Archive for the “The future is scary” Category
There is a gigantic disparity between how lore is presented in WoW, and how it would actually go if the key players were allowed for a moment to make decisions of their own.
Right now, in this period after the downfall of Garrosh Hellscream, is one of those times.
Look at the situation. The Alliance has gathered the entirety of its military might to crash the gates of Orgrimmar and end the reign of Warchief Hellscream. At their side are the Trolls, the Tauren, the Sindorei, and maybe the
Would the Horde forces have been able to pull this off without the Alliance’s aid? Canonically, no. It took the help Alliance to pull this off, "by the book", and that’s what we end up with; the alliance virtually has its boot on the Horde’s neck, and at the last minute – shows mercy.
Now, in any sanely constructed world …
- The following day would have revealed that there was only one real power in Azeroth, that being Alliance.
- On Day 2, the Horde would have been pushed out of all the places it invaded during the Cataclysm years, such as Ashenvale.
- Day Three would see outposts constructed all over the planet where Alliance could keep an eye on the Horde.
- Day 4 might possibly see the restoration of Gilneas.
And so forth.
Bottom line is, in a relatively short period of time we’d see Alliance supremacy asserted throughout the land. While I doubt Wrynn would invade Horde holdings outright, I’m pretty sure he’d be keeping an eye on them and pushing back in areas that were overtly invaded by the Horde previously.
In this more reasonable world, we’d see long term plans forming to retake Lorderon. The Sindorei might read the writing on the wall and petition to reunite with their Kaledorei bretheren.
This is the kind of world that would be nigh inevitable with the Alliance at this level of superiority over the broken Horde.
But that’s not going to happen.
"War"craft implies that peace or even an uneasy occupation are simply not in the books. Few want to play a marginalized faction; the overall presentation of WoW is that there are two main factions of nearly equal power. This is what is being sold and, by gum, it’s what WILL be sold.
The lore designers simply can not drive their characters realistically in this particular case. They have to sell games for people to play them, so the lore stops cold when it comes to permanent change affecting the faction balance.
As much as they make peaceable noises, the Sindorei will never join the Alliance. As much as Wrynn makes threatening noise, the Alliance will NEVER retake Lorderon. The lore-writers’ hands are simply tied when it comes to this sort of thing. The only time we will EVER see a change in factions is when new races / factions are added to the mix.
If you’re into "the lore", if you’re into telling of stories, you have to remember this: as the story approaches the boundaries of faction balance, it will cease to make sense. You have to turn off your brain and press the "I Believe" button. Even for your own internal Head Canon, you will have to build little loops and alleyways around this anomaly in order to make it work.
If Blizzard really wants to impress us, they can try something really bold in this regard. But it’s obvious that they won’t even kill off flying mounts, as much as they say that they want to, so I doubt they have the metaphorical backbone to do something as breathtakingly bold as to merge Sindorei and Kaledorei factions in-game and substitute something new. Won’t happen. The player upheaval would leave them gibbering.
I think we all understand this, but sometimes you need to remind yourself. Don’t cross Sales. They’ll cut ya.
This needs to be said, because sometimes we forget that Lore doesn’t HAVE to make sense if it gets in the way of selling games, and when you’re trying to predict where it might be headed – don’t delude yourself into thinking that "reason" and "plot" and "consistency" have any power over the game’s design.
Speculation is running wild in the wind up to WoD, so, have fun with that. But try to keep a level head.
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This quote from Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas infuriates me.
"In terms of the pricing, honestly a big part of that is not wanting to devalue the accomplishment of levelling."
I hate to take one line out of a conversation like this, but this highlights the disingenuous approach that Blizz has taken on the topic of "leveling" zones since they started nerfing everything that wasn’t current content with gay abandon.
Somewhere near the end of Wrath, they started doing this; reducing the amount of XP required to level; boosting the amount of XP you get from each kill, each quest, each turnin. Giving huge amounts of XP for digging up ore or picking flowers or skinning beasties. Granting bonus XP from certain holiday items and buffs. Offering items that you could use to bypass entire swathes of leveling zones. Making zones provide so much XP and requiring so little XP to get to the next level that you routinely ran out of green-or-better quests and leave huge bits of the lore untold unless you deliberately chose to stop leveling for a while. You can’t even level in current content and see all the zones without loitering.
All these things have been done to the leveling game, but Blizzard "doesn’t want to devalue the accomplishment of leveling".
Forgive me for being vulgar, but how does a company that has spent the better part of a decade devaluing the accomplishment of leveling get off saying things like this? The devaluation has already occurred. Leveling, in our current state of affairs, serves one purpose: it gets you to max level. Only people that deliberately want to soak in the lore, or get Achievements, will spend any more time leveling than they have to – and most of those throwbacks aren’t actually leveling per se, but going back and picking up the remaining quests they need for the achievement, completely over-leveling it.
There is no value left to lose.
The only way this gets less annoying for me is if we hear in later press events that what they meant to say was that they were re-valuing the leveling game and didn’t want to cheapen it with cheap L90s. But somehow, I get the strong feeling that that is not what they meant and that they’re going to blithely continue on as if they have no responsibility for the state of the leveling game now, and that anything that they do with the Boost feature in any way changes that (it doesn’t).
The other little disingenuous nugget of fail in that interview was the assertion that they didn’t want people to have to buy a second game just to get that second boost. But they’re quite happy to charge you as much as buying the second game would cost you! More, if WoD isn’t a requirement for the boost – in which case five bucks will get a second game and another free boost. AND it gets worse when you realize that even WoD will deflate in value after the first quarter of release. Aside from the aisles of Wal-Mart, you’ll be able to get the game for probably $40 or less after the first quarter, and that’s a $20 saving on every boost.
Maybe Ghostcrawler left because he saw the writing on the wall.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. But I’m not liking what I’m seeing.
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If you were awake this past weekend, you probably saw the news that in WoD, there are a few design changes that will ultimately culminate in the requirement of a silver medal in the Proving Grounds before you can randomly queue for a Heroic 5-man instance.
That is an outstanding solution for a problem that we don’t actually have.
Let me quantify this with a pie chart.
I think I’m turning Japanese
Let’s let the blue part of that chart represent the number of times I have had difficulty in a random Heroic5 because somebody in the group was incapable of playing his or her class. Let the red part represent the number of times I have had difficulty in a random Heroic5 because somebody in the group was an asshole.
I think you’re starting to get the picture.
Now, I immediately point out that data is not the plural of anecdote, so my personal experience is not by definition the experience others have. But I will also point out that no man is an island, and we all share an experience here, so what I hear from other players can be used as a guide to help determine if I’m whistling in the dark here.
Well, the majority of what I see people complaining about online – other than the forums is assholes. Or, rather, if they’re complaining about the person not performing, it’s because that person is being an asshole. Or otherwise coupled with the person being an asshole, in some way.
Well, assume Blizz is starting small. Let’s have a look at how the poor performers break down.
The red part is people that are complaining about poor performers as an excuse for their groups’ failures. The blue part is those people which would see improvement in their Heroic5 experience if only a silver medal was required for entry into a random Heroic5.
Okay, I’m full of shit and making those numbers up out of whole cloth, because I really don’t need a formal survey of the forums to form an opinion on this.
Of all the people having problems with randoms of any sort now, performance is rarely given as the cause of the failure. More times than not I’m reading about the seven healers that are left after all the DPS prima donnas left because they felt like effort was something they would like to avoid, and the tanks left out of disgust at that, and the healers are busy discussing who gets to be the biggest martyr this time. It wasn’t performance. It was personality.
I really don’t care at the meta level. I’m not running random Heroic 5s, not because I don’t think people know how to play, but because I’m fed up with assholes. And nothing Blizz is doing here is going to change an asshole’s opportunity to make LFD an unholy shithole of gaming society.
When Blizz comes up with social controls on trollish behavior, I’ll be more interested.
Meanwhile, Blizz is wasting time and resources on something that won’t make any difference. They could have done that on the dance studio and at least made people genuinely happy.
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An article on WoW Insider takes one of my points about the character boost to 90 issue and expands it way the hells out to a mathematically precise word count of "large". Anne states far more effectively than I have about one of the unpleasant side effects of the leveling "squish" – the way that the "story" of the game loses its cohesiveness due to the way that people are rushed through levels most expeditiously.
Anne provides a lot of good suggestions to address this self-inflicted wound, though the possible solution that Anne’s article leaves out is this: stop messing with the older levels. Stop messing with the XP scaling, stop messing with XP returns, stop dropping level requirements.
In short, don’t compress the leveling process at lower levels. Anyone that wants to rush through the 1-90 (or whatever) experience can go buy a boost. This is my primary reason for wanting the boost in the first place. I really don’t give two damns about anything else, I just want to see the lore of the game coupled back with the leveling experience.
Unfortunately, that’ll never happen. The first reason is that Blizz just doesn’t have the PR capacity to handle the negative feedback without making a mess of things. They can’t even announcing an expansion without offending 1/2 the population of the gaming world, so let’s assume they just won’t be able to manage the awareness and deft touch required to make an unpopular decision and then weather the storm.
The other reason is that resources would be required in order to reset the leveling experience back to that which it was in the first place. In the case of the 1-60 process, they don’t even have an "original" setting to go back to, since they were redesigned in the first place to provide an accelerated leveling experience. The old 1-60 leveling process was eliminated in toto when they were redesigned more or less completely from the ground up.
And those resources are just not going to be provided. They’re already pushing things with something as fundamental as introducing new character models with an expansion based on previously established lore (rewrit). They don’t have the bandwidth to also re-adjust and re-write all the old leveling content. There is no big red lever marked "reset to previous status", and, even so, they’d still need to test it, and they probably don’t have time or resources for that, either.
But Anne’s article truly does illustrate the folly of trying to mask a defect in design with workarounds. Eventually they pile up to the point where you can’t help but notice the flaws, no matter what your skill or perception level is. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that you can get from 1-60 without seeing but 3/4 of a single continent (rather than all of two continents).
Maybe somebody’s watching that will be implementing the next generation MMO that we all go to play, and they’ll not make the same fundamental mistakes that Blizzard has made. Maybe they’ll offer level boosts to the "threshold" at the very first expansion, rather than five in.
Or, if it’s Blizzard and "Titan", maybe they’ll make all the same mistakes all over again.
Won’t that be fun.
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Well, they’ve finally done something I’ve been asking for for a long time – it is likely that Blizz will offer paid "boosts" to level 90 for the toons of your choice once WoD launches. Naturally, there are those that claim that this will ruin the game, but I’ll counter – and have been for years – that the LACK of this paid service has ruined a lot of the game for a lot of people.
I want to get something out of the way, first. I have absolutely ZERO sympathy for people that are in a hurry to get to max level. None. Zip. Nada. I am happy for this paid service not on their behalf, but on behalf of everyone that has had to endure the after-effects of these people.
Blizzard has, in the past, altered the game in many ways to accommodate people that were ‘bored’ of leveling yet-another-alt to max level. They have nerfed the entire leveling game.
There are zones that you cannot get XP from all quests because the final ones go gray before you’re done!
Entire expansions have been nerfed so that you spend minimal time in them – My Rogue completed ONE zone on Northrend before he dinged 80! He had done maybe 3/4 of Sholazar! My DK barely finished Deepholm before she dinged 85. The assumption has been made that if you want to do all the quests, you’ll do so anyway, regardless of any XP you might get, and otherwise you just want to be gone as fast as you can.
There are pretty much NO challenges left. Coming up in Vanilla pre-Cata, you could count on a few tough runs out there, some elites hanging around outside of instances, some big rares that required some teamwork to take down. All gone. Even Stiches is a pushover.
So, overall, the way that Blizz was trying to accommodate the speed-levelers pretty much subverted anything interesting about the lower level areas – and rather than help, that just made it worse, because now the power levelers were trying to get through areas that were pretty much as interesting as naval lint and about as attractive. Leveling went from being tediously annoying to annoyingly annoying.
The biggest tragedy of them all is how much time and manpower that Blizz has invested in these changes that had no good effect, that pretty much subverted everything about the lower level zones, and pretty much rendered 90% of the game’s content irrelevant to a large subset of the playerbase.
The lower level areas are not the problem. The people that want to get OUT of them are the problem. They wasted time and money on the wrong solution.
Boosting to max-for-last-expansion level is the RIGHT solution. It has a minimal footprint. It doesn’t give max level away for free. They enhance their revenue on the impatience of impatient people. Those that wish to level the traditional way get some peace from the miserable hordes of people that would rather be somewhere else. Everybody wins.
This marginalizes nobody. It isn’t "pay to win" – you still have whatever the current expansion is go level through. If you get any gear from it it’ll be inferior to anything you get in the expansion, so who cares?
When I saw the WoD reveal mention a free boost for one toon, I had hoped that it would lead to this. I’m so very pleased to see that it has.
I have absolutely no plans to avail myself of this. I see paying to bypass content that you’re paying to see to be a non-sequitorian concept. But I have no reason to hate on those that will. Go in peace, kill some dragons, and tell Garrosh I said hello.
See ya in Draenor.
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If you’re like me, you have an addon that lets you know when a rare NPC appears in your vicinity, such as NPCScan. I’m not into killing every rare that appears on my scope, but I’m always on the lookout for special ones such as Time Lost Proto-Drake or Poseidus, both which drop unique mounts.
Achievements add another layer to the activity. There are at least three achievements in Pandaria that require killing all of one or another type of rare NPC … in the case of this one, ALL of them.
Perhaps I’m mistaken, though, but Pandaria is also where we started to see Neutral Rares … in most of these cases they are friendly or neutral humanoids – Pandarens, Jinyu, and Hozen.
Now, it’s one thing to kill a hostile … it’ll attack you given the opportunity. Or if it’s a neutral of a normally hostile race or faction, for example a Tauren as seen by Alliance.
But Pandaren and Jinyu are usually friendly, don’t attack on sight, and are generally just minding their own business when BANG! Some huntard comes along and puts a bullet in its head!
(I’m ignoring any implied commentary on mogging here.)
Now, I ask you: is this the action of a good person? I mean, what if they were random Night Elves, Dwarves, and Worgen scattered over Kaz Modan? Has the act of PK’ing *ever* been considered anything other than evil?
It’s so obvious when you see it: achievements are evil, in that they make us do evil things to get them.
Might as well add one for killing your own faction leaders in a raid, while you’re at it.
I’d be a lot less annoyed at this if there were obvious penalties – such as a loss of rep with the relevant factions. But, just like the undead invasion at the start of WotLK, Blizz has copped out and refused to attach any real consequences to actions that would otherwise be considered immoral or evil. I guess if it’s "cool" it’s okay, right?
To date, I’ve avoided killing any of the relevant rares that are neutral. It’s simply too far out of character; it breaks immersion. None of my toons are the sort of people that would go out and kill a non-hostile for no good reason, and something as meta as an "achievement" is no good reason.
I have a strong suspicion that there will be more of this to come in WoD. I’m pretty sure I won’t like that, either. But I’d love to be wrong.
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Well, the big Reveal has taken place at Blizzcon, and we now know details of the next expansion. Hopefully you followed #TeamFaff at Godmother’s liveblog. I had to bail out right after the reveal because we had our weekly planning meeting at work, and the boss was most unsympathetic to the cause.
Now that the dust has settled, and I’ve had time to breathe, let’s talk about it.
I made some cheeky predictions, so let’s see how I did!
There will be an expansion announcement and it will be called "Warlords of Draenor"
That was a pretty easy one, really. If they didn’t, it would have been ugly. The title this time was given to us by the trademark offices in several countries. +2 for me.
It will involve a new "lost" continent of Draenor
It’s Draenor, Jim, but not as we know it. Instead of a lost continent floating about in the Twisted Nether, we’re going back to the past. Specifically, Garrosh escapes captivity and through means as of yet unrevealed, journeys back in time to prevent the Old Horde from becoming subjugated by the Burning legion. What we, the denizens of Azeroth, then face is the Iron Horde – the united fury of the Orc clans united and at full strength.
My score: –1 (net total 1)
Alleria and Turalyon will return
No, they won’t. Though, to be fair, the new world of Old Draenor doesn’t have them to begin with. Since the First War didn’t happen, they didn’t get trapped when the Portal was closed. But THAT is a whole new can of worms, something I’ll exposit in another post.
Score: –1, for a net of 0.
It will involve the Burning Legion
Not so much. While it’s obvious that the Legion will be involved at SOME point, the net effect is that the Orcs turn their backs on the Legion and the power it offers. But the overall theme of this expansion is All Orc, All the Time.
Score: –1, now netting –1.
Ethereals will be the new player race
There will be no new player races.
-1 for me, for a net of –2. Oh dear.
Outland will not get revamped
Technically true, though they do move the door a bit. Since the history leading to Outland hasn’t happened, Outland becomes an alternate timeline, and thus its entrance is moved to the Caverns of Time. Which I have to admit, is a pretty good way to deal with it.
I’m going to claim a win, netting me back to –1.
The new level cap will be 100
Got that one right. So we’ll see a realm first Level 100 in 2 days, not 1.
+1, back to breaking even.
There are no indications of any new classes
Got that one right, too. This will make WoD the first WoW expansion where neither a new class or race was introduced.
+1, and I’m back in the black.
Release Date: Holidays, 2014
No mention was made of a release date. This is my surprised face. Though I keep hearing rumors of a Q1/Q2 release timeframe, there is nothing official to back that up that I am aware of.
No points either way.
You face Jaraxxus!
I was close, but he appears in Hearthstone, not WoD.
-1 to zero me out again.
I totally didn’t call it, but it’s such a big one that I think I deserve to be dinged for missing it.
And that’s the news: all character races are to get remodels with higher poly counts and a lot of new emotes and expressions. The samples shown – especially for the female Gnome – were amazing.
There IS a tiny bit of drama here, in that it’s stated that there are currently no plans to offer a free appearance change when the changes go into effect. But the door’s been left open just a crack, so let’s wait and see.
-1, putting me back in the red.
Every Blizzcon, Blizz tends to offend someone, and this year was no exception. After the buzz died down, people started noting a highly testosterone-driven theme to this expansion. Female characters, when mentioned at all, were either minor in comparison, or they were told to go home, take care of the baby, and make Thrall a sammich.
I’ll revisit this at some future time. Other than to say, if you throw your keyboard over this, you know what happens? It breaks, dumbass. So I guess you showed them.
So I get a point there, bringing me back to even.
The overall results are
As is usually the case with this sort of thing, if you guess wildly the best you can really hope for is 50/50, which I did achieve. I was wrong as much as I was right. But I’m not displeased with the result.
And now the other stuff
One of the big things for this expansion seems to be "systems", our friend GhostCrawler’s domain.
There’s a big change to bags and inventory – a lot of items are going account-wide similar to how companion pets are handled now. This’ll clear up tons of space in our bags. A lot of materials are going from 20 to 100 per stack, freeing more room. And Tabards are a possibility for this, hooray! Also, quest items, though I’m worried for Archmage Vargoth’s Staff.
Another big "system" change will be "item squish". Basically, the huge numbers we currently have will be reduced by several orders of magnitude, possibly to double or even single digit values, with some sort of hidden scaling system to keep it manageable.
Related to that, itemization is changing drastically, with most secondary stats like Hit and Expertise going away and primary stats possibly varying by spec, effectively ending the spec-change-shuffle.
You will be able to bring one character to 90, or "boost", per account. So if you decide to change to a different raiding main, for example, you won’t have to spend weeks getting up to raiding level. I’ve been pushing for this for a while, because I hate that the lower level zones continue to get gimped in order to make life easier for raiders. Raiding and the leveling game are two different activities, and changes in one should not make life harder or less satisfying for either group. By allowing a character boost, they provide raiders with what they want without punishing those that are not raiding. Right now, it’s one per account, but I suspect that there will be infrastructure in place to make additional boosts possible as a paid service. And I think that’s a good thing.
This is actually an "in"-convenience feature, but another bit of drama – including threatened or actual sub cancellations – is that flight will not be available in Draenor until at least the 6.1 patch. I’m okay with that. In fact, if they want to get rid of flight completely, I’d be completely behind it. But a lot of people are NOT thrilled.
Garrisons were an unexpected new feature, which more or less amount to a cross between player housing and the Tillers farm. Other trade skills in addition to cooking will be involved, you get minions, and they can do things for you even while you’re offline. It’s all rather non-specific right now, and it’s hard to get a read on it, but overall it has been well received.
The big change to raiding is that all levels of raiding will be flex in WoD except the highest form, which will be called Mythic, and serves a step further than Heroic. The raid difficulty is tuned for 20 players, which Blizz claims is important since tuning at that difficulty will be too complex otherwise.
And that’s a wrap. I will be revisiting several of these topics in upcoming posts, but I wanted to first set the stage, as it were, for what is to come. Specifically, I want to discuss the lore, Blizzard’s ongoing PR issues, the game mechanics that are changing, and probably more lore, because, damn
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Note: this post contains spoilers about a fifteen year old science fiction movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I have no pity. This is as close to a warning you will get.
It also contains spoilers about the end of Patch 5.2. If you haven’t completed that yet, you probably won’t anyway. Like me.
If you have done the Legendary quest chain to the point where you have slain the Thunder King and brought his heart to Wrathion, you get this bit of dialog, amongst others.
Wrathion says: WE HAVE FALLEN. WE MUST REBUILD THE FINAL TITAN. DO NOT FORGET.
I had to think about that a bit. Where have I seen this before?
"There is danger. Remember."
"There is danger. Remember."
"There is danger. Remember."
In case this scene isn’t familiar, this is from a Babylon 5 TV movie, Thirdspace. And it kind of relies on you having seen the entire TV series to date, so imma splain.
No. It is too much. Imma summarize.
The B5 universe is inhabited by many races, one which is an ancient and god-like race called the Vorlons. Nobody knows much about them, and few have ever seen their homeworld. One person, the woman in the picture above, has. Her name is Lyta Alexander, and she is a telepath. It was revealed in the TV series that she often telepathically communicated with the Vorlon ambassador, Kosh, and "carried a piece of him around" in her head – for what purpose, it is unknown. But in the past we have seen evidence that certain triggers can activate what is loosely called "programming" left behind by Kosh – for example, she destroyed the Shadow homeworld as it was about to be claimed by the Alliance forces.
So when Lyta sees this "Thirdspace" artifact that is the centerpiece of this movie’s plot, she drops into a trance and starts scribbling those four words on the walls of her quarters, over and over again. An embedded warning, we learn, from the bit of Kosh’s latent programming.
Now, if her warning to herself seems somehow familiar, look again at Wrathon’s babbling at the start of this post and tell me you don’t see some sort of parallel.
Why is this significant? Well, let’s let Lyta explain.
"I tried to tell you. I failed. Now it is too late. The door is opening."
Delenn: "What mistake?"
Lyta: "The first one. The one from which all other mistakes proceed. The error of Pride."
"The saw us as gods. And we, in our pride, began to believe them."
"We were so intent on getting out, that we neglected to think of what we might be letting in. Until it was too late."
"They are a power beyond comprehension. A hunger beyond understanding. They are anti-life itself."
We’re in tinfoil hat territory, folks.
This is not the first parallel between B5 and WoW. Not by a long shot. B5 had a prophet named Valen. We have a prophet named Velen.
Valen was actually a "present-day" human that went back in time to fight in the last Shadow War and transformed into a Minbari (an old, wise, race that did not have horns and hooves, but other parallels are there) named Valen, who then led the Minbari to victory, and who prophesied about the NEXT Shadow War, which, coincidentally started up just before he went back in time.
Velen is a Draenai, former Eredar, of Argus. Or is he? For all I know, he’s Anduin Wrynn, come back from the future.
There are other parallels, but just whetting your appetite there. Are the Orcs equivalent to the Narn? Or maybe the Tauren? Forsaken = Drazi? Does this cast Jaina as Delenn or Ivonova? Oh, there are so many possibilities – and of course, I’m not saying Blizz is drawing its script from J. Michael Strazynski, I’m just saying that there are notes that I hear in both songs, as it were.
And that’s where Wrathion’s babbling comes in. His warning – DO NOT FORGET – really smells a lot like Lyta’s warning to herself. And if that’s a parallel, then what are we saying here – are the Titans cast as the arrogant Vorlons? Some other force – the Legion, for example? – in the role of the Thirdspace aliens?
And what is the equivalent to the Thirdspace Artifact, then? Portal’s done. Sunwell’s closed. The Maelstrom? Could Mad Deathwing’s demise there have caused something to start cooking? Could somebody possibly drop a benny in the Well of Eternity under Nordrassil? Well, there are a few possibilities, assuming they didn’t just do something new. I hear there’s a corner of Stormwind still standing. Let’s open a portal there!
Things to Come
We know from a specific roadmap allegedly from 2003 that the next expansion is likely (by that map) to be "Legion Set", which really ties in well with this. I would not be at all surprised if the next expansion, assuming it’s the Legion Set, opens with Wrathion delivering a dire warning about something that the Dwarves or Goblins or both were tinkering with at the Maelstrom, or maybe the Tauren and Elves at Nordrasil. Or maybe he just flips out and does the deed himself. Either way, the setup seems pretty … convenient.
So there’s that.
The epic struggle at the heart of B5 was the Alliance / Shadow war, or more specifically, the build up to the war, the struggles internal and external, the realization that the Shadow War wasn’t strictly a war against The Shadows, and the discovery that no matter how big you are, there’s always a bigger fish.
While it hasn’t always been front and center, the war between the Legion and the Titans has always been at the heart of things, and unexpectedly, the Pandaria campaign may have just dropped us right back in the middle of it. We have a pretty strong suspicion that it’s coming, anyway, but this and previous things from Wrathion really do seem to point in that direction.
It’s the end of the Plan as we know it
Blizzard’s never been happy with that post on Allakhazam, especially since it seems to be so accurate. I’m sure they’ll be happy to get past the Legion expansion, should it happen, so they can venture into territory that we have even fewer clues on. That’s not to say the Titans won’t figure into it again.
As Lyta concluded: "One mistake. One of many. So many."
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By now, if you’re dedicated enough to read even this blog, you’ve seen this announcement from Activision / Blizzard. To wit: Activision / Blizzard has bought its financial independence from its corporate masters, Vivendi Universal.
I’d like to point out a few things.
First of all, note that it’s still Activision / Blizzard. Not just Blizz. Blizz is still joined to Activision via a cash-transporting umbilical cord. The pernicious influence of Activision and Bobby Kotick is still very much an active part of Blizzard’s future. Vivendi didn’t once enter into things, but Activision, well, that’s a very active threat to Blizzard’s moral well-being, and has been. I have no idea if they’ve managed to hold the line against the darkness over there at Pasadena, but here’s hoping they can continue, if so.
Second of all: I don’t care who they are, if they were valuated at EIGHT BEEEELYUN dollars and have over THREE BEEELYUN in cash reserves after that, they are not an "indie" company, any more than EA is. "Independent" and "indie" really mean two different things, and the people calling the A/B monstrosity "indie" should be hauled through the internet into 4chan by their lower lip and left there to suffer. Independent is fine. Indie is not.
Finally, this should send chills through anyone’s heart:
"The transactions announced today will allow us to take advantage of attractive financing markets while still retaining more than $3 billion cash on hand to preserve financial stability."
– Bobby Kotick
"Attractive financing markets" sounds suspiciously like "we’re going to invest our capital in things other than producing games." There’s an accountant in there somewhere urging little Bobby to put cash on derivatives or something.
Well, I hope not. But anything that is other than a direct investment in the game studios’ health is a misuse of funds, in my opinion.
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
– Mark Twain, who attributed to Benjamin Disraeli
You may have also noticed that in the same conference, they quietly released the subscriber numbers for 2013Q2. Aaaand the numbers are down again, down to 7.7 subs, which haven’t been that low since before BC launched..
These are based off of Blizzard’s reported subscription numbers, and represent roughly the paying player base – though the numbers leading up to MoP are probably artificially inflated by the annual pass numbers – though they seem to be interested in good-faith estimates, so maybe they’re based off of active logins or something.
But the interesting thing is, as you can see, the numbers form a bit of a bell-curve formation. If you fit a trend line to this, you end up somewhere between 2015 and 2017 for the day that the final WoW player logs out of Azeroth, never to return. This is of course not a real date, because this would never happen – Blizz would pull the plug at 100 players, obviously, and they’d all log off at once. Or something like that.
The variation on the curve depends on whether you take the whole data set, or start at 2010Q4 when WoW was peaked. One is an overall dataset, one is just a map of the decreasing trend. Take your pick, but I tend to favor the latter because it takes less of old and obsolete data into account. The fact that it yields the more favorable 2017 date has nothing to do with it.
Something else jumps out if you cook the data in a different manner.
This is a chart explicitly showing gains and losses, rather than just bulk numbers. Here are things about this chart.
- Up through the start of Wrath, the rate of growth was flat; that is to say, the numbers kept growing, but at a more or less steady rate – no glitches that weren’t understood.
- One of those understood glitches was the start of BC, when we got what is now considered the traditional "expansion bump". We see this throughout the game’s history.
- Sub data for most of Wrath is missing. In that gap there IS one quarter reported, and it had zero growth on the previous quarter (11.5 mil).
- From the start of Cataclysm, it’s been more or less a steady down trend, though I caution that the biggest down spikes are outnumbered by lesser down spikes (or one upward).
- But the data do suggest a pretty profound downslope, nonetheless.
It’s also impossible to say when Blizz started to sweat the losses. The huge gaps in the Wrath period reveal nothing. Maybe they saw a down trend at that point and decided to start compensating by nerfing up the game in Cata. Or maybe they thought of nerfing up the game as part of a grand strategy that started to be realized in Cata.
Either way, it’s pretty obvious where the decline really starts to gather momentum. So what are the possible reasons for this? Here are some possibilities.
- Players are getting bored and just come back for the new content. This seems like it would be a more gentle downturn, with sharper uptake and more gentle dropoff in between expansion lines. And we do see some of this, but it’s not the overarching pattern.
- Players don’t like the changes to the game’s difficulty. i.e. "Azeroth has been nerfed!"
- Players hate casuals. This goes with the above. Sure, I’m part of the quested-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways crowd at times, but I don’t begrudge others the less difficult climb. I don’t need others to suffer to feel better about myself. But the haters, the ones that hate "casuals", well, if I hadn’t seen it myself I would say it was impossible for people like that to exist, but they do. WoW has its own virtual Civil Rights movement, in which the haters are played by Archie Bunker and the "casuals" are played by, well, actual people. More on this anon.
- Other games have come online that are clearly as good or better. I don’t know about better, but many have come online that might be as good in many ways. I’ve personally experienced Eve and Neverwinter and feel both hold up well. Where they don’t hold up is the people, in that the people I like to hang with aren’t in those games. I’m such a camp follower. And STWOR came out right in the middle of that big decline, so it’s not so much a "trigger".
- Free to play games! This too is a big one, and probably one of the biggest. Back when WoW came out, you could pay money to Sony or to Blizzard to get your fantasy on; these days, fantasy MMORPGs are all over the place, and free-to-play. Neverwinter, Rift, Aion, GW2, and more are out there just waiting for you to download a free client or buy one and then play for free. Even STOWR made the transition (not very well, I hear.). More on this in a minute, as well.
- WoW is old and crufty. Well, that’s about as subjective as it gets. I’ve played other games that have "better" graphics and I can’t really say there’s a lot going on there. I will say the armor and weapon models are, a lot of times, a lot more interesting to look at. The toons – player and NPC – however often hit that "uncanny valley" of near-realism that just turns off the brain. WoW makes no pretenses about how it chose to depict its characters, and it’s paid off again and again. Just … hurry up with those player model improvements, guys? Thanks.
So there’s two things I want to focus on.
The Nerfing of Azeroth
Over time, Blizzard has done a lot to nerf things in the game. I’ve generally felt it was a bad idea.
This harks to the recent Blog Azeroth shared topic of "is leveling too easy?". A lot of people confused "too easy" with "easier". Can we agree that the two aren’t equivalent? Yes? Good. Let’s proceed.
If you accept that "easier" and "too easy" aren’t the same thing, then you won’t feel locked into asserting that leveling in Azeroth is NOT "too easy" but it IS "easier". I can think of dozens of examples.
- Mor’ladim is a joke compared to his past self, who terrorized the Raven Hill cemetery with an iron fist. You always had to work your questing around his whereabouts or suffer the consequences. And don’t give me any guff about "it’s subjective". He was an elite.
- Stitches‘ epic journey from Raven Hill to Darkshire put terror into the hearts of travelers. Many’s the time I stopped to help someone else bring him down. Also many’s the time I hid to one side of the road until he passed. You needed a group; now the game supplies you with one.
- That horrendous run from Menethil to Ironforge so you could take the tram to Stormwind if you were an Night Elf or Draenai.
- That horrendous run to Booty Bay. Back then there wasn’t a Rebel Camp with a gryphon. And, as I found out on my first outing, even the grass was deadly.
- Even Princess was painful.
- You didn’t just waltz into the area outside of an instance; it was full of elites. People forget how terrifying it was to go into Deadmines the first time to do that quest for the miner’s guild.
These were all painful rites of passage that those of us that leveled up in early WoW remember and understand. They are all gone the way of the dodo, either because of new flight points, or new boats, or nerfed zones, or even nerfed NPCs. There are hundreds more examples like this, things that are absolutely, indisputably easier than they were prior to Cata. Anyone that says it’s just my experience in the game making it SEEM that way isn’t thinking it all the way through. There were real challenges that simply aren’t around anymore.
The question of whether it is too easy is another matter because it addresses Blizzard’s actual decision to make the leveling game go easier at lower levels. Starting as far back as Wrath, maybe sooner, they started taking the starch out of expansion zones as we got near the end of the expansion. A journey that might take you all the way to Storm Peaks at the start of Wrath, for example, might end somewhere in Sholazar – if you got that far, even! Faiella managed to get to 80 in Dragonblight.
Did they go too far? There is a fine line between challenge and chore; did they cross it? That’s at the heart and soul of this issue, I think.
When they redesigned Azeroth for Cataclysm, many zones were reworked completely – quests redone, levels changed, elites nerfed, and so forth. And yet people felt like they were on a conveyor belt; you couldn’t start quests at hub "B" until you finished all the ones at "A" and were directed to "B".
My feelings are that they went too far, and did a poor job on the redesign of Azeroth, and that this legacy has carried forth into other aspects of the game, including MoP.
They’re *trying* to understand user feedback, but I think they’re letting their game designer’s instincts be subverted by management’s insistence that they "make the game more accessible", and it’s backfiring because people don’t want to be spoon-fed stuff. After all, if you just want to look at the assets, there are tools that let you do that without actually playing!
Here’s an example of a designer going against what he knows is right; flying mounts take you out of the world and make you an observer of, rather than a part of, that world. When he speaks elsewhere of the importance of "exploration", he’s referring not to the act of flying all over the place to clear areas of the map – that’s "mapping" – but being down in the world’s nooks and crannies and discovering things about it.
Granted you can’t currently fly in a zone until you hit max level. But even that’s an arbitrary rule imposed to overcome the hinkyness of being able to just fly all over the place. It was a bad idea in BC, it was a hakneyed idea in Wrath, and it was a hideous idea in Cata, so now that we’re in MoP, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to get it one way or another.
When we played one of the old Gold Box or Black Box series, exploration – the peering into corners, the poking at things and the pulling of levers were integral parts of the games. This is part of what made them fun. Games without a few dead ends and red herrings were generally received with a gigantic yawn.
Blizzard game designers know this, but in an attempt to make the game "more accessible", some of this aura of mystery and magic may have been lost.
I think that if they plan to turn things around, they may have to address this. Put back some of the danger. Make a few things not pan out exactly the way the user wants. Require a little bit of effort in some (non-critical) places. Give people a reason to want to explore places like Winterspring, which is otherwise pretty useless since nobody ever sees it.
Answering the Threat
The one-two punch of new and prettier games, along with the F2P model, are another concern, and one which I think Blizz is dealing with.
Improvements to the gaming assets – character models, scenery, and so forth – have been taking places incrementally since Vanilla. But to many, that’s not good enough. They look at the character models presented in Neverwinter, for example, and complain that "all they have to do" is add some polygons.
But overall, I don’t think anything major will happen in WoW concerning the game engine. They’re working hard on "Titan" for the next big thing, but since it’s been set back, don’t look there for help.
For good or ill, we’re going to have to make do with incremental improvements in our game assets until WoW is sunsetted.
The other threat is the F2P model.
Early on, F2P pretty much meant "free to play but don’t expect much in the way of updates". I encountered F2P first in Anarchy Online, which is still going strong on that model – well, as strong as an out of date game can go strong.
The advantages of F2P is that the barrier to entry is pretty low. All you need is a game client and an internet connection. In some cases you have to pay for the client, but that’s a one-time expenditure that few would argue with. Others will even give you the client for free. Some have turned that around and give you the client but charge you to play – we won’t talk about them for now, they’re small and okay with that.
How does a F2P game keep the servers running? Well, there are a few ways, such as ads in-game (I first saw this in AO), and, and … well, there’s the "cash shop".
The "cash shop" is usually an external web site that you go to to purchase items to use in-game. In most cases you buy currency, then use that currency in-game, such as "Zen" in Neverwinter. For the most part you can only purchase cosmetic and non-game-changing items, though in some very poorly implemented instances, that’s not necessarily true.
So what have we seen implemented recently? A cash shop.
I know dozens of bloggers and opinionators have said that Blizzard would never go F2P. I have never heard anyone from Blizzard say that.
WoW is Blizzard’s "cash cow". For those that have never heard of such a thing, a "cash cow" is something that’s not really top of the line, but keeps bringing in money in a reliable stream. So you keep "milking" it until it runs dry. For example, at one place that Grimmtooth Actual worked, he worked on a lot of bleeding edge server systems, but over in a dark corner was a guy named "Dave" that worked on some pretty archaic looking stuff. He explained, while it was far from state of the art, it was being used by thousands of banks across the world, and any time one broke down, they needed a replacement. So he was the guy that farmed our cash cow while we went and burned off that money with our splashy R&D.
So WoW’s kinda like that right now. And Blizz wants to keep that cash cow on the farm for as long as possible. With today’s numbers, that’s over 100 million bucks a month of solid income. At TWO million players it’s 30 million a month, so even that can’t be sneezed at – would it actually cost that much to keep the servers up?
Unfortunately, that’s where I run out of steam, sort of. I have no idea of what kind of numbers a big F2P title brings in. I don’t even know how to guess. SWTOR claims that shifting to F2P "doubled" its income, but given its draconian implementation, let’s hope for better if WoW ever goes that route.
At the moment I think it’s likely they will, especially since the wait for "Titan" is probably going to be well past 2015, and possibly even 2017.
The question becomes, then: will I play an F2P WoW?
It’s going to depend on the implementation. A Neverwinter-like implementation MIGHT work, assuming the restrictions aren’t too annoying. One like SWTOR would see me drop out in a hurry, however.
At the moment we can only hope for the best.
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So, as posted on the EU community website, Cosmetic helms are now for sale in the cash shop Blizzard Store. And if you’re into gaudy, they’re not bad.
First of all: 15 US dollars is not a microtransaction. I don’t care what your favorite omnibus WoW website says, I don’t care what your favorite MMO forum site says. The cost of a month’s game time is not a microtransaction. So don’t call it that, and we’ll get along fine.
Next item: will it affect the game at all? I can’t really see how, other than consuming precious frame rate. Seriously, what would a 25-man raid look like with these on everyone? Will a new Alliance battleground strat involve wearing these and lagging the Horde out? Considering that it’s gotten zero beta time, these are actually kinda relevant questions. But I’m SURE they’ve gotten EXTENSIVE testing in-house.
Item the third: when will this hit the US? Days? Hours? Before this post goes up? Update: I found out at 2 PM (two hours after publish) that they’re now available in the US.
Item the fourth: what next? Will we see matching robes, shoulders, cloaks? And sidebar: will the WoW punditry also insist on calling those other items "microtransactions" if they cost 15 bucks?
The big one: how long until we see pay-to-win items? And does this indeed signal the final death rattle of WoW?
Oops, sorry, accidentally plugged in to a forum.
The personal one: I’d almost buy the Firelord helm for Flora if she was into gaudy baubles. But in general none of this stuff speaks to my nature. I seriously doubt that they’ll ever introduce a mog set that says "I work for a living" rather than "I’d like to think that I raid stuff you can’t even imagine."
The thoughtful one: It’s not just this stuff. So much WoW raiding tier and its predecessor gear looks so hideous to me. It’s covered with horns, and glitter, and flanges, and glitter, and orbs, and glitter, and ropey things, and glitter, and then they add glitter. SOME of the old vanilla tier stuff is okay but for the most part, Blizz is in love with its art department, and its art department all apparently majored in "Ming the Merciless’ Court Trappings".
But the thing is, they wouldn’t keep getting more ridiculous with every tier if it weren’t for the users wanting, or at least encouraging it. Those of us that want a more functional approach to awesomeness are not as vocal or as profitable.
I am very much of the opinion that awesomeness is not a function of frills and special effects. The most iconic weapons are often very much, shall we say, to the point.
Rather than …
Maybe Ming wasn’t at fault after all.
If you can’t please everyone, the best you can do is give them choices, and that’s where mogging came in in the first place. You may recall my own mogging preferences are somewhat more functional than what my armor actually looks like. And there are others that go the other way – well, I can certainly see the attraction of some Ulduar and Icecrown gear.
The Cheap One: What I would love to see with this sort of throwaway mog fodder is for it to (also) be sold for in-game currency of some sort, especially near the end of an expansion when people have piles of tokens and nothing to blow them on. It would be a great JP dump, or Greater Tokens, or Halfhill Tokens, or what have you.
An even better approach would be to (a) make the items purchasable for a new special token type, (b) make it so you could buy that token in the cash shop (e.g.Neverwinter Zen), and (3) then also make that token purchasable for varying amounts of other in-game tokens, such as JP, Darkmoon tokens, etc. That way, if one particular faction grind was "your thang", then you could, oh, I dunno, enjoy yourself while playing a game.
Because here’s the bottom line for me: they could make the perfect Hunter garb of all time available, and I’d not buy it for cash, not ever. I’m paying that much a month already. I’m not even sure I’d pay for it if it was F2P. Virtual items are pretty much gone as soon as you stop playing the game. Game time, for all its ephemeral nature, gives you a month’s worth of enjoyment, whereas a hat isn’t even usable unless you pay more money.
But I might grind for it.
The Final One: The Godmother over at Alt:ernative had an interesting thought (or a dozen) about the cash shop, one which was the sale of armor dyes. I do want armor dyes. I especially want one like the one in Diablo III that makes your shoulder pieces go away. But I categorically do not want them to be part of the cash shop. Special colors? Possible. In general? Not. It might be close to a deal-breaker for me, a last sign of cynical money-grubbing from a company that swore up and down that Activision wouldn’t do that to it. I can only swallow so much hypocrisy, and that would probably mark the high water line.
Doing so would also eliminate one of the potential fun elements in-game: making of dyes. I personally think this would be a great product for Scribes to make since they already have all sorts of dyes in the bank. I think it would be great if they managed to exploit ALL of the herbs from Peacebloom to Golden Lotus to make different armor dyes. They could just keep adding different shades of dye as new herbs came into being. Heck, Ghost Mushrooms would be perfect for making armor invisible!
I kind of doubt that will happen, though. I could be wrong, but they seem to be pushing down hard on the crafting game, and it’s starting to look like there is either a paradigm shift about to happen, or they’re starting to dismantle crafting as an mainstream part of the game. Certainly, it has problems.
It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. At least the potential cash mounts will give us more people to admire as they preen on the bank steps and RP walk around Stormwind.
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