Console Considerations

The last console I bought was a PS3.  Way back when.  It’s served me rather well, though I will be the first to admit that my game catalogue was rather small compared to when I was younger.  Such is life I guess.

I have been, and continue to be, an avid PC gamer.  These past few years, the portability of a laptop has been the largest boon.  It certainly helps that there are thousands of more games, and that each game is arguably cheaper than on console.

That said, there are particular games on consoles that attract attention.  I am not a FPS fan, so that rules out nearly every XBONE exclusive there is.  I prefer the strategic/rpg type game, and that’s where Playstation lives.  I don’t have, nor do I plan on purchasing a 4K TV anytime soon, so that certainly helps with some decisions.  No need for a PS4 Pro.  And the PS4 slim is $50 off for a few more days.  FF15, Horizon, Uncharted, Last of Us, Last Guardian… all of interest to me.  All at crazy price points.

Anyhoot, let’s compare for a minute.

PC

Pros

  • Mobile (with a laptop)
  • More games available
  • No monthly costs
  • Used for more than games, like banking, picture editing, browsing, etc…
  • Individual games are cheap ($10-$50)

Cons

  • Expensive initial setup for gaming ($1500-$2000)
  • Local multiplayer is complicated
  • Requires a lot of configuration/tweaks to make it work

 

PS4

Pros

  • Exclusive game titles
  • Lower initial cost (~$300)
  • Limited configuration requirements
  • Can be used as a media hub/center
  • Playing with kids is easier
  • VR?

Cons

  • Multiplayer has a monthly cost
  • Smaller game selection
  • Not mobile
  • Individual games are more expensive ($70-$80)

 

When you get down to it, the comparison boils down to “do I want to pay $300 for the chance to play specific games?” I’ll be honest, given the amount of money saved on other hobbies, that’s not so much a barrier to entry right now…

WoW’s Legendary Gambling

I’ve played my fair share of Diablo 3.  That game is based on two main concepts – stats and specific gear bonuses.  The RoS expansion went full bore on this theme, with good success. Some specs cannot be played without a specific number of specific items.  There is very, very little strategic gameplay past that point – for most players anyway.

Getting those pieces of gear is the main challenge, and there are 3 main ways to achieve it.  Random drops from farming runs.  Cubing some items to have a chance at something better.  And Kadala shard-trading.  Kadala shard trading is the best way to get armor, while cubing is the way to go with weapons, from a cost perspective.  You get shards, trade 25 or so to Kadala, get a random piece of a specific slot – say a chest piece.  The optimum gearing path with a new character is to farm shards for gear.  A couple hours is often enough to get all the pieces needed, then it’s a grind to upgrade those pieces and get the complementary ones.

WoW’s Version

This is where things go sideways, since WoW is not an action RPG.  For a very long time, strategy won out over stats.  Set bonuses took a while to acquire, and stats bonuses were not massive increases in chance of success.  Except for legendary items.  These have always been coveted, as anyone with a legendary (a current one) was significantly more powerful than others.  The ring in WoD is the last example, but it required a significant amount of hoops to acquire.  The path was known.

Legion kept the same “game altering” legendary item system as before, but took out all controlled mechanisms to acquire them.  Not only was getting one a rare and random event, the actual item you received was random as well.  You could easily get a crappy legendary.  But the power benefit of a good one was massive.   All you needed to do was grind endless dungeons.

This reminds me a bit of the tuning done for Burning Crusade.  Raids past the first tier were all balanced against fully-gemmed gear, stacking Shamans, and everyone using Battle Drums.  If the raids were balanced against “regular raiders”, then those using the above strategy ran through without challenge.  Legion raids are not nearly as bad as thing, but the perception from raiders is that good legendaries are required.

Plus, let’s be honest.  For every person in your guild that gets a legendary, there are many more that feel disappointed that they can’t get one too.  Especially when the player has ZERO control over getting one.

Patch 7.2

Here things change, as Blizz is introducing the same Kadala mechanic from D3.  Trade in shards, get a random item for a specific item slot.  Any legendary will be for that slot.  This addresses the full randomness of acquiring one, in that you now have another method to try your luck.  It’s still RNG.  We don’t know how many shards, or the chances, therefore how much time expected.  But it’s an improvement.

Blizz also wants to tweak the legendaries to bring them closer together in terms of power.  That’s good.  It doesn’t really address the fact that legendaries completely change a spec’s playstyle… but it’s something.

Closing

I get what legendaries are trying to address.  I don’t personally think this was the way to go about it.  Adding the effect as a top-tier artifact trait would have accomplished the same thing.  Having legendaries be simply big stat boosts with unique art would have been fine to me.  I’ll be quite curious as to see how the shard dealer works in 7.2, and even just the analytical data that Blizz will collect on how people are spending them.  My guess here is that after a month or so, legendaries will be tweaked again, as the majority swings towards specific ones.

 

Paying for a WoW Sub

I am not cheap, but I am frugal.  I like value for money and am not one to pay out of pocket if there are other means.  The world doesn’t revolved around cash-money, regardless of what people may tell you.  It runs on perceived value and effort.

WoW subs can be paid either through money or in-game gold.  Both require some effort.  The question then becomes, which is more effort – the real world money or the in-game one?

How long does it take me to earn $15US vs how long does it take me to earn ~90k gold?

For the first part of that question, the answer is not very long at all.  But I’d rather spend that money on beer.

For the second part, it’s actually slightly more complicated.  So let’s break down my “regular” gold making activities.  In this case, these are activities that are just part and parcel of regular play.

  1. Class Hall quests
    1. These award around 2000g per run (assuming secondary goal completion).  I get on average, 1 per day, per level 110 character.  I have 3 that are maxed.  I don’t even have to log on for this, the WoW Legion app is enough.
  2. World Quests
    1. I run these with my Monk and Pally.  Quest + gear + cache = ~500g per day.
  3. Felwort & Infernal Brimstone
    1. If these are up, I run them.  Felwort gives 5+ per quest, sells for ~200g each.  Brimstone gives the same amount, but sells for ~150g each.  I have 3 herbalists, 3 miners, and the quest show up every 2-3 days.  Worst case, 1000g per day.
  4. Blood of Sargeras
    1. Trading 1 of these gets me 10 herbs that sell for 30g each, so 300g.  The acquisition rate varies greatly, but the minimum seems to be 5 a day.  That’s 1500g per day.
  5. Herbalism farming
    1. Starlight Rose and Foxflower.  The first sells for 65g, the latter for 30g.  Both are slow going.  I make no active effort here, but they are the only 2 herbs I will stop and pick when there are WQs in the respective zones.

Without any real effort, I make (2000+500+1000+1500) 5000g per day.  Since WQs stick around, I don’t have to login every day, and things can roll-over into another day.  Worst case, 20 days in a month.  That’s 100k g per month.  Without actually trying, I pay for my monthly sub.

Imagine if I actually considered this effort?

Gating and Time

First note. My monk tank ended up with his first legendary – Archimonde’s Hatred Reborn.  It’s a decent defensive cooldown.  Funny that.

Back on track though. This post is going to cover the 2nd signature item of Legion – Artifact weapons.   Specifically, it’s about artifact knowledge and power.  Related, Ion’s post about 7.2

First off, the concept of AK and AP makes sense.  AP as a currency that’s valued the entire expansion and that’s used to increase your weapon’s power.  Makes sense.  AK as a gating mechanism, ensuring that folks can’t super farm the currency and get exceptionally powerful.

AK was based on time. You could only gain increases if you waited, and the increases themselves were non-linear.  Not exactly exponential mind you, but enough that the increases in rank were dramatic.  This meant that for most players, they were 1 or 2 AK behind the front runners.  The catch up mechanic, where AK gain was increased if you were away, helped shrink that gap.  My monk is at AK 23 (of 25), and my Pally is at 16.  From my math, the Paladin will require about 5 weeks to catch up with the Monk. So there’s something to be said about how the catch-up actually works.

The core reason that this system worked for so long was that the AP required for new “artifact points” also increased at a near similar rate as the gains in AK.  It was an ever increasing scale.  When AP no longer scaled, this system broke down.  And AP did stop scaling once people had 34 points invested.  This meant that it became relatively “easy” to increase overall power.  People with identical gear would have a near 10% increase in health, armor or damage.  That’s a fair chunk when it comes to any raider.

So the system worked until people maxed out AK.  It also meant that any alts needed to max out AK, otherwise they’d be dramatically behind the curve.  Once AK was maxed, then things got worse.  Points stopped scaling but power didn’t.  The AP system broke down because it was built on a concept of scaling.  Scaling was gone, AP was no longer filling it’s intention.

To recap, Artifacts had multiple goals:

  • continuous character power growth across the expansion
  • a currency to increase that power, that always has value
  • a scale on that power, so that it took more investment to get smaller gains (diminishing returns)
  • a catch-up mechanic for people who might be slower
  • Regardless of the process, the power gap should be within 3-5%

What went wrong

  • scaling stopped working once AK was maxed
  • the time-gating catch-up mechanic wasn’t fast enough
  • alts felt severely punished
  • maxing out a primary artifact had much more value than splitting point between other specs

What could be fixed

  • removing AP gains past the maxed AK
  • adding more AK levels, and continuing to scale AP
  • making AK account-bound
  • capping out artifact weapons

From what I can tell, they are doing the 2nd item in this list.  They should also be tweaking the catch-up mechanism, so that alts aren’t so severely punished.

I’m rather content that Blizz is aware of the issue and willing to fix it.  I think the concept of artifact weapons (or just the horizontal growth) makes sense.  The system worked relatively well for the first few months (alts not so much), and it’s only a few tweaks required to get it back on track.  7.2 is looking to be an interesting patch from a design perspective.

When Random Ruins Fun

Most people have pulled the lever in a slot machine.  The rules are fairly simple.  Match up the proper items, get a fixed reward.  The randomness is that you’re not quite sure which of the possible rewards you’ll get, but you still know the options.  Random chance on the event is the kicker here.

Diablo is based on randomness, both on the chance of a reward, and the reward itself.  When D3 launched, the variance on the rewards was completely out of whack.  You would find bows with Intelligence (that no one could use).  You would find swords with +/- 50% overall impact to DPS, with odd rolls.  The actual percentage chance to get something useful was well below 1% – yet the game kept giving you “big” prizes.  A legendary was a rare event, but until RoS, every legendary was useless.  It’s like a slot machine paying out in chocolate coins rather than real money.  Lots of blinking lights, even more disappointment.

Thankfully, the system today is a lot better.  Rare drops have generally decent rolls.  And there’s a chance where the rare drop gets an overall upgrade.  That upgrade, in 99% of the cases, is superior to what you had before too.  And there’s ways to get that upgrade rather than face banging against a wall.

WoW has toyed with this model for a few years now.  It started with fixed item drops on bosses.  You’d kill some guy and he’d drop shaman gear, but you didn’t have a shammy.  Then it went with tokens, where the gear wasn’t on the boss and you needed to return to town to get it.  Tokens then could be used in the field (MoP).  It then included a random chance for an upgrade on a drop, which was the model until legion.

Legion has done many things right.  Many, many thing.  Randomness is one of them, in the form of daily quests.  There’s always something different to do each day – certainly as compared to other games.   For anyone playing up until LFR, and a bit of M+, there are no real issues.

For those past that point, things get wonky, quickly.  The randomness of stats on gear drops is ok in principle, if those stats were properly balanced.  I know my Monk has gear 30 ilvls lower than the rest simply due to bad rolls.  It got better in 7.1 but it won’t be truly fixed until the next expansion.

This is compounded by the gear drops that can roll up to 15 ilvls higher than normal.  No longer do you get 2 rolls, you now get 4 (normal, 5, 10, 15).  Stats are again an issue here, so it’s entirely possible to get a super rare roll (+15) with horrible stats.  This goes back to the previous slot-machine/chocolate coin issue.  You should be excited but end up disappointed.  A properly rolled item isn’t marginally better… it’s dramatically better.

Finally we get to legendaries.  The main issue here is that the legendaries are so game-changing, that they are practically mandatory for raiding.  Most provide a clear 15% increase in dps/hps – so it’s clear you need one.  This gets worse

  • There are truly bad legendaries.  The “fun” legendaries use the same drop chance as the “optimal” legendaries.
  • You can only ever have 4 drop per character.  If you get 4 and none of them are useful to your spec, you need to re-roll your character and start at level 1.
  • The method to acquire legendaries is out of player’s direct control.  You either chain run raids, high M+, or do emissaries.  There’s no finish line to get one, you simply keep pulling the lever.
  • Combined, it means that any alt required a huge grind to get to a “raiding” power level.

Each of these items has a reasonable way to address the issue.  First, you split legendaries into utility, and DPS/HPS.  Utility ones can be acquired through other means, likely something related to daily tokens.  You can swap 2 legendaries for a legendary token – account bound.  Legendary drops are guaranteed after 60 emissary turn ins (2 months).

Random is good.  It’s one of the few carrots out there.  Random turns bad when a rare event is not a reward but a step back.  WoW has certainly taken the random portion to hear, with a plethora of things to see and do this expansion.  In some places, that randomness wasn’t properly balanced.  In most cases, this is just due to the odds and inability to test low percentage events.  The overall lack of fixes on this issue… that speaks more to the development cycle required to make code changes.

Pally Hits 110

3/4 zones complete, Highmountain about half done.  I’ve got a Monk, DH, Rogue and now a Pally sitting at 110.  Leveling with the Pally was relatively easy, and plays a whole lot like a Monk.  With some exceptions.

Paladins play in the 90% hp zone, what with self-heals and good raw defense.  Their skills are about laying down a ground-based AE, then relying on procs to keep the engine going past 30 seconds (like DKs were for a while).  I find them somewhat cooldown dependent in that regard.  I’ll record a session to give an idea of what it looks like to play one.  Suffice it to say, it’s clear that it’s a vanilla class.  I also dislike consecration, as it stays on the ground and blocks the visuals of other effects – I’m sure there’s a way to turn that off…

Monks play in the 30% hp zone and are more in the active mitigation mode, with brew management a key concept.  There are no bad Monk tanks, there are dead Monks tanks and the rest.  Combat revolves around Blackout kick boosting other skills, and I’m never GCD-locked.  Plus, the animation is a lot better.  Throwing a keg, backflips, spewing fire, spinning kicks… it gives you something to look at rather than the boss’ knees.

Perhaps there’s a skill curve somewhere, but right now the Paladin plays with a “if the button is up, press it” mentality.  Sure, I’m invincible, but where’s the fun in that?  It is miles more fun that a bear though!

Starting off at 110

I forgot about the ilvl curve at 110.  All the way here, I could solo piles of enemies, and now as a fresh 110 with a ilvl of something around 790, things hurt.  A week or so of dailies and I’ll be right as rain.  I’ve unlocked the 3rd trait with the other classes (man, Rogue was tough as a DPS), and I’ll give that a shot here as well.  There’s something appealing about that carrot.

Others

I wonder if there’s a place that tracks the number of emissary quests completed.  Whatever that number is (a few hundred I’m sure), the corresponding number of legendaries is zero.  I think it will remain zero knowing my luck.  I have a post on this topic (RNG in this expansion) coming up soon.

Markets are Dumb

Sidebar to start.  It took less than 48 hours for me to get my new FitBit.  I have rarely been this impressed by customer service.

Back on topic.

I remember reading a paper a while back saying that markets were living things.  They grow, they die, they reproduce, they merge.  All that fun stuff.  In reality, markets are dumb.  And they are dumb because people are dumb.

Not all individuals are dumb, most aren’t.  But put enough in a room and they turn dumb. (Hi Reddit).  Their ability to think for themselves is lost in the mob.  Completely rational people do irrational things with the smallest of pushes.  And markets thrive off that.

WoW’s market is no different.  There was a time where I paid a lot of attention to it, and I made a killing.  In a couple months I made near a million gold.  It wasn’t so much hard work as it was just paying attention and reading the market.  I applied a similar strategy when D3 had the RMAH.  Buy on weekends, sell on weekdays.  Maintenance Tuesday was generally a money-maker.

The WoW token is an offshoot of that market.  It generally trades at a constant clip, with only minor variances.  NA servers started Legion at around 30K then floated around 60k.  That makes sense as most people start an expansion poor, or without the distinct ability to generate profit.  Generally, you start making real money at max level and with investments in professions, dailies, or raid carries.  There are people that make money before that, but those people are actually trying.  I mean the general mass.

The token itself has 2 values.  It allows people to generate in-game wealth with real money, which should be a rather small portion of the game’s population.  (5% of 5,000,000 is still a lot of people mind you).  It also allows people to exchange time in game (gold) for real life money (subscription).  If the cost of a token seems within reach of a month’s casual play and gold making ability, people won’t bat an eye.  People generally will not “stock up” on something that’s deemed affordable.  Regular people don’t buy a year’s worth of bread when it’s on sale, because the regular price isn’t extremely high.

When the value of the token changes, as it did this week, things get thrown out of whack.  People perceive an opportunity, only a few at first.  All of a sudden they look at their gold reserves and say “hmm, I can get more for this now”.  And they start divesting their time (gold) into real life money (Blizzard tokens).  What else are they going to do with 500k of gold sitting in the bank?

You get a gold rush, a giant artificial spike in value while people transfer assets.  Once the stream of steady income dries up, things get back to normal.  It’s happened numerous times in the real market, the only difference is the amount of time it takes to get things back to normal.  It will yo-yo for another week or two, then stabilize again.  People won’t have the gold on hand, nor the time to farm 100k to get a token.  It will just be easier to pay a subscription.

What you’re left with is a market with weakened foundations.  All the time/money that was invested into WoW, is now split across multiple Blizzard games.  Make no mistake, Blizzard wins in every scenario here, as no money is leaving their system.  Tokens are worth more than a month’s sub, and every exchange following that point, Blizz takes another cut.  Time will tell if people’s gold stores will increase enough to keep the general market running, or if we’re a few months away from an overall dip in prices.  Really depends on how much actual gold was just removed from the market.