Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Addressing Random Sockets - This TIme With Depth

At the start of this month, I reviewed the Titanforging system that Legion introduced. While recognizing the benefits it has in terms of motivating players to doing any Legion content that yields gear, I offered a suggestion to further cement that incentive by reintroducing the Valor system. Valor as a currency acquired from most gear-yielding content, was intended to soften the randomness of gear upgrades without compromising the wonders of getting an amazing upgrade by offering an alternative method of upgrading gear over time.

However, when I initially criticized the precursor, Warforging, I also criticized other attributes gear could randomly acquire. While I considered tertiary stats to not be so problematic, I had suggestions to make regarding Warforging and random sockets. Since this month is coming to an end, I thought it would be appropriate (and poetic in a way) to offer more extensive suggestions to improve random sockets since I consider them even more problematic than Titanforging.

What's Wrong With Random Sockets?

Random sockets can make the difference between a truly best in slot piece by adding another pass of randomness to determine whether it appears on a given piece. This adds to a system already fraught with potential frustration due to the two passes of randomness from Titanforging (or the one pass from Warforging previously).

Furthermore, unlike with Titanforging, the power granted by a random socket isn't as apparent or reflected well through average item level since typically, each socket is worth 150 of a secondary stat. While this issue of perception isn't that significant, finding higher item level upgrades is a little harder since pieces as much as 10 or more item levels greater may be unable to compare to the benefits the socket provides. Meanwhile, while I don't think the alternatives are sufficient enough to counterbalance the randomness, Titanforged gear is usually comparable to gear that can be obtained from higher tier content.

In addition, there are fewer gems than ever to fit into prismatic sockets, which replaces a system of colored gems and sockets, meta gems, and socket bonuses that featured up until late Mists of Pandaria. While the depth of colored sockets, socket bonuses, and meta gems wasn't great or particularly well implemented, there was some choice regarding whether to match colors or not for the sake of some potentially significant benefits that was lost with the new system.

Finally, while Legion reintroduced gear with fixed sockets, such sockets are rare and thus random sockets appearing on anything else makes them a potentially substantial source of sockets that can affect the consistency of revenue generated by Jewelcrafters due to issues of supply and demand.

Ultimately, the issues with random sockets seem to come down to a matter of providing too much power with minimal depth while strongly driving a highly volatile level of demand for gems.

A Potential Solution

While I don't think we need to go back to the days when many pieces of gear had two or three sockets, I think there is merit to increasing the amount of equipment with fixed sockets. At the same time, socketed gear can't end up being so much more powerful than unsocketed gear of the same item level. Therefore, such equipment would have a set amount of secondary stats replaced with a socket instead. For example, a piece of gear would have 150 fewer secondary stats allocated to the equipment itself but instead have a socket that can potentially be fitted with a gem that has 150 of a more desirable secondary stat. Sockets would also have colors like the previous system and gems would be reworked to fit in a way much like the following:
  • Each secondary stat is associated with a specific gem color. Crit gems are red, Haste gems are yellow, Mastery gems are blue, and Versatility gems are prismatic. Orange, green, and purple gems would also return with an appropriate amount of secondary stats based on its color (Orange would provide 75 Haste and Crit, for instance).
  • Socket bonuses, which would require the player to match a specific socket color, would consist of a moderate amount of tertiary stats and a small amount of a secondary stat (for example, 100 and 20 respectively) to make them somewhat worthwhile to pursue.
  • Uncommon gems would provide 150 of a secondary stat.
  • Rare gems would also enhance the effect of the socket bonus by 50%.
  • Epic gems would also enhance the effect of the socket bonus by 100% and provide a special benefit, such as:
    • Increases gold or some other currencies earned from any source by 10%.
    • Attacking or being attacked has an increasing chance to provide a burst of speed, increasing movement speed by 30% for 4 seconds (does not activate in situations where a PvP template is used).
    • Doubles the chance to obtain items from a Boon shoulder enchant. If no shoulder enchant is active, obtain items as if the Boon of the Nether enchant was active.
    • Increases health and resource regeneration by up to 100% when out of combat. This effect increases in intensity the longer the player is out of combat.
  • Much like with Saber's Eyes, players can only equip one epic gem, which, along with their special benefit, makes them similar to meta gems (or even legendary gems from Diablo 3). Note that the special benefit is added at the behest of the Jewelcrafter themselves.
Finally, instead of equipment randomly having a chance to acquire a bonus socket, all socketed gear has a chance to change its socket(s) to prismatic. For equipment with multiple sockets, it could change one of more of its sockets at once. This random upgrade to equipment isn't as impactful but makes fulfilling socket bonus requirements easier.

Final Statements

As mentioned above, random sockets are problematic in their current state because of the power they provide that creates an atmosphere of punishing design of being unlucky in an extremely polarized manner that even Titanforging doesn't cause. A reduction of depth in the gem and socket system along with a general reduction of supply and demand makes the thought process behind putting gems into gear feel further diminished. However, the older system had issues such as the fact gear required many gems and often ended up more powerful than unsocketed equivalents before even accounting for socket bonuses.

Instead, I suggested the usage of gems as a method to "reforge" eligible gear. By customizing secondary stats and potentially acquiring slight benefits from socket bonuses, the difference in power between socketed and unsocketed gear isn't as major as it was in the past. In addition, having colored sockets potentially become prismatic opens up an opportunity to more easily acquire a socket bonus while benefitting from the most favorable secondary stats possible, which is far less of a power disparity than gaining zero or 150 of a secondary stat, but still useful.

To conclude, the logic I applied to suggesting a rework to random sockets is similar to the one I applied to the legendary system. By emphasizing increased player agency in a new gem and socket system and in this case, dampening character power gained to something I consider reasonable, there's not much need to change the actual chance of occurrence. Hopefully in the future we see a similar return to form with the gem and socket system.

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