Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Legion's Spec Change Cost Was An Awful Idea

World of Warcraft's Legion expansion, much like other expansion releases, promises many changes to arguably keep the gameplay fresh while addressing major issues among other reasons. However, in the slew of changes, some ideas are shown to be less practical than originally thought. This was the case with Blizzard's attempt to allow players to switch between specializations at will, but at the expense of almost always costing the player gold as if they had their specialization changed at a class trainer. This was found and criticized pretty early on but the potential issue was left unaddressed and made its way into the beta patch notes, as shown below:
  • Characters can now change between any of their specializations at most any time for a progressive gold cost. Action bar configurations are saved for each specialization. As a result, Dual Specialization has been removed.
  • Characters can queue up as any role that is available to their class and will automatically switch to the suitable specialization when entering the Dungeon, Raid, Battleground, or Arena without any gold cost. For example, a paladin might be questing as Retribution but queue up in Dungeon Finder as a Tank. When the paladin enters the dungeon, they will automatically switch to Protection.
This reveal caused the level of criticism to seemingly heighten, with mine among the general mass of discontent. Blizzard responded to the feedback by removing the cost entirely and reverting to a state of having somewhat restricted talent changes that require a reagent to use.

The Reasons

However, while this specific scenario ended well (for now), I think the original idea was so poorly thought out that it needs to explained as to exactly why the design was bad even if there were beneficial intentions. Thus, this article will cover these reasons with explanations provided as to why each reason makes sense. The reasons are as follows:
1. While it cuts out the middleman of the class trainer, the change is regressive overall because it adds inconvenience in the form of cost.
While I'm sure there's plenty of wealthier players who were going to be largely unaffected by this, I'll address specifically why the cost itself is punishing in the quantifying sense later on. Instead, I'm going to argue that it's inconvenient in this case because this change contradicts the reason why dual spec exists to begin with: to avoid having to pay the spec change cost, resulting in said cost being paid far more infrequently as a result. Thus, "regression" is a fairly accurate term since it bundles the cost players have been trying to avoid into the system created to avoid it. On top of that...
2. This feature disproportionately punishes new players and returning players who didn't reap the benefits of high gold income (or are otherwise unwealthy).
This to me is probably the main reason I'm not a big fan of the idea to begin with. The moment I saw the forced gold cost, I was reminded of what I previously warned about adding mandatory gold sinks especially at this particular point in time when it's imperative to deflate the amount of gold, especially among wealthy players. Considering there's likely not a significant incentive for players to spec swap far more based on their wealth, the effect on player wealth in terms of raw numbers will be roughly the same, but percentage-wise wealthier players won't be affected while less wealthy players will be relatively hurting.
3. It adds a literal "hybrid tax."
Unfortunately, unwealthy players aren't the only ones unfairly punished under this system. Hybrids, as classes most prone to spec changing due to their multiple roles, would likely end up spending far more gold as a result. To be fair, it's not as bad as it sounds since Blizzard did account for this issue by having it be free when queuing into dungeons, but there might be times when a player needs to spec change outside of using the queuing system, such as switching roles in the middle of a dungeon or raid. Ultimately this "tax" makes the idea even more punishing than it already sounds, even if some hybrid characters have a great amount of wealth. The worst part is the change would make players less likely to play multiple roles, meaning there would potentially be fewer tanks and healers even though tanking and healing is free to do in the Dungeon Finder.

On a somewhat related note, this sort of unfairness is reminiscent of pre-normalized repair costs, which translated to plate-using tanks paying up more to fix their gear.
4. It adds even more incentive to use matchmaking systems, which arguably make the game more anti-social.
Considering that I have already highlighted how convenient and rewarding the matchmaking system is, resulting in a suggestion that would serve as competition to said system, it's mildly infuriating to see even more reasons to use a matchmaking system that fosters anonymity and all the pros and difficult-to-report cons that come with it. To make things worse, the incentive feels more like an attempt to avoid punishing design based on the aforementioned reasons.
5. It can never be an effective gold sink due to it being a flat upkeep cost.
It's plausible to claim that the spec change cost being tied to the dual spec's convenient swapping system is intended to sink gold, especially since there's at least some sense of awareness by Blizzard that the current economic state of the game could prove problematic. This is reflected in changes like this one to Garrison rewards in Legion, which at least cuts off the income flow. However, ignoring the fact that this change strongly reeks of regressive design, reasons 2 and 3 as described above will almost certainly ensure that this feature will never make for an effective gold sink since Blizzard would surely notice these specific types of players being affected too much and adjust the price accordingly. This in turn diminishes the effectiveness of how much wealthy players are affected even further, making it nearly pointless for the purposes of both rapid and sustained deflation.

Final Statements

As I mentioned above, it is good that Blizzard is pursuing ideas to remove gold from the game economy to address the inflation problem. In addition, the idea of an upkeep being used as a gold sink isn't inherently bad, though many are unsuitable due to their flat costs, not to mention such upkeeps tend to serve as a balancing act against an existing source of income. The major exception to this is the auction house cut, which I think could be raised to a value such as 7.5% (from 5%) to compensate for the lack of upkeep-related gold sinks that are effective. The reason I believe increasing this fee would be effective is because wealthier players are more likely to make expensive transactions over the AH (such as by buying mounts or many items in general) making that 50% increase add up fast.

Incidentally, on the very slim off chance this idea somehow wasn't a gold sink, I'd be very confused as to what Blizzard's trying to do, but I digress. At this point the idea of spec change costs seems to be entirely a thing of the past, erased from its previous position of infrequent utilization. Hopefully it stays that way.

No comments:

Post a Comment