[WoW] Annual pass thoughts, class design, end of expansion blues?

One of the interesting snippets that came out of Activision’s last earnings call was the information that about 10% of WoW subscribers took up the annual pass offer. Green Armadillo shares his thoughts on this, and I agree that this is higher than I would have expected to see. That’s a lot of people who have committed for the long term, even knowing that there was no new content due, D3 wasn’t likely to be out before the Summer and the next expansion beta probably at around the same time.

I think it speaks for a large number of players for whom WoW has become part of their lives, so they either don’t mind paying a premium for the privilege of only logging on occasionally, or else it’s too much hassle to unsub and then worry about resubbing again later (in the same way that people don’t tend to shift their bank accounts around much, even if they could get a better deal elsewhere.) It’s not fair to say that the annual pass decision is made completely without reference to what new content Blizzard will be providing, because D3 and the MoP beta were thrown into the deal. But I bet a lot of the people who picked it up thought “I’ll probably be subbing for the year anyway, might as well.”

Which mostly boils down to a lot of people being happy to pay Blizzard £92 pa for access to WoW, plus Diablo 3 (when it comes out) and beta access to the next WoW expansion (oh and a mount, I forgot about that). There’s not much more to read into that, except maybe that older established players who are glommed onto their game of choice are much less fussy about new content and bug fixes than players hopping into a new and shiny game. Next year, Blizzard won’t be able to offer as tempting a deal to annual pass holders so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

What I do wonder is whether subscription game players in general would prefer the option of an annual sub. (At that point, you’re getting quite close to the old Guild Wars model where they aim to release one paid expansion a year and that’s all people have to pay, the only difference is in the amounts charged and how much extra content you get for your money.)

Watercooler on Class Design

Ghostcrawler posted one of his neat thought blogs, this time on class design and roles  in WoW. And it sounds to me as though they know all the issues inside out and the base problems with  some classes being way more hybrid than others (compare the druids’s 4 roles with the mage’s 1 role) would just be too much hassle to change at this point in the game.

I think that’s fair. No point annoying the players who like their classes just the way they are – well not more than totally shaking up the talent trees every expansion would have done anyway. But it sounds a bit weary to me, the tone of designers who’ve mostly given up. Maybe they got burned on the old DK talent tree model, where each tree was intended to be able to perform both melee and tanking roles. It’s a shame because I thought that was good fun, but I can see why sinking back into one tree per role for hybrids and … uh … one tree per different play style for non-hybrids is an easier and more comfortable fit.

I felt tired just reading it. Tired of the game design which involves always having to chase after ‘OK, so which is the best class/ spec for this role I’d like to do’ or ‘ohnoes, my class/spec  got nerfed and no one will want me for role X any more’  or ‘class X can fill 17 different roles, what do I get to make up for not being able to do that?’ (There’s a theme around balance and how your class ends up as the lens through which you see the game here.) Ultimately, you either pick a class/ spec because you love the theme and feel and playstyle, or you pick your preferred role (possibly because of theme/ playstyle) and try to pick the class that best embodies it – and these two approaches don’t always match.

As a player, I just want to be able to pick my class because I dig it and be able to perform whichever role I want to a level that’s acceptable to the rest of the player base. Is it really that much to ask? (yes :P ) Oh, and I don’t want to play a melee class in PvP but I really like melee classes in PvE. Come back to me when you’ve thought it over again.

Is it that end of expansion time already?

Usually the end of an expansion is marked by an upswing of hype for the next expansion. I think in WoW, this changed during Wrath, because there was a long slow period between the last major raid being patched in and the new expansion. So now in Cataclysm, it’s not surprising that people are already talking about this being the end of the expansion. (Incidentally, it also makes me suspect that the  slow period at the end of Wrath is  setting the pattern now for future WoW expansion cycles).

I noticed that WoW Insider has a column on “what to do when you’re bored at the end of an expansion” to mark this. They suggest speed running heroics (just in case you’re not bored of running heroics yet, I guess), soloing stuff from the last expansion, or joining their new social guild. There is plenty of other stuff to do in WoW, including collecting achievements, PvP, levelling alts etc etc.

Or you could unsubscribe and play something else, the MoP ‘open’ beta isn’t likely to start until Summer at the earliest. Just a thought.

In which WoW finally starts bribing the tanks

Announced as an addition for the next patch (and this is not an April Fool):

Any time the Dungeon Finder queue is longer than a few minutes for level-85 Heroics, the Call to Arms system kicks in and determines which role is the least represented. In the case of tanking being the least represented role, the “Call to Arms: Tanks” icon will display in the Dungeon Finder UI menu <…> Regardless of your role, you’ll always be able to see which role currently has been Called to Arms, if any.

Call to Arms is meant to lower wait times by offering additional rewards for queuing as the currently least represented role. <…> Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you’ll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/elixir (determined by spec), a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount.

They go on to discuss why they decided on these incentives, and note also that the pets and mounts come from a variety of sources, but (this is the main thing) they are already in the game.

Understandably, players prefer to take on that responsibility in more organized situations than what the Dungeon Finder offers, but perhaps we can bribe them a little.

My thoughts:

It will be an interesting experiment on a scale that only Warcraft can organise, so I’ll be interested in hearing how it goes.

I know enough people that quit running heroics in any role because they didn’t enjoy them, even with the gold and tokens that are given as rewards, to wonder how many tanks can be lured into LFD with a few random shinies. I’m sure it will improve the number of tanks queueing, but I wonder by how much.  It certainly wouldn’t have enticed me to tank if I wasn’t in the mood. I don’t need the gold and I don’t care about the pets or mounts – if it was a tank specific mount that might have been another question :)

Also, to get the reward you need to queue SOLO for LFD. That means you can’t bring your favourite healer with you (or favourite dps player/s) and really do have to take what the random generator provides.

There is a whole other question about whether it’s really a good idea to reward people explicitly for playing needed roles. It tends to attract the people who are most interested in the rewards rather than in the role. Plus it’s generally unfair and if the game is that dependent on unpopular roles then it’s time to look at why they are so unpopular.

In this case: why is tanking instances so less popular in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath?

I’d suggest that it isn’t because tanking is harder than it used to be, it’s just that the dungeons are longer and less popular than they used to be. And the easiest way to get dragged through a dungeon you dislike (esp. where you don’t want to learn all the pulls) is in a dps or healing role. Also, it’s far easier to gear as a dps first in instances and then work on the tank gear  – so even a lot of keen tanks will want to do a lot of runs in dps mode on hitting 85.

My other issue with the bribes is what happens if one role is least popular, and another is just a little bit more popular, and the third role is massively over subscribed? Surely there should be some reward for healers even when tanks are most in demand? Or should we just penalise dps even more than long queue times for LFD would imply, pour encourager les autres?

It came from the PUG: I never really wanted to be a healer, I think I’ll be …. a lumberjack!

lfginterface

If you’ve never seen the random dungeon finder interface in WoW, this is what it looks like. You can choose which instance you want to queue for – or let the system pick a random heroic for you, as is shown here. And you tick the little circles next to the shield, plus sign or sword to show whether you want to queue as a tank, healer, or dps. If you play a hybrid who can perform more than one role, then you can tick more than one box.

This isn’t rocket science. If you tick the box it means you are willing to play that role in whichever instance you are queuing for.

heallfg

Then when the system is able to match you up with an instance group, you get this little window which shows clearly which role has been assigned to you.

Again, it’s all very clear and not very difficult. And at every stage, if you change your mind you can leave the queue and there’s no harm done. You won’t even get the usual 30 minute dungeon leaver debuff which forbids you from queuing again until it has run out.

Because tanks and healers tend to get shorter queues, you’ll hear a lot of stories about people who queued as a role which they weren’t able to play (either through lack of gear, lack of appropriate spec, or just lack of interest). But usually those guys bail on you at the start of the instance, or get one of their mates to drop from the group so that when the 4-man group re-queues to get a replacement, they can sneakily change the role they queued as.

But what about someone who decides halfway through an instance run that they don’t want to heal any more? I was in a group this week with one of my alts where the healer had been getting increasingly bolshier and more agitated. He’d been healing fine – regular heroics these days just aren’t remotely demanding.

But for whatever mad reason, he decided that he’d had enough. He whined at the dps shaman to switch to healing. He whined at the tank to switch to healing and the dps warrior to switch to tanking. He kept telling the rest of the group that he was really dps.

Then he just switched spec between pulls without mentioning anything so no one was healing, which inevitably led to a wipe. This was the point where I started a vote to boot him, which duly happened.

The strange thing? We were right next to the final boss of the instance. If he’d just sucked it up for a couple more minutes, he’d have had his badges and could have done whatever he wanted afterwards. The group did fine, we got another healer in a few seconds, who was delighted to have such a quick badge run. But although I try to understand what is going on in other players’ minds when they do something that seems odd to me, with this one I have no clue.

How many tradeskills must a man walk down?

Tradeskills are funny things. Although even modern MMOs will have some kind of tradeskill function to let characters make stuff, it isn’t an aspect of the game that was inherited from MUDs or D&D. Nope, tradeskills were pretty much new to the MMO ‘genre.’

In fact, MMO tradeskills are in the same line of descent as Facebook farming games and resource management games like Civilisation. They owe more to board games than to RPGs in terms of inspiration. This is why they usually involve collecting materials, clicking a button, and then watching a green line – that’s pure resource management.

But here’s where the ROLE part of the game comes in – in MMORPGs, you need to decide which tradeskill/s to take on your character. And the original idea was that different people would pick different trades, so players would have to interact with each other to buy and sell. In older games, tradeskills were also rather more optional, and didn’t benefit the trader in any major way other than letting them make stuff to sell. Gathering materials while you wandered around was also a pipedream.

Then auction houses were invented, bored players rolled up tradeskill alts (or even second accounts) and people could do all of this without the tedious player interaction part. In every MMO I know that allows it, many long term players have several alts in order to cover multiple trade skills.

In WoW, Blizzard fussed with the formula by providing character benefits from tradeskills. Even gathering skills might (bizarrely) add character stats or minor abilities. This makes approximately no sense at all, and simply encourages people who don’t like tradeskills to level up tradeskills anyway. I always felt it might have been better to beef up the resource management side of the game and make it more fun for people who like that sort of thing.

But I digress. When a character gets measurable benefits from tradeskills then it makes sense to restrict how many you can take.

But aside from that, why restrict tradeskills? Why not just let someone take all of them? Keen tradeskillers with lots of time will just do the same thing on alts anyway. The answer is because trade skills made up part of your character’s role, so historically players were nudged towards keeping that quite narrow. But these days, games are opening up, characters are becoming more versatile, so maybe it’s time to blow the cap off tradeskills as well.

Would you take more tradeskills on your character if you could? Or do you think that would make you feel forced to take and level ALL of them, just because it would be possible?