Blog Archives

OT: The pre-4.2 Numbers

I think it is a bit early for a more formal “postmortem” on Cataclysm’s first tier of content, but for posterity here is a screenshot of raiding progression as it stood at nearly 4am Tuesday morning, before the numbers could be “sullied” by the 4.2 nerfs.

Since there is no 100% boss, some reverse engineering of WoWProgress’s numbers shows that there was a total of 62,405 guilds that killed at least 1 boss this tier. A further breakdown estimate goes something like this:

1/12 – 62,405 – 100%
9/12 – 44,107 – 70.68%
12/12 – 23,122 – 37.05%
13/13 – 812 – 1.3%*

Depending on how many raiders you associate with a raiding guild (15-30), this means roughly between 589,245 to 1,178,490 players who started this tier did not finish it on Normal. WoWProgress pulls its data from NA, EU, TW, and KR servers, which comprise roughly ~6.5 million subscriptions per MMOData. This means that at the upper end (30) the raiding pool this tier is about ~28.8% of all accounts. Or, 71.2% of all subscribers did not raid, and of those who did raid, 62.95% did not kill all 12 normal mode bosses.** In this context, seven bosses in Firelands may almost make sense.

The other thing I want to mention briefly is that I expect Blizzard’s Q2 investor call to either look absolutely amazing, or completely terrible depending on timing. As you may or may not have heard, Blizzard sent out emails to existing accounts which essentially contains a free copy of the original WoW game, 30 days of game time included. Secondly, Blizzard is poised to release Cataclysm in China July 12th. Finally, and perhaps more earth-shatteringly from a subscription standpoint, Blizzard increased the Recruit-A-Friend XP bonus from 1-60 to 1-80. If you are an alt person as I am (or was, considering I have a full 10 character slots on Auch), this is about as close as Blizzard seems willing to get to letting you buy a Cataclysm character. Back when RAF originally came out, I had two instances of WoW running and essentially spent $5-10 to get a level 60 rogue, priest, and hunter (with the gifted levels) in about two weeks of leisurely play. And for that month, for all intents and purposes I was two subscriptions to Blizzard. Of course, Blizzard recouped $25 or whatever it was when I decided to transfer the RAF priest to my primary account before shutting the RAF account down.

So, basically, depending on when the Q2 sub numbers are compiled Blizzard will likely be seeing huge growth (due to 4.2 being released, dual-boxing RAF accounts, free copies of games going out, new expansion in China) or further drops depending on when the numbers are locked in for the report.

*Apparently Heroic Ascendant Council is more difficult than Sinestra based on number of guilds having killed it: 812 vs 926 (Sinestra). It might be that people were racing for Sinestra kills before the patch, but it is interesting nonetheless.

**By contrast, only 42.32% of raiders who downed Marrowgar did not also kill the Lich King. It is entirely possible we will see more 12/12 after an equivalent amount of time has passed, of course.

Sinking Ships

I think it is fair to say Cataclysm has not been going according to plan.

Right in the middle of my writing a very long post about the Great Tank Bribe of 2011, we get hit with a few more broadsides:

  • Honor is now purchasable from the Justice Commodities Vendor at 250 Honor per 375 Justice.
  • Justice is now purchasable from the Honor Commodities Vendor at 250 Justice per 375 Honor.
  • Conquest is now purchasable from the Valor vendor at 250 Conquest per 250 Valor.
  • Any cut of uncommon gem now sells to NPC for 75 silver instead of 9 gold.

Not to mention the things we already know:

  • The rate at which Honor Points are earned has been doubled.
  • Revamped ZA/ZG granting 140 VP.
  • Daily heroics –> 7/week heroics.
  • Tanks getting gold, gems, flasks, non-combat pets (including cross faction), and mounts.

All of this for Patch Four “WE SWEAR FIRELANDS ISN’T BEING DELAYED” Point One. Or perhaps it should be called Patch Four “Precipitous Subcriber Activity Freefall Solutions” Point One. Individually, each one of these could change the entire gaming landscape for millions of people, and they are all happening together.

The easiest change to grasp is the (data-mined) change of cut uncommon gems going from what we all knew was a ridiculous 9g vendor price down to 75s. This radically undermines the safety net of bot-bought ore for Shuffling purposes as the True Vendor Price (TVP) going from 54g for Obsidium to 4.5g a stack. Will that stop the bots from burying us under a mountain of cheap ore? Nope. What else will they farm? More herbs? It is correct that such a high TVP meant a fairly substantial inflation spiral, but honestly, all that removing the floor will do is send Shuffle components (gems, dust, scrolls, etc) down into further free-fall. The bots have to go; all the 9g gems did was act as a garbage bin for their goods.

But what of the other changes? It is almost impossible to even imagine all the interlocking synergy going on. For example, with the tank bribe deal? It is safe to say that the gems and flasks from the goodie bag will be normal gems/flasks (e.g. sell on the AH), but what about those pets? Can you even imagine having an X% chance of bam! opposite-faction pet in your bags and ready to be sold? If they are BoP when you get them, alright, but most flasks are still hovering at 100g apiece over at Auchindoun, which puts the gold total at 84g + 100g + however much extra that toss in the bag itself. It would take a truly ridiculous amount to bribe me to tank based on gold alone, but at some point I will do an otherwise useless gold/hour calculation. And, hey, while I am not a mount guy, Reins of the Raven Lord is something I have been interested in since Sethekk Halls was current content.

What is most interesting to me at the moment though, is the calculus involving the honor JP conversions. It’s set at 66% rate of return, which means you need to turn in 3375 honor for 2250 JP (e.g. a “tier” piece) and vice versa. On the face of it, that’s a fairly bad return… but remember that all honor gain is doubling per the PTR notes. We don’t know if that’s honor from HKs or what, but can you imagine the alternative? I get 240 honor from a TB win, plus another 200 from the weekly quest, plus X amount from just general HKs around the map – 880 honor + X amount, let’s just round that to a charitable 900. Random daily BG losses will be 90 per game minimum. All this stuff will add up pretty quickly. That 3375 honor target is actually 1687.5 honor post-patch. In other words, PvP will be the most efficient way to farm JP in that you can turn 1687.5 honor into 2250 JP. Conversely, you could simply be picking up the blue PvP gear for 1100 honor for the most expensive slots.

If it sounds like I’m all over the place here, well, I’m all over the place. It honestly feels like Blizzard is throwing everything at the leaking hull and seeing what will stick, to mix metaphors. The doubling honor deal went under a lot of peoples’ radars, but added to all this other stuff? Madness, all around.

OT: Four Point What

Patch 4.1 is hitting the PTR Soon™ and in the midst of flurry of blog posts about it, let me be the first to say: ZA & ZG what?

We had gotten hints at the beginning of Cataclysm that ZG/ZA might have merely been a setback with all the chatter about the Tome of Polymorph: Turtle and the vague gesticulations concerning the ZG mounts. The literal revelation that these are coming back though leaves me a bit floored. To a certian extent you expect a bit of redundancy within MMOs, for several reasons. For example, can you imagine 120 different Fire Elemental models? It would be absurd, a huge drain not only on development time but also taxing on players’ mental bandwidth. The other reason why you should expect redundancy within an MMO is simply because of player churn. For however X number of players remember going through ZG and ZA back in the day, there are Y players who never did… making the content new to them. If recycling content gives the designers space to make all-new content, that is an acceptable trade-off.

That said, it remains to be seen whether we will be, in fact, getting gameplay returns for developer recycling or if Blizzard is simply repackaging our shampoo into a “new and improved” 9 oz bottle (down from 12 oz) while charging the same $15. Revamped Onyxia was better than no Onyxia in Tier 9 content, unless we could have had Completely New Boss X instead. Blizzard promised Throne of Tides – Abyssal Maw in 4.1 though, so unless that makes it Live in addition to the other two, it is conceviable Blizzard is peddling some Adjustable Rate Mortgages our way.

Ultimately, the above kind of gut reactions miss the PVSAH mark. The only relevant aspect is: are these heroics/boss fights fun? If Blizzard makes them fun, what does it matter if in patch 4.2 we see 5-man Karazhan (hopefully with Chess Event and the legions Malchezaar commands intact) or even the ultimate slap-in-the-face Magister’s Terrace revamp? Fun is fun. And while that may seem like a tautological cop-out, at the end of the day it is the only thing that really matters.

Edit: I wrote the above a few days ago when the changes had just been revealed. Since then, my feelings have shifted more towards Acceptance. The Deadmines revamp was essentially an entirely new, innovative instance wrapped in nostalgia packaging. The same could sortabe said about Shadowfang Keep, but I hate the place honestly. I don’t like running Deadmines either – both still take even a guild group close to an hour to finish – but if the ZA & ZG heroics turn out like Deadmines from an innovation standpoint, it’s win-win for everyone.

OT: LFD and Difficulty

OT = Off-topic, e.g. no AH advice.

Chances are good that you have at some point been exposed to the debate still consuming the WoW forums in regards to the recent nerfs to heroic difficulty, the buff to Luck of the Draw, and the overall “Wrathification” of Cataclysm. The arguments are pretty rote by this time, usually coming down to “morons/bads should L2P and not have faceroll epixs” and “back in my day we wiped and liked it” and possibly “the elitist no-lifers just want exclusive content for themselves” or “my $15/month is just as valuable as your $15/month.”

All of that kind of debate is besides the point.

The point is two-fold: the DPS queue for heroics is north of 45 minutes and the completion rate of LFD groups was garbage. Period.

LFD is Here to Stay
It is interesting from a philosophical point to debate the whys and the hows, but again, it would be besides the point. The LFD genie is out of the bottle, and it is never going back. That said, LFD as a tool requires a healthy feedback loop in order to function. Players like Gevlon from Greedy Goblin might refuse to use LFD under any circumstances, even if that meant he simply was never able to do another heroic again. I would imagine that everyone else would be more reasonable insofar as they would prefer grouping with friends, but if they could just grab someone to fill the empty slot(s) they would. Sometimes only three people you know are online, or perhaps only three out of X many are willing to go. Other times you may literally be the only person online for whatever reason and want to run a heroic. In those situations, you will want the system to be there.

LFD in this sense is like public transportation. You may never actually need to use it, and you may certainly never want to, but it is still in your best interests for it to be there in case you do.

That all changes if the average completion rate of LFD pugs is 40% after having waiting for nearly an hour. Most sensible people would not bother with that, and instead take their chances with Trade chat pugs, waiting for guildies to become available, or simply going and doing something else entirely. The people who would still queue for such a LFD failure would be the terminally optimistic and those for whom a 40% chance of success after an hour of waiting is more than they achieve on average anyway. This means that when you end up needing to use LFD to avoid not being able to do what you want to do, you are far more likely to not end up being able to do what you wanted to do anyway and wasted your time besides.

What Does Not Wipe You, Makes You… Err
Were the Cataclysm heroics too hard? Would the “difficulty” have solved itself once tier-gear was available for Justice Points in 4.1 and beyond? Is having players struggle through difficult content better for them and the game overall? Interesting questions… but irrelevant to the issue of the negative feedback loop the LFD tool was stuck on.

Success breeds success. There are highly successful people IRL who say that success is the worst teacher, that adversity and frustration are better motivators. Sure… sorta. I am not opposed to difficult content – fundamentally I believe everyone who plays wants content tailored to their skill level – what I am opposed to is the notion that a LFD system could survive the same design philosophy used in, say, raiding. If your first few forays into eBay or Craigslist ended up in scams, frauds and embarassment, how likely would it be that enough people would trooper on in the face of such adversity to make those marketplaces function on a healthy level? Even on a raiding level, success breeds success. How long would Gevlon’s experiement have lasted if endlessly wiped on Magmaw and saw no improvement from week to week?

Does the 15% LFD buff and targeted boss nerfs make people better players? Not necessarily at first. What those things do accomplish is increase the completion rate of LFD dungeon groups as a whole, which then encourages more people to use the tool, which improves the aggregate skill level of groups, which further increases the completion rates. I truly do believe that a smoothly functioning LFD tool encourages individual improvement in the people receptive to the idea to begin with, as they get a foundation of success that translates into confidence, plus the gear that takes raiding into the realm of possibility. Just think of how many potential raiders could be buried under the fail of current LFD groups, never knowing how much better they could become because any improvements they do accomplish does not translate into meaningful group success.

Collateral Damage
The final thing I wanted to briefly talk about is the following argument:

“This sort of thing is exactly WHY the 15% was bought in.
Are you saying we should all fail just because some of the peeps were scrubs?”

“No they should not reward poor play. Groups should fail sometimes people should learn mechanics. The issue is they put the bar on the floor for wrath.” 

One of the root design questions of LFD is: should good players be penalized for getting randomly grouped with bad players?

There is no way to avoid rewarding poor play without also penalizing good play in the process (unless all five players are bad). Such a philosophical hardline is the same concept as the teacher punishing the entire class because no one came forward to say who threw the spitball or whatever. The idea is that by holding the entire class hostage, one can guilt either the perpetrator or someone who knows who the perp is into confessing. Based on personal anecdotes, such a gambit works approximately 0% of the time – someone with no compunction against being disruptive in class in the first place isn’t likely to be persuaded by guilt (even if they are, they are getting punished either way, so no-win), the people who knew who did it likely don’t want to be labeled as snitches and otherwise suffer retaliation later (no-win), and the rest of the class that would tell who did it if they knew are punished as though they did it themselves (no-win). Such blind, indiscriminate punishment does not actually encourage any good behavior whatsoever; the only real thing it encourages is either acting out yourself (may as well have fun if you suffer the consequences either way) or an avoidance of that class/teacher, which represents the LFD tool in this case.

Is it “fair” that bad players get carried? Maybe not. Then again, I’d say the downside of being bad is being bad. If someone is so conceited and ignorant that they are unable to recognize their own terribleness, they are not likely to learn anything from the group being wiped either. Meanwhile, I do not think anyone believe it fair that otherwise good players get punished for something they had no hand in doing.

[Should good players be penalized because of bad players?] In a word? Yes.

Because the flip side of the question is, “Should a player be guaranteed a successful run no matter what the other 4 people in the group do?” And the answer to that is, “No.”

A good point, but presumably the line does not exist at such an extreme. Should two good players be punished because three bads happen to be in the group? How about three good, two bad? Four good, one bad? And what about when the the binary distinctions are dropped, and we start adding “above average” “average,” and “below average,” to the mix?

Ultimately, I believe the changes which Blizzard did were amazingly nuanced. The targeted nerfs are nerfs, of course. But full guild groups looking for challenge can avoid the 10% portion of the buff by doing what they always did anyway: run heroics as groups. And if they ever need a 4th or 5th member to round out the run? At least they will not have their run torpedoed by a kid shooting spitballs.