Friday, September 3, 2010

Quick Response to Gevlon re: WoW's market


I'm going to leave the rest of Gevlon's post on feminism alone because it would take forever to talk about, but I do want to address one point he made that I think is patently false:

Now the game design being sexist seems a different issue but it's not. The game is exactly what its audience wants it to be. Blizzard is an ethic-less company, responding only to market factors. If the audience is a bunch of morons who jerk off watching cybering blood elf girls, then the blood elves are designed to be sexy. Anything else would be bad business.

The problem with this idea is that the demographic he's talking about is only part of the game's audience. 

There is no comprehensive research about female MMO/WoW players.  The BBC did a survey that estimates that 40% of EQ2 players are female.  Nick Yee used data from WarcraftRealms that showed only 16% females, but that's only people who gave their gender on that fansite, so it's surely an under-representation.

Even if you think the BBC's estimate is high, Blizzard's chosen imagery still turns off millions of potential players (not just females, but also males who don't like this art style).  The current state of the game is bad business.

But if they are an ethic-less company that only responds to market factors, why would they do this?  Because their art choices are driven by their own preconceived notions, not market factors.

Blizzard is a boys' club.  Guess how many female artists, out of at least 16, worked on Starcraft 2, according to the behind the scenes DVD?  One.

Blizzard's elite art team, responsible for most of their concept art?  Zero females.  In fact, it's called Sons of the Storm.

Remember that photo of the entire community relations team that came out a while ago (y'know, where Netheara became a sex object for thousands of frustrated internet teenagers by daring to allow her photo to be taken?).  There were 2 women in that crown of 2 dozen.

So a bunch of  boys make a game.  Of course the art will cater to boys, because that's what they think looks cool.  I'd also argue that a lot of socially insecure guys end up devoting their lives to video games to the point that they work at (arguably) the top developer in the world.  We could go on and on all day about why there are so few women involved, and I'm going to sidestep that issue for now.  What I will say is that it's hard to put out something females would like if you don't have a single female on the team.

They have no proof that their portrayal of gender "sells" or doesn't.  The game might sell just as well or better if they had more variety.  They aren't responding to market forces in this case.  It just doesn't occur to them how unappealing some of the art in this game is to a huge chunk of their potential audience, because to them, half-naked buxom women and burly, inadequacy-soothing men have "concentrated coolness".

If they really wanted to improve business, they would give a wider range of options.  And in a lot of ways, they have (dwarf and troll females, gnomes, goblins), but those options are poorly represented by NPCs and especially by major lore figures.  There's absolutely no need to get rid of the impossibly-burly males and buxom chain mail bikini babes that appeal to the insecure boy market.  Don't take anything away from them.  Instead, add more variety to appeal to a bigger audience and bring in even more money.  How about a dwarf female faction leader in heavy armor, built like a tank?  Or a trim and cut human dude in nothing but a chain loincloth (and a bow tie) as a faction leader (just to make it even given sylvanas's outfit, after all)?  Why are the worgen led by some old guy when they could have a young topless male werewolf with washboard abs (talk about a ready-made audience!)?

As it stands, Blizzard is failing to be an ethic-less company responding to market forces, at least when it comes to their representations of gender.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A few posts you should read


I swore to myself I wouldn't talk about politically divisive issues on my wow blog.  When I read a gaming blog or listen to a gaming podcast, I'm there for gaming discussion, not political discussion.  I have very strong and entrenched political opinions, and I've abandoned more than one entertainment source completely because someone decided to run their mouth with a stupid political opinion.

But you know what?  I'm just going to come out and say that I support feminism, and if you don't like it then please let the door hit you repeatedly in the ass on the way out.


I bring this up because the debate sparked up in the wow blogging community again (as it does every few months) and I wanted to draw attention to some posts on the subject that I think are exceedingly worthwhile reads.  Nevermind that these other people probably have more readers than me.  :P

First, Larisa serves as an entry point into the debate with her pragmatic way of enjoying entertainment despite stereotyping.

This led me to Pewter's post about how WoW is a game made by men for a male audience (even though a ton of the audience is female).

And finally to some ladystats to know and think about from Paperclipchains.


I'm sure there's a ton of other great work out there on the subject, but these are just the things I ran across today that I wanted to draw more attention to.


P.S.  I'm pretty much on blogging hiatus indefinitely (thank you, RL).  Maybe I'll drop a small post like this from time to time.  I hope you'll keep me in your readers.  I also want to thank the wow blogging community, all my commenters, and the bloggers that made this such a welcoming, interesting, and creative place.  Especially Ixo, Larisa, and Spinks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Starcraft 2 Single-Player Impressions


Short version: Blizzard continues to release games when they are ready. 

Long version: OK, I'm not the most impartial reviewer here.  I was predisposed to absolutely love this game after how much fun I had with both the single- and multi-player parts of the original Starcraft, as well as every installment of the Warcraft RTS games.  And guess what?  I absolutely love it.  I love it so much that I wish I could italicize that last sentence twice.

More after the jump.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Death Knights in Cataclysm: what will change?


Well, we've finally gotten the big talent tree revamp we've all been waiting for.  It's obvious that the Death Knight trees are far from finished, but we are starting to see themes forming, and getting some idea of what will change.  A lot remains to be implemented and seen, so it's hard to judge these too deeply.

Overall:
  • New rune cooldown system: this one was announced a while ago.  Simply put, runes of each color refresh one at a time.  You essentially get half as many runes during ongoing fighting, but if you are inactive for a bit you can start out with all 6.  Each of the 3 colors is basically its own energy bar.  The damage and runic power generation of the abilities and talents has been doubled across the board to compensate.  In theory, you should have more free GCDs since waiting a second to use a rune won't lead to a large dps loss down the road as future recharges are delayed.
  • Runic Empowerment: Until recently this was a first-tire frost talent, but is now baseline for all DKs.  When you use a runic power ability like Frost Strike or Death Coil, you have a 45% chance of refreshing a random rune. That's a lot of free runes.  This adds an element of randomness to all rotations.  I'm worried that it will undercut the new rune cooldown system because you'll feel pressured to always have at least one full rune of each color on cooldown in case this procs.
  • Each spec gets its version of death runes right off the bat, as well as a key ability (heart strike, frost strike, perma-ghoul).
  • Anti-magic shell no longer generates runic power off of damage by default.  This does remove a measure of skill from the class (timing AMS to optimize free RP), but hopefully new abilities will make up for it.

Blood:

  • Now a pure tanking tree, and the only tanking option.  Our own Prot tree!
  • Blood presence is now the tanking presence, having the same effect as the current frost presence
  • We just pile on the cooldowns: IBF, AMS, Vampiric Blood, Bone Shield, Rune Tap, and Will of the Necropolis all in one tree!  Also, WoN now procs a free Rune Tap heal and refreshes the ability's cooldown, adding an active element to save yourself when low on health.  We clearly have more cooldowns than other classes, and it will be very interesting to see how hard this is to balance.
  • Block equivalent: in Wrath, Death Knights have been at a disadvantage for smaller-scale fights because of a lack of a block-style mechanic (druids can proc a mini-shield on crits).  There was mention of a block equivalent a while back, where we would have a chance to auto-heal for a percentage of the damage we take.  That appears to have been scrapped, as it does not appear in the current talent trees.  I still hope it makes a comeback.
  • Innate crit immunity: say goodbye to defense rating, the most annoying stat ever in the game!  It was confusing and served as an unecessarily stark barrier-to-entry, and required too much outside research to even begin to understand.  Good riddance.  Now we get PvE crit immunity from Blood talents, just like other tank specs.  Hurrah!
  • Attack Power Debuff: just like with Block, DKs were the only tanking class with no attack power debuff they could apply to enemies (Demoralizing Shout, etc.).  That's finally changing, as talents in the new blood tree give Blood Boil the ability to apply that debuff, making it into a damaging Demo Shout.  Another great call by Blizzard, it's a necessary tanking tool that we went without for too long.
  • Dancing Rune Weapon: now you can parry for two!  In a great leap in the realm of MAKING SENSE, having a second weapon flying around in front of you gives you a sizeble bonus to your chance to parry.  But wait . . . is that another tanking cooldown?  OK, guys, this is getting a bit ridiculous.  6 cooldowns?  That's a lot of runes and runic power being devoted to survivability (even though IBF can be talented to be free!).  Hopefully that won't cripple our threat.
  • Sub-specs can only go 10 points into another tree at most.  This leaves you with very few attractive talents currently within reach for tanking.  You're basically picking between a reduced DnD cooldown and a fear immunity. 

 Frost:
  • With blood presence taking over tanking duties, frost presence now boosts damage and runic power generation (sorry, no more self-healing)
  • Pillar of HOLY SHIT (aka Pillar of Frost): I'll just link the tooltip for you:"Calls upon the power of Frost to increase the Death Knight's Strength by 20%.  Icy crystals hang heavy upon the Death Knight's body, providing immunity against external movement such as knockbacks.  Lasts 20 sec."   Notice anything . . . missing?  Like, say a cooldown?!?  It used to be at 1 minute, maybe wowhead isn't displaying it.  33% uptime is still pretty good - but where will we get the spare frost rune?
  • You can now choose between a dual-wield talent and a 2-hander talent.  This is quite a relief, as I'd love to have a 2-hander spec without a pet.
  • Frost DKs now get the 4% increased damage debuff for raids that was previously limited to combat rogues and arms warriors.
  • On a Pale Horse was moved to early Frost.  I find myself constantly wishing I could fit this mount-speed talent into my builds on live.  I hope Blizzard follows through on the promise to leave you  points for optional talents so I can pick this up.
  • The top tiers of unholy have little worth subspeccing into, so you'll end up putting the majority of your extra points in blood in the current build.  

Unholy:
  • The biggest change to unholy is the loss of Bone Shield.  Most players underestimate this talent's current impact in raids.  Taking 20% less damage at all times is huge.  It prevents some insta-gibs (hello Mauradin cleaving me as I run past him on heroic gunship), reduces healer panic from big aoes, and makes you all-around the most survivable dps in any raid.  Get lucky enough to be the first Mark on heroic Saurfang and laugh all the way to your purples.  This would be even more important in the new Cataclsym healing environment, so it was placed 11 points into the blood tree to prevent non-tanks from getting it.
  • The damage buff Hysteria was removed from Blood and replaced with a similar cooldown called Unholy Frenzy in the blood tree.  Sudden Doom also got moved from blood to give unholy free death coil procs.
  • Ghoul Frenzy keeps getting buffed in the beta builds.  It's more afforable with the new talent philosophy, but it remains to be seen if 1 unholy rune will ever be worth it, especially now that:
  • Scourge Strike costs 1 unholy rune, instead of 1 frost + 1 unholy.  Obliterate and Death Strike, the other FU abilities, remain unchanged.  Blizzard will presumably be introducing some use for the extra frost runes, as they can't possibly expect us to just cast extra Icy Touches, especially given the ludicrously long disease durations we get from epidemic.
  • The likely solution to the frost rune problem is the new Festering Strike, which further extends disease durations and is the first 1 Blood + 1 Frost ability.  I don't see the other trees getting use out of this when they could cast Obliterate or Heart Strike.

Problems:
These builds are clearly still early and in flux.  Some of the priority things for Blizz to work on:
  • Top-tier talents are lackluster in Frost and Unholy, especially for sub-speccing.  At least Improved Icy Touch, Icy Reach, and Vicious Strikes should be both reworked and shuffled.
  • Ghoul Frenzy should either have its rune cost removed, or be reworked to be a desirable cooldown.  Maybe reduce it's duration to 30 seconds, double it's damage effect, and give it a 2 minute cooldown.
  • Frost needs its "required" dps talents to be reduced in number.  Dual-wielders can only afford 1 optional utility point, while 2-hander-wielders can technically afford 4, but are forced to put two of those into Icy Reach and the other 2 into tier 2.  The whole tree really needs rearrange-in'.
  • Can you tone down the cooldowns in Blood just a little bit?  And are you sure threat won't be an issue with all those resources going to staying alive?
  • Festering Strike will have to be implemented very carefully.  Not only will it have to do more damage than an Icy Touch + Scourge Strike (remember, unholy gets Reaping automatically, so blood runes become death runes after being used for blood strikes), but it will also need a way to deal with the fact that you aren't going to be using the blood rune for a blood strike, and thus won't be getting a death rune later.  In the same patch, Festering Strike was added to Reaping, meaning that the Unholy rotation currently looks like SS > SS > FS > FS > SSx6 or something (I'm not really accounting for the new rune recharge mechanics there because I haven't tried them).
Any further evaluation will have to wait until I can actually get into beta and find out the real consequences of the new talents, the new rune cooldown system, and haste's effect on rune refresh speeds.

Starcraft 2 releasing


Yeah, I haven't been around in a while.  Got real life stuff, blah blah blah.  I'm not gone, and I'll be back, just need a blogging break.

Despite that, it's hard to contain my excitement today.  Starcraft 2 is finally releasing, after more than a decade of waiting.  It was far and away my favorite PC game until WoW came out, and my favorite non-Nintendo video game until the HD era as well.  It introduced me to the RTS genre, which is a perfect fit for my tastes but I had never seen before.  I love Sci-fi and I found the campaign mode revelatory because of how it merged storytelling with the gameplay.  SC so perfectly crystallized what makes a game great for me - and specifically to my personality - that it will always hold a place in my personal pantheon of great video games.  I bonded with lifelong friends over it, even.

So I'm quite relieved that Real ID isn't overstepping and I can play, with a clear conscience, this game I've been waiting for.  My amazon preorder has already shipped, and I'm spending today drooling in jealousy at the countries that, due to the vagaries of time zones, exist in the future and can already play.

My life for Aiur!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blizzard Does Listen To You


Honestly, I'm pleasantly surprised: Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime just announced that Real ID will no longer be required to post on the SC2 and WoW forums.  They are responding to (an unprecedented level of) player feedback and concerns and rescinding Tuesday's announcement.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief: we get to continue using the forums without having to risk the dangers of exposing our real names.

I am both overjoyed and relieved.  It took them longer than I'd like to figure it out and make a statement, but you have to give them credit for doing the right thing, listening to the players, and even having the Big Man himself sign the statement.


I'm still worried about privacy, and the direction of Real ID.  I'm still worried that my game about killing internet dragons will be transmorphed into an intrusive social network.  Hell, the fact remains that even if they went back on it, Blizzard still claimed Real ID was "only for people you know and trust" while planning to give out your real name to anyone with an internet connection if you used the forums.

But Blizzard deserves credit and some positive press.  And I've re-preordered SC2 and will not be allowing my WoW account to lapse.

I am so glad that I no longer have to choose between my principles and my games.  At least for now.

Thank you, Blizzard.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who is Activision/Blizzard's Customer Base


Traditionally, the customer for a video game company (publisher or developer) has always been the gamer.  Or, to avoid categorization, anyone who purchases a game to play it.  As a moneymaking venture, gaming companies focused on eliciting as many purchases as possible.  This motivated the developers to provide games and features that the most gaming customers would be interested in paying for.

Ask the average person on the street, and it's likely they think of television the same way: that the customer of the television industry is the viewer.  You would think, then, that this would motivate television companies to make decisions in the interest of the viewer, because their primary goal would be to make the viewer happy.

And yet, Firefly gets canceled, great shows get underpromoted into obscurity, and we're inundated with reality shows that everyone claims to hate yet everyone seems to watch.  [I believe they watch mostly because they want to watch TV and that's what happens to be on, and because it's something they can talk to coworkers and strangers about as a shared point of experience, much like sports; but the reasoning doesn't really matter to the point I'm trying to make here]

So why doesn't television cater to the audience in the way you'd predict if the viewers were the network's customers?

Because the television network's customer is not the viewer.  The network's customer is the advertiser.

NBC is not in the business of providing television programming to viewers.  It is in the business of providing eyes to advertisers.  Every decision is not made based on providing quality programming in a way viewers want to see it.  Decisions are instead made based on the most cost-effective ways to get advertisers to pay top-dollar for ad space.  That just so happens to lead to television striving to attract viewers, which often leads to the network acting in the viewers' interest; but such actions are coincidental.  They are simply a side effect of serving advertisers.

There's no need to demonize the networks over this, but it's important to be aware of it so we have realistic expectations.  Television networks do not consider you to be a customer, so don't be surprised when they routinely act in ways that seem unfathomable to you as a viewer.  If they lose 10% of viewers over intrusive product placements or longer commercial breaks, they'll do it if it increases the other ad revenue by 11%.  They'd never do it if viewers were the customers.

So what does this have to do with video games, and Activision/Blizzard's expansion of Real ID?  I'm glad you asked.

Actiblizz's recent actions seem unfathomable.  They are going against the wishes of the vast majority of their players.  They are startlingly unresponsive to criticism from the customerbase on the Battle.net and Real ID issues.  They are taking actions that are clearly contrary to the best interests of their players, and are going out of their way to avoid explaining them (except through the ocassional half-truth like "cleaning the forums").  People are canceling WoW accounts and SC2 preorders left and right over something that seems so easily avoidable or fixable.  Don't they care about losing so many customers?

You have probably guessed where I'm going with this by now: we, the players, are no longer the World of Warcraft's customerbase.  Advertisers are.

It's pretty clear from this interview and other statements about Real ID about how they "have been planning this change for a very long time" that Real ID is the lynchpin in an effort to leverage an untapped asset that Actiblizz has more of than any other company out there except Facebook: our personal information

Facebook makes its revenue from advertisers by using our personal information to help them target us more accurately, and by using our social connections to lubricate the spread of marketing messages.  Activision has done the math, looked at their potential to help advertisers target 12 million people, and decided that, come hell or high water, the potential loss in subscription revenue will be dwarfed by the potential gain in ad revenue along with the other benefits to emulating the Facebook business model with a near-captive mob of players to be tapped.

Blizzard once had a reputation for making games for the players.  They were known for scrapping sub-par products rather than releasing them for a quick buck.  They were known for being more player-friendly than any gaming company outside of Valve.  But to Actiblizz, we are no longer the customer.  We are an asset to be monetized . . . stock in a warehouse . . . entries in a quarterly earnings spreadsheet.  We are now Actiblizzard's product, to be sold to advertisers for more than our subscription is worth.  This is, ironically, our reward for making the game so popular.

Actiblizzard has signed a contract with Facebook.  They are committed to this course of action, no matter what we say.  And no matter how many of us quit, it's most likely going to be a profitable move for them.

From this point forward, Blizzard's reputation is done.  We can stop expecting them to treat us like customers.  Advertisers are their primary customers now.

I wonder if Actiblizzard treats them as well as the old, dead Blizzard used to treat us?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Real names on the WoW forums.


I cannot comment on this right now because I feel too betrayed and angry to be rational.  Just thought you might like to know that anyone who wants to keep their real name private can't use any Blizzard forum anymore, including WoW and SC2 forums.

http://bit.ly/9ZfjeD

Fuck you, Blizzard.

UPDATE: some comments added.  This is what I posted in the thread under one of my alts (gotta savor the anonymity while I have it):

This is a terrible idea, Blizzard. I know that you're going to go through with it no matter what we say, but hey, I gotta try. I love this game and I had a lot of respect and loyalty to your company, and that is all gone now with the advent of Real ID and it's expansion to other parts of the WoW experience. How long until giving out my personal information is no longer optional for simply playing the game?

You say that you're trying to improve the level of discourse on the forums. Do you realize that what you are doing is driving out every intelligent adult?

Any grown-up with a career outside the games industry? No longer posting on the forums, because it will hurt their career for their boss and peers to know they play WoW. Gaming is not understood by the masses, especially the career-minded.

Anyone mature enough to have a healthy sense of how to protect themselves online? No longer posting on your forums.

Any female who has ever been stalked (ie almost every female)? No longer posting on the forums.

Any female who has ever been ignored or disrespected simply for being female, but found herself finally treated as an equal in WoW because her gender was hidden? No longer posting on the forums.


What's left? Teenage boys who don't have enough career aspirations to want to keep their gaming a secret. The dumbest, most immature, most dead-end teenage boys.

That's the forum culture you are building. Good job thinking that one through.  




UPDATE 2:  You can post a complaint to the ESRB here:

https://www.esrb.org/about/contact.jsp

I'm all for parents supervising the gaming activities of their children.  It is in no way the game company's responsibility to protect children.  BUT the ESRB has taken that goal upon themselves to help inform parents.  And a "TEEN" rating is not high enough when the game is giving out your personal information on the net.  No minor, including 17 year olds, should be allowed to purchase this game without the presence of a responsible adult who is well-informed about the parental controls available to them.  No minor should be able to choose to give out their personal information this way.

Here is the content of my complaint to the ESRB (limited to 500 characters, excuse the grammar):


Filing a formal complaint about Blizzard's announcement today that their forums will display your real first and last name.

It poses a security and privacy risk, especially for minors.  Please raise the rating for all Blizzard games to at least what you would give Grand Theft Auto (preferably Adults Only).

Giving out personal information is more dangerous today than letting a child see the content in GTA.

The move also shows a startling disregard for privacy that you should keep an eye on.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cataclysm Talent Tree "Bloat"


Blizzard's stated goal in revamping the talent trees for Cataclysm and adding the Mastery aspect has been to remove a lot of the "required" talents from the trees and leave players with some options for utility talents.  They know they can't eliminate "cookie cutter" specs, but what they want is for those specs to include the sentence "spend the last 5-10 points anywhere you want".

So far, they are failing.



Monday, June 28, 2010

APB Review



If you are an MMO gamer, don't be fooled by the persistence of the world in Realtime World's new online GTA-clone All Points Bulletin (APB).  It's not for you.  I'd argue that it's not even an MMO.  It's a shooter with driving and great customization options that just so happens to take place in a single persistent world instead of the usual structure of separate servers for each match.

The core gameplay consists of receiving a mission that gives you an objective and some opponents and sets you loose in the city.  Each mission is more like a miniature Warsong Gulch match than a warcraft-style "quest" - though sometimes you will be Fed Ex-ing an item from one place to another - sometimes in an actual delivery truck, even.  Nonetheless, such quest-like mechanics end up bearing more resemblance to capture-the-flag than deliver-the-parcel.

If you can accept the analogy: APB is like Halo or Call of Duty if you got to hang out in the map between matches instead of going to a "find a match" menu.  Except it plays exactly like Grand Theft Auto, with very basic first-person shooting and challenging and sometimes wonky driving.



Interview Reveals that RealID is a Scam


Can't believe it took me nearly 2 months for me to come across this interview. In USA Today!

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gamehunters/post/2010/05/blizzard-and-facebooks-friendly-social-networking-deal-launches-with-starcraft-ii-/1


Holy crap.  Blizzard's plans for Real ID are beyond what I even imagined.

So back at Blizzcon, Blizz announced that they were going to be using Battle.net to add cross game/faction/server communication.  This sounded great.  It would let me ask a friend logged into WoW if they wanted to come play some Starcraft . . . in the form of a whisper to their character!  Yay!




Oh wait.  Now it turns out that they weren't adding cross game/server chat as a benefit to the players.  It's simply bait to create their own social network to get a piece of the Facebook revenue pie.




Friday, June 25, 2010

Scott Jennings is absolutely right about RealID


Read about it here.  And do not use RealID.  This thing needs to look like a gigantic waste of money on the next ActiBlizzard balance sheet.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Post at VTW: Mass Effect 2 vs. Final Fantasy 13 Deathmatch!


One ring.  One cage.  Final Fantasy 13.  Mass Effect 2.  A metal chair.  


FIGHT!!!

How To Keep Raid Tiers From Being Skipped


If you are a new raider who hit level 80 some point after ToC came out, it's possible you have never seen Naxxramas (beyond weeklies, at least).  Ulduar is the best raid instance WoW has ever had, but despite the Accessibility Doctrine, very few people have seen Yogg-Saron.  This isn't because those instances are too hard, or because those people don't want to see lore.  It's simply because the rewards in those two instances are completely obsolete.  Heroic 5-mans give tokens that will buy you gear that blows the drops from those raids out of the water, and some 5-mans even drop gear on par with ToC 10 itself.  There's no efficient way to advance your character in the old instances, so very few people do them.

Blizzard could fix this right now while giving players an entry-level raid experience to learn from before going into "real" raids. 

Have bosses in "obsolete" raids drop a ton of emblems.

Make it so raiding Naxx is a more efficient way to get emblems (currently, Triumph Emblems) than heroics.  The earlier bosses should drop fewer emblems than the later bosses, so going deep into the instance would feel rewarding.  Maybe have the final boss also drop a Frost Emblem on top of the Triumphs.  This will be even easier to balance in Cata with the move from emblems to points.

And it fits in very neatly with Blizzard's current design philosophy because you can only do it once a week.  Instead of having to log in every day to do a heroic, I can get similar emblems from spending two hours at a stretch on one night doing Naxx.

Combine that with the upcoming weekly cap on emblems that forces you to choose how you want to earn them, and it's even better.

For this system, an "obsolete" instance is one that drops gear a tier behind the current lowest level emblem.  So using Wrath as an example, Naxx would have gone in the Dungeon Finder with inflated emblem rewards in the same patch that released ToC.

The best way to do this would be to put the older instances into the Dungeon Finder.  There are obviously major challenges with putting together, say, an ICC 25 group in the DF.  But with content as easy as Naxxramas, it's easily justifiable, especially with the new raid lockout system that let's you have more flexibility.  Just have it use the same minimum gear requirements as ToC 5 or the ICC 5 instances so you don't end up with an entire group in just greens expecting to be carried.  At the same time, I anticipate most of the people queueing for these will be on the low end of the gear scale, perhaps even being able to use a few "obsolete" drops from the raid in a few slots.

Seeing how Blizzard plans to automatically scale point acquisition as new raids are released (meaning that, for instance, when Tier 13 comes out, Tier 12 raids will go from "frost emblems" to "triumph emblems"), it worries me that we'll see the same abandonment of the early tiers that we saw late in Wrath.  And that would be a shame.  Giving players a reason to visit obsolete raid instances as an efficient way to advance their character would have a myriad of benefits, from breaking up the monotony of running the same raids over and over, to giving new raiders and new alts an appropriate training ground for raiding, to simply preventing good instances from becoming ghost towns.

I hope they think of it too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The plot thickens....


More from Ghostcrawler on 10s vs 25s:

25-Player Raids not attractive anymore in Cataclysm?
If we wanted to remove 25-player raids, we'd just do that. We know a lot of players like them. Personally, I will probably keep raiding 25s. A lot of players like the 10s too though, and despite what fans of the 25s might think, offering lower item level loot in the 10s doesn't make them attractive enough. We're going to try instead offering more rewards (which includes loot) in the 25s, especially for the heroic modes. Many (though not all) of the players worried about the reward per effort of 25 raiding are concerned more with the heroic modes.

Upping the loot-per-raider in 25 man hard modes makes a lot of sense.  One of the biggest problems with 10s vs 25s right now is how much easier it is to do normal mode 25s vs hard mode 10s for such similar gear.  And that's not even considering that normal mode 10-man Lich King is much harder than the entire first wing of 25-man normal mode ICC.

 It also sounds like 25-man hards will get more perks, which I'm speculating will include things like mounts.  We'll have to wait and see.  I'm just so happy that 10s are being fairly represented now, but I don't want to let that blind me.  I don't want 25s to die.

Cataclysm's systems seem to be in such a constant state of flux lately that it really makes me worry about them making the November/December deadline, though.  I sort of expected them to be approaching the polishing stage now, not in the thick of developing the new stuff.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Paladins Officially Overpowered, Blizzard to Kill 25s.


A highlight from Ghostcrawler's interview at Eurogamer:

Eurogamer: Is there a particular class that you thought needed an overhaul more than the others?

Greg Street (Ghostcrawler): I think the Paladin is one I'd say probably needs some of the most work, it got a lot of work in Lich King but it's still not quite there. Each individual role, the damage, healing and tanking all have problems, in some cases they're over-powered but a little simplistic in other cases, so we definitely want to address that. Without changing - you know, it's a very popular class, I think it's our most popular class at the moment, so we don't want to make it unrecognisable either.

 Told ya!


The amount of gear in the 25 person raids will be roughly equivalent on per-person basis to the 10 person raids. One thing to keep in mind it that we don't plan to allow players to upshift from 10s to 25s, only downshift from 25s to 10s on a given week.

The statements beforehand said that 25person would have more gear per person than 10s, so I wonder if "roughly equivalent" indicates a change in plans, or just not wanting to commit yet to either "exactly the same" or "more".
The number 6 per boss was being mentioned I believe, so slightly more I guess, but anything can change in testing so I wouldn't say that it is set in stone. But we all know you guys won't call us out if anything changes during a beta, right?

So basically there will be no real incentive (gear-wise at least) to run 25 man raids.
There are rewards like badges/gold for the additional coordination involved, but we are trying to avoid having gear be the reason that one style is better than the other.

 
What a shame.  Still, the proposed system is better than the current raiding system, IMO.


*Saying they are killing 25s is hyperbole.  More emblems really will be a strong draw, especially if the difference is very large.  I expect many people will still do 25s, and with the raid ID improvements I expect my guild will farm early bosses on tuesdays with our 25-man alliance then do progression in our 10-man group using the same instance ID later in the week, for instance.  But giving more loot per person was the key to keeping a balance, and now that that's gone, 25s are going to be hurt much more badly than I had anticipated.  


The overall system is still an improvement in my eyes.


Monday, June 14, 2010

APB "beta" Preview


I preordered All Points Bulletin, the new Grand Theft MMO from Realtime Worlds.  The preorder comes with 2 chances to play the game ahead of release: the "key to the city beta" (read: a taste of the finished game so you can hype it to your friends) and an early start a few days before its release on June 29th North America and July 1 in Europe.  I played the PC version that I ordered through Steam.

First of all, there were still some technical issues with the download and launch of the game.  I'd recommend a boxed copy, which is the opposite of my usual stance.  You download the APB Launcher through Steam, but starting the game through Steam fails to open the launcher, requiring that you hunt down the file in a different folder directory.  Once the launcher starts, you are in for a (at best) 8 hour download of a 7 gig game.  The APB and Steam forums were both overrun with threads complaining about the download speed.  Then, once I let it download overnight and finished the installation, I still couldn't run the game from Steam, and had to hunt down the new launcher in yet another different directory.

I forgot most of that once I started the game. 

More after the jump.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blizzard's Cataclysm Press Tour


Summary: They realized there was no way they'd finish everything in time for a Xmas release, so they cut out most of the new features.

http://www.mmo-champion.com/content/1790-World-of-Warcraft-Cataclysm-Press-Tour

Personally, I'm glad to see Path of the Titans go (just another grind per alt imo) as well as guild talents (no way they'd be balanced, everyone would just take the same ones anyway).

Very nice to see that 25-man raids can be split up if you don't have enough people the second day, and that raid IDs will be more flexible and interchangeable.  Great changes.

I cannot wait to raid the elemental planes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lost Finale


If you haven't watched the Lost series finale that aired yesterday, stop reading now.



After the jump is spoilerland.


Interesting Link About Girl Gamers


As a bit of supporting evidence for "This is Why Girls Don't Talk To You":

70% of women playing online games choose male avatars and pretend to be male to avoid sexism.


This is all our fault, guys. Stop it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Female Worgen Models Revealed


The female worgen models officially previewed at the Escapist (nice name) look pretty good!

But I'm glad these are still a work in progress. I'm actually happy with the general idea, but the hips/waist/pelvis look wrong. Kind of fragile. Like, they need some shatter-proofing. Bulk em up a bit. Their faces also need work. I'd recommend giving them more jaw and just generally making the head a and mouth a bit bigger. We'd have to see them with hair. They look too much like does rather than wolves. I know they need to be feminine, but that doesn' t mean you have to change them to another species!

I love the lanky, languid feel, and the bit of graceful savagery to their apparent animations. I'm glad the devs avoided the temptation to over-feminize their limbs, instead making their arms long and their hands and feet large. They really do look like Worgen, isntead of a furry reskinned Draenei female like I expected. Then, just when I think they've made a step forward, I notice that not even plate armor covers their midriff. Vulnerable underbellies are usually a good place for armor, ladies.

I especially want to point out the apparent ear animations as shown in the stills, which are a nice touch, and really bring the model to life.

And their shoulders are a good size! Some of the WoW models have a lot of wasted potential because the shoulders are too small.

Overall, it' s looking promising.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jewelcrafting Win!


"Jewelcrafters will have some fun new (and potentially lucrative) vanity items, including fist weapons, rhinestone sunglasses, monocles, and stardust (sprinkle on players for entertainment)."
-Blizzard

Win.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Battle.net should NOT USE YOUR REAL NAME!


Dear Actiblizz,

The fact that Battle.net's method of cross-game communication forces you to give out your full real life name (the one associated with your credit card,no less!) as part of the "RealID" is a [bleep]ing travesty.

IT NEEDS TO GO.

ActiBlizz, I know you really are banking on leveraging facebook and RL social networking and stuff, but you are purposely crippling the useability of your service for absolutely NO benefit to the user. The ONLY people who benefit from forcing realIDs to use real names are ActiBlizz shareholders and executives.

I do not want to give out my name over the internet. I want to go by my handle. I want to keep my RL and gaming life separate. The excuse that "well don't give our your realID to anyone to whom you don't want to give your real name" is complete buttpoopcrap, because it means you are explicitly saying that no one should be using the cross-game communications with their in-game friends that they only met through their guild.

It essentially locks a ton of people out of the service. A service you want to be successful. It can't be used for its intended goddamn purpose because using it opens up a personal security/privacy breach with no way to opt out except to not use the service at all. When it would be SO EASY to just plug that security hole so users could actually use the service freely.

Why didn't you instead just announce "there will be no cross-game communication available in battle.net for people you meet online".

Again, this ONLY hurts the end user and the success of the product's widespread use. So why is the real name being forced in there? Is it really just for facebook integration? Is that really so profitable that it's worth hamstringing the entire service until it's almost pointless? Why would you EVER do it this way??!??!


Yours in INCANDESCENT RAGE,

Hatch

(not my real name, which means that I can't use it as my battle.net handle without giving out my real name to everyone that my blogging persona wants to keep in touch with, thus destroying the purpose of the pseudonym entirely!)


PS: and I quote:
"You will also be able to see the first and last name of your Real ID friends and their Real ID friends."

Yep. If you friend someone with your Real IDs, anyone that other person EVER adds will be able to see YOUR personal information without any way for you to block it except drop that friend.

Why would you force real names on there when the system would be so much more useable and less [bleep]ing dangerous if you just let us opt out of displaying our real names?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Premium Articles at VTW Productions


Hello faithful readers,

Today I posted my first Premium Article over at Versus the World Productions, home of Octale & Hordak, Casually Hardcore, and other great podcasts.

It's (inevitably) about the Cataclysm raid changes, and goes into depth about why the old system is bad, and the new one good.

I AM IN NO WAY STOPPING OR EVEN SLOWING DOWN UPDATES TO MY BLOG. My articles over at VTW will be in addition to my normal blogging over here.

So go check it out, enjoy their podcasts, and tell your friends!

A Brief History of Gear


Click this link and read a great guest post on Blessing of Kings, which gives a decent history of how gear was obtained throughout the past 5 years of WoW. It highlights the fact that players always flock to the best effort/reward ratio activity in the game, regardless of whether it is the most "fun" activity for them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Busting the Top 9 Myths About the Cataclysm Raid Changes


Let me preface by saying that I’ve been a raider since back when BWL was the highest tier. My 40-man guild went deep into AQ40. I lived through it as that same guild transitioned to 25s. Then I ran a 25-man raiding guild for a year as the primary raid leader. Then I ran a 10-man strict guild for 2 years, and now I lead a 10-man guild that hosts a 25-man guild alliance run. I’m really, really familiar with every facet of this debate, having led both 10 and 25 man raids as well as having firsthand experience of the 40 to 25 transition.



Now let’s move on to shattering the myths about the new raid changes.


Myth 1: You have to roll against more people in 25s.

Yes, I know, it seems obvious that with 15 more people there, you’d have more competition for loot in 25s. But it’s a myth: Blizzard has stated clearly that 25s will drop more items per person. There is no room for misinterpretation: there is a 0% chance that 25s will only drop 3 or even 5 items if 10s drop 2. It seems most likely that if 10s drop 2 items per boss kill, 25s will drop 6-7. Now do some math: 6.5/25 is a BIGGER NUMBER than 2/10. Which means that even though there are more people in the 25, you will actually have a better chance at personally getting loot in the 25-man raid because so many more items drop (and there is absolutely no reason to assume we won’t see the same item more than once per kill in this case).


Myth 2: We lose too much content with the shared lockout.

All that will happen is you won’t be able to run the same instance twice a week on the same character. Do you really like rerunning the same instance over and over like you do now? Is it a good thing that 25-man raiders feel pressured to run 10 man to get double the emblems? Is it a good thing that 10-man raiders have little to no access to the 25-man run while the bigger groups can easily do both sizes in the same week?

If you have a small group of friends you like to raid 10s with outside your 25-man guild, or if you are a 10-man guild who enjoys a 25-man alliance, that’s easily solved with alts. And if you don’t have time to level an alt, then why are you asking to get to raid the same instance twice a week anyway?

Another easy solution would be to do the previous tier’s content with the other group. Hopefully Blizzard will set up the tiers so hard mode loot from the previous tier is still relevant (but not required), so you have a reason to do so.

If you just prefer to have the freedom to run the instance twice if you so choose, then you are really arguing against lockouts altogether. Why not get rid of every lockout, if having fewer lockouts is inherently better? Oh yeah, because it would break the game.


Myth 3: 10s will be too hard to balance and make class stacking a problem


This one is legitimate as a suspicion, but not a fair assumption to make with this little information. Blizzard design hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve done a pretty good job overall.

As for class stacking: we have no idea if there will be buff changes made to go along with the raid changes. There is no reason why you can’t get a good mix of buffs with any reasonable comp if they set it up right. They’ve already started spreading buffs out.

It’s OK to have reduced faith in Blizzard, but it’s too early to just assume they will blow it. And it’s especially silly to assume they haven’t thought of this yet.

Another thing to keep in mind: right now, everyone is focused on how much bigger a logistical challenge 25-mans are to organize. Well what if the unique challenge 10-man leaders face is in forming a comp that optimizes buffs, while 25-man leaders don’t have to worry about that because they will inevitably have every buff covered?


Myth 4: The devs want to kill 25s


Hah! If they did, they would have just removed them from the game, instead of going out of their way to make sure there are still incentives to do them. Would all of the work they will put into making 25-man versions of dungeons be worth it if their plan is to “stealth kill” all 25-man raids?


Myth 5: The devs will let 25s die (unintentionally)

I’ve often been cynical of Blizzard’s design choices. I can understand this impulse. But every indication is that they are committed to making whatever adjustments are necessary to make both raid sizes into viable choices that people will be interested in. There is no way they are so stupid that if they want 25s to stay alive (as we’ve already established) that they would accidentally totally fail at their goal. Blizzard makes many choices I don’t agree with, but it’s pretty rare for them to outright fail through incompetence.


Myth 6: I love 25s because they are more epic, but obviously no one else does so I’ll never get 24 others together for it after these changes


I have seen this one so many times that I could form a dozen 25-man raids out of the people who say it. It seems like tons of people just prefer the bigger raids. If anything, the response to the changes has proven that 25s will never actually die unless they are removed from the game. What surprises me is how all of these people assume that no one else feels the same way. The entire point is that you feel free to pick the format you prefer rather than having to "game the system" by doing 25s just to get worthwhile gear.

Here’s an example of this one from Dawn Moore at wow.com:

She opens her thoughts with:“I play in a high ranking 25-man guild because that is what I love to do. I don't do it for the glory, better gear, prettier mounts, or legendary items.”

Then she ends them with: “ Blizzard's proposal removes the incentive to do 25-man raids, which will kill the majority of 25-man guilds, which in turn will kill the community I come to the game for. I hate to say it, but for the first time ever I have been served a very good reason to quit the game.”

Yeah, you read that right. She really did just say that she doesn’t raid 25s for the glory or the gear, but now that the glory and gear are gone she has no incentive to do them anymore. GG, Dawn.


Remember back in TBC when everyone was doing arena because losing 10 matches a week would get you a weapon that blew away what was available to most people in a raid? Remember how so many of those people hated arena and never would have done it if they hadn’t seen that it was by far the optimal way to progress their character? Ever notice how now that the rewards are more balanced, the only people in the arenas are those who love arena, and everyone is happier?

That’s exactly what happened to 25s in Wrath. They were the only legitimate PvE progression path (10s offered gear that was a tier behind) through this entire expansion. Tons of people who preferred 10s or other activities felt compelled to do 25s because they were the only avenue to “real” gear and achievements (because 25-man guilds could just cheese the 10-man achieves, rendering them irrelevant). Now that 10 vs 25 is a real choice, and both are legitimate progression paths, those people will leave 25s.

Let me rephrase that: those people will stop doing an activity they didn’t like as much in favor of one that is more fun for them.

Yes, that’s an awful thing to have happen! How dare they have more fun while still relevantly progressing their character!!! This isn’t some game, goddammit!

If you are in a 25-man guild and you think that losing the higher tier of gear over 10s is going to cause many people to leave your guild, that means they didn’t want to be there and were only there because you were bribing them. Are you really trying to tell me you prefer the system where you bribe/blackmail your friends into having less fun? Rather than the system where everyone chooses the activity they want, and gets rewarded either way?


Myth 7: Raid leaders won’t want to lead 25s anymore.

It’s undeniable that organizing a 25-man raid and guild is way more difficult and stressful than managing a 10-man guild. But what is the incentive right now to lead a 25-man raid? A higher tier of gear? That higher tier goes out to the entire raid, not just the leaders. How come the rest of the guild gets rewarded just because the leaders work harder?

The weirdest thing about this argument is that 25-man raiders and leaders aren’t losing anything. They are, in fact, gaining. They still get the top-of-the-line gear, only in Cataclysm they get a lot more of it per boss than they did in Wrath.

If it’s not the gear, then is it the prestige? Not only will 25-man raid leaders still be competing at the cutting edge just like they do now, but their raids will have an innate advantage over 10-man raids: they will gear up faster (including much faster emblem income). If you are hardcore and want to compete for server or world firsts, you will NEED to be a 25-man raid guild because the gear advantage will help propel you to the top. You simply won’t be truly competitive if you are a 10-man guild. So the prestige may be reduced, but it is still there for 25s.

Yes, the number of 25-man guilds will be reduced, and fewer people will want to lead 25s. But it will happen not because no one will want to do 25s anymore, but because people who didn’t want to be doing 25s in the first place will finally feel free to choose not to do them while still being able to advance their character.


Myth 8: The 10 best people in my 25 man guild will just ditch the ones who are “holding them back”.

GOOD. This one boggles my mind. The statement in itself admits that 15 people in your raid are being carried and don’t deserve their victories or spoils, and it implies that the top 10 resent having to do the carrying, but don’t think they have any choice because without the other 15 people they won’t have access to the current tier of gear. I mean, seriously? That's your argument?


Myth 9: First 10 people to hit level cap will not want to wait for the other 15 to catch up and will ditch us.

What? How is this situation ANY DIFFERENT from Wrath? The first 10 people got to 80 and started doing Naxx 10. Then the guild switched over to 25s as soon as enough people were max level. In both situations, the first 10 were ahead on gear. But with 10s and 25s sharing the same difficulty, that will actually be less of a problem in Cata than it was in Wrath.

Yes, I get that the idea is that those 10 will think that using their gear will allow them to progress faster than they would in the 25 with a lower average gearscore. That sort of makes sense…if you are willfully ignoring the fact that with more drops per person on each boss in 25s, they’d make up that deficit almost immediately, and would end up far better geared in the long run.


-------------------------------------------


As you can see, pretty much every argument I’ve seen claiming this is a disaster, or a bad change overall, has giant, gaping holes in it. I was trying to figure out why it seemed to be “gutting” the fun for some people, then I read this statement by Jerome Phillips, and it all fell into place [emphasis mine]:

“The competitive raiding scene is what drove me to play WoW. I started in a casual guild in Vanilla and as I discovered and grasped the concept of a 'top' guild I worked hard to become better at the game so that I could join one. I wanted to play the best and be the best and I worked for it and I still do. It is by far the primary reason I and the majority of players in my guild play this game. When I'm not playing WoW, I play MW2, COD4, and MvC2. Highly competitive games that force you to exert relentless dominance over your competitors and instill a sense of superiority and accomplishment in achieving a win and/or goal. This same feeling is why I and people in guilds such as mine play this game…why would anybody run 25-mans in Cataclysm? The hardcore players like myself have no sense of accomplishment and no discernable way to establish who is best.

It became clear to me: these arguments that break down under scrutiny are actually smokescreens. The reality is: a lot of 25-man raiders were doing it because they liked feeling superior to 10-man raiders.*

The saddest part is that they don’t realize how artificial that superiority was. The only people who work harder in a 25 are the leaders. Period. The average joe in those guilds does nothing more than any 10-man raider does. In fact, 10-mans are tuned similarly to 25s for their own tier of gear (go look up the health and damage numbers yourself if you don’t believe me).

Right now, 25-man raiders can pretend they are better than any given 10-man raider, but the reality is that they don’t really know who’s better. After getting screwed over for years on end, please forgive me for not feeling sorry for the people who spent those years benefitting from the system that was screwing me now that they have to face - gasp! - the prospect of a more level playing field!

If you are a competitive person, wouldn’t you rather the playing field be evened so you can find out who’s really best, rather than getting a false sense of superiority from a rigged system?

There were tons of great players who chose 10-man, but never got any respect or recognition for their skill. With the artificial signal of superiority gone, that type of 25er is in for a rude awakening: you aren’t as superior as you thought, unless you yourself were organizing the raids.

Now we have a way to really establish who is best. And guess what – some of those 10-man raiders are going to be better than you.






OK, that would have been a great way to end the post. But I just can’t do it. As Larisa reminded me with this post, everyone in this argument has feelings, and many people are reacting more out of fear that their own raid group that they have grown to call home will be torn apart. In fact, I bet the vast majority of people arguing against the change are well-meaning and simply reacting to what they perceive as a threat to their current raiding group.

Of course no one likes that, and it’s understandable that perfectly reasonable people would be unhappy about it and be searching for way to convince others that it is a bad change when really they just don’t want to see their group broken up. In the end, I still hold the opinion that the old system was inherently broken and unfair and that the new system is a massive improvement to the game overall that must be done. But I extend my truly heartfelt condolences to anyone who loves the guild that they built under the broken system and might now see their friends torn apart by an improvement to the game.




*I said “a lot” I did not say “every” or even “most”. Please don’t assume I was talking about you unless you actually suspect you are that type of person.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cataclysm Raid Changes Kill Guild Websites


The sky is falling!

My guild hosts it's site and forums for free on wowstead.com. We've never had any problems with the site. It's passable.

Almost immediately after the raid change announcement yesterday, the entirety of wowstead went down. It is still down.

Hm. Guild-shaking raid change that sends everyone into a tizzy of speculation about where their guild will end up comes out. Guild forum hosting goes down on the same day.

Coincidence?

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's finally happening. 10 and 25 sharing lockout and gear.


I'm in shock right now. I always hoped this would happen, but I never really believed it would.

http://forums.wow-europe.com/thread.html?topicId=13200223842&sid=1

Thank you, Blizzard. You just won yourself a purchase and months of subscriptions money that was in doubt until this moment.

Oh, and by the way? I designed this exact system exactly a year ago Saturday.


Update: To add to the debate and discourse, I'd like to call attention back to this post by Rohan:

http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com/2010/04/blueprint-for-endgame-raiding-gear.html

It puts forward a very plausible model for endgame dungeon tiers that creates an incentive to run two tiers at once. This could be a good solution to the "Blizzard's taking away half my raid IDs!" dilemma presented by the changes. To boil it down: If you clear the current raid tier and still want to raid, you can go back to the hard mode of the previous tier and still get useful gear.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ghostcrawler on Population and Perception


Now that you've read what I have to say about population and perception's role in MMO design, here is Ghostcrawler's take. He says a ton of stuff that backs up my points. I came up with the idea for the post and wrote most of it before reading this. I swear it's coincidence that they share some similarities.

It's too long for me to quote here, so follow the link and read it. He makes a few specific points I'd like to touch on:

In GC's second post in the thread, he talks about why they don't balance around population, and how it's OK to not have all 10 classes at a perfect 10% balance.

I want to be clear about this: I agree with him that there is no need to strive for exact balance. There are devoted fans of every class and spec. They all appeal to some people. Just because fewer people are attracted to demonic wizards than they are to shining holy knights is no reason to simply nerf Paladins until their population is even with warlocks.

I also agree that simply nerfing a class to balance population is yucky.

But, I do not agree with his entire post. For one thing, simple aesthetic preference, or even game mechanic preference, are only responsible for part of a class's population. There are always people flocking to classes perceived to be overpowered, and avoiding a class they love because it seems underpowered. Acknowledging personal preference does not excuse you from having to consider population in your MMO design.

Also, he's thinking too small, just in terms of obvious numeric buffs or nerfs. To borrow GC's own phrase: there are more levers you can pull.

How about the races? Blizzard has already taken good steps in this direction by not allowing either of the new races to be Paladins, and allowing the new races to feature most of the less popular choices. But why can't Night Elves be Shaman?

How about group buffs? Being a hybrid is too desirable at the moment. Let them keep the current advantage of role switching without also piling on the legacy of buff variety that you held over from TBC in the name of not rocking the boat too much. Give BoK to rogues. Have Ret Paladins only give one bonus buff instead of 3 (yes, by simply being there and specced Ret, you give 3% crit, 3% haste, and 3% damage on top of replenishment, a blessing, and the aura's base effect. I'm not kidding. Currently, a rogue can bring, at max, ONE buff to a raid.) and spread some of them out to pure classes a bit more. Inviting a Paladin to your 10-man should be a trade-off: flexibility for utility. Balance it so on his own, a Ret Paladin does damage close to the rogue, and can switch roles if needed - but the rogue brings 5 buffs and the paladin only 2. So every Paladin you invite to your 10-man raid gives you more reason to add a pure class to make up for the buff deficit. Right now it's the other way around, exacerbating the population problem.

How about ease of play? Blizzard is pretty on-the-ball about balancing the potential dps numbers each class can reach. But they haven't done much lately to balance the ease of playing each class. It sounds like they may make strides in this direction in Cataclysm, especially by forcing Paladins to have a rotation that matches the others more, and by giving DKs, Rogues, Hunters, and Warriors more user-friendly resource systems, and simplifying the Feral Druid rotation. Make Paladins apply an array of debuffs while reducing the prerequisites and build-up time of "pure" dps specs, while leaving all specs with similar mathematical damage potential. Make Paladins and Druids have to wrangle their abilities carefully and thoughtfully to hold equal aoe threat to a Warrior or Dk who isn't even looking at the screen (ie reverse the current situation). All 4 classes should have the same threat potential, but it should be easier to reach that potential for the less flexible class, instead of the other way around.

Some example changes: Crusader Strike does less damage, but applies a debuff that increases the Paladin's holy damage. Divine Storm is no longer cost-effective on single-targets. Holy Shock becomes a go-to nuke on a longish cooldown, but Exorcism does more damage but requires an Art of War proc, which is harder to get. Judgements do more damage to enemies with the Righteous Vengeance dot ticking on them, so it makes sense to plan when you use it. Tanking Paladins find that Consecrate has a longer cooldown than its duration, meaning you -OMG - actually have to think about when to use it, god forbid!. Meanwhile, rogues spam SS and SnD/Evis.

OK, went off on a bit of a tangent there. Back to GC's post:

At one point, GC objects to a player who suggests that the classes at the top "should be made miserable" I object to that idea too! I agree that the goal is to make sure everyone has fun. But the problems I see with GC's stance are:

1) It's not a dichotomy. You can make moves to help balance class representation without making anyone miserable. In fact, the net result of such changes can actually be to increase overall happiness! I think it's disingenuous to suggest that population should be discounted as a balance concern because you don't want to make people sad.

2) Representation differences can often mean there is a real balance problem, or a dangerous perception problem. Either way, it may need to be addressed in a way that makes some players have less fun, temporarily, in order to make the game better and more fun overall.

He seems well aware of perception and population as issues, but I'm not sure he takes them as seriously as they warrant.

I'd like to close with the best and most perceptive GC quote of the whole thread:

"We know (and so we have to be very careful about it) that players will do monumentally unfun or even self-destructive things if it conveys even a small advantage."

Yet another reason why the developer's caretaking of the playerbase is so important, and why population balance should be a bigger consideration.

Population vs. Design, and the importance of perception


I recently made a giant poopy - I mean, post about population in Cataclysm. Now I'd like to go into why I think population matters.

There is some truth to the statement that forming a raid full of druids and paladins would be easy because they can cover all of the roles. Is it really that bad if a few classes dominate the population?


Yes. Yes it is. But why?

One issue is buff stacking. If you can cover most of the group buffs with only paladins and druids, but no other 2-class combo can, then those too classes have too much group utility. Another issue is comparative class advantages: there are going to be other benefits to other classes as well. For instance, my group would have it a lot easier in phase 1 Lich King if we had a rogue for Tricks of the Trade > FoK on the ghouls. Other examples include Death Grip (Malygos), Misdirect, and the strength of block tanks on Anub. If both your tanks are Paladins, your raid is not going to be as effective as if you had two tanks of different classes.

The last, and most important one, is perception. What the game seems to be matters as much as what it actually is, and how players feel is more important than what they are told is true.
The easiest example of why perceptions matters pops up every time a new patch comes out. A nerf to a class makes many players of that class feel weaker, and perceive their class as weaker, even if they were overpowered before and the nerf simply brought them into line (or even just made them slightly less overpowered!). Players become less happy with their class, and a bunch will even switch “mains” when this happens. I’ll use the case I’m most familiar with: Death Knights.

There was a time (Wrath release until ToC) when the majority of the population believed DKs to be overpowered. In some aspects, they certainly were. This belief was a major factor in their popularity. They are still very strong (outside of arena), but have been nerfed enough that their popularity has dropped precipitously. Every nerf lowered the number of DKs – especially as “mains” – even though they remained a powerful class. But being perceived as “nerfed” hurt them.

DKs also lost ground for being perceived as the weakest tank after they were nerfed in the ToC patch. They had been basically required for hardmodes in Ulduar, and were rebalanced in response to that. Their popularity fell even more as they became the only tanks without a block mechanic in the era of the auto-LFD-omatic. Facerolling heroics is a lot easier as a tank when you block big chunks of all the little hits coming your way. DKs are still good tanks overall, but they are harder to heal in heroics.

Death Knights are still a strong class: one of the highest raid DPS classes, effective in BGs, bringing a good mix of buffs, and effective tanks on any content that matters. But their population and time played is dropping precipitously because they are perceived as weaker than their competition.

On the flip side, Paladins have seen a surge in popularity from which the game itself has yet to recover. In the pre-Wrath patch Blizzard completely and utterly broke the game, making Ret Paladins into 2-shotting-during-a-stunlock Battleground GODS (at level 70. Few cared that they would be balanced at 80 and against resilience). This along with the efforts to balance all 4 tank classes and the perception that Paladins were the best AoE tanks (thank you Shattered Halls) led to an explosion in Paladin population. Let’s not even get into how much dual specs benefit them.


It sucks to feel like a sucker. It sucks to feel weak. It sucks to walk around Dalaran and have every other character you see be a Paladin or Druid. It sucks to watch groups fill up with half pink names. It sucks to have any group that is forming go out of its way to get a Paladin when none happen to be around. It sucks to hear “oh we need to get a Paladin for XX reason” or “Yay, 3 paladins!” in raid chat or vent.

And it really sucks to perceive that Paladins are better than all of the other classes, and to see everyone but Paladins agree with you (but they keep playing their Paladins no matter how much they fish-for-buffs-I-mean-complain, of course). Their population is out of control in part because they are perceived to be so much better.

It sucks to try a Paladin myself and realize that they are more effective and easier to play in every way. That’s right, I’ve got a new Paladin at level 80, currently grinding out triumph emblems in heroics. I’ve played him pretty much equally between Ret and Prot. In both of those roles, he is so much easier to play than any of my other characters, while being effortlessly effective. FCFS and Clash Resolution and 9-6-9-6-9 (for those of you who are familiar with Paladins) are simple to master. As a tank, the AoE packs stick to you like glue, and the short cooldowns and constant nature of Consecrate mean that you’re never caught without a strong response (unlike a DK who just used up his runes or a warrior with Thunderclap on cooldown, which btw GC used to rub their inferiority to Paladins in their faces here). I never have to worry about putting up diseases or combo points or rage or runic power. I just hit buttons. It’s ridiculous.

Pictured: the Paladin District in Dalaran

Regardless of where things are numerically or rationally: when players perceive imbalance, they will be less happy with your game. Their experience will be tarnished. Blizzard shouldn’t just rely on what the numbers say: they should put more stock in the playerbase’s perceptions.

Right now, the game is reasonably close to balance, if you look at it as a spreadsheet (not counting population numbers). But many players perceive some classes as being stronger, some as being easier, and the game being easier as a whole. These specific topics dominate the conversation about the game. It’s not good for your game, Blizzard.

Players do not like feeling like they are being punished for playing a class that is most appealing to them while it looks to them like Paladins and Druids enjoy advantage after advantage. And population matters a lot of each player’s enjoyment, because when they see players flock to a few seemingly advantaged classes, it makes them feel like a sucker, or feel forced to switch classes as well. Aside from that, the game gets kind of boring when you see the same class over and over. Forming a raid or recruiting is also a problem, because you are more likely to end up with another character of a class you already have enough of, and have trouble finding the classes that would help your raid the most (with utility, buffs, lack of gear competition, etc.)

Bottom line: population matters - and perception matters – to how fun your MMO is for the players.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Quote of the Day:


"I just hope that Blizzard is using some of that extra money to speed up their expansion development cycle, because *that* is where they are losing customers from right now."


Never thought I'd be afraid of a sparkly pony


First off, this hilarious video by Totalbiscuit:



I have verified -at much risk to life and limb - that the reference to homosexuals is not anti-gay, but just a statement that the sparkly pony is "faaaabulous!"


Anywho, quick statement on the horse: overall, I find the insanely high demand for the thing terrifying given it's price.

I am also kind of sickened by the (frankly unecessary) marketing ploys they're using to artificially increase demand.

But it doesn't scare me for the reasons you may think. I'm not worried Blizzard is going to compromise the integrity of the game by selling gear or achievements. I don't think Cataclysm will be an RMT-palooza.

But I am worried that the millions of dollars they just made in one day in return for a few hours of work by an artist and a programmer is going to . . . skew their priorities a bit. After all, they are a for-profit company, and in the end their goal is to make the most money, not make the best game. Making such good games is just a good way to make money.

Companies are meant to make money, and there is nothing wrong with that. I don't begrudge Blizzard the millions they made yesterday at all. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of people thought $25 was a fair price for a mount. I'm not even criticizing them. The whole thing was generally a win for everyone all around: people who wanted the mount for that price got it, Blizz made a ton of cash, and no one who didn't want the mount is hurt by the whole thing.

Or are they? (dun dun DUNNNNNN)

The only thing I'm worried about is a priority shift. Now that Blizzard has invested so much in laying the groundwork of creating a game that so many people love so much that hundreds of thousands of them are willing to pay half the cost of an entirely new video game just for a new graphic on their mount - quite an accomplishment in itself - what is their motivation to keep investing those resources into polishing the rest of the game? Are the i's going to be dotted and t's crossed anymore? Let's look at a hypothetical (and likely hyperbolic) example just to get my point across.

From Blizzard's point of view:

Option 1: Release an innovative, deep dungeon full of new art, cool lore, and great music, voice acting, and sound effects (think Ulduar). Make a number of new models and animations.

Option 2: Take half of those artists off of making the dungeon and have them design a few cool pets and mounts for the store instead. Phone in the dungeon with stale graphics and mechanics, very few bosses, and with every single enemy model fully recycled (think ToC).

Let's say both of those options cost the same amount of money. Option 1 has an indefinable value in keeping customers interested and excited about the game. But ToC showed that releasing a crap dungeon with no new assets will have little to no effect on subscriptions numbers (the main effect is lowering overall excitement for your game, which may eventually lead to a noticeable reduction in profits).

Option 2 will make you 3 million dollars in one day.

As a for-profit company, which of those two options do you pick?

That's why I'm worried that the rest of the game will start being phoned in. We'll see fewer new character models as the artistic resources get redirected towards filling the store. I'm scared that the game, overall, will get worse because spending those resources on pets instead is so much more financially attractive.


/sadface

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cataclysm Class Population, or "World of Paladins 2: Now With More Paladins"


As promised, here I am bringing out my Crystal Ball of Dubious Accuracy and telling you what I think will happen to the class populations in WoW based on the design intent evident in the class previews that were released over the past few weeks. I consider class population balance to be crucially important to WoW, and I find it shocking how little Blizzard developers seem to consider it when balancing classes. But I'll get into that in more detail later.


Current Populations:

Before going into predictions, it will be useful to look at the current class populations statistics. Despite the prevalence of max-level alts to switch to, the class of each player's current "main" will likely be the biggest deciding factor in which class they play in Cataclysm. There will need to a strong reason to switch, especially since mounts, pets, and achievements are non-transferrable (something that I'm almost begging Blizzard to change, even if it's for a fee). For instance, I have not been willing to begin to entertain the thought of switching mains away from my Death Knight because of his Rusted Proto Drake . . . plus all the pets (many impossible or horrendously difficult to replace), mounts (including a 12k gold motorcycle), and achievements.

All of this data considers only level 80 characters.

Right now, Armory Data Mining puts the classes at:



To back up that data with a second source, here are the likely-less-accurate numbers from the Warcraft Census:


I'm going to assume that a comparably large percentage of these level 80 DKs are not mains, given the high DK starting leve and the "shiny and new" factor. I don't see any reason to consider any of the other classes less likely to be mains or more likely to be alts.

In summary, there are way too many goddamned Paladins.


Role representation is also a concern. Basing my estimates off of the percentage of all Paladins and Warriors who specced Prot, we can assume that roughly 7% of the population is a DK or Druid tank. Add on the prot tanks, and only 16% of the population is a tank.

20% of a 5-man or 10-man is a tank. On the other hand, 12% of a 25-man raid is a tank. That means there are too many tanks for 25-man raids, but not even close to enough for 5-man or 10-man content. This indicates that Blizzard needs to balance 25-man raids to include more tanks, and if that's not enough, take more steps to increase the tank population.

The problem is similar for healers: only 18% of all level 80's heal. Sure, you only need 20% for 5-mans, but raids need about 25%.

No matter how you look at it, there is a healer shortage, and a massive tank shortage outside of 25-man raids.

Pure DPS classes have nosedived in Wrath, filling out the bottom of the population list. Overall, they make up 32% of the population, vs 34% who are hybrids playing a DPS class. It seems clear that the community perceives the benefits of hybrids, especially with dual-spec available, as far outweighing the unevenly-implemented "hybrid tax". Unless something is explicitly done to prevent it, I believe this trend will continue.

Take-away points:
  • 25-mans must be rebalanced to require more tanks.
  • Tank and healer populations need to be increased
  • Pure dps classes need to be be more appealing for dps relative to hybrid dps classes
  • We need fewer plate dps and more leather dps


In predicting class populations, it also makes sense to consider the current popularity of each race. It stands to reason that many players will be loathe to leave their favorite race, or consider race as a factor when considering a new main.


Armory Data Mining:


Warcraft Census:


Humans and elves are predominant. The most physically imposing races come next, as does the "darkest" race. The ugliest and smallest races take up the rear. Apparently, the type of people who play WoW a lot want to roleplay as something beautiful, big and strong. Whodathunkit?

Worgen will be explosively popular. They will hit the ultimate trifecta heretofore untouched by other races: they will be the Shiny New Thing, and the "darkest" thing, and also be able to look exactly like the most popular race at the drop of a hat, all at the same time! Everyone will make a Worgen. But few will make a Worgen their new main before they are opened up for race changes from existing characters. So 3 months after Cata release, they will be few and far between at 80. 6 months after and beyond, they will eventually overtake most other races, just as the Blood Elves have since BC.

Goblins are both ugly and short. Being shiny, new, and highly anticipated will help them, but they will never exceed even Orcs in population.


Rating Each Class Preview

So how did each class preview pan out? Look! I rate them from 1-10! Based on how much they would make people want to main that class in Cata!


Death Knight

Blood became the dedicated tanking tree, which is a good change but won't help the numbers. Rune system change is great, but a bit under-the-hood, so would only lead to modest population uptick. New abilities are extremely lackluster.

Rating: 4


Druid

Almost every change addresses something wrong with druids. They are getting a few cool abilities, more buttons to push as bear, an easier cat rotation, eclipse is getting overhauled, their heals are staying largely intact and benefiting from crit and haste, and there are no clear nerfs. Wow.

Rating: 8


Hunter

They are getting Focus instead of mana, which will push away almost no one and draw a few more in. The increased pet stable will be a big draw. Their rotation is getting less frantic. Annoyances like Ammunition are going away. Pets are getting increased raid utility. And the new abilities are very exciting.

Rating: 6


Mage

Bloodlust, only better. Since BL isn't going away, keen players will find the buff to be a big draw to a mage or shaman. Other new abilities are OK, but there are very few mechanics changes.

Rating: 5


Paladin

Are you fucking serious? Cool new abilities (one of them is literally "flashy") that all have utility in both PvE and PvP, easier buffing, and Paladins become the only class with an exclusive buff (Kings, though GC started a rumor that Druids might get it).

Rating: 9.5


Priest

Strong mechanic improvements, and flashy, cool new spells like Life Grip (though Life Grip will turn some people off because it gives them extra responsibility). The changes should rope in some people who would otherwise be turned off, but priest populations will always remain relatively stable.

Rating: 7


Rogue

The combo point system is improved (that system was the biggest annoyance with rogues) and survivability is going up, while stunlocks are nerfed. Smoke Bomb is super-flashy. Rogue population will go up among raiders and down among gankers.

Rating: 6


Shaman

Lots of flashy, cool new spells, but little in the way of mechanic changes or real improvements.

Rating: 8


Warlock

Shard overhaul, decent new spells, and green fire. A few nice mechanics changes.

Rating: 7


Warrior

Awesome fix to rage. Heroic Strike going away as an on-next-attack spam button. New abilities are booooring. No news on exactly how they will be improved to be brought in line with the other tanks on ease of aoe threat, or how the other tanks will be nerfed (yes, vague things have been said so far, but not enough concrete stuff to bank on).

Rating: 2



Healer and Tank changes:

One last thing to consider before we get to the predictions are the major changes being made to healers, and to a lesser extant tanks, as a whole.

The healing change to make them care about mana is a great design idea, if I understand it correctly. We won't know how good it is until we play it, but it sounds like we won't need to keep people topped off at all, instead doing triage based on leaving some people who aren't in danger at medium health. It follows that someone at half-health isn't likely to die in the next few seconds unless they are staying in the fire.

But the healing change is a major turn-off for healers. No matter how much PR GC tries to do, the bottom line is that it sounds like a nerf, and sounds like more work (even if it's not going to turn out that way). What GC needs to do ASAP is release a video demonstrating what healing will be like in Cataclysm, and showing very clearly why it will actually be more fun and less stressful.

As Gevlon and others have pointed out, if you make healer mana the limiting factor in a raid's or group's success, then you give everyone even more reason to blame the healers. Even if it isn't the healer's fault, the social perception will be that it's easy to blame the healer. And Blizzard is continually thinking of this game too much as a game system when they should be thinking about it as a social environment a lot more. Hire Tobold to be your social engineer!

Meanwhile, the tanking changes that make threat scale better with gear are broadly appealing, though talk of making AoE tanking more difficult will likely be misunderstood by some as a nerf.


Predictions:

Now that that's out of the way, here are my predictions, from lowest to highest, of populations percentages for each class at 85 about 3 months after the release of Cataclysm.


Shaman: 6.5%

Bad news, shamans. No amount of Healing Rain can save you. Mages are getting Bloodlust, and none of the most popular races can be your class, including Worgen (and lots of Draenei players will switch to Worgen). The only new Shaman will be Dwarves and Goblins, two of the least popular races. The mana change will be perceived as a nerf, hurting the representation of healers of every class. Totems will remain an annoyance, and you still won't have escape mechanisms, and Enhance will still play like a weaker Ret Paladin. Sorry.


Death Knight: 7.5%

Yeah, you read that right. Biiig cut. Most people will not level their 80 DK as their main in Cata. Paladin popularity will hit this class the worst, but the unexciting new abilities and the loss of freshness won't help either. Expect a good number of Worgen DKs who want an easy way to get a Worgen to 80 early, but few Goblin DKs, as most players will want to roll a Goblin only to see the new starter experience. The appeal of seeing the new 1-60 content will cut into the number of DKs, since they start at 58 (once they get out of their starter zone).


Warlock: 7.5%

Warlocks will see a tiny increase due to their improvements, especially the soul shard system. They will be hurt by the lack of a new pet and what I expect will be a surge in mage popularity.


Priest: 8%

Priest population should stay pretty steady. More than any other class, priests attract a certain type of person, and there is nothing in the preview to suggest they will lose players. Nevertheless, there will be a sizeable drop due to the mana change to healers driving away many players from healing classes. That is the main reason I have them rated so low. The popularity of Druids, especially as Worgen, will also take a bite out of the Priest population.


Rogue: 8.5%


This is also a modest increase for rogues. They will be popular Worgen and Goblin classes, and more popular as raiding mains because of their improved combo point system. They will lose some people who are PvP fans.


Hunter: 9%

I expect a signifiant increase in the hunter population. The biggest factor here is that many of the most popular races can already be hunters, as can both of the new classes, and even humans and undead will be able to hunt in Cata. Also, the improved pet system and the addition of focus will attract more people than it drives away, noticeably increasing the hunter population. I expect them to increase in PvP popularity as well as the focus turns away from Arena and toward BGs.


Mage: 10%

A class with Bloodlust, except it can be played by all of the most popular races, including humans, worgen, and now both kinds of elves? Buy stock in this class, folks.


Warrior: 11%

I originally thought that the boring new abilities in the Warrior class preview would hurt them. And it will hurt them slightly. But no one will notice while rolling their Worgen and Blood Elf warriors and enjoying the fixed rage mechanic, now will they? A perennial popular class will only get more popular.


Druid: 15%

And here we come to the biggest problem. What we've heard about Cataclysm so far has given us no indication that the value of hybrids will decrease. Players as a community are already picking up on this, which explains why the current druid population is so high for a class that can only be played by 2 races and can't see it's own hard-earned armor 90% of the time. As a 3-role hybrid, and the only one that can do both melee and ranged dps, you have a recipe for popularity in a land of dual-specs and little to no downsides to playing a hybrid. GC even hinted that Druids might be the only other class to get Blessing of Kings!

They will also remain the strongest healers once Paladins lose dominance of tank-healing, kitty dps will be easier, bear will be more interesting, and moonkin will finally get a non-spec-breaking version of Eclipse. Plus, the new abilities are pretty cool. Add in that fucking Worgen can be Druids, and iiiit's ovaaaaah for most of the other classes.


Paladin: 17%

The saddest thing about how giant this number is? The fact that it's such a small increase over the current number! The class is getting some great new abilities and almost no clear nerfs. Holy Paladins will become more popular as their toolbox increases and they get raid healing capabilities. Retribution Paladins will pick up a number of refugees from other dps classes, particularly DKs and Warriors, who have been watching them in jealousy for months now. And though there are hints that Prot Paladins will be brought back into line with other tanks, it's hard to dispel the long-running perception of them as the best tanks, the easiest to play, and the ones with the highest and most dependable aoe threat. Plus, they certainly won't be the weakest tanks, and if they are, you can just play dps or healing instead!

The only saving grace here is that Worgen can't play them - though Tuaren will be added to the list, which can only increase their popularity.


Yes, I am predicting that about a third of all players will main either a druid or paladin. Have fun forming raids in 2011, kids!


-----------------------------------------------------


So what does Blizz need to do between now and Cataclysm to prevent a disasterous healer shortage and gross class imbalance?

1) Change the healing mana "nerf" to make it more palatable.

2) Better PR for the increased importance of mana for healers and the cleanse changes. We need video demonstrations of how the game will be changed to compensate and keep these changes from being nerfs, and we need some social engineering changes in the game mechanics to take some of the responsibility for failure away from healers, at least in the public perception. Perception matters.

3) Increase the "hybrid tax" in some way so that players don't flock to Paladins and Druids for being the only 3-role classes in the game (and top-tier at some of those roles at the same time!). It doesn't need to be limited to the current (failing) damage tax. Change around buffs so that hybrids provide fewer of them, rather than more, compared to pures. Make sure hybrids have the weakest CC, and make it very well-known to the WoW population how much CC will actually matter - with demonstrations. Give some extra utility to pure and 2-role classes that the 3-role classes will lack. Continue to suppress the druid population by keeping them from seeing their gear in bear/cat/moonkin. Stop letting Paladins be so goddamn powerful while being so easy to play.

4) Allow Worgen and Elves to be Shaman, and simplify totems even more.