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.

So Long Wildstar

More like the energizer bunny.

As reported on Kotaku yesterday, Carbine and Wildstar are closing shop.  This should come as a surprise to no one, given we’re 2+ years from their crash at launch.  It’s still sad that people are losing their jobs, and sadder still that something with Wildstar’s charm is going under.

I’m sure over the next year or so, we’ll get more insight into what went wrong behind closed doors.  There are already enough rumors about the original management teams’ way of thinking… and that the hoverboard was done under the table by a separate coder.  Hindsight here will be worth a lot to any developer.

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World Quest – just amazing art

When Wildstar launched, I joined a guild of fellow bloggers – led by Liore.  I rather enjoyed the first few weeks, and the trip to max level.  I more than enjoyed the art style (squid head), and the controls were good enough to keep you engaged.  The world felt cohesive, and the story made sense.  The player housing was some of the best I’d ever had a chance to play with – and seeing how other players managed theirs was a lot of fun.  There is a LOT in Wildstar that worked.  Hell, I still have guides on this site for playing it.

But it launched too early and too aggressively.  Core functions that make an MMO work just didn’t exist.  Guild tools were rudimentary.  Finding other people was a mess.  Skill/item balance at max level was nearly non-existent.  Dungeons were dramatically over tuned.  Incentives were applied to speed, even for starting dungeons.  Raids (when it did come) were just meat grinders.  Open world bosses were zerg-fests, and open-world events were designed for organized raid groups – not pugs.  They built these lovely islands of content to consume, and rope bridges to get there.

The first month went by and the guild dropped by a solid 80%.  The stuff to do at max level… well it just wasn’t doable.  There are some stats somewhere…but I do recall that only 1000 people ever set FOOT in the first raid zone, let alone completed it.  Attunement quests anyone?

Months of player base crashing, a F2P conversion that was not accompanied by any game changes but a money shop (TESO was smart enough to do better), and infrastructure that couldn’t even bother to scale to the demand influx.  It took the worst parts of MMOs, because those are easy to replicate, and didn’t include the best, because those are so hard to make.

It survived for so long due to a passionate player base, despite the lack of new content for nearly 2 years.  It brought an interesting vision to the table, but failed to pull off the execution.  It seriously misjudged the available playerbase as frothing at the bit for extra hardcore MMO, which history has pointed to being the exact opposite on multiple occasions.

MMOs launch and attract players with features – the stickyness factor will always be other players.  Putting up roadblocks for those players to assemble, and find some nominal success is a recipe for disaster.  There are just too many solid alternatives that have a working model.

So long Wildstar.

Other posts:

The Quest for Pathfinder

Because we all need goals, right?

I’d gladly try my hand again at the AH market to make some gold, but it’s still broken on Stormrage.  There were 31 pages of Riverbud the other night.  Most of it single stacks.  But what would I actually spend the gold on?

Pathfinder in BfA requires 5 steps.

  1. Complete all the main quest lines for each of your faction’s 3 zones
  2. Explore all 6 zones fully
  3. Get Revered with all of your factions (3 zones, champions of azeroth, ninja turtles, war faction)
  4. Complete the war faction quest, which fully unlocks at revered
  5. Complete 100 world quests

A few points here.  You need to do 1 (and more) to unlock a mythic dungeon.  You need to do most of 4 to unlock another dungeon.  So for a main character, odds are you’re going to do these anyhow, it’s just a matter of time.  The longest is certainly going to be the revered faction aspect, since the Champions and Ninja Turtles are only available through world quests and mission table quests.  You’d easily get 100 WQ just chasing these two down.

If you play between alts, then this is going to be a tough slog.

Main Quest Lines

The leveling process (without gathering skills or rested xp) is going to be ~80% complete on the way to 120.  It isn’t that hard to fill out, though it can get long in the tooth when your map is full of other shinies and you have dungeons to run.  You do need to follow through, as it opens up more dungeons.

Explore all zones

Alliance have it on easy mode here compared to Horde.  Drustvar may have a giant mountain, but it can be covered pretty easily.  The lack of flight points on the other continent (until you get more rep) can make this less fun.  Zuldazar in particular was annoying.

Revered in all factions

The only reason I see for the mission table, and one of the few drivers to actually run world quests.  Nose to the stone, you can grind out the war faction in a few weeks and unlock the alternate skins.  The war faction is gained through any WQ on the other island… not too hard.  Champions you’re better off with a Contract on your shoulder for +10 rep per world quest.  Turtles… man are these not fun.  The shell game is passable.  The Logos ones are terribly slow and have minimal challenge.  But the bird/crab shooting game…argh.  I just shoot 2 birds and 2 crabs then alt-tab.  The rest of the turtles will eventually get there.  These are such a poor replacement for Kirin Tor.

It is a good idea to use the mission table to get faction improvements, so any UI mod to help or the mobile app is good too.

Complete the War Faction questline

Except for the 2 last tiers (7000 honored and revered) I didn’t even notice these were special quests.  These will come naturally while doing the previous part of the achievement.  Bits of lore mostly, though I did enjoy the final bits.

Complete 100 world quests

I don’t think it’s possible to get revered in all factions without 100 WQ.  A suggestion here is to focus on WQs that provide a benefit first.  Go for quests that reward gear improvements and faction increases.  Always complete the Champions and Turtle quests when you see them.  Fill in with nearby quests for the emissary rewards, then clear out the open war faction WQ.  Pretty sure you could get this done in less than a week.

Rewards!

+20% mounted speed.  Given there’s no flight, any increase to movement speed is welcome.  It will certainly benefit alt leveling speed, and some parts of each zone are padded with extra space to slow you down (Drustvar and Nazmir come to mind).

The other reward is the actual journey.  You’ll have completed all the solo content multiple times and likley be in i330 gear by the end.  Focusing too much on this is a good way to burnout, as it is incredibly repetitive.  Looking at you Champs/Turtles!

I’m most of the way there now, with a few bits of faction left to acquire for full-revered.  Another couple weeks I think.

The Glass Bubble of Choice

A larger focus on the design and philosophy.

There are many articles about the pitfalls of too much choice.  Do we really need 50 kinds of toothpaste, or 6 kinds of dark coffee at 5am?  But what happens when there’s an illusion of choice and instead a hard track to follow?

Game design is a battle of the developers having an idea and the gamers having another one – it’s an eternal conflict.  Gamers will go out of their way to play a game their way, and any hindrance to that is viewed with questioning.  Something like Limbo is a linear adventure but it has clear purpose.  The design choices are aligned and the overall experience in increased because of them.  FF13 is a linear adventure (for 90% anyways) but it serves little to no purpose and detracts from the game’s experience.

Don’t take this like advocating for a sandbox world with a story.  Ubisoft has gone to great lengths to kill that dream with maps filled with icons.  The recent Assassin’s Creed is a great example of false choice.  You can either go here and kill this guy, or go there and kill that guy.  Compared to something like Breath of the Wild, where they just give you tools… it’s really divergent.

WoW

Vanilla WoW was about choices. Anyone who hit cap during those days knew it was an achievement because of all the mistakes you could make along the way.  Most people took 7 days /played to get there.  Someone hit max in BFA in 0.16 days.  Expansions came with choices about gear, talents, group buildups – actual choices in combat even.  The tail end of each was met with the lack of choice, as pretty much everything but top hard-mode raiding was faceroll-easy.  Then the cycle starts again.

Cataclysm is certainly the first instance where we this.  The initial release of dungeons needed to be nerfed since everyone had been AE spamming LK dungeons for nearly 2 years.  WoD’s garrisons completely replaced the need to run dungeons, and rep grinds kills the exploration of open world.  Legion’s hyper focus on artifact powers and the RNG wall behind legendaries detracted from the rest of the gameplay.

BfA

This is where things get more interesting.  BfA appears to have choices, but do they really exist?

  • Levels – There are 3 zones designated for leveling, but the actual act of leveling has no purpose aside from diminishing your power levels.  It is meant to make you feel weaker.
  • Quests – Immediate and long terms goals.  They provide context/story to the world, they provide experience while leveling (and gold when not), and provide some item rewards along the path.  They are a tool to present content.  As a tool, they make you engage the world in specific areas, with specific goals.  The fact that there are so many spread out across each part of land, is providing a framework by which the developers expect you to engage that land.  Pick any spot on the map.  95% chance that specific area is designed for a quest.
  • Story – The thread by which the various tools are strung together.  Legion’s story was woven into nearly everything and increased (to me) overall engagement.  In BfA, after the Siege of Lordaeron, I have seen a grand total of 2 quests that have anything to do with Sylvanas.  Lots on Jaina.
  • Dungeons – Near mandatory in Legion, though somewhat optional here.  There 2 dungeons per faction that are gated by either high reputation (7500 honored) or by a very long quest that has you run multiple dungeons.  These are also tools to present a story and specific rewards.
  • World Quests – These were supposed to be filler activities to replace daily quests.  Now you certainly have the choice of which to do, but the game is so heavily incentivized to run these for a) reputation or b) rewards, it’s becoming comical.  The structure of the WQ has also turned into Zerg-mode – in particular for the super elite enemies.  All of a sudden a zone gets 40 players of one faction show up in one spot.
  • PvP – I honestly have no idea what is going here anymore.  There was a time where PvP was so isolated that the actions therein only impacted PvP. Nowdays, it’s mixed in with PvE (War Mode) and causing all sorts of gameplay issues.  Those 40 people in the WQ for 60 seconds?  They cause War Mode to think the zone is being invaded and turns on CRZ for the other faction.  It’s like a giant pinball game.  And the rewards from PvP are given out based on breakpoints – there are no vendors.  You get what Blizz says you’re going to get.

There are more examples of this shift in design philosophy, where Blizz has opted for a scripted path for players.  You can tell from the various bits of feedback on BfA so far that people are taking issue with these artificial limitations.  Azerite gear trading is only a small, but clear example of this.  There’s an illusion of choice present because the tools presented only work in one way.

I am not against the design philosophy of targeted experiences.  That’s how any large organization works – just look at Disney or IKEA.  But there’s a difference when the targeted experience is focused on corporate objectives instead consumer enjoyment.  Finding that balance is an extremely challenging effort for any designer.  The more rigid the design is, the more fragile it becomes to player experimentation.  The WQ exploit (repeating the same one multiple times), the various UI mods, the broken AH are each individually critiques of parts of the design.  On the whole, it should also be seen as a challenge to the design philosophy – or at the very least a quest for a better understanding of overall direction.

Unplugging

I spent the weekend in Northern Ontario, on the Canadian shield.  It’s essentially pure bedrock, so that leaves mostly pine/cedar trees to grow.  While the Rockies (out west) certainly shine, I still think that proto-typical Canada is the rivers & lakes surrounded by rolling hills of pine.  I’ve got a few Tom Thompson paintings to reinforce that bias.

It was a long weekend up here, and normally I try to take the Friday off as well, given the 6 hour drive to get here.  That didn’t work out this year, and I needed to bring my laptop up.  So from 8 til about 1 I was typing and chatting away while the rest of the family was puttering around the cottage.  I managed to get a video conference going too, which honestly is a bit odd to have in a Muskoka chair, sitting on a deck with a cup of coffee.  I left to hit some golf balls shortly thereafter, and finished one large procurement on my phone on the 2nd hole.

The feeling of putting it down, and just breathing was very nice.  Sure, it was there in case I needed it, but I was able to just unplug and enjoy time with family and the great outdoors.

I’m finding it hard sometimes, with what would be a nervous habit of pulling out a phone to check on something.  Usually work related.  So to be able to spent 8 hours in a boat with my father & father-in-law, not even see the time go by, not get a single ding, and have a smile for most of it… that was more than great.  And while nearly everyone has a some piece of tech with them, we all spent a ton of time just sitting and talking and laughing.  The habit of playing cards with some, while others scroll on a tiny screen was replaced by being outside til midnight with beer and a smile.

While the irony of using technology to share this story is not lost on me, I still find it important to share stories relating to relationships without technology.  There’s a lot of good to come from putting things down, and just looking someone in the eyes.

What’s Improved

I’ve been quite critical of BfA for a few posts now, and I think it’s fair to discuss what has been improved.

Faction Ownership

It has been a very long time since there was a clear split between Alliance and Horde experiences.  WoD had a slightly different story, but they shared everything but the starting zone.  Cataclysm probably did the most here as it re-wrote most of the starting experience.

BfA has two completely separate leveling experiences both in story and in tone.  While mechanically similar, it seems like 2 separate games that eventually meet up.

Story

There are three bits here: the small moments, the patch arcs, and then the expansion arc.  There are many small bits that work well, with excellent tone and pathos.  Syp had mentioned just a couple.  I really thought that the Drustvar stories were well executed as a whole.  The Taelia quests in Tiragarde are really quite impressive, with just the right amount of humour and horror.

The patch arc is a bit more complicated in this case since it’s split between the War Effort and the Leader effort.  War Effort as a story is so-so.  Aside from the lead cinematic, there really isn’t a good reason for a lot of work to take place.  Nor is there a very good reason why an island where we are overrun 200:1 doesn’t just wipe out the various bases we try to put in.  The Leader effort though.. that’s something else.  I haven’t seen the Horde version all the way through, but I’m 99% done the Alliance one (Boralus left).  Watching the family split from the first landing, then the efforts to reconcile… that does hit a string.

Art

There is no better looking expansion than BfA – full stop.  The world building, the cut scenes, the music.  Everything is super top notch.  Even the armor sets match!  Alliance gear feels very nautical, and it’s hard to look like a TBC clown.  Possible but hard.

The main town also look amazing, and feel real.  The dungeons have an amazing look and feel to them, just the right amount of structure.  Waycrest Manor may be a pain in the butt maze from a design lens, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t feel like a haunted house.

Professions

The change to “per expansion skills” is a good one.  No need to level 600 in a skill to get access to a new expansion.  It makes the previous content even more irrelevant but that’s another topic.  The change to rank increases is also quite good.  Now everyone has rather easy access to Rank 2 skills, with Rank 3 coming from some minor level of effort – as compared to Legion.

Each profession also has a fair chunk of consumables too, meaning long-term relevance through the expansion.  The complexity we used to have in the past has been removed (I’m so-so on that part) but the intuitiveness of it is nice to see.

I am curious as to how the Scrapper works long term.

Dungeons

I like the variety of them, and the monsters within.  They each have a good pace, bosses that have somewhat interesting mechanics, and a fair slew of sub bosses within that make you pay attention on trash pulls.  I would really like to see them stay relevant for the entirety of the expansion, as they are a truly fun activity.

One of the fun bits of Legion was learning how to optimize a given run.  I’ve yet to meet the equivalent seagulls here, which is refreshing.  But there are clearly optimal paths to take and experimentation is fun.  I will say that there are a lot of knockback effects, so judicial “wall tanking” is a must in BfA.

AP Grind

It’s there, but much less demanding.  Sure it sucks not having rank 17 to get all my 2nd skill slots on Azerite gear, but the diminishing returns remove the incentive to grind for AP.  At no point am I actively hunting AP.  And honestly, once I get the 2nd skill rank, there’s no real purpose to grind AP again.  It does suffer from “plateau” syndrome where you feel weak, suddenly super strong, then weak again when you lose/gain/lose a skill due to a gear change.  But that’s an Azerite gear issue, not the AP grind.

Legendaries

The RNG from legendaries is mostly gone.  No more getting a single item that revamps the way you play your class, let alone your spec.  The single item impact is gone.  Azerite gear has replaced it, and rather than RNG, you can target specific item drops.  There’s a perception of more control… but that only really applies once you’re in Heroic dungeons.

Mission Table

Dramatically simplified and really should only ever be used for reputation adventures.  No more quality levels, no more specific pieces of gear, no more item levels.  My bags are free!!!  The interface is still horrible, but the mechanics are much improved.

Summary

The general theme of story/world building is better here than in Legion.  It looks and feels better, for the most part.  From the things listed, you can infer that there are many things that either have not changed (WQ diversity, some classes) or have gotten arguably worse (azerite gear, PvP, GCD combat, talents).  Not everything will be improved, and if MoP has shown anything, later patches can do wonders to add/modify mechanics that need change.