Category Archives: WoW

The WoW 5.4 Roundtable Summary

(Edit: MMO-Champ basically just posted the same goddamn thing. For the record, I wrote the below first, but since I schedule posts to go live at 7am the next day… FML. I want those 28 minutes back.)

So there was a 5.4 Developer Roundtable released on Monday that I am going to sum up for you because, really, nobody should have to sit through those same 28 awkward minutes that I already threw in a hole. I mean, technically, it’s even longer than 28 minutes because I actually paused and rewound the video to take some notes inbetween the cringes. Whenever Ion Hazzikostas talks, I get flashbacks of that one guy in raids – you know the one – where when he speaks, you just want to punch him in the throat and/or yourself in the ears. “Just… fucking say it and stop filling up space with your rhetorical flourishes, Christ!” And he’s a raid leader. Those poor bastards.

Pay it forward, people, pay it forward.

0:00 – 12:25: Time in a hole.

12:26: Lead Encounter designs states that Wrath of the Lich King “arguably” had the best raiding environment at any point in the game. I concur.

15:27: Flex raiding has exceeded Blizzard’s expectations. Out of the Flex raids, over 50% changed in raid size within the duration of the raid itself, e.g. people actually took advantage of the ability to gain/drop people on the fly. More interestingly, the devs stated that in the last week, more people did Flex raiding in NA/EU than did Scenarios. So either Scenarios aren’t as popular as I thought, or Flex raiding is bringing in a lot of new raiding blood.

16:28: “Will there be more zones like the Timeless Isle in the next expansion?” Yes. Timeless Isle will serve as a general template for endgame open-world zones from now on, although there might be a little more structure with goals that evolve over the course of weeks. “We are moving away from the dailies that we done in the past.” Also, more discoverable stuff as people level up.

17:40: “Can we expect any real solutions to (bag/bank) storage problems?” Inventory management is gameplay. But… possibly a toy closet. Also, heirlooms will be like pets/mounts somehow.

19:50: “Do you think you can do better to prevent stacking ranged damage in raiding?” Yes… but not really. The problem is fundamental design: all the fun raid mechanics like movement and target switching are naturally easier done at range. We are looking at ways to make melee more valuable and more fun to play.

21:16: “When will gnomes appear in cinematics?” Funny story: gnomes were not in the original WoW cinematic because they were not even in the game until the cinematic already had a storyboard and was in full production mode. Beyond that, there simply hasn’t been a particularly good time to show them off; all the subsequent cinematics have been to develop bosses of the expansion.

22:20: “5.4.1?” Yes. Major feature of the patch is a rework of the Recruit-A-Friend system. Supposedly more of it will be done in-game instead of game/email/web interface switching. Also, the reward will be a token you can use to choose from a menu of old/brand new mounts/pets.

23:37 – ????: Drink heavily.

Don’t say I never did anything for you.

More People Equals More Content

While I want to talk more about Hearthstone, I also did not want this particular tidbit about WoW proper to be consigned to Draft Hell:

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.

Now, this was just unattributed MMO-Champ paraphrasing, coming from some Gamescom interview. I made an effort to try and see if this was an exact quote by watching a few of the Gamescom interviews myself, but didn’t see it anywhere. The statement was, however, “confirmed” in a roundabout way by Nethaera’s response to the thread asking the obvious question of “If more people = faster content now, why not back then?” Neth’s response was basically that circumstances changing doesn’t retroactively make older statements a lie.

That is all well and good, but I seem to distinctly remember Ghostcrawler or somebody saying that more people = more cooks in the kitchen, some problems can’t solved throwing more money at it for everything else there’s Mastercard, and so on. So, after some digging, I dusted off this interview with Ghostcrawler from October 2010, on the eve of Cataclysm’s release:

Slashdot: A lot of players, when they hear you talk about how you didn’t have time to make a feature good, their question is, “Well, why can’t you just go out and hire more people?”

Greg Street: Yeah. The mythical man-month.

Slashdot: Can you explain why you don’t find that to be a viable solution?

Greg Street: The other example that gets used a lot is: if it takes a woman nine months to have a baby, then if you have two women, it’d only take four and a half! Our development process is hugely based on iteration and communication. It’s more important — for, say, class design and item design — it’s more important for me to have a small team that’s totally in sync than to have a large team and have no idea what anyone else is working on. We would end up with Hunter talents working one way, the Priest would work a different way, and it wouldn’t feel polished. It wouldn’t feel good to players. Often, when we say, “We didn’t have time,” players say, “You shipped it before it was ready.” That’s not the way we look at it.

The way we look at it is: we are extremely critical of our own designs. We have very long lists of things we want to fix in the game. Some of these things have been around forever, and some of the things are new that we just added recently. If we waited until we addressed every single one of those things, we would never ship anything. It would be years and years before games came out, and that’s just not realistic. That’s not what players want; they’re not going to wait six years for a new expansion. So, instead, we do what we can and we keep other things on the back burner. We’ve got Paths — this great idea. A dance studio — we’re going to do it some day. Just not yet. We’re saving it for the right time.

It is not quite the smoking gun that I remembered in my head, although perhaps I had a different interview in mind. Or maybe it never existed. Regardless, I still think it is a legitimate question to ask “what exactly changed here?” Are the Blizzard devs less concerned about additional people and faster content leading to less polish? Did Titan getting scrapped free up some additional talent? Or is it simply the case that losing 4.4 million subscribers between October 2010 and today puts things like polish vs actual content into prospective? Given how the status quo a year ago was 8 months without a content patch, I am assuming it’s the latter.

The interesting thing will be to see how “monthly content updates” are integrated with the game overall. Guild Wars 2 has their events every 2 weeks, for example, but I believe GW2 has a much lower emphasis on gear, story, and… well, things one might traditionally associate with RPGs in general. I feel like the dozens of daily quest hubs thing isn’t going to work a second time around for WoW, but neither can Blizzard really afford to hand out gear upgrades mid-tier. Or maybe they will, and simply de-emphasize the sort of full tier/BiS gear game they have crafted all these years.

Either way, WoW is definitely veering off into some uncharted territory here – at least, uncharted for as large an MMO as it still is. I am much more interested in how this particular change with shake out, as opposed to the much more mundane F2P possibility.

Guild Wars 2 is Fastest Selling Western MMO

During my futile hunt for Hearthstone Beta keys (c’mon Press™, don’t fail me now), I stumbled upon this GameBreaker.tv article about Guild Wars 2 sales:

With over 3 million units sold in the first nine months of availability, Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO ever in the western market.

That’s no small feat right there. Riding a wave of acclaim and accolades, Guild Wars 2 has set a high bar for quality, and it has earned them a spot in MMORPG history according to an official ArenaNet press release. 3 million units sold in the game’s first nine months of availability puts it at the top of the record books in Europe and North America according to DFC Intelligence, a strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment.

Technically, it may have been 3 million by January 2013. Either way, this news was mildly intriguing, considering how distant from GW2′s actual release it came.

Still, it got me curious about some other numbers and figures. For example, here is an article from VG247 parsing the latest financials that indicate GW2 box sales are down. Which… shouldn’t exactly be surprising given that that is exactly what happens with any box game, right? Then there is the admittedly anecdotal Digital Dozen feature that NoizyGamer puts out every Tuesday, measuring the Xfire hours logged. The latest pretty much show a 50% decline from December, but it’s still roughly half that of WoW today, hour-wise. So, it is probably safe to say that the game’s population is doing alright and ArenaNet deserves the accolades for its legitimate record-breaking, even if the timing is a bit PR-ish.

I was trying to find numbers on how WoW did by comparison back in the day, but it turns out Blizzard doesn’t like giving out those numbers. The best I could find was this old article from 2009, which stated Blizzard sold 8.9 million retail boxes to date in the US alone. As point of reference, MMOData.net (thank god they’re back) shows that halfway through 2009 the Western numbers were steady at ~5.25 million subscribers. There is no way to know the breakdown between US vs Europe, or even whether the numbers are even intelligible given how it counts both box and expansion sales, but there it is.

Just for giggles though: the 2010 census states there were 205,794,364 Americans aged 18-64. A Pew article says 62% of American adults aged 18+ owned a desktop circa mid-2009. If we do a bit of rounding (a couple ten thousand) and assume that every desktop computer could run WoW (no possible way that’s remotely accurate), we have a pool of 127.6 million potential MMOers of which WoW reached… 6.98% of. Back in 2009.

Take away the people whose computers couldn’t handle WoW and then further reduce by those who have no interest in RPGs (let alone online ones) and then the people with PCs but no broadband and… well, you can start to see why market saturation is/was a legitimate concern.

Facepalm of the Day

I mean… is it really so crazy to imagine that after 2000+ hours playing the same class/spec that a person might just possibly want to try something different? And, you know, not have to spend the exact same (or similar) amount of hours getting that different experience to the same content you wanted to spice up in the first place? I wanted to experience a different endgame when I rolled my alts, not a different leveling/gearing experience.

Does he really think Blizzard wouldn’t bank $1 million overnight by offering paid class changes?

It just boggles my mind. One of your stated goals is to make each class and spec feel unique, and then you become baffled that people want to play more than one. I don’t get it. Is this a joke?

Server Merges Are Coming

Blizzard is calling them “Connected Realms,” but it occurs to me that in the future, any MMO dev can simply call their server merges “connected realms” to bypass the negative stigma surrounding the term. “We’re not merging, we’re connecting! Which is like merging, except with a hashtag!”

On a different note, this quote from the Connected Realms FAQ is a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post (emphasis mine):

Connected Realms also allow us to link populations in a way that’s not disruptive to players, and that doesn’t negatively impact players’ sense of identity and character. Other alternatives such as merging realms would require us to force character name changes if there were conflicts, and could lead to confusion for returning players who’d log in to find their realm missing from the realm list. Some players also feel strong ties to their realm’s name or history, and we don’t want to erase that.

Let me ask you something, and get ready to have your mind blown. What is a realm’s name or history if not the collection of people in it? What is the difference between Auchindoun-US, the shit-hole I played on for 4+ years, and something like Stormrage-US, one of the highest-populated servers in WoW?

The people. That’s it. Auchindoun’s Lower City looks exactly the same as Stormrage’s Lower City. Arthas looks the same, the mobs look the same, the resource spawns are the same, the quests are the same, every single thing is the same.

While the speed of opening the AQ Gates or whether there was a server first heroic Lich King kill before the expansion comes out differs depending on the server, that is simply due to – again – the people. The AQ gates are open everywhere. Deathwing is dead everywhere. Garrosh will be a raid boss everywhere soon. Remove the people, and every single MMO server is the same.

This is why I cock an eyebrow at “dynamic” and “emergent” anything. EQN is going to have StoryBrick AI in there somewhere. Cool… but is that going to mean Server A has a completely different ecology than Server B? If not, we must have radically different definitions of what those words mean. Player ecologies differ between servers of course, sometimes radically, and make the server distinctions worthwhile. But servers differing on the development side? As far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway: server merges in WoW. Given how my friends bailed out of Auchindoun and to a PvE server during the half-price sale a while back, there is literally nothing to go back to. Should I ever desire to. For Press™ reasons. That $25 a pop price though… jesus. The suits over there sure like making the decision easy.

WoW Down Another 600k to 7.7m

If the same thing happens every three months, does it still count as news? WoW is down to 7.7m from 8.3m, a loss of 600k subscribers, meaning we are back into pre-2007 territory.

"It's about sending a message."

“It’s about sending a message.”

One of the more interesting facts, personally, was the resolution to the possible Vivendi fiasco. You know, the whole situation in which Vivendi was in the process of raiding Activision Blizzard’s big piles of cash, potentially bringing a company with several billion-dollar franchises to its knees for no game-related reason? Oh, didn’t hear about that before MMO-Champ casually talked about the stock buy-back with no context? I might suggest expanding your blogroll with the illustrious Nosy Gamer (or NoizyGamer, apparently), who has been following this particular series of power-plays since at least July 10th. Things could have turned out incredibly bad for Blizzard, and I imagine that the vast majority of even blog-aware people would have not known about it until the fan hit the shit.

Incidentally, NoizyGamer has been keeping up The Digital Dozen feature – tracking the top 12 MMOs based on XFire numbers – every week since the start of 2012. XFire is XFire, but it’s pretty much all we have left at this point, inbetween quarterly reports. There is also a bunch of EVE posts and talk about EVE bots, but nobody is perfect ¹.

Anyway, there it is. Kinda interesting (and scary) to read about all the Machiavellian schemes going on inside the gaming industry, and realizing that good game companies fail all the damn time despite producing legitimately good titles. Say what you want about WoW’s current direction, but I don’t think anyone wants Blizzard to fold because some stock-holder in Europe has a bad credit rating; we want it to fail for real reasons, like raiding is too hard/easy, LFD exists, or because Ghostcrawler was mean to somebody on Twitter.

¹ Just kidding, the stuff about bots is pretty cool.

Comfort & Fashion

There is a saying that goes “Never let comfort interfere with fashion.” Perhaps it’s less of a saying and more an ironic reminder of how absurd human beings can get in the pursuit of arbitrary, ephemeral trends. Why anyone thinks high heels should be a thing, for example, I have no idea. Sure, some jiggly-bits are at a higher incline than normal, but my eyes are always drawn down to the barely-recognizable compressed foot nodules at the end of the legs. Can’t we have the fashion and the comfort? Let’s just make it fashionable to wear comfortable sneakers and call it a day already.

All these thoughts came to mind when I spied the following WoW PTR Patch 5.4 notes:

Warrior

  • Shield Wall no longer requires a shield. If the Warrior does not have a shield equipped, it will show a visual of an equipped shield.
  • Spell Reflection no longer requires a shield. If the Warrior does not have a shield equipped, it will show a visual of an equipped shield.

Way back in November of 2011, I mentioned the ridiculousness that is/was warrior gameplay. Obviously the ridiculousness extended all the way back to Day 1 of WoW’s release, but in 2011 there were a number of changes going on that made it feel like Blizzard was finally turning a corner. Most every warrior ability was tied to a specific Stance up to that point, but suddenly those restrictions were evaporating. “You can cast Spell Reflection in Arms stance!” And we cheered. And then realized you still needed a shield, and we sullenly took one line out of our macros before continuing browsing mice on Amazon with 12+ buttons on the side.

I am 100% convinced that, up to this point, Blizzard has required a shield for Spell Reflection (and Shield Wall for that matter) simply out of “fashion,” e.g. no legitimate gameplay reason. I mean, it’s one thing to include abilities/functionality that requires a high skill cap, or even an honest desire for certain skills to not be usable outside of certain scenarios. It is quite another when there is basically no possible way to utilize a button on your hotbar without having to support it with in-game scripts. No, seriously, just walk yourself through the steps necessary to cast Spell Reflection, and then compare that duration with the typical window in which the ability is useful… while keeping in mind that every PvP warrior is expressly balanced around judicious use of said ability.

I can understand their likely thought process here. “How are you reflecting the spell if not with a shield? And don’t even try to tell me you don’t need a shield for Shield Wall – it’s in the name!” Okay, yeah, it is. But the whole thing is one big, convoluted mess that creates an enormous gulf between even so-so warriors and their macro’d peers. You can make one button that handles the whole gear-swap/ability use process in a way that the default game never could. While “anyone” can copy/paste the macro, at some point you need to ask yourself why its necessary in the first place. Tradition? Fashion? Because it sure as hell isn’t for gameplay reasons.

Virtual Realms: Height of Cynicism

Alright, maybe Virtual Realms were the unannounced feature of 5.4. Or the tutorial zone, aka Proving Grounds. But, no, probably Virtual Realms:

New Feature: Virtual Realms

  • Virtual Realms are sets of realms that are fused together, and will behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm. Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well run dungeons or group up to complete quests.
  • Players belonging to the same Virtual Realm will have a (#) symbol next to their name.

I guess they finally solved that otherwise insurmountable naming problem, amirite?

Anyway, there are two (other) reasons this announcement is the height of cynicism:

1) Server Merges by any other name.

I get it, you get it, we all get it. Actually saying “server merges” is a sign of the apocalypse and bad PR besides. Grouping several low-pop servers together “virtually” is putting lipstick on the pig of 1.3+ million subscriber losses in the last quarter. At some point though, it’s just sad. You aren’t fooling anyone with that ridiculous comb-over. Just shave your head and get it over with.

2) Aren’t you glad you just spent $12.50+ server transferring?

I read the comments on my earlier post, regarding how things “usually go on sale before they are obsoleted.” For as jaded and dour as I can be under normal circumstances, I generally have some minimum level of faith in humanity. Obvious displays of naked greed are actions that can still genuinely surprise me, even if I distrust the “altruism” of corporations as a rule.

But, Jesus Christ, did Blizzard just take a huge shit on their playerbase.

There was a running joke in the PlanetSide 2 community regarding something similar: Item of the Day. Usually, the deals are 50% off the Station Cash (i.e. RMT) price of some garbage item or another, including items that are way cheaper to purchase with Certs. Every now and then though, some recently-released gun or something will pop up, prompting a lot of sales. People always joked that whenever something good snuck its way into the rotation, that meant it was getting nerfed by next week. And the shitty thing? It usually did.

The assumption got so pervasive and accurate that Higby, one of the PlanetSide 2 devs, actually stepped in and rolled back a planned nerf to one of the vehicle weapons that had just went on sale. He assured the community that these sales are planned out 30 days in advance, that the sale/nerf cycle was just coincidence, but who can you really believe when it comes to capitalistic incentives?

That question is not so rhetorical anymore. It was not an accident that Blizzard put server transfers on sale for the first time in their 8+ year history a mere week before announcing (free) server merges. Maybe they see some distinction insofar as players can choose where they go versus leaving it up to random chance. It’s still absolute bullshit though, because how many people would have bought a server transfer if the sale was this week, or next week? QED.

I mean, this is a new low that even EA hasn’t achieved, not for lack of trying.

Unannounced WoW Feature Announced

Coming in 5.4: Flexible Raid sizes.

While it’s impossible to fit every player into a neat, tidy archetype, we recognize that we could be providing a better experience to one broad category of raider: social groups comprised predominantly of friends and family, and smaller guilds that do their best to include as many members in their Raid outings possible. [...]

To fill this void, we’re in the process of developing a new Flexible Raid system, which includes a new difficulty that sits between Raid Finder and Normal difficulty, while still allowing friends, family, or pick-up groups to play together. This difficulty will be available for premade groups of 10–25 players, including any number in between. That means whether you have 11, 14, or 23 friends available for a Raid, they’ll all be able to participate.

The Flexible Raid system is designed so that the challenge level will scale depending on how many players you have in the Raid. So if you switch between 14 players one week and 22 the next, the difficulty will adjust automatically.

Technically, this isn’t confirmed as the “unannounced new feature,” but I have a hard time believing that there could be something else to top this game-changer.

…or does this change much at all?

I mean, yes, I have little doubt that this will improve the quality of life for a lot of friends & family guilds out there. Back in Wrath, my guild constantly had the inevitably poisonous problem of having 11-12 people show up on raid nights, and having to pick who sits out. Something like this feature would have made the issue moot, as we could grab everyone who showed up and did something fun as a guild. Even better, the difficulty is supposed to be pegged between LFR and Normal, which would perhaps mean taking that charming guildie who improves the general social atmosphere – albeit at a DPS loss – is no longer such a vexing decision.

On the other hand, this would do nothing to guilds like mine that were unable to field even a full 10m by the end. Maybe this could have incentivised our (failed) raiding partnership with a sister guild, but I don’t find that particularly likely.

You know what though? My mind is actually racing about this feature. Part of the reason why our raiding partnership failed was because the people we were bringing weren’t quite matching up to the skill level the content required. With this feature, if your guild found 10m Normal raids too difficult, you could down-shift to Flexible and still bring 10 people.

On top of that, this could be a massive coup for the Trade chat pugs of the world. I am sure there will still be stubborn raid leaders out there spamming “LF6M 25m” for hours, but as long as they had the basic roles covered, they could have everyone zone in with just the 19 they had. And on top of that, there is the news that Flexible mode has its own, separate lockout. That is huge. Go raid with your hardcore guild on Thursday, and then kick back with your friends/family on Friday, all while still getting (off-spec, perhaps) gear.

In another life, I might have been more concerned with how popular the feature would be, given the ilevel rewards would be lower than Normal mode. But looking at how LFR turned out, it is pretty clear that that sort of nonsense rarely matters except in the minds of a few. In fact, I’d almost be more worried that Flexible mode will further erode the entire raiding model, doing to 10m what LFR did to 25m.

In any event, it looks like we’re seeing the fruits of those minds diverted from the Titan project already. Now if only they could focus their efforts on, say, actual server merges instead of this 50% off highway robbery bullshit, I might actually reach for the resubscribe button again.

Well, probably not this expansion, but they are damn closer than they were yesterday.

WoW Finally Has Server/Faction Sale

In a move that I have been suggesting literally forever, Blizzard is slashing all character services by 50%… for one week.

Still has a 50,000g transfer cap, unfortunately.

Still has a 50,000g transfer cap, unfortunately.

The prices break down as follows:

  • Server Transfer = $12.50
  • Faction Transfer = $15.00
  • Server + Faction Transfer = $27.50
  • Name/Appearance Change = $7.50
  • Race Change = $12.50

If there is not a clearer sign that Blizzard believes WoW still exists as luxury entertainment on a level all to its own, I don’t know what it is. Well, you know, beyond the fact that as absurd as these prices appear to be, given the proper distance from the game, they are normally 50% higher.

I mean… Christ. Is this the same MMO that lost 1.3 million subscribers last quarter? That’s a rhetorical question because of course it is. Otherwise Blizzard would have no cause to not still charge people $25/$55 to move off dead realms Blizzard kills with extreme negligence.

In other news, I just bought EVE Online for $4.98 on Steam. You know, for a rainy day.