Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Garrisons, Part I: Phasing

Garrisons are the signature mechanic of Warlords of Draenor. They are also a failure, and have hurt the game more than they have helped.

However, I don't think garrisons were that far from being a good mechanic. It feels like a few more iterations or tweaks could have brought garrisons to a much better place. As well, a lot of the problems with garrisons are long term problems that really only develop into serious issues after a few weeks of play.

In this series, I hope to take a look at different facets of the garrisons. To try to see where Blizzard went wrong, and what changes could have improved them.


In my mind, the single biggest problem with garrisons is the way that they are phased. Each garrison is a personal phase for each player. this means that the player is always logging into an empty space. There are no other players around.

This very different from every previous expansion. Usually you log into a large city. In Pandaria, most people set their hearthstones to either the Shrine or Halfhill. So whenever you logged in you immediately saw other players running around. Even though Halfhill had a small phased area, it was set off from the main town.

I think this is hugely important for an MMO. Even though you may not explicitly group with other people, it's very important that the other people are present in your world. That's what makes an MMO an MMO.

In WoD, the first 10 minutes of every gaming session is spent alone, with no other players in sight. This makes WoD an intensely lonely experience. There is no "bustle", no energy, as in all the previous expansions. It's sort of the equivalent of once belonging to a large guild, but now you're the only player logging in. It's very dispiriting.

I think this is important enough to make a general rule. Players should always log in (and log out) in populated areas. A strong visual reminder that they are not alone is very important to this genre.


The best solution I can think of is to have a much more complicated phasing system. Something where common areas of the garrison, like the central courtyard are shared. Each plot would be shared with other players who have the same building on the plot as you.

So even though everyone has their own garrison, it looks like everyone is in the same garrison, and it is a bustling center with players running all over the place. Of course, this would probably be much harder to implement cleanly.

Another path would have been a system where there are multiple separate buildings in the garrison are owned by separate players. I.e. no real phasing, but an actual community. For example in a guild of 10 people, each person gets their own plot in a common guild garrison.

Of course, this system is crazy complicated, and there are lots of problems. What happens if someone leaves the guild and wants to move her plot elsewhere? What happens when people stop logging in and the plots become empty?

This system is more fit for sandbox games, I think. The complex phasing would have been a better fit for WoW.


  1. The problem is more fundamental than phasing complexity: every player is a commander of a garrison. If you are a commander, than everyone else around is your minion (or visitor, which is already possible). Other commanders just don't fit in.

    The ONLY way of making everyone a hero/commander/special is to separate them from the other players and surround them with NPCs who are OK with being minions and praise the hero (instead of calling him a n00b for his sub-par performance).

    The ONLY way to make multiple players present in the same garrison is one being the commander and others being simple soldiers who can only do tasks the commander allows them (EVE Player Owned Starbases work this way).

    1. I don't agree with you. I play several MMOs which have a personal storyline, and I don't think it affects the players. Players are perfectly able to "compartmentalize" the individual story part and the multiplayer part of the game.

      In fact, in some ways the common story becomes a "shared experience" for all the players. They can discuss it together, help lower level players with it, and it becomes something which ties them together.

    2. While I'm not going to disagree with your core assertion, Rohan (though I will say that I think Garrisons is the most fascinating feature Blizz has ever added to the game), I agree with Gevlon's comment.

      I am not aware of any other MMO of this style that not only tells a personal story (IE the player is actually an important figure and not just a cog) while also having in-universe representations of that power they can have direct control over to this degree.

      FF14 presents the player as a singular, unique hero. You are THE Warrior of Light, and the only one left in the world. The story is written as if you completed all dungeons and raids by yourself, regardless of the fact that they're group content. This is especially true during the story mode versions of Ifrit and Ravana. The only visible effect players are able to have on the world is their personal houses, which are something anyone can feasibly possess. As a result, it's easy to compartmentalize the difference between what the story says you do and what you actually do.

      TOR, when I was last playing it, presented the player as a cog. A powerful cog, but a cog none the less. You performed your tasks as part of an "employer's" forces, who generally received the credit. I am aware that the expansion content moves away from this a bit, so I can only speak for when I was last playing it. Even still, the player can make NO visible effect on the world, but they do have a solo location that the designers expect players to start and end their play sessions in: The ship.

      STO presents the player as a cog. You are still a member of your faction's military forces, no matter what you do. The visible representation of your successes are limited to "guild" starbases, and are not allowed to be personal-level things.

      WoW, until Warlords, presented the player as a cog. You always acted as a member of someone's army, even during raid encounters, and that someone was always the one that took credit. Even when players were personally congratulated for killing Onyxia and Deathwing, it was a congratulations to them as part of the army that fought the dragon.

      Warlords, though, presents the player as a singular hero. Instead of being part of someone's army (though you actually still are), you are instead now the commander; the person who gives the orders. The framing doesn't give room for other players, since there's only one garrison left standing, because of your actions.

      Since you are the commander, the singular hero, they can't write the Garrison as some kind of superphase dynamic capital city, because in order to represent other players doing things in your garrison, let alone your ability to direct what happens in the garrison, they need to either be subordinate to you (because you are the Commander), or you still need to be subordinate to someone and thus it's no longer really your garrison.

      Now, it can certainly be argued that maybe that's the direction Blizzard should have taken. It's an interesting discussion, for sure. But at the same time I really appreciated that the WoD story actually presents the player as the central figure, instead of being the arm of the central figures like all previous expansions had been. And by presenting the player as a central figure, it limits the way it can present things surrounding the player.

      Maybe making the garrison a dynamic capital city would have been better for player engagement, I don't know. I'm not sure I agree, because you still see chatter. You still see people running around (though they're NPCs). The garrison still FEELS like one of the capital cities from the way I interact with the world. This could just be a difference in the way different people want to approach these kinds of games.

    3. @Rohan: "compartmentalize"-ing the story from the multiplayer actually removes RPG from "MMORPG". Your story is no longer true even within the game world. "Your Garrison" is just "one garrison". "Your accomplishment" is just "some random quest every n00b did". "You killed bad boss" is just "some random farm everyone with brain does".

      This problem existed since the first instance, but it never was so immersion-braking as with Garrisons, because you do them completely alone and they are central part of the experience.

      I'd go as far as calling WoD a single-player game with a common chat. I mean if you were the only player on the server, would you notice it if you don't do instances?

    4. I have to say that I don't really see this. SWTOR presents you as the Emperor's Wrath, a member of the Dark Council or the Jedi Council, the Jedi Battlemaster. FFXIV presents you as the Warrior of Light.

      To me, those seem to be much more exclusive than the garrison. Also, consider the outposts in the other zones. Those work like I am suggesting, in that most of it is common, but everyone chooses one of two buildings. Are those outposts so immersion breaking when you see other players there?

      Finally, SWTOR's ship doesn't count as a log in location. Maybe that's what Bioware intended, but as a practical matter everyone logs in on Fleet or the current planet.

  2. I agree. To me, I think Garrisons would've worked a lot better if they were inside a larger, populated city. Even then you'd be logging into silence, but at least other people would be there only a few steps away.

    1. Perhaps. But the garrison concept is large enough that it forms it's own miniature city. I don't think it really could have fit within another city.

    2. I was imagining more of a base of operations with various buildings/outposts out in the field that you could visit. But you are right.

  3. Okay, to play Devil's Advocate here, ARE Garrisons a failure? The WoW portion of my blogroll is kind of split, about 60/40, in favor of Garrisons.

    1. Well, perhaps was being overly-emphatic. I think that, on balance, garrisons are a failure. But they do have a lot of good points. For many people, those good points might outweigh the negatives.

      I also think that the flaws of garrisons aren't obvious. If they were obvious, Blizzard would have caught and fixed them in beta. Instead I think they manifest as a general unhappiness and lack of engagement with the game, and are more likely to cause people to fall away from the game rather than make complaints.

  4. I like finally having a place all my own in Azeroth. I wouldn't mind being able to allow access to alts or guild members or anyone I'd like, but I don't want it to be mini-Stormwind.
    For me, a better alternative would have been/still could be a player hub within one of the cities in Shadowmoon Valley. This also give players an alternative city they could easily reach when new to Draenor, and they could wait to build a garrison if they wished.

    1. I think the garrison concept strongly encourages the player to start her day in the garrison. That makes it the obvious place to log in. I'm not sure what Blizzard could have done to make the players choose to log out in a different hub.

    2. You're right, it does exactly that. Things can always be changed, reconfigured. However, for as long as I've been playing WOW I don't feel that I have a handle on how the developers "think". Sometimes a company has a cohesive way of doing things and handling things and you know what to expect from them. These guys do not seem cohesive in their thinking, somehow.