Blog Archives

Reckless Iteration

I was reading the 6.2 PTR patch notes for WoW the other day, and I was thinking to myself “hey, these are really good changes.” Like, really good. But after thinking about them for a little bit, I realized that they were so good because the mechanics they were changing were so bad. Like, really bad. Here are two of the items I’m talking about:

  • Players can no longer queue for Ashran while in a raid and are now automatically placed into a raid after entering.
  • Crafting the new upgrade items requires Felblight, a new reagent that can be obtained from Fishing, Herbalism, Mining, or Skinning in Tanaan Jungle.

I zoned into Ashran one day last week, and the experience was almost awful enough for me to stop playing altogether. Honestly, Ashran is just another failed iteration in pseudo-world PvP in a long list of them, but somehow the Blizzard devs made it worse.

Look at that first patch note. What happens right now when you zone into Ashran is: nothing. You grab some of the quests and then you storm out. But because you aren’t in a raid with everyone else, that means you get no buffs, no shared kill credit, no passive gains at all. While the LFG function can be used to find groups within Ashran, the only ones available when I zoned in were either farming specific races (for achievements, etc), or had some gear requirement, or were full. Which is fine on its own, go form your specialized groups, but we’ve had auto-raids for Wintergrasp and Tol Barad and it boggles my mind that this is just now being implemented.

On the other hand, I am not entirely sure how much this would actually help entice me back to Ashran. The “combat” is a one frame-per-second shitshow of lag and AoE spam where everyone charges up the middle lane. I guess there are events off the main lane sometimes? All I know is that if you aren’t a ranged class or a DK with Deathgrip, you are a waste of space and will die instantly the moment more than one person can tab-target you out of the crowd. Retribution paladin? GTFO. Compare that to Wintergrasp or Tol Barad, where even the worst-geared, worst-class player could make a difference in the battle’s outcome.

The second patch item listed above is what really drove things home though. For those that might not know, the hitherto endgame upgrade material was Savage Blood. For the crafted items in Warlords, there are four levels of upgrades, which can bring a level 91 2H Axe from already-beyond-heroic-dungeons power to current-raid power. The only realistic way to get Savage Blood? A level 3 Barn in your Garrison. It didn’t really matter what your professions were or where you farmed or anything at all to do with anything: you needed a Barn.

Which is precisely why the change highlights the absurdity of the current system. Blizzard all but killed every gathering profession this entire expansion. Every character has access to a Mine and Herb garden no matter what their professions were, and generally these resources were enough to fuel your required daily cooldowns. Which were largely the only reason you actually needed things like ore and such, since every profession was gated behind daily cooldown items. If I were to be optimal about things, I would have dropped at least one profession from every Warlords-level toon and made them Enchanters, strictly to sell their daily material (one of the few non-BoP versions).

Iteration is one of the cornerstones of game design, I know. But I can’t help but feel like Blizzard sometimes gets away with outrageous bullshit that would bankrupt any other MMO. Completely removing profession bonuses, followed up by rendering most professions functionally useless, on top of limiting how many pieces of crafted gear can be equipped? Then, a year later, saying “lol jk, I hope you didn’t drop Mining/Herbalism on every toon”? Just imagine something like that happening in Guild Wars 2 or WildStar or whatever.

I’m glad they are fixing terrible, broken game design. But who approved this shit in the first place? You already knew what worked three expansions ago!

Having read all these changes in the pipeline, I’m in a weird place now. Not just with the above, but there are also notes in there about how the mat cost of the crafted gear is being lowered, and the mat generation being increased. I have a bunch of alts that would be more than happy getting ilevel 640 gear the moment they ding 91. So… what? Do I go ahead and craft these items for them with the mats I have now, or wait until 6.2? Obviously if I’m going to keep playing WoW between now and then, it makes sense to craft them. On the other hand, I don’t have to keep playing. It’s not like I don’t got other shit to do. I feel like I’m in that Enthusiasm Tax trap of being better off if I enjoyed playing a game less.

Then again, that’s pretty much always been the case with WoW. And yet, here we are. Again.

How the fuck do they do it?

What WoW Economy?

It has been about 20 days since I’ve been mainlining WoW again, and I have yet to get a handle on economy. Not that I anticipated being some AH genius within a week or two, but I don’t even seen the contours of this beast. And I am beginning to doubt they exist.

Way back in the glory days of Wrath, there was the Saronite Shuffle. This was when you could take a stack of Saronite Ore and – through brilliant AH scheming and a stable full of max-profession alts – turn those 20 pieces of ore into damn near anything. The Shuffle was a cornerstone of my gold gains through Wrath, Cataclysm, and even when I came back to Mists.

In looking back at posts like this, I damn near had to wipe a tear for the nostalgia:

Right now, for example, I buy Ghost Iron Ore at 4g apiece (and below). This ore ends up being:

  • Smelted into Ghost Iron Bars –> Transmuted into Trillium Bars –> Transmuted into Living Steel
  • Prospected –> Rare gems cut for >60g minimum
  • Prospected –> Uncommon gems turned into necks/rings –> Rare necks/rings procs sold for 300g, uncommon necks/rings Disenchanted for Dust
  • Disenchanted Dust –> Enchanting scrolls and/or sold for mats

Near as I can tell, the Shuffle is dead in Warlords. At least, if it once existed, prices have warped so much since then as to make it unprofitable.

What’s worse, Blizzard made a number of changes in Warlords that, in retrospect, were probably rooted in heading off PR problems with the eventual WoW Token rollout. For example, players are limited to wearing three (3) crafted pieces of Warlords gear. You know, despite there being enough patterns to completely outfit someone. Why do that? So that someone couldn’t drop $400 in WoW Tokens and be decked out in ilevel 675+ gear at level 91. Unfortunately, that makes the likelihood of someone buying your crafted bracers or whatever pretty remote, unless said person already has better gear in other slots. The sanest path would be to upgrade the most impactful slots such as weapons and the like.

Compounding this issue is the way Blizzard is handling professions in general this expansion. Profession bonuses are gone, which is… understandable in a way. When raiders are willing to spend hours farming mats for a +20 stat boost, having professions grant many orders of magnitude better buffs forced people to make unfortunate decisions in which professions to pick. This also meant opening up profession-specific toys to the general public as well, a direct nerf to Engineering. Then the Stat Squish (and a desire to have raid drops be useful immediately) turned gem slots into extra-rare occurrences, a direct nerf to Jewelcrafting. I don’t even want to get into the problem with opening profession buildings up in Garrisons did to everything else.

The bottom line is I have no idea what’s going on in the WoW economy anymore. I was looking to see if there was a point in doing my Alchemy daily cooldown on Azuriel, and saw this today:

Does not compute.

Does not compute.

Let me save you the math: the higher-level Strength flask sells not only less than the mats (18g vs 33g), it’s selling for less than the lower-level flask. I had already long-since dropped my Alchemy Shack for a Salvage Yard, but this is making me want to drop Alchemy altogether. Remember those Alchemy bonuses that have been in-game since Burning Crusade? Don’t work for Draenor goods. This is just a class-A market failure. Why is the Alchemy cooldown item tradable whereas nearly all the others are BoP? Because fuck you, that’s why.

Near as I can tell, we are living in the age of The Drop Economy. In other words, you don’t make gold from crafting or shuffling, you make gold from farming drops and selling that to people who don’t want to farm. I have little doubt there are some arbitrage opportunities – the Garrison AH robot parts seem to be going for insane prices considering you can just AH on an alt – but most gold seems generated from one’s Garrison. Which… isn’t unworkable, it’s just unfathomably less interesting to me.

The Shuffle was engaging. It rewarded outside game research, learning in-game mechanics, leveling multiple profession toons, and kept the gears of the economy moving. What we have now? Farming raids and vendoring all the things? I would almost rather farm ore. If, you know, there was actually any gold in doing that. And to an extent, the problem no longer exists under the WoW Token paradigm. Spending $20 on 23,000g is a bad deal IMO. At the same time, I’d prefer not spending hours soloing old raids each week.

I have made around 15,000g so far this expansion. Want to know how? Selling Living Steel and Arcanite Bars. I shit you not. And I will continue doing so until I run out of old-world supplies, grow bored with the current AH nonsense, and “unsubscribe.” I love what Blizzard has done with the Garrison generally, but everything outside of it? I’m missing goddamn Cataclysm over here.

If I have missed anything big out of the above picture, let me know. Otherwise this is just depressing.

Time Management

So… I may have more or less played WoW constantly this past weekend week.

While I’m sure that I will, like everyone else, grow bored with the feature eventually, I want it on the record (a year late) that what Blizzard did with the Garrison is just shy of amazing. For players like me, anyway.

See, I had every intention of abandoning my Paladin and making my (sigh) level 89 Rogue my new main. Before doing so though, I wanted to get my Garrison decently situated with a few level 2 buildings and Followers manning the profession stations. Which means I needed to do a few Outpost quest chains. And hey, may as well do the other Outpost quest chains so that I can save 750g-1000g on the blueprints. Oh look, I can get some more Followers pretty easily by just going here and doing one or two more quests.

Azuriel is now 25% into level 99.

Granted, all my characters are now in full heirloom gear that scales to level 100, minus the weapon because fuck that 5000g price tag. I even have the Dread Pirate Ring from back in the day, so the full percentage is +50% XP. In fact, I pretty much out-level a zone the minute I finish the Outpost quests. I could probably be a bit more concerned about that than I am, considering that as a non-raider, non-dungeon runner, questing is likely to be the only real content for me (outside BGs). But in a sense, Dragon Age: Inquisition broke the final thread tying filler quests with zero plot development and whatever fucks I had left to give. It’s not that I find killing X mobs tedious, I find killing X mobs for no reason tedious. I need some kind of narrative here.

Killing X mobs for a Follower, on the other hand…

My current plan of action is to go ahead and hit 100 on Azuriel, then get level 2 plans for my DK and Warrior (both of whom are 92) so that I get Inscription, Blacksmithing, and Enchanting professions going. As for my new Rogue “main” I’ll get around to her eventually. And by “eventually,” I mean those 5-10 minutes in-between Follower missions being completed across 3+ characters.

The irony is not lost on me that nearly four years ago I quit WoW the first time because of games like Tiny Tower, and now I’m back because it more closely resembles all those time management games. Time truly is a flat circle.

That Old Pair of Shoes

Well, I bought Warlords of Draenor this weekend. And, as previously reported, I have 9 now 8 WoW Tokens. So I must conclude that I am playing WoW again.

Surprised there hasn't been a poop quest yet.

Surprised there hasn’t been a poop quest yet.

I was about to use “that old pair of jeans” phrase in the title, but the thing about old jeans is that they’re comfortable. WoW, right now, feels like an old pair of shoes instead: soles are a bit thin, rubber peeling off the sides, and they’re inexplicably damp. They still work, and are a better choice when it comes to doing chores like mowing your lawn, but they make everything feel ever so slightly off.

My namesake paladin just hit level 93 yesterday and I have little desire to play Azuriel again. The Retribution rotation doesn’t seem meaningfully different from what I remember, but the great ability pruning of 6.0 means that you have to especially enjoy your particular class because what you have is all you get. And what Retribution gets is Avenging Wrath and… a bunch of defensive cooldowns. Every time I was stymied by an entirely superfluous mountain and/or gentle slope in the no-fly zone that is Draenor, all I could think about was how my rogue could have Shadowstepped their way past the obstacle. Or warrior charged. Or DK Deathgrip the mob down the hill. Or anything.

All of which is fine, right? Just switch mains. Except my rogue is level 86. Which isn’t much of a problem with heirlooms – and what a wonderful goldsink that is, what with the upgrading them to scale to level 100 – but it’s still a speedbump. And there is just something ever-so-slightly distasteful about the fact that I need to switch mains at all. This is the “damp” part of the shoe metaphor.

Alright, Blizzard, take your point and enjoy it.

Alright, Blizzard, take your point and enjoy it.

In terms of good things, there are a few. The Garrison has more or less supplanted my irrational desire to log into Clash of Clans every hour, in the time-management department. I just finished the Prophet Velen questline and felt immersed in the battle in a way I haven’t since… Wrathgate? Not as good as Wrathgate, but in the same parking lot of the ballpark. The music this expansion is extremely good too.

Before I pulled the trigger on the WoD purchase though, I was about this close to purchasing FF14 instead. In all likelihood I still will at some point, during the next $10 sale on the original box. If you are going to jump back into the MMO pool and relearn to swim, it may as well be a new pool, right? I only stuck with WoW because of the WoW Token shenanigans, which required me to use the 10-day free trial, which got me into Draenor and annoyed that I was capped at 1 XP less than level 92, and hey the 25% off sale was expiring that weekend, and… yeah.

Sometimes you just go without whatever is currently in your closet.

Dailies and Long-Term Engagement

In terms of creating an incentive to play, I believe that things like Daily Quests and other log-in rewards are extremely effective. That being said, I also believe it is an open question as to whether such incentives come at the expense of long-term engagement with the game. At least, those are my thoughts after reading the long thorough post by Torvald that is making the rounds.

Players are logging on, feel compelled to go through their Garrison chores, getting those rewards that are placed right in front of them… Even though that very content is not fun and drains their stamina for engaging in other content. It reduces their stamina for engaging in other activities that absolutely require large blocks of time to give a reasonable hope of success. And for activites that don’t absolutely require large blocks of time, so many of those lack structure that the player defaults to assigning them large blocks of time for what it would require to be “worth it” (i.e. very few players want to make a trip for an unstructured rep grind just to grind for 15 minutes).

In this situation, Torvald is talking about WoW players who say “there’s nothing to do” despite there arguably being more things to do than ever before. A player feels like they have to complete the Garrison stuff immediately, lest they forever lose the reward and fall behind. And that is a sentiment that I 100% can relate to in expansions past. Remember the Tournament dailies in Wrath of the Lich King? Or Jewelcrafting dailies? The end goal required X amount of days to reach with few (or no) catch-up mechanisms, so each day you skipped doing them added that much more time to completion.

There is absolutely no question that I logged onto WoW some days solely to do daily quests. Similarly, there is no question that on the days where I logged on just to do dailies that I sometimes ended up hanging out with friends. So, in essence, the daily quests worked in making social situations possible. After all, the death knell of any MMO starts ringing when you no longer feel compelled to log on.

But I can totally feel the other side of this too. When you think about MMO burnout, what is the image in your mind? Did it come from the activities you found fun in the moment? Or did it come from the sense of crushing obligation? If you are having fun every time you play, is burnout even possible?

I hesitate to say that dailies are not fun generally, as I personally find satisfaction in the completion of even mundane tasks. I also enjoy the sense of character progression and the working towards a long-term goal. That said, dailies do in fact take up a non-inconsequential amount of limited play time. If you spend “just” 30 minutes on chores, how much time do you have left for other activities? And how do you avoid the sense of loss (i.e. opportunity cost) that derives from not completing dailies and letting those easy rewards go?

I do not know if there is a solution. The one offered by Torvald is to essentially reduce the number of Garrison chores directly, and then make the remaining ones take longer than a day (e.g. Weekly quests). I did enjoy when WoW experimented with allowing you to complete a full week’s worth of dungeon dailies in a single session, as that allowed you the freedom to either work on other projects guilt-free or only to log on the weekends and still remain somewhat competitive. Then again, I’m not entirely sure how healthy plowing through that many dungeon dailies on Reset Day really was.

It might be cute to suggest “no dailies” but I’m not sure we can really go back. At a minimum, other games will have daily quests and I know people who log onto them to get those easy rewards before logging off and playing the game without dailies. That scenario “drains your stamina” just the same as if the daily-less game had them.

I’m not sure there is a solution here other than the one I’m currently employing: not playing MMOs. Of course, Dragon Age: Inquisition has War Table timer-based quests now too. You just can’t escape.