Cancer, Content Creators, and the Love of Craft

I want to tell you something important about myself, through talking about someone I’ve never met, and sadly never will.

So if you’re not someone who’s immersed in the Warcraft community, you might not have heard of a content creator named HayvenGames. The short version is that he was a young gentleman who had a big interest in illuminating the many mysteries that lay within the data files that made up the worlds that WoW took place in. Put another way, he was a very sophisticated creator of exploration videos, which is a particular brand of WoW machinima that centers on using various methods to show off places in the game that players weren’t normally supposed to see.

Unlike a lot of other exploration video makers, Hayven went out of his way to do this kind of exploration in the name of uncovering the architecture of the world’s design, and didn’t really waste a lot of breath slamming Blizzard. (Side note: many of the early exploration video makers capitalized on using exploits and bugs to access unintended areas. As Blizzard would plug these holes, many of these explorers took it as an affront, but Hayven never did.) Moreover, Hayven did a lot of work to show the evolution of locations in-game, including going back to the RTS games to show how they were presented in 2D.

The guy was an educator. He wanted to show people where the world came from as much as he wanted to show off places that players couldn’t access. And it never appeared to be so much about “five secret places Blizzard doesn’t want you to see” but instead more about “here are places that don’t exist in the game anymore, or were never implemented on player-accessible maps, let’s see how they look.

He struck me as honest, earnest, and heartfelt about showcasing the game, and not about touting his own skills or trying to rub Blizzard’s nose in the fact that the seams of the world could be revealed. He pointed out patterns, like how Farahlon (intended to be post-launch content for Warlords of Draenor, but never completed) ended up presaging how Thal’dranath (intended to be post-launch content for Legion) was eventually cut from the game. This was about helping people to understand that the world of the game didn’t magically come into being, but had to be BUILT, and that sometimes meant compromises or visual tricks or even just dropping areas completely. He never apologized for Blizzard, as he wasn’t an employee and it wouldn’t have been his place to do so, but he also didn’t roast them for those decisions either. They were just a fact of game development, and a fact that he helped bring to light with his work.

Hayven passed away last month, after struggling against epithelioid sarcoma. He was 26. Throughout treatment, he kept creating content, even if it wasn’t at the breakneck pace he’d become known for, and he did everything he could to keep his followers and patrons informed about how he was progressing. However, he went quiet in mid-March, and nothing happened until today, when a new video was posted announcing that he’d passed on.

I had precious few interactions with Hayven over Twitter, but what struck me most about him was that he was someone who had the same desire I had about all of this unused or phased-out content: why was it made? What was the inspiration? The intent? Could it ever see use elsewhere? What does seeing it teach us about the craft of the game world? These are things that are pretty close to the reasons why I’ve been so invested in Warcraft as a universe for so long, and part of why I’ve wanted to get inside Blizzard: I desperately want to show the craftsmanship that goes into this game (and all of their games, really), and showcase the people who made it, and try to teach the real world to understand that it is PEOPLE who makes these games for us, and even if we don’t like how a class got nerfed or how a character got written or how much trash there was or wasn’t in a raid dungeon, we’re all still players who want to play a game together.

Hayven was a kindred spirit in that respect.

There just aren’t enough people who want to speak lovingly of the craft, in order to drown out the people who yell out their hatred, or even their ambivalence. And that’s a sad echo of everything else in the world, is it not?

So raise a glass for this young man, and wish his spirit well.

The Rundown

something something long hiatus, something something new plan. Let’s skip all this for now and focus on what’s up at the moment.

Games I’m Playing

  • World of Warcraft: LEGION – Just joined up with a cool new guild called <smol pupper> on US-Proudmoore-A. Casual raiding with a bunch of ex-hardcore raiders, chill environment, cool people.
  • Final Fantasy Record Keeper – Mobile gacha-style game, totally an indulgence of my Final Fantasy nostalgia. Sadly keeping me from other mobile games right now.
  • Fire Emblem Fates [IN PROGRESS] – I’ve got a lot to say about this game, but I think I need to write a post talking about the FE series here. Bottom line is that I REALLY want to have more knowledge about this series, but it takes some time investment.
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [COMPLETE] – Review forthcoming, even though I know it’s a pretty old game by this point.
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn [COMING SOON] – Picked it up, haven’t started it yet, prolly should. ^_^
  • Overwatch (S4 Rank 1862) – Orisa is such a joy to play, but when she’s not working, I can always fall back to D.va. Crow r murdertank. ^_^

Books I’m Reading

  • Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes [COMPLETE] – Again, review is on the way. Easily 9.5/10 though, it was such a pleasure to read.
  • Sabaa Tahir, A Torch in the Darkness [COMING SOON] – The sequel to the above, and planning to eat through it pretty quickly if the first book was any indication.
  • Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows [QUEUED] – Loved the first lines, loved the title, fits with my initiative on reading YA written by women and POC this year, and really looks promising.
  • World of Warcraft: Chronicle Vol. 2 [COMPLETE] – Lots to say about this entry, but it does everything that the first volume did last year with stuff that’s more relevant to the more recent history of the game. Which is fantastic.

Movies & TV

  • Iron Fist [QUEUED] – Been hearing a ton about this that doesn’t fill me with lots of hope, but after Daredevil S1/S2, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, I think something that was less than stellar was kinda due up.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 [DELAYED] – Basically missed the third episode of the season and was never able to catch up with it, so I guess I’m waiting until the season will be fully streamable before we get to pick it up. But dude: GHOST RIDER.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender [IN PROGRESS] – Man this show is a pleasure. Trying to stretch the experience out a bit, even with the second season now available, because I’m remembering how awful it felt to wait on subsequent seasons of Legend of Korra. But MAN is this a great show.
  • Logan: I’ve got a lot to say about this film and the X-men franchise as a whole, but short of all that, this is an excellent, excellent film. Wonderfully acted, invisible effects, and I really want to see Dafne Keen murder people in the future.

How Much Dungeon Is Too Much? Too Little?

The core issue I have with this response is that from a design perspective, it appears to ignore the principal reasons why the “superdungeon” design used frequently in Classic WoW was replaced by the “instance hub” design used in Burning Crusade and afterward.

  1. Players got lost in superdungeons like Blackrock Depths. It wasn’t laid out in an intuitive way.
  2. Spending 3-5 hours clearing 5-player content wasn’t conducive to a playstyle where a normal dungeon was something you could do casually over a lunch break.
  3. The art assets and encounter design manhours invested in creating 5-player content were similar to the resources invested in a 10/25-player raid, and yet raids were intended to offer greater staying power as content.

Hence, the instance hub design in BC addressed all of these problems at once.

  1. Dungeons were inherently more linear, and the frequency of divergent paths or optional bosses was far lower.
  2. Constraining boss counts to less than 3-4 made lunchbreak runs more feasible for a somewhat coordinated team.
  3. Reusing art assets allowed encounter design to be the chief delineating factor between the dungeons rather than visual style, which put more pressure on the encounters team to churn out unique fights but freed the art teams who generally seem to have a longer turnaround on generating deliverables.

Because we’re talking about a paradigm shift that has largely been maintained in expansions since BC, I think it’s safe to say that it’s probably the paradigm that Team 2 intends to stick with for the rest of WoW. To be fair, though, asset reuse has been set aside in lieu of making fewer dungeons that are nonetheless unique in their visual style AND encounter mechanics. The fact that this has resulted in fewer dungeons proves the point of the instance hub concept, which is that art resources are expensive.

I think the concern about the world feeling stitched together is completely valid, but I’m willing to accept that feeling principally because it means the developers have to strike a compromise somewhere between an immersive and believable game world and a world where players don’t have to spend a lot of time traveling before they get to gameplay.

Put another way, the sense of being in an immense and immersive world isn’t the core objective of the game; instead, the core objective is combat on a diverse set of stages, and in providing a mostly seamless transition between those stages, the game world must shave some corners. I still think Blizzard does a great job with the scope and fidelity of their zone/instance design, but I know not everyone agrees with how much they choose to invest (or not invest) on that particular aspect of the overall design.

THE NEW FOCUS

Personally, I don’t find a lot of value in stocking up on a full log of Mists of Pandaria daily quests to turn in when the servers switch over to Warlords. Nothing against those colleagues and friends of mine who swear by it or their reasons for doing it, but it doesn’t work for me, and here’s why:

  • I don’t feel an overwhelming need to give a kiss goodnight to the daily content. It was good content and I enjoyed it well enough to accumulate thousands of Lesser Charms on my main, but I can’t say that I’m super-attached to it. Moreover, it’s not going anywhere.
  • I’ve got limited play-time. Trying to stack up a full log of dailies is time-consuming, and when the XP and gold rewards simply don’t compare to the XP/gold per hour of doing the Tanaan experience (especially given how practiced I am with that content from doing it repeatedly on the beta) it makes a lot more sense from an XP/gold gain perspective to just get started with Tanaan Jungle from minute one instead of flitting about Pandaria turning in quests.
  • I’ve got seven level 90 characters, which is by far the most I’ve ever had at max-level EVER. Even if I could somehow justify stuffing the quest log on my main to get a negligible headstart on XP gains, I know I couldn’t do it for the other six. (And I just remembered that I plan to use my boost on my gnome mage once I get the expansion, so that’ll be EIGHT. Sweet sisters of mercy.) I’m not really what you’d call an altoholic (I just like covering my bases with professions, really) but the bottom line is that it’s just not a positive ROI for the time needed.
  • I fly out tomorrow Wednesday to Los Angeles for BlizzCon and a bit of a holiday and won’t be back at my gaming rig until next Tuesday. My wife works next Wednesday, so it’s back to the grind of taking care of my son. The expansion comes out Thursday. If I was going to attempt to do a project like this instead of what I’ve been doing (farming old raids for incremental progress on old legendaries because I can actually do it now as a priest also GOLD) I’d have had to start on it weeks ago.

Again, this isn’t meant to slight folks who a) have time on their hands, b) feel an attachment to the content and want to give a send-off, c) REALLY LIKE DAILIES, d) maximize their gold gains at every turn, e) aren’t disappearing to SoCal for a week-long drinking binge, or f) do what they want b/c it’s a fuckin’ game and they’ll play however they like. The game has latitude to support a lot of play styles, and it’s not my job to tell people what they should do with their play time, since I certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if someone said “you need to do this with the slivers of time you set aside to game.”

I just wanted to throw out why I won’t be doing this, and affirming that my focus on November 13th will be collecting heads in Warlords of Draenor. So long, Pandaria. I’ll likely visit for brews and mounts and other stuff when I run out of stuff to do on Draenor. /wave

Timewalker Rewards: Conclusion

So let’s run down that original list again to wrap this up. Note that each entry links back to the article where I go into more in-depth analysis about each subject, so if you want to see my work, that’s where to go.

  • GoldRisky as a reward because of the threat of inflation, but a little is unavoidable.
  • Experience: For the scaled character it’s not a reward, but for the player it could be a reward if tailored properly. It’s all you want until you don’t need it anymore.
  • Endgame Gear: Too risky given power-creep at the time it’s introduced; making Timewalkers mandatory for progression supercedes current content too strongly.
  • Gear Tokens a la Timeless Isle: Viable as a catch-up mechanism, especially if a content drought is coming.
  • Cosmetic GearRisky because of the asset cost in creating new cosmetic gear.
  • Loot Rolls: Dubious because it’s just a chance for gear, but also awesome because it’s a chance for gear.
  • Justice/Valor Points: Good night, sweet prince.
  • Unique Currency: As good as whatever the currency buys.
  • Reputation: As good as whatever it gates access to. Only good until you don’t need it.
  • Achievements: Foregone conclusion; everything has achievements.
  • Pets, Toys, and Mounts: Useful for collectors or for people who like the aesthetics, but otherwise useless.

All things considered, I think that the best solution is one that offers a unique gameplay experience, provides players a great deal of choice, but focuses principally on rewarding players by giving them a greater chance at getting rare drops from doing Timewalker dungeons. I think it would be simple to extend a gear strategy to this as well, but let’s cut to the chase and introduce the solution.

Introducing the Timewalkers Faction

Faction Background: Mortals of all races who’ve taken on the duty of aiding the Bronze Dragonflight in protecting the timeways. 

The Timewalkers offer a daily Timewalker dungeon quest to max-level players, directing them to complete a Timewalker dungeon. Completing the quest rewards a [Satchel of Time-Lost Artifacts], which contains the chance to acquire rare drops like mounts, pets, and unique equipment that normally drop in that specific dungeon, but at a higher percentage. For example, completing a Timewalker daily for dead-side Stratholme would give you a satchel that has an increased chance of dropping Rivendare’s Deathcharger.

Completing a Timewalker dungeon always rewards a [Mote of Time] as currency, which are used as a currency with the Timewalkers reputation vendor. Bonus motes are also a consolation prize if you fail to get any rare drops from the satchel.

At Friendly, the Timewalkers reputation vendor Llore offers a [Time-Lost Bag of Treasures] in exchange for motes. Opening this bag grants a chance to acquire a dungeon-dropped mount or pet that you don’t have, similar to the satchel, but drawing from all dungeons. At each successive reputation level, a higher-level version of the Time-Lost Bag is offered at the same price, with an increased chance for you to acquire the most rare mounts. In the event that the Time-Lost bag doesn’t reward a mount or pet, or if you’ve somehow acquired ALL of those mounts/pets available, the Time-Lost bag might reward a Seal of Tempered Fate or a lump of gold.

Hence, motes can be used the following ways:

  • Used to purchase Time-Lost Bags,
  • Used to gain reputation with the Timewalkers,
  • Used to buy unique mounts/pets,
  • Used to buy a Timeless Knowledge token, which when used grants leveling alts across the Battle.net account a 10% increase to XP gain. The mote cost of the token decreases with reputation gains,
  • Used to buy a Grand Commendation that increases reputation gains by 100% for all characters on the account.

This creates a number of interesting choices: you can either choose to gamble your motes on the possibility of getting stuff out of the Friendly-level bag, or use them to gain reputation so that your bag has a greater chance of getting rewards. Unique mounts and pets are there to provide a clear grinding objective (just like the Cloud Serpent mount did with Emperor Shaohao) while the account-wide tokens are there to help mitigate the grind for the reputation itself and for experience for the characters who need it.

Ultimately, at Exalted, characters will still have a use for the motes in the form of spending them exclusively on bags for rare drops. And since the list of rare drops is long enough that it’ll take an excessive string of luck for players to acquire everything, there’s a good incentive to keep running Timewalker dungeons to get motes even once all of the other rewards are exhausted.

I think that it would be easy to add gear into this reward structure by just making it cost motes (in the form of Timeless Isle-like armor tokens), or by making profession recipes that require mote-purchased crafting materials. However, I also think that gear as a reward (in any form aside from cosmetic gear or loot rolls) has the greatest chance of turning Timewalker dungeons from a fun side activity into part of the gear progression curve, which is not where it belongs.

The Wrap

Thanks for hanging out with me while I try to both make a suggestion and show my work while doing it. At the end of the day, this is really something of a hard thing to tackle on my own… it smacks of something that really requires multiple perspectives and a discussion between people to really nail down the best solution. And I have to imagine that boiling things down to a “rep faction with a unique currency that lets you get the mounts/pets from old content” doesn’t sound exciting on its own, but I’d like to think that after reading through all of this, my reasoning for that solution should be more evident.

Tell me what you think. ^_^

Timewalker Rewards: The Rest of the List

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. Let’s look at achievements and vanity items like mounts, pets, and toys, as well as mechanisms like reputation and unique currencies as possible options.

Achievements

All things considered, it’s hard to consider achievements as a reward unto themselves, but it’s important to note the psychological impact of having the achievement toast pop up when you’ve accomplished a thing. You see it, your guildmates see it, players around you see it, and in a lot of cases it should trigger some congratulations getting sent your way. Achievements don’t really get you anything in the game in and of themselves, but they’re designed to give you a good feeling as a reward for accomplishing something, regardless of what that something is.

Since achievements offer nothing, though, there’s no reason not to offer them. They don’t take up space (except in the Achievements UI), they don’t cause player power creep, and it’s generally expected that you’ll get achievements for accomplishing certain things, like hitting Exalted with a faction. When it comes down to it, I suspect that achievements will be an element of whatever rewards you get from Timewalking, but they certainly won’t be the only reward.

Vanity Items

There’s a double-edged sword to vanity items: essentially, if players don’t like the visual aesthetic of the mount, they don’t want the mount, but unlike cosmetic gear, if they need the mount in order to get ANOTHER mount (via the constantly-increasing threshold of mount collection achievements that rewards you with a mount for getting a lot of mounts) then they’ll begrudgingly pursue it.

The same thing goes for pets; even with the Pet Battles system, if you’re not someone who does pet battles but has to fill the achievement requirements of “Collect X pets” because it’s a bar you have to fill, then offering a pet as a reward has at least a certain degree of appeal.

Toys are generally speaking all about doing cosmetic things, but prior to the Toybox weren’t something that had the same broad “must fill this bar” compulsion as mounts and pets had, because toys ate up storage space. Now that toys are joining mounts and pets in that category, though, it’s just a matter of offering relevant toys that players want to put forth effort for.

Still, since vanity items are all effectively about cosmetics, then the cosmetic element has to have a certain level of appeal in order to be worth the investment of effort. And as we know from cosmetic gear, that’s something that’s going to vary wildly from player to player. So offering vanity items is less of a surefire reward on its own, but as an accompaniment to other rewards, especially since they don’t contribute to bank bloat, it’s a solid option if the art assets are there to make them unique.

Reputation

Reputation is actually rather similar to experience as a reward that you want until you don’t need it anymore. The difference is this: experience gates your access to the endgame, while reputation gates your access to one very specific slice of the endgame, which usually takes the form of a vendor who’ll sell you other types of rewards.

There are two ways that Timewalking could theoretically engage reputation: either it can give you rep bonuses with specific factions (much like the bonus reputation/faction championing mechanic works currently), or it can give you reputation with a Timewalkers faction.

  • The problem with the former option is that it misses the point of reputation: the fantasy of reputation as a concept is that you’re representing a particular faction and doing their works in order to grow in their esteem and prove yourself worthy of their secrets. Going through time and space to fix issues somewhere else shouldn’t make the Frostwolf Orcs love you more, especially if those efforts don’t have an impact on them at all. The same holds true for all of the Draenor factions. This was also the inherent problem with tabard championing in Wrath and Cataclysm: it just made the rep bar another XP bar to grind instead of having any meaning behind it.
  • The major concern with a specific faction tied to the system is that how you tune the rep gains and what rewards are available impacts the lifespan of the system itself; for example, if you have an old-school grind like Emperor Shaohao, where the rewards are universally cosmetic and the grind is exceptionally long, it only stretches the content for a certain subset of players.

I think there’s a solid proposal to be made in having a Timewalkers faction with some interesting rewards at each reputation level, but I’ll cover that later. The bottom line is that reputation as a reward only works if the rewards for the reputation itself are worthwhile. And with how rep-gating played out in Mists of Pandaria, I feel like that’s a system people aren’t really going to be excited about.

Unique Currency

I use the term “unique” here to differentiate from generic currencies like Justice/Valor/Honor/Conquest points, which are all acquired from doing various kinds of content. Unique currencies would include Timeless Coins or Marks of the World Tree, which really only work in one specific area of the game: they’re acquired doing content related to that area, and they can only be spent in that area.

To a great extent, the value of a unique currency is going to be measured based off what you can get for that currency. Using Timeless Coins as an example, you could buy vanity items, Burdens of Eternity, iLvl 489 weapons, Timeless Armor caches, juicy trinkets, and even Valor Points. While most of those items become less useful once you’ve outgeared the gear and can’t upgrade via Burdens or Valor, it’s still a sizable but achievable grind if you’re not doing other content.

The Home Stretch

That covers all of the current relevant rewards; we don’t need to cover Justice/Valor Points since they are going the way of the dodo. Tomorrow we review our findings and then talk about a proposal for what rewards could actually look like.

Timewalker Rewards: Gear as a Reward

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. We’re going to get into gear, which is really a big thing on its own.

Before we start off though: let’s be more specific with gear as it pertains to a reward for Timewalker dungeons. I don’t think I need to go into a lot of detail for why players want to get gear; it’s the primary method of character progression once you get to max-level.Yes, some players choose to progress through xmog or pet battles or mount collections or RP, but I don’t think those players inform a majority of the playerbase.

Gear Drops

The general issue with gear drops as a reward is the contribution that gear makes to player power. More specifically, consider the following:

  • If Timewalker dungeons reward loot that’s commensurate with current content dungeons, players will likely take the path of least resistance and run Timewalker dungeons, since they will likely be more familiar or mechanically less challenging than current content.
    • Moreover, if Timewalker dungeons aren’t limited in terms of how frequently they can be run/provide rewards, this contributes to player power creep that has to be factored into overall encounter difficulty. Put another way, if players get too geared too quickly, the encounter designers need to make the encounters harder to prevent raids from blowing past them too quickly.
  • If Timewalker dungeons reward loot that’s less powerful than what’s available in current content (for example, the 496 Timeless gear tokens that were lower iLvl than Raid Finder drops in Siege of Orgrimmar) then Timewalker dungeons work as a catch-up mechanism for lapsed players, but this has a limited shelf-life when players no longer want/need the gear.
  • If Timewalker dungeons don’t reward gear that translates into player power at all, it’s a situation similar to Challenge Modes, where only certain groups of players are interested in using their time in a way that doesn’t help them advance their characters.

On the other hand, you have cosmetic drops, whether that’s in the form of boss-specific drops that have a unique appearance or transmog-specific gear like the Challenge Mode Gold reward armor sets.

  • Boss-specific drops can be interesting if there’s no other way to acquire them, but if they’re more easily acquired just by farming the normal instance at max-level, players again will likely take the path of least resistance.
    • If, on the other hand, you had a greater chance of getting the item in Timewalker mode, that would encourage more players to join that queue, but again has a limited shelf-life as players get what they want and stop queuing.
  • Transmog-specific gear is an interesting reward, but if it’s taking away art assets that would otherwise be used for current content, then that’s a potential issue. Also, it puts the inherent value of the reward up to whether individuals like the appearance of the set, since it doesn’t offer player power. Because appreciating art is a subjective thing, that’s a difficult sell to compel players to take on a challenge.

The other issue with gear drops, especially when it’s cosmetic items, is bank bloat. More than any other reward, cosmetic gear is that thing that sits in your bags/bank/void storage and eats space just so you’ve got the privilege of putting together an outfit. I think that invites a greater discussion about inventory improvements, but for now I think it has to be understood that gear has got an additional cost to it as a reward that most everything else on the list doesn’t have.

When it comes down to it, the biggest issue with offering gear as a reward for Timewalking is how it contributes to power creep. That’s ultimately something that can be tuned, as well as something that can be mitigated depending on when/how Timewalking is made accessible.

Loot Rolls

This is probably the best time to bring up loot rolls, since the chief thing loot rolls are for is getting gear (and not for getting fail bags).

To a certain extent, even with the promise that loot rolls will have more protection for failure, and protection from giving you the same piece of gear multiple times, at the end of the day a loot roll is just a bonus chance to get gear from a boss kill. Meaning you have to be able to kill the boss AND you have to have committed whatever effort was necessary to get the loot roll token. We know from the beta that the list basically boils down to a currency exchange; you can buy your Seals of Tempered Fate through a set of weekly quests that each ask for one of the following currencies:

  • 300 Garrison Resources
  • 100 Apexis Crystals
  • 500 gold
  • 500 Honor Points
  • You can also get a seal each week for free by having a War Mill (Horde) or Dwarven Bunker (Alliance).

Note that Justice/Valor Points are not on that list; we’ll deal with that later.

So the trick of offering Seals of Tempered Fate (or whatever loot roll token we use in later tiers) as a Timewalker reward is that scaled content would be in direct competition with current content for letting you get that roll opportunity. That feels like something that we really shouldn’t do.

There’s a temptation to say “yeah, but what if you needed to run a LOT of Timewalkers to get a seal?” then it starts to feel like the the Justice Trade Goods vendor from Cataclysm: it’s not intended to be a fair exchange, but it’s something you can do if you’ve got a glut of Justice Points. The difference is that Timewalker dungeons are asking you to turn your time into seals, instead of dumping Justice into crafting materials that you could gather on your own.

But the constant counter you can come back to is that loot rolls are only a chance at gear. There’s so many requirements on your ability to actually spend them just for the chance of getting gear that it doesn’t feel like a loot roll should really be weighed so heavily as a reward.

When it comes down to it, the only problem with offering loot rolls is whether or not it’s okay for Timewalker content to compete with current content.

Going Forward

We’ve talked about gold and experience, and with gear out of the way we’re halfway through the list. Am I missing anything?

Timewalker Rewards: Gold and Experience

Quick review: the idea is to look critically at existing PVE rewards in order to discuss what would work as rewards for Timewalker dungeons, since that’s apparently Blizzard’s hold-up on implementing them. We’re going to start with a couple ubiquitous rewards and get more specific from there.

Experience

I think it’s important to start off with experience as a reward case because it is the chief thing we’re rewarded with while leveling through the game. It’s a great reward, because it gets you closer and closer to the point where you don’t need it anymore, which is max level. However, when it’s relevant to you, you can’t get enough of it.

So with that in mind, let me throw this example out there: say that leveling players receive a 10% increase in XP gains while in a matchmade group with a scaled-down player.

  • Pros: this gives a noticeable benefit to leveling players that helps them get through the XP grind faster.
  • Cons: this doesn’t benefit the scaled player in a noticeable way, unless the sole reason they’re scaling down is so they can assist other players in leveling up. Moreover, this might also be double-dipping for the leveling players; they’re getting a max-level player with more abilities who can probably still mitigate much of the threat of the instance, AND getting an XP buff out of it so that they need fewer runs. It’s a little too good to be true.
  • This also has the potential to generate some odd player behavior, if a max-level player is selling his services to a party of low-level players to grant the buff. Granted, there are already players who offer their services similarly to leveling players, but it feels a little dirty to contribute another method they can use for that purpose.

How could we iterate on that? Instead of a scaled player granting this percentage XP increase to other matchmade players, what if the scaled player gave that buff to his/her own alternate characters on the same Battle.net after clearing a daily Timewalker dungeon? That means there’s an incentive for players to at least step into a Timewalker mode so that they can then boost their own characters. To an extent, it feels like the Valor of the Ancients buff that lets your other characters benefit for one character’s diligence.

The bottom line with experience is that it’s something you can’t get enough of until you don’t need it anymore. Experience doesn’t fly as a reward for max-level characters to scale, because they don’t need it. But it could be tweaked into something that players want to do at least occasionally if they’re trying to boost low-level alts.

Gold

Overall, gold isn’t a very exciting reward because it’s so easy to come by. Also, it has very little direct application in improving player power. Because gear comes from drops and currencies more than it does from gold, the primary use for gold tends to be covering repair costs, buying crafting materials, or buying vanity items like mounts, pets, or xmog gear. The consequence of rewarding players too much gold is economic inflation, where all the stuff that people spend gold on (crafting materials, flasks and item enhancements in a pinch, and vanity items) balloons in price because the average player has so much gold at their disposal.

It’s probably important to note that Blizzard has repeatedly put large gold sinks into the game in order to mitigate gold inflation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but gold inflation has the real-world consequence of driving up the business for gold-sellers; if gold prices get so high that players feel like their only option is to buy gold from the illicit grey market, they’re putting their accounts at risk while also contributing to groups who actively compromise other accounts in order to get their in-game funds. So it is in Blizzard’s best interest to try and keep gold inflation under control in order to keep that from happening (while also, of course, working behind the scenes to locate and shut down these grey marketeers).

It’s also valuable to point out that the bag players get when a loot roll doesn’t deliver gear (a.k.a. “the fail bag”) typically ends up containing gold. This is great for mitigating repairs costs, but most players seem to be developing a negative connotation with gold as a reward because of the sense that “you could have been that BiS piece I needed, and instead you’re a drop in the bucket of gold I already have.”

Gold alone, as such, doesn’t really fly as a reward. Trickling players a little gold to cover incidental repair costs in the individual dungeon is probably enough. Dumping much more into players, especially in a repeatable manner, will probably do more harm than good.

As a counterpoint to experience, though, it’s interesting that there’s not really an upper threshold to a player having gold. Okay, yes, there’s a gold cap, but it’s high enough that players aren’t going to hit it accidentally. Ignoring the inflation problem, gold is a reward that players can usually always find a use for, especially at max-level.

Going Forward

I wanted to start to these two reward avenues because I think they inform the discussion on many of the other possible rewards; gold, for example, is a counterpoint for JP/VP currencies because of the flexibility of expenditure. Experience is a good counterpoint for rewards that have a cap after which the reward is meaningless, like reputation.

We’ll cover those in future installments. For now, is there anything I missed about gold and experience? Is there really a viable way to offer them as rewards for Timewalker dungeons? Let me know.

Timewalker Rewards: The Setup

So awhile back, the concept of Timewalker dungeons got datamined out of the PTR from Patch 5.4, and Game Director Tom Chilton commented at the time (at gamescom 2013) that what held them back from implementation was how to do rewards. I talked a bit back then about what those rewards could look like.

With a new interview at this year’s gamescom, Chilton has got essentially the same reason for why Timewalker dungeons aren’t being included in Warlords of Draenor at launch. So I thought it might be useful to revisit the concept of rewards, especially now that we have more hints about what rewards may look like in the expansion.

Let’s review how players get rewarded for doing PVE content currently:

  • Gold (from using matchmaking tools, directly/indirectly from cash drops, quest rewards, fail bags…)
  • Experience (before the level cap, which gets turned into gold at cap)
  • Gear in the form of drops from bosses and trash mobs
  • Gear in the form of gear tokens (whether it’s tier tokens in raids or Timeless tokens)
  • Gear in the form of transmogrification sources
  • Loot rolls
  • Justice/Valor Points
  • Area-specific currency (like Marks of the World Tree, Timeless Coins, etc.)
  • Reputation
  • Achievements
  • Pets and mounts
  • Toys

When it comes down to it, though, we can’t really consider each of these rewards in a vacuum. They all have impacts on players in different ways, and that’s important in terms of coming up with a reward worthy of the effort. Each of these rewards has different interactions and side-effects that have to be considered.

Moreover, you also have to consider the specific challenges of Timewalker dungeons as content. Timewalker content will be competing with current content for players’ attention, meaning it needs to be rewarding, but it’s also old content, which means it shouldn’t crowd current content out of the spotlight; if it did, it would turn Blizzard’s efforts in making new content into a fruitless exercise. And it can’t be forgotten that there’s been a vocal minority of players who actively disdain any of Blizzard’s historical re-uses of past content, like the dungeon remixes that started in Cataclysm.

At the end of the day, the objective of Timewalker dungeons is to provide max-level players with the ability to run older content at its intended level of difficulty. Whether that’s being done to help low-level guild members get into the endgame with their colleagues, or for the sake of nostalgia, or just to face a wider variety of challenges, Timewalker dungeons should not offer rewards that trivialize or marginalize current content.

Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to write on each of these rewards at length, analyzing how players use them currently and whether or not they would serve as worthwhile rewards for Timewalker dungeons. I welcome your feedback. ^_^

The Objective of the Lore: A Multitude of Voices

There’s a certain degree of entitlement that I often see in the community about people who want novel-grade consistency out of Blizzard Entertainment. I’m saying that you’re demanding to have your cake and eat it too, and I want to disabuse you of that notion.

Here’s the thing about lore in World of Warcraft: while you could conceivably compare the scope of its story or the number of interconnected characters to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings   there isn’t really a lot of ground to stand on for that comparison. The main reason for this is because lore in WoW (and also lore in Starcraft and Diablo, natch) is not written by one person.

Let’s go down the list:

  • Big stakeholders in the company’s overall dedication to story like Chris Metzen.
  • Boss-level producers and the game director Tom Chilton who are invested particular in the movement of Warcraft as a franchise.
  • Creative Development’s rank-and-file, both in the form of writers who generate story content like Micky Neilson, Robert Brooks, Matt Burns, and Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie (there are a lot more of them) and historians like Sean Copeland, Evelyn Fredericksen, and Justin Parker who are intended to keep all of the story agents in line.
  • Narrative Designer Dave Kosak and other game designers who need the story to move in a particular direction to match up with game design assets like raid and dungeon bosses and character/NPC abilities.
  • Quest designers who are tasked with populating the world with relevant quests that accentuate the main story.
  • Professional writers (i.e. Christie Golden, Richard Knaak, Mike Stackpole) external to Blizzard who are contracted to create non-game content like the books, comics, manga, and the Ultimate Visual Guide.
  • Third parties who are adapting Warcraft into other mediums, like Blizzard’s Team 5 making Hearthstone, the now-defunct Cryptozoic crew who was making the WoW TCG, and Legendary Pictures who’s currently making the Warcraft film.

You don’t have a single authoritative personality directing all of these forces simultaneously, and even as much as people THINK it’s Metzen or Kosak at every turn, it’s not. Even with the existence of the historians, it’s an unrealistic expectation for them to pore over every single line of text in every single work to make sure it all serves the meta-narrative of the game consistently. There are dozens of voices all putting their input into the game at once, and they aren’t even doing it by any kind of committee but instead all independently with oversight from CDev.

The game is too large for one person to keep it all straight. And even if it were possible for the historians to ensure that 100% of the outgoing text passes muster, there’s no single authoritative person to say “now that it’s written it cannot be altered under any circumstances.”

This is the reason why there’s no definitive timeline for the in-game history, and why there’s no definitive encyclopedia for all of the in-game subjects that exist: the designers need to have the flexibility to shape the world to suit the design. The story has to be malleable so that it can support the gameplay. This is why the maps keep changing and continents keep on showing up on Azeroth. And when it comes down to it, when you make things concrete and canon, it limits what you’re capable of doing later.

When you’re writing a series of books and you come to the realization that something in Book 1 is holding you back from something you want to do in Book 3, you can’t typically do much about if Book 1 is already out. You deal with it and the rest of the books proceed as best as you can and you take it as a lesson to plan better next time. But the reason for that is because the story is the only thing in books. There’s nothing else other than the story and it’s internal consistency. No one reads ASoIaF if they’re not interested in story. There are people who play WoW who aren’t interested in story, and Blizzard has to design a game that suits them just as much as they need a game world that’s rich in story. That means gameplay first.

The core of all this is that when people accuse Blizzard of laziness or bad writing, I take some umbrage at that. The objective of Blizzard’s lore mission is to support the gameplay. It’s a single facet of the product’s diamond-like surface. It’s like throwing Guardians of the Galaxy under the bus because you’ve got a bad association with “Cherry Bomb.” Maybe a piece of writing isn’t the strongest (I find Kosak’s “Edge of Night” to be problematic) but if it does its intended task than that should garner a little respect.

Anyhow, /rant.