Archive for the 'The Burning Crusade' Category

What makes raiding fun?

I was just about trying to research what possible reasons where why prominent and successful World of Warcraft raiding groups disbanded, such as Death & Taxes (disbanded), Risen (disbanded), Nightmares Asylum (moved to Age of Conan), Flying Hellfish (moved to Age of Conan). But there are more movements too. On my backwater server the server first raid group disbanded with the core leadership joining a top 10 group.

But rather than actually execute the program of trying to understand what happened there, leave the obvious comments such as AoC came around, or that the wait was too long, or that the stepping up from the Black Temple to Sunwell was too much even for the hardcore, or that it’s just been a long long run with WoW, I’d instead like to pull up a quote of a Death and Taxes member after they disbanded, posted on the WoW official forum:

I miss 40 man raids.

Being social with 40 people > “feeling more important in a smaller group”

Thanks

NPD 2007 PC retail sales in

NPD data for PC retail sales in 2007 is in (via Gamasutra). It shows only WoW and WoW TBC as MMO retail box top sellers. All other titles in the top ten are offline titles. Sims2 and it’s expansions are still going strong again.

Retail box sales are down again after a 1% recovery in 2006.

None of the titles I enjoyed, like BioShock, Witcher, or even LotRO made top 10, but the first two came out mid-year and Witcher for example just may have a bigger market in Europe than the US. 

Again this does not include digital download sales, and no alternative revenue models, subscription fees etc.

I really wonder how big the digital download segment is, given that for example both NCSoft (GuildWars etc) and Steam (Orange box titles etc) gear towards online sale of their titles once you have one of their games installed.

I really wonder when NPD will be able to give more direct market development estimates that include digital download sales, etc. I think they announced that they’d do that a few years ago but it clearly hasn’t happened so far.

Game devs learning from gamers (yes, I know it’s hard), part II

Good communication between gamers and devs

The original intend of the series of posts is to discuss the learning devs
can get from gamers, and look at the difficulty involved in the process.

A good chunk of it got sidetracked in the specifics of the first post in the
pair, so I don’t actually mean these to be read as a sequence. The first will
muddle the clarity of this one. And this one doesn’t want to really touch the
specific terrain that the first one did.

Here I want to give positive examples and discuss more what gets in the way
on the player’s side.

I want to be rather concrete and take concrete examples:

The trash debate in WoW raiding

An interesting example of the interplay of game developer and gamers is the question of “trash” in raiding.

First a quick explanation of trash. Trash is a colloquial word for mobs that are in a raid instance that are not special named mobs. They typically occupy the path between named bosses and may or may not respawn after a given amount of time.

In TBC raiding especially in the beginning, there was a lot of arguing and complaining by gamers about trash. Sniplets like “too much”, “annoying”, “time sink”, “respawn too fast” would dominate the debate.

In this debate we did have the devs comment on their choices. Jeff Kaplan
(“Tigole”) who is lead raid designer of WoW had the following to say to the
trash complaints of the gamers:

”Trash” Concerns

Equally interesting yet non-epic-dropping non-bosses (or “Trash” as he community likes to call it) has been of concern lately on these forums. In all of our 25 person raid zones we’ve made a number of bug fixes and tuning adjustments. For example, the trash should be significantly easier to clear in most cases – and take less time. Also, we’ve lengthened the time between respawn on a lot of the trash. Yes, trash will respawn in some cases. It’s a pacing mechanic and one that works well when tuned correctly. For example, the trash before the Prophet Skeram or the trash before Attumen the Huntsmen or the Maiden of Virtue works well. You get a couple of tries on the boss, and if you fail, you spend a short time re-clearing. Yes, there are cases of the trash respawning too fast or the trash being too difficult or too lengthy. Those are the cases we hope to fix. We’ve also fixed some bugs that were allowing the trash to respawn after the boss for a certain area was dead.

Basically Kaplan was confirming the gamer’s observation about the scaling of
trash and they responded to it. He also includes the motivation for trash
respawns, a mechanism that not all gamers feel is really necessary. But
overall Kaplan’s post reflects a desire to understand the concerns of the
gamers and make an effort to explain the function of the mechanism in the
game.

Later on during BlizzCon when they unveiled the plan for the second WoW
expansion, Kaplan presented a video of a fictitious raid instance that
consisted only of bosses without any trash between them. It was a fun way to
display the need for trash to create a build-up to boss mobs and make them
special and also make the context more realistic.

But at the same time Kaplan admits to more questionable trash designs,
specifically the magic immune trash after Curator and the length of the clear
up to Aran.

In many ways the exchange on Trash in WoW raiding has very good
qualities. The devs do see the core concern and make adjustments.

The video is of course more humorous than real part of the debate. I don’t
recall people really calling for no trash, mostly no respawns.

Kaplan explains the issue pacing. This doesn’t invalidate the gamer’s
observation that trash respawns aren’t really a fun mechanism, rather they
are a mechanism in place to achieve something necessary (pacing) in lieu of
having yet a better more fun mechanism.

In many ways I think this is a good example of gamer to dev communication and
a good example where game designers were open to observation of gamers about
a design. And the designers learned and adjusted.

In many ways this has qualities of good dev/gamer interaction.

That doesn’t mean that the phrase “Equally interesting yet non-epic-dropping
non-bosses” became a running joke in the community. Nor does it mean that all
comments were constructive.

“It’s so loud I can’t hear you”

A very real problem is indeed the noise floor and the sheer amount of
feedback that devs get nowadays. Another problem is that the gamers may have
sensible requests but they cannot be met easily for whatever reason (balance,
technical, time).

One of the biggest problem of raiding is how to accommodate diverse time
commitments. People often ask “what is the intended minimal time commitment
for raiding” even hardcores discuss how to “reduce the time investment“. Yet
of course the developers are torn between making raiding that withstands the
onslaught of raiders that will raid 6 hours a night 7 nights a week, and
raiders that would love to raid 3 hours a night 2 nights a week. That’s 42
hours a week vs 6 hours a week or a solid 7-fold factor in
time-investment. What is a proper mechanisms for pacing raiding that would
serve both settings and everything between?

The real question is not if the 6 hours a week players are slackers or
lazy (“free epix crowd”). It’s how to design a game that allows all people to experience content
and gameplay that in principle they enjoy.

A big problem is in fact spite. Some of the 42 hour folks in fact do not want
the 6 hour folks to see the same content. Why? “Because they didn’t deserve
it, they didn’t work for it”

So far there is still a prevailing attitude that buys into this spite. This
isn’t necessarily dev to gamer communication. It’s also gamer to gamer
communication.

“Carebear” is a player who does not enjoy adverserial player-to-player
play. Rather than this choice being neutral, some players will seek a
derogatory like “carebear” to display their disrespect for different
preferences.

In terms of balance some players will want to indeed have content to be tuned
exactly to their specific need, while at the same time have it tuned to make
it harder for others. This more overtly happens with respect to PVP where one
class may call for another classes nerf, and it may be hard to distinguish
the legitimate concerns compared to the ones that actually seek imbalancing
ones.

Case in point are hunters in arena. Hunters said as early as March 2007 that
hunters are grossly disadvantaged in WoW arena play. Only late in 2007 did
detailed statistics surface that indeed did show hunters least represented in
all top ranked teams. Only then did the hunter class see rather drastic
changes to their gameplay (see my post on deading the deadzone).

But of course the forums were filled with how hard other classes had it and
they were also filled with hunters who derided hunters who tried to point out
the problem as whiners. Even when the statistic appeared there were some
arguing that there just wasn’t skilled hunters and the distribution was
fine. Some of those were hunters.

For practical matters, the gaming community provides a tremendously noisy
environment where legitimate concerns are covered between lot of other not so
legitimate things.

In PVE the spite principle also holds. For example a raid group may have
passed a stage, or an attunement. Some of these raid group will heavily
complain when if attunements are lifted or content is retuned, even though
they long left that content behind. So remarkably the changes do in no way
impact their actual gameplay. It only impacts their self-perception.

For example in WoW TBC when it cames out both attunements and comsumables
were way out of tune. Despite that fact there were advocates for the
situation. Famously one of the top-tier guilds argued heavily on the Elitist
Jerks forum that the consumables situation wasn’t so bad and provided
screenshots to supposedly support the point. The shots however showed that
most players had multiple consumables on them, which clearly for that very
specific group was acceptable. But more importantly the out of tune state of
consumable favored groups like Death and Taxes. They could race away from the
rest easier because the rest had a harder time meeting the consumable
requirements.

The same was with attunements, even now Death and Taxes argues against
lifting attunements they have long passed on the Elitist Jerks board and clearly it now mostly
serves to slow down groups that are behind them. The easy argument is that
they are “slackers” otherwise and didn’t “deserve it”.

So some players do not only want a game design to be good for them, they also
want a game design to be bad for others. However clearly a good game design
does not cater towards spite of that kind. The consumable situation was
rectified and some attunement (though not all) was lifted.

I had a while back liked when Kaplan actually commented against the lack of
accessibility of raid game design
. Again a sign of insight into the troubles
here. For me this is a sign that a game designer if he has open ears and mind
can hear what’s in trouble even despite the substantial noise floor we have
and make good decisions regarding a game design.

The great Tank Shortage in WoW

Anybody who tries to do any 5-mans at any levels knows this problem. Well I didn’t know because I only know my server but reading the web-sphere (see here or here or here for examples) makes it clear that it is by no means just my server.

WoW currently suffers a rather extreme tank shortage.

There are many factors to this:

  • Arena: It’s fast, fun and rewarding. And it can’t be done sensibly in tank spec (or so most people believe)
  • Tank numbers of raiding: Noone raids with 5 tanks which would be the natural ratio to 5-man content.
  • Raid tanks don’t need 5-mans: Raiding tanks get consistent loot inflow from raiding.
  • Raid tanks don’t want 5-mans with PuGs: They also have a support structure of reliable people to do 5-man content with. Why go through the pain of pugging for them? Why accept a repair bill when you don’t have to.
  • 5-man normals do not prepare for 5-man heroics: We pugged a warrior who had most bold pieces for heroic ramparts. We had to send him home with the gentle advise to get felsteel pieces crafted because he was unhealable on trash pulls. 5-man normal drops should properly prepare tanks for heroics but they don’t. Druids too would want the clefthoof set to be viable. Good news is that tanks are easier to gear up than other some classes, but it’s still getting in the way.
  • Heroic content absolutely requires a full tank spec: Hybrid tanks can tank 5-mans at some point. Tanking heroics however remains a tank spec gig for very long.
  • Respeccing costs time and gold and change in action bars: There are 3 hurdles to respeccing a tank class. 1) Gold. This isn’t massive for hardcore players, but it’s too much for those who log on to play not farm. Gold deflation with WotLK may fix this. 2) Time. Trip to IF. Not huge, but still. 3) Action bars: Don’t forget to buy those skills again (more gold) and reorder your action bars again.
  • Tanks and healers have to mob up the stupidity of DPS: The amount of crazy nukiness hasn’t gone down since WoW launched. I think it’s up. DPS seems to expect that the moment a tank touches any number of mobs they can go crazy on the main target (or sometimes any target). Tank has to taunt. If you taunt every 10 seconds you know you are in with a bad bunch
  • Tanks and healers get the blame: Reasons for complaints are (1) lack of gear, in part Blizz’s design makes gearing hard (2) healer dead, but CC could have protected the healer as well in shakey aggro situations (3) DPS dies, but if DPS died then DPS or healer is responsible.
  • DPS is fun, tanking is not: I often ask tank classes who are not tank spec why they won’t consider respeccing. Simply generic answer is that they hate tanking with a gusto and love them DPS.

Is help on the way?

  1. Deathknight. DPSing Tank. Will it work? Will it not obsolete the 3 other tank classes. Or will the 3 other tank classes turn into DPSing tanks come WotLK with the new set of talents? 4 viable tank classes could work. If however the DPS build is more fun than the tank build of the DK or 3 other classes lose relative viability, you look for even more no-tank pain.
  2. Respecs: No word on this. Blizz has said they like specs to matter. And they do. People can’t get tanks for months now.
  3. Aggro play style: Blizz has announced that they want to add an aggro indicator to the default UI. But even now groups with aggro meters like omen or KTM overnuke like crazy. So will this work any better?
  4. Gearing: Tanking always was gear heavy, but now it’s more intense than ever. No patch yet has helped reduce the normal->heroic gap (unless one counts PVP, and tanks never return) while the badges help reduce the heroic->25-man gap.

WoW Class Design: Hunters

I decided to review hunters. I can’t say that I feel it will be a wholely balanced review, simply because I care about hunters too much. My main and first level 60 and 70 character was a hunter, it was my main raiding character for WoW 1.0 and TBC and I have tried pretty much everything with the hunter until late spring 07 when I stopped WoW for a while.

What is probably good is that I know other classes rather well too. I have 6 of 9 classes at 70 and I have been raid leading extensively hence contending with all classes at high level.

I don’t play my hunter much anymore, even since I returned. To understand why let me try to give a sort of post-mortem or rather my personal current review of the Hunter class design.

History

Historically hunters have seen two major revamps: Patch 1.7 (Hunter class review patch) and Patch 2.0.1 (TBC prep patch, which included all class changes). The reason why 2.0.1 was a more drastic change for hunters is evident by the fact that a main stat mechanism (the AGI to attack power scaling) got changed. That this was no small feet showed by the fact that Blizzard touched many items to adjust for this change.

Going mentally back to 1.7, hunters had a reputation for being useless in groups. In part that was unjustified. Rather hunters had it easier to accidentally cause havoc. One is hunters inherent need for space. The other is the fact that hunter pets are on defensive (not passive) by default and that pet handling is not so simple and added another add potential to the mix. Furthermore, traps were not as trivial as sheep and not as known as sap. Hence hunters had the reputation of bringing no crowd control and causing wipes. Part of this was based on what happened in groups the other part was just lack of using existing abilities (like consistently putting traps down). Traps were hard to use mid-combat, and required feign death+retrap acrobatics. Early on pets didn’t show as frames in the party making them for practical purposes unhealable, and additionally early pet survivability was rather low.

By 1.7 the hunter situation got markedly better. Pets showed on party frames, they got more survivability. Hunters got a generic buff with 1.7 which they needed and time was very good for that patch period. In fact overall hunters were fine until late AQ40 and Naxx raiding, when their DPS couldn’t keep up with other classes (even hybrid option classes like DPS warriors). Warlocks suffered similar issues. Both these classes began to being benched to make space for other classes. A distinct limiting factor for hunters was the lack of mana regens, as well as scaling of efficiency with itemization.

Beside the mana issue, itemization also led to another criticism of the hunter community: Lack of weapon selection and the lack of weapons meaning much in terms of upgrade relative to what melee weapons meant for physical melee dps, or subjectively even wand upgrades (raid level wants often read higher dps values than top end ranged weapons). But mostly it turned out that slow weapons were best, and that itemization didn’t deliver slow weapons often. By that effect a crossbow from Blackwing Lair (second raid instance) remained the best weapon through the full next instance and only got challangers late in Naxxramas. While new weapons dropped, due to the nature of shot rotations, they turned out to not be actual upgrades, certainly also contributing to the relative drop of hunters in the raiding game.

For this reason some theorycrafting hunters called for a new shot rotation in which diverse weapon speeds could be meaninful upgrades, and also that weapon DPS more closely represents what damage one will deal with the weapon.

Back then a hunter rotation was dominated by three spells, aimed shot, multi-shot and possibly arcane shot. The bracket of the rotation would be the cooldown of aimed shot, and the other shots would be multishot when available. Hunters get automatic attack shots (auto-shots). These are on a steady rhythm but are delayed when another shot is cast. In the old mechanism an auto-shot that was coming up while aimed was casting would chase the aimed shot immediately after it released. The reason why slow weapons were best (~ 3 second cast time) was because it matched the aimed-shot cast time best, hence minimal time delay for an auto-shot. With haste effect (that speed up weapons) the slow BWL crossbow came very close to hardly losing any auto-shot time, while a very fast bow at 1.5 second would lose a full auto-shot damage each cycle.

However the good part of this rotation was that the timing was spell-cast-time and global cooldown time driven. Because the auto-shot chaser was automatic to aimed shot there was no real way to squeeze oneself out of the auto-shot damage.

I personally felt that the shot rotation itself was good. The real problem was that itemization didn’t match the mechanism. A solution would have been to tune most weapons around 3.0 weapon speed (plus or minus) for raiding, and have a few fast weapons for interrupting.

Patch 2.0.1 and TBC

By the time guilds got to 4 horsemen it was rather blatant that hunters needed changes to help them in PVE endgame. Many boss kill shots showed 1-2 hunters and 2-3 warlocks at most, when balanced would mean 5 each. I certainly was excited that on paper the announced changes for 2.0.1 addressed hunter concerns somehow.

First off there was a new aspect in the leveling progression: Aspect of the Viper, finally an inherent mechanism to manage mana return. Second was the announced steady shot, advertised as the new boss of shot rotations. In turn aimed shot was declared to never having been intended in shot rotati0ns. Now when Aimed shot fired, it would no longer chase an auto-shot, but rather it would restart the auto-shot timer (hence add weapon-speed delay).

Additionally pets got another survivability boost, and they would finally show up in the default raid interface.

On paper this looked possibly good. In practice it turned out that Aspect of the Viper had too low mana return to alleviate the mana problem. The second problem was that another aspect, Hawk, combined with it’s talented improved version meant a drastic difference in DPS. When hunters started raiding it became blatantly obvious quickly that in order to keep up with other damage dealing classes, we could not leave Aspect of the Hawk, in fact we needed to pot heavily and chain chug mana pots to keep up with mana using classes who still had their mana return functions functional. Raid DPS of hunters before 2.1 was woeful. On the up side, the new 5-man heroic and 10-man instance design encouraged CC and make traps attractive. By allowing retrapping in combat, hunters desirability in 5-man became appropriate.

Still during leveling arcane shot, which was made to scale with gear, was nerfed down. Some argue that this may have been exactly the damage that hunters then missed to compete, but I’m not convinced.

At the same time first arena results came in. The results were stunning. Hunters were the least played class in arenas and suffered lower average rankings than any other class. Hunters weren’t just in trouble in PVE, they were also in trouble in PVP (even though they had a reputation to the contrary).

2.1

Blizzard was busy to complete lots of things, fix the consumables situation, complete black temple, retune the raiding game. Hunters did get a DPS buff. Before 2.1 a deep marksman build was the best DPS build to be had, with BM close. Survival tree was lackluster even for the low hunter standards. Not surprisingly there was a buff to both BM and Survival in 2.1. The survival tree got extra mana return options, and more damage potential, the BM tree got extra pet damage and pet survivability. Pets before 2.1 were very vulnerable to any AoE and finally got a talent to help mitigate that damage. Mend pet got significantly buffed allowing hunters to be more proactive in keeping their pets alive while not losing DPS. It used to require channeling hence taking hunter out of damage dealing completely. These were all good changes.

At the end, the tree that didn’t get buffed remained at it’s gimped state. Mana return was still an issue though, as only survival hunters got some extra mana return.

The real issue in many ways was however something that is somewhat unexpected: The shot rotation. The change of aimed to steady shot as the core spammable shot had some interesting implications. Steady shot has a 1.5 cast time (affected by haste). And since the cast time is so short and one can chain steady shots a new phenomena became apparent: How auto shot was implemented internally. Auto shot, while firing automatically, has an internal cast time of 0.5 seconds. This is to prevent hunters from auto-shooting while running. How the effect of this is that if a hunter spams steady-shot without pausing, they actually prevent auto-shots from firing completely. In fact any action, also a multi-shot or arcane shot can delay an auto-shot and it turns out that the timing of all these shots has very significant impact on the DPS output.

What’s more is that the relative timing of these shots matter, rather than global cooldown or long channeling times. I.e. if steady shot is on 1.3 and auto-shot is on 2.45 the relative difference from 2*1.3 to 2.45 in this example, which is just 0.15 seconds is what the player has to time for.

The result was that people with significant lag had very poor dps. Also people who just didn’t know how to precisely weave their shots for optimal DPS did suffer a substantial drop-off. Hunters inadvertently became the only class where sub-second timing because the crux of their damage dealing potential.

Soon types of work-arounds were found, mostly in form of shot rotation macros, which would try to prevent the hunter from accidentally “clipping” an auto-shot. These macros were sub-optimal as they relied on a server response to go to the next stage. For high lag hunters they still lost DPS using these macros. To perform optimally hunters needed to consistently weave their shots at these tight timing levels. Playing a hunter in raid at high level meant playing guitar hero on steriods for 4+ hours straight. And that still mostly to just compete with other classes who’d have 1.5 seconds minimum to consider their next button, often longer.

Basically what happened is that in an attempt to solve the Aimed shot rotation, a new rotation was found that had many pathologies that didn’t occur at all before. The fact that auto-shot had a cast time was inconsequential in an aimed shot rotation. So was latency and timing, as the auto-shot chaser was guaranteed and aimed shot was not chainable.

This is the mechanisms hunters have since 2.0.1 and it’s unchanged till today. I personally considered that mechanism broken the moment I realized how it functioned. It cannot be intended that in a RPG based setup, tight timing matters. Clearly this is unintended, just as the dominance of slow weapons in the old rotation was. But at least the old rotation wasn’t broken in the sense that it disadvantaged lagged players significantly. Also while in the old system people could perform better and worse depending on certain decisions, even a not very well informed hunter could perform sensibly. In the new system uninformed hunters (which are most players) will hopelessly underperform by default.

An attempt to illustrate the complexity of the shot rotation can be found on the EJ board. However, you have to add that haste changes with procs throughout the game, making these timing additionally unpredictable.

2.2

The main thing to mention about 2.2 is the change to Aspect of the Viper. It’s mana return utility has been improved. Otherwise 2.2 contains mostly nerfs to CC options in PVP, like duration of freezing trap and scare beast in PVP.

However, this is now 6+ months since the first arena results are in. Here are the current ones:

From Vhairi’s Sketchpad. Hunters are consistently the least played class in top ranked teams in all categores (2v2, 3v3, 5v5). One has to additionally consider that hunters are among the most popular classes to play still.

Looking at 2.3

Hunters are announced to get a ranged dispel on arcane, and mild scaling buffs to traps and stings. Unfortunately the scaling buffs are inconsequential. The range dispel has the potential to be both overpowered and useless.

The real issue is something different. Hunters have more positional constraints than other classes. The dead zone is a close proximity area in which the hunter cannot use ranged attacks (and not necessarily melee ones). In melee hunters are comparatively weak. So the main concern for opposing classes is simply to get close. The main concern for hunters is to keep or gain distance.

The dead zone is a brilliant concept and in my view one of the best concept in the hunter class design. It makes space matter. The real problem for hunters is not that space matters more to them than other classes, the problem is that we don’t have sufficient escapes. In order to keep distance a hunter usually has to move, this does reduce our damage potential significantly, which is very good, but the problem there is that in fact we do have insufficient methods to guarantee that we can even move.

What is needed to help hunters is more control over space. Now since 2.0.1 most CC options of hunters in PVP have been nerfed. This even though hunters are as bad off in PVP as they were when things first surfaced.

A second related issue is LoS, another great concept. All ranged casters have to handle LoS in arenas due to bridges and pillars. However, hunters have to combine the LoS issue with their space constraints. That is if a melee runs around the pillar to survive, we cannot just close in on the pillar to reduce the running radius to get the opponent into LoS, we additionally will be not able to deal damage the moment the opponent does get into LoS. Pillar running is additionally bothering for hunters. The problem isn’t LoS, it’s that gaining LoS doesn’t gain attack potential or ranged CC for hunters generically. Again, hunters need an extra control in that situation or pillar running against a hunter will remain effective.

None of the PVP buffs for 2.3 address any of these issues, hence it doesn’t appear that hunters will be any better of in arena PVP the next major content patch cycle.

Summary

Hunters are currently:

  • Playing with a broken shot rotation mechanism, that is latency and micro-timing sensitive.
  • Need additional ways to control space to be competitive in arena PVP but there is no help in sight.

Currently the hunter design has major issues and need fixing of what’s actually broken. Unfortunately the first makes endgame raiding not fun as hunter, the latter makes endgame PVP not fun. This may well explain why my hunter (and former main) of almost 2 years is parked and occasionally gets to farm materials.

It’s sad really because one core concept of WoW hunter design: – space sensitivity (death zone, trap positioning, flare spotting), reduced damage while moving, dangerous if left unbothered static – is brilliant.

Will Wrath of the Lich King bring social raiding back?

This in a nutshell is one of the core questions I have for the second WoW expansion: “Will social raiding return?”. There are really two parts to this question. One is “Will the game design allow social raiding comparable to WoW 1.0 or even more so?”. This is a game design question and one of decision making and learning for Blizzard’s designers. The second is “Will people who have left because raiding wasn’t designed to be accessible to them anymore in TBC return?” This really is a question of how much damage was done with the current design and tuning.

Rather than talking again about past content, lets give examples of content that would not have the kinds of symptoms we have now:

  • 10 man content is optional for 25-man raid groups.
  • 10 man content is on half-week or shorter lockouts.
  • 10 man content is split into size blocks that can be cleared in less than 3 hours after all is learned.
  •  All content is tuned to allow for minor mistakes by individuals.
  • Tune content not on peak gear but on average gear, possibly without pots.
  • An entry level 25-man instance exists that is easy for veterans and is a good learning ground for newcomers.
  • Attunements are designed having typical raid group churn and rerecruiting/regearing needs in mind. I.e. Attunements should not stop an existing and progressing group from reentering content if they lose a small number of members and have new hirees to bring.
  • Design content to allow for fluctuations in raid composition.
  • Optional content is good.
  • Well designed strategies for early bosses should be explainable in raid chat or web posts in brevity.

What’s interesting about this list of course is that in some cases original WoW had this right already and somehow it got ditched for TBC. However these are just the bare basics of social raiding. Social raiding is characterized by heterogeneous groups (needing accessiblity time-wise, flexibility in raid composition and tolerance in encounter sensitivity to individual error). It’s also characterized by low attendance and fluctuation in individuals attending and it’s optimized around happiness of the participants (fair raid slot distribution (no benching if specific classes if at all possible) and flat loot distribution (no favored players to optimize performance) and not speed of progression.

Luckily if one hears the recent numerous appearances of devs, one can be hopeful that at least the design side will improve. Naxxramas sounds like the entry 25-man instance (without prerequisites) that TBC raiding so badly needed. They talk about attunement and how it was too harsh. But for the tuning and design of everything else, we’ll have to see. And then we will see if people come back to raiding who realized that TBC raiding wasn’t designed form them anymore.

Catching up: The leveling curve, alt play and the hurdles

In my very first post I quoted from Rob Pardo’s Austin Conference keynote as transcribed on Raph Koster’s blog. Back then I was interested in how the WoW designers thought about their customers with respect to gaming behavior (beginner vs core, doughnuts etc).

Now I want to cite a different passage from the same talk but this time the interest is the leveling game, alt play and the time it takes for a new leveler or alt leveler to catch up to his level cap and raid attuned friends. One caveat here. I’ll assume that end-game raiding is the primary desirable activity for the leveler. This is important to note because time invested for attunements only affects them.

With that let’s hear Pardo on the leveling curve:

Pacing: the bridge between depth and accessibility. Once you have all those deep features, then you have to figure out how you get from the newbie experience to that core experience. For WoW, that’s done through the levelling curve. When I hire designers for Blizzard, one of my pitfall questions that I ask is “why do you think WoW was successful?” One of the hidden answers is the levelling curve — if you extend the levelling curve too far, it becomes a barrier. You hit a levelling wall. Our walls are shorter and there are less of them.

The short levelling curve also encourages people to reroll and start over. We had some hardcore testers who would level to 60 in a week. There was much concern within the company. But I would tell them that we cannot design to that guy. You have to let him go. He probably won’t unsubscribe, he’s going to hit your endgame content or he’ll have multiple level 60s. In games with tough levelling curves, it discourages you from starting over.

Now TBC has increased the level cap. There are new newbie zones, and there are some minor changes to the leveling game, very few quests added, but a number of flight paths which at least help curb traveling time.

Having almost completed another leveling act (will be my third level 70, my first releveled from scratch, started very recently). Time to get to 60 (I have five level 60 characters and one more close) is cut short on efficient leveling by about roughly 12% thanks to leveling experience, flight paths and the occasional quest. Overall leveling from 1-60 is not substantially faster and new characters will still take about the same time to level their first. However taking the total time 1-70 it takes around 150% of what it took to get to 60 efficiently. (All these numbers assume fairly efficient leveling, no more than 8 days to 60 and 12 days to 70).

Hence the time investment to get to 70 is substantial. In addition, questing has actually gotten harder. Why? Because in zones 20-55, zones are virtually empty. There is no grouping help or cursory relief by some trash mobs being cleared and access to quest results being faster. More time is spend clearing trash that surround quest goals than before.

Instancing from 20-69 is generally much harder for the same reason. People in a certain level range are too scarce as people are spread out over a larger range of levels.

Overall I’d say that the hurdle that Pardo has been talking about as success of WoW 1.0 start to appear in TBC just from the lack of retuning the leveling time to about the same time-frame it took to get from 1-60. There is a lack of extra quests (a handful per zone at least would have helped leveling speed, at best there is one occasionally. Exception is a new quest hub in Ashenvale, which new levelers may, however miss if they don’t level in Kalimdor early.

Entry to the raiding game still requires the lengthy Karazhan attunement chain. Comparing to MC attunement, or ZG access this is an additional contradiction to the success model that Pardo describes (and apparently forgot to enforce for TBC design). While on paper there is open access content, in reality Karazhan attunement is completely mandatory. Virtually no raid group will take on people who can raid Gruul, Magtheridon, Serpentshrine Cavern or Tempest Keep without being Karazhan attuned.

Basically the leveling game doesn’t seem to be in tune with the original principle any more. There is a stark difference in leveling structure between the new starter zones, the old leveling content 20-60 and Outlands and to rescue the leveling game there needs to be content added in the range 20-60, to (a) increase the pace to bring the new leveling time to level cap closer to the old one and (b) add variety for leveling.

I for one don’t see myself leveling another character to 70 from 1. If level cap is raised to 80 and there isn’t some serious retuning of the leveling curve, there may be no catching up.