No, I’m not Making This Stuff Up

July 25, 2014

WARNING: The following blog post only sort of pertains to WoW. I got off on all sort of rambling tangents that are, nevertheless, (at least hopefully) interesting and entertaining. It is devoid of embittered cursing and is safe for all audiences. ;)

Not too long ago, I got into an argument on a message board. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to you, Dear Reader. As all my readers ought to know by now, cruising message boards and making inflammatory statements is one of my favorite hobbies. Not only is it a great way to express humor, it’s also a great way to bait people into a debate (or well, usually an argument, but one dares to dream).

This particular argument stemmed from a debate about the hotly-contested decision to remove flying from current content during Warlords of Draenor. Anyway, during the course of this argument I commented that one of Blizzard’s biggest flaws in designing content is its inability to grasp the shifting baseline. The guy arguing with me didn’t just disagree, he accused me of making up the concept out of whole cloth. It’s a real thing, I promise you.

I wanted to explain to him exactly how much I wasn’t just making this all up, but I was fairly certain he was a troll, anyway, at that point, but even if he was legitimately stupid, every effort I made to explain the concept unraveled into a long-winded mess of scattered threads of thought. Not entirely unlike this tangled ball of yarn you’re reading now.

Well, anyway, it occurred to me that it was all just too much to fit within the scope of a single post within a thread about flying. My solution, as it often is, was, “Well, why don’t I just blog about it?” And so I am. I’ll try to keep it brief and interesting, so bear with me.

In WoW, as within the real world, there is an aspect known as the “standard of living.” Basically, the standard of living is a measurement of how well-off you are within a given system. Like all such systems, the standard of living has a shifting baseline. As the economy grows, the standard of living increases. Things that used to be considered luxury items eventually become mainstream, and then just standard/expected.

Cars, Televisions, refrigerators, and microwave ovens are excellent real-world examples of this phenomenon. All of these items used to be exclusive to only the wealthiest homes, but now it’s hard to find a home without them. When first introduced:

  • The television was first mass-produced in the USA in 1938. It sold for about $190 (or about two months’ salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be nearly $3,000 in today’s dollars.
  • The automobile was first commercially available in 1885. It sold for around $1,000 (or about three times the yearly salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $24,000  in today’s dollars.
  • The electric refrigerator was first mass-produced in 1927. It sold for just over $1,000 (or about the yearly salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be $12,600 in today’s dollars.
  • The microwave oven was first commercially available in 1947. It sold for about $5,000 (or more than twice the yearly salary of an average American at that time). Adjusted for inflation, that would be around $49,000 in today’s dollars.

The same concept applies to WoW. In Vanilla, simply having a mount was a rite of passage all on its own, and having a fast ground mount was a true status symbol. But ground mounts aren’t special anymore. Now everyone and his brother gets a mount at level 20, because it’s the new standard.  Each successive expansion has expanded the economy, made players wealthier, and thus increased the standard of living. Getting 280% flight used to be a long, hard slog and an enormous gold sink. Now it’s almost unheard of that somebody won’t have at least 280% flight on their main and fairly common for somebody to have purchased it on all or most of their alts. If somebody says “I only have slow flight on this toon” there’s an instant and unspoken question: “Why? Are you new? Are you poor? Do you have too many alts? What’s wrong with you?” This is the shifting baseline at work.

This is what Blizzard failed to understand with their Guild Perks. They repeated time and time again that these were just “perks” – not necessary to play the game, just nice little bonuses. Except that when you design the game to be balanced as if you have them (which they did), then they are NOT bonuses, they are the standard. People naturally adjusted to this new standard and came to expect the perks. Leveling was balanced around having the guild’s 10% bonus. Leveling without it felt slower, like you were being punished for not being in a big guild. The same applies to the discounts, bonus mats, instant mail delivery, etc. Can you play without them? Sure. Do you feel like you’re “slumming it” – somehow playing below the normal, or beneath your accustomed standard of living when you play without them? Of course you feel that way. Because you are.

The problem with the no flight decision is that for the first time, the expansion is taking a big step backwards in the standard of living. Things that have become the standard, baseline expectation are now being *removed completely* and it’s only natural to feel that this is a hassle, inconvenience, or otherwise negative experience. Imagine that your washing machine or microwave oven were suddenly and forcibly removed from your home. You could still use these devices, but only at a laundromat or some sort of newfangled microwave kiosk. Would they still be as convenient? Would they still feel like as much of a labor-saving device? Or do they suddenly feel like a chore? Are you now starting to weigh a cost-reward analysis about whether it’s even worth the hassle of using a microwave or washing machine? How long before you start to look for other options? That’s the obvious natural progression for those disenfranchised by the no-flight decision. At what point does the slow movement, the dazing, the dismounting, the forced combat with trivial mobs, all become too much of a hassle for what is supposed to be a form of entertainment? In short: when does the bad start to outweigh the good? That’s not a conversation you want customers to be having with themselves if you are in the entertainment industry. Especially if you’re operating under a subscription model.

Don’t get me wrong. I get why Blizzard is doing this. No flight means they can push out smaller zones with less content (less art, fewer quests, fewer creatures, etc.) in an attempt to make it appear that they’re delivering on their promise of “more content, more quickly.” I understand that cutting corners to decrease the workload is cheaper than hiring enough programmers to meet that workload. But, Blizz, the cheapness is starting to show. The year-long content drought at the end of the expansion, the laundry list of removed/reduced/delayed features in the new expansion, the stagnation, the gimmicks (CRZ, server merges, no flight)? It’s all piling up to a point that the average Joe is starting to notice. That guy in the tinfoil hat isn’t looking so crazy anymore. In short, we’re on to you.

It’s time to pony up, Blizz. Dip into those billion-dollar yearly profits and hire a new team. Just one new content team. Yes, there will be a slow-down as the old team helps the new team learn what to do. But guess what? That reduction in output/quality is temporary (and easily defensible/excusable to your customer base). Unlike your current plan, which is both permanent and smacks of greed. Just see if it works. See if that increase in creative talent, differing opinions, new ideas, and helping hands translates into an increase in quality and productivity. Find out if making a better product might get some folks to come back and try out the game again. See if maybe they decide to stay because the infusion of new blood has led to innovations and a genuinely more enjoyable game. Do things the right way, instead of the easy way. Just this once. What’s the worst that could happen?


Chopper-Gate

July 25, 2014

WARNING: The following blog post contains salty language and a generous outpouring of nerd rage. Viewer discretion is advised. Reading aloud is not safe for work. Or children.

In case any of you missed it, Chopper-Gate is the absolute fiasco created and carried out by Blizzard who seemed to be absolutely oblivious to the effect that giving a free mount to only one faction would have on the fanbase. In other words, Blizz is giving a free motorcycle to all Horde players and gave the finger to the Alliance. That’s not too surprising, because that’s not exactly a new turn of events. Blizzard has a long history of favoring the Horde and shafting the Alliance in pretty much every aspect of the game. The difference? This time they were obvious and open about it. Predictably, all hell broke loose.

Lots of people agree with Blizzard and are embracing a general “fuck the Alliance and everyone who plays it” mentality. A few “sympathetic” souls have gone so far as to suggest things Blizzard could do to make things more “fair” to the Alliance, with the front runners being “allow Alliance players to pay $25 for the same mount Horde gets free” and “let the Alliance players ride the Horde bike and proudly display their submission and allegiance to the other faction.” So, yeah, there’s that.

So, how can Blizzard fix this absolute clusterfuck they created?  Well, they could just give Alliance their bikes, too. Alternately they could give both bikes to both factions. However, since both of those suggestions would be fair and reasonable, don’t count on either of them happening. Even if they do, sorry, Blizz, but it’s too little, too late. The Blue half of your paying customers shouldn’t have to throw an outright hissy fit to be treated the same as the red half of your paying customers.

With that bit of well-deserved bile out of the way, let’s move on to a more important subject: how Blizzard was colossally stupid to have set this contest up in the first place. I get what they wanted to do: they were trying to do something cool for the players, drum up a little faction pride, and do some sort of tie-in with the American Choppers TV show. That, in itself, is cool. I don’t have a problem with that. Nor is it sour grapes that my current main faction is the one that got the shaft: don’t forget that 6 of my 90s are Horde. The thing is, fair is fair, and no matter how you slice it, screwing over 1/2 of your players is unfair.

So, what could they have done to avoid this situation?

  • Change the teams. There are plenty of other factions/parties/races that could have been an interesting design competition without alienating either faction’s players. The Pandaren, Mogu, Zandalari, Scourge, and Burning Legion (just to name a few) all have uniquely inspired visual art/designs that could be incorporated into some bad-ass motorcycles. Having any two of them squaring off would have been preferable to the two prime factions.
  • Change the format. They could have had a collection of different chopper designs drawn up for each faction, with the voting determining which of the designs got built into an actual motorcycle. At the end, both faction’s winners would also be turned into faction-specific in-game mounts. That way both mounts are available for free to the whole player base regardless of whether you play Horde, Alliance, or both.
  • Change the stakes. What Blizzard has failed to grasp in all their iteration of reward is that the difference between winning and losing isn’t just the reward for winning, it’s also the punishment for losing. You cannot separate those two concepts because they are opposite sides of a coin. In order to keep the winners happy, the reward must be tangible, but in order to keep the losers happy, it must also be negligible. A time-restriction can accomplish both at once. The Horde won the vote, so give them their motorcycles first. After a week or two (maybe even a month) give the Alliance theirs, too. It gives the Horde a window of opportunity to gloat about their favored child status without creating (or, in this case, adding to) a permanent faction imbalance.

Making Fair Comparisons

July 18, 2014

I visit numerous forums, sites, etc. and I’ve gotten into this particular argument several times. In the interest of laying out my thoughts in a more organized manner (and without worrying about language and space constraints), I am going to outline the basic problem that most people run into when comparing the racials (both current and revised for WoD).

The most common viewpoint expressed for why Every Man For Himself (commonly abbreviated as EMFH) is unfair is that it “gives you a free trinket.” The complainer then compares the EMFH racial plus a DPS trinket to half the PVP trinket. No, seriously. Somehow, they manage to ignore the PVP stats on the PVP trinket (generally PVP power and/or resilience) *and* forget that they also get a racial in addition to the trinket. So, yeah, when you compare it that way  (A/2) < (A+B), but then that’s not really a surprise, because it’s a skewed comparison.

When you make a true apples to apples comparison, and compare the full PVP trinket plus a Horde racial (such as Berserking or Blood Fury) to EMFH plus a PVE dps trinket, you’ll notice that the numbers are a heck of a lot closer to balanced in the current game, especially considering that PVE gear is nerfed in instanced PVP, now. Blizzard is also actively balancing new gear with this racial formula in mind in WoD, so the gap should be even closer in the expansion (if there even is one).


First Impressions from the Beta

July 17, 2014

I had to go to a friend’s house to use their internet (which is about 50 times faster than mine) , but I got the WoD Beta all downloaded and installed successfully. I only got about half an hour to play around on it but my initial impressions are positive.

I like the “halo” effect that surrounds interact-able objects when you mouse-over it. I like the stat-swapping gear. I love the new quest interface/ UI changes. I like the new models, they look very sharp. I’m still not sold on the no flying, though. I can’t wait to dive back in and get some more in-depth experience with the changes.


The Nasty Business of Selling Things

July 6, 2014

I hate the economics part of the game. I just really don’t have the heart for it.

I put a Sky Golem up on the AH for 17.5K gold starting price, 20K buyout. Somebody whispers me wanting it for 10K. I politely apologize, but point out that I can easily sell the mats for 12K or more. I’m not going to lose money on the transaction. I tell them I can go as low as 15K. That’s already being pretty generous in my book (a 25% discount off the buyout). They claim they already bought one for 10K and they don’t have 15K left, but they’ll go 12. I once again apologize, but point out that selling the item at cost means that I make no profit off the item. Not one cent for a month worth of CDs. What’s more, that’s a month of CDs on not one, but two professions (Alchemy and Engineering). So I end up just logging off because they’re laying on the guilt trip pretty thick.

The thing is, even assuming her story is true,  I’m under no obligation to lose money just because somebody else did. Yet here I am, feeling like a shithead because we can’t come to terms. I honestly want to help her get her mount, but the price she’s asking is just way too low. I mean, I’d rather give it to my nephew than sell it at cost (or at a loss). Anyway, I hate how the people in the game always find some way to make you feel like a heel for trying to get fair market value on the AH.

 

UPDATE: Looks like my instincts were right. Somebody put one up for an 18K buyout (undercut me by 2K) and moments later, the person in question has stopped asking to buy one and now she’s hovering near the AH in one. Guess she should have gone 15K when I asked.


Musings from the Proving Grounds

June 28, 2014

It’s sort of amazing how much disparity there is between classes, or even between specs of the same class, when it comes to the Proving Grounds. I’ve been taking a run at finishing off at least some of my missing specs/classes for the Proving Grounds Project and it’s popped up frequently.

Shadow Priests are simply terrible for solo work, and that includes the proving grounds. 45-second CD on its only interrupt? No burst DPS CD? Crappy CC options? They could not possibly have even tried to balance it against other classes. The spec is just pure garbage.

Fire is my main mage spec, and I consider myself to be more skilled at it, but I’ve been stymied on the Gold level achievement. A big part of it is that Fire is heavily gear-dependent (you need massive amounts of crit to make it viable) and of course proving grounds neuters your gear. Meanwhile, Frost is an off-spec that I picked up mostly just to do the Proving Grounds and despite having virtually no experience with it, I breezed right through Gold because Frozen Orb trivializes every other wave. Comparatively speaking, Frost has more burst, more damage, and more control compared to Fire (it also has better survivability,although that’s a non-issue in proving grounds). Just… why, Blizz?

I haven’t made any headway with my Holy Priest or Holy Pally in getting Gold level achievements. It’s not a matter of knowing the fights, either. I’m deep into Endless waves on both my Resto Druid and Resto Shaman.


New Projects

June 24, 2014

So with the green fire quest out of the way, I’m working on clearing out other stuff from my to-do list. I’ll probably be hitting the proving grounds pretty heavily. I still want to get as many of the classes/specs done on gold as I can manage. I finished up 2 more tonight for a total of 7/11 classes done on gold now. I’ll also be working towards getting as many of the 3 titles as I can. I really want Proven Healer, especially.

Also on the list:

  • farming up the bones for the white raptor
  • getting my monk alt for Askevar’s guild up to 90
  • Challenge Modes (still haven’t even got to attempt these – SAD PANDA)
  • achievements, old and new
  • Brawler’s Guild. A pox on you, Hexos!
  • work on pet crap (leveling, collecting, rarifying)

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