Blizzard Facepalm: Dungeon Edition

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.

Followed by:

[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.

Wut

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.

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Posted on May 18, 2015, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Yeah, this. Though I get the impression that Blizzard thought through recent expansions that LFR should replace 5-man dungeons as repeatable content. That the masses who aren’t quite good enough or invested enough in normal or hard mode raiding should somehow prefer to play with random idiots/afkers/whiners/loot ninjas over playing with four other friends? For my old guild heroic dungeons was our endgame, period. Through each expansion up to and including Cataclysm we stayed together and levelling different groups of characters to face the various sets of dungeons as they were released. Then suddenly raid finder was added and it gave better gear and easier runs.

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    • I could even understand that LFR sentiment, if they imagined that most people would only play for 3 hours a week. And who knows, maybe the stats indicate that a large amount of people do only play for that long. But it’s still insane to say that small-group content is one of the greatest strengths of the genre and then all but abandon said content.

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  2. I’m not sure I see the disconnect between the two quotes. Raids get harder throught the expansion, 5-men don’t, but the latter keep giving the same reward through valor points. And 5 men groups are easier to set up than raids, but they have been the endgame forgotten children every time. They seem to talk about two different things….

    But I have some more serious issues with the entire discussion: if 5-men ar so engaging and such a good endgame content, why exacly do they need to provide a reward for peope to run them?

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    • I can see why Blizzard went the direction they did with 5-mans. The whole “dungeons get easier but stay rewarding” thing is indeed a bit silly in the abstract. But you can’t turn around and then state that 5-mans are one of the greatest strengths of the genre when you have gone out of your way to disincentivize running them this expansion. Or adding any new ones.

      As for why they have to provide a reward for running them, it’s the same reason as anything else: no one would do them otherwise. Imagine if raids dropped no loot. If there is no incentive to group, nobody groups.

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      • Isn’t that the whole point Watcher was trying to make?
        VP were too big of a reward but they went too far when they removed them completely without any replacement.

        He even used the words “But I think we went too far”

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      • Right, and my point is how can anyone who has played even a single MMO in their life make a mistake of that magnitude? Especially someone who comes out and states 5-mans are the greatest strength of the genre? “I think we went too far.” These clowns replaced Valor with Garrison resources. And not even a lot of resources, just 50. It boggles my mind.

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      • This is far from the only example of amateurish “reward engineering” in this expansion. Whoever was in charge of that really dropped the ball.

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  3. Running content over and over is the basis of MMO gameplay, but there is ideally a limit to it. People didn’t run Naxx all throughout WotLK, why should they be expected to run Utgarde Pinnacle the whole time? I remember Blizzard in the past expressing that Heroic Mech runs at the end of BC seemed kind of ridiculous. With valor points you eventually have the gamey reward take over the whole thing, such that you’re just doing another daily chore.

    As for more dungeons, Blizzard has said that 5 mans have a much lower time to exhaustion than raids, yet require about the same level of design effort. They’ve also said that dungeon releases in the past have cut into other content, especially with Dragon Soul. I don’t know how much that is true, but if even the WoW team isn’t robust enough to balance small and large group content releases then maybe that just stays a dream.

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    • I was there for heroic Mech farming back in TBC, so I know the feeling. But here’s the thing: what do you replace that gameplay with? Not LFR/raids, as those are once a week. Dailies? Reputation farming? Both removed. Garrison missions? That takes 5 minutes.

      Running 5-man heroics for Valor is indeed a gamey system, but at least it was a game you could play.

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      • You can still farm rep, it’s just back to vanilla; very grindy and not much use for anything. I think Blizzard overreacted a little too hard to the initial backlash in MoP over dailies and reputation.

        As for what you can do, when I played I would do garrison stuff and the apexis daily. Add one wing of LFR to that and you have about 2 hours of daily activities. I actually quit because this was nearly my entire gaming time for a weekday and I’d rather do other things. But I can imagine a person being less than excited about MMO chores, and raiding just bored me to tears after the first few times.

        I think at some point you really just have to ask yourself if you care about WoW progress. For me the answer was no. If making gold, achieving achievements, or increasing itemlevels fails to interest you, then there isn’t anything left.

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  4. How hard would it be to design a couple of end game only 5-mans that are modular with places to add different paths/wings as the expansion rolls on and not feel forced to build completely new dungeons/stories/etc.?

    I understand the point of not wanting to make people repeat content over and over (though agree with the absurdity of it), but Blizzard has done ZERO to get away from that. I don’t need full procedural generation or randomization, but it is absurd that other games can be fun and compelling without having to design every single thing by hand these days. Bring back Valor points and give me one dungeon that doesn’t repeat itself (or god forbid a few other systems, like a dungeon boss rush mode) and I might stay subscribed past the initial content dump.

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  5. Keep in mind, these aren’t the people who made an MMO that attracted 7m subs, these are the people who took an MMO with 12m subs and are now left with 7m. Saying that destroying group content or long-term reasons to run content would end up costing you 5m subs sounds about right to me.

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    • While I don’t ascribe to the “WoW would be at 20 million subs by now!” theory, this particular interview is making me question what the hell goes on over at Blizzard HQ design meetings. Or what makes them feel so comfortable making huge shifts in philosophy.

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      • LoL has 30m active players (probably more now), why is it crazy to think WoW done right wouldn’t have 20m? I’m not saying it would, but in 2004 saying WoW would have 12m subs would have been a FAR, FAR crazier statement.

        $15 a month is pocket change for just about anyone who can game anyway (someone who can’t really afford $15 a month can’t afford the PC to play LoL and the internet connection), and in a lot of ways, LoL is far more hardcore than WoW as a game. Anyone can hit the level cap in WoW; by comparison few will reach a decent skill level in LoL.

        The only reason WoW has dropped from 12m to 7m is New Blizzard vs Old Blizzard.

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      • LoL has 30m active players (probably more now), why is it crazy to think WoW done right wouldn’t have 20m?

        It’s crazy for several reasons, most prominently that WoW’s growth was already slowing down by the end of TBC, before Old Blizzard even left. There is no particular reason to believe that the trajectory was unbounded, immune to market saturation, especially not given the “low” churn rate of 4-5% per month. The second would be that LoL “only” has 30m active players despite being F2P, e.g. no barriers to entry. And speaking of which:

        $15 a month is pocket change for just about anyone who can game anyway (someone who can’t really afford $15 a month can’t afford the PC to play LoL and the internet connection), […]

        This is an incredibly silly statement considering only about 1.2 million players actually pay anything to play LoL. The ARPU is $1.32. As you like to point out, if the designers of LoL had faith in their product, they would be charging more. But they’re not. So despite being one of the “best games out there,” they can only get X amount of active players by giving the game away for free. We all know that the population would utterly and completely collapse if it required even a one-time fee of $5. Or, in this case, apparently $1.33 per year on average.

        You’re right that 12m subs back in 2004 would have been a crazy statement, especially when all the other MMOs at the time were content with 300k. But seeing the trajectory now, and seeing all the gravestones of other MMOs who tried to emulate Old Blizzard, I don’t see any convincing evidence that TBC 2.0 would have continued the climb far beyond what it had already achieved. And given what the Old Blizzard veterans have been working on in the meantime, I see little reason to believe they even knew what the hell they were doing at the time that made their game fun in the first place.

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      • More people would pay for LoL if they had to, but they don’t, and clearly Riot doesn’t need them to. That’s how the model works; by not forcing people to pay (or even making a hard push to get money at all), they in turn attract more people, and in turn get more people who do pay. I’d say the model is working for them, right? But let’s not confuse that with what the total number of paying players would be if it was required, or pretend that a required payment would push LoL out of being a mega-hit. It being free, especially in today’s market, isn’t why it has the largest gaming population outside of Asia.

        Barrier of entry is highly overstated, usually by pro-F2P people who need a justification for why they can’t compete at a high level when it comes to making games. Skyrim had a massive $60 barrier of entry, how did that work out? How does it work out for any new CoD, or FFXIV today with it still having a decently high box price+sub? Remember we are talking PC games here, not mobile. PC players are more than happy to get over the pay barrier for something worthwhile.

        As for TBC 2.0, we will never know, but ‘still climbing’ is a better direction than “losing 5m” thanks to WotLK and beyond. Plus its a little silly to say that because others (or one member surrounded by non-Old Blizzard people) tried to do what Old Blizzard did and failed, that it wouldn’t have worked for them. There is a reason Old Blizzard was Old Blizzard; they were better than most at what they did during that time. That they took a wrong turn starting with WotLK is clear, and has continued to be more and more clear as time goes on.

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  6. There’s an underlying thread in a ton of blue posts, and it’s supported in this interview too; upgrading the graphics engine did the same thing to this expansion that the Cata revamp did and now it’s too hard to produce a lot of content.

    One example from this week.

    The art in the game is overall of much higher polygon and texture resolution than it was. Production “costs” (e.g. time) only increase as we increase graphical fidelity. Not to mention huge and ambitious projects like updating 20 race models, all with updated customization options, new animation sets, etc. This expansion has a huge amount of very time and quality-control intensive art in it. But I do legitimately understand it’s sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees.

    Race models=less content in the wings for this expansion, and upgraded in-game resolution outside that makes for more difficulty in making content. I saw a link deep in that reddit thread discussing the lack of content explicating on the quality of the new 3D models we are getting for things like wall decorations and it is obviously more intensive compared to things like the trees in BC Black Temple.

    I think the days of large content patches are gone, if for no other reason than they have decided to make the entire world look better.

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    • Which is funny, because on my old character, you can’t tell the difference between old model and new, while when EVE updates graphics, it’s night and day, and they don’t throw that out as an excuse (that’s what this is, lets be honest) for not delivering content.

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      • Oh, it’s mostly an excuse, but I still think I will take them at their (implied) word that there isn’t going to be more content coming.

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  7. Hazzikostas’s remark, “Inherently, I think all things are cyclical,” and his elaboration, are probably the most illuminating on all this.

    I think his statements are actually philosophical as opposed to PR fluff to cover the subscriber dip. The WoW team are consciously trying to get in front of the surge-decline tourist model and eliminate the things that clash with it and result in cognitive dissonance in the players. The endless five-man grind is one such feature.

    As he points out, Vanilla/BC nostalgia can obscure the fact that WoW has always chased the ‘log in, get something done, leave satisfied’ experience. Except back then, the standards of that concept were rather forgiving, and the comparison was EQ and FFXI. Now, by Hazzikostas’s own admission, the player expects that feeling of accomplishment after five minutes’ of play, and the garrison gameplay, from what I understand, is granular enough to allow that. The Adventure Guide they’re implementing hints at the same thing, helping the casual player cut down on the need to stop and figure out what to do next. That decision time is time not well-spent by their metrics.

    Having something like Valor in the game creates a long-term expectation and a goal, and a feeling of failure when that goal is not reached. It gets especially problematic because a player’s progress toward that goal depends on other people, and five-man runs tend to vary more in how successful they are than LFR runs do. In the past, despite all that, that goal provided motivation to keep grinding valor until you get your set. Under present expectations, the WoW team may well predict that the player will abandon the effort feeling disappointed and less likely to log on for the next content patch or to buy the next expansion. Better to incentivise a limited number of five-man runs with achievements, collectibles, some gear drops and then kick the player forward to LFR.

    Hazzikostas is admitting that they may have overshot the goal, but I do not think what he says represents an absence of strategy. The strategy is close to your final option, unsub when the content has run its course, although naturally ‘two weeks’ is poetically licensed exaggeration.

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