Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Good LFR Experience

Since we usually hear stories about how terrible Looking For Raid is, I thought I'd mention a good experience I had last Sunday. We were on Amber-Shaper Un'sok. Both tanks were new to the fight, as were several other people.

And we wiped.

But people didn't start whining and complaining. Instead the fight was explained, especially the mechanics of the construct. Some people cycled in and out, but by and large the raid stayed together.

And we wiped again. But we did better.

The fight was re-explained, and the specific thing we were failing on was pointed out. Again, no raging.

And we wiped again, but came fairly close to finishing.

Still no complaints, and we tried again.

This time the boss died. And we finished the instance. Four attempts on the boss, each time getting better and better, until we got a kill. No whining and complaining, just explaining the strategy.

I think a great deal of this is due to the first person who spoke up after the wipes. He or she was very positive, focusing on mechanics, and the things that need to improve. Without insulting or denigrating the others in the raid.

I think the first person to be vocal sets a lot of the tone for the group. If that person is hateful and elitist  then others feel like they have permission to be hateful and elitist. So the lesson here is not to stay quiet. If you want a pleasant experience, you should speak up first, and set the example for the group.

Then of course I ran into my standard loot luck. The only non-epic I have is my i450 weapon. I was hoping to get the Sha-Touched mace from Empress. Instead, I got a tier chest, which I already have. I popped a Greater Charm and got ... another tier chest!

Lady Fortune mocks me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

PvP Reward Changes

Last year, I noted that Magic: the Gathering had dropped its ELO system for a pure point system.  Last week, we saw the latest ripples of that change as Blizzard followed suit.

Blizzard announced that they would drop rating requirements on PvP. Instead, there is a point "threshold" for the best gear and weapons:

Gear will be available in four tiers:
  • Dreadful Gladiator’s gear will be crafted. (5.2)
  • Malevolent Gladiator’s gear, including weapons, will be purchased with Honor Points. (5.2)
  • New tier of PvP items: Tyrannical Gladiator’s gear will be purchased with Conquest Points. (5.2)
  • Tyrannical Gladiator’s gear can be purchased for Honor after 27,000 Conquest Points are earned for the season. (5.3)
  • Elite Tyrannical Gladiator’s gear can only be purchased with Conquest Points after 27,000 Conquest Points have been earned for the season. (5.2)
  • Conquest Point weapons can only be purchased after 7,250 Conquest Points have been earned for the season. (5.2)
Blizzard is not dropping rating entirely. It will still be used to matchmake, and will govern the maximum amount of points you can earn each week.

This is an excellent change, in my view. It encourages everyone to cap out on Conquest Points each week. Good teams will still earn gear faster, but all teams have the possibility of getting the best gear. It's unlikely that a poor team will be able earn very much Elite Tyrannical gear, but it's better than having it out of reach forever.

However, the caps on Conquest will prevent people from playing 24/7, like in the High Warlord system. There's also a catch-up mechanism that increases the caps as the season goes on for people who haven't earned a lot of Conquest (either because they have lower ratings, or because they were not playing.)

It's interesting how the pendulum swings. In the old High Warlord system, the problem was that people played too much, and that weaker players were completely shut out by time requirements. In the second iteration, where your rating determined how many points you earned, the problem was that people played too little, and that weaker players were completely shut out by the skill requirements. The third iteration pushed people to play more with conquest caps, but rating requirements still locked people out of gear progression.

This new system tries to split the difference, pushing people to play for a medium amount, while leaving weaker players with an upgrade path all the way to the best gear. I think this looks like a solid system, so kudos to the Blizzard PvP team.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tip: Scenario Queues and LFR

Tip: You can do Scenarios while in queue for Looking For Raid/Dungeon.

It's not well publicized, and the UI doesn't really explain this, but the scenario queue and LFR/LFD queues are concurrent.  If you queue for both as dps, your scenario will pop up almost immediately  When you’re done, you’ll be 15 min further into the LFD/LFR queue. Sometimes that’s enough to put you at the head of the line, putting you in LFD/LFR immediately.

Basically, you can spend the time waiting in queue for LFR/LFD by doing scenarios instead of dailies (or trolling trade chat, etc.) if you prefer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thunderforged Items and Loot Incentives

Blizzard unveiled their latest scheme for loot in 5.2, Thunderforged gear:

Each 5.2 raid boss will have a chance of dropping this new designation of a particular item that’s 6 item levels higher than their counterparts. These higher quality versions will be called “Thunderforged”. This means that there will be five variations of some items. You’ll now see a 5.2 raid item of LFR quality at item level 502, the same item in Normal quality at item level 522, the item in Normal Thunderforged quality at item level 528, the Heroic version of the item at level 535, and the Heroic Thunderforged version of the item at level 541.... 
We’re going to try having Thunderforged items drop more frequently in 25-player raids. They’ll be somewhat rare in both cases compared to the standard versions that’ll drop, but they’ll be even rarer in 10s. Overall, a 25-player group will be more likely to end up with a slightly higher item level after several weeks of raiding.

Basically, Blizzard is introducing rare pieces of loot that are about half a tier higher than regular loot. They will drop in both 10 and 25-man raids, but will have a higher drop chance in 25s.

The way I see it is that Blizzard has two objectives here. First, they want to make the path to Best-in-Slot (BiS) a lot longer and a lot more work than it was previously.  Normal BiS should be relatively easy to get, minus one or two pieces that never drop, like paladin healing weapons. But getting Thunderforged BiS will be very unlikely, so you'll be working on it until the next raid tier. However, the gap between Normal BiS and Thunderforged BiS should be small, so not having Thunderforged BiS should not be that big a deal.

(This is roughly analogous to Magic: the Gathering introducing Mythic Rares a few years ago. The higher rarity made it a lot harder to collect a full set.)

The second objective is to encourage people to do 25s. But here Blizzard runs into a contradiction.  Thunderforged BiS cannot be good enough to make significant difference to the raid. If it is a large difference, an unlucky guild will have a lot of issues, and there will be loot drama, and lots of strife. It will end up like Legendaries in previous expansions once again.

But the items also have to seem to be good enough that the mere possibility of a higher drop rate is enough to get people to sign up for 25s. Don't forget that the drop rate has to scale for the larger raid size. If a 10-man has a 10% chance of getting a Thunderforged item, the 25-man needs a 25% chance before the extra bonus kicks in. Then the expected amount of Thunderforged items per person will be equal.

I am not sure this is enough. The move to 10s was driven by guild leaders and officers, and I'm not sure that they will see a higher drop rate as enough to make up for the extra work. Sure, this change will probably encourage some regular raiders to apply to 25s, but they would not have extra work in either case.

As well, as I've mentioned before, raiders do not handle randomness well. A higher drop rate on a rare item will seem pretty rare anyways, and I'm not sure that simply increasing the drop rate would be enough.

To actually convince officers to shift back to 25s, you would have to guarantee the Thunderforged item, not simply play the odds. If each 25-man boss guaranteed that one Thunderforged item would drop, I think that would be enough to steady 25-mans.

But that's a fairly high expected value for something Blizzard is positioning as a "rare" item. However, without the guarantee, officers will weigh the chance of extra loot against the extra work of 25s, and find it lacking.

In conclusion, Blizzard will succeed on one of their aims, increasing the work and time required to obtain a true BiS set. But this gambit will fail to stop the bleeding of 25-man raiding.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Simplify Your Strategies

Big Bear Butt wrote a post last month, Some Folk You Just Can't Reach, that I meant to respond to. In the post, BBB asks,
So, do you blame someone else for being slower than others, if they’re trying like hell but just aren’t getting it?
Well, the first thing you do is simplify. I'm sure, as a former marine, BBB is very familiar with the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) principle. And yet, when it comes to raid strategies, very often people ignore this principle.

The reason this happens is because raid strategies, videos, and guides are usually created by the elite, and to be frank, they are just better at handling complexity than the rest of us. As well, they are usually running at the edge of progression, and need to maximize performance, even at the cost of increased complexity.

When you drop down to lower raids, you generally see the same flaws. For example, take target switching. Elite guilds are good at target switching, and their strategies reflect that. In contrast, lower tier guilds are much worse at target switching than you would predict.  Ideally, to adapt a strategy for a lower tier guild, you want to minimize the amount of target switching required.

As well, you generally want to minimize your concerns during a fight.  One big mistake raid leaders often make is that they will recite the entire boss fight to the raid, bombarding people with extraneous information. In my opinion, the key to learning new fights is to ignore everything that is unimportant to you and only care about the things you personally need to care about.

This may result in some wipes that you could have prevented if you knew what the other roles were doing, but it will also result in you learning your own role much faster. Worry about yourself first before worrying about others.

As well, regular guilds often benefit a lot from practice and repetition, especially if you can practice a single element at a time. In a way, this is unfortunate, because regular guilds are also the ones which quit early after a few wipes.

One technique I am very fond of is practicing the movement of a fight before you actually pull the boss. Ideally this is done in the actual boss's room if possible, but otherwise any open space will do. This way you can focus on the movement, without having to worry about DPS or adds.

If you have a single person who is having trouble with movement, often having them just move, without doing dps or healing, for an attempt or two can help enormously. Sadly, you can't do this with tanks.

The final thing when adapting strategies for a regular guild is to avoid "being clever". I'm very suspicious of people being clever in raids in order to theoretically "make things easier". In my experience, it often ends badly. Don't worry about special tips and tricks. Focus on the basics, the bare minimum, and worry about tricks after those have been mastered.

Always remember that the default raid strategies are being created by the elite, and the elite often err on the side of complexity. Expecting your regular raid guild to flawlessly execute a complex elite strategy is foolish. Instead, you'd be better off simplifying as much as you can, minimizing movement and target switches, and ignoring "clever" tricks. Add complexity back into the strategy as you need to.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Upgrading Gear in 5.2 and Beyond

Green Armadillo at Player Versus Developer takes note of the fact that Blizzard has removed the Upgrade Vendor NPC from the 5.2 PTR. This is the NPC who allows you to upgrade your gear for Valor. He sees this as an failure of Blizzard's part, a signal that they have over-emphasized the importance of item level in the current game.

That's one plausible interpretation. However, I'd like to offer a different--and perhaps simpler--explanation.

Perhaps Blizzard is removing the Upgrade Vendor NPC in 5.2 so that they can bring him back in 5.3.

See, the thing is that--given Blizzard's current goals for patches--5.3 is probably not going to include a raid.  I imagine that it will be a patch very much like 5.1 was. A new reputation, a new storyline, lots of random side-events. Those sort of activities only ever reward sidegrades. They won't offer true upgrades a tier higher than the current raids.

Of course, character progression is still important. I think Blizzard still believes that a patch without any way to improve your character will not be popular with their playerbase. That position could very well be correct.

Bringing back the Upgrade Vendor in 5.3 allows people to continue improving their gear at that point. You continue raiding to fill out missing pieces and earn Valor to improve your current gear.

This is a much more likely plan for Blizzard. Upgrading gear probably required a significant amount of tech to implement, and it is very unlikely that they did not foresee any mechanical issues (with scaling, etc.) that would result.

So I think the plan looks more like:

  • In 5.2, players upgrade their gear by doing the new Thunder King raid and getting new items.
  • In 5.3, players upgrade their gear by spending Valor on the gear they earned in the previous tier. All the non-Royalty guilds will also still be progressing through the Thunder King raid, and earning new gear that way. And of course, filling things out with sidegrades from the new non-raid content.
That's more plausible than Blizzard suddenly deciding right now that the entire concept of upgrading gear was a mistake.

Update: Looks like I was right! Post from Bashiok:

Even Ethereals need a vacation, and the item upgraders (Voidbinders), are no exception. They’re saying they need to go home to take care of business arrangements, but … I’m not convinced. I think they’re just homesick for their ‘space mummy’ families. 
Ok ok, fourth wall broken, we’re actually just temporarily removing them from the game for 5.2 due to the new raid tier. The idea with the item upgrade system is that it’s a way to spend currency on upgrading items when buying new items isn’t the clear path. Either you’ve bought everything, or at least most of them, and then spend currency to get that extra *oomph*. With a new raid tier coming, we don’t want to create a trap where people are wondering what’s more lucrative: spend currency on new items, or on the new gear appearing on vendors? (Hint: It’s the new gear on vendors.) To help ensure we’re not indirectly encouraging anyone to spend their currency somewhere they probably shouldn’t, the item upgraders will be taking a break. 
Right now we’re planning for them to return in 5.3, which will not have a raid tier, and offer upgrades again as people will have likely have some currency to burn. We’re not sure yet if we’ll continue this cycle of having them take a break for raid patches and then come back in non-raid patches, but we’ll continue evaluating as we go, absorb feedback, and let you know how these plans evolve.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Old Republic Expansion

The Old Republic is releasing a mini-expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel. It costs $10 for subscribers, and $20 for non-subscribers.  It has 5 levels and a new planet.

Sadly, the class stories are not continued, with only two storylines, Empire and Republic being offered.

The real question, in my mind, is how will this mini-expansion interact with the current endgame. TOR has built up a fair chunk of PvE endgame by now, and I can't imagine that this small piece of content can totally replace that.  At best, I expect one or two flashpoints, and one operation. That doesn't sound like enough.

Maybe the power curve will be very flat, allowing the current endgame, or at least the latest two operations to stay relevant.

Still, this will be an interesting experiment.