Saturday, June 10, 2017

Paragon Trait Design in WoW

In my previous article, I discussed Paragon systems and how various aspects of the Artifact system caused issues of compatibility with what I consider to be the purpose of the former system. The issues in particular largely stemmed from an issue of providing powerful, yet narrow benefits for a single character. When discussing possible solutions, I stated that an account-wide Paragon system would help to provide more worthwhile benefits by allowing them to affect all characters a player has regardless of the characters played. The main detail I left out was trait design, though I alluded that the powerful benefits that the Artifact system provides are not ideal. In this article, I will explain my position by providing specific guidelines for designing Paragon traits in WoW derived from points I made in the previous article and my Paragon system suggestion from last year.

The Trait Design Guidelines

Personally, I think there are a few criteria to creating Paragon traits that help to fulfill the goals I described in the "Purpose of Paragon" section in my previous article. Specifically:
"the general goal of a Paragon system to me is one that makes (at least) endgame content eternally worthwhile by having a little extra reward in the way of a strong sense of personal progression. However, while the player can pursue this progression if they so desire, there's not necessarily a strong need to."
In this vein, I have devised the Paragon traits at least meet the following criteria:
1. The trait provides a benefit that has some relevance for a player with maximum level characters.
It goes without saying that the Paragon system wouldn't be effective if the benefits it provided were of so little consequence they don't provide a sense of personal progression or are otherwise unrewarding to obtain. It is worth mentioning that a player with maximum level characters may not exclusively play at the endgame level since they may be interested in leveling alts, so such benefits are worth considering to ensure maximizing the system's appeal.
2. The trait does not directly increase performance in a competitive environment.
While benefits such as character power may work in Diablo 3, World of Warcraft seems incompatible with generic versions of such benefits for a variety of reasons. For instance, players would feel compelled to earn the traits to maximize performance, which is something guilds pushing high-end progression in particular may require from their members. This circumstance and many other competitively-oriented ones would effectively make earning such traits mandatory, which is a pretty strong need to the point of violating what I consider the purpose of a Paragon system.

Furthermore, acquiring the "mandatory" traits would result in a lengthy, frustrating grind at the very least, especially compared to other methods of character progression such as acquiring gear. These other methods also involve a grind of sorts, but they are regulated by stringent upper limits and comprehensive updates that result in relatively short intervals of grinding. Such a regulation in itself would contradict the eternal aspect of a Paragon system since ideally, it would need fewer updates if any at all instead of requiring constant maintenance to ensure its "eternal" legacy.

In addition, since a Paragon system is intended to be eternally worthwhile, a few traits need to meet the following criteria:
3. If the trait has infinite ranks, it should provide a benefit that, at extremely high rank values, doesn't upset game balance.
Creating traits with infinite ranks is one I personally had difficulty with since it's hard to meet the first two criteria at the same time as this one. Most of the traits that met the first two criteria could easily break the game in some sort of way if there were too many ranks of it and anything with an extremely high number of ranks seemed too weak, which meant such traits failed to meet the requirement of relevance. When writing my Paragon suggestion last year, I instead chose to create extreme goals since I thought 1000 "ranks" would last a fairly long time. However, there does need to be some trait that can be invested into after other Paragon traits with a limited number of ranks are earned and after a lot of brainstorming, I have a few ideas in mind.

While I might think of more to add to these rather simple guidelines, it's what I have so far and it seems to work. Just to make sure, let's try to apply it to some examples.

A Brief Review of Concordance of the Legionfall

Since there's a live example that, as I mentioned in the previous article, seems to be intended to accomplish the purpose of a Paragon system by using Artifact Power to improve the lifespan of endgame content, it seems appropriate to apply the aforementioned guidelines to it.

In the case of the first criteria, a stat increase proc generally seems pretty relevant and while it was buffed in a hotfix, either iteration would've probably been worth investing time into acquiring.

However, because it is a stat increase proc, it will provide a direct benefit in a competitive environment, even though the hotfix in question also reduced the effectiveness of the trait by 50% in PvP. While on the topic of PvP, this issue has happened before with the more powerful previous version of the trait that provided flat percentage increases to character performance to the point that a hotfix was implemented to disabled traits beyond the 34th rank, which was all 20 ranks of the performance-increasing Paragon-like trait, in PvP.

To be fair, this issue isn't quite as apparent in PvE and what effectively amounts to a small flat stat gain was apparently minimal enough to justify buffing the trait. However, I personally considered it substantial even prior to the buff since while being behind by a rank doesn't seem like a big deal, there are a couple reasons I am concerned anyways. For instance, the fact that Concordance of the Legionfall is a proc may make it more powerful than the tooltip suggests since cooldowns can be lined up with the stat increase to maximize its benefits. In addition, while differences from rank to rank are miniscule, differences over a greater number of ranks is far more noticeable, so falling behind becomes increasingly disadvantageous. Therefore, players interested in having a competitive edge are likely to farm Artifact Power to the point that gaining ranks of Concordance of the Legionfall becomes the "frustrating, lengthy grind" that I mentioned before.

Finally, mostly because of the fact character power cannot keep increasing infinitely, Concordance of the Legionfall definitively fails to meet the third criteria. To be fair, it probably wasn't trying to be a trait with an infinite number of ranks since it consistently appeared to have 50.

Limited Paragon Trait Examples

This category of traits is intended to meet only the first two criteria. These traits will typically be more robust and worthwhile since there's no need to worry about infinite scaling, which opens a lot of design space. While I've already published many trait ideas that fall under this category in my Paragon system suggestion, here's a few more that didn't make it into the article but could work:
  • Reputation gain.
This one would probably require some sort of limitation to prevent issues with the intended pacing of reaching high reputation with certain factions, but the benefits are otherwise pretty clear-cut and it serves as a broader version of concepts like Grand Commendations. Increasing reputation gains by a near-infinite amount, however, would trivialize reputation gain too much.
  • Inventory space, pet storage cap increase, and so on.
While increasing the size of the backpack may be out of the question, it may be possible to increase inventory space through other methods such as increasing the bag slot cap or by adding inventory slots elsewhere. Increasing the pet storage cap is a similar example that may also apply to more features in the future. These benefits need to end somewhere though because otherwise data constraints become a problem.
  • Increase character performance in certain areas.
Similar to the "Legacy Slayer" perk in my suggestions, this one is a new variant that would allow for direct control over where character power is increased so that competitive environments are entirely excluded. However, content in such areas shouldn't become too trivialized, so the performance increase needs to be limited.

Before moving onto the next section, it is worth mentioning that any sort of non-trait reward from gaining Paragon experience, such as cosmetic rewards, would fall into this category since they also meet the first two criteria.

Infinite Paragon Trait Examples

This category of traits must meet all three criteria and have to be very carefully designed, as I explained in the third requirement. These are important to allow players since after the Paragon traits with a ranking cap are earned, excess Paragon experience has to at least be somewhat meaningful to earn. Here's a few examples that might work:
  • Increase the cap of some currency.
While currency caps are falling out of favor somewhat, there's a major one in the form of the gold cap, which can be increased almost infinitely short of running into limitations at extremely high values. This limitation is good enough for a trait with an infinite number of ranks, making the ability to increase currency caps a form of convenience. Note that the cap increase would probably not apply to currency like Legionfall War Supplies.
  • Increase effective health in certain scenarios.
This wouldn't literally increase a character's health, but rather provide a diminishing amount of damage reduction. Since damage reduction can never reach 100%, this benefit can effectively be increased infinitely without being unbalanced in a narrow set of situations such as against enemies the player massively outlevels. As for how this works, consider the following math:
Assuming Health is "increased" by 10% per rank:

At 100% Health, one takes 100% damage.
At 110% Health, one takes ~91% damage (10/11).
At 120% Health, one takes ~83% damage (10/12).
At 130% Health, one takes ~77% damage (10/13).

And so on...
As one can see, the damage a player effectively takes due to their "increased" health is reduced by a decreasing amount per rank, but character power looks like it's increasing significantly anyways.

  • Increase Paragon experience gain.

This one basically works similar to Artifact Knowledge in that increasing Paragon experience gains will make it easier to earn more ranks of traits, which will eventually result in even greater gains. The difference is the bonus would be very conservative by comparison (a 1% increase per rank, for example). Assuming the Paragon experience curve looks similar to Diablo 3's, the bonus should be balanced in such a way that Paragon experience requirements still increase with each level, but the amount the requirements increase is slightly reduced with each rank spent on this trait. This trait would allow players to catch up on experience to earn all the non-infinite traits and accumulate experience for when more non-infinite traits are added. However, this trait would need to be very carefully tuned to prevent players from leveling Paragon faster than intended, so the bonus may need to be extremely conservative.

Final Statements

Paragon trait design for World of Warcraft, specifically by using an account-wide system that appears to be frequently suggested, seems to require precise logistics to ensure a delicate balance is maintained by emphasizing minimal player frustration and disappointment to ensure great appeal. By devising three simple requirements, two of which need to be met at the bare minimum, I would like to think I've managed to accomplish this balance and explained why that is the case. Ultimately, I hope article provided some insight into how I would design Paragon traits since it'll likely be used as a reference if I write any more articles on Paragon or Paragon-like systems.

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