Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Sticking to your guns

I am way beyond the point where I care about how hard or easy any particular dungeon or raid is in World of Warcraft. But when I read about the Firelands nerf and the reactions to it, I feel as if Blizzard managed to make everybody unhappy. I do believe that a good MMORPG could be made with raid content that is accessible to the majority of players, let's say down to average player minus 1 sigma, which would be 85% of all players. I also believe that a good MMORPG could be made in which only the players at least 1 sigma above average have access to raid content. But the important thing is to chose one model, and then stick to it.

Right now, if somebody asks you the question whether raiding is hard in World of Warcraft, you need to reach for a calendar to give an answer. Raiding was hard from this point in time to that point, then it got harder, then it got totally easy, then it got hard again, and now it's being nerfed to easier again. And every time the difficulty changes, players have to adapt.

In a multiplayer game, the question with who I can play is of extreme importance. If the game has a difficulty level which basically allows nearly everybody to beat the content, or at least gives a group of more competent players the option to "carry" their less competent friends (e.g. 40-man raids), people choose who to play with on the basis of social criteria. They play with their friends, with people they like, with people who are agreeable to hang out with and have fun. If the game has a high difficulty level or other reason for a team to play "at least this well" (e.g. for a competition), the criteria for team composition dramatically change. If you plan a fun bowling evening with your friends, your selection criteria are different than if you try to assemble a bowling team for a local championship. Both methods of team assembly are valid, but as they are done in response to the challenge level, you can't have the challenge level fluctuate wildly without that having serious consequences.

Thus I would really prefer Blizzard to finally chose a side, and tell us what they want their game to be. Ideally they'd make the leveling game consistent with the end game. The situation that drove me away from early Cataclysm was one where the leveling game was too easy for me, and the endgame too hard. Blizzard either should be consistent with their Raid Finder plans and from now on only make raids which a pickup raid group of average players is actually able to beat, or they should make a leveling game which offers some challenge and culminates in a hard raiding endgame which then isn't nerfed just weeks after release. Decide, Blizzard, and stick to your guns. Listen to President Lincoln: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. World of Warcraft is suffering from trying to please all of the people all of the time, and ends up see-sawing between different models.
There is no reason that they couldn't offer a consistent (which is your point - I get that) approach which satisfies a very broad player base. Easy, Normal, and Hard modes.
Let the players pick what they want. Trying to move to a single one mode will be nigh on impossible to do now that the playerbase has a wide range of expectations. By contrast Eve is the game of one mode - its Eve. It is your point driven home sharply. If you don't like eve then you don't play eve. Simple, but nothing like the commercial revenue or player base.
Blizzard could aim for a mixed mode approach.
Could have been written by me. Hope Blizzard reads this.
Blizzard indeed does read this :) Actually a lot of devs do, I surprisingly found some of my comments I post only here quoted on official twitter accounts for @Storybricks, @EVEOnline or @FalloutOnline. Tobold probably get quoted too, so yeah, they read it :)

Back on topic: I am not completely sure if consistency is what Blizz would want to aim for. They want all players, not just a single shard of the playerbase, and so they promise a difficulty level to a particular group and they deliver each and every time satisfying that group only. Yet another promise is made and this way all the players are kept in constant waiting.
Couldn't agree more. I understand games grow now due to the ability to patch content with the internet but it shouldn't change the game drastically.

In WoW's case you can't even blame it on a change of development teams and shuffling people because this is the same team they've had since Cata launched and we've seen some pretty major swings in difficulty since then.
Tobold I am getting funny behaviour from this post when I try to view it in my feed reader. I get a popup box trying to download something to my computer. Don't know if this is a problem with me, with Netvibes or with your blog but it doesn't happen on any of your other posts. Netvibes is using the Atom feed I think.
oops forgot to say that everything works fine when I come in through the Tobold.Com front door.
I think the refinements in model they are making for 4.3 will give current content 3 difficulty settings (Accessable and Easy/Standard/Hard mode).
I understand, because 4.3 content will be viable to everyone in one form or another on release, that they'd like everyone to see 4.2 content now so need to nerf current content before release to make is accessable (Who wants to focus their efforts on old stuff when there is new available?)
I am disapointed that the challenge will vanish from my game until the next patch. I'd much rather they put an NPC at the start of the instance who debuffed all the bosses. Accepting his debuff makes the bosses easier but they drop less (no legendary bits, lower points and rep). Declining his debuff keeps current difficulties and rewards.
Blizzard is trying to ride the line of challenging better players while eventually allowing lesser players to experience the content.

But Blizzard always does the same thing. Every raid (there are probably like 20 of them now) has been nerfed after release. Blizzard has a 100% raid nerfing percentage. It boggles the mind that people are still complaining about every raid nerf.

Though I do like your point Tobold. You would think (and I thought) that with multi-tiered difficulty this problem would be gone for good. But normal modes are still too hard.
My guess is that they didn't like the rate at which "average" guilds were progressing through both the normal and heroic modes. They were going to nerf everything when 4.3 came anyway, so why not give the players a chance to finish this tier before moving on?

I personally would have preferred if they either postponed the nerf to 4.3 or left the heroic modes untouched, but I can see their reasoning. After all, I don't think a lot of people went back to the heroic T11 raids after 4.2 came out, so this is a way to get people who have one or two heroic kills so far to see the rest of the heroic encounters.
Well-written Tobold, and very honest. I honestly think Blizzard has started worrying about their wallets a lot more than their players. The recent minor dips in subscriptions have made them realize that something is wrong with teh accessibility of endgame content. unfortunately, their solution is not to design better and more accessible content in the first place, but just just use the nerfbat.
Hmmmm... upon reading around on blogs of people who actually play WoW, the nerf is very much welcome, since Firelands was overtuned.

This is definitely not a new issue: testers are not casual players, so it's hardly a surprise that new content comes out overtuned. It's also nothing new that the content is nerfed over time, either "intrinsically" (= next tier stuff, so old content is easier), or deliberately (ICC stacking buff of +5%/month, which is no different from the current approach of nerfing the content over time to allow more people to experience it).

When they introduced the Heroic mode raids, the plan was very clear: normal is for PUG, heroic is for hardcore guilds. It seems to me that they are sticking to this approach, correcting errors when they overshoot.
Whether you love Blizz or hate them or fall somewhere in between you have to respect that they are willing to try something new to see if it works. I understand your need for consistency and its not just a raid difficulty thing, its rotations, talents, game economy, etc, etc, etc. There is comfort in things not changing even if you don't like the way things are. But I see no indication from Blizzard that they are slowing the changes. I might not like them all, hell I even cancelled one of my accounts for the same reasons you listed, but I respect them for trying.

As we all know they lost a million accounts... there are going to be changes!
Now that the upcoming Looking For Raid tool will have a separate, easier raid difficulty than normal raids, blizz may well stick to a consistent set of 3 raid difficulties: LFR, normal, heroic.
Only two expansions and about five years later, but welcome to the other side.
Before we point the finger at Blizzard (again), we should consider the tenets of internet-dom, or any community:

- The critical are the most vocal, but are also usually the minority

- People dislike change, in any form. Even if it turns out eventually to be in their favour.

You say Blizzard is inconsistent, others say they being dynamic and responsive to feedback.

See what I did there?
I agree. I believe they could fix it once and for all, or just leave it in one state. However, the occillation from easy to hard almost seems like an attempt to create the illusion that player feedback matters. Does Blizzard intentionally overshoot game balance fixes (raid difficulty, class balance, trinity balance) to tug the community on a never ending circle of false progress? Hmmmm.
Sadly, I have to say you just don't get it Tobold.

You (and Blizzard) seem to hold the belief that "casual" means "unskilled," and no other difference from hardcore. You really think that playing for several hours a night, nearly every night a week counts are "casual" if you make it easy enough?

You are like a boss that makes his employees work 90 hours a week. When they complain, he makes the work easier, but still 90 hours a week. And he can't figure out why no one is happy.

Raids are horrible endgame for casuals. This could not be more blatant, more glaringly obvious. Casuals are screaming this with their voices, with their feet in-game, and with their wallets leaving the game.

Give up on raids. They only work for hardcore. Casuals require an endgame that is NOT raiding.
welcome to the other side

"Sides" simply do not exist in blogging, as there is an infinite number of possible opinions. You are limiting your intellectual scope if you try to shoehorn them into "sides".
Can't really argue with any of that, Tobold. All MMOs would benefit from having a clear vision of what they want to be and sticking to it.

The only time I'd endorse a wholesale change of direction or emphasis would be when the current direction has clearly failed and it's that or have the game go under. And even then it might be better to let that happen and try again, as the Shadowbane devs did when they created Wizard 101.
This is so obvious but not said that often! It is relatively simple programming to scale normal, hard and insane modes on ANY raid. Casual players aren't automatically done with content because the raids are prohibitively hard for only the most dedicated players. The more-than-casuals can choose how far to go before their guild cannot function at that level. You don't waste early raid content by making it extremely easy for hardcore players. There also is a lot more strategy for hardcore players who might get better level gear who can then bypass the next-most-difficult raid's "easy" mode and go right to normal, for example. There will be some "hopscotching" of modes for good players, but it allows all players to experience content without getting demoralized and quitting.
Pretty sure Ghostcrawler talked about encounter nerfing in his blog post. It's #3 here:

They nerf when the number of people beating an encounter plateaus.
Three is much better than 2 difficulty levels but I think five would be optimal. Add a only 1% can get it hard mode and one on the low end. Once you have multiple levels, you can justify the resources to make a raid that only 100 guilds will get in the world. Non-sociopaths don't care if 85% of the game is doing raid1 mode-A if they find raid 1 mode-E challenging and exclusive enough.

Blizzard choosing a side would be far better than the current mess. I am advocating that Blizzard providing a choice of difficulties and letting my group choose which menu to order from is even better. Who knows, we might even step it up and be ready to advance to the next league.


I don't understand the nerf over time objections. For emotion management reasons, Blizz probably should change it to record achievements per phase more explicitly. And announce, in advance, that the encounters will get easier over time. Personally, I think they should just overtune everything and announce that it is a formula where this week's nerf is based asymptotically off last week's player success %.

One of the things I greatly prefer from persistent world's like EVE is the consistency. Everything in WoW is an evil treadmill. No matter what gear you have now, it is inferior in 3 months and irrelevant in 6 months. Why would people not expect the content to be just as fleeting?


A HUGE problem that I rarely see mentioned is the grouping requirement especially combined with a week lockout. I had a guild fall a part when we had 14 or so "active" "raiders" but never the right mix of 10 on at a consistent time due to job, night school, family, etc. I like the definition that hardcore is when you rearrange RL to accommodate a game. IMO, the ability to support a broad mix of groupings is key for an end game activity to support more than a small % of players. The human engineering of reliably getting the right 2-3-5 people on at a consistent time and without loot or vent drama takes more effort and skill than any pre-HM raid content.

WoW needs to have content that is difficult enough that it requires people who sign up to a consistent, reliable schedule to defeat it. Yet, you are never going to get near 11 million players to do that. So don't you want the other's $15 as well?

A pet peeve is that a lot of the more intricate "dance" maneuvers in fights are far more problematic to people who are not in a dedicated raid team.


That being said, I think that Cata has been a mess of mistakes and contradictions. More challenging initial raids/heroics yet little non-raid content and short leveling that does not support alt leveling was going to hurt revenue.
Content that starts off easy can actually be better than content that is nerfed to the same state. The former allows the bad players to retain their illusions; the latter reinforces the reality of their ineptitude.

Wrath had it mostly right, with two widely separated difficulty modes. Blizzard's attempt to slice things more finely with progressive nerfs is counterproductive in an MMO (unlike in a single player game).
As Rawrasaur and others have mentioned, Blizzard is not at all being inconsistent when it comes to nerfs. Raids are always nerfed as time goes by, and that is the ONLY model that makes any sense in an MMO space - you have to re-sell your game to a fluid population each month.

Do you call game companies inconsistent when they release their game for $60, and then lower the price to $50/$40/$30 several months later? "Pick a price!" amirite? Price segmentation maximizes the amount of profit a game can fetch. Difficulty segmentation similarly maximizes the amount of players a given piece of content satisfies. In theory, anyway.

Honestly, what I imagine will happen is that a sizable portion of players grinding out gear to push themselves through Normal modes today will simply queue themselves into LFR and clear out the Easy mode bosses... and log off. I pay for content, not difficulty for difficulty's sake - after our 2nd 10m LK kill I was ready to retire with our high score, so to speak. Then again, part of the reason I quit WoW was because I was tired of learning new gimmick fights each tier after 3-4 years of it. So perhaps this gimmick-less model (e.g. the gimmicks that exist are trivialized) will in fact entice ex-players like myself back.
In my opinion it's a problem inherent in MMOs.

MMOs, at least as currently conceived, cannot operate without a grind. There's not a game on earth that is so fun that you can get significant #'s of people to play it for months and years on end. The grind creates a virtual rat race that keeps people playing for the endorphin rush of reaching whatever goal is at the end of the grind.

No one will do the grind if there are not substantial rewards for doing so.

A few people will inevitably spend more time than the rest and collect more rewards.

The people who don't spend as much time playing will eventually realize that they are wasting their time doing unfun crap that will never let them catch up with the people who play 60 hours a week. This majority are the people who actually generate a profit. They will grow frustrated and let their subscriptions lapse.

To pacify the people who actually make them money, the game company has to mitigate the grind.

Without the grind, the game lacks the power to keep people playing for months or years at a time, because MMOs are less about fun than they are about addicting people to a virtual rat race.

Therefore, they must eventually reinforce the grind to reestablish the illusion of progress.

A few people will inevitably spend more time than the rest and collect more rewards.

The people who don't spend as much time will eventually realize that they are wasting their time doing unfun crap that will never let them catch up with the people who play 60 hours a week. This majority are the people who actually generate a profit.

To pacify the people who actually make them money, the game company has to mitigate the grind to create the illusion of progress.

Rinse and repeat.

What if the Blizz people are optimizing the content to keep maximum number of players happy? And, as a corollary, those who are not happy about the state of affairs are not in the majority of players?

SWTOR Beta seems to be following the WOW model on leveling vs end game content, so I would say WOW is a thought leader in this area.

Why reinvent the money wheel?

I'm just saying if you don't like what's hot... you might as well leave the kitchen right now because the cooks are cooking only hot stuff right now.
Blizzard said there is no template for where to take a game of this genre after the kind of success they experienced; the influx of transient gamers into a style of game historically built around grinding labor and meager rewards has created a new dynamic, and Blizzard is frantically searching for a model that will keep their diverse player base happy. I think, given that context, some roller coaster changes are to be expected - I also think that, given their track record, the eventual result will be exceptional. It certainly has been an exhausting ride for those of us who've been engaged over the long term with end-game content, though, and many of us have lost interest because of it. I'd love a few more dials to turn, to be able to set the challenge level of content to match the ability and drive of my group, and to gain rewards that are meaningful to us at a pace that meets our needs. I hope they find a way to meet the needs of the strictly casual player while also providing challenges for those who wish to seek them. Thanks for a great post. It really helped me to find some clarity among the conflicting emotions and ideas I've been experiencing in the last few weeks with regard to raiding, difficulty, and rewards.
I'm afraid I have to disagree with you, Tobold. The problem is that the people who read gaming blogs like this one are often average + 1 sigma or higher. While the nerfing and shifting around might be frustrating for us, we're not the target audience of the nerfs.

At the start of Wrath, WoW adopted a model where instead of having guilds all along the progression path (many in kara, lots in ssc/tk, some in mh/bt, a few in sunwell), they'd instead have everyone in the most recently released raid.

The cycle of nerfs is entirely consistent with that pattern. They give us an overly hard raid to keep the very hardcore happy, let the average players get most of the way through it, then nerf it so the average players get a 'yay, we beat it', and are able to gear up for a month or two so we can all enter into the new raid instance.
And this is the main reason Blizzard should stop the ideology of "full reset with every new tier". If they have to stick to that, if they want consistent difficulty, every tier should be an exact difficulty match, since everyone will be bumped up to the level of the new raid (thanks to valor/justice points).
On the other hand, if they want an expansion to be progressively harder, that will mean if you are an unskilled guild, your only chance to raid is in the intro tier of an expansion.
Sure, they have, for each tier, 2 difficulties (heroic and normal), but even then, there is a pretty constant gap between the skill required for the two, so if they aim for constant difficulty, the people who find normals easy but heroics too hard, well, they will be left behind.

The most elegant solution IMO was already presented. By blizzard. In TBC. That's right, multiple tiers at launch with a range from easy-ish to challenging, with 2 patches adding a tier of first hard, then very hard raid content. With no resets in between. This will make it so, as long as the server you are on is large enough, no matter when in the lifespan of an expansion you start raiding, there should always be some content that is appropiate for you.
Then, if they are worried about people not seeing all the raid content, they can feel free to nerf it to the ground... in the last 3 or so months leading up to the next expansion.

I still don't get what made them decide it was a bad system. I guess they wanted to cater to people who were scared of having to progress through the content.
I still don't get what made them decide it was a bad system.

Hardly anyone did the last raid, and poaching of players from less progressed guilds pretty much ensured that would happen.

Also, personally, a repeat of tBC in WotLK would have ended my subscription by early 2009. As it stands, WotLK kept be playing for another two years.
The developers think they have a good system with the tiered approach where they release new raid content that's insanely hard, then as time goes on they nerf it and it gets progressively easier.

You have to admit though, it's really as close as they can get to making everyone happy.
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