Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I find myself wondering how much the phrasing of a particular game effect changes the way people think about it.  In particular there are a few new mechanics in the Cataclysm expansion for WOW that are obviously set up to abuse the perception of a bonus instead of a penalty.  The new guild levelling system has a number of different bonuses you can get for your guild members including bonuses to getting gear with faster Honour and Hero Points as well as other percentage bonuses to gathering, mount speed, etc.

All of these things are phrased as a bonus, never as a penalty.  The idea of course is that we look at all the shiny new things we are going to get and rejoice instead of being frustrated at having to overcome a deficit but any really objective look at the system must conclude that Blizzard will balance around everyone having these bonuses maxed out and anyone not having them is at a disadvantage.  The initial stages will be full of people being excited by getting all these new things but I foresee that very quickly they will change from celebrated bonuses to mandatory requirements.

In particular this is going to be a real mess when starting a new guild.  It will be very difficult to convince anyone to join a guild where they gain gear 9% slower, receive less resources when the mine/herb/skin and even move slower.  That initial perception of 'bonus' is going to rapidly become 'required' and any new guild is going to have a hell of a hard time getting people in since they have to be that much better than an established guild.  There are some bonuses that won't have this effect like the mass resurrect that will be usable in instances but any numeric bonus that directly affects the player's income and gear acquisition is going to be seen as required and guilds without them are going to have a terrible time getting new players.  In my mind this is a very bad thing; players should be encouraged to join whichever guilds suit them socially rather than being very substantially rewarded for sticking with whoever has been around a long time.  It may also lead to people selling guilds that have levelled up to others because of the real value in the guild name now - this might actually prove a dramatic problem when people get hacked.

A similar thing occurred when I played a game of FMB this weekend against a new player.  He seemed to like the game overall but didn't like the fact that every space on the gameboard was either a neutral space or a space with movement penalties associated - no space actually gives bonuses to anything.  I wonder if I should try to incorporate some bonus effects on various spots on the board.  There are certainly many places in the game where I made the decision to phrase things as a bonus instead of a penalty because I find I get very strong negative feedback about effects that penalize opponents instead of providing a boost to the owner.  I don't want to pander to this entirely though since a few 'screw you' effects are fine but I certainly make the vast majority of abilities work to increase the caster instead of disadvantage the opponent.  It is a tricky balance to strike.


  1. With the caps on badges/honour per week coming in the expansion you don't really need to worry about people in guilds getting gear faster. Easier, for sure, as they'll have to run fewer BGs or heroics to get to the cap.

    Honest Bung's guild leveling service, anyone?

  2. I thought the cap is on premium honor/badges and not previous tier badges/honor. In addition, the bonuses I believe are on previous tiers, so basically only really useful for alts.

  3. Hmm, looks like you're right on both counts. Nevermind then!

  4. Even if gear wasn't an issue the perks of more stuff from herbing/mining/skinning, 5% lower vendor fees, 5% faster movement rate, tradeskill increases, 10% more experience are massive. Sure, anyone who has an immense pool of money, is fully gear capped from raiding and isn't levelling any alts isn't inconvenienced, but that isn't the majority. Nearly everyone is going to be substantially negatively impacted by joining a low level guild and it will raise the barrier to entry a lot.

    I don't think that making it really awful to leave your guild for another new one is a good mechanic. We may appreciate that trade chat will be less cluttered with random people trying to fill a new guild but I don't think that makes it worthwhile.

  5. Do you consider the heirloom items that grant extra experience to substantially negatively impact new players? Is there a big barrier to entry in the game now because my alts have them and a new player doesn't?

    How about non-paladins? Does missing crusader aura mean we're screwed?

    Realistically, people who don't have these things and never had them simply don't miss them. They actually don't feel disadvantaged because they don't have them, even if in the grand scheme of things they are disadvantaged.

    A substantial negative impact to me sounds like something which goes from trivial to fairly hard. We're not talking leveling with autoattack and moonfire here, or dying to even level mobs. We're not talking having to save up for many months to get an epic mount. A completely unguilded person isn't even going to be inconvenienced by not having any of the perks.

    Sure, people who want to game the system and need to make optimal use of their time will have to be in a maxed guild. I think you're overestimating the size of this population. Most of the people in this population of people would already be in a maxed guild anyway, so there's no real downside for them.

    You say Blizzard is going to have to balance around these perks, but what does that even mean? Are they going to space mobs out more to counteract people moving faster? Are they going to ratchet the vendor prices up to make up for the 5% discount? Does that realistically even matter?

    Tradeskills will level a little faster, but so what? This isn't FFXI and I'm not looking at needing to make 20000 apple pies to level my cooking skill. Even power leveling a trade skill you rarely make more than 10 of the same thing... Knocking 5% off of that will surely have a minor impact but it's not crippling to level without it. (Let me put it this way... Are you going to wait for OGT to gain that perk before you level jewelcrafting come Cataclysm?)

    All of these things save a little bit of time or money. They're nice convenience things, but they aren't the end of the world. It's not like the top end perk is 'do 10% more damage' or even 'do 0.1% more damage'. Things that may have an effect on combat (mounted move speed, for example) are even disabled in the pvp zones. When it comes right down to doing things in the game be it questing, pvping, or raiding an unguilded person can perform at the exact same level as a max guilded person. There's no quest they can't do that I can. There's no raid boss they can't kill that I can. There's nothing they can't craft. They may have to spend marginally more gold to do it, and they may spend a little more time getting there, but they will get it done.

    Being in a guild with people you like or who you can do things with is still going to be more important to people than having instant access to the guild bank is going to be.

  6. One example of "balancing around" is the (currently) level 22 perk of getting 15% more from gathering skills and disenchanting. Basically the entire economy is balanced around gems, flasks and enchants. If levels mean anything then level 22 is not going to be something that casual guilds will attain quickly. This really does feel to me like targeting unguilded and casual players with an economic penalty.

    Blizzard does actually "balance" around the amount of mats you get for enchanting and the number of gems you produce. When prices of these things get out of hand they make modifications to way they are produced in order to balance them out. In this expansion they changed the 2-5 dust per level 76+ item to 3-7 dust when the price of dust was getting too high, a very significant increase. When they make balancing decisions around how much it costs to level and how much time it takes to gather things, they will make them assuming that people have 15% more because they always balance things around the best you can do.

    If a casual player was going to buy their skill up with cash, this wouldn't matter that much to them, but if they are going to train it up by DEing, mining, skinning and herbing, (as casual players are probably likely to do) they are going to lose a lot (13% less stuff into 9% less skill ups). Sure, you don't have to make 20,000 pies to level your cooking, but that is why WoW *has* casual players in the first place. For me spending a few hours and a few thousand gold leveling a profession isn't that much, but why would we single out people who play less for spending 26% more time leveling professions?

    When a small number of people have these bonuses they will seem like bonuses. By the time the next expansion rolls around everyone will have them and not having them will seem like a penalty. That will make it much harder for people to attract people to new guilds because people will not want to lose what they've already got (this is psychology, not numbers).

  7. One interesting WoW bonus/penalty feature is the food buffs. In some games not eating would make you character weaker, but in WoW eating makes them stronger. In practice these have the same effect after you balance the mobs around whether the player has eaten or not. I guess players never want to be hungry but have no objection to sometimes being well fed?

  8. @Ziggyny

    For hardcore raiders like you and me these changes won't be meaningful in terms of changing our behaviour. However, there are lots of people out there who change guilds based on where their friends are playing, what their current schedule is, etc. and their choices are often going to be

    1. Stay in their established guild.
    2. Swap to a new guild and lose out massively on their gold/gear income.

    There are certainly plenty of people that stay with their guilds a long time and this won't substantially affect them. However, I don't see the *benefit* of making any new guild extremely unattractive to new members who value things like gold, gear or experience. It isn't going to stop new guilds completely but it will mean that the rich get richer as everyone has a real incentive to stick with the biggest most stable guilds that has nothing to do with who else is in those guilds or what those guilds do.

  9. Also, remember that random people can't choose to gain Crusader Aura. They can choose to stick with a guild they don't like much for the perks though and that is a design flaw. Just because it makes a lot more sense to play with people you like then it does to stick with a big guild for the perks doesn't mean that people won't be frustrated by that choice.

  10. When you're skilling up, how often do you do so on green coloured things? If you're like me the answer is practically never. You make 5 of something orange and then you go back to the trainer and learn something new. The old thing is still orange. If the new thing is comparable in mats you make 5 of it, otherwise you make 5 of the old thing.

    The perk has no effect on skill-ups in the orange range and not a lot in the yellow range.

    Remember as far as gathering goes that they could just be selling those extra herbs, so it just comes down to gold once again. Perk 22 gives the people who gather some extra bucks. They can sell it, or they can gather less often and skill the same amount. Either way they're saving some time or some money, but they're not actually gaining any benefit.

    I don't see your point about Crusader Aura. If 5% more is a substantial negative impact than 20% is huge. Crusader Aura should be removed from the game precisely because it isn't fair that no one else can choose to get it.

  11. I don't know what tradeskills you have that you spend all your time doing orange things. I make yellow and green things all the time when powerlevelling professions. This is a minor benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.

    Saying that gathering perks are entirely about money is true. People gather herbs/ore/skins to make money. If that is your primary income stream then you simply make between 1-15% less money overall by missing out on it. Of course you can simply sink more time in to get the same monetary total, but that is a real cost! Time is not free and most people have lots of things they could do instead of herb/mine/skin and they lose out on those things without this benefit.

    By your Crusader Aura logic every single effect in the game should be removed and every class needs to be identical. I don't buy that argument because it is preposterous. Everyone knows and accepts that each class has advantages in various places. Extra speed, flight form, teleport, charge, levitate, water walking, aspect of the pack, sprint, path of frost and demonic circle are *all* movement benefits spread out across the classes. Everyone gets something and there are clearly tradeoffs. It is also established that picking a character is an important choice and that the attributes of that character will have good and weak points. This guild system does not have tradeoffs in that your guild is either higher or lower level and higher level guilds are better.

    Remember I am not trying to argue that rich people with tons of time in pursuit of important goals will pay attention to these guild perks. I am arguing that for most players money, time, speed, experience and gear are important and they will feel like they are obligated to stay in established guilds to maintain those perks and they will feel frustrated and angry if they lose access to them because they join a new guild.

  12. Of course removing Crusader Aura is preposterous! It isn't unbalanced, and it's 4 times as powerful as the individual guild perk. Not having it doesn't put anyone at a substantial negative disadvantage. A small one for sure, and of course you'd take it over nothing, but not having it is not the end of the world.

    This expansion I've leveled blacksmithing (twice), engineering, jewelcrafting (twice), enchanting (twice), alchemy, inscription, herbalism, and mining (twice). The only ones I spent any appreciable time on green things were mining, and then only because I'd rather smelt ore than run around the badlands.

    I actually think you're wrong with your final statement. I don't think that most people care very much at all about money, time, speed, experience, or gear. Or rather, I don't think they care very much about the rate they acquire these things. I'd argue that it's actually the rich people who care about these things. It's because they care about them that they get them!

    We're both very aware how inefficient most people are at making gold. We've both found efficient ways to do so, and as such we have plenty of it. Anyone who actually cared about being efficient about making gold could do the exact same things we did... But few do. Why? Because they simply don't care enough.

    The enjoyment they get from the game would be unchanged if they got a small amount of extra gold. They want to log on, kill some things, do some quests, pvp a little, and log out. And they can do all those things perfectly fine if they're unguilded. Being unguilded makes them less efficient at doing any of those things. I know that bothers you. It bothers me. Must squeeze out any advantage! But we're not most people.

    Being completely unable to get gear, that would be a big detriment. Innately doing 10% less damage in a battleground, that would be a big detriment. Not having any mining nodes spawn at all, that would be a big detriment. If they couldn't use their flying mounts without being in a guild, that would be a big detriment. Being less efficient time-wise and gold-wise is not.

    Some people will certainly feel more 'loyalty' to their guilds under this system because they'll have felt the perks and not want to lose them. This may encourage them to work out their problems instead of just taking the easy jump somewhere else, but I don't think the perks will keep anyone who really wants to quit a guild from doing so. They'll understand the trade-off involved and I don't think they'll be overly frustrated or angry, just like they're not actually overly frustrated or angry about heirloom items or Crusader Aura.

  13. I totally agree, Ziggyny, that the enjoyment people will get out of the game will be largely unchanged by a small speed difference or a difference in the rate they make money. But people are not good predictors of what will make them happy.

    Perhaps 15% more or less from mining wouldn't make an substantial difference to a person who plays casually and often mines for money. But the knowledge that they *could* have 15% more will. The fact that they have to make a sacrifice to be in the guild they want to be in is going to make people unhappy.

    On the flip side, I think the fact that people get a bonus for being a guild is going to make people happy for a very short time before they come to accept that as the new normal.

    But ultimately I think these bonuses represent a real failure of creativity on Blizzard's part. The bonus where money you get gives an extra tithe to the guildbank is very cool. Simply giving all guild members an extra 10% to something personal to them is pretty lame. It's also meaningful to me that Blizzard scrapped the guild talent system because they didn't want people to have to choose guilds based on which talents they selected. The developers agree that people will feel these bonuses are significant enough to have to make tough choices between friends and bonuses, but they don't see how that problems stems from the nature of the perks themselves rather than from the way they are handed out.

    Also, as I mentioned when I wrote about this a week ago, when it comes to the gathering profession bonus (which I actually think is the worst offender of all) the market in WoW is basically controlled by enchanting, gems and flasks. Other people getting more directly devalues what you get though supply and demand. While me getting 10% more honor doesn't affect your ability to buy gear, me getting 15% more herbs does directly affect your herbs.

  14. True enough. My real concern in terms of herbs and ore is if the Chinese gold farmers will find high level guilds to join. If they're getting 13% less stuff than they 'should' be then the prices will go up! Maybe we should adopt one as part of an outreach program...

    I think the way they're handed out is a big deal in terms of guilds breaking up. If we had a couple casuals who were big into pvp and we were going up a talent tree to get mass resurrection and mobile guild banks instead of more honour I think they'd be rightfully annoyed. Especially if the system was set up such that we wouldn't end up with all the perks and would therefore never take the ones they wanted. In the current system as long as you're in any guild that does anything you'll eventually get what you're looking for. Here I guess it depends how fast a reasonably active guild will level up. Knowing you're 'worse' for a month but can directly contribute to the guild leveling will actually be a benefit to some people. If it takes 6 months to catch up, well, that will make it a lot more annoying to start a new guild. Especially a year after the system goes in when every guild is maxed.

    I also agree that the perks that feel guild-like are cooler than the ones that just help individuals out. Being able to instantly mail stuff to guildmates is awesome. I know you better so I can send you stuff. Having a 15 minute hearthstone? What? Mass recall, awesome. Drive your car faster? Juh?

    But I imagine they wanted to have a lot of levels so guilds would always feel like they were progressing as they advanced and ran out of cool ideas and went to boring flat passives as they did oh so often in the talent tress. The difference of opinion here is that I don't think the 5% and 10% personal bonuses are big deals if people don't get them. I certainly wish they didn't exist and that cooler things did in their place, but I don't think it's the end of the world that they do exist.

    The fact that some people will really want to keep the small bonuses is something Blizzard hopes will keep people from jumping guilds on a whim, too. I don't know that it will work, but it does seem like a reasonable goal. The problem here is if you make the personal bonuses too good then everyone has to be in a maxed guild. If you make them too irrelevant then no one will care enough to not switch guilds. So if that goal is to work you need to find a happy medium where the bonuses are useful enough to want but not crippling enough to need.

  15. On perks vs. talents, I know that ultimately the perks are a better idea, talents just seem okay to me because I'm the one who would be putting the points in.

    When I say that the problem wasn't so much how the perks were being handed out but rather what they were, I think the 10% more honor and 10% more hero points are the two really big offenders. I can see people jumping ship from a guild because it chose not to get 10% more honor, but it's hard to imagine someone jumping ship because their guild didn't get 10% less durability loss when dying. That might not be true since people's grip on reality is pretty tenuous, but I think ones that actually get your purples faster are the ones people who would consider guild hopping for perks would mostly care about.

    I guess what is happening is that there is a tension between 1) not wanting people to feel like they have to switch guilds to get the perks they want and 2) wanting to use perks to try to get people to feel that which guild you choose is more meaningful (reduce guild-hopping). Perks either have an effect on guild choice or they don't, it can't be both ways. I guess if we are seriously arguing over whether the current perks will have a significant impact on guild choice then Blizzard may have done a reasonably good job of picking the numbers. Clearly if it was 50% more movement speed of we wouldn't be on opposite sides of this discussion. (Though I suppose if it were 1% we probably would be... does Red want to play a slowadin for some reason?)

    And don't worry too much about Chinese gold farmers, my understanding is they have been almost entirely replaced with North American gold stealers.

  16. I vote against adopting a North American gold stealer. Especially if they don't even need to go to town to access our guild bank...