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Asocial and Antisocial

There was an interesting blue post a few days ago explaining why Blizzard had yet to embrace the GW2-esque open-tap philosophy:

The main reason we don’t embrace a fully open-tap world is that we feel that those mechanics are asocial. To be fair, that is certainly better than antisocial – no question there, and antisocial experiences usually reflect spawning and mechanics that we need to adjust. However, while a world in which everyone runs around damaging things a few times (or however much is needed to qualify for credit) may be one in which you don’t feel bad about other players being around, at some point it also makes those players nearly indistinguishable from NPCs or bots with decent AI. You don’t need to talk, or ask if someone has room in their group or would like to join yours. You just attack a few times, and then move on.

The blue dev (Watcher in this case) went on to assert that they “commonly” saw transient groups forming for daily quests, and perhaps some of those groups became less transient over time. And to an extent, I even agree that games like GW2 might have inadvertently crossed some line wherein other players are simply irrelevant when questing (as opposed to registering as something to think about).

At the same time… are we playing the same game? Even as far back as Wrath, there was basically no interaction between me and the random strangers who were competing with me for spawns. Any time that I did buckle down for blind social interaction, the majority of the outcomes were A) waiting around for them to get back from being AFK, and/or B) them being barely pulling their weight, and/or C) them trying to wheetle me into doing more of their daily quests for them. Indeed, that whole awkward parting scenario is generally why I avoided any stranger contact that I could.

I suppose that I am not exactly the sort of player that Watcher was talking about or even want to socially engineer. After all, not only am I naturally asocial, but I was already a part of a guild that wasn’t recruiting, so there really was no upside to stranger interaction. Given the generally accepted churn rates of 5% per month, eventually there are going to be hundreds of thousands of new players cycling in every year, and getting them into guilds and such is paramount.

Hmm. I gotta say though, I feel that the WoW-style tagging system is archaic and antisocial at this point; Wildstar tried to split the baby and ended up with two halves of a baby too. Going forward into 2014 with an assumption that players are going to just accidentally stumble into good relationships is kinda ridiculous. How often is someone going to pick up an MMO blind without any friends from either real life or friends they met in other games? Perhaps the idea is that you can recruit from the pile of random people killing quest mobs in daily hubs? The whole thing just feels kinda sketchy considering it is a linchpin in the entire social game design edifice.

There is something to be said for needing a reason to need other players to ensure social interaction takes place. In other words, dependency (or perhaps more charitably: profit) is the impetus to take that first step towards interaction. There is also something to be said that if you have to force social interaction between two parties that otherwise would prefer not to be bothered, perhaps you should reexamine what it is you are doing in the first place and to what end.

Shouldn’t it be enough that an impromptu group gets quests done faster? It is not even as though you are punishing the solo player as it is undermining the very thing you set out to foster in the first place, e.g. social interaction. By default, all non-party members are detriments to one’s gameplay. That does not encourage me to group with them, that encourages me to endure them or move to a less busy corner of the world. If I wanted to make more friends, I would make more friends regardless of whether or not we had to expressly group together to get quest credit.

Mind Controlled

I got about as close as I ever gotten before to rage-quitting in Hearthstone the other day. The culprit? Mind Control. The scenario that happened to me was this:

Mind Control #1

Mind Control #1

It is late in an Arena match, Priest vs Priest. I never had any chance to select Mind Control during the drafting process, but in this particular game I was doing pretty good. The opposing Priest had gotten so low that he basically was forced to Mind Control one of my smaller creatures (the 2/7 that gets bigger when it takes damage) just to buy some extra time. He’s at 18, I’m at 25, I have Holy Nova if he dumps his hand, Temple Enforcer to seal the deal, and Ironbeak Owl for the Silence. While the stolen Berserker wasn’t an immediate threat, I did not want to run the risk of him killing one of my creatures and somehow keeping the Berserker as a 5/5 or higher. With a Mind Control out of play, I felt it safe to turn up the pressure:

Mind Control #2

Mind Control #2

He played a second Mind Control. For those keeping track at home, Mind Control is usually 3-to-1 (virtual) card advantage – while you might technically only play 2 cards to his 1, his card in effect destroys your card, creates a creature for him (like a card), and you use a third card (Removal, creature trade, etc) to remove his. Anyway, this sucked, but the game was still recoverable by me. Until this happened:

Mind Control #3

Mind Control #3

Yes, a third Mind Control. In an Arena match. The funny thing is that it was still technically possible for me to win, had I drawn my lone copy of Holy Fire out of the remaining 10 cards in my deck – he had been spending each round healing my his creatures instead of himself. He was at 3 HP, and Holy Fire deals 5 damage. I did not draw Holy Fire.

Not pictured: my blood pressure.

Not pictured: my blood pressure.

There is a lot of debate on the forums regarding Mind Control, and how overbuffed Priests are in general. Some people say that Mind Control is fine, given how nobody complained about it back when Priests were weak. As I’ve stated here, I think it’s clear that the card itself is overpowered – it is Assassinate + Faceless Manipulator in one card – and the recent Priest buffs only exacerbated a preexisting (if irrelevant at the time) condition.

As frustrating as it is, Blizzard is actually listening:

We have seen a lot of talk about Mind Control lately, and I wanted to let you know that we are definitely paying attention to your concerns that Mind Control can be pretty powerful as well as frustrating to play against. We are talking about the issue here and looking at the power of Mind Control at different skill levels and in different modes so we can make any adjustments that may be needed. We’re still deliberating the right course of action, but we have heard you guys and we understand your concerns. Keep up the great feedback!

Blizzard’s quote here is interesting in that it highlights another dimension to game balance: fun. At the base of things, Mind Control is a tremendously unfun card to have played against you. “Yeah, what is?” Honestly? Nearly anything else. Sure, it sucks when some critical creature eats a Fireball or Assassinate. But in the case of Fireball, I can say to myself “at least that’s not 6 damage to my face.” Or “at least that’s one Assassinate down.” With Mind Control, not only do you face the obscene 3-to-1 card advantage, you get the added indignity of being killed by your own creatures. In effect, Mind Control – along with the other pieces of the Priest kit, like Mind Vision, Mindgames, and Thoughtsteal – actually punishes you for having a good deck. The better cards you have, the stronger those cards become.

So even if we imagine a scenario in which all the Priest cards are balanced against the other classes, it could still be the case that the existence of these cards at all are a net negative to the game. It gives me some small measure of hope that the devs actually went on the record yesterday affirming that “balanced” but unfun cards are actually something they plan on fixing… somehow. The easiest would be by making the effect an buff that can be Silenced away; why this is not already the case, I have no idea. And since Mind Control is a Basic card that everyone gets by leveling the Priest to 10, it is not as though people have sunk money into acquiring the card.

Alternatively, they could just remove the card entirely for being so goddamn frustrating to play against.

Got Ghostcrawler on Speed-dial

Right after yesterday’s complaints, the following notes go up:

  • Experience needed to increase from level 85 to level 90 has been reduced by 33%.
  • Reduced the number of Lesser Charms of Good Fortune needed for the Mogu Runes of Fate weekly quest to 50, down from 90.
  • Players no longer need to have defeated Grand Empress Shek’zeer to enter the Terrace of Endless Spring in Normal difficulty.
  • Shado-Pan and The August Celestials daily quests no longer have a faction prerequisite to be Revered with the Golden Lotus.

Technically, the last one has been in there a while, if you haven’t noticed before.

Anyway, nice try, Ghostcrawler, but it’s too little, too late for me. Maybe when the next expansion is 50% off, I’ll dip my toe in again like I did this last time. Then again, maybe not.

Wrong Choices

Ghostcrawler tweeted the sort of thing I’m sure sends “real” MMO players into howling fits:

“No,actually,there is not a wrong choice.Wether we(players) buy new items OR upgrade old ones should be our decision,not DEV’s.”
Giving players the ability to make choices with wrong answers doesn’t make players happy overall. (Source)

Choices having bad consequences is the best (only?) way to make a decision matter, as the argument goes. However, this quote got me thinking: do such players actually enjoy being able to make the wrong choice, or is it simply that the bad choice existing (which they did not pick) validates their good decision? Or put another way, who really likes making bad decisions?

I understand that the demonstration of skill necessitates there being wrong choices. Demonstrating skill, or improvement thereof, is fun. At the same time, the Mass Effect series (for example) was fun to play even though there weren’t any “wrong choices” (provided you weren’t specifically looking for X result).

There is only ever one correct answer to the questions of “which does the most DPS” or “what is the most efficient use of resources.” Ergo, is there actually any real decision to be made when one is correct and the other(s) not? I suppose the fun is supposed to be the result of figuring out which one is which, but that sort of clashes with the mockery and disdain frequently attributed to those who don’t look up the correct decision from the Wiki/EJ. Compare that to the question of “which transmog set is the best?”

I do not believe that there has to be a wrong choice in order for choices to be meaningful generally. We make identity choices every day – what type of person do I want to be, what do I believe in? – and I do not think that anyone would suggest that those choices are either irrelevant or have wrong answers (well… no one with any sort of self-reflection). And while I am willing to concede gameplay being under the (broad) umbrella of choice, e.g. one makes a wrong choice by pressing 11342 instead of 11324, I consider there to be a distinction between executing a rotation under pressure versus avoiding falling into a designer trap. One has its place as a legitimate test of skill, and the other is simply you winning via a few mouse clicks several months ago.

Valor Getting Converted to Justice

Mystery solved.

Valor -> Justice

All Valor is converted to Justice

Justice -> Gold

Justice above the 4000 cap is converted to gold at a rate of 47 silver per point

So let’s say the realms go down for the 5.2 patch and you have 450 Valor and 3800 Justice. Because of the 4000 Justice cap, you’d log back in after the patch is released with 0 Valor, 4000 Justice, and be 117 gold and 50 silver richer after the conversion.

With 5.2 we won’t be changing current Valor items to cost Justice, but they will be much cheaper (discounts from 50-75% off their current costs). You’ll need to acquire Valor after the patch is released to buy pieces for their discounted rate, or to buy the new 5.2 Valor items, but we’re also introducing new items to spend your Justice on, including heirlooms and Pet Battle stones. (source)

In retrospect, it’s pretty obvious that this is what they would be doing – this exact thing happened every patch in Cataclysm – but the “triple-gate” of 5.2 Valor items being locked behind new reputation vendors and the old items still being bought with (50-75%) less Valor was throwing me for a loop. And I like how Blizzard’s Justice Point consolation note says “new items like heirlooms and Pet Battle stones” instead of something useful, like I dunno, maybe all the shit they rolled out in Cataclysm, e.g. herbs, orbs, trade goods? I would love to see Chaos Orbs and Spirits of Harmony on the vendors for ~1500 JP or whatever.

Game Changer

I regret using such a punchy title for Diablo 3’s 1.0.4 patch, but good god have you seen this?

Introducing the Paragon System

The new Paragon system coming in patch 1.0.4 is designed to address Magic Find gear-swapping while providing players who’ve reached level 60 with an extended progression system.
Here’s how it works:

  • After you hit level 60, any further experience you earn from killing monsters will begin to count toward Paragon levels
  • There are 100 Paragon levels
  • Every Paragon level will reward you with:
    • Core stats such as Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Vitality in amounts similar to what you’d gain from a normal level
    • 3% Magic Find and 3% Gold Find

In addition, a distinctive increasingly-impressive border will surround your character portrait in the in-game party frame to denote your Paragon progression, with a new frame earned after every ten levels. Your Paragon level will also be visible to other players wherever your normal level is shown.

[…]

The time to reach the upper Paragon levels approximates the long-term time investment required to get a level 99 character in Diablo II.

Now, the above is in addition to all the AH changes – the biggest of which is the ability to sort by Bid Price and Ending Time (eBay snipe city incoming) – and all the class and difficulty changes I talked about last time. For sheer scope, I recommend checking out the full patch notes as well.

Oh, and it will probably be Live by the time you read this, not the 28th like I thought.

Sitting in my chair, jaw slightly ajar, I could not help but start wondering if there comes a point at which even positive changes become too conspicuous. This patch feels like I just started haggling with a used car salesman and he immediately gave me the keys and said “Here, just take it and go.” Eyebrows and suspicious are raised in equal measure. These are not features Blizzard had planned to roll out at the start, like PvP; damn near everything is a concession based on (negative) feedback that apparently came to a great surprise to Jay “And Double It!” Wilson and crew. Should they be praised for listening to feedback or damned for releasing a game in such apparent need of repair?

Also… what does Blizzard know that we do not? Did they perhaps intend for Diablo 3 to hold everyone over until MoP’s launch, but the negative 2 million subs and the (assumed) precipitous drop in D3 player activity got them spooked? Why else roll out this magnitude of changes? I have no idea. All I do know is that this version of D3 I might be playing tonight is going to almost be a completely different game than the one I started playing four months ago.

And since I haven’t even reviewed Diablo 3 yet… I’m not sure which game to write about now.

Diablo 3.5 Release Date is… Released

In what undoubtedly was an amazing case of pure coincidence, Diablo 3’s groundbreaking 1.0.4 patch is coming out “the fourth week of August.” Hmm. What day do Blizzard patches come out on? Tuesdays, I think? What is the Tuesday in the last week of August? The… 28th. August 28th. Good thing I have nothing else planned to do that day.

Kidding aside, patch 1.0.4 may as well be called Diablo 3.5 for the sheer scope of the sweeping changes to endgame. Let’s look at them a bit closer:

Co-Op Buffs

Gold/Magic Find will no longer be averaged between party members. While Blizzard admits that they were originally worried about leechers jumping into multiplayer with pure Magic Find gear and thereby not likely pulling their weight, the complete lack of foresight displayed was astonishing. If I am capable of farming Act 1 Inferno by myself with 228% MF, why in god’s name would I join with a random stranger who not only increases monster HP (getting nerfed this patch too, by the way) but likely reduces my level of MF by his/her mere presence?

The other guy gets my bonus, and I get his… what? Pleasurable company?

Pro Design Tip: don’t build your co-op or multiplayer system around Russian Roulette, e.g. you are no better off when you win, but when you lose, you lose big.

Severe, Sweeping Elite Pack Nerfs

And I mean severe. Any one of these changes would be huge on its own, but Blizzard is throwing the whole goddamn pot of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Look at it:

  • Elite HP reduced by 10-25%.
  • Regular mob HP increased by 5-10%, but 4x more likely to drop magic items.
  • Specific nerfs to Fire Chains and Shielding affixes; Invulnerable Minions getting removed.
  • Removal of Enrage Timers for Elites (!!!).
  • Removal of HP regeneration for Elites after player death (!!!).

Those last two items would have been more than enough to fix most of my issues with Inferno by themselves. The current system is binary: you can either kill the pack (or one member thereof) or you cannot. While removing Enrage Timers and HP regeneration can/will lead to Graveyard Rushes, I never understood how exactly that was a bad thing. Just because I can die six times in a row to finally take out an obstinate foe does not mean I don’t care about those six deaths. Dying in a game is penalty enough because I already wanted to survive; extra penalties are generally superfluous unless death serves some other gameplay function.

Sweeping Item Buffs

Although the buffs appear only targeted for weapons right now, this is nevertheless a big deal:

Weapon damage is the most important stat on a weapon. It can be disheartening to get a lot of weapon drops and you know before even looking at them that they have no chance of being good. To help give weapons a fighting chance, the raw damage value on all level 61 and 62 weapons will be able to roll damage that extends all the way to the top end of level 63.

While we will still see awesome +800 Life per Hit-esque stats on ilevel 62 weapons with unusably low DPS, the mere chance that it could be a better drop instead is a great move forward. Of course, it will lead to rampant stat inflation and subsequent hollowing out of the AH economy, but at this point, who cares? Hell, if we can get to a place where I can get a goddamn upgrade off the ground instead of praying for good drops to sell for gold to buy upgrades from other people, I will gladly throw the entire AH under the bus.

Also, I guess Legendaries are getting buffed? Since the average player is only ever going to see the buffed Legendaries in the AH, I never understood why Blizzard talked much about them at all; it is not as though they are farmable items.

Ridiculous (but Needed) Class Changes

I do not really know anything about the class changes yet, but I am going to go ahead and declare them ridiculous. They would have to be, assuming Blizzard follows through on this:

  • Does the skill fill a similar role as an extremely popular skill? If so, buff the skill to be competitive with the popular skill. For example, Bola Shot could be a solid skill, but simply doesn’t have the raw damage when compared to Hungering Arrow, so we’re buffing Bola Shot to be competitive.
  • Does a skill have a dominant rune? If so, can we buff the underused runes to be more competitive? A good example here is the Wizard Hydra skill. The Venom Hydra is by far the most popular rune, and for good reason, so we are buffing the other runes to make them more competitive with Venom Hydra.

What could possibly compete with the monk’s Fists of Thunder (Thunderclap rune) or Deadly Reach (Keen Eye rune), for example? Or, god help us all, the One With Everything passive?

_________

I cannot say I have any particular faith that Blizzard will fix everything broken with Diablo 3, but even given this very preliminary information I can confidentially state that I will log back on once 1.0.4 goes live. It may only be long enough to finish out Inferno Act 3 & Act 4 before uninstalling for good, but hey. If there is a chance to relieve blue balls, you go for it.

More Blizzard Heart to Heart

Remember last time when WoW lost a bunch of folks? It appears that we have another data point on the graph indicating that subscription totals and surprisingly frank design discussion are inversely related, at least as far as Ghostcrawler is concerned.

Spinks already pointed out this gem, but I will do so again for mine own posterity:

No developer wants to hear “I want to play your game, but there’s nothing to do.” For Mists, we are going out of our way to give players lots to do. We don’t want it to be overwhelming, but we do want it to be engaging. We want you to have the option of sitting down to an evening of World of Warcraft rather than running your daily dungeon in 30 minutes and then logging out. We understand we have many players (certainly the majority in fact) who can’t or aren’t interested in making huge commitments to the game every week and we hope we have structured things so that you don’t fall very far behind. The trick is to let players who want to play make some progress without leaving everyone else in the dust. (source)

Now, actually, I found an earlier line item from the list preceding the above paragraph to be more interesting:

– In Mists, we want to provide players alternative content to running dungeons. The dungeons are still there, but even with 6 new and 3 redone dungeons, you’re ready for something else after a while.

That is… kind of a big deal. I could maybe see an argument that things were different in TBC, but dungeons being default endgame for the majority of the playerbase (i.e. the 80% non-raiders) has been Blizzard’s modus operandi for the last two expansions. For, by all appearances, good reasons! How else do you get someone to log on every day? Dailies alone were not that compelling, precisely due to the factors Ghostcrawler points out: reputation grinds were undermined by tabard’d dungeon runs, as were Exalted faction rewards by dungeon loot.

De-emphasizing dungeons is a paradigm shift and Grand Social Experiment all rolled into one. Think about it. Who are the individuals most likely to exhibit anti-social, anti-noob behavior in a dungeon setting? The people who don’t want to be there, but feel they have to be there. Well, now they don’t. Go run Scenarios with your two dickish DPS cohorts and never haunt the halls of LFD again. Alternatively, just as Children’s Week floods BGs with players who never cared for PvP, perhaps allowing normal daily quests to adequately satisfy one’s need for gear progression means there will be less noobs looking to be carried by raider alts through LFD.

Most people would agree that the friendliest LFD “community” is generally in endgame normal dungeons. Why? Because it is filled with players who actually want to be there. They could be getting better gear in heroics, but choose not to. Maybe not at first, but over time do you think we could gradually see LFD populated only with people who enjoy that experience?

Of course, I can see this whole thing going down in the flames too. Although LFD and LFR has minimized the necessity of forming social relationships in the endgame, this sort of re-emphasis on flying solo could not come at a worse time, e.g. as 2+ million players snap social ties. Or maybe this is a catering to the audience as it exists now, instead of the hypothetical historical. Or perhaps I should believe what I said before vis-a-vis seeing all the new opportunities to be social via running dailies/Scenarios in small groups with people I actually care about.

I mean… this is Guild Wars 2’s entire model, right?

Oh, NOW We’re Being Reasonable

Every time Blizzard makes some nice progress towards actually implementing player feedback, the actual improvements remind me exactly how boneheaded they originally were. Take, for instance, the following hotfix:

UI

  • Inactive guild leader replacement now requires 90 days of absence, up from 30 days. Ascent to the rank of guild leader is now only available to guild members at Rank 2, 3, or 4.

Oh, yeah, I remember that discussion now.

Of course, the irony of it all is that the change can be read so many different ways. Is this Blizzard (finally) responding to the player feedback lodged back before 4.3 went live? Is this Blizzard being tired of all the tickets and sleeper agent alt coups? Or is this a tacit Blizzard admission that, hey, maybe it’s not so reasonable to expect players to stay subbed each and every month? Especially given A) the two million people already out the door, and B) there are actually other games worth a player’s time to check out (MMO or not).

One such game is Blizzard’s own Diablo 3, out less than a month from now. But, honestly, it is just one of a mighty deluge of games coming out in front of the apocalypse.

In any event, I am very much enjoying this newer, more reasonable Blizzard.

Bold and Spectacular… Server Merges?

This news is technically more than a week old, but there was a blue post made by Zarhym that really struck me as… well, read for yourself:

Having said all that, yesterday we discussed low-population and faction-imbalanced realms with our developers. They have some pretty bold and spectacular plans for addressing this in anticipation of implementing some of the features we plan to in Mists. I just don’t have a lot of information to share with you at this stage of programming and development.

My first reaction is in the title: bold and spectacular… server mergers? Assuming that is not what they are doing, well, what are they doing? What could they be doing?

I believe it was in a recent episode of The Instance that the hosts were talking about the concept of moving towards a server-less solution, or perhaps more accurately a “dynamic server” solution. We can imagine that instead of always logging onto Auchindoun or Earthen Ring or wherever, you simply log into a server. Once that server starts to fill towards capacity, people will start logging into a new server. This essentially eliminates low-pop and/or faction imbalanced servers entirely, aside from very last server booted up.

There are several obvious downsides to such a method. First, everything will be like LFD for servers; the likelihood of you making friends “in the wild” is severely diminished since you probably won’t ever see them again. A possible counter-measure would be to weight the system so that you are nearly guaranteed to be placed in the same “server” as people on your Friends List. Think that DK was a pretty cool guy when you were doing dailies? Add him to Friends, maybe see him again. What happens, though, if your Friends List network splits off to different servers based on their Friends Lists? Even if you make it possible to change servers through the UI or whatever, other issues crop up. For example, how will the AH be handled? One mega-AH, ruled by botters?

Aside from the dynamic server idea, I had the thought about simply moving towards LFR-ifying everything – not with queues, but with phasing. Imagine the following: you’re on a low-pop ghost town (i.e. Auchindoun), and you walk into Westfall for some alt questing. Instead of the place simply being dead, it is fairly vibrant… with people from other low-pop servers. Instead of an empty Auchindoun Westfall and an empty Dragonmaw Westfall, there is a kind of meta-Westfall that both servers share. Their AHs would remain separate, their Stormwinds would remain separate, their Tol Barads would remain separate, but any kind of dead zone would be shared. If a bunch of people congregated in Westfall for some reason, the servers could simply phase out the other side.

Or maybe “bold and spectacular plans” is simply LFD scenarios, or LFR Tol Barads.

All I know is that low-pop and/or imbalanced realms is a huge, systemic problem in two-faction games. In my four years, I never played on anything other than low-pop realms; any time I heard excitement over Sunwell-esque unlocking of vendors or world raid bosses or WG/TB-based PvP objectives, I always rolled my eyes. Those things do not work on Auchindoun, nor on many other servers. Fundamentally, you and I may as well be playing entirely different games.

If Mists is really focused on getting people out of cities and back into the world, Blizzard is going to have a big problem in low-pop realms when everyone is outside and they still can’t see each other.