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Culpability of Questionable Design

Is Blizzard responsible for players doing unenjoyable activities for rewards? Or is the player responsible for wanting something they shouldn’t?

For the context of this question, consider the Zul heroic dungeons in Cataclysm. These represent a second “tier” of heroics that offers better gear drops and double the amount of Valor Points, at the cost of a higher level of difficulty and being longer in general. In the last 4-5 months of their release, a number of players have complained about fatigue and burnout from having run these two specific heroics seven times a week for months, as opposed to the nine (9) other heroic options available because those, while easier, offer a sub-standard amount of VP (and leaves you short of the weekly cap). The fairly common counter-argument comes in the form of Bill’s comment in this MMO Melting Pot post:

Nobody is forcing people to do ZA/ZG all the time. In my battlegroup, normal heroic queues are 2-3x faster and less stress than ZA/ZG ones . So I can do half and half. For raiders, they have the option to knock of a few nerfed farm bosses from T11 to help them reach cap.

Also, even at this point in the expansion, not everyone is ZA/ZG ready. Yes, really.

You want choices? You have choices.

I would argue that the “choice” is between efficiency and inefficiency – not a particularly meaningful choice – but it is somewhat worse than that because I get the impression most players do not have fun running heroics for VP in the first place. Is “enduring unfun things because the end result is fun” Blizzard’s fault for designing the game badly? Or is it the player’s fault for choosing to bore themselves for a treat at the end? And even if it is the player’s fault (masochism is a real thing), does that abdicate Blizzard of any responsibility in their game design?

We do know that a lot of rogues appeared to reroll DK, at least when the class was first introduced. We also think rogues were more popular back in the day before flying mounts and instance-teleportation, where ganking someone out in the wilderness was more common. We saw a surge in the popularity of hybrid classes, especially druids and paladins, as running heroic dungeons became something nearly every player did instead of a more dedicated minority. (source)

In terms of heroic dungeons specifically, I do blame Blizzard. There have been many interesting articles on the subject already, but the short version is that the role of heroics and the equivalent of VP (Badges of Justice, etc) has changed radically since their introduction in The Burning Crusade. Back then, the apparent design goal was to allow non-raiders to have a seperate, but parallel endgame gear progression path of their own to raiders. This philosophy obviously changed in the Lich King era when full tiers of gear began to be offered up on the JP vendors of that day, but I did not have a problem with it back then because A) prior tier gear was required for their episodic content model to work, and B) heroics were breezy, 15 minute affairs. That breeziness did, dare I say, make them fun in a multiplayer Diablo kind of way.

Come Cataclysm, it is clear that the Blizzard designers took the difficulty complaints as personal insults, and tuned Cata heroics up to extra-crispy levels. While they were never particularly challenging to skilled individuals and guild groups, they were absolutely brutal to pugs, whom remain the bulk of the LFD population. Blizzard doubled-down on difficulty with the Zul heroics in 4.1, which sort of makes sense given that they drop 353 gear instead of 346 and more VP besides. No one feels forced to do Heroic raids versus Normal raids for gear, right? Yes… but that sort of demonstrates the disconnect. Outside of a few BoEs, there is no way of obtaining heroic raiding gear other than from heroic raiding. Conversely, there are several ways of obtaining gear from VP (and JP) vendors. That VP gear is orphaned, unattached to any particular method of acquisition. Pressing the LFD button and waiting for the queue to pop is orders of magnitude easier than finding/creating a 10m raid group and downing bosses. And moreover, there is now a pseudo-experience point bar in our faces, reminding us how below the (weekly) cap we are at any given time.

Your life is *this* incomplete

It is in this sense that I feel that it is Blizzard, not the players, who are at fault with the state of the endgame. Blizzard took a mechanic designed to give the “more dedicated [heroic-running] minority” a legitimate progression path, and inverted the design to make heroics the endgame for everyone for an entire expansion. Then they “priced” people out of doing them during the early days of Cata, then relented, then made the same damn mistake again with trying to funnel everyone through the Zul heroics. Given that heroics are supposed to be endgame for ~70% of players… where is the beef? It will soon be four months since 4.1, and while 4.3 is slated to be released at the end of this year with three new heroics, are the two Zuls really supposed to have sustained non-raiders for the better part of a year when their endgame is designed to be heroics?

OT: What Players Actually Want

If you come across anyone on any forum related to WoW exclaiming that Blizzard is nerfing content “because of the (baddies/Wrath babies/etc) whining on the forum,” you can correctly call them morons. This quote from Bashiok officially dispels such nonsense for what it is.

Blizzard, you do how little people post on the forums yes? how about doing some in game polls to really see what people want, and not what the idiots on the forums want

You want them to not be nerfed, you’re on the forums…

Just saying.

By looking at actual stats, actual progression, time spent playing, where, and to what extent, we can see that most people are looking for more accessible raid content, so yes, we absolutely are able to tell without a doubt that the plan we’re enacting is actually what players playing the game want and need, and are not just listening to people on the forums.

No reading between the lines is necessary, but let me emphasize this again for posterity:

By looking at actual stats, actual progression, time spent playing, where, and to what extent, we can see that most people are looking for more accessible raid content, so yes, we absolutely are able to tell without a doubt that the plan we’re enacting is actually what players playing the game want and need, and are not just listening to people on the forums.

“Want and need.” Blizzard’s words. I sketched the writing on the walls way back in March, and nothing has changed since that time… well, other than even more players leaving for lack of content tailored to their skill level. That is why Morhaime’s investor call comments are so thinly-veiled:

As our players have become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over the many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content. And so I think with Cataclysm, they were able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions.

As of this writing, WoWProgress states 55,797 guilds have killed Magmaw, among the NA, EU, KR, and TW population it tracks. Looking at MMOData’s WoW sub numbers, there are ~6.5 million non-Chinese accounts. The average raiding guild probably has 15 members killing bosses (most WoWProgress kills are from 10m), but let us also be charitable and also use 30 member guilds. Plugging in those numbers results in this:

55,797 * 15 / 6,500,000 =12.87%
55,797 * 30 / 6,500.000 = 25.75%

Cataclysm has been out for 6+ months and at best ~26% of the population has downed a single raid boss. The comparison is not entirely fair since not everyone is even interested in endgame raiding. Then again, I do consider it a fair question to ask how many of the 74% would be interested in raiding if things were not being designed around catering to hardcore players and/or being difficult out of principal. Only Blizzard knows for sure, but the answer appears to be “enough to matter.”