Today I am Going to Fly

Some men are born posthumously. ~Nietzsche

Gear Resets and Checkpointing

Posted by penuruloki on October 30, 2009

When dealing with class balance issues, Ghostcrawler is fond of the phrase “all other things being equal,” but they never really are. That’s actually the point of progression, to move across the equality gap from those who wipe to those who kill. We all want to be in the group that kills enemies, but we don’t want everyone to be in that group or it means that the content is easy enough that we haven’t accomplished anything. That isn’t from an elitist perspective. I’m not a hardcore progression raider myself, and my guild still wipes on “easy” content. Sadly, at this point I still expect half the raid to die on Heigan during a Naxx10 run (though we won’t wipe on the fight). There  has to be some kind of reward to justify effort (basic human nature).

Some people look to gear as a reward. Some people like to experience the content. Some people just like performing a social activity with friends. There’s the thrill of (virtual) conquest, proving yourself against competitors, etc. We all have our own reasons for venturing out at all, but we won’t be out there fighting if we don’t see some kind of reward. For the reward to have value, it must be earned. For it to feel earned, there must have been a challenge involved. For there to be a challenge, there must be evidence that someone else has not attained the reward. For social rewards, the fact that people want to play with you and not others is reward enough. It doesn’t matter if your gear isn’t as good, or if you haven’t seen all the content. For progression raiders, downing content that others can’t is the reward, even if you have to partner up with the anti-social dregs of MMO society. Everyone chooses their own reward, and feel satisfied when they achieve it, even if it isn’t what they are expected to want. That’s why wanting something that not everyone else has isn’t really elitist. We all want that, but the “something” in the equation is not always the same, so the people who don’t have it, don’t necessarily miss it. We can all feel superior about something, without requiring others to feel inferior for their lack.

At the center of the storm over content tuning is always the gear debate. Gear is a reward, a trophy, a tool, and sometimes a weight around your neck. It had a status associated with it in olden times in Azeroth, because good gear was difficult to obtain, and very bad gear abounded (spirit on a warrior set? that drops in a dungeon?). Getting gear gave status. It also checkpointed your progress. If you didn’t have the gear, you simply couldn’t advance. That meant that gear wasn’t simply some one’s focus, it mattered to everyone on some level. Some people haven’t yet adapted to the changes that have happened since those days.

With the coming of TBC, Blizzard made a decision. They actually wanted people to see the content they worked so hard on. That meant it had to be accessable. Basic MMO theory requires you to checkpoint content however, so that people will have to spend time playing to get through it. Their initial offering was the badge system, with better and better offerings over time, so that if you missed out on (or couldn’t handle) the raid earlier, you get handed better gear to catch you up and get you in to see content. You still have to grind to get it, but it’s running easier content repeatedly rather than wiping until you get drops. Progression raiders have to raid the content at its hardest to open the next tier earlier than anyone else, but eventually others have a route to catch up and see it too before it’s gone. That keeps the raiders raiding to stay at the bleeding edge, and more casual players grinding to catch up when the opportunity presents itself.

They made a second change however that complicates the matter. They changed how they design encounters to make them move involved. There’s more to do, with more specialized roles within the raid. You might still be a dps, but now you’re also designated to click a cube at the proper time, or kill a certain type of add at the correct time and place. They also reduced raid sizes so there’s less room for error. As a result, raids have stopped being checkpointed checkpointed by gear, and become checkpointed by “skill.” I put that in quotes because skill isn’t a monolithic quality. There are many skills involved in any fight, and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. People with skill in some areas still struggle with certain fights, or raiding in general.

And despite gear resets and how easy it is to get gear, it doesn’t help anymore. Blizzard’s strategy to get people to see content is compromised by the content itself. Don’t believe me? Gevlon put together a crew that raided Ulduar in all blue gear. I know people in our guild that struggle in Ulduar 10 with badge gear comparable to Ulduar 25 or ToC. Think that Heigan reference above was incidental? There is no way to outgear the dance. None. You either learn it or you die, and that’s only the most obvious case. Some fights let you get by with a few people underperforming, but for the most part, if you want to down bosses, you have to learn to play. Gear resets and procurement options haven’t made raiding accessible, because they no longer can. Variations in skill affect outcomes far more than variations in gear.

Gear just doesn’t matter as much anymore. The easy of obtaining it may make those angry that view it as the reward for their efforts, but the irrelevance is also starting to irritate raiders who view their efforts as opening up the content. Not only can you get to the content without putting in the wipes anymore, the wipes and gear grind aren’t really doing all that much to help you get through the new content either. Hard modes are an invitation to face a greater challenge for better gear, but the better gear really isn’t needed anyway. That makes the effort pointless unless your personal reward is to beat challenges that no one else can. If that’s not your bag, then you may as well skip it and do the “easy” normal mode a couple times, get bored, and quit.

There’s a more insidious side yet though. Remember those who can get gear just by grinding the easy heroics? All that grinding gets them epic gear, but doesn’t offer comparable training for high end content. Gear resets help those who have developed the skills to catch up quickly after a break, or gear alts, but all that gear won’t get those who struggled with appropriate level gear through the content. The badge grind is a waste of time for those people. Worse yet, they think they should be able to handle the harder content because they have the gear for it, so they wipe endlessly against an “easy” fight because they’re out of their league no matter what their gear says. I’ve seen it happen. The gear reset is a red herring. It deludes people into chasing gear when they really need experience. Right now the game doesn’t care much what your gear looks like (within reason). If you know what you’re doing, the gear will come quickly enough. If you’re struggling, all the upgrades in the world won’t help much.

There’s been a lot of discussion about gear resets lately, but very little about the current relation of gear to progression. If we’re going to have gear resets to get people into content, gear has to matter enough to be a checkpoint, so that the reset actually matters. That’s not where we are yet. Cataclysm has the opportunity to change that (as I alluded to with the potential for boss expertise), but it requires a conscious decision by Blizzard to have gear negate skill, so that seeing content when it drops requires a very skilled group, but seeing it after a reset can be done with gear upgrades. That would mean bringing the “M&S” closer to the performance of skilled players than some may like, and exacerbate the effect of gear differences on pvp combat. I’m not necessarily advocating the changes, but if that’s not what Blizzard intends to do, then gear resets are pointless anyway.

If they do want to keep the current system, where skill trumps gear, what line should they walk? If they want to balance gearing up alts and newcomers to match their skill level with putting people into appropriate raid based on their experience, Wrath launched with almost the perfect system. The tiered badges was a good idea, but Blizzard made a slight mistake with it. Badges should drop that buy gear a tier higher than the drops themselves. For example, they could have dropper iLevel 200 gear in heroics, 213 in Naxx, 226 in Ulduar, but made Heroic badges buy 213 gear, Naxx badges buy 226 gear, etc. The net effect would allow skilled players (newcomers or alts) to catch up faster (because the badges for your current run level buys gear for a raid two levels higher), allow less skilled players to get a small edge in gearing for the raids they’re ready to run to ease them into raiding, and the system is sustainable with no true gear resets to obsolete your efforts overnight.

It’s Blizzards game, and it’s their design decision. They have options, but they will have to address the system eventually, because the current model has problems, and makes less and less sense as the game continues.

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One Response to “Gear Resets and Checkpointing”

  1. Po wpіsaniu czegoś takiego po naciśnięciu przyciskᥙ c,
    na czacie wyświetli się słowo „ELO”.

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