Monday, March 12, 2018

Leveling Quick Fixes: Treasure Hunting and Creep Camps

This article is part of a series. Click here to go to the intro article where a table of contents is available.

The act of finding treasure in WoW has gone through two distinct stages that both encourage some form of exploration. The first involved finding a randomly spawned treasure chest in an encampment with randomized goods which would upset modern gamers but is based on a traditional RPG staple of filling enemy camps with loot. In this case, such chests typically required the player to search surroundings that quest objectives lead them to. Fixed treasure spawns were added in Mists of Pandaria and as the name implies, they always spawn in the same area. They often yield roughly the same loot but each character can only loot it once. These treasures are often hidden and require the player to go off the beaten path to find.

Creep camps, which were camps filled with enemies in Warcraft 3, played a similar role in encouraging exploration and often featured exceptionally powerful enemies that dropped useful items. This feature exists to a degree in WoW but even though I have fond memories of finding a treasure-laden camp guarded by quilboar including a rare spawn "leader," such experiences never quite held a candle to similar experiences in Warcraft 3.

Ultimately, I believe the idea of embracing creep camps and discoverable treasures as forms of leveling content makes for a great quick fix that can be implemented in many tiny installments. The result would be a gradual enrichment of the leveling experience that makes it more enjoyable for both new and experienced players by adding a sense of wonder through discovery.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How to Improve Missions in WoW

Since their inception in Warlords of Draenor, missions have been met with a fair bit of negativity. This is understandable since for the expansion they were introduced in was rather lacking in solo content until patch 6.2, which only did so much to account for the deficiency and still had a problem with time-gated content. The fact they were also highly rewarding to the point of being heavily nerfed prior to the release of Legion probably didn't help matters.

While Legion's iteration of missions may not have done much to improve the view of some players, I personally think it addressed a few major issues with the chief among them being that mission content became side content fueled by resources that was typically acquired from other content. Order Hall missions weren't without their problems though since they are highly reward and were used to time gate some content including key features such as the third relic slot on one's Artifact. Fortunately, improvements continued throughout the expansion that eventually culminated into removing missions as a requirement to progress major quest chains in favor of creating optional quest chains specifically for missions.

The upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion appears to promise the return of missions, which reflects statements made in a number of interviews. Missions are also showing up in builds of the expansion. Some may wish to see them gone entirely much like with other features like Looking For Raid, but I see a lot of good things that could come out of missions. In this article I'll summarize what can be learned from Order Hall missions and use that information, along with information from a certain other game I've been playing a lot of recently, to suggest improvements to future iterations of missions.

Lessons From Legion

As I mentioned in the introduction, the Legion iteration of missions had improvements but was also not without its flaws. Highlighting what was good and bad will be useful for determining how missions in Battle for Azeroth should be designed.

What immediately comes to mind is that missions started out in a pretty good spot since, as I also mentioned above and in a past article, missions required the acquisition of Order Resources that were primarily earned from doing content such as World Quests and Dungeons. While I was concerned about how rewarding some of the missions were, the requirement to do other content to do missions is a good idea to use going forward since it effectively makes missions serve as a bonus reward for other content that encourages increased participation. Furthermore, since some missions had rewards that gave a quest to do content such as dungeons and raids, a feedback loop of sorts was established that involved shifted between doing other content and missions.

Unfortunately, this dynamic changed over time as Order Resource acquisition was improved in a number of ways that ultimately made the prospect of running missions highly self-sufficient. On release, there were ways to run missions without leaving the Order Hall but it was exclusive to the 6 classes that could research World Quest completion items. However, this required a bit of luck and based on the comments, the effectiveness of the item was buffed in 7.1 to allow the completion of more rewarding World Quests (though I cannot confirm this information). Order Resource caches were also added in 7.1 along with the Blood of Sargeras vendor.

Patch 7.2 then introduced Paragon reputation rewards, which was a good example of how to do a Paragon system but had the consequence of awarding a cache that always provides some Order Resources. This in addition to missions that can award reputation tokens helped to improve the self-sustenance of missions a little further. In addition, since reputation tokens became account-bound after a character became exalted with a respective reputation, paragon reputation rewards could be redeemed on characters that were Order Resource-starved, effectively allowing one to transfer Order Resources even more than the Blood of Sargeras trader allowed for.

Patch 7.3 featured the aforementioned improvement of removing mission-related requirements from major quest chains. Instead, it further cemented the role of missions as side content by creating a quest chain that involved completing missions and empowering champions to unlock new missions that served as a form of exclusive progression similar to Pet Battles. The idea of having mission-based progression as side content is one that I think should be emphasized more in the future, but some of the rewards were questionable.

The rewards featured a slew of new missions that awarded a fair amount of gold, Primal Sargerite, and Blood of Sargeras. The latter was the most concerning since if the bonus reward was earned, which was made easier to do with the addition of new champion equipment, one earned more Order Resources than they spent on the mission. Specifically, it was possible to earn a surplus of 600 Order Resources every time they completed a 200% success chance mission for Blood of Sargeras, which greatly improved the self-sufficiency of running missions.

All of these changes ultimately allowed for the ability to run Order Hall missions in a manner similar to Garrison missions where there's barely any need to leave but the player can produce a fairly high amount of gold income. It is no surprise then that Order Hall missions are starting to get nerfed.

Based on this summary, I have determined the following information to be useful to consider for improving missions:

  • Missions should be a form of side content that isn't required to advance in major content such as through quest chains that unlock important features.
  • However, missions should be advantageous to do in a sense, preferably by driving players to do major content in some sort of way.
  • Missions should try to avoid gold rewards and other rewards that can significantly impact income. The consequences of rewarding players too much for doing missions can be very great and in the case of gold rewards, may contribute to more inflation that may cause issues for newer players among other problems.
  • Missions should also require a little effort to keep running instead of using a self-sufficient system. Making the ability to run missions self-sufficient greatly undermines the purpose of missions being used as an engine to drive participation in other content.

An Idea From Another Game

Putting the lessons learned from Legion to good use in Battle for Azeroth's missions is a big help especially for preventing them from becoming an unchecked money-making machine that requires eventual intervention. However, I personally think more can be done with missions to put further emphasis on their purpose as an engine to do other content. This brings me to a recent game I played that briefly utilized a concept I could see being used in WoW.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 utilizes a similar feature to WoW's missions in the form of Merc Missions. It plays in a similar manner that involves sending out units equivalent to champions or followers in WoW on missions that are completed after some amount of time. The player can then earn various rewards. While Merc Missions are more intertwined with the game itself there was one specific type of mission that caught my eye and they were missions with no listed duration.

These missions initially confused me since I was unsure what one was supposed to do so I tried to do one and cancelled it after a while. I later learned these missions required the player to go to a location where they would then start a quest and the mission would complete. This inspired me to come up with a similar, albeit unoriginal, idea of having similar missions in WoW that add World Quests to the map for the player to do. Having such missions would not only drive players to do other content but it would also create the other content that the player has to do, which may have an additional benefit of exposing players to further content that the game's world has to offer such as other World Quests.

My Suggestion for Missions

Based on all the information above, I have come up with a specific suggestion for how missions should be designed in the future. Not all missions necessarily need to be designed this way but I would strongly prefer if the vast majority of them are.

As I mentioned already, it would be best if missions were a form of side content, which Legion has already done a pretty good job at accomplishing despite some issues. To prevent future concerns, missions should entirely refrain from awarding gold and only a small number of missions should provide immediate rewards without further player intervention, which I will classify as "reward missions." The rewards themselves could consist of non-gold currencies, reputation tokens, and items relevant to missions such as champion equipment.

About half of the remaining missions would also not require player intervention from the mission itself but instead of providing a usable reward it would give the player a quest to do some non-mission objective such as completing a dungeon, which I will classify as "task missions." Making task missions more common compared to Legion would increase the emphasis of driving players missions and other content due to the stronger association between the two. However, there is a possible issue where missions may feel mandatory to get the most out of other content. Therefore, the ultimate reward of task missions should be similar to that of reward missions in most cases with the exception of the infrequently offered raid quests.

Finally, remaining missions would add a World Quest to the map for the player to complete. These missions would be similar to reward missions but take much longer to naturally complete for about half of the normal reward. Players can complete the World Quest to expedite the completion of the mission and earn rewards that are also to half the normal reward of a reward mission. The idea of these "World Quest missions" is to provide a faster method for earning rewards from missions but doing so requires more effort.

The result of this suggestion is that there would be more active options for players who prefer not to idle for their rewards, which coincides nicely with my ideal mission design. This suggestion also could be of benefit to more idle players since tying some missions to other content may eliminate the need to use currency to run missions. This in turn would allow idle players to ignore other content in favor of missions if they want as long as they're willing to accept it won't make them incredibly wealthy like past iterations of missions.

Ultimately, I think missions need to change a bit more to reach an ideal state of being side content that isn't too impactful on the game's state while serving as a feature at least some players can enjoy. It may never end up as optional as features such as Pet Battles, but it can certainly take many beneficial directions.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Some Thoughts on Hearthstone's Dungeon Runs

Gaming can be met with a fair bit of press from time to time, such as with the recent loot box controversy. In this regard, free to play games are some of the most egregious offenders when utilizing such a system unethically largely due to how mobile games, many of which have the very similar gacha, operate. Hearthstone is not innocent in this regard and while it may be similar to the physical trading card games, that doesn't change the fact there's both a pay to win element and card packs with poor minimum rewards and thus a poor return on investment (either of time or money). Since the latter point was a bit easier to resolve, it served as the basis for my article on improving Hearthstone's monetization.

However, instead of writing yet an article with a strongly negative tone and ranting about various related topics, I instead wanted to highlight Hearthstone's Dungeon Run that was added in the Kobolds and Catacombs expansion since, while my opinions are that original in this regard, I think it's great single player content that helps to address issues with the game. I also think there's some useful concepts that can be derived and used to drive content development in games like WoW.

A Brief Description of Dungeon Runs

Dungeon Runs in Hearthstone currently consist of choosing a class to battle eight bosses in succession. Players start with a premade deck based on their class and receive a set of three cards after each match based on one of three thematics that the player chooses from. They also receive a treasure every few matches that consists of either a high-power card or a passive effect. To make each run different, each match draws from a large pool of bosses that, depending on how progressed the player is in the run, will be of a suitable power level. The run concludes with one of five end bosses that players can more consistently plan ahead for.

Dungeon Runs currently don't provide much in the way of a reward but can be played for free with cards the player may not own.

What Dungeon Runs Provide to Hearthstone Players

When it comes to benefits that Hearthstone players enjoy from Dungeon Runs, the first thing that comes to mind is that it serves as an always-present, free way to play with a full collection of cards. While deckbuilding is not as open as creating a deck from the collection, some restrictions such as how many duplicates of a card are allowed are relaxed much like in Arena, resulting in insanely powerful decks such as any decks that summon Jade Golems. This fact in addition to treasures allows players to go on a power trip for a brief time without frustrating a human opponent, though that doesn't mean there isn't great adversity that may bring that fun to an abrupt end. 

Fortunately, much like with Play Mode, players can participate in Dungeon Runs to their heart's content, which in itself is great since a feature like this in some other games may be gated by a lives system or the like. Instead, Dungeon Runs seem to rely on the replayability provided by the variance of cards and treasures offered to the player as well as the different boss encounters and sequences to encourage player participation.

What I can ultimately conclude is that Dungeon Runs most benefit players who have a small collection. This includes newer players, players who play sporadically, and players who spend little to no money on the game. However, I think all players benefit in some way even if they have a complete collection since there's a fairly exclusive experience to be had from Dungeon Runs, as I've described above.

Concepts to Derive for Other Games

The replayability of Hearthstone's Dungeon Runs that is provided by its somewhat procedural generation of content, which in itself shows random elements can lead to a positive player experience, is something that I could see adding to a lot of games. Doing so should improve the gameplay experience without much downside and while it may require meticulous planning to put such a system in place, once that is done various aspects can be tweaked to alter the experience and provide even more variance. For example, Dungeon Runs vary card offerings, card set offerings, treasure offerings, and bosses. Replacing or adding new entities to each of these parts effectively renews the experience, even if the replacements and/or additions are small in scale.

When it comes to adding such a feature to an existing game, an easy way to provide a similar type of replayability is to add a set of modifiers to existing content. For example, WoW does this with Mythic+ dungeons by using affixes that are present at specific difficulty level thresholds. These affixes add a specific mechanic or otherwise modify enemies in the dungeon based on the name of the affix and two are drawn from a pool of many while the third toggles between two specific affixes. Even though there's some arguably unfair combinations, the 11 affixes as of this writing that are used, in addition to the toggling third provide 220 permutations to choose from, so there's plenty of room for making Mythic+ dungeons at a high level feel different. The affix system also allows for further tweaks much like with the numerous variables that can be tweaked in Hearthstone's Dungeon Runs.

Another concept I think could be derived and used from Dungeon Runs is the idea of expressing generosity as an investment to improve player retention through fun. While Adventure Mode could technically do the same in Hearthstone, it's a bit more collection-reliant and there's only one set of encounters that are free to access. Meanwhile, Dungeon Runs require no collection, let alone much of an investment, to enter yet allow the player to effectively play with a whole collection. The sandbox experience is a bit of a bonus that may ultimately provide many, many hours of entertainment.

I think this concept best applies to games that have a strong emphasis on the collecting aspect since it's easy of falling into the trap of encouraging players to spend money to build their collections to take advantage of one's desires to complete or, more importantly, compete. Features such as Dungeon Runs would instead to attempt to "manipulate" players with an enjoyable experience that may result in them spending money out of a show of support instead of perceived necessity. With that said, I think Hearthstone is far from perfect in regards to accomplishing this goal.


I think Dungeon Runs are a big step forward in terms of making Hearthstone a game that can be enjoyed by more players. It's a free experience that can provide numerous hours of entertainment that has high replayability that helps to combat the fatigue of repetition. However, I still think other parts of the game need improvement such as the card collecting aspect, which is why I wish to see my suggestions or at least similar suggestions from another player, make their way into the game. I also think Dungeon Runs can be expounded upon further with additional bosses and other additions that increase the permutability, as well as the replayability, further.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Leveling Quick Fixes: Rare Spawns

This article is part of a series. Click here to go to the intro article where a table of contents is available.

Rare spawns have been an interesting feature to me since I played Diablo 2 which had random and fixed unique monsters with exceptional item drops that were entertaining to repeatedly farm. Warcraft 3 also featured special items obtained from secrets and encounters with unique enemies especially in the expansion's Orc campaign. WoW is no exception to the rule and while I personally find the older iterations of rare spawns to be less interesting, they became such a prominent feature in Mists of Pandaria to me that I suggested that specific iteration of rare spawns as a form of leveling content. I thought that because Mists of Pandaria rare spawns were challenging and rewarding, they had the potential to accomplish a lot of my goals for improving the leveling system and this still holds true today since it's the first suggestion for this article series.