Friday, February 25, 2011

What has 4.0.6 done for Blizzards credibility?

4.0.6 came and it is still far from over. Each day we get some new hotfixes which either make us go "ahh" with a smile or "ohh" with a frown. We have a saying in sweden - "the one hand knows not what the other hand does" which means that an organisation take decisions without agreeing upon them within the organisation first. In the end the people in the organisation seem just as confused about a change as the people outside of it. This says alot about swedish buraeucracy but I've also used the expression to explain some changes Blizzard have done in the past. Jokingly mind you. Balancing this monster of a game would probably have been part of Hercules 12 labors if it'd been around back then. And I am usually the last to whine about imbalance in the game. I happen to live together with whino-o-master nr 1, and whenever Love starts ranting about what a bad place druids are in I just tell him to play another class. It's not that easy, of course. But we can't go crazy as soon as our class of choice isn't flavor of the month. We've seen some really bad design choices over the years (most notably when dk tanks were totally op at the beginning of wrath and some bosses were near unkillable unless you had a dk tank), but every little tweak and twist to your character isn't the end of the world. Blizzard doesn't have it in for you.

After 4.0.6 however
, I've gotten more and more worried about how the designer team over at Blizzard really are working with their fixes anyway. Reading around the bloggosphere you always get to read alot of tears and hair pulling over patch changes, but this time around people actually seem to have a good reason to be cranky. Let me give you a couple of examples;

The problem that was already solved
  • Boomkins were dealing too much damage. To fix this Blizzard nerfed Boomkin specialization with 9% damage. They also fixed a bug to Starfall which made it cast more than 20 stars, one of the reasons Boomkins were dealing too much damage in the first place, not realizing that these two fixes would stack to overnerf boomkins. Players had to point this out, and Blizzard readily agreed that they clearly hadn't thought about it, changing the damage nerf to 5% instead of 9%.
I don't expect Blizzard to know exactly how a change will affect a class on a live realm, it is in the end impossible to know. But not taking a rather huge bug fix into account when doing an overall adjustment to a class damage output, seems to me like you've had two different dev teams working on the issue and coming up with different solutions. That is ok, if only they had discussed it with eachother before applying both fixes.

The fix that wasn't a fix
  • Paladins were healing too much. To fix this Blizzard changed Light of Dawn so that it it wouldn't affect the Beacon of Light target anymore. Paladins were furious. Then a couple of days later they revert this change completely. Turns out Blizzard were really trying to deal with a bug that made Light of Dawn heal the Beaconed target for way too much under certain circumstances (as I understood the issue anyway). Then a couple of days later they manage to fix the issue by making Light of Dawn only heal targets in your own raid or party.

Why make it a patch note if it's really a bug fix that went wrong? Does that mean that someone at Blizzard thought that this was an intended fix and just threw it in there with all the other fixes? Or was it in fact an intended fix and they just realized that it was a really bad idea and had to revert it immediately? I am speculating I know, but it still points toward some kind of miscommunication and could probably been handled alot better.

The extreme overbuffs that had to be nerfed (at once)
  • Hunters were dealing too low damage (in MM and BM specs) and so Blizzard changed alot of things, one thing being bumping Aimed Shot damage up from 150% weapon damage to 200%. A couple of days later they lower it down to 160%, basically back on scratch again.
  • Discipline weren't healing enough so Blizzard bumped the efficiency of Shields by approximately 200% (and also increasing its mana cost by approximately 30%). Apparently that made the shield way to good so they bumped mana cost up another approx 30% but said they wouldn't make it more expensive for holy priests. A couple of days later they change their mind and tell us it will cost equally much for both specs.
It used to be quite rare (or so I think anyway) that Blizzard made these huge buffs to a class, realize they probably went a little too far and nerfed them back again. We've seen tweaks and changes made to the game since it started, and there will always be a need for these tweaks. Like I said it is impossible to predict how a change will work in practice. But now it seems like Blizzard are bringing in the big guns alot more than they used to. The Daily Blink made a great comic about it, parodying a Blizzard blue post saying "we like to overbuff you just to see your sad faces when we nerf you again" (speaking about hunters this time, and yeah I've paraphrased it). Why do these mega-buffs, that almost certainly will have to lead to a nerf of some sort in the end anyway? Don't blizzard know that it is better to give small rewards contiously than one big reward that has to be retracted? Don't take my pony!

The change (and problem) that disappeared
  • Priests needed some kind of self-buff, Blizzard seemed to be thinking. They can't deal with damage on themselves very good. Desperate Prayer was given a nice change, making it heal percent of max health instead of a set value. Blizzard also made a change to shields so that they would absorb more damage when cast on the priest, 30% more to be exact. Then a couple of days later they announced that this change to shields was removed. Completely. 
I understand the change to Desperate Prayer. DP was a talent that had been around for quite a while, and it had really divided the priests between those who loved it (like me) and those who didn't like it because it didn't heal much enough and/or they always forgot to use it anyway. In Cata the heal from DP became close to pointless, healing some 10-15k (2 min cd) when we had some 100k+ healthpools. That they wanted to change it made sense. But I was puzzled as to why Blizzard would design a change to shields, decide it was good enough to be implemented, and then just remove it completely. Is the issue that this was going to solve gone suddenly? Or was there no issue to solve to begin with? Maybe they decided that if we really wanted more survivability we'd go for DP instead (in case this shield change was going to be a talent)? I don't know! Maybe this was transformed into the Silence immunity of Strength of Soul, but that seems far fetched. I have yet to understand what Blizzard wanted to fix with this talent and how the problem was solved.

All of these things are minor problems. And like I said, I'm the last one to whine about stuff when things don't go my way. This might be due to the fact that I main a priest and we really have been in a fairly good place since I started playing them, all the way back in Vanilla. We've never had any real lows, and have occasionally even got to be in a really good place (like with disc now). But I can't recall seeing as many things completely reverted, removed or changed as I have seen since the release of Cataclysm. I don't know if Blizzard have changed something in their organisation, if I am imagining things or what is going on really. What kind of an image does this send the gaming community? Is there reason to be alarmed? Has Blizzard been taken over by aliens (aka Activision)?!

I realize that the Blizzard organisation probably is getting really big, even if we're only talking about the dev team and branches directly connected to it (this is also something The Daily Blink makes fun off in the above mentioned comic). But this kind of unfocused, constant change will make people nervous. You might not believe it, but there are more people out there than you think who actually unsubscribe to the game because they just don't know, understand or agree with what Blizzard is doing to the game. Do I care about them? Not really, but Blizzard probably should. Right now Blizzard are sending out signals of uncertainty. And nothing could be worse than when the players think they have a better understanding of how the game works than the devs themselves. The issue with the boomkin damage really makes you think "Woah Blizzard, you really missed something this obvious? Really?". Even I, patience personified (ahem) get a little nervous about the changes to priests when I read about these kind of incidents. I've always thought about patch notes as something to take lightly, because things will change. But when they change this dramatically and you don't know if Blizzard really are clear on what they are doing, you start to wonder. Blizzard would do well to spend a little more time communicating and worry less about making us happy with all these fixes. No one benefits from work that isn't properly thought through.


  1. It almost seems like Blizzard is Cho'gall, doesn't it? One head says something and then the other says something completely unrelated.

    I wonder how much of this back-and-forth is because of the constant headache of balancing PVE and PVP abilities. It's one of the biggest problems I have with WoW's design at times. Telling me the reason my BM spec is so terrible at PVE is because it performs great in BGs and Arena is fairly frustrating when all I want to do is raid.

    Actually, speaking of BM, the absolute state of mediocrity it endured for the good last chunk of WotLK (which I stuck through, despite it all) really killed any emotional attachment I have to nerfs or buffs. I just can't get invested anymore.

    Now, when I see a change to my class, whether it's a buff or nerf, I just take note and be sure to take it into account, rather than get excited or upset.

    I guess it's better (for me), but it's a little disappointing, too.

  2. I think what we're seeing is a side effect of the new upgrade tools. They can trickle partial fixes down through the launcher while you're playing, now, as well as make hotfixes with a lot less fussiness.

    The good news is that nasty issues can be addressed quickly.

    The bad news is that it is far to easy to just toss stuff out there and let the users test it now. And since it's easier, it's going to get abused.

  3. The last hunter change btw... Did not actually nerf Marksman, it ended up buffing it.

    Sometimes I feel like blizz are just going "trollolololol!" :)


  4. Grimmtooth has an excellent point, and one that I think is missed by much of the WoW community in that when there is a nasty issue, there is no longer a 3-4 month wait for it to be fixed. The downside, of course, is that sometimes that 3-4 month wait gave Blizzard the time to test/think through the change before it went live. Having said that, it is an interesting point about Blizzard's credibility. Another one that I thought they should have easily caught was the change in Rapture after they hiked up the cost of PW:S. There was no realization that players were using the PW:S/Rapture mechanic as a primary mana regen tool? Really? Luckily, that was a good hotfix case.

    As a side note, and as an unbiased outside observer, I was amused by the huge outcry over datamined Body and Soul changes that nerfed the run speed, which then did not show up in the patch notes. The groaning and moaning was pretty impressive, even after Blue debunked the change pretty clearly on the forums. I guess it's not surprising, the volatility of the player community, but you'd think that by now many more would take Rades' position that overall you just take the changes in stride and enjoy the game for what it is.

    On a slightly different note, Zinn, your comment about people unsubscribing combined with the timing of the 4.1 PTR release to be just before a big RIFT event, makes me wonder what your thoughts are on the WoW "endgame". I mean, what other game has lasted for 6 years, basically in the same format as when it started? What do you think Blizzard's plan is for the life span of WoW? Will they shut it down and transition when the game is still pretty strong, or will they play it out to the bitter end and soak as much money of players as they can. I think Blizzard is too smart to not have an end game plan at least somewhat formulated.

  5. @Rades
    That is pretty much the attitude I've had to changes throughout the years. But right now it seems like Blizzard are, just as Grimm is pointing out, abusing the easier system to just throw out fixes.

    I wouldn't mind faster fixes, in fact it's a good thing. But it can't take its toll on quality. Quantity over quality? Why would blizzard choose the first?

    Haha, that's exactly it. What seems even worse is that the classes that aren't changed constantly feel like they're out of the loop (druids again) and fear they have to be stuck in their seat forever (which of course isn't true either).

    People will always be crying over ponies, whether they are real or not. I admit it is really easy to get caught up. I used to care next to nothing about changes to my class, but I realize that the more I read about other bloggers thoughts on these matters the more I go "yeah, they're right! This is horrible!". Suppose that is how people work. I still try not to think too much of it. Even if they do implement a bad change we have now seen that they can change it back any day, so we shouldn't be worried because we don't know where our class will be tomorrow anyway. On the other hand I think that is exactly why people are worried in the first place :P

    People have been unsubscribing to WoW for big and small changes since Vanilla, it's really the only good way to protest about something in the game. It's the best way to tell Blizzard that the changes have made the game too boring or bad to play. I think Blizzard have had a plan about their next game since Vanilla too, and rumors about this have gone around on the internet. Most recently (that I've seen) mmo-champ released a picture about the Blizzard product timeline;
    All you can really say from it of course is that it seems like Blizzard indeed do have a next big game in mind, something they seem to have named Titan for the time being. It is difficult to imagine when and how WoW will end, I don't think many would've guessed that it would've lasted for 6 years even. It could end in a year or last another 6 years (or more!) if Blizzard play their cards right.

  6. @Zurqa - I wouldn't say I'm making a point about Blizz's credibility, but rather about the credibility of software project managers in general. They do seem to be of a singular mindset. In the past they haven't had an outlet, but the new toolset DOES.

    @Zinn - it's not a deliberate choice. It's a propensity for software developers to just want to get fixes out there. It is a propensity for software project managers to want to get changes out there so they can tic off a checkbox, "there, we got that one, if it causes problems, we'll handle it in Post." I've worked in an environment where software teams have unfettered access to deployment, and it rarely goes well.

    (Which is why my division's QA department (NOT BLIZZ) recently took over all deployment tools and locked them up. Programmers and kids.)

  7. I would say that the seemingly constant changes of late are wearing on players as a whole. With Rift coming out tagged as the next "Big Thing" when all this unhappiness seems to be a general feelign in WoW, it could cause more of teh unsubscription than usual.

    With that said, Blizzard has weathered this storm multiple times now. Vanguard, War Hammer, LotR, Connan, Aion, etc. Those are just some of the names in this genre, not to mention the other MMO's that are not fantasy based. Blizzard is in a position that gives them the ability to make mistakes or changes and if they lose some folks so be it. For all those people that unsubscribe, I woudl bet there are new folks filling the gap.

    By far the largest part of the market plays WoW, thats a given. Those people (myself included), are in thier "comfort zone" so to speak. I know many people that left to go play the afore mentioned games and guess what...a majority of them came back. Regardless of its issues, WoW has the corrrect equation to continuosly be on top of the pile, and by a large mark.

    Rift is as of yet an untried game. People may be paying it and giving good reviews, but so did all the others. I think Blizzard will keep WoW running as long as they can. Look at SOE and Everquest, its still running and making money. The original even more so than EQ2.

    Now do I agree with some of the changes? Not at all, but as of yet, there is no other game out there that can replace WoW.

    I agree whole heartedly with Rades, trying to balance PvP with PvE abilities and talents is the heart of the issue. It will not and cannot be done. I have mentioned before that the best thing they could do would be to have a seperate tree for PvP talents that activate when you enter a PvP area.

    A note about priest and the issues they are having with balancing. I think one of the biggest issues they have to contend with is that priest are the only class with 2 healing trees. The others they can just try and balance around numbers for healing vs mana and such. The priest you have to do that without actually making one tree to powerful. The two trees use some of the same spells, yet both "heal" differently at the heart of thier rotation.

    Disc has been setup from spells to talents to work around shields/mitigation. This current thought process of making it so that they use a bigger variety of spells and not use shielding so much is bupkis. Its the core of thier abilities. The other talents that give bonuses to healing those with weakened soul and such...that springs from casting shields. They dnt have chakra (I envy you for that), so what the heck do you want them to do.

    Holy is sitting pretty in many ways. Regen is nice, HW: serenity is by far teh better of teh 2 HW's, and its instant heal plus the 10% crit chance makes it a all around solid talent. The nerf to PoH was somewhat a nuissance, but not a game changer. Atleast nto for Holy. It actually hurt Disc much more I believe.

    Needless to say, you cant make the 2 trees heal the same, because then why have 2 trees? You cant keep nerfing Disc because again why have 2 trees if you drive them all to holy.

    And can someone please explain the supposed chaneg listed on 4.1 PTR notes about dispel magic? What is teh purpose of that, and dear lord please do not tell me it is based solely on PvP balancing? How in the hell do I dispel blackout if that change happens? And mass dispell is not the answer. It snto cost effective, nor efficient time wise to cast.

    I think I trailed far from teh posted question..sorry about that.


  8. @Solaril
    Further down in the notes is this:
    "Absolution (new passive) enables priests to use Dispel Magic on up to 2 harmful effects on friendly targets."
    This is a new passive for the two healing specs, probably something along the lines of a Specialization. I do think the change is intended to affect PvP more than PvE, but the only thing it hurts is spamdispelling spriests. Isn't it actually a buff for healing priests?
    'Have a vague memory of Dispel only removing a single effect before.

  9. @Solaril
    Honestly I haven't given the 4.1 patch notes a good read through yet. I've heard rumours like the one you mention and also that they'd nerf B&S to 25% runspeed (which was data mined I think). I thought I had to sit down and check it through thoroughly when I had the time. Eldhorn is probably right that what they're thinking is to remove dispelability from spriests, and not the rest of us (that would be crazy since every other healer can dispel). But dispel has always removed two magic effects, we've been unique about that.

  10. @you..


    Cool guides on Magmaw and Nefarian btw. I'd write my opinions about the shit with Blizz but sorta too lazy. Anyway I'll always love Blizzard.