Addressing the power gap – are we there yet?

This might be a bit late, but I’ll post it anyway: 1.4.2 is on the PTS, you can read the changelog here.

It’s a weird patch. On one hand you have little fixes that seem to be out-of-place 2 years down the road – fixes to quests, PQs, dungeons and tome unlocks. Don’t get me wrong, fixing whatever needs fixing, especially the semi-broken PvE and the pride of the game, the tome of knowledge, is good. But how come it never came up earlier? Most of these bugs are easy to squash, the only problem is locating them. Is Mythic’s Q&A department doing its job? Does Mythic even have a Q&A department now?

On the other hand, we have a few adjustments that might fundamentally change the way the game is played. Mythic seems to have realised that having such a huge powergap between those willing to grind renown 10 hours a day and those who want to enjoy the game for an hour, two per day, is not good for business. So they went ahead and adjusted the hidden levels and the new sets. Is it enough? Probably. Is it soon enough? Not nearly.

Addressing the power gap

Looking at Werit’s PTS Arsenal of WAR and comparing the items there with the ones in the current AoW, there is a notable difference.

For example, looking at the Slayer scenario weapons we can see that the current item level (ilvl) scaling, and consequently power, is really out of whack:

RR75 – ilvl 65
RR81 – ilvl 84
RR90 – ilvl 119
RR100 – ilvl 154

On the PTS this has been adjusted to make more sense:

RR75 – ilvl 65
RR81 – ilvl 70
RR90 – ilvl 90
RR100 – ilvl 100

For example, the dps on the one-handed weapons has gone from 70 < 77 < 91 < 105 DPS to 70 < 72 < 80 < 84 DPS (from the lowest RR to the highest, respectively). Keep in mind that all post-RR80 items have been adjusted, it’s not just the Slayer getting nerfed. (Also, I wanted to compare the current Doomflayer and Warpforged with the PTS ones, but for some reason Werit has removed the current ones from the AoW. Without an active sub I have no way to compare them, sorry. However, Werit is citing a 20% decrease in stat value on Doomflayer and Warpforged sets.)

It’s clear that Mythic went way overboard with post-RR80 weapon power and I honestly have no idea what drove them to introduce such imbalanced items in first place. Oh wait, I do…

Was Mythic high?

If the question is was Mythic high on drugs, the answer is probably not. But they might have been high on something else – subscription numbers.

You see, back before the RvR packs came out, Mythic realised they need to expand the game somehow and introduce new content, or they’ll be losing a lot of subs. Seemingly they didn’t have a lot of funds to do that, so they decided to expand the game not in content, but in progression. They just slapped on some extra levels and designed a few items. But that by itself looked a bit poor and wouldn’t have attracted many costumers. So in order to remedy that, they made the new levels and gear scale differently from the current ones and by doing so, ramp up their power. This made the new “content” a lot more appealing to players. It felt like there were going to be massive differences between playing at RR80 or RR100.

It was either Mythic (the developer always wants the game to do good and more subs means more money), EA (maybe they needed money to fund the SWTOR monster?) or some other greedy boss-bastard that saw this as a cash-in opportunity. Invest a bit of work and a small amount of cash, make the new content OP, see the RvR packs sell, profit. I don’t know who is to blame for this, but it doesn’t really matter. The matter of fact is that Mythic have their work cut out for them at balancing they are attempting now.

The equation (the thinking part)

I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll expand on it here. When Mythic introduced the RvR packs the one major incentive for buying them were the new levels and items. They made them attractive by making them extremely powerful. Which wasn’t a good idea at all, WAR being a PvP game and all. Now they need to rebalance them without losing subs of disgruntled customers who invested a lot of time into getting those items and without making the game boring.

Even though I’m shit at maths (and by some extent logics), I feel this problem is best represented with an equation. Here’s the simple equation regarding developer revenue for an MMO:

box sales + subscriptions = revenue

In this particular case, box sales are RvR pack sales. Now, with the RvR packs Mythic wanted to get good box sales, which they did by making the content desirable (they made levels and items past RR80 overpowered). But they also had to make sure that they were able to sustain the subscriptions after the box sales, which they achieved by making the grind to get to the overpowered content extremely long for the average player.

This created several problems, the biggest of which being that the small percentage of players who invested an extreme amount of time into the game were overpowering the lower and middle portion of the playerbase that didn’t. Mythic thought that this would rebalance itself in time, with casual players gradually reaching the highest power status aswell. But because the grind was so daunting and went against the very nature of the game (grinding renown in the most efficient way makes RvR more like PvE than PvP), this didn’t work. Now Mythic have the task of rebalancing the content or losing most of their players.

This is another look at the equation:

content appeal + time investment required = expansion success

This is basically the same equation. You achieve large box sales by making content in them appealing (in this case, overpowered), you get a stable subscription base by extending the time it takes for the player to reach the content and both of them combined will determine how successful the new content (RvR packs) is and how well it sells.

If Mythic wants to balance the game they can address the content appeal (box sales) part of the equation and severely lower the power (and with it the appeal) of the new content. But this will mean that the future box sales will drop (RvR packs won’t be bought anymore) and anyone who got lured into buying them in the past will feel scammed and disappointed.

Or you can adjust the time it takes the players to get to the new content. Severely lowering it would result in players reaching that power stage much sooner, making for a more balanced endgame. But it would result in players investing a lot less time into the game, which would negatively impact the subscriptions. Additionally, it would piss off players who have invested a large amount of time into the game in order to reach the content, since with the adjustments anyone could get there in a much shorter timeframe.

Mythic is currently addressing the first part of the equation, which does seem to be the better choice, since addressing the second part and shortening the grind would basically render the expansion fail at prolonging the game’s life. Which, incidentally, is exactly what expansions are for.

As much as this is the right choice though, it seems to me that Mythic will be forced to address the second part sooner or later aswell. Since the above equation isn’t really as simple as I make it out to be. Content appeal and time investment required are directly proportional (well not in the traditional mathematical sense, I’ll explain).

What I mean by that is that if you increase the time it takes to get to the new content (the grind), the content will appear less appealing to the players. Inversely, if you decrease the grind the content will appear to be more appealing. But if you decrease the appeal of the content (by reducing the power for example) the time the player needs to investment into the game to get to the said content will come across as non-sensical. The vast majority of players will only invest time into what they deem worth it. If they think the content isn’t good enough for them to work their asses off to reach it, they simply won’t. In short, content appeal affects the perception of the value of the time investment required, and vice versa, time investment required will affect the perception of the value of the content.

This is why I believe Mythic will sooner or later have to reduce the grind, which will in turn result in a shorter lifespan for the game. To increase the lifespan the developer will have to push out more content and I don’t think players will fall for the same trick again.

Career changes

There’s been quite a few other changes, most notably, the career balancing. The first change is fixing the detaunts so they can’t be used while silenced, which is a minor fix that doesn’t really come into play. When have you seen someone use a silence so they don’t get detaunted, instead of saving the immunity for something more valuable like preventing a spell cast, staggering or disarming?

The second one is kinda big, it’s a fix to the melee channeled abilities. They will now stop when the target runs out of melee range. Which is quite a big nerf to melee WPs and DoKs, since their channeled heal can now be countered by moving out of range. Which means that CC will now have an even bigger effect on their survivability and melee healing (snare them, cleanse their root and run away). However, this means that melee WPs once again get the short end of the stick, since they are much more prone to being kited, whereas the DoKs are a bit more resistant to it because of their snare aura.

This will also affect Slayers and Choppas, but most likely only in smaller scale or 1v1 combat. But I don’t see this as a huge nerf since kiting is easily countered by getting a snare proc weapon or using snare immunity/Resolute defense before the channel.

Scenario shuffle

Mixing it up and introducing new-old scenarios into different tiers will always help keep the game fresh. I especially like moving High Pass Cemetery down to T1, since it always felt like a bit of a crowded map, which usually plays better in lower tiers in the absence of most CC and AoE.

I also like the reintroduction of Stonetroll Crossing to T2. It’s a unique scenario with its three-point CTF layout and it always seemed to be one of those scenarios where strategy and teamwork yield best results. Although spawn camping always works just as well (/facepalm).

I cringed at seeing Mourkain Temple in T3 and T4 because it’s such a small scenario full of chokes. Most of the time the fight boils down to who has more AoE and CC stacked and then moves on to spawn camping. But reading about it being redesigned perked up my interest. I’m really interested in seeing how this turns out, because the layout certainly has potential.

Other stuff

Tying in with the reduction of power of the post-RR80 items the hidden character levels will also be adjusted. The wording seems to suggest a reduction in the number of them, which means a reduction in stats and overall power. But it’s not specific, which is why I didn’t want to address it in one of the sections above. Does anyone have any concrete info on this (from the forums perhaps?).

Oh and there are also new pets that you can adopt if you pay for them. Yay, EA! Yay, capitalism!

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19 thoughts on “Addressing the power gap – are we there yet?

  1. When I make my own dream PvP MMO I’d like to recruit you as Head Guru.

    Hidden levels are being changed from 61 at RR100 to 45 at RR100. So a ~25% reduction. That is concrete objective evidence for you.

  2. Oh, and btw, I think you are spot on with your logic. Some EA fatcat probably cashed in. I think Mythic must have been seriously undermanned and without their PvP leadership too, so some Dev Noobs with PvE experience designed the gear.

    • I don’t think Mythic has PvE devs, they have PvP devs they’re just not that good. :P

      I was thinking more in the line of Mythic pretty much getting told to sell the RvR packs the best they can, no matter the consequences. Which means that instead of accidentally giving the designing task to some noob, they knowingly designed the content to be imbalanced.

      I still don’t quite understand the hidden level thing. I’m not sure I’m thinking of what everyone else is thinking. Afaik there are only 6 hidden levels, the +1 level you get when you reach a certain renown rank and you get a +1 passive to all masteries/morales/tactics. They are RR80, 84, 88, 92, 96, 100.

      Or am I wrong with that info and there are actually 21 (21?!).

      Thanks for the kind words btw. :)

      • In combat formula your rank is used to work out armour and armour penetration.

        Here’s the Dev post that most aptly explains it…
        http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/230/index/6636382

        and a snippet…
        Hey Everybody,

        The newest edition of the developer discussion threads will face armor mitigation and a planned change of the formula.

        This topic is linked to a bigger picture than it initially may seem. So please bear with me as I am going to start out this developer discussion with a bit of background and explanation. We have read in many threads talk of “power gap” and many people attribute it to itemization post RR80. The core idea in 1.4.0 was to provide progression through PVP and not through PVE. This is the progression through the “hidden” ranks that people speak of throughout the forums; it is the “Effective Rank” in which you perform at within the combat calculation formula. In the current system, you gain one “Effective Rank” for each Renown Rank gained past RR80.

        How does this tie into itemization?

        Since your Effective Rank is increased; we need to increase stats, armor, and resists to allow higher rank players to fight with approximately the same efficiency as they gain Effective Ranks. For example, a RR80 with 66% physical mitigation (amount of physical damage reduction) requires 2900 armor value (when facing someone of equal effective level). A RR90 would require ~3650 Armor value against another RR90 to provide the same amount of protection as the first example. The problem lies in the RR90 facing the RR80. The RR80 is attacking someone with 3650 armor value or ~83% mitigation to them. Flip it and now the RR90 is attacking a RR80 with 2900 armor value, which provides only ~53% mitigation to the RR90’s attacks.

      • For every rank above rr80 you gained one effective rank, not to be confused to the added mastery points after rr80.

        This effective (hidden) rank influenced stat cap of your character and it was crucial for rank-comparison when facing an opponent. The system was designed for facing enemies with equal effective rank. So when you are fighting an enemy with same rank, you have the tooltip values for mitigation etc..

        I’m not sure where exactly the calculation an be found, but somewhere in the official forums a dev gave an example what happens when there is a RR-disparity. It was roughly so that when a RR80 fights an RR90 the physical mitigation alone is drastically influenced because there is a rank comparison involved, i.e. RR80 attacking RR90 meant mitigation of 70%, while RR90 attacking RR80 just had to face 30% mitigation..I forgot the exact numbers, but it was something in that region.

        Combine that with a defensive set for MDPS and you have the problems you see right now in WAR.. and it’s really difficult to see what is OP and what is just a side effect.

      • Hm, this is quite confusing. It seems I am partially right and that there are two kinds of hidden levels. Since the RvR packs came out I thought you got +1 level for every 4 levels after RR80, just like you got a +1 level at RR80 making you level 41. Which means that at RR100 the character would be level 46. You get +1 to masteries and stuff each level.

        Then there are levels you get for each RR past RR80, where your stat caps and scaling go up. For some unfathomable reason.

        Now, I thought that the first kind of hidden levels are whats being compared in combat. I have no idea of when this was changed. One effective level for each renown rank past RR80? Are they mad? The system didn’t work like that until RR80, why would it need to be changed into something that’s balantly imbalanced?

        Oh my, I think I gotta go lay down. I didn’t expect this much stupidity even from Mythic.

        Thanks for the info and covering my ass, I totally dropped the ball there. But honestly, this kind of information is kinda hard to find unless you frequent the BioWare forums (which I don’t). Yes, that’s an excuse. :(

      • Well.. you had it before.. it was called leveling up rank 1 to 40.. not renown rank ;)

        I thought that the granted rank at rr80 was quiet a significant step into greater power of a character. I have no idea why the dev’s thought, that there have to be that many ranks afterwards.

      • Probably because in order to be able to make the new gear appealing, they needed to bloat the stats. If they just removed the stat softcap there would really be some shit flying around, so they had to adjust the softcap. They made the softcap scale with renown ranks, which would normally be a pretty good idea and make things balanced.

        But they forgot one thing, that the friggin gear is so imbalanced it doesn’t matter what they do to tone it down, short of simply nerfing it. Which ties into their reasons for making an expansion like this one in the first place.

  3. The stat decrease on the gear is just made because the effective ranks are reduced. With more ranks the cap was raised, so there were more stats needed to be at the cap..

    So that’s not a nerf on two sides, “just” the effective ranks are being tweaked..oh and the weapon dps, that’s a reduction in damage, though I’m not sure how much this will be in the end as the physical mitigation is also being looked at.

    Too many screws being turned too hard in a too long time frame.. the balance pendulum is swing quiet erratic if you ask me, but I think that the reduction in effective ranks etc is the right way.

    • Yes, they are certainly going in the right direction, nerfing the gear, but what happened to their famous “little steps”. They’re tweaking so many things they won’t know what affected the outcome.

      So you’re saying that the item level being toned down is in line with the renown ranks being toned down? You are right, it’s not a nerf on two sides because the effective level one doesn’t really affect many things, beside stats contribution/scaling and caps. So only the gear is getting nerfed, the renown rank nerf could probably be seen as minor on it’s own (if it weren’t for affecting the stats).

      I’m not sure what they’ll do about physical mitigation, but from what I heard from my secret source (was some time ago, though), all of their ideas sucked. They will probably either screw over careers that don’t have an armor debuff or make them overpowered (which would actually make Engis happy campers).

  4. Fascinating post, and very difficult not to agree entirely with your theories.

    On the face of this patch it doesn’t look particularly exciting, but it could (hopefully) change the game drastically.

    Wondering whether the changes to Mourkain Temple will mean we’ll get mini-funnels inside the temple itself. Could be fun :)

    • Yes, we really don’t have many scenarios that would take part inside of a structure. We have Gates of Ekrund, that dwarf ship (that should be making it’s comeback as a live event), the cavern in Khaine’s Embrace, Logrin’s Forge (although it’s so big it might aswell be outside) and Reikland Factory. The fights inside the tank building are most of the time very dynamic and exciting. It would be nice to see the temple designed in a similar way, but I’m probably getting my hopes up over nothing.

      Thanks for the praise, I do try my best (honestly I think I’m onto something with that equation or formula there, it can be applied to a lot of things in MMOs, I’l have to expand on that). :)

    • Hah, good one. In reality though, I haven’t seen such a conversation transpire yet, most of the time players are on the same page. But it could happen (and it would be hillarious). Well, it’s far more likely to happen if Mythic is involved. :P

      Off the top of my head though, I can only come up with one synonym for level – stage. When writing I frequently have to visit thesaurus (to no avail) simply because so many jargon words don’t have a synoym in the same context. Things like playerbase, fix, patch, unlock, etc… It’s driving me mad. :D

  5. Want to point out one business concept:

    “box sales + subscriptions = profit”

    Should be:

    Box Sales + Subscriptions = Revenue
    Revenue – Costs = Profit
    Box Sales + Subs – Costs = Profit

    Otherwise I would like to care more about the topic, but patch 1.4 is still a sore subject for most of us. We just aren’t ever returning to WAR.

    “Oh and there are also new pets that you can adopt if you pay for them. Yay, EA! Yay, capitalism! ”

    So odd. Out of normal fantasy MMOers, WAR seemed to be the only one that didn’t support this kind of play. I know that WoW and Lotro lovers cuddle their pets, but in WAR it was always a non-existant novelty. It was always there, we just didn’t give a crap. It is extremely curious to me that these type of items sell at all.

    • I knew it! I knew that someone is going to point that out. I realise that there’s a difference between revenue and profit, but because the word is only there to denote the success of the game for the developer/publisher, I figured it doesn’t really matter. Which it doesn’t, in this context. It could be money or any other snyoym instead. :D

      But hell, I’m going to go change it now, because I don’t want the post to appear as half-arsed.

      As for the pets, I’m sure you don’t actually find it curious that Mythic is milking the pet cow. The motive is money, no more no less. Enforcing a cosmetic pet trend in a game that didn’t want to have /dance in it just shows really how desperate Mythic are.

      • I’m not so sure…

        I only get to log in once, maybe twice a week (RL and all…) but I don’t see that many “special pets” running around. The average WAR player, IMO, doesn’t usually care as much about vanity pets, unless they do something like… say… increase your run speed by 3%… (I REALLY want that… but I can’t justify 10 bucks for it…) or gold (who needs gold in WAR and what have you been spending it on???)

        Non-useful vanity pets… I just don’t see them taking off very well.

      • I don’t know, back when I was still playing I saw plenty of people with the snotlings, eventhough the 3% movement speed increase out of combat is just bollocks.

        If, however, the pets don’t work out for Mythic I really can’t see them putting more items into the shop. Or rather, I can’t see them putting more items that don’t totally break the game into the shop. Creating any new appearance items that they could sell could take more manpower than they have at their disposal. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

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