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. ^_^

Grade the Raid: Encounter Reporting

Come with me on this journey.

Crow says: Man, it’s so cool that Molten Core is going to come back as a limited-time LFR event for the Warcraft 10th Anniversary.

Crow says: It would be kinda neat to have old-school raids get brought back periodically as a kind of Raid Challenge for competitive PVE.

Crow says: Hmm… you wouldn’t be able to do Raid Challenges the same way as Challenge Mode dungeons, though, because long-format raids aren’t conducive to a time attack.

Crow says: But what if you were graded on your performance in the raid, and your leaderboard ranking was based on peak performance?

Crow says: … wait… grading the raid?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through my thought process. ^_^

Essentially, this is how it would work:

  • Players are graded based off their performance against the mechanics of a boss fight.
    • We know that Blizzard designs the encounters in such a way that some damage is unavoidable (Chimaeron’s Massacre is an extreme example) but some damage is avoidable (telegraphed ground AoE effects, like Lightning Pools on Jin’rohk). Hence, players would get points deducted for taking avoidable damage, but would get points awarded for using damage-mitigation abilities against unavoidable damage.
    • Healers would get a deduction if a player dies to unavoidable damage. Healers would also get a bonus for healing done, which would account for absorbs but would not count overhealing. The idea is to reinforce that the healers have a job to do regarding keeping the raid alive, but because there are two types of damage, the healers should really only take the blame if the dead player really didn’t have any way to avoid the damage.
    • The Dungeon Journal shows us that some mechanics are flagged as challenges targeted at tanks, healers, and damage-dealers. Successfully meeting those challenges would award points, but failing to do so would warrant a deduction. For example, Dungeon Journal entries flagged for the tank typically mean “you should use a cooldown in response to this ability.” Failing to use the cooldown would constitute a deduction.
    • Completing the requirements for an achievement may alter how the encounter is scored.

Now that’s not a complete picture; there’d be a lot of intricacies to this, and it’s obviously something that would add an additional layer of work to the encounter team’s efforts. But these grading tools can be used in a variety of ways:

  • During encounter testing, it can be used as a yardstick of how all of the mechanics gel together to create the overall difficulty of the encounter.
  • It provides raid leaders with a report that shows exactly where in an encounter specific players need to improve their performance.
  • It’s a more concrete teaching tool on how to execute an encounter without relying on out-of-game resources like bosskill videos.
  • Blizzard can designate specific encounters as an occasional challenge for competition, allowing raid teams to queue for that specific encounter and try to clear it with the highest grade in the lowest time. Rewards would likely be along the same lines as Challenge Mode seasons.

RISKY BUSINESS

The clear risk is that you’ve got raid leaders who get draconic about the report and bully players for failing at mechanics. However, those guys already exist, and they either brutalize the entire raid because they don’t know who actually caused the wipe (and hope the culprit wises up out of guilt) or they brutalize someone else (usually the healers) for not being able to cover for other people unadmitted mistakes. I don’t personally like leaders who think abuse is the best way to improve team performance, but it’s a formula that’s worked for certain groups of people (sports teams, military units, etc) aside from being a not-uncommon occurrence in MMO groups, so I feel like the rewards outweigh this risk.

Another risk is that providing the reporting tools shortens the engagement period for raiders. If raiders are improving their performance faster because they’re becoming more skilled (as opposed to improving their performance by getting raid drops and thus being able to survive the encounter by paying progressively less attention to mechanics) then they consume the content more quickly. Once all of the content is gone, players either disengage with the game because they’ve run out of content or they agitate at Blizzard for not producing content fast enough and THEN disengage from the game.

My response to that concern is this: demonstrate that players can improve their skills by being more attentive to mechanics by providing an inarguable measure of standards for them to compare against, and more players might be willing to experiment in higher difficulties like Mythic. Even with graded performance, even with transparent encounter design, it still takes exceptional skill and dedication to clear the highest difficulties, and the more players get a sense of overcoming challenges at lower difficulties, the more likely they are to want new challenges to overcome.

THE ALL-CALL

I know this concept is really raw, but I wanted to put the concept out there to try and start a conversation about it. So tell me what you think, whether it’s here or via the Tweetbox.

Remixing the Expansion Business Model

There’s a marked difference in how Blizzard managed content additions before and after the release of Burning Crusade.

First of all, the game launched with exactly two true raids: Molten Core and Onyxia’s Lair. While other raids were patched in over time, there wasn’t anything resembling a single driving narrative for the game; all of the raids were self-contained, or perhaps drew on narratives that were previously established in 5-man dungeons.

Continue reading

Garrisons: Analysis Part One of Many

I really can’t talk enough about how much I love the concept of Garrisons for Warlords of Draenor. A lot of other sites have given the basic overview of how they work, so I’ll let Blizzard cover that while I get into some nitty gritty about it — insofar as gritty examination is possible when it’s clearly still in an early design phase.

Allow me to get that Disclaimer out of the way: EVERYTHING about Warlords of Draenor is in design flux at this point, and the information Blizzard has released, in addition to all of my analysis and speculation below, might end up changing dramatically before the beta AND before the release of the expansion. So take everything with a grain of salt.

All that said, there’s a lot that we don’t know about Garrisons as it stands right now:

  • What do all of the buildings do? For the primary profession buildings, it seems pretty straightforward: park followers who have the appropriate skill there, and they’ll research recipes and craft them. For some of the other buildings, we know what they’ll do either because something showed up in one of the mockup slides or Cory Stockton answered a direct question about them. For some of the buildings though, it’s not clear what they’ll do.
  • How many followers can you assign to each building? What kind of effect is there in having multiple followers at the same task?
  • How many followers are we talking about total? The Barracks adds room for discrete numbers of followers per rank, but that’s specifically for the number of followers you can send on missions simultaneously. This means that having a maxed out Barracks would allow you to dispatch a single raid, but then you’d have two followers left that can quest (because you need more than 2 followers to do anything other than quest, if it’s a mission).
  • There’s also a lot of questions about what mechanisms govern followers. Infirmaries reduce downtime for followers, which implies that followers will need recovery time after going on missions. Upgrading the Garrison from tier to tier improves Travel Speed for Followers, implying that there’s a method to reduce mission time, which the Stables might play into.

There are certainly more questions, but I’ll get into them later. For now, let’s talk specifically about plots and choices.

Building Dynamics

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CLICK MEH SEYMOUR

By the time you get to the last tier (Tier 3, pictured above) your garrison appears to have 14 plots (4 small, 6 medium, and 4 large), but all told there are 24 buildings (neither count including the Town Hall).

  • 11 small buildings (1 each for the primary non-gathering professions, and Archaeology, and the Salvage Yard which doesn’t appear to have a stated purpose.)
  • 7 medium buildings (the rest of the professions show up here, with the Pet Stables, Trading Post, and the Lumber Mill, which also doesn’t have a stated or implied purpose.)
  • 6 large buildings (all of the major follower-affecting buildings are here.)

What this means is that the stated intent of “you’ll be able to cover professions you don’t have, but not enough plots to cover all of them” is definitely in play, since there are 10 small profession buildings (since the Salvage Yard doesn’t appear to be linked to a profession) but you only have 4 small plots to work with. Thus, with small buildings, there are a couple of interesting discrepancies to note:

  • Assuming the Storehouse is for Archaeology, that makes it the only secondary profession (aside from Fishing) to get a small building. Assuming that most players are going to use their four small plots to supplement the professions they don’t have, that puts Archaeology at a disadvantage, since it doesn’t generate gear or consumables, but instead only generates lore objects and vanity items.
  • Not knowing what the Salvage Yard is potentially restricts that choice even further; if it’s something that a player deems mission-critical, then that leaves only three small plots for supplementary professions. (More speculation on the Salvage Yard below.)
  • The Fishing Shack is mentioned as a starting building, but doesn’t appear in any of the mockups. Since Fishing only generates Cooking mats (and the occasional crate), that also puts it at a disadvantage compared to other primary profession buildings.

With medium buildings, there’s less constraint on choices, since you’ll have 6 medium plots but have 7 buildings to choose from. The interesting choice that comes into play is whether to aim for getting complete coverage in gathering professions and hiring followers while also reaping the benefits of the Trading Post and… whatever the Lumber Mill is supposed to do. (More speculation on the Lumber Mill below.)

With large buildings, there’s a greater constraint than with medium, but not as bad as small, since it’s 4 large plots and 6 buildings.

  • Without knowing how many characters you can dispatch on missions without a Barracks, there’s no way to judge how vital the Barracks itself will be.
  • The Academy is valuable in the leveling game while you work on building a team, but once you’ve got a diverse team it has less value. Assuming that we never permanently lose followers and that getting certain skills on followers won’t take an excessive grind, of course.
  • Assuming the Mage Tower provides a caster buff similar to what the Armory offers to melee followers, the Armory still has an advantage since it can also be used to train followers to a higher quality. However, the interesting choice between Mage Tower and Armory will be based on whether you can field a dungeon/raid team that meets the skill requirements of the mission AND hits the role requirements as well. The big question is whether the Mage Tower has a second purpose aside from the caster buff.
  • The Infirmary feels like it’s more valuable in an early game because reducing downtime means more income, but depending on what kind of follower population you can have, you might be able to mitigate the downtime penalty simply by cycling through followers, since you’ve got a max amount you can dispatch even with Barracks.
  • And not knowing what the Stable does makes it impossible to judge its choice value. It could improve travel speeds to reduce overall mission times, or it could just be a display point for our favorite mounts. Could be both.

So overall, even without knowing exactly what the limitations and abilities of certain buildings will be, there’s a decent amount of Interesting Choice to be had about all of the buildings, as well as a lot of replayability (or just making different choices with your alts’ garrisons). I feel, however, like this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Speculation:

Lumber Mill: Historically (as in the RTS games), the Lumber Mill strengthened building durability and was the delivery point for lumber. Since there’s no indication that the Garrisons will be attacked by external forces, and because lumber isn’t a player resource in this game, it’s hard to tell exactly what the Lumber Mill will get used for. It could play into the Garrison Supplies statistic, or it could enhance ranged DPS damage (which the Armory’s melee buff doesn’t explicitly cover). If so, it would be the only medium building to directly affect followers, which plays into the choice dynamics of large buildings.

Salvage Yard: The Salvage Yard uses an Engineering icon, and “Salvage” is the term that’s been used in the past for Engineering players to draw materials or vendor trash out of Mechanical corpses. However, in every slide where we see the Salvage Yard mentioned, there’s another small building (Tinker’s Garage/Engineering Works) that more directly connotes the Engineering profession. So what’s the Salvage Yard for?

  • Salvage Yard might be where you’d take items to be Disenchanted, since the Enchanter’s Tent will probably only research new enchants and apply them to your gear.
  • Building on that, I can imagine missions rewarding non-gear items that could be Salvaged in order to generate garrison supplies or new follower-specific gear.

More To Come:

There’s a lot to talk about with Garrisons, and I’m aiming to do this not only as an analysis of what was delivered at BlizzCon, but also an opportunity to make suggestions about the system and create a dialogue with Blizzard about how it works. All told, if this system is only half as dynamic as what was presented, it’s still going to be a huge selling point for Warlords of Draenor and likely the reason a good number of players come back. ^_^

The Infinite Sadness (3 of 3)

We looked at what happened if the Infinite Dragonflight had successfully stopped Medivh from opening the Dark Portal, and what would have happened if they had prevented Taretha Foxton from implementing Thrall’s escape from Durnholde Keep. Only one Infinite moment remains: the Culling of Stratholme.

The last time Jaina Proudmoore and Uther the Lightbringer see Prince Arthas, he’s leading troops into the city of Stratholme, intent on killing the plagued inhabitants before they can be turned into the Scourge. He never returns. The Lightbringer has lost his greatest student, and Jaina has lost the man she loves. And now a horde of the undead swarms from the once-great city, desecrating everything in its path.

When the Prophet appears to them both, appealing to them to abandon Lordaeron and flee west, both rebuff him out of sheer grief and sadness… as well as a grim determination to not let Arthas’ death be meaningless. When Uther testifies to King Terenas Menethil and the other lords of the Alliance of the true threat of the Scourge, and of the death of Arthas, the Alliance is mobilized once more. Lordaeron becomes a battleground, awash in the dead, and as the battle rages on, Uther pulls every resource he can to aid in the battle… including a disgraced paladin named Tirion Fordring.

Uther gives Tirion a mission; rumors speak of a weapon of immense power hidden on the icy continent of Northrend, that may aid humanity in turning the tides against the Scourge. Tirion requests that his son Taelan accompany him, but Uther refuses, stating that Taelan’s talents as a paladin are needed in battle. The sooner Tirion returns with the weapon, Uther says, the sooner he can see his son.

By chance, Tirion meets with Muradin Bronzebeard in Northrend, following the same rumor of the weapon. As the quest continues, Tirion is haunted by dark dreams, where Taelan is beset by the undead, crying out for aid but receiving none. He grows more desperate and erratic, until at last he and Muradin locate the blade. Muradin balks after reading the inscription on Frostmourne, but Tirion ignores his warnings, intent on making any sacrifice in order to rescue his son. When he grips the blade, an explosion occurs, knocking Muradin back… but Tirion pays no attention, because through the sword, he hears whispers of an overwhelming will. Thus, when the dreadlord Mal’Ganis appears before Tirion, confident that he has given the Lich King the weapon he requires, Tirion decides to put the weapon to the test, and thrusts it through the dreadlord. Listening fully to the whispers of the Lich King, Tirion is confident that with the power of Frostmourne behind him, he can rescue his son.

Muradin emerges from the cave, knowing that Tirion is in the thrall of the Scourge, and makes his way back to Ironforge to tell Magni the bad news; if the might of the dwarves isn’t added to the forces of the Alliance in Lordaeron, no living thing is safe from the Scourge. When he arrives, however, he runs into Alexandros Mograine, who has come to request King Magni’s aid in crafting a weapon to fight against the undead menace. Hearing Muradin’s pleas to avenge Arthas, combined with the knowledge that the dread blade Frostmourne has been deployed against the living, Magni pours all of his own hunger for justice into the crafting of his masterwork: the Ashbringer. Mograine prepares to return to the front in Lordaeron with a pure weapon of immense power, with an army of dwarves at his back.

As Tirion marches in search of his son, the news spreads quickly that he’s returned as an enemy of the living. Uther mobilizes everything he can to try and stop Tirion, but with the runeblade and his own extensive battlefield experience, nothing can stop the death knight’s advance. Many heroes fall; Jaina works tirelessly to throw barriers in Tirion’s way, frustrating the Scourge advance, but ultimately fails, and Tirion raises her as a banshee for causing him so much trouble. Uther himself is unable to defeat Tirion, and dies cursing his own error in sending him north. All the while, Tirion resists the demands of the Lich King to assault the Lordaeron capital, intent on finding Taelan.

When father at last finds son, it is a bitter meeting: Taelan is appalled at what Tirion has done, swearing to defeat him and set right his father’s wrongs. Tirion struggles with containing the hunger of the runeblade and the whispered commandments of the Lich King, confronted with the disappointment of his own son. Despite having defeated far stronger enemies, Tirion withers under the assault of Taelan and his brethren, the Scarlet Crusade. Ultimately, Taelan impales himself upon Frostmourne, distracting Tirion long enough for the Mograine brothers, Renault and Darion, to finally defeat the death knight and wrest the runeblade from his grasp.

In death, Tirion finally experiences clarity, and is granted absolution when Taelan forgives him with his last breath. Father and son die together, united at last… but the runeblade remains, now without a wielder.

The Mograine brothers are torn over what to do with the weapon. Darion is convinced that it must be destroyed, but Renault looks upon the weapon and sees something that will allow him to elevate himself in the eyes of their father, Alexandros. Arriving with reinforcements, the Grand Crusader Saidan Dathrohan (secretly the Dreadlord Balnazzar, intent on salvaging the plans of the Legion in using the Scourge to destroy Azeroth) immediately takes Renault’s side, insisting that Frostmourne is their salvation.

When Renault takes up Frostmourne, Darion sees his brother’s inner darkness revealed, and learns the truth about Dathrohan’s deception. He barely escapes with his life, and flees to join his father, just now arriving with reinforcements and the ultimate weapon: the Ashbringer.

Will the Ashbringer be able to contend against Frostmourne? Can the Mograines and Muradin Bronzebeard contain Renault and his newly created Scourged Crusade, aided by the magical might of the Banshee Queen, Jaina Proudmoore?

Only time will tell.

The Infinite Sadness (1 of 3)

So a thought struck me, triggered by a tweet.

Has anyone considered exactly how the world would have been destroyed if the Infinite Dragonflight had succeeded in their efforts to disrupt certain events? The Bronze Dragonflight tells us that that’s ultimately what would have happened, but they don’t really take the time to explain how.

Let’s look at the three events in question:

Opening the Dark Portal: The Infinites strike at Medivh at his most vulnerable moment, when all of his power is tied up in opening the Dark Portal to Draenor, which would allow the Horde to enter Azeroth and set off the First War. The main implication we’re given here is that without the Horde, the inhabitants of Azeroth wouldn’t have been able to defeat the Scourge when they eventually invaded. The world drowns in the undead, the Legion wins, everything goes pear-shaped.

The Escape from Durnholde: By containing Taretha Foxton, the Infinites attempt to stop the chain of events that allows Thrall to be set free from his thralldom. Similar to above, if Thrall never reforms the Horde and leads everyone to Kalimdor, the Legion destroys the World tree, everything goes pear-shaped.

The Culling of Stratholme: By eliminating Arthas before he begins his journey to Northrend, the Infinites prevent him from becoming the Lich King’s servant, and thus from becoming the Lich King himself. Without Arthas to help liberate the Lich King and the Scourge from the Legion’s control, the Legion wins, destroys everything, pear-shapes.

And you’ll note I’m not including the Battle of Mount Hyjal because the Infinites never actually appear to be doing anything there. Or the Hour of Twilight instances because a) in End Time, we’re in the future, b) in Well of Eternity, WE’RE the ones interfering in the timeline, and c) in Hour of Twilight there’s actually no time travel.

So let’s experiment. First, a couple ground rules:

  • Rule #1: Each scenario assumes that aside from their one moment of interference, neither the Infinites nor the Bronzes interfere in the timeline. That means each scenario is mutually exclusive.
  • Rule #2: Given that the Infinites are targeting a single individual, each scenario is written assuming that the target just disappears. No body discovered, no evidence, big mystery. This is overt with Medivh and Arthas, but for some odd reason the Infinites only trapped Taretha, as though merely delaying the execution of the escape plan hatched with Thrall would have been enough of a change. For simplicity, I’m just writing it as “Taretha is GONE.”
  • Rule #3: While each scenario will ultimately end as the Bronzes/Infinites predict (aka pear-shaped Legion domination apocalypse), it may simply create a scenario where whatever heroes are in play simply have a much slimmer chance of success. In addition to preserving the true timeline, it may be that what makes the true timeline so important to salvage is that it may simply have the best chances of ending with the heroes winning.
  • Rule #4: …and as such, the described scenarios will end on a cliffhanger where on one hand, the good guys MIGHT win, but on the other hand, the bad guys might win… which is not really all that different from the circumstances we’re facing in the true timeline.

Let’s start at the beginning, then.

Despite carrying a kernel of the Dark Titan’s power within him, Medivh is unable to defend himself against the sustained assault of the Infinite dragons and their drakonid shocktroops. He dies without ever opening the Portal, his corpse left to rot somewhere in the Black Morass, forgotten by nearly everyone… save his apprentice, Khadgar. When Khadgar finally discovers the last whereabouts of his master, he finds himself before a giant inactive portal, and assumes the worst. With no other leads, he returns to Karazhan immediately to try and determine what Medivh had been doing, alone in the Black Morass, that would have gotten him killed. He sends word both to the court of King Llane of Stormwind and to his former mentors, the Kirin Tor. As the archmage had left no orders behind regarding what to do in the event of his death, control of Karazhan was granted to Khadgar, who then opened the tower as a school of magic, a satellite to the centers of learning in Dalaran and Stormwind. Despite all of his other efforts, Khadgar was haunted by the abrupt death of his master and with the aid of the Kirin Tor attempted to determine not only who had killed Medivh, and but what the archmage had meant to accomplish with the portal in the Black Morass.

Meanwhile, on Draenor, Gul’dan and his warlocks realize that Medivh’s activity stopped abruptly, and are unable to complete the opening of the Portal without Medivh’s aid. The Horde, formed as a weapon to destroy and tempered in the blood of the innocents of Draenor, promised a world to conquer and plunder by Gul’dan, now has nothing to fight. Warchief Blackhand is unable to control his forces as they squabble, agitating for a fight and resenting the warlocks who had failed to deliver. Orgrim Doomhammer eventually brings this to a head when he challenges Blackhand to a mak’gora, wins, and with the retired warchief’s blood still on his hands proceeds to start hunting down Gul’dan’s warlocks. Blackhand’s sons, Rend and Maim, are prevented from seeking revenge by Grom Hellscream, who has taken the ensuing chaos as an opportunity to reignite a past bloodfeud with the Black Tooth Grin brothers. And all the while, Durotan and Draka of the Frostwolf tribe seek out the elder shaman Ner’zhul, disgraced and exiled after Gul’dan’s rise to power, hoping that he can help return the orcs to their old ways.

As the Horde destroys itself in an orgy of blood and destruction, the true master behind its creation, Kil’jaeden the Deceiver, broods upon the setback. As the Dark Titan’s lieutenant, his task had been to create a force that would wipe out the opposition of the races of Azeroth, most especially the Night Elves and the Kirin Tor, who unbeknownst to one another had thwarted every serious effort by the Burning Legion to infiltrate Azeroth through subterfuge. The gambit of employing the Horde had been Kil’jaeden’s idea, but the unforeseen interference that had caused Sargeras’ vessel on Azeroth to die caused the entire plan to crumble. Looking now upon the Horde as it consumes itself, Kil’jaeden is convinced the orcs would have failed, because their destructive tendencies were far too easy to turn upon one another. A unified fighting force, one that acted with a single mind and singular purpose, would be the weapon he needed, and all he needed was a willing sacrifice.

Stepping into the halls of Hellfire Citadel, site of the deaths of Blackhand and Gul’dan’s warlocks, Kil’jaeden finds exactly the willing servant he needs: the spirit of Teron Gorefiend. When the Deceiver finishes his dark work, Gorefiend’s spirit is bound within a set of fearsome eldritch armor, and sits upon the empty throne of the Warchief as the Lich King. As his first act, he raises Blackhand into undeath, making him the first Death Knight, and from the corpses of all the orcs and ogres slain in the Horde’s self-destruction, a new army, crafted of the undead, bound to a single overwhelming will, is brought into being… the Scourge.

Back on Azeroth, Khadgar is aided greatly in his investigations by Kel’Thuzad of the Kirin Tor… who, while feigning interest in learning Medivh’s fate, is more interested in unlocking the secrets of necromancy and demonology that he is certain are hidden within the Guardian’s Library. With the help of Terestian Illhoof, a satyr killed long ago by Medivh and imprisoned within the tower, Kel’Thuzad is able to make contact with Kil’jaeden… and the Deceiver’s plan, once thought ruined, now has a chance of success once again.

On Draenor, the Scourge finally offers a challenge to what remains of the Horde. And yet even under Doomhammer’s leadership, the orcs cannot withstand the assault of the undead. Desperation makes for strange bedfellows, as Doomhammer finds himself aided by the ogre tribes and the arakkoa, crafting an alliance of all those who wish to survive the onslaught of the Scourge… including the draenei Prophet Velen and the broken remains of his people, who recognize that the Scourge is the greatest possible evil, and anything that still lives must align against the forces of death.

Meanwhile, Durotan and Draka have located Ner’zhul, only to discover that the elder shaman is struggling with the elemental forces of Draenor itself. The elemental spirits, infuriated by the past manipulations of Gul’dan and Ner’zhul’s own prior sins, are aligned to tear the world apart, but Ner’zhul’s resolve has kept them in check. And yet he warns the Frostwolf chieftain that if Gul’dan attempts to open the Dark Portal while the elements are in such a precarious position, nothing Ner’zhul does will prevent the world from destroying itself.

Gul’dan and his surviving Shadow Council members were able to evade the pursuit of Doomhammer’s Horde, but they are unable to escape the Scourge. Blackhand brings Gul’dan in chains before the Lich King, and as an added layer of humiliation, the Lich King raises the spirits of the other dead warlocks to aid Gul’dan in his efforts to open the Dark Portal. Kil’jaeden himself observes from his Throne above Hellfire Peninsula to personally ensure that his gambit does not fail.

On Azeroth, Kel’Thuzad works in secret to gather all of the materials necessary to complete Medivh’s dark work, including an experiment stolen from the Kirin Tor called the Eye of Dalaran. At last the portal is opened, and the first sight Kel’thuzad sees on the other side is Blackhand tearing Gul’dan’s head from his shoulders for his past insolence.

The Dark Portal is opened. The resistance of Doomhammer’s Horde is forgotten now that the Scourge has their entry point into Azeroth. Kil’jaeden’s gambit has succeeded at last. The dead pour through the portal, with Kel’Thuzad to guide them… and as Draenor tears itself apart, Ner’zhul, whose failures started the orcs down this wretched path, implores the Frostwolves and Doomhammer to pass through the Dark Portal into the world they were once meant to conquer… and save it from the horror that has been unleashed.

Will Khadgar be able to aid the races of Azeroth in protecting against the sudden inexorable assault of the Scourge? Will Durotan and Doomhammer with their few remaining allies be able to save Azeroth? Will Teron Gorefiend remain loyal to his dark masters?

Only time can tell.