Alternative Measures

I like to look at all sides during a debate.  Rarely is someone ever 100% correct.

WoW Tokens.  The interesting mechanic that Blizz put in place a long while ago so that people in need of gold could buy it with real money.  Sure, it helped get rid of a lot of the black market gold (not all, but most) but it also served as an interesting measuring stick for the game.

On US servers tokens were around 215,000g in the early summer.  It has been at that level for most of Legion.  Good enough.

When BfA launched, it took a massive nosedive.  Down to  a low of 100,000g.  That lasted exactly one month to the patch cycle.  It is now moving back up, currently at 140,000g.

wowtokenaug2018.png

Which is interesting on many fronts.

I have a passion for numbers, and even more so for the context behind those numbers.

BfA Launch

Prices on items dip for one sole reason – supply outstrips demand.  There were more people fishing for gold than there were people who wanted to buy tokens for time.  Which makes sense, since expansions typically have a spike in players and they are not necessarily buying tokens to get time.

I sold a staff for just 800,000g within a few days of launch.  Money was flying all over the place.  It was relatively easy for people to swap their gold stores for a month token at launch.  There’s a pile of analytics to be seen on this.

Interestingly, the price has started to spike on the 1 month anniversary of BfA.  Why?  Quite a few reasons I’m sure. My bet is that people have stopped buying tokens for cash, meaning that the supply is drying up, in addition to less people actually buying tokens.  I’d wager that people are figuring that with LFG/Warfronts out, they really don’t have any need for gold now.

It’s still quite early to see what this actually entails, we’ll need to see at the 2 month date.

Fishing for Cash

Blizzard is offering the Dreadwake mount for free for anyone that buys 180 days (6 months) of game time.  Offered the day after the livestream of 8.1, and at the 1 month mark.  It does look neat, and it’s not a horse.

Cynicism active. This reminds me a lot of the 1 year sub offer in Cataclysm that offered guaranteed access to MoP beta and Diablo 3.  That is not a good mental link.

Patch 8.1

More info from MMO-Champ.

High Level

  • Azerite trait rebalancing
  • A new Warfront
  • 2 new Island Expeditions
  • War Campaign continues
  • 2 new raids, on in Zuldazar and another below the Shrine of Storms
  • New Pet Battle dungeon
  • Kul Tiran and Zandalari Trolls are coming, requiring Exalted with Proudmoore / Zandalari factions
  • Heritage armor for Blood Elves and Dwarves
  • Champions of Azeroth rep levels will be account bound, making the +15 levels on the neck not requiring the grind

The Good

More content is good, can’t deny that.  Another Warfront on a separate timer will mean that people won’t twiddle their thumbs for weeks waiting.  More raids, and faction bound are an interesting twist.  A re-focus on the actual war between factions would be nice to see, since it’s been all but invisible so far.

The CoA faction change is good.  Heritage armor is nice to see.  The two new Allied Races added with a grind on existing factions is very nice, rather than a brand new one.  I still think that it should be baseline, and that the heritage armor is the actual rep grind… but hey.  The allied races should be selling features, but they are timegated behind 2-3 weeks of grinding.

The Bad

The lack of response on the fundamental issues with BfA.  The content itself is not the issue, it’s the systems that support that content.  Re-balancing the Azerite traits is good, but the entire system needs a massive overhaul.  Better view on that here

The Ugly

The need to wait for balancing.  Shamans in particular are getting a rather large re-tune, with the inclusion of two Legion artifact abilities as talents.  Which is better than now, but obviously worse than Legion, where you had 3 talents + the artifact bonus.  Even if it hit the PTR tomorrow, it’s still 2 months of testing.

Putting it on Pause

Ion ran an AMA on Reddit on Friday.  One of the mods was nice enough to extract the tangible items from that event.

After reading that AMA, I decided to cancel my subscription.  The TLDR; answer is that I will wait until Blizzard actually launches Battle for Azeroth.  It sounds like a fun game.  I want to have fun.

Communication

“We need to do better”(R)

I kind of chuckled at this one.  The AMA is a good thing, and hats off to Blizz for doing it.  Cause there’s been nothing but crickets otherwise on a game that has had a large amount of bugs and daily hotfixes for over 2 months.  Is it hard to have client communications?  Yeah, it is.  But when you make a bajillion dollars, it’s not hard to hire someone to do just that.  T&E do a better job at this than Blizz.

Azerite Armor

Fully cognizant that the rewarding feeling is not there, and that there are many under tuned skills.  Great.  Not sure why this is news now.  DPS specs have a ton of options (some of various levels of interest) but tank/DPS have clearly better options than others.  This makes i370 items downgrades when compared to i340.  Ion agrees this is a problem that needs tuning.  (That word comes up often.)

That AP neck levels are a ridiculous gating mechanic for item upgrades.  The answer here is that everyone should be at level 18 neck and then this problem goes away, in addition to the 30% downtick in requirements every week.

Which is honestly an odd statement, since the AP gains after the first ring of a piece of armor are unlocked are relatively minor.  Once you pass that point, AP has minimal value.  In Legion, very few people unlocked all 35 traits until there were large catch up mechanisms and AP value dropped.  Odd.

Island Expeditions

They feel under-rewarding (because they are), and a hotfix was applied to increase all rewards drop rates.  So better RNG I guess.  Which really isn’t the problem.

The issue that island expeditions are just go-go-go fests due to the pressure of the azerite ticker.  There was an acknowledgement of this, but no actual plans to change it.  There will eventually be more islands to explore, and more random events… but that’s not going to help.

Armchair here… but if they reduced the number of enemies on the island and had larger events with competition against the other team, that would allow for more strategic play.  e.g. Should we take on this boss over here, or head over to the other side and prevent the other team from taking on their target?  Right now, it’s about chain-AE everything on the island.

Faction Gating / Grind

That this is an artificial gating mechanism bound to WQs.  The Paragon system is coming back, where you get a back if you max out reputation and keep getting more.  No plans to have the factions across the account, or the exalted items be account-bound (for transmog).  Which is odd, since MoP really hit this one out of the park with commendations.

The Alt Grind

That leveling an alt has a double grind – reputation and AP levels.  Unless I am drastically reading this wrong, this is working as intended.  Re-leveling a faction on another character is something to look forward to.  Odd statement.  In particular since the Champions of Azeroth are the real “hard gate”.

AP gains will be managed through the catch up mechanism.  So I guess the message is hold off on alts for a little while.

Shamans

That aside from guilds, Shamans are actively being ignored/removed from groups due to their perceived uselessness.  Kind of goes for Ferals as well in M+, since they have no real AE.  The changes required here are too large for a hotfix and will be in a patch.  There’s certainly a point of perception, but that usually is enough to become reality.  It’s really too bad for people impacted by this, and Blizzard really should have addressed this fully by now.  Guess another 2 months before we see any real change… and by then, I wonder if the stigma will leave.

Warfronts

On a factual note, the whole cycle is likely to be more like 3.5 weeks, and not 5. There are basically three stages you progress through as an attacker:

  • Donating to fund the war effort, turning in materials for AP (tuned to take 4-6 days depending on player contributions)
  • Warfront active, able to queue, with a once-per-cycle 370 reward and then repeatable 340s (7 days)
  • Zone control, can kill world boss for a shot at a 370 reward, 340s from the rare spawns (11-13 days, while the opposite faction does steps 1 and 2 on their end)

There are two reasons Warfronts are paced this way: First, it lets us give them generous rewards relative to other core content like dungeons, without completely obsoleting that content. Second, we want to make sure most players feel like they have a decent chance to participate in each step; if the Warfront were only available for 3 days instead of 7, the whole thing would move faster, yes, but someone who wasn’t able to log in for a few days would miss the activity entirely.

Yeah, this was the line that really made the decision for me.  There’s an allusion that this is similar to other weekly events, like Timewalking.  Except timewalking doesn’t give  raiding level gear for going AFK.  Warfronts are a prime example of everything I have issues with in BfA.  They are time gated, they require no effort, they negate other content, they are full of bugs, they are without replay value, and guilds cannot use them.

All Told

There are some really solid things in WoW.  The world building is great.  The art/music is the best it’s ever been.  The M+ dungeons are solid (with a few bugs), raiding seems to be in a decent spot.  But none of that is BfA-specific.  We had this before in Legion.

The BfA parts – Azerite Gear, AP, Island Expeditions, Warfronts, class re-builds, professions rebuilds… all of it is less fun than what we had 2 months ago.  Ion was clear enough in the responses that Blizz sees the issues and wants to address them.  Great!  Please do!  When that’s done, I’ll take another look.

Until then, Spider-Man and a dozen other things in my queue are calling me.

This is Odd

Themepark MMOs are generally predicated on the concept of increasing one’s power level.  In most games, this is measured on the level/rank of the items, and WoW is no different.  The carrot is to get higher numbers.  Let’s go over this a minute.

Fresh 120

You should be around 260, and the random rares around the world will top you off to 280.  So let’s consider that the “floor”.  Ok?  Let’s go up from there.  This is the list of content, as was

provided in Legion.  There’s a pattern that the item levels require increased challenge, or are on weekly timers.

  • 280 to 330 – random World Quest rewards, and the level increased based on your average.  Have a higher average level, and higher level gear is found in the world.
  • 310 – Regular dungeons.
  • 325 – Heroic dungeons
  • 340 – Mythic dungeons
  • 340 – LFR raids
  • 355 – Regular raids
  • 350 – World Bosses
  • 350-360 – Mythic+7 dungeons
  • 370 – Mythic+10 dungeons
  • 370 – Heroic raids
  • 385 – Mythic raids

Extra Bits

  • 355 – exalted reputation with any faction, though only specific pieces of gear.  Faction past honored is only acquired through World Quests or the mission tables on your boat
  • 0 – the item level from Island Expeditions, which at heroic/mythic levels require coordination across all team members to succeed.  The rewards are instead a very low chance at mounts/transmog/toys

Warfronts

Ok, let’s explain what Warfronts are.  It’s an asymmetrical instance of content, so that Horde and Alliance are doing different bits, on 2 week timers, that eventually flip over to the other faction.  For 2 weeks, one faction has an open zone (A) to hunt rares and a world boss on a 2 week timer.  During those same 2 weeks, the other faction can instance into an RTS-like game, the actual Warfront (B).

The A content has 39 rares that can drop i340 gear, which can warforge up to i355.  Do them all, and the odds are you’ll get 3 pieces of gear.  You can do this content as a fresh 120.

The B content is a 30 minute instance that you cannot fail (most are 50% AFK) and will reward a once per flip (2 weeks) piece of i370 (which can warforge to i390), and each completion will provide an i340 piece (which can warforge).  The only items that will not drop here are rings and trinkets.  This content is infinitely repeatable for the 2 week duration.  (Up until Tuesday, anyone could join on the Horde, but it was hotfixed to have a minimum of i320.  Before Alliance had a chance to try it.  And is, as the devs put it, per design.)

So what?

Catch Up Mechanics

Blizzard usually releases a catchup mechanic every large patch that allows new players/alts to get up to speed in order to raid.  Not necessarily enough to be better than  a raid, but about 10-20 levels below.

Warfronts are impossible to lose, can be soloed, and take 30 minutes to complete.  They can be infinitely repeated for their 2 week duration.  They provide at worst i340 gear, which can randomly boost up to 370.  Again.  This is content that you can AFK through.  That will at worst reward gear better than any heroic or mythic dungeon.  That will at best, reward gear that is better than heroic raids.  Every 30 minutes.

So Blizzard has released something  that negates all world content, every dungeon, and potential every raid but Mythic with Warfront gear drops.  For going AFK.  3 weeks after launch.

I am now out of words.

BfA Fishing

Legion set an incredibly high bar.

WoWScrnShot_091218_092834

Legion Artifact Fishing Pole

Not only was there an artifact fishing pole, but there were 2 different streams of reputation gains within Legion – Margoss and the Champions.  The pole itself provides a huge benefit to fishing, with built-in waterwalking, reduced detection range, and super speed while underwater.  That last one makes it on-par or better than a Water Strider – and certainly a whole lot less effort to acquire.

The reputation gains were mostly for toys, which makes sense since fishing isn’t exactly about the prestige.  Even the 6 fishing champions didn’t provide much more than cosmetics/pets.  It was a fun distraction.

Previous Expansions

Fishing is sort of the lead eating cousin in WoW, often neglected.  Archeology and First Aid are close, and one of those was taken behind the back.

It’s often been about just getting fish for cooking, and focusing on pools to get more fish.  The fishing tourney was a vanilla item, some dailies in TBC for pets, another tourney in WotLK, and nothing I can recall for Cataclysm.  Factions and daily fishing quests only truly came into the game when MoP came out – and the Anglers were a lot of fun.  WoD put Nat Pagle in your garrison, with a pretty incredible grind to get everything you wanted.  That was a beast.

Legion took all of that, refined it, and made it significantly more fun.

Battle for Azeroth

The good news to start.  The artifact pole still works, and 3 of those skills transfer over.  The skill to portal to the next fishing pool is gone, but that was rarely used except to climb to areas in Stormheim.  There’s a new mount from open water.  Fish can be converted to oil for cooking, or used au-naturel in some recipes.  It takes a lot of fish to make something.  2 fish for basic recipes, 10 fish for mid-rank, and somewhere close to 100 per feast (include 3 rare ones).  That last one costs ~2000g on my server.

The neutral changes are that fish are no longer zone specific but island specific.  Horde fish and Alliance fish, with 2 types per island.  Those types are inland (rivers) and coastal (sea).  And one fish shared between everything (Midnight Salmon) with a low catch rate.  Just to accentuate poor design planning in BfA, this fish is used for feasts AND has a per-click option to teleport you to the next pool.  That’s right, a fish with a 200g value has a 5 minute portal cooldown.

The bad changes are that pools no longer reward more fish, just guarantee a specific type.  Fishing skill also doesn’t reduce junk chance, or increase the amount of fish you get.   There are no daily quests. There are no fishing factions.  There are no fishing toys.

I’m hoping that 8.1 actually includes something for fishing, as right now there isn’t much point and it feels like a large regression to pre-MoP days.  There’s more fun to be had in Legion right now, than BfA.

Could be worse.  I could be an archaeologist.

 

WoW and the Gold Machine

US WoW gold token price values are down, down, down.  Attached relevant post on Market Theorycrafting

wow-gold

114K now, down from 215K in June.

What relevance does this have?  Availability and value, which are cornerstones of any market.

 

WoW gold is similar to the US dollar.  It is the default currency used for everyone that isn’t on a bartering system.  It provides an apples-to-apples comparison of general value, but only in the local context.  e.g. a tangerine is worth way more money in Vancouver than it is Morocco.  In WoW-speak, the local market value is your server.

Availability

This is a measure of how easy it is to obtain gold.  It comes from two sources, taps and the general market.  Taps are straightforward enough, these are the mechanics that the game provides to make gold from NPCs.  The largest amount comes from daily quests and mission tables.  WoD is a black mark (for many reasons) around the gold taps found in the Garrisons.  You could make a mint without ever seeing another player.  In BfA, without any tangible efforts, you can make 200-500g from WQ a day.

The general market is different.  This is the gold in people’s pockets and what they are willing to trade for goods.  Start of expansions are notorious for the sheer amount of gold exchanged between people, as hundreds of new items with value are made present.  The duration of this window is relatively short – typically 1 week after the first raid is out.  I sold an i355 staff for 800k.  3 weeks later, i370 items are dropping.  The market then values three things of different value:

  1. Catch up equipment for alts.  In BfA, this is the lowest of values since it rains epics.
  2. Transmog items, this is the highest value but lowest turnover, since the market gradually dries up over the term of the expansion
  3. Consumables.  This spikes for 3 weeks at the launch of every raid (to cover the opening of Mythic)

There are other items that people will trade for, but they are often related to specific events – like the faire, or holiday event.

Long story short, the start of an expansion usually has a 2 month window where there is a pile of gold changing hands.  If the AH had been working, the majority of that gold would have been hit by the AH cut – 15%.  That above mentioned staff would have given me 680k instead of 800k.  That’s millions of gold exchanged per day that never left the market.

In simple terms, the amount of available gold has done nothing but go up since the launch of BfA.

Value

This is what you can do with that gold, and the list here is quite small.

  • Repair costs (tanks get hit hard on this)
  • Flight costs
  • Consumable costs (for raiders and high mythic+)
  • For enchantments/gems (more below)
  • For equipment (more below)
  • For transmogs
  • For alts

Most of these are extremely negligible, and only the first two can be seen as “mandatory” in the sense that they are harder to avoid than to outright pay.

Consumables only really apply to a small selection of players, where that extra 5% boost is required to complete X content.  They will certainly pay for the convenience of the materials, but not the final crafted product.  In that I mean that you are better off selling herbs, than collecting the herbs and making potions.  Not always, but often.

Enchantments and equipment have a value measured against the rate of replacement of the same gear.  It makes little sense to spend money to upgrade something when you know that another upgrade is right around the corner.  When you hit 120, you have an instant i320 back piece ready.  WQs are raining down gear (except weapons), and the Warfront is giving out better gear than raid drops right now.  Why spend 5K to echant something you’re likley to replace in a week?  Unless you are on the bleeding edge, or sitting on piles of money where 5K is like a nickel’s worth…

The last bit is flavor items, and generally peak at the start of an expansion as well.  During my leveling, I opted to transmog once, then 60 minutes later all my gear changed again.  Even now, I find myself going back to the transmog vendor every week.  The gear itself is fun to acquire and aside from my monk’s hat, I am certainly open to any look change on my characters.  Figuring out what the pieces are for that look change… well that’s 90% of the battle.

Alt-expenditures are an odd one.  Aside from flying training, there are VERY minimal costs to an alt.  Nearly all cases you will have the gold on hand from leveling to get what you need to fly – with the exception of Death Knights (250g).  Demon Hunters already come with Artisan (280% speed).  There are gold sinks to NPCs for heirloom gear mind you.  Head, Shoulder, Chest, Legs, and Back will set you back ~2500g but can be re-used on a similar armor class (e.g. all cloth).  Weapon is another 500-750g, but is more class and even spec-specific.  Base heirlooms only get you benefits to level 60.  To get to 110 you need to spend 8000g per armor piece and 6200g per weapon (don’t need weapons for Legion).   That means that a fully kitted alt will require just short of 50,000g for full heirloom gear.  At current market rates, that’s 2 WoW gold tokens.

The Point of All This

The value of the WoW token is at a very low point now because people are spending piles of gold on temporary items.  In a month, when most players are running around in epics, there will be less to spend gold on, people will have larger gold stores, and the value of the token will increase.  So if you’re thinking about getting tokens, now’s a good time.

Focus and Drive

With a few more days to think about Wildstar and some of the quibbles I have with BfA, there’s a post-a-brewing.

First Wildstar.  That game brought a lot to the table to make it different than other themepark MMOs.  I mentioned a few times now that the leveling game was solid, the dungeons were interesting, the class builds were interesting, and the housing was spectacular.  I really enjoyed the journey from 1-50.  Sure, action combat isn’t for everyone, and the art/style is certainly subjective.  I liked it. The problem was that once you hit 50, the devs had a single vision in mind – attract the 1% raiders from WoW.  Dungeons were based on clear speed, and I had at least 90% of them disband after a single wipe.  They required a lot of coordination and you just couldn’t face-tank.

When the game started bleeding subscribers (just around week 6), the devs took an insane path and decided to double down on the content that was pushing people away.  More raids!

I’m an analyst at heart.  I love numbers, metrics, KPIs, heat maps.  I planned my wedding in excel.  I am not saying all programmers are like me, but I do know that there are at least a few.  And if you are trying to figure out how a tool/service is being used, you need to measure it.  It seems unfathomable to me that Wildstar didn’t have the numbers to see what was going on.  It does seem reasonable that the leadership interpreted them to suit their needs.  When F2P came and went, and the game made minimal changes… that was clear that Wildstar was going to eventually go away.

This compared to ESO where their F2P conversion came with a massive post-game overhaul.  Anyone remember Veteran levels?  Gone.  That change alone was enough to get people to give it another shot.  The devs saw the issue, explained to the community what they wanted to achieve, and delivered.

Warcraft

Rose colored glasses here for a while.  WoTLK is viewed positively for 2 main reasons – serious improvements to max level content (the start of true dailies) and the introduction of LFG.  The game became extremely accessible as compared to TBC.  Cataclysm turned the difficulty up to 11 and got rid of that accessibility.  MoP swung that sucker right back and was the expansion of daily quests, and the Isle of Thunder and Timeless Isle were the gold standard for content moving forward.  You could log in and have tons of stuff to do.  WoD…that was super focused content.  Either you did apexis dailies, or you did raids – often both.  That worked for a few weeks, then people saw how hollow the game was and moved out en-masse.

Legion again went the opposite route, with the WQ model, Suramar quest lines, the withered dungeon, mythic+, good raids, class hall storylines… there was just always something going on.  Sure, if you wanted to grind AP with Maw+3 you could, but it wasn’t a need for anyone but deep raiders.  Broken Shore wasn’t the best, but Argus was a solid improvement.

BfA is in a tough pickle.  Max level content has one goal – raise the level of your neck piece so that you can equip gear.  With Warfronts starting on the weekend (you get to do it once every ~17 days) dropping i370 gear, you need a level 18 neck to use even the first skill (if it’s a skill you even want).  A casual player can easily do a Warfront but there are small odds that they have a level 18 neck.  Island expeditions are nearly entirely for AP, WQs are about faction gains more than drops, dungeons are about getting lucky with an armor slot that’s both an improvement in level and one that actually has skills you want.  There’s a hyper focus from the developers to play a specific way.

I’d argue that everything by dungeons/raids are worse content than Legion.  Nearly every single WQ is about killing a single target (except Turtles).  Or perhaps absorbing AP from the world’s WOONS!  It is stupid simple.  Not saying Legion was the best ever, but it certainly was more involved.   Dungeons in particular are designed for Mythic+, and with only a few exceptions (MOTHER!) are very well balanced and a lot of fun.

And this is ignoring the seemingly daily bugs/exploits that are found in the game since the 8.0 patch in July.  We’re still in daily hotfix mode, after almost 2 months.  When I see something like “Outlaw Rogues do 5% less damage”, that’s not tweaking.  I am getting the strong feeling that BfA could have used about 2-3 months of QA.  Also notice that we haven’t heard a peep about 8.1- which by this time in Legion was already on the PTR.

Perhaps it’s just coming to the realization that WoW is only the B team now.  The focus is on Overwatch.  The big idea folks are on something else and WoW is more on maintenance mode after the success of Legion.  We’re still in month 1, and there’s always the tourist dip at that point.  It’s the end of month 2 that really shows what the way forward will bring.  Still 4 weeks from that point, and I’m more curious than optimistic as to what that brings.