Community Blog Topic: Timewalk is the new Moonwalk

Robin asks and Crow delivers.

Taking a break from all the Connected Realms discussion, the other hot news story going around right now is about the recently-revealed bug where players can apparently get themselves scaled down in certain dungeons. Chilton confirmed back in the 5.4 interviews that this tech was effectively implemented (MMO-Champ even points out that it appears linked up with an instance-type called “Timewalker”) but that they just didn’t have the right rewards structure for it yet.

So if the question is “should players get scaled to lower-level content” my answer is a resounding yes, with the proper caveats.

  • Scaling content ought to be limited to the Timewalker dungeons (which is the term I’ll use to refer to scaled dungeon content, principally because it’s a cooler shorthand), since I don’t think the mechanism works as well when extended to questing content, a la Guild Wars 2. I’ll go into the main benefits of this individually, but the core here is that this is a great idea for dungeons/raids and a bad idea pretty much anywhere else.
  • It really ought to be an option. Want to go to a scaled version of a dungeon from a past expansion where all of your effectiveness will be reduced to the proper level? Choose Timewalker. Don’t want to do that? DON’T CHOOSE TIMEWALKER. And if you want to go to the dungeon and stomp it at max-level, that option isn’t gone, but you’ll probably have to hoof your way there instead of getting a free port, just like you do today.
  • I’ll go into rewards later, but doing Timewalker dungeons should be something that augments the list of things you can do at max level instead of being the only thing you do. The reason there’s always been a little bit of blowback about remixed dungeons like Deadmines, SFK, and ZG/ZA is because some players have already given those dungeons the attention they need, and they want to see new stuff. That’s not a wrong perspective to have.

There are some pretty clear benefits to doing this.

  • Enabling max-level tanks and healers to queue for low-level dungeons helps to ameliorate LFD queues in the lower ranges, which helps players get to the endgame faster, while also being a good change of pace for the max-level characters while also netting a proper reward for their time invested.
  • The change of pace benefit can’t be overstated. Players burn out when they see the same content over and over again. There are plenty of players who came in with Cataclysm and MoP, and straight-up never experienced many of the older dungeons/raids without being rocketed through by players sporting heirlooms. Having Timewalker dungeons in MoP would have turned the pool of endgame dungeons from less than 10 to over 75, assuming at least one version of all past 5-mans are used.
  • Extending this to raids would breathe new life into the old-school raiding scene, allowing players to get a challenge out of the old fights without having to roll new alts locked to discrete XP levels. My dream scenario is that (in the inevitable balance pass that Encounters has to make in order to address potential problems in these raids) this means we get achievements added to specific encounters in joints like Molten Core and Black Temple, because I’m kind of a whore for achievements. ^_^

There are some drawbacks, of course. Having a Timewalkers queue where tanks and healers are going to get old content means fewer tanks/healers in the current content heroics queue to do current content. While many of the pre-BC dungeons were fairly light on mechanics more complicated than “tank it whilst thou spank it” there are still plenty of dungeons where those mechanics would need to be known by the tank in order to succeed, and that’s a lot of mechanics to track. Also, many of the pre-BC dungeons weren’t really built to be efficient loot runs; I can imagine a situation where someone goes into the Timewalker queue, gets Blackrock Depths and immediately says NOPE.

I tell you, though, I would cheerfully do Timewalker runs specifically into Wailing Caverns and Blackfathom Deeps just so I could Leap of Faith noobs over the gaps. I can’t think of anything that makes those runs take longer more than people not knowing how to jump the gap. ^_^

How to Reward Timewalking

The way Chilton tells it, one of the problems they ran into in implementing this process was figuring out how to make it rewarding to players without taking away from the current content. I might have some fixes for that:

  • Completing a Timewalker dungeon gives you a buff to Valor Points gained in current content. Assuming the same Valor avenues exist in X5 as they do today (dailies, weeklies, heroic dungeon runs, LFR, challenge modes, scenarios) then this would make doing at least some Timewalking lucrative for endgame-focused players.
  • Satchels. More specifically, throw in a satchel for your first Timewalker completion of the day that gives a bonus roll to get rare pet/mount drops that are locked to dungeons. You could sweeten the deal by making the drop chances from this satchel greater than the %s found in the dungeons themselves.
  • Go large with the Timeless Isle’s established themes, and introduce a currency specific to the Timewalker difficulty. This currency can, in sufficient quantities, get spent on endgame rewards, OR on Burden of Eternity-like items that allow for Timewalker-acquired items to get upgraded in subsequent content. (This idea stolen from a Certain Individual. You know who you are. Also <3.) This currency could also introduce a full-on grind component to getting super-rare mounts like Anzu or A’lar. Just put a high enough price on it and you’ll see people work towards it.
  • Make Timewalking a Guild Challenge. Hell, make a guild perk that rewards bonus experience if you’re running a Timewalker dungeon with low-level guildies. Want to see people pull every old alt in the guild out of mothballs?

Making Timewalker dungeons dovetail into existing systems isn’t really terribly hard. However, this makes me think that Blizzard pulled Timewalking at the last minute because they knew that they’d be shuffling up a lot of systems in X5. Maybe there won’t be such an emphasis on Valor, or Valor is getting changed dramatically, due to the blowback about daily quests. Maybe they wanted to see how the Timeless Isle and its currency went over with player before putting their whole scaled-content main course behind it. Maybe they didn’t want to run the risk of having Siege of Orgrimmar have low tank turnouts in multiple difficulties because of everyone going on a nostalgia trip in Timewalker dungeons.

Whatever the reason, the feature got pulled and left little bits behind, like the bug that triggered all this speculation, the inexplicable dungeon journal entries for BC/Wrath dungeons, and the scaling enchants mechanic. And now it feels like something that’s getting polished up to be an expansion feature.

All I can say is bring it on. ^_^

Realm Remixes: Hittin’ the Big Time

This week has seen a flurry of activity: over the last couple days, Blizzard has started the connected realms implementation in the EU and also announced next week’s plans for two successive rounds of further connections.

It also appears that they’re going to use the blog format for keeping a comprehensive list of realms that have already been connected in addition to announcing upcoming connections.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Rounds 5 & 6 are going to look like for the US:

Round 5:

  • Detheroc/Dethecus + Blackwing Lair
  • Chromaggus/Garithos + Anub’arak
  • Firetree/Riverdare + Drak’tharon
  • Blood Furnace and Mannoroth
  • Nesingwary and Vek’nilash

Round 6:

  • Haomarush + Blackwing Lair/Detheroc/Dethecus
  • Stonemaul + Bloodscalp/Maiev/Boulderfist/Dunemaul
  • Tortheldrin and Frostmane
  • Winterhoof and Kilrogg
  • Gul’dan and Skullcrusher
  • Lightning’s Blade + Burning Blade/Onyxia

First off, one of the predictions I made before was that we’d start to see some of the existing pairs from Rounds 3/4 get added together. If these two successive rounds (as well as the European rounds) are any indication, it’s seems like Blizzard is only going to increment one realm at a time while growing these connected realms together. This does help indicate which realms are going to get pulled each week, since successive rounds are more likely to pull unconnected realms either into an existing 2+ connection OR into a new connection with another unconnected realm.

Business note: I’ve altered slightly how the data is displayed here. There is now a A/H ratio for the WoWProgress raiding population, which is listed alongside the overall character ratio taken from RealmPop. I wanted to include this ratio for a couple of reasons: first, this is a strong indicator of the discrepancy between the data taken from these two sites, and second, if we’re going to be using the raiding population as our chief point of comparison, it would be better to use the ratio of those characters rather than the overall population.

Click to enlarge!

EMBIGGEN

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Conclusions:

  • The Boulderfist CR picks up Stonemaul, a mid-ranked realm with a low population size and a solid 1:1 A/H ratio among raiders. This brings the average on the Boulderfist CR up to .70, and contributes to the idea that maybe Blizzard isn’t super-worried about maintaining existing faction imbalances. I’ll go into this more a bit later.
  • Something else that upends my previous expectations is that the Boulderfist CR has now crested past the 5000 raiders mark, bringing it into the top 30 realms for raiding population. Three other CRs will be this size as of this round, which again changes the goalposts in terms of what Blizzard’s looking for as a destination size.
  • Our first two PVE CRs are up, both with solid Alliance biases and one (Kilrogg/Winterhoof) already hitting that supposed target zone of >5000 raiders. Nesingwary/Vek’nilash is about at 60% of the target, which makes it likely it’ll see at least 1-2 more connections before this is over.
  • It’s notable that a number of realms in the top 50 are the subjects of connections this time around. Mannoroth is the highest-ranked realm to grab a connection, with a dramatic Alliance bias that is cut in half by the addition of Blood Furnace. At over 4000 raiders, I don’t think they’re done quite yet, but it’ll be a huge boon to both factions on Blood Furnace to increase their pools by such a degree.
  • Another note on high-ranked realms picking up connections: Frostmane picking up Tortheldrin and Kilrogg taking on Winterhoof demonstrate a high-ranked realm hosting an exceptionally low-ranked realm. This might be indicative of Blizzard taking the feedback that connecting low-pop realms to other low-pop realms isn’t fully demonstrating the scope and purpose of this plot, and so (now that they’re confident that they aren’t going to break a realm by connecting it) they’re creating CRs from the host first and will pick up the smaller realms up in successive rounds…
  • …OR it could be indicative that this was Blizzard’s plan all along; healthy realms can take on the populations of the low-pop realms and integrate them into a working ecosystem, which is a much better plot than taking a bunch of realms with wildly imbalanced economies, communities that haven’t had a good raiding circuit for awhile, and blend them all together, hoping they figure out how to invent a better environment if they just add a bunch of people to it.

On Faction Imbalances:

Faction imbalance has been a big topic since the Connected Realms process first got announced, but something that Blizzard made evident in their first responses was that the goal of the project was to elevate the overall populations on the realm to a healthy level, not to get parity between the factions. Once the first connections started happening, there was an outcry from people who noticed that it was mainly Horde-dominated realms that were getting connected first.

Now the quick explanation for this is that Blizzard started with realms that had exceptionally low populations, which are (for the most part) PVP realms. PVP realms are historically Horde-biased, so it makes sense that starting with low-pop realms would naturally mean starting with Horde-dominated realms. But in response to the outcry that the connections wouldn’t balance the factions on those realms, the response of various CMs was, essentially “faction balance is a factor, but it’s not the most important factor.” Faction imbalances exist because players gravitate towards the “winning team” on a PVP realm, so given the behavior of players it would be impossible to maintain a perfect faction parity over time.

Nonetheless, the pattern that emerged in the first few rounds were that realms with similar A/H ratios were getting joined up. However, what’s become increasingly obvious over time is that coming up with a population that can properly support all kinds of community on both factions on a given realm is more important here; many realms that started off with single- or double-digit numbers of Alliance raiders got connected with realms that had a more substantial Alliance population. Because of the historical bias of PVP realms being Horde-heavy, there just aren’t many examples of PVP realms that have an Alliance bias to speak of, so consequently, very few of the CRs produced in these first rounds express an Alliance bias. But as demonstrated with the addition of Stonemaul to the Boulderfist CR, Blizzard might throw existing imbalances to the wind in order to make sure both factions have the right size community to play with.

Wrap-up

So what’s the result? Blizzard’s movement to the blog structure in lieu of forum posts communicates that they may be getting into a pattern of how they’re going to distribute updates on the CR process. Having it in a blog format allows them to denote updates readily (as Rygarius does regularly with patch notes), but it also diminishes the facility for conversation. To an extent, stifling conversation isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the successive forum threads contained a lot of duplicated information and argument about the process, where detractors aren’t going to be satisfied until they see more results, and inquiring players are mainly looking for a comprehensive list and any notification that their realm has been added. By having the blog format, that information will always be time-stamped at the top of the page rather than somewhere in the forum, and thus the conversation isn’t hugely necessary.

This movement also signals that we might have the pattern for connections going forward: 5-6 connections taking place, with some of those being new connections and some being existing CRs being augmented with an unconnected realm. It’ll take some math to figure out how long it’ll take before all of the medium/low-pop realms have at least one connection, but even that might not be a clear indicator for how many weeks this process will take.

All told, stuff is accelerating, and that’s good news for people on low-pop servers.

Realm Remixes Part 3: Super-Collapse!

Hot on the heels of the Round 3 Connected Realms going live, we’ve got a new set of connections coming up in Round 4.

Before I get into the data, a bit of business: as more and more servers get connected, it’s going to be progressively more difficult to keep a single running table of all the realms that have been connected. I’m working on getting something together I can use as more definitive resource, but the table you’ll see for the data today will only include the Round 4 realms.

Less table, more data!

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Some off-the-cuff conclusions about these connections:

  • Aegwynn/Gurubashi is picking up Hakkar, another dramatically low-pop server that paradoxically has a non-trivial Alliance population. This helps to balance the increase in Horde-bias that happened with the initial Gurubashi connection, from .67 to .72, which is still down from Aegwynn’s original .92. 
  • Detheroc/Dethecus wins the award for “Realm Names That Make Sense Getting Connected” since they’re both Dreadlords. That said, this is another obvious first stage connection for two realms that are at the bottom of the charts; compared with the other Round 3 realms, Deth/Deth is nowhere near the final size we should expect for a connected realm. The same goes for the other completely new connections in Round 4, and also holds true for Aegwynn/Gurubashi/Hakkar.
  • Dunemaul’s addition to the Boulderfist/Bloodscalp/Maiev combination lends credence to the theory that the server is being used as the prototype for big group connections. The addition of Dunemaul’s numbers to the size of BBM exceeds what my original expectations were for a healthy population, though it does bring the raiding population more in line with Black Dragonflight/Skullcrusher. If BDF/SC is more the model for an ideal size and BBM+D is simply continuing to act as the guinea pig for >2-realm connections, we might be getting to definitive sizes here.  A raiding population of around 4,000 combined would put the server in the top 50.

Admittedly, I was expecting to see Round 4 actually combine more realms then Round 3, but it’s only one fewer. The only new test going on here is the Dunemaul addition, yielding the first 4-realm connection, but that makes me think there’s something bigger in the works here: it might be that we’re seeing a bunch of these PVP realms positioned to get combined together. 

Based on the results from Round 3 and Round 4, I could see the following connections taking place:

  • Firetree/Rivendare + Chromaggus/Garithos: This would allow the place to break 2000 raiders and get a .52 A/H ratio. Still not complete, but it brings the average up for Alliance players on the three worse-off servers in the mix. 
  • Auchindoun/Laughing Skull + Balnazzar/Warsong: Auch/LS comes out pretty well from Round 4, but if it picked up Bal/Song, it would be a huge boon to Alliance players while bolstering the Horde presence. 
  • Dethecus/Detheroc seems likes it’s primed to get connected to something else down the line, because it’s small enough that it could go just about anywhere. Drop it in with Burning Blade/Onyxia and you’re doubling the Alliance presence there, but it also puts the whole combination in a similar pop range with Boulderscalp Dunemaiev and BDf/SC. 
  • Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Aegwynn/Gurubashi/Hakkar gets Dalvengyr/Dark Iron added into it. If this happens, it’ll make sense not just because the A/H ratios are more similar and closer to 1:1 parity, but also because it would look better to connect the two dead last realms together after you’ve already hooked them to larger communities. It just would have looked silly if Dalvengyr and Gurubashi were linked to each other in Round 3, as that would have led to speculation that Blizzard is just putting dead servers together with dead servers, which doesn’t really improve the situation for anyone. 

Given how the timing for this is going, I expect to see Round 4’s connections get completed next Monday (10/28) with Round 5 (perhaps featuring our first 2 + 2 connection) getting announced the next day. 

I’m holding out hope that we’ll see more then 5-6 connections happening at once, but as I’ve said before, it’s better for Blizzard to proceed cautiously. The more realms that get connected, the greater the affected number of players, and the greater opportunity for bugs to express themselves, get reported, and for Blizzard to take action on those bugs. 

However, I think that the cautious pace might be the reason that we don’t see Blizzard publish a big schedule of “here are all the servers that are going to get connected and when.” Aside from the possibility of gamebreaking bugs throwing the schedule out of whack, the litany of complaints regarding “why is my realm not on the list” or “why is my faction balance not getting fixed” or “that’s a pvp server we’re pve wtf are u doin blizz” would just make the damage more trouble than it’s worth. 

Do I expect bigger rounds in the future? Sure. 

Like Europe? You guys are going to get whipped into shape like LIGHTNING. But it’s us across the pond in the States that get to be the guinea pigs. 

You’re welcome. ^_^

Realm Remixes Part 2: Scatter Plot

While I was doing a little more analysis of the Realmpop/WoWProgress data, questions started popping up.

“Assuming that WoWProgress’ ranking is a measurement of a realm’s success as a raiding community(*), is there a correlation between raiding population and the realm’s ranking?”

To an extent, that’s an easy question to answer. Illidan is the #1 server in terms of progression AND has the highest population of guilded raid-capable max-level characters. All the way at the other end of the ranking structure you’ve got Dalvengyr and Gurubashi, who have very small raiding populations and consequently have no ranking. And the whole conceit behind Connected Realms is to increase the populations on low-pop realms so players have a greater pool of players to quest, guild, raid, and otherwise interact with.

Looking at the data, though, there are some notable patterns we can look at.

I made a scatter plot! IT'S AMAZING

(click for a much larger version)

There is a very dramatic drop-off in raiding population as you start climbing the ranks. Out of 246 realms, only three have numbers higher than 16,000 raid-capable characters, and they’re all in the top ten.

  • 21% of the total raiding population is distributed across the top 10 realms.
  • 40% of the total raiding population is distributed across the top 30 realms.
  • 50% of the total raiding population is distributed across the top 50 realms.

Take this to its logical conclusion: the other half of the raiding population is spread out across close to 200 other realms. Or, to make it more numeric, 50% of the raiding population is on less than 20% of the realms.

This might be the strongest evidence to support the idea that Blizzard is going to be connecting a LOT of the lower-ranking realms together. If we look at the table from the previous post, and see the numbers for Black Dragonflight/Skullcrusher and the impending numbers for Bloodscalp/Boulderfist/Maiev, we can get a rough idea of what Blizzard might consider to be a healthy raiding population; let’s say an average of 3500 raid-capable players between both factions.

Take the ~200 realms that have less than 3500 raiders, add up their populations, then average them out, and that leaves us 97 connected realms, while the 40+ realms that have more raiders than that average would stay untouched.

The result? 246 disconnected realms become ~140 unique communities, with the architecture in place to connect them further if necessary. That alone is a dramatic shift, but I don’t think Blizzard is necessarily going to stop there. Considering the size of the Connected Realms resulting from the first three rounds, they still wouldn’t necessarily be in line to break the top 50 ranking. But all told, it’s an interesting prospect — and I expect that with more data from subsequent rounds of realms getting connected, we’ll be able to get a clearer idea.

Tomorrow is Monday, 21 October, and by the end of the day we’ll have a number of new connected realms online. One thing I can promise you is that we’re just getting started.

(*) — Keep in mind that WoWProgress extracts its data via the Battle.net API, drawing max-level characters who a) killed a boss in Tier 15 (Throne of Thunder) in any difficulty, or b) are in a guild with someone who has a kill in Tier 15. And while the Tier 15 kill MAY be an indicator that a character is active, max-level toons that just happen to be guilded with someone who made the kill might not be raiders or might be inactive characters. So the raiding populations and the subsequent rankings aren’t exact bits of data. As always, take this conjecture with a grain of salt.

Realm Remixes (because mashups are remixes too)

I have become fascinated by the Connected Realms process that’s been going on since shortly after Patch 5.4 was released. It’s compelled me to create a table and do a bunch of analysis. ^_^

For the uninitiated, here’s the deal on Connected Realms. The idea is to address the problem of low-population realms by combining them together to create healthier populations. This combination will link the auction houses, chat channels and visible populations of the connected realms, to the degree that there’s very little difference between a connected realm and a normal singular realm. If you happen to run into a character or guild with a duplicate name, it’ll be denoted with a # to differentiate, much like characters from other realms (when accessed via LFR/LFD/CRZ) are denoted with *.

What’s been so interesting for me is watching which realms Blizzard is connecting together in each successive round, and trying to get a sense for their methodology as they go through what’s a pretty big implementation. I know that doesn’t really sound super-interesting at the outset, but go with me on this for a moment.

connected realms table 101713(click to expand, it’s Informative!)

Round 1: Boulderfist and Bloodscalp

Our first two contestants have some interesting profiles to them.

Looking at the data, both are Medium pop realms with a notable Horde bias. Bloodscalp doesn’t really have a cohesive raiding environment, while Boulderfist is at least breaking the top 75. From all indications, they were combined as an initial test to see what kind of errors cropped up from an implementation on live realms, with larger populations than the tiniest of realms in order to try and catch any unexpected errors that take place. At the same time, the populations are small enough that if something catastrophic happened, not that many players would be dramatically impacted, meaning Blizzard wouldn’t need to blow a lot of revenue on granting gametime refunds to impacted players.

All told, aside from some weirdness involving web-side apps like the Armory and forums not displaying some stuff correctly, Round 1 came off as a success.

Round 2: Black Dragonflight and Skullcrusher

Our next two contestants feels like a sanity check following the initial round.

Again, both realms are Medium-sized, Horde-biased, with higher populations than the first round and both are within the top 50 ranking. My take is that this was primarily meant to ensure that Round 1 wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and Blizzard willing to scale up and put more at risk in order to see if more active realms might end up revealing more errors. The fast turnaround into Round 3 makes me think that nothing really presented itself.

Round 3: The Bigtime

Now, instead of just testing the stability of the architecture, I think that Blizzard is now shooting to take the results of their initial rounds of testing and apply them to some of the most low-pop realms. It seems, though, that there are multiple new tests taking place at this stage.

  1. Boulderfist and Bloodscalp are getting merged with Maiev. This is the first three-realm connection we’ve seen attempted so far, and Maiev is a comparably small realm being added to the mix. You can see on the red table that combination totals up to ~120k characters, with a slightly better A/H ratio than the initial combination had. Given that a realm of that size would put this Connected Realm among the top 30 realms for overall character population, this could possibly be the last connection for these realms.
  2. Aegwynn/Gurubashi demonstrates an example of a truly dead realm being linked with one that’s significantly higher in ranking. In this case, the A/H ratio is thrown out in favor of giving Gurubashi-A access to at least SOME raid-capable players. This supports the idea that helping players get access to bigger communities will, in some cases, trump maintaining the server-wide faction ratio.
  3. Dalvengyr/Dark Iron, while similar to Aegwynn/Gurubashi in the sense of a no-ranked realm getting linked with a well-ranked realm, does so while preserving the A/H ratio. It might be notable to point out that this Connected Realm is the only one with an Alliance bias.

The rest of the data speaks for itself; out of the five new connected realms created in Round 3, four of the realms had zero raid-capable players on the Alliance side. After this round, all of those realms will have at least some players to draw from. However, it’s also notable that all of the Round 3 realms are still substantially smaller than the Round 1/2 realms… in most cases, the new Round 3 Connected Realms are smaller than most of the Medium-sized realms BEFORE they were connected. This leads me to believe that, based on the results of the three-realm connection we’re seeing tested with Boulderscalp/Bloodfist/Maiev, we’re very likely to see the Round 3 realms connected with other realms in subsequent realms to get closer to the population density that Blizzard is targeting.

Is Blizzard shooting for a realm pop of 120k characters, with raiding populations of about 3-4k split between the two factions? The results of the first three rounds appear to bear that out, but I think we’ve got a long way to go.

What do you think? And hey, anyone on any of the affected realms got an opinion about the connection process? Let me know. ^_^

Multiple (Crafting) Personalities

This presents a bit of a conundrum.

It’s not exactly a professions problem, even if that’s the the element that starts the discussion, but it’s really a comment about why players choose to play only one character or multiple characters. The problem is that it’s hard to unpack when Dr. Street is the one making the statement and doesn’t really clarify aside from this:

Dr. Street here is asserting that he doesn’t like players using alts strictly as a way to get around the two-profession limit but there are a couple different ways to parse that:

  1. Players should feel compelled to interact with other players in order to gain access to the benefits of other professions. If this is via a guild, or the Auction House, or spamming in trade, that’s all good, because this is an MMO and interacting with other players is really a big component of the game’s draw. So if a player instead tends a big stable of profession alts and becomes 100% self-sufficient, this is flying in the face of the MMO design because it’s a blow to interaction.
  2. Players who feel obligated to level a crafting alt in order to get access to profession stuff are going to burn out, because if they aren’t enjoying playing that character, and are only doing all of the work because they want to get access to specific enchants/gems/consumables without having to rely on other players, it’s going to sour them on the experience of play and it could sour them on the game in general. That’s bad, because more burnout == fewer happy players and ultimately fewer players at all.

From a design perspective, and particularly from his position as Lead Systems Designer, Dr. Street’s job is to try and facilitate the players being happy with the game. So if players are burning out because they feel compelled to roll up a stable of character they resent playing, that’s a problem for him to address. But that butts up against the design of encouraging players to engage with one another, and the sheer momentum of players doing things they don’t like doing in order to give themselves the slightest advantage in gameplay.

It doesn’t feel like an easy problem to solve, but hey…

The initial solution suggest was account-wide professions. This can take a couple theoretical forms, so let’s throw them all out there and see what we get.

  • Two Professions per Battle.net Account: This would infuriate the altoholics who like their present self-sufficiency, which in some cases is likely the lifeblood of guilds that rely on a particularly industrious player for all their consumable needs. But in terms of trying to revive the sense that players need to interact with each other in order to get the perks of professions, having this kind of limit would do the trick.
  • Account-wide Access to Professions: This would ostensibly allow my Herbalist/Alchemist main to queue up Blacksmithing/Inscription tasks without having to log into the alts, and potentially collect recipes/mats for those alts or perhaps gain skill points for those professions while on my main. The theoretical limitation is that each character can still only have a max of two professions, and thus only get two of the direct throughput increases currently offered by each primary profession. While this is more a quality-of-life change, it has a couple of drawbacks:
    • By actively reducing the compulsion to log into alt characters to get them out into the world to gather materials or perform crafting tasks, it reduces the gameplay for the alt, and chips away at the replayability that alts are meant to represent.
    • Taken to an extreme, it begs the question of whether the gathering professions should even be treated as professions anymore, since players will likely want to just gather ore, herbs, and skins on their mains, or if (as I’ve suggested in the past) having those professions would simply allow those characters to gather MORE materials from each node.
    • There are also likely technical limitations in having account-wide professions. Seeing the list of available recipes for offline characters is one thing, but what about seeing cooldowns for cooldown-delimited abilities? Does a single character have to be holding all the crafting materials or can it draw across the inventories of all characters on the account? Keep in mind that we’re in a world where BoA items are still limited by server, so that introduces a whole different layer to the problem.
  • All the professions, all the time: The ad absurdum edge of account-wide professions is players straight up being able to do all of the professions and getting all the perks with no limitations. This creates a circumstance where a player feels compelled to level up all three gathering professions, all four gear-crafting professions, all four enhancement professions, as well as Cooking, in order to get all of the profession perks. This is the kind of min-maxing behavior that’s really become endemic among WoW players, which has contributed to the overwhelming common sensibility that if you’re not fully gemmed, enchanted, hit-capped, reforged to capitalize on your simulation-derived optimal secondary stats, using the optimal talents for the content, and using addons/macros to enhance your rotation/priority, you’re flat-out “doing it wrong and need to L2P.” So if you add “max out twelve professions across four expansions of content” to that list, well… it’s certainly not going to help the burnout problem.

In responses to Dr. Street’s tweet, there’s plenty of other suggestions thrown out: let everyone have a crafting profession slot and two production professions slots; throw out profession bonuses entirely; let characters know all professions but only have two active at a time… the list goes on. I don’t think there’s a simple solution to the problem (as I hope I’ve demonstrated here) but in terms of what practicable solution I like the most?

I’m going to go with account-wide access, with each character still being limited by two primary choices. I’d also argue that herbalism, mining, and skinning ought to be downgraded to secondary professions, freeing up a slot for some characters to get another production/enhancement profession into play. If that means Master of Anatomy, Lifeblood and Toughness get nerfed or removed, then I think that’s ultimately an acceptable trade.

In a dream scenario, well… this blog is filled with all of the ideas I’ve got about turning professions into a much more robust system within the game. So hey, if it’s your first time here, look around. ^_^ There is definitely more to come.

Professions Mk. IV (End of Line Dillinger Remix)

In talking about professions, a constant refrain I hear is how there isn’t any fun stuff for the professions once you reach the endgame. This is a somewhat difficult problem to unpack, because fun is a pretty subjective thing, but let’s see what we can do. First, let’s address what professions currently do at the endgame.

  • Gearcrafting professions make entry-level gear for PVE and PVP, good enough to get a player out of quest greens but not really powerful enough to supplant drops that will come into play early in the expansion cycle. Doing 5-man heroics or doing battlegrounds long enough to start buying Honor gear will typically replace crafted gear very quickly.
  • Consumable crafting gets into high gear at the endgame, with enchanters churning out enchants and jewelcrafters producing gems to kit out new gear. Alchemists are making flasks and potions. Cooks are making feasts. The other professions are making the gear enhancements they typically make, in the form of belt buckles, weapon scopes, fur linings, spellthreads, shoulder inscriptions, and the like… every gearcrafting profession has got at least one thing they can make that’s basically required in order to completely kit out a player’s equipment.
  • All professions have got their passive exclusive perks that add that expected throughput increase; alchemists get more out of their flasks, blacksmiths get bonus gem sockets, enchanters get ring enchants, etc.

Now in terms of the above, it’s all stuff that has a distinct use to it: for the most part, it’s all aimed at increasing throughput or effectiveness at one’s role, or in the case of PVP gear increasing survivability in a PVP circumstance. Creating useful stuff can be fun if you like doing a significant amount of additional damage because of your investment in kitting out your gear; but the counter here is that players can pretty much do all of that kitting without really paying substantial attention to professions.

When you look at the common complaint that the professions on the whole don’t make anything “fun” then you have to consider what fun things (as in non-throughput-enhancing items) are currently being made and say “huh, either people forgot about these things OR they aren’t fun enough.” So those types of things would include:

  • Alchemy: making Darkwater potions, which turn you into a Jinyu and let you swim at high speeds for a short time, or Desecrated Oil, which makes you look like you’ve been Sha-touched, and Potions of Luck, which give you additional treasure boxes off mobs.
  • Inscription: Makes Origami items, as well as the Chi-ji and Yu’lon Kite battle pets; coincidentally makes all of the minor glyphs that are fun for individual classes.
  • Jewelcrafting: Makes a ton of gem-based panther mounts, and a couple of battle pets.
  • Engineering: Has the typical gamut of fun things in the form of mounts, pets, Blingtron, and tinkers like the goblin glider.
  • Blacksmithing, Leatherworking, Tailoring and Enchanting all have exactly zero in the current expansion that isn’t gear or gear enhancements.
  • Herbalism, Skinning, and Mining don’t really have fun things in general (aside from the occasional Golden Lotus or Bloated Stomach).

So given what’s already in, what can we add in order to get more fun into the professions? Some suggestions I’ve seen elsewhere, and a few of my own, include the following:

  • Blacksmithing, Leatherworking and Tailoring can use rare materials to craft unique armor sets that are strictly cosmetic. Hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing all three professions get the ability to craft past Tier Armor lookalikes instead of having that stuff be DMF/BMAH bait.
  • Herbalism gets the occasional consumable item, aside from the Life/Water Spirit potion-standins we have in MoP. The Desecrated Oil could have easily been such a consumable gathered by herbalists instead of crafted by alchemists. And while it doesn’t need to be a throughput bonus like Fire Seeds, having a fun thing like Lifegiving Seed was fun AND useful at the same time.
  • Mining gets an occasional Petrified item, which could be treated like the Nat Pagle rare fish in MoP, in that it gives you a daily quest that has a reward at the end of it. You could do a Petrified Leaf that would get you random herbs, a Petrified Critter which could get you Archaeology fragments… there’s a lot of ways to flex this.
  • Jewelcrafting could get a lot of flashy cosmetic items to play with, from tiaras to blingin’ rings. I’d argue that the model update for all races presents an opportunity to give more cosmetic slots on the model (i.e. being able to pick a color for earrings and other piercings) and Jewelcrafting being able to play into that would give the profession another market to play with.
  • Plenty of people have suggested cosmetic enchants, or the ability to replace the appearance of an enchant with a different one. I think if you were going to come up with a method to alter the appearance of your battle pets (give them all halos, or fiery auras, or something along those lines) then that would be an Enchanting product.

What it comes down to is willpower; if Blizzard doesn’t want to revamp the existing professions system and instead just wants to layer in more stuff for people to do with the craft, then finding ways to link professions into other places in the game aside from strictly throughput is a way to do that. That has costs as well (I’ve tried to avoid bringing up bank bloat in this post, but it really bears mentioning when we talk about adding more Stuff to the game) but all told it might help to make the professions more enticing to players who simply want to make things that are cool.

Even so, I agree that the system as is won’t really benefit from just having a bunch of fluff recipes added. There needs to be a more dramatic change… and with that in mind, I’ll give you some homework. The Godmother over at Alternative Chat posted a big thing about a radical rework of the profession systems, and I’m priming a response to it for the next post. Stay tuned. ^_^