Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Algalon Thanks You For P(l)aying

Via MMO-Champion comes the news that Algalon, the final Hard Mode boss of Ulduar, who can only be fought after a number of the dungeon's other hard mode challenges, despawns for the WEEK after a single hour of attempts.

Fair and balanced
You could argue that I shouldn't even be commenting on this for any number of reasons. A few:

- This design quirk is never likely to affect me, as the entire encounter is not meant for me. I count myself lucky to occasionally PUG Naxx, and Ulduar non-hard modes aren't designed to be as PUG friendly.

- The one hour limit is about as fair as anything in an MMORPG can be. There are no loopholes or negotiation. One hour and you're done unless everyone in your guild can field an entire second save with Hard Mode Ulduar-ready alts. In principle, someone might catch up to your progress while you wait for the weekly respawn, but they would still have to beat the boss with less total time practicing to overtake you in the rankings. Guilds that killed the non-hard versions of the prerequisite encounters may technically lose a week's worth of time because their save can no longer summon Algalon, a decision they might not have made had they known about the one hour per week time limit. Like I said, about as fair as anything in an MMORPG can be.

- Having the time limit creates a high pressure situation that players may find rewarding when they finally triumph. (Note that, like the Doomsday Device, this incentive is only effective if players know that exists, which they did not until someone actually discovered it the hard way, probably NOT playing as if they had only the single hour.)

- Hard mode is hard.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I've never been one to let a list of reasons deter me from posting. A few of the potential issues with this design:

- Having only a single hour creates intense social pressure. I'm not talking about "you must buy consumables", which, frankly, aren't going to be that costly for a single hour, and should probably be assumed at that level of performance anyway. Rather, this sort of time limit puts pressure on a raid leader to say "Sorry, Green, your DPS is 10% lower than the other mages and bringing you could cost 24 other players the chance at the kill for the week."

- Going back to my point about time to catch up, it is worth noting that more and more information about the strategy for the fight will come out over time. Technically, the uberguild who got there on week 1 will have had an extra hour to practice the fight without spoilers compared to the guild that arrives a week later with full Wiki strats. However, it might be that the uberguild would have won on week 1 if they had been given three hours to practice, while the Wiki guild could NEVER have prevailed without a published strategy.

- It will be very interesting to see whether the world first 25-man Algalon kill goes to a guild that's been running three 10-man saves per week to get in practice on the 10-man version before starting the clock of doom on the one that counts. Blizzard claims that the point of the tiered raiding system is NOT to require players to run 10-mans as a prerequisite for 25-man content.

- Guilds that get to Algalon have presumably beaten everything else in the game (perhaps excluding some hard modes that may not be required). Telling them that they must wait a week is a very ham-handed attempt on Blizzard's part to delay the fall of the game's most challenging encounter (presumably for the next six months or so, barring an unexpected change to Blizzard's patch cycle).

He feeds on your subscription dollars
Historically, the toughest boss in WoW hasn't fared very well of late. Illidan didn't last two weeks. Kil'Jaeden went down pretty quickly after Blizzard made balance changes that actually made the preceding boss killable. Kel'Thuzad and Malygos famously failed to last even three days, including time spent leveling to 80. I can definitely understand a desire on Blizzard's part to having this final boss last a bit longer, if for no other reason than PR.

Unfortunately for Blizzard, I don't think that the time limit is really going to fool anyone. Technically speaking, Archimonde was the final boss of TBC at launch, but no one ever got to test this theory since A) SSC was incredibly difficult, B) TK was bugged and unbeatable, and C) even if both had been cleared, the attunement quest for the Hyjal raid appeared to require 6-7 WEEKS to attune a single full raid group, just to make extra sure that no one got to content that was clearly unready before Blizzard wanted them to.

Either there's enough content in the 3.1 patch to last through the next installment in Blizzard's glacial patch cycle, or there isn't. Artificially propping the final boss up for a few more calendar weeks with a time limit won't change the answer to that question. What the time limit may do, however, is create significant strife for guilds making the attempt. Perhaps the guilds that make it over the hump will ultimately be satisfied with the result, but many others may come to a slightly different conclusion than Blizzard intended when told that they should spend less than one hour a week working on Algalon - zero is indeed less than one.


Stabs said...

I can't agree with your conclusion. For guilds and individual raiders who only play to beat the game it adds longevity.

Artificial? Possibly but everything is artificial. Enrage timers for instance - if a boss can go Enraged and one-shot the tank why on earth wouldn't he do it immediately? Does he not want to win or something?

Previous methods of gating content have tended to be more punitive to casuals than hardcore raiders. This is the first game mechanism that is significantly more punitive to hardcore (unless you count the overall nerfs that made is easier for guilds to clear SSC in, say Oct 2008 than it had been for hardcore guilds in April 2007).

I don't think you can simply dismiss it as a gimmick to keep people subscribing because every method of slowing raid progress from attunements to lockouts falls into the same category.

What remains to be seen of course is whether people will accept it. If raiders get too frustrated they may change game, but I don't think this change impacts enough people to make it a real issue.

Daniel said...

I agree with Stabs. The whole thing is artificial; I'm not sure that once you have peaked behind the theater curtain the show will ever be the same.

I do agree that this method is a little bit "ham fisted" but I don't think it's really all that more ham fisted than some of the other things they have done.

Klepsacovic said...

Doesn't Blizzard remember the proper way to delay content burn? Make the boss bugged and unkillable or so overtuned that you would need to beat the next two tiers of content to stand a chance. Or resist sets... *shudder*

Russell said...

I'd give it a couple months, and Blizz will expand it to couple or three hours, or maybe remove the timer altogether. Honestly, I basically agree with Blizzard's decision--I mean, I rarely spend more than an hour on the last boss of an encounter anyway, as it's usually late and I have to work the next day. But if you're from Ensidia, you can just zerg the thing over and over and over and over and over until he finally goes down.

Sherry said...

I believe the best way to look at the 1 hour timer, is as a 1 hour pre-university exam that makes or break your grades.

Basically you have all of 1 week to prepare for it, by either shaping up(running 10 and 25 ulduar for gear), planning and studying (looking at what other guilds has done, formulating your own strategies, and outline mindmaps that shows if algalon does this we do that) and then bring your A-game for 1 whole hour.

If you fail at it, then you must wait a week.

Essentially, like the be all end all of epic wow tests and examinations.