant; like most AH goblins, I have preached the opportunity cost hymn too much to ever look at such things differently. Given that I could use the weapon to help clear Act 3 and then resell it for 3 million, perhaps it is more like a loan. Or a Vegas gamble at the nickle slots.

Once I see the dollar sign in my gameplay, I cannot unsee it. The AH is no longer the fun little diversion that keeps me engaged for months, and instead becomes a subscription energy meter. Repair costs go from a figurative to a literal nickel-and-diming penalty. I start second-guessing my in-game purchases just as I second-guess my everyday IRL purchases. “Do I really need that BiS trinket, considering it costs $9.37?” The answer is always No.

So while it’s nice to see that my gold-hoarding tendencies might have a more useful function in the future, it comes at a… er, heavy cost.

WoW Back to 10 Million Subs

Christmas came a little early at Irvine, as reported by MMO-Champ:

This afternoon Blizzard released the subscribers count as of November 13, 2014. This is up 2.6 million from the Q3 2014 call that listed WoW at 7.4 million subscribers.

Warlords of Draenor has sold over 3.3 million copies so far, up from 1.5 million pre-ordered in August.

There is an interactive graph on MMO-Champ, but for posterity’s sake here it is again:

That Bell Curve is looking more like an Arby's logo.

That Bell Curve might end up an Arby’s logo.

There is already a lot of prognostication and pontification out there as to what this means for WoW, what Blizzard is doing correct with Warlords (that presumably it did incorrect with Pandaria/Cataclysm), and so on. The only thing I know for sure is that everyone commenting is just firing blindly into the dark – not even Blizzard expected this level of engagement, as the server issues attest.

That being said, I just want to point out a few things that might get lost in the weeks and months ahead.

1) This is the largest expansion jump in the game.

Just look at that graph: 2.6 million people coming back is unprecedented. The next closest was the 900k bump coming into Pandaria. Prior to that, the norm was 500k. Of course, the total population had been the lowest it had ever been since vanilla WoW, but still, this clot of players would be enough to make any other MMO the #2 in the industry.

2) The Warlords endgame doesn’t even exist yet.

The first Warlords raid doesn’t unlock until December 2nd, two weeks from now. I’m pointing this out because all the people talking about a return to “old-school WoW” can only really be talking about story-wise or quest-wise. Or I suppose dungeon-wise, but I strongly doubt that.

3) WoW went 13 months with zero new content.

Siege of Orgrimmar was released September 10th, 2013. The pre-expansion patch 6.0.2 was released October 14th, 2014. You can view historical information in this Reddit thread, but the bottom line is that the next closest content drought was ~9 months at the end of Cataclysm. Technically there was a year inbetween Icecrown and Cataclysm’s release, but an extra raid was released in the middle of that. For similar reasons, I don’t count the gap between Black Temple and Sunwell back in TBC given the release of ZA (etc).

Guys, do you understand how impossibly stupid this is? Any other MMO that up and went dark for an entire year would be declared abandonware. Instead, WoW went from 7.6 million subs in Sept 2013 to 6.8 million at the lowest, then back to 7.4 million in anticipation of patch 6.0.2. And, as you know, it’s sitting at 10 million right now.

There is no clearer evidence demonstrating that WoW is more platform than game than this. Blizzard got a whole year of subscription payments and gave back nothing until now. It boggles the mind.

4) The 10 million figure doesn’t include China.

From the official press release:

The expansion launched today (November 20 local time) in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. […]

*More than 10 million subscribers as of November 13, 2014.

Given how “subscriptions” work over there, I suppose it’s possible for some “preorder” shenanigans or whatever to have influenced the final count (e.g. they’re already being counted). No doubt that Blizzard will be ready to fire off another press release about 11 million subs if the China/SK bump ends up being significant. I’m just saying it could be significant.


 

As for why Warlords is bringing everyone back, your guess is as good as mine.

You can’t really ascribe it entirely to the MMO Tourist/Locust phenomenon, simply because there’s too many people. There were 10 million subs at the start of Pandaria, so perhaps this can be expected to be the normal plateau, with ~2.5 million people cycling in and out as new expansions are released. Maybe Warlords has simply came out at an auspicious time, just as the darling MMOs from the last year begin their slow descent into obscurity. Or was it the revamped character models? Or the instant level 90, rescuing lapsed veterans from the horror of Cataclsym leveling? Or perhaps even the server merges connected realms change revitalized the community?

The safe (and lame) answer is most likely “some combination of all the above.”

I myself plan on coming back for the token month or so, starting whenever Blizzard decides to discount the expansion. And why would I do this? Well… the core game never stopped being fun for me – I simply ran out of things I wanted to do. As mentioned before, I have little interest in dedicating more mindspace learning to dance in raids, so there is ever a natural expiration date to my return. But compared to the token efforts I make trying out these other F2P (or soon to be) MMOs? I do miss that sweet, sweet feeling of character progression in a game that feels big enough to matter. And for me, that has always been WoW. And likely only ever will be.

Of course, I am kinda nervous about the culture shock of going back to tab-targeting and lack of Shift-running and/or double-jumping.