Incoming OverHype: King’s Row, 4/11

Threw something down on BlizzPro today in response to this tweet from the official Overwatch feeds:

Overall, there’s a lot going on here: everything from a new outfit for Tracer to more hints about the ongoing narrative in Overwatch, plus shades of the real-world civil rights movement and the modern struggles of the LGBTQ community, including the legacy of Alan Turing.

Do check it out.

Uniformity and (Un)skilled Labor

It occurred to me while ordering my Sausage McMuffins this morning. The looping video on the menu showed an egg being cracked into a circular frame on a hot griddle to form the egg portion of the sandwich. This wasn’t much of a realization on its own; I’d seen the process and even done it a few times myself. What it connected to, unexpectedly, was the notion of how foolproof it is, and how devious.

The bakery provides sliced muffins, which sit at room temperature in a breadbox. The halves get warmed up in a toaster, or perhaps on the griddle. Stylistic choice, really.

You’re provided a frozen sausage patty, along with a purpose-built microwave that warms the whole thing in a short window of time to a very heavily-researched temperature that a) ensures there are no dangerous microbes, b) will melt the slice of processed cheese to a pleasing degree, and c) will be warm enough to be appetizing to the average consumer.

You’re then tasked with the straightforward duty of cracking an egg into a frame on a pre-oiled griddle, waiting a specified amount of time, and then scooping this cooked egg puck into the prescribed stack of ingredients (muffin bottom, freshly-cooked egg puck, warmed-up sausage patty, melt-ready cheese slice, muffin top) before wrapping it up in paper and dropping it onto the heat racks to maintain that pleasing temperature before the front-side staff package the order and pass it off to the waiting customer.

Once you’ve done this specific procedure a few times, it becomes rote. Automated. The reason machines don’t do the whole job is because it’s cheaper to pay a teenager minimum wage then it is to develop and refine the machine. If it weren’t for child labor laws, you could probably get toddlers to do the work if you were okay putting them in front of a hot griddle, and you could pay the toddler less than the teenager.

The process is so simple because it requires no skill. All it requires is the attention to place Tab A into Slot B, wait X seconds, and then assemble the parts in the right sequence. It is straightforward to teach, and to execute, but most importantly it creates uniformity in the delivered product.

[Now, yes, what complicates the job for line cooks in fast food is that they’re not responsible for making only one sandwich over and over. There are dozens of items on the menu with differing complexities, and then you get into customers making special orders, which drives the complexity up even further. The skill isn’t in the act itself, but the agility of the line cook to call up and execute the right procedure (with the right modifications if necessary) with minimal time wasted. And under no circumstances do I want to get into the debate about how much money this line cook should be compensated for this agility, because that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.]

I want to establish the process to describe its simplicity so that I comment on the uniformity that such a process produces.

You can walk into any McDonald’s anywhere in the US, and the Sausage McMuffin you ask for will be effectively identical. Which in turn means that you can always rely on a McDonald’s to deliver a product with no surprises. You, as the customer walking into a McDonald’s, know what you want, and you will be able to reliably get it.

You don’t have to think about whether the restaurant has something you like on the menu, because you already know the menu. The decision fatigue of the menu is a non-factor.

At the end of the day, fast food restaurants create an environment where you don’t have to think, or more importantly, you can reserve the resources you’d spend on thinking about what to eat for thinking about other stuff instead. But the way that they do this is they remove the innovations involved in the art of cooking SO FAR from the act of cooking that the people creating your product don’t have to think either. The people making your food invest the barest effort they’re allowed to deploy.

In a world where what we eat has such an impact on our wellness, shouldn’t we be thinking MORE about what we eat, not less? If that consequently creates a demand for more people who can spend time innovating in the kitchen, does that not elevate the art and science of cooking?

Hmm.

Lotta thoughts from a bad breakfast.

 

BlizzCon Quick Reactions

First off, let me state unequivocally that I am extremely excited for Warlords of Draenor.

I had seen some leaked information beforehand, from reliable sources, that gave a bulletpoint list of stuff that was going to happen, but without the pitch from Metzen, and without the announcement trailer, it all fell flat. Nothing about it seemed appealing and I felt like the game was headed for a fall.

But now? After that pitch? THAT TRAILER? And everything else that’s been revealed? I’m so hyped, friends. SO hyped.

Sadly, I can’t go into big detail here, as I’ve got to pass out and get some sleep after an exhausting day, and tomorrow is going to be filled with the long-form wedding & reception that prevented me from being in-person at BlizzCon to begin with. Basically it’s going to be a couple days before I can get my proper reactions up here, but let’s just do a couple quick lists:

PROS:

  • Old Draenor looks amazing.
  • Reminding everyone that the orcs were always a badass male power fantasy is actually pretty awesome.
  • Huge new potential with Draenor as a location (a whole ogre empire continent off the map? perfect.)
  • Buckets of new lore on the Draenei, the arakkoa, in addition to other new races on the planet.
  • Garrisons and all the connected subsystems (this is easily my favorite system addition, so expect a big post about it).
  • The raid paradigm changes.
  • Inventory improvements.
  • The “instant 90” token.
  • The gronn are siege weapons. THE GRONN ARE SIEGE WEAPONS.

CONS:

  • The story isn’t bad at face-value (not enough is known about it yet to judge) but the premise takes a non-trivial amount of effort to explain: Garrosh gets sent back into time to stop the orc leaders from drinking the demon blood and instead forges them into the Iron Horde, which then builds the Dark Portal to invade Azeroth… but the Dark Portal is connected to present-day Azeroth. So essentially there’s an alternate-timeline, paradox-free set-up, but for a lot of people, it’s going to make them cross-eyed pretty fast.
  • I appreciate that it’s Warcraft and it’s Orcs vs. Humans, but man, we just got done killing a LOT of orcs in SoO and Battlefield: Barrens.
  • And while I don’t want to shortchange the story before I get the chance to experience it fully, the sense that MoP was sold as “the calm before the storm” and now WoD is being set-up as “rolling into the following expansion” is giving me the sense that Blizzard is just breadcrumbing the story forward. If the expansions are coming out more quickly, then maybe that’s okay, but the bottom line here is that I’m interested in getting a sense of resolution out of this expansion, and that’s not really being explicitly offered at this point.

So yeah: definitely a lot more to come tomorrow and in the following weeks, but if you had any doubt about Warlords of Draenor, doubt no more; the Alliance is going through the Dark Portal to whoop some ass, just like the good old days. ^_^

WoWInsider Community Blog Topic: Extra Specs

Rigga Robin Torres asked about adding bonus specs to the classes and I’ve got a response.

Short answer: I don’t think four specs work for all classes, but it could bring more tanks and healers to the table.

Long answer needs a bit of qualification: I know that adding more tanking and healing specs doesn’t necessarily bring more tanks and healers to the table. Adding the death knight, initially with its three tanking specs, didn’t result in a drastic increase in the availability of dependable tanks (“dependable” being the operative phrase; plenty of Wrath DKs didn’t know how to tank because it wasn’t exceptionally clear how to do so).

Adding the monk, which had both a tanking and healing spec, introduced more of those specs to the field, but I think the reason you don’t hear as much about tanking/healing shortages in MoP is because you’ve got more players doing scenarios, which don’t require either, and LFR somewhat takes the work out of finding people to fulfill those roles. So by reducing the overt demand for tanks and healers, Blizzard can give the implication that the shortages aren’t as much of an issue anymore.

So my goal with wanting to get more tanks/healers isn’t about trying to manage a shortage of players in those roles; it’s more about introducing those roles to players who historically haven’t had access to them within their classes. So if you’re a mage, and you like the kit of being a mage, and you’re not interested in rolling anything other than a mage, then having a tank spec available to you might give greater incentive to experiment with tanking, which might lead you to doing it more often, provided you enjoy it.

Death Knight: Necromancy (Ranged Caster DPS)

First blush is going to be “but doesn’t this take away from Unholy’s kit?” To which my response is this: if Unholy capitalizes more on diseases and the more permanent ghoul pet, then there’s room for Necromancy to be a nuke-oriented caster who spawns more temporary pets, like skeletons. As a bonus, this helps to match thematically with Second War Death Knights (who were ranged casters who inexplicably wore plate armor) AND it comes up with a way to employ spellpower plate for a spec other than Holy Paladins.

Druid: SCREW YOU TREEHUGGERS YOU GET NOTHING

Hunter: Sentinel (Tank)

Given a unique kit of traps and the ability to grant bonus abilities to Tenacity pets, the Sentinel tank could also call back to Huntress units from WC3 by using more Glaive-based abilities. Yes, this would probably result in Glaive Toss becoming a spec ability instead of a talent, but that wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. You’d have Sentinel mitigation be dependent on active abilities like Deterrence and perhaps a tricked-up version of Exhiliration. But overall, the Sentinel would be a hunter in melee ducking and weaving around boss attacks, bouncing him off the Tenacious pet, and moving him around the battlefield a lot.

Mage: Force (Tank)

A lot of people like to suggest a healing spec for mages; I’m more interested in having a mage rocking what’s essentially magical power-armor and standing toe-to-toe with the boss. Force mitigation would be based around big absorption, and I could see abilities predicated on “when the shield is depleted, the Mage is teleported ten yards back.” If the Sentinel Hunter’s kit is going to be greater mobility and containing the boss, then the Force Mage’s shtick is going to be “stand in front of the boss but very quickly escape when necessary.”

Monk: Flamecaster (Ranged Caster DPS)

This is more a matter of filling in the blank than anything else, but all three current specs of Monk draw on the functions of one of the four August Celestials. The Red Crane is the odd one out, but a fourth spec that focuses on nukes could be a way to fill the gap.

Paladin: ???

Not gonna lie, I’m not sure what to do with Paladins. The kit of the whole class involves wearing plate, swinging hammers, and splashing healing everywhere. I could see an argument for a ranged caster spec to use spellpower plate, but I’m not sure how to diversify it from Discipline Priests. And in my book, Holy Paladins should be in the front line so that their armor actually gets put to use, instead of backrowing it with the clothies and trees,

Priest: ???

Given that my main is Priest, it really bugs me that I haven’t got a fourth spec idea for them. Giving them a melee spec feels redundant given Monks and Paladins, and giving them a Holy DPS spec would feel like it deflates Atonement and Chastise-oriented play for Disc/Holy Priests.

Rogue: Mockery (Tank)

Evasion tanking should totally be a thing. And if you’re not going to build a Bard class (and I gotta be honest, I can’t think of how they’d work) then having the kit of “mocking your enemies into underestimating you” should totally be a thing that rogues do. Warriors have got Taunt and Mocking Banner, sure, but Rogues really can turn around and shake their asses at an enemy while also being able to dodge and parry attacks. The vocal aspects of the archetypal swashbuckling rogue isn’t something that Combat plays up very much, and out of existing Rogue specs that’s where they ought to be.

Shaman: Preservation (Tank)

Similar to how Monk has got some kit that’s just being left on the table, it always felt like there should have been an Earth-oriented Shaman tree that tanked. Between the existing threat-generating abilities and the kit of being able to drop totems to do virtually anything (especially the MoP redesign of totems being cooldown abilities instead of constant buffs) means that the only reason this hasn’t happened yet is sheer willpower.

Warlock: Brutality (Tank)

Could you build a tanking spec just out of Metamorphosis? You could, but you’d also need to figure out how Demonology stays a ranged DPS spec and a tanking spec at the same time. Unless I’m mistaken, trying to have have one spec do two different roles is what started the fourth-spec discussion to start with. So instead, here’s Brutality: a spec designed not around a warlock harnessing enough knowledge and power to become a demon temporarily, but instead a warlock who infuses himself with enough power to sock a demon (or non-demon boss enemy) in the face and have it leave a mark. If the kit of the WC3 Demon Hunters was that they fought fire with fire by becoming demon-like, the Brutality Warlock would do the same thing by making the right deals and sacrifices to be able to simply shrug off attacks that would kill other clothies.

Warrior: Bravery (Healer)

I know, I know: people have joked at a warrior healing spec using bandages since forever. And people have balked at the idea of the most inherently magic-free class having abilities that are clearly magical in nature. But if you get a little looser on the idea of what Hit Points are, I could totally see a warrior that heals people through morale, or through impressive attacks that show the enemy isn’t unbeatable. And what you’d have is a Warrior wearing spellpower plate swinging sword and/or board into the bad guys and telling her allies “WALK IT OFF DAISY.”

On Armor

Clearly the problem with some of the tank suggestions I listed is that you don’t currently have tanking armor in that category, meaning armor that capitalizes on Stamina, dodge/parry, that sort of thing. Given some of the overtures Ghostcrawler has been making about how stacking haste is okay (in moderation) for Paladins because it supports active mitigation, I could see a model where you don’t need tanking cloth/mail because primary stats can provide passive mitigation minimums and then secondary stat management becomes what governs your active mitigation. That’s not a perfect solution (it begs the question of why survival stats or even tanking armor should continue to exist) but I think it makes for a good conversation.

So there you go: fourth specs are a thing that can give a bunch of existing classes new functionality, but it would take a lot of work to reinvent how tanking would work for the classes who can’t currently do it. I think it would be a worthwhile effort, but hey, that’s just my mix. ^_^

QUICK MIX: Saturday Night Design Sizzle

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

WoWInsider Community Blog Topic: Stockin’ the Store

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

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

What do you think?

On In-Game Stores (Quick Mix)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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