Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Role of the Five-man and Oculus Incentive Calibration

Syp accuses Blizzard of taking the "easy solution" to the Oculus problem, rather than figuring out why players dislike the instance. I suspect that Blizzard knows precisely why the instance is unpopular, but can't address that side of the equation because they knew what they were doing when they made it that way. Like Spinks, I think the better question is whether the latest rewards go far enough.

The Instance
The Oculus is one of two five-man instances in the Wrath era that requires the use of "vehicles" (in this case, flying dragon mounts), which are essentially different classes. These new classes aren't terribly complicated - each has a mere three active abilities they may use - but there is no way to practice the new classes other than on the instance's final boss. (The dragons are minus their crucial third ability until the final boss to prevent players from skipping the other, non-mounted encounters. By contrast, the jousting combat used in 5-man TOC can be practiced in a daily quest.)

The problem is not with the implementation of the dragons, but rather with the speed at which the average WoW PUG is capable of learning new things. Not all players who go looking for groups at level 80 can be counted on to know how to play their actual character class in groups, so asking those same players to learn something completely new during a boss encounter can be a stretch. Also, there's no mechanism dictating what drake players should ride (indeed, there's an achievement for trying them all), so even getting the group to agree on which drakes each player should ride can be a challenge.

There is no "fixing" this aspect of the dungeon. You can simply remove the dungeon from circulation altogether, or you can try to bribe players to attempt it anyway (as Blizzard has now done), but this particular learning curve is not something you can eliminate without removing the whole point of the instance. (I'd also argue that this unique factor means that we're NOT on a slippery slope towards nerfing other "unpopular" instances that simply take longer to complete, but time will tell.)

The role of the five-man
The primary role of the level 80 5-man heroic instance in WoW today is to get newly level 80 characters geared for raiding ASAP. With all of the item inflation in this expansion era, Blizzard had to provide a mechanism for new characters to catch up that did not require their guilds to fit 2-3 "farm nights" of old raid instances on the weekly raid schedule.

To ensure that there would be enough demand for this feature, Blizzard made the decision to offer current tier raid emblems to get raiders into the random group finder once a day. As a result, a large proportion of the players running random five-mans care about exactly one thing - the group's perceived ability to complete the dungeon in a quick and painless fashion, so that they can get their emblems.

(Elnia, never one to shy from controversy, suggests that we are exploiting our PUGs like porn stars, and the analogy may be more apt than Blizzard would like to admit.)

The unique nature of the Oculus makes players unusually nervous about the PUG's ability to get them their emblems so they can get back to content they actually want to be doing. This makes a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the players who could make the Oculus run go smoothly quit, making the dungeon go even less smoothly for those who remain.

The real question, though, is whether a small quantity of additional cash and yet another cosmetic mount are enough of an incentive to convince reluctant players to run the Oculus. If the players Blizzard wants to win over are only in it for the frost emblems, it might turn out that nothing short of more frost emblems will convince them to remain in an unpalatable instance.


Anonymous said...

Dead on Green! Nice work.

- Jaycyn

Paul said...

Newbie 80 DK. Took this instance on in Heroic mode with my guild. Lucky for me we had Vent running and the tank was able to tell us what to look out for and when to hide when the AOE explosion happened. Learned the hard way to clear all of his flying friends before landing and taking on the Boss.

Miss Medicina said...

Absolutely excellent post. You also managed to say what I was trying to say much more efficiently. So I'm gonna send all my trolls over here, mmk?