Blizzcon WoW Announcement Responses

I’m finally getting around to writing down my initial reaction to the various things that were announced in WoW panels on Friday and Saturday at Blizzcon. I haven’t even caught up on everyone’s discussions since then due to travelling (…travelling and XCOM expansion being released), but it seems to good to get these down first anyway. Basically my first impressions of everything in no particular order. The biggest part will be on raid changes since those are most interesting for me (well, and there are no detailed class changes yet).

Raid Changes

Putting aside the name changes (which, aside from surely causing constant terminological confusion for the next many months, aren’t too significant), and putting aside LFR (because it’s not raiding), there are still 3 raid difficulties. But we’re going from [easy (Flex), medium (10 or 25), hard (10 or 25)] to [easy (Flex), medium (Flex), and hard (20)]. Many takeaways from that.

  • There’s no longer _any_ difficulty with two disjoint raid sizes. This is great. No more 10 vs. 25 issues. I don’t even want to rehash all the reasons that was a problem, except to the extent it comes up in the remaining points.
  • There is no more hard-mode content with fewer than 20 people. Some will see this as a dubious accomplishment, but I’ve been arguing to do away with 10H for years. It has a lot to do with the problems I discussed in the above blog post: primarily, a game with 11 classes and 34 character types can’t be balanced cleanly around 10-player teams when you’re considering the razor’s-edge tuning of Heroic raiding. “10H WoW raiding” was simply a less great game than “25H WoW raiding.” Slightly less great, but less great. I know there are some of you out there with exactly 9 friends. What I’d want most for you is a game where the systems were made from the ground up to dovetail with 10-player content, rather than a 25- or 40-player game that was pared down as well as could be managed.
  • Guilds can grow to 20 or 25. I think people will take some time to truly internalize this. We’re so used to saying “We’re a 10-person guild, how could we get to 25?” In Cataclysm and MoP, that was a valid question with no good answer. But now? The answer is that you invite people. You can! You’re so used to thinking that you can’t invite people (because there’s no “room” for them), but now you can. I know it sounds crazy, but you get from 10 to 20 by inviting people. You won’t be a 10-player guild in WoD, because there won’t be any such thing. You’ll be “a guild” and until/unless you’re raiding Mythics, you’re not pegged to any one size.
  • Flexible normal-level mode raid tuning. I’d been skeptical of this–not because I thought it would be bad, but simply because I thought (in fact, I’m still quite confident) it’s very hard to do. But they’re only releasing it if they think they’ve got it working, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. One key piece of the puzzle is a new tech feature they briefly mentioned: boss abilities that target N people will no longer stairstep at certain raid sizes, but will, at intermediate sizes, have a pro rata % chance to target 1 extra person each time. This is a crucial bit of tech that allows boss difficulty scaling to be smooth enough to fit within the expected precision for “normal” tuning rather than “easy” tuning.

One thing I still feel isn’t totally answered: why 20 instead of 25? This post very nicely answers the question “why 20 instead of 15 or some other smaller number.” But, to be frank, I didn’t consider 15-player as the only raid size to be a serious option to begin with. People always touted it as a solution to the 10/25 problem, but I never saw how it was a solution at all. 15 would have been tantamount to giving up on “big” raiding. I mention this only because 20 is still too close to 10 or 15 for complete comfort. Even for important goals like ensuring 1 of every class, 25 is a much more comfortable number. Specifically, it’s more than 2x the number of classes, which feels like an important threshold. When you have only 1 of some classes, attendance fluctuation will often give you 0.

I press on this point because the only rationale I have heard people guess so far is that it’s a sort of compromise. Something like, there was a debate between 10 and 25, and if one side flat-out “won,” people would be upset. Or more subtly, it’s the middle ground fallacy: when two sides are debating strongly, the right answer feels like it should be between them. Anyway, I hope that’s not the reason, since it’s a pretty poor one. I don’t know what it is though. I can think of a few other really minor advantages. 10% of the raid is tanks instead of 8%, slightly better for role composition. Hypothetically two 10p groups could merge (I think this is a rare case). There’s some advantage to having the flex size cap out at something higher than the hardmode size so you can bring the whole guild on farm runs. None of these, to me, outweigh the potentially added robustness of the 25-man raid size.

Overall, I think the changes are huge net positive. I said on 6/6/2013, the day Flex was announced: “[It] will probably take some thinking to lay out a good array of raid modes to cover the various kinds of players efficiently. Just to throw out brainstorms, I think the most lightweight extreme would be to have only 2 modes: flex and 25H.” I thought that was just an idealistic example to make a point, but man, they landed pretty close to it.

Just to address the most common complaint about the changes (“what will my guild do?”). If your guild is made of the right stuff–players who want to play together and have generally similar goals in WoW–it will be fine. I’m not worried at all about 25H groups, who are only affected insofar as their recruitment officers get a break at the turn of this expansion (for once). I do understand the plight of 10H guilds. It’s not fun to be the person to has to make changes for the good of the game as a whole. I think the portion who quit will be vastly outnumbered by the portion who find that 20M is no less fun than what they’re currently doing.

One Free Level 90

I know, you’re thinking, “this is the next most important announcement?” To me it is. We live in a different gaming world that we did in 2004 and people’s expectations have changed. In a lot of ways, as a gamer, I heavily resist that–I am perennially nonplussed by microtransactions in any form, for example (and I will be by the inevitable WoW ones that are already appearing in more microtransaction-oriented regions). But one I’m fine with is that newcomers to a game need a smoother experience getting pulled into fun content at the outset without doing a lot of work (WoW needs better onboarding, as the f2p marketing types might say). Some people, or most people in fact, like leveling more than I do, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that it’s the best part of WoW.

The only rationale that people seem to give for the requirement of doing all that leveling is that you learn to play the game and play your class in the process (“enjoyable quest content” is not a reason to require players to do it before doing other kinds of content). But any game that required people to go through 100 levels (or the equivalent number of hours) of tutorialization would be a failure. You shouldn’t look at WoW’s new-player experience any differently. Similarly, no game that’s the 6th in a series makes you play the first 5 before being even allowed to play, especially not a multiplayer game where you want to play the 6th with your friends.

At first I thought it was a little odd that new players will level their first character in only 10 levels, but if you want to play another, you’ll have to do 100 levels and it will feel horribly ponderous. But it actually makes a lot of sense. In this game, you’re supposed to hit max level and then decide what types of content you like (this was a specific focus of MoP). If some of the content you like is “leveling,” that’s the time to do it, and alts are the way for you to experience that content.

Garrisons

Short because we’re still short on details (they listed a lot of things, but it’s really hard to put it all together until beta). I think that cosmetically, these look like WoW’s take on player housing–in fact they may have described it that way at one point. But WoW always said it never had a use for “player housing” as most people think of it, and I’m not sure that’s changed. The biggest role I’m seeing for garrisons is “something that makes you log in the next day (that’s not daily quests!).” That’s not what most people think of as “player housing.” It’s a giant version of the Halfhill farm (which I think they also said at some point). It’s another way that WoW is staying with the times–ever notice how every f2p game (like Hearthstone) has a thing making you want to log in at fixed intervals (often 1 day)? But WoW is really staying ahead of the times in that way, because it’s moving on from “do this quest every day to get your carrot” (which is tremendously boring) to “here’s a minigame where you sent a guy on a mission and as soon as you get home from work tomorrow you’re going to log in to see how it turned out.” It sounds infinitely better.

There are traditional player-housing features as well like trophies to show off to your friends. To be honest though, I don’t see the novelty of going to my friends’ houses lasting very long. Even if the customization is as rich as something like Animal Crossing, where people can do truly creative things with the vast array of options (I kind of doubt that it will be), they’ll just tweet their screenshots or whatever. This is probably why WoW never had player housing. It’s the minigame aspect of the Garrison that makes it worth doing. The biggest watershed in quitting any game, in my experience, is the first time a few days go by where you didn’t play or think of it–that’s when you find you’re mentally quit before you even realized it. Dailies were a way of making sure that didn’t happen, but they were so awful to actually do that it probably cut into their retentive effect. Building an entire minigame to leave you with goals that will take place at certain times in the future is a much better effort and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.

Hit and Reforging

Plagiarizing myself again (lazier than typing). 4/26/2013:

“–Everyone has to hit 100% in PvE. Every single raider of a given class has their hit stat at exactly the same amount. The most telling part of this is that healing specs get 15% to hit. Literally the only effect of the hit stat on a piece of gear is to cause you to reforge to cancel it out.
–Reforging is not very interesting. You shuffle your worst secondary stat to your best. All it really does, other than manage the hit cap, is mute the difference between items with different secondary stats. That may have necessary when stats were less standardized, but now all it does is make gear choice less relevant. Also the little bit of free-from stat choice that it adds is completely redundant with the whole purpose of gems.

We have multiple systems now (the hit/miss attack roll and the hit stat, and the reforging system) whose sole purpose is ensuring that everyone hits everything 100% of the time. I want to argue that they’re all completely vestigial and should be gone next expansion. There are some obstacles, like the need to come up with a fourth DPS stat to replace it, but one thing at a time.”

So yeah, that happened. Unsurprisingly, I approve.

Tertiary Stats

Really neat, not an idea I’d ever even considered. To summarize:

  1. Primary stats are always present in fixed value on items of a given slot/ilvl. There’s no player choice associated with them, but they mediate scaling. The increase in primary stat as you get better gear drowns out most other terms that would cause scaling imbalances.
  2. Secondary stats affect your core min/maxy character ability, such as DPS or healing output. There’s player choice is figuring out which is best, but they tend to be a little one-dimensional (your spreadsheet tells you which to favor). They contribute to scaling and should be generally balanced. All items of a given slot/ilvl have comparable total secondary stats.
  3. Tertiary stats don’t affect DPS and the like (“cleave” does a bit, consider than an open point for now). They don’t affect scaling or balance–your raid leader won’t view you as behind because you have less lifesteal or runspeed than someone else. It’s okay for comparable items in the same tier to have different amounts of tertiary stats (I believe many or most items will have 0, in fact).

Viewed this way, the third stat category makes a lot of sense. When thinking about how to work in e.g. runspeed as a stat, I kept getting stuck on how to balance it against DPS. An interesting debate by the way–normally players always favor DPS (in fact the whole MoP talent redesign was driven by that notion)–but there’s clearly a tipping point (a player who doesn’t use a runspeed enchant on their boots is bad). Anyway, a new category of “optional” stats is great.

As an aside, gems are being changed to an analogue of Thunderforged. It’s an extra bump to non-tertiary stats that you might roll up occasionally. Basically now there are two ways instead of one that an item can be little better than average, a socket or being Forged. So they really like the Forged idea since they’re doubling it, and even the whole tertiary stat concept is a variant of it.

I’m mildly surprised they’re doing away with (traditional) gems as well as reforging. Much of the thrust of my issues with reforging was being redundant with gems (free stat choice). Getting rid one of one mode of free stat adjustment felt like an obvious change to me, but not both. Still, I can’t say picking gems was very interesting, so I have no reason to complain.

—–

Okay, have to stop typing for now, I hit on the big design issues we know about. I didn’t touch on L100 talents, but it mostly would have been “a bunch of neat ideas, too early to worry about min/maxing them anyway.” I think doing in-depth into the L100 talents so far will be a good avenue for launching into thoughts on class changes (which we otherwise haven’t seen). But right now, reading them doesn’t let me infer anything big about what they’re doing with classes in WoD.

Let me know your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Blizzcon WoW Announcement Responses

  1. One thing about 20 people is that it is smaller than the maximum size for the flexible raids (25). This means that there is a bit of wiggle room when it comes to things like farming runs. You can take your bench along when farming Heroic mode.

    Essentially, if you look at flexible raiding for a larger guild as 15-25, depending on who shows up that day, then 20 is the midpoint of that. I am not so sure it is a compromise, so much as building in some “room for error”.

  2. I think they just did 20 man to evoke nostalgia. It worked for me! I miss some of the awesome 20 mans. Plus, 20 is a better sounding number than 25. 25 is just… odd.

  3. Raid Changes:
    Overall I see the changes as hugely positive. I had predicted that flexible sizes and cross-server capability would come to medium difficulty raiding in the next expansion, and I’m thrilled to see those predictions come true. Especially for low-raiding-population servers, this will be a huge improvement to accessibility, success rate, and recruitment potential.

    My only real concern is that I’ve spent the past three years or so raiding with a group that has fluctuated between 7 and 14 active raiders, with a primary focus on medium difficulty raiding and occasional forays into hard mode. We’ve had surprising success given our casual nature, and have enjoyed what Heroic raiding we’ve done.

    While the changes will likely help us grow our pool of qualified and geared raiders, I’m concerned that the 20 person, same-server limit will be a barrier to our ever attempting hard modes.
    Blizzard wants us to make friends, wants to reward us for maintaining our social networks, and wants to let friends play together without artificial barriers. But if we grow our raid that way (cross server), and find good success in medium difficulty, we’ll immediately encounter a significant barrier if we’d like to try hard modes.

    One solution I’ve heard proposed is to open Epic mode for cross-server play after a given time delay. Say, one month after the world first Epic kill.

    Upgrade to 90:
    This is great as a bonus for purchasing the expansion. I think it’s reasonable to expect it to eventually come to the Blizzard Store. It’s a quality of life improvement for many, giving better accessibility to the game they want to play. I don’t see it harming the game at all, and IMO people complaining about “pay to win” don’t understand that the most important factors in endgame success simply cannot be purchased.

    Garrisons:
    No opinion. I hope they’re at least aesthetically like the old WarCraft2 buildings. I hope they don’t feel grindy like the rep/valor climb in early MoP.

    Hit and Reforging:
    This is pretty huge for me. I’m not going to claim that reforging was ever “fun” in the “Oh goodie, I’m going to go visit the reforger!” sense. But I do think the system was invented to address an issue, and removing it will reveal that the issue remains. Namely, secondary stats are of differing desirability to different classes and specs, and the value of these stats also changes throughout an expansion.
    I’m concerned because removing Hit, Exp, Dodge, and Parry all at once, at the same time as removing reforging, and also reducing the number of gem sockets and the number of enchants, is going to leave players with very little flexibility to shuffle their secondary stats around.
    The end result may be that a piece of gear is highly undesirable to a given spec because it is poorly itemized. I realize this has always been a concern, but Reforging was implemented in part to give us more choice in which gear we found appealing or acceptable. Removing reforging effectively reduces the pool of pieces I can select from, and may lead to my being disappointed at receiving “bad” gear.
    They’re also introducing “spec sensitive gear”. So when I’m in Feral spec my chest has Stam and Agi, but when I switch to Resto the same item now has Stam and Int. This is another factor that seems likely to reduce the variety of items available. With one or two armor pieces per slot per armor type, and me never taking the one with Crit on it, there isn’t going to be any real choice in gearing.
    As a Resto Druid, I’m concerned about my ability to stay near important Haste breakpoints. I also wonder about my ability to control my Spirit level as the expansion progresses.
    Finally, given magical spec-sensitive gear, fewer gems and enchants, four fewer secondary stats, and no reforging; I wonder if it won’t simply become a truth that “If you have gear on, you’re doing it right.” I know Blizzard has repeatedly tried to make the game harder to fail miserably at (one of their justifications for reworking the talent system, for example). But I don’t know that I’m eager to see the itemization game disappear entirely.

  4. Another possible reason for lowering the hardcode raid size to 20 which you didn’t mention is the issue with lag. Today, many players have problems playing in a 25 player environment, and it’s not always because they have old computers.

    Although they have been working to reduce the problem (redesigning ground based AoE heals etc.), this might also have influenced their raid size decision. And of course it’s great to have flex/normal larger than hardcore!

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