Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Altoholism in Legion

The pendulum of Blizzard's design appears to have swung back once again as criticism has cropped up about there being too much to do in Legion. It's not as big of a deal for players who focus on their main, though there may be some relatively minor grievances like having to choose to play one spec until their Artifact Knowledge gets very high. For players with alts like myself, however, it can be. Between attunements, class campaigns, and other time-consuming content, the time needed to experience it all multiplies out of control and there's a sense of feeling punished for partaking in increasing replayability in WoW by rolling alts. 7.1 proceeded to address some of the issues by adding an account-bound Order Resource cache and making attunements account-wide, among other changes. However, considering how advantageous it was to have alts in the previous expansion, the criticism continues.

Upon viewing such criticism at this point, I can't help but feel a little annoyed especially due to a lack of consideration for other types of players among other reasons. Because of this, I thought I'd offer some perspective because while I do think that altoholism has its place in WoW and it should be embraced and improved upon, I also don't think the current state of Legion is as alt-unfriendly as people might make it out to be.

Considering Warlords

Much like there was a major disconnect between the perception of challenge in Wrath of the Lich King resulting in a failure to create a proper difficulty curve going into Cataclysm, Warlords was so strongly alt-friendly in certain ways that Legion may seem like a major regression by comparison. I won't disagree that there were definitely some mistakes in the transition, but unlike the previous example, there was some attempt to ease it through systems such as the Order Hall and some major issues were addressed relatively shortly after launch.

I would also go as far as to say Warlords was a little special in terms of altering perception of the role of alts because of systems like the Garrison. While I'm sure a number of critical altoholics wouldn't want to go back to ruining the economy with rampant inflation, the Garrison ingrained a mentality that might be difficult to shake: the idea of obtaining significant rewards for little time spent that scaled well with alts to a degree that was never previously observed in WoW.

On top of this, there wasn't a lot more to do in the way of gameplay on a weekly basis in Warlords due to issues such as time gated content, so rolling alts to fill the time with another character's Garrison management and the like was a highly accessible activity. For comparison, past iterations of WoW usually had some content for players to do on their mains or the hunger for content wasn't as ravenous due to a difference in demand in the distant past. This ultimately led to a greater degree of choice in terms of which character to focus on playing.

My point in this section is to highlight why people may have expected not to have to spend up to half an hour on world quests on each character to get an emissary quest cache or the like. Without having to spend so much time one could have more free time to manage their many characters and I admit I myself feel the strain of finding free time with 5 maxed characters in Legion. The question then is: Is that really a bad thing?

The MoP Burnout: Rationing Free Time

I found out the answer to the previous question in Mists of Pandaria, which was criticized for having a heavy focus on daily quests to the point players felt it was mandatory to complete them because many gear pieces obtainable with Valor Points required reputation. Even when Grand Commendations were added in patch 5.1, I was rapidly overwhelmed by the need to complete daily quests on many characters even after learning to ration my time during patch 4.2 when the Molten Front added many dailies. Between having to do dailies and other content such as the newly added Pet Battles, rare spawn farming, and so on, I found myself taking constant breaks from the game to do other things to get a breather.

After several such breaks, the urge to complete dailies to max out reputation and acquire items waned and I realized I didn't have to gear up all my characters or otherwise keep them as relevant as I believed was necessary. It was rare that I was ever satisfied with the state of my characters and thus I strained myself unnecessarily over a personal compulsion. As a result, I relaxed a bit on the hardcore tendencies and did what I could with the time I had, whether it was on my main or my alts. Catch-up mechanics like the ones introduced with the Timeless Isle were nice to have too, though I will maintain that they are better suited towards curbing power creep for returning or new players and that such systems could be improved.

My point in this section is that while the developers do have responsibility for overwhelming players with content or shoehorning them to do something they don't enjoy, at a personal level there are ways to handle the compulsion. By reaching an understanding, one can better handle the time they spend instead of being subject to such whims.

Final Statements

The discussion over the state of altoholism in Legion to me ultimately boils down to how bad having too much or too little content can be due to my tendency to emphasize the importance of content design. While the ideal is to have a balance between the two and there's a lot of subjective interpretations, I would err on the side of having too much content over too little because it generally provides players with more choice over what to do in the game with their free time. Furthermore, since players can be picky due to audience-based preferences, having too much content in general could mean that some players have just the right amount of content to do, with more room to do other content if they wish to branch out. This is why I think an overabundance of content and a focus on content Blizzard calls "evergreen" (and what I call "persistent") is key to player retention, which in itself will generally improve the state of the game since players in themselves are technically content in numerous ways. This isn't to say that Blizzard's design philosophy can't be criticized and players by all means should do so if they think there's too much or too little content, but it helps to understand said design philosophy to temper the criticism.

To close, I offer some tips to players who feel overwhelmed by Legion's content based on my experiences and the points made above:
  • Remember that there's players out there who still play only one character. They might be hardened veterans who love their main, new players, or something else entirely, but WoW's content development will almost certainly account for it to the point of having a lot of content to do on that one character.
  • Prepare to make some compromises. Much like it's not possible to experience literally everything in a single lifetime, one can only experience so much on a single character, let alone multiple. When there's an abundance of content especially to appeal to players who focus on a single character, there will likely be some time budgeting needed to keep characters up to date and you will need to make difficult choices.
  • Take a break if you're overwhelmed. Whether it's a complete break through unsubscribing or a soft break from playing many characters or the like, breaking out of the routine you may end up setting for yourself to manage your many characters may be what you need to develop a new one.
  • There will be ways to catch up. Legion's only been out for a couple of months, yet Artifact Knowledge already researches significantly faster based on how far one is behind and world quests can drop up to a base item level of 845 gear, up from the maximum possible 835 at launch. Note that Blizzard is known to implement more aggressive catch-up mechanics as the expansion goes on as well, as seen in patches like 5.3 and 6.2.
    • Note that this means it's okay to miss out like when taking an aforementioned break since content should remain quite accessible.
  • Complete world quests strategically. Not all of them are created equally and many can be completed in a very brief time but they're not all up at once. Utilize the three-day lifespan of emissary quests to your advantage and complete parts of it every day with fast world quests, finishing the emissary quest itself before it expires.
  • Take advantage of the parallel progression system. While random upgrades have some serious flaws even in their current state, acquiring many pieces to potentially proc a significant upgrade is quite doable through content such as world quests alone. There's less of a need to do content such as dungeons and raids than ever as a result, though there are ways to spend time efficiently on doing those (Mythic+ carry runs, etc).
  • Multitask effectively. For example, world questing is a good time to sit in a queue for other content such as dungeons and battlegrounds. This general tip is especially helpful for altoholics since they may need to be more efficient with their time.
  • Some of the criticized systems are generally unfair and thus need a general fix. Legendary drop chances, for instance, could use an improvement considering the complaints regarding them have been frequent.
Hopefully these tips are of some use and the article itself offers some perspective from a long-time altoholic.

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