Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Challenge and Accessibility

Obviously, the last post was a bit tongue-in-cheek. But I think it does have valid point. To a lot of people, the challenge is an essential part of raiding. In my opinion, there is no greater rush in WoW than defeating a boss who has been wiping your guild for weeks.

In some ways, your kill needs meaning, and for it to be meaningful you must consider the boss a worthy opponent. The boss earns your respect by repeatedly wiping your guild over and over. One-shot kills are meaningless. There's no sense of progression, of getting better and better, of attaining mastery of that fight.

The fight I loved best in TBC was Moroes, despite it being the second fight in the raiding game. When you beat Moroes, it really felt like you had mastered the challenge, that you beat it by becoming more skilled.

But having a challenge means that some people will fail to meet that challenge. And that often gates content. The complaint that paying the same amount of money should at least entitle you to see all the content, to see all the story, is also reasonable.

I think the solution Blizzard has chosen--a relatively easy main path that allows you view all the content, with harder challenges that are optional--is probably the best solution. And I believe that rewards need to scale with the challenge. The best rewards should come from the hardest challenges.

One issue that I think has really made the situation worse than it should be is that the gap in skill between the high and low ends of the playerbase is excessively large. For example, I thought Karazhan was perfectly tuned for an entry level raid. The theoretical max DPS in 70 blues was around 900. Karazhan was tuned for about 500 DPS. I thought that 55% of max seemed reasonable for an entry level raid. But apparently most people disagreed with me.

I think the game would be a lot healthier if the low and high ends were closer in skill, if there wasn't so much variance. But I'm not sure how you would accomplish that. Maybe you'd have to change mechanics so that skill mattered much less, and gear mattered more.


  1. In regards to closing the skill gap, WoW is unlike most other games in that regard. It is very easy to get started in WoW, however you have to pay attention to things all the time in order to really understand what you are doing.

    Really, WoW is one of the few games where help outside the game is almost required to be a really good player. How many games have EJ forums, gear calculators, databases, addons, and hundreds (thousands?) of blogs? I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable on most things paladin (ret more then the other specs). And even at that, I am learning something new everyday. And I am looking around, reading, asking (dumb) questions, etc on a daily basis.

    All that is to say this. WoW would have to teach you how to play, how to gear, how to read stats, and what spells are affected by what stat. For example, I have seen plenty or ret palas sporting spellpower. I dont know why, but there isn't anything in game (other then the players) saying they should do otherwise. Maybe even a book right next to the trainers that simply had some instructions on what stats to watch out for and basic gearing advice for the class would be great. WoW would also have to find a way to be playable without a pile of addons (a good threat and dps meters built in would be a good start). I see that as the only solution for the actual casuals that are playing. A lot of players just don't have the time to learn the ins and outs and nuances of this game.

    How much time did you spend learning how to play FFIIV or Super Mario, or even the original Warcraft games? I would guess not much. And what you did need to learn was usually covered in a tutorial of some kind (well except SMB :P). Casuals view this as another game, and unless the game guides them to be a better player, that gap will never close.

    Sorry for the supersize comment :)

    /end rant

  2. Surely though that is the problem, for those that can't master spatial awareness, the 1.5s twitch, gearing (55% of max though I am not sure if that's for pures), and so forth the game is a linear series from 1-80 culminating in normal instances and eventually heroics. The raiding path is really for those that have taken the time surely, maybe we need a check box at the start and you get to see arthas in a 5 man if you click it.

    Most games have an easy setting, or similar construct to enable play, raiding is a max level time consuming task, maybe what's needed is extra content at this level that isn't raiding, but making raiding 500dps @ 80 with a twitch ( and I dislike this since twitch in wow is typically 5s+ to account for lag, reactions and latency ) of 30s makes the game pointless for those who would like to play on normal, hard, or European extreme modes. The challenge needs to be there for the top, and from that simplified mechanics for lower levels ( in a similar way kael'thas was harder in mgt than phases 4 and 5 of his 25 man, size of party is not always complexity ).

    Reducing difficulty could simply be dropping a tier from the gear list ilevel and merging hits and damage by 30% like the tbc 3.0 nerf or something more subtle.

  3. First of all I am sure we all agree there should be an `difficulty' ladder in terms of the achievements (not the ingame thingy but in general) a player can have. I partialy disagree with the fact that people pay and should see more of the content. I agree they should see the essence - i.e. imo the story - but seeing end bosses which may not add to the story but drops exotic loot, sorry but not necessarily. To use my argument on yesterdays post I can buy a Ferrari but I can not nag to Ferrari that they made the car in such a way that I can not drive like Schumacher.

    What it all come is the hierarchy and the spread of those levels and the value of the rewards.

    Possibly, its relatively hard for some to get into the game. Hell, it was for me. And yes we often rely on external information sources. And yes, possibly Blizz could incorporate this to an extent to the game and smooth out the `entry' of people into certain game aspects.

    However this is beeng done to an extent. Like for example with easier-to-tackle raids, prerequisite quests, daily-trainers (think Aces High!), certain class quests etc. Arguably, some info is hidden but there is also technical aspects on how much info can be provided.

    I am afraid we are trying to formulate abstact things like 'skill' in order to reach some form of reward equation. I am sorry to say but that is impossible. Like in real life, one can not have a PhD (yours truly does) but all are entitled to at least a basic level of education or indeed the chance to attempt a PhD.

    The matter at hand starts to leave the boundaries of a shared virtual environment and becomes philosophical. Reward, effort-put, ammount of available resources etc become a complicated mix when put together. It seems our sublime desire for the 'best' along with our inability to obtain it in real life has crawled up into a game.

  4. I'm afraid I have to disagree very strongly with this part:

    The complaint that paying the same amount of money should at least entitle you to see all the content, to see all the story, is also reasonable.

    Paying a monthly fee DOES entitle them to see all the content and the story. Every character is perfectly able to zone into every single instance and raid. Blizzard doesn't boot them out if their spell damage is less than 1600, or if they don't have a certain number of days /played. Whether or not they actually succeed in seeing all the content is totally up to the player, not Blizzard.

    It's somewhat a pet peeve of mine when people talk about skill as a static measure. The general perception is "raids are too hard for casuals, blizzard needs to down the difficulty/give us more gear". Why do so few people suggest the opposite: players should learn to play better?

    Consider super mario, lets say there's a pit right at the end of the first stage. A bunch of really really poor players just can't seem to figure out that they should jump closer to the edge and keep falling in. Are they being deprived of the rest of the game's content, since they paid the same as everyone else?

    Catering to the lowest denominator may make the most people happy and rake in the big bucks, but I don't think it's a good thing for the game as a whole or even the human race in real life.

    Soon a school exam will consist of only 1 question : "what is your name?" and as long as you get 1 letter correct you get a PhD.

  5. "Maybe you'd have to change mechanics so that skill mattered much less, and gear mattered more."

    I think part of the problem is that this is already the case. Skill requirements do not increase in the linear way that gear requirements do. The leap in skill required to get from levelling to raiding is massive, particularly if you opt to tank or heal (assuming you probably didn't level that way) but once you make that leap it's just a case of learning new encounters and picking up the right gear. There's some knowledge requirements in there too - how to gem and enchant, what talents to pick, UI and addons. But skill is less tangible. You can't learn skill from a blog. The game doesn't do enough, imo, to teach players the skills they need to progress. Of course, I don't have a solution for how it could, it's just my view on the subject.

  6. I think you're ignoring that there's already a method in to allow players variable challenge in the boss fights. The raid and heroic boss achievements are very hard, and not something a group of players who (currently) can just barely manage to get through Naxx. Heck, even a group that's pretty capable of clearing Naxx will be finding them quite challenging. The current gear level means you really need to be on the ball to do something like The Undying, The Hundred Club, or even Make Quick Werk of Him and You Don't Have an Eternity.

    While certainly some of them will get slightly easier as gear improves, I don't think the bar is going to drop so much that noob PUG groups are going to start getting themselves Plagued or Black Proto-Drakes. Most of them would still need the coordination and skill that higher end raiding guilds have.

    While we'll have to wait and see how the baseline difficulty of Ulduar and Icecrown will be (though it was already stated that they're much more difficult then Naxx), if they continue in this theme and make the achievements where the "real" challenge is, I think that manages to satisfy all camps pretty equally. The less connected players are able to at least enjoy the content, while the "elites" are able to show off their mastery by beating the much more difficult optional challenges.

    Of course, the "elites" just need to realize this.

  7. For all the people who complained they never got to see Sunwell, I ask... how many weeks have you raided it since 80? What, you wanted to see it, right? Go experience it! Its a whole lot easier with a group of 80s, so why aren't you out there. Its not an issue of lack of challenge, because it will certainly be trivial, its just a matter of seeing the content you paid your $15 to see, right?

    So, how many times are you out there?

    The answer is, no one is doing these raids. They don't really want to "see" the content, its just a convenient talking point.

  8. The leap in skill required to get from levelling to raiding is massive, particularly if you opt to tank or heal (assuming you probably didn't level that way) but once you make that leap it's just a case of learning new encounters and picking up the right gear.

    So Karazhan and Sunwell was equally difficult if you had the gear for it? Maybe this was true for you, but I didn't feel it that way. In Sunwell there was more things for me to remember, more things for me to pay attention to at the same time, less room for error etc etc.

  9. The problem is killing some of the bosses in TBC was a feat. Vashj/Kael'thas/Illidan/Every SWP boss. Of course these are all pre-30% nerf. But then blizzard made it so you don't even have to kill these bosses. They made the best content in the game (t5 end bosses) so that you didn't have to kill them.

    How many guilds skipped over Vashj/Kael when there was no more attunement? Alot I'm sure. Now it's the same story except all content is easymode.

    If people want to see the content you have to work for it. It's like someone in my guild said.

    WoW isn't a game where we should hold your hand and give you free loot. WoW isn't socialism and it certainly isn't communism like you apply.

    WoW needs to return to a democracy. The best players see the best content, get the best gear, etc.

  10. I don't want to have to rely on the RNG any more than I already do, and really, gear already has a lot of sway.

    I don't mind some content being "easier". I regret not seeing a lot of content that I missed (and yes, I will be doing 'nostalgia runs' of stuff later!), and I think that the current achievement system actually strikes a good compromise. Sarth with 3 drakes up, for example.

    People forget that not everyone is going to walk away happy with a compromise. You get SOME of what you want, not all. Not everyone is going to be happy, but this is a better balance than we've had before.

  11. Naxx is too easy? What will happen if we try it on greens or quested blues? Would it be similar to Kara? Are we overgeared?

  12. Dyermaker, actually, on Skywall, I know there has been a number of guilds/PuGs that have run or attempted Sunwell once or twice at 80. Just like there were Naxx runs at 70.

    But people also want to improve their character. It's a great deal of the fun in an RPG, and is something doesn't happen with nostalgia runs. In contrast, with an "easy path", people on the easy path are still improving their character. Maybe not to the level of the high end, but they are getting upgrades, and that is an important part of the fun. The gear you get doesn't have to be the best, but it does have to be better than what you have right now.

    Pockie, I disagree. I see no harm in letting less-skilled players kill a weaker version of Arthas. I think saying that they shouldn't even get to see him is very "dog in the manger" on the parts of the hardcore.

    Second, it's in the self-interest of the hardcore to allow this. Content creation, especially art assets like zones and monster models, is expensive, and the casuals subsidize the raid game. Making that content more accessible makes it more likely that extra resources will be spent on raiding, and that is a big win for raiders.

    The best way to ensure that we get more and better raids is to get more people raiding. If that takes having an easy path through raid content, I'm all for it.

    Merlot, while I do think you are understating the difficulty increase from raid to raid, I think you are correct that the larger jump comes from non-raider to raider. That's what I'm trying to address with raider101. I do think that Blizzard needs to focus on helping people get past that jump a bit more.

  13. I agree with Krytus. I think Naxx is easy because it has been too easy to gear. Kara was easy once you were wearing even 50%epics. I think the real culprit has been how easy the heroics in WOTLK have been, and therefore how easy it has been to gear up to epix via those drops and badge loot.

  14. IMO, you're basically right, Rohan. Something like raider101 is exactly what's needed.

    Reading your post, all that came to mind is that the reason the skill gap is so large is that the game mechanics are relatively complicated and the game itself gives you literally zero insight into them. As Dradis and others said, you HAVE to get outside help.

    The game really needs some sort of in-game tutorial system. I've advocated a few versions of this:

    1) solo "training" instances that take the player through the basics (here's what a rotation is, here's how threat works, here's why you want a slow weapon in your mainhand, etc.). They shouldn't be too in-depth (since they are "official"), but they should get people started.

    2) Audio tutorials. I often find myself listening to podcasts while playing wow. For many tasks, you can listen to something effectively while playing. These could be in-game, and augmented by a small, moveable window in the UI that puts up points in text or images, kind of like a mini-powerpoint to accompany it.

    The game mechanics are just too complicated for someone to figure out on their own. As we see on elitist jerks, it basically takes a team devoted to it to even get it kind of right.

  15. I see now that I'm glad I didn't reply to the previous post; not because I was about to interpret it as a literal text, but because, well, I was gonna write about how this debate is just about dead, and nothing good can come of it anymore.

    Well. Apparently I was wrong!

    I can of course see both sides of this debate, tending towards hardcore myself (on some level, or atleast, compared to the majority) in liking a challenge. What I don't understand is that people seem to demand a high level of exclusivity to enjoy themselves.

    That, and so damn many of the shit-flinging parties that these discussions often devolve into devolve into poor metaphore spam.

    Why bother? What matters to you should be whether or not you're feeling that you get a challenge, or atleast have options to challenge yourself, and get a reward for it, no? Sarth 3 drakes and Malygos is quite hard atm, and gives the greatest rewards. Hurray! Where's the problem in less dedicated players clearing Naxx10 liek it were a normal Deadmines run?

    When Ulduar cometh, there will be more hard mode alternatives, PUG's will struggle more, and the formula remains; EoH grinds and ilvl 200 loot for casuals, 213 loot for those who have big enough guilds and some measure of skill, and you, dear elite hardcore superplayer, can run around in your 226 loot.

    Perhaps I'm simplifying this discussion too much. Perhaps I'm repeating the oldest words in the book.

    Soon a school exam will consist of only 1 question : "what is your name?" and as long as you get 1 letter correct you get a PhD.

    But these kind of comments sort of hint that no agreement has been reached in the battle of casual vs hardcore.

  16. Would be neat if they had additional servers with different difficulty scales.

    So then you could have a server with all the content more scaled to your ability as a player.

    Instead of my poorly geared holy pally fighting 11 mobs 1 level below me all at once and winning. (I cheered for myself anyways) :oD

  17. @Rohan

    I think the point is missed. Okay you have Sartharion and he or she drops base loot which is pretty good.

    Then you have 1 drake (my guild did last week), where the loot is pretty good

    Then you have 2 drake, where the loot is pretty good.

    Then you have 3 drake, where you get a mount.

    Hope you see my point now. The only thing out there is the challenege of doing it. The loot isn't much better. It seems that once you get geared in naxx loot from Malygos (10/25) and loot from sarth (10/25) is bad gear.

    It was the same case with magtheridon in TBC. The dude had bad loot, his good stuff never dropped. What was the point in killing him? If you're going to do this hardcore/casual thing hardcore players need increased rewards.

  18. "I think the game would be a lot healthier if the low and high ends were closer in skill, if there wasn't so much variance."

    "Maybe you'd have to change mechanics so that skill mattered much less, and gear mattered more."

    Now this would be really dumbing down the game.

    Majority of the players has already a better chance see the content while the rest who wants more challenge and better loot has the option of doing so.

    Bad thing is we only 1/2/3D Sarth currently available as an example of harder mode = better loot. Hopefully we get to see more bosses like this in Ulduar.

    IMO the game is already gear dependent as it is. Heck Fury warriors has been asking for more skills so we get more variety. It's pretty dull as it is.

    I wonder how it is for mages ... even as a tank the skills you press gets really repetitive.

    How many buttons do you press on a tank and spank fight like patchwerk?

    Heck give us more fights like 3D Sartharion where I just don't sit there and spam 3-4 buttons.

    Some level of skill boils down to quick decision making and quick reaction to your environment.

    This "skill" is what will separate a good guild from an equally geared guild in who will beat Ulduar first given you alot them the same amount of time to work on it.

  19. WoW has never been about skill. It always was about the appropiate gearlvl for your skill. The not so good players had to get badgegear and outgear the designed encounters. And it frustrates me now more then it used to.

    I was member of a 4/6 SWP (pre-nerf) guild so I know my skill is on par, but due to rl changes i can no longer put in the required hours (about 8 hours a week) to farm gear for the current raidcontent. And now i can no longer participate in the raidingbusiness. Not because i'm bad skilled, but because i dont have the raw numbers to put out enough dps.

    If however the encounters were designed around skill and not around gear i could still be in a semi-hardcore guild. Now im forced to be in a casual guild or quit the game. I've done the latter because i don't have the patience to be around people who dont know that fire is bad thing :P

  20. There is almost NO skill required to raid in WoW. Classes just need to know where to stand, what to kill and use their spec/rotation most efficiently. A lot of this information is not learned from playing however, it must be aquired by reading a lot on theory crafting, or getting advice from other players.

    All that is needed in WoW is gear, communication and cooperation. Communication and cooperation are what makes WoW raiding a difficult game. Getting 25 people all on the same page without any of them whining and leaving after a wipe or two is hard.

    Once people know what to do, and have the gear to do it WoW becomes a push over joke. After all WoW is a game based on numbers. Results from gear are easy to predict, results from players...not so much.

  21. For me, the problem is not challenge per se, but the type of challenge. Some people want WoW to be more like a video game and FPS in particular. And there should be arenas et al for them. I do not PvP and have no skill or interest in it. I see too many things where the challenge is only reaction time.

    There seems to be little challenge that requires intelligence. Some knowledge is required, but I am not sure that someone who spends 40 hours reading EJ has a significantly better shot rotation that one who spends 2. Nor a lot of challenge that requires effort/grinding (Hodir excepted.) The challenge involves reflexes and movement.

    And I find WotLK frustratingly in the middle; if it was more movement and twitching, then it would be even more obvious it was time for me to leave. Millions of people would prefer more FPS-like; my guess is the majority of subscribers would not and Bliz would certainly find it harder to expand (or even retain - there are many competitors ) their customer base. Or they could walk away from the idea that "challenging" means doing the Heigen dance and jumping at the right time. Perhaps where knowledge, intelligence and effort were also part of the challenge rather than the [to me] more juvenile, more trivial, current challenges that mostly test your reaction speed with perhaps a test of your computer and network connection.

    I think you can still be just as committed as you and the blogosphere are to the idea of challenge while feeling it is the type not extent of the challenges that disappoint.

  22. Yeah I don't think reducing the amount of skill involved even further and just making it a gear game is a good idea. I think it's a better to just shrink the information gap, so that even players who don't pore over EJ can do a decent rotation and know what gems to use.

    Raids are actually the least skill-based part of the game, but there is still a gap between the excellent players and the decent players, meaning that there has to be some skill involved.

    The real skill comes in in small groups and in pvp. I defy anyone who says there's no room for skill in WoW to truthfully claim they have never been just plain destroyed by someone who outplayed them in PvP.

    And I know I'm desired over other rogues not just for my dps, but because I've used gouge and blind to save my healers more times than they can count, and I hit my interrupts when needed more often than not.

  23. Diablo 2 made raiding incredible fun and rewarding. WoW, despite most of the comments here has a very solid pve game and just has some minor issues with gear and item mudflation with its lvl pacing.

    I think where the biggest problem is, that characters must scale their gear and use external sources to get uptu speed with a raid instance. It should be the other way around, the instance should scale to the players gear and number of players and the required strategy doesnt need to be about your positional exploits but rather your conviction to take down the bosses.

    Nobody goes through the 1-60 content expecting people in instances to not make mistakes (that in endgame raids make everyone wipe). This part of the game is the most enjoyable to most players, ironically.

    Someone posted a comment about casual player being the lowest common denominator in WoW, I would argue that hardcore raiders have always been the lowest common denominator because the content they designed does apply to those crazy enough to jump all the hurdles for it.


  24. Rohan, I don't have a problem with letting others see content as well. Frankly, I simply couldn't be bothered about what other people are doing. Whether or not they have epics or rare mounts or whatever is completely irrelevant to my playing experience.

    What does affect it however, is when fights are designed to be brainless. It is not simply a matter of allowing everyone to view content ala some kind of tourist mode, because that has no impact on me.

    A fight can't simply be scaled up or down in terms of boss hp and damage and made easier/harder. Many things tend to be either trivial, or completely different. By the nature of tuning with the goal of "i want everyone to be able to see this" you will most likely end up with fights that are flat out boring to any person who puts in any kind of effort.

    Isn't the fun part of a game learning and improving and overcoming challenges together? How are players supposed to improve if everytime they fail Blizzard just makes the goal easier?