Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blizzard Backs Off: Riots Die Down

The negative feedback on the priests forums increased into such epic levels that the developers at Blizzard took notice and have pulled back on some of the priest nerfs. The riots that made their way through several servers also might have had something to do with it as customers gathered in large groups of level 1 alts and attempted to crash major zones while protesting. At least three reported servers apparently had large scale protests by priests which required GM intervention. The riots themselves did little to sway Blizzard in the matter but did draw the attention of many game blogs and news sites which may have had an effect.

Druids who were the major target of the nerfs have put up considerably less negative feedback perhaps because only their tanking ability was affected. Also the druid changes are mostly seen as a necessary balance nerf by the other classes. The fact that the WoW community recognizes a needed nerf does a lot to fight the notion that MMO customers don't understand the idea of game balance. Community Managers in WoW are often influenced by the many trolls on the forums and often get in the mindset to ignore any feedback on nerfs. Unfortunately, the trolls win at causing frustration in this case because forum posters often boil over into in game shenanigans when they think they are being ignored.

The paladin nerfs which were undocumented in the patch notes have been confirmed as being dropped for the next patch. However, Eyonix has been quoted as saying that a nerf for pally burst damage is being planned in the future even though complaints about paladin burst damage are almost non-existent. Paladins are even more confused when they look at the canceled nerfs which actually increase burst damage but made their shields have some greifing utility. As one poster summed up "It seems as if they simply want to nerf the paladin class in general but haven't quite decided how they are going to do it or justify it." On a side note paladins and druids are both classes that received large increases in dps which might be the major influence on the decision to nerf them.

Despite some mishandling on the part of Blizzard it looks like the spikes of tension about the last patch have been smoothed over. The problem is of course that it just takes one misunderstood and not well documented nerf to drive the WoW community nutty again. When you have around 8 million people playing your game, news travels fast and your customers can quickly become your worst enemy. Blizzard needs to stop taking lessons in community management from SOE and learn to gently manage their customers. This means explaining the reasoning and logic behind every nerf and buff they are making. Sure it takes longer and the min/maxers will try try to disapprove you but it prevents forum meltdowns

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Making Money in MMOs

No matter what type of massive multiplayer online game you are playing there are certain rules which effect the value of that game's currency. Good old fashion economics implies that if demand is high and supply is low then the price of something goes up. Developers can set an artificial value for virtual items by having NPCs buy them at a set price but its almost always going to be worth more to a player. Why is this? Well most games use a spawning system to generate currency for their game which has to be offset by charging players for items, skills and equipment. When these money sinks don't match up evenly to the currency generated then the value of the game's currency drops.

Thus NPCs in most games are set to buy items based on the currency value at the start of the game. This means that eventually most game currencies become inflated enough that selling items to NPCs is almost worthless. Its at this point that the player economy starts to form since most items can be used by players in some form or another. In fact in a lot of games the best way to make money is to target a mob which may drop little actual currency but has a chance of dropping an item in high demand.

In World of Warcraft I'm currently saving up for an epic flying mount mostly so that I can quickly get around the Outlands without being dependent on crazy flight paths. If I just went and farmed mobs that drop cash and vendor trash I would have a long way to go. So instead I copied most professional farmers and head out to areas with mobs that drop items with high player demand and have a low cost to put up in the auction house. If you play WoW then you know about the primal essences which are the arcane crystals of the expansion. Because these essences are used in almost every tradeskill the demand is constantly high and they sell very quickly in the auction house.

If you really wanted to make money quick then you could also pick up two gathering tradeskills which could work in conjunction with your farming. For my main character I chose enchanting and mining. Enchanting allows me to turn green items into enchanting materials which are in high demand and have no deposit to put in the AH. Mining allows me to scour the landscape with track minerals while farming. While not as profitable as enchanting it does allow me the chance to mine ore which still sells well. Plus while mining there is a random chance to gain motes of a primal essence and perhaps even get a rare jewel.

Other people I know use leatherworking and herbalism since areas that have skinable mobs usually also have herbs. Rare herbs sell much faster then ore though they often have negative debuffs associated with picking them. Whatever your professions the real way to make money is good timing. Just like playing the stockmarket you don't want to sell until the price is at the highest point. In WoW this means saving your merchandise until none are up in the auction house which allows you to charge top dollar or price gouge if you feel lucky. If you make your price too high though you will attract people with auctioneer who will quickly undercut you by a few silver and steal your customers. Its a fine balance that constantly changes every few hours depending on how many people are watching the auction house.

Every scammer, begger, and account hacker knows the quickest way to make money is from other players and not grinding hours against mobs. If you play smart and track the prices of items and make sure you get top dollar then the money should roll in at a steady rate. Just remember that unlike the scum mentioned earlier your reputation plays a big part in affecting your profits. If you overcharge and haggle over prices all the time then you'll eventually find people less likely to buy your goods when people match your price. Just look at the problems farmers have when they put a bunch of items up under one character.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Nerf Bat Cometh

The first major patch after the Burning Crusade is getting ready to hit the servers in a week or two and with it comes the first round of dreaded class nerfs. Druids are getting hit the hardest which isn't too much of a surprise since every class has been calling out for druid nerfs. Its not just the bear-bomb maneuver either as tanking, healing, and dps classes have all felt threatened by the druid's recent improvement in tanking and healing. Also up to bat are priest and paladin nerfs which destroy some pvp utility but generally leave pve abilities alone. Its fun to see that the major influence on this patch seems to be the arena which is creating havoc in class balancing with its 2v2 and 3v3 brackets.

Nerfs for Druids: The druids are getting hit hard with Bear and Dire Bear only granting 25% bonus to stamina instead of overall health. Also armor class bonuses and damage abilities like mangle are getting reduced. Most people agree the damage the bears were outputting was ridiculous when the health and armor class bonuses were added in. Druids having been limited to healing for so long are sad to see a lot of their pwnage ability going bye-bye but hopefully they will still be able to put up a decent fight.

Nerfs for Priests: Priests are getting a 5% reduction to vampiric embrace which should make their shadowform healing a little less powerful especially since it will longer crit. Prayer of Mending got zapped with a 20 second cooldown which as Tobold mentioned makes it useless for soloing.

Nerfs for Paladins: The Avengers Shield snare component can now be removed with dispel. Priest's mass dispel now targets and removes Divine Shield first. *Stealth Nerf Alert* Testers are reporting that Avenging Wrath and Divine Shield now share the same 5 minute cooldown and that all paladin shields give forbearance which reduces the target's damage output by 15% for an entire minute. This is specifically made to address paladins throwing blessing of protection on warlocks and mages in arenas. Drysc will neither confirm or deny if its a bug but it is currently on the test server.

Small Buffs for Shamans: Shamans are getting some of their spells adjusted to generate less threat when used. Also their stoneclaw totem now has a chance to stun and clearcasting will now go off more often since it procs off every spell crit.

Big Buffs for Warriors: Rage normalization is up by 15% - 20% for warriors along with an overall increase of 1% to their critical strike rating. Thunderclap is now usable in defensive stance and generates rage allowing warrior tanks to compete with the paladin's consecrate aggro. Also planned to be hotfixed in when they get the code right: charge, intercept and intervene will remove snare effects.

Second Life Strife

Seems that all the media attention Linden Labs has generated for itself is starting to boost their user base higher then they can actually support. Huge amounts of latency during the weekends and other prime timeslots has forced a policy change for the free to play game. Now during times of high latency the game becomes restricted and only players who have actually payed for land or currency can login. For those of you unfamiliar with Second Life, the sims like game is free to play but uses micro-transactions to support itself.

The use of micro-transactions in Second Life combined with accusations of exaggerating its user numbers has offended many fans of more game like MMOs. Despite this negative publicity in the gamer community, a large following of journalists and academics have adopted the game and created great word of mouth for it. As a result Linden Labs has received a decent increase in concurrent users over the last few months. This apparently has created friction between established players within the game and those who are just playing tourist because of the publicity.

The established players have started to organize and use some of the unique features of Second Life to make it difficult for anyone just starting to learn the game. Second Life has a large amount of tools which allow the creation of objects which can have all kinds of different effects in the game. Usually these objects are just virtual merchandise or seedy toys but they can also result in greifing tools. Items can replicate to trap and confuse players, explode and create chaos, or even teleport and knock back player avatars. Recently items that create the game effects of a nuclear bomb are being used to disrupt the land of new players and corporations that have opened up virtual item shops.

The root of all this angst seems to stem from Linden Lab's lack of revenue for upgrading hardware to support more concurrent users. After all most people who try out Second Life only explore the different islands and don't actually spend any real world money on the game. This is why a policy of restricting access to paying members was established during peak latency spikes. However, even with the policy change Second Life is still gaining more users and players are still going to feel more crowded. It seems like a game which used to be just a small time town is slowly starting to grow into a mid-size city.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Arena Point Calculation and Team Brackets

Just a small update about the WoW arenas. Blizzard took a surprising step recently and released the formula used to convert team ratings into points each week. While most players were ecstatic about knowing the specifics of the math some grew bitter. It was quickly realized that the ratings for 5v5 teams convert into more points then the 3v3 and 2v2 teams. As one person pointed out on the forums losing 10 matches as a new 5v5 team actually gained you more points then wining 10 matches as a 2v2 team.

The forum moderators were quick to point out that this was true for the first week but that the scaling became different as team ratings change. This would mean that the following week the 5v5 team would not earn more points then a 2v2 team if they lost every match. While this helped alleviate some pains it still points out a obvious advantage to the 5v5 team bracket. Blizzard defends the position by citing the domination of crowd control in smaller team brackets. The developers feel that having 5 people on a team gives a chance to offset the advantage of crowd control spells and abilities.

Despite the developer's logic there is still some animosity about the team rating inequality. Issues such as the cost of the 5v5 charter and the higher membership requirement doesn't sit well with some players. A lot of couples and small groups of friends are annoyed since they basically need a small guild to guarantee always having 5 people on to fight in a arena. On the other side it seems like guilds are embracing the idea of arena teams and are often fielding multiple teams at the same time. Also if there is one thing that the arena point system shows is that its quite easy to earn epic rewards in the space of 5-6 weeks without putting in hours and hours of grinding. You don't even need that high of a win average.

Rating to Arena Point Calculator

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Group Instance Bosses Gain Some Smarts

I'm coming back from a nice long weekend today in which I probably spent way too much time playing WoW. However, I did use the time to my advantage and managed to beat several level 70 instances which had earlier kicked my ass. This time around though me and my friends came armed with better knowledge and some of our own homebrewed strategies. Its necessary to have a specific strategy since a lot of the boss fights in the Burning Crusade aren't simple tank and spank fights. Instead the developers took the tricks and annoying abilities of the old world raid instances and spread them around generously in the 5-man instances of the Outlands. Heck, they even came up with some new tricks.

As I noted in a earlier post about PvP, the MMO industry has a real problem with simply increasing boss stats to increase difficulty. In the original game the developers usually saved the clever boss fights that required coordination and communication for raid content only. This could have been an early design decision or simply the result of most of the raid content being patched in after launch. Whichever the case, with the coming of the Outlands the decision was made to include more complex fights in the 5-man content.

This increased complexity can be annoying sometimes when your group is facing something new and you die very surprisingly. (Hungerfen's exploding mushrooms) Yet the encounter is more like a puzzle and less like a grind when the developers put some thought behind it. Even if you look a strategy up online it still takes some practice and good timing to put it into execution. Plus while a strategy might work for one party it might not work for another that has a different class composition. All of these factors come into effect to make the average 5-man instance in the Burning Crusade a lot more fun then their Azeroth counterparts.

The majority of this fun factor comes from bosses having a lot more help during encounters. After all adventurers are showing up in groups to kill them so why shouldn't dungeon bosses also have a group of compadres to help defend themselves. A lot of the hard encounters involve minions which can heal, do damage, explode or even lay down blazing trails of fire you can't cross. If you're an old time gamer then the Nethermancer Spethra fight has to remind you a bit of the Tron motorcycle game. In Shadow Labs there's even a Ogre mage who mind controls your entire party and makes you duke it out against one another for 15 seconds. As I said before, "Fun".

As more dungeons are introduced to extend the life of the game it will be interesting to see if the developers can pull more challenging encounters out of their skulls without going to far. There is already some negative posts on the scripted encounters in Kharzhan which complain about the difficulty when compared to the Heroic mode dungeons. Basically the Kharzhan encounters are longer and harder but don't really give much better loot. With the quality of rewards being so close between raid and group instances developers are going to have to walk a thin line when designing encounters or risk making the 10 man raid instances as empty as AQ40.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Does PvP hold a MMO back?

One of the most controversial choices developers have to make when designing a MMO is determining what type of PvP game play to include. If they avoid any type of player vs. player combat a sizable amount of online gamers will avoid the game because they see it as having little challenge. After all artificial intelligence in games is very hit or miss especially in MMO design where it is common for developers to increase difficulty by simply increasing mob stats. Most players enjoy the challenge of fighting against a human opponent but want rules which set up a fair competition. However, if the combat is constant or non-consensual then the game starts to get a bad reputation.

Once the mechanics are laid down for the game's PvP combat there is still the issue of making it a viable source of character advancement. Do the developers wish to give items for achieving PvP goals or simply award empty accolades like character titles. If PvP has no rewards then it will only be used sparingly and most of the hardcore will leave the game quickly. Yet the instant character advancement is made available through player killing you have intensified the balance issues the game will have. This is why so many early MMORPGs like Everquest, Final Fantasy, and Asheron's Call had very little support for PvP.

Balance is something that is usually maintained on the class scale and is done to ensure fairness in the character progression portion of the game. If a class is imbalanced this usually means they can attain experience and items quicker then other player classes. This almost always leads to an increasing spike in the numbers of this class as players try to gain an edge in the game by switching to the more powerful class. Even if players are not directly fighting each other there is still an indirect competition to accumulate items, power and fame which encourages this min/maxing.

Additionally the standard group mechanic in MMORPGs is very sensitive to player distribution. Since the early days of fantasy games the idea of the tank, damage and healer trinity has been used to organize classes into specific roles for group encounters. However, if PvP progression favors a class too much they tend to spend less time in group combat and their spot in the trinity becomes harder to fill. This effects everyone in the game especially if one of the rare trinity roles becomes a favored PvP class.

Its because of this that MMO's which support PvP tend to resolve balance issues by using three methods:

1) Severely limit the number of classes which reduces the amount of balancing they have to do between PvP and PvE.

2) Make PvP rewards which affect character power (stats) very rare or non-existent which decreases the viability of anyone doing PvP full time for character advancement.

3) Avoid the use of experience points or alternative advancement options at the max level to place a ceiling on character power. This prevents huge differences in character power at the max level which would destroy any concept of fair combat.

So how has the developers use of these methods affected World of Warcraft?

1) New classes have been desired greatly but have yet to be introduced into the game because of the time cost of balancing them with the current classes. New classes would have to fulfill one of the three trinity roles and not be a carbon copy of any of the existing classes in the same role. So if a monk dps class was added it would have to play differently from a rogue and have its damage on par with all the other dps classes. Yet it would have to look exciting enough to entice people to play the class.

2) No PvP rewards at first then a ranking system which only allowed a few people each week to gain items that weren't quite as good as the high end PvE raid items. As the new expansion was being prepared the PvE side of the game became stagnant so the developers made it easier to earn rewards on the PvP side. Now that dungeon crawling and raiding are back the PvP rewards are seeing more of a lock down. The arena PvP rewards will be controlled by a rating system which will probably set a much slower accumulation of items then PvE. Still at least now its viable to do both raiding and arenas since only 10 matches are required a week.

3) Options for increasing character stats or abilities through continued experience gain at the max level are going to be forever denied in World of Warcraft. The use of Hero classes also fits into this category since most likely they were going to be a special class choice that opened up at the max level after accomplishing some goal. Blizzard controls the current advancement of max level characters with raid reset timers and the arena rating system. Having a third method of advancement might be too much especially if it was something as complex as extra class abilities. Think of what could happen if a rogue could use 2 handers and you get the idea.

While PvP combat has set boundaries on World of Warcraft it has also intensified the competitive nature of its players by having two factions. Things would definitely be much more boring if combat between the Horde and Alliance was sparse and granted no rewards. Some future MMORPGs are set to capitalize on this excitement and intensified player competition by making PvP combat the main focus of their game play. Both Warhammer Online and Age of Conan will have more PvP combat then any previous fantasy MMORPG and will hearken back to the days of Ultima Online. It will be fun to see what issues these games might have especially in comparison to the mostly PvE centric titles that are currently out.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Enter into the Arena and let the Games begin

Its a little early to be talking about the official Arena season which doesn't start until this Friday (Feb 16th). However, based on the volume of traffic I'm getting to my Arena posts I'm guessing its on a lot of people's mind. A couple of months ago someone linked my posts about the Arena rules onto WowWiki and I've been getting increasing traffic since then. Recently I've gotten a couple emails reminding me about the season kickoff and asking some general questions about what to expect.

Scoring Structure

Well on Friday we should be able to start participating in official arena matches instead of just using the practice option that is currently available. Your team's arena rating should change immediately after any official match since the calculations are based only on you and your opponent's rating. At the end of each week your team's rating is used to award a specific amount of arena points. At the end of an arena season the ratings are reset and the process starts all over again. A season is supposed to last 3 months but expect the developers to change it at their discretion.

Your team is matched against other teams that have a similar rating on your server's battlegroup. If the queue is taking too long the computer might allow a opponent with a higher or lower rating but you will earn more or less points as appropriate to your opponent’s difficulty. Winning against opponents with a higher rating will advance your rating much quicker then fighting a lower ranking team. Losing against a lower rank team will hurt your rating greatly. Remember you could find yourself fighting horde or alliance but will be prevented from communicating with them regardless of your faction to prevent throwing matches.

Arena Team Structure

Arena Teams are formed like guilds except instead of a tabard you get a banner which you carry around during matches. Teams are composed of 3, 4, or 5 people and can have double the players for alternates. This means a 5 man team can have 10 people in it so you don't have to worry if someone is out sick one week. To get your teams rating turned into points you have to fight at least 10 matches a week. For a member of your team to get points they must have participated in 30% of the matches. Points are awarded equally to all members of the team that meet the 30% participation rule. If you are in more then one type of arena team you only receive points from the team that did the best that week.

Arenas have very specific rules that you can fully explore in the practice rounds. Before the start of the match all buffs are removed but you are given full mana to recast and prepare any spells. Potions and most disposable items can not be used during a match. Most cooldowns on a long timer can not be used so you don't have to worry about Paladins using lay on hands during the match. If the match goes on too long items will start spawning that allow players to view stealthed opponents at the cost of a small debuff.

The Rewards

Arena points are awarded each week and can be used to buy items from the Arena quartermaster. Just like honor points there is a maximum amount which a player can hold to prevent hording. Expect items that are available from the quartermaster to change from season to season as the developers try to match pvp rewards to the current raid awards. Seasonal awards are also expect to be award to the top teams in each arena team category. Its been confirmed that one of the awards for the first season will be a the netherwind drake mount.


Expect most teams to play a lot of games in the beginning of the season often going over 10 games each week. As the season starts to get close to the end expect the queues to get longer as teams try to hang onto their rankings.

Expect most of the members of the best 5 man team to also be in the best 3 and 4 man teams.

Expect very fast queue times since the horde and alliance imbalance will not come into play.

Expect a very low chance of running into better geared players as they should quickly increase in rating.

Expect the battlegroup forums to get a lot more popular

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Level 70 Instance Spike

As me and a couple of my friends had just recently hit level 70 we thought we would try some of the harder 5-man instances in the game. The healers we group with were running a little bit behind 70 but it was mostly because none of them were mains. In our little dungeon crawling group those of us with the most free time on our hand play a secondary character who is a healer so we can trade off on healing duties. No one really likes playing the healer so round robin helps minimize the pain. Unfortunately with our priests and druids at level 67 we ran into problems in most of the level 70 instances we tried.

The Black Morass

The Black Morass was our first stop on our quest for better loot and we had done some actual research on the event so we knew basically what to do. Our first attempt was jinxed since we had forgotten to clear out some sheathed jaguars who of course aggrod our healer on the second riftkeeper. For those of you unfamiliar with the Black Morass you basically have to kill dragonkin of the infinite dragon flight as they pop from void rifts that form around Midevh. The area around Midevh also has regular animals such as spiders, crocs, and jaguars which will aggro if you don't clear them out before approaching Medivh.

Our second attempt went better since we used our time-beacons to help take down the void rift keepers. However, we noticed that if we didn't use a time-beacon it took us too long to close the rift and another one would form. We got at a point where the next rift was already releasing dragonkin and we wiped it up. On our third try we spaced out the beacons and quickly got to the first boss. Unfortunately the bosses had the ability to auto kill the guardian from the time-beacons and we wasted two of them. We almost had him down but then he got a lucky string of crits on our tank. Needless to say we were fed up at this point and headed over to Shattered Halls where we wouldn't have to reclear every time after wiping.

Shattered Halls

Shattered Halls was easier then the Black Morass even though we had to handle large groups of elite mobs. It starts off in a long hallway filled with about 7 groups of elite fel orcs. In each group is a Legionnaire who auto revives his buddies if you don't kill him first. Guess which mob has the most hitpoints and armor class? Also sometimes you could get stuck with 3 hunters in the groups who would all use scatter shot. A lot of fun and death followed but we made it to the first boss who was actually a piece of cake. He's a warlock and would create small puddles of voidstuff which would do damage if you were near them. We just used the Hungerfen strategy and kept the tank moving around. At 25% he surprised us and started spinning around throwing shadowbolts non-stop. Luckily we had enough mana to burn him down because it was a very damaging attack.

After the first boss we got cocky and decided to keep going. The next hallway was straight from BWL and copied the suppression room. Only one of us had gotten that far into BWL so it was a learning experience. The respawning non-elites surprised us a couple of times and the fire arrows being shot at us were very annoying. After that fun hallway we were rewarded with yet another one. Only this hallway had groups of Orcish Gladiators along the side who were engaged in a Battle Royal. Its very easy to aggro the Gladiators while pulling the groups from the center of the hallway. So easy that even a orc hunter using scatter shot and running slightly out of range can cause aggro. After a couple pulls of 9 mobs we decided to try our luck in the Shadow Labs.

The Shadow Labs

The Shadow Labs started out the most promising out of all the level 70 instances. The pulls were easy and the mobs didn't seem to hit too hard. Then as we started to approach the first boss we ran into some Fel Overseers which are almost like mini bosses since they can take a hit like a Fel Reaver and fear every 30 seconds. Finally after clearing them and then some groups of channeling warlocks we got to the first boss with no wipes. Ambassador Hellmaw was a pushover just like the Grand Warlock in the Shattered Halls. He came close to killing us once since he had eliminated the majority of our warrior's armor class but we had plenty of mana to keep up the healing.

Right after this fight was probably the hardest pulls I've seen in the game. These pulls were composed of 5-6 cultists and casters and came complete with some warlock pets. That wouldn't be so bad accept that the malicious developers decided to make it so that assassins spawn and wander around the room your pulling from every 10 minutes. Thus when the assassins first appeared they cause a partial wipe and then ten minutes later the respawn caught us even more by surprised and caused a wipe. At this point we realize that even with our hunter using flare the assassins were always going to cause a wipe since we couldn't kill the groups fast enough. We decided at this point that our tank still required too much healing which was causing our healers to get aggro.

Looking back, these three instances really remind me of our early attempts at Scholomance and Stratholm. Both of them caused us numerous headaches and at the time we thought pulls of four mobs were especially difficult. They had just been revamped at that point so we thought the two instances were too hard for a single group to finish. We eventually got our warrior some better gear by doing DM and BRD and were able to handle the two undead instances much better. Of course having everyone level 60 at the time also helped and we soon picked up our Tier-0 pants and helm. Its funny that about a year from then we find ourselves in a very similar situation. It just goes to prove that no matter how new the content is in a expansion certain truths about the game tend to stay the same.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Cost of Leveling in the Burning Crusade

If your anything like me then you've probably been on a slow but steady pace to reach level 70 since the Burning Crusade came out last month. Most people don't seem to be in that much of a rush to get a flying mount and are happy exploring the new zones and quests. However, as my character has added notches to his leveling belt I've started to notice a heart breaking trend. My critical strike and hit ratings are suffering huge drops every time I reach a new level. Its really taken some of the anticipation out of leveling since it seems I am getting a ridiculous amount of hitpoints at the cost of being attacked by the nerf bat.

Even my warrior friends are complaining. Well okay they are always complaining but this time they have a valid reason. Out of all the classes in World of Warcraft they seem to depend the most on the non-attribute stats of Dodge, Parry, Block, Crit, Hit, and Resilience. These are the bread and butter of a tank's ability to mitigate physical damage and they are basically being nerfed each level. Before level 60 the nerf is small and hardly noticeable to the average player. However, in the expansion because of the way the gear scales up so quickly Blizzard decided to multiply this penalty. Now some classes are seeing almost a half percent decrease in the non-attribute stats each level.

All in all this penalty is just a good trick to fight the mudflation of items in the expansion. Blizzard introduces these new items with much higher stats and power in an attempt to get players to buy the expansion and invest more time in their game. Yet Blizzard is a bit smarter then the average MMO company and they know that mudflation can quickly result in ridiculous numbers and overpowered players. So they make the impact of these stats mean less at the new levels in the game. Thus a warrior might squeal when they get a +45 critical strike sword without realizing that at level 70 this is only about 1%.

Now while I don't necessarily like to see my combat stats drop I do realize that Blizzard has a reason behind their madness. Basically they increased the amount of hitpoint/stamina itemization while decreasing the critical strike and hit ratings at each level for one important reason. They want to slow combat down. Previously in PvP combat it was very easy for classes with high burst damage to kill others without even giving the victim a chance to respond. By slowing down combat and giving more hitpoints to each class they are trying to prevent this scenario. After all every time someone is attacked without any chance to respond they go straight to the forums and start a nerf thread.

Still an enterprising individual can see a couple of loopholes in the current system. One of the major ones would be to equip level 57-60 characters with the green drops that come from the level 60 mobs in the Outlands. These items have the increased stat itemization and can be equipped by characters without any major penalties. Not only would a character in such armor rock through the old world content but they would also get quite the advantage in PvP combat.

Still despite the loopholes and overbearing penalties the new system might be beneficial in the long run especially if Blizzard starts releasing an expansion each year. Several games like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot have already killed the ability of new players to join by letting expansion mudflation go unchecked. At least Blizzard is trying something proactive. And truthfully as long as the new items have higher numbers and better graphics I doubt most players will care about the penalties.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Vanguard: Example of why modern MMOs need an IP?

Vanguard launched last week much to chagrin of its beta testers who have repeatedly been on record as saying the game was not yet ready. Reviews for Vanguard invariably mention its empty locations and half implemented combat/diplomacy systems. Its not that the vision behind Vanguard was bad just that it was never really defined well enough for Sigil to deliver on. The constant rehauling of its design is what chased away its original investor and forced the company to come back to SOE, who they didn't really leave on good turns with. Now, despite being in development for five years the game still has an unfinished feel to it. Well as Tommy Boy would say "A lot of MMO's are in development for five years." And as Richard would responded "Yeah, They're called World of Warcraft."

All joking aside my horribly butchered movie quote puts a big glowing arrow directly on Vanguard's major dysfunction. It has spent way too much time in development for what they have to show. Other fantasy based MMORPGs have produced a much more polished product for far less money and in far shorter time then Vanguard. This by itself wouldn't hurt Vanguard's chances at getting fixed in production except that most of these other fantasy MMORPGs are coming out this year! As a result Vanguard's chances of pulling a Everquest 2 and slowing fixing itself in patches becomes highly unlikely. Sigil most likely won't get enough initial subscriptions and cash to fix things fast enough before the average player quits.

But why does Vanguard need so much fixing and content addition? Well to answer that question you need to know about the evolution of modern MMO games. The first generation ones that came out right after the Multi-User-Dungeons of the early nineties were unique fantasy worlds based on their own mythos. Both Ultima Online and Everquest lore were originally written as the games were being built from the ground up. Game designers had to depend on their own imaginations and what they could successful steal from D&D to create a framework for a virtual world. The art and storyline could sometimes be harder to create then the actually game mechanics.

Eventually game developers realized that buying the rights to publish an existing IP as a MMO was fairly cheap for the benefit it provided. Movies, books, and even existing console games were all turned into MMOs with varying degrees of success. Despite having different financial results these games all tended to go through production much quicker then the ones created from scratch. Only in a few cases where the developer didn't have creative control was the IP a liability rather then an asset. If you look at the line up for MMO releases this year you can see the point I am trying to make.

The Burning Crusade: Video Game IP
Vanguard: Original IP
Lord of the Rings Online: Book IP
Age of Conan: Book IP
Warhammer Online: Game IP

Vanguard is one of the few MMO releases this year not to be based on a pre-existing IP and I'm sure this has slowed down their development. Admittedly Vanguard had other factors which affected the amount of money and time they spent developing their game. However, for a game with a nebulous vision which was not well defined an IP could have provided some well needed direction. Now just because a game is based on a IP doesn't mean it will be as good as its parent. However, to be truthful game designers aren't always the best storytellers as seen in the overuse of the kill ten rat quests. Yet to hire professional writers and artists and create a virtual world from scratch costs a lot of money and time. In fact I would guess that probably the first two years of Vanguard development was spent on this process.

The only other MMO release I can come up with off the top of my head which is also a original virtual world is Tabula Rasa which shares some eerie similarities with Vanguard. Its also being headed by a lead developer of a first generation MMO and being plagued with a long development cycle. However, in the case of Tabula Rasa the funding is probably secured until the end of time due to the financial muscle EA is providing to Richard Garriott. Still one has to wonder if in the future all modern MMOs will have to either be based on a pre-existing IP or backed by an overly wealthy benefactor.