Throttling the Market

WoW had a stealth fix applied that impacts people who play the Auction House, effectively throttling the number of transactions after a certain limit is reached.  High level

With this hotfix, we’ve implemented a new system that effectively gives each player a “budget” of AH actions per minute, and only kicks in once that budget has been exceeded. The system is tuned so that is should never affect players using the AH typically: buying consumables, listing gathered or crafted goods for sale, searching for specific items you want to purchase, etc. It should be essentially impossible to encounter the new limits for most players.

The first question I have is why?  I can only assume this is a throughput/TX issue where the servers were taking a major load and impacting other parts of the game.  It’s entirely possible that a very small fraction of players are causing a majority of the game load.  This is sort of like how time dilation works in EvE, where there isn’t a hard cap, simply a soft one that allows things to move at a snail’s pace.  Degraded service, rather than failed service.

Balance-wise, I am more curious as to where this threshold exists.  Long gone are the days where people posted single items rather than stacks, clogging up the AH space.  It was why I stopped playin a Hunter – getting ammo was stupid complicated.  Getting rid of thousands of individual posting isn’t a problem that needs solving anymore.

A long time ago I used to play the AH, maybe 30 minutes a day or so.  Made enough money to get a dozen+ WoW tokens.  I can’t see how anyone would have the Brontosaurus mount who wasn’t using something like TSM to make money.  It’s entirely the purpose of that mount after all.  Entirely normal to run a few hundred changes in a few minutes – cancelling auctions and reposting at a different price.  Filling up in materials.

The sidenote here would be snipe scans.  That takes a look across the entire AH for things that are well below market value.  It’s nearly impossible to find these manually.  Someone continually polling the entire AH would be a massive drain on server.

Should be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term market value.  It’s certainly a number Blizz can change over time, and I’m sure they are seeing server TX volumes take a massive nosedive.  Even more curious if this is account-wide, or character specific.  If there’s a hard drop (e.g. cap goes away after an hour) or if it’s a variable rate limit.

There’s a real world analogy here, where the majority of stock market transactions are high volume automated systems, making pennies a trade, but having millions of transactions a day.  It would be something to see what TX throttling would have as an impact to the market volatility.  Course that won’t ever happen, for reasons that are clearly obvious that the people making the most money in this behavior are also the ones who make the rules…

WoW Expansion Content

Going through the leveling process a few times now on alts is certainly putting the various expansions basic content in focus.  Where it doesn’t do a great job is at the max level content, since it’s not really relevant today.

Leveling content, for a dozen reasons, is not a focus.  That there’s any quality at all is impressive given that 99% of the content is seen once per leveling stream.  The older hub/spoke model has turned into a storyline 3-5 quest node system instead.  You discover a zone, get some basic Qs, then branch out.  When you don’t spend half your time travelling.  The content from Legion is pretty much the same in BfA, even in terms of how much of that content is expected to be completed.

As the clock is turned back, WoD really was the kickstart for this model.  The hubs were larger/denser, but the bits were there.  Area bonus quests, hidden chests, rares, quest chains that culminate in a big showdown.  Pandaria had big hubs, but also a kick at a better integrated storyline to explore the world.  Cataclysm, WotLK, TBC are just… well they are just not good.  You pick up 5-10 quests, head out around the map, then come back for another wave of quests.

Now, once you’re at max level, things start opening up.  Dailies have been around for a very long time, but really took off in WotLK.  Pandaria brought in rep/rewards to a larger level.  WoD had the Apexis stuff, with rotations.  Legion brought World Quests and BfA just cut & pasted it forward.

Dungeons have been all over the map.  They were only ever relevant up to WotLK.  Pandaria had some at launch, but never tweaked them past that.  WoD’s were completely ignored as garrison rewards were better.  Legion tied a bunch of quests to them, and implemented Mythic mode for better rewards.  BfA has next to no reason to do normal/heroic dungeons – everything is mythic.

The system around Mythics is essentially a 5 person raid. It’s honestly a good system, allowing for difficult content in smaller chunks.  Long gone are the days of 40 person raids.  Now we have mythic raids and flex raiding.  These two systems really do focus on the core gameplay loop for WoW in the past few expansions – competitive PvE.  It builds a tiered community, and one that is always circling the drain.  Some bad flashbacks on the whole TBC keying mess.  If the carrot is a stat stick with slightly better stats, then eventually that horse stops running.  Those types of horses aren’t exactly common, so you end up with poaching/mergers of groups and the conflict that follows.  It’s not a sustainable model.


I’ve gone back with my mage to get their class mount in Legion.  The class hall has no comparison in any other expansion.  The quest line, the exploration, the quests the characters… all of it.  The downside here is that characters only get to see it once, and it’s gated with table quests.  But it’s there!  Suramar as a zone had a pile going for it… and the daily zombie quest is much better than the Horrific Visions grind.  The Mage Tower was neat as it wasn’t power bases, but cosmetics.  There was depth and breadth in pretty much all the content.  The major gaps were around the proliferation of RNG.

On Track

The kicker for me is what is deemed worthy of “making the cut” from one expansion to another.  Some bits are so well used they can’t really be removed once added.  LFG is one.  LFR is another, stemming entirely from atrocious raid completion numbers in Cataclysm.  Transmogs aren’t going anywhere, and Pet Battles are a system that is screaming for the spotlight.  Mythics are now the content du-jour.

The concepts of invasions started in MoP, but really took hold in Legion.  The 8.3 version works for the most part (minus the bug variant in Uldum).  It’s somethign to do, every other day or so.  And provides another catch up mechanic.

But there remains a larger gap in the middle tier, the training wheels if you will to the Mythic world.  I’m calling back to the badge model of WotLK here, one where FF14 has done a tremendously solid job of making basic group content relevant.  Daily badge limits, and buy-ins to +10ivl upgrades is a start.  Piles of cosmetics.  Have pets drop.  Have mounts as a random reward for filling a specific role.  Make it a horizontal progress system.  I don’t see Blizz having the willpower to implement something like this.  I mean, technically it’s only a tweak to the timewalking system.  Pretty sure there are over 100 different dungeons WoW could re-use.

You’ll notice I haven’t even touched on professions.  The less said about them the better.  I am surprised that the fishing/cooking combo is still as valid today as it was in WotLK.

It will be interesting to look at BfA a month after Shadowlands has launched.  The paint is still relatively fresh on 8.3, and it’s already a massive improvement on 8.0/8.1. Yet, taking some time to take a solid detour in the Legion content really puts the variety and quality of content to the forefront.  Would be super cool to have a solid experience again.



RNG Sprinkles

Part of the process of leveling of an alt (Void Elf Priest), I’m getting a clear reminder on multiple aspects of the dev thinking process over the years.  Quest design from Cataclysm in particular is a level of gameplay that really takes me for a loop.  MMO dev has come a long way.

The pace of leveling (or really, futility of it in WoW) is another post.  This one is about character design.

Quite a few class/spec combos really devolve into 3 main buttons, which are cooldown/resource related.  Talents then add a proc mechanic.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get another long cooldown button to press.  So what you see at level 20 is pretty darn close to the rotation you see until you ding 120.  I won’t get too much into the balancing challenges posed by talents, just enoguh to say that there are ones that are clearly better than others with only a small amount that aren’t viable.

The ability “un-pruning” for Shadowlands may address this, but effectively requires some redesign work for each class/spec.  That’s a ton of work.

But THIS post is about the RNG of character development – specifically Azerite and Corruption, as each are item-specific.  I’ve yet to find a spec that didn’t have a clear winner in the Azerite trait category.  There’s been a lot of tweaking since launch, but you’re not going to find a Frost Mage that isn’t stacking 3x Flash Freeze (2 stacks give more than 3 stacks of anything else).  The was a main pain point I had with the original system, where you would have a great trait, then get a clear ilvl upgrade but without the trait and just ignore that new piece.  The end result is a best-in-slot list that has massive variations, and you’re looking for 1 drop from 1 boss that is not so much optimal as super-powered.  Some Azerite traits will change player rotations, making some more suddenly more viable to use.

Corruption is the inversion of Azerite traits.  Instead of have the points on hand, you’re working on credit.  Your corruption “debt” has penalties to playstyle, but provides an insane boost.  Infinite Stars & Twilight Devastation are like a nuke on a fly.  They can account for 50% of a player’s DPS.  There are other traits that have benefits (Masterful for Frost Mages is quite impressive), but that requires a level of math that isn’t obvious without sims.  You put IS on any player, and they will immediately see the difference.  Doesn’t change the playstyle, you just have a massive passive source of DPS.

Oh, and Corruption is applied through RNG on drops, or RNG through a vendor with grindable currency requirements.  There’s no way to target a trait, other than grind currency and hope the vendor eventually has it in stock.  I’m cool with the RNG part, I am less so with the crazy passive power gains.  If you thought Titanforging was bad, then this would make you go up the wall.

The design choices here are quite odd.  The “plan” was to have scaling difficulty and less of a gap between a fresh 120 and a max 120.  That really didn’t work at launch of BfA, and Corruption traits seem to be the answer to it.  There are certainly catch up mechanics to get over that hump, give everyone a passive DPS boost, and sort of sweep 8.0/8.1 under the rug like it didn’t happen.  Azerite traits could use a bit of balancing, but the method of acquisition is straightforward enough.  Corruption as a concept is actually really cool, and parts of the implementation are a nice twist – the debt aspect in particular.  It’s the sum of the parts that I find irritating.  May just be time to accept the fact that stat squishes are going to be part of each expansion, as the power curve inside each is now at the exponential level.





WoW: War Mode

In the previous post I mentioned that War Mode had great benefits for leveling – in particular in the portions that are pre-Legion.  The BfA content with War Mode puts you in the same zones as fully geared 120 players – you’re going to die a few times.  Still worth it if the bonus is 20%+.

War Mode as a concept is neat.  Add some extra risk for some extra rewards.  Where things gets messed up is in the actual risks and rewards.  So let’s start this backwards.

The rewards themselves scale from 10% to 30%, depending on faction balances.  At low amounts, the rewards aren’t exactly stellar.  1 death per hour is enough to offset a 10% gain to experience.  But let’s say you’re 120.  The rewards are limited to gold, war resources, and azerite power.  War Resources have been meaningless since 8.1.  Azerite Power has marginal use today.  Gold is always useful.

The risks are more complex.  You are sharing space with the other faction, and therefore you can be killed by the other faction.  You only share space with people who also have War Mode on, and if your % is high (20%+) then odds are there are MORE of the other faction than yours.  So yeah, the chance of dying is higher but in practical respects, most other levelers have no interest in attacking you.  People at 120 do, which makes leveling in BfA zones riskier.  The way WoW is built, most classes offer AE attacks as an effective way of dealing with content.  AE often triggers a PvP battle if you’re next to someone.  So you are going to be less effective if you avoid AE attacks.

Since the rewards are related to completing activities, you want to complete those activities safely and quickly.  Is it better to get 10% more gold completing a quest alone, with threat of PvP, or to complete a quest with 5 other people, no chance of death, and 5x as fast?  Any elite WQ is effectively impossible if there’s no one around to help.  So in this respect, it isn’t really a risk, it’s an active hurdle.  At max level, if you are not in a critical mass of other players, then there’s no point to War Mode.

Does it matter?

Really, does it?  Is WoW a PvP game?  Taking  BfA’s (poorly received) storyline out for a minute, when’s the last time we saw PvP as any sort of driver for content?  Even WoD had both factions working together, so you need to go back to Pandaria (early parts) – 8 years ago.

On even footing (like a BG), the Horde has a marginal advantage to the Alliance due to some racial skills.  That inherent advantage has attracted min-maxers where every advantage counts.  That adds yet another advantage to PvP for Horde players.  There are only two ways to offset that advantage – more “good” Alliance players, or more “power” for Alliance players.

War Mode tries to get there with incentivizing playing Alliance.  But the rewards are so miniscule that they cannot be seen at all as any advantage to pull someone AWAY from playing Horde.  Even if you were to swap all racials between factions, the playerbase is stronger on Horde and enough to offset the racial imbalance.  Not to mention the $$$ impacts of a faction change.  There’s only a small percentage of players who would pay to swap for a 1% gain to power.  There’s an astronomically larger percentage that goes “I’ve got friends and dozens of hours invested in this character, I’m good.”.

Way Forward

War Mode for leveling has next to no risk, it’s all reward.  Shadowlands is re-writing the leveling experience anyhow.  Unless the incentives are massively swapped (e.g. a % boost to primary stats in non-instanced content), there’s really no purpose to it for max level characters.

A good experiment, in the social carrot aspect is much larger than Blizzard had assumed.  But unlikely to matter in the long run.  Better off putting money in breaking the faction divide and getting people playing together.

WoW Alts

When BfA launched my first 120 was my Monk.  Seems to have been the case since Pandaria, for reasons I’ve gone into a bunch of times.  My 2nd was a Horde Demon Hunter, on another server due to the DH restrictions.  I wanted to see the Horde storyline and DH is a ridiculously efficient leveling class.  When both hit 120, there was a major gearing wall, and the azurite system made by blood boil.  I dropped out until a few weeks ago.

I figured with double faction and xp, it was an ok time to use my pile of WoW tokens.  When I started, the roster looked like this:

110: Hunter, Rogue, Death Knight, Demon Hunter, Paladin, Druid

100: Shaman

80: Mage, Warlock

Warrior and Priest as bank alts.

Before I get into the details, there’s a question of why?  Alts are easier to play in BfA than Legion (by FAR!), and allow running older raids for pets/drops with less waiting for lockouts.  Also lets you see if you want to run another class as a main / fun factor.  It is in no way practical to run multiple max level characters.


First up was unlocking flying.  That took just over 3 days, as I had already unlocked Pathfinder 1 way back at launch.  Mechagon was the holdout faction, even with a contract that added +10 per world quest.  The bugger here is that Mechagon doesn’t have world quests, only dailies.

While I was unlocking that portion, I was testing the waters with the 8.2/8.3 content.  The Heart of Azeroth boost in Naz is quick enough, and you unlock a huge power increase.  That’s enough to survive the invasions that 8.3 brought, though you need an ilvl close to 420 to do the horrific visions for the cloak upgrade.  The side areas can’t really be done by anything but a tank and low ilvls.

I was keeping mental notes of what happened when.

The Alt Plans

Heirloom gear to 120 (head, shoulder, chest, legs, cloak) gives +45%xp.  The generic 100% boost helps.  The choice was with or without war mode.  I wanted to try without to see what happened.

Gearing would be weird bit, since scaling in BfA is all over the place.  I know that starting BfA gives you a weapon, and that there’s 1 quest per zone that gives you another.  Starting Nazjatar gives you a i370 weapon, and there are really high odds you get enough mana pearls to get 4 benthic (i385) armor pieces.  Get that sorted out, then WQ to fill in the ring/trinkets, and then armor again.  Mechagon is effectively useless for this.  That’s enough to start an invasion from 8.3.

The Execution

The Rogue was the next up to 120.  Stormsong Valley + another dozen or so quests in Drustvar (unlocking the first village).  That was pretty quick, a single death, but felt like I was hitting with a wet sponge compared to my Monk.  Gearing went relatively smoothly, focusing on upgrading the worst pieces first.  The cloak quest was painful to get through.

Next is the DH to 120.  Drustvar + up to the boat crash section in Tirigarde.  While it took more quests, the Drustvar experience was much faster than Stormsong due to the quest design.  Stormsong has at least 4 quest hubs that are just a massive pain to get through due to mob density.  If people aren’t leveling, then it’s just not fun.

Finally, I brought my mage up with War Mode enabled.  I’ll talk about that mode in a bit, but the experience gains were massive.  Drustvar alone was enough to hit 120, and that’s without any rested XP.  However, the mage died a LOT.  A bit from ganking, but way more due to power balancing.  They have no real armor, making them ultra dependent on damage output.  I leveled Frost, which is super proc dependent, which is greatly impacted by Mastery.  Crappy gear = low weapon power + low mastery. = low damage.

War Mode

This is a really, really weird system.  +25% experience and +25% rewards (gold while leveling).  Since every single zone up until Legion is designed to be faction specific quest lines, you rarely ever see anyone from the other faction.  When you do, it’s clear you’re both leveling. The gains are significant XP-wise, but 25% more gold on a 3g reward is meaningless.

Legion has some rough spots, as you can’t really use AE or trigger a massive fight.  If I did, it was often just easier to stand there and die than waste time fighting back.  The optional “clear this area” quests were skipped for that reason.  It was pretty quick, though I have to say the Artifact Weapon stuff is a bummer without the special skills.  Since Legion doesn’t give any weapon rewards, getting the artifact at 100 is the only thing you’ll see for 10 levels.

War Mode in BfA.  80% of Drustvar is cool.  The last 20% in the haunted village is less so.  I got ganked, and then corpse hunted for 10 minutes.  Being level 5 or 119, you are going to get stomped by any geared 120.  The flipside is that the XP gains are solid (saved ~1hr or so), and the BfA gold rewards are significant.  Was around 10k total by the time I hit 120.  That said, the second I hit 120 I turned off War Mode.

Why?  Cause 95% of world content is better in a group, and that means AE.  AE + War Mode = massive battles.  Useless battles.  I would much rather complete a WQ / event 5x faster than get 25% more gold.  More in another post.

Lessons Learned

There are many, many tools to help level up faster.  Only a few are really worth it.  Doing dungeon runs in LFG can be substituted.

  • Heirlooms armor – getting +45% xp is easy enough (head/chest/shoulder/back).  I suggest only having 1 cloak for all alts, rather than 3 of the (int/str/agi) if money is a thing.  A single piece costs 500+1000+2000+5000 = 8,500 gold.  Armor type matters (e.g. cloth for casters)
  • Heirloom weapons – from 1-100 this is very useful and relatively cheap.  At 100 you get an artifact weapon, and BfA is over quick enough.  1-100 costs 2,250 for a single weapon.  Getting it to BfA quality adds 10,500 to the cost.  The stats on the thing make a difference too.  Hunters are the worst here, since they are the only gun users.
    • Flying.  Sweet baby jeebers, make sure this is unlocked before leveling in a zone and that you buy the associated skills (Master is optional)
  • Zones: 1-60 any Vanilla zone is fine.  60-80 you want to do Borean Tundra (this is the slowest portion).  80-90 is Jade Forest.  90-100 is the starting WoD zone of your faction.  100-110 is Azshara.  110-120 is Drustvar / Vol’dun.  You’re only going to see 1 zone per level range.
  • Bags:  Get 20 slot bags.  You’re going to fill up like crazy.
  • War Mode: Turn it on.
  • Professions:  Mining and herbalism gives great xp.
  • Treasures / Rare mobs:  Treasure chests are worth collecting for xp.  Rare mobs should generally be avoided.
  • Gold: At best you’re going to make 15,000g from 1-120 doing quests and selling loot, and nearly all of it coming from BfA content.  Flying (280%) will cost you ~5,000g.

Heirloom Table

To give you an idea of where you can re-use Heirloom gear, as a full set of armor + weapons for 1-120 = 55,250g.  Druid as a Cat saves money.  Shaman as Enhancement as well.


The Joys of Fishin’

I should build a category for this topic. I keep coming back to it.

I love to fish. I’ve found that most people who love to fish love it for the same reason, and it’s a reason that’s hard to properly explain. Getting fish into the boat is the perk. The act of fishing is the reward.

I’ve been somewhat fascinated by fishing in video games. I mean the real act of fishing, not the Bass Tourney type games. Where fishing is a side thought, a pastime that takes a 180 from the rest of the content.

Ultima Online’s fishing was like this. For the longest time it provided no benefit – just more fish. Boats were used as a method of transport – and once you had runes, then there wasn’t a whole lot of point to boats. Eventually they revamped fishing to be its own world. You’d fish up messages in a bottle, go out to sea to fight serpents and collect maps, then dig up treasure on islands. At the time, I had done most everything the game offered and this was an awesome combination of the best parts. I had 2 character builds that I built up and kept selling those accounts to fund real life things (FWIW, they went for $600USD then or ~$900USD today).

Fishing in MMOs since then has been relatively simple. Rift is the gold standard in terms of it as activity. You only need a pole, but can craft lures to get better, and it’s not a 1-2 click event. Rewards are achievements mostly, with some pets included. FF14 is close, but the leveling system makes it less fun. Its a profession versus a pastime.

WoW takes a weird approach. Pat Nagle is the most famous NPC who has never thrown a punch. For 15 years he’s sent anglers to their death chasing the weirdest of quests. There have been raid bosses that needed fishing. The common part between expansions is that fishing is a core requirement for the best food buffs. So there’s some reward to being a fisher, rather than anything else. But the fishing meta usually involves some super convoluted plot to have you explore the world and get some super rare set of fish and unlock a neat gimmick.

  • Vanilla: Stranglethorn fishing tourney, time-based and you needed to get a special fish first to win.
  • TBC: Daily fishing quests for pets!
  • WotLK: Daily quests, the fountain coins, and a new fishing tournament
  • Cataclysm: Daily quests like TBC.
  • Pandaria: The anglers faction node – with the ultimate reward of a Water Strider (and the Raft).
  • WoD: More daily quests for rare fish, with cosmetic rewards. There’s a water strider here too, but it’s much harder to get than the Pandaria version. Pat Nagle lives in your garrison though, so that’s neat.
  • Legion: A fishing pole artefact that requires fishing ultra rare fish. Can breathe underwater, walk on water, teleport to nodes and avoid combat.
  • BfA: A simple start of catching all fish types in Mechagon, which goes to 11 quickly with special goggles that cause fish bubbles to spawn. Clicking the bubbles in certain zones / time of day / being dead catches different fish. Reward is a personal ocean to fish from.

I’ve never won a fishing tournament. The timing just doesn’t work for me, and the only time I did well (3rd place) I didn’t even realize it was going down. Aside from that, I’ve completed 90% of the fishing activities per expansion. The Angler faction was amazing. The Legion fishing quests were a ton of fun, and the pole artefact is still amazing. BfA feels more like finding a secret to get the ultra rare drops figured out, more tedious than actual fishing (since I need to move to collect bubbles).

It’s still impressive that I keep falling back into the fishing mode. After all these years and all these games. If it has fishing, it automatically gets a play. Now give me my Weather Beaten Hat and give me a cold one.

The Death of a Rogue

I’ve been using the Asmiroth moniker for over 20 years (that’s painful to write), and my first WoW character was a dwarf rogue on launch day.  I ran a rogue-specific website at the time, wrote guides (that paid for my PCs for a LONG time), and was more than well versed in that class.  I played Rogue as a main character up until Pandaria, where I started to really mess around with alts.  In particular the Monk, which I’ve mained since.

Rogues in just about any RPG setting have been interesting to me.  The idea of hiding in the shadows, coming out with bursts, then hiding again is a rather unique class trait.  There’s an irony here in that the typical rogue mindset is that of a loner, but in practical terms they often require other people to excel – what with the backstabbing and all.  This worked in something like Everquest where group combat was the default.  Less so in WoW where the single player experience has been taking a larger foothold.

As the MMO space has evolved, the multi-role aspect has really become the gold standard for way forward.  FF14 does a spectacular job on this, but doesn’t actually have a rogue class.  This model allows an individual to continue to participate in the game, filling in the role they see fit (heal/tank/damage).  WoW at launch focused on classes filling a single role well.  Those that could do multiple roles, usually did so at a penalty (hybrid tax).  Game moved forward and more and more hybrid classes have come to shore.

Which means in WoW there are only 4 pure damage classes left – Rogue, Hunter, Mage, and Warlock.  Only one of those is melee.  And the game design over the years has been ultra punishing for anyone in melee range.  It’s not that it’s impossible, just that if you want to play a melee DPS role, you need to always be moving, which requires a level of player dexterity and awareness above and beyond those at range.

So, the Rogue is limited to a specific role, and mechanically at a disadvantage.  What benefits do they bring?  Group stealth is one, where this has a niche application in time-based group trials.  They are great at locking down single targets, especially in PvP settings.  It should be relatively high on single target damage but due to the melee range challenges, they actually rank middle of pack, with 4 other melee classes ahead of them.

The above issues reflect tremendously in day to day gameplay.  Single player efforts are at a disadvantage compared to pretty much every other class due to poor defensive options.  In group settings, aside from high tier timed dungeon runs, they provide minimal benefit.  Combined, it makes rogues less fun to play.  Maybe if the game reverted from the AE-trash / Focus-boss structure it would help, and the full skill set could be leveraged.

I will point out that the rogue lore in WoW is second only to Paladins, and crosses both factions.  I absolutely loved the Legion class hall.

For now, if you’re looking for a leather-based, mobile, melee option… you’re better off with a Demon Hunter.  They do nearly everything a Rogue does, but better in nearly every aspect.  Monks are even more versatile, but their DPS spec needs some tuning.  Their tank role is the best in the business, which is a nice offset.  Plus they heal.

End result is that my Rogue sits in the inn, unlocking boxes sent to him in the mail, at expansion max level, waiting for the day he can come out of retirement.

BfA Pathfinder

Naithan had me thinking with a recent post about flying in BfA.  A long time ago I had completed Part 1, which was mostly a rep grind at the start.  At the time, the rep grind had some significant tangible benefits related to gearing and vertical progress.  Really doesn’t mean much today though.

Part 2 is another rep grind, specifically with the 8.2 factions (Nazjatar and Mechagon), and given the large rep boost it turned out to be about 3 days of effort with the reputation boost active.  A Mechagon contract plus all the quests and dailies for each zone gave me the boost.  So maybe a week now that the rep boost isn’t active.

Now we get to cover the actual benefits of flying.  I decided to level my rogue to test it out.  I did a few levels on the ground, a few in the air.  Air was faster, but only when put against negative zone flow design.  Blizz world design has 2 modes – open exploration, and then funnelled experience.  The funnelled experience doesn’t benefit from flying.  You go from A to B, and the path is part of the experience.  The open world design has spread out targets, and then “trash” blocking the ground path.  The western part of Stormsong (Naga area) is a super good example.  Flying allows you to pick your targets, and since the majority of EXP is from quests, this is a major speed boost.  The difference in BfA is large, but not as large as it was in Legion.

World quests also benefit, since they are spread out and the drop in/out aspect is a HUGE timesaver.  Fairly useless for people who have access to flying since they’ve likely got all they need from WQ already (except alts).  Material farming also isn’t that great.  Both 8.2 zones have plenty of trash drops that are worth 100g, which blows any farming route out of the water.  I made 5,000g running those 2 zones in 30 minutes and vendoring everything I found.


In 7.3 (Argus) you couldn’t fly.  Daily quest hub, plenty of ways to die, lots of interesting bits.  It was relatively good design but felt punishing since you had just unlocked flying.

8.3 is re-makes of existing zones with N’zoth invasions, and they require flying (Uldum in particular).  The zone design itself is limited by Cataclysm/Pandaria structure, where you have pockets of activity and large spaces with nothing.  It’s a heck of a throw back when you look at from afar.  Flying is not punished, only floating and going AFK.  It makes the dailies go by extremely fast, 15 minutes or so per zone.  This is really odd design choice considering the deliberate efforts in the past years to slow down the pace of content consumption.


Flying has a larger benefit to alts in terms of catch-up options.  Whether there’s a value there or not depends on what you’re trying to achieve.  There are quite a few time gates in terms of vertical progression (WQ/Dailies), but you could try your hand at dungeons I guess to reach max level pretty quick.  I don’t see why that would matter today.  You’re pretty much just setting up alts for the next expansion, right?

WoW Realm Pops

Cause I’m a numbers guy.

This isn’t a comparions, just some analytics triggered by Bel’s recent post.  Data points are taken from WoWProgress, since the previous wowrealmpop was apparently sold.  Only for US servers to simplify things.  These are not distinct data points, only indicative.  It’s based on active characters, not players.  Still, the ratios help.  Alliance is listed before Horde for alphabetical purposes.

A few notes to start though.  When WoW launched, it had a tight focus on the Alliance vs. Horde conflict – made sense as it was a followup to Warcraft 3.  The world was more or less split in the middle, with spots in the mid 30s where both factions started meeting each other.  I won’t go into why PvP didn’t work as planned, as that’s a book’s worth of musings.  I can say that expansions alternated between the factions teaming up, and then breaking up. Feels more like a rom-com in that sense.  BfA isn’t any different – it started as a conflict and it’s now in group-hug mode.

Dev choices over the years have broken down these faction barriers, so that the world has been “shared” since MoP.  WoD is a slight deviation, given the 2 faction specific zones, but it also kicked off with a faction war…  At the game stands today, the faction split is a mechanical one.  People can’t group together cross-faction, or effect trade (the AH does work).  Aside from that, the factions are cosmetic and story based,

Why does any of that matter?  Because in early WoW factions meant something game-impacting, while today it only impacts the players you can play with.  In open world content (yes, that existed), you’d be fighting against the other faction for the same resources and no way to really communicate about it.   Nowdays, it’s about server population balances.  If you want to actually see other people and want to play Horde, you’re not going to roll on Stormrage.

Curious Data Points

Onto the stats

  • There are ~505,000 characters.  220k are Alliance (44%) and 285k are Horde (56%)
  • There are 120 servers.  The average would be 4,200 characters per servers.  The median is 2,100 due to overloaded servers
  • The highest pop servers are, with an Alliance / Horde % ratio:
    • Stormrage (PvE) – 26,000 (97%/3%)
    • Area52 (PvE) – 24,000 (1%/99%)
    • Illidan (PvP) – 22,000 (2%/98%)
    • Sargeras (PvP) – 18,000 (94%/6%)
    • Thrall (PvE) – 17,000 (3%/97%)
  • The lowest realms are all connected and around 1,000 characters each.  Except Tol Barrad (PvP) with 548 characters (62%/38%), and Garrosh, which has 864 characters (34%/66%).
  • In general, if a server has ~1,000 characters, it is a connected realm.  The connections are meant to balance the faction ratios.
  • The top 10 servers in population account for 16% of Alliance and 22% of Horde
    • 50% of the Alliance is spread in the top 21 servers
    • 50% of the Horde is spread in the top 14 servers
  • The largest imbalances, for non-connected servers
    • Alliance (all above 90%)
      • Stormrage (PvE) – 97%/3%
      • Proudmoore (PvE) – 94%/6%
      • Sargeras (PvP)– 94%/6%
      • Frostmourne (PvP) – 93%/7%
      • Kel’Thuzad (PvP) – 91%/9%
    • Horde (there are 12 above 90%)
      • Mal’Ganis (PvP) – 0%/100%
      • Area 52 (PvE) – 1%/99%
      • Azralon (PvP) – 2%/98%
      • Illidan (PvP) – 2%/98%
      • Barthilas (PvP) – 2%/98%


While not in the list above, WoWProgress lists server ranks in terms of raiding progress.  If you value progression raiding, you do not want to be on a connected server, and you want to be on a faction-friendly server (e.g. don’t roll Alliance on Illidan).

PvE servers tend to favor Alliance, while PvP servers tend to favor Horde.  Racial abilities are the main argument for this items being created, and even if they were removed entirely tomorrow, there are few drivers that would make a dent in this balance.  BfA’s daily quests have highlighted this fact (zone zerging).

PvP servers that have large imbalances as effectively PvE servers.  Which is nearly half of all of the PvP servers.

Character volume has a direct impact on the economics of a server, in both the material aspects (gold/auction house) and players to play with.  If you want to play the auction house to trade for WoW tokens, you want to play on a relatively high pop realm and on the appropriate faction.  The highest pop servers are a double-edged sword in that regard, as you will be competing against many more people for the same resources.

High pop realms are more likely to have stability issues due to the server architecture.  These will hit during expansion launched, large patches, and on weekly maintenance cycles.

New players are better off taking a connected realm, as there’s a better balance of factions and players.  I don’t think there are too many people left on the planet who a) have not played WoW, b) don’t know someone who has played WoW, and c) would start playing WoW cold without knowing someone already playing.

Guilds are the lifeblood of any server.  They have players who are active in group content, and in the markets.  There are multiple examples of servers “dying” due to guild migrations.  This bit of info is a main reason for connected servers.

Connected realms are for all purposes but name, merged servers.  The names have not been merged in order to avoid having to rename thousands of existing characters.


Blizzard’s main tool to keep populations stable is to charge people to move.  For individuals, this isn’t too hefty a price (1 character per faction is sufficient, as you really only need to migrate gold, capped at 1 million).

While the data indicates that people can roll on the “wrong server”, the reality is the number of people impacted by this is minuscule.  That said, WoW could certainly do with a server recommendation based on faction/playstyle.  Or a pop up warning when rolling a new character of the wrong faction on a server.

That’s if factions even matter anymore.  If it doesn’t, then allow cross-faction grouping and a shared auction house.  Keep factions cosmetic and applied to PvP.

Incentivizing Play

This topic has been stirring in my head for a very long time, and at the end of the day way more complicated than this post will do justice.  Attempts will be made!

Design of any consumable service follows the same general themes.  You want the majority of people to take a specific path, allow for some variance, and put in guardrails for the lead chip lovers.  I keep thinking of Lemmings in that sense… rarely will you hit 100%, and most realistic goals are to hit 80%.

In the game design space, this applies in the general sense, then again at the activity level.  You want people to participate along a designed path and reach a designed end point.  You build mechanisms to re-enforce that message, and try to keep people in the same general line.  You launch and use various metrics to measure the success of those mechanisms.  Then re-adjust, launch more mechanisms, and analyze FOREVER.

The trick here is the mechanisms, which typically fall into the carrot/stick archetypes.  Reward good actions and punish bad ones.  The scope of those impact the % of people who follow the line.  Most of the time.  In some games the end point is so poorly planned that players reach it early/late/never and the whole thing falls to pieces.  I can’t say I’m surprised at how quickly Ragnaros dropped in WoW Classic, but I can say I’m  disappointed that people thought that was the actual goal.

Good design has a linear path, appropriate ramps to get people on/off that path, and an end goal that players understand early on.  It appears achievable, and is desirable.  E.g. a car race and you want to be in 1st.

Great design has a non-linear path, and intersects with other systems.  It has layered goals, that are not necessarily linear in structure, but have inter-dependencies.  There’s a continuous feedback loop, and a gradual feeling of progress.  e.g. pretty much any PnP RPG is built on this model.

Content vs Consumption

A big problem as games have become services.  It always takes longer to build something than to break it down.  4 hours of baking and 15 minutes of eating.  Years of research and writing, read in a half day.  Where the wins come is from volume.  If it’s 4 hours of baking, and 20 people take 15 minutes, well that’s a decent exchange.  Sell 10,000 books, ok.  Design for 6 months and 6,000 people play it… uh, maybe not?

Game designers have learned to depend on time-gating mechanics.  Sure, the original reason was to slow down the locusts that broke other systems (gold faucet/sink economies are fragile in that respect) but as time went on, this started applying to everyone.  The fatigue mechanic in nearly all F2P games is a good example, where the drive in monetization (and in a capitalistic sense, reasonable).

The fatigue mechanic in a system that cannot be bypassed… that gets irritating.  Especially if you’re gating a high-volume/fun activity.  But how do you know if that activity is viewed as fun, rather than simply rewarding?  LFR in WoW is free epics, while the original goal was simply to expose raiding design investment to more of the population.  Take out the epics and see how many people do LFR.  I mean really, take out the epics and remove the raid lockout restrictions – see what happens.


It’s F2P and the monetization system is based on 2 streams: battle passes and cosmetics.  From a financial perspective, they want people to take the battle pass, so the pricing structure clearly favors that, rather than 1-off customization options.  But the design of the game is predicated almost entirely on group-based combat, so they need a lot of people to make it attractive.

So they made the battle pass work for both free players and paid players.  Paid players get extra bonuses on that track, and a miniscule amount of extra drops in a fight (you get more if you don’t get knocked out).  Progress on this bar is through 3 methods:

  1. Daily collections in town (for 100 pts)
  2. Random drops from hunts (really random…)
  3. Completing tasks (20, 40 or 100pts)

Tasks used to be assigned with 1 weekly and 3 dailies.  They could be anything – hunt with repeaters, collect flowers, stun 5 times, attack with fire.  If you got bad rolls, then you may end up with objectives you didn’t want to do.  I dislike Pikes, and I really disliked any task that deal with Pikes.  Not to mention the need to actually build a decent Pike first.

The new Bounty system provides 4 slots of tasks.  You need a token (get some per week, as battle pass reward, or random drops) and that gives a random set of 3 tasks to pick from.  In the 50 or so times I’ve done this, only once has there been 3 options I didn’t like – and it made me play the game in a fashion I disliked even more.  In 75% of the cases, it had no impact at all since it mapped to my preferred playstyle. In the rest, it was a minor tweak (e.g. swap to a fire weapon, or focus on stunning rather than breaking) that made the fight marginally more interesting.

Now, clearly there are heatmaps and metrics and data sets that will come from this.  I can’t imagine anyone purposefully selecting “collect 40 rocks” unless the other 2 options were more painful (e.g. use a grenade to stun).  There’s some tweaking that’s left.   Yet, the system itself does work.  It lets you keep playing the way you want, but opens up alternatives that you may not have considered.  It also means that multiple playstyles can all work to the same overall goal – so that a lowly Pike player can get success just as much as an Axe fanatic.

There is however a gap once people complete the battle pass.  Since there’s no real hard time gating (a bit of RNG for extra token drops), entirely possible that people get it all done in a few days of hardcore grinding.  But there’s still the long term mastery system goals, and the weekly time trials to keep folks going.  Whether those two goals are actual things people want… another discussion, for another time.