I have low expectations for the upcoming “Live QA” Blizzard is hosting a good two weeks after Flightgate
took off walked up to the cave on a hill (?). Maybe not as low as Grumpy Elf, but I share the sentiment that Ion “Watch the world burn” Hazzikostas is likely set to field a lot of softballs this June 6th. While I appreciate Grumpy Elf’s… enthusiasm in the questions to be answered, I wanted to offer a few that have a slightly larger (if still remote) chance of being asked and answered.
…and then the announcement post was released yesterday, which indicates questions need to either be 140-character Tweets or 40-word forum posts. So they “can get to as many questions as possible.” Because quantity of answers is exactly what everyone is looking forward to.
But, whatever. Sisyphus is a personal hero of mine, so let me remove all context and edit all my questions down to the raw nubs. Note: these questions are less than 140 characters even with #WarlordsQA (and a space) included in the Tweet. Feel free to appropriate them yourself.
1) WTF are you smoking?
1) How do you feel that more non-interactive flight paths, during which players Alt-Tab out of the game, increases immersion?
2) How is Draenor more dangerous sans flying, when players are immune to being dazed off their ground mount with garrison stables?
3) Why the push for exploration by level-capped characters when majority of exploration rewards targeted at leveling players?
4) Do you feel your treatment of professions this expansion have met your design goals? And what were those goals, exactly?
5) Ion said “group dungeons are one of the greatest strengths in the MMO genre.” And yet smallest amount of dungeons ever. Why?
6) Why remove Justice/Valor points when you just add back in currency like Apexis Crystals?
7) Why does Season 11 PvP gear still cost Honor? And not just a little Honor, but equal to current gear amounts?
8) Was there ever a thought about designing the Garrison to be Account-wide? If not, why?
9) Will the Water Stider mounts continue to be the de facto mounts everyone should use in this, and all future expansions?
10) Are there any other fun parts of the game we can look forward to you removing on a whim in the future?
…well, I tried.
In case you get a chance to watch the Q&A Live, someone has helpfully printed out some Bingo cards you can use to play along at home. My favorite part is that “Immersion” is the Free Space.
I’m picking Card # 2.
File this under “Potentially Interesting Information.” MMO-Champion has a graph up showing the percentage of players (e.g. accounts, not characters) who have defeated various bosses in this raiding tier. This is how the data is described in the post:
The data used today is a sample made up of 2.1 million accounts, with at least one character active after April 1. The sample is slightly biased, as players who are not in a guild are much less likely to appear in our sample.
Someone in the comments made a dumb post that 2.1 million accounts isn’t representative of anything out of 7 million. Chaud popped into the comments to clarify:
You ignored the rest of the sentence and ignored the fact that ~half of the 7 million “subscribers” are in Asia, which we don’t track. We track a total of ~3.3 million US and EU accounts, which is likely the vast majority of them.
And further clarified how these figures are determined:
We only can see what you can see on armory. Achievements, ratings, season games played/won/lost. The other 1/3rd in our DB haven’t logged in since April 1.
It’s not news that about half of WoW’s total subscription numbers are NA/EU accounts, with the rest coming from South East Asia. This sort of information has been known for quite some time, even if we stopped getting regional figures around 2010:
What is significantly more interesting is that out of 3.3 million US/EU accounts, only 2.1 million have logged in once since April.
The reason this is merely interesting and not particularly ground-breaking news is due to all the unknowns. Around 1.2 million NA/EU accounts have not been logging in since April… but did they unsubscribe months beforehand, and therefore are already accounted for in the earlier subscriber drop? How many still have active subscriptions going, even if the person isn’t playing? What’s the margin on Chaud’s claim of “the vast majority” of accounts being counted? 95%? 80%? The difference between those two percentages is nearly another million subscriptions.
In any case… kinda interesting, yeah? WoW has always seemed like this unstoppable juggernaut, and still technically is in comparison to its peers. But the reality is that there are only 2.1 million players you could conceivably play with, and even less if you are playing on your own continent. Based on that graph above, the high point for WoW West was ~5 million. Now less than half are still online.
I’m still not convinced that FF14 will overtake WoW just yet overall, but that wall is looking more assailable every day. And who knows, there may already be more NA/EU players.
About two weeks ago, I warned that the financial numbers weren’t looking too hot for Wildstar. Today’s news is that Wildstar is going Free-to-Play. This Fall. Which I’m assuming means that NCSoft is going to give Carbine a chance to bail the submerged vessel out a bit longer before pulling the plug, to mix metaphors.
I would say I am not particularly optimistic that Wildstar will get a second life from the F2P transition, but now that I think about it, MMOs shutting down is more rare than you think. TERA is still around. People are still playing RIFT. Hell, you can go download Age of Conan off of Steam right now, and when was the last time you even heard of that game? The City of Heroes episode sort of underlines NCSoft’s view on profitability, but the status quo seems to heavily lean towards zombie MMOs.
As for me, I shan’t be returning to Nexus. I have read about the inroads the devs (those who remain anyway) have made in terms of smoothing out the hardcore cupcake edges, and that’s great. Unfortunately, I had a much more fundamental problem with the game, as described a year ago:
And that’s when I realized that I don’t really like my Medic. Not just healing, which is a total clusterfuck, but… all of it. I enjoy the concept of the class, and even the sort of niche it occupies as an AoE healer. But guys, there is a profound sense of deadening when you realize how utterly shallow the combat system is. I get why Carbine did things this way – the only way the bullet-hell gameplay works is by reducing everything down to 5 buttons – but it puts enormous pressure on those few abilities to be fun to press. This isn’t like WoW where you can go Arcane or Frost if you dislike the Fire rotation. Every (DPS) class is basically a Ret paladin. Enjoy.
There are a lot of things you can dislike about an MMO and still play anyway. You know, raiding instead of PvP, or vice versa. When you don’t like pushing the buttons though… well, you’re going to be doing that quite a bit. Or not, in my case.
Good luck, Wildstar. Something tells me you’re going to need it.
Amidst all the flying talk, one of the minor details of 6.2 that you might have missed was that the Apexis Crystal gear was being changed from requiring, well, Apexis crystals to straight gold. The pricing information as it currently stands on the PTR seems… well, just look at it:
As a point of reference, the highest tier of Apexis gear is the same ilevel as what drops in the LFR version of the new 6.2 raid. As another point of reference, the average price of a WoW Token in the US is around ~22,000g. Hmm.
Some people are more than eager to connect the dots:
I don’t think you quite understand the concept of P2W. In 6.2 a player can get a high level armor set without fighting 1 mob, player, gathering node, pet battle, or entering 1 raid/dungeon. Buying gold from the Blizzard shop and then buying apexis armor with that gold is the definition of P2W.
Blizzard has never sold gear with such a high ilvl as they release “new” content, but 6.2 changes that. Also for years Blizzard fought gold sellars and buyers (limited bans were common), but they now sell gold themselves.
It’s a good talking point, aside from the fact that players will have to do something between level 90 and 100 before they can equip the gear. And, technically, this was possible the moment the WoW Token went live insofar as buying BoE items from the AH.
But then I read Blizzard’s response and all my sympathy simply evaporated:
Ah, yes. “To discourage their purchase.” So you introduced a new gold-for-gear system into WoW, which just so happens to be a few months after introducing purchasable gold… but don’t want people to use it. And you price it around the same rate as the WoW Token you sell for $20. HMM.
Hey, weren’t you guys pulling shit off the Black Market AH because you didn’t want to portray even the slightest hint that you were directly selling gear for cash? Whatever happened with that?
To be clear, this doesn’t upset me because I believe it to be actual P2W shenanigans. What exactly do you win after spending $120 and being on the same level as anyone in LFR? What upsets me is this slow-motion, amateur-hour PR disaster in the making.¹ That and the fact Blizzard has used the outrageous excuse of “to discourage their purchase” to justify $25 server transfers for years. Not because it’s a high-margin revenue stream with inelastic demand, heavens no! It’s for their customer’s own good. Blizzard is practically doing us a favor for charging so much!
For the longest time I have sought to moderate the absurd histrionics I’ve encountered regarding WoW. Things like the removal of atunements, introduction of LFD/LFR, hybrid taxes, Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard, and so on. Not to defend Blizzard for the sake of Blizzard, but to defend rational design decisions in their own contexts.
This shit, though? Holy Jesus. The individual components of the change are not necessarily bad on their own, but the roll-out and communication is absolutely tone-deaf and Blizzard deserves all the shit they (hopefully) get over it. “To discourage their purchase.” I just… I can’t even.
¹ I technically wrote this before the whole flying fiasco started to unravel.
While MMO-Champion has the summarized version of a recent Venture Beat interview with Ion Hazzikostas, I think it’s worth reading the whole thing for yourself. Because it’s only after reading the actual words, do you realize the utterly fascinating world the Blizzard devs must inhabit.
For example, this section was up near the beginning of the interview:
GamesBeat: Has anything about the content in the Warlords expansion disappointed you?
Hazzikostas: There are areas where we’ve seen slight declines, but we attribute that largely to a failure on our part to properly keep them incentivized and interesting.
I think [five-player] dungeons is a great example of a shortcoming there. We created a bunch of new dungeons for Warlords of Draenor, but we didn’t really give much reason to keep running them after the initial weeks or couple of months of the expansion.
In the past, you kept running Mists [of Pandaria] dungeons, which probably overstayed their welcome a little bit, but you kept running them for valor points [which you could exchange for gear] a year-plus into the expansion.
We felt that was a little silly to keep running the same content as you got stronger and stronger and stronger, still getting that reward, which is why we removed something like valor points. But I think we went too far.
Far be it for me to point out that “running the same content over and over” is, in fact, the cornerstone upon which all MMO content is built. In fact, it’s really the foundation of the majority of RPGs, or any game with experience points. Even in pure PvP sandboxes, someone is out there mining space/fantasy ore, someone is farming mobs for loot, and the gears of the game economy turn only from their Sisyphean labor.
And, of course, there’s nothing stopping Blizzard from, you know, releasing new dungeons throughout the expansion if they don’t want us running the same half-dozen. If they’re still gun-shy from the ZA/ZG fiasco, they shouldn’t be, as the solution is easy: scale all dungeon gear upwards. We know they have the technology.
I might be able to take Hazzikostas’ word here as a radical shift of Blizzard philosophy regarding repeatable content in general, especially given Warlords has cut back on daily quest hubs and reputation grinds. But then this happens:
GamesBeat: What features of patch 6.2 do you hope will improve the player experience?
Hazzikostas: We’re adding mythic [difficulty] dungeons that allow even players in a group with four of their friends to go through a harder version of some of our dungeons with a weekly lockout, almost like a mini-little five-man raid. It should be a fun experience. […]
It’s just getting that type of gameplay feeling relevant again. [Group dungeons are] one of the greatest strengths we have in the MMO genre, and it’s definitely a shame that there weren’t as many reasons as we would have liked to do them recently.
Let me emphasize this a bit stronger for you:
We felt that was a little silly to keep running the same content as you got stronger and stronger and stronger, still getting that reward, which is why we removed something like valor points.
[Group dungeons are] one of the greatest strengths we have in the MMO genre, and it’s definitely a shame that there weren’t as many reasons as we would have liked to do them recently.
I… I can’t even.
…guys. Out of all the developers in all of the world making all of the games, these people have the one with 7+ million subscribers. They think “hey, running dungeons for Valor points, something we introduced back in TBC and has been working ever since, is silly. How about we axe it for no mechanical reason and not replace the incentive with anything, and just see what happens?” I mean, not even with gold, which would have been an interesting dynamic. Would you run a daily random heroic for a bag with 150g inside? Maybe that would even be too much, but at least it would have been something.
But, nope, they took “one of the greatest strengths we have in the MMO genre” and removed all incentive for doing any of them, followed by a continued failure to introduce any new ones. The issue is not even a lack of incentive for 5-mans, the issue is they thought it was silly for you to do them over and over again, incentive or not. Who are these people, and why have they never played an MMO in their life before? Seriously, what did they imagine their audience would be doing every day? Not playing the game? Unsubscribing after they consume all the non-repeatable content in two weeks?
In which case, mission fucking accomplished.
If you are a fan of Wildstar, well, you might want to soak it in while it lasts:
The above graph is from NCSoft’s Q12015 report, which you can read here. Supposedly, “sales” does refer to all revenue brought in by a game through every channel, not just box sales. Reddit user “yeahreally2″ summarizes as follows:
Company-wide sales are down 20% from the last quarter of 2014 from 235 billion won ($215 million USD) to 188 billion won ($172 million USD). Net income is down 43% from last quarter from 62 billion won to 35 billion won. NCsoft notes that income was high in the 4th quarter of last year “due to year-end promotions”. While NCsoft’s sales beat the forecast from Daewoo Securities (179 billion won), its operating profit and net income did not.
Guild Wars 2 performed slightly better in this quarter than last, probably boosted by the expansion hype exceeding Daewoo’s forecast by 3 billion won. Wildstar’s sales declined from 5.5 billion won ($5 million USD) in the previous quarter to 2.5 billion won ($2.3 million USD) in Q1. This is a 50% decrease in sales from the previous quarter, and is only slightly better than Daewoo’s projection of 2 billion won ($1.8 million USD).
I suppose it should not be particularly surprising given all the layoffs last October, but still… damn.
By the way, this was what the quarterly report looked like for City of Heroes at the end:
In other words, City of Heroes was making 2,855… units to Wildstar’s current 2,593 units. And NCSoft axed CoH the following quarter. So if Wildstar makes it to its own one-year anniversary, it will be quite the birthday present from NCSoft.
I enjoyed the graphics of Wildstar, the housing, the general tone, and the hoverboards. I was even playing with friends there for a little bit. Trouble was that the gameplay wasn’t all that fun. More involved than WoW? Sure. Also more exhausting, especially when every mob in the world has a telegraph you need to circle-strafe out of. Plus, I got stuck playing a class I didn’t actually find all that fun.
Hmm. Where have I heard that before?
Is there a more boring class in WoW than paladins?
This question has been fermenting in my mind for quite some time now, and it’s a rather depressing one as someone who has had a paladin “main” for damn near a decade. It isn’t a “grass is always greener” issue either, or even a “Retribution brings nothing that a Holy paladin couldn’t” issue. The issue is just straight-up soggy cardboard class design.
I am primarily speaking towards Retribution, as that is what I level and play as most of the time. And it’s mind-numbingly boring. Judgment, Crusader Strike, Exorcism… wait for procs. Sometimes a long string of connected procs appears, and I pretend like I’m having fun for 20 seconds. It never works though, because none of my attacks feels like it has any weight behind it. Part of that could be because every special attack sounds like I’m squeezing water out of a sponge.
Then you get to paladin abilities. Avenging Wrath was the peak of Retribution design, or any paladin design, really – everything else has been downhill. Every button on my bar is defensive. And not like “cool defensive cooldown,” just straight boring damage reduction most of the time.
- Hammer of Justice. “Trinket this and win” button.
- Word of Glory. An “I LOSE” button.
- Lay on Hands. Full heal. Neat.
- Divine Shield. Aka Bubble-Hearth.
- Cleanse. Okay?
- Divine Protection. Damage reduction, wheee.
- Hand of Protection. Ghetto Divine Shield.
- Hand of Freedom. “Dispel me” disco ball.
- Emancipate. For when Hand of Freedom is dispelled.
- Avenging Wrath. The one legit ability.
- Hand of Sacrifice. Soooo useful, Blizzard, thanks.
The talent tree is also incredibly sad:
- Tier 1: Remember when paladins were actually mobile? Now they aren’t!
- Tier 2: Remember when Retribution had PvP utility? Now they don’t!
- Tier 3: Remember when there was a cool interaction between Sacred Shield & Flash of Light?
- Tier 4: Straight-up useless.
- Tier 5: Want a cooldown for your cooldowns, or proc for your procs?
- Tier 6: Have another button that you press once and forget to press again.
- Tier 7: YOUR ULTIMATE ABILITY IS… hey, let’s make Divine Storm not suck.
Glyphs? Just look at them. They’re total garbage. Damage reduction or more healing. Wait, wait… one of them increases the damage on ONE ability, but only for the second mob you hit. Which is just fucking fantastic, exactly what I was looking for. Where’s the glyph that completely changes your leveling rotation, like the priest’s Glyph of Mind Harvest?
Find me a more boring class for leveling, for farming, for PvP. When I get on my Death Knight alt, it’s like 10 years of the hopes and dreams of paladins everywhere, condensed in playable form. “Here’s damage reduction… and a stun break/stun immunity!” “Here’s spell damage reduction… and CC immunity!” Look at Tier 7 talents for DKs. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
…they are all goddamn abilities from the Lich King! That feels amazing and gets you pumpped to hit max level. Where is that cool Uther or Tirion feeling in paladin talents? Nowhere. Total garbage.
When I play my warrior, I feel excited because I’ll basically be able to Charge every mob. When I play my DK, I feel excited because I can Death Grip every mob. When I play my rogue, I feel excited because I can fucking teleport behind every mob (seriously, Cloak & Dagger is amazing for leveling). When I play my druid, I feel excited because I’m playing a nuanced class that some designer actually gave two shits about because whoa, look at all the things I can do.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like the paladin class was transplanted from another game entirely. It doesn’t fit WoW anymore, assuming it ever did. The niche it fulfills is “all these buttons are for other people” when the game has been about all the cool individual things you can do for the last three expansions. In fact, every other class has so many individual things they can do that they don’t need paladin assistance anymore.
I haven’t felt excited about paladins since Wrath, really. Not because there were moments when Retribution was overtuned – although it was glorious for a while there – but because it felt like there was actually nuance to the gameplay. Hand of Freedom broke stuns. If you cast Flash of Light on yourself when the 6-second shield from Sacred Shield was up, it was almost always a crit. There was some interplay between abilities back then.
Paladins need an(other) overhaul. Or, at least Retribution does. There’s nothing retributive about them. Too many of the Ret abilities serve no function to the paladin him/herself nor hinder enemies in any way. Again, if that’s supposed to be the paladin schtick, it’s a dumb one for the way the game is currently designed.
Want some suggestions? Invert the Hand spells for Retribution for starters. Hand of Freedom becomes Hand of Confinement for enemies. Hand of Protection becomes Hand of Sequestoring, e.g. same exact effect except castable on enemies. Hand of Sacrifice becomes Hand of Punishment, where 30% of the damage you take is dealt to that enemy. Hell, how about inverting Divine Shield to Divine Retribution, so that instead of being immune to everything you simply reflect incoming attacks/spells?
The devs wouldn’t need to give Retribution all these abilities either. Make us choose, if you like. Have it be talent, or gylph, or (sigh) cooldown. Make it so that if you take Hand of Confinement, you can’t cast Hand of Freedom anymore. Something, anything.
I originally chose to play a paladin in WoW because I always found them conceptually interesting as a class in D&D, but disliked the Lawful Good limitations. Being a frontline fighter killing things with a sword of light was cool. And that concept can still be cool. Remember Seal of Blood? Conceptually cool.
Tirion. Uther. The Ashbringer. Did you feel anything from those names, and if so, were those feelings at all comparible to the feeling evoked from WoW paladins? From where I’m sitting, whatever class Tirion and Uther actually belong to, it sure as hell ain’t paladin.