Friday, November 24, 2017

My Thoughts on the Loot Box Issue

Loot boxes have been around in some form or another for quite a while. It has been said that it started with Team Fortress 2 with its crates and buyable keys to unbox the random contents. Other games, especially in the mobile market, featured a gacha that allowed players to randomly receive one of many rewards with varying levels of usefulness in the game. Card packs, which were once a source of reliable value because of the physical goods contained within, are becoming more comparable to loot boxes since their CCG form tends to produce intangible value in the way of digital, untradeable cards. More recently, Overwatch presented cosmetic rewards randomly earned from loot boxes and because of the game's popularity, it has become the face of the controversial system.

While I haven't published any articles about the controversy itself, I've expressed my opinions on this matter many times on Twitter, mostly by trying to act as something of a voice of reason (hopefully) so that outrage is channeled into something constructive. I also briefly discussed loot boxes in a couple times such as in this past article on monetization in games by dedicating an entire section to it and similar systems. However, I find I have a lot more to say to the point I might as well get it off my chest. Therefore, in this article I will attempt to isolate what I think is problematic about the loot box system and suggest solutions.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Why Argus Isn't Flyable

When Argus was announced as a playable zone, I imagined that it would be a world so torn apart that the likelihood of it being flyable would be very low. Not only did it not seem to make a lot of thematic sense, but I was expecting Blizzard to try to emulate the success of Timeless Isle once again, possibly by eliminating flight from the equation entirely. When patch 7.3 came, however, there was a fair amount of pushback against the idea of making the zones entirely flightless. This is understandable, especially for those who may have recently finished their Legion Pathfinder achievements and wanted to try their flying out. From a personal perspective, I thought there was an excessive amount of outrage for a number of reasons such as the fact all of Argus wasn't available to explore at the time of the discussion.

After making a forum post on the ongoing discussion with some broad thoughts on Blizzard's design philosophy regarding flight, I considered writing an article reviewing the three Argus zones then explaining why it was reasonable that they are unflyable. I ultimately ended up pushing it back repeatedly up until now in favor of other topics. Therefore, while the outrage itself seems to have died down now that players have either gotten accustomed to the new zones (perhaps grudgingly so) or stopped playing the game, I did want to analyze the three zones and provide some thoughts from the perspective of a player who has experienced many of the flightless zones the game has offered throughout its history among other details relevant to the topic.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Adventurer's Retreat - A Player Housing Suggestion for WoW

When I started this blog, I didn't have as much of a definitive direction of what I intended to use it for. While I did use it as a place to put posts that otherwise belong on a forum of some sort, I also tried other things that were out of my comfort zone, eventually concluding that there was a reason such articles were not my forte. I unlisted many of these articles and moved forward with my more analytical and suggestion-focused gaming posts, writing what were basically short essays or project outlines every week. I would like to think that I improved over the years that I've published articles despite the miniscule view count over time saying otherwise.

This leads me to this article, which is the 300th until I decide to delist more articles I find to be of exceptionally poor quality. While it's not a milestone I have to celebrate, I believe it's a good time to do so since I have the opportunity to suggest something ambitious to complement the major WoW-related announcements that have been made. That is why, as the title states, this article will feature my detailed take on the idea of adding player housing to World of Warcraft from how it could be implemented to inner workings of the feature.

A Summary of the Adventurer's Retreat

The Adventurer's Retreat is the formal name for my suggested player housing system. It would build upon the Garrison in an attempt to emulate player housing in Runescape where one is basically handed a plot of land to build upon. This would involve the return of buildings, which would offer utility and flair much like with the Garrison but with one addition. In Runescape, one can build rooms full of hotspots where a variety of objects can be built or placed to serve a cosmetic and/or utilitarian purpose. Buildings in the Adventurer's Retreat would serve as an equivalent to these rooms and also have hotspots for such objects, providing greater customization options.

Acquisition of a retreat can vary, though personally I'm partial to paying a small fee which then allows access to a portal that takes the player to their retreat. The location of the retreat itself can also vary, but I personally think it should integrate into the existing game world for greater immersion. To this end, I personally chose the Feralas Hot Springs area (known as the Steam Pools) as the initial area for the retreat due to it being next to the soon-to-be-updated Silithus zone and having a resort-like feel. More options can and should be added in the future to improve customization options further and potentially provide players with a places of varied levels of isolation. For example, retreat locations could be placed next to every capital city.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Profession Recipe Ranks Need a Rework

To me, World of Warcraft has always had a rather underwhelming profession system. This opinion strongly stems from my background of playing games such as Runescape where professions are measured as a skill level similar to that of combat and offer a comparably substantial amount of gameplay and benefits. While professions in WoW abruptly became so useful that they were virtually mandatory for their character power-increasing perks, this didn't do much to change what little gameplay any of the professions offered. Ultimately, I accepted that professions in WoW were more about the reward than the journey to progress them but that didn't stop me from making suggestions to improving the gameplay anyways.

As time went on more substantial changes happened (like in Warlords of Draenor) until the profession changes for Legion were previewed and eventually came. While there were some slight modifications such as an arguably frustrating quest chain to learn recipes or World Quests that offered variations on traditional gathering, as expected, the overall profession gameplay was basically the same. Instead, professions were largely augmented by the rank system which I initially glossed over as another form of progression that I'd address later. When it came time to scrutinize the system I found it may have fallen flat since it was an apparent source of great frustration that drowned out the benefits of extending progression.

For example, at the time of this writing, Na'zak the Fiend, who drops the rank 3 recipe for Potion of Prolonged Power, has just spawned after nearly a year of hiatus. While there may be some achievement and cosmetic hunters among the players frustrated by the lack of a spawn, the fact only that boss can drop this relatively important recipe (which to be fair is one of the least useful rank 3 Alchemy recipes) has likely contributed greatly to the many posts on the boss going AWOL. Meanwhile, gathering profession ranks are earned by a random drop which has had its drop chance increased a couple of times.

After looking at profession rank benefits extensively and having numerous discussions about it, I found that a lot of the frustration came from trying to earn higher rank recipes, especially rank 3 recipes, that were highly advantageous to have but difficult if not outright unreasonable to acquire. While one could try to look at any rank-related benefit as something of a bonus, it can be hard to do so when the benefit in question greatly improves efficiency relative to previous ranks, such as by reducing the materials needed by a significant amount. Therefore, I concluded that a different approach was needed that would make rank 3 recipes feel less compulsory to get outside of being a completionist. To that end, I propose a few tweaks to rank benefits to make rank 1 or 2 the advantageous rank to earn, with rank 3 benefits serving as something of a bonus perk.

Rework Details

The rank rework is split into multiple categories based on the type of recipe in question. For example, I do not think rank benefits for gathering professions need to be changed. Instead, I think that acquiring the quest to learn the rank recipe should be made more consistent. To accomplish this, I think the quest item should always drop when a specific amount of nodes are gathered after certain conditions are met, but the quest item can drop randomly prior to that amount. I believe the following conditions could serve as a good general guideline that makes the reward satisfying to earn without making the grind too frustrating  (note that this applies to each type of node separately):
Rank 1: Up to 5 node gathers.
Rank 2: Up to 50 node gathers after learning rank 1.
Rank 3: Up to 150 node gathers after learning rank 2.
With gathering professions covered, this leaves crafting professions, which I believe have recipes that fall under three categories: craftable gear, consumables, and enchanting. These are the changes I propose to the rank benefits for each of those categories, with explanations as to why:
Craftable Gear

Rank 1: No changes
Rank 2: The amount of materials needed is reduced to the amount that a rank 3 recipe currently would require.
Rank 3: Gear has a higher chance to be crafted in an upgraded state. In the case of max level gear with Obliterum upgrade levels or an equivalent, crafted gear has a chance to gain one upgrade level for free.
My reasoning here is that rank 2, which is easier to acquire but can sometimes require a bit of a grind (typically in reputation), will make crafting as efficient as possible. This helps with profession power leveling but there's still a bit of work involved to earn such an advantage. The rank 3 benefit is situationally lucrative. In the case of non-max level gear, it can sometimes be nice since the gear could potentially sell for more or at least be disenchanted into more valuable materials. Max-level gear crafting gains far more of a benefit since it has a chance to gain extra value for free and if not, the gear can just be obliterated or upgraded, both of which provide a workaround to the randomness. I believe this ultimately makes the rank 3 benefit feel more like a bonus since it's nice to have the proc happen but it's not that detrimental if it doesn't.
Consumables (Potions, food, etc)

Rank 1: The amount of materials and yield is equal to the amount a rank 3 recipe currently requires and yields.
Rank 2: Provides a chance to proc bonus consumables similar to that of most rank 3 Alchemy recipes.
Rank 3: Doubles the chance to proc bonus consumables.
For consumable recipes that have ranks, I initially made them all similar to what Alchemy provides. Then, I completely replaced the rank 2 benefit since the removal of the Alchemy Station requirement, aside from being a convenience benefit for an arbitrarily added annoyance, wouldn't work with other recipes such as Cooking profession recipes. Since the rank 3 Alchemy benefit generally provided a chance to proc bonus consumables, I moved that to rank 2 to prevent another "Na'zak the Fiend situation." I then noted that since rank 2 already has a benefit, the material cost should be the same across all ranks. Finally, I changed the rank 3 benefit to double the chance of the proc since it helps to make that random element a bit more consistent, increasing overall yield. I reasoned that this sort of benefit is nice to have compared to the difference between having no chance to bonus proc compared to having a (infinitely higher) chance to bonus proc.

Rank 1: No changes
Rank 2: The amount of materials needed is reduced to the amount that a rank 3 recipe currently would require.
Rank 3: When the enchant is performed, there is a chance to produce some residual dust based on the amount of enchanting materials used. In addition, enchants performed on Enchanting Vellum do not consume it.
I personally split Enchanting from consumables since it's in a bit of a weird spot by comparison. This is because enchanting can be done directly on gear in addition to producing consumable enchanting scrolls. While there are ways to work around this in such a way that bonus procs when enchanting gear also produces an enchanting scroll, I opted for a simpler approach that captures the idea of bonus proccing in a flavorful way. This led to the specific rank 3 benefit for enchants where occasionally some dust (in the case of Legion enchants, Arkhana) would be refunded in a sense.

The idea here is that the magic involved in the process ended up producing a little more usable material. This also means the benefit can optionally be augmented to produce other enchanting materials, but it should never yield anything remotely close to the amount of materials used for the enchant. Ultimately this, along with the fact Vellum is never consumed when creating enchanting scrolls, serve as another bonus that is nice to have.

Final Statements

While profession ranks aren't exactly groundbreaking and do no favors for the base gameplay that has largely been unchanged since the release of WoW, they do offer a sense of progression much deeper than unlocking recipes by leveling the skill. It also works well with more recent iterations of profession design where players can pick up a profession and immediately have access to most of the newer recipes, allowing them to catch up quickly. However, in their current state rank recipes are highly prone to causing frustration due largely to how much more efficient existing recipes become, providing significant advantages that players, especially new and returning ones, have difficulty catching up to in a reasonable time. By changing the benefits provided at each rank to provide an advantage followed by a bonus effect (or effects), the time to catch up is made more reasonable and player ire should generally be reduced, possibly to the point some may express at least indifference towards NPCs like Nomi. This is something to consider assuming profession ranks stay around for the next expansion.

I was initially planning to publish a different article but the fact Na'zak the Fiend is up this week caused a change of plans and I chose to publish this one instead. The other article will have to wait a while as well since I'm about to reach 300 published articles and I have something special planned for the 300th article. It's highly doubtful the special article will remain the 300th forever since I may "delist" more old articles in the future, but it's a milestone I plan to celebrate in a sense anyways, so that's something to look forward to I guess.