Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Did Blizzard Mean For People To Attempt The Holiday Achievements?

A conversation over in the commments at Spinks' place got me thinking back to something I wrote a while back.

When Warhammer's Tome of Knowledge launched, many people complained that its "tome unlocks" are hidden until players actually complete them - many preferred WoW's approach of making the information freely accessible, so that players could know what to strive for. My response at the time was that I felt that Mythic and Blizzard were doing slightly different things. Warhammer's Tome is intended to commemorate things players have already done, while WoW's achievement panel is an incentive to doing things that players might not otherwise do.

(Mythic has since backed up my idea with their World Event tome page, which DOES specifically state what needs to be done to unlock each reward, because that's the goal of those events.)

So, were WoW holiday achievements intended as incentives, or commemoratives?
The question that I'm pondering now, in the wake of the semi-disaster of Blizzard's Valentine's Event is whether this whole thing is a misunderstanding. It's clear from reading the developers' comments on the whole affair that they WANTED the mount from the achievement to be a truly rare and remarkable thing, on par with the other 310% fliers in the game. That is, obviously, the opposite of what players who are actively pursuing the mount as a goal want to hear. Did Blizzard actually intend to set players on a path, knowing full well that many would fail? Or did they simply underestimate the draw of the achievement system?

I'm sure they have numbers for how many people participated in these events in the past, and could estimate what portion of WoW's players were willing to do world event content that did not offer gear rewards in the pre-achievement world. Perhaps the system was really set up with the intent of commemorating THOSE players, rather than to convince players who didn't want to be doing the content in the first place that they needed to do every last bit of it, even if it wasn't enjoyable for them.

If so, then Blizzard seriously underestimated the draw of the achievement system, and the frustration that their desired "this achievement should be rare" philosophy would have on people who were under the impression that achievements exist to be achieved. Still, it fits all the information that we have, and it seems just as sensible as the suggestion that Blizzard set out to design content that would frustrate most of its participants.

Either way, the sad consequence has been a compromise which is going to result in a mount that will be much more common than Blizzard wanted, and much less fun to obtain than players wanted. Miscommunication or not, that's a pretty unfortunate outcome.

In other news....
Meanwhile, Blizzard just announced Blizzcon '09 for August 21-22. Seems to fit my speculation that patch 3.2 (which should be either recently released or at least on the PTR's by then) may serve to set the stage for the next expansion. I guess we'll know for sure in August....


Anonymous said...

I just wrote this in the comments for your previous post, but I'll repeat it here more succinctly:

These achievements are obviously designed around the retention of players for a full year. They only work if people can *get* the achievements, though - frighteningly, Blizzard doesn't understand this.


DeftyJames said...

I was under a different impression than both of you. The achievement system is just an achievement system. That is, it is neither of the two options GA suggests. Or rather, it can be either of the options depending on the player.

I don't understand how one can think that the achievements are not commemorative. When the patch came out, I had dozens of achievements already listed because of things I had done in the past. How could those achievements be anything but commemorative to me. OTOH, for a newbie, some of those achievements may very well serve as incentives.

I can honestly say that there is not a single achievement that I have that I set out to do because it was an achievement. My feeling is that I want to have fun and if I get the achievement in the process, so be it.

Because of GA's inherent interest in incentives, I think that he assumes that developers *always* look at a new in-game change from that perspective too. Maybe I'm just naive but I doubt that is the case. I think that sometimes they do it because it's fun, it's neat, it's interesting, or even for no other reason than WoW is serving as a PTR for their next big MMO.

I don't doubt the truth that every action by developers just does create certain incentives in one direction or the other. I just doubt that this is their primary motive most of the time.

Green Armadillo said...

@Fed: Yeah, that's the all-or-nothing problem. If you couldn't get Valentine's done this year, there goes your incentive for the rest of the content.

@DJ: The retroactive achievements were an artifact of adding this system into a four year old game. Some achievements can be re-accomplished today (e.g. old raids) but many would be impossible if the system did not credit you for past accomplishments (notably quests, but also some others). Once Blizzard was going into the quest tracking system anyway, it was relatively easy to award credit for things like dungeon boss kills.

As far as your broader question, not every player is motivated by the same incentives. I have zero interest in doing arena PVP, even though there are some perfectly good (if perhaps not very accessible) incentives for doing so, which clearly ARE sufficient to drive other players to push for a slightly higher rating etc. Many people, myself included, do view WoW's ingame achievements as a list of things to try and do in the game, and that effect is magnified when there is a highly desirable reward in addition to the achievement points. As I say in my tagline, the devs create incentives (intentionally or otherwise) and then players CHOOSE whether to use them.

Then again, there's a model where both you and Fed have it more accurately pegged than I do. Perhaps the World Event designers actually did throw in achievements just because they thought those achievements were fun/neat/etc, without worrying about whether they were "reasonable". Then someone else decided to co-opt the World Event achievements as a whole into a meta-achievement designed to provide a dis-incentive to canceling your subscription in between content patches. That too might explain how the holiday meta-achievement landed where it is today.

Anonymous said...

it's like every one of your posts is about achievements now a day..

Green Armadillo said...

@Anonymous: Yeah, this blog totally sucks these days. :P

Seriously, I get my post topics from two major areas - things that I personally encounter in one of the games I play, or things that are in the gaming/blogosphere news. The Valentine's event dominated both of those venues for the weekend - somewhat by design since it basically came and went during that time. As a result, it got not only a post but a followup post here, partially because the original generated a lot of discussion (about as many comments as I've ever had on an entry).

Also, because I'm not making a serious attempt at either raiding or PVP, achievements are pretty much the only form of progression left in WoW for my main at the moment. That affects the amount of time it gets mentioned on the blog (though, by my count, there were eight non-achievement entries between the my next most recent achievement post and the two part Valentine's special).

Klepsacovic said...

"Perhaps the World Event designers actually did throw in achievements just because they thought those achievements were fun/neat/etc, without worrying about whether they were 'reasonable'."

You just described the pre-BC development process. Things looked cool so they were added: doomguards, fire totems, Gnomes...

Anonymous said...

I think it's a brilliant observation that the meta-achievement may have been "tacked-on" to the seasonal achievements, Green. It's clear that the meta-achievement and the proto-drake reward consitute a massive, yearlong quest, but it's not at all clear that the quest is achievable without a great deal of luck (and prescience, when you consider the absolutely asinine Brew of the Month club).

On the one hand, my dearest wish is for Blizzard to fix this thing, including somehow retroactively fixing The Love Fool for people who got the majority of achievements. One EASY way to do it would be to change all the seasonal titles to requiring 90% (or what have you) of the participating achievements, rather than 100% as they are now.

On the other hand, I almost look forward to next year and watching Blizzard's pathetic response to people who couldn't get the candy heart achievement two years in a row. Statistically, it's bound to happen. Unless they adjust it but only going forward, which would be pretty lame imho.


PS Posts about achievements are totally fair game. Don't give it a second thought.

Green Armadillo said...

@Fed: I will certainly agree that the best fix for the system would have been to make all holiday meta-achievements require something similar to 90% of the holiday's options. That way, Blizzard would not have needed to nerf the rarer achievements, and players who completed them would be excused from some more onerous - but less random - alternative. I guess they could still do this, as long as it's done via expanding the current achievement lists (i.e. players who finished the current versions retain their titles, players who did not will have alternatives next year).

Also, I think it's odd that they're including the Brewfest mount as a meta criterion. Some of us do grandfather into the system from 2007, but we're still talking about a rare drop from a daily quest boss - the very mechanic that got nerfed at Hallow's End. Plus, one would figure that getting a rare mount was its own reward. This one is largely lost behind the uproar over Brew of the Month at the moment, but it could loom as a huge issue in September. It also drives home a point on meta achievements - no matter how many achievements you nerf, remove, or make optional, there will always be a hardest remaining achievement.

And let's not forget those Troll racials.... :P

Anonymous said...

Imho the beauty of making the seasonal titles a 90% (or 80%, whatever) thing is that it would immediately be retroactive and neatly "fix" The Love Fool for legions of people. It would actually be better than just removing Candy Hearts, because some people got that one but never got enough rockets, etc.

Granted rockets were tradeable, but I'm a sympathetic guy.

Another funny unintended consequence of all this: I'm now dreading Children's Week. Shouldn't I be looking *forward* to holidays? I've always looked forward to Hallow's End and Winter's Veil in the past, but now I'm on a timer trying to get some stupid rare drop, BG feat, etc.

Brew of the Month aside, Hallow's End will be the final holiday I need on my main - I imagine I'll be sweating about that mask the whole while.

Seriously, is there anyone awake at Blizzard about this stuff? I would think after all the people who got very angry over the Love Fool, they would have at least had a few meetings where some common sense would say to take out the rare drops that are totally random. Require farming for roses and Santa hats? Fine, those are 100% if you put in the work.

As much as I talk about this, you'd think I've missed some of the achievements I've tried for. I haven't, I just hate bad design. XD