Monday, March 9, 2009

Changing the Drake Rules Midway

[Binary Brew], like the other brews from the Brewfest Brew of the Month Club, has a 14 day duration. Knowing that the 3.0 patch was moderately likely to hit live realms on October 14th, 2008, I bought myself a brew late on the evening of September 30th. The patch did hit, as expected, and it was a very very rocky patch day. However, the servers came up for just long enough for me to drink a single binary brew, minutes before it expired.

My server, Hyjal-US, is on PST, which means that the servers coming up would have been too late had I been in any other time zone. As a result, if I don't cancel my account for more than a month between now and September, I will be probably one of very few people in the world eligible to obtain the much-maligned Brew of the Year achievement on August 1st.

I would still have needed to wait for Brewfest to finish the rest of the brewfest achievements and claim the proto-drake, but I suppose I would be able to link the date of the achievement on my armory page as something that most players won't be able to unlock for another month. That's all I'm going to get for my trouble, since the achievement in question has been removed from the requirements for the proto-drake.

Revising events in progress
I'm not sure that Blizzard designed the holiday achievements for what they have since turned into - a frantic scramble to complete some very short events, with all of the time that players have already invested in previous events on the line. The result has been an ongoing, year-long mess.

First, Hallow's End needed to be nerfed after players were not able to get the rare drops for Sinister Calling, which were low percentage items off of a boss that most characters will not get more than five shots at per day. Additionally, they launched the event including a mask achievement that they acknowledged was statistically ugly, and which they promised to remove in a subsequent patch.

Then we had the mess of a Valentine's event, which suffered from some of the same flaws as the Halloween masks from months earlier - perhaps it was more statistically feasible, but it was no less inconsiderate of players who have anything other than WoW they need to be doing with their time (especially in the context of the shorter holiday). Earlier in this PTR cycle, Blizzard reversed their repeated assurances that they were alright with the drop rate on the candy bags, and decided that the Be Mine achievement would require only 6 of the 8 candy hearts. This change would have been spared me pretty much my entire ordeal with that holiday - I had six hearts by the end of the first day, and now would have gotten the achievement by giving up. Instead, I spent the next three days logging as often as I could (I'd estimate 30 times) to loot more candy bags because Blizzard insisted that I would not get the achievement if I did not.

Looking ahead, they're completely redesigning the easter event, making it a week long, and adding it to the meta achievement. There's plenty of room for bugs and poorly thought out achievements here, since the patch is coming on a bit of a tight schedule. In addition, there could be achievement issues/bugs in the returning events. The Children's Week achievement currently requires that players be able to play on five consecutive days, which must, due to the length of the event, include May 3-5, and it's based on an achievement that has a long history of resetting itself due to bugs (which would kill a player's meta attempt if they happen during Children's week, due to the limited time). Brewfest still looms as a problem because they're leaving intact - for the moment - an achievement that requires a rare mount from the daily quest boss - yes, the very same mechanic that they already took out of the Halloween event.

Finally, to add insult to injury, Blizzard is not willing to confirm whether the reward mount is actually 310% speed, even though they are well aware that many players believe it is, and have made their choices to suffer though the events thus far based on that belief. The current game client treats the mount as a 310% speed mount, but there are rumblings that - after all of the nerfs - it would be far easier to obtain than the other 310% mounts in the game (which typically require a high arena PVP rating, or farming high end raid content). Though technically there is no promise on their part regarding the speed, changing the speed after players are already more than halfway through the achievement would be like having Arthas drop legendary shards of Frostmourne, only to reward players who collect enough shards with a mere epic item that is no better than what they might have obtained by other means.

How can you decide when the information changes?
Spinks has written that she doesn't get what drives "achievement junkies". As my wife puts it, you shouldn't be doing things in a game when they aren't fun. So why have I put my time into an event that has now forced me through an ordeal only to excuse people who didn't finish?

WoW and its like are, at their heart, relatively simple games. It's sufficiently easy to automate the basics of playing the game that people were able to make and sell botting programs (until Blizzard sued them into the ground), which wouldn't have been worth buying if they didn't work. The challenge, at least from my perspective, is finding a way to play smarter. Maybe, if I do these dozen things, I can gear my rogue alt with a full set of heirlooms and tackle content that is slightly tougher than I am, where the easy/boring approach would be to grind away at stuff that I can slaughter quickly and efficiently. These rewards cannot simply fall into my lap during the course of whatever I would be doing anyway - that reduces a game where I make reasoned choices about the best use for my time into a boring, thoughtless treadmill. The challenge is for the developers to come up with challenges that I am willing to tackle without having them actually ruin my day, just like the raid designers have to come up with raids that challenge players without simply slaughtering them automatically the moment they walk in.

All of which is why it is so problematic when Blizzard decides to change the rules midway through. The issue is not that the changes are bad - indeed, nothing Blizzard can do will go back and retroactively make the non-fun times I had better in hindsight, so they might as well focus on people they can still save from frustration. The issue is one of confidence. Maybe I shouldn't attempt this achievement, because Blizzard might remove it later - after all, they've reversed themselves several times in the past. Maybe I shouldn't attempt the entire rest of the holiday grind, in case Blizzard decides to nerf the reward. How can you make decisions if you can't trust the information that you're basing them on?


  1. "The issue is one of confidence....How can you make decisions if you can't trust the information that you're basing them on?"

    There's an easy answer to this question and a difficult one. The easy answer is to use the law of errors. Quantifying ignorance was just what it was designed to do.

    The difficult answer is what happens when you take your logic and apply it to class mechanics; you might be able to see why some players like myself have such a problem with the way that Blizzard constantly changes class mechanics. As I said elsewhere, the developers are ruining the game in the name of fixing it.

    It is undoubtedly true that any game that simply repeats the same thing over and over again (a grind) is going to have limited appeal. But I would assert that the same thing is true in the opposite direction. I actually run on the treadmill and will be heading to the gym to do that later today. Running on the treadmill can be boring, tis true, but I would never want to run on a treadmill where the speed and slope of the treadmill was in constant turmoil; that's a recipe for serious injury.

    Not everyone learn class mechanics either easily or quickly. When Blizzard makes a significant change, such as the coming nerf to spirit, then some of us feel the same angst you do with achievements. We have time invested in learning to play our characters efficiently and effectively, and now Blizzard is changing the rules in the middle of the game.

  2. The road block that I ran into while doing the Holiday achievement is one of the chain quest that requires you to do a bombing run with a reindeer mount.

    The quest requires 5 people standing in the circle really killed it for me.

    Then I later find out that they patching that quest so you won't need 4 other people. Honestly with all these nerfs and changes I don't mind if the mount is not 310% speed.

  3. I gave up very early in the process. I didn't even bother with the Brew of the Month, or Brewfest at all this past year for that matter.

    I picked up my Winterveil present but did no other quests although I've done them twice before.

    Oddly, I actually did some Lunar Festival achievements for the first time. I just discovered the dresses and shirts in Moonglade and decided to get some on my main and some alts.

    The group content in holiday events is the largest issue for me. It feels like work trying to get a group together for old content, even though I know that this was the year to do it. Next year will groups will be more difficult to form since most people will have done those holiday bosses this year.

  4. @DJ: I would definitely prefer not to see major class mechanics overhauled mid-expansion, if for no other reason than because soon-to-be-worthless spirit litters the cloth itemization landscape at 80. Developers are in a tough spot because there is also substantial presure from the player base to add things to the game, and that's always going to upset the existing balance. I won't claim to understand whether the spirit nerf was necessary, but I certainly think that it should have been done during the beta if they were going to do it. Apparently Blizzard too is not opposed to launching before they're ready.

    @Herc: It is irritating that they didn't get to that one before the holiday that needed it. I ran that quest with a guildie to get the achievement for his Death Knight. It turned out to be worth my while, since I was able to hijack the group to go kill some group quests that I needed for the Blade's Edge quest achievement while we were there. Still, it was a bit disproportionately hard on characters who didn't have Ogr'ila access from the TBC era.

    In hindsight, the best thing to have done would have been not to roll out the drake until AFTER the first year was complete (or even have it be a Feat of Strength that wouldn't be available in future years). That way, the drake would have been suitably rare and would have gone to people who chose to do the holidays for their own sake - something extra for people who already did the holidays, rather than something that people set out to do the holidays for. It also would have allowed them to work out which achievements were reasonable after the fact, rather than implementing them all and waiting to see which ones were broken. (Of course, this would only work for the first year it happened, the next year players would swarm every new event in the hopes of a new Feat of Strength.)

    Instead, Blizzard wanted this thing to be a major driver of interest in the world events. They succeeded - I looked at the original sinister calling, concluded that I wasn't going to do it, and was fully prepared to write the whole thing off until they reversed course. However, they also failed. Because it's all-or-nothing, players like you who hit a single roadblock give up. Players who would otherwise have given up and thought nothing of it continue on because they already invested so much in the previous events. No matter how this shakes out, no one will be happy.

    One final point on the mount speed - Blizzard has said that Kel'Thuzad's items are a tier higher than the rest of Naxx because they did not think that KT kills would be as common as they are. Changing the mount speed now, after players have done half of the events involved (presuming Blizzard doesn't add a dozen more), would be like going into the game and nerfing all KT drops by a tier to compensate for them being more readily obtained than the devs have thought. It's not that you CAN'T make that change after players have already done the work to obtain them, it's just that doing so really undermines the way the game works. Many people wouldn't choose to raid if the gear was inferior, and I certainly wouldn't have chosen to pursue the drake at 280% speed - I've already got one and may get a second if my oracle egg ever hatches. Reward inflation is relatively common, especially in WoW, but it's very uncommon to go the other way.

  5. Maybe they can give the drake 290% speed...

  6. I understand some things need to be tweaked and certainly, some of these achievement requirements need to be tweaked a bit.

    That said, I hope they don't decide to only award the violet drake for the first year's worth of completing "What a Long Strange Trip." I know I'm going to need at least through to the next Valentine's event. I was sorta happy that the Brewfest meta-achievement was removed because it would have taken me like 2 years then.

    But, with the changes to some of the other drake rewards... I'm wondering how limited they will make this one to keep it rare.


    I love the holiday events. But I still stick with the fact that I liked them BEFORE achievements... back when I did them for fun with other like-minded people instead of worrying about ticking things off the achievement list. :(

  7. I think the thing that blizzard has done that is most clever is put a large variety of things in the game to motivate people. I personally skip any holiday content almost entirely (I did randomly get the 18 slot pumpkin bag), but some people really do like achievements for their own sake, and they are a time sink. My drug of choice in the game is crafting, and that is a time sink also. Other people will PvP or raid. Wow may not be a perfectly game, but it does have something for everyone.

  8. Personally, I don't care if the mount is 310% or 280%... I'm still going to get it.

    In fact, I was just thinking today that if I were to get a 310% speed mount I would have quite the quandary on my hands. See - I'm a mount collector. I have been since LONG before Achievements were added. I have 67 mounts including a few drops, some vendor bought, and a bunch of reputation mounts. But if I were to suddenly have a 310% speed mount in my stable... what would I do with the other 20 epic flying mounts I have (including my Albino Drake Achievement reward)? I guess I could just let them go to waste, but that goes against the whole idea of being a collector.

  9. I understand your point as they could very well change the mount speed or remove the achievement completely. It is kind of difficult to trust them sometimes.

    I'll still do the holiday events because they are kind of fun (with some exceptions) and I like to get the titles rewarded for them. If I get that drake its cool, if not that's cool too.


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