|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.