Friday, October 24, 2008

Hallow's End Incentives Fail and Are Nerfed To The Ground

With the combined power of the Fire Festival Shoulders and the Hallowed Helm, even a level 1 character can get a hat and shoulder armor - perks which aren't available by other means until the mid-20's. But at what fashion cost, what horrible cost?!

Earlier in the week, I blogged about the incentives for Hallow's End in WoW. Unlike Mythic's Tome of Knowledge system (which I also discussed this week), the purpose of WoW achievements is to provide an incentive for players to complete them. From the outcry that ensued on Hallow's End, it appears that basing the Hallow's End meta-achievement on obtaining TWO rare drops from the Horseman failed at this goal.

The Problem
Personally, I went looking for a PUG to fight the Horseman with once (well, 8 times once we all used our summons, including the bonus summon for the half of us making our first visit of the year) for the "kill the horseman" achievement, and had no plans to chase the squashling+helm achievement, even though it is a prerequisite of the "complete all the holidays for a rare mount" achievement. As I say in the tagline of the blog, developers create content and players decide whether to use it. For this particular player, the frustratingly low odds were enough to make me decide it wasn't worth it. That's not a crisis in Irvine; I'm one player with a whole blog about MMORPG incentives, so it's fair to say that I overthink these things.

Thing is, this particular case was obvious enough that it appears that many people reached the same conclusion. That's a problem, because you cannot complete the full holiday achievement if you don't complete the Hallow's End achievement. By making this all-or-nothing, the Horseman literally removes not only the incentive for finishing Hallow's End (a title), but also the incentive for finishing the difficult portions of the other holidays as well; even if you finish all the other ones, the mount will remain beyond your reach.

The Knee-jerk reaction

In response, Blizzard added the two critical Horseman drops to the trick or treat bags. Yes, the ones that any level one character can obtain once per real-world hour from any innkeeper in the game. I don't know what the precise drop rates are, but most of my alts now have the hat (which is marginally useful if you're below level 30, since it is wearable at any level), and only one of my characters (fortuitously, my main) has gotten the squashling. So, it is still, technically, a random drop, but it's fair to say that completing the achievement just went from very difficult/frustrating to very easy (provided you're able to log in frequently to loot lots of treat bags).

I'm a bit surprised to see a SECOND major reversal on Blizzard's part so soon after the non-reset of honor points. You would think that they would have understood the effects of hinging an achievement on rare drops from a boss that is only available a limited number of times per day during a limited holiday. One day, Blizzard was assuring folks that they thought the drop rate was not horribly unreasonable, and the next everyone was looting hats.

This lack of foresight on their part threatens to put them behind the eight ball for every single future holiday achievement. Don't get me wrong, people would have complained anyway, but now they will be able to point to objective examples of achievements which were hard enough that Blizzard conceded they should not be included in meta achievements.

This round of PVD combat goes to the players
This type of showdown is what I had in mind when I named my blog PVD. The Devs wanted players to farm the Horseman 5 times a day, many players were unwilling to do so, and the devs had to change the content. The sad part is that the PVD relationship does not necessarily need to be an antagonistic one, in which either the players or the devs win. If, instead of setting the drop rate to "you could do 5 kills per day for the whole event and still not get both items", they had tuned the drop rates for 3-4 visits, people might have actually done the achievement as it was designed. That would have been enough work to keep the achievement from being universal, but enough reward to make it worthwhile.

I hope Blizzard learns from this so I don't have to repeat this post next holiday. But hey, in the mean time, I guess I shouldn't complain, since I now get one of the most interesting non-combat pets in the game in exchange for merely logging in.

No comments: