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.

Customer Service – #fitbit

I spent nearly 15 years working in customer service – from the grocery store up until IT support.  I think it’s something that everyone should do, just to get a better appreciation as to how to deal with people.  It is generally one of the most thankless types of jobs that exist, one that generally follows with the pure misery of customer stupidity, but from time to time you get that one person who just makes your month.  As a customer, that experience makes you more empathetic to the other side of the fence.  And good customer service means repeat business.

IT services are commodity based, like electricity, you only notice it when it’s gone.  People don’t phone IT services to thank them for how well things are going.  The job is to take a frustrated person and turn them into a happy person.  In many companies, the immediate bottom line matters more than the long term prospects.  That’s one of the reasons telecom companies are notorious for poor customer service – the staff just isn’t empowered to help, nor are they terribly motivated.

I like to shop around, to get a good deal.  For quite a few things, that works out.  For other things, I prefer to pay a bit more, in order to get better service.  My gaming laptop is a custom build out of Vancouver.  I was able to talk to them over the phone and the service was top-notch.  I’ve bought various brands, if only to have the semi-lifetime support behind them.  I have avoided US automobiles after having a rather disastrous experience as a teenager, and now tend to stick to brands with quality cars that don’t require weeks in the shop on a regular basis.

Fitbit is one of those brands, where the support has been superb.  Sure, the technology behind the Aria needs some tweaking, but I can’t deny that their support agents tried everything to get mine working.

Recently my Charge HR started to come unglued.

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I’ve put in a lot of mileage on this thing, hockey games included.  The glue itself doesn’t seem to hold up to the combination of heat/humidity that comes from sweating, at least not once the initial seal is broken.  I read online for some options and sure enough, there’s a replacement program.

So I ended up sending an email late last night, around 11pm, with the attached picture.  7am this morning, I get a response and they needed a few clarifications.  After that, I get another email with a choice – either replace the device for free, or get 30% off another device.  That’s it, no bills, no esoteric questions, no shipping shenanigans, just “I see it’s broken, let’s fix that”.  The question then becomes, do I trust the company enough to simply replace what I have, or enough to keep investing in their products?

And due to the previous support, and this one that took all of 10 minutes once I got the first email, I opted to get an upgraded product – the Charge 2.  It has everything the first one had, with some nice upgrades.

Superior customer service means that I’m writing this post and telling my friends about it.

Cleanup Pays the Bills

Last week when I re-started WoW, a token was about 36,000 gold.  When Legion launched, I was making something around 20K per week with no concerted effort.  Suffice to say, I’m going to be ok for a long time.

That said, whenever I get back into it, I realize that I hoard a tremendous amount of crud in my bags.  The majority of which seems to have no use.  A scroll to teleport to Suramar?  Out.  Berries?  Out.  Monk brews to walk on water? Out.  Even my alts have junk I had mailed around.  Considering I like things to be neat and tidy, this needed addressing.

The best way to clean up bags is to visit the auction house (or use the mobile app).  I plopped a reasonable chunk last night (herbs, ore, pets, miscellaneous items) where it seemed to make sense.  I wasn’t going to flood the market with my 200 Felwort, but 50 sufficed.

This morning I woke up to over 60k in sales, just shy of 2 months of game time.  My guess is that I have another 20K worth of stock to flush.  Not too shabby, considering I was going to vendor most of it.

I will say that prices have dropped substantially since the last time I played.  Felwort was 600g, now it’s 150g.  Most herbs are 10g, compared to 80-100g.  Still, considering that I have a Sky Golem, which doesn’t dismount when collecting herbs, it’s marginally more effort to collect herbs than to avoid them.

Sidebar, I picked up ConsLegion to assist with leveling the Paladin.  This is a TomTom-like UI modifier that points you along the various quests, speeding up your leveling.  Given that I already have 3 characters at 110, I know the story.  Not so much speed here, but efficiency.  Side-sidebar, I still have no real plans to do Highmountain.  At least not until flying is made available.

Return to Azeroth

I was making some changes on my PC, clean up and whatnot, when the Blizzard updater started working again.  It’d bee a while since it was working properly, one of two reasons I had dropped WoW in late fall.  Sure enough, things were working again and I decided to give it a go.

I have an on/off relationship with WoW.  Aside from vanilla, I usually show up for the expansion launch and get to the X.1 patch, then move on.  I am no longer a raider, so there’s very little carrot for me on that front.  I consume the single player content, build a specific goal, reach it and move on.  Last time was to build a nice stock of lvl 25 pets, which I did a good job with.

Back at it.

I have a rather large stable of characters, most above level 95 – with 3 exceptions.  A warrior, priest and paladin.  I tried them all in vanilla, none I ever considered fun.  Mostly due to the very poor solo options at the time.  I still don’t like warriors or priests, but I wanted to give the Paladin another shot.  I really like multi-classes, what with a Monk and Druid leading my squad.  I goofed around a bit, then decided to bite the bullet and use my level 100 boost on her.  Yes, I still had it.  The boost is useless if all the characters you play are already at level 100…

I already know how to tank, DPS and heal, so the basic elements are pretty straightforward.  I opted to play Ciceroo as a tank, after the experience with the DH, Monk and Druid.  DPS are rather weak up until the later levels.  I did play some ret mind you, just not that much.  Holy was limited to the artifact quest.  Quick review.

Playing as prot. The artifact quest doesn’t make much sense to me, and aside from the last zone, the mechanics are humbug.  That last part is more puzzle than combat, which is a tad weird for a tanking spec.  The actual shield/blade looks cool. The rotation is epileptic and boring though.  Not as boring as bear, but ugh… I miss my monk.  Plus, I’m not a fan of proc-based rotations, which this one can be on longer fights.  The flipside is that this is the first plate-wearing tank I’ve played, and self-healing to boot.  I took on 4 groups at once and survived, which was very impressive.

Playing as ret.  The artifact quest was pretty solid and closed off some lose ends.  I enjoyed it more than most other classes, truth be told.  After doing all 3, this one seems to be the “default” quest, and they built the other two following it.  The look of the sword is one I’m not too partial, what with a giant marble in the middle.  The rotation is simple enough to get quickly.  I’m sure there’s something I’m missing to add some complexity to it, as I can only see cooldowns as the next level.  Poor stats mean I’m weak as a puppy though.

Playing as holy.  What is with this artifact quest?  The first half makes no real sense and doesn’t require healing at all, just damage.  The second half is good enough, where you keep a team of 3 alive through a cave dive.  The final timed-standoff is a fun healing bonanza, but I think mine bugged on the stairs and I lost the entire squad with a minute or so to go.  So I ended up kiting and healing myself across the room.  Done.  My stats aren’t strong enough to determine healing power as compared to monk/druid, but I did like the rotation.

The home base for paladins is pretty darn cool.  Very large, very thematic.  The run to upgrade the weapon is a bit long, but otherwise I think it does a good job.  I’m looking forward to more quests related to the hall.

Gameplay wise, the paladin isn’t scratching any itch.  I much prefer my monk’s toolset to the paladin, much more engaging.  From a lore perspective though, pretty much the entire Alliance storyline is built around it, with other classes pitching in.  It provides a different perspective on the various story bits, and I find that interesting.  I’ll keep pushing on, with rested XP, until 110.  Who knows, maybe it will grow on me.