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Persistence

In a recent debate with Gevlon, he replied with the following:

You still don’t realize how obsoleting content is against the defining feature of the MMO genre: persistent world, defined as “previous gaming sessions significantly affect the current”. It’s a genre. It’s not for everyone. But if you throw it away, you are competing with MOBAs and I think LoL is a better MOBAs than WOW.

Now, the topic was at hand was a criticism of catch-up mechanisms. I, of course, disagree that there is anything wrong with the “End Game Content” model, but that is neither here nor there.

What I want to ponder on though, aside from the question of whether WoW has a persistent world, is whether a persistent world is actually a feature of MMOs, should be a feature, or ever really works as a feature. As I see it, there are three elements of persistence: Space, Consequences, and Advantage.

Persistent Space

In strict, technical terms I do believe that a “persistent” world is a defining feature of MMOs. Specifically, that the world exists. The alternative to a persistent world is a lobby-based world featured in a lot of otherwise throwaway action RPGs – the world exists as little arenas, created on demand, which disappear when you exit the stage. In WoW, Goldshire exists independently of whether or not you are to witness the shenanigans which transpire in the Inn. In fact, that shenanigans can transpire at all is because the world is persistent, e.g. meeting other people in virtual space.

At the same time… phasing and shard technology exists. Can we really say that Goldshire is a part of a persistent world if there exists Goldshire 1, Goldshire 2, etc? I am even conceding that Goldshire on Server 1 counts despite there being another Goldshire on Server 2. But these days, the Cross-Realm technology is almost a strict “Channel” system which (albeit seamlessly) drops you in a shared instance of the world, rather than “the” world. Does it really matter that there exists a Goldshire Prime somewhere that doesn’t turn off when you leave, considering you’ve never been there? So, arguably, we’re kinda already in a lobby-based experience, and it’s only shared insofar as other people get dropped in our lobby.

I’m not so much trying to argue against the notion that WoW’s world is persistent, but rather that the distinction is kind of moot these days. I do find that Azeroth is more overtly contiguous than many other MMOs, like FFXIV and GW2, which feature hard breaks at their borders. Cramming thousands of people into a singular space doesn’t exactly improve the gameplay experience, so I’m not sure what benefit that is supposed to provide in the first place. As long as people can naturally congregate and interact at will, I believe that’s enough to count as persistence.

Persistent Consequences

Way back in 2011, I pointed out the following:

One of the hallmarks of the MMO genre is a notion of a persistent world, but that persistence is always in tension with the fact that other players exist. Players say they want a world where consequences matter, that if a town gets burned down it stays burned down. But do they really want a world in which the choice of saving the town is never given to them because some noob 4 years ago logged off in the middle of the quest to put the fire out and the town burned down?

Persistence, on a more metaphorical level, means lasting consequences and mutual exclusivity. The town cannot be both burned down to you and not burned down to me, and still be considered persistent.  However, what is the desirability or utility of that persistence in the first place?

On the one hand, it can be used to good effect in games like EVE. If some Corp muscles into your star system, blows up your space station and then places their own… well, you’re out. That star system is now theirs, until the same thing happens to them at some point in the future. There are tangible consequences to game world actions, which persist beyond you switching accounts or logging off. There being finite space to fight over also underpins the gameplay loop of full-loot PvP – you care about moon goo because your ship blowing up tangibly reduces your wealth, so you need to control wealth-generating resources.

On the other hand, look at the player housing situation in FFXIV. The housing plots are finite and exclusive – if someone bought the plot you want, well, tough shit. The developers’ goals appear to be for these “neighborhoods” to feel real, and anchored into the game world. You aren’t just buying a house, but this particular house, situated in this particular location, exclusively.

And that’s dumb. Unimaginably dumb.

In FFXIV, it’s dumb because it serves no gameplay purpose. Getting a housing plot is a matter of having the money and clicking faster. After that, you simply continue paying the upkeep fee and that’s it. There are no gameplay elements to the neighborhood around you, and no homeless player is going to walk around gawking at your decorations. There is no reason to be there, specifically there, even for the homeowner themselves. Absolutely nothing changes if housing were instanced.

So, the only time persistent consequences makes sense is in player-directed ways, underpinning core game mechanics. And, as the term implies, the only way for persistence to make sense is for it to be consistent. Nothing else about the FFXIV world is exclusive or provides lasting consequences. So why have it?

Persistent Advantage

The final element of persistence is really an off-shoot of the previous one: persistent advantage. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because, conceptually, it does nothing good for any game. I mean, I guess it could be argued that in EVE it’s nice to be able to log into the game years later and fly around a reasonable ship. But I would argue that that is not so much because one’s advantage has been maintained than there being a low barrier to (re)entry. Sort of like, I dunno, logging into WoW and breezing your way back up to the current level cap and snagging some easy gear from a vendor.

The truest form of persistent advantage is essentially the attunement. And it’s terrible for all the same reasons it was in 2012 and earlier. It gates content arbitrarily, based not on skill or merit, but seniority. It squeezes out the middle class gamer, who either gets into a guild that carries them through the attunement, or they forgo whatever is gated behind it. In this case – and in all cases, really – the “challenge” is one of logistics. It’s difficult enough corralling 10/20/40 people into one place at the same time, much less adding pointless bureaucracy on top of it.

———–

So, taken together, the desirability of persistence is vastly overstated, honestly. Persistence is a tool to achieve a specific effect, not some ideal or higher calling. WoW and all the rest are still MMOs by any reasonable definition of the term, in spite of allowing you to actually quest and explore locations without having it all be destroyed by a failed Deathwing raid years ago.

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A Flight Far Enough

Well then. Turns out we’ll be returning to the skies in 6.2.x after all:

In an upcoming Public Test Realm build, we will be introducing a new meta-achievement called Draenor Pathfinder. You’ll earn this achievement in Patch 6.2 by mastering the outdoor environment of Draenor—exploring Draenor’s zones, collecting 100 treasures in Draenor, completing the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements, and raising the three new Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered. Initially, this achievement will award a rylak mount: the Soaring Skyterror, one of the native beasts that roam Draenor’s skies. Players will remain ground-bound on Draenor until a small follow-up patch (6.2.x), when all players who have earned Draenor Pathfinder on at least one character will unlock the ability to fly in Draenor on all their level 90+ characters.

The general mood surrounding this announcement, at least where I have looked, has been one of almost manic joyousness. And I largely share it. This is Blizzard returning to sanity, smartly pivoting around a smoldering crisis with some clever design. Even though my first thought was “hey, attunements 2.0,” I can’t even be mad. My long-standing opposition to attunements doesn’t apply to this particular implementation of them, even if I do feel like Blizzard just kinda threw every achievement they could think of into the unlock.

But just as you would with someone who has just returned from a psychotic break, I remain leery. Some very serious men¹ made some very serious decisions and those decisions almost stuck. In fact, Lore confirmed via Twitter that the “final decision” on this flying matter was the cause of the BINGO Live Q&A delay:

In fact, the conversation continues with the following revelations:

In other words, all these changes were decided on in just the last week.

Is it comforting knowing that Blizzard can make decisions with this degree of nimbleness? Or is it vexing that it took them until now to solve this “problem?” I don’t think anyone could argue that the proposed implementation to unlock flying is especially onerous². Arbitrary, yes, but so is paying a few thousand gold when you hit the level cap. But why was this design not the one at the start of the expansion? If this is a compromise, what were we compromising out of, and why was that believed to be better than this?

To an extent, I recognize this is me seeing a silver lining and looking for the cloud. The crisis is averted, and Blizzard conjured content out of thin air without even having to change anything else. Hell, it’s even going to drag damn near everyone outside of their Garrisons for the first time since they hit level cap. It is a clever designer Hat Trick in every respect.

Still… goddamn. I would have felt a lot better about the overall design direction for WoW had they came up with this plan before it became necessary.

¹ I was going to say “people,” but as far as I can tell, all the lead designers are dudes.

² One of the 6.2 reputations is a straight-up mob grind, and a second one is basically the same thing except killing rares. This deal is getting worse all the time.

How Hardcore Will Wildstar Actually Be?

Keen brought up an interesting perspective last week in regards to Wildstar:

I keep hearing/reading that WildStar is going to be such a hardcore game not for the casual, console, [insert something with a core not hard enough] audience.  Yes, there are inaccessible 40-man raids.  You’re delusional if you think that WildStar is now or will ever be hardcore.  Even compared to Vanilla WoW (like WildStar often is) it’s ridiculously accessible and easy to level.  People were hitting 40+ in 3-4 days or less.

All it will take is a few exit surveys for NCSoft to step in and force accessibility.  “We’re losing subscribers because they can’t experience the content they want to play.”  It will never, ever, be more inaccessible than WoW.

It’s an interesting perspective to me because I was (and still am) prepared to take Carbine and the Wildstar devs on face value. There was another Reddit AMA last week that sort of doubled-down on the hardcoreness. You can read a much cleaner, more condensed version here. This rather epic deconstruction sums up a lot of miscellaneous things:

Q: When it becomes apparent in the next year that hardcore 40 man’s aren’t going to work because it’s not what people like to do anymore, what other ideas are you going to try?

CRB_Gaffer: This is a “gotcha” question, but I’ll answer it anyways since some variant of it comes up reasonably often.

Little aside here: Why is this “gotcha”? Well, let’s examine possible answers:

1) Say “yes, 40 mans won’t work in a year, we’ll roll to another system” – well obviously we don’t believe that, or we wouldn’t have done them. And if early testing were pointing that way, we would have already converted them.

2) Say “no, they’ll never change, even if no one plays them!” – well, obviously, we’d be idiots to not respond to player feedback; it’s what we do. They’re fun enough that they’ll get played, we’re confident.

3) Say “it’s entirely up to player feedback!” – that’s hardly giving a strong direction, and we know this one will be contentious – there’s not likely to be a consensus. Every interesting game design decision is a mix of having a vision and being willing to intelligently and rationally assess when to swerve from it if reality and vision collide.

4) If we say that contingently we’ll push other fallback ideas, then of course the player base will potentially rapidly become divided to say “DO THAT NOW!!!” or assume that our plan all along is to go that route, when in practice, anything we do in terms of long-term planning is to an extent contingency based. We’ll be MUCH more knowledgeable about the health of the systems in the long terms six months post-launch.

So, that’s kinda the definition of a gotcha question – there’s no simple answer that actually addresses the question.

There’s another issue; the phrasing “when it becomes apparent” that implies that you’re asking the question to people you think aren’t that smart to begin with.

One assumes that’s intentional; it creates the added issue that responding to the question potentially Pavlovian conditions folks asking us questions to be snarky, when generally we try to focus answers on intelligent, well-phrased questions (even contentious ones) to make sure we’re doing our best to improve the quality of dialogue. No offense intended if that phrasing was just unintentional and through poor communication skills! Anyways, a good policy in TL;DR form: “Don’t feed the trolls”

But what the heck! To answer concisely after the extended parenthetical:

If it turns out that gamers are no longer capable of enjoying large-scale raiding, at that time our cross-discipline group of folks will have a series of debates on what works, what doesn’t work, base it on the data we’ve pulled from the systems and talking with our fans, and either double down on the parts of the systems that work well, or innovate some new directions to move forward in.

But early feedback is that that’s a pretty hypothetical situation. ;) Cause, hell, they’re pretty fun, and we think the added fun of the deeper gameplay we get out of those fights outweighs the social overhead of maintaining large groups. But folks will prove us wrong or not.

There are enough Ins and Outs in that response to construct a burger franchise, but there you go. Vague PR bullshit or nuanced game design? While I find myself more inclined to wait and see, I must confess that the following responses seems a bit contradictory:

Q: Are you committed to keeping a natural progression of content? […] Do you plan on adding shortcuts to previous tiers of raids when new ones come out? Removal of attunements, nerfing fights, adding equivalent gear from casual and easy to obtain sources (see WoW patch 2.4)?

CRB_TimeTravel: This is a great question for four months from now. Our post-launch balancing plans will depend heavily upon the speed with which players consume the content and the # of players doing the consuming.

However, we definitely don’t want to simply invalidate our previous content when we release new stuff.

Q: I know this is far into the future, but I’m hoping you guys keep old content relevant. I think it would be a great way to get the more casual players to raid in older/easier raid instances and have the new raids maintain the benchmark for hardcore players.

CRB_TimeTravel: We definitely don’t want to make our older content irrelevant, so will be looking for ways to have an intelligent progression forward with gear and ability as the game matures post-launch.

Q: What are your plans for longterm raid progression in terms of gear? Will you be taking the WoW model of trivializing the oldest raid instances when new ones are released? or the EverQuest model of a strict progression system, or somewhere in between?

CRB_TimeTravel: Somewhere in between.

We do not want to trivialize our content, nor force players to do all of it before seeing anything new.

What “middle way” is there between “not invalidate older content” and “not force players to do all of it”? You can either skip tiers or you can’t. The fact that the last boss of any given raid tier is always harder than the first (few) boss(es) of the next tier is one of the reasons I have always considered things like attunements and the justifications for them to be asinine. “Linear progression” is never linear progression, at least not for the first half of the next instance. If the hardcore raiders get a handful of gimmie bosses, why not everyone else? What good is preserved by putting a hard, game-ending limit to a given guild’s progression when you’ve specifically crafted new bosses that that guild could defeat if you but got out of the way?

Ugh. I think “attunements” and “linear progression” are trigger words for me.

That being said, I am not entirely sure whether I share Keen’s “optimism” regarding raiding in Wildstar becoming more accessible. As mentioned, there is enough wiggle-room in the posts by Carbine devs to allow them to nerf the content based on low participation. More problematic is how exactly they plan on nerfing it. Many of the gameplay videos I have seen paint most of the bosses as “bullet hell” dances, even in the 5m dungeons. In a world in which something as simple as the Heigan Dance threatened to break guilds apart, I’m skeptical these devs will be able to thread that needle. Maybe the attacks will 3-shot you instead of 1-shot? Maybe there will be less “bullets?” As any PUG raid leader can tell you though, moving out of the fire and dodging the fire are two entirely different things.

In any case, I suppose we’ll see how things shake out a few weeks from now.

Wildstar AMA

There was an AMA by Jeremy Gaffney (Executive Producer) regarding Wildstar on Friday. Here were some of the interesting notes:

As someone who has left the MMO scene for quite some time now, do you think WildStar could pull me back in? (ex WoW player)

Our #1 market is probably ex-MMO players, truth be told. That’s many of us as well :) (source)

Subtle and straight-forward. I like it.

Your stand on “catch-up gear” content? Like if I want to get into raiding say about year after release and I of course need to get proper gear to get into raiding. So are you planning to do 5man dungeons with some godly gear or other catch-up mechanics?

We’ll want some catch-up mechanics that are also fair to the long-term raiders; I know the econ guys have thought but thank heavens that’s a ways out yet. (source)

Given the Wildstar team’s commitment to to anachronisms like attunements, I have to wonder about how exactly “catch-up gear mechanics” would even work. Blizzard is heading towards making all of Warlord’s LFR gear be non-tier, so I could see “ghetto-tier” gear as a means to help newer players catch up… but what about those attunements? Is it “fair to long-term raiders” for attunements to be relaxed after the content is no longer current? How is that any different than the traditional cry that content is being obsoleted?

By the way, attunements were dumb, are dumb, and will always be dumb.

Will it be possible to purchase high end gear or tier equivalent gear via the Auction House? In other words, given the existence of the CREDD system, will it be possible to buy power in this game with cash?

In general, nope. In practice, there may be a few BOE pieces of appropriate rarity/difficulty to acquire that spice up the mix, but buying power is a dangerous thing to systemize. (source)

 Fair enough.

The questing experience levels 1-6 is terrible (especially on Dominion side), why do your tutorials areas have so many quests that are not interactive for the player?

Mostly through focus testing with players of a variety of experience levels; you’ve probably played too many MMOs to want your hand held for long and don’t value the world and character introductions we do there (and why should you? You don’t know if those will pay off later and just want to check out the gameplay, which is rational).

We will likely add an option down the road for you to opt out. (source)

This is a subject that could almost be an entire series of blog posts by itself. Namely, the tension between clearly going after competitor’s subscribers (e.g. “Not in Azeroth anymore!”) and needing to be accessible for first-time MMO players. Because let’s be honest, the only real way you’re going to build word-of-mouth is by exciting the already-existing base, unless your base is already established via IP. Quite frankly, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen more MMO companies come out with mid-range or even end-game gameplay in their beta right from the start. I mean, I guess even veterans will need a little bit of time to acclimate to the new environment, but you need them to be excited about the long-term future, not forcing them to spam-run tutorials every beta weekend.

Many people have had a really bad first impression of the game (usually first few hours of play), what would you say to these people to sway them into trying the game again?

Getting people back into the game is tricky (you form an impression and stick with it) – we change so much month to month that I don’t expect to re-earn the eyeballs of many folks who played in the past and left (even if we fixed some of what bothered them).

My plan personally is that you play what your friends are playing; the one thing more than any other email/ad/PR campaign we can do is get people liking the game itself and convincing their friends to come back in – thus Friend Passes, etc. (source)

That… is astonishingly honest and straight-forward. I have a few friends that pre-ordered Wildstar already, and they will pretty much be the only reason I purchase the game given my previous beta impressions.

Class balance is on going but their seems to be a mostly agreed tier list, with Spellslingers and Medics at the bottom in terms of DPS, and by a fair margin. What approach are you taking to get classes more in line with each other? Nerfing the top classes, or buffing the lower ones?

We err on the side of buffing rather than nerfing, but not to the point of insane mudflation. We’ll pretty regularly rebalance classes so that none is too gimped or OP (some drops are slated around this directly, while some will happen in each drop for higher priority stuff). (source)

I would say that erring on the side of buffing is the opposite of the WoW approach, but I don’t think classes ever got OP when someone else got nerfed, so… yeah.

Currently WildStars PVE Group Content ins linear, like in vanilla wow or tbc (the good times). With Wotlk and multilayer-content, problems like content skipping occured. Are you aware of that and are your gonna stick with the linear system? How will you ensure, that the linear system will work successfull on longterm for all different kind of raidguilds (casual, average, hardcore).

Adventures are intended to be heavily NON-linear, and raids are intended to have a fair amount of weekly variation (room ordering, sub-bosses, etc.) for just such reasons – if what we have is well received at launch, we’ll add more. (source)

I’m pretty sure they were talking about two different things here. I’m not sure about anyone else’s guild, but I absolutely hated the random variables in boss ordering (e.g. which drakes were in the cage, which bosses activated first, etc) as it required explaining the entire fight and every variation every time to everyone.

Q: In most MMO’s the crafted gear/items don’t have any real impact on endgame… What’s WildStar’s stance on this?

Our goal is that crafted items are competitive with the best items, but usually need to be earned through those same activities (either by the wearer or by the crafter) to keep things balanced. (source)

I have a difficult time trying to determine if this sort of thing would work for me. If I can’t craft the epic sword before being able to kill the guy who drops an epic sword, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to crafting (beyond playing the AH). On the other hand, I could sorta see this working if the raid boss had a much higher chance to drop the crafting component necessary to craft the epic sword, such that my profession had value in reducing the randomness of drops. This would require the crafting component to be personal loot though, I think.

I currently play GW2. what’s one good reason I should stop and start playing your game?

Don’t! Guild Wars 2 is an excellent game as well; respect to MO and the other arena.net devs. (source)

If I was less of a cynical bastard, I would be pretty impressed with this response. Alas, both MMOs are from NCSoft, so…

Beta Impressions: Wildstar, Part 2

After having spent some additional time with Wildstar, my impression has soured rather significantly.

I touched on it before, but I really need to reiterate how bad Carbine is screwing up questing. We have known since 2012 that they decided on Twitter-length quest text “because nobody reads it anyway,” but this rather disturbingly flippant attitude results in perhaps the most banal leveling process I have experienced in an MMO. It is one thing to reduce all quests down to kill X mobs or click on Y things, but it’s another thing entirely to not even bother papering over the activities with clever writing. I read quest text because it is the only real difference between MMO A and MMO B, in terms of doing things. With Wildstar, I was about 15 quests in before realizing I was wasting my time reading even their Twitter quests.

“Good job. Do this over there now!” Okay… where is “there?” What am I accomplishing? Ultimately, the truncated dialog doesn’t even matter because it’s faster to just click on the Quest Laundry List to get a directional arrow and rangefinder to tell you exactly where to go. And once you arrive, click on the shiny things, tunnel vision down the Challenge, and follow the next arrow somewhere else. At a certain point, I have to wonder if Wildstar could have pulled off an MMO without NPCs or dialog at all. By the end of the beta, I was barely even looking at the environment.

I'm assuming the Explorer jumping puzzles get more difficult later.

I’m assuming the Explorer jumping puzzles get more difficult later.

By the way, the Path system isn’t going to save anything. I tried the Scientist (click on these things with actual lore attached to them), the Settler (click on these things), and Explorer (jumping puzzles + uncover the map) without any real sense about why Carbine decided to compartmentalize the few quests that aren’t bag-n-tag. Maybe they get amazing later, but the only real thing that set them apart from one another are the special abilities that you unlock at the end. The Scientist, for example, can summon party members to his/her location and eventually create portals to the Capital City. Explorers get to triple jump on a 30-min cooldown and the equivalent of the WoW Monk ability Transcendence. Settlers are probably the best in that they create buff stations (that last 60 seconds…) that can grant 30-min buffs like +50% run-speed, bonus XP, and can eventually drop vendors (and I think bank bots, I don’t remember).

Combat-wise, it was not until I read someone describing combat as staring at blue and red circles on the floor that I realized, yes, that is entirely accurate. My initial positive combat experience also seemed to have been colored by a relatively powerful, EZ-mode-esque Stalker class. I tried out the Spellslinger and was shocked to discover that being rooted to the ground for some abilities is a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with the idea generally, but it feels particularly incongruent with Wildstar’s “action move move move huzzah!” zeitgeist. Playing the Engineer sort of cemented the experience that, yes, combat is not nearly as crisp or impactful as I felt on the Stalker. And that there are some serious concerns about the long-term viability of ranged classes.

By the way, take a look at some Warplot PvP:

Supposedly, group content is not quite as much of a visual disaster (you only see the green zones from other players). But hey, who actually knows what will happen in 40m exclusive raids, with attunements no less. A pretty bold plan to double-down on vanilla WoW mechanics in the same year that Blizzard thinks downsizing to 20m raids is more viable with their 7 million subscribers.

And, really, that combination of factors took Wildstar from Hype Train to trainwreck in my eyes. If your endgame is “40m raiding or die,” if your PvP is an epileptic seizure waiting to happen, and if your leveling game is a plotless point-n-click adventure, then… what’s left to justify $60 and a subscription? Player housing? Hoverboards? To an extent, I recognize that it’s a bit harsh to make judgment calls about an MMO based upon the sub-level 20 experience, but… well, should we really be giving games such a free pass anyway? Not at full MSRP, that’s for goddamn sure.

Oh, and this is a thing too.

Oh, and this is a thing too.

Of course, sometimes these decisions get made for you. Four members of my ex-WoW crew are playing Day 1. If you order it via GMG, you get 20% off. There’s no way the game is worth full MSRP… but how about $48? Ughhhh. Well. I have at least until Monday to make my decision (assuming GMG’s latest 20% coupon doesn’t come back in time), whatever that ends up being.

Interlude: Skill Trainers

Out of all the things mentioned in yesterday’s Wildstar beta post, the one thing that caught the most attention was that of Skill Trainers. Wildstar has them. And Wildstar having them is, to me, emblematic of a fault-line beneath it’s foundation that will undermine the game’s long-term viability. Hyperbolic much? Maybe. But it’s not about the Skill Trainers themselves, it’s about what they represent.

First though, me and Skill Trainers go way back. Here is a post from SWTOR’s beta back in 2011, which included this picture:

For serious.

For serious.

In fact, I’m just going to quote myself:

This is not to say there were no pressing issues afoot. Light/Dark side issues aside, some of the game mechanics feel they came out of a time capsule buried when Gary Gygax was still alive. Talent trees? How quaint. But seriously, there was another matter which was important enough to submit proper beta feedback about: [above photo]

I am not sure who was the first game designer who thought it would be fun to present players with the dilemma of stopping mid-quest/dungeon to trek all the way back to their trainer to get Rank 3 of Explosive Shell for it’s increased damage, or simply Troopering (*rimshot*) on without it, but they deserve a Rank VII Punch to the face. If there was some kind of RP scene showing you how to get a little more juice out of your grenade shots or whatever, I could understand and appreciate that. But if I can level up in the field and magically grow stronger and tougher to kill from one moment to the next, I should be able to get that +10-20 damage in those same moments. Even Gygax let our Fireballs deal 8d6 damage when we went from 7th to 8th level!

Skill Trainers are an anachronism, a piece of game design debris that was introduced once long ago, and thoughtlessly picked up by subsequent games out of some kind of misguided notion of tradition. Skill Trainers in MMOs are almost always Skill venders, granting access to abilities you have already unlocked by leveling in exchange for (a symbolic) thirty pieces of silver. That is the extent of their function in most games. There is no gameplay attached to them, no lore, no advice given to the proper use of the skills you instantly learned Matrix-style, no training montage, nothing. There are no interesting decisions when it comes to learning the skills – you are simply that much weaker and incomplete until you make the proper offering to archaic game design.

I could see someone making a case for Skill Vendors if they were hidden somewhere in the world (promotes exploration). Or if you had to use the skill several times against training dummies or whatever (demonstrates its use). Or if they had any gameplay use whatsoever. As it stands, the extent of the Pro-Vendor side seems to be it being confusing when abilities just pop into your bar/spellbook. Er… okay. You could just, you know, continue not using the skills until you you feel comfortable opening the spellbook and reading what they do (which is exactly what you’d do even with Skill Vendors). Hell, just roleplay the experience by not reading anything until you double-click on a random NPC in town somewhere.

As I said at the start, my main problem with Skill Vendors is not necessarily with them per se (although they are terrible), my problem is what they represent. If a development studio thinks they are a good idea – or worse, didn’t even bother analyzing their inclusion – what other nonsense is going to be brought back? Attunements? 40-man raids? Oh wait…

2007 Called

…and it said attunements are still a bad idea.

I was not going to write on this subject, given how much of it is ancient history. Indeed, even now I am not going to spend a lot of words detailing how and why everyone is wrong. Only 7 words are really needed:

Attunements were unnecessary in accomplishing their goals.

In other words, every single thing attunements set out to accomplish can be achieved by doing something else. Epic quest lines? Those can still happen. Gating content? That is what the bosses themselves are supposed to do, but you can still go the Sunwell/ICC or gear check route if you like. Encouraging the spirit of cooperation (no seriously, Klep said this)? Since most attunements were for raids, this implies one is already in a raiding guild, presumably to raid, and thus cooperation is already secured. Alternative advancement at endgame? Achievements et tal, or the EQ2 method would be fine.

In the course of pontificating on this subject in the comment sections of three different blogs, the one attunement argument that I actually enjoyed was the “checking to see if you are ready to raid” one. You see, my primary umbrage towards attunements like the Karazhan key quest was how many components required a group. I tanked my way to attunement on my paladin main with the officer core no problem. And then, over the proceeding 37 weeks of raiding Karazhan, I had to make 15 additional Karazhan attunement runs for various people in the guild. People that had no problem being terrible raiders, or otherwise expecting the guild to provide them with endless dungeon runs so that they could guild-hop/get poached three days later. Who was getting attuned here? New DPS recruit #13? They aren’t being challenged by having Karazhan-geared raiders carry them through dungeon runs.

The one sort of attunement that I would consent to return would be personal attunements. The example I gave in a comment reply was:

Hell, if attunements were something that had to be completed solo (or at least could be) I would have zero problem with them. Sure, why not? Have one of the steps be “equip socketed, enchanted gear appropriate to your spec and deal 4000 DPS” and endgame WoW would be in a much better place.

I would 100% be behind that, not out of some kind of desire to demean casuals or new players, but out of an earnest desire to educate them. Where in WoW does it suggest to fill in sockets with gems, or that gear enchants exist? The Ready for Raiding achievement was amusing (less so for how few raiders probably have it), but imagine if it were a required attunement before zoning in to any raid content. Have it be some kind of solo instance tailored to spec/class and filled with fire that needs not be stood in, CC not to be broken, and a final mob that needs to be killed with some minimum level of DPS (that even a tank/healer could achieve). Hell, normalize the gear too.

Bam. I have just created an attunement with an actual, useful purpose related to the thing it is serving as an obstacle for. You know, unlike every other attunement in the history of the game.