Monday, November 7, 2011

Dev Watercooler - The Great Item Squish - My View

If you have not read the article in the developer water cooler about the great item squish here is a link to it here.  I would have to guess anyone that actively reads random blogs on the net about WoW has at the very least stumbled across the arguments that have been popping up about stats on gear all over the place.

I even had a post last week about the problem with stats on gear while writing about DPS.  The stats on gear have become an increasingly big problem with the game.  The article proves that even the developers have noticed the problem and are at least considering doing something to address it.

The article basically gives us two options, mega damage or squish item level.  If those are going to be our only two options then I would have to run with the squish items options. 

Mega damage sounds like some horrible idea from one of those bad Japanese games that love to overemphasize everything.  If I wanted to play some bad Japanese game that overemphasizes everything I would.  I don't, so I play WoW.  That should not even be considered an option in my opinion.

One of the arguments of the item squish is basically that we are doing such huge numbers now, 30K-40K and if there is an item squish we will start off MoP doing 3K-4K and only reach the 30K or 40K by the end of MoP again.

This cycle would continue every time a new expansion came out and they are afraid they would upset people because it would feel as if they are doing worse in "better" gear.

While it is true, that is how I would feel and I am sure other would, if they squish all the old content as well when they squish the items it should not be a real problem in functionality.  If doing 4K will be enough to down heroic rag when people want to go back and do it, or for people that stay at 85, then there is really nothing lost by squishing the current 40K at 85 to the future 4K at 85 when the max is 90 now.

I think there is a better way to handle the whole situation really.  I wrote about it in mid wrath when I noticed that stat inflation was starting to get a little out of control.  It has gotten to the level of insane since then.

The basic idea is to increase stats by lower increments.  Each tier level should go up in smaller numbers.  If my hunter is in T12 now, when I buy my T13 he will get an additional 2 agility, not an additional 20 agility like in wrath, not an additional 200 agility like now, or an extra 2000 agility like predicted for MoP.

To explain my opinion on smaller increases I will have to pick apart some things ghostcrawler says in his post.  Afterwards, if you feel free to humor me by reading I will list some things in the game that would be much better if not for the stat inflation we currently have, or would still have under the squish or mega options.
Upgrading from a chestpiece that has 50 Strength into one that has 51 Strength is undeniably a DPS increase for the appropriate user, but it’s not a very exciting reward. 
So basically what ghostcrawler is trying to say is that picking up a new piece of gear that is undeniably a DPS increase is not very exciting.  Does he play the game?  Everyone will be glad to pick up a new piece of gear that increases their ability to do their role.

What he seems to be forgetting in his statement is that you can not compare apples to oranges which is what he is trying to do. 

Yes, why would I want to upgrade with a piece that increases my strength by 1 now when there are pieces I can get that will upgrade my strength by 167.  Yes, upgrading by 1 is not a very exciting reward.  Now! 

If each tier we only went up by 1 and all we had to compare it to is another upgrade that is 1 then yes, it is an exciting reward because it is an increase.  It is just not that exciting when you can upgrade by 1 or 167.  But when you can upgrade by 1 or not get any upgrade at all, it is exciting.  Even more so if main stats are like they are now.  1 agility for me can be worth 40 DPS.  For me, 1 is an exciting upgrade when compared to 0.  Not so much when compared to 167.
Such negligible increases can drive players to do some weird things, such as skipping over tiers of gear or entire levels of content.
Is this another attempt to prove he does not play the game?   If it is, he sold me.  I now completely believe he does not play the game at all.

He is saying that small upgrades will make people skip entire levels of content.  So does BoE gear that drops from raids, craftable gear, growing item levels in new heroic dungeon gear, VP gear, JP gear. 

No one "needs" to do T11 when they hit 85.  They can hit 85, gear up at the auction house if they wish, and be raiding for T12 in less then 10 minutes after they ding. 

If they spend a hell of a lot of money they might even be able to get themselves into a T12 heroic run.  Yes, 10 minutes after hitting 85.  Never stepping into one dungeon or one raid, they are in the current top level raid, heroic version.

He is worried about skipping entire levels of content and doesn't realize that the entire game is based on the concept of whenever you reach max level you can get into end game instantly.   The game is designed with a built in way to skip entire levels of content.

How would having smaller stat increases on items change anything?  People would still hit 85, hit the auction house, and hit the most current raid.  Saying it would make people skip content is nothing but an excuse, a poorly thought out one at that.

The only thing having smaller stat increases would do it make it less needed to spend money on the auction house.  They might not need as much gear to make that jump into the last raid, they can let their skill carry them instead of there gear.  I am cool with that.

Enough of picking on ghostcrawler.  I almost feel bad sometimes. It is just too easy.

There are many good reason to keep the stats on gear moving up slowly too and I am more then glad to share them and actually, this is the reason I wrote the post, just to share them and explain why I would love to have gear increases lower, much much lower.

1) Keep Raid Content Relevant
- If you could not clear a T11 raid, even after the nerfs, once T12 gear was out and you got your VP gear, some BoEs, a few MF pieces and rep pieces from doing rep runs you could conceivably clear the T11 content while still basically not being skilled enough to do it.  The gear, and the huge stats on them, makes the previous tier irrelevant quickly.  The higher the gear increases the faster the previous tier becomes useless.

With smaller gear increases, lets say +2 main stat, between T11 and T12 it would mean that if you could not clear T11 before T12, you would still not be clearing T11 with T12.  T11 now becomes more relevant.

2) Keep Old Content Relevant
- Just like mentioned in 1.  If gear only increased at small intervals there are people that would still need 25 man groups to do BC raids.  Now with such huge increases even horrible players could get a group of 4 people and go through stomping everything and not even needing to worry about mechanics, except for maybe the rare one that will still wipe some people even now when they go with too few people.

Slower gear inflation also means that old content is hot horribly out geared nearly instantly with the next expansion.  This means that the older raids could still hold some sort of challenge even in current expansions which in a way could serve as a valuable tool in training new raiders.

Having old raids still provide a challenge means you have more built in content that is relevant.  While no one would ever ask someone if someone did Black Temple because the new raid had a similar mechanic because unless the person did BT when it was new content they probably did it by blowing through it and had never even noticed the mechanic.  With slow gear increases, you might be able to 15 man it now and it be easy but not so easy that you would be able to completely ignore the mechanics.  Thus making BT once again, relevant.

3) Dailies Become Important
- Once you start getting gear you can knock out your dailies in a matter of seconds.  My tanks all do their elemental goo quests now by rounding up 10 elementals and mowing them all down at once.  I should not be able to do it.  My gear makes it possible.  The gear makes questing a joke.

With lesser stat upgrades on gear it makes all quests stay as they where intended.  A daily grind.  Lesser stat increases means that you will not go from a fight taking 30 seconds to kill each mob into one shotting every mob with just a few pieces of gear.

4) Stats Become More Important
- While our friendly neighborhood crab might think 1 strength is not important, when that is all you have it becomes increasingly important.  With lower stat upgrades the requirements for each raid will also be considerably tighter.

If a new raid comes out and everyone is doing 2K or about that when it does, the raid of course will become easier if everyone could do 2025 even.  So that 1 they get here and there on other gear now becomes increasingly important whereas with stat inflation and such huge gaps in the possible output from people they have to error on the side of caution leaving it open now to clear content in lesser gear if people are not as skilled.

Lower stats and slower stat increases gives people more chance to get used to their gear and how to best perform in it.  So much so that even with a 1 increase it will become noticeable.

5) Balance Issues are Easier to Handle
- With the massive stats on gear that means lots of numbers that you have to play around with.  It also means that percentages start to get screwed up some and that causes balance issues.

While the fact might remain true that if you have 200 agility and increase it by 20 and if you have 20 agility and increase it by 2 it is the same percentage increase, smaller numbers are easier to deal with.  GC pointed that out himself when talking about mega damage.  So he is aware of that.

The biggest problem with balancing is the secondary stats.  It has always been that way.  With the huge numbers on gear and the addition of reforging people are capable of reaching plateaus that even the developers never intended to be reached and this calls for a quick fix to balance things.  With smaller numbers problems such as that will be easier to foresee. 

Also, with smaller numbers and rounding while reforging, you can effectively limit the amount people can reforge, not to just the 40% but sometimes much less because you would not allow reforging a fraction of a stat.  Where someone now can easily reforge 200 crit into 120 crit and 80 haste (40%) with 16 crit they would only be able to reforge to 10 crit and 6 haste (37%) which is less changed.  3% less changed on every peace of gear could easily limit peoples ability in reaching plateaus that were never intended to be reached.

Smaller numbers are just easier to play with.  Less need to play with things makes balancing them easier and makes the need to continuously rebalance them over again when each new tier of gear that comes out less likely or at least less extreme.

6) The Everyday Isn't so Everyday
- With stat inflation everything not "end game" becomes trivial and it becomes trivial fast.  I touched on questing in another point but this goes into it more.  The everyday things we do.  When I first started to do the TB dailies they actually took a little effort.  One mistake and you where dead.  Some spots where flat out brutal.  Now, or not even now, just by the time I was T11 geared, I could go in and one shot most of the mobs there.  The ones I do not one shot are done in 2 or maybe 3 at most.

I am not saying that hard questing is better, what I am saying is that it gets trivial way to fast with massive stat inflation.  That in turn turns the quests into something different.  They go from quests to earn something to boring crap to pass the time.  No effort required, no skill required, just time.  Makes it feel like you are wasting time.

Smaller stat increases mean that while questing in the end game grind will get easier, it will not get easier to the point it is trivial before even one tier of the current expansion has even passed.  It will slowly get easier.  One stat at a time with each gear increase you get.  Which brings up another point...

7) Lower Stats Inspire Better Game Play
- The way the game is now with stat inflation means people can overcompensate with gear for what they lack in skill.  While that is all fine and dandy for some parts of the game it is horrible for others.  If a pug is looking for 19K DPS and you are only doing 17K DPS you have two options now.  Run some content to get better gear with insane inflation and that will directly translate into the 2K DPS you are missing.  The other way is practice.  If you can do 17K in your gear you most likely can do 19K.  That is not a great deal of difference to start out with and most people do not even come close to playing at their maximum potential.

With lower stat increases you can not go out and magically get gear to cover up your inability.  You would have to actually learn how to play the game more effectively.  I know, the thought of playing the game the way it was intended is frightening, but people will adapt.  If anything, lower stat inflation will actually teach people how to play better all on its own.  Yes, really.  Lower stats will mean better players over all.

How you ask?  If you are fighting those quest mobs in TB and each one takes 15 hits to kill you can't just go  out, do one or two raids and come back to one or two shot everything.  Even if you upgrade every piece of gear you have they will still be a challenge.  It might take you 13 hits now.

Every person that player the game, good players, bad players, hard core players, casual players, you name it, they all want to get the job done quicker.  If getting some gear does not turn everything into a quick kill then all players would be left with is nothing but their own personal skill to figure out how to get the mobs down quicker. 

The concept of a "rotation" while killing quest mobs is unheard of now.  With slower stat growth the only way to get that 15 hit mob down to a 13 hit mob will be to hit it with your best stuff in the best way possible.  Even people that never read anything about rotation and maximum output will see what works best and they will use what works best.   If everything goes down in a few shots, then you never get a chance to learn how to play.

Looking at it from other aspects of the game it helps as well.  Now with gear inflation you can quest and just "stand in the bad" because the mob will die in 2 seconds anyway and the bad will go away or your health is just so high that the bad is not really going to hurt you for just a few seconds.  If the fight is going to be lasting for a small bit, even 15 shots or so, standing in that bad will get to you, it will hurt you and it might kill you.

How about a class that has an interrupt.  You are going to be fighting each mob for a while and why should you even let it throw its bad on the ground forcing you to move.  Just make sure it never lets the bad out and it will make the fight easier for you.

Slower stat inflation means things do not go from possible training tool to a boring waste of time in the matter of a few pieces of gear.  Slower stat inflation will require people to be better, for their own sake.

In the end I am sure many people would cry over this.  Even more will threaten to quit over it.  Many probably will if something like this was done, a complete gear reset.  In the long run however, I think this is the only true way to go to correct the problem. 

Mega damage just sounds retarded, seriously, and it does not change anything.  If 1.2 mega damage is 1.2 billion then it is 1.2 billion, even if you call it mega damage, it will not fix the problems of numbers getting to big. 

Item squishing would be something they would need to do every expansion.  In a way they would be creating more work for themselves.  Why create work for themselves.  Don't make something that you know you are going to need to change.  Make it so it works.  Not work... just for now.

Complete gear reset with small incremental gains is the way to go.  It would be best for the game now, it is built for long term, and even if the game goes another 20 expansion we would not be seeing +15,770 stamina on gear, like is expected by the expansion after next if we keep up this pace.

There might be other great ideas out there and I am sure sooner or later I will come across one but so far most of the ones I see have been people talking about how they want to see it, for their own personal reasons.  None of them seem to think about the long run of the game, how it will effect everything around them in the game, or what possible issues could arise from changes they suggest. 

Most suggestions all come down to, "but I do not want my DPS to go down", "but I like having almost 200K health", "but I like throwing 100K heals", which means most suggestions are completely from a selfish me me me perspective and there is way to much me me me in the game already, we do not need more.  All those suggestions should be disregarded as coming from people that fear change.

Of all the ideas I have heard the best one (besides mine of course) was basically to do nothing because numbers are just numbers and they can always go up without hurting people, who cares if some people can't grasp the fact that numbers can be big numbers too.

Let gear inflate.  Let things continue as is.  So what is the big deal if by the time we face the big baddie in expansion 2025 that he has 14 trillion life, per limb, and 16 limbs.  After all, it is just a bunch numbers and we will be doing 30M-40M DPS instead of 30K-40K DPS.

While not a bad idea, I still don't like it.  For reasons I stated above.  Inflation makes content trivial faster and that is not good for the game as a whole.


  1. Monty Haul...the death knell of many a campaign in Dungeons & Dragons. I have been concerned about this tendency in World of Warcraft since vanilla WoW.

    A good description of what a Monty Haul campaign is like is given on this site:

    Now Blizzard has established Grey, White, Green, Blue, Purple and Orange gear levels, from worst to best in quality and effect. In vanilla WoW, the Green and Blue were the common level of gear for most players, and in truth provided a very good level of itemization for competitive play.

    PvP gear did not originally exist, and therefore did not provide an easier source of Purple items until well into the initial release patches. Purple gear came mostly from 40 man raiding and more rarely from world drops.

    In The Burning Crusade, the gear upgrade was significant and immediate, with Greens replacing Purples fairly rapidly, and restarting the drive for Blues, which with the release of Kara as an active 10 man raid fell in value as many more folks (myself included) gained access to Purples. It was fun, but even then I thought the system was long term unsustainable.

    The pattern was repeated in Wrath of the Lich King. Again it worked and again, I enjoyed it greatly but I also had private reservations about the gear stat inflation that was occurring. Ever higher numbers sucked in the player base, like a whirlpool pulling down a swimmer. As Grumpy has noted time and again though, skill could compensate for lesser gear to a large extent as the numbers were still not that hugely different.

    Cataclysm changed that and changed it very early on. Epic level gear obtained at level 80 very seldom could match gear obtainable from the AH at level 78 or 79. By level 81, it was the rare piece of gear from any previous expansion that could hold a gear slot on any character class. Only the unluckiest skinflint "won't spend money at all" types had gear left over from Wrath by level 82.

    Well it was a smaller level jump so that probably was as it should be, based on previous expansions. What was disconcerting however was the vast jump in the numbers. As the item levels continued the ever upward spiral, the range of differences between both the color level gear and then more specifically the Purple gear in particular became ever more pronounced.

    To my mind, the fear of WoW becoming a Monty Haul campaign has occurred in the Cataclysm expansion. As rewards get more ridiculously out of balance from previous rewards, the effect of gear over skill has become ever more pronounced. I feel that many players who have become accustomed to the vastly larger numbers of Cata won't react well at all to an item squish.

    Yet to save WoW, I do feel that an item squish is the only path to follow. It will have to be a total level 1 to 90 item system overhaul. Anything else and the game remains disjointed and especially in the Cata regions will be unplayable. Hopefully the loss of player subscriptions won't be to great over such a reset, and in all honesty, in the long run, I think it would make the game much more playable.

    Anon, Grumpy's GL

  2. I think the item squish sounds like a decent idea to deal with the existing problem, but like you I think that just going back to crazy ilevel jumps right afterwards is not going to help in the long run. I, too, found the argument that players supposedly don't care about small numbers ridiculous. This is the same WoW with its EJ culture where people risk getting crap from others if they put one talent point into a sub-optimal place or use orange instead of red gems! But when it comes to stats on gear, they supposedly don't care about the small differences? Yeah right. :P

  3. The crazy level jumps afterwards will be smoothed out in the next squish, Shintar, at the expansion after MoP.

  4. @Paul

    The point I was getting at and Shintar noticed as well, is that each expansion we would need to squish again.

    So why create a problem that needs to be fixed every single expansion. Just fix it so there is not a problem that needs to be fixed.

    Squishing just means every expansion we will start out doing 3K and end up doing 30K. They would then need to not only squish gear but mobs, quests, quest rewards, vendors, rep rewards, raids, dungeons, etc for all the people that are now leveling through there for the first time.

    Seems like they are just making work for themselves each expansion.

    Personally, I would rather them use the time to develop more game play then using the time to balance everything being squished each expansion.

  5. I agree :)

    Also, referring to your last post, or the one before, I think this method will be in good interests -

    (Referring to gaps in gear levels and skill etc)

    - Jamin

  6. I can see a big risk with smaller stat increases. Even though 51 is still better than 50, the fact is that older bosses will still generally be easier. They were tuned for when you had 50 - if you now have 52 or 53, it is nonetheless more helpful, even if you need 23 or 24 people to do it.

    But that's not the risk. The risk is that all items are not created equal. If your tier 12 trinket is less than optimal (such as, say, Crit for a healer), but a tier 8 trinket is better (like a raw Intellect boost), might you not keep that trinket... FOREVER? Best-in-spec is no longer going to be changed by item level. The only thing that will compete with it is something exactly the same (but newer.)

    And really, if it ever came to a choice between farming Heroic Nefarian or 10-man Patchwerk...

  7. How old are you? Between calling things "retarded" and going off on tangents about whether or not Ghostcrawler plays the game, this whole piece comes off to me as something written by an upset child.

  8. @Anon 1

    What you seem to have a problem with there, previous stuff being better, I love. I think gear should be what is best for you, not what has the highest item level.

    I agree that some items will end up being way to good and last way to many tiers but I do not see that as a bad thing.

    We are all going to use what is best in slot anyway so who we farm it from doesn't matter, as long as we get it.

    @ Anon 2

    Ghostcrawler? Is that you again? Sorry for picking on you, but you deserve it.

  9. @Anon2

  10. While I certainly don't agree with many of Blizzard's design decisions, your comments really only show that you lack understanding of what their design needs to achieve, as opposed to "hahapwning" Ghostcrawler which you apparently think you did.

    For instance, the comment on skipping over content is not just refering to "getting to endgame". It refers to the entire concept of slowly building up IN endgame as well. The only deciding factor on beating bosses would then be skill, not "gearing up" at all - because skill makes a much much bigger difference on performance than the 15 stat points (over all slots) that you could gear up before hitting the final boss on heroic of the current raid tear from before starting the raid. So: Good (and that's not restricted to the crazy absolute top raids) players would just walk through content without any restriction - and nobody else would ever beat even the first boss, because if content was tuned to be sensitive to a 1% change in e.g. dps output or tank health, only a tiny fragment - I'd wager <1% and even far less, but that's speculation - of players would be able to beat that content.

    Tons of players farm(ed) the heck out of heroics in order to get their valor gear. Nobody would do that in your scenario - why grind when you it doesn't make a noticable (and that's the key aspect) difference? You could argue that's awesome, but then you don't understand that having something that makes a difference to one's goals to achieve in the game is crucial to keeping them playing, which fairly obviously is a major goal in game design.

    And you also obviously don't understand that - given any feedback Blizzard cites, and based on my personal experience as well - people do not get excited about upgrades if they don't make a noticable difference. To stick with your 50->51 example, on a single gear slot, adding in base, that's going to make a difference of 0.1% - generously estimated. You'd need to play (perfectly - obviously, if you make a mistake on one out of a thousand attacks, you already lost any visible gain) versus a dummy for a very very long time - hours, possibly days - to be able to statistically verify that increase given how much random noise there is in the numbers.

    Given that, your statement that you get excited about that might certainly be valid, but the expectation that other players would is really so off that one is tempted to throw your "you make it too easy" back at you.

  11. @Raffles

    Never saw that one, it was funny.


    Don't get me wrong. I do understand what blizzard is aiming for and I do understand their reasoning but that does not change the fact I do not agree with it sometimes.

    I agree we can not let everything fall on to skill only. If less then 1% of the player base sees content then I assure you that the subscriber base would drop 10 fold what it has been each quarter now and soon the game would be left with under 100,000 players.

    If anything, they need to make the game easier for the masses. As much as raiders like to say raiding is just for the raiders that is not true. People do not buy games to not beat them. They buy games to beat them. If the average player can not beat the game then there is no reason for them to buy it at all. That is the number one reason for subscriber losses this expansion. It is not easy enough for the average player.

    As for the noticeable difference in gear again I do agree. It is a lot easier to be excited over a 100 stat gain then it is about a 1 stat gain but people will still take a upgrade in any form it comes in.

    I know I have went after things that where +10 upgrades even with todays huge numbers. An upgrade is and upgrade is an upgrade. There is no arguing that no matter which side you stand on.

    The biggest problem is they poisoned people. They gave people big and now they want even bigger. They let it get out of control so they have two options here. Let it continue or fix it.

    I choose to fix it, but I do admit freely that I am probably in the minority here. The majority wants to keep seeing bigger and bigger numbers.

    So yes, even if it appeared I did not understand what they were aiming for I do. I just do not agree with it. I do not agree with putting in a temporary fix at the beginning of each patch and I do not agree with giving funky names to damage.

    Leave things as is, and call it million damage not mega damage or do a complete reset and do not let things get out of hand so quickly again.

    I've played games that did the complete reset and it hurt the games really badly at first but they recovered to be better. I doubt they would be willing to risk that after losing so many subscribers already, so you do not need to worry about that ever happening.

  12. Same "anon" as in previous comment:

    I totally understand your opinion.

    But being a bit between the chairs (I work in the online game business, though not as a designer), I always feel irked when people act as if designers - and here specifically the ones responsible for the most successful subscription-based mmo (in many aspects - player numbers and profits directly, but both also speak to that they do something right that pretty much everyone else does wrong) in the western hemisphere were morons who "don't play their game" or such. Hyperbole--, basically.

    I actually do share some of your opinions for my personal preferences, but the key point is that if Blizzard doesn't design for that, that doesn't mean they're idiots.

    Specifically, for the issue I personally would prefer the "don't change anything" option. Not because I fear change, but because I don't see the issue. Numbers get big - so what? The numbers are just that, numbers. Why is it bad if they get big? Certainly, if you reach the point where they're not expressible in reasonable ways (including using K or M abbreviations), I can see the issue, but there's no way wow will reach that point in its lifetime.

  13. I think the "do nothing" option is better then the squish option or the mega option.

    Squish just seems like they would create unnecessary work for themselves when that time fixing things every expansion could be better spent developing new content instead of fixing something they should have not created knowing it needed to be fixed.

    Mega seems, silly, and while I do love the silly things in the game, I don't think we need to give damage silly names. M for million would be just fine.

    I do completely stand by what I said, GC's comments come off as if he does not even play the game. True or not, does not make a difference.

    If I said no one would ever raid if the gear they get from it only increases their stats by one I would be called an idiot because I know and you know that thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands would still raid even if there was no gear at all, just for game play sake or achievement sake.

    If I can be called an idiot for making a comment like that and it is not my job to "know better" then he can be called an idiot for it when it is his job to "know better".

    What's good for the goose, you know.