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.

8.3

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.

Overall

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%

Analysis

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.

Conclusion

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.

Dauntless

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.

8.2.5 Where All Is As It Should (Spoilers)

The 4 cinematics (from WoWHead).  Each faction gets the first 2, then a single closing one.  About 10 minutes to get through it all…

Effectively ends the War Campaign, which was effectively the entire jumping point for this expansion.

 

So yeah.

I think the story hit all the beats that were predicted over a year ago.  This is as close to Garrosh 2.0 as you can get.  Sure, there’s a general disappointment that this story was already told, but all stories have been told by this point.  There are a thousand books that detail the Chosen One as a hook and their journey… how many of them actually were good?

In that respect, if the overall goal was to eliminate the faction divide through a common internal enemy, that goal is likely achieved.  As to why that was a goal in the first place, given the end state of Legion is a debatable point.  It seems more like the plot moved the characters, and that generally aligns with some poor storytelling at the major arc level.  So let’s hit a few of the arcs.

  • Saurfang was an old vet, tired of war.  He came to the conclusion that Honor was more than the Horde deserved, and took his own path.  He acted strategically to call out Sylvanas, knowing he would die, but also do something to break her spell on the Horde.  His death however, leaves a massive hole in the Horde with only Thrall around to fill it.  A strong arc of atonement.
  • Zekhan (zappy-boi) is the innocent’s perspective in this (like C3P0 in Star Wars).  He’s an agent of exposition, blindly following orders until he realizes there’s more.  He’s the trigger for Saurfang’s arc, and comes back into the scenes when a decision needs to be made.  He is sadly a plot device.
  • Anduin.  There is no arc here.  Anduin at the end of Legion is the same as Andiun and the end of the War Campaign.  He is a plot device for Saurfang’s redemption.
  • Tyrande.  Somehow made into a god, but apparently an exceedingly weak one.  Considering her entire arc is revenge, that she isn’t in line with this makes so very little sense.  She’s a loose thread.
  • Jaina.  A redemption arc, where internal guilt on previous decisions puts her on a path of punishment.  Her struggles are external compared to Saurfang, and she therefore pushes many of the Alliance plot points forward.  Nearly goes off the deep end, but is pulled back.  Strong arc.
  • Sylvanas.  A brooding female lich king in many respects, where others fear her more than respect her.  She wants to control death (came close!), and seems to be playing 7 dimensional chess.  Until she somehow tells the Horde that they are nothing, with the most minor of provocation.  That’s the trigger point for the Horde to abandon her?  Sylvanas was always an ends-justify-the-means character, but when you can’t see the ends, let alone the means, how do people follow along?
  • Nathanos.  I’m calling it.  He’s been replaced by something similar to an old-god and is whispering in Sylvanas’ ear for years.  There’s no other way to explain his ability to survive through all this without a scratch.  If he isn’t a super being, then he is the most overused plot device after Green Jesus in Cataclysm.

 

From the burning of Teldrassil, the mood has been negative.  Blizz has tried to spin this as a “lot of grey”, but it’s been pretty clear there was no grey here.  Sylvanas’ has had zero areas of redemption/questioning.  She’s been a hammer throughout, and that makes everything she touches turn into a nail.  If this is the end of the War Campaign, then I’m glad that both Saurfang and Jaina were able to be further developed.  Killing Saurfang without establishing a logical second Horde leader doesn’t give much wiggle room for the writing team.

At this point it’s crystal clear we’re going into an Old God expansion.  External enemies are Blizz’s strength, let’s hope there’s a rebound.

I do want to finish on some positive vibes. The cinematics, art, music, and world building team have raised the bar so very high that it’s worth some recognition.  It really does feel like another level, and an ultra-redeeming part of BfA.  The world is beautiful, haunting, and worth exploring at nearly every turn.  The multiple cinematics have amazing production values, and do an excellent job of presenting the general pathos of this expansion.

Classic Spike

I have zero interest in playing WoW Classic.  I already did that 15 years ago.  I am however interested in the nostalgia meta.  WoW is a very interesting subject given that numbers around the game have been around for so long.

Without question the launch was very popular.  Peaked at 1.1m on Twitch where the normal average is ~80k.  I’ve followed a fair chunk of news/blogs on it, all quite interesting.

Apparently Ragnaros & Onyxia are dead.  Not sure why people would rush through Classic.  Seems to defeat the point and all the selling points of “a real world”.   On the meta level, it’s interesting that the most basic dungeon in retail has more mechanics than both of these classic raids combined (also, apparently people really like farming Silithus for Hydraxian faction).

Sure, people are talking about all sorts of learning curves.  Things that people thought would work (e.g. summon stones) but didn’t get set up.  Hit chance.  It’s interesting to see that relearning curve…it’s not like people’s memories are based on patch levels after all.  Things that came in with TBC and WotLK are all blended into the pre-Cata window.  Sort of like me thinking of older Easy Bake ovens.  They were hotter than my oven, and meant for kids.  Completely different than my memories.

A more recent trend is engagement.  I’ve written at length about the impacts to retail, but here in Classic we’re a week away from the 1 month line.  My gut was telling me that it would drop by 50% in 30 days, and then down by 80% by month 2.  Not necessarily a criticism of the game, but just that in 2019 gamer’s attention and willingness for time sinks isn’t exactly massive anymore.  Twitch numbers are down by ~80% from peak but triple their average.  It’s not the best tool for measuring popularity, but it is a trending tool all the same.  The news to read from this is that the MMO-tourist still exists.

I am reading across the blogging/forum world that there’s a general drop in players.  Again, expected.  Where the floor of players ends up is the real question.  And how many people who had dropped BfA, came back for Classic and are giving BfA a new try.  The new Blizz doesn’t do anything without financial incentive, so the number crunchers over there must be doing crazy OT to see how this plays out.  I’d be somewhat surprised if the overall retention numbers increase as both BfA is much better now than even 6 months ago, and the shock of Classic/Retail will surely keep some people subbed.

Final Fantasy Series

There are lines here to read.

The first FF game launched in 1987.  FF15 in 2016, and FF14’s recent MMO expansion a few weeks ago.  We’re over 20 years in this series, with expansions/DLC/offshoots a plenty.  It’s one of the few Eastern RPGs to actually sell in the West.

Each game in the series has similar foundational elements, builds on previous systems, and takes some new twists.  Whether it’s adding classes, improving skills through use/osmosis, random battles, auto-battles, or a dozen other systems that either worked, or tanked.  Everyone has a favorite in the series (mine is FFX).  The series fans will generally try the next “main line” iteration, meaning sales are somewhat baselined.

Where this model and the MMO model differ, is that players cannot play their favorite versions, they have to play the most recent one (or play a pirate version of the old one.)  What keeps them similar is that everyone has a “perfect” version of the game, a time-boxed version where they as players, and the game meshed.

I loved Rift at launch, it was a great time in my life to play an MMO of that genre, and it hit all the right notes.  Summer vacation hit, and when I came back there were some big changes in the game that made it less attractive.  I tried the nostalgia server for a bit, and it certainly felt familiar.  As a player though, I had changed and the model just didn’t hit the same notes.

I’ve probably “finished” FFX a good 6 times now.  It’s an 18 year old game.  The first complete playthrough was something like 60 hours, and I did that as a dedicated game.  I gave it another go last fall, and got to the monster hunting phase with a couple celestial weapons.  I played it off/on for a few months, as a side project.   After a few days of not playing, I figured I’d just get it over with and take out the last boss (which is like 1 shot when you’re looking to max characters).  Didn’t take down a single Dark Aeon.  It was still good, but there were other interesting things taking my time.  I didn’t need it, but I certainly appreciated it.

Other games in the series are OK after FFX.  FF11 asked for way too much time from me.  FF12 was really impressive mechanically, but I felt it was really bloated in the middle.  FF13 looked great, and had some strong strategic options near the end… but it also had a 20 hour tutorial.  FF14 is solid, though I’m an expansion behind.  FF15 simply never clicked with me.

I’m aware that this is my perception and that other folks are fascinated by nostalgia.  I mean, war re-enactments are different level, but there’s plenty of people fascinated with 50s fashion.  Certainly enough for niche markets to develop.  And we’re in the age of remakes for movies.  I mean, I get why industry is doing this.  Past money often means future money.  Why risk a new IP that will tank, when you have an existing client base?  I can count at least 12 releases of FF6.  Chrono Trigger can probably be played on a fridge now.

Yet… selling a box and supporting a box are two different things.  Opportunity costs abound. RIFT Prime is gone.  EQ’s progression server management has generated at least 100 posts from Wilhelm alone.  UO tried and it didn’t fly (though emulation servers abound, with wildly different rulesets).  Even WoW’s classic version is full of debate of what “true” vanilla is, and there’s certainly a lot of questions on both sides about what happens once Naxx is released.

Seems like everyone’s past is for sale.

Classic Features

With the WoW Classic server coming up, I’ve been thinking more about Blizz’s method of iteration.  Credit where due, when Blizz decides a system isn’t good enough, they go to great lengths to remove it from the game (WoD housing is a prime example).  Most other games have an incremental approach, where systems are added over time.  This tends to cause a serious amount of bloat, as compared to Blizz’s more focused development.

That makes me think a fair bit about Classic.  I made a Rogue on day 1 (my main ’til MoP, and still at max level), and I did up to BWL before the cray-cray of organizing 40 people drove me to take a break.  Aside from the storyline (with minor retcons) and the general high level map, there’s not a whole lot from Classic that as survived.  Let’s take a look at some of the larger bits that simply don’t exist anymore.

  • Questing:  The largest change was in WotlK where phasing came by, but even in BC the idea that leveling through quests had taken hold.  Classic has very few quests to level with, and past level 30 it’s mostly grinding out in the wild or dungeon runs.
  • Leveling speed: I still have an old guide I wrote to optimize leveling in Classic. 5 days /played.  Today, you can level from 1-120 on 2 characters in the same time.
  • Weapon skill: To hit with a sword, you needed to swing a sword – a lot.  There were plenty of people who got great drops at 60 and simply couldn’t use them until they raised their skill in the wild.
  • Hit rating: Enemies dodged from everywhere, and riposted from the front (hit you back).  Dual wield penalties too.
  • Ranked skills: Hit every other level, go to a trainer, get a rank increase to do more damage/heal.  Down-ranking was the process of using a lower ranked skill as it was more mana efficient.
  • MP5: Mana users only regenerated mana after not casting spells for 5 seconds.  Chain pulls in dungeons were not possible, and in raids… well you had healing rotations where people just sat down until their mana came back.
  • Gold:  Getting 1 gold was a great event.  There were no daily quests, so 99% of the gold you received was from farming.  Repair costs ate most of what you had.  It felt very rewarding to have 100g.
  • Mounts: Mounts were not only slow, but they came at level 40 and cost nearly all of your gold to acquire.  There’s zero flying, and you automatically dismount in water.  (Side note: MoP’s Water Strider is/was popular for a darn good reason.)
  • Flight Points: You could only do 1 at a time, so AFK while travelling wasn’t an option.
  • Talents: Every level you got points to put into a talent tree.  Getting lower in the tree required unlocking earlier skills.  A very traditional model.  Thing is, there are many choices that are not just weak, but detrimental.  Making changes had an ever increasing cost in gold – making spec swaps very difficult.
  • Hunter pets: They were only good for DPS, and attack speed was king.  Nearly everyone had a cat for that reason.
  • Spec variety:  Nearly every class had only 1 viable spec until late into Vanilla (some waited til BC).
  • Guilds:  Tabards and guild chat.  Oh the days of DKP.
  • Soloing: Classes took forever to solo, and could only really handle one enemy at a time.  Healing outside of combat required food, and death was extremely common.
  • Grouping:   Meeting stones made groups, but didn’t summon anyone.  You need to travel there and find the entrance.
  • Dungeons:  BC had great dungeons.  Vanilla…less so.  Gnomeregan, Sunken Temple, Razorfen Downs/Kraul, Blackfathom, Mauradon were either very hard to get to, or a near maze to complete.  The good bit here is that there were 19 different dungeons, which account for ~20% of the entire game!
  • Raids: You needed to attune for a dungeon before getting access.  That was a crazy adventure!  Multiple steps, and often steps that could only be completed by 1 person at a time (imagine running a dungeon 40 times to attune an entire raid).
  • Crowd Control: You needed to sap/sheep/hex targets in order to progress with dungeons.  AE attacks were few and far between because of it. When’s the last time anyone has seen a sheep?
  • Whelps:  Leroy Jenkins was a thing because whelps were a thing.  In fact, being feared was usually a wipe in any dungeon.
  • Resistances: You couldn’t really complete MC without fire resist, or BWL without shadow.  AQ needed a ton of nature resist.  Resists don’t even exist anymore.
  • Item drops: Leveling item drops were not targeted but random across any 2 stats.  STR/SPI on a dagger?  Sure.  Made from some horribly useless bits but also one of the only ways to gear up while leveling.
  • Mods:  The big ones of the day were threat meters, titan panel, and map markers. DBM didn’t matter, since most fights were tank/spanks and all you had were raid checks.  It’s practically unheard of to play WoW today without mods, and even the base game has incorporated some into the basic UI.  (Classic will support a LOT more mods than original Vanilla.)

 

Not a single one of these systems is even remotely recognizable today.  Every one has been iterated and streamlined.  While a lot was changed in BC and WotlK, Cataclysm (9 years ago) really was the break point between the older model and the newer one.  In one way, you could say that we’re playing WoW 2+ today.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who want to see this older version, where the people connections were essential to enjoyment.  I’m just curious as to how large that audience is as compared to every other gaming option available today.

WoW Lessons Learned

Ion sat with PC gamer to talk about lessons learned from BfA, and what’s coming up.

The big take aways for me are thus:

  • The devs thought the fact that Legion artifacts were front loaded in terms of skills, then only minor increments over time was some something players disliked.  That was a mistake.  (Extrapolating here – but the enemy of legion was RNG, which BfA went all in for.)
  • Azerite gear is a large enough misstep that they are putting in a new system.  Instead of unlocking skills on gear, you unlock it on the neck (permanent item).  So they learned that they should not take stuff away from people while leveling.  Odd that was even a lesson to learn in the first place.
  • 8.2 will be akin to 7.3, in terms of horizontal features.  I liked the content in Argus, it was just unfortunate that it made everything before that completely irrelevant.  Also begs the question if this is the last patch of the expansion.  That would be pure folly, due to the next point.
  • The lack of testing and feedback collection in beta sent them down the wrong path.  While I can understand that Azerite gear was very nebulous up until the last month or so, it does bear mention that all the issues were fairly clearly stated in the beta forums before launch.  Pretty much every complaint from then grew into a wildfire.  That’s like being put between a rock and a hard place, you have a set release date and a you know a key component cannot be fixed in time.
  • If Blizz really wants longer lead time on system development, there’s no way 8.2 is the last patch… and I’d bet that there are 2 more to come.
  • Blizz has also come to realize that making decisions now to avoid an issue in 3 years isn’t practical.  Either that issue never really existed, the market will shift and it won’t matter, or the decision causes major negative feedback that you lose players.
  • Related, there are some pieces of the game that just should not be changed for the sake of change.  (I mentioned Pet Battles are relatively untouched).

 

All in all a relatively good read, and a rare occurrence of a dev admitting that their design decisions were poorly received.  I’m generally curious as to how 8.2 will be received.  A lot of the pain points from launch have been, or will be addressed.  There are some clear lessons learned from the devs, as the feedback on this particular expansion has been some of the most vocal I’ve ever seen.

Quite important to note that when the core of the content is based on a particular foundation, and that foundation is considered a flaw by the players… it is a whole world of pain to make the necessary changes without causing everything else to fall apart.  We’re about 9 months out since launch, in terms of dev work, that’s a pretty quick turnaround for such big changes.

Here’s hoping it sticks the landing.