Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why are the unique rules?

Yesterday I analyzed two unique rules of WoW's economy: the items being soulbound, and the essential services done by NPCs. Now let's see the reasons and the conclusion from it.

The first reason is almost obvious: WoW is a social-friendly game, where people who completely don't care or completely unable to think are welcomed. Business on the other hand is meritocratic and ruthless. We all made tens of thousands of gold selling crystallized fires for 100% more than the eternal, for selling vendor pets or ice cold milk in the AH and other nonsense. The exclusion of gear and essential services protect the M&S from being "ripped off" from these. Currently the worst economic situation that the M&S can (and often does) get himself is having no gems, enchants and doing dailies for repairs.

Imagine what would happen if their 0 gold would mean that they can't access gear or essential services like training!


While the above explains the vendor-system, it does not explain the soulbound issue. Granted, M&S couldn't buy even second-hand gear, but they still could farm it. However Blizzard wants everyone to farm it. It's not a huge surprise that Blizzard wants the players to spend time in the game. The more they do, the more the gaming integrates into their everyday activity. Someone who plays 2-3 hours a day is less likely to stop playing than someone who plays 2-3 hours a week. The activity simply becomes common to him, he does not even recognize that he starts the game after sitting down to his computer. It becomes automatic like washing your hand after toilet.

Letting players to access gear without farming would compromise this automatism. I mean if someone could gear up after a week of intensive trading, run the new content, then he'd "win" the game for that patch. He would have no reason to log in until the next patch. In the meantime he'd spend his time with other activities, and after the next patch he'd find it difficult to insert WoW into his schedule. Also his social ties would sever during his off-time, so there would be no "I must log in to meet my friends" thing in his mind.


However this system offers a strange meta-gaming idea. "Gaming" means that the developers create a challenge and you overcome it. If you kill the endboss of a single player game, you get the "you won" screen. One could claim "you can't win WoW", but that's not true. The "thing" that the developers created is not the content itself. That's trivial. The challenge to overcome is the developer's meta-gaming system that is designed to make you grind.

If you complete the content via grinding, you lost, and the developers prevailed. If you complete the content without grinding, you won, not only in the absolute sense (you completed a fixed challenge), but also in a relative sense: you completed the content with less /played than the other players.

There is already an obvious competition for server and world firsts. Those who cleared Arthas on the first week are better (or more dedicated) players than those who will complete the same content later. However it is a HC competition, since "time spent" is measured and not "time spent in game". The casual version of the same competition is who can complete the content with less /played, with less grinding.

The time competition brings "skill" back to the table, the same way as it is present in a running competition. Everyone can do the content of the 400m running, however only a few can do it below 55s, and doing it below 43 secs gives you a world record.

17 comments:

Azzur said...

The exclusion of gear and essential services protect the M&S from being "ripped off" from these.

I don't understand this at all. Are you advocating that these 'essential services' be player driven? High level warriors charging low-level warriors for training? Blacksmiths charging a fee for repairing? Whilst possible, I would think the vendor system is just so much more convenient.

While the above explains the vendor-system, it does not explain the soulbound issue. Granted, M&S couldn't buy even second-hand gear, but they still could farm it. However Blizzard wants everyone to farm it.

I do agree on this. Blizzard wants people to continually play their game.

I'll add that Blizzard has also learnt lessons from their previous game (Diablo II) and how a huge RMT market can spring from the sale of non-soulbound items. Also, having these items meant that low-level players can buy these items and trivialise content.

Soulbound is a design choice made since the inception of WoW. At that time, would you consider WoW a social game?

The challenge to overcome is the developer's meta-gaming system that is designed to make you grind.

That is Gevlon's challenge for himself.

Clearing the entire content in blues is the Undergeared challenge.

There is already an obvious competition for server and world firsts.

This is the challenge for top-guilds. The /played time challenge is meaningless to these guilds.

The challenge for Auctioneers may be to reach the gold cap.

My challenge is to clear content as quick as possible. I know I won't beat top-guilds but /played time as a measurement is meaningless to me.

In the end of the day, it is up to the individual player to define their own challenges for them to be satisfied.

If the participants wishes for recognition (e.g. world firsts), they must then subscribe to what the community defines as the challenge. What use is the less /played time challenge if no one else subscribes to this metric?

An analogy:
The 400m race is designed to be a grind. Athletes have to spend countless hours training in order to run faster. Imagine a 400m competition where the goal is to run 400m in under 50 sec with as little training time as possible. Would this competition make sense?

Spinks said...

You might have noticed that they're loosening up a bit on some of the soulbound stuff. There are more raid and crafted items in Wrath that aren't soulbound than there used to be. (They still won't let you sell second hand goods, but now there are heirlooms at least so that you can pass them to your alts.)

I think the soulbound idea is a bit long in the tooth now, and it goes back to the way the game was made originally. They wanted to reward players for doing hard content, and one of the ways they did this was to say that the only way you could get some of the better gear was to have actually gotten it as a PvE drop. If the gear had all been BoE then auction house players could have sold crystallised fire (or the vanilla equivalent) and been as well geared as raiders.

Anonymous said...

Imagine what would happen if their 0 gold would mean that they can't access gear or essential services like training!

In vanilla wow this was actually pretty common. A lot of players didn't bought their new skills starting from lvl 30-35 to 'save gold' in order to buy the mount at lvl 40. This because the mount would make them 'level faster'...
It wasn't only the m&s. Some used some thoughts on it; for eg a frostmage only upgrading frost spells. (Mage guides even said not to buy dampen/amplify magic and detect magic to save gold since you'd never use it)
Others obviously didn't learned a thing anymore, and thus only decreased their leveling speed...

Zeran said...

@Spinks
The soulbound idea extends to BoE gear, not just BoP. The idea is that once a piece of gear is used it cannot be passed along to another person.

While it was, and still is true, that they want to reward people for playing their content with drops, this was not the main purpose of soulbinding. The main purpose is quite obviously a gear sink, that is to take the used gear out of circulation. Otherwise you would have an absolute flood of the 'good' gear that never gets sharded or vendored because it can be used by those skilling/leveling/etc.

I'm all for an alteranate solution, but I honestly don't think there is one. I mean that the other options (unrepairable gear etc.) are worse than soulbinding.

@Gevlon
so the Absolute winner of your /played challenge is the guy that does all his grinding on a separate account? Or is it the guy that says, "that's it I made a character, I've seen WoW I'm done." with 2seconds of /played?

It seems that your challenge is non-sensical, as people play this game for an entertaining time. We don't play the game to see how fast we can beat it, we don't play to see how fast we can beat it while still not focusing on it, we play it to be entertained. If you're seeking something besides entertainment out of a game maybe you're looking for the wrong thing.

Jana said...

I really don't think that adding few more craftable pieces with 10-20k worth mats would somehow stop the majority (aka M&S) from playing as often as they do.

The AH goblins are very few. So are the hardcore sponsored raiders that can afford to play 16-20 hours a day 7 days a week.

Blizzard really does not cater for just this 1-2% of players.

Even with complete unsoulbinding (or partial - two tiers old gear can get unsoulbound) of items, the major time sinks would still remain in tact:
- leveling 1-80 (even with imba gear that allows you to 1-2 shot mobs, the mobs are usually still too far away from each other and respawn too slow to grind them any faster).
- either farming for gold to buy gear or farming the gear directly.

As I said, Blizzard cares for the majority. Example of that is making raid content more accessible, thus taking away ability for elitists to stroke their epeens that they are the only ones that can clear some content.

Philip said...

There was a very interesting experiment (I'll have to dig it up) done on gaming that showed the mini-achievements that you get while playing create small dopamine hits in the brain, and this eventually settles into a Pavlovian pattern.

Translation : Every little ding in the game makes your brain go tingly, and you start to crave that repeat experience. I know I have it, I told my wife last night that I'd be heading to bed after 'just 3 more points of mining' because I wanted to hit 300 on my alt before logging off. But why 300, and not 297? Because my brain gives me a nice little kick when I hit the round number, plus Blizzard are kind enough to give me a Pavlov-style bell and chime when my Profession Expert achievement pops up.

Everything in WoW, from the economy, to the gear upgrades, to the burst of light and lovely ding you hear when you level up or get an achievement is all geared towards fostering the same feeling : progression.
WoW isn't complex. Fighting a Rotting Giant in Icecrown is no different from fighting Hogger in Elwyn Forest, the numbers are just bigger. It's by parcelling out tiny bites of success and making you feel that every day you're a little better than the one before, that they can keep you coming back.

Jeanie said...

There are 3 types of raiders in wow : the very top guilds that will world first or will defeat all the hardmode before Blizz nerfs them, the average players that will need several nerfs to the encounters and probably gears of a tier higher to defeat the encounters, and the morons with 900 dps in t9 that can only did content 2-3 tiers lower with the help of several social average players in the run.

The third type is irrelevant in the disscussion, and ironically, between the first and second type, the Hardcore players will probably spend less /played time in order to defeat the one specific newly released content (I'm saying that they have less /played time IN A RAID, they do alot more other things ingame too).

"But they have to spend time grinding for the current gears, don't you count it in ?"
No, the hardcore raiders spend less time in ALL the tiers of raiding, so even in the previous tier, and the previous one of that, they still have to spend less time getting their current gears. Also, the average players farm heroic every new patch for the outdated emblems to get 2 or 3 last pieces.

Anonymous said...

great post especially this part:

Letting players to access gear without farming would compromise this automatism. I mean if someone could gear up after a week of intensive trading, run the new content, then he'd "win" the game for that patch. He would have no reason to log in until the next patch. In the meantime he'd spend his time with other activities, and after the next patch he'd find it difficult to insert WoW into his schedule. Also his social ties would sever during his off-time, so there would be no "I must log in to meet my friends" thing in his mind.

After i realized how easy you can gear up your chars nowerdays, i really lost my interest in the game...so i think you are really right there. I dont even log anymore for my 2 frostbadges. checking ah and thats it.

Okrane S. said...

The reason why items are soulbound is simply to prevent item inflation.

In Diablo where items were not bound to the character that used them,decent items entered the economy the moment they dropped and never left it. The solution adopted was giving good items an abysmal drop rate, or a vertical crafting system like Runes.

This way, the rich and geared players were simply those who spend the most time farming the said end-boss, to get end-game items which they will eventually TRADE to other players who got better drops. No loot table, no weekly lockouts. There were people literally chain running hell mephisto, diablo, baal or nihlatak(spelling?), and others ofc, for 20 hours a day without seeing a decent item. And I dont mean a decent item for their character, but a decent item to barter with other players for smth they might use.

This is the only way you can handle item inflation in a non soulbound item-system.In such a system the items do not belong to the player but to the community. And with the thousand of hours spent by the community in-game, they will sooner or later dig up so many good items that it becomes pointless to even play.

On the other hand in such a game, the newcomer has no chance. He has no items to barter and a 0.0001% chance to get a decent item.

Making items soulbound ensured that they can set realistic droprates from bosses and make sure that anytime a boss drops someone will get something worthwhile.

In my book that has clearly diminished mindless farming and made the game more pleasurable for everyone.

Mike said...

Diablo is obviously the reason for soulbound items. Every time a warrior gets an Awesome Sword +2, he gives his Awesome Sword +1 to someone else. That makes it too easy to gear up, because gear is literally falling out of the sky all the time.

The other problem is that it basically spoils the idea of grouping and sharing drops. If I'm running Barbarian in some Diablo game, and the Awesome Bow + 3 drops, why would I give it to the Amazon? I need it for MY Amazon.

Wow is so much better for this kind of thing. Its easy to complain about all of this stuff but the bottom line is that this game came out over four years ago and we all still play it every day. No other game has been like that in the history of video games.

Chris said...

@ Mike:

Whoa Whoa Whoa. No game has been like this in the history of video games? Quake, TFC, UT, Counter-strike, Starcraft are ALL examples of games that had massive online communities that lasted WELL after 5 years. In fact, for more than 3 years running there were more people on gamespy playing CS than any other game.

Also, HL2 has been out for the same amount of time as WoW, and CS:S is still VERY widely played. Diable 2 lasted longer than WoW has so far with a thriving fan base.


Theres nothing particularly special about this game. Its just popular now. And its also grabbing a smaller % of the video game market than it had in vanilla.

Ratshag said...

The exclusion of gear and essential services protect the M&S from being "ripped off"

It also guarantees that essential services are available 24/7, even on low-pop servers. I can't imagine too many blacksmiths would be interested in hanging around Dalaran, repairing other people's gear all night. Even if it paid well, it would be a pretty lame way to spend your recreational time. I imagine the designers' thoughts were more along these lines, rather than worrying about market pricing.

As for relying on other players for training, who trains the trainers? The knowledge has to originate somewhere. I suppose you could give dedicated players the option to learn skills on their own through repetitive practice, but then you end up with more farming and grinding, not less.

Gevlon said...

Repair and learning could both be from players and NPCs. The player version is cheaper, the NPC is always accessible.

Nick said...

Your idea that "most content cleared in the least time /played" is the best measure of beating the time-sink metagame is a pretty strong argument for the limited attempts system in the current heroic modes.

Keith said...

this post reminds me of one of my other favorite blogs, the author talks about it alot, playervsdeveloper


and you are right, I just did the holiday events and will log in over the summer when I have time and after blizzard does the traditional pre expansion content nerf. then i'll bribe a guild for some runs.

why would I even play at the start of an expansion? Joining late in each cycle lets me gear up quicker and better than those who played the whole year.

just think about the new tier and dungeon system...

Althalas said...

The reason for BOP gear can be summed up in one word.

eBay.

Remember when WOW came out games like everquest and Ultima online had a huge problem with items being sold on eBay for real money. Blizzard has maintained the idea that players are not allowed to sell digital items for any reason at any time.

BOP was the easiest way to keep digital items off of site like like eBay and Craigslist and the like. There really is no other reason. Everything else is sort of a bonus in their eyes.

Taemojitsu said...

The reason the 'hardcore' competition involves time to completion, instead of in-game time to completion (and it isn't a perfect measure either with weekend raid schedules and so on) is because of Nerfs.

Nerfs happen because Blizzard is simultaneously trying to offer content that is challenging to a group of 25 skilled players, but also completable by a group of 10 skilled players and 15 average players. The only way to do this is to make the encounter easier for the second group. In original WoW, this was gear progression. In WotLK, with minimal gear progression due to abundant epics saturating the individual progression of each character, it is actual boss nerfs and artificial buff mechanics that ICC will be seeing soon.

'Skill' is always a measure in any competition, but the correlation with the measure of success isn't always high. In a social game, someone with (using your example) low /played can always get a free ride from 24 other people with high /played; but disregarding this, it would be possible for Blizzard to create a PvE Raiding system where both low real-life time to completion as well as low in-game time spent as measures of skill had high correlation with success, but this negatively penalizes people for playing (more time spent playing would mean things had to become more difficult) as well as opening for exploits with alts etc, so a better solution is giving the buffs that allow a group of 10 skilled + 15 average players to complete content, but giving these buffs based on real-life time based on time spent on in-game effort. This would give an absolute measure of success based on real-life time spent attempting content by a character, without the encounter 'nerfs' that are independent of the skill of any player and simply devalue the achievements of later efforts by creating different standards of completion for the same content, thus splitting the playerbase.

Similarly, it would be possible to introduce a success metric in PvP that was dependent on skill without the constricted format of WoW's current arenas and without the continuous time-spent-playing component of WoW's original honor system. Such a system was linked to in previous commments to this blog. However, in both cases, PvE and PvP, Blizzard is not terribly interested in allowing the game to highlight skill with low time /played; Blizzard is interested in attracting players who find the current content in WoW appealing.

Any standards of skill that may exist, exist only until Blizzard finds it necessary to destroy those standards by introducing the same progression for free in their next subsequent content patch. This is the game WoW is intended to be.