Monthly Archives: September 2011

To Nerf or Not to Nerf?

When Blizzard announced their intention to nerf t12 in preparation for t13, I immediately though, “Oh thank god.” No anger, no rants, no sadness, merely a soothing sense of relaxation and peace.

What the hell?

Peace?!? Soothing relaxation? A tension I didn’t even KNOW was there was pushing on me. The tension of progression. Snapping at my husband. Ignoring chores I needed to do. Being unhappy and frustrated with my hobby. I didn’t notice that it was there until it was suddenly gone. Why do I care if we wipe on Aly for two nights this week, we have downed her once pre-nerf so post nerf, we got it in the bag.

I think the most indicative thing of what this raiding tier had become for me was the replacement of a glyph. Seems like such a small thing right? I replaced the Glyph of Fear with the Glyph of Shadow Bolt. Such a tiny thing. But I had been looking for ways to push my dps just a bit farther… Just a bit… Enough to nerf my cc and utility to eek out 200 more dps. The thing is, I *hate* those DPS. I hate them. I love utility. And I really loved my utility when I had more of it. Why was I pushing my dps? Because my raid wasn’t progressing.

Casual doesn’t mean what it used to. It used to be that casual meant just a few hours a week. Now casual means medium levels of gear and people who barely know how to stay out of the fire. When Blizzard made raids more accessible, they had people who didn’t know how to raid, raiding and loving it. But now those same people expect to raid, and they can’t. In Cataclysm a raid can’t carry 2-5 people and be fine. Everyone needs to carry their own weight.

Instead of running with whoever you wanted to, now you have to run with people who know how to raid, and possibly hurt the feelings of those who are less good. For those who would jump in and say, “L2P NOOB!” Remember, WoW has always worked to cater to the path of least resistance. What is the path of least resistance when it comes to learning new, painful boss fights, to not keyboard turn, and how to play their class to the fullest to overcome the challenge or just saying “Bah, this is too hard. I liked Wrath better” and canceling their account? The 1 million subscriber dip points to the truth.

Some people are saying “OMG this is unprecedented!!!” Hello, I would like to introduce you to the ICC Buff. Remember the one that started at 5% and grew to 30% over the course of a few months? Instead of a slowly growing buff to the players to make the fights easier, they are just nerfing the bosses across the board.

This brings me to my point. Blizzard knows. This is a company who has built their entire business on balance and stats. They *know* how to balance. They do it more than any other company. I would bet every piece of gold I have that they have massive amounts of data flowing in on everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have huge files where they can look at every single classes’ dps on every boss in t11 and t12. We use WoWLogs, which is close, but flawed. We run sims that are best estimations. They have the real deal.

They know exactly how many players have been in Rag’s room. They know how many guilds have downed him. They know the percentages. They know what people are dying to. They know what fight people are by passing. They know everything.

People on these blogs and forums talk about the difficulty being fine, talk about how the nerf is too much, too soon, they talk about how well their casual guild is doing on heroics… Wait, what? I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but if your guild is on heroic modes, you are NOT CASUAL. My guild is casual. No attendance requirements, no spec requirements, no “stacking” to get the best buffs and we are 6/7. But even without my guild, only 6 guilds on my entire server have downed Rags. Only 6. And only 2 of them are 25 man guilds.

Wait, before you say, “Oh well your server just sucks.” I agree, it does. We are ranked 164 in the US servers. I thought, well that makes sense… OH BUT WAIT. THERE ARE 241 SERVERS. That means almost 80 servers are below us. 80 servers with HOW MANY PLAYERS? Including my old server. Including the other server I used to play on. I always thought we were the far end of the universe, apparently we aren’t! We are on the low end, but not near as bad as I thought.

Blizzard knows. They have the numbers to back up their decision. It may be different on your server or in your guild, but the WoW world at large is struggling and not seeing progression. If the end game is where the game really begins, shouldn’t more people see it?

They tried a valiant effort with Cataclysm to return to the harder style of Burning Crusade, but you can’t put spilled milk back in the jug. Players got used to raiding in Wrath. Players enjoyed raiding in Wrath. Players are leaving in droves because raiding in Cata isn’t nearly as fun. And Blizzard surely has the numbers to prove it and back it up.

LfNm for PST

Raiding is in a hard way right now. And everyone is speculating as to why. Then recommending answers. For what must be the 3rd or 4th time today I saw a blog post on “how to fix raiding” that immediately bounded off into rather large changes.

I shook my head, as this person clearly had only a passing grasp with game design. One of the big rules of game design is meeting player expectation. Players come to the game expecting something. As a designer, you have to meet their expectations. You can’t just start one way and shift 90ft to the right whenever you want. The player may not follow you.

So, as a game designer, how does one identify what is “wrong” with raiding and then how do we speculate how to fix it?

First, identify “good” raiding.

This is a bit difficult, as everyone has a different opinion of “good”. So let’s look at what we have. I will list the raids I have experience with.

Burning Crusade: Everything but Sunwell. From Kara 10 mans to Black Temple Warlock tanking on Illiadan.

Wrath: ICC, Ulduar, and Naxx. 10 and 25, for all 3.

Cataclysm: 25 for BoT, TotFW, and BWD, and 10 for Firelands.

Okay, so now that we have that, I will say that I liked ICC/Naxx/Kara best of all of those raids. Everything else aside, those are simply the ones I enjoyed most.

Step One:

What went right in the old raids?

1. Running Old Raids – Blizzard has shown they would like us to run old raids. Weekly quests, not allowing tokens to be purchased, etc etc. They want this to be our “play” night raid. Burning Crusade did this better than Wrath though, because there were no 5 mans to gear up in. Every week, raiders were back in Kara. Regardless what people say about running the old stuff, it made it easier to go back and farm that item that might have been missed, or to train new raiders while running mildly older stuff with overgeared people.

2. Achievements – Okay, so BC didn’t have achievements, but there were so many weeks I remember raiding just for the achievements. Also it is worth noting this is not a good reason for everyone. In Wrath though, it was possible, and in fact happened often where you would get an achievement without actually *trying*. Not all achievements should be like that, but having some would remind people they are there.

3. Balance of progression – In BC I remember when I realized our 25 man guild took about 2 nights to get a boss down for the first time. But once we had it down, it stayed down. In Wrath, some of the more complex bosses took multiple nights, but as always, once it went down, it stayed down. In FL it seems like having a boss down doesn’t mean we are more likely to have it on “farm” later. In fact weeks can pass between the first down and the second down.

4. Overgearing the encounter – Some might consider this “cheating” the fight, but really what it is, is playing an RPG. This is a core game design truth in RPGs. The player can put sufficient effort into one thing and do that one thing well enough, that it allows them to over power the enemy. In both BC and Wrath there was a way to generally get gear over what your guild’s current progression was. This allowed you to be more useful when running that progression. This really worked best in the Wrath 10 vs. 25 model.

5. Split gear between 10 and 25. Everyone hated it. The fact that gear was so much better in 25 vs 10 mans made 10 man guilds feel like second class citizens. Also things like the legendary was limited to 25. Making it seem like Blizzard was saying “only people who raid 25 are real raiders.” BUT this also allowed Over gearing. It also really only worked when considering that 10 and 25 were separate lockouts. All those itemization issues we have in Cataclysm would be much less painful.

6. The ability to carry – Not the idea that a raid can have 2-5 dead weights and still pull of heroic modes, but rather that a raid can have 2-5 deadweights and do most of the normal mode. In ICC it was arguable that until Sindragosa, a raid of 20 could pretty easily knock it out. In Burning Crusade it was really only Illidan, Archimonde, and Vashji that gave guilds with “not great” players trouble. (At least on my servers.) Why is this important? Because we want to raid with our friends, NOT with elitist jerks who min-max and do everything perfectly. I would rather raid with people I know irl than with people I have never met.  The ability to carry less awesome players meant we could play with who we wanted and still do the things we wanted.

Step 2:

What went wrong?

1. Not enough bosses. I know guilds who could get all of the t11 down in a single night of 4 hour raiding… then they were left with sitting about for a week. The raids were smaller, and more manageable, but overall there have been fewer bosses. At this point we have 21 bosses. At this point in Wrath we had 33 bosses, PLUS an extra tier before we hit the final raid. Now if one thinks about 10 v 25 mans, we actually have 21 bosses versus 66. That’s a THIRD of the content.

2. Holy paladins is this tier hard. No wait, not hard, FRUSTRATING. We know we wiped on Atramedes because the person hitting the gong in searing flame was a bit too slow and the tank had too much sound. One person stand too far out on Magmaw? Gonna wipe. One person miss the jump on Conclave, start running back. The fights have too many instant kill mechanics and too many if one person isn’t paying complete attention the raid will wipe. Worst of all is that if someone disconnects, you might as well just wipe it right then.

3. Itemization – Hey casters, where can I get a 346+ wand without spirit? Seems like a rather complex question. Non-casters or those who don’t use wands would assume there are probably a large number of answers. There aren’t. There is exactly TWO epic level wands for mages and warlocks. TWO. Oh and did I mention NEITHER are boss drops? One is a boe random trash drop and the other is just recently added for valor points. There are FIVE belts though, one of which is easily crafted. Three of which are boss drops. And it’s not just us, how many people do you hear griping about shoulders and bracers? Shaman apparently have the same thing with Weapons in FL. It’s just sad how many people in my guild run with Trollroic gear because they *still* haven’t seen the drop they needed. (I have never seen the Booklight, and I have been running BWD since week 3 of Cata and clearing it since April, just fyi…)

4. It’s always been harder to wrangle 25 people into a raid. But now it’s not just 25 people… It’s 25 well geared, alert, non-drunk, non-distracted, correctly specced, and damn near perfect players. After two weeks of wiping on Shannox because if we lost even 1 person we wouldn’t beat the enrage, we had lost 5 of our long term raiders. The game wasn’t fun for them anymore. It’s no wonder people are breaking down into 10 mans.

So now what?

Well some bloggers say things like “get rid of 10s and 25s, make everything 15s!” or “more content!” or “more difficulty modes” or even god help them “make epics truly epic and have loot drop less”. It’s all I can do not the nerd rage all over their blog. Cutting raids down to 15 doesn’t support the “large scale” raiding paradigm. 10s and 25s is a nice split. The reason 25s are dying isn’t that they don’t want to, it’s that they don’t have the people. People are leaving because the content is too frustrating and they have nothing to do. More difficulty modes is too complex for the style of game. In fact, the current two are more than enough, if people are willing to accept that the variation between the two needs to be greater. And anyone who says anything about LESS loot is just insane. I hit level 85 on Thursday after Cataclysm came out. I was in BWD downing bosses within two weeks. I didn’t get Cataclysmically epic until APRIL. FIVE MONTHS OF RAIDING THREE NIGHTS A WEEK… Even counting for bad rng, that is still ridiculous. And considering the number of people I know who raid ONLY for the loot, I am not surprised subs are dropping like flies.

 

Band-aids and Long Term

1. Immediately, do not pass go, do not collect $200, revert back to the previous 10 and 25 unshared lockouts. This doubles the available content. This addresses the ATROCIOUS itemization issues. This speeds gear acquisition for newer raiders.

2. Achievements that are designed to be achieved in both regular and heroic modes. It seems like all the achievements for BoT, BWD, and TotFW are all designed for “perfect” raids. Giving people goofy and absurd things to do is fun too.

3. Re-tune raids on normal difficulty to allow for “carrying”. This allows normal modes to be for “casuals” and makes them newbie/pug friendly. No instant wipes from one mistake here. But keep heroic modes on the same level as they are now. Precision, perfection, and min-maxing all required to down the boss. The heroic modes scratch the hard core itch, the normal modes cater to people who remember they are here to have fun, not be frustrated to the point of snapping their keyboard in half because one healer accidentally walked into a crystal trap.

3.5 Accept that 10 mans and 25 mans are never going to be perfectly balanced. In Wrath 25s seemed to be easier. In Cata 10s are much easier. Determine why this was (Wrath – not tuned correctly/buffs, Cata – tuned too tightly) and then determine which is the one as a design there is the desire to support. Players will take the path of least resistance. If 10 mans are easier, like now, players will break 25 mans down to 10s. If 25 mans are easier, and there is a good reason to raid them (slightly better gear) players will run them.

4. Fix the itemization. Having a flood of belts, when there are easy and readily available ones just makes it that much more painful when those are getting sharded but that boss still didn’t drop that one upgrade you need to replace a blue. Also while they are at it, they should make it where no more the 2 of the same item can be dropped off a single boss kill. Three pairs of plate tanking boots when we only have one druid tank? Yeah that’s helpful.

5. Accept that casual players make up a large majority of your player base. These people don’t want to be frustrated. They don’t want long boring grinds. They want to have fun, with their friends, and they want pretty epics. At the end of the day it’s still a game, and shouldn’t feel like a job. People already have sucky jobs, and WoW shouldn’t be treating them like a horrid boss.

These are all “small move” changes. They don’t radically change the game at it’s core, but rather are minor tweaks on current design systems. It’s making the game better within the current game. It also compromises and attempts to balance between the two factions of the game, hard and casual.

I have a confession to make…

I click.

I KNOW.

No really, I know.

I remember how hard it was to learn to move with wasd keys too.

I KNOW.

I have often thought of changing. But change is hard. I mean, I had to rebind autorun to r after playing DAoC for years, because that was their default binding.

I am not sure I can do it.

But I decided to rebind a and d to something else. Maybe if I can’t, I will learn not to.

Trying to change a habit you have had for 5 years? Ouch.