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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Learning to Fly

There's a question.

Occasionally, an idea comes along that is almost inevitably brilliant, yet doomed before it ever becomes practical. I had a very lively discussion on Twitter as a result of that first Tweet above, and was able to sum up my initial thoughts (I thought) quite well in 140 characters:

Here's an answer ^^

Aggronaut and Dobablo both have given their thoughts on the same subject in the last 24 hours, and on further reading I see Syl tackled the problem all the way back in 2012 which should give some indication that this issue isn't actually new at all. In fact, I've dealt with this subject on and off over the last year: how do you ensure that your player base understands that playing your game isn't just simply a case of turning up, taking what they want and wandering off when satisfied? How can you prove they are capable of actually playing?

I remember quite vividly an incident that happened all the way back in TBC, which involved, of all people, my (only at the time recently ex) GM and Guild Founder. He'd gone into a random five man Blood Furnace with a bunch of people from the Server (way before the days of LFG) and had rolled need on everything from the last boss, been lucky enough to win both items, and then immediately logged off because of an argument in group. Suffice it to say, nothing that he'd won had actually been relevant to the Lock he'd been playing, and this left me as new to the GM job with the task of appeasing the other four people of the same Guild that he wasn't always a ninja (although he clearly was in this case) and that this did not reflect as the way the rest of the Guild worked. Back in the days when your Server was your only pool of available players this kind of stupidity mattered, and it was important as a GM to keep on top of what your players did and how those actions could reflect badly on all of your players.

That reputation should still matter, of course, but I digress.

I'm still chatting to the GM of that other Guild after all these years, so in the end it wasn't ever that bad, but the actions of my ex-Boss shocked me considerably. You see, even the most trustworthy of people have bad days, the decent folks can turn ninja without warning. No matter of gating or 'entry requirements' are ever going to protect you from that, and so asking people to provide 'evidence'' that they're capable and worthy enough to enter your group is all well and good, but it's never going to be 100% foolproof, or indeed accurate. In those cases, an iLevel's probably just as effective and consistent as a means of showing you've done a certain level of work, and is a compelling argument for reducing the amount of high level craftable gear in game. 'What's that you say?' I can hear certain people muttering in amazement: 'surely gear isn't an indicator of ability? Don't you keep banging on about how it's the person that matters, not what they wear?' Well, that is true, until you look at exactly WHERE that gear is obtainable from, and how it can be used to fool the current entry level algorithms.

Could it actually be that the best way to ensure people are able to play and to make sure individuals aren't skipping content altogether to just get to End Game is to remove ALL crafted items altogether and ensure the ONLY way to increase your iLevel is via actually playing the game?

It works. Yes it does.

When you look at it in its simplest terms, iLevel is both a blessing and a curse, but to obtain it on your first character when an Expansion begins is always a bit of a faff. Mostly that comes down to knowing where stuff drops and what levels you need to obtain to enter places, but there's no doubting the system is effective at separating the noobs from the nots. Like it or not, this arbitrary gating is effective, especially if you know where your content is pitched. If the Devs are capable of seeding Warlords with the right mix of gear only via the medium of drops and dungeon items for the trip from 90-100, they will know what is the maximum iLevel possible simply using these and existing gear... and there's a gating mechanic right there that NOBODY can avoid. Forget proving you need to be able to heal or tank in a Scenario situation, you've got ten levels to pick up the basics on a spec that may (or may not) allow you to heal/tank/dps as you see fit with the same set of gear. If you then try and get into end-game using as spec where the mechanics dictate you'll need to understand what to do and don't, this is where the iLevel breaks down but individual responsibility picks up.

It's not set in stone, but our current plan is to allow group leaders to set their own restrictions (such as ilevel) when using the Group Finder tool. We'd rather allow players to be upfront about such things than create a situation where an undergeared player is joining groups just to be immediately kicked as soon as the leader inspects them.

Edit for clarity: That also means that we're not planning on having any pre-set restrictions, though again, plans could change.

You will be able to set therefore not simply restrictions on how much work a player has done, but where they obtained their gear, and how much work they did to do so. Then your individual Raid Leader, using this new tool, can start making informed decisions about who comes and when... and why the concept of work of mouth and making friendships in game becomes increasingly vital. tapping into the Old Skool Server Reputation mentality really should undergo a bit of a renaissance. If Blizzard were to remove all crafted items from the game that affected iLevel, they could also effectively remove people's ability to cheese the system and effectively force everyone into having to level conventionally as a means to ensure not only does the player get their spec, they've played it long enough to demonstrate its been grasped. However, I can hear legions of alt-players screaming how unfair this is and how being able to but gear off the AH is a vital part of the process once you've done more than one levelling grind.

That's where the Timeless Model comes in.

Replace 'Crafting' with LOOT ISLAND.

The Timeless Isle has shown a brilliantly simplistic method of how to gate your content with the minimum of fuss, that doesn't require you to own a boatload of cash in able to max your character to the right iLevel. All you need to be is 90, and if you persist in this one place you can, quite quickly, gear just about anyone for entry to all the current content. So, once we've had a couple of patches in Warlords and Blizzard can see people are not playing mains as much as they were, we get a 'Loot Island' appear: a zone where everyone can pick up BOA gear (that point is bolded deliberately) to use as they see fit, to the current iLevel of the content at that time. So you can cheese your entry requirements on a character by character basis for that family of fresh 100's, but Blizzard control who gets into the instances and when, by effectively controlling the flow of equipment people are provided with. Plus, no helping out mates who want a quick in for upgrades. BOA means you're on your own, and the responsibility is on YOU to do the work.

The only problem with all this comes with PvP gear, and I think it's time that none of that was craftable at all. Remove the lot, and make it so the ONLY way you can improve your character's iLevel and therefore ability to take part in End Game is VIA ACTUAL PARTICIPATION. Yes, you're gonna die a lot in PvP at the start but if you don't remove anything pre-L90 to do this, everyone starts on the same page using the old gear. If you get to 100 and decide you want to start PvP-ing, allow people to buy those items using Valor or Justice instead. Remove all the crafting items and set a clear indicator that if you really want to be seen as being a decent player, you have to get your hands dirty. No more buying your way to entry requirements, get out there and learn how to play.

The problem with imposing any kind of 'arbitrary' restriction on players is that you can never be 100% certain it will be effective, or indeed that you'll be any better off than you would if you just picked X number of other random people to play with, as is adequately demonstrated every time you use a 'Looking For' mechanic. However, if you take it back down to the numbers, and just the numbers, it could end up as pretty damning indeed. I know it won't be a popular choice for many, especially those who felt Gear Score was a demeaning and depressing label, but the fact remains stark and simple. If you want to know people can play the game, make what they wear an indicator of what they have achieved, both how and where. It may not be pretty or seem fair, but it is a solid and consistent indicator of what they are, if Blizzard can get the distribution right.

It may not be popular, but it could work.


Raymond Hafner II said...

I agree your gear should be your key to what you can do.

Of course I also don't understand people who won't join a raiding guild that is on their level of gear and experience and then complain when they are not allowed into a pug raid.

Of course I guess I'm one of the remaining few who believes that guilds should still be the core of WoW.

@feymercurial chiming in.

Ben Myers said...

Hmmm. Using myself as an example.

In it's current state. When WoD releases I will start the leveling process, doing all the quests and running dungeons, while also leveling my Tailoring and Enchanting professions. Using the current research model, I will craft a piece of daily cloth in the hopes that when I hit level 100, I will have learned and will be able to make my first piece of high level gear to make running heroic dungeons a bit more palatable. With a limited amount of time in an evening to play, I may be lucky to fit in 1 Heroic dungeon run initially when the difficulty level is there due to lower levels of gear and those still learning the heroic versions.

For me the frustrating thing has been secluding craftable gear behind materials only acquirable through running raids, i.e. the 522 cloth head armor we could make but required 8 haunting spirits, which you could sometimes get from disenchanting raid gear. The logic was that it was a filler piece available for those raiding if they had poor luck with RNG. Can you see the frustration one might have wearing a quest green piece of head armor, when they have a recipe to make 522 and the only material needed is something that those doing the content where it can be acquired really don't have a need for the armor? I know I could buy the item off the AH, for at the time 12,000 gold each, but 96,000 gold for 1 piece of gear is beyond most players means.

Also there have been many times where as a guild, we have chipped in to help someone fill that missing piece in order for the raid group to have a better chance at success. There are those of us that do not use the craftable gear to cheat the system, we want to use it because it is better for us and we can use it. With the speed they are releasing content, removing crafted gear would probably increase the gap between those playing significantly longer each day, or on higher population servers and those with less time and people to do things with. Certainly they are adding in means to do more in pick up groups, but what is the point of playing if you cannot play with friends. They are putting in all these ways to get to max level in record speed so you can play with friends, adding a cliff of gear grinding at the end will just keep those people apart.

Hey awesome you bought WoD finally gonna give WoW a try, also grats on getting to 100 in a week, oh sorry you need to grind heroic dungeons then LFR for a month so we can play together.

I want to be able to make gear for myself that will help me as a player. Having a max level tailor that basically at this point makes bags has no luster.

Now, if they do away with crafted gear. First I would say eliminate the split currency systems. No more honor/justice Valor/Conquest make them 2 currencies Blue and Purple for lack of a term. And the method to earn should not be punishing to a point where it takes months to fill slots or a week for 1 piece. If we go to a drop system then there should be more choice in what we can get, for example a token that can be used to purchase Pants/Head/Shoulders or Waist/Boots/Hands something that will not end up in frustration because we won the same item 5 times in a row.

Andy Farrell said...

I'm reminded of a recent article on WoW Insider about Challenge Modes, specifically how the unique transmog set reward for getting Gold could be seen as a marker that the player knows what they're doing, similar to certain titles (like Starcaller, when it was current) or mounts (like the Sarth 3D ones, ditto), or a warlock with green fire (*cough*).

Of course, the skills required to obtain those things don't map perfectly to all the requirements and expectations people have, but I think they're better indicators than the numbers on one's gear, and I reckon their use should be encouraged and expanded.

Sure, at present being good at Proving Grounds doesn't necessarily mean much more beyond 'this player is good at Proving Grounds' (or worse, this class/spec is good at PG), but that's not to say Blizzard couldn't go further with the idea and really flesh out PGs to be a sort of solo 'raid training' thing.

In fact, they could even go with the 'mentor' idea and have two-player PGs; that'd be really cool.

Belghast said...

I feel like I am of the unpopular opinion that raiding is not a "right" of getting to level 100 but something you earn over time by diligently working towards gear. It is a thing you gain through participation, so for the most part my line of thinking is complimentary to yours, however I still think there needs to be a bit of a skill gate.

To be truthful my topic is spawned by the fact that we have a handful of players in the guild that have the gear, but just simply do not perform. They have been carried along, because we are a social guild not a raid guild. It however is starting to cause serious progressions and last night lead to one of them being booted from the raid.

As the Guild Leader but not a Raid Leader (something I did on purpose) I see this as a problem... not that the player was booted, but that there is no clear advisement to the player of when they are "good enough" to be able to do the content. iLevel is a number, it either means you earned the gear or your had friends willing to drag you around until you got the gear. You can cheese some of the requirements with purchased gear or crafted gear, but in the end there is a point you cannot progress beyond in that fashion.

The Gatekeeper in TSW was a hard line in the sand. You have to be able to do this to move forward. It was a point of pride for those of us who have defeated him, and in truth there is a really large group of players still actively playing TSW that have never and will likely never beat the Gatekeeper. The big thing about it, that makes the previous wow keying model better... is the fact that it is entirely a personal achievement. You have to do the encounter alone, and there is no way for your friends to drag you through it.

I agree that in part where the gear came from is a better indication of what you are capable of doing. However it is meaningless without some indicator of the players skill. A player in blues that they earned, will always outperform a player in purples that they were drug through.

Grimmtooth said...

An unintended consequence of excluding crafted gear will be that gear-oriented crafting professions will be extremely marginalized. Why bother with tailoring, after all, if all one gets out of it is some baubles and maybe an enchant (and that isn't guaranteed - look at the smoking crater formerly known as Reforging and try to convince me otherwise).

I think they'd also have to restrict further: BoE gear above a certain level, as well as ALL "Timeless" gear should be excluded from consideration.

Why the latter? Because I can bring a toon all the way up to proper iLevel without that toon ever setting foot on the island. So either that gear gets excluded (which kinda stomps one of your conclusions), that gear becomes BoP (probably should have been from the start), or only class-appropriate gear drop (which still allows a powerful warlock to cheese an inferior priest alt, as an example).

Those are the small objections. The big one is that I don't like the whole gating concept overall. It smells of, for lack of a better phrase, the Nanny State gone amok. It isn't really solving the real problem, it's just compensating for some poor design choices on Blizz' part for LFD / LFR.

I've seen this same problem at my workplace. People in management here often don't want to "confront" anyone that is not performing properly, so they want the test engineers to design a process and program that will restrict people that don't follow the right path. I call it "abdication to robots" and it's a pretty crappy way to run an engineering team.

The same concept applies here. What you and possibly Blizz are trying to do is abdicate authority to robots, and I'm not really sure that the robots are capable of the job, or, if they are, that we'd want them in charge.

In a way, the robots have made the bad players' job easier. By laying out the "rules" in start relief, we give the griefers firm guidance on where the system does NOT restrict, and thus they ply their trade there.

But it doesn't change the fundamentals.

1) People have been cheesing the system since PuGs were invented.
2) The only person that truly has the authority to decide is the RL.
3) That person should be accountable for his or her actions.
4) That person should feel empowered to make the right choices.

The proposed (here and elsewhere) robot overlords do nothing to drive this.