Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Consolidation of Talent

I believe that Blizzard spends a disproportionate amount of resources on endgame content. The number of people who will see the Black Temple or Sunwell is a tiny fraction of the playerbase. The amount that this fraction pays in subscription dollars does not cover the cost of content produced for them, or the amount of customer support they use.

I also believe that these resources are being spent well. That it is important to retain the hardcore, to create content for them and keep them in the game. It is my belief that the hardcore have many beneficial effects for an MMO. They provide a spectacle for the other players, are the engine which drives the economy. They serve as aspirational models, and players that everyone knows about.

The hardcore act as hubs in the social network of the game. Without the hardcore, the world would seem emptier, and the network that binds people together, keeps people playing, would fray, and I believe the casuals would fall away.

So if the above is true, let us consider the impact another aspect of WoW: Paid Server Transfers.

The hardcore seek out the hardcore. They want to progress, and the best progression is found with like-minded people. And because they are the hardcore, they are willing to pay the fee to move to a different server. High-end raiding guilds recruit across servers. There are servers where the hardcore have congregated, which boast multiple Illidan-killing guilds. Servers like Mal'Ganis or Korgath.

This Elitist Jerks thread is an example of the situation. The majority of high-end guilds are on PvP servers. The hardcore on PvE servers would like to be able to transfer to such servers. And the phenomenon magnifies itself. If some of the hardcore leave the server, it becomes harder for the remaining hardcore to succeed, making it more likely that they too will transfer.

But what happens to the old server when they do transfer?

If the hardcore are nodes in the social network of the server, removing the nodes damages the network, and will eventually causes casuals to leave. And remember that the hardcore will consolidate themselves on a few servers. For every server the hardcore flock to, there are five or more servers being abandoned by them. Casuals will not pay to transfer servers. If the social network of their server is too badly damaged, they will simply leave the game.

On the other hand, if the hardcore are not hubs in the network, if the server will happily survive without them, then you really have to wonder if spending all those extra resources on the hardcore is worthwhile. Wouldn't it be more profitable to cater to the customers who don't require as many resources to satisfy?

Paid Server Transfers allow the hardcore to consolidate themselves on a few servers, damaging the many servers they leave behind. Blizzard needs some mechanism to push the hardcore in the opposite direction, to cause them to spread out. In the past, overcrowding and server stability was one of the main forces opposing the drive to congregate. Unstable servers caused Death & Taxes to move to Korgath, revitalizing that server. But as Blizzard's technology improves, it is less likely that unstable servers will push the hardcore to spread out.


  1. I must say I agree with you, having migrated three times and considering to migrate in a few month, when my druid will be 70, on the most PvP-oriented server of France, EU-Archimonde.

    I've migrated in the past on EU-Ysondre to be part of the Peacemakers, one of the top-french PvE guilds. It was really a fantastic experience at this moment. It was during the Naxxramas period, on my server there was at the moment no guild killing C'thun and barely two boss killed in Naxx (Razu / Anub). I was desperate founding a good guild recruiting druids and I wanted to reach higher level. When I arrived on Ysondre, I was crazy at seeing the number of really good PvE-teams and I found the perfect one for me. I must say that I spent my best raiding days on this server, up to now, thanks to the server emulation and the crazy number of really good players.

    If I wanted and had the time to do a 5/7 days raid schedule, I would definitly play on those kind of emulating-servers.

  2. If blizzard were to stop creating High-end Instances like BT or the Sunwell, then where should they spend their time? creating more disapointing content like the new village in Duskwallow Marsh? Its tiny! 2 huts and a flight path!
    I had imagined it to look like the villages the Steamwheedle cartel have built in Tanaris, or Winterfall.
    As someone who was raiding at 60, but only say ZG, MC and Onyxia, i was sad that i never got a chance to see BWL or Naxx, but i loved TBC.

    Now being on an RP server, the best guild on our server have only just cleared Lady Vashj, and are working through the Eye. But our progression seems quicker than i experianced before. Maybe becuase i'm in a good raid guild (6th Alliance guild on the server)

    Will we make it to BT? or the Sunwell? Maybe! who knows what the future holds...

    Personally if was in a raid guild like Nilihim (spell check please!) I'd be pretty bored of the TBC Content already... killing the same bosses over and over and over is boring...i love that at least once every couple of weeks we're trying something new. This is what keeps me playing the game.

    I've never played an MMO Before WoW, and to be honest i've tried some of the others since i started, and i wasnt impressed. Blizz have cornered the market here it would seem. And thats for a good reason...they are good at what they do! People bitch and moan about their clasess, but if you were all happy all the time, you wouldnt have anything to moan about! And thats all part of the fun of this game!

    So i guess what i'm saying is this:

    Blizzard Carry on! You're keeping me happy!

  3. Well one thing that might get the hardcore guilds to spread out is adding more "once per server events". Especially something like "complete such and such crazy long raid quest and add +3 stam to guild tabard of whoever completes it." Might guilds be tempted to move to soft servers? I think so. Or maybe something inconsequential like Guild tabard makes you look like a skeleton pirate when used. If this happened once per server, power guilds might be inclined to spread over different servers.

  4. Maybe outdoor bosses had an effect on this in the past as well? Too many hardcore guilds on a server and you won't get to kill them. Of course this only matters if the outdoor bosses are difficult enough/drop good enough loot.

  5. Perhaps Blizzard could engineer cross-server instance and raid groups modelled on the cross-server BG tecnology already in place.

  6. Perhaps Blizzard could engineer cross-server instance and raid groups modelled on the cross-server BG tecnology already in place.

  7. The same goes for PVP, BG and Arena. There are 2 main Battlegroup clusters that are widely held as the best for US pool of players, BG6 and BG9---I've seen comments like "a 1800 Rating in BG9 is like 2000 Rating in another cluster".

    As this reputation keeps circulating, the hardcore PVP'er who is interested in making his/her name known or wants to test skills/ability against higher competition, might just transfer.

  8. I have to disagree that hardcore raiders are aspirational models. Perhaps to those that are inclined to raid and make WoW a job, but for those of us that are more casual (for all the reasons), at say, working on Kara or even getting into Kara, all of that endgame content is one of frustration.

    Frustration that there is so much endgame raiding content at the 25 man level that can't be reached by the bulk of the player base. More 10 man instances for bulk of the paying customers would be better. It should always be more 5 mans than 10 mans than 25 man instances. Or perhaps 10 man is normal and 25 the heroic equivalent. That would at least all Blizzard to continue their policy of recycling (understandably) content.

    Frustration on how it destroys the smaller guilds. Endgame-oriented (I won't say "good" because endgame is not always synonymous with good) players leave for the bigger guilds which continues a deadly cycle of maiming smaller guild progression.

    Frustration knowing you'll never get your tier 4 set because Blizzard idiotically put some of the tier 4 stuff in 25 man instances. More paths to some of this stuff would be nice. Giving people a chance to obtain items is a Good Thing for the entire game. The current arena model is a good example. If you lose you'll still get the gear, it will just take you longer than a winning team. (The change for arena 3 is a step in the wrong direction.)

    All of that said, I do agree that the hardcore can be important. They are, generally, influencers which is important outside the game server. The thing is to make sure that keeping the hardcore interested doesn't create a have vs have-not situation. Too many have-nots and WoW dies as the casual player will go elsewhere or simply leave the MMORPG market altogether.

  9. For Piper:

    Hellfire Citadel: Ramparts, Blood Furnace, Shattered Halls.

    Coilfang: Slave Pens, Underbog, Steamvaults.

    Auch Crypts: Mana Tombs, Auch Crypts, Shadow Labs, Sethekk Halls

    Arcatraz: Botanica, Mechanar, Arcatraz

    Five Man Instances in BC: 13

    Level 70 Five-Mans: Six, seven if you count Sethekk Halls. 13 if you count heroics.

    10 Man instances: Karazhan. One

    25 mans: Gruuls, SSC, the Eye, Black Temple. I suppose you could count Mag, HLK and Doomwalker. Four instances, three world bosses. Seven.

    Right now we have seven regular five-mans, and 13 heroic instances. Let's call that 13 level 70 five-mans.

    One 10 Man

    And seven 25 mans.

    Honestly, right now? The only thing I see a lack of are 10 mans. Right now Blizzard has almost double the amount of five-man content that they do 25 man.

    If 25 man were the heroic equivalent, I guarantee people would be jumping guilds as well for that heroic gear. I don't think more 10 mans would solve anything in regards to players leaving guilds. The maximum number of players allowed for a raid instance dictates how raiding guilds will form. More 10 mans won't change anything unless 10 mans become the new raid cap. If people are willing to leave a guild for more progression, such as leaving a 20 man guild (Zul'Gurub and AQ20) for a 40 man guild , they'll leave a ten man for a 25 man as well. Size is relative.

    There are already more five-mans than 10 mans, and people leave for the Kara guilds. They'd rather have the one than the thirteen. So, how would making more 10 mans than 25 mans fix the issue? People would leave later, but they'd still leave. :)

  10. I have to respectfully disagree with Piper, especially in regards to the arena loot system.

    I know many casual and hardcore PvP players despise it, but WoW is at its heart based around the endgame raid. The best loot, the sets that actually match (so your character doesn't look like a hodgepodge of colors from hell), the entire idea of guilds; everything focuses towards 40 (now 25) man raiding. Tigole made the choice to have WoW focus on large group efforts (raids) rather than PvP or small groups (most likely as a result of his EQ years). And that is the way it is structured. It may not fit everyone's playstyle, but no game ever does.

    I really do think high end raiders add a lot to the game. Even if its something as little as seeing someone walking around in full tier 6, those kind of things add flavor and a sense of community to the game. It also, just as Coriel said, gives people something to shoot for. I know way back when I was in Kara I could not wait to get into SSC and start wearing tier 5.

    I personally think that the "skill drain" that goes on in WoW is a result of having too many servers. In the beginning of WoW when Blizzard was still learning to use its new hardware and software they couldn't fit many characters onto each realm, and that resulted in the need to create large numbers of realms to handle the huge number of people playing. Three years later they've optimized their system and can fit many more players on the same server, resulting in a spread out population that could easily be consolidated. If you scroll through the realm list almost every server is medium population or lower. Even Korgath, the Mecca for PvE raiding in the American realm system, is a lowly medium population.

    In the end I thing server mergers would fix a lot of the problems plaguing dying servers (like mine was until very recently). And I still have yet to see a good reason why PvE --> PvP transfers are not allowed.

  11. I don't necessarily see the top-end raids as something bad. Sure I was angry about Naxxramas, and how it took them a year to make it and nobody ever got to see it. But they're remaking Naxx into an instance everyone can see in the next expansion.

    Sure I'll never get to see Hyjal or Black Temple. But those things are there to give the raiding playerbase something to do, they aren't designed for me. But remember the days when it seemed that every other patch released a new instance you'd never go to? Blackwing Lair followed by AQ40 followed by Naxx? Nowadays, they released Black Temple and say they're only going to release one more top-end raid instance before the next expansion is released. In the meantime, the stuff they're adding for those of us who can't go to those places is huge!

    I am personally very much looking forward to ZA. My current guild has most of the bosses in Kara on farm but there simply aren't enough people right now for Gruul's. The badge drops in 10-mans will definitely help bridge the gear gap as well. Can I imagine a day in the next year or two before the next expansion is released that I'll finally start raiding SSC or The Eye? Sure I can! It's a goal to strive for.

    Nobody on my server raids anything higher than The Eye (that I know of). So sure, it's like the higher instances exist, but nobody goes there where I am, so what do I care if people on other servers do? Sure Blizz spent time on them that they could have been spending on more 5-10 man content for me, but I think they're doing just fine on that front as well.

  12. I have to disagree with Piper too.

    Why do you get frustrated over not geting some set of virtual goods?

    You make your own choices. You don't want to make 25-man contents, then live up with it and don't get frustrated because you cannot obtain that loot.

    There are many ways to obtain good gear in this game nowadays: reputation grind, heroic dungeons, PvP, crafted. Find your own way and get it.

    Personally, I don't PvP and I couldn't care less about the rewards that are offered there.

    It seems that some people want to see everything. You must understand that the game has to cater to a very different set of people, so there must be contents which is available only to people with different tastes to yours.

  13. As one who was around for WoW 1.0, I have to say that endgame loot distribution between raids, PvP, and crafted goods is *far* better now in TBC.

    Put another way, before TBC the best loot - by far - was ONLY accessible to raiders, period.
    And I also have to agree that for the small guilds, the heroics and 10-man Kara are far more accessible than WoW 1.0 20- or 40-man raids.

    And another nice touch is the split in PvE and PvP gear; in November and December '06 when the raiders descended on the PvP scene they dominated it because of gear and coordination. But now with better PvP gear and the Arena, I don't think that would happen again. PvE raid gear no longer transfers to PvP like it did in WoW 1.0

  14. I think that there are actually plenty of "casual" players that are willing to transfer servers, and who do all the time. We've had about 10-12 people server transfer to join my guild from other servers. Sometimes people just like a change of scenery, and you don't have to be a raider to want it.

  15. Coriel - love the blog, you are generally right on target, but today I think you're mistaken. The high-end guilds do not provide aspirational models or social hubs in any significant fashion, because unless one is himself hardcore and just farther back in progression, one has never heard of them.

    Just like only a fraction of players will see Sunwell, only a monetarily insignificant percentage of players can name the elite guilds on their server. I can only name a couple, and only because I've read the official forums and had one (one!) guildie make reference to a couple once. And I'm more hardcore than the average player - I'm in Kara, and I want to get into 25-mans and to BT someday. And I guarantee that most of my guildies in Kara (and obv. the lower-level ones) are totally unaware of who has the best progression on our server.

    Take my wife - she has a level 65, a 40, a 32, and a bunch more alts. She plays for several hours every day, and knows what to do in an instance well enough to do it, and to be annoyed at bad players. I doubt she can name any guild on our server other than the one we're in.

    Everyone reading this blog is already pretty hardcore, as are the people talking about prgression on the forums. The majority of the people paying Blizzard $15/month have no idea who the endgame guilds are, don't care, and thus don't aspire to be like them.

    I don't even aspire to be them; yeah, I want to see BT, because I want to see it ALL; if endgame raiding stopped at Gruul's, I would simply aspire to that instead. They don't have to make the content almost inacessible in order to make people aspire to it. I used to aspire to hitting 40 and getting a mount, even though everyone gets one.


  16. True for most points but paid server transfers arent just for the hardcore - i myself transferred for shorter arena times :)

    samownall wow 2.3

  17. Meh, personally I don't care that much about 25mans. Its in 5-10mans, quests and PvP is where the game sits for me. That's why 5v5 and 3v3 arena is so enjoyable.

    Them:WOot we killed Illidan!
    Me: Ok? You killed a pre-programmed boss fight that is more or less analog and not very creative. During this time, you pressed a total of 3 buttons, moved around a little bit, made your healers exhausted and pissed and gained a cute little epic. Whoo!
    I'm not saying that 25mans are pointless, but on the grand scale of social networking, its much easier and cheaper to get much better results on the small level.

  18. My 2-cents.

    The raid content in TBC is much more hardcore than it was back at 60. The grind to get all the gear and keys to enable your guild to progress to the next instance and the amount of farming required once you have completed one instance to gear up your guild... is insane.

    My old guild got just fine through all end game content excluding Naxx (only did one boss) and the last 2 bosses of AQ40 before the expansion dropped and that was on a 9-12 hour a week raiding schedule. Fairly casual from what I could tell.

    They've addressed alot of these issues with removing attunement requirements. ZA and the new heroic badge drops + gear will allow guilds to better get into TK/SSC... Huge! This would have been great at TBC release!

    Alas, it's too little too late.

    Arenas were horribly unbalanced at release and have tipped different directions, but never really leveled out as everyone expected. Min/maxers found this advantageous and "fun" as they could spec/gear/class a "perfect" team and dominate. Casuals balked at having to reroll just to get a spot on a successful team.

    Once the casual player got to 70, got bored of the BG grind, got heroic keyed, completed Kara, maybe downed Mag and Gruul... They realized that they had little time to learn the new TK/SSC encounters. They still had to farm the aforementioned instances to get gear (not unusual) but Kara is LONG and certain class/item needs ONLY drop in Kara and a replacement/alternate wasn't available until Black Temple... They soon realized that 9-12 hours a week doesn't cut it for fast progression.

    The "hardcore" PvE is the heart of WoW. They lost many raiders with TBC (long grind, poor itemization, lack of class identity for some, buggy encounters, slow progression). Raiders may come back with the changes... they may not. But Arenas won't save WoW (seriously? Dueling in an MMO? Go buy Dawn of War or BF2 or TF2 or Halo 3 etc... objective based BGs are fine and make sense in an MMO).

    The end game is fun and challenging, but currently too time consuming with too slow of progression. 2.3 will change that alot. But it may be too late for many. My server certainly has suffered...

  19. @ anon. I think you missed the key point here. I started out on cenarius. It was well established and had several good raiding guilds at least on the alliance side. The guilds really started a great community. Even the people that didn't know who the guilds were still followed the "community rules" because that was the way everyone else did things. And for those who did care the guilds were a great "quasi" government because they talked among themselves and if someone was a ninja or a complete jerk they'd find a glass ceiling when they started apping to the guilds. Most of those players left when server transfers became available.

    Just before BC I took a server transfer to blades edge. It was a huge let down. The community sucked, there was no community pride just a bunch of people who'd felt "put down" by thier old servers, or guilds that had transferred thinking it would be easier. Within 3 months a huge chunk of the talented fun players went back to thier old servers. They then reported on progression lack of ques etc and even more left. The server just continued to suck more and more.
    Whether you love or hate the hard core raiders they are the organizers and socializers by want or need and tend to have more impact on the server community than the truly casual players.

  20. One way to diversify the end game raiders onto different servers might be to bring back titles for PvE content.

    If you are in the raid that is the first to kill a boss on your server you get an appropriate title. From first kill until whatever appropriate kill number that seems right get some sort of title.

    How many times have you seen a guy walking around Shat with the title 'Scarab Lord'? Make PvE titles hard to get and very limited and the hard core guilds will diversify servers.