Buffing Buffers who Buff (or perhaps buff buffs?)

A lot of talk was made last week over Dr. Street dropping hints that a buff-oriented class might be in the cards for the next expansion. Now, keep in mind that Blizzard considering an idea has a lot more to it than meets the eye.

  • Ogres were considered a possible playable race, even to the point where they were conceiving what female ogres would look like.
  • The class added in Wrath was a three-way race between Necromancer, Runemaster, and Death Knight. Eventually, they just took the concepts they liked from all three and blendered them into the DK we know today.

All that being said, the idea of a class that exists primarily to make other players more awesome is something that Blizzard struggled against in the past. I remember Shadow Priests being really popular during Burning Crusade because Vampiric Touch turned them into passive mana-batteries for the rest of the raid. Everyone remembers how mission-critical Shamans were for Bloodlust/Heroism backing during Sunwell Plateau. Ghostcrawler’s later adoption of “bring the player, not the class” and subsequent changes to niche-filling classes created a circumstance where players got to play what they wanted and still go to the raid, but even up through today we’ve got players saying “if I don’t have anything special to bring why does the Raid Leader put me in the roster?” (There’s a lot of ways to answer that question, but that might be a different article altogether.)

What a lot of people have been saying in response to a buff-oriented class is that the class would have to be indispensable to the raid, meaning that as long as raid-sizes stay 10-25, non-buff players would be sat. But what if the special thing about the buff class was that it could bring ANY buff to the raid?

Bear with me here: the eight raid-buff matrix (Stats, Stamina, Attack Power, Spell Power, Haste, Spell Haste, Critical Strike and Mastery) are distributed across the eleven classes, which allows for a great diversity of raid compositions. Most individual classes might only bring one or two of those buffs (some being delimited to certain specs), and while hunters technically have the ability to bring just about any buff, that’s dependent on bringing a particular pet. What if this buff class was able to bring all eight buffs? Perhaps not all at once, but to the extent that raid leaders could open up their raid compositions a bit more because they wouldn’t need to worry about having to cover the 8-buff matrix?

Everyone is thinking that the buff-class needs to bring something unique. My take is that yes, they need to have a unique playing style, but there doesn’t need to be a ninth buff slot that only these buff-meisters are able to fulfill. Hell, if you give them Bloodlust/Heroism, it would be a boon to small-time beer-league guilds running 10s that just haven’t got the bench depth to bring it. I was in that situation plenty of times.

What do you think?

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On Quarterly Population Shifts

So every quarter or so, Blizzard has to report their population numbers on WoW to their shareholders. Over the last couple years, this has led a lot of folks to go crazy because those population numbers have been steadily declining.

wow subscriber reports(<– click to expand, it’s pretty telling)

Everyone wants to use their personal hobby horse to explain why the numbers are declining.

  • “Blizzard is catering to the casuals and driving away hardcore players.”
  • “Blizzard has made the game too grindy.”
  • “Blizzard needs to go F2P/adapt more ideas from F2P games to capture that market.”
  • “Blizzard needs to generate more content faster.”
  • “Blizzard is putting content out too fast, and players are burning out because they can’t keep up.”
  • “Blizzard’s incapable of coming up with a good villain since they killed Arthas and or Illidan.”
  • “The game is too easy/too hard/too time-consuming/too oriented around [content type], they just need to balance it out.”
  • “The game looks too cartoony/like it was designed in 2003/has too much visual lag.”
  • “Players are jerks.”
  • “Ghostcrawler promised too many ponies.”

A lot of debate gets thrown around, because clearly not everyone agrees on what exactly Blizzard is doing wrong, or what Blizzard should do to fix it.

I’ll be clear: I’ve got a lot of respect for Blizzard. This is a landmark game in a volatile industry during a catastrophic world economic crisis, and when it’s all said and done no one is going to think that Blizzard failed after they put WoW out there for as long as it was a dominant force in the MMO market. I don’t know if people are expecting that Blizzard is going to do something magical that brings all of the players who left because they lost their livelihood/had kids/changed jobs/grew out of videogames/died from leukemia/moved onto LoL or D3 or SWTOR or GW2.

More importantly, I don’t know if there IS a way for Blizzard to regain 5 million players. For as many people that argue that Blizzard needs to go back to the concepts in Burning Crusade or the classic game that experienced exponential growth, there are as many people who are suggesting that Blizzard do really radical things to try and regain lost players. And I’d argue that a) going back to pre-expansion designs would alienate more players than it would recover, and b) doing radical changes, as they did in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria are gambles that don’t appear to have paid off.

There’s no win condition here, and anyone who says they’ve got the solution is very likely echoing something that a dev at Blizzard has already thought of.

“So what’s the takeaway here?” you might ask. “Is WoW doomed?”

If you’re asking if there will come a time when no one is playing World of Warcraft, that answer was always yes. Even back in 2004 there was a distinct possibility that the game would fail to gain traction in the market, or that it WOULD gain traction and then eventually drop down to a die-hard cult following or just dissipate completely. That’s all still true now. But few people seem willing to acknowledge that WoW will one day come to an end, just as any person that’s born eventually dies.

That being said, I’ll probably keep playing the game until they shut the servers off.

QUICK MIX: Saturday Night Design Sizzle

What if all of the profession items you had across all the WoW characters on your Battle.Net account were kept in an account-wide space?

Not a bank slot, or void storage, but more like a character stash, as in Diablo 3. Whenever your character taps a mining node, skins a dead mob, gathers herbs, prospects/mills materials, or picks up cloth, it goes into the stash instead of going into your bags.

Pros:

  • Creates a lot of bag/bank space for characters who keep a large stock of mats.
  • Saves you the trouble of having to mail mats around to your crafting alts.
  • Turns profession materials into more of a currency that you trade for gear, which aligns somewhat with the Justice/Valor systems.

Cons:

  • Potentially confusing for new/returning players, especially if the UI isn’t clear.
  • What do you do with profession-specific bags? Do they just become normal bags, like when quivers/soul bags were dropped?
  • Could be screwy from a coding standpoint. Does it work cross-faction? Will it work cross-realm?

I want to write something bigger to address this, but I wanted to throw the core concept out there to see what folks thought of it. So, whatcha think?

On Faction Leaders Part 2 (Power of the Horde Edit)

We talked yesterday about how faction leaders in WoW are meant to be the centerpieces of the game’s story, but our faction leaders currently don’t get a lot of play. The Horde is at a bit of an advantage here, because they’ve had more churn in their faction leadership since launch than the Alliance has. That being said, there’s still a lot to be desired.

The Horde

One reverberating sensibility about Thrall’s Horde was that a number of outcast and otherwise disadvantaged races needed each other in order to survive. The other sensibility that drives the union of the Horde races is the sense of being a race that was once a tool of evil, but has since sought repentance for past sins. Thrall made it his business to adopt a number of races into his care, and made the Horde into a family that also happens to be a devastating military force. But while the Horde had Thrall, it didn’t feel like their other leaders (aside from Sylvanas) got much attention. In MoP that’s changed dramatically for some, but others are left out of the limelight.

  • Orgrimmar: Regardless of who becomes Warchief of the Horde, the orcs are going to need a new racial leader. Leaving aside the question of whether it’ll be a Garrosh seeking redemption for his sin of Pride, Thrall recognizing that his people need him, or even an old veteran like Eitrigg or Saurfang, the bottom line is that the orcs have got some soul-searching to do. Solution: Back when the orcs were just scattered occasionally-warring clans on Draenor, they must have had rites where they purified themselves and asked the ancestors for omens about their impending tribal battles. Why not have such a rite take place in Nagrand, where the orcs ask for direction? It’s something that channels the shamanistic origins of the orcs that Thrall aspires to, but also recalls the true history of the orcs instead of Thrall’s idealized version of it. This is just the tip of the iceberg with regards to how to make the orcish racial narrative (and thus the narrative of whoever the new orcish racial leader) interesting again, but I wanted to throw the idea out there.
  • The Darkspear: I honestly can’t think of a way to better characterize Vol’jin aside from taking one of the many amazing elements out of Stackpole’s recent novel and making a scenario out of it. The retreat from Zouchin Village feels tailor-made to accomplish this. In the interests of not spoiling the book, though, I’ll recommend you pick it up and see what I mean. Vol’jin is perhaps the character that needs the least fixing because Blizzard has clearly been working on him.
  • Thunder Bluff: For as much as Blizzard has been forthright with showing where Vol’jin wants to go, they’ve been confused about what to do with Baine. Cairne was old to start with, and looking only at the council of racial leaders around Thrall back in the day, you could imagine Cairne being the voice of wisdom that would temper Vol’jin’s impetuousness and Sylvanas’ bloodthirst. Killing Cairne made sense because it showed that the Horde was losing its shamanic guidance, between Thrall giving the Warchief job to Garrosh and Cairne subsequently dying because of that choice. This didn’t open up an opportunity for Baine, though. He’s not his father; he’s opposed to the faction war because of his relationship with Anduin, and the circumstances that Cairne joined the Horde under (fear of extinction from the centaur) aren’t relevant any more. So one path for making Baine interesting again is him questioning if the tauren still have a place in the Horde. Solution: Bring the tauren back to Red Cloud Mesa to hold council, with Baine having two competing options levied for the future of his people. Hamuul Runetotem is all about the tauren withdrawing from the Horde, while Sunwalker Dezco feels that the Horde is in need of the wisdom that the tauren bring, and withdrawing would be a disaster for all parties. The council gets interrupted by a quillboar invasion, and the players assist the tauren in fighting them off. This leads Baine to come to the conclusion that if the tauren are strong enough now to face all comers, they are strong enough to continue guiding the Horde. Hamuul and Dezco agree.
  • Undercity: Sylvanas has stuck out in the Horde for a long time, because she and the Forsaken are the faction that makes the least sense in the Horde. Thrall’s justification was always that the Forsaken were like the Orcs in that they were trying to overcome their past as evil tools of the Legion, but if anything, Sylvanas has only become progressively more evil and less repentant as time has gone on. There’s a much larger argument to be had about whether or not Sylvanas and the Forsaken still belong in the Horde, but unlike the tauren, that’s not an in-game discussion; it’s a design decision about whether or not having the Forsaken be so across-the-line evil is in the best interest of the heroic-Horde design intent. Solution: There is no solution for advancing the Forsaken narrative that I can outline briefly, so expect a follow-up in the future.
  • Silvermoon City: Contrasting the Forsaken, though, Lor’themar and the Blood Elves make a lot more sense in the Horde, since they fit better with the outcast motif that defines almost every other race. Moreover, the work done in 5.1/5.2 to show that Lor’themar has got the Horde’s best interests at heart demonstrates that he’s fully invested in what the family is all about. If Cairne brought wisdom and Vol’jin brought cunning to Thrall’s council, Lor’themar brings refinement along with a brotherly appreciation for the Horde’s never-say-die mentality, a point that was glossed over in Burning Crusade thanks to the emphasis on Kael’thas. But I would argue that this brings us the solution for giving the Blood Elves some more characterization as members of the Horde. Solution: Go back to some the initial encounters between the Blood Elves and the Kalimdor Horde, after Sylvanas arranged the meeting and lobbied to bring the Blood Elves into the fold. Show that while initially there’s some culture shock between the haughty sin’dorei and the dusty savagery of the orcs, tauren, and trolls, demonstrate what brings them together: the connection with the natural world, the survival instinct, and brotherhood in knowing that humanity rejected them. Hell, throw an archery contest. ^_^
  • Bilgewater Cartel: What’s interesting about the goblins is that they actually make perfect sense in the context of Thrall’s Horde. They’re a race that’s shunned by humanity, that acted pretty flagrantly and without good purpose in the past, but now owes Thrall a personal debt of gratitude and throws their lot in with him as a function of survival. This method doesn’t apply as well to the Forsaken and the Blood Elves as much as it does to the goblins, but it also doesn’t really need to be emphasized more than it was in the goblin starting experience. Like the gnomes, it’s better to play to the faction’s strengths: greed and comedy releif. Solution: I mentioned the idea of a Destroy Build Destroy contest vs. the gnomes in the Alliance post, and the more I think on it, the more I like it. Again, part of the scenario would involve the teams sabotaging each other, with Gallywix being fully invested in cheating to win. It would go so far to the point that Gallywix would pilot the built mecha against Mekkatorque and then call in the Horde party to help him win when the fight starts going badly for him. By contrast, the Alliance version would have the Alliance party jump in to assist Mekkatorque only after Gallywix loses control of his mecha and it goes on a rampage.
  • Huojin Pandaren: Like I mentioned yesterday with the Tushui, I don’t feel like the Huojin need any additional characterization, mostly because it would contradict what Stackpole explained about the philosophical spectrum between the two, and also because the amount of characterization we’ve received about the Pandaren in Pandaria and on the Wandering Isle already does everything it needs to do. All that being said, I always felt like we needed a more discrete scenario that shows Chen and Li Li interacting with Azeroth; however, I haven’t read Pearl of Pandaria yet, so I’m hesitant to suggest what the Stormstout World Tour would look like.

All right, so there’s the Horde side of things. How would you give the Horde faction leaders a more personal story?

On Faction Leaders (Lion of Stormwind Edit)

Because WoW is not a player-centric narrative, that means that the story ends up getting told around the various faction leaders for the Alliance and Horde. Essentially, Blizzard developers say “we can’t tell a story about each of the 8 million people playing the game, so let’s tell a story about the faction leaders those people follow.”

Obviously this can run into some problems; there are, at this point, at least fourteen faction leaders, with certain factions having two or three highly prominent characters that get more development than certain faction leaders. Additionally, economies of scale show that once you add more faction leaders, your ability to really give them (and their factions) a valuable story becomes increasingly difficult, because you’re theoretically adding story for the existing factions as well as the new ones. (And yeah, that’s not a theory that gets a lot of evidence to support it.)

Then you get to the looming character issue coming out of Cataclysm, where Thrall was essentially the hero of the narrative for BOTH factions, and neither faction really bought into it; the Horde didn’t buy why Thrall wasn’t the Warchief (and most weren’t satisfied with Garrosh as his replacement) and the Alliance didn’t buy why Thrall was supposed to be their hero when he’d been the head of the opposition for so long.

So the remix here is in looking at the faction leaders and trying to determine how the faction leaders, and indeed the various races they represent, play into a stronger narrative for the game.

The Alliance

Overall, the Alliance narrative is one of multiple independent sovereign nations coming together in mutual defense. That’s what the Grand Alliance back in WC2 was all about, and that’s essentially what the Alliance in classic WoW stayed being about. The greatest problem with the Alliance at launch was that they lacked a leader who made the whole union make sense, and the leaders we had didn’t really have any moments where they were engaged with the various threats facing them. With Varian Wrynn (his narrative heretofore unsatisfying), that leader has emerged, but it’s also created a situation where the Alliance is less a bunch of independent races banding together and more the Varian and Anduin Show with infrequent guest appearances from some other faction leaders. So how does that get fixed?

  • Stormwind: It’s hard fix Varian now that he’s gone from being the Anti-Thrall to Thrall-With-Better-Hair-And-A-Son. If you can’t throw out the Trials story, the best thing to do is figure out how to challenge Varian and give him an opportunity to do what he does best: brawl and kill bad guys. Back in the classic game, everybody fell in love with Bolvar Fordragon because he threw down against a room full of Dragonkin and hammered them into submission. Players don’t really see Varian do this (aside from the Assault on Undercity proto-scenario that’s no longer accessible and the awful fisticuffs sequence at the end of the Tushui recruitment event), because the Trials narrative hinged upon Varian learning how to lead when various books demonstrated that he already knew how to do that. Solution: Give us a scenario where Varian and the players face off against something big. No armies, no huge buffs from just being in the King’s presence, but something that’s a challenge for a hero and his crew. The Alliance wants a leader who can express his own strength, not just show he can delegate to others.
  • Ironforge: In the same way that Varian is poorly characterized in the Trials narrative, Moira and the Council of Three Hammers don’t come out any better in Blood in the Snow. First off, Muradin and Falstad aren’t there; the exercise of Moira demonstrating her willingness to cooperate with Varian when the other two leaders apparently don’t care about a Zandalari offensive in Dun Morogh is something that stretches credulity. Given that you’ve got three faction leaders who all have their own unique abilities and perspectives, find a way to show them off individually before demonstrating that in order to succeed, they’ve got to Go Go Voltron and work together. Solution: A Little Patience demonstrated the ability for player choices to alter how the scenario rolls. Remix Blood in the Snow into a scenario where the party chooses whether to follow Moira, Muradin, or Falstad up the mountain to investigate the troll threat. Showcase Moira’s Atonement build, Muradin’s Mountain King/Avatar abilities, Falstad’s Storm Hammer-driven ranged supporting fire, and you’ve got a scenario with multiple playthroughs that shows what each leader is all about.
  • Darnassus: Speaking of A Little Patience, the big issue most people bring up is how Tyrande was reduced to a foil for Varian, which did nothing to repair the damage to her character when she was essentially a non-entity in her own faction leader story. Kosak et al have argued that Tyrande is being consistently hotheaded as she was in WC3, but the problem here is that her hotheadedness is being treated as a character flaw instead of a character virtue. Solution: A Little Patience needed to be about Tyrande being a smart leader, not buffing Varian’s High King narrative. The Night Elves have been accused of being somewhat xenophobic in the past, so that’s your angle: Tyrande has to work with gnomish, dwarven, and human forces in order to lay a trap for the orc forces that have taken over the temple. The Night Elf Sentinels ALWAYS go it alone; can they, with Tyrande at their head, be a part of a team?
  • Gnomeregan: There’s a problem you run into when it comes to characterizing Gelbin Mekkatorque, and that’s this: you can treat the character seriously and give him a somewhat introspective and meaningful piece (I’m looking at his faction story “Cut Short”) and you’ve got his wacky hijinks and blatant comedy sidekick adventure in the Operation: Gnomeregan proto-scenario/event. It’s hard to really strike a balance between those two extremes in gameplay, I think, but the best way to do it is to play to Gelbin’s strengths. Solution: An Arms Race scenario where the Gnomes and Goblins are essentially playing Destroy Build Destroy, with various steps involving sabotaging the other team’s build and then, ultimately, a showdown for who’s ramshackle mecha is superior. It could pull double-duty as a showcase for Gallywix, as well, with one critical difference: Gelbin is all about the intellectual challenge of an on-the-fly, off-the-cuff build, and any sabotage done by his team is purposefully kept out of his sight. Gallywix, on the other hand, would play the more ruthless card of straight-up ordering his team to cross the line.
  • The Exodar: We really haven’t seen Velen in play since the Sunwell, and I’d argue that’s because Blizzard doesn’t really know what to do with an ancient Eredar prophet who likely has a power level on par with Kil’jaeden and Archimonde. The Draenei really needed a secondary racial leader, like Vindicator Maraad, General Tiras’alan, or someone in the Hand of Argus, to demonstrate that while yeah, Space-Goat Gandhi calls the shots, it’s going to be a paladin in full Justicar Armor swinging a crystalline mallet through the face of the enemy. Solution: If we have to stick with Velen, I’d argue for something that showcases that while Velen can predict the future, he’s more concerned with how servants of the Light approach problems without that foresight. I’d prefer having a more non-passive racial leader for the Draenei, allowing Velen to be the neutral guide that Blizzard seems to want him to be.
  • Gilneas: Perhaps the greatest problem plaguing the Worgen right now is how when they aren’t considered humans with a fur problem, they’re night elves with a fur problem. The asspulls necessary to tie the worgen origin in with Gilneas and the Scythe of Elune completely sapped Blizzard’s apparent willingness to work with the faction, resulting in them getting almost zero play in-game since their introduction (even though they’ve gotten an excessive amount of attention in non-game products). So how do you make the Gilneans stand out? Demonstrate that they are willing to break the rules a bit. A lot was made of the Worgen becoming the opposite number of the Forsaken for the Alliance; a more unscrupulous faction, owing to their isolationist culture but contrasted against their dependence on the rest of the Alliance for continued survival. Solution: Part of Genn’s campaign to reclaim Gilneas from the Forsaken involves reducing the number of reinforcements that Sylvanas can potentially raise against him. A scenario that capitalizes on Genn leading a team of worgen to destroy a large mausoleum to prevent the corpses from getting raised for Sylvanas would be a way to demonstrate that no one else gets to defile the dead of Gilneas.
  • Tushui Pandaren: I debate whether or not this needs to be included here, because Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde did a lot to dispel the inference that only Tushui-leaning Pandaren off the Wandering Isle joined the Alliance, while only Huojin dudes joined the Horde. The primary functional problem of the playable pandaren factions, though, is that they have zero personality in and of themselves after you leave the Wandering Isle; Aysa and Ji literally have zero importance, though their narratives are getting touched on (and potentially ended) in the Siege of Orgrimmar. Ultimately, you might not need to try and give the pandaren more characterization, when Chen, Li Li, and all of the other factions on Pandaria have done that for us pretty completely. And perhaps that’s the best solution.

Horde version coming up next. What would you do to give the faction leaders an in-game showcase?

WoWInsider Community Blog Topic: Stockin’ the Store

Robin Torres over at WoWInsider asked about what people would want to buy from an in-game shop. Since I didn’t really talk about what I wanted to see in the store (instead about what would and wouldn’t most likely be in the store), I figured a formal response would be a good idea.

  • Cosmetic Armor: Torres voted for this too, and the CM team hinted at it in their admission about the existence of the in-game store, but I’ll throw my hat in for it as well. Quite frankly, there’s a ton of great armor textures in the game that don’t get used either because you have to farm A LOT to get them or just flat out aren’t in the game anymore (I’m looking at you, Tier 3 Armor). Obviously, there’s also a lot of armor that can be farmed relatively easily at this point, but to me that just indicates that there’s clearly a time-matrix Blizzard is looking at here: the harder it is to farm up a piece of armor, the more expensive it should be.
  • Bigger Bags/Bank Slots: Granted, I think that there’s a pretty broad problem with storage that needs to get solved, and I don’t that know if offering 48-slot bags for RMT is the right solution, but it certainly would be a way to gauge how many people want more storage. If it’s just hoarder-types that want it, it’s not worth the dev-time for a broader solution. But if Blizzard sees a big swath of players buying up more storage because there’s just too much stuff (and really, there is) this would be an indicator that they can use to justify it to Risk Management.
  • NPC Party Members: Now, this might be my very controversial pick, but bear with me. If Blizzard is going to throw NPC party members at us in Proving Grounds, it demonstrates that the groundwork is there to create NPC party members that could roll with your character in other circumstances. Want to run 5s but don’t have your tank player on? Buy an NPC tank and run your randoms gleefully. Build some mistake-logic into the scripts so that it’s not a perfect player, and it means that the other players will have to stay on their toes. It really shouldn’t be a perfect replacement for a flesh-and-blood player, but if the objective is to give people the opportunity to run the content they want, the part where “you need this many friends and/or the ability to pug in Trade to participate” is a barrier that can be mitigated.

What do you think?

Professions as an Introduction to New Game Systems

Something that occurred to me while going over my earlier professions post was the idea that the professions added in expansions (Jewelcrafting, Inscription, and Archaeology) have certain elements in common that differentiate them from the launch professions. It goes something like this:

  • Jewelcrafting was introduced in Burning Crusade as an expansion feature, along with the concept of socketable equipment, which Blizzard had seen put to great effect in Diablo 2. In addition to providing the gems to go into these sockets, Jewelcrafting also took over the empty niche of creating rings.
  • Inscription was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, along with the glyph pane. While the exact scope of the glyph pane has shifted dramatically with each expansion since, Inscription’s design as the facilitator of the glyph system hasn’t changed.
  • Archaeology was introduced in Cataclysm, and in its original announcement at Blizzcon ’09, Archaeology was linked up with the Path of the Titans system, which would have provided characters with non-class-specific upgrades and new abilities, as a kind of alternative advancement method. When Path of the Titans was scrapped (because of power creep and too much crossover with glyphs), Archaeology was retooled to be a secondary profession, providing Bind-on-Account equipment, pets, mounts, and other frills, in addition to being an avenue for some limited lore delivery.

The patterns in these three professions are interesting, since they more closely align with the formula I outlined before:

Gather Resources –> Refine Resources –> Craft Items –> Get Skill Points –> Unlock New Recipes (repeat)

JC/Insc both have to depend on gathering professions for the Gather stage, but both have a discrete Refinement step, which most of the other professions don’t have. Additionally, the bulk of the items that they generate in Craft are items that are only useful in tandem with the respective game system; most of JC’s items post-300 are gems, while Inscription has very few non-glyph craftables at all.

Archaeology’s process is similar (arguably, the Survey stage is Gather, while getting the fragments is Refine, and Solving is Craft, but both getting fragments and solving artifacts grant skill points), but without a game system to dovetail into, the bulk of the profession is in fun frills and cosmetic items. Still, the pattern is there.

This realization does a couple things for me.

  1. It demonstrates how difficult it is for Blizzard to create new professions, because every profession they’ve added since launch has played into a different new character customization system. This is proven by the existence of Pet Battles in MoP, which most Blues have stated took the place of a new profession because it had similar depth as a timesink, but it’s not really a profession itself since it doesn’t alter the character at all; this is also why everything in the Pet Battles system is account-wide rather than character-specific, as professions are.
  2. It illuminates how broadly dissimilar the launch professions really were to one another; instead of altering the character in one specific way, you had the armor professions that provided armor, consumable professions that provided temporary power enhancements, and enhancement professions that offered permanent enhancements to equipment. However, none of them really held sway over a particular system in the same way that expansion professions did. You get temporary buffs from some of the professions. You got item enhancements from some of them.

So while I know a lot of people have been wondering about a Woodworking profession (something Blizzard lampshaded themselves) or suggested other concepts for professions, I’m starting to think Blizzard’s tapped the well on that one. And one could argue that instead of trying to come up with a new profession (and consequently a new character customization method to act as an expansion feature), Blizzard is better off making the existing professions more diverse and interesting to play.

I might have a few ideas on that, in fact. ^_^

On In-Game Stores (Quick Mix)

Since everyone’s got something to say about the datamined/vaguely confirmed in-game store that’s ostensibly coming in 5.4, I felt like I should drop my science on that matter.

XP Buff Potions: Being able to shorten the time it takes to get from level 1 to max level is a beneficial thing to the game as a whole, from helping out people who are altoholics to people who’ve got limited playtime to hardcore players looking to get an alt into the endgame quickly to fill a gap in the raid roster. Moreover, it’s something that’s completely meaningless AT endgame; having an XP buff doesn’t contribute to player power in a direct way.

Lesser Charms: People have been flipping tables over this ever since the confirmation came down the pipe, and I don’t understand why. Yes, Lesser Charms translate into bonus rolls. Yes, bonus rolls give you a chance at getting gear upgrades in raiding content. That’s a pretty convoluted path to gaining player power, though, and ultimately, the main thing that buying Lesser Charms gives you is saving you the trouble of farming them up through dailies and/or farming mobs on Pandaria/the Barrens.

To put it succinctly: if Lesser Charms translated so readily into player power, why would so many people be complaining about getting the fail bags?

A lot of people have talking about “well, if they sell this stuff in an in-game store, what’s to stop them from selling gear? I don’t want a pay-to-win game!” Blizzard has got exactly zero reason to make the game pay-to-win when the ultimate objective of almost every gameplay mode in the game is gear advancement. It would be incredibly hurtful for them to sell gear with stats, which is why this worry is fear-mongering nonsense.

As for other stuff like transmoggable armor sets, mounts, pets — I feel like all of this is fair game. Paying for cosmetics is something that’s worked incredibly well in other MMOs out there, and even while Blizzard has dipped into that with their digital store, there’s nothing stopping them from expanding that out. The fact that TCG and super-rare-drop stuff like Ashes of A’lar can be found on the BMAH should demonstrate that Blizzard is fine with players trading currency to circumvent a long time-consuming process.

Where I draw the line, however, is buying gold. Not only are the practical problems of gross inflation a problem, but I can foresee a circumstance where the virtual currency that’s bought with gold becomes a taxable asset. As in Blizzard gets taxed by the federal government for all of the currency they’re doling out. That gets into international finance disputes, exchange rates, complicated tax code junk… and while one might counter by saying that other MMOs have sold their virtual currency without any kind of repercussions, keep in mind that no other MMO has as many players as WoW. When your game population is still greater than the individual population of most states in the Union, that becomes a very large amount of money very, very quickly.

So it’s not just a matter of how gold-selling affects economics in Azeroth; it’s got some real effects on economics in the Real as well, and that’s what keeps it from happening.

Professions (Top Down Full Frontal Remix)

Existing primary professions follow a pretty specific formula:

Gather Resources –> Refine Resources –> Craft Items –> Get Skill Points –> Unlock New Recipes (repeat)

Obviously, gathering professions (herbalism, mining, skinning) don’t actually get to the crafting part (herbalism doesn’t even really refine the herbs at all) but the formula stays roughly the same. Professions added after launch (Jewelcrafting and Inscription) both added their own refinement step (Prospecting Ore and Milling Herbs), such that they more closely hit all the steps in the formula.

To me, this creates a circumstance where the professions are an afterthought at best, or a hassle at worst, to the leveling character. Crafted gear doesn’t contribute to player power in a meaningful way before hitting the endgame, while consumables (item enhancements, potions/elixirs/flasks) are useful as long as you’ve got the materials to produce them, but if the correlation between profession level and character level gets disrupted, you’re stuck backtracking to try and keep things consistent.

Moreover, it presents a situation where if you want to keep your profession level in line with your character level, your two profession slots are pretty much filled once you make a choice; the gear-producing professions need their corresponding gathering profession in order to be effective. There are exceptions to this: Enchanting has it’s gathering mechanism built in, while Tailoring is predicated on getting cloth from certain kinds of mobs.

So here’s the remix:

  1. All production professions are able to gather their own materials. Blacksmiths and Engineers can mine nodes, Leatherworkers can skin dead mobs, Alchemists and Scribes can gather herbs.
  2. All gathering professions collect more resources per node than production professions do. Additionally, all of them have the ability to refine raw materials into more esoteric materials that can’t be normally gathered (e.g. Miners smelt Steel). The balance is that those esoteric materials won’t be necessary if all you want to do is level up the production professions to max.
  3. To combat the issue of profession level/character level getting out of sync, there’s no skill requirement to mine/herb a node (and if you can kill a mob, you can skin it). If you’ve got higher skill, you draw more resources out of the node (with an upper limit) but stand a greater chance of getting rare materials (e.g. gems from mining nodes, on-use items from herb nodes, Bloated Stomachs from skinning).
  4. Want to convert some of your top-level raw materials down to something your leveling alt can use? Know how the Ink Trader NPCs work? You can do the same thing with ore, cloth, leather, herbs, and dust.

This is part one of a number of changes I’d make to the Professions system. So it’s really more of a remix album. ^_^

Introduction to Remixology

So, a bit of context is important.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the World of Warcraft. I’ve been playing the game pretty consistently since late 2005 (yes, I was a bit late to the show, for various reasons I can discuss later) and, combined with a love of pen-and-paper RPGS, an extensive and sordid history with the Final Fantasy series, and an overall developed sense of attention-to-detail in games, I’ve consequently developed a lot of particular opinions about the game, both from a systems perspective and from a narrative perspective.

These opinions inform my ideas about how I would design the WoW game, if the stars aligned to create a new alternate universe in which I was the Supreme Intelligence driving the creative impulses of the many talented folk at Blizzard. I feel it’s important to point out that I have a lot of respect for Blizzard, and my ideas here aren’t meant to say “you guys did it wrong” but instead saying “here’s how I would have done it.”

A couple other getting-to-know-you notes:

  • I am currently a stay-at-home father, though past careers include front-line technical support, application development, IT contracting, and an all-too-brief stint as story designer for a particular game property. More about my non-WoW life can be found on my personal blog, EVERYTHING/NOTHING.
  • I am a PVE player. I have only very occasionally dipped my toe into PVP, mainly because I play a priest and priests are historically quite squishy.
  • Within the context of PVE, I previously enjoyed a spot in normal mode/friends & family raiding. I respect that heroic raiding has got a place in this game, but I recognize that it, like PVP, isn’t content that I really have a taste for.
  • As mentioned (and as might be obvious from the title) my main is a Shadow Priest. However, I like keeping a stable of alts, so I’ve got a lot of exposure to almost every class in the game, on both factions, at many various points throughout the game’s design history.

Even if the story of WoW isn’t especially nuanced, even if the graphics are a little outdated and the systems are a bit clunky in their execution, my love for this game hinges on watching it grow and develop over time. And the best way I can think of to pay tribute to that, short of getting a job with Blizzard, is to throw down a remix and demonstrate how I’d do it.

I hope you enjoy the mix. ^_^

— Crow