Category Archives: WoW

Going Home Again

Tobold is by no means the first person to point out that Warlords of Draenor’s free level 90 character is a “doubling-down” on vertical progression. I mean, I don’t see why anyone would claim that even vanilla WoW was anything other than vertical progression given how you couldn’t grind your way to max level via the Westfall boars, South Park-style, but whatever. The thing that profoundly bothers me in these sort of debates though, is this sort of nonsense:

So we are being told that when the expansion comes out, World of Warcraft will be all about levels 90 to 100. You will play nearly exclusively on the new continent, maybe sometimes visit the capital cities for some features, but will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft. If by some server glitch the old zones ceased to exist, most players wouldn’t even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential.

I literally cannot understand this line of reasoning. I understand what is attempting to be said here, but it seems so far removed from reality as to be unintelligible.

First of all, the post-Cataclysm world still exists. Even if we are going to assume that there will be a lot of brand new WoW players coming into the expansion – which we have no reason to believe there will be, at least in comparison to returning players – the fact remains that the world and all of its quests will still be there for that new player’s alts, at a minimum. Assuming, of course, that this hypothetical new person even enjoys questing in the first place. And if they do, there is nothing stopping them from questing from level 1 to 100 while saving the instant 90 for some other purpose. Meanwhile, the returning veterans who quit in the middle of an expansion they presumably didn’t like are being asked to… what? Spend a few dozen hours slogging through 2+ year old content to get to the stuff they were actually excited enough to resubscribe to see?

Secondly, how can the old content ever be considered “wasted?” All of those zones and quests have been utilized, extensively, by millions of players for years. How much more utilized does it need to be? And how? And why? Even in horizontal progression MMOs, where do you find people? Where the new things are. The odds of you finding someone running around the mid-level zones in Guild Wars 2 is approximately zero, unless there happens to be some kind of 2-week patch dragon dropping off a treasure chest every three hours. You’re not going to find an EVE veteran mining Veldspar even if Veldspar remains a critical component of crafting spaceships.

Content obsoletes itself. That is not a problem, that’s linear time working as intended. Novelty only ever decreases, at least in terms of crafted content. Hell, how long can you experience interest in even procedurally-generated content like in Minecraft? At a certain point, even the weirdest terrain formation is reduced to its constituent parts at a glance – it sure as hell isn’t as impressive as the first time you laid eyes on your future mountain fortress location.

Time marches on. Just because you don’t hang out at the playground or swing from monkey bars anymore does not mean they are now wasted content, even if no one else ever uses them again. They existed in a time and a place and served their purpose well. Is that not enough? Were you not entertained?

It always seems the greatest irony in MMOs are those players who wish for living, breathing virtual worlds that never change.

Warlords of Draenor BlizzCon Recap

Things can end up changing radically between BlizzCon and this new expansion’s release date (remember Path of the Titans?), but here are a bunch of random things that caught my eye:

  • Few to no daily quests at max level (source). While MoP ended up giving us hundreds of daily quests and triple-gating gear, it bears reminding that daily quests have been a Big Deal since Burning Crusade. Perhaps not on exactly the same scale, but still. I am not exactly sure what non-instanced endgame activities Blizzard plans on replacing dailies with, although I haven’t heard much grumbling about the Timeless Isle so maybe that will suffice.
  • Garrison as player housing (source). Personally, this sort of came across as more of a gimmick to me, but I became more intrigued when they mentioned that there will be multiple locations in which to place your Garrison. I enjoyed the farm quite a bit in MoP, so this will probably be fine. I like that you can invite people into your party so they can see your configuration/interact with your NPCs, but if you can’t show off a trophy collection of some sort then it’s kinda pointless IMO.
  • Itemization revamp (source). This is huge to me and will have wide-reaching ramifications across the whole of the game. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, Parry, and Reforging all gone. More limited Enchanting and Gemming. Dynamically changing gear stats (!!). Just think about that for a second. One suit of gear will cover all of your paladin/shaman/druid/etc specs. Enchanting/Gemming will likely mess with things a bit, which is sad, but still that is a game-changing amount of gear reduction. The only question mark here is whether Spirit is going to be considered a primary stat for spec purposes. I imagine it’d have to be, because otherwise you would still need plate with Spirit on it.
  • Free level 90 (source). I know a lot of MMO vets don’t like this, but the grumbling is pretty silly at this point. Recruit-A-Friend gives a 300% bonus to XP gain and gives the referral toon free levels to hand out to alts. I used a Scroll of Resurrection to get a free level 80 almost two years ago. By the end of each expansion, the leveling curve is reduced by 30%. Heirlooms exist. I have heard people suggest Blizzard could have introduced a sidekicking system or dynamic leveling ala Guild Wars 2, but I never quite caught the explanation for why the hell it’s better for a veteran to run through Stranglethorn Vale for the 10th time with his buddy instead of both of them having fun in current content. That new player can see as much old content as he/she wants on an alt. So… how is this not a win-win? Or would you have preferred Blizzard speeding up leveling even further in a way that cannot be avoided? Because that was the other real alternative here.
  • Heroic raiding = Mythic raiding with 20 people only (source). This move actually makes a lot of sense on paper, and undoubtedly makes things easier for Blizzard’s raid design team. The big downside, of course, is how it screws over every heroic 10m raiding guild in existence. While you could theoretically talk to other heroic 10m raiding guilds and buddy-up that way, I feel like heroic raiding likely takes more than just a little group chemistry to make happen. Then again, I suppose it’s fair to ask how many guilds this would actually impact that weren’t already downsizing from 25m mode for Ranking/Realm First purposes. Regardless, I think you should start selling your stock in 25m raids generally, if you have not yet done so.

There are also some other random quality of life-esque improvements like how heirlooms will be Account-wide (a clever solution to cross-realm mail), max-level normal dungeons will be making a return, and BGs will be getting a new scoreboard that highlights actual contribution to the fight rather than damage/healing whoring. Obviously a lot of this will be subject to change and refinement, but I am tentatively intrigued based on what we have seen thus far.

Well, let me specify that I am intrigued by the features and game changes, not this throwback to the most boring racial lore in the game. Oooo, orcs, doing tribal orcish things. We are supposedly going to be seeing “a lot” of paladin lore along with presumably some Naaru shenanigans, so I’m actually feeling pretty good about being Alliance for this upcoming expansion. So we’ll see how it goes.

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.