Saturday, September 19, 2009

Expansion Tuning

Here's an idea I thought of a while back, but never bothered to hammer out into words fully. I'm totally over the whole "WoW Tourist" debate, and it's time to get back to business as normal. Today is a simple topic, but the ramifications are pretty readily apparent the instant an expansion is released. Taking Vanilla WoW vs Burning Crusade, BC pretty much trivialized the entire 'level 60' endgame of regular WoW, by letting anyone into Outlands at 58.

This isn't a shocking revelation, and people had been boosting past content 'they're supposed to be on' way before BC came out. Where Scarlet Monastery is supposed to be for level 35 to 40-ish toons, people are getting friends to run them through it way before they were ready. When I recruit-a-friended myself recently, I plowed through SM Cath over and over (and over) on a 78 ret paly while my two level 26 (I think? the whole grind to 60 is a blur) toons waited patiently at the instance entrance for everything to be pulled to them. I wound up with every blue in the place, a good 7 or 8 levels before I could even equip any of it. By the time I could wear it, I was already scooping blues off of mobs in Zul'Farak as a level 40-something.

Ugh, side tangent. This isn't about having an 80 drag you through zones, but running alone, or with a group, at your intended level.

Vanilla WoW was around for a long time before BC dropped, and there was a lot of level 60 only content that was produced for horizontal progression once you reached the level cap. Two sides of Strat, Scholo, UBRS, LBRS, BRD, Princess runs in Mara, MC, BWL, ZG, AQ 20 and 40, Naxx. Naxx is obviously the exception because it's been recycled, but all of that content is completely useless now unless you want 10 xbox live points.

The same thing happened with Lich King. At level 68, I ran my warrior out to Howling Fjord and started killing Carrion Crows to feed the Plaguehound Dog. There was no need to bother with Gruul or Mag or SSC, TK, or hell... even regular Mechanar. Why bother when the gear in Wrath is easily accessible, and a huge upgrade from whatever I'd get in there anyway?

With the jump from Vanilla WoW to BC, there was a huge leap in STA gear, because they wanted people to survive PvP longer than one or two whacks. That's understandable, and the jump from Vanilla to BC gear was a big one. There's no reason to farm a tier one set if pigs outside of Thrallmar drop what would amount to a Vanilla legendary chestpiece.

That's our problem, so how do we address it? A lot of this post so far has been a bit of a buildup, because I don't like 20 word posts. But here's the 20 word solution, and it actually seems pretty simple:

Tune the initial expansion mobs to be a challenge for players at the pre-expansion level cap, plus 5 or 6 levels.

If the first pig I come across outside of thrallmar rapes my face and one shots me unless I'm wearing tier 2 at least, then it creates a stopgap at the end of vanilla WoW. You suddenly can't just run through the portal and happly replace your trashy level 58 (or 48 in my case) greens with the first round of quest items. You need to stay in Azeroth, hit level 60, and continue to run Scholo and Strat for level 60 sidegrade gear until you can survive that first pig outside of Thrallmar.

If the STA levels need to be inflated, inflate them on existing gear, not 'the new stuff'. This would need to be applied throughout the entire expansion, and be a pre-meditated effort by the entire design team. Thrallmar questlines can't just offer Teh Level 60 Uber Duber Chestpiece of 50 sockets and 2000 Stamina. The quest rewards in the zone should start at "comparable to level 65 loot". Quest rewards, as we all know, don't have level reqs. If you're high enough to accept the quest, you're high enough to wear the reward. But those rewards should be tailored to be on par with "pre-expansion +5 levels". Someone wearing AQ40 purples might find that item an upgrade, but they survived the first pig coming through the portal. Grats, you're welcome in the Outlands. Have fun, and enjoy your stay. The first mobs would similarly drop greens or BoE blues that flatly required level 65 to even equip.

When an expansion drops, it's this mad rush to the end cap, and then a bunch of sitting on your thumbs running Gruul and Magtheridon week in and out. That doesn't really bother me. That's part of WoW. But another part of WoW is hitting a cap, and sliding sideways for a time. If this were the case, we would concievably be running Scholo and Strat still at 61 and 62 (while earning XP, and with inflated stats on the drops), even though the expansion was waiting for us to get out there and tackle it.

Yes, this might have perhaps been frustrating for those who were level 60, but still wearing trash greens. Anyone able to clear AQ40 would have been just fine, though, to go through the gate at 60. For the casual playerbase, you don't NEED to eventually clear BWL before you can zone into Hellfire Peninsula, you just plug away in the old world until 65, then go to Thrallmar and start killing pigs for upgrades, or doing quests that you can handle now. When you hit 70, a similar stop occurs, until you can handle Howling Fjord's level 75 tuned first mobs. Part of the expansion's feature set is new quests in the old word, to help bridge the gap. Not just "fuck this old dump, let's all go to the new zones, hooray!"

The issue that I see here is when eventually everyone reaches 80, and there's no one left to run MC with, but I really don't think that's a problem. Worst case scenario is that the boss HP pools get tuned for 25 man MC, since that's the new 40 man raid size. But people today still run non heroic Ramparts at 58 - 60, and it would be THAT group of people who were instead running (and maybe even experiencing for the first time!) MC and Scholo and UBRS. Non-heroic Ramps is now for level 65 players. BC is basically 65 to 75 content, and Wrath is then 75 to 80, until the new expansion drops, when it becomes 75 to 85. By making the first zone of the next expansion a 5 level gap from the last zone of the previous expansion, it forces people to refine their gear before they throw it all away.
Don't get upset, throwing gear away is part of the game.

*EDIT* Looking at the comments so far, I'm not sure people understand this chart. I mean the level CAP in vanilla is 60, but you stay in vanilla CONTENT until 65. Obviously you would need to wait for the first expansion to raise the level cap, but then you don't just abandon the vanilla zones (unless you're ridiculously geared). Once you hit 70, you stay in BC content until 75, THEN go to Borean Tundra or whatever. The main point is that there's a lingering at the end of each section's end game area to get ready for the first zone in the next part. As it stands, people abandon the current section before they even GET to that section's cap (going to HFC at 58, or Borean Tundra at 68). THAT's the problem this is addressing. *EDIT*

And again, to really drive the point home, anyone fully decked in Sunwell loot would have been able to brazenly board the Blimp to Borean Tundra on day one and boldly explore the new frontier ahead of everyone else. They earned it, don't forget to send us a postcard and tell us how awesome it is.

/2 Level 74 t5 Priest LFG BT, Hyjal, or Sunwell

Is that so hard to imagine being a reality?


Pierre said...

I agree with your ideas but blizzard decided a long time ago that if you pay $15 a month, you are entitled to everything with only a minimal effort on your part.

Pierre said...

I should add this:

I hoped that with BC they would add more 60 content than another 10 hollow levels, and effectively scrap all the dungeons at 60. I would have loved to see a "gear progression" through dungeons rather than restarting the game when BC came out - because it felt like a player wipe almost.

Another cool thing they could have done is to add "dungeon experience" that could only be earned in dungeons at level 60, and could level you to 70 through successively harder dungeons.

Wow always felt like a game like "ok... 5 days of zombie play until level cap, then the game starts". When BC came out with 10 more levels, it felt like a ripoff. Like they basically reset the game to get more sub $ from you. Especially since i hated all the space goat themed dungeons and zones outlands brought.

Pierre said...

and by hated i mean disliked

The Nickster said...

I'm not sure it's a good idea to encourage low level grouping without some way to increase the number of players genuinely interested in doing those old dungeons.

A couple of ideas:

1.) Cross server LFG, just like in BG's.

2.) Blatantly steal EQ2's mentoring feature, and give rewards to the level 80's who actually choose to use it.

By "rewards" I mean things like badges of valor, or maybe a boatload of gold. As long as running somebody through UBRS is "charity work", your not going to see a lot of UBRS runs happen.

Geoffrey said...

I do not think your proposed plan would have the desired effect.

I think what people would do is just group up with say, 1 other person, to do the initial easy Thrallmar quests rather than trying to get 10 to 15 people to run the level 60 dungeons.

Tragedyx said...

It will never happen. People can't clear all content at end game level, thus the reason everything was nerfed until bosses fell over and spit forth epics with no effort. This is the reason I quit.

The game is too easy and I think you're slowly realizing how much shit is just being handed to every 14 year old who should be playing Xbox instead.

Klepsacovic said...

This would make a weird problem of needing to raid to solo. Want to see Hellfire? Go clear Naxx.

It would also create some boredom and make expansions boring at first. Currently you buy an expansion and bam, new content. Waiting to 65 means that you're stuck in old content for a while before you can see the world you just paid $40 for.

I do think it's silly that so much content goes unused, especially the 60 instances. Maybe 61 would be a better entry time for Outland so that people still do the 60 instances and who knows, maybe even wander into a raid.

At the greater extreme, not even having new levels, but instead focusing on higher tiers of content; you're likely to run into other problems. If a solo path is given, people are likely to choose that, just as with leveling, until they reach the gear cap at which point they are forced to raid to progress. This would end up being not much different. If leveling could only be done through raids, then there's the risk that people won't bother to buy the expansion until they have the latest gear. In that case, even now many people would not have bought even BC because they'd still be in Naxx.

Ixobelle said...

you guys are missing a huge point, that I explicitly laid out.

You can continue to solo, or just quest, and you will eventually make it to Hellfire. You just 'got thru the portal' at 65, not 58.

58 is before you even REACH 60. That's the problem. Make the first pig you attack either need a five man group to take down, or soloable by a 65, *OR* soloable by someone in t3.

And this isn't some retroactive thing, I don't expect 80s to go back and run MC. I'm not sure how close you guys even read, or maybe I just expalained it horribly. I mean AS YOU LEVEL from 50-60, you do it normally, but at 58, you don't just skip all the 60 sontent, you run it for a good 5 levels.

THEN you go into the expansion. Then you play from 65-70, and then raid all the 70 content (or 5 man, or just a shit ton of quests that already exist in level 70 zones like nether-purple-area in outlands.

at 75, you take the blimp to Howling Fjord.

I don't expect this idea to make an 80 go back and run ramparts. The problem would exist where 80s are helping their 61 friend in HFC, but that happens already... there7s effectively nothing you can do about that short of saying 80s can't enter that zone.

*vlad* said...

I understand what you are saying, but my experiences are telling me 'no thanks'.
I played vanilla WoW, and was level 60 for maybe 6 months before BC came out.
I did Scholo, Strat, BRD, UBRS, Onyxia etc. It was brilliant.

I hated BC for making my gear redundant overnight, but that was soon forgotten because I replaced all that loot with new shineys.

Now, recently I levelled a Paladin from scratch. My, how bored I was in old WoW.
I did as many instances as I could, but they were so tedious. I don't know how you could face runnning SM over and over; I got zero enjoyment from going there again. Where was the challenge I remember of old?
The mobs are weaker, the loot you get from quests or from the AH is so much better -I don't remember seeing +spell damage gear until late 50s in Vanilla WoW, and even then it would be something ridiculous like +4 spell damage.

These days you can get loot with +20 spell damage from normal quests, and be pushing 100 spell damage by the time you hit Outlands. That would put you in Legendary gear in Vanilla WoW.

So, I found it a real drag to be running round Winterspring and the Plaguelands waiting to hit lv 58, and as soon as I did I was through that portal faster than a rat up a drain pipe.

Expect to see more and more DKs as time goes on, bcause most people don't want to face levelling the old world any more. it sucks.

Tal said...

The thing is, releasing a new expansion but telling your player base that even if they buy it they're likely to have to keep grinding quests/mobs in the the old content (assuming they actually have any quests left there other than dailies) simply won't work. And no, not everyone who was 60 was decked out in the best epics in the game back then - not even close.

Skeeley said...

I agree with Tal, though I think Iso's plan would be ideal, in that the whole game content would be available to everyone, because people are grouping in the old world. Sales of an expansion are important only in the release period reports for any entertainment enterprise, since these reports are the ones that determine if the dev team gets to keep their jobs. While I appreciate the idealism put forth by those that think the game should be what the most avid players want it to be, it seems that none of us can really grasp that this is a business first. It is a free market, just quit playing.

Pierre said...

Damnit, when Ixobelle finally snaps out of the warm fluffy WoW delusion and thinks outside the box. You guys come and smother him with sales propaganda again.

Hatch said...

At first, I was like "but I just paid $40 for the box, I want to at least see Hellfire!", but then I was like "hey wait new quests in plaguelands and such?" and it sounded a lot better. Maybe smooth it over a bit more by adding new zones or areas in the "old world" (a la the silithus revamp and sunwell island) so I'm not seeing exactly the same stuff I just saw for 2-3 years at level cap.

It would really help if grouping were more encouraged by the game. Make significantly more xp and gold per person drop in a group. So you can solo without being punished, but it's slower and less rewarding. Right now, people solo because it's often less of a hassle as grouping for more reward in many situations.

One thing you are missing is the matter of critical mass. If everyone is at the level cap and there aren't that many people still at 60-65, then who are you going to run Scholo with? There are always enough people at the level cap for groups, but the few still leveling (or alts) are scattered throughout the other 80 levels.

This is why you'd need something like a cross-server LFG. That's the only thing I can think of that would help besides compressing the leveling even more, which is also something I advocate. Start everyone at 55, revamp all the zones to start at 55, and compress the entire leveling experience. Not because people are "entitled" or should get things "handed to them", but because the grouping part of the game really doesn't start until he level cap nowadays. Let them zoom to 80, then wipe on Algalon all day.

The game not starting until 80 is a design flaw, but it's so deeply ingrained in wow since the initial growth state ended that it would be difficult to flush out.

Hatch said...

...and is "Pierre" a certain "NON-wow tourist" in disguise?

Oh, the intrigue!

Brohuld said...

Did the calculation once on "Mudflation" throughout WoW extensions (using iLevels as a proxy for gear evaluation):

Vanilla Wow (level 60):
Green iLvl 65
Blue iLvl 68
T1 iLvl 66
T2 iLvl 76
T3 iLvl 89

BC (Level 70):
Green iLvl 114
Blue iLvl 115
T4 iLvl 120
T5 iLvl 133
T6 iLvl 150

Green iLvl 142 at level 70
Green iLvl 182 at level 80
Blue iLvl 200
T7 iLvl 200
T7.5 ivll 213

What is interesting is the iLvl:lvl ratio structure: from about 1:1 in Vanilla BC to over 2:1 in WTLK.

We can predict the next extension will be level 90 and feature iLvl 280 epics :)


HolyGhost said...

EQ 1 was a bit like what your talking about.

The new expansion would come out with new level caps.

We would rush to explore, but for leveling purposes we would stick to certain old zones where the xp per hour was the best still for our level and a few levels afterwards.

Then we would move on into the new expansion when the xp per hour was too low.

Ixobelle said...

brohuld, awesome compilation. I've been meaning to actually suss that out for a while after seeing a post over at esc-hatch comparing naxx 10 and 25 man loot disparities.

Gotta paste that into notepad and save it somewhere easily accessible.


Anonymous said...

I respect you Ixo, but this is the stupidest idea you've ever proposed. The reason that Blizz allows people to go to WotLK at level 68 is because people are EXCITED to see new content. Not buy the expansion and farm old gear just to see the new shinies. Leveling an alt for fun wouldn't be so. It would be another pointless grind and no one would bother doing so.

With new expansions new players get sucked in, my nephew for example. He never played wow until bc was released. If he would have had to farm Naxx, bwl and w/e else till lvl 65 he would have quit the game. He was leveling as I was starting Gruuls, Mag and so forth. The excitement in seeing my gear made him push that much harder to level faster. Now if he would have had to grind to 60 then grind old world content, knowing that in 10 levels it would all be completely replaced by ythe stuff i was wearing he would have quit.

This game is a treadmill enough already, stop suggesting ideas that would only make it more so.

Anonymous said...

Also what you're suggesting means that the new quests in future expansions would mean 7 levels or so of actual content for new/under geared players as opposed to 12. Assuming gaining 3 lvls xp farming old world content just to see the new shinies. This would be a ripoff big time.

Expansions are bought to look at new areas and shinies, not farm the old crap while the other people in vent tell you all the awesome stuff you're missing.

Ixobelle said...

the biggest problem is that so much of the content (which is what the art and design teams work on) get COMPLETELY skipped over.

Your nephew is the perfect example. He started WoW in BC, he will NEVER see any of the level 60 content, unless he wants xbox live points. There's a LOT of content he's missing. People want to see new content, but to many people, that IS new content. It would certainly be new to your nephew.

You end up in MC pugs like I was in this weekend (going after a nostalgia set of Tier 1), where all the DKs are like "OMG THIS PALCE IS SO BUGGD, TEH DOGS ARE STUCK ON LIKE 1 HP AND STILL TAKING DAMAGE", having No idea that *that's* how corehound packs work.

An expansion wouldn't just be 'the new zone'. It would be new stuff in the old zone, and new stuff in the new zone. There's this stupid need to abandon Vanilla continents ASAP to get to Outlands, and then to abandon Outlands ASAP to get to northrend. It creates ghost towns. It's bad design. There needs to be a reason to keep people in the 'old world' other than Trainers and the AH. It's just dumb.

The best scenario would be to have dungeon levels scale. Add up the levels of all players involved, divide by number of players, and base it on that. Then people could choose content they enjoyed, rather than 'whatever this level bracket demands'. It's stupid to completely bypass all of those dungeons, though.

Elen said...

The best scenario would be to have dungeon levels scale. Add up the levels of all players involved, divide by number of players, and base it on that. Then people could choose content they enjoyed, rather than 'whatever this level bracket demands'. It's stupid to completely bypass all of those dungeons, though.

You're not supposed to be doing the content you enjoy. You're supposed to be doing the content that Blizzard just released. That's the point of expansions, and why they have reduced the total exp required to graduate from the old content with each expansion.

It would be 'nice' if the people pugging MC now got to see what it was really like? If it scaled with your level? Personally I believe it would be a balance hell. Talent and itemization changes throw off balance and wreck encounters with every expansion, and that's why we level away from them and pug them for kicks.

It simply isn't worth Blizzard's time to maintain something like SM, LBRS or AQ40 as a challenging story arc instead of a broken relic of an earlier time.

Elen said...

Of course Pierre's got it:
I agree with your ideas but blizzard decided a long time ago that if you pay $15 a month, you are entitled to everything with only a minimal effort on your part.

WoW is not designed to be challenging for the majority of players. A relatively small amount of players see some content which requires a disproportionately large amount of effort to produce, and a certain level of coordination and abstract thought to beat; other players won't see this content. Period.

The lowest common denominator rules OK.

mandm413 said...

Actually Blizzard is going exactly the opposite way by reducing the experience needed to get through the old content to the point that most people couldn't tell you where whole zones are in the old world.

Your idea could work if you did the expansion in 2 parts. Part one raise the level cap and add new stuff to the old content. Part 2 introduce the new content that requires level 75 to beat. The problem with this is if Blizzard did this you would have people hit the new level cap in part one. Like many have said you can't release new shinies and tell everyone they have to wait 5 levels to see it.